Sunday, 1 May 2011

Historical Reflection

            While reading the tragic, blood-curdling accounts of Canada’s Residential Schools, I was struck once again by how torturous it must have been for parents during that period -- where a dreadful decision by powerful government and church leaders forcibly separated children from families, effectively destroying a people’s future, in the name of assimilating them into an enemy culture.
My mind wandered to Europe and some dismal chapters of my own Hutterite history involving a similar decision, but with a drastically different outcome. What if eighteenth-century imperial powers had succeeded in taking our children? How would our story have changed?
Maria Theresia monument, in Klagenfurt, Austria.
In 1767 with Maria Theresia head of the Austro-Hungarian Empire persecuted the Hutterites because they insisted on living in Christian community of goods and refused to pay war taxes or swear oaths. Concerted efforts were made to eradicate Anabaptism in Transylvania: Empress Theresia wanted a Roman Catholic Austria; even the Lutheran Church was not acceptable. When torture, imprisonment and book burning couldn’t dissuade the Hutterites, Delphini, a Jesuit planned to abduct Hutterite children, to place them in Catholic orphanages, and imprison the adults.  

I remember standing under this monument of Maria Theresia, in Klagenfurt, Austria, summer 2003. Our host and guide, Reinhard said, "This is Maria Theresia who was so cruel to your ancestors." What a contrast to other memorials we saw on that trip. Like the simple plaque on a wall under Das Goldene Dachl in Innsbruck, commemorating Jakob Hutter, burned at the stake for his faith. 
  Before Maria Theresia's dreadful plan could be realized, word reached the Hutterite community, they decided to escape. On a fateful October morning they fled south over the Carpathian Mountains to Wallachia (Rumania). “It was a pitiable sight: the Brothers, Sisters, boys and girls each with staff in hand and bundle on back, some with a small child on top of the bundle. …So we set out in the name of God, leaving our well-built houses and much of our household goods behind, unsold. …Everything had been prepared in the suburbs of Hermanstadt. Beds stood ready for the children. But God brought Delphini’s plans to nothing, for the net he had spread to trap us was torn, and when he came to take us, we were already out of the country.” (The Chronicle of the Hutterian Brethren Vol. II, Crystal Springs Colony)
More than two hundred years later, Hutterite communities dot the Canadian and Dakotan prairies including British Columbia, Washington, Montana and Oregon. The Hutterites contribute to the agriculture industry, producing eggs, hogs, poultry, beef, and a variety of crops. Additionally, some colonies have diversified by manufacturing a variety of products including ventilating systems, cabinets and rafters.      
When celebrating Easter, I humbly pondered how far we’ve come as a people. Our lives are enriched by thriving communities and the freedom to celebrate these Lenten Holy Days peacefully. Whereas our forefathers suffered persecution, fled from country to country and at times were compelled to gather secretly in the woods to partake of the Lord’s Supper,
If it had not been the Lord who was on our side… then they had swallowed us up quick, when their wrath was kindled against us. Blessed is the Lord who hath not given us as a prey to their teeth. Psalm 124:2-6.

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