Part II: Remembering Muted Voices

by Jesse Hofer, Silver Winds Community, Sperling MB

When Englishman Andrew Bolton first heard the story of the Alcatraz brothers through the Plough magazine published by the Bruderhof, he was profoundly moved. He knew immediately that this was a story that needed to be shared with the wider world. Andrew had come across the Darvell Bruderhof in England in 1987, and he and his family have visited a number of times and lived there for a year in 1992-93. Andrew’s father was a soldier in World War II for seven years and experienced difficulties afterwards that caused much anguish and hardship for Andrew’s mother and his three brothers. When Andrew understood as a teenager the truth about his father’s horrific experiences in war he knew he must oppose war. This commitment was reinforced by the fact that in many of the villages and towns he visited he encountered war memorials with long lists of names of those who had sacrificed their lives in the First World War. “What are we (churches and other groups opposing war) doing to keep alive the stories of those who opposed the War?” he wondered. “What can we do to honour the memory of those who witnessed for peace and paid dearly for it?” 

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The Liberty Memorial, home of the The National World War I Museum in Kansas City, where the “Remembering Muted Voices” conference will be held in October 2017. Photo Credit: Wikpedia Commons.

We are currently remembering the centennial of World War I (1914-1918) and Andrew was interested in doing something meaningful to acknowledge resisters and conscientious objectors to the “Great War” during these years. He now lives in metropolitan Kansas City where the USA National World War I Museum is located. His friend, Matthew Naylor, a fellow-member of the Community of Christ Church, had recently become the President and CEO of the museum. The museum is also just a 30-minute drive from Fort Leavenworth where Joseph and Michael Hofer died in 1918.

Matthew Naylor’s openness to doing something related to conscientious objectors in WWI opened a unique opportunity to gather a group of people that would be interested in commemorating the sacrifices made by those who refused to participate in the war.

Under Matthew Naylor and Andrew Bolton’s leadership and in collaboration with the USA National World War I Museum, a group of individuals has been working for nearly a year planning a conference and a traveling exhibit focusing on the lesser known stories and contributions of those who raised their voices against the war. The conference, “Remembering Muted Voices: Conscience, Dissent, Resistance, and Civil Liberties in World War I through Today” will take place October 19-21, 2017 at the museum. Plans are for the traveling exhibit, to be built by the Kauffman Museum at Bethel College, to be ready in time for the conference and for subsequent travels across North America after its exhibition at the National WWI Museum. The group at Kauffman Museum also built “The Mirror of the Martyrs” exhibit, which toured North America between 1990-2007, appearing in fifty-five locations in twenty-one states and five provinces. 

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Some of the exhibits in the National World War I Museum. The Remembering Muted Voices exhibit will be one of the museum’s exhibits before becoming a travelling exhibit. Photo Credit: Jesse Hofer.

Since the story of the Alcatraz brothers is to play a key role at the conference and particularly via the exhibit, Mr. Bolton and other planners deemed Hutterite representation on the working committee to be crucial. Because Dora Maendel had extensive experience with the story through her story-telling experiences and her participation in the EAF-sponsored “Power of Peace Program,” she was a natural candidate for the committee. Ian Kleinsasser’s familiarity with the World War I era, gained through his work of assisting elder Jacob Kleinsasser in compiling a historical record of the war years, was also a logical choice. My own involvement with the project relates to my role as a student and teacher of Hutterite history and my belief that this is a project worth supporting, especially at a time when our world seems to be experiencing an alarming escalation of armed conflicts.

I was invited to join the committee by Duane Stoltzfus, whom I had first met in the summer of 2013 during a study trip with Kenny Wollmann to the Mennonite Church archives in Goshen, Indiana. Duane is the author of Pacifists in Chains. It is an excellent recent publication from Johns Hopkins Press that uses archival material, newly-discovered letters from the four Hutterite men and others imprisoned during the war, as well as interviews with these Hutterites’ descendants to explore the tension between a country preparing to enter into a world war, and a people whose history of martyrdom for their pacifist beliefs goes back to their sixteenth-century Reformation beginnings.

Meeting Duane again in Kansas City in January 2014 presented the opportunity to organize a special event at Baker Community this past May where we could test a presentation format in anticipation for the conference in 2017. Collaborating with Duane and Dora (my role was to read excerpts of the brothers’ letters written from prison) was a tremendous honour; both have devoted much energy into studying and sharing this remarkable story. The rich historical details from an American perspective provided by Duane gave important depth, texture and context to the familiar narrative. I was quite familiar with the story already, but the combination of the fresh historical background details shared by Duane, the personal, persuasive story-telling delivered by Dora, and the raw emotional effect of reading aloud the letters penned by the brothers made the narrative come alive and real in a powerful way.

Readers may justifiably wonder how the unlikely partnership between the peace churches and other organizations interested in protecting religious and civil liberties, and the nation’s official World War I Museum came about.  Andrew has a deep respect for the Anabaptist and Quaker traditions and understood the importance of sharing stories of resistance to war with the broader public with the centennial of World War I approaching. But it was his friendship with Dr. Matthew Naylor, CEO of the National World War I Museum that has been the key to opening this door. Dr. Naylor and his staff readily agreed that the museum could participate and co-sponsor a conference on the topic of resistance to World War I. After all, in Dr. Naylor’s words, “The museum is not a military museum; it is a social history museum.” As such, its mandate also involves documenting and exploring responses to the Great War that fall outside the mainstream narrative.

A peaceful scene. One can only hope this young Hutterite boy and other pacifist young people will never have to face the torture and ridicule for his pacifist beliefs. Photo Credit: Jesse Hofer

A peaceful scene. One can only hope this young Hutterite boy and other pacifist young people will never have to face the torture and ridicule for his pacifist beliefs. Photo Credit: Jesse Hofer

From there, Andrew began assembling a working committee including representatives of the Hutterites, the Mennonites, the Bruderhof, the Peace History Society and the National WWI Museum. All groups participating in the working committee are also co-sponsors of the project, along with others such as the American Friends Service Committee (Quakers) and the Brethren Historical Library and Archives. The circle of support is still widening. The wonderful collaboration between this diverse group is exciting and encouraging and can be recognized as the work of God’s Spirit.

Members of the working committee, along with several people playing a supporting role in other capacities, met in person at the National World War I Museum in Kansas City on January 1-2, 2014 to plan the preliminary details of the project. The delegates had the opportunity to tour the state-of-the-art museum and learn more about the economic, social and political circumstances that contributed to the war. Matthew and Teri Naylor graciously hosted us at their home for supper and fellowship. Our time together confirmed my hope that good things would emerge from our work.

In the next three years, a smaller planning committee comprised of Dr. John Roth (Goshen College), Andrew Bolton (Community of Christ/Graceland University) and a representative of the Peace History Society will continue to plan the details of the conference. Another group based at the Mennonite Kauffman Museum, Bethel College, Kansas—Dr. James Juhnke, Rachel Pannabaker and Chuck Regier— will work on the traveling exhibition. The working committee will be updated through regular conference calls; a further task for the working committee is to consider how Hutterites might want to remember the two Hofer martyrs who died at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, when that centennial happens at the end of 2018. 

Persons or organizations willing to contribute to the Remembering Muted Voices project should send cheques made out to the National World War I Museum to:

National World War I Museum

Remembering Muted Voices 2017 Symposium/Exhibition
(indicate which you want to support in the memo)
100 W. 26th Street
Kansas City, Missouri 64108 USA

For further information about the project, please contact Andrew Bolton, abolton@cofchrist.org or Andrew Bolton, Council of Twelve, Community of Christ, 1001 W. Walnut, Independence, MO 64057, USA.

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