Sentenced to Alkatraz

Written by: Linda Maendel on Sunday, November 11th, 2012

During their stay in the Dakotas, Americans barely noticed the Hutterites, that is, until World War I broke out in 1914. But then they were viewed as foreigners because they spoke German and refused to participate in the war. Nor did they contribute any money towards the financing of the war. Of course, this did not go over well with the English-speaking neighbors, who raided the colonies and stole livestock and supplies to help finance the war.

Since it was compulsory, Hutterites sent their young men to military camps, but they didn’t allow them to obey any military commands or wear a uniform. At Camp Funston, the men were beaten and tortured, dragged by their hair, and even chased by motorcycles until they dropped from exhaustion. They were hung by their feet above water so that they nearly drowned.

One famous case of such brutal torture involved Jacob Wipf and three Hofer brothers, Joseph, Michael and David. During the hottest time of the year, they spent four months in a dungeon at Alkatraz where they were severely mistreated. The first twenty-four hours they were given half a glass of water. Because the western wall of the dungeon faced toward the sea, the full force of the often-stormy Pacific constantly beat against it. Therefore, water seeped through the cell walls, making the heat even more oppressive. Without bedding, the brothers slept on the cold cement floor, chained to each other by the ankles.

For nine hours each day, their hands were forcibly raised above their heads and chained crosswise to the iron bars of their cells above the door. This meant that they couldn’t even defend themselves against mosquitoes and other insects.

When they refused to don the military uniform, they were placed in solitary confinement. On Sunday they were brought to the upper level and permitted to walk around the enclosed compound with the other prisoners, one of who exclaimed with tearful eyes, “Is this a way to treat human beings?” The brother’s arms were terribly swollen and they were covered with a ghastly rash.

When morale sank far deeper than sea level, the loss of home and family was particularly painful, because solitary confinement made speaking to each other impossible. Miraculously, they discovered an unexpected source of encouragement and strength – the German songs of faith they knew from back home! Softly one of the men would start a morning or evening hymn. In their cells, the others heard and joined in, each rejoicing to know that the others were still alive – like our forefathers had done centuries before in the dungeons of Europe.

Later they were transferred to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas where they were continually mistreated. It was here that Joseph and Michael Hofer fell very ill and had to be hospitalized. The other two brothers, still in prison, were allowed to send a telegram home to tell the families of Joseph and Michael about their illness. Shortly thereafter, they both died in the hospital at Fort Leavenworth, just before their wives, a minister and another brother arrived.

Maria, Joseph’s wife insisted on seeing her husband, when the officer at the desk told her that he had died two hours previously. Distraught and grief-stricken, she stood before his coffin. Raising the lid, she gasped in horror, “You would insult him by dressing him in death in a military uniform he refused to wear in life.”

David too, was permitted to visit his dying brother, Michael and was later unexpectedly released. By that time the Hutterites had lost faith with the American government and decided to investigate the possibility of immigrating to Canada. Finally, the Hutterite leaders received word from the Canadian government that they were welcome to settle on the prairies. Thus, they emigrated to Canada in 1918. The Schmiedenleut established six colonies in Manitoba, the Dariusleut five in Alberta, and the Lehrerleut also founded four colonies in Alberta.

Meanwhile, Jacob Wipf was kept in solitary confinement for another year. He was finally released on April 12, 1919, long after the Armistice had been signed.

After WWII, some Hutterites returned to South Dakota establish colonies there once more and were able to purchase several of the former colony sites. Today, there are Schmiedenleut in the Dakotas and Minnesota, US and in Manitoba, Canada. The Darius- and Leherleut live in SK and AB Canada and in Montana, Washington, Oregon, US.

We’re deeply grateful for religious freedom in both Canada and the United States, especially when we’re reminded that our forefathers steadfastly fought for and gave their lives for their faith. To God be the glory!

(My humble thanks to Mark Waldner and Dora Maendel for allowing me to use part of their work for this post.)



Showing 16 comments

Mike Cutini said:
On: 7th Dec, 2012 at 00:48

I have read some on this site and agree with a lot of it . I can’t say I agree with not obeying those in authority in the military. I’ll quote some of what I’ve read here: ‘our forefathers steadfastly fought for and gave their lives’. Talking about our freedom of religion in America. This is a costly freedom and it wouldn’t be enjoyed if all of us believed and acted the way this site suggests we Christians should believe and act. Thank you and Merry Christmas, Mike Cutini

Jeffrey said:
On: 1st Jan, 2013 at 05:47

After reading much about the Hutterites and watching the entire series shown on National Geographic, you want me to believe that your way of life has eliminated the generational gap that’s existed between teenagers and parents, a gap that without, we would never move forward as a species as a whole. And yet you want me to believe that because your people refused to participate in World War II, they were hung upside down in Alcatraz. First things first, I absolutely refuse to believe that the National Geographic Channel did anything other than attempt to make the show more interesting, as religion is and always has been a touchy subject, so any decent television show is going to steer clear of the topic. They wanted to show what life is like in a Hutterite colony. I believe they accomplished this in an honest and straight forward manner. If there was any creative license being taken, then you’ve got nobody to blame but yourselves. I remember watching the parents who were glad that their child was going to drop out of school to stay at home. As a parent, I would rather be dead than to set such a poor example for any of my children, and insist that they HAVE TO STAY IN SCHOOL and make something of their lives. I notice that you are more than willing to use modern technologies when they suit your needs, but you fail to recognize the fact that it’s the English speaking world that your so darn pig headed about that brought all those technological advancements to make your lives easier. And in order for those English speaking folks to do that, they had to go to school and learn about the world around them and how things work. They also had to go fight for a country that allows you to have the freedoms you so enjoy, yet deny your younger generations because of that same pig headedness attitude which so many of you share. I also saw mention about the National Geographic Channel doing the same to the Amish. What a bunch of Crap! I doubt there’s anyone in the entire country whose going to the ex-Amish what to say or do. If you allowed National Geographic to do just that after they TOLD YOU TO TELL THE TRUTH, well, whose fault is that if your people failed to do just that? When I read your complaints about your worries that your younger generation may decide to join the English world should they stay in school past eighth grade, that sounds just like the North Koreans who are afraid that without putting up a wall and cutting their people off from the rest of the world, they might just find out how the rest of the world lives and decide to all leave. If you so darn afraid that your younger people may want to leave your colonies, then maybe the message that your teaching them just might be the wrong message after all. I do know one thing, my home is open to any Hutterite or Amish person who decides that he or she would like to find out what life’s like in the English speaking world. And what they see is exactly what they get, no slandering, grandstanding, or otherwise, and most important, they would always be welcome to return back to his or her home and families at anytime they felt the desire, as we in the English speaking world value our FREEDOMS that so many before us fought and died for. So, if as a society, you can’t extend those same freedoms to everyone in your Colonies, then you need to move out of our country and back where you came from, because the simple fact is, as long as you live here, your younger generation has those very rights your trying so hard to take away by keeping them ignorant of the world around them. AND THAT’S WHAT TRULY SCARES YOUR OLDER GENERATION, JUST AS IT DOES MOST OF THE AMISH. Please note that I said “most.” There happens to be AMISH living in Saint Petersburg, Florida who do allow their children to complete school and become whatever they desire, and surprisingly (at least it should be to you), the vast majority of their children choose to continue to live together in their community. They’re the very few, if only group of AMISH in the entire country who’ve accepted our modern way of life and have realized that just because we drive cars and have electric lights, this has no bearing on what church we attend or how we worship. I applaud National Geographic for doing an outstanding job in the way they showed the members of King Ranch Colony as being no different than the rest of the country in many of the ways they live and the problems they endure. I was hoping for a second season of this wonderful show, but after reading all your complaints, somehow, I think the folks at National Geographic bringing real world realities into your Colonies scares the crap out of the pig headed old guard whose still running things with one foot in the grave.

Jeffrey said:
On: 1st Jan, 2013 at 05:58

Corrections to above…change Pigheadedness to pigheaded, and insert “tell” after ex-Amish.

    Jeffrey said:
    On: 1st Jan, 2013 at 06:12

    The only “raw” deal you got from the National Geographic Channel was in the amount of money they paid King Ranch Colony for the making of the show. Additionally, they should be paid royalties for each time National Geographic replays those episodes on-air, as they are about to early in January. I pray in 2013 the old guard finally falls and your young people are allowed to experience the world, get an education, and bring those experiences back to your colonies for the betterment of all your lives throughout the United States and Canada. Best Wishes and Have a Happy New Year.

Jeffrey said:
On: 1st Jan, 2013 at 10:59

I have read a lot in here on how you feel that National Geographic has slandered your people into appearing to be something that they’re not, that they were scripted in the show. I have to wonder why haven’t seen any of this in writing from any of those who were actually on the show, and when I click on a link that claims to have twenty five testimonials from those who were on the show speaking out against it, that link takes me nowhere. There were an awfully lot of people on the show, including at one point elders who came down from Canada to handle a case against Claudia’s mother. None of those elders seemed to follow any of the guild lines, educational values, etc… that you claim to have in here when they basically threw Claudia’s mother out of the church until she complied with their demands. Now, after seeing so many Hutterites act the way they did on the show, and these people are supposed to be so ingrained into your society, I have to question how National Geographic could come and in one season, over a period of ten episodes, get your people to act contrary to your so called beliefs. I know that if I was on a show such as the one National Geographic had for you and they attempted to prompt me to “make the show more interesting,” they wouldn’t have gotten me to budge from my personal beliefs. This is especially true when they first said to simply tell the truth. So I have to question whether a lot of Hutterites that were on the show were telling the truth, or the few people I read in here responding to people and “crying foul” about how National Geographic handled the show are telling the truth. The people who were in the show from King Ranch Colony had nothing to gain personally by making stuff up to make the show more interesting, as it was obvious that they didn’t control the money from National Geographic in the first place. Now, I would like to know what parts were staged and which one’s weren’t. Yeah, I saw the part where the beds were screwed up, but also saw the part where they were corrected. As a business owner myself, one of our employees mixed two have drums of a two part foam accidently thinking he was combining two half barrels of the same part, until the foam started pouring out of the barrel so fast that he found himself pinned to the wall and was stuck there for hours while the foam was slowly chipped away from around him, holding him tight against the wall. Mistakes happen in real life, so frankly, why you should be different is beyond me. Was that part staged? Was Claudia’s desire to graduate from High School along with her brother staged? It does say afterall, under your category about education, that you generally send your kids through 12th grade with many going to collage? Maybe the fact that Claudia thought her school work was more important than cooking was staged. Or her desire to go to collage? Could it have been when the calving barn burnt to the ground? Hell, when I was eight, I set the entire woods behind my house on fire. We have at least five fire trucks in our back yard putting the fire out. So maybe that was staged, as we all know that in real life such a thing could never happen. I know, it was the first annual jerky contest where one of your people cheated, right? After all, we all know that cheating would be looked down upon by the Church, so surely nobody would ever think to do that, right? PLEASE…TELL US WHAT WAS STAGED AND WHAT WASN’T BEFORE YOU GO SCREAMING…because frankly, it sounds more like the elders want your society to appear to be the perfect society where nothing ever goes wrong, instead of a real life society with real life problems raising real life children…who are going to get into real life trouble by doing the dumb things all kids do…because if our kids never did dumb things to begin with, then what would be the purpose of being a parent in the first place? I’ve watched every episode twice now, and intend to watch it a third time come January, and with help from those who are complaining about the job that National Geographic did, maybe we as an audiance can see the show in a whole new light. But if you aren’t willing to point out what was staged and what wasn’t, than I’m going to have to take the show at face value until you speak up and say whats what! So please, take this opportunity and educate us as each episode comes on again during January 2013. It would not only be greatly appreciated, but would help immensely to back up your claim against National Geographic.

    Linda said:
    On: 2nd Jan, 2013 at 14:16

    Jeffrey, if nothing else, I’m glad you got all this off your chest before the New Year. Thank you for the visit, for spilling your heart… I hope you feel better now. Granted, sometimes you have a point, more often than not though, you clearly don’t understand or fail to see things from our perspective, and most is not relevant to this post anyway.

    Malcolm said:
    On: 9th Jan, 2013 at 17:17

    No one’s asking you to join the Hutterites. If you don’t like them just ignore and forget about them and the problem shall cease to exist.

Linda said:
On: 6th Jan, 2013 at 17:07

What does that have to do with this post, Becky? We’d really appreciate it, if people who take the time to comment, to please stay on topic. Thank You!

Anna Seoighe said:
On: 10th Jan, 2013 at 01:54

Seems to me like these people are, Descent, Loyal, Hardworking, and Honest people. Maybe its our culture, beliefs that went wrong. There living in a safe, loving, caring environment, not like outside these colonies in the “real world” as we call it. Fair Play.

Turid Almroth said:
On: 29th Jan, 2013 at 17:15

2012 & 2013 herre du milde.

ryn said:
On: 3rd Mar, 2013 at 10:10

I’m pretty sure allot of these people commenting here are “political racists” of western european decent and simply being as mean as they possibly can as always.
I wouldn’t pay any attention to them or even respond to them, possibly erase their racist comments, but it is interesting to see thier lack of intelligence and humanity thats so vulgar in their premeditated dishonest political attack responses.
They take pleasure in trying to hurt people their jealous of, which evidently is everybody…
You guys should look into making additional colonies all over the world!

    Linda said:
    On: 3rd Mar, 2013 at 21:09

    Thanks for the kind comment, Ryn, and for the wise advise!

Elizabeth said:
On: 9th Mar, 2013 at 00:03

Hello Linda. Sorry to go off topic but have just watched the documentary shown here in the UK about the Hutterites. I really enjoyed the program and felt very jealous, Our lives here are very isolated and alone and although I’m not sure I would like the communal eating (probably because I’m very naughty and miss meals) I love the idea of having people around you always.

I had tears in my eyes when the lad left the community and ran away. I just kept thinking of his poor mother. I have three young children and I know in that position I would be devastated if one chose to run away.

Linda said:
On: 9th Mar, 2013 at 00:21

Elizabeth, thanks for the sharing your thoughts regarding the BBC show on Hutterites. I’ve been wondering how it will be recieved and what people will take away from it. I’m glad you were touched by it and hope many others are as well.

Lindamaendel said:
On: 20th Jun, 2014 at 16:57

While we welcome comments, we also reserve the right to trash the disrespectful ones. No offense intended, but if you have something to say, do so with respect. Furthermore, if you choose to comment, the proper thing to do, is at least be somewhat informed about the things you say against Hutterites.

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