Life in Community

A Spirit of Adventure and Freedom

A life in pictures

May 26, 2021 by

Here on the Bruderhof, we share the responsibility of caring for our elderly, and the ways in which this blesses us are profound. Some years ago I was asked to take care of “Oma” Gertrud every afternoon. It was to be almost the last year of her life. Born in 1920 in Germany, she lived to be ninety-three years old, one of the last living links to the early beginnings of the Bruderhof. I want to show you some of her pictures. As we go, I must give you a quick sketch of her life.

From very young, Gertrud had always loved to draw and paint, filling precious pages with her sketches. She never had any formal art training, but her pictures attest to her acute observation of nature.

globeflowersGlobeflowers

Gertrud came with her parents and younger sister to the fledgling Sannerz community when she was almost four years old. After the First World War, in which her father fought in the trenches, her parents sought a new way of life that would be true to the Jesus they wanted to follow. They were the first family to join the poverty-stricken little circle, which had recently experienced a crisis in which most of the members had left.

gertrudandfamilyGertrud and family

Poor they were, yet joyful. Gertrud told me how they were fetched from the train station in a horse-drawn cart decorated with green branches, surrounded by the whole community carrying lanterns and singing. Perhaps the greenery made a big impression on her. Gertrud loved spring!

spring flowersRed Maple and Spring flowers

At ninety-two, Gertrud’s eyesight was failing, and she no longer had the strength to go to work in the afternoon, so we happily stayed at home. Over daily foot soaks I would read to her from accounts of the people who had lived those first years of the community. Gertrud’s childhood memories were crystal clear, and she would fill out the stories with her own recollections so that we became engrossed in reliving the time, only being brought back to the present by the cooling water in the foot bath.

Gertrud especially loved Eberhard Arnold, the founder of the community. She remembered how he always had the children “on his heart” and how he trusted them and encouraged their childlike faith and longing to reach out to the villagers around Sannerz and the Rhon.

windsweptlandscapeYou can sense something of the spirit of adventure in her windswept yet delicate landscapes.

In 1934 the Nazis planned to install their own teacher at the Rhon Bruderhof. Before this could happen, all the school age children evacuated: first to Switzerland, then to the newly founded Alm Bruderhof, high up in the Lichstenstein Alps.

Gertrud, at age fourteen, was needed in the work. She had her first group of nine children, aged two to five, all by herself! She took on this big responsibility gladly, as she had a great love for the littlest ones, and a natural way with them.

gertrudwithkdgGertrud with Kindergarten

(Even in her nineties, I could sometimes hardly awaken her from her nap, as she was so deep in dreams about the children she was caring for and protecting.) Later she trained to be a Kindergarten teacher.

childandbutterflyChild and Butterfly

In 1940, Gertrud married her childhood friend Gerd Wegner, one of the many orphans taken in by the community.

gertrudGertrud in Cotswold

Their lives followed the course of the Bruderhof during the Second World War. First the expulsion from Germany, a few short years in England, and then emigration to the jungles of Paraguay, where they lived with their growing family for sixteen years.

septemberSeptember

Finally came a new beginning in which they had great joy, in the United States. When I knew Gertrud in the last years of her life, she and Gerd lived with their daughter, Hannah, at Platte Clove. There her beloved Gerd passed away, and Gertrud was left a widow for nine years.

When I stepped into Gertrud’s house, it was immediately noticeable how much she was loved. There were always fresh flowers on the table, by her bedside, and in other corners too. In spring the bouquets allowed her to see and smell close up the periwinkles, cowslips, and violets that were no longer clearly visible to her out of doors.

flowersCowslips, Periwinkle, Violets and Daisies

Gertrud brought the early days of the community, and the people who lived them, alive for me. How grateful I am to these courageous fighters, who held to the vision through many hardships, so that the brotherly life is here today for anyone who hears the call to go this way.

dandelionsNo flower was ever too insignificant to be noticed. She especially loved dandelions, a “children’s flower.”

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About the author

Pauline Harrison

Pauline Harrison

Pauline Harrison lives with her husband Mark at Platte Clove.

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