In 1920 Eberhard Arnold; his wife, Emmy Arnold; and a few friends opened a small commune in a farmhouse in Sannerz, Hesse, Germany. Passionate Christian socialists, they were fascinated with the early Anabaptists and sought especially to emulate the Hutterites, Anabaptists who live communally and hold all goods and money in common. They called their community the Bruderhof.
The rise of the Nazis in Germany brought persecution of the Bruderhof, and the community moved to England and then Paraguay in an effort to maintain its communal way of life and avoid military conscription. In the early 1950s the group began to move to the United States, which soon became its headquarters and where in 1998 it had six colonies (two others were in England). The Bruderhof colonies have prospered, with membership reaching some twenty-five hundred in the 1990s, and it built a robust industry, Community Playthings, which produces sturdy children's toys for schools and day-care centers. In the 1970s formal links were established between the Bruderhof and some of the Hutterite colonies in the western United States and Canada. However, in the 1990s internal disputes among the Schmiedeleut, the branch of Hutterites that had the best relations with the Bruderhof, spilled over onto the Bruderhof, and the formal relationship between the two movements was acrimoniously broken. The Bruderhof also experienced problems with some of its overseas outposts. A colony planted in the homeland, Germany, in 1988 experienced local resistance to its presence and was dissolved six years later. A Nigerian colony, Palm-grove, became affiliated with the Bruderhof but soon foundered among heavy recriminations on both sides. The periodic expulsion of members and ongoing hostility from a network of former members, many of whom have family members still resident in the community, also roiled the otherwise calm life of the Bruderhof. Problems notwithstanding, however, new members joined and the movement continued to expand.
The theology of the Bruderhof resembles that of the other Anabaptists the movement has always emulated. Membership must follow a conversion experience, and upon joining one gives up all private ownership of goods and vows to live a life of obedience to authority, humility, and loving concern for other human beings. Worship, prayer, and singing are daily occurrences in community life. Bruderhof faith has a strong social activist bent; members were involved in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, and since then have been vocal in supporting a variety of peace- and justice-oriented causes.
Eberhard Arnold died unexpectedly in 1935, and after a lengthy period in which no single individual formally led the movement, Arnold's son Heini assumed the office of elder in 1962. Heini was succeeded as elder, after his death in 1983, by his son Christoph, who remained in office in the late 1990s. Spiritual leadership and major secular leadership roles are filled exclusively by males, although women do play important roles in some parts of community life. Families live in apartments, take most meals together in common dining halls, and work in the community at duties assigned by the leadership. Children attend private Bruderhof elementary schools and then public high schools. Some go on to college and can return to community life only by applying for membership in the same manner as other newcomers.
Oved, Yaacov. The Witness of the Brothers:A History of theBruderhof. 1996.
Zablocki, Benjamin David. The Joyful Community. 1971.