May 16, 2014

The legacy of Slovak Anabaptists

11 Aug 2003
Zuzana Habšudová

The History Of Hutterites Can Be Found In The West Of The Country

HUTTERITES, or Anabaptists, originated in Germany in the 1500s during the reformation started by Martin Luther. Led by Jacob Hutter, hence the name Hutterites, and influenced by the lectures of Swiss reformer Ulrich Zwingli, they claimed that the baptism of new-born children was incorrect and that a person should have time to decide on his commitment to God, meaning he should be baptised in adulthood.

Having been formed as a religious sect in Switzerland, Hutterites were persecuted for their faith from the very beginning. Refusing to accept the official religion of Catholicism, they were forced to flee their homelands of southern Germany, Switzerland, and the Netherlands, and gradually settled in Moravia, Slovakia, then Russia, and later the United States and Canada. All these places bear evidence of their settlements, and in some, such as the US and Canada, Hutterite communities are still active.

The Slovak municipalities that bear the most significant evidence of Hutterite settlements are the western towns of Sobotište and Veľké Leváre. Sobotište, which currently has around 1,600 inhabitants, used to be the centre of Slovak Hutterites. They also settled in more than 30 other municipalities in the west of the country.

"Some four years ago, Hutterites from the state of New York, where they live in their own community, came to visit our municipality twice, in order to learn about their predecessors who settled here," says Drahoslava Mrázková, a guide at the Museum of Samuel Jurkovič in Sobotište.

The museum, which is housed in the renaissance-baroque chateau that also serves as the municipal office, is devoted to the local teacher and notary Samuel Jurkovič. Additionally, part of the museum captures the history and culture of Hutterites that lived in the region in photographs and preserved artefacts.

Apart from the exhibits in the museum, one can visit a preserved Hutterite settlement in which the community lived and worked. Separated from the rest of the village, the place features a treadmill, which the Hutterites bought from a local yeoman and around which they gradually built a town hall, belfry, chapel, theatre, a locksmith's house that also served as a pub, and other houses. A similar settlement can be also be found in Veľké Leváre.

In their community, the Hutterites led a simple life based on social and material equality. All property was commonly owned, they worked and ate together, and the profit was divided according to individual needs. The children were raised together in schools and studied German.

"The original inhabitants accepted Hutterites well. They lived in their own community, quite isolated from the rest, and knew many crafts. Apart from knife production, shoemaking, winemaking, weaving and construction, they were most famous for making their typical Hutterite ceramics," says Mrázková.
The ceramics were called faience or majolica, depending on the process used to make it. Faience was made of white clay with a white gloss or half-gloss glaze, while majolica was made of red clay covered with a coloured glaze. Such ceramics, based on the imported Hutterite style, are still being produced and sold in the towns of Holíč and Skalica. And the history of it can be learned in the Museum of Ceramics in Holíč.

"In 1743, Francis Stephen of Lorraine, the husband of Maria Theresa, founded a ceramic factory here, as many faience producers centred here. There also was enough of the right clay for making such ceramics in the region," says Hana Zeithamlová form the Holíč Museum.

Hutterites started coming to the western Slovak region from southern Moravia in 1547. But when in 1622 they showed their support for the reforms that Friedrich Falcký (Friedrich von der Pfalz), who was sitting on the throne in Prague, tried to impose, Hutterites were cast out from Moravia under the threat of the death penalty.

"They rushed to Slovakia - around 12,000 of them - first to the places where Huterites were already settled. Those localities, though, weren't able to accept such a large number of refugees. Initially, Slovak towns closed their gates, but later they had mercy on them and started to accept them," František Kalesný, the author of several publications on Slovak Hutterites, wrote in the booklet Habáni v Sobotišti (2001).
"It was then whey they started to be called 'habáni' by the locals, which in their language was a name for a person whom the rulers confiscated - 'zhabali' - all his property," Kalesný continues.

While the life of Hutterites in Slovakia's west seemed quite peaceful, apart from the occasional conflict, social and political events did not let them live in peace. During the reign of Maria Theresa they were persecuted because of their faith and were forced to convert to Catholicism. It was at this point that they started fleeing to Russia. When the same thing happened in Russia, they went to the United States. But even there, they faced problems, such as compulsory service in the army during the war in Vietnam, as Hutterites refused to serve in the armed forces.

Those Hutterites who accepted the conditions imposed by the secular powers, and converted to the Catholic faith, gradually assimilated with the original inhabitants and learned their language. In Sobotište, for example, the descendants of Hutterites now practise Catholicism, but in their Hutterite chapel.

"Some great-grand parents of today's inhabitants were Hutterites. The typical Hutterite names, such as Schulz and Müller, have been preserved until today, but nobody practises the Hutterite traditions any longer.
The descendants of Hutterites have completely assimilated with the locals," says Mrázková.

Múzeum Samuela Jurkoviča (Samuel Jurkovič Museum) - Kaštieľ Sobotište, Sobotište (northwest of the town of Senica). Open: Tue-Fri 10:00-16:00 (Sat-Sun - only requested visits arranged by phone). Tel: 034/6282-102. (Guided tours are only in Slovak.)

Múzeum keramiky (Ceramic Museum) - Bernolákova 3, Holíč. Open: Mon-Fri 8:00-16:00. Tel: 034/6682-255.