The Harz is a mountainous region in central Germany, occupying parts of the German states of Lower Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia.
Anabaptism was transplanted into the Harz by missionaries from Upper Franconia (Jacobs, 430). In the South Harz Anabaptists appeared as early as 1527. They are representatives of the quiet, suffering group who insisted on pure conduct. Their leader was Alexander, a teacher, probably a native of Stolberg, where he often spent the night in the house of his brother-in-law. He was one "of the noblest figures in the Anabaptist movement" (Wappler, 100), who won adherents in Emseloh, Lengefeld, and Sangershausen. He was beheaded in 1533 at Frankenhausen. With him worked Jacob Schmiedeknecht. According to tradition two Anabaptists were drowned in the "Wiedertäuferteich" (Anabaptist Pond) near Liebenrode in 1530.
But cruel persecution did not succeed in wiping out the movement in the Harz. In summer and fall of 1534 they met in a mill near Zorge in the South Harz. Martin Herzog, a carpenter who had been baptized by Alexander, the preachers Klaus Berner and Balthasar der Futterschneider, Peter Reusse, and especially Heinz Kraut who succeeded Alexander, found temporary residence here and from here made their way into the Harz and Thuringia. When their residence here was betrayed by captured brethren, especially Klaus Schaff, they had to abandon it. They now met at night on the Schraubenstein, a desolate place between Riestedt and Emseloh. In Riestedt on 2 September 1535, the Anabaptists Georg Köhler and Georg Möller (Müller) were arrested, taken to Sangershausen and beheaded.
In the North Harz the Anabaptist movement also spread. Georg Möller and other brethren temporarily stayed in Quedlinburg. They felt secure for a time in concealment at Halberstadt. Here Georg Knobloch had rented a place in the so-called Pfaffenhäuslein in the willows behind the cathedral. Here the Anabaptists held their services, including baptism, communion, and a wedding. They had to leave this house when the owner noted that a child born there was not baptized. They now transferred to the "Grauen Hof" belonging to the monastery Michaelstein in Halberstadt. On 13 September 1535, an investigation of the persons living here was made. They found the wives of Georg Knobloch and Hans Höhne and six small children. The questioning of the women led to suspicion, and the Hof was watched. When Hans Höhne and an Anabaptist woman, Petronella, returned home and saw what had happened they fell on their knees and cried to God, and then sang Luther's hymn, "Ach Gott von Himmel, sieh darein und lass dich dess erbarmen." They were taken to prison at once. Cheerfully they followed the police and sang along the way. On 20 September another man and woman came to the Grauen Hof; they were Adrian Richter and Anna Reichard, wife of Hermann Gereumes (Geruchers) of Kleinschalkalten. The former was also taken to prison, singing all the way. When Hans Höhne heard the song he cried, "There I hear the cheerful voice of my dear brother, praised be God!" When the officials inquired who the singer was he replied, "It is my dear brother Adrian. For as he who is of God knows God's voice, so I also know the voice of my dear brethren." In spite of torture Hans Höhne, Adrian Richter, and Petronella remained steadfast, and were drowned in the Bode, 8 October 1535.
Concerning the further fate of the Anabaptists in the Harz little is known. On 4 December 1537, Hans Linsenbusch was beheaded for his faith at Brücken on the Helme. His cousin, the schoolmaster Johann Zollener, recanted on 16 November 1538 (Jacobs, 493), and was released. About ten years later the reformer Tileman Plathner was successful in the commission given him by Wolfgang Count of Stolberg and Wernigerode to turn Anabaptists from their faith. Those who returned to the church were pardoned, the others expelled (Jacobs, 493).
The numerous court records give rather exact information on the doctrine and life of the Anabaptists in the Harz. Penitence, complete separation from the world, and surrender to God, were required of all who wished, to join them. By baptism they were received into the brotherhood. Georg Köhler (Jacobs, 469) reports, "When one wishes to be baptized, he comes to the baptizer, kneels, and says, 'Dear brother, I desire the bond of a good conscience with God and ask for baptism.' The baptizer replies, 'Do you believe that Christ is the only begotten Son of God and eternal, do you want to yield yourself to Him alone, obey Him as God and Lord, and, if necessary, die for His sake?' If the baptismal candidate answers in the affirmative . . . the brother performs the rite, reading . . . the baptism of John word for word. Then he wets a finger three times in water, makes three crosses on the brow and head of the candidate, and says, 'I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.' He then earnestly admonishes him again to obey the covenant, be obedient to God, avoid sin, and yet always consider himself a sinner in the sight of God." Baptism was sometimes performed by pouring (Wappler, 122). With rebaptism they would have nothing to do, for there is only one baptism; infant baptism is not baptism. Children are clean, without hereditary sin until they reach understanding; the kingdom of heaven is for children dying without baptism.
Communion was not a sacrament to them, but a symbol of their membership in Christ and the church and the obligation of a life of obedience until death. It was conducted with solemnity. A communion service held in Knobloch's house in 1535 began with Peter Reusse washing the feet of the others and kissing each. Then he cut bread into wine and each took a piece, broke it and ate it upon the death of Christ, to testify that he, like Christ, was ready for life or death (Wappler, 128).
Marriage they considered a sacred ordinance of God; it is necessary because of fornication, but to be unmarried is better. Spiritual brotherhood stood above marriage. Where people could not become one in faith they should separate. It occurred that a man left his wife and children because they would not accept his faith, and vice versa.
Prayer they exercised diligently, obeying the admonition to pray without ceasing. Free prayer was usual; but fixed prayers, Biblical or traditional, were not rare. The Lord's Prayer was commonly used. The fourth petition was, "Our true bread, Thy eternal word, give us today."
In the Apostles' Creed they changed "under Pontius Pilate" to "under the covenant of Pilate." Köhler explains it thus: "Because the covenant of Christ, which He made with the Father, was completed through His suffering and death." Höhne declared, just as the Jews had made a covenant concerning Christ with Pilate, so the wicked now make their alliances against true Christians.
Besides preaching and prayer, hymn singing was important in their worship services. Alexander confessed that after the sermon they prayed the Lord's Prayer and sang psalms. They did not always have a sermon; they conversed with each other concerning God and divine things, concerning the wonderful leading of God both toward themselves and others (Jacobs, 478, note 3). They rejected the confessional before men and absolution by the priests. Toward the government they required implicit obedience except in matters of faith. The idea that they had a secret sign or watchword they denied emphatically; but they could be recognized by their simple conduct. Community of goods they did not have; but each should use of his earthly goods only what he needed for himself and his family; the rest he should distribute to needy brethren. They practiced the greatest hospitality and mutual aid support. They liked simple, dark clothing. Georg Möller cut up a good red coat because it had been made for pride, and had it dyed black, to give no occasion for pride. They made no distinction in food; for all is created by God and serves man, who accepts it with gratitude. The observance of Sunday they left to the individual conscience. They considered it a day of reconciliation. The sins committed during the week should be made right with God on Sunday; for this purpose God instituted it.
They lived a strict moral life, which made a deep general impression. Adulterers, gamblers, drunkards, etc., were not tolerated among them. They thus became shining examples of their time. Their suppression is therefore a matter of regret from the viewpoint of the welfare of the people, and has certainly bitterly avenged itself.
Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. II, 259-261.
Jacobs, E. "Die Wiedertäufer im Harz." Zeitschrift des Harz-Vereins für Geschichte und Altertumskunde XXXII (1899): 423-536.
Wappler, P. Die Täuferbewegung in Thüringen von 1526-1584. Jena, 1913.
Cite This Article
Neff, Christian. "Harz (Germany)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1956. Web. 17 Jan 2020. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Harz_(Germany)&oldid=145421.
Neff, Christian. (1956). Harz (Germany). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 17 January 2020, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Harz_(Germany)&oldid=145421.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, pp. 673-675. All rights reserved.
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