Category: Peace Theology

Pursued for their Faith

We drove past Langnau in the Emmental region of central Switzerland till we reached Trubschachen. There we turned left on a country road winding through a valley with majestically tall fir trees lining both sides of the road, typical for the Emmental Valley. We were looking for the “Täuferversteck” (Anabaptist Hideout). We drove through Trub and then turned left at Fankhus (the well-known name Funkhauser is a variation on this place, and means a person from Fankhus).


The road became one-lane, with pull offs to allow cars to go both ways. The fir trees were closer to the road, and there were only a few farmhouses dotting the landscape. The address “Hinter Hütten” could not be found on our GPS. We passed a sign for “Schwarzentrub,” where the Mennonite name “Swartzentruber” come from, but we couldn’t find our destination. Whenever we met a car, we stopped them and asked them if they knew where the “Täuferversteck” was, and they all replied in the affirmative. They tried to explain to us were it was. Their best directions couldn’t help us find the location because all the farm lanes that led anywhere looked the same, and there were no signs to show the way.


Supposedly there were two parking places along the road, which was to signal the entrance to Hinter Hütten. We must have driven past the entranceway several times. Somehow we found the place where we were to enter. The parking “lot” turned out to be a pull off that had space for no more than two cars. I couldn’t imagine how tour buses could park there.


The Fankhauser home, location of the Täuferversteck
We climbed the steeply inclined dirt lane until we reached a farmhouse. It looked like a normal Swiss farmhouse until we saw an unassuming sign announcing that we had arrived at the “Täuferversteck.” We were confronted by a farmer, apparently the owner of the farmhouse.  He had returned from the fields for lunch. We did not realize that we were to arrange with the family to be able to see the mini-museum located in their living quarters.


“You can’t just walk in like you own the place,” he said to me in Swiss German. “This is a family home.” I apologized profusely, saying that I didn’t realize this. When he detected an accent in my Swiss dialect, he asked where we were from. I told him I was showing my brother and wife from the USA around Switzerland, and that we were Mennonites wanting to see important places from our heritage. With that information he softened up and let us look around.


Simon Fankhauser, the farmer who confronted us, is the 12thgeneration of Fankhausers living on the property. Some three hundred years ago, Christen Fankhauser, his ancestor, became an Anabaptist. It was the period of time in Switzerland when the authorities of the Canton of Bern pursued Anabaptists relentlessly. This was when hundreds, if not thousands of Anabaptists, including my own ancestors, left Switzerland, going for a time to Germany before emigrating to the USA.


Those who stayed risked being imprisoned, tortured, killed or sent to the Roman galleys to provide hard labor. The Bernese authorities not only wanted to erase these “heretics” from the region, but also from the collective memory of the Swiss people. There were Anabaptist hunters who roamed the back countryside of the Emmental where the movement was especially prolific. The Anabaptists developed an elaborate warning system to let neighbors know when the Anabaptist hunters were seen. It would allow them time to find a place to hide.


The only known hiding place still in existence is the “Täuferversteck” located at the Fankhauser

The trapdoor leading to the hidden chamber
home I described above. Christen Fankhauser built a hidden chamber behind the place in his barn where the family smoked meats to preserve for the winter. There was a trapdoor that led to the room covered by straw. Except for family lore, the hideout was unknown to the public until the current owner’s wife, Regula, decided to research the history of the hideout. She became fascinated and decided to turn her farm into a museum and to open it to the public. Lure has it that because of her research into Anabaptist history, she became convicted and converted to Christianity.

During the past decade, the Zwinglian Reformed Church of Switzerland, and the Mennonites (Anabaptists) have been working on reconciliation. I heard a Reformed pastor say that Mennonites should be considered “siblings of the Reformation” instead of heretics. Since these movements of reconciliation, there has been renewed interest in Anabaptist history in Switzerland. Two historical novels, “Die Furgge” which traces the history of the Hershey family, and “Das Ketzerweib” (The heretic woman) have sold hundreds of copies. Non-Mennonite as well as Mennonite Anabaptist historians are in high demand for seminars and talks. What was for three hundred years erased from history is now in back vogue.


As hard as it was for us to find the “Täuferversteck,” it made the perfect hideout for my ancestors. I wonder if any of my relatives spent time in this hideout.

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