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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: The Church (12/06/07)

TITLE: The Persecuted Church
By Dee Yoder


My name is Daniel Keim. I write now of things that happened to me during World War I.

I am Amish, and because of the religious belief my church holds of peace and nonresistance, I was taken to a camp and put in with a group of other Amish. We were called Conscientious Objectors, or CO’s. Soldiers guarded us and tried to teach us another way of thinking. Ja, they did try, but my faith and the teachings of the Ordnung kept me from joining their ranks. Many of my fellow CO’s also had to endure much suffering for their stand, but from our view, we had no choice.

I got my notice of conscription, as it is called, in the fall. I remember how my wife, Katie, cried when I read it to her. The kinna* were leaning against her skirts, and I was broken hearted to think of leaving them. I was worried for my family because a few Englisher boys had already taken to making sput** of our religion when we came to town. Our neighbor, Paul Mast, woke one day to a mess on his barn. The boys had painted the Englisher word, “Slacker” with red paint on the wall facing the road.

I expected some troubles from the soldiers at the camp, but I did not know how bad it would be.

My fellow CO’s and I would gather on Sundays to read the Bible and to sing a few hymns. We learned very quickly not to sing too loud or to bring attention to ourselves. The first time we met together, one of the soldiers who was guarding our barrack heard us singing in Deitch. He came right away into the room and stood next to me with his rifle up, like he wanted to scare me. And he did. But that was not enough for him. He yelled at us to “Shut up talking that vulgar language!” and “What are you; friends of the Kaiser?” It made us angry, but what could we do? We sat and said nothing.

One night, a man who had been upset with us when we first came to the camp began to shout and push us as we went to the showers. He was angry about our beards. He told us, that “No self-respecting man wears a beard like yours,” and he ran into the latrine. When he came out, he was carrying a strop and razor. He sharpened the razor against the strop while he laughed at us. Then he and another soldier grabbed Walter Kraybill and forced him to the floor. By the time they were finished with him, Walter had blood oozing from cuts all over his chin. Most of his beard was gone, but I noticed two or three tufts of hair poking out at the bottom of his face. I felt much sorrow for Walter. He was so ashamed.

One Sunday we were assembled in our barrack reading Mathew 5. Walter just started to read “whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also,”*** when suddenly a group of five soldiers rushed in and grabbed me. They began to drag me to the latrine. I fought against them at first, digging in my heals, but I heard Walter call out to me, “Whosoever shall smite thee, Daniel!” I went limp and let them take me into the latrine. They dragged me to the toilet and dunked my head in the bowl over and over. They laughed and told me they were “baptizing” me, making sput of my Anabaptist heritage.****

A day came when another Amish man, Josef Schwartz, was thrown onto his cot after he had been scrubbed down with a wire brush. His arms and legs were bare and the blood bits showed bright against his pale skin. His clothing had been removed because he refused to wear a military uniform. I remember how he turned his head to the wall and tried to keep us from hearing his humiliated sobs.

We were made to stand outside, with just our Amish clothes on, until our hands and ears were raw with the cold. I made myself think only of Katie that day, and I wondered if she had to suffer, too. I prayed she did not.

I never told her all of the things that were done to me, but these are my memories of World War I in America.

*kinna: children
**sput: make fun of, mock
***The Holy Bible, King James Version
****The Amish were persecuted in Europe for not accepting infant baptism; they fled to America in the mid 1700’s.

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This article has been read 1793 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Marilyn Schnepp 12/13/07
An enlightening story on History, however was looking for something on the topic, The Church - but perhaps this body of people could be called the Church...thanks for sharing.
Joanne Sher 12/15/07
Very descriptive and engaging. I knew very little of this treatment - I am very glad I read this and learned. Keep writing!
Laury Hubrich 12/16/07
I can't say this was wonderful reading because it wasn't. Sorry. Its so disturbing, especially at the end hearing that it happened in the U.S. It upset me so much because of the great writing, putting me right there with the men's suffering. This is something I would now like to research, too. I've read many Amish novels but have never read up on their history. Thank you so much for sharing how the Amish church was persecuted for their faith. I think it is right on topic. Persecution is what made our churches grow. Great job.
Janice Cartwright12/17/07
How ironic that Daniel suffered for his faith and heritage much as did the Jewish people of Europe. The lion's share of pain on our planet stems from darkness in the human heart. And isn't that what the church and the season are all about? Jesus alone is the cure for this darkness. Excellent writing and very much on topic.
Mariane Holbrook 12/19/07
I've told you of my lifelong interest in the Amish so this was an especially good read for me. The COs did indeed suffer at the hands of undisciplined and angry soldiers in much the same way the Japanese Americans who were interred were treated in World War 2. My definition of a church is "where two or three are gathered together in my name." This group of believers shared the Word and participated in singing which makes them a church in the finest New Testament tradition. Wonderful. though heartbreaking, story!
Peter Stone12/19/07
What a sad, shocking story. You presented it very clearly. Great writing.
Jan Ackerson 12/19/07
Oh my, I had NO idea! Thanks for this stark piece of writing, and for this man's honest voice. Great job, Dee!
Temple Miller12/19/07
Wow, what wonderful writing!
Every American needs to read this account!
Loren T. Lowery12/19/07
Not every one is gifted to write as this. Bringing to the forefront what most of us would rather shun and in such a manner that it enlightens rather than revulses us.
Not everyone could write as you have...not everyone should. Calling out those things hidden in the darknes only helps identify who we are so that we might better undestand ourselves and seek to change for the better. Well done!
Sara Harricharan 12/19/07
Wow. I never knew about this. (I'm not a big history fan) but this was very interesting to read. The descriptions, the sorrow, the hope. Wow. Excellent job.
Lynda Schultz 12/19/07
A wonderfully well done glimpse into what, I hope, is the past. The story held me right through to the end. Excellent story-telling.
Karen Wilber12/19/07
I did not know about this. What an eye opener. This was a challenging read because your descriptions are so vivid and because I didn't know this happened in the USA. This is definitely one I won't forget.
Sheri Gordon12/19/07
Thanks so much for sharing this piece of history. I grew up in the Church of the Brethren, which is also a C.O. church. I had a friend who was thrown in jail for refusing to register.

I agree with an earlier commenter -- your writing put us right in the middle of this very disturbing scene. The prisoner POV was excellent. Good job.
LaNaye Perkins12/21/07
Your story captivated me from the first sentence to the last. I learned alot about history that I didn't know before. Well done my friend.
LauraLee Shaw12/25/07
Wow, you packed a whole lotta punch into a short number of words. AMAZING entry.