Note from Ed Sabin: “Katharina ‘Traindel’ Kleiner, one of my sisters’ friends at the Bruderhof, died recently in Mexico. The following is an account written by Bette Bohlken-Zumpe, illustrating not only the particulars of Traindel’s fascinating life, but also life in general on the Bruderhof.”
Traindel was a wonderful, lively, loyal, gifted and intelligent Bruderhof child, only one year younger than her older sister Sanna (Mathis). Traindel was born on the Rhön-Bruderhof September 29th, 1933 to Fritz and Martha “Secunda” Kleiner (so nicknamed because she was one of two Marthas on the Hof) , shortly after the Bruderhof joined up with the Hutterite Colonies and everyone tried to be Hutterisch. Music instruments were banished, the Kopftuch (headscarf) was introduced, and the babies received names from the Hutterische sisters, who were contacted by letter. Katharina Basel was someone Secunda wrote to at the time, or maybe the wife of the Elder Kleinsasser.
My memories go back to the Cotswold Bruderhof 1938 – 1940, when we had to sing at the wedding of my aunt and uncle, Gertrude and Gert Wegner. Traindel’s family was in the Chaco group of Bruderhofers—the first large group of about 120 people, both young and old, to leave England in November 1940. Life was difficult, and the group suffered from hardship and disease. Many babies died during that challenging period.
In May 1941, Traindel and I met again, this time in the wilderness that was gradually transformed into the first of the Primavera Bruderhofs: Isla Margarita. Everyone was busy building, cooking, unpacking. Brothers stood in mud-holes, dipping bundles of straw into the mud before throwing it way up to the brothers sitting on the roof, who used the mud for thatching. We children lived, helped and played around all those activities, while helping to help feed the babies their little portions of semolina pudding. When Traindel’s second sister Emmy Christa died so soon after little Christienchen, we were all heartbroken. It was as if we had a huge lump in our throats that prevented us from crying out loud.
The Bruderhof had purchased a large “Estancia” from Mayor Domo Rutenberg. For the first year, he remained in Loma Hoby, and we went to work establishing Isla Maragita. When he moved out, we sent a number of families to build up our second Hof and the new hospital there: Hardy and Edith Arnold, Heini and Annemarie Arnold, the Kleiners, the Mathises, the Keiderlings, and the Sumners. They were soon joined by Jan and Susie Fros and their children, and Trudi and Walter Hüssy. Together they built new housing, a hospital, an isolation house, a school, and ranchos. Gardens were planted, and cattle, included in the sale of the land, were tended by our own “gauchos;” Walla, Roland and Johnny Robinson trained themselves to handle the wild cows. Loma Hoby was much better supplied than Isla in many ways. It had a wonderful, deep water well, of which there was always enough water to drink for as long as we lived in Paraguay. At Isla Margarita, the brothers had to dig 30 meters into the clay to find the precious cold water.
Soon the Loma Hoby community was a close-knit Bruderschaft and there was much joy in building the place into a fairly comfortable Hof. Next to the hospital and my mother’s isolation house was a lovely baby house, and a toddlers house and kindergarten were built. The kindergarten house (like all the buildings, it was designed by Traindel’s father, Fritz Kleiner) even had second floor with dwellings. We moved to Loma in 1943 and it felt good to be on a smaller, less stressful community.
But the peaceful atmosphere did not last long. At age 30, pregnant with her fifth child, my Aunt Edith died of untreated appendicitis. The event was incomprehensible, impossible to digest. Then came a crisis within the Bruderhof, brought on by some wanting to be more “hutterisch” than others. There was a struggle over leadership, and those who were trying to grab power were temporarily sent away from the community. The brotherhood was disgusted that this should happen while all of us were fighting so hard to keep the people and children alive in the jungle, struggling to meet just the elementary needs of life from scratch.
Somehow Traindel was left in Loma Hoby in the care of Cor and Gerrit Fros at the hospital. During this time, she used to come to the Hünerwald every morning and together we went to school by Trudi, Susie und Lene Schultz. I was nine years old and was family help to my Aunt Annemarie. I fetched Roswith and Christoph from kindergarten, bathed them, and read to them before bed while their mother Annemarie cared for the little ones, Anneli and Edith. Annemarie took pity on Traindel and brought her to live with them. As there was no room in the house, a bed for her was made on the veranda just under the window of Roswith’s bed. For us this was a wonderful and happy time; we loved and adored Annemarie and loved the children. Annemarie also worked in school, giving us singing lessons and teaching us handicrafts, and teaching us to swim in “Agua ra timbo.” When we went to the river, we were able to make it across—a great achievement. I guess Traindel must have been back and forth to her family in Isla, but in my memory we spent much time together, climbing the highest trees to pick oranges or search the camp for “Kamp Kirschen” and wild-sweet guavas, picking mushrooms in the early mornings, or finding wild fruit such as aguaiis and aratucous!
Just before Christman 1947, Traindel’s father died after a terrible accident in the workshop. While he was at the electric polishing machine, finishing a wooden Adventring as a Christmas present for his children, a brother turned off the electricity and the wooden ring went crashing into his forehead, knocking him unconscious. He was taken to hospital but after much fear and hope on our part, he died, leaving Secunda with six children: Susanna, Traindel, Mathias, Heiner, Fritzie and two-year old Heidi. The impact on all of us, but especially on the family, was tremendous.
I think it was 1949 when her mother Martha Secunda married my Uncle Hardi. With his four children and her six, the “Kleinold” family was born. For Traindel and Sanna, being young teenagers, this was not an easy time, although there were many happy memories also.
Traindel and I met again at “Fortbildungsschule” with Maureen Burn, and I was much impressed how Traindel managed to read the most difficult books in English, books by Aldous Huxley and other writers. We went on outings with the youth group and sang songs around a fire in the woods. At night, we walked from one Hof to the other, our path lit only by the light of the moon and stars, with the sweet smell of the tropical night flowers scenting the air. We danced and sang and it was a good and harmonious time.
Then Traindel went to Asuncion for her teachers training; Spanish came to her as easily as English had.
In 1953 we moved to Wheathill, and I believe it was 1955 that Traindel came to England for medical care and was admitted to the same hospital where I was training. By sheer chance I was working as a student nurse on the same ward she was admitted to. We had so much fun. Traindel needed therapy for her knees, but her problems weren’t serious, and we spent all my days off together, visiting London Kew Gardens, Windsor Castle, and more. One day I took her to my room and she changed into a nurse’s uniform, complete with the cap, dress, apron, and black stockings. I showed her around the hospital grounds and then we had tea and a meal in the nurses dining room. My classmates realized she didn’t really belong and they enjoyed our little fun.
We did not have any secrets from each other and I knew how deeply in love she was with Jere Bruner, but somehow the leadership was against them as a couple. This was really hard and the true reason for her being so sick. I guess it was 1956 when she returned to Primavera to teach the Sexto Grado. Years passed, years of crisis on the Bruderhof: new beginnings, crushed souls and happy revivals!
I had left the Bruderhof during the worst “crisis,” a period of turmoil within the brotherhood mainly due to power-hungry leaders: In this case it was my Uncle Heini, who was sent to the States to start a Bruderhof there in 1954. I didn’t know the whereabouts of the others who likewise departed. Leadership at the Bruderhof made it clear that contact between us would jeopardize our contact with our families still at the Bruderhof.
Traindel found my address and wrote to me after she left the Bruderhof. For her it was again a dramatically bouncing time and years of deep depression; fun and joy followed, until finally she married her big love, Jere Bruner, who by that time was teaching at Oberlin College (which I think was started by one of my great-uncles, Carel Franklin, part of the Arnolds from the American line). They had their beautiful daughter Francisca, born around the same time as my youngest daughter Hanna.
Finally in 1980 they came to visit us here in Holland for something like 10 days 2 weeks, and we had a wonderful time together. It was summer and we went out to explore Holland with our two girls. Francisca had started violin lessons, so Hanna wanted to do the same. We talked and talked and talked. Traindel was still suffering from the Bruderhof experience, but we also had good plain fun and enjoyed ourselves greatly.
We met for the last time at the German Worpswede conference in August 1996. Again it seemed as though no years had passed since we had last seen each other, and in no time we were able to share both troubles and joys about our daughters, who were starting their own lives as 20-year olds. From that time I followed her bumpy road through life: her separation from Jere; the move to New York to be near Francisca and her granddaughter; her slow decline into Alzheimer’s. It wasn’t until she moved to Mexico with her daughter and granddaughter that we finally lost contact. It was only recently that I asked Heidi to tell me where Traindel was and how she was doing, and now we hear that she died peacefully on April 13, 2017. Traindel had a difficult life but a keen mind. She was very sensitive to the world around her and to the need to come to terms with the past.
A final goodbye to a close friend. I know that now you are finally at peace!