Hans Burki (fl. 1710) Describes His Brutal Incarceration

[ABOVE—Anabaptist bridge crossing the Combe du Bez above Corgémont; Berne, Switzerland. Memorial plaque at the site of Anabaptist worship in the 17th century during the religious troubles, © Chriusha (Хрюша) / CC-BY-SA-3.0 / via Wikimedia Commons File:Pont des Anabaptistes Gedenktafel 01 10.jpg]]

Neither the Swiss Catholics nor the reformed church had no use for Mennonites, however holy their lives; and theyimprisoned and cruelly persecuted many members of the sect. Around 1710 they held almost sixty Mennonite prisoners at Berne. Several Swiss leaders wished to execute these prisoners, but more humane voices prevailed, and instead they were shipped down the Rhine to be transported to America. So brutal had been their incarceration that most were half-starved, sickly, and unfit to travel.

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Compassionate Dutch Mennonites raised money to assist these fellow-believers, and prevailed on the sympathetic government of Holland to take them in. Thus the Mennonites escaped transportation, although many of them later migrated to the United States and Canada.

What follows is the account of one of the arrest and subsequent mistreatment of one of those Mennonites. This account by Burki (Burgholder) is typical of several which have survived.

Hans Burki’s Report

For the remembrance of my descendants and of all my fellow-believers, I Hans Burki, of Langnau, want to relate what happened to me.

I had gone to the mountain called Bluttenried (Community of Langnau), in company with my wife and two sons. There a poor man came to us to whom we gave something to eat; this man subsequently went to Harvag to the authorities and told them that he saw me. Thereupon the Bailiff of Trachselwald sent the traitor with a few others to take me prisoner. They came quite early in the morning to my hut, in which I stood unawares of any evil, and when I noticed the man before the door I had him supplied with something to eat. Then I was made a captive and they took me away from my wife and twelve children and led me to Castle Trachselwald and placed me into a prison or dungeon for four days, during which time I was taken sick.

Then the bailiff with two provosts brought me on a cart into the city of Berne. There they placed me, sick as I was, in the prison, called Ahur. After two days the gentlemen called and questioned me, whereupon I confessed my faith. Then they locked me up alone in a separate hole in the Ahur, and there I lay sick about five weeks, and altogther 17 weeks, in solitary confinement. Thereupon they led me into another prison, named the Island. There I lay during the whole long and cold winter with an unhealthy body, and suffered very much from the intense cold. For a long time I was watched so closely that none of my family or anyone else could come to me, so that my friends did not know whether I was living or dead.

Thereupon, at the beginning of the month of May, 1709, I was brought with all the other prisoners to the hospital, and there, too, I was kept under such close surveillance that only a very few persons could speak to us. We were compelled to work on wool from early morning until late at night, viz: from four o’clock in the morning until eight o’clock at night, and we got nothing to eat and drink but bread and water. This lasted about thirty-flve weeks. Thereafter ten more weeks we were treated less severely.

Then the authorities had us conveyed to the ship, viz: on March 18, 1710, with the design of having us taken to America. The authorities told us that if at any time and by any means we were to return to their country, they would inflict the death penalty on us. Thus the merciful Father has by his strong hand and through the medium of our brethren and friends in Holland, delivered us from our oppressors, as we arrived at Nimewegen, and came to the town where they had to release us. For this we thank the Almighty God and Father of all mercy, who will not forsake all those who place their confidence in him, but will cause them to prosper. The whole time of my imprisonment has been about 21 months, for in the month of July, 1708 I was taken captive, and on the 18th of March, 1710, I was led away from Berne.

Will come to a close here.