The unemployed wayfarer who married an heiress

Josef Stangl

Josef Stängl 1911–1993

Josef was born to a poor Catholic family in rural Bavaria and raised in a boys’ home where beatings were a daily occurrence and afterschool recreation meant peeling potatoes. He was later apprenticed to an uncle who was a baker. At seventeen, he took to the road, along with thousands of other young men. It was the height of the Great Depression, and in Germany, some five million were estimated to be jobless. Happening upon the Bruderhof – then a poor farming community near Frankfurt – he was struck by the sight of uneducated peasants working alongside professionals, and by the brotherly love he witnessed among them.

Instead of the “divisive spirit that rules the world,” Josef found, in the community, “the struggle for God’s kingdom. . . . It was here that the message of the gospel dawned upon me: that all classes, all social strata which are separated from one another in the world, are united in the gospel; and that Christ came for all – that every individual, no matter his background, would be welcomed and included.”

Ten years later, during the darkest days of World War II, Josef affirmed the reality of this truth in a most personal way, through his marriage to fellow community member Ivy Warden. The daughter of a wealthy doctor whose patients included Vanderbilts, Morgans, and Rockefellers, Ivy had grown up in Paris and on the French Riviera, where she played tennis with the future Queen Elizabeth II, and attended Edinburgh University. After breaking off her engagement to an English lord, she had embarked on a search for another life, and found her way to the Bruderhof. Josef and Ivy had eight children, four sons and four daughters. For decades, he served the community as a baker.

Fetching fresh bread for breakfast from the communal kitchen
Fetching fresh bread for breakfast from the communal kitchen.
Our work as a whole should provide for the common table at which all sit down and every one satisfies his hunger. This was the experience of the Jewish people after liberation from Egyptian slavery and it was the experience of the early Christians in Jerusalem who, aglow with the spirit of Christ, lived together in peaceful, just, and united community, sharing their possessions communally.
Hans Meier, engineer and Bruderhof member

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