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Joseph and Michael Hofer, Hutterite brothers from South Dakota, were conscientious objectors to the military draft established by the Selective Service Act of 1917. They and two other men from their Hutterite colony were court-martialed and sentenced to twenty years[1] in Alcatraz for refusal to comply with orders. Joseph and Michael died after transfer to the prison[2] at Fort Leavenworth. Ultimately these events contributed to the emigration of Hutterites to Canada in 1918 and in subsequent years.[3]

1917 at Camp Lewis, Wash.

In the spring of 1918, four young Hutterite men from the Rockport Colony in South Dakota were conscripted into the U.S. Army and ordered to report for military training at Camp Lewis in Washington. Along with Joseph (23) and Michael (24) Hofer, the group included their brother David (28) and Joseph's brother-in-law, Jacob Wipf (30). Because they refused to wear a military uniform or comply with other orders, the men were court-martialed and sentenced to twenty years of hard labor at the infamous federal military prison at Alcatraz.

After refusing to work, the quartet endured abusive conditions at Alcatraz for several months. Consigned to solitary cells, known as "the hole," they received only bread and water for days at a time; they were also subjected to a torture technique known as "high cuffing," in which they were forced to stand at their cell doors, their chained hands drawn up tight and their feet barely able to touch the floor. The men were transferred to Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, arriving on November 19, 1918. Within two weeks, Joseph (November 29) and Michael (December 2) Hofer died during the 1918 flu pandemic.[4][5] The U.S. Army said that the men had died of pneumonia, victims of the Influenza Pandemic of 1918. The U.S. Army returned the bodies to the family outfitted with military uniforms.

The Hutterites, convinced that the men had died of mistreatment, buried them in the Rockport Colony with the word "martyr" appended to their grave markers.

The official church history, the Chronicle of the Hutterian Brethren, states that Michael and Joseph Hofer "died in prison as a result of cruel mistreatment by the United States military." The National Civil Liberties Bureau, a forerunner of the American Civil Liberties Union, cited the Hofer brothers as exhibit A in accusing the U.S. government of mistreating conscientious objectors during the war. Although the basic outline of this account is relatively well known, the recent discovery of several significant caches of letters—exchanges between the men and their families—sheds new light on this story.[6]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Ewert, J. Georg (1984). "Christ or Country?". The Plough: 6–10.
  2. ^ Stoltzfus, Duane C. S. (2014). Pacifists in Chains: The Persecution of Hutterites during the Great War. Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 1–296. ISBN 978-1421411279. OCLC 841186917.
  3. ^ "World War 1". Decker Colony School.
  4. ^ "Joseph Hofer". Hutterite. Find a Grave. September 9, 2010.
  5. ^ "Michael Hofer". Hutterite. Find a Grave. September 9, 2010.
  6. ^ Stoltzfus, Duane (April 2011). "Armed With Prayer in an Alcatraz Dungeon: The Wartime Experiences of Four Hutterite C.O.'s in Their Own Words" (PDF). The Mennonite Quarterly Review. 85: 259–292. Retrieved November 26, 2014.  

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