Trachselwald Castle: An Anabaptist Prison

Several months ago, I made a new friend. She lives in Switzerland, the motherland of my Anabaptist ancestors. It all started with a kind email. Here is part of that email:

My name is Miriam Koch and I am from Switzerland. I am glad that I can be in touch with you because I have been deeply touched by your books. Your honesty about your story and life has touched me deeply… I admire your uplifting spirit and the testimony of your willingness to choose life and forgive. I believe you are a blessing to many Amish and former Amish people who might be in a simular situation like you.

To visit your blog has become a regular “habit”. ;-) I loved your post about springtime coming forth after a hard winter. I love to listen to the Amish church songs you posted. My favorite is “Lebt Friedsam”.  I wish your story could be heard here in Switzerland too, since the Anabaptist faith was born in Switzerland. Unfortunately the school system here is skipping this important part of history. This makes me very sad.

I get quite a few emails from readers who want to let me know how reading my books have affected them. I always appreciate this. The sincerity and unassuming manner in Miriam’s letter really moved me. She invited David and me to stay with her and her family when we visit Switzerland again. In her first email. How touching.

In a subsequent email, I sent Miriam the information I knew about the Trachselwald Castle. Within a week, she and her family went there for a visit. Her husband, Marco, took breathtaking photos of both inside and outside the castle. He has given me permission to post them on my blog.

Miriam kindly agreed to write a blog post about their visit to the castle. Below is her post, along with some of Marco’s photos.

Trip to the Trachselwald Castle

For two years, I have been on a journey about the Anabaptists and their history. I have to admit that only two years ago I discovered that the Amish and Mennonite roots are in the Swiss Anabaptist origin. When I started reading about all these people who stood up for their faith and even died for their faith I have been deeply touched.

I was wondering if there ever have been reconciliation efforts between the State of Switzerland and the Amish and Mennonites who are living abroad.  Saloma has been a great help to answer a lot of my questions and told me about the Trachselwald Castle in Emmental, canton Bern.  I learned that the history of the Anabaptists is rooted at Trachselwald Castle more than at any other location in the Emmental or in the canton of Bern.

On a beautiful Friday afternoon about two weeks ago, my family and I decided to make a trip to the Trachselwald Castle that is only an hour away from our home. When the castle was in sight we were amazed how beautiful and majestic it thrones above the village of Trachselwald.


Photo courtesy of Marco Koch

The castle is in a very peaceful and quiet place. It is surrounded by lots of green hills, traditional Emmental farm houses and cornfields that are almost ready to harvest. Birds filled the air with songs of joy.

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Photo courtesy of Marco Koch

Photo courtesy of Marco Koch


Photo courtesy of Marco Koch

But as we drove up the road towards the castle we were also reminded that there is evidence of evil behind these walls. Followers of the long persecuted Anabaptist movement in the Emmental were imprisoned and executed here.


Photo courtesy of Marco Koch


Photo courtesy of Marco Koch

To enter the castle, we had to go up a long stairway that was covered with a wooden roof and wooden walls. It felt a bit like a tunnel. As we walked up the stairs and looked back down to the entrance, we felt like there was no light at the end of the tunnel and I guess that`s how many of these Anabaptist prisoners felt as they walked up the stairs.

Photo courtesy of Marco Koch

There were a few other visitors and for about two hours we dove in to the history of this castle.

The tower where the prisoners were held captive was a place of persecution for many centuries.  They placed them in very small and dark dungeons and tortured, persecuted and executed them.

Photo courtesy of Marco Koch


Photo courtesy of Marco Koch


Photo courtesy of Marco Koch


Photo courtesy of Marco Koch

Hans Haslibacher, who lived not to far from the castle, was the last Anabaptist to be executed there. I believe the hymn he wrote (Haslibacher Hymn) before he died can be found in the Ausbund.

Note: Yes, “Lied” number 140 in the Ausbund (the last one in the book) is about Hans Haslibacher. Someone who witnessed his death wrote this poem/song. An English version can be found in the online Martyr’s Mirror.

The Emmental region declared the year 2007 as the “Anabaptist year” where moving moments of reconciliation and forgiveness between Switzerland and the Anabaptists from abroad took place. I hope that this will continue in the future.

Photo courtesy of Marco Koch


Photo courtesy of Marco Koch


Photo courtesy of Marco Koch

On our way home we took time to digest and reflect on what we have seen and experienced this afternoon. We were very touched by it and it is for sure that we will go back and visit this castle again. Five minutes before we arrived at home, a rainbow on the horizon amazed us.  That was a perfect completion of a very special day.


Photo courtesy of Marco Koch

Miriam and Marco, thank you so kindly for your interest in Anabaptist history, your visit to Trachselwald, and for sharing with the world what you saw. The rainbow is such a universal symbol of hope. You can Marco have brought such a sign to those of us who have these deep ancestral memories. Just seeing these photos and hearing your story stir up these memories. Thank you for being a beacon of hope that reconciliation will be ongoing.

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41 thoughts on “Trachselwald Castle: An Anabaptist Prison”

    1. HI, I just found this post…only 2+ years late. We too enjoyed the beautiful country near the Castle, and all of Switzerland! So pristine and clean! The castle was amazing, but oh, so sad, the stories of what happened there!
      My “roots” also started there in that land. Wish we would have had more time to spend there.
      THANKS for the beautiful pics and story! Blessings ~ C.J.

  1. Just read this blog about Trachselwald. Very moving…..tomorrow I will read more from your tags. Thanks for sharing this incredible story and to Miriam as well. I’m fascinated by your ancestral story which mirrors, unfortunately, so many religious faith stories of intolorance, torture and abuse. When will this all stop? When will we get it right? I do hope there will be reconciliation for the Anabaptists in Switzerland, however late.

    Orca

    1. Hi Orca, so glad you found this.

      My guess is that as long as people have free will, some people will choose evil instead of good, and so there will always be evil in the world. I believe we can never remove struggle from our lives. It’s how we deal with our struggles that makes us who we are.

      I hope so too… that there will be reconciliation. The efforts so far show that there is certainly hope for that.

  2. What a great post, Saloma! Thanks to all of you for sharing this! It has long been my dream to go to Switzerland & Germany to see some of the places I’ve read about and this gave me fresh zeal for that.

    1. Mark, thank you for your comments. If you ever get the chance to travel to Germany and Switzerland, you will not be disappointed. Their history is so deep… such as churches that were built 800 years ago. It really gave me a feeling for what our Anabaptist ancestors went through. I hope you get a chance to experience it.

  3. Thank you Saloma and Ms. Koch for the intriguing report and photos. My direct immigrant ancestor, David Martin, came to this country in 1727 with three brothers. Their father, Christian Martin, was in prison and according to oral history it was most likely Trachselwald Castle as there was only one other place it could possibly have been, but not as likely. After his release from prison Christian, his wife and daughters came to this country in 1732. A distant relative of mine went to the castle to inquire if he might study the old documents. The staff gave permission if he was willing to be locked in the room where the records were stored so that no irreplaceable documents might be slipped away. The room, once a cell for prisoners, was about eight feet by 12 feet with one window secured by iron bars. The castle had old legal records but no church records so there is still insufficient evidence of exactly where Christian was imprisoned. According to my relative, at least the view from the cell was beautiful and these photo prove that to be true!

    1. Erma, without knowing for sure, there are probably other places where Christian Martin may have been imprisoned. David and I were in the Castle Thun, also in the Emmental Valley, and that also had Anabaptists imprisoned in it, but I don’t actually know the time frame.

      That is wonderful that you know about this ancestor. Whether or not it was the Trachselwald, I’m sure going there would give you a feel for what he went through.

      That is creepy that your relative had to be locked into the cell to see the documents. Seems like there would be lots of ways of insuring the documents don’t walk away. Yes, the views from these castles are so beautiful, it had to be haunting for the prisoners. And what a contrast… the beauty of nature on the outside, and the evil of corrupt power holding their bodies hostage inside.

      Thank you for stopping by and commenting.

    2. Erma,
      I saw your response to Saloma Furlong regarding the castle. My husband, David Martin is also a direct descendant of Christian Andreas Martin. One of Christian’s sons and one of the three brothers was Henry “Creek” Martin of Earl, Lancaster, PA. I am trying to find out any information about this time period and was pleasantly surprised to see other descendants of that family with the exact story…ours was carried down thru the generations orally so it pleases me to know there are others searching as well. If you wish to contact me or see the link between our families, I would be happy to share.

      1. Kimberly Cianciolo

        Christian Martin is my 7th great grandfather. I am excited to find this thread and make more connections. I look forward to learning more about my Martin ancestry.

  4. I love Swiss/Bavarian/Austrian architecture. It is so peaceful, pastoral, and steeped in history it’s easy to forget that some of that history is less than peaceful!

  5. Lovely pictures. And an inspiring story, Saloma. I am glad your books have reached such sensitive souls as Miriam and Marco in Switzerland and that you find many other European readers.

    Miriam and Marco, thank you for sharing your travels and your spirit, much appreciated today by this American Mennonite.

  6. Joanne Hess Siegrist

    Thoughtful commentary, excellent A+ photographs by Marco & Miriam Koch.

    Surprise – These Swiss folks learned of this Trachselwald site all because Saloma received the announcements of Paul Veraguth’s travels of July 26-August 8, 2014 to USA-PA/OH/IN and now this web site can bless scores of folks.

    Good News – An A+ DVD, a 12 month calendar, and new updates may be seen at this fine web site:

    http://www.trachselwald-castle.ch

    Hopefully scores of USA folks will partner with scores of Swiss to donate finances to totally renovate the site of our early prison into a site of a new museum to show and tell our faith stories thus inspiration for Chrisitan light, hope, light, love, mercy, and a great sense of peace. Cheers for community connections.

  7. Such an interesting post! Isn’t it amazing to think how old that castle is and how wonderfully preserved? It reminds me just how young America is compared to Europe. When I saw Marco’s first pictures of the countryside with the farms on steep hills, my first thought was how much it resembled Holmes County. Indeed, I remember reading somewhere once that the Amish and Mennonites had no problem farming on hillsides upon their arrival here since they were used to that landscape back home in Switzerland.

    Your readers, Miriam and Marco, are real gems. I thank them for sharing their pictures and experience at Trachsewald.

    1. Thank you, Monica, for your comments. Yes, when I traveled to Europe, I was amazed by their deep and long history.

      Switzerland is Holmes County on steroids… if there is a more beautiful country on earth, I would not know where to find it. It makes my heart ache, it’s so beautiful.

      Yes, I am very fortunate to have connected with Miriam and Marco. And so is everyone else :=)

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  12. wilma faulkner

    I found this last year when I was working on my family tree . I am in the direct line of the Trachsel family . I was glad to see my family sold the castle before it became a torture chamber for Baptist and the Amish . I’m a Baptist . The Trachsel family became Reformers . I couldn’t remember if I thanked you for this info or not so that is why I contacted you . Thank you so much :)

    1. Ronald Trostle

      I also found this while doing some research. I am also a decendant. The first 2 Trachsel families to arrive in America included a farmers family and a minister and his family. Hans(farmer) and Peter (minister) were brothers. They originally came to Allentown area and the home is still standing. I am a decendant of the farmer. Because he was illiterate, the name changed. His son George became the first to use the name of Trostel. And I am a decendant of him with the current spelling of Trostle.

  13. Can you tell me, were you able to understand the information at the castle knowing only English? Or should we hire an English-speaking guide?

  14. Harriet Eshleman

    This blog brought tears to my eyes. I had an ancestor in Trachselwald Castle. Lorenz Aberly of Gruenau in 1539. Thank you for this wonderful blog, it’s the closest visit of the Castle I should ever see. Maybe someday I can visit in person Trachselwald Castle.

    Harriet (Eberly Radcliffe) Eshleman

  15. Erma,
    I saw your response to Saloma Furlong regarding the castle. My husband, David Martin is also a direct descendant of Christian Andreas Martin. One of Christian’s sons and one of the three brothers was Henry “Creek” Martin of Earl, Lancaster, PA. I am trying to find out any information about this time period and was pleasantly surprised to see other descendants of that family with the exact story…ours was carried down thru the generations orally so it pleases me to know there are others searching as well. If you wish to contact me or see the link between our families, I would be happy to share.

    1. I was delighted to find this website. My maternal grandfather’s family were Aebi/Ebys! They were among those Mennonite/Anabaptists who were held captive in the 1600’s in the Trachselwald dungions. I have been doing research on their history for years and would love to make contact with others who are interested in the Aebi/Eby history. I will gladly leave my email address to contact me: jet66887@gmail.com! Ich spreche auch Deutsch.

  16. Hi, Are there cemeteries near the castle or in the region where the martyrs
    would have been interred? My lines include: Buckwalter (Boughwalder) Eby, Rohrer, Landis, Herr, Hess, Hershey, Mylin, Kendig, Bauman, Weber, Witmer, Groff, Good, among others. Thanks for your research and posts. Carol Buckwalter

  17. laverne martin

    Thankyou for this i am a direct ancestor of David martin one of Christians sons and live in Ontario I enjoy following the story of my ancestors and am amazed at their courage I did visit this castle and was very sad at the conditions the prisoners were kept in Thanks for this

  18. Heart-rending ! ! !
    My roots are in Heimiswil, near Burgdorf. I visited there well over sixty years ago and met Aebi family members who hosted and toasted me. There is a grand restaurant there, The Lowen, a fine country restaurant with our crests on the wall.
    I sat on one of the Trachselwald prisoner beds, as well. It was STILL a prison, partly modernised, when I visited !
    I went on to Baiertal, in southern Germany, near Heidelberg, then to Lemberg (now Lviv) in the Ukraine, from whence our families came, to Minnesota, then my grandfather, to Colorado.
    Thanks hugely, for all this love and information !

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