Hans Kräl
16th Anabaptist missionary and Hutterite leader

 

(This story has come alive for us during our recent visit to Austria .  Just yesterday in German School we did a study on this very brave man.  How strong was the faith of this man.  Being there with in the prison dungeon, made it all so alive for us.  So far we found in our study this one time of his imprisonment, but believe He was captured more times, according to the studies in Austria.  So we'll keep on doing a research on Hans Kral.  Our students were so touched by this story, that they couldn't help but cry.  These stories help to mold a strong faith within the hearts of our youth.  We did recognize that Christ was the true giver of strength that kept Hans going onward.  The pictures were taken at the sight of his imprisonment.  It truly was a heartbreaker to be at the very spot where this all took place.  Please take the time and read this to your children.  It will be some great investment.  Paul Hofer 3/29/2007)

    In 1557, shortly before Ascension Day, brother Hans Kräl (called Kitzbühler after his birthplace) was taken prisoner for his witness to Jesus Christ and the divine truth.  He was traveling for God’s cause when he was captured at Taufers in the Puster Valley.  About a mile from the castle he met a group of five men including the judge, Talhammer.  The judge greeted him, since he did not know him, and rode past, and Hans acknowledged the greeting.  Then the judge’s clerk rode up to him and asked where he was from.  Hans said, from Moravia.  The clerk inquired about his business, and Hans told him he had been visiting his brothers.  When the clerk asked him whether the Anabaptists were his brothers and Hans admitted they were, the clerk arrested him on the spot.  The judge turned around, dismounted from his horse, and, taking brother Hans’s own belt from his body, bound him as tightly as he could and led him alongside his horse.  Hans had to run like a dog through the mud and puddles for a whole mile until they reached the castle.  He was blue with suffocation from running and from the tight belt.  He could hardly stand on his feet.  The lord of the castle, named Füeger,  sharply reprimanded the judge for binding him so tightly. 

Then they searched him, took everything they found, and put him in prison for two days.  The next day, a Thursday, they brought him out for a hearing.  Lord Füeger and three others questioned him about his faith and his view on baptism and the mass.  He witnessed to the divine truth and spoke about his beliefs, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper.  Then they stopped questioning him and pressed him to recant.  When he told them not to expect him to abandon what he had acknowledged as the truth, they took him back to prison. 

A week later Lord Füeger and six others questioned him again, but as they got nowhere, they returned him to the prison again. 

Another week went by, and he was brought out for a hearing before the whole council.  The judge called his faith heresy and the church of God a sect.  Brother Hans said it was neither heresy nor a sect but the church of God.  “The devil take you if you think you are the church of God!” the furious judge replied.  He repeated it every time he heard Hans mention the church of God and said he would teach him: not to say it again.  But brother Hans persisted all the more.  Then the judge told him that an order had come from Innsbruck demanding the names of the leaders who sent brothers out on mission and of those who gave them food and shelter.  He answered, “We are not sent out to harm anyone.  Our mission is the salvation of men, to call them to repent and change their lives.”  But this last question, he added, was not about articles of faith; they did not need to know and he would not tell them.

Then the judge warned him sternly to consider his own safety.  Unless he would tell who gave them shelter, food, and drink, they would use physical violence on him.  So brother Hans asked the judge and the whole council how they would like it if he betrayed them after they had done him a good turn.  The members of the council looked at one another and said they would not like it at all.  The judge became angry.  He asked him if he was trying to accuse an honorable council of making him betray someone and repeated his warning to take care, because they were going to deal with him in earnest.  Since Hans refused to tell them what they wanted to know, he was sent back to prison.  He had to go hungry, while they went to eat. 

When they rose from the table, they fetched him back and led him to the torture chamber.  He took off his cloak himself and sat down so willingly beneath the rope that the bystanders could not hold back their tears.  

The torturer stretched him up by the rope, and the judge warned him again to spare himself and confess.  But brother Hans said he would betray no one.  He would wait on God’s will.  A big stone was brought.  The judge was angry when he realized that he was getting nowhere and said, “You all swear that you won’t betray or inform on one another.” 

Hans answered, “We do not swear; we betray no one, because it is wrong.” 

Then the judge said, “You are a scoundrel.  I have already caught you telling a lie.  Why do you allow yourself to be tortured?  It is all over with you anyhow.”  (Mark well what the devil and his children can do.  They know that a man who is not standing right cannot remain firm.)  The brother protested: he was no scoundrel -- what lie had they caught him in?  The judge answered, “You said you were not a teacher, but we have learned that you are.”  Brother Hans replied that he was not a teacher, but if he were, he would not be ashamed of it, for it is honorable before God.  So they left him hanging from the rope and went to the council room.

The torturer remained with him and pleaded with him to give the information.  “They will not stop until they have torn you apart.”  Hans answered that he would wait and see how far God would let them go.  They could do no more than God permitted.  The torturer scoffed, “Aren’t you a fool to think God can see what we are doing to you in this hole!”   

Then the council returned, saying the lady of the castle had asked them not to torture him and therefore they would stop.  They sent him back to prison. 

After that, Lord Füeger rode to Innsbruck, the seat of government.  When he returned, he had the priests interrogate Hans in his presence for two days running, Friday and Saturday. 

No matter what they tried, they got nowhere with their false teaching and insistent pleading.  It would take too long to tell it all.  Hans remained firm and, in a word, said he was standing in the truth and would remain in it with God’s help.  By that time Lord Füeger was furious.  “You stubborn dog!  I have tried everything with you, but I won’t give up.  I will send you to the stake, and then we’ll see how you honor God.”

Hans answered, “I will not be suffering because I did anything wrong but solely for the sake of the truth, and that will not dishonor God.”

Three days later they put him in a deep, pitch-dark dungeon in the castle keep, where he could see neither sun, moon, nor light of day.  He could not tell whether it was day or night but noticed it was night when the dungeon became somewhat cooler.  During the day it was hot and steamy at the bottom of the dungeon, and he sweated.  His clothes rotted away on his body until he was almost naked, and for a long time he had no shirt, only a rough blanket that had been let down to him.  He wrapped it around himself, and there he sat in misery and darkness.  His shirt rotted away until not a thread remained except the collar around his neck, which he finally hung on the wall.  He could not stand the daylight and fresh air anymore.  When the brood of Pilate hauled him up for a hearing to see if he would recant, the air and light were so painful to him that he was glad when they let him down into the dungeon again. 

He stank so terribly from the foulness of this dark pit that no one could stand being close to him.  When they brought him out, they had to stand back.  The councilors said they had never known even a carcass to stink so badly.

There he lay in the terrible dungeon that was so full of worms and vermin that he had to cover his head by wrapping it in an old rag someone had mercifully thrown down to him.  For a long time no one had been in the dungeon; that was why the vermin had become so bad.  Hans had a great horror of them until he finally got used to them.

The rats and mice even ate his food.  When his meals were let down, he had to be sure to get hold of the bowl before it reached the ground, otherwise the vermin would be allover it before he had a chance.  When he pushed the bowl away, they fought over it and bit one another, clattering the bowl around and cleaning it up in no time.  He could not keep any food, because the vermin would have smelled it and eaten it off his very body.  But there was no question of keeping food, for there was never any left over.  They all but starved him.  When he was well, he could easily eat the little he did get.  When he was sick and could not eat, their attitude was, “Go without until you feel like eating.” 

The vermin lifted the lid and drank from his water container until he got a heavy stone and placed it on top so they could no longer get it open. 

His greatest sorrow was that no messages got through to him from the church.  At that time Hans Mändel, a servant of the Lord’s Word, was in the mountains of Tirol.  He had a great longing for news from Hans Kräl and got word to him in the dungeon, asking him to send some sign that he was still faithful to God and his church.  If he had nothing else, he should send a little bundle of straw.  Hans Kräl would gladly have done so, but he did not even have so much as a bundle of straw in the dungeon.  That is how poor he was.  Then he remembered the collar of his rotted shirt, which he had hung on the wall, and glad that he had it, he took it down and sent it to the brothers as a sign that he was at peace with God and the church.  When they received the collar and saw how destitute he was, it went to their hearts and they wept out of pity for him.  They sent a message back to him in the dungeon that they would be more than happy to send him a shirt or anything else, if only they knew how.  But he did not want them to try, because if it were discovered he would be tortured again and those who brought it would have to suffer.  So he let them know that they should not send him anything.  He must clothe himself with the garment of patience.

In this state he spent all summer in the dungeon, until Michaelmas [Sept. 29] in the fall, when they noticed that his feet were beginning to rot.  They brought him to another prison, where conditions were so harsh that nothing could be worse.  Here he was hung by one hand and one foot in the stocks for thirty-seven weeks.  He had to sit on a tilted board and hang in the stocks in such a way that he could neither lie down nor sit properly, and he could not stand up at all.

On top of all this misery, he was subjected to mockery from the godless folk who taunted him: “There lies a holy man.  No one is as wise as he, and he alone knows it.  There lies the chosen people of God!This was because he testified steadfastly about the church. 

On the other hand, since he could a receive no message of comfort from the church, on one occasion God gave him great comfort in secret through an unbeliever, a nobleman who told Hans to take courage and not be afraid: many people knew very well what was true and what was right, only they did not follow it and so would not tolerate it.  This was a great encouragement.

It so happened that God prompted Hans to send for the clerk who had taken him prisoner.  The clerk soon came, sat down, and asked why he had been called.  Brother Hans said, “Because, as you well know, you are guilty of my imprisonment and of the great misery I am suffering, although I am innocent -- I have to tell you this.  Never in my whole life have I done you any harm.”  The clerk sat there, dumb with shock and unable to answer.  All he could say was that he had no choice.  Brother Hans said, “Indeed, it is God’s judgment upon you that has been driving you.  Because you have been so bloodthirsty against the believers, you will not be able to avoid bringing about your own judgment by this last deed.  You have brought a severe sentence upon yourself.  God will deal with you and punish you for your sin.”  The clerk was so terrified he could not say a word.

He left, and less than two weeks later he died in the night.  He had been in good health, then within fifteen minutes he was dead.  God brought him to his end in great fear.  He howled and wailed and admitted that he had sinned.  It is bound to be so with those who take pleasure in serving the devil and his henchmen.  I omitted to say that his superiors were displeased and said he deserved a fitting reward from the devil.  They told him (in Hans’s hearing) that it must have been demonic possession that made him unable to leave Hans Kräl alone, and the devil should have carried him off for taking Hans prisoner.  He hardly ever smiled again from that time on, because of what he had done, and in the end he had to pay for it. 

It happened that on the night the clerk died, such great joy came over brother Hans that he prayed and gave thanks to God all night long, for he was given the certainty that he would return to the church of the Lord.  He was filled with joy and gladness, like, the God-fearing King Hezekiah when he said, “Oh, what a wonderful thing that I should return again to the house of the Lord and his church.”  Yes, his joy was that of the king and prophet David, who sings in the Psalm, “I am glad that they say to me that I shall go into the house of God and my feet shall stand in the gates of Jerusalem, where the tribes of the Lord go up to give thanks to his name.” 

Never in his whole life had he experienced such a night.  In the morning the jailer’s wife came and told him about the clerk’s sudden and terrible death that same night.

After what had happened to the clerk, the lords of the castle were very much afraid and tried to find ways to get rid of Hans.  One evening about a week later, a farmhand who did field work for the castle came to brother Hans with the keys and asked if Hans would trust him to let him out.  Hans said he would see what the man would do after he was out.  The laborer tried to unlock the door but could not find the right key.  Brother Hans told him not to try -- it would get him into trouble.  The man said that was for him to worry about.  He looked for the right key but could not find it, so he had to give up.  It was not to be this time.

The lady of the castle sent her servant to the dungeon to call down to brother Hans, “Her ladyship wishes to tell you she will send for the judge and jurors.  If you will say just two words indicating that you are willing to be instructed or that you have been wrong, you will be released.  If you are afraid to do it because you think it would be a sin, she is ready to take the sin on herself and you would be free of it.” 

But Hans said, “Go and tell your lady she is already burdened with enough sin and should turn away from it. She does not need another’s sin.” 

As a result he had to stay in prison for another winter.  The following spring an order came from the government at Innsbruck, which the lords came and read to him.  It said that because he was so stubborn and would not accept any correction, he would be sent to the galleys.  They told him how he would fare on the ocean, that the prisoners were stripped naked and scourged.  But he answered that he would trust God, his Lord, who was on the sea just as much as on the land, to help him endure.

Then he was taken out of the dungeon and allowed to go about the castle for two days to learn to walk, since he was completely crippled from the imprisonment, the stocks, and the fetters.  He had been in prison for two years minus five weeks; for eighteen months of that time he had not seen the sun. 

A constable was made responsible for taking him to the galleys.  Hans said farewell to everyone in the castle and called them to repentance.  The lady of the castle sent a message telling him to come to her too, which he did.  She let him come into her writing room, where he took leave of her and called her to repentance too.  He asked her to let the faithful continue their work unhindered and not to imprison them anymore.  She agreed and wept.  With tears running down her cheeks she said, “As long as I live I will never again take a believer captive.”  Then she gave him some traveling money and dismissed him. 

The constable led him away.  This was an ungodly man, who called brother Hans a scoundrel every time he spoke to him.  One evening two days later, the constable got drunk in the inn at Niederdorf.  They had given him so much wine that he fell across the table, and when he and Hans were taken to bed, the constable collapsed on the bed dead drunk.  Then dear brother Hans opened the bedroom door, then the door of the house, closed it behind him, and was gone. 

That was how God helped him escape that night early in 1559, and he returned in peace and joy to the church of the Lord, as is told in the song he wrote.   After he was entrusted with the service of God’s Word, he made still more journeys in Tirol.

This story shows how God stands by a man who is upright and true -- how much patience and strength he can give a man to endure suffering for the sake of his faith and God’s truth, which would otherwise be impossible.  All of this happened and is recorded here as an example of steadfastness so that we, too, may prepare ourselves with true devotion.  No one who is not pure and upright can hold out under such torment.

While Hans Kräl was still imprisoned, Lord Füeger (the lord of the castle) died a terrible death.  The same was true of the clerk who took Hans prisoner, as already told.  The constable who was supposed to take him to the galleys died miserably too, while Hans Kräl was still in the mountains after his escape.  Judge Talhammer died two years later.  His was not a natural death either.  That is how God destroys his enemies for their guilt toward his people.

 

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