“Jacob Baltzli” – Ficticious, but very similar to actual happenings

The couple Ueli Baltzli and Katharina Gosteli were married on May 28th, 1632 in Luterbach in the Swiss reformed church of Vechigen. Probably they could not have dreamed that some of their children would one day leave the Bernese church and convert to Anabaptism. A few years later the young family moved to Bolligen, very near the capitol city. There they lived in the house known as “Zum Scherme” [ ] or by the “Badhus” [bath house]. With time Ueli Baltzli took on the office of choir judge (Chorrichter), which indicates his social standing and commitment to church and society.

We don't know how it was that some of choir judge Ueli Baltzli's children came into contact with the Anabaptists. In any case, at the end of 1664, he and his colleague in the choir court, Durs Rohrer von Ittigen, were asked to explain the nonconformist behavior of their children. Probably it was already an expression of their Anabaptist beliefs that Niklaus Baltzli and Christina Rohrer did not adhere to the Reformed customs in announcing their forthcoming marriage. They did though gave their marriage vows soon after on December 9th, 1664. They also obediently had their first children baptized in the reformed tradition. But, around 1670, it must have become clear that the two had now become Anabaptists. Shortly thereafter, the 30-year-old Niklaus Baltzli was also imprisoned in the Bern Tittlinger tower. Since he was young, strong, and healthy, "able and efficient in rowing [...] he is destined to be sent the galleys." He should therefore be shipped to the sea together with others "at first opportunity".

This decree did not take effect immediately, though, only because at the same time an offer of Rappoltsweiler businessman Adolphe Schmidt was on the table to take charge of the imprisoned Anabaptists and employ them in his mines. What happened to Niklaus subsequently is unclear. But Niklaus' younger brother Enoch - maybe Ueli, another brother - joined the Anabaptists. But Enoch was not able to stay in his homeland, but from the 1680s he appeared in the Alsatian Ohnenheim. He was married to a daughter of the Basler Fridli Hersberger.

Interestingly, Niklaus Baltzli seems to have succeeded in gaining a foothold in the Bolliger parish despite his Anabaptist beliefs, although not in the village center any longer, but rather off the beaten path. In any case, it is doumented for 1686 that he lived on his farm Riselried or the "Wysshaus" above Habstetten.

Later he has to give in to pressure and probably moved away, possibly to the Alsace like his brother Enoch. In 1692, the Riselried farm was auctioned off because its Anabaptist owner - certainly not quite voluntarily - had "left the country". However, the owner of the confiscated farm is no longer called Niklaus, but Ueli Baltzli: either this is his brother or his son.

The fact is that as a result a Ueli and a Niklaus Baltzli appear in Jebsheim, a village in the Alsatian Rhine plain.

However, due to the warlike events in Alsace around 1700, it is not surprising that members of the Baltzli family also sought shelter in their homeland.

Anabaptist Niklaus Baltzli was promptly arrested again in Bern. He belonged to the group of Bernese Anabaptists who, in 1710, were to be deported to Pennsylvania and remain there forever. The boats took off down the Rhine with the Anabaptists in chains but when they crossed the Dutch border at Nijmegen, the local authorities released all the prisoners.

But also of Ueli Baltzli, the son of the Anabaptist Niklaus Baltzli sen. we know that he found refuge on the Solothurn Bucheggberg. In 1742, his son Niklaus, born in Bolligen, received in Bern the permission to take the frail father, together with his second wife, to himself under surety.

In the meantime the descendants of the Bernese Anabaptist family Baltzli have become numerous. In France the name has meanwhile been converted into "Pelsy" and there are still many members in Anabaptist-Mennonite parishes bearing this name.

The Bernese Burger library still has an old Anabaptist Froachauer Bible from 1531 with an owner's note: "Niclaus Baltzly 1724 year".

It is true, an Anabaptist named "Jacob Baltzli" does not appear in this short compilation. This person is fictitious. But concerning the Jacob Baltzli of the Bern Stations Way, "any similarities with actual persons, living or dead", as one finds in the end credits of so many feature films, are by no means coincidental, but are entirely intentional.

Hanspeter Jecker