At the same time a social revolution was being inaugurated under the direction of Jan Matthys. His first step was to confiscate the property of the emigrants. All IOUs, account books and contracts found in the houses were destroyed. All clothing, bedding, furniture, hardware, weapons and stocks of food were removed and placed in central depots. After praying for three days Matthys announced the names of seven ‘deacons’ who had been chosen by God to administer these stores. The poor were encouraged to apply to them and received commodities according to their needs.
However popular these measures may have been with the beneficiaries, the fact that they were carried out at the bidding of a foreigner, a newcomer to the town, aroused resentment, and a blacksmith spoke out against Matthys. The propheta at once had him arrested and taken to the marketplace. The whole population was also summoned there, and Matthys, surrounded by a bodyguard, made a speech in which he declared that the Lord was outraged at the slandering of his prophet and would take vengeance on the whole community unless this godless smith was cut off from the body of the Chosen People. The few eminent citizens who protested against the illegality of the proceedings were themselves thrown into prison and Matthys first stabbed and then shot the smith. The crowd was warned to profit from this example and dutifully sang a hymn before it dispersed.
The terror had begun and it was in an atmosphere of terror that Matthys proceeded to carry into effect the communism which had already hovered for so many months, a splendid millennial vision, in the imagination of the Anabaptists. A propaganda campaign was launched by Matthys, Rothmann, and the other preachers. It was announced that true Christians should possess no money of their own but should hold all money in common, from which it followed that all money, and also all gold and silver ornaments, must be handed over. At first this order met with opposition; some Anabaptists buried their money. Matthys responded by intensifying the terror.
“The more things change, the more they stay the same.” “Wherever you go, there you are.” “Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But since no one was listening, everything must be said again.” You read history out of a sense of wonder about times and places different from your own, and you end up wondering if anything has ever changed at all.