Place Names

Nearly all information for this article was taken from Die Ortsname der Oberlausitz (Place Names of Upper Lusatia) by Jan Meschang.

(Please note that throughout this article the German Umlaut is used.  This simply means that quite often the diacritical mark (“) appears over the vowels a, o and u to indicate umlauts.  It would be difficult to compose this without these.  The ae, oe and ue which we use in English do not appear on signs, maps, etc.  Sorbian diacritics are also used.)

When the writer was in East Germany highway signs highway signs identifying the villages of Lusatia were bi-lingual.  Besides giving the German and Sorbian place names, they also gave the names of the Kreis (county) and Bezirk (district).  For instance, the signs identifying Guttau read:

GUTTAU                  (modern German name)

HUĆINA                   (modern Sorbian name)

KREIS BAUTZEN        (County of Bautzen)

BEZIRK DRESDEN       (District of Dresden)

The signs leading into Gröditz read:

GRÖDITZ                (modern German spelling)

HRODŹIŠĆO            (modern Sorbian spelling)

KREIS BAUTZEN      (County of Bautzen)

BEZIRK DRESDEN     (District of Dresden)

Now that the two post-war Germanys are united, one wonders whether or not bi-lingual place names will continue.  As far as can be determined bi-lingual names will continue.  However, former East German districts have been eliminated and the territory has been re-structured into provinces similar to those in the west.  Nearly all the territory from which the Texas Wends emigrated is now included in the Province of Saxony.

Jan Meschgang in his book Die Ortsnamen der Oberlausitz  (Place Names of Upper Lusatia) lists 1055 names of cities, villages and hamlets of which 60% are of Sorbian origin; 37% German and 3% could not be determined.

Most place names have changed over the years.  After Lusatia was conquered by the Germans around 1000, colonization from the German west commenced.  This had a tremendous effect on place names.  However, these colonists did not arrive in Upper Lusatia until around 1200, because no German place names were mentioned until that time.  Names of Sorbian origin were not erased by German colonization and most names reflect the indelible imprint Sorbian has on the region.  The German spelling of names in Lusatia will usually reveal whether or not they are of Sorbian origin.  German colonists, who were brought in to clear and to cultivate additional land, often settled in the proximity of Sorbian villages, so that the new and old villages were differentiated by utilizing the old Sorbian names, or parts of them, and using Wendisch, Deutsch, Gross, Klein, Alt, Neu, Ober and Nieder (Wendish, German, Gross,, big, little, old new, upper and lower) as prefixes. These prefixes were also employed later on as changing conditions warranted.  Occurrences of wendisch and deutsch were rare in the area in which the Texas Wends originated, but all the rest were used extensively.

In some cases German names have replaced the Sorbian altogether, such as, HOCHKIRCH for BUKECY and BUCHHOLZ for KRISCHA.  These villages have dual names, that is, one of German origin and one of Sorbian origin.  Beginning in 1936, the Nazis re-named 56 villages and hamlets in Upper Lusatia.  After World War II most of these reverted to the original names.  Many place names in eastern Germany end with the suffix itz and witz.  These suffixes occur very often in the County of Bautzen, where over 50 names of villages and hamlets end with them.  Most place names reflect names of persons, places, animals, plants, cultural names (Kulturnamen), etc.

Many Sorbian place names ending with ow and j were taken into the German with the suffix au, such as, in German RACHLAU – in Sorbian, RACHLOW: place of Rachel; LÖBAU – LUBIJ: property of one L’ub.  Sometimes the ending took on a, as GÖDA – HODŹIJ; property of a Godo or Godej; and DREHSA – DROŹDŹIJ: property of a Droźdo.

Below are some names of villages and hamlets where our ancestors lived, together with their modern Sorbian place names and meanings:

BARUTH – BART: origination has not been satisfactorily established.  Bart  could have come from the German Bartholomaeus (Bartholomew).  It could have come from the old Sorbian “bara” meaning “swamp” or “marsh.”  In 1964 the site of a Sumpfburg (an old fortification with a moat around it) was excavated at Baruth.  This village was first mentioned in 1234.

BAUTZEN – BUDYŠIN: village of one Budycha.  Bautzen was called Budyšin until 1868.  It was mentioned for the first time in 1002 as a fortress and city.  It is known for the Ortenburg, the residence of the ruler of Upper Lusatia for many centuries.

BELLWITZ – BĔLECY: folks of one Bĕl.

BRIESSNITZ – BRĔZECY: settlers among the birches.

BRÖSA – BRĔSZYNA: village in a birch grove.  Breza means birch.

BUCHHOLZ – (formerly KRISCHA) – KŘIŠOW: either place of a man named Křiš (from Christian) or place of one Křiwoš whose name was shortened to Křiš.  Note: Krischa was changed to Buchholz by the Nazis in 1936 and the original name was not re-instated.

BUCHWALDE – BUKOJNA: in old Sorbian Bukowina means beech forest.  In German Buchwalde also means beech forest.  This is an example of a village with a dual name.

CORTNITZ – CHORTNICA: either greyhound (Windhund) or water trough, the latter being favored because Cortnitz was along the road to Gröditz and could have served as a watering place.

DAUBAN – DUBO: a place where oak trees grow.

DREHSA – DROŹDŹIJ: property of Droźdo.

DUBRAUKE – DUBRAWKA: high place in a small oak forest.

GEBELZIG – HBJELSK: along the bend of a stream.

GLEINA – HLINA: clay.  Until 1900 clay was mined near Gleina.

GÖDA – HODŹIJ: property of a Godo or Godej.

GRÖDITZ – HRODŹIŠĆO: village at the big hill-fort, in German, “Ort am grossem Burgwall.”  This village was first mentioned in 1222 in a Latin document as Gradis.  The German name was formed from grodisce meaning big fort by taking the first four letters “Grod,” placing an umlaut over the o, and adding the suffix itz.  The Sorbian ćo indicates big or large.  This is an example of a cultural name (Kulturname).

GROSSDEHSA – DAŹIN: place of one Daźa.

GROSS SAUBERNITZ – ZUBORNICA: Place of the bison.  (See Klein Saubernitz}  The Gross distinguishes this village from Klein Saubernitz.

GUTTAU – HUĆINA: place of one Guta.  It was first mentioned in a Latin document in 1222 as Guttin.  The Sorbian Hućina has reference to thicket (in German, Dickicht), suggesting that the village was located in a wooded place.

HOCHKIRCH – BUKECY: has a double name.  The German name indicates the church located on an elevated place.  In 1368 it was known as Hoynkirche.  The older Sorbian name Bukovic means residents who live among beech trees.  In 1222 a Latin document refers to Hochkirch as Bukewicz.

JERCHWITZ – JERCHECY: formerly a settlement of one Erich.  The  fact that this German place name with the ending dorf  took on witz was only possible if the inhabitants were Sorbian.

KITTLITZ – KETLICY: folks of one Kytel or Chytel.


KLEIN SAUBERNITZ – ZUBORNIČKA: place of the bison.  (See Gross Saubernitz)  The German Klein (little) distinguishes this village from Gross Saubernitz.

KLIX – KLUKŠ: a settlement near a gurgling spring.  Klix was first mentioned in a Latin document in 1222.

KOTITZ – KOTECY: folks of one Kot.

KRECKWITZ – KRAKECY: folks of one Krak.

LÖBAU – LUBIJ: property of one L’ub.

MALSCHWITZ – MALEŠECY: folks of one Maleš.

MAUSCHWITZ – MUČNICA: place of flies or fly stream.

MILKEL – MINAKAŁ: settlement of one Milan at a swamp.

NECHERN – NJECHORŃ: village of one Nechor.

NEUDÖRFEL – NOWA WJESKA: (Sorbian translation of Neudörfel): in Sorbian Nowa means new and wjeska means village.

NIEDERGURIG – DELNJA HÓRKA: the lower village on a hill.

NOSTITZ – NOSAĆICY: folks of one Nosata.  The name also fits the description of the terrain shaped like a nose.

OBERPRAUSKE – HORNJE BRUSY: a name that came from “pruha,” meaning stripe.

RACHLAU – RACHLOW; place of one Rachel.

RACKEL – RAKOJDY: probably the personal name Rokovel.

REICHWALDE – RYCHWAŁD: German for a settlement cleared in a rich forested area.

RODEWITZ – RODECY: folks of one Rode.  In 1374 a document in the Marienstern monastery identified a Schiban Rode.

SANDFÖRSTGEN – BORŠTKA: BORŠĆ comes from the German Forst.  The village is in a forest on sandy land.

SÄRKA – ŹARKI: place of the conflagration.

SOHLAND AM ROTSTEIN – ZAŁOM: village behind the break in the terrain.  Am Rotstein differentiates this village from Sohland an der Spree south of Bautzen.

SPREY – SPROWJE: A settlement on the Schöps River which was also called SPREE.  It is reported that, originally, Sprey was established as a prison by the lord of the manor at Muskau to punish convicted peasants who had to work as woodcutters.

TRAUSCHWITZ – TRUŠECY: folks of one Drušk.

WEICHA – WICHOWY: village of one Vich.

WEIGERSDORF – WUKRANĆICY: village of one Wigmann.

WEISSENBERG – WOSPORK: this has reference to a white (weiss) stronghold.

WUISCHKE – WUJEŠK: name of a detour to Weissenberg.

WURSCHEN – WORCYN: probably a village at a high place, from the Sorbian wjerch.


Alias – Genannt – AKA- Also Known As

The practice of assuming other surnames (aliases) by some of our Wendish or Sorbian ancestors in Lusatia makes research rather difficult at times.

An example of an entry in the records that indicates an alias is “Jakob Dzick genannt Mitschke.”  It simply means that Jakob Dzick assumed the surename Mitschke.  In this case the surname was that of a widow he married, Anna Mitschke.

Another example is “George Bähr gennant Juri Biar.”  The name-change was from the German George Bähr to the Wendish Juri Biar.

Gennant may be translated as called, surnamed, mentioned or referred to.  However, none of these these appear to define the read meaning of gennant when used in conjunction with name-changes of many of our Wendish ancestors.  When a person underwent a name-change he was listed in the records by his former name followed by gennant, and then by the name he was assuming.  Eventually his former surname, and in some cases his former complete name, was dropped and he was then known by the name he assumed.  I have found very few exceptions to this rule.  The wife and children, even children from former marriages, also adopted the assumed surnames.

Alias, when defined as an assumed name, is a good word to use to convey the meaning of gennant.  I chose alias instead of “also known as” (aka) used in American legal documents.

In Lusatia, and probably elsewhere in Germany, the oldest son of a peasant father was the first in line to inherit his father’s property.  However, quite often there were no male heirs born to peasant parents.  In such cases the men who married into such families to take over properties (with payout provisions) assumed the surnames of the fathers-in-law.  Men who married widows of property owners often assumed the surname of the widows’ deceased husbands.  In still other instances, when there were no close males heirs available, distant male relatives took over such properties, provided they paid out others who had similar interests.  The relationship could be either by blood or by marriage.  Examples of the above are as follows:

Hans Hennersdorf, alias Mittrach *                  Martin Hennersdorf, alias Widerach *

Michael Prelop, alias Hottass **                      Johann Sterp, alias Hottass ***

Jakob Dzick, alias Mitschke ****                     Jakob Mitschke, alias Mörbe ****

* These two were brothers.  Both married into families where there were no male heirs.

** Michael Prelop assumed the surname Hottass in 1732 when he became the village magistrate (Schulze) of Spree by marrying the daughter of the former magistrate.

*** Johann Sterp assumed the surname Hottass in 1759 when he married the daughter of  the above Michael Prelop, alias Hottass, and became the village magistrate.

**** This was the same person.  The first name-change occurred when he married the widow of a man, who owned a farm.  The oldest son of the widow’s first marriage was in line to inherit the property when he reached maturity, even though the widow died after only four years of marriage to her second husband.  The second name-change came about when he purchased the Mörbe farm to which he had hereditary rights as a distant relative.

The lower courts were in charge of settling inheritances.  Accurate records were kept on all proceedings affecting properties.

In the bi-lingual part of Lusatia there were aliases due to the two languages.  Examples are as follows:

Georg Krautz (S), alias Schneider (G) – both surnames mean tailor.

Johann Schmidt (G), alias Kowar (S) – both surnames mean smith or blacksmith.

Johann Kuchar, (S), alias Koch (G) – both surnames mean cook.

(G) German               (S) Sorbian

Other instances when aliases were used were due to  pronunciation and derivation.

Examples are as follows:

Anna Maucke, alias Małke – Maucke is the German phonetical spelling of the Sorbian Małke.  The Sorbian ł is pronounced like u.  The Sorbian Małke means klein in German, in English, small, little, short, etc.

George Bähr (Baehr), alias Juri Biar – Juri means George.  An alternate spelling of Bähr is Bär (Baer).  According to Dr. Helmut Fasske, Sorbian Ethnological Institute in Bautzen, Bähr (Bär) was taken into Sorbian as bar, there being no vowel modification mark (Umlaut) in Sorbian.  Since the Sorbian b in bar is a soft b it must be followed by a soft vowel, either e or i.  In this case i was chosen and that is how the odd name of Biar originated.  Later it was also spelled Bihar, Biehar and Bjar.

There are several entries on the BEN NEVIS Ship Register that indicate aliases.  Most of these are also listed in Wilhelm Iwan’s book Die Altlutherische Auswanderung um Mitte des 19. Jahrhunderts  (The Old Lutheran Emigration in the Middle of the 19th Century), but his book was limited to those emigrants who came from Prussia.  Listed are some that appear on both the ship list and Iwan’s book (Note the variation in spelling):

No. 20 on the Ship Register reads: “Johann Kruper-Hohle,” while Iwan’s book reads: Joh. Hohle gen. Kruper (Joh. Hohle, alias Krupper).

No. 21 on the Ship Register reads: “Matthaus called Mroske.” while Iwan’s book reads: “Mattheus Schatte gen. Mroske” (Mattheus Schatte, alias Mroske).

No. 135 reads: “Johann Bartel-Merting”  Iwan reads: Joh. Merting genannt Barthel” (Joh. Merting, alias Barthel).

No. 136 reads: “Johann Bartel-Merting.”  Iwan reads: “Eltern Joh. Merting, Frau Anna geb. Schatte”  (Parents Joh. Merting, wife Anna, nee Schatte).  From this it is hard to tell what the original surname was of Nos. 135 and 136.

No. 137 reads: “Matthaus [&] Christoph Kruper-Hole.”   Iwan reads: “MathesKrupper gen. HohleChristof Krupper” (Mathes Krupper, alias Hohle; Christof Krupper).  Note that Iwan lists Christoph as Krupper only.

No. 49 on the printed Ship Register reads: “Andreas Pohje.”  On the original handwritten Ship Register the surname is spelled Pehse.  Iwan’s book reads: “Andreas Pehse genannt Franke” (Andreas Pehse, alias Franke).

Dr. George Nielsen, in his book In Search of a Home lists Johann Kasper (born in 1794).  Iwan’s book lists this person as “Johann Hottas gen. Kasper” (Johann Hottas, alias Kasper).

The assumption of aliases by many of my ancestors in Lusatia made searching for my roots in East Germany very difficult.  However, it turned out to be very fascinating for me to be able to determine how some of my ancestors got their surnames.  The changing of surnames was a factor right up to the time of the immigration to Texas.


What’s in a Name

Besides written records, onomastics ( the science and study of the origins and forms of proper names of persons and places)  may be used to study and interpret the historical, linguistic and cultural development of an area.  Slavic tribes living in isolation fostered dialects, whose particularisms were reflected in names.  As tribes moved to new locations, new names were coined.

The Christianization of the Sorbs undoubtedly resulted in the adoption of some Christian names.  Germanization, without a doubt, also had an impact on names.  The spelling of names were altered by changing conditions, environment and the like.  A person need not be overly concerned by variant spelling because people who recorded names in early records often spelled names by what they thought they heard.

Immediately after World War II the writer became acquainted with a geologist in Midland, Texas, who had a good knowledge of the German language.  He told me that while working with a geophysical crew near Giddings, Texas, he ran across some people who said their ancestors came from Germany, but had rather unusual names.  He said that names, such as Moerbe, Kieschnick, Miertschin, Symmank, etc., were not German.  In the course of our conversation I pointed out that these names did indeed originate in Germany and that he could add my own name of Biar to the list.  People with these names were Wendish.  Some were Germanized, some were Slavic, while others were derivations of Wendish and German names.

Listed below are some examples of names of Texas Wends followed by the Wendish or Sorbian forms and their meaning:

Dube – Duba: oak tree

Kieschnick – Kéčnik: cotter or cottager

Lehmann – Wičaz: vassal                          

Moerbe – Mjerwa: disorderly or tangled straw

Schmidt – Kowar: smith or blacksmith

Schneider – Krawc (Krautz): tailor

Of course, not everyone who has the surname of Lehmann, Schmidt or Schneider is of Wendish or Slavic ancestry.  Many Wends assumed German names which are  translations of their of Wendish names.

Listed below are some examples of names of Texas Wends and what they mean:

Biehle (Biele): white

Noack: new man or Noah

Michalk (Michałk): little Michael

Malke (Małke): little, small or short (Klein in German)

Niemtschk: German (When the Wends first met the Germans they could not understand their language and called them dumb.

Wuensche: the Wend

Wukasch (Łukaške): Luke (in German Lucas)

Listed below are some examples of names of Texas Wends which are derivations of German names or were taken into the Wendish language from the German.

Biar: taken into the Wendish language from the German “Baehr” (or Bär), meaning “bear.”  Other forms are Bjar, Bihar and Biehar.

Handrick: derivation from Andrew (in German Andreas)

Miertschin: derivation from Martin (in Sorbian Merčin)

Patschke: derivation from Paul

Simmank and Symmank: derivation from Simon, meaning little Simon

Zieschang: derivation from Christian (Kristian)

Some Wends have the surname Urban.  It is believed by some that the Biblical name Urban (Urbane or Urbanus) [Romans 16: 9] was adopted by some when they became Christians.  DeBray in his book Guide to Slavonic Languages states: “Vowels [in Sorbian] occur initially only in exclamations and words of foreign origin.”  This explains the variant spelling of Urban: Hurban, Urban and Yurban, in some records.  This also explains why the initial letter of Handrick is h.  That is also the reason why Amen is Hamen in Sorbian.


Christianization of the Wends

There is some evidence that the mission of Saints Cyril and Methodius (born in Thessalonica in the 820s), the Apostles to the Slavs, reached the Bautzen area.  Their mission of evangelization, in the latter part of the ninth century, took them to Great Moravia, which, at that time, included Bohemia and other central European territory.  It is known that they reached Görlitz, Königshain and Jauernick, west of the Lusatian Neisse River, less than 30 miles east of Bautzen.  Ancient stone crosses have been found near Guttau and near Gleina.  Some researchers believe that these could have been sites of the first Christian preaching stations or, perhaps, sites of the first baptisms in the area.

Missionaries from the west arrived with the German conquerors.  They often introduced Christianity by means of the sword.  “Convert or extirpate” was commanded by the German conquerors.  A crusade against the pagan Wends (the Obodrite Slavs to the north) was launched in 1147 under Henry the Lion and Albert the Bear.  This crusade was patterned after those to the Holy Land.  However, by this time the Sorbs had already been subjugated.  The policy of Christianization with the sword had not been very successful, because by the twelfth century, the Sorbs were still not fully converted.  The Sorbs rebelled against the church’s cruelty and the imposition of intolerable taxation by the bishops.  A lot of blood was shed to make Christians out of the Wends.

The first church in the Bautzen area appears to have been established at Göda, five miles west of Bautzen, by Bishop Benno in 1076.  A Latin language document called Codex Lusatiae, issued at the see of Göda in 1222, named nine churches to be placed under the newly established St. Peter’s Cathedral in Bautzen.  The location of these were as follows: Welintin (Wilthen), Neinkirgen (Neukirch), Solant (Sohland) and Kumwaldow (Cunewalde), south of Bautzen; Bukewicz (Hochkirch), east of  Bautzen; Porsicz (Purschwitz), Klix, Gradis  (Gröditz), and Guttin (Guttau), northeast of Bautzen.  The names of the villages as they appear in the Latin document are followed by the modern German names, except for Klix which is the same.

Our ancestors were Christianized at least 300 years before the Reformation, or over 750 years ago.  Before the Reformation the Wends were Catholics.  However, after the Religious Peace of Augsburg (1555), Catholicism and Lutheranism  (but not Calvinism) were recognized according to the principle of  “cuius regio, eius religio,” that is, “whose region, his religion.”  This meant that a person belonged to the religion of the ruler in whose territory he lived.  Since most of Lusatia was ruled by Lutheran noblemen most of the parishes became Lutheran.

Our ancestors, who came from the province of Silesia in Prussia, belonged to the Lutheran Free Church, also called the Breslauer Synode, and were referred to as “Old Lutherans” (Altlutherisch), or, for the most part, were in sympathy with them.  The ones who came from Saxony belonged to the Saxon State Church, but, also, were in sympathy with the Old Lutherans across the border in Prussia.  There were two Old Lutheran congregations in the Silesian part of Upper Lusatia, one at Weigersdorf and one at Klitten.  Both were organized in 1843.  These two congregations, together with a number of preaching stations, were served by Pastor Johann Kilian before the Wendish Emigration of 1854.  These Old Lutherans were interested in pure Lutheran doctrine and not in the mixture of Lutheranism and Calvinism offered by the state-controlled church of Prussia.  Most of the descendants of the Wends living in America are members of the Lutheran Church.



Archaeological discoveries in Lusatia and surrounding territory have produced many artifacts and much valuable information of the early Sorbian tribes and their culture.  It appears certain that additional discoveries will yield many more artifacts and information.  Sites of old medieval fortifications appear to have the greatest potential.

Prior to the Frankish conflicts the Sorbian tribes lived in isolation in what was known as “fortified districts” (in German, Grodbezirke).  Tribes and sub-tribes were usually separated by forested areas and often lived near or within fortified places.  Archaeologists refer to these medieval fortifications as “hill-forts,” since they were often built on hills and cliffs.  In German a  hill-fort is usually called a Burgwall (fortified rampart or wall).  They are also called a  Schanze (entrenchment).  An example of a hill-fort is near the site of the village of Gröditz.  In Sorbian, Gröditz is called Hrod__o, meaning “the village at the big hill-fort.”  A hill-fort like this one is also referred to as a Skalenschanze (entrenchment on a cliff) since it is located on the cliff overlooking a small stream called the Löbauer Wasser.

There are many old fortifications which are located in flat areas.  Some of these are referred to Sumpfschanzen or Wasserburgen, fortifications with moats around them.  One of these was excavated at Baruth in 1964.

There are other names given to these fortifications or strongholds, which either describe their functions or their characteristics.  There was the Fluchtburg (a fortification for refuge), the Ringwall  (a round stronghold), and the Volksburg (people’s fortification).  Not all of these forts were originally built by the Sorbs.  Some of them were built by Germanic tribes and others were built by what is known as the Lusatian Culture, people who preceded the arrival of the Germans and Slavs by several centuries.  The Sorbs used them along with the ones that they built themselves.  The technique of construction depended on the terrain and the use and availability of building materials.  No two were alike.  The larger ones had dwellings built within the confines of the ramparts and/or walls.  Others had the dwellings nearby.  At the time these hill-forts were built construction using masonry materials was unknown.  Rocks and stones were used to build the fortifications, but the chief material for dwellings was wood.  The main function of these forts was for protection from the enemy.  Some were undoubtedly the sites of manors, while others were strictly to provide protection when attacked.

Historians in the 9th century report that the Luzici and Milceni tribes of the Sorbs each had 30 such forts.  In all of Lusatia there are more than 200 sites of remains of these old medieval forts.  Very little archaeological work has been done at most of them.


The Manorial System

The manorial system in Lusatia began as soon as the Sorbs lost their independence.  Armed attacks against the Sorbs started in 806 under Charles the Great (Charlemagne) of the Franks and were continued by the Saxon emperors, Henry the Fowler, Otto I, Otto II and Otto III.  Between 990 and 1000, the last Sorbian tribe, the Milceni in Upper Lusatia, was completely subjugated.  Some of the Slavic tribes toward the north were not subjugated for another 100 years.  Over the years, the German rulers rewarded their military leaders and upper noblemen with large areas of land.  Land of the nature was called a “fief” Lehen (Lehengut) and the person who held such land was referred to as a dominus, Latin for “lord,” in German, Herr.  In Prussia they were later referred to as Junker.  This lord was a vassal that owed his allegiance to the ruler and, among other things, paid tribute, served in the military when required, and furnished soldiers from his fiefdom in time of war.

The fiefdom of one such vassal was Gau MilscaGau in German means district and Milsca is the original Latin form of Milceni, the name of the Sorbian tribe that inhabited the area around Bautzen in Upper Lusatia.  In German, the land around Bautzen is often referred to as Milznerland.  To the north, in Lower Lusatia, the name of the tribe was Luzici.  It is from this tribe that Lusatia received its name.

This fief or vassal brought knights (Ritter) and lessor noblemen to the Bautzen area to take over the Sorbian villages.  The surface surrounding these villages provided the land for the manors, collectively called Herrengüter or landed-estates, of the lords.  There were some villages that were the seats of more than one manor, such as, Hochkirch and Pommritz.  Some of the knights and noblemen were of Slavic origin and fought against their own people.  The vassal that held Gau Milsca lived in Bautzen and reserved some of the villages or manors for the City of Bautzen.  Others were given to the cathedral in Bautzen, clergymen, to parishes, to noblemen, to knights, etc.  In the area east and northeast of Bautzen at the beginning nearly all manors belonged to knights, hence they were called Rittergüter (singular, “Rittergut”), that is, knights’ manors.

Soon after the Germans conquered the Slavic lands, the German Drang nach Osten (surge toward the east) began.  German settlers came from the west, the Rhineland, Flanders, the Netherlands, Swabia, Württemberg, Franconia, etc., to clear land for new manors.  There was an oversupply of rural people in the west and it was relatively easy to persuade them to go east.  It was similar to the “go west, young man,” westward movement, in America.  This expansion to the east lasted for many centuries.  It took waves of settlers, in varying numbers, to all of eastern Germany, Poland and territory now held by Russia.  Wiprecht von Groitzsch, a renegade Wend, who around 1100 ruled much of the territory the Germans took from the Sorbs, including the western Sorbs, brought settlers from Franconia and the eastern part of the Province of Saxony; however, these were settled in the region around Meissen, a considerable distance to the west  of Bautzen.   German colonization of  Upper Lusatia appears to have started in the 12th century.  It could not have started much before than that, because there are no records of German place names in the area until around 1200.  Most of the first colonists settled in the extreme southern part of Upper Lusatia, in the wooded areas not yet cleared.  However, settlers were also brought to the Old Sorbian area to the north.  These settlers, for the most part, were assimilated into the Sorbian population, because the language and customs remained Sorbian for centuries.  Also, some of the noblemen came from Bohemia, and some historians believe that these were less inclined toward Germanization of their Sorbian subjects than those from the west.

After the Thirty Years War many refugees or exiles, called Exulanten in German, came to the Protestant part of Lusatia after being banished from Catholic lands in the east.  These were also absorbed into the Sorbian population.

Manors were agricultural administrative units and had their own courts for dealing with lessor offenses and settling inheritances.  They were self-sufficient estates.  The size of these estates and the number of people who lived on them varied greatly.  The nobleman or his caretaker (many noblemen owned several manors) lived in the largest house of the manor.  The house usually had a large hall which served as a meeting place to handle administrative and judicial matters.  Most of the land of a manor was the lord’s demesne.  A small part of the arable land was held by peasants or tenants, who lived in the smaller dwellings surrounding the manor house.  Some of these houses were mere huts, Buden, in German.

In feudal times our ancestors were known as serfs, in German, Leibeigene, that is, people living in bondage.  Serfs were a servile feudal class, bound to the soil and subject to the will of their lord.  This agricultural economic system existed throughout eastern Germany and many other places of Europe.  People living under this system were, for the most part, midway between freemen and slaves.  They were patrimonial or hereditary tenants and their children had the same status as their parents.  They could own some property, such, as a house and some land, but they were subject to perform compulsory labor on the lord’s demesne and pay certain rents and fees.  Even though they were subject to their lord, they were free in legal relations to other peasants.

Peasants with land were ranked according to the amount of land they held within the manor.  The “hide,” in German, Hufe (also Hube), was employed for determining some of the ranks.  Generally, especially from the beginning, a hide of land was supposed to support a family.  A few were known as Hüfner, peasants who owned a hide of land, also known as, Bauer or Ganzbauer, farmers or full farmers.  Others were known as Halbhüfner, owners of a half of a hide of land, or Halbbauer, literally, half-farmers.  Then there was the Gärtner, which translates “gardener,” but actually was a peasant who owned about a quarter of a hide of land.  Last was the Häusler, a cotter, or cottager, which sounds better.  A cottager owned a small house and perhaps a small amount of land for gardening.  There were also ranks between these, too numerous and complicated to mention here.  Most of the Häusler, Gärtner, and Halbbauer followed a trade, such as, blacksmith, tailor, miller, carpenter, etc.  For instance, F. Jacob Moerbe was a Gärtner by rank and a tailor (Schneider in German and Krawc in Sorbian) by trade.

One thing that is hard to establish is the size of a hide of land.  The size varied according to the charter that was in effect in the area in which the manor was located.  In the Bautzen area a Wendish hide was 30 Scheffeln.  A Scheffel is a measurement similar to a bushel but was also employed in measurement of land.  A German hide was 40 Scheffeln.  It appears that the Sorbs had to be satisfied with smaller hides while the German settlers had to be given an incentive to come to the east.  Perhaps the noblemen determined that the Wends did not need as much to eat as the Germans.  Eventually, the productivity of the land played a much larger role in establishing the size of a hide.  A Saxon Scheffel, also called a Morgen, equalled .6834 acres, so that a Wendish hide equaled 20.5 acres, while a German hide equaled 27.34 acres.  In Prussia, a Morgen equalled .6305 acres, so that a Wendish hide was 19.05 acres, while a German hide was 25.4 acres.  In villages northeast of Bautzen, the “biggest” farmers on some of the manors had only one-half of a hide of land.  For instance, in 1750 there were five Halbhüfner at Baruth: Mietasch, Riech, Priebsch, Jurack and Mörwe (Moerbe).   Each one of these owned about 10 to 14 acres of land.   All the rest of the peasants owned less land.

As a rule, the method of farming used on manors in the Bautzen area was the three field system.  Arable land was divided into three large open fields.  Each year one field lay fallow, while the other two were cultivated.  The peasants’ land was distributed in “strips” throughout the three fields, alongside the land owned by the lord.  This system of crop rotation provided a defense against soil exhaustion.

Each smallholder had so-called “rights of common” in the pasture, meadow, woodland and wasteland of the manor, in proportion to the amount of land he held in the open fields.  A certain number of each tenant’s animals could pasture with the common herd on the wastelands, the fallow and on the stubble, after the crops had been harvested.  In the woodland he could collect brush and fallen trees for fuel and he was entitled to a share of hay from the meadows.

Peasants were required to perform servile or compulsory labor and services.  In German this is called Fronarbeit or Frondienst.  The Wends used the Slavic robota for it, that is, “forced labor.”  The English word “robot” comes from robota.  The type of work or services varied greatly and was tied to the property held by the peasant, not to the person.  Those peasants who did not have much land and no draft animals had to do hand labor.  Those who had draft animals, mostly oxen, were required to use them on the lord’s demesne.  The lord’s land was the first to be plowed, sowed and harvested.  This is why some of the peasants at times worked at night, when they and their animals were about to collapse.  A peasant was permitted to hire someone else to work in his place but most peasants could not afford to do this.

Manors also had peasants referred to as Gesinde (domestics, menials, laborers, etc.).  At Gröditz and many other manors these people lived above the barns in which the cattle were kept.  They were the lowest class on the manor and often lived in rank poverty.  They were the first to suffer in times of drought and crop failures.

Besides servile labor, there were also a host of rents or fees that had to be paid to the lord.  If a person wanted to marry and move to another manor a fee had to be paid.  When a peasant died there was either a fee to be paid or the lord could take an animal instead.  These rents or fees varied a great deal from one manor to the next.  It was not unusual for noblemen to live above their means.  To supplement their income, portions of the harvest of peasants were taken away by the lords or the amounts of fees, rents, etc., were increased.

The way peasants were treated by their masters varied greatly.  There were some lords who treated their subjects with relative fairness.  But there were also many peasants who were mistreated and, for the most part, were mere slaves.  There were a number of instances in Upper Lusatia when peasants staged uprisings.  One such uprising occurred in 1794, when the elector of Saxony ordered  that peasants had to perform servile labor on a religious holiday.  The peasants living in the parishes of Hochkirch, Gröditz, Nostitz, Malschwitz, Klix, Königswartha and Lohsa refused to work on 25 March, Feast of Annunciation, and the elector, after considering the outburst of resistance, reneged.  In other instances, peasants went after the lord with pitchforks, etc., but usually, the militia from Bautzen was called out and the rebellions were squelched.

Serfdom in Prussia was abolished in 1807.  The abolition in Saxony came in 1832, one of the last regions to abolish serfdom.  In the Saxon part of Upper Lusatia, it took another seven years before the final covenant was consummated to repeal servile hand labor and compulsory labor with draft animals.  It took another nine years before the final agreement was reached between the nobleman and residence of Guttau.  And even then, he wanted redemption payments over a 55 year period.  Because of conditions like these, many peasants left Lusatia for the cities,  even though it was illegal to leave.  Under the new economic (market or capitalistic) system there was an oversupply of farm laborers.  Many people had too little land to support their families and were forced to sell and seek their fortunes elsewhere.  The new system, together with the revolution of 1848, had a huge impact on the Wends.  It was a time of much unrest and dissatisfaction.  Because of this impact, plus a desire for religious freedom, many decided to migrate to Australia, Canada, South Africa, the United States and elsewhere.  It is estimated that between 1850 and 1859, 976,000 people from Germany arrived in the United States.  Of these, 215,000 arrived in 1854, the year of the large Wendish immigration to Texas.

As time went on, large landowners continued to increase their landholdings in the Bautzen area and elsewhere.  Many people, who remained in the villages after serfdom was abolished, did not have enough land to eke out a decent living and were forced to sell their property, usually to these large landowners, and move to the large cities or overseas.  The family of Count Schall-Riaucour eventually owned most of the land around Guttau, Brösa, Gleina and Wartha.  Their holdings in the County of Bautzen alone amounted to 3433 hectares or about 8500 acres.  This may not seem all that large according to American standards, but to landpoor Germany, it is extremely large.  There were other landholdings around Bautzen larger than that.  Many of the rural people, who remained in Upper Lusatia, worked on these large agricultural holdings, often for meager wages, until the end of World War II.

Then, in 1946, came the land reform of the communistic regime, which again affected the poor rural Wends.  The large landowners were dispossessed.  Their land, together with the small parcels of land owned by the peasant class, was pooled to form LPGs, which stands for Landwirtschaftliche Produktions Genossenschaften (agricultural production collectives).  Private ownership, as we know it, was abolished.  These LPGs varied in size and utility.  Some were devoted to wheat, rye and/or potato production.  Others were large dairy, beef or hog farms.  These collectives used large-scale farm machinery.  However, the production on these collectives was not nearly as good as was expected.  For one thing, there was a lack of crop rotation.  Land eroded because many of the fences and hedgerows were removed in favor of large open fields, many on rolling hills.  Manure was piled up at dairy, beef and hog collectives that should have been spread on the land.  Some East Germans just shrugged when this was pointed out.  Others said that every decision appeared to get hung up in bureaucratic red tape.  There must have been poor management, because the small west German farmers produced more per hectare than the East German collectives did.  (A hectare of land is 2.47 acres)

First the Wends lost their independence.  Then, most of their farm land was given to land-hungry noblemen.  Over the centuries what little land the individual Wends held was always subject to be taken away by their masters.  When they finally gained their freedom, the people’s landholdings were so small that many were forced to sell them for economic reasons.  Then, what little land they had at the end of World War II was placed in state-owned agricultural collectives.

The LPGs, formerly controlled by the East German government, for the most part, have been taken over by the employees who operated them before the unification of the two Germanys in 1990.  For the purpose of operating these former collectives they have formed private companies.  How this arrangement will work out remains to be seen.  Some people were able to reclaim the land they owned before the communists took over, but since they were unable to buy the machinery to operate the land they simply leased it back to the private companies.

Manorial estates in the County of Bautzen as of 1832  are shown on Map I.  This map also indicates the ownership or jurisdiction of each manor.


1 Wendish Hufe (hide) = 30 Morgen

1 Morgen = 27.67 AR (ARE) or 2767 square meters

1 ARE = 10 meters X 10 meters or 100 square meters

1 Hektar (hectare) = 100 AR (ARE)

30 Morgen = 83,010 square meters (1 Hufe or hide)

83,010 divided by 10,000 = 8.301 Hektar (hectare) (1 Wendish Hufe or hide)

1 Hektar (hectare) = 2.47 acres

1 Wendish Hufe (hide) = 20.50 acres

1 German Hufe (hide) = 40 Morgen

40 Morgen = 110,680 square meters

40 Morgen = 11.068 Hektar (hectare)

11.068 Hektar (hectare) X 2.47 = 27.34 acres

A Saxon Scheffel or Morgen was 0.2767118 Hektar (hectare)

30 Morgen = 8.30 Hektar (hectare)

8.30 Hektar (hectare) X 2.47 = 20.50 acres

40 Morgen = 11.07 Hektar (hectare)

11.07 Hektar (hectare) X 2.47 = 27.34 acres


1 ARE equals 100 Square Meters

Square Meters times 10.764 equals Square Feet.

Square Feet divided by 43560 equals Acreage Equivalent

Are    Sq. Meters          Sq. Ft.     Acre Equiv.

Baden           36.00     3600      38750      .8896

Bavaria          34.07     3407      36673      .8419

Hannover        26.21     2621      28212      .6477

Prussia          25.53     2553      27480      .6309

Saxony          27.67     2767      29784      .3837

Württemberg     31.52      3152      33928       .3789

The following is widely accepted: A MORGEN is a measure of land with local variation from 0.06 to 0.09 acres.

The Sorbs (Wends)

Venedi to identify the Slavs.  Much speculation surrounds the origin of the word Venedi.  The least questionable appears to be the dark-haired Celts used the term Uindo for the white-haired primitive Slavs.  Uindo, which has reference to white or blond, derivated to Venedi, used by the early writers.  Later, the Germans adopted Venedi in the form of Wenden (Wends) to identify all Slavs who lived in Germany.  The Slavs never referred to themselves as Venedi, but called themselves Sclaveni or a similar name.

Early writers placed the Venedi inhabiting the area north of the Carpathian Mountains at the source of the Vistula River.  During the barbarian, sometimes called the German migrations (Völkerwanderung), during the second through the fifth centuries, there were tremendous population movements throughout Europe.  Many Germanic tribes vacated the area between the Vistula and Elbe Rivers and only small remnants of former inhabitants remained.  The Slavs drifted north toward the Baltic Sea, west toward the Elbe River and south toward the Danube River.  The southerly movement is well-documented, while the northerly and westerly movements are rather sketchy.  There were no early Slavic writers and available records come from other sources.

At first the Slavs had a common language but, as they spread out in all directions, occupied new territory and came into contact with other people, new dialects developed.  In time these dialects became distinct Slavic languages.  These are usually classified as East Slavic: Russian, Byelorussian and Ukrainian;  South Slavic: Slovenian, Serbo-Croatian, Macedonian, Bulgarian and Old Church Slavonic; and West Slavic: Slovakian, Czechish, Polish and Sorbian.

Jordanes, the historian of the Goths, wrote that by the sixth century Slavs had moved westward in great numbers.  They had already settled the area from the Elbe River in the west to the Don River in the east and from the Baltic Sea in the north to the Adriatic and Aegean Seas in the south.  Vibius Sequester, a sixth century geographer, specifically mentions the Elbe River as the border between the Slavs and the Germans.  Slavs often lived as neighbors to other races.  There was much intermixture with other people, causing infusions of alien blood.  Some Slavs were assimilated by their neighbors while other people were assimilated by the Slavs.  Some Slavs even became the slaves of other people.  North of the Danube River the marauding, nomadic Avars, a tribe of cruel, plundering Asiatics, subjugated the Serbic tribes.  Some historians believe that the Avars caused a division of the Serbs into two groups.  One group, the Serbs, went to the Balkans.  The second group, the Sorbs, first drifted toward the north and west and eventually came to Lusatia, settling in the area between the Lusatian Neisse River in the east and the Saale River in the west, and the Lusatian Mountains in the south  and the northern boundary of Lower Lusatia in the north.  Einhard, an eighth century Frankish historian, names the Saale River as the frontier between the Thuringians, a German tribe, and the Sorbs.

When the Slavs first came into contact with the Germans they called the Germans Nemci, that is, the dumb ones whom they could not understand, their speech being incomprehensible.  This meeting could very well have been in the vicinity of Mount Zobten, also know as Mount Siling, about thirty miles southwest of Breslau.  Before World War II Breslau was the capital of the German province of Silesia (Schlesien).  Breslau is now called Wroclaw and that part of Silesia that lies east of the Oder-Neisse line is now under Polish administration.  Silesia got its name from the Silingen tribe of the Germanic Vandals.  It is known that at least a remnant of this tribe remained in this area after the barbarian migrations.  At the foot of Mount Zobten (Sobótka in Polish) is a town called Nimpsch (Niemcza in Polish) and it is believed that this is the place where the Slavs and the German first met.

There are towns and villages with similar names farther to the west but since this one lies farthest to the east it is more likely to be the original meeting place.  It is interesting to note that among the Texas Wends we have the family name of Niemtschk which means German in Wendish.

Fredegar, a Frankish historian, first mentioned the Sorbs by name in 631 as being well-established along the Saale River.  In 805, Charles the Great (Charlemange), the greatest ruler of the Franks, established a fortified boundary between his kingdom and the Slavs called Limes Sorabicus in Latin, which ran west along the Danube River from Linz (Austria) to Regensburg, then cross-country to Forchheim to Bamberg, north to Erfurt to Magdeburg to Braunschweig (Brunswick) and to Bardowiek on the Elbe River.  Three years later the line was extended from the Elbe southeast of Hamburg to the vicinity of Kiel.

Some historians divide the Slavs that drifted into Germany into four nations: Sorbs, in western Silesia  and  Saxony; Obodrites, in Holstein  and Mecklenburg; Luthicians, north of the Sorbs and east of the Obodrites, mainly in western Prussia; and Pomeranians, east of the Luthicians and south of the Baltic Sea between the Oder and Vistula Rivers.  There were, of course, other tribes and some researchers classify them differently than the ones listed.  Two fragments of the Pomeranians, the Slovinci and Kashubes, survive in modern Poland.  The rest have all been completely Germanized with the exception of the Sorbs.  This is why there are so many family names in eastern Germany that are of Slavic origin.

Historians  identified a number of individual Sorbian tribes in the 9th and 10th centuries.  Some of these were called Daleminzi (also known as Glomaci), Nizici, SIiusli, Chutici, Luzici and Milcenti.  These are given in the Latin form.  There were at least twice that many, but all the rest were smaller than the ones mentioned.  Even though there has been constant pressure to Germanize, remnants of the Luzici in Lower Lusatia still speak the Lower Sorbian language and remnants of the Milceni in Upper Lusatia still speak Upper Sorbian.

The Sorbs were practically unhindered in their development as a nation from the 6th through the 8th centuries.  It was during this time that they reached the zenith of their strength and vitality.  Then began a period of warfare during the 9th and 10th centuries.  The few times that the Sorbian tribes united under common leadership, they were formidable warriors and they were even referred to as the “mighty” Sorbs.  However, they were usually not united and remained under individual tribal leadership.  Thus they became easy prey for the Franks and, later, the Saxons.  Single tribes could not withstand the incessant onslaughts from the west.

In 806, the son of Charles the Great, Karl, defeated the Milceni and burned  their fortress, Budyšin  (Bautzen).  In 838  and  839 the Milceni  fought to regain their independence and  by 843 they were free again.

In 919 Henry the Fowler, a Saxon, became the German king.  In 921 he started a campaign against various Sorbian tribes.  Individual tribes were unable to defend themselves even though they put up heroic resistance.  In 932 the Milceni and Luzici  were forced into paying tribute.

Otto the Great succeeded his father, Henry the Fowler, in 936.  Even though the Sorbs had to pay tribute, they were not a part of the feudal German state.  Otto decided to feudalize the Sorbs into the German state and also to Christianize them.  At that time it was considered proper to spread Christianity by the sword.  Otto assigned Gero as margrave on the eastern frontier.  Gero was a brutal taskmaster and the Sorbs rebelled.  As a sign of peace he invited 30 Sorbian princes, mostly from the Luzici, but also a few from the Milceni, to a banquet.  During the night, while they were intoxicated, he had them all murdered.  This atrocity in 939 caused a general uprising among all the Elbian Slavs.  The Luzici  were crushed but were able to remain relatively free.  By 950 new attacks were again directed at various tribes and continued for years.  In 963 Gero completely subdued the Luzici and they lost their independence never to regain it again.

The  Milceni  remained independent until 990.  After that Margrave Ekkehard I defeated them. Then following  a short uprising, Henry II entered  the Milzenerland and by means of a  horrible  massacre completely subdued  them  never to be free again.  The Milceni, the Sorbian  people of Bautzen and vicinity, are the historical ancestors of the Wends who came to Texas, and were the last of the Sorbian tribes to loose their independence.

At the beginning of the 11th century, Boleslaw the Brave of Poland, seized Upper and Lower Lusatia  from the Germans.  This conquest  was  confirmed by the Treaty of Bautzen in 1018.  In 1032 the Germans re-gained Lusatia.

In 1076, King Wratislaw of Bohemia, married the daughter of King Henry IV of Germany.  The dowry  was Lusatia.  For the next 550 years, Lusatia, except for some short intervals, belonged mostly to Bohemia.  Since Lusatia was often divided, it was ruled, as a whole, or in part, from Prague, Meissen, Brandenburg, Görlitz and Bautzen.  Times were relatively peaceful until the end of the 14th century.  In 1429 the Hussites attacked Bautzen but were defeated.

Matthias Corvinius, the Hungarian king, conquered Lusatia in 1469, but it was returned to the former rulers after his death in 1490.

Most of Lusatia became Lutheran after the Reformation.  Some historians believe that one reason why the Sorbs or Wends were relatively easy to convert to Lutheranism was because of the brutality with which they were Christianized centuries before the Reformation.  Also, the Reformation emphasized the freedom of the individual which always appealed to the Sorbs.

Then came the Thirty Years War from 1618 until 1648.  This horrible war took its toll in Lusatia, in  life and property.  Several villages in the vicinity of Bautzen were destroyed and never re-built.  It took many years to  re-build  and  re-populate Lusatia.  It is probable that at this time there was an influx of Germans who settled  among the Wends.  In 1635, Lusatia became a part of the Electorate of Saxony [an elector had a vote to elect the German emperor], which later became the Kingdom of Saxony.  While Lusatia  was  recovering from the Thirty Years War they had peace for about 100 years.

Upper Lusatia  became a battlefield during the Seven Years War (1758 to 1763).  During this war a big battle was fought at Hochkirch, not far from Bautzen.  So many soldiers were killed on the street on which the church is located that it is still called Blutgasse (Blood Street) to this day.

The Battle of Bautzen was fought on 20 and 21 May 1813, when Napoleon invaded Upper Lusatia.  During this war many villages were burned down, including Guttau, Broesa, Nostitz, Trauschwitz and others.

And then came two World Wars.  One correspondent from east Germany wrote: Krieg und immer wieder Krieg (War and always more war).  Since the Sorbs lost their independence, they fought and bled and died next to their German neighbors for nearly 1000 years, even though they were often  regarded  as second-class citizens.  In World I the number of Sorbian troops killed fighting in the German army  was fearfully high and out of proportion to the number of Sorbs in the total population of Germany.  Casualties were particularly high at the Battle of Verdun in France.

Ever since the Sorbs lost their independence nearly 1000 years ago, they lived under constant pressure to completely Germanize.  When the Sorbs demanded  independence after World War I, the Weimar Republic never ceased to keep a watchful eye on Lusatia.  A Wendenabteilung (Wendish Department)  was formed.  Some of  the goals of this unit were: [1] to strengthen the German element in the “Wendish” territories and oppose the threat of “Wendish irredentism” (this has reference to a territory historical or ethnically related to one political unit but presently subject to another);  [2] to emphasize the treasonable nature of all Sorbian national aspirations; and [3] to expose all Sorbian national consciousness as hostile to the Reich.

During the Nazi period (1933-1945), the pressure reached its zenith.  All Sorbian organizations  were  banned and all Sorbian  periodicals  were prohibited.  Many Sorbian intellectuals and public figures were arrested, released and re-arrested.  Others landed in concentration camps.  Many never returned.  The German expression Spurlos verschunden (disappeared without a trace) was not an uncommon expression heard in Germany after the war.  In 1945 and 1946, when the writer worked in a prisoner-of-war camp in southern Bavaria, he frequently ran across German prisoners-of-war, who served in the Africakorps in North Africa.  Many of them spent their imprisonment in America, some in Colorado.  It was not unusual when a service record (Soldbuch) had the notation Politisch unzuverlässig  (politically unreliable).  The writer noticed that quite a few came from the German east.  Many had names that were of Slavic origin.

The Nazis seized Sorbian property and much of it was destroyed, including the Wendische Haus (Wendish House) in Bautzen.  The Sorbian library, Macica Serbska, in Bautzen, was also destroyed.  There were plans to disperse the entire Sorbian population but these were never carried out.  All Wendish church services were banned and Wendish pastors were transferred to German parishes elsewhere.  One of these was the late Pastor Gustaw Mjerwa (Mjerwa  is Sorbian for Moerbe, although his name is spelled Muerbe in German), pastor at Hochkirch.  He was re-instated after the war and, before his  retirement, also served as the superintendent of the Sorbian church in Lusatia.

When the Russian army captured Lusatia many of the Sorbs did not flee like the rest of the population but stayed home.  Some of the leading figures of the Sorbs, before the nazis banned everything Sorbian, negotiated with the Russians and soon  many of the organizations, etc., were re-instated.  In spite of the efforts that have been made, there is a steady decline in Sorbian consciousness.  An effort was made to revive Sorbian church services, after some of the old  pastors have passed from the scene, by installing young Sorbian pastors, such as, Jan Mahling, at Gröditz, now in Bautzen.

After World War II Germany was divided  into two nations.  East Germany was known as the “German Democratic Republic” (Deutsche Demokratische Republik) and  was  one of  the eastern block of nations that embraced communism.  West Germany was known as the “Federal Republic of Germany” (Bundesrepublik Deutschland) and was politically orientated toward the west.

The Sorbian minority, predominately rural, was protected by the East German constitution and  had representation in the government.  The Sorbian language was taught in school, especially in rural areas.  They were encouraged to develop as a people within the framework of the communistic country.

In 1972, when  the writer visited  East Germany, it appeared  that the economy was  beginning to stabilize even  though they were at least 10 years behind West Germany.  In 1982, on the second visit, the economy  had  gotten worse instead  of  better.  The so-called “workers paradise” had deteriorated enormously.

As time went on demonstrations against the governments of various eastern block nations were launched.  In East Germany demonstrations started in Leipzig and soon spread to other cities.  The uprisings resulted in toppling the government headed by Erich Honecker and the Berlin wall came tumbling down  on November 9,  1989.  All of a sudden  there was talk of uniting West and East Germany.  The two Germanys became one nation on 3 October 1990.  The official name of the united  nation is the “Federal Republic of Germany.”  Naturally, the unification had a great impact on all the people of East Germany, including the Sorbs.  Replacing a state-controlled (communistic) economy with a market economy is no easy task.  Very hard times fell on the people.  Contacts in Lusatia expressed their dismay, fear and uncertainty of the future.  Letters reported much unemployment, bankrupt agricultural collectives, loss of life’s savings, etc.  One person put it this way: “The West Germans  lost  only one war while the East Germans lost two wars (World War II and the Cold War) and now we are paying the price the second time.”

The Sorbs of Lusatia are in the middle of another crisis.  The German federal government assured them that they could continue, unhindered, the use of their language and customs.  However, this assurance does not provide employment,  revitalize agriculture, supply the  necessities  of a decent living, neither does it create economic stability.  It will take time, a lot of hard work, governmental aid and outright determination to improve conditions.

It is believed that at the time our Wendish ancestors came to Texas there were about 150,000 people in Germany who spoke Sorbian.  Over the years the number has steadily declined so that today there are only an estimated 20,000.

Maps I and II were taken from “Die Slawen in Deutschland” (The Slavs in Germany), edited by Joachim Herrmann.  Map I  shows the distribution of groups, tribes, sub-tribes, etc., and  the direction  of  migration  of Slavic people west of the Oder and Lusatian Neisse Rivers (the eastern boundary of modern Germany) in the early Middle Ages.  There was no Slavic writing when the Slavs came into contact with the Germans.  Most early historical records were written by clergymen of the German church and appear in Latin.  Starting in the north they are the following:

German                                 Latin                           English

Obodriten                              Obodritzi                    Obodrites

Wilzen                                    Wiltzi                          Wilzians

Havel-Spree-Stämme                                             Havel-Spree (Rivers) Tribes

Mittelelbe-Stämme                                                  Middle Elbe (River) Tribes

Lusizer*                                 Luzici                         Lusatians

Sorben*                                 Surbi                          Sorbs (Sorabians)

Milzener*                               Milceni                       Milchanes

The spelling of tribal names by historians and geographers vary greatly.  The map on page 10 identifies the many Slavic groups, tribes, sub-tribes, etc., that inhabited north central Europe after drifting  in from  the east to fill the vacuum left by the barbarian migration (Völkerwanderung).  Many Germanic people left this area during this time so that only remnants of former inhabitants remained.

*Many historians identify the above Sorben (Sorbs) as the Lusizer, Zliuvini, Daleminzier (Daleminzi) or Glomaci, as seen on Map II, and combine the three tribes Daleminzi, Lusici and Milceni, together with the Nisanen and Besunzanen, as the Sorbian nation.  These Sorbs inhabited the southern  part  of  the region as shown on the two maps.  Only tribal remnants of the Sorbian Milzener (Milceni) in Upper Lusatia and Lusitzer (Luzici) in Lower Lusatia are still in existence today.  All other tribes have been assimilated by the German population and their languages have disappeared. Traces of  these former Slavic speaking people are preserved in surnames and place names all over the area they once inhabited.

Please note Budissin in the lower right side of Map II.  This is one of several ways Bautzen was spelled in Sorbian.

Map III shows the area in Upper and Lower Lusatia in which Sorbian is still spoken today.

The Spreewald Wedding

Mato Kosyk was born in Werben in 1853 and died in America in 1940.  At first a railway worker and later a Lutheran pastor, he became a leading Lower Wendish poet.  He immigrated to America and concerned himself until his death with the Wendish immigrants to the country.  He penned the famous Lower Wendish epics The Treason of Margrave Gero and A Wendish Wedding in the Spreewald , and numerous shorter Lower Wendish poems. The middle school in Briesen is named after Kosyk. – translated by Charles Wukasch

Kosyk won a name for himself with his hexametrical written idyllic of “The Wendish Wedding in the Spreewald”, where he lovingly and warmly portrays in three songs the life of Wendish farmers.

George Adam, 1900 From: “Hartmut Zwahr: “The People of My Country.”  VEB Publishing House,  Bautzen 1984. Page 312

The Wendish (Sorbian) Wedding in Spreewald


The eve-of-the-wedding at the home of the bridegroom

The thoughts of the father and the mother

The father

Joy is giving me wings.  With joy I am young again, even though I also have a head of hair that is beginning to grow gray.  My veins are pulsating stronger; the fire of youth warms me up; new smooth skin and strength stream through the years of age.  My heart warmly feels the beauty and splendor of our earth.  My spirit soars heavenward, driven by happy excitement.  Peace of soul, you are the treasure above all earthly treasures, you fulfill my wish, it more than ever crowns all my wishes; see the greatest worry is gone, has disappeared from me, very soon this will be witnessed by the Word of the heavenly covenant.  It is happiness, nothing but happiness, who could ever bring one something more than this?   The world appears different to me, I myself have become different.  I could immediately sing the lusty pieces of youth, like the birds are able to chirp their song in the sky.  I could shed tears, which joyfully glow in my heart.  Thus I am filled with the feeling of inward happiness.

The dowry [or trousseau] for the bride

The narrator

It didn’t take long before things around became lively; immediately a dog, the poodle, barked, the rest followed.  All the wagons of the rich mayor of the village now came driving up, fully loaded with various household effects of the kind Lejna, totally and completely decorated with garlands, enclosed in wickerwork [baskets, etc., fresh flowers and plants.   The yard was full of people.  The men with great care carry and place the furnishings into the residential home, as the men emptied the horse drawn wagons!  And the room was big.  Carefully one carried the treasures to the right place inside and set them down.  Painted bright red, the clothing closet became impressive next to the room’s door; a person could see himself in it, for the color’s brightness shone like a mirror.  In front of the other wall stood the dish cabinet; the wife now lined it up into it with expensive plates and placed them so that the flowery decoration of this could always be seen by an observer.  Chairs stood practically in every corner of the room, firmly put together out of various kinds of hardwood.  Now boxes and chests were dragged into more rooms, all chests were decorated with wreaths and with flowers drawn on them.  The lady of the house could hardly wait to see for herself the linen that was in these chests, and with desire to look at it all piece by piece.  There, in the first chest, she found a big bale of linen, well spun by the mayor’s maids, yet woven by Lejna alone, the beautiful daughter.  Also the second chest held a bundle of linen, where it was white as snow, bleached and folded together.  Now the wife looked at the contents of the remaining boxes brightly and in a good mood, for she found the requirements for the beds.  Tightly stuffed into sacks there came along the feathers, in bed cover and also in pillows in great number; all feather soft from their own geese and chickens.  While the wife still was looking for this and that, with many hands of the coachman [the coachmen unloaded various kinds of kitchen equipment…] were brought in from the last wagon various kinds of kitchen equipment, and they made room for them.  There were earthenware pots, glazed over from inside and out, big ones as well as small ones – and each was necessary for a home.  In addition there also came in a beautiful number of iron pots, which clearly showed what a thoughtful, considerate mind Lejna had.  There followed in tubs, white and clean that of course were old, yet scrubbed clean.  The tub was grabbed and held in iron hoops.  There also appeared new tubs. And in a wash tub, look, there were laid bowls and spoons, straining cloths, stirring spoons, twirling stick, the coffee grinders and knives, big and little dishes [the Sorbian text actually makes clear that it holds not only dishes but also other equipment to be used on the table], whatever belongs in a kitchen, and last but not least yet a butter-tub was brought in.  After all of the boxes were unloaded from the wagon one by one, swallow after swallow of beer and also brandy flowed through their throats as gracious thanks from the busy housewife, along with the dispensing of bread and meat.  Then they hastily went back home, as they had been ordered to do by the mayor.

Discussions by the women on the-eve-of-the-wedding

The mother

I still wish very much that also the young woman might with wisdom hold sway in house and home and not lack in energetic pluck when at times it is appropriate to speak with sharp words; men obviously act shrewdly, they think that this is not necessary, that all advice from wives is empty nagging that is totally unnecessary.   However we experienced housewives know better!  Don’t we too often see right in our own homes how the husband leads and turns everything according to his own head, that he regards his married wife merely as a maid servant?  That however without ceasing drives towards a sad ending.  Blindly the husband rushes ahead and pushes himself into various corners, with power wants to do the impossible – naturally it does not happen.  Thereupon he drinks and guzzles in order to forget the household needs; without purpose, she becomes renewed, becomes twice as strong as she was before; but this is not enough, he blames his spouse for everything, so that the poor lady cries, in vain she weeps and laments.

 One woman

 Still amidst all this the blame could also be laid upon the young woman.  Sometimes there arises a quarrel, a repugnant dislike between the spouses.  This is actually possible even in the weeks of the honeymoon; then however the oversensitive young wife is afraid as well that the entire sky could topple down on her head.  Yet it is not all that bad, for such a small estrangement finally leads the hearts together, binds them closely together, and leads the thoughts of the two upon a common pathway.  Actually thereby the one comes closer to the other.  That’s why the strife in youth is not as bad as a later spat.  The latter gnaws its mark into the most inward bones.

 A second woman

I of course experienced something different and want to tell you about it: You of course know how poverty stricken we came together, having neither spoon or pot found in our house.  Despite all that we were happy at all times, at peace and blessed, for we were led by harmony in all areas of life.  Such a faithful covenant and bond had actually immediately required one to be diligent.  Frugality stepped up, and actually was expeditious and constantly guided us.  Thus heavenly blessings grew up out of the holy covenant.

Late in the evening

The father of the son

Yes, today I hand over the rudder into your hand; nobly turn yourself wherever you can, and wherever you end up, do not toddle like an unwise child at the break of day, for you have the strength for action and the sense for wanting what is necessary.  If of course someday the corrupt world ever pushes you into disorder (for the dangerous swamps misguide into countless ways), and even though distressed, you see no way out from the front or from behind, then don’t lose your head and let it hang down without advice so that that the water with a wild whirlpool does not bury and destroy you.  Lift your head up, only up, to the look at the Source of Light.  Thus you will know exactly where you are, where you are standing, even if you come up short.

 Part II

 In the home of the bride

The narrator

Still on that very same day the Schulz father frequently checked out his large home and examined with open eyes to see to it that everything was properly found to be in its appropriate place and that servant and maid servant were busy at work to motivate the members, to see to it that no stupid cooking-utensils or pots and pans had gossiping women chattering while spinning, as this of course was often done and practiced at a wedding.

The father of the bride

Garland wreaths give a lovely appearance to the spot; you have pretty flowers to choose from in our garden, well cared for up to now by my daughter, Lejna [Lena]: She planted them, watered them, promptly transplanted them and daily watched over their growth so that nothing hindered them, that no bad animal destroy their smart veins.  When then the rose finally was enfolded in Lejna’s hand, my child received it with joyful laughter, with kisses.

Lejna, the bride

Dear mother, this is the house in which you rocked me to sleep in your lap and again woke me from slumber, always with a kiss, as you are gifted with mother love.  Here I then grew up, guided and advised by father and with your protection, with your care, mother.  Here is a person’s greatest blessing, my kind mother, where one gets rocked in the cradle, where one is raised until grown, where one lay in the first dream and with heavenly peace.  When I will see the coachman drive away with the household effects, I know that I soon will have to forever travel away and leave behind what has so sweetly refreshed my heart.

 The father of the bride

  Don’t resist the tears, they sober up the light of your eyes; but don’t grieve forever, for that buries good health.

 Juro, the bridegroom

 Let me carry away half of the heart’s burden.  Nothing can disturb the nearing blessings of tomorrow’s day.

 The thoughts of the parents of the bride

The father

Nothing under the sun endures, nothing remains.  The commandment, which is always testified to, cries out: Accept departure!  Coming and going, going and coming, that is what destiny says; to resign oneself to it without worry, which cannot be called foolishness.  To be happy lightens every departure and manifests itself as wisdom, if the hope for it is thereupon steadfastly founded upon blessing.

The mother

We wives know better the hearts of our daughters; our husbands know better the nature of their sons.  Does anyone know for sure if Lejna still like previously is attracted to Juro, if she perhaps today might not have doubts about everything?  Time marches on differently, and the hours strike differently.  God grant that the coachman does not come back to us, that he does not say “Praise the stranger, but stay at home!’  Now-a-days there often comes to a person’s ears such happenings full of evil and sadness, confusion and tribulation.  Then the one statement drags up another; everyone looks for and gawks for strained relations out of dark gloomy corners, and it dexterously gabbles away so many naughty workings of the mouth word for word, bringing argumentation and strife, heaping lie upon lie.

Advice to the bridegroom

The father of the bride

That I meet you is a good thing.  Many things still move my heart that will be of benefit to you as well as teaching you something.  Don’t live in a dream world as if there is nothing more to learn, like when a cocky self-assured man always tries to stand on his own two feet; no, for as long as a man strives, he must allow himself to be properly taught.  May the bond of unity steadfastly guard the two of you in every situation; with one heart and mind fulfill your duties, a blessed reward then at last will crown the strenuous exertion of your labors.  Each part has its activity, its duty for every hour.  If one delays, and does not promptly and properly tackle the task, the other person grabs hold to help and despite the exhortation.  But a sour face is actually the beginning of being repugnant.  Work is our destined skill and simultaneously is the sparing of our existence.  What wants to conceive cleanliness has to be clean itself; so then may diligent obedience always bring you into sweating: If you eat bread without sweating, then you will become a miserable daytime thief.  Steadfastly keep things in order.  Let that be your command as well as your guiding plumb line.  Never squander your time; if you don’t have anything to do with your hands, do something with your brains.  Whatever is wholesome and good, research it, minutely investigate it, appraise it, try it out, and select the best.  In the evening think about the first thing that needs to be done in the morning, for the farmer’s banner flaps only through patient, enduring labor.  With acceptance of customs and activity learn to know people and know them through their spoken words; for these are the windows into a person’s inward thoughts.  Many are inwardly filled with poison with outward hypocritical innocence.  Believe me, a haughty proud person brags about his foolish actions.  He can be sure that the hour is lying in wait to see to it that sooner or later he’ll get what’s coming to him.  For all haughty pride fails and eventually stumbles.  Discipline yourself!  Denounce the evil of the world, for you are of course to stand and live as a role model to your own.  Once again: Discipline yourself!  That calls for success and good health; turmoil at home deceives, and it invites the hubbub of filling one’s glass to the brim.   Stay far away from places where loud boozers guzzle it down; also occasional visits can easily become a habit.  Drunkards tear down what the brave housewife has set up.  Listen to the old people, my son, their talk is rich with learned experience.


At early dawn

The narrator

Before the new day had yet arisen with its morning redness, everyone was already wide awake there at the big farmer’s home; agile quick hands were working on what was awaiting them today.  Immediately there arrived wagons at the roomy home.  Wedding guests stepped out in order to set their feet into the house.  In addition there came on horseback to the home all the young men.  Also with a lightening bright sword the [Hochzeitsbitter] Wedding Guest Inviter was at his station..  He had the power and authority to guide the conduct of a wedding.  Every guest had to listen to what he said.  Also two bridesmaids stepped down and the bridegroom’s brother (all of them being unmarried, as the custom and practice required) along with the wedding guest inviter with bold Wendish horses.  The head of the household kindly welcomed the guests, and the bridegroom did so likewise, followed by the house wife.  The wedding inviter invited them all to eat and drink.  After the guests had consumed the food and drink, the wedding inviter stood up and said the following words:

The wedding inviter

Friends, now that we have been satisfied, let us finish our snacking, and let us travel to the bride whom we have to properly recruit/woo, for the ample time to go court her lasts only for so long; the mother could ply us with sharp words.  Also others are capable of holding us up with roguish tongues.

In the home of the bride

The narrator

As the festive train all of a sudden came near to the Schulz’s, the wedding inviter sent as messenger the bride’s best man, for him to deliver the message that soon the bridegroom would arrive.  Within a short time the wagon train stood at the home of the Schulz’s, as young and old stomped down with their shoe soles shouting out.  Into the spacious house hosts of people came pouring in.  But inside the festive room already were sitting a great number of guests, with serene and lusty voices smartly chit-chatting with joyfulness.  And look, there also sat the bride, dressed up, at the end of the table.  However over her face there was of course tossed a veil.  At her side was the mother (who here had to give the directions).  A little later the Wedding Inviter stepped into the room. His greeting was kind and valiant:  He now wanted to woo the bride.

The wedding inviter

I am a servant of my master, who is virtuous, well-behaved and noble.  I am not asking for your food and drink, even though it is found to be magnificent here in these surroundings.  So then I come here to win you over for my master, for he has chosen you and has sent me to come get you.

The narrator

Praise be to the mother, she had for the longest had tried to refuse the bride!  A wrapped up picture appeared, requested by the mother.  As the wedding inviter showed the wife the picture of the bridegroom, she herself said: No, that is not the right one.  The guests broke out with laughter and began to wittily joke about it. – With the Schulz’s the wedding guests stepped into the chamber room.  Each one with fullness of joy shook the hand of the Wedding Inviter.  And the bridesmaids cried out: The Wedding Inviter, the bride!  For he with glory had overcome the refusing tongue of the mother.  She however cunningly backed off: He still had to redeem the bride for his master and sprinkle the table with silver coins.  Quickly the wedding inviter tossed the money upon the table’s four corners and onto the middle of the table.  The mother, well pleased, took the coins.

The Wedding

The narrator

 Thereupon he immediately escorted the proper bride out of the room.  Upon a wink by the mother, the bridesmaids began, in that they now were to attach cloths in front of the coats of the wedding guests, alike in beauty, also alike in color.  So then they pinned a small festive bunch of flowers on the left side of their chests: pinning on red ribbons with glorious flowers.  However the bridegroom’s bunch of flowers consisted of green flowers and of white ones; there was to be found no red flowers or ribbons on him.  See, the bride is standing by ready, nothing red on her dress and head-dress, and she is holding a long, snow-white cloth in her hands, with its artful creased frills falling down all the way to the ground.  Now the Wedding Inviter ordered all the guests to climb unto wagon and horse in order to drive to the church.

The wedding inviter

 Blessed is the house where such joyful wedding laughter resounds!  Let no one thoughtlessly break up this eternally binding ‘tying of the knot’.  For its strength is able to squeeze itself through the body into the heart’s blood.  Indeed this bond bestows harmony, however with its duties it then becomes harsh.

Sun and shadows take turns during the course of a day.  So likewise the laughter does not stay far away from the sadness.  There still comes like a thief in the night – practically unnoticed – many a tribulation, grief and sorrow.

Guests, we all want to affectionately bend forward our heart to the bridegroom and likewise to the bride.  We want to wish them much good fortune at all times!

The narrator

So spoke the Wedding Inviter and then he gave a quick signal for the music to begin playing; he himself jumped into the head of the festive train. Behind him one saw the bridegroom and the witnesses to the marriage trotting behind.  Behind them the brothers, each one ran to their horses.  Behind the riders, one’s eyes saw the wheels of the wagons.  From the first wagon rang the sound of music for entertainment, in the front of the second wagon was the mother, behind her the bride in the middle between the bridesmaids; in the back sat two bride servants.  Wedding guests found places in the remaining wagons.  Shortly in between one saw the trains stop at God’s house; in pairs they all walked into it for a festive action.  Soon afterwards one walked back out after the completion of the marriage service.

The festive meal in the house of the bride

The narrator

As the Reverend Pastor and the Cantor showed up with measured steps, the Wedding Inviter invited all the many guests to the table, and they lined up pair by pair as they had previously done in the church.  On one side sat the young men together with those who through their rank of office had to wait in line, while the Pastor and the Cantor sat at the other end.  Eagerly all the guests spooned up the luscious foods and poured beer with whiskey and then whiskey with beer.  Our Reverend Pastor did not participate in the eating and drinking and for a while observed the circular motion of the heartily eating of the good dinner feast.  This however to the disappointment of the Reverend Cantor – who was smacking his lips over the aroma of the roasted meat, in that he did not want to begin eating first, but instead wanted to reserve this honor for his higher ministerial brother.  When they all with good conversations had then eaten until they were full, a bowl with salt was passed around the table and a second one with water; the guests gave their mites into them.  The first bowl was to reward the labor of the lady who cooked the meal, and the other was remuneration for the weary work of the woman who washed the dishes.  Not only in the room however was there gratifying celebration; no, also outside in the yard by a host of village children, also for the poor there fell off some for celebrating from the dinner-table.  Immediately music was sounding forth from the persons blowing brass instruments, and the wedding guests deserted the room in pairs in order to enter into the bar-room to dance with the musicians.  Also the spiritual Reverend broke away with others to go home; older people stayed back in the house of the Schulz’s, for they wanted to chit-chat about keeping on farming.  Also the young couple stayed in the house with decorous conversation, he still had to obtain his secret fortune with dignity.   Nor could he desecrate the seriousness of the day by going out to seek pleasure.

On the third day

The narrator

When after the darkness of night the friendly sun began to shine, everything that moved was called to work.  Yet to the wedding quite joyful clanging sounds called out anew, and they were heard by the guests, who all too gladly came to the houses of the Schulz’s as well as the other farmers.  Suitors, this day serene clothing were allowed by custom.  Instead of the strict rules, the bride could again show red.  As one with shinning bright clothes gathered oneself by the Schulz’s, the Wedding Inviter told the young newlyweds and the guests that one should quickly want to now go into the homes of other farmers, where one could now still think about celebrating the wedding some more.  There the young wife was welcomed by everyone.  But already the dance now pulled  the new couple to the pub; once again the people whirled around in the seventh heaven, sheer joy and desire shouted for joy from every face.  Later the Wedding Inviter ordered a pause to the dancing, so that one did not amidst the tumult pass up eating lunch.  In the afternoon the guests continued to dance some more but now the long train was led by the young people.  The festival style of dressing decorated the young lady, the bride’s cap fell off, and the head cloth was pinned pale red to the ground.  The beginning of the first dance belonged to the bridal pair that very smartly turned about and around with great gyrations.  As the wedding happily came to an end towards midnight, the Wedding Inviter shouted out to bring it to an end and to saunter up to the farmer’s yard to eat an evening meal, in order to strengthen oneself with food and drink.  Then the Wedding Inviter stood up and said the following:

The wedding inviter

Behind us now are the hours of the wedding, its sounds have rushed away.  Joyfully we came, joyfully we go back.  With the married couple we take away the constant anxious feelings that our wishes for their good luck and blessings become reality!  A good night heartily came to an end from departing lips, and then the tired guests hurried home for sweet sleep.  As an afterthought the young couple stood in a cleaned up house.  So then, like a blessed dream it all at once came to them that they no longer were in the rushing tumult of the Festival; instead everything was a hushed silence.

“Behold, the golden star of good luck shines upon me;

Who knows if not perhaps in the wink of an eye!

I will get her [apparently a young girl, the next bride] and stride into battle.”

© Translation by the Rev. Dr. Elmer M. Hohle for free use by the TEXAS WENDISH HERITAGE SOCIETY, Serbin, Texas.

Tante Hohle

As a child I remember Uncle Adolph Hohle from Houston and his next door neighbor and half-brother Ernest Bamsch, coming to visit their respective half and step-brother, C. B. (Ben) Hohle (my father), the son of Maria nee Bamsch Hohle at The Grove, Texas. On numerous of these summer visits they would bring along their mother, Agnes nee Krause Bamsch Hohle, who was my father’s step-mother.

 In my early childhood I was always over-awed by this tall woman with the wire eyeglasses. In later childhood and in my early teens, I grew to love Grosmutter Hohle. She was the only grandparent I ever knew from my father’s side of the family. In later years her height lessened because of the seeming effects of osteo-porosis, but no doubt also because of the difficult pioneer days in Serbin in the Johann Hohle household where my widowed grandfather brought in his second wife and former sister-in-law, Agnes Bamsch and all her Bamsch children. Then she conceived and bore two more sons.   

In the year 1990 I was given a copy of a letter written by the Rev. H. T. Kilian, dated 13 March 1907 in which he made a Scriptural defense for having officiated at the marriage of my Grandfather Johann Hohle Jr and Grandmother Agnes. Some person wished to marry his aunt and Kilian forbade it. Then Kilian was accused by this person of having performed two invalid marriages, including Grandfather’s. In this somewhat bristling letter Pastor Kilian responds valiantly:  “Now concerning the marriage of Johann Hohle:  His marriage is thoroughly proper and is permitted by the Word of God. Johann Hohle’s first wife was a Maria Bamsch and her brother, Ernst Bamsch, was married to Johann Hohle’s present wife. Both Bamschs died and Johann Hohle thereupon took for his wife Agnes nee Krause who was the surviving widow of Ernst Bamsch and I performed the ceremony.”    After presenting lengthy logic about how they were not “flesh of flesh,” but second degree in-laws, he concludes, “namely, the marriage of Johann Hohle and the Agnes constitutes a proper, God-allowed union.”   

I always sensed in my father a loving closeness to his full-brother and sister, Alvin and Selma (who was married to Andrew Hobratschk). I remember the funeral of his oldest brother, Gerhardt, when I was four. They frequently conversed in the language I could not understand – Wendish – instead of the usual German. This closeness also manifested itself with his half-brother Emil, who lived in our community of The Grove, as well as with Uncle Adolph of Houston.    This loving warmth was also evident towards my Bamsch uncles, but with an added twist of joviality that I feel came from having been playmate cousins prior to becoming step-brothers. Papa and Grandmother Agnes Hohle also had a good rapport. It was one not so much of step-mother and step-son, rather, it was that of a loving, doting aunt and a nephew who held her in high esteem.   

Back in 1855 my Great Grandfather Johann Hohle Sr purchased 95 acres of land between Giddings and Serbin for which he paid $1 per acre. He built a log home on it. My father was born in this log house with the dirt floor on 8 September 1887. When he was a little boy, his mother died. Soon he had a new “mother” – Agnes. My father told me that in later years she had to sell the farm to pay for her doctor and medical expenses – unfortunately for her, the two oil wells discovered on the farm in the 1970’s came in too late. Hence she was homeless in her late years and spent much of her time in the homes of her sons Ernst and Adolph. However, she would also come spend time in her other children’s home including ours.    On these almost annual visits, I found Grandmother Agnes to be friendly and smiling, quick to giggle and laugh. I remember her spending several days with us once when I was about 10 or 11. Whenever my mother might be busy in the kitchen, she and Papa sat on the back porch and conversed in Wendish. Sometimes they would sing Wendish hymns from memory. My father had a deep bass voice and she had a high pitched soprano voice. Her voice might on occasion be slightly raspy, but musically the notes were clear and pure as the tone from a crystal bell.   

My last remembrance was when she was walking poorly, hunched over, with the aid of a cane. Her strong ankles and lower calves stuck out from her billowing, long skirt. They looked bluish to me. In thinking back I realize she suffered from poor circulation in her legs. She wore only house shoes on her feet. One ankle was lightly bandaged. It was a summer afternoon. She asked me to go down to the river and get her some mussel shells (we were living along the Leon River). I went down to a gravel shoal and felt among the smooth stones until I found a few mussel shells. I brought them to her. In the twilight of that summer evening, I watched in fascination as she practiced some strange folk-medicine.    First she ground two of the shells together to make a fine powder. Her wire glasses were perched on the end of her nose, her thin, but long white hair was tied in a tight little bun on the back of her head. Looking over the glasses, she looked at me, smiled broadly with an almost toothless grin and said in German, “Now I’m going to ‘doctor’ my wound.”  Whereupon she unwrapped the bandage from her ankle, exposing a deep hole in the front of her ankle bone. It was about the circumference of a thin pencil. It didn’t appear to be inflamed much, nor was it draining. Painstakingly she began to sift the shell powder into the hole until it was filled.    She liked to tease me in good humor. I loved to hear her sing those Wendish hymns. She was my closest encounter with my Wendish/Sorbian roots. She was to me an example of Christian faith and love. Through faith in Christ she now resides with the saints in the eternal kingdom of God’s glory.

This vignette is printed with the written permission of Elmer Hohle.

Na Szwedzen Reformaziona

A translation from the original Wendish by Rev. Dr. Elmer M. Hohle of Rev. Jan Kilian’s liturgical Collects for the Epistle and the Gospel for the Lutheran church’s ecclesiastical observance on October 31.

It has been a longstanding wish of Pastor Hohle that he be granted permission to pray this prayer in St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Serbin in a worship service before he dies.  May he be granted this wish.  To God be the glory.


Collect for the Epistle

Pastor:  Let us pray; I shall build My church,

Response (by congregation): And the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

Pastor:  Let us pray to God:

             Lord God, heavenly Father, in Your Word You have revealed Yourself to us that You have set our Lord Jesus Christ upon the throne to judge the antichrist as the man of sin.  And, You also restored to life the child that was dead.  You then also overcame this evil source so that finally Your godly servant [Tr. note: a.k.a. Luther] with his brilliant mind revived and renewed the church.  So, to You be all the glory.  By Your Word You overcame the opposition to Your kingdom.  And, it was by Your might and power that the opportunity was provided for us to hear Your voice.  We thank You so much that You through the voice of this Your servant Luther at the same time also severed us from the fallen antichrist and led us out from the kingdom of evil.  And, we petition You, grant us the protection of Your wisdom.  Protect us also from our cozy, convenient, crooked ways by guiding us away from not preparing ourselves against falling away from the actual truth and lamely clinging to the words from Your Spirit’s mouth.  For it is they that spread the message of the Gospel from His Book.  Unto You by Whom we have the life to come through Your Son Jesus Christ now be all the glory forever.  Grant this through Your Son Jesus Christ, Amen.

Collect for the Gospel.

Pastor:  Let us pray; Fear not, you little flock,

Response:  For Your Father is with you, to you He gives the kingdom.

Pastor: Let us pray:

             We give thanks to You, our gracious God and Father, that You reconciled us to You by having mercy upon us, and that You through the blessed patriarch Luther You brought us to the light of Your holiness.  Your blessed Word pronounces us just and cleansed by its proclamation.  And above all else, You give to us wisdom and knowledge to guard against idolatry and to be faithful.  And, we plead with You to grant us good health.  Reign in us through Your Holy Spirit so that we uphold in its truth the Book of the Good News.  With worshipful adoration we come to You for life.  And bestow upon us the comfort of a blessed end and salvation at our death.  Through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord.  Amen. 

 Summons to Pray

 Prayer for the communicant

Pastor:  Respond to our prayer with Your kind mercy that is new every morning, to embrace our need for absolution, and bring us to Your blessed Table.

We pray: God, You are rich in mercy to us.  Bestow upon us all the gift of Your Holy Spirit so that we do what is pleasing to Your will.  Thus may we also as worthy guests approach to be filled with Your fullness.  And, let no one partake of this Holy Supper to his judgment, or through unrepentant and evil deeds receive the body and blood of our Lord to his condemnation.  Grant that we may seize by faith and cherish Your assurance that You forgive our sins, comfort our conscience, and let us be grounded and established by Your Spirit to generously partake of Your fullness.  And, grant us open eyes and ears so that we walk on the new path of Your way as You bring us to daily repentance.  Thus You lighten our burdens and love us.  Provide us faith and godliness and all that pertains to increasing in them.  At the same time from henceforth keep us in the true faith; guide our souls to see Your salvation and the good Lord at our life’s end.  Grant this to us for Jesus sake.  Amen.

(Copyright by translator, the Rev. Dr. Elmer M. Hohle, for future publication as the dedicatory tribute to Jan Kilian in the translator’s translation of Vol. I of Scholae Pietatis by Johann Gerhard.  Publisher: CENTER FOR THE STUDY OF LUTHERAN ORTHODOXY, Malone, TX.) 

(Permission granted for the use of the above by Texas District LC—MS congregations for celebrating its 100th Anniversary as a District, in memory of the Kilian-led migration of the Wends to Serbin, Texas)  

(Used here with permission of Rev. Dr. Elmer Hohle.  To God alone be the glory.)