Letter From Lusatia, 7 December 1947

The following letter was received from Mr. and Mrs. Johann Herzog in Copperas Cove, which was received from Germany and is, herewith, made public in the Giddings Deutsches Volksblatt.

It is presented here translated by David Goeke.

Neu-Spremberg, O/L (Ober Lausitz), Region of Loebau, December 7, 1947

Honorable Family Herzog!

You will be astounded to hear from an unknown person. I received a letter directed to a family in Spremberg. This same letter came by way of further determination to Neu-Spremberg. In the local postal index, this person could not be located. I had to give over the letter to the postal service for further investigation. Now, you will certainly wonder how I arranged to write to you. I am honest and open enough to share with you the facts. We find ourselves in bitter predicaments. I think that you will not believe it if I report how things look for us. My child, 15 months old, receives ¼ liter of good and ¼ sour skim milk per day. We grown ups receive none at all. We receive 25 grams of fats and the same of sugar. Nothing can be had without stamps (ration stamps *). Yes, we are happy when we get dry bread. Now Christmas stands again at the door. If there is no special exception made (likely flour, sugar or some other commodity **) , to 1 kilogram per person, we won’t have enough to bake a simple cake. You will certainly already have read in the newspaper how Germany is hungering. There are some people who have relatives or acquaintances in other countries. These people have the best luck and now and again receive a package of groceries or other things. Things such as coffee beans, chocolate, powdered milk and the like, which we don’t even know anymore because such things don’t exist for children. It is a hard and bitter destiny and it does not look like things will get any better.

I would to ask a great request in my letter to you. Do you perhaps have acquaintances who could collect an offering and send a package? God would reward you and it would be a great help for my wife and children in our great need. Please do not look on my letter as a “beggars letter,” because I am not turning to you in that manner. Should it not be possible for you or your acquaintances to come through with my request, perhaps you will hear of someone too whom you could pass the letter you have received from me on to. I would welcome further correspondence and would be happy to report more to you later.

I wish you a Happy Christmas and at the same time a prosperous, healthy New Year.

My deepest thanks in advance and until I hear from you again, I send you my heartfelt greetings.

Your Unknown,

Willie Geisler and Family, Neu Spremberg Ober Lausitz, Region of Loebau, Turner Street 254, Sorpj Garrison, Germany

Translator’s Notes:

* The term used here is “Marken,” which in the context of this letter likely refers to ration stamps.

** There is no direct reference to what the writer is referring, but, again, in context, it is likely ingredients , because he does make mention of baking a cake.

Note also, that in translating, one tries to stay as much as possible to a true word for word translation. However, to have the translation make sense and be readable, some license was taken…..without jeopardizing the true content of the translation.

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David Goeke is of Wendish descent. By David Goeke

David Goeke is of Wendish descent. Interestingly, for a good portion of his life, he didn’t know it.

David Goeke is of Wendish descent. Interestingly, for a good portion of his life, he didn’t know it. He grew up speaking German. He enjoyed going to visit his grandparents in Manheim, Texas. He had occasionally as a child heard the term “Wend,” but it meant nothing to him because he was, of course, German…because his family spoke German.

David remembered, however, an elderly pastor who attended Trinity Lutheran Church in Austin. This elderly pastor spoke German and, of all things, Wendish. David recalls him trying to teach the young boy these strange words that were very “guttural” in sound. To top it off, he gave David a book titled, The So-Called Wends of Germany and Their Colonies in Texas and Australia by a fellow by the name of Engerrand. David was curious…but, set the book aside.

As a high school student, David attended what was then called Concordia Academy in Austin, Texas, (now Concordia University). He heard that term “Wendish” more and more….and he was curious how that many of the fellows at Concordia (this was an all boy school) came from the Lee County area from whence his mother came. Furthermore, he realized that several of these guys from Lee County also spoke German…and again, from time to time, that term “Wend” popped up. David and a few of his classmates enjoyed bantering German about from time to time…and also shared an interest in German books. These were guys with names like Noack, Schatte, Handrick, etc.

One day, when a rather “out of it” librarian decided to empty the stacks of all the old German books at Concordia because no one used them and they were in the way, this librarian filled bag after bag with these books and threw them on the sidewalk to be picked up by the trash collectors. Well, David and some of his buddies got wind of this and immediately started salvaging these books. Among them were some books in Wendish. David, however, had no particular interest in them because German was his second language. So, some of other guys got the Wendish books. However, some of the books that David salvaged, while German, had been owned by people with names like Birkmann, Studtmann, Wukasch, etc.

Well, David finally graduated from Concordia High School (the longest 10 years of his life….just kidding). He attended Concordia Jr. College and then made his way to Concordia Teacher’s College in Seward, Nebraska. In 1970, he graduated with a B.S. in Education with a theology major ….and received his first call to serve as a teacher and Youth Minister at Mt. Olive Lutheran Church in San Antonio, Texas.

Strangely, the pastor was a fellow by the name of Eldor Mickan. David knew that surname from Concordia, Austin, too. Now David and Eldor Mickan got along very well. Eldor Mickan also spoke German and also had a love of reading and books. Strangely, Eldor told David that Mickan was a Wendish name. One day, Eldor showed David a new book that he had acquired. It was called, In Search of A Home (a paperback) by a fellow whose name was George Nielsen. David began to read it and to his great surprise began to find names of members of his family in this book. Then he saw the passenger list in the back and nearly fell over. There they were. Members of his family like Kieschnick, Birnbaum, Pilak, etc. That discovery set David Goeke on a new quest to learn of his heritage.

With time, David began to seek out people who were familiar with the Wends. Through certain of these people, he began to learn of people who lived in what was then West Germany, but, who had East German connections. Goeke began a fairly intense effort trace his genealogy, utilizing these West German resources…who happened to be “displaced” Wends.

Over a period of, he learned that he could actually make contact with Wends in East Germany…but, that his letters to them (and those to him) would often be opened and scrutinized. Through the West German connections, Goeke learned of some elderly, and fairly prominent Wends who stilled lived in East German. Among them was one Theodor Schütze, whose first language was Wendish and who was still able to read the old Wendish handwriting in which Pastor Jan Kilian wrote many documents in both Wendish and German. Many of these documents were obituaries. David, having received the permission of Rev. Paul Hartfield to look through some of these obituaries, made copies of certain of the Wendish obituaries and sent them via a West German correspondent to Mr. Schütze in East Germany…for the cost of some coffee and corduroy which was smuggled in with the request. Schütze translated the Wendish to German, and David translated the German to English. That singular event, thrust David into an even greater interest in the Wends.

At about the same time, David heard of an organization called the Wendish Culture Club. It was the offshoot of an invitation extended by the newly organized Texas Folklife Festival which hosted a multi-cultural event in San Antonio, Texas, showcasing the many ethnic groups of Texas. As a result of that invitation, five little ladies came to San Antonio for the second year of the festival. Thus, was the birth of what is now the Texas Wendish Heritage Society. David has regularly participated at the Texas Folklife Festival for 30+ years.

Back in those early days, the Wendish Culture Club consisted largely of women. There were, however, some men in the organization. Among them was one, Ted Lammert, who served as one of the early chairpersons. David learned that the group was to meet and decided that he would go to a meeting and learn all that he could. He came armed with two briefcases full of data that he had collected. Upon arrival, he knew no one. Mr. Lammert introduced himself and asked what was in the briefcases. David told him. He said, “We don’t have a program planned for this afternoon. You’re it.” Thus began David’s involvement in the group. He spoke that day chiefly on Wendish folklore and customs. When he started talking about customs that his mother had celebrated such as Vogelhochzeit, the eyes of those little ladies lit up.

Over the years, David became more involved in Wendish research, having interviewed some of the “old timers,” having gathered data from Germany, having developed more correspondents in Germany who supplied him with a wealth of information, and so on. It happened too, that Dr. Sylvia Grider was writing a book about the Texas Wends and used David as one of several consultants in gathering her data. For a period of time, David was actually acting as a “broker” of sorts to sell Dr. George Nielsen’s book about the Wends.

David had the great privilege of interviewing the last man in Serbin who spoke a fairly fluent Wendish, namely, Mr. Carl Miertschin. When the Texas District of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod hosted its 75th anniversary convention celebration, David was asked to serve as a consultant. At David’s encouragement, Mr. Carl Miertschin was present and sang acapella the great Luther hymn, “A Mighty Fortress” in the Wendish language, to an audience of hundreds of people. Twenty five years later, at the 100th anniversary, David was again asked to be a consultant. Among other things, he, together with the outstanding assistance of Ron Lammert, “constructed” a mini-museum at the convention hotel site, highlighting the history of the Texas District, with a heavy emphasis on its Wendish roots.

In 2004, on the occasion of the Sesquicentennial of voyage of the Wends from Germany to Texas, a voyage led by Rev. Jan Kilian, David was approached by Dr. David Zersen, then president of Concordia University Austin, to do a sort of “one man” portrayal of Rev. Kilian. With the very able assistance of the Rev. Martin Doering who served as Master of Ceremonies for the event, David “appeared out of nowhere,” garbed as the Rev. Kilian. Rev. Doering did a masterful job of quizzing the aged pastor who appeared in a “back to the future” sort of scenario. Since that time, David has made similar appearances on no less than ten occasions, from everything from family reunions to a presentation to the convention of the Texas District at its 100th anniversary. Rev. Doering (a third cousin to David) has been part of that presentation on several occasions.

In later years, David’s involvement in Wendish research waned, but he never lost his interest. Suddenly one day, an old schoolmate of his from Concordia Austin, one Weldon Mersiovsky, called David to inform him of a trip he was planning to make to Iowa for something called the World Wide Wendish Workshop. Weldon had for some time been on the trail of many things Wendish and had an almost inexhaustible interest in Wendish research. It was his intent to attend the gathering in Iowa and then make a trip to Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri, to take digital photographs of Wendish documents, chiefly the obituaries that Pastor Kilian had written. The Concordia Historical Institute had become the repository of these original documents back in the days when the Rev. Arthur Graf served St. Paul, Serbin, and felt the need to find a safe haven for these very fragile and important documents. At any rate, Weldon asked David to make the trip with him. Having known Weldon since college days, he knew, too, that trying to say no to him was rather like trying to get chewing gum off the bottom of one’s shoes. So, David said yes and made the trip and was happy that he did. Weldon was able to locate an individual in Germany who could still read the old Wendish handwriting. This individual translated the Wendish to German. In the beginning, David began the task of translating the German to Wendish. When David found himself with time constraints, Weldon solicited the help of a number of very gifted translators to help him with this task. The value of that task cannot be put into words. That brings us up to this point of time in 2013.

It would be very remiss of David not to give tribute to Weldon Mersiovsky. Were it not for Weldon’s intense interest, concern and very hard work, it is safe to say that we may well have lost extremely interesting and valuable information regarding the Wendish people, especially in Texas, but also in Germany. All who bear the name of Wendish ethnicity owe to Weldon an inestimable debt of gratitude. Back in college days, certain people (not David , of course) called him by a nickname of “Well Done” (as in a steak). He didn’t particularly like that nickname. Today, however, that nickname would take on a whole new meaning. Weldon has done an outstanding service to the Wendish community. So, David and hundreds of other people really need to say, “Well done, Weldon”.

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The Great Texas to Iowa to Missouri Excursion of 2010

A wonderful opportunity for two old Concordia University friends, David Goeke and Weldon Mersiovsky, to reconnect. Lots of potential plans made. The Lord kept us safe and blessed us with good times and new friends.

About 12:15 P.M. David Goeke arrived at Walburg, Texas, at the home of Weldon and Jean Mersiovsky. We load Weldon’s vehicle and travel to Dales’s Essenhause in Walburg, whereupon we meet Jean, who has pre-ordered hamburgers for “sending off.” To Dave’s surprise, his “niece-in-law” shows up at Dale’s in conjunction with a faculty gathering of Zion Lutheran, Walburg. We eat a tasty hamburger and then Dave and Weldon are off on our “amazing and wonderful” journey.

Upon our departure, Dave was apprised that he was to “navigate” – not an easy thing for one not well traveled. On the way out we passed the Schwausch place. Dave was also advised that he would keep a diary – the results of which you now read. Goeke and Mersiovsky are not known for their “quietness.” We talk of genealogy, the Delaplane League – of the Hilsberg family – and of German bank notes.

1:45 P.M. Stop in Temple so that Weldon can forward calls to his other office.

1:55 Back on the road. We talk of Weldon’s background. That he was in the army, that he was later a production supervisor for TI – that he then went with Aid Association for Lutherans – ultimately with Thrivent Financial for Lutherans.

2:25 P.M. Passing through Waco.

3:50 P.M. Walter Dube called….out of the blue…actually accidentally. He was trying to reach Sylvan Mersiovsky…..but reached Weldon instead. Had good conversation.

Stopped for gas at West, Texas. Called the Hamres and Klein’s.

5:25 P.M. We’ve been talking so much, we didn’t realize that we had crossed into Oklahoma. Talked about Rudy Mersiovsky and Dave’s dad’s story. Talked until we got to Newkirk, Oklahoma, around 9:00 P.M. Had supper at Los Potros….then traveled to Hamre’s place where we would stay the night. We slept upstairs….pretty darn warm up there….but it was a place to stay…..and was very kind of them to put us up. Awoke around 6:30 A.M. and Rachael had prepared some pastry for breakfast. Had great conversation about Biblical archaeological findings. Weldon seemed well informed….but, ….. Dave will have to check him out.

8-13-10

Left Hamre’s about 7:10 A.M. for Des Moines, Iowa. 7:30 crosses Kansas line. 8:10 stopped at what once was St. John’s College, Winfield, Kansas…..mostly because Dave’s dad had been a student there in the 1930’s. Weldon was kind enough to drive there on Dave’s behalf. Dave got out of the car and took photos of the campus….and what he believes to be the spot where his dad once stood for a photo with his French Horn. Saw Baden Square (a well-known Texas name) and Rehwinkle Hall ( a great Lutheran theologian).

9:30 A.M. On to Augusta, Kansas. Stopped at McDonald’s and got “to go” breakfast. According to McDonald’s wait attendant, there was “no intelligent life here.” Believe it or not, Weldon and Dave have not stopped talking. Weldon advised Dave of an article Joe Wilson wrote about an archaeological did on his place where he is supposed to have found a Clovis point. Dave is skeptical….but, willing to accept the claim provided that there is verifiable proof. At some point in time, we made a call to Schiller’s in St. Louis to talk about the camera rental we would be making. Then called Ron Lammert , and he said he wished Dave would have called him because he would have flown us to Iowa in his airplane.

12:40 P.M. Stopped to use restroom and get snacks. Then back on road again. At mile marker 98, it looks really dark. Looks like a storm. In fact, just saw a storm chaser van from Texas pass us.

1:45 P.M. Entered Iowa. It’s raining.

3:00 P.M. Arrived at Jean’s cousin’s place. The Babcocks (Kent and Jeannette). Urbanville, Iowa. Nice folks. Jeannette had prepared dinner (baked chicken, potato salad and watermelon). Drank some Texas wine that Dave had brought as a “thank you” gift.

5:30 P.M. Heading to Clemons, Iowa, for the first event of the Worldwide Wendish Workshop….to be held at the Clemons cemetery….a cemetery surrounding by beautiful lush green corn fields. Upon arriving at cemetery, no one is there, so we park and walk to the cemetery looking for Wendish names. After a bit, a vehicle arrives and we walk toward it. To Dave’s great surprise, it held a film crew from Germany who had filmed Dave in San Antonio, 8 years prior…and the crew immediately recognized Dave by name. After a period of time, more people showed up, not least of which were Jan and Charlie Slack, Chuck and Vivian Dube, and Ray and Susan Matthijetz from Texas. Also met a Wendish lady from Canada. A bit later, Weldon introduced Dave to one Evelyn nee’ Neitsch who knew Dave many years ago in Austin, Texas. At the cemetery there was a skit of sorts, where three people dressed in black portrayed the characters of their deceased ancestors who were Wendish and who were buried in the cemetery. At the end of the portrayal, taps were played by to trumpeters playing from about 50 to 75 yards apart. The sun began to set and all went their own ways. A very nice evening.

8:50 P. M. Left cemetery headed back to Babcock home where we would spend the night. First stopped at Walmart to get lamp shields for filming project set for Monday in St. Louis. Then stopped to get something to eat. Weldon insisted on fried chicken so we meandered about the area, finally stopping at Popeye’s Fried Chicken. (Funny how he always got his way). Took that and some beer back to Babcock’s ….ate…and stayed up till midnight talking (as if we hadn’t talked enough).

8-14-10

6:00 A.M. Awoke and showered. Jeannette had made a light breakfast. Dave dressed in Wendish costume and Weldon would later put on Braschka apron.

7:50 A.M.

Left for State’s Center, St. Paul Lutheran Church, where festival would be held. Upon arrival, we registered. Met many people from all over…..Canada, Germany, Nebraska, etc. Listened to introductory presentation by Cathy Peterson. A couple from California (originally from Germany) had made authentic Wendish pickles that were for sale. Weldon was kind enough to purchase several varieties for the visitors to sample.

Listened to Sorbian choir from Drauchausen who were present. Very nice. Accompanied by accordion. Observed Wendish meal being prepared by Wendish chef Martin Jahn (cucumber salad, quark and potatoes, wedding soup, etc.).

After lunch was the “Frog Race” which was actually a chicken race. Baby chicks were placed in a ring made of an extension cord. Each chick was tagged with a label….each representing different places that Wends came from. There was a “Texas” chick. Folks would bid on the chick they favored. The Texas delegations collectively bid $100 on the Texas chick. It didn’t win. But, the Iowa Wends earned several hundred dollars.

Heard presentation on DNA and genealogy. Interesting….but, am uncertain as to its value.

During the course of the day, Dave heard Jan Slack reciting the Lord’s Prayer in an almost perfect Wendish. What a joy. So proud of her. She seemed a bit upset when Dave persuaded Dr. Toni Beuk of the Sorabia Film Studio to film her. Look for Jan in an upcoming video. She really did an outstanding job. Toni had filmed Dave some 8 years prior in a visit of San Antonio….after which Dave invited the film crew to his home for Texas Barbeque.

Participated in Nieder Sorbian language “mini-lab.” Very interesting. Wish it could have been longer. Came back with some phrases. Wish we had a learning CD. Asked that of Katrina, the presenter, and she agreed to try to make one up for Dave.

Had a mid-afternoon dinner of “Subway” style sandwiches.

Then had very well structured classes on Easter egg dying and stitchery. Both were hands on classes and very well instructed. The end result of some of our efforts weren’t so hot, but, we learned a lot anyway.

Plan was to hang around until George Nielsen arrived. Weldon called hotel to see when he’d arrive…and he had just checked in. Met up with George in order to make copies of the originals of the notes he took in Germany. Decided to go get something to eat with him. Got something to eat….if one wants to call it that. It was a Maid-Right, a loose meat sandwich. Again, at the insistence of Weldon. According to Dave, unpalatable without lots of ketchup. Granted it was fresh meat. Aside from that, it was like eating…well Dave couldn’t even describe it. George described it well when he called it a “Sloppy Joe” without the “Joe”. Took George back to his hotel and upon pulling into the parking lot saw the Slack’s and the Dube’s. Ended up talking with them for nearly an hour.

Headed back to the Babcock’s. Saw the absolutely most incredibly beautiful crescent moon ever. Like out of a fairy tale. Dave mentioned a German saying about the waxing and waning moon…..and Weldon insisted that Dave check out his German lexicon for the saying. Couldn’t find it.

Got to Babcock’s, brought in Weldon’s scanner and started to scan about 300 documents. Weldon wanted to stay up till it was done. Finally, (and despite what Weldon may say) Dave convinced him to quit at about 1:00 A.M. and get up early enough to get to State’s Center and finish up at St. Paul’s Church.

8-16-10

Woke up at about 6:30 A.M. Showered , etc. Ate last breakfast with the Babcock’s.

7:55 A.M . Headed back to State’s Center. Upon arrival, set up scanner in the church office and finished scanning Nielsen notes. (Told you that was the best way to do it, Weldon.)

10:30 A.M. Worship began. Entire service done in English with German translation. Young Peggy Kierstan (among the youngest of the Drauchausen Wends) translated the entire service (with no pre-translation) into English. Astounding. Very proud of her and Dave told her so. Dave had the privilege of offering the Aaronic benediction in Wendish, English and in German at the end of the worship service.

After worship, an absolutely wonderful meal was served. It consisted of smoked pork loin wrapped in bacon (simply wonderful), potatoes au gratin, corn on the cob (or off if one desired) and strawberry shortcake for dessert. Very tasty!!

After the meal, the Wends from Drauchausen danced for us. Then (profoundly impacting our image), we were asked to dance with the Wends. After a bit of instruction, we caught on…..sort of. Neither of us are ready for a stage performance any time soon.

Dave offered thanks to the hosts and to the German Wends. Weldon suggested that we sing “God Be With You Till We Meet Again”….which we did…..in harmony even. Nice ending to a nice time.

Strange as it may seem, we had developed some relationships…..especially among the Wends from Germany. With a bit of emotion, we bid our farewells….having exchanged email addresses.

3:00 P.M. Left States Center for St. Louis. Drove thru Amana Colonies at Weldon’s kindness….just to show the “untraveled” Dave. Stopped to get a snack thereafter.

6:30 P.M. Entered Missouri.

7:30 P.M. Went through Hannibal, Mo. , full of Mark Twain history. Got gas.

9:20 P.M. Arrived at the Craig and Becky Telander home (another relative of Jean Mersiovsky). Had a bite to eat and a beer or two. Telanders were so kind as to arrange for an overnight stay at La Quinta. Drove to motel…and crashed.

8-16-10

6:30 A.M. Woke. Showered, etc. Ate breakfast at Denny’s.

Tried to figure out how to get to Schiller’s Photo to rent camera for our excursion to the Concordia Historical Institute in order to digitalize the old German and Wendish obituaries (originals written by Jan Kilian). Found Schillers…..spent an hour making sure we knew how to use camera and copy stand. Wonderful help from the folks at Schillers. Went to LCMS International Center, thinking that documents were there….only to find out that they were at the CHI location at Concordia Seminary.

Drove to CHI at the sem…..and the documents had been laid out for us, thanks to Weldon’s having contacted the Institute before-hand. Started setting up camera, only to find that we really hadn’t fully understood the instructions given to us by the folks at Schillers. After a phone call or two to Schiller’s, we got it figured out and began to shoot the obituaries and other documents (we being Dave, at the outset….Weldon coming on later in the game). In the interim, Dave spoke with Marvin Huggins, retiring director of CHI, asking about other documents proported to have been in the archives. Huggins and Dave took a trip into the “depths” of the CHI…..literally… two stories deep underground….but found no other documents….though some may still be there. Stayed at CHI until closing….5:00 P.M.

5:00 P.M. Drove to Schillers to return camera and download images. After a couple of tries and the kindness of the folks at Schilller’s, project accomplished.

5:45 left Schiller’s. On our way to Muskogee, Oklahoma.

10:00 P.M. Stopped in Joplin, Mo. To eat at Cracker Barrel. Baked chicken….etc. Tasted good because we were hungry.

12:45 Arrived Muskogee. …at a -5 star motel. Dave mentioned to Weldon that he’d bet the hotel was run by an East Indian. Was confirmed when Indian attendant opened the window to register us and we smelled garlic (no offense intended).

8-17-10

7:50 A.M.

On our way back to Walburg.

10:00 A.M. Stopped at McDonald’s for breakfast. Still in Oklahoma.

10:30 A.M. Crossed into Texas.

About 2:30 P.M. Arrived Walburg. Heart-warmed to see Weldon’s grandkids welcome him home with a big hug. Unpacked Dave’s stuff to his car. Dave left Walburg. Headed to Austin…and stopped to see his 90 year old mother for a few minutes. Then he headed back to San Antonio.

All in all, a great trip. A wonderful opportunity for two old Concordia University friends to reconnect. Lots of potential plans made. The Lord kept us safe and blessed us with good times and new friends.

Soli Deo Gloria.

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"Schwarze Tunke" (Black Sauce)

Try This Authentic Wendish Recipe at Your Next Party. Source: Sorbisches Haus Gastlicher Tisch, printed by the Domowina-Verlag in Bautzen, p.12.

Mix about 1/4 liter of cold goose blood or hog blood with some vinegar and flour. Add broth from pig knuckles or pork ribs, and add pimentos, cloves, some sugar and about 200 grams of hog lard. After it is thoroughly cooked, slowly cook it another half hour over a small flame, while stirring. Do this until you have a thick, smooth purée with a dark color. Add salt to taste. Eat smeared on bread with boiled meat.

Mmmmm! Now there’s one your guests won’t quickly forget.

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Verschwundene – A Tale of Destruction

A shortened version of this article was printed in the January 2015 issue of the Newsletter of the Texas Wendish Heritage Society. It is printed here in it’s entirety.

Forty five years, give or take – that’s how long I’ve been studying the Wendish culture. Those studies began when I first learned that I was of Wendish heritage and descent. I wasn’t aware of that fact until I was about 21 years. A fellow by the name of George Nielsen had written a monogram entitled, In Search of a Home. The small book fell into my hands by way of my then father-in-law Rev. Eldor Mickan. Somehow he had gotten a copy of George’s book and upon seeing it on his desk one day, I asked if I could read it. Eldor Mickan began to share with me a bit about who the Wends were, that he was of Wendish descent and told me that I could gladly borrow the book, but to make certain that I return it.

Now upon further investigation, I found that there was, at the back of the book, a passenger list of Wendish people who had come to Texas in 1854. And among these names were last names like Kieschnick, Pillack, Birnbaum and others – to all of whom I was related. I was fascinated my George’s little book and wanted a copy. I soon learned that the book was somewhat difficult to find. So, I took the initiative to telephone this fellow, Dr. George Nielsen, to see if I could somehow become a distributor of sorts. Upon calling Dr. Nielsen, he graciously accepted my offer to distribute his book to folks here in Texas. Because the book was printed in Birmingham, England, George would order a few boxes of them and I would sell them out of my home for the price determined by George. Later Dr. Nielsen issued a revised and updated hard cover volume under the same name.

There can be little question that Dr. George Nielsen’s book was and remains the most in depth and scholarly book on the topic of the Wendish settlers in Texas ever published in this country.

Earlier on (the early 1970’s) a group of some 5 or 6 little, old ladies from the Serbin, Texas area formed a new group called the Wendish Culture Club. They did so at the behest of the University of Texas at San Antonio who had tasked themselves with annually honoring the early ethnic settlers to Texas. This was a throwback to an event that they had done in conjunction with “Hemisfair,” the 1968 World’s Fair, which began in 1968. Those two events, the founding of the “Texas Culture Club” and the publishing of Dr. George Nielsen’s book piqued my interest in my Wends of Texas. I had Dr. Nielsen’s book as my primary source of information.

However, if I was to learn more about the Wends, it made only good sense that I should visit a meeting of the Wendish Culture Club. So I made it a point to attend one of the early meetings of “The Wendish Culture Club” on a certain Sunday afternoon in Serbin, Texas. There were about 15-20 people there, all women, except for two or three men. One elderly man’s name was Carl Miertschin. I was fascinated by him because he spoke good German, but he was also one of the last fairly fluent speakers of Wendish in Lee County. I could tell that the group was in its early stages of development when the other man in attendance, Ted Lammert (the then president of the group) approached me and extended his hand in introduction. I had to do some readjusting, as I had two brief cases, one in each hand, ready to take notes and learn all about the Wends. I put the briefcase in my right hand down and extended that hand to Ted as I introduced myself. Introductions having been made, Ted immediately asked me why I had two briefcases. I answered saying that I had been studying the Wends a great deal and that I was ready to add to my education by attending the meeting that day. I then asked him who was on the program to speak for that day. Ted looked me square in the eye and said, “You!”

Thus was my introduction to what is now the Texas Wendish Heritage Society. As circumstances would have it, I had done a great deal of study on the customs and the folklore of the Wends. When the group gathered there that day learned that I could speak German and when they realized that I knew about things like “Vogelhochzeit” and “Rumplich” and “Osterwasser,” I had their undivided attention. The eyes of the group of mostly older women began to glisten as they heard me talk about these subjects. They most certainly knew about them, but remembered them only from their childhood. For most of them, they hadn’t heard those terms uttered since the time of their childhood. That was my “baptism” into both studying things Wendish and making occasional speaking engagements.

Now, all of the above is by way of introduction to the real reason for this article. One would think that a person extremely interested in things Wendish, would have a rather broad understanding of the subject matter. Not so! Something had been going on in Lusatia (the geographical area that the Wends called home) which had totally escaped the eye of this self- educated and self-acclaimed “guru” on the Wends. What was this thing that was happening to the Wends of Germany right under my nose and of which I was virtually oblivious? Well, it was that many of the little dorfs (villages) in which the Wends lived and carried out their culture in Lusatia, were being systematically destroyed and annihilated because of something which lay under the earth which these people had occupied since the 9th century A.D. – coal – braunkohl, to be more specific, lignite. Already prior to World War II, numbers of these very old villages were being wiped off the map so that lignite could be mined. I knew that in later years (from the 1960’s forward) the practice was still being carried out, but I had no idea to what extent.

The whole matter never really hit home until just about a year ago. You see, the little village of Mulkwitz in which my great great grandfather Oskar Horn was born, together with its larger and sister city of Schleife, was on the map for imminent destruction. That boggled my mind. I had visited these villages very briefly (for just a few hours) back in the year 2000. They were quaint and beautiful. They were very old, too.

First mention of these dorfs was made back in the 1300’s. In fact, a portion of the church at Schleife is said to have been built around 1300. Beyond that, Schleife is considered to be one of the cultural centers of the Wends, together with Bautzen to its southwest and Cottbus to its northwest. Schleife and the little villages that surround here are especially noted for their very beautiful and colorful “Frauentracht” (women’s clothing).

Schleife too is renowned for having been the source of many of the customs and folklore of the Wends. Schleife is so “exclusive,” so to say, that she has her own dialect of the Wendish language. There is Obersorbian in the area surrounding Bautzen, Niedersorbian in the area around Cottbus, and “Schleifesorbian” among those who live in and immediately around Schleife.

And now to hear that in only a short time this culturally rich dorf would be, in part, destroyed together with several smaller dorfs around her, made my head spin. I was outraged. I wrote letters of concern to several old friends who live in the area in order to see if there was any chance of sparing these villages. I joined a protest group made of people from all over the world to try to get this action stopped. But, to no avail. It was in the process of protest that many such dorfs had already been destroyed. In fact, it had been going on since prior to WWII with the earliest being destroyed already in and around 1944.

According to the book Verschwundene Dörfer im Lausitzer Braunkohlnrevier by Frank Förster (2014), some 90 villages have succumbed to the ravages of strip mining since 1944, with hundreds and hundreds of people being displaced, with their culture and heritage having been destroyed. The deep love of one individual for her own little dorf can be heard in the words of poem written by Hanza Budarka, a well-known Wendish poet. She wrote the poem in Wendish and it was later rendered into German by Elka Nagel. It is shown below in the German and I translated it into English. Note that the translation to English is not done metrically and therefore does not yield the beauty of poetic meter.

Ich liebe dieses Dorf hier, [I love this little village here,]

Wo ich geboren bin, [Where I was born,]

Wo man mich eingewiegt hat [Where I was cradled]

Und wo man mich geliebt hat [And where I was loved]

Wo man mich gerne sieht. [ Where people like to see me.]

Wo’s klare Flüsschen windet [Where clear little rivers wend their way]

Sich aus dem Tal hinaus [Throughout the valley]

Wo hohe Bäume stehen, [Where tall trees stand]

Manch schönes Haus zu sehen [To see many pretty houses,]

Ein prächt’ges Gotteshaus. [A magnificent House of God.]

Wo Gottes Wort des Sonntags [Where the Word of God on Sunday]

Man Sorbisch hören kann [One can hear Sorbian]

Wo wir noch Sorbisch singen [Where we can still sing Sorbian]

Und die Choräle klingen [And the chorals ring]

Tief in den Herzen dann [Then deep into the heart.]

Dies Dorf ist mir so lieb und [This village is so dear to me and]

So sehr gefällt es mir [It pleases me so much]

Erblick ich’s aus der Ferne [I see it at a distance]

Ich weiss ich bleibe gerne [I know that I will gladly stay.]

Zeit meines Lebens hier. [Here for my entire life.]

Zwar sah ich in der Fremde [Indeed, I’ve seen in foreign stations]

Schon manchen schönen Ort, [Already many beautiful places,]

Doch lieb’ ich diese Felder [I love these fields]

Und vertrauten Wälder [And the trusted forests]

Als Kind spielte ich dort. [Where I played as a child.]

Auf ewig will ich schlafen, [And I want to sleep eternally]

Wo meine Wiege stand [Where my cradle stood]

Mich ausruh’n möchte ich gern dort, [I would so happily rest]

Wenn dann der liebe Herrgott [When the dear Lord God]

Mich heim ruft in sein Land. [Will call me home to His Land.]

(This poem was found in Verschwundene Dörfer im Lausitzer Braunkohlenrevier, Frank Förster, Schriften des Sorbischen Institutes, 2014.)

Having now learned that one of the most culturally rich villages in Lusatia, namely Schleife, together with many smaller villages surrounding it were in the path of destruction and its people displaced, I felt that I must try to do something. Knowing that in all likelihood nothing could be done to stop the devastation, I felt that I needed to something. So, what was the next best thing to do? Well, in my opinion, it was to go back and visit again – and to capture what I could in still photos, videos, and interviews with the people. And that is what I determined to do. Knowing that to undertake such a task on my own would be difficult, I asked three other people to go with me.

The first was my long-time friend, Weldon Mersiovsky. Weldon is a goldmine of information on the Wends. He is constantly on the lookout for new research projects to undertake where the Wends are concerned. If you knew how much Weldon has done to capture and preserve the Wendish culture in Texas, and also in Germany and Australia, you would agree with me that we owe him a great debt of gratitude. Were it not for him and Dr. George Nielsen, much of what we have learned about John Kilian, the home life of the Wends, and just interesting facts about the Wends in general, would be non-existent to us today. So, Weldon accompanied me.

But, I needed someone to go as a videographer. For that task, I asked Dan Carter, a member of the Texas Wendish Heritage Society and a videographer to accompany us. Dan’s wife, Suzanna Schatte Carter, is herself of Wendish descent – and she also made the trip with us – thus, “prettying up” what was otherwise a fairly manly crew. I made prior arrangements with some dear friends of mine who live in Bautzen and/or Schleife, telling them what I wanted to accomplish. Thanks to the efforts of these dear people, Dr. Susanna Hose, Pastor Jan Malink, his wife Dr. Trudla Malinkowa, whom I already had known for 20+ years (all from Bautzen) we were able to meet up with other people who were so very kind and helpful, i.e. , Jana Pannusch of Schleife, Elvira Rathner of Schleife, Mr. Manfried Hermasch of Schleife, Dieter Becker of Schleife (my third cousin) and his wife Evie, the Buscha Family (Christa, Helmuth, and Falk) of Schleife, Mr. Manfred Nickel of Schleife, Martin Strauch of Bautzen, Dr. Juriz Luszczanski (a Wendish scholar from Bautzen) and Annett Scholze of the Domowina Verlag in Bautzen. There is yet another man who to whom much thanks is owed and who did much of the background preparations for us. This is Dr. Fabian Jacob of Leipzig, but whose roots are in Schleife. Strangely, our paths never crossed, but his work on our behalf was indispensable and deeply appreciated.

From a spiritual perspective, one of the more wonderful opportunities we had was that of participating in a Wendish afternoon worship service. Having heard the message of God’s love in Christ proclaimed in Wendish, I had the great blessing of sharing some thoughts from God’s Word in German. Wendish hymns were sung and Wendish prayers prayed. After the service there was the serving of some lovely baked goods made by the women of the congregation, served together with coffee. What a blessing!

Dan Carter’s ancestors were Polish. At the time of the trip, we didn’t not know precisely where in Poland they had lived. However, so that Dan could say that he had been on Polish soil, we all stepped across the border from Germany to Poland where a concert had just played and where there was food and drink a plenty. This came about because we had chosen to travel to Bad Muskau to see the restored castle of Prince Pückler of Bad Muskau and the very large and beautiful park that surrounds it. (My great great grandfather Oscar Horn had served as a forester/game warden for Prince Pückler). From the castle, we walked a few hundred yards, crossed a little bridge and we were in Poland. Dan, true to his word, got down on his hands and knees and kissed the ground of his fatherland.

Had it not been for Weldon’s very capable driving skills and the knowledge he has of Lusatia, it is doubtful that we would have gotten to see as much as we did. Having researched in Bautzen, Schleife, and Mulkwitz, Weldon saw to it that we got to see other villages from whence various of our ancestors had come, such as Weigersdorf, Klitten, Weisswasser, Dauban, Rodewitz, Hochkirch, Spreewitz and more. That the Lord’s hand was in this trip was evidenced by the fact that as we made several of these unscheduled stops – in a great many of them the pastor of the congregation just “happened” to be on the grounds (something very unusual) and took of his/her valuable time to show us around and share histories. So we thank Pastor Kruse-Michel of Spreewitz (who we met as she was leading a group of ladies through the church at Spreewitz and who also led a very beautiful devotion), Pastor Benjamin Rehr of Weigersdorf (whose spirit as a young pastor was evidenced by the large number of young people who attend his church), Pastor Thomas Hainchen of Hochkirch (a pastor, historian and capable organist) who toured the old church at Hochkirch with us and who pointed out such interesting things as a large cannon ball still lodged in the church wall (a remnant of the 30 Years’ War), and my long-time friend, Pastor Siegmund Matzke of Klitten.

Suzanna Carter’s presence, as said above, not only “upgraded significantly” the over-all appearance of this otherwise rather manly group, but, when we dined or associated with hosts where women were present, Suzanna put the women at ease. She also approached the trip from the eye of an artist, capturing lovely photos of nature, architecture and the like.

So, there it is, an overview of our 10 day excursion to the land of our forefathers. Our hope is to produce a short documentary about Schleife, Mulkwitz and surrounding villages. Ultimately, we would like to incorporate the shorter documentary into a larger one which will cover the history of the Wends in general both in Germany and in Texas. While it may seem like hope against hope, we continue to pray that these lovely old villages may yet be spared.

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