Bronze Plaque Remembers Sorbian American War Heroes by David Zersen

The following article appeared in the April 2015 Newsletter of the Texas Wendish Heritage Society in Serbin, Texas.

Bronze Plaque Remembers Sorbian American War Heroes

[Even while we continue to observe the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War, we should also remember that 2015 marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. Many of us have family members who served in the military during the war, and we are thankful for those who came home to continue their lives after the war. But we also remember those who lost their lives during the war. This article first appeared in the May 2014 issue of Pomhaj Bóh, and we wish to thank the editor, Trudla Malinkowa, for granting permission to reprint it here, and to Dr. David Zersen, the author, for translating from German to English.]

Immigrants to the United States in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries often hoped to escape military conscription in their homelands. This was possible for some Sorbs who left Lusatia, but many young men weren’t so fortunate. During the United States Civil War in the 1860s, 53 Sorbs were either conscripted or volunteered to fight for the Confederate States of America because Texas had voted to side with the Southern States (documented by Dr. George Nielsen in the July 2005 and April 2006 issues of the TWHS News.) The descendants or those immigrating in later years were also conscripted to serve in World War I, a long battle made problematic because although seventy-five years had passed since the 1854 immigration, men of Sorbian ancestry had to fight against their ancestor’s descendants in Lusatia.

Two decades later, then 85 years after the 1854 Sorbian immigration to the United States, Sorbs had not only almost lost the language of their forbears, but in many cases had also forgotten their names were Sorbian. This would not be the case at Concordia University in Texas, however, where a bronze plaque cast in 1945 remembers the names of 99 Lutheran soldiers of the Texas District of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod who died in that war.

Giving recognition to the fact that already at the time, the U.S. had become a nation of immigrants, the names remembered there show three soldiers of Mexican heritage, 14 of English – Scotch, one of French, one of Swedish, one of Dutch, one of Italian, 48 of German and 29 of Sorbian. In other words, almost 30 percent of the Texas Lutherans who died in WWII were of Sorbian descent. The percentage would be much higher if one could know the Sorbian names of all the women who married men of other ethnic backgrounds as well as those who were not members of the LCMS. Names like Kieschnick, Knippa, Schkade, Neitsch, Zschech and Symank would never be forgotten, even if their descendants forgot their heritage, because they remain inscribed in bronze on a plaque hung in Memorial Hall, an athletic facility constructed at Concordia University Texas in Austin to remember those who had died in the Great War.

Of course, there were countless other soldiers in Texas of Sorbian descent that did not die in the war, and there is no easy way to remember who they were. One of them was Edgar Adolph Knippa who was inducted into the Army in January 1942. By January 1943, he had completed Officer Candidate School and was a 2nd Lieutenant assigned to the 750th Tank Battalion at Fort Knox, Kentucky testing the M- 4 medium tank, M5Al light tank and the 60-ton heavy tank. Then, after an accelerated program of physical and tactical training in South Carolina, on September 16, 1944, the 750th Tank Battalion sailed on the U.S.S. Wakefield landing at Omaha Beach on September 25, 1944.

Edgar Knippa was later wounded in battle in November of 1944 by shrapnel from an exploding mortar round near Aachen, Germany. He was evacuated to England for surgery, and then sent to San Antonio, Texas to a hospital for recuperation. He was given a clean bill of health and received orders to report for parachute training after which he would be sent to fight on the Pacific front. However, that month, in August of 1945, the Japanese surrendered, and Knippa never returned to battle.

Most of the U.S. soldiers of Sorbian ancestry who survived the war would later marry and have children, producing the next generations of Sorbian Americans in Texas. Edgar Knippa’s daughter, Jan Knippa Slack, worked until recently as the Director of the Texas Wendish Heritage Society Museum in Serbin where she regularly encountered descendants of other veterans of WWII who survived to marry and raise their families. When current Sorbian Americans look at the names of the ancestors on the bronze plaque, they sometimes wonder how many Sorbians in Lusatia died in World War II and how many who survived remember the names of those who were lost?

Dr. David Zersen, President Emeritus Concordia University Texas


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