The Evangelical Lutheran Wends (Sorbs) in Germany

This article by Trudla Malinkowa (Gertrud Mahling) and translated by Gerald Stone was written for an information booklet, that was published in Bautzen, Germany, five times in the German language and one time, 2009, in English.

The Wends (Sorbs)

are the smallest Slavonic nation. They are descendants of the Slavonic tribes who around 600 A.D. during the migration of peoples settled in the territory between the Rivers Oder/Neiße and Elbe/Saale, and between the Baltic Sea and the east German secondary mountain chains. These tribes were not able to establish state structures of their own. Their territories became part of the Holy Roman Empire during the High Middle Ages. For hundreds of years the Wends have lived under German statehood. There is no “Mother State” beyond the German borders.

Wendish territory

has been shrinking for about 1000 years. The remains of it in Lusatia began to break up when industrialization began. The growing domination of the German language and culture in all spheres of life, sometimes aided by the suppression of Wendish activities in the church, the schools, and in public life, led to the loss of the language and culture of the Wends. They became a minority in their own country. Only a small area populated by Catholic Wends has managed to survive as a result of being a kind of “religious island” and because of its distinct agricultural structure. Here the Wendish language and culture have been preserved until the twenty-first century. At the end of the nineteenth century there were approximately 160 000 Wends. Today there are about 40–60 000.

The terms “Wends” or “Sorbs”

are, generally speaking, interchangeable. For centuries the term “Wends” was widely used. The term “Sorbs” is derived from the Wendish word “Serbja” (German: Sorben) and became the official term after World War II. In Lower Lusatia the term “Lower Sorbs/Wends” is now preferred.

The Lower Wendish and Upper Wendish languages

are of Slavonic origin and in them quite a number of Old Slavonic characteristics are to be found. In Lower Lusatia, in the southern parts of Brandenburg, the people speak Lower Wendish, which is quite close to Polish. In Saxony, in Upper Lusatia, the people speak Upper Wendish, a language quite similar to Czech. There are some transitional dialects in the Hoyerswerda and Weißwasser areas in Central Lusatia.

With the Reformation

the Wendish people became Evangelical Lutheran, though some communities near Kamenz and Bautzen remained Roman Catholic. Luther’s mother-tongue principle led to the development of the Lower Wendish and Upper Wendish literary languages. As early as 1548 his version of the New Testament was translated into Lower Wendish, but this remained in manuscript. It was followed by Luther’s catechism, which was printed first in Lower Wendish in 1574 and later in 1595 in Upper Wendish. By educating and training pastors as well as teachers the Wendish people for the first time acquired an intellectual leadership.

Wendish churches

following the Reformation were established in the towns of Lusatia for the spiritual care of the Wendish population. They were sometimes church buildings which were no longer needed for their original purpose, such as monastery churches (Cottbus, Guben, Kamenz, and Löbau) or suburban churches (Bautzen, Forst). Sometimes leading town churches were designated as Wendish churches (Hoyerswerda, Muskau, Vetschau) or new churches were built (Senftenberg, Spremberg). In this way, for the first time, public institutions were created which were devoted exclusively to the use of the Wendish language. Most Wendish churches today no longer serve their original purpose, though preaching in Wendish still takes place, regularly or occasionally, in Bautzen, Cottbus, Hoyerswerda, and Vetschau.

The Church history

of the Evangelical Lutheran Wends has been influenced by two movements of more than regional significance: In the mid eighteenth century by the development of the “Brüdergemeine” (“Moravian Brethren”) of Baron Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf at Herrnhut and in the mid nineteenth century by the separatist movement of Old Lutherans in Prussia. Today’s “Brüdergemeine” at Kleinwelka, founded in 1751 as a Wendish colony, and certain parishes in Upper and Lower Lusatia belonging to the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany are evidence of this process. These independent Lutheran parishes left the “united state church” in Prussia in the 1840s.

Emigration

affected the Evangelical Lutheran Wends from the 1850s till the end of the nineteenth century. The USA and Australia were the main destinations, followed by Canada, South Africa, and South America. The largest group of emigrants founded in 1855 the colony Serbin in Texas. Here the settlers most clearly showed their intention to preserve Evangelical Lutheran Wendish traditions. In Texas and in Australia societies and parishes can still be found today which keep alive the cultural and religious heritage of their Wendish ancestors.

The cultural development

of the Wendish people was, until the end of the nineteenth century, mainly in the hands of the Evangelical Lutheran educated class. The birth of Wendish middle-class culture was more or less the result of their work. The achievements of the Wendish people in the arts, in culture, and in the sciences can scarcely be paralleled among other nations of comparable size. Owing to the intensified assimilation process among the Evangelical Lutheran Wends, however, the intellectual leadership of the Wendish people was taken over in the twentieth century by the Roman Catholics.

The Bible and hymn-books

have existed in both Wendish languages since the eighteenth century. The New Testament was first published in Lower Wendish in 1709, the Old Testament in 1796, and the complete Bible in 1824 and 1868. The first Lower Wendish hymn-book appeared in 1574, the latest in 2007. An Upper Wendish version of the New Testament came out in 1706, followed by the whole bible in 1728. The latest of its eleven editions appeared in 1905. The Upper Wendish hymn-book of 1710 appeared in its most recent edition in 2010. Since 1854 there has also been an Upper Wendish edition of the Lutheran confessions.

Pomhaj Bóh” and “Pomogaj Bog

are journals published for the Wendish Evangelical Lutherans and named after the Evangelical Lutheran greeting (in German: “Gott helfe dir;” English equivalent: “God speed”). Founded in 1891 the Upper Wendish “Pomhaj Bóh” is an independent monthly, whereas “Pomogaj Bog,” first published in 1988, is a part of the Lower Wendish weekly newspaper.

The national costumes

of the Wendish people are of an astonishing variety and beauty. They are still worn today in the regions of Hoyerswerda, Weißwasser (Central Lusatia) and Cottbus (Lower Lusatia) by women of the older generation. The younger generation put them on for special occasions and festivals. More and more “Costume Societies” have been founded in recent years.

Wendish customs

are widely followed in all regions of Lusatia. Among them are the winter and spring customs “Birds’ Wedding,” the “Wendish Carnival,” “Witch Burning,” “Felling the May Pole,” and “Mid-Summer Day’s Riding.” Around harvest-time there are “Plucking the Cock,” “Beating the Cock,” “Stubble Riding,” and “Moving the Frog on a Wheelbarrow.” Important church festivals too are sometimes combined with special customs. At Christmas there is the Źiśetko (Child of God) and at Easter there are Easter Fires, girls fetch “Easter water,” eggs are decorated, and Easter hymns are sung in the night. Often the colourful national costumes are also to be seen.

Evangelical Lutheran parishes

with a Wendish majority are a thing of the past. Almost all the pastors now are German. But there are still many Wendish-speaking parishioners, most of whom are senior citizens. Wendish-speaking families are a rarity. For a few years there have been attempts in kindergartens and schools to give the Wendish language a new chance and to revive it in the younger generation.

The two districts of the Evangelical Lutheran church

where Wends live today are:

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Saxony: It includes some parishes of the Upper Lusatian region. Wendish religious life here continues well-tried traditions and, to a certain extent, develops in autonomous structures. Church life here is regulated by a canon law which was passed in 1949 and rewritten in 2003. It prescribes the existence of such bodies as the “Wendish Parishes Association” as the leading organ, the appointment of a Wendish superintendent, and the membership of one Wend representative in the Saxon synod. In about ten Saxon parishes, at irregular intervals, Wendish and Wendish-German services or similar meetings are held. The high-point of the year is the Wendish Church Day (Kirchentag). Since 1988 services have been broadcast on the radio. Sometimes there are groups of children and young people who receive religious instruction in preparation for confirmation in the Wendish language.

The Evangelical Church of Berlin-Brandenburg-Silesian Upper Lusatia: In this large church, founded in 2004 by the unification of two district churches, there has been a “Wendish Law” since 2005. Lower Lusatia and part of Upper Lusatia are included. In the Lower Lusatian region around Cottbus after World War II the development of active Wendish parish life became impossible. Attempts to start it were either turned down or stopped. After decades and thanks to private initiative it again became possible in 1987 to hold services in the Lower Wendish language. The foundation of “Serbska namša” (“Wendish Church Service”), an activity group of the church, took place in 1988. Since then they have been able to hold between six and eight services a year in approximately fifteen parishes. Services or devotional items on the radio in the Lower Wendish language started in 1989. Since 2002 there has been a pastor responsible for Wendish affairs in all Lower Lusatian parishes. In the Upper Lusatian region around Weißwasser, Hoyerswerda, and Niesky there were for many years no Wendish-speaking pastors. Every now and then bilingual services and meetings took place in some parishes, organized mostly by the Wendish superintendent from Saxony. Since 2014 an ordained young Wendish woman serves there as Wendish pastor in the congregation of Schleife.

Wendish Evangelical Lutheran social life

flourished in the nineteenth century. Under National-Socialist rule it came to a complete standstill. A real new beginning became possible only after the reunification of Germany in 1990. In Lower Lusatia the “Spěchowańske towaristwo za serbsku rěc w cerkwi z.t.” (“Society for the Promotion of the Wendish Language in the Church”) was founded in 1994, corresponding to the “Serbske ewangelske towarstwo z.t.” (“Wendish Evangelical Society”) in Upper Lusatia. The aim of both is to promote and continue the 500-years-old tradition of Evangelical Lutheran services, ecclesiastical events, and church publications in the mother tongues of the Wendish people.

Trudla Malinkowa

Translated by Gerald Stone

The Lord’s Prayer in Upper Wendish

Wótče naš, kiž sy w njebjesach.

Swjećene budź twoje mjeno.

Přińdź k nam twoje kralestwo.

Twoja wola so stań

kaž na njebju tak tež na zemi.

Naš wšědny chlěb daj nam dźensa.

A wodaj nam naše winy,

kaž my wodawamy našim winikam.

A njewjedź nas do spytowanja,

ale wumóž nas wot złeho.

Přetož twoje je kralestwo a móc a česć

hač do wěčnosće.

Hamjeń. 

The Lord’s Prayer in Lower Wendish

Wóśce naš na njebju.

Wuswěśone buź twójo mě.

Pśiź k nam twójo kralejstwo.

Twója wóla se stań

ako na njebju tak teke na zemi.

Naš wšedny klěb daj nam źinsa.

A wódaj nam naše winy,

ako my wódawamy našym winikam.

A njewjeź nas do spytowanja,

ale wumóž nas wót wšogo złego.

Pśeto twójo jo to kralejstwo a ta móc a ta cesć

do nimjernosći.

Amen.

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Jan Kilian by Trudla Malinkowa

This article about Jan Kilian, written by Trudla Malinkowa (Gertrud Mahling) and translated by Rachel Hildebrandt is a synopis of his life on the 200th anniversary of his birth. It first appeared in the January 2011 Newsletter of the Texas Wendish Heritage Society, Serbin, Texas.

Pastor – Poet – Emigrant

In Honor of the 200th Anniversary of Jan Kilian’s Birth

As the firstborn child of the farmer and landowner Peter Kilian and his wife Maria (née Mättig) of Hochkirch, Jan Kilian was born on March 22, 1811, in Döhlen, a village located near the city of Bautzen in Saxon Upper Lusatia.  When Jan was two years old, his sister Anna, only a few weeks of age, died, and soon after, his mother also died at the age of 26.  Consequently, his father married a widow from the neighboring town of Meschwitz.  He too died in 1821.  At this point, Jan’s care was taken up by his maternal family, to which belonged respected and wealthy mill owners in the Hochkirch region.  Thus, Jan’s education at the Gymnasium in Bautzen and his theological studies at the University of Leipzig were made possible.  After the conclusion of his studies in 1834, he worked as an assistant pastor for Rev. Möhn in his home congregation in Hochkirch.

            Already as a young man, it was clear that Jan Kilian placed great value on his Wendish ethnicity and his Lutheran faith.  At the Bautzen Gymnasium, he gathered around him other Wendish students.  This group dedicated itself to the study of their mother tongue.  However, in Leipzig, Kilian did not attach himself to the Wendish Preaching Society, which had been founded in 1716.  Affiliation with this society was a common practice among the Wendish students in Leipzig.  Instead, Kilian attached himself to a group of devout and fervent German students.  During his youth, Kilian had made a vow that he would dedicate his life to foreign mission work.  In order to fulfill this vow, he enrolled in the St. Chrischona Mission School in Basel (Switzerland) in 1837.  However, soon after his arrival, Kilian’s uncle, Rev. Michael Kilian of Kotitz near Weißenberg, died, and Kilian returned to Lusatia to take up his uncle’s pastoral position.

            The small size of the church parish, to which only Kotitz and the neighboring village of Särka belonged, made it possible for the young pastor to cultivate his personal interests once he was done fulfilling his pastoral duties.  To further the Lutheran faith among the Wends, Kilian turned to pen and paper.  Within only a few years’ time, he published a series of Wendish books, primarily translations of German religious writings.  Some of these sold out so quickly that additional printings were needed.  In Kotitz, Kilian also developed into a masterful and prolific chorale lyricist. In 1846, a collection of his church songs was published.  He even composed the melodies to accompany some of the verses.  The small book went through multiple printings and was used for decades as a textbook in some Wendish schools.  With his over 100 chorales, Kilian is considered one of the most outstanding poets among the Lutheran Wends.  In his publications, he appealed urgently to his Wendish fellow-countrymen to preserve the language and faith of their fathers.

            While at Kotitz, Kilian’s reputation as a preacher spread far.  His powerful sermons attracted churchgoers from across the entire region and even from neighboring Prussia.  Faithful Prussians asked him for advice on the religious issues they were then facing.  The Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm III had ordered the unification of the Lutheran and Reformed confessions into one church body.  The pious Wendish subjects were uncertain if they should take part in this union or if they should separate from the state church, a development that had already occurred in other parts of Prussia.  Kilian recommended the course of separation.  He established contact with the so-called Old Lutherans in Silesia, who had already split from the state church, and then translated the writings of this group into Wendish.  Subsequently in 1843, the Old Lutheran parish of Weigersdorf and Klitten was established.  No one among the Wendish pastors was willing to take on the responsibilities of the separatist congregation.  Ultimately, Kilian felt obligated to leave Saxon Kotitz to become pastor in Prussian Weigersdorf in 1848.  That same year he married Maria Gröschel from Särka, a Wendish farmer’s daughter from his congregation in Kotitz.  For over 32 years, she remained a true helpmeet and companion.  During their years in Weigersdorf, the couple had four children, three of which died young, and only their son Gerhard grew to adulthood.

            The work in the Old Lutheran congregation was arduous.  Kilian was responsible for caring for over 1,200 souls, who were scattered across the entire area of Prussian Lusatia.  Every third month, he made a three-week trip into the Muskau, Spremberg, and Cottbus regions, subsequently continuing his travels over to Lübbenau in the Spree Forest.  From its inception, the congregation suffered from a lack of money.  The congregational members, who had to feed themselves meagerly from the sandy soil of the Lusatian Heath, had to personally pay for the construction of two new churches, a parsonage, and a school.  The pastor and teacher also had to be paid on a regular basis.  As a result, the congregational members assumed large loans to pay for these things.  Other problems also created difficulties in the life of the congregation.  There were ongoing conflicts between Kilian and the neighboring pastors who had joined the unified state church.  These pastors were unwilling to officially recognize the Old Lutherans as an official church body.  Kilian’s congregational members were decried as “yes-men,” viewed themselves in part as the better Christians, and were thus rejected by other villagers as religious oddities.  On at least one occasion, some of Kilian’s church members were cursed and then beaten while on their way home.  After only a short period in Weigersdorf, Kilian was exhausted.  There was no time left over to devote to writing or compositional projects.  Furthermore, his Wendish friends, among whom were counted the publisher Jan Arnošt Smoler in Bautzen, the pastor-poet Handrij Zejler in Lohsa, and other leading Wends, distanced themselves from Kilian and openly criticized his endeavors.  There seemed to be only one way out of all of these conflicts: emigration overseas.

            In 1853, the first families from the Old Lutheran congregation left for Texas.  Their laudatory letters led to several hundred Wends following them the next year.  A specially established emigrant society organized all of the details.  Kilian was asked to accompany the emigrants as their pastor.  He agreed to this proposal.

            In September 1854, 531 Wends boarded a special train to travel from Bautzen to Hamburg.  By ship and train, they eventually reached Liverpool, England, where the large sailing ship Ben Nevis already awaited them.  The voyage across the Atlantic Ocean met with tragedy.  81 emigrants died along the way from cholera and other diseases.

            In spring 1855, the group succeeded in purchasing a large piece of property in Bastrop and Lee counties and in establishing a Wendish colony.  Inspired by the ethnicity of its residents (who in their native language called themselves “Serbja”), Kilian named the community Serbin.  Under great duress and unaccustomed climactic conditions, the settlers cleared the land, plowed new fields, and gradually created a foundation for their lives in their new homeland.  Collectively the settlers constructed a church, a school, and a parsonage.  At the same time, a cemetery was laid.  It was first used when Kilian buried his newborn daughter Theresia there.

            In 1855, Kilian became the first pastor in Texas to affiliate himself with the Missouri Synod, a German Lutheran church body.  The synod had been established by devout emigrants from Saxony who had settled in the state of Missouri.  In the Serbin congregation, Kilian had extensive work on his hands.  For many years, he was not only pastor, but he was also engaged as a school teacher.  Often he rode by horse to distant settlements, where his services were needed.  He left the financial concerns and the care for his family, which included four additional children born in Texas (Theresia, Bernhard, Hermann, and Hulda), primarily to his wife.

            A quiet life eluded Kilian in his new homeland.  The most critical concerns about basic survival had hardly been solved in Serbin before new conflicts developed.  Only three years after the founding of the settlement (1858), a group of church members separated from the congregation because of differences of belief.  This division ended after several years; however, the faith issue was soon replaced by new conflict linked to issues of ethnicity.  Not far from Serbin, German families established homesteads.  These individuals, with the support of some Wends in the community, made increasingly strident demands for German-language worship services and community meetings.  Kilian and his supporters fought valiantly against this pressure, which led in 1870 to another congregational split.  After this division, two congregations came into existence: predominantly German St. Peter’s and predominantly Wendish St. Paul’s.  At the same time, other Wendish communities in the area, such as Warda and Fedor, began to agitate for separation from Serbin and for the establishment of independent congregations.  During all of these conflicts, Kilian repeatedly sought support from the synodical authorities in Missouri.  In the end and in great disappointment, he came to the conclusion that those from whom he wanted support were, instead, sympathetic to the cause of his opponents.

            In light of his many difficulties, Kilian yearned to return to Lusatia.  However, he did not want to abandon his congregation without finding for them a Wendish replacement.  He hoped that a young Wendish pastor from Lusatia would be willing to come to Serbin.  His hopes remained unfulfilled.  At the end of his life, Kilian often wondered if he had chosen the right path, the one that had begun with the establishment of the Old Lutheran congregation in Weigersdorf and had required of him and others so much sacrifice.  On September 12, 1884, Jan Kilian died.  His sons continued his work in Serbin, Gerhard as teacher and Hermann as pastor.

            Today, Kilian is thought of with great respect.  For the descendents of the Texas Wends, he is the Wendish Moses who led his people across the ocean and away from European oppression into the freedom of America.  In terms of church history, Kilian is remembered as the founder of Old Lutheran congregations in the land of the Wends, as the spiritual leader of the last large emigration of Old Lutherans from Prussia, and as the father of the Missouri Synod in Texas.  In Lusatia, he is still known among both Lutheran and Catholic Wends as a powerfully eloquent writer of spiritual songs and chorales.

            As for his goal to preserve the faith and language of the Wends, Kilian took upon himself great personal sacrifice with unflappable resolve.  His biographer Ota Wićaz described him as “one of the truest and most significant Wends who has ever been.”

  1. The former Kilian farmstead in Döhlen under Czorneboh.  In the center of the picture is Kilian’s birthplace.

Photo: Trudla Malinkowa

1. Jan Kilian (1811-1884)

Reproduced with permission of the Texas Wendish Heritage Museum, Serbin.

2. Kilian’s signature in Wendish: “Jan Kilian, Pastor”

Reproduced with permission of Sorbisches Kulturarchiv, Bautzen.

3. Church and parsonage of the Old Lutheran congregation in Weigersdorf

Reproduced with permission of Pfarrarchive Weigersdorf

4. Jan Kilian with his wife Maria, née Gröschel, from Särka, and their children Theresia, Hulda, Hermann, and Bernhard (from left) in Serbin in 1868.  Son Gerhard is not pictured, since he was already studying to be a teacher at the teacher’s college in Addison, Illinois.

Reproduced with permission of Texas Wendish Heritage Museum, Serbin

5. Jan Kilian with his daughter Theresia

Reproduced with permission of Texas Wendish Heritage Society, Serbin

6. In Kotitz, a street has been named for Jan Kilian, who worked there as a pastor from 1837 to 1848.

Photo: Trudla Malinkowa

Translated by Rachel Hildebrandt

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Christoph Samuel Daniel Schondorf – Pastor to the Wendish Migrants to South Australia

Ths article by Trudla Malinkowa (Gertrud Mahling) was translated into English from the original German publication by Christine Greenthaner, Melbourne, Australia. Please click on the link below to take you to the article as it is posted on the Australian Wends website.

http://becker-zwar.com/zwar/notable-people-events-and-places/christoph-samuel-daniel-schondorf-pastor-to-the-wendish-migrants-to-south-australia/

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Johann August Miertsching

Johann August Miertsching was an internationally acclaimed explorer and missionary.The following article about him was written by Trudla Malinkowa (Gertrud Mahling) for the August 2017 edition of Pomhaj Boh. It was translated from Upper Sorbian/Wendish by Gerald Stone.

Sites to Remind us of Jan Awgust Měrćink (John August Miertsching) in Lusatia.

On the 200th birthday of the Wendish missionary from the Herrnhut Moravian Church

His birthplace in Gröditz

Jan Awgust Měrćink (Johann August Miertsching) was born on 21 August 1817 in Gröditz, the son of a cottager and carpenter. His father Jan Měrćink was a Wend and his mother Erdmuth (née Naake) was a German, the daughter of a cobbler from the nearby little town of Weißenberg. Before he was three years old the little boy’s father died, whereupon his mother remarried, this time to Jozef Bareš (Baresch), a Czech by birth from the Čáslav region in central Bohemia. A further six children were born from the second marriage. His stepfather was a tailor whose income was small and the family lived in modest circumstances. Both his mother and stepfather came from the pietistic circles of the Herrnhut diaspora. The children grew up in a pious atmosphere and with three languages: the colloquial Wendish of the village, their mother’s German, and their father’s Czech.

Jan Awgust Měrćink (1817–1875)

Courtesy: Sorbisches Kulturarchiv, Bautzen

At the age of fifteen Jan Awgust Měrćink joined the Herrnhut Moravian Church parish. After the appropriate education in Kleinwelka and Herrnhut he was active as a missionary in Labrador from 1844 to 1849. After this, while he was spending a few weeks in his parents’ house in Gröditz, he received an invitation from England to participate as an interpreter in a great journey to the Arctic. The expedition lasted five years, during which Měrćink kept a detailed diary. It is said that after his return he prepared his diary for publication in his parents’ peaceful house in Gröditz. His book, the Reisetagebuch, was in great demand and went through three editions in a few years.

Měrćink’s birthplace was a poor cottage on the south-west edge of Gröditz. The single-storeyed, little thatched house used to stand on the western slope of a gulley or valley called Smoła (in German Smoa), which today has been to a large extent filled in. The older villagers remember the little house still being in use until the mid-twentieth century. In the 1930s a certain Kuba lived here, who used to make slippers, and after 1945 the Klutz family, refugees from Silesia. A few years after the War, probably around 1951, the surviving house, which was dilapidated and likely to collapse, was demolished. Sadly, no photograph of it is known to have survived.

 Today the property is surrounded by a fence and is used as a garden. On it stands an arbour, which may perhaps have been built on the foundations of Měrćink’s birthplace. The place is still known in the village as the Baresch garden. Its present-day address is Nowa dróha (Neue Straße) 17.

Photo: Trudla Malinkowa

Retirement in Kleinwelka

After Měrćink’s activity as a missionary among the Eskimos in Labrador the church authorities sent him as a missionary to the opposite end of the earth, to south Africa. In preparation for that he married a young teacher from Herrnhut. From 1856 for thirteen years the couple worked among the Hottentots. After tormenting labours and the death of four of their children they returned in April 1869 to their homeland and to Kleinwelka. There, in December that year, his wife died. Měrćink, though only fifty-two years old, took retirement.

The Měrćink family had found itself a house which had belonged to the Šćěpank family in the neighbourhood of the Gruhl bell foundry. Two stories high, it had been built in Klein Neida in 1787 by Jan Šćěpank (Schippang) from Klein Neida. It was the thirty-fourth house to have been built in that new settlement following the foundation of the Herrnhut Moravian colony at Kleinwelka. For many years one of the relatives generally known as ‘Gemüse-Schippang’ ran a greengrocer’s shop here. After remaining in the family’s hands until 1869, it passed in 1870 into the ownership of the parish. Because until 1902 it was overgrown with ivy, it was called ‘Efeuhaus’ (ivy house).

In this house Jan Awgust Měrćink lived out the years of his retirement, looked after by his half-sister from Gröditz. It was probably here too that he died on 30 March 1875, only fifty-eight years old, leaving behind his aged mother and two young daughters, Maria and Helena.

Unfortunately, the house has been empty for many years and is in need of renovation. Its present address is Friedricha Gruhlowa dróha 2 (Friedrich-Gruhl-Strasse 2).

The house in Kleinwelka,

where Missionary Měrćink spent his retirement.

Photo: Trudla Malinkowa

The grave in Kleinwelka

Jan Awgust Měrćink was buried in the cemetery of the Moravian parish in Kleinwelka. His grave is in the third row of plot nine of the cemetery in the so-named ‘Brothers’ Plot’ (Brüderbeet). Following the custom of the Moravian church, it is of simple form, like the others. On the grass there lies a sandstone flag with a domed surface into which there is carved in gothic letters the words in German: ‘Johann August/Miertsching/born 21 August 1817/ in Gröditz/went home 30 March/1875’. An additional plaque with his name and the dates of his birth and death draws attention to his last resting place.

On the 130th anniversary of J. A. Měrćink’s death in 2005 the Wendish Lutheran Association had his gravestone renovated. The Kleinwelka Moravian Church of the Brethren and the Foundation for the Wendish People also participated financially. Because the original stone was beyond repair, the sculptor Uwe Konjen from Bautzen made a copy. The renovated grave was unveiled in the course of the meeting of the Wendish Lutheran Association on Reformation Day 31 October 2005. A brief bilingual address was given by the Pastor of Kleinwelka, Christine Welschen and the Wendish (Sorbian) Superintendent Jan Malink. Before the ceremony in the cemetery the late Alfons Frencl from Rosenthal gave a talk to members of the Association in Wendish about the life and activities of Měrćink, after which he repeated his speech in German for the Kleinwelka parishioners.     

The grave of J.A. Měrćink in Kleinwelka.

Photo: Trudla Malinkowa  

                                                                                    Trudla Malinkowa

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Wendish DNA

I have been tracing my family for some years, including the Roggenbucks. (Roggenburk is a variant adopted by those Roggenbucks who emigrated to the Cleveland area.)  My great grandfather Albert emigrated from Flötenstein, a small town three quarters of the way along a line from Berlin to Danzig, where many Roggenbucks lived.  Flötenstein was in West Prussia and today is called Koczala in Poland.  Other names in the Roggenbuck line I know of include Mischnick, Kanthak, Spors and Dorau.

I have been tracing my family for some years, including the Roggenbucks. (Roggenburk is a variant adopted by those Roggenbucks who emigrated to the Cleveland area.)  My great grandfather Albert emigrated from Flötenstein, a small town three quarters of the way along a line from Berlin to Danzig, where many Roggenbucks lived.  Flötenstein was in West Prussia and today is called Koczala in Poland.  Other names in the Roggenbuck line I know of include Mischnick, Kanthak, Spors and Dorau.

Roggenbucks were originally found in the 13th Century in the marshes east of Hamburg (Bütlingen), then in the Stralsund (Greifswald) area, but appeared to have moved slowly eastward, usually within 60 miles of the Baltic Sea.  There was never any doubt that I was German.

Recently, however, I took a DNA test which showed surprisingly few German genes —  inasmuch as my maternal grandmother was also German.  Another two of my Roggenburk second cousins — who have no relation to my maternal grandmother — showed no German genes! (My results: 48% Great Britain, 19% Ireland, 11% Eastern Europe, 10% Western Europe, 6% Scandinavia.)  My maternal grandmother’s surname was Wuthenow.

So here is a theory:  Perhaps the Roggenbucks are genetically Wendish and not German.  The area occupied by the Wends coincides with the area where Roggenbucks are found. The absorption of the Wendish culture by German culture must make it difficult to determine nowadays who is German and who is Wendish.  Also, I can’t explain why no German genes didn’t get into the pool.  It seems odd that some Roggenbucks did not marry ethnic Germans, but maybe living in Wendish villages favored marrying other Wends.

Ancestry.com has a Beta program to further isolate your origins.  My sister generated the genetic community Poles in Pomerania. This appears to reinforce the notion that perhaps the Roggenbucks are of Slavic origin, not German.

So my questions to you are:

1. Is it likely that my ancestors are really Wendish and not German?

2. If Germanization of the Roggenbucks occurred early on, would the Wend roots likely be unknown to recent generations, and

3. Among the historic documents you know, is there any evidence that some Wendish people adopted the name Roggenbuck in response to German pressure to do so?

I remain grateful for any response you can offer.

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