Oberlehrer Jan Arnošt Hančka. Headmaster and Cantor in Purschwitz.

ČMS 1929:62-4. Obituary 108. 

Oberlehrer Jan Arnošt Hančka. Headmaster and Cantor in Purschwitz.

*11.9.1867 – †17.6.1928

Translated from Upper Sorbian by Gerald Stone on 11 October 2017 at the request of the Wendish Research Exchange.


Arnošt Hančka was born on 11 September 1867 in Guttau, where his father had a farm. His childhood years and the conditions in those times are beautifully described by him in year (volume) 15 of the children’s magazine ‘Raj’ (Paradise), of which he was an editor and diligent contributor. He was still young when his beloved mother died. He mentions several times there the lost kindness of motherly love, and the reader feels how that saddened his young soul. Having completed elementary school, Hančka prepared for the teaching profession with great success in the years 1883-8. At Easter 1888 he was appointed assistant in Neudorf an der Spree and in 1890 in Muschelwitz. In each of these places he had to take care as the only teacher of a two-class ‘Wendish-German’ school. There was at that time already such a shortage of Wendish teachers that the authorities had to fill these most difficult places, demanding a particularly experienced teacher, with the youngest Wendish teachers, whereas four-class ‘Wendish-German’ schools often had to make do with a German auxiliary teacher. After Hančka had passed the eligibility examination with great distinction, he was called as a state teacher to Baschütz. In the same year the Purschwitz parish chose him as first teacher and cantor, on the recommendation of Schulrat Dr Wild, who held him in particular esteem despite his youth. Here he worked enthusiastically until his death with great distinction and loyalty, and earned himself great love, trust, and honour. Everywhere Hančka had to help and give advice in public undertakings and societies, as well as in personal matters. He became the father of his parish, just as his bearing – already in his youth – had a paternal air.

Hančka married the daughter of his late predecessor as cantor Rotenburg. The marriage at first remained childless, so the couple finally decided to adopt a poor child as their own. The kindness shown to this outsider child, however, was soon rewarded with a little daughter, with whose birth the Hančkas’ family happiness was complete.

Hančka was in all respects an excellent man. In him an extremely kind, just, and pure soul was united with a sharp intellect and a firm will. Despite his great influence, success, and recognition, he was humble and meek. He was a true Christian in word and deed. For many years he was the representative of the Protestant parishes of the Bautzen-Kamenz region to the synod of the Landeskirche.

Hančka served Wendish schools especially by drawing up a plan of instruction for lessons in Wendish in elementary schools and composing the readers ‘Kwětki’ (Posies) and ‘Zahrodka’ (The Garden), for which he wrote many fine articles himself. Even before that he had written a little introduction to Wendish reading for children who had only learned to read German, for in many ‘Wendish-German’ schools an all-German first reader was in use. Later he helped to write and compile additions to Bartk’s first reader. He was vice-president of the pedagogical section of the Maćica Serbska and to this body, as well as to the Union of Wendish Teachers, he offered many interesting and attractive lectures, and he was of great service to them both in conversation with his erudition and experience. We never asked of him in vain for any work for Wendish schools.

Thus Hančka was a good, loyal son of his nation. Love and gratitude in rich measure were in evidence at his funeral. A kind, friendly, jolly, witty, amusing man, always ready to help, he had gained many friends, even outside his parish and the ranks of his professional brothers. Of course, the work asked of him everywhere overstrained his nerves and heart, so that he grew frail and began to tire easily. He soon returned from the health resort to which his doctor had sent him, having learned that his sickness was progressing and full of longing for Lusatia, his beloved homeland. The very next day, Sunday 17 June, just as his parishioners were preparing for the Sokoł festival, he fell asleep. The parish minister emphasized his importance for the parish, both school and church, and for the whole Wendish people. A representative of the Wendish Protestant clergy thanked him on behalf of the Wendish Protestant parishes. Representatives of many enterprises and societies expressed thanks and high regard for the dear departed. Wendish teachers under the direction of conductor Krawc sang him a fine farewell and the president of the Union of Wendish Teachers on behalf of his own organization and the Maćica Serbska expressed ardent thanks to their late friend and selfless countryman.

                                                            Marćin Kral-Zarěčanski


From My Childhood Years by Jan Arnošt Hančka

This short autobiography of Hančka’s early years was first published in the children’s magazine Raj in 1928, shortly before the author’s death. It was translated from Upper Sorbian by Gerald Stone in 2017 at the request of the Wendish Research Exchange.


As I write these lines, I have no intention of making out that I may have been something special. No, but I want my young readers to compare their experiences with mine and to learn lessons from one thing or another.

            My parents’ house was no palace; it was a thatched cottage with one storey. The cowshed was built adjoining the living quarters. The barn too was thatched. The buildings today are still exactly as they were then; only the chestnut tree, which used to stand in the middle of the yard by the pool, has been dug out and the  pool has been filled in. Otherwise everything is as it was then. I enjoy walking across the yard. Memories of childhood years come into my mind’s eye and stimulate feelings, sometimes of remorse and sometimes of joy. Oh happy times! I was still wearing a smock – it was grey – when one day I ran to meet my father who was driving from the fields with an empty dung-wagon. Father seated me beside himself on an upturned board. In the yard a front wheel went over a stone. The jolt caused me to fall onto the swingle-tree and one of the back wheels ran over me. My mother was standing in the doorway and saw the accident. She cried out in horror and came running to pick me up. I was weeping fearfully. Mother grabbed me and carried me into the front room, scolding father for not having taken better care of me. They sent for our neighbour Mrs Nowak, who was a bone-setter. She felt my back and told my parents that I had not broken anything and had not suffered any damage at all. At this news my parents were overjoyed, especially my mother.

            The next Christmas I was given my first trousers. I do not know if I wore them taking those big strides as little boys do nowadays; but surely I was no different from them. Nor can I remember how long they lasted, but I think it was until Whitsun. At Whitsun I got a new pair, with a belt. My father thought I would not wear them out quickly, because the material was of very good quality. But he forgot what three-year-old boys are capable of. Just outside the village there was a bridge over the River Lubata. Beside the bridge on both banks there were sloping piers.

            One out of a group of boys – possibly it was me, I cannot remember – had  an idea that it was possible for them to slide down these piers in a sitting position. The idea was immediately put into practice and, one after the other, down we went. I cannot remember how long the fun lasted. I came home tired and hungry. As I was sitting down at the table for my tea, my father said: ‘Come here, please’. He had looked at my new trousers and seen something that caught his eye. He had called me to him so that he could have a better look. ‘Mother,’ he cried, ‘Come here and have a look. This confounded boy has already got a hole in his new trousers.’ Mother was shocked. ‘What on earth have you done?’ she asked. This was beginning to look like a serious matter. So, I burst into tears. ‘You scamp,’ scolded father, ‘Tell me what you did.’ So, sobbing, I told them about our game. ‘Just wait here,’ said father, ‘I’ll teach you a lesson.’ He went for the cane and aimed a few blows at me over my trousers, before mother took them off. A patch was needed. ‘Tomorrow,’ my father said, ‘I’ll go to the smithy and order from Mjerwa (Moerbe) the smith a tin bottom for your trousers like the chimney-sweep has. Then you can slide on your bottom as much as you like. That was a terrible threat and it frightened me more than any scolding or spanking. In trousers like that I could not have allowed myself to be seen by my friends. So, I earnestly begged first my mother and then my father not to carry out this threat, and so I was spared this punishment. Never again did I do any more sliding on my bottom.

            We had a woman in the village we used to call ‘aunty.’ She was very friendly. I was often sent to her on errands. She was not particularly generous. One day I had to call on her around Christmas time. When I had carried out my errand, aunty brought me from her living room a slice of Stollen. ‘Here’s a piece of Stollen for you,’ she said, ‘because you always carry out your errands so nicely.’ I was surprised that aunty was giving me so much. I took a bite straight away. Aunty was looking at me intently. But eugh! What a strange taste! I could scarcely swallow what I had bitten off. Aunty urged me to eat more, but I excused myself by saying that mother had said I must not be too long, and with that I slipped through the door. I ran straight home. ‘Who gave you that crust of Stollen?’ my mother asked. ‘It was aunty,’ I answered, ‘But there’s something wrong with it.’ ‘You silly boy,’ said mother, ‘What could possibly by wrong with it?’ ‘You try it, mummy,’ I said, holding it up to her mouth. Mother took a bite, but she quickly spat it out saying: ‘God forgive me for my sins, but I can’t eat that; it tastes of kerosene.’ Later it was discovered how the kerosene taste got into the Stollen. Aunty had left some sugar on the table, where the previous evening a kerosene lamp had spilled over. I do not know who ate Aunty’s other Stollen. I did not visit her again as long as I still thought she might have some left.

            Our neighbour was a German. He had a bakery and a general store. I used to hang about there almost every day after lessons. I learned German there. But when I gave my German its first test at my step-sister’s house in Radeburg, the result was pitiful. Germans, it seemed to me, spoke too quickly, so I could not understand most of what they said, whereas they could not make much sense of my German. So, I would have soon gone straight home, but for the fact that my sister could still speak Wendish and my mother and aunt were there with me. I was very sorry that people thought so little of my German skills. My old aunt, who was with us, had never been on a train before, though she was nearly sixty. As we were approaching the station, she was always alarmed whenever the locomotive whistled. ‘Good Lord,’ she kept saying, ‘Now our train is leaving.’ But fortunately, we still got home on time.

            The neighbour I mentioned had a son, aged about twelve, called Julius. He was my bad friend. He made use of me, whenever he could. He was not a friend when it came to work. Whenever he could, he would tell me what to do. I had to tend his geese, while he sat in the shade of a pear tree. Once I had to plant potatoes for him. I was not expected to do that at home. I put the potatoes in rows, as it seemed to me. Julius was lying on the bank. After tea the master baker appeared and Julius scrambled up to start work. But when the baker looked at the rows which I had sown he said: ‘What sort of sowing is this, oh my goodness! Gather up all the potatoes again immediately! Some are nearly a yard apart, others only a few inches.’ Julius was angry with me and threatened me with his fists, but I made my escape without delay.

            Once he accompanied me to the doctor, who lived in a village about three-quarters of an hour’s walk distant. I had to fetch a medicinal powder for my mother, who was ill. Julius persuaded me to open the box. We wanted to taste the powder. It was sweet, so we licked it until the box was half empty.

            Julius was especially fond of chocolate. He did not get much of it at home. So, he persuaded me: ‘Go home. There’s a drawer, where your mother leaves her purse. Take a coin, buy a bar of chocolate from our shop and bring it here into the garden.’ Off I went. Mother was not in. And indeed, in her purse there were several coins. So, I did as Julius had said. I got less than half of the bar. The procedure was repeated. I did not realize that what I had done was wrong, but one day mother suspected that money was missing from her purse. She told me and I admitted my transgression. Mother was sad that I had stolen from her; now I too was sorry that I had done wrong and told her everything. I was punished. She shut me in the tool-shed. There I wept bitterly. Soon mother was sorry for me and I was released. I never touched her purse again.

            I learned many more nasty things from Julius. When I reached the age of reason, I had a lot of trouble removing the weeds he had sown in my heart. I have never had pleasant memories of my ‘bad friend’. He became a mechanic. Later he emigrated to America. I never heard any more about his subsequent fate. May God protect you, young reader, from such bad friends. When they approach you, run away!

            One night our neighbour’s place was on fire. Our living-room was filled with light. Had the chestnut-tree in our yard not protected us from the sparks, our house and dwellings would also have gone up in flames. From that night on I have had a horror of fire. I have always been afraid to sleep under s straw roof. In the spring our neighbour began to build. Building work of that kind is always particularly interesting for little boys. So I too used to stand there for hours watching, helping with pleasure whenever I could. One day a goose fell into the lime-pit and perished there. Aunty Piskar (that was the name of the family who had lost their house in the fire) was very angry and complained that I had chased the goose into the pit. But I was completely innocent; I had not even seen the goose in the yard. This accusation without the slightest justification hurt me badly, which is why I remember it even today. But there was worse to come.

            In my native village the Albrecht Brook joins the River Lubata. Then a channel goes to the mill and the rest runs over a wooden weir. Beside this barrier we would often stand and watch the water rushing onwards. The most interesting time was the spring, when there were ice floes floating down. The more daring boys – of whom I was never one – would jump onto the floes below the weir and float on them. One day – when I happened not to be there – my school-fellow, Gustav Östreich, was at the weir. He fell into the water and drowned. The news quickly spread and when I heard it I was sad, because I was fond of Gustav. I was still more upset, however, when our maid brought news from the village that people were saying that I had pushed him in. I cried. It was a comfort to me that mother knew that at the time I had not left the room. But bad people would not be silenced by mother’s testimony. It was only on the next day that some people pulled little Gustav from the water. I wanted to see him, but because of the stupid gossip I dared not go there. So, Gustav’s mother sent us a message asking if I would like to see my friend in his coffin. So, I went with my sister. Today I can still see his little body in my mind’s eye. I wept a lot. Gustav’s mother stroked me. So, I wailed out to her how some people were blaming me. She comforted me and said that she knew for certain that I had not been there. That calmed me down. Children have an acute sense of what is true and what is not. That is why the false accusation so pierced my heart.

            They often held spinning evenings in our village. That was always a great treat for me. I used to listen with attentive ears to everything that was said. I used to like the fables, but also stories about ghosts and superstitions. Later I was so afraid of ghosts that I did not dare go outside after dark. Only when I was about twenty years old did I manage to overcome my fears. Once there was talk of money being buried here and there in the ground. If in a dream someone saw a chicken sitting somewhere, it was a sure sign that was where there was money in the ground. Soon after that I dreamed that under our big pear-tree a chicken was sitting on its nest. Getting out of bed I ran to my good friend Arnošt Šumbak and told him about my dream. He was ready immediately to help me raise the buried treasure. So off we went to the field, each with a sharp mattock, and started digging. But it was hopeless task because the ground was frozen. With great effort we had dug a hole about nine inches deep before our arms were hurting us so much that we gave up. We had not seen a single coin and sadly we went home. Everyone laughed at us.

            One Sunday I was with Jan Brězank looking after the cows in the pasture. It was not hard work. We were sitting among the bushes beside the pasture and could not think of anything to do. Jan had shown me how you could milk a cow straight into your mouth. But we could not do that today, because Aunty Kejžor was sitting in her window darning. She could see right across the pasture. I had been given ten pfennigs by my mother for tending the cows. What could we do with so much money? Jan had the idea that we might buy ourselves cigars. So we agreed that I would buy five cigars at two pfennigs each. I ran to Jank’s and soon returned. Jan hurried home for matches and in no time from the bushes around us smoke was rising as if from a poor man’s bakery. Smoking did not make me feel ill, unfortunately, for otherwise I might have been put off smoking for the rest of my life; that would have been a blessing. But at that stage I had not yet taken up smoking. I cannot remember giving it another try soon afterwards. A few years later I made myself a cigar from a few cigar-ends, but it would not draw properly, and I did not like the flavour of cornflowers, potato leaves, or leaves of a nut-tree, all of which had been recommended to me for smoking; so I gave up smoking until I was about eighteen. At that time, we were permitted in school to smoke from time to time.

            In my home village there was a fair twice a year. It was an important event for us boys. We used to watch some ten or twelve booths being constructed in two rows the day before. Then the next day the stallholders arrived with carts full of boxes containing precious objects. We watched intently as they unloaded gingerbread and other tasty things. But the problem was money. I had been promised twenty pfennigs – ten by mother and ten by father. Compared with what I wanted to buy that was very little. At midday mother and father gave me the money they had promised. Although I complained that that was very little, I could get no more out of them. Only our maid Hana had a soft heart and gave me five pfennigs more. And so with this great fortune in my pocket I set off for the fair; I held the money firmly in my hand to make sure I did not drop any and I walked up and down in front of the booths. What was I going to buy? That was something I could not decide so quickly. Jan Rječk, who had five pfennigs more than me, began with liquorice. He let me taste it, but it did not take my fancy. I went to the roundabout. A ride on a horse cost five pfennigs, a ride in a boat cost three. I sat on a horse and in two minutes I was five pfennigs lighter. Then I saw that the bigger boys on top were turning the roundabout. So I asked them to let me go up on top with them. ‘Yes. If you bring a bag of sweets with you, you can come up,’ was the reply. So that’s what I did. Now I was allowed to help them push and when it rang we would sit on the poles and thus we could be spun round free of charge. Before evening I went down ro the fair again with the firm intention to make good use of my remaining fifteen pfennigs. Because everyone at home expected me to bring them something from the fair, I bought a bag of gingerbread balls for ten pfennigs and a whole gingerbread for five pfennigs. Now my pocket was empty and I went home. Everyone at home got two gingerbread balls. The whole gingerbread had been eaten by me on the way home. I went straight to bed, asking mother to call me early the next day. Why? The next day they were taking down the stalls and we boys would be looking for money. Once I had found two pfennigs and that encouraged me at every fair to go looking for money. But such luck as that first time never returned to me.

            Where I lived there is no forest, so the children used to go to the Teichnitz woods to gather berries. I was about five years old when my sister allowed me to go with her for the first time. I could not get a jug big enough to satisfy me. But the work was hard! My awkward fingers could not pick many berries and what they did pick tended to go into my mouth rather than into the jug. In the end my sister admonished me severely to pick the berries straight into the jug. So I did. The bottom of the jug was well covered when we set off home. But again and again my hand found its way into the jug and the stock of berries got smaller and smaller. Shortly before we reached the village the berries had all gone and all I brought home was an empty jug and a black mouth. How they laughed at me!

            At Easter 1873 I was expected – or rather I was permitted – to start school. It was like this. The 1836 School Law stated that children who by Michaelmas would complete their sixth year must start attending school the previous Easter. Because I was born in September I would have been permitted to start school in accordance with this statute. But a new school law had been passed in 1873 which said that only those children could be accepted who had reached the age of six by 30 June. So really I should not have started school, but the Cantor (who was also the village schoolmaster) accepted me. I am to this day grateful to him for that. Consequently, I was later able to start work a year early.

            I cannot remember much about my first school day apart from the fact that I slept badly the night before from excitement and, contrary to my previous habit, rose early. After breakfast I began making preparations for this important step, although the time for reception was fixed at one o’clock (so after lunch). I did not have much trouble getting my things together. I only had two slate pencils and a slate. My father considered a satchel was not necessary and I did not yet have a reading-book. But I kept brushing my jacket and smoothing my hair down, so that the looking-glass in the living room was on that day only for me. The hands on the clock, in my opinion, were not moving. I was already good at telling the time. My eldest sister was due to accompany me to school on the first day. Why mother was not going with me, I can no longer remember. At half past twelve we set out; my sister was cross with me because I could not wait; I was frightened we would be late. What we did in the school, I cannot remember. We received bags of dainties, but by today’s standards they were poor and stingy. When we children entered the building we were frightened; our guardians had surreptitiously disappeared. Many of the children began to cry and call for their mothers. My eyes too began to fill with tears when I could no longer see my sister. Suddenly, however, all the women were back. They had only been in the other room, which at that time was not in use. I went home with the others, firmly holding my sister’s hand. I asked my sister, who already went to school, about the new things I had seen there. I was especially interested in the map on the wall, whose meaning and purpose I could not understand. It seems I liked going to school. When the first fair took place, in the middle of June, I received twenty pfennigs from the Kantor, because I could read nicely. The equivalent gift for the girls went to Hana, the daughter of the estate-owner in Brösa. There was great joy on that day and the fair seemed better and more important to me than at any other time.

The place next to me at school was occupied by Arnošt B., the present-day owner of the estate. He was a good-natured boy. He brought sandwiches to school every day. I did not have any, because I came from the village. But Arnošt was generous, so every day he gave me half his sandwich. His mother spread the butter fairly thick, so it is no surprise that I liked her sandwiches better than those I got home. In the winter Arnošt always had apples in his satchel, small and green ones, it is true, but very tasty; my mouth still waters when I think of them. After we were grown up, we would still often talk of those times.

For administering punishment the Kantor had a short ruler. He would use it from time to correct us. One day my school-friend stabbed me in the hand with a pen. To this day I still have a scar on my hand. The wound bled profusely, and, like all children when they see blood, I was alarmed. The Kantor was not there yet. He entered the noisy classroom in a rage and, because all the children were standing around me, he made straight for me with his ruler to punish me. But my classmates, in particular my friend Arnošt, confirmed that I was not guilty. And so I avoided being punished. I had to wash my wound in the brook which ran near the school, until it stopped bleeding.

Some events I have described in the ‘Zahrodka.’ Others I have completely forgotten. I only went to school in Guttau for a year and a quarter. Then a difficult change intervened in my life, of which I shall write next time.

Before I proceed to the more serious experiences, here are two further memories. Where the Lubata leaves Guttau it forms the boundary between properties in our village and the neighbouring village. The fields there are very low-lying. There is a risk of flooding. For that reason a high bank has been built there. On the bank osiers have been planted. These osiers were cut every spring. They were leased to a Mr Weber, a basket-maker from Bautzen. He had his store in our barn. Every morning he would go out and cut the osiers with a curved knife. The children who did not have to be school would go there with wooden tongs, take an armful of green osiers, sit down on the bank, and plant the tongs in the ground between their feet. Herr Rječk used to make the tongs. He would take an oak post and split it lengthwise with a thin blade into four down to about half its length. He cut out two of the four quarters opposite each other, so that two quarters opposite each other remained. The osier was pushed between them and pulled through the tongs from one end to the other. Its skin would burst and was then peeled off with the fingers. Each batch of threescore osiers was bound separately with the osier skins. We little boys could peel about thirty score osiers in half a day. In the evening we would hand them over to Mr Weber and receive two pfennigs for threescore. I remember Mr Weber was the first person to bring the new German state coins into the village. There was a great scramble to get hold of them and anyone who got one of these coins was happy.

The parish pastor in those days was Mr Sommer, born in Malschwitz. He was a fine figure of a man with a friendly face and was apparently particularly fond of children. His study was on an upper floor directly above the front door. When he saw children in the road leading past the manse, he would open the window and throw down coins, pieces of sugar, little pieces of gingerbread, or any other titbits he happened to have. The boys came running and collected everything up. One got more, another less, depending on luck. ‘The pastor is throwing things,’ one boy would say to another, and the little crowd of collectors would grow rapidly. Twice, sometimes even three times, the pastor would repeat his generosity. Then he would close the window and the fun was over for that day. We boys used think all clergymen did the same thing. When later on I went to the Malschwitz parish, I enquired when ‘the pastor threw things’ and was utterly astounded that the Malschwitz boys knew nothing about that.

I have a further memory of the kindness of our pastor. One day mother sent me and my sister to him with a basket of potatoes. He came down to answer the door himself and allowed us to enter his garden and eat our fill of the berries growing there. That was a treat for us. At home we did not have a single berry growing in the entire garden.

When I was six, my mother began to fall ill. Once on a warm day she came in from the field feeling thirsty and she was sweating a lot. She drank some cold water from the well. After drinking she was seized by a fever; a few days later she had a cough and could not get rid of it. The sickness grew and the frightful cough tormented her increasingly day by day. The doctor from Klix used come often, but he could not help her. Although she was growing weaker and weaker, she constantly comforted us, assuring me and my sister that she would be better before Father Christmas came. One day she wished us a particularly touching ‘good night’. We slept upstairs. As every evening, my sister with her clear voice was singing in bed ‘The bright sun has gone to rest.’ As well as I could, I was singing with her. Then we both fell asleep and did not notice how the angel of death approached mother’s bed. She could feel that the end was near. Her last prayer was for the two of us, especially for me, her little one. And if in life things have always gone well for me, I have often thought to myself: ‘That’s the effect of mother’s prayer on her deathbed.’ When they asked her if she wanted to see us children once again, she shook her head and whispered: ‘Let them sleep.’ When we got up in the morning, she lay stiff and cold in her bed. Her loving heart had stopped.

What had happened to me when mother closed her eyes in the sleep of death, I did not yet realize. Of the funeral I can remember very little. The coffin, however, I can still see in my mind’s eye. It was standing before the front-door and was still open as we stepped out into the yard. We had to take our leave of our dead mother. My father and my sister took her hand. I had to do the same. But how shocked I was, because mother’s hand, which had so often stroked me lovingly, was ice-cold! I was so frightened that I burst into tears. And the pale, yellowish face with closed, deeply sunken eyes! No, that could not be my mother. The coffin was sealed and taken to the cemetery. The grave had been dug close to the church by the west door. There mother was buried. When we had all returned home and the grieving relatives had dispersed, everything seemed so empty in the house, although there was only one pair of hands less than there had been. My sister, who was five years older than me, wept constantly and sang repeatedly:

Away, away the orphan went

Home to seek her mother.

I knelt beside a chair and laid my face on it, constantly weeping. What could we do now without mother?

The property had belonged to mother, so it had to be sold by the court. My sister and I asked father to buy it, so that we would not need to leave our home. I remember very well the day when a crowd of men gathered in our living room. The representative of the court, a certain Mr Dracha, arrived in a carriage. We children had to leave the room and we went to Aunty Nowak. The sale did not take long. Father had bought the property. It was a happy moment when he told us that we were staying in Guttau. But the happiness did not last long. Why father without mother could not cope with running the place, I do not know. One day two men came to our house. One of them was a certain Pawlik from Eutrich. They were a pair of brokers. They persuaded father to sell the property, which was something over thirty Scheffel (bushels) in size. The sale of the family house made me and my sister very sad. With all my might I hated the two men who were responsible for this. What now? The buyers divided the property and the second of them by the purchase of the fields enlarged his fortune. Father decided to move to Bautzen and find a job there. He could not find a use there for us children. For my sister a refuge was soon found. Our eldest step-sister, who had married a man in Radeburg, wrote asking for her and father drove her there – to Germany. And she never returned to the Wendei. She married a German and after many hardships and struggles died in Meissen at a relatively young age after grievous suffering. There she rests now in foreign soil.

But what was to be done with this boy? That was father’s constant worry. Nobody could make anything out of me, because I was not yet capable of work, and father did not want to spend much on me. Well, he had heard that a certain Patok in Kleinsaubernitz had once said he could take on a goose-boy. Father had promised him he could have me for that job and the two men had come to an agreement. On Sunday I was to go with father to the Patoks to be introduced. So off I went with him. To be sure, the Patoks were good, kind people and gave me a warm welcome. But everything was so alien. I was to stay there straight away. The next day father would send on my everyday clothes and whatever else I needed. In the evening father said goodbye to me, reminding me to be a good boy. When father had gone my heart was ready to break. I wept bitterly and the Patoks comforted me. For a moment they left me alone and I used that moment to escape. I ran for all I was worth after father to Guttau and caught him up before he got home. He was extremely disappointed, but when I told him in tears that I could not stay there, he did not scold, but took me in again.

I had a married step-sister who lived in Wartha. I had often been there. They had a copy of Beckar’s bible stories there. I loved reading them. I was pleased that I could read there for myself what the Kantor had told us about in school. My step-sister had always been kind to me; I was especially fond of her, because she was very similar to my late mother. She could sing beautifully. I had a grandma there too, who was, it was true, very strict; but at the same time she was also kind. So I asked father to send me Wartha and he agreed. Whether he had to pay them anything for me, I do not know; I think he probably did. One January day in 1876 I had to say goodbye to my father and to my home. That was the most difficult experience of my whole life. With a bundle under my arm I left father and the house. I called in on Aunty Nowak, with whom I had spent a large part of my childhood. Pětk‘s smithy was another house I could not pass by without calling. There I had often been permitted to make nails or turn the whetstone. That was the reason why I had firmly decided to become a blacksmith. It was the last house in the village; after that the road led between the fields and ponds to Lömischau. I reached the road in tears, frequently looking back in sorrow at the house. The last part of it to remain visible was the barn. Whether I first visited my mother’s grave, I cannot remember; but Aunty Nowak would probably have reminded me to do so. There were now no other women in the house and father was not a man of fine feelings. The road to Wartha normally took half an hour, but I do not know how long I took to cover it. Wartha is a comparatively long village. I took a long and careful look at every house, more than I had before, because now I was one of the people of Wartha. My sister’s place stood in the middle of the village, near the school. I only had a short journey to school, which did not suit me, because it meant I did not need a satchel, though I very much wanted one. I entered the living-room. Sitting on the sofa was my grandpa, my brother-in-law’s father. I have forgotten how he welcomed me; I remember only that he immediately told me to sweep the room, so that I should not be idle. ‘The broom’s in the porch,’ said grandpa. I fetched it and started sweeping – for the first time in my life! At home I had not needed to do much work. So I was fairly unskilled. Grandpa scolded me for my awkwardness; whether I was hungry, he had not asked.

Near the sofa stood a cradle, in which a little boy and a little girl were sleeping. Later I had to look after them and to push them here and there. In the evening my brother-in-law, sister, and grandma came home. Where they had been, I have forgotten. Probably my brother-in-law and grandma had been in the wood. In the winter my brother-in-law used to go to work in the forest. Now it was time for the evening meal. But here there was no sandwich cut the whole way through the loaf, as I was accustomed to have at home, but only a small half slice with rather salty butter spread thinly. I did not know at that time that my brother-in-law was struggling with economic difficulties. In the evening we used to sit in darkness until my sister and grandma had finished their work in the cowshed. Then they would take a kerosene lamp from the lantern and stand it in the middle of the table on an upturned pot. There was not much light in the room. We all used to sit round the table. My sister brought a pot of potatoes and emptied them out straight onto the table. Everyone put his arms on the table edge to stop the potatoes rolling onto the floor. Then she brought a saucepan or enamel bowl with brown gravy and put it down beside the lamp. Each of us would stick half a potato onto the end of his knife, dip it into the gravy, then quickly put it into his mouth. If someone was particularly lucky he might now and again get a lump of fat, but deliberately fishing for lumps was forbidden. If grandma detected attempts of that kind, someone was in for a scolding. We went to bed early.

The next morning two loads of corn had to be threshed before my brother-in-law went to work. ‘Can you thresh?’ he asked me. ‘No,’ I replied. ‘Then you must learn,’ he said. In the morning soon after six I was called and had to go with the others to the barn. I had to learn how to thresh and I obeyed quite blindly, though there was no way of avoiding scoldings, especially when I banged someone with the flail. When the two loads had been threshed, it was time for breakfast. Potatoes again, as at supper.         

I did not like the potatoes in that thin gravy. So grandma lectured me: ‘Eat it up! Eat it up! You won’t get a slice of bread until ten o’clock. It isn’t here like it was at your previous home, where you used to keep asking for slices.’ So I ate up. In the morning I had to look after the two children. At the appointed hour I received a slice of bread in the same form as the previous day. At midday it was potatoes again. Then I got ready for school, which began at one o’clock.

I did not like the school in Wartha, which at that time was still in the old building, but with time I grew used to it. The teacher was Herr Krawc. He was stricter than Kantor Bayer, but I made friends with him too. I was surprised to see how Herr Krawc, after school, would pick up a mattock or rake and go into his school fields to cultivate them. When he moved to Rodewitz, we got a really young teacher, Herr Lukaš, who later was the teacher in Döbeln. I was not often punished at school. Only once Herr Lukaš struck me a few times on the head with the bow of his violin, because I was singing badly. Whether that improved the tune I cannot say.

For a long time I felt homesick. I missed my Guttau friends. So I was overjoyed when my sister sent me to Guttau one day to exchange some butter for a few things from the Janks. I ran quickly and, when I had completed my errand, I went to see Arnošt Šumberg. That was a joyful meeting.

It was at a time of flooding. So we walked to the dyke protecting the Guttau fields from the waters of the Lubata. The water only needed to rise a foot or two before it would flow over the dyke. We two boys were thinking to ourselves: ‘Just imagine if that were to happen now!’ Whose idea it was I can no longer remember. We took a stick and tried to pierce the dyke. Fortunately, however, we achieved nothing with our sticks. We did not think what an unimaginable disaster we would have caused, if our crime had been successful. – Thus children in their silliness can do things which cause great harm to people.

Sunset was not far off, so it was time for me to set off home. First, however, I had to walk through ‘our’ yard. The front door was closed. Father, who was still living in Guttau, was not at home. So I could only look through the window into the living room. Everything was still standing there as before – but what I had most loved was no longer there. Now it was time for home, quickly.

Catching sight of my sister’s place from far off, I could see that she was in front of the yard waiting for me. When I came closer, I noticed that she had her right hand under her apron. When I came close to her, she drew it out and suddenly a stick was dancing on my back. ‘Take that for your endless delay in Guttau!’ she thundered at me. ‘I’ve been waiting for you for hours.’ And so my first trip to my old home ended in tears. – The next time I did not stay there so long, because I had been told in advance that I would never be allowed to go to Guttau again, if I did not hurry back.

In the summer I had to tend the cows on the grass verges between the fields. I did not like this job, because I continually had to struggle with the animals who were attracted by the young green crops in the fields, whereas they did not like the dry grass on the margins. In the autumn in the meadows they were much easier to tend. Then I could lie on my back and look at the sky. When the stars came out, I counted them. Once the teacher asked how many stars there were in the sky. I quickly raised my hand and said: ‘Sometimes four, five, etc.’ There was laughter. The teacher laughed most. The ‘stupid’ children, who often could not answer as well as I could, of course, laughed most of all. That upset me terribly and for a long time I did not put my hand up any more.

One autumn we had visitors. These people were eager to get their hands on some mushrooms. It was not a good year for mushrooms, but they still sent me into the woods with a basket hoping I would find some. I covered a fair distance without finding a single mushroom. So I asked God to help me fill my basket. And behold, my prayer was heard. I came across a thicket. I crawled on my belly into the baby fir-trees and caught sight of the first mushroom. What joy! I pressed on, and there were more and more of them. I reached the far side of the thicket and, when I had finished, the basket was almost full. Contented, I sauntered home.

There was a game that was once popular among boys called ‘fenglowanje.’ A round hole was sunk into the firm ground. A button had to be thrown into the hole from a distance. The one who managed this or whose button lay nearest to the hole was the first to be allowed to attempt to flip the button into the hole with a bent rod. Whoever succeeded was allowed to keep the button. Luck, even in those days, was fickle. One day I had gambled my buttons and lost them all. A sad Sunday afternoon awaited, because I did not possess a single button. But wait! In an upstairs room my brother-in-law’s trousers were lying. I did not know he still liked to wear them, so I cut off all the buttons. Now I could participate in the game again! But Monday morning came! My brother-in-law put his trousers on – but there were no buttons on them. He showed the unfortunate trousers to my sister, who grumbled a good deal because she had to drop all her work to sew buttons on. I confessed my crime and had my ears boxed. I never cut any buttons off again.

Shortly after my move to Wartha there was a wedding in Aunty Krušwica’s house in Guttau. I thought that I, as a relative, would be invited, but nothing came of that. While my sister and brother-in-law went to the wedding I had to stay at home to look after this and that. But I wanted desperately to go to Guttau, so after a few hindrances, while grandma was looking after the children, off I went. When I arrived at the house where the wedding reception was taking place, the guests had just risen from the table and they were walking in the gardens. Most of the guests did not notice the arrival of a little boy. My sister and brother-in-law, however, were surprised to see me and loudly asked me where I had come from and what I wanted there, and said I should lose no time in getting back to Guttau. Had it not been for the bride, Hana Krušwica, who took care of me, I might have returned home without a bite to eat, but she told the fat old braška (wedding-organizer) Kmoch from Quatitz to give me something to eat and he did so. So I tucked in to my heart’s content until my sister said: ‘Now hurry home, while it’s still daylight.’ I would have so liked to spend more time with my Guttau friends and acquaintances, but fear of the dark drove me home. I can no longer remember what sort of welcome I received from my Wartha grandma, so it cannot have been too bad.

Even when I was bigger I was easily frightened. I would not even cross the yard in the dark. I had heard so many tales and legends about ghosts, while I was little, and for me they all came alive in the dark. I was surrounded by ghostly shapes and my hair stood on end. I did not give up these foolish fears until I was a man.

My father was no longer living in Guttau; he had become an agricultural labourer and moved to Bautzen, where he lived in Ziegelei Street with a Mr Schmidt. They used to go to work together. One day I received a message from him that he wanted me to visit him. But how was I to get from Wartha to Bautzen, a journey of three and a half hours? Grandma had a solution. Evert afternoon the postman drove his trap with letters and parcels from Guttau to Bautzen, stayed there overnight and came back the next morning to Guttau. I accompanied him. I stayed the night with my father. He bought me whatever I needed. On further visits I made the journey on my own. I would set out on Sunday after lunch. Sometimes father accompanied me for part of the way. Afterwards I covered the whole journey on foot.

In autumn the old river, which flows through the Wartha meadows from Zubornička to Lemišow, would often burst its banks and flood the meadows. If winter came early the meadows were covered by ice and invited skaters. The teacher’s daughter Liza was outstanding among the skaters. People were amazed that girls too should go skating, but I was of the opinion that her prominence should have belonged to me rather than to a girl. My sister, however, could not afford to buy me skates. So I was overjoyed one day, when I received from my father the good news that I could go to the cobbler in Guttau and get myself a pair of skates. I did not need telling twice! I went for them on Sunday. It was thawing. From midday there was a strong wind blowing. On reaching the first pond I put my skates on and stepped out. I could not skate yet, but that was not necessary, because the wind was blowing me along with considerable force. I crossed the edge of the first pond. On the second I allowed myself to be driven further, but what was this? Here there were a lot of round holes bored into the ice. A managed to steer round the first, but there were more and more of them. So I could not help avoid skating into one and plunged into the cold water up to and over my knees. It was not so easy to climb out, because the ice was soft and brittle; but finally I made it and came home crying and shivering from my first skating exploit. I was chased up to bed immediately.

My brother-in-law in Wartha used to work in the forest, The men felled the timber and then worked on it. In the evening each of them was allowed to take home as much wood as he could carry. At midday the women and children would carry a meal into the woods; and they too would not go home without a few logs. ‘It’s a stupid woodsman that buys his own wood,’ said the old senior forester Sachsa one day, and that was the principle the workers followed. Of course, they always took pieces of resinous pine-wood home. But there was a disadvantage to that. Resinous pine-wood alone is not suitable for heating. For heating not much is needed. So grandma had another idea. In the loft there still lay the old flue, made of cloth, and the fireplace was beside the door. ‘In the evening we can light up the flue while spinning.’ said grandma. The next day grandpa had repaired it. I had to cut little, thin spills from the resinous pine-wood.

In the evening there were four spinners sitting round the fireplace. Above the fireplace hung the cloth flue, just like a big funnel. It was intended to catch the smoke and lead it to the chimney. I sat on a chair with my bunch of spills. Grandpa kept the fire going and I had to add spills, if possible, so steadily that the lighting of the room was always the same. Of course, I could not always manage that, so there was no lack of scolding. It was not a good light for working, but for spinning it was adequate. It would probably have been really good for an artist who could see the faces of the spinners in the red-yellow light of the resinous flame. While performing this duty I was doing my homework, which was often far from easy.

The Malschwitz school about fifty years ago was famous, among other things, because every year it had a school festival. One of the tenants of the manor-house had left a bequest and the interest was to be used for this festival. It was always held around Whitsun at the Gleina windmill. That was in the days when so much sand had not yet been extracted from the hill, so that there was enough room for the children to play their games. Herr Pjech, the Malschwitz cantor, was already an elderly but very jolly man, who knew how to organize fun and games for his children. When the Malschwitz children ‘went to hill’ – as they used to say – the whole region was on its feet, because at the windmill there was a little fair or a little shooting gallery. I too had agreed with three comrades to ‘go to the hill’. The way was long – over an hour – and we did not have much money – fifteen new pfennigs – but we just had to go. The main concern was always how to invest our money – on a piece of gingerbread, a piece of cake, a whistle, or on little balls – the decision was hard and hunger was growing, until finally I decided on half a roll with little fishes for ten new pfennigs. For the remaining five new pfennigs I bought gingerbread balls. I kept counting them again and again, so as not to eat more than would leave two for everyone at home. And so we arrived home in the half dark, tired out – but we had been ‘on the hill.’

When I had been two years in Wartha, my sister let me know one day that my father was getting remarried and I was to have a new mother. I have forgotten with what feelings I received this news, but I can still remember my first visit to my new home. It must have been at the beginning of August. The plums were ripe. So I went one afternoon to Pließkowitz. This was to be my new home. They all welcomed me very warmly there, so I was not afraid to move in, — but it was not yet time for that. After coffee my Pließkowitz grandpa took me out to the plum tree and said: ‘Now it is time for you to shake down the plums, as many as you like, and put them into your pockets, as many as you can get in.’ That was not a bad idea! So up I went into the fat tree. Then came the picking and shaking. Oh, those sweet plums! Further out along the branch. The further the sweeter. Yes, yes! And suddenly it fell. The branch and the boy were both lying on the ground. The boy said nothing because he had been winded. After a while he stood up. Otherwise he had suffered no harm. He picked everything of the broken branch. So there was still a little prize for the Wartha team! My first visit to my future home – both happy and sad.


The Last Wendish Sermon in Serbin, Texas

This article by Trudla Malinkowa (Gertrud Mahling) first appeared in Rozhlad, Lětnik 64, Fall 2014, pgs. 16-22 and then, with Peter Barker and Weldon Mersiovsky, and an introduction by David Zersen, in the Concordia Historical Institute Quarterly, Volume 88, Number 3, Fall 2015, pg. 59-72.

The Introduction is from the Concordia Historical Institute Quarterly.


European Lutheran Immigrants immigrating to the United States typically had more on their minds than preserving their native languages in the new homeland. Germans, Swedes, Norwegians, Finns, Slovaks and Wends had various concerns, including improving their economic status, experiencing a greater sense of freedom than they had known, and, in some cases, securing the substance of the Christian teaching they cherished. Although they may not have given much thought to it, language is one of the essential components of culture, and when it disappears as a result of immigrants being absorbed into the majority language and culture, many of the ties with heritage are lost. Occasionally one finds a contemporary Lutheran parish in which a holiday celebration includes a service in a continental European language followed by a reception serving Stollen or Julkakke or Vianočka. It is a way of holding on to an intangible treasure, a past that for most is only a memory discussed by grandparents and scholars. There is a sense of nostalgia and unspoken yearning belonging to such events. A language in the process of being lost provides ties to ways of thinking and believing that have value and power. For the most part, the historical records do not share when Finnish was last spoken in a home or Norwegian last preached from a pulpit. In the case of Wendish, this article is able to get quite specific about the time when the public use of a Lutheran heritage language was lost and the impact such loss provides.

It is interesting co compare such losses in European heritage with the vast number of Native American languages once spoken by many hundreds of tribal groups now being rapidly reduced because of cultural change. According to Terrence G. Wiley, UNESCO ranks 165 native American languages on a scale from vulnerable to critically endangered.[1] Such groups are endangered largely because younger generations have no interest in the heritage languages, and because there are no immigrants to refresh and strengthen the dwindling indigenous populations.

A significant contrast to the Native American language decline is found among many cultural groups in the U.S. that are growing. From 1990-2000, for example, due to revolutionary or climatic changes in home countries, the U.S. Haitian population grew by 142%, the Vietnamese by 99%, and the Persian by 55%. Such growth will support a respect for heritage among the existing cultural groups with these ethnicities during the next decades even as they become immersed in the culture of the United States. However, during the same period, Wiley documents that languages taught in public high schools have changed dramatically. German is no longer taught as a foreign language in public high schools (although still in some private ones) and Spanish is taught in 79% of public high schools. These changes, the increases and the decreases, would be surprising to immigrants who arrived here at the beginning of the 20th century.

The Lutherans who immigrated to the United States as larger groups are generally classified in 5 categories: the Salzburgers who settled near Atlanta, Georgia; the Saxons who settled in Perry County, Missouri; the Franconians who settled in the area around Frankenmuth, Michigan; the Pomeranians by way of New York who settled in Wisconsin, and the Wends or Sorbs who settled in Texas. All of them have experienced the losses that result from cultural change and decreased ethnic immigration.

The last group, the Texas Wends, are unique with respect to this discussion because unlike the other four German-speaking groups, they were a true minority, having a Slavic language and culture. Further, with the exception of some scattered small groups, their cultural and linguistic enclave was not supplanted or enriched by continuing immigration. They were, so to speak, on their own, in Texas, largely surrounded by immigrants from Germany and Scandinavia, not to mention those who spoke Spanish and English.

The Texas Wends were not the only Slavic Lutherans to come to the United States. Between 1880 and 1920, approximately 500,000 Slovaks immigrated. Of those, only 12% were Lutheran, perhaps around 6000.[2] Yet these 6000 Slavic Lutherans represented a group ten times the size of the Wends who arrived in Texas in 1854. (The contributions made by the Wends during the first fifty years of their presence in the U.S. have recently been explored in a 2015 Lutheran Forum article.[3]) However, worth noting up front is that Concordia University Texas, was founded largely by thirteen Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod congregations whose membership majority was Wendish. The challenges faced by this minority immigrant group in the United States – to their language, style of worship, way of making a living, providing education for their children, founding new institutions – were enormous. That they survived and left a legacy is a great blessing to the Lutheran community.

However, the strongest tie with their heritage in Europe was lost when the use of the Wendish language disappeared in the United States. Mrs. Malinkowa’s detailed linguistic analysis of the last Wendish sermon preached shows not only how a heritage disappears word by word, but how a community recognized that just hearing the Word proclaimed in public once again, even if they did not understand the Wendish language, was a proof that roots were real and that they had both an intangible and a spiritual value. The following article is thus a generous tribute to and a specific documentation of a valued minority language which Lutherans once spoke in America.

David Zersen

[1] Heritage Language Research, www.internationalcula.edu.

[2] Mark Stolariki, Catholic Historical Review, 96, Jan. 2010.

[3] David Zersen, “The Lutheran Sorbs at Home and Abroad.” Lutheran Forum, 49:2, Summer 2015, 18-21.

The Last Wendish Sermon in Serbin, Texas

Pastor Theodore Schmidt preached a sermon in Wendish on the occasion of the parish anniversaries in 1954 and 1979

The Tradition of Wendish Church Services in Serbin

In 1854 about 600 Lutheran Wends (today called Sorbs) from Saxon and Prussian Upper Lusatia emigrated to Texas. They founded a settlement there in 1855, which was named Serbin (place of the Wends/Sorbs), on the suggestion of their Pastor, Jan Kilian. The name is an expression of the deep affinity of the person who supplied the name with his nationality. Kilian also attached great importance in Texas to preserving the Wendish language and the Lutheran faith, as he had done before in his homeland Lusatia, Germany. The Wendish language was the predominant language in the life of the Serbin congregation during his time. It is true that he also celebrated services in German for those Germans living nearby who had joined his congregation, and he also occasionally preached in English. But, during his time in office the services in Wendish remained the major services in the church of Serbin.

When Jan Kilian retired in 1883 and handed over his office to his son, Hermann, he wrote a Wendish liturgy for him. This was published in 1909 in the nearby town of Giddings by the Wendish printer, Johann Proske. It is the only Wendish-language book that has ever been printed abroad. This fact alone shows the tremendous importance, which this religious book had for the Wends in Texas. By creating this Wendish liturgy Jan Kilian provided the basis for the continuation of services in Wendish after his retirement by his son, who had been born and brought up in Texas.[1] Hermann Kilian carried on the tradition of Wendish services until his death in 1920. During his period of office the people of Serbin experienced the first phase of linguistic assimilation, in which they gradually abandoned the use of the Wendish language and used German as their everyday language. The result of this development was that the number of participants in Wendish services declined, and the services in Wendish were finally reduced to one per month. German services now predominated.

After the death of Hermann Kilian, Hermann Schmidt became pastor in the parish of Serbin. He was born in 1875 in Serbin, was brought up at home as a Wend and mastered the Wendish language. But because German had taken over as the everyday language, the congregation no longer considered it necessary to continue to have services in Wendish. As a result, Pastor Schmidt only used the Wendish language when visiting the homes of older members of the congregation, no longer as the language of church services. It was only in 1929 on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the founding of the parish that he preached in Wendish, when referring to Kilian’s exhortation to the Lutheran Wendish nation to fight with prayer “za swoju rěč a wěru” (for its language and faith)[2], he emphasized that languages were indeed transitory, but faith was not. He also preached in Wendish in 1936, when a monument was erected in front of the church commemorating the foundation of Serbin. Hermann Schmidt remained pastor of Serbin until his death in 1947.[3]

His successors as pastor of Serbin did not speak Wendish. The language was no longer being used in the life of the community. Members of the older generation used the language only occasionally as a means of communication, and in some families traces of the language survived in certain expressions and idioms, or songs and prayers. The decline in the importance of the German language also began to accelerate round about the middle of the 20th Century. The Germanized Wends entered the second phase of linguistic assimilation, during which all family, public, and therefore also church life came to be conducted in English. The people of Serbin were only reminded of the language of their forebears on special occasions. Thus Pastor Theodore Schmidt preached in 1954 and 1979 in the Wendish language during the special services for the 100th and 125th anniversaries of the foundation of the congregation.

Pastor Theodore Schmidt

Paul Gerhard Theodore Schmidt was born on 29 October 1907 in Northrup, Lee County, Texas, the eldest son of Wendish parents, Bernhard Schmidt and Emma née Jurk. His father was a farmer, his mother came from the sawmill in Warda, a settlement founded by Wends near Serbin. His grandfather, Georg Schmidt, had come to Texas with his father and sister in 1869 from the Wendish village of Kringelsdorf in Prussian Upper Lusatia. The other grandfather, Peter Jurk, came from the village of Dubrauke near Baruth in Saxon Upper Lusatia and had emigrated to Texas in the 1870s with his wife and four children. His father’s brother, that is the uncle of Theodore Schmidt, was Hermann Schmidt, mentioned above, after Jan and Hermann Kilian, the third and last Wendish pastor of Serbin. The Schmidt and Jurk families were both of Wendish nationality. As a result, Theodore grew up with the Wendish language in his family environment and spoke Wendish at least part of the time with his grandfathers and grandmothers, perhaps occasionally also with his parents. Wendish was also still spoken at that time on social occasions with his other relations, which included the Wendish families of Krause, Bohot, Hohle and Bamsch. It is also possible that as a child he occasionally attended the Wendish services of Pastor Hermann Kilian.

Theodore Schmidt attended the parish school of St. Paul in Serbin and afterwards worked at home on the farm. After the Lutheran Concordia College was founded in 1926 in Austin, the capital of Texas, Pastor Hermann Schmidt persuaded his parents to send the nineteen-year-old man to this school, to be trained as a pastor. As a result, Theodore Schmidt studied at the Lutheran Concordia College in Texas from 1926 to 1930, at St. John College in Winfield, Kansas, from 1930 to 1932, and at the Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri, from 1932 to 1936. He completed his curacy in 1935 in two parishes in Texas, at the Salem Lutheran Church in Freyburg and the Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Greens Creek.

After the end of his training in 1936 Theodore Schmidt was commissioned to undertake teaching and missionary work in Belknap, Michigan. He married Erna Mae Sides from St. Louis, Missouri in 1937 and went with her as a missionary from the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod to Brazil. He worked there for the first few months in Rio de Janeiro, and from 1937 in Santa Catarina, in the south of Brazil, where he was given the task of running twelve preaching stations under difficult conditions. As a missionary he was both a pastor and teacher, he founded new missionary stations and congregations, built new churches and parish schools. In the early years he only preached in German. When the use of the German language was prohibited in 1942 because of the Second World War, he was only allowed to preach in Portuguese. The couple had two daughters in Brazil, Ruth and Lois.

The family returned in 1946 to the USA on account of the wife’s and mother’s illness. Theodore Schmidt then worked as a pastor in a number of parishes belonging to the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, in the states of Nebraska, Kansas, Texas and Missouri, until his retirement in June 1979. Together with his wife, he spent his years of retirement with the family of his daughter Ruth in Evergreen Park, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. He died on 21 December 1987; his wife died in 1991. Both are buried in Jackson, Missouri.[4]

Two Parish Anniversaries

The parish of Serbin celebrated the 100th anniversary of its foundation in 1954. Theodore Schmidt was working at the time at the Trinity Lutheran Church in LaGrange, Texas, where he officiated from 1952 to 1957 as pastor, and where there were also members of his congregation of Wendish origin. He was therefore the obvious choice, as a son of the Serbin congregation, who as part of his upbringing had acquired a sound knowledge of the Wendish language, to take on the task of delivering the anniversary sermon in nearby Serbin. According to the chronicle of St. Paul parish in Serbin, written by the pastors of the time, the festival took place on Sunday 11 July 1954 with a German and an English service, which were held simultaneously at 10am and 3pm; the German service was held in the church and the English one in a tent.[5] A Wendish service on this day is not mentioned in the chronicle. However, it represented the high point in the anniversary celebrations, according to a press report: “The climax came in the afternoon service in the Wendish language by the Rev. Theodore Schmidt of LaGrange, assisted by a mixed choir selected from the local members and visitors who still remembered the Wendish language which sang the traditional Wendish closing hymn, ‘Abide, O Dearest Jesus’. This was followed by the reading of Psalm 145 by the Rev. P. B. Fritsche of Denver, Colo.”[6] Retired Pastor Elmer Hohle still remembers this service today. He had heard Schmidt’s sermon at the time and had asked his father afterwards, whose Wendish was still very good: “What did you think of the sermon?” to which his father had answered: “Oh well, all of it was fine, but he didn’t pronounce all the Wendish words properly.”[7]

The Wends in Lusatia also heard of the Wendish service on the occasion of the anniversary nine months later. The Wendish daily newspaper, Nowa Doba, appearing in Bautzen, published a short report in March 1955 under the title “W Serbinje běchu loni poslednje serbske kemše” (“The last Wendish service took place in Serbin last year”), after a reader from the village of Belgern outside Bautzen received from information about it from a relative from Giddings: “The parish of Serbin in Texas celebrated its 100th anniversary on 11 July 1954. More than 3,500 people who came from near and far took part in this jubilee service. They celebrated a Wendish service, along with services in German and English. The old Pastor Fritsche read Psalm 145 in Wendish and after that the young Pastor Schmidt delivered a sermon in Wendish. Older people who could still read Wendish sang Wendish hymns. Wendish has suffered a serious decline in general in Texas. The German language is also in decline. It was also probably the last Wendish service.”[8] Three photos of the jubilee are attached to the report, which show views of the interior and the exterior of the church, as well of Pastor Schmidt during his sermon in the altar area of the church.

Pastor Theodore Schmidt delivered the 1954 sermon once more on 24 June 1979, when the 125th anniversary of the parish foundation was celebrated in Serbin. The day began with a service in English and German in the church, which was celebrated by Pastor Paul W. Hartfield. In the afternoon a thanksgiving service took place in three languages, which was conducted by three pastors who had come from the parish of Serbin, including Theodore Schmidt with his Wendish sermon. At the service the church choir sang the hymn “Ach wostań při nas z hnadu” (“Abide, O Dearest Jesus”) in Wendish. Almost 1,000 people attended the trilingual service.[9]

According to Theodore Schmidt’s daughter, Ruth, both sermons represented outstanding events in his long working life as a pastor. She recounts from memory: “Because Dad had some knowledge of the Wendish (but not real fluently), he asked a man (don’t remember his name) – who could still speak Wendish fluently – from Giddings help him in writing his brief sermon for the 1954 service, which was a separate service that day from the English and German services. When he was again asked to preach for the 125th service, he could no longer find someone to help him write another sermon, so he used the same sermon over again.”[10] Both sermons were recorded on tape and are preserved in private hands and in the archive of the Concordia Historical Institute in St. Louis, Missouri, and they were recently put on a CD, and given to the Sorbian Cultural Archive in the Sorbian Institute in Bautzen, Germany.

The Wendish Sermon of Pastor Schmidt

The manuscript of the Wendish sermon of Pastor Schmidt was in the possession of his family and kept by his daughters. Recently, the material, including extensive correspondence, was handed over to Weldon Mersiovsky, a member of the Schmidt family and an active member of the Texas Wendish Heritage Society. He, together with a number of assistants, is currently editing these documents of Pastor Schmidt for research purposes for the Wendish Research Exchange.

The sermon covers eight small typewritten pages. A large part of it consists of quotations, which have been taken from the Bible and the hymnbook. The sermon ends with all six verses of the well-known hymn, “Ach wostań při nas z hnadu” (“Abide, O Dearest Jesus”), which the pastor read out, together with the Lord’s Prayer and the Blessing. There is relatively little written in his own words to be found in the sermon. The preacher reflects in these short passages on the hundred-year-old history of the Wendish congregation in Texas as the history of the mercy and compassion of God. Many expressions and phrases can also be found in these sections, which have been taken from the Bible, not as direct quotations, but expressed in his own words.

Pastor Schmidt mainly uses the Lutheran form of the Upper Wendish language, which can be seen in forms, such as “te, teho, tele, temu, tehodla, wjesełosć, w swěći, hižom.” But the written form using “e” is not used throughout, the word “toho,” in which “o” is used, occurs occasionally. It is possible overall to conclude that Pastor Schmidt does not have an absolute command of the language. There are spelling and grammatical mistakes, as well wrong endings, missing words and other errors. He adopts the use of “wodwali“ (German: “wurden”, English: “was” as a passive form), which is often used in spoken language, but is however regarded as an unacceptable Germanism in written texts. It seems that the writer firstly translated the Lord’s Prayer himself and then corrected the typewritten text in pencil from the printed version of the Bible or the hymnbook. Since his typewriter had no diacritic marks, Pastor Schmidt simply put upturned hooks over the letters, without actually making it clear, whether it should be a stroke or a hook. He uses the old spelling in Latin script, therefore writing “sch” instead of “š”, “sz” instead of “ß”, “cẑ” instead of “č” or “ć”. As a result, we find words in the text, such as “Duscha, Lubosz, Ssmilnosz, Knes, Kyrlisch, Ssłowo, Sapocẑatk, swezelmy, szam, szwjate, szłyschecẑ, wschjech” etc. Schmidt essentially writes nouns in upper case, presumably following the example of his mother tongue, German. The influence of English in his spelling of the ending of “Wotrocẑkey” instead of “Wotrocẑkej” (German: “dem Knecht”, English “laborer”) can clearly be seen.

The text of the sermon has been transcribed into present-day Wendish spelling for its publication in this article. The references to the quotations from the Bible and the hymnbook have been assigned by the author of this article. Some linguistic corrections in the Wendish version have been put in square brackets.

Text of the Wendish Sermon

[“]Njech Bohu dźakuje so wutroba wšěch ludźi, kiž wulke wěcy sam tu čini a tež wšudźe; kiž wot młodosće nam tu zdźerži žiwjenje a wšitku dobrotu nam stajnje wudźěli[11] … Spěwajće temu Knjezej nowy kěrluš; spěwajće temu Knjezej wšitkón swět. Spěwajće temu Knjezej, a chwalće jeho mjeno; připowědajće [dźeń] jako dźeń jeho zbože[12] … Chwal teho Knjeza, moja duša; a štož we mni je, jeho swjate mjeno. Chwal teho Knjeza[,] moja duša, a njezapomń jeho dobrotow[13] … To je tón dźeń, kotryž tón Knjez činił je; tehodla zradujmy a wjeselmy so we nim[14] … Tón Knjez je wulku wěc na nas činił; teho my so zwjeselmy.”[15]

Tak spěwamy, chwalimy dźensa tu hnadu, tu lubosć a tu smilnosć našeho Knjeza, kotryž wón na nas we tych poslednich sto lět[ach] wulał je. A započatk bě mało[y], wokoło šěsć stow dušow. Woni su natwarili jow jen dom teho Knjeza, we kotrymž [su] woni Bože słowo we čistosći słyšeć a prědować móhli. Woni su natwarili jow jenu šulu, w kotrymž [kotrejž su] jich dźěći wučić móhli, a jehnjata Knjeza na zelenej łuce to Bože słowo [teho Božeho słowa] pasć a wjedźeć [wjesć] k čerstwej wodźi. Podachu so najprjedy temu Knjezej a potom nam přez Božu wolu. Kak krasnje je Bóh jich skutki žohnował, a dźěło jich rukow! A Bože słowo bě jich wjesełosć. Bě wodnjo a [w] nocy jich noham swěca, a swětło na jich puću. To słowo je to jeničke, štož nuzne běše. Běše krasniše dyžli złoto, haj dyžli wjele rjaneho złota; běše słódše dyžli měd, dyžli mjedowy płast. To je jena njezasłužena hnada našeho Knjeza, hdyž jena wosada móže hladać na jene sto lět. Tehodla budźe jich ponižić so pod Božu mócnu ruku. Woni wědźa a póznaja[,] kak husto woni wšitke te wulke skutki teho Knjeza su wopušćili a zapomnjeli[,] kak wjele mol[i] su sprócn[i] wodwali. Móža z Jakubom prajić: “Ja njejsym dostojny wšitkeje twojeje smilnosće a swěrnosće, kotruž mi, twojemu wotročkej, sy wopokazał.”[16] Móža tež z Dawidom prajić: “Nic nam, nic nam, ale twojemu mjenu daj chwalbu, twojeje hnady a prawdy dla[17] … Temu samemu budź česć a móc wot wěčnosće hač do wěčnosće.”[18]

Je hišće jena druha wěc, kotryž [na kotruž] dźensa my chcemy so dopomnić a wopomnić. Hdźe su jich nanojo a maćerje, kiž přez sto lět tak wjele mol[i] swojom Bohu tak wjele woporow su přinjesli, zo by to Bože mjeno we tej wosadźi wostać móhło. Njejsu jow pak dlěje na kraju tych žiwych. Su hižom nutř šli [do] toho Knjeza krasnosće a wjesełosće, a wohladaja wšitki[ch] wuzwolenych Božich a woblečo teho Knjeza. Wjele je so přeměniło na člowickich[jeskim] žiwjenje[u]. Njepřińdźa wjac kemši jako prjedy, z[e] sankami a z wozami. My smy we swěći, wot kotrehož naši wótcojo njejsu ničo wědźeli. Wšitke rěče budźa přestać, a póznaće so zhubić budźe. Ale jeno te jeničke budźe wostać[,] štož nuzne je. Ale jeno, štož nuzne je, je dźensa[,] kiž wěčnje wostać budźe kak we [kaž za] sto lět: a [to je] Bože słowo. Tele słowo, dokelž [kotrež] woni sy [su] słyšeli a nawuknyli, słyšimy hižom dźensa.

Što budźe to [tón] přichod nam přinjesć? Nimamy prawa[,] wobroćić so k Bohu, našeho [našemu] Knjezej, prosyć a wutrobnje žadać: “Wostań pola nas, dokelž so k wječoru přibližuje, a dźeń je so nachilił.”[19] Nam płaći a [to] Bože słowo: “Budźeće-li wy wostać při mojej rěči, da sće moji prawi wučomnicy, a wy budźeće tu prawdu póznać, a ta prawda budźe was wuswobodźić[20] … Budź swěrny hač do smjerće, da chcu tebi krónu teho žiwjenja dać.”[21]

Ach! wostań při nas z hnadu,
Hlaj, swěta wječor je,
Zo njepřińdźemy k padu
Přez čerta lestnosće. 

Ach! twoje słowo swjate
Njech bydli pola nas,
Zo budźe zbože date
Nam přez nje kóždy čas. 

Ach! wostań při nas, krasnosć
A swětłosć žiwjenja;
Dha mamy w ćmowym jasnosć
A błud nas njezjeba.

Ach! twoje žohnowanje
Staj k našej chudobi;
Njech kóžde lube ranje
Nas z nowoh wobdari. 

Ach! budź ty nam, o Chryšće,
Naš škit, Knjez ryćerski,
Hdyž so nam w swěće styšće,
Čert šumi žałostnje. 

A hdyž so přibližuje
Ta dołha smjertna nóc,
Nas wšitko wopušćuje,
Dha budź ty naša móc.[22]


Wótče naš, kiž sy we 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,
jako my wodawamy našim winikam.
A njewjedź nas do spytowanja,
ale wumóž nas wot teho złeho.
Přetož twoje je to kralestwo a ta móc a
ta česć hač do wěčnosće. Hamjeń.[23]

Hnada budź z wami, a pokoj wot Boha, našeho Knjeza, a wot teho Knjeza Jezom Chrysta![24]

English Translation of the Wendish Sermon

“Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices, who wondrous things has done, in whom this world rejoices; who from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way with countless gifts of love, and still is ours today”[25] … O sing unto the Lord a new song: sing unto the Lord, all the earth. Sing unto the Lord, bless his name; shew forth his salvation from day to day.[26] … Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.[27] … This is the day, which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.[28] … The Lord has done great things for us; whereof we are glad.[29]”

So we sing today and praise the mercy, love and compassion of our Lord, which he has bestowed on us over the last hundred years. In the beginning there were only a few, around six hundred souls. They built a house of God here, in which they could hear and preach God’s word in all its purity. They built a school here, in which they were able to teach their children, and the Lord’s lambs were able to graze on the green pastures of God’s word and be led to fresh water. They submitted themselves from the first to the Lord, and then us through God’s will. How splendidly did God bless their deeds and the work of their hands! And their joy was the word of God. It was a lantern and light for their feet on their way through the day and night. His word was all that was needed. It was more glorious than gold, yes than much beautiful gold; it was sweeter than honey, than honeycomb. It is an undeserved favor from our Lord, when a congregation can look back over a hundred years. He will therefore make them humble under God’s strong hand. They know and acknowledge how often they have deserted and forgotten all the Lord’s great works, how many times they have grown weary. They can say along with Jacob: “I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which thou has shewed unto thy servant.”[30] They can also say with David: “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory, for thy mercy, and for thy truth’s sake.[31] … To him be glory and dominion for ever.”[32]

There is one further matter we wish to remember today and on which we wish to reflect. Where are their fathers and mothers, who over 100 years made so many sacrifices on so many occasions to their God, so that the name of God can survive in the community? They are no longer in the land of the living. They have already entered the glory and joy of the Lord and can see all God’s chosen people and the face of the Lord. Much has changed in human life. We do not come to services as we did earlier, on sledges and wagons. We live in a world of which our fathers knew nothing. All languages will cease and knowledge will pass away. But only one thing will remain which is necessary. But what is necessary today, what will remain for eternity, for so many hundreds of years, that is God’s word. This word, which they heard and learned, we are already hearing today.

What will the future bring for us? Do we not have the right to turn to God, our Lord and to ask and plead from our hearts: “Abide with us: for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent.”[33] God’s word applies to us: “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”[34] … Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.[35]”

Abide, O dearest Jesus,
Among us with Thy grace
That Satan may not harm us
Nor we to sin give place.

Abide, O dear Redeemer,
Among us with Thy Word
And thus now and hereafter
True peace and joy afford.

Abide with heavenly brightness
Among us, precious Light;
Thy truth direct and keep us
From error’s gloomy night.

Abide with richest blessings
Among us, bounteous Lord;
Let us in grace and wisdom
Grow daily through Thy Word.

Abide with Thy protection
Among us, Lord, our Strength,
Lest world and Satan fell us
And overcome at length.

Abide, O faithful Savior,
Among us with Thy love;
Grant steadfastness and help us
To reach our home above.[36]


Our Father, which art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done,
in earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive them that trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.[37]

Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ![38]

Translated by Peter Barker

[1] See Daphne Dalton Garrett, Giddings Deutsches Volksblatt 1899–1949. A History of the Newspaper and Print Shop of the Texas Wends, Garrett Historical Research Warda, Texas, 1998; Trudla Malinkowa, ‘Texaska serbska agenda wuslědźena’, Pomhaj Bóh 49 (1999) 1; Trudla Malinkowa, ‘Stawizny zamórskeje serbskeje ćišćernje’, Rozhlad 49 (1999) 9, 347–349.

[2] Pastor Herrmann Schmidt quoted the last verse of the hymn by Jan Kilian “Na cyrkwinu reformaciju”, see Serbska poezija 43: Jan Kilian, compiled by Trudla Malinkowa, Bautzen, 1999, pp. 27–29. English version entitled “Reformation” in David Zersen (ed.), The Poetry and Music of Jan Kilian, Austin 2010, pp. 38–39. 

[3] On the decline in the importance of the Wendish language in Serbin, see Trudla Malinkowa, Ufer der Hoffnung, 2nd edition, Bautzen 1999, pp. 187–191; Trudla Malinkowa, Shores of Hope, Austin 2009, pp. 182–187.

[4] I would like to thank Mr. Weldon Mersiovsky from Walburg, Texas, and other researchers from the Wendish Research Exchange, for supplying biographical details.

[5] ‘A Brief Extract of the History of the Evangelical Lutheran St. Paul Congregation of Serbin, Lee County, Texas. As written by the Pastors of St. Paul Congregation‘, in A Collection of Histories of St. Paul Lutheran Church Serbin, Texas. In Commemoration of the Congregation’s 150th Anniversary, edited by Rev. Michael Buchhorn, Serbin, Texas, 2003, pp. 35–63, here p. 52.

[6] ‘Centennial of Wend Settlement Commemorated at Serbin Church’, The Giddings, Texas, News, 15 July 1954. I am grateful to Weldon Mersiovsky for this source.

[7] Elmer Hohle in an email to the author on 23 November 2013.

[8] ‘W Serbinje běchu loni poslednje serbske kemše’ (The last Wendish service took place in Serbin last year), Nowa Doba 9 (5 March 1955), no. 27.

[9] ‘A Brief Extract’ (as in footnote 5), p. 54; ‘St. Paul Lutheran Church serves over 1000 dinners’, Giddings, Texas, Times & News, 28 June 1979.

[10] Ruth Sievers, née Schmidt, in an email to the author on 3 January 2014.

[11] 1st verse of the hymn “Njech Bohu dźakuje”, in Spěwarske za ewangelskich Serbow, Bautzen, 2010,  no. 189. German version “Nun danket alle Gott”, in Evangelisches Gesangbuch, edition for the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Saxony, Leipzig 1994, no. 321.

[12] Psalm 96: 1–2.

[13] Psalm 103: 1–2.

[14] Psalm 118: 24.

[15] Psalm 126: 3.

[16] 1 Moses 32: 11.

[17] Psalm 115: 1.

[18] Revelation of John 1: 6.

[19] Luke 24: 29.

[20] John 8: 31–32.

[21] Revelation of John 2: 10.

[22] Verses 1–6 of the hymn “Ach wostań při nas z hnadu”, in Spěwarske (as in footnote 11), no. 241. Text version according to the old Wendish hymnbooks (editions before 1930). German version “Ach bleib mit Deiner Gnade”, in Evangelisches Gesangbuch, edition for the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Saxony, Leipzig 1994, no. 347.

[23] The Lord’s Prayer.

[24] 1 Corinthians 1: 3.

[25] 1st verse of the hymn “nun danket alle Gott”, in Evangelisches Gesangbuch, edition for the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Saxony, Leipzig 1994, no. 321. Translation by Catherine Winkworth.

[26] Psalm 96: 1–2. All bible translations from the King James version.

[27] Psalm 103: 1-2.

[28] Psalm 118: 24.

[29] Psalm 126:3.

[30] I Moses 32:10

[31] Psalm 115: 1.

[32] Revelation of John 1: 6.

[33] Luke 24: 29.

[34] John 8: 31–32.

[35] Revelation of John 2: 10.

[36] Verses 1–6 of the hymn “Ach, bleib mit Deiner Gnade”, in Evangelisches Gesangbuch, edition for the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Saxony, Leipzig 1994, no. 347. Translated by August Crull 1923.

[37]  The Lord’s Prayer.

[38] 1 Corinthians 1: 3.

Jan Kilian and the Emigration of the Sorbian Lutherans

Jan Kilian und die Auswanderung der sorbischen Lutheraner / Jan Kilian and the Emigration of the Sorbian Lutherans, written by Trudla Malinkowa (Gertrud Mahling) and translated by Jay Cram first appeared in: Eduard Ludwig Nollau Mission und Migration im 19. Jahrhundert. Eine Spurensuche / Eduard Ludwig Nollau: Searching for Traces of Migration and Mission in the 19th Century. Published by Thomas Koppehl in cooperation with Hans-Wilhelm Pietz, Jill Vogt und Christoph Wiesener. Studien zur Schlesischen und Oberlausitzer Kirchengeschichte Band 11, Verein für Schlesische Kirchengeschichte 2011, pps. 196, 206, 207, 216.


Even the first fleeting glance at the biographies of Jan Kilian (left) and Ludwig Eduard Nollau (right) shows remarkable similarities. Both are sons of Upper Lusatia. Nollau was born on July 1, 1810, and Kilian only a few months later, on March 22, 1811. Kilian’s birthplace, Döhlen, is located not even 30 Kilometers from Nollau’s home town, Reichenbach. At three years old, Nollau lost his mother and as a 16-year old, his father. Kilian’s mother died when he was two years old, and at ten years old he was completely orphaned. Nollau, like Kilian, attended secondary school, and both became Protestant clergy. Influenced by the Moravian Brethren, both desired to dedicate their lives to being missionaries to the heathen; Nollau graduated from the seminary of the Rhenish Mission Society in Barmen in 1837, and in the same year, Kilian decided to attend the mission institute St. Chrischona in Basel following his theological studies in Leipzig. Both ultimately went to the USA, but did not work there as missionaries, but rather as pastors in congregations of immigrants from Germany. Nollau and Kilian became prominent personalities in their church federations, whose work is not forgotten, even today.

Besides these similarities, we also find dramatic differences between these two outstanding personalities of Lusatian emigration history. The theme of this presentation is an examination of the life of Jan Kilian while paying special attention to his place in the history of Sorbian emigration abroad. In contrast to Nollau, we will run across a different theological orientation. It will also become clear that a meeting between the two could not have generated any special rapprochement between the two or sympathies for one another.


Jan Kilian was born on March 22, 1811 in Döhlen, a small Sorbian village in the parish of Hochkirch. He was the first child of the farmer Peter Kilian and his wife, Maria, née Mättig, of Hochkirch. When he was two years old, his sister, only a few months old, died, and soon thereafter so did his mother. Consequently his father married a widow from Meschwitz, but died already in 1821. The orphaned boy was embraced especially by his mother’s family, who belonged to the respected and wealthy mill owner in the area of Hochkirch. He was allowed to attend secondary school in Bautzen and to study theology in Leipzig. Afterwards he became an associate pastor under Pastor Möhn in his home congregation in Hochkirch.

Already in his early years one could see that he set a high value on his Sorbian nationality and the Lutheran faith. At the Bautzen secondary school he congregated with other Sorbian students, to spend some time studying their mother tongue. In Leipzig he did not join, as was generally commonplace for Sorbian students, the Wendish Preachers’ Society Sorabia, which had been active since 1716, but rather affiliated himself with a group of religiously awakened German students. In his younger years, he had given a pledge to devote his life to missionizing to the heathen. To honor this pledge, he made his way to Basel in 1837 to study at the Mission Institute of St. Chrischona. But when his uncle, Pastor Michael Kilian, died soon after in Kotitz near Weißenberg, he returned to Lusatia and became his successor in the Kotitz congregation.

The small size of the congregation – of which the only members were from Kotitz and the neighboring village of Särka totaling about 90 households in the parish – allowed the young cleric to spend time on personal interests outside of his official duties. Kilian took up the pen in service of Lutheran teachings amongst the Sorbs. In the course of only a few years, he published a series of Sorbian books, especially translations of religious German writings. The supplies of some were exhausted so quickly, that soon reprints became necessary. Amongst his translations one can also find “symbolic Books,” the confessional writings of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, whose full details were edited over several years and were finally presented as a comprehensive book of more than 700 pages. Kilian also published some of his own writings. Additionally he worked tirelessly on the publication of a monthly religious journal in the Sorbian language. In the forties he repeatedly applied for a press license, for which he was always refused, much to his regret. The reasons for the rejection were never named to him by the Saxon Cultural Ministry, and so Kilian speculated that either “his person, his Lutheranism, or his Wendishness” were too dislikable for the Ministry.

In Kotitz, Kilian developed himself into a masterly and fruitful hymnist. Already in 1838, at that time Kilian was 27 years old – his works were being incorporated into a new edition of the Sorbian hymnal. In 1846, a collection of his hymns was published, for which he had also composed some of the melodies. The booklet was used as a textbook for decades in some Sorbian schools and was repeatedly reprinted. In one of his religious songs, he coined a phrase which would become a familiar quotation amongst Sorbs, and which today is still used and understood as an admonition: “serbja, zachowajće swěru swojich wótcow rěč a wěru.” (Wend, stay faithful to your fathers, language, and belief.) Alongside his own creations, he also translated a multitude of hymns into Sorbian, amongst them such well known works as “Geh aus, mein Herz, und suche Freud” by Paul Gerhardt and “Jerusalem, du hochgebaute Stadt” by Johann Matthäus Meyfart. Altogether, there are more than 50 distinct sacred songs from Kilian, of which nine have melodies that he composed himself, and about 70 translations which are known. With this number, but above all with the quality of his works, his turn of phrase, and his strength of expression, Jan Kilian is amongst the most outstanding poets of the Protestant Sorbs. He became the bard of the Lutheran awakening of the 19th century in the Sorbian community. As such, he was frowned upon during the Socialist times, but recently his works have experienced a renaissance. A selection of his compositions was published in 1999, in a series of Sorbian poetry. His Hymns can also be found in the Catholic Sorbian Hymnal and especially in the new Protestant Upper Sorbian Hymnal, which was published in 2010 and contains 19 of his hymns.

Starting in 1841, Jan Kilian belonged to the Upper Lusatian Scientific Society in Görlitz. In 1847 he joined the newly founded Sorbian Education and Science Association Maćica Serbska. In spite of his work as a Sorbian cleric, publicist, and poet, Kilian remained an outsider in the ranks of the Sorbian intelligentsia. The reason was his vehement advocacy of the Lutheran faith. While Kilian uncompromisingly regarded the Sorbian nationality and the Lutheran faith as belonging together, for the majority of the Sorbian intelligentsia questions of faith took a back seat to nationalist concerns, in order to represent common Sorbian interests across confessional boundaries. The blooming of Sorbian cultural and intellectual life around the middle of the 19th century, which went down in history as a national rebirth, was described by Kilian as a false, unbelieving Wendishness. He strove not for the national, but rather the religious, awakening of his people.

Amongst the Protestant Sorbs, decades of influence of Hallean pietism and the Moravian Brethren had prepared fertile soil for an awakening stamped with Lutheranism. The conventicle apparatus – the meeting of laymen for devotions in private homes – was a fixed tradition in many villages. On this breeding ground, a Lutheran movement developed, which reached its climax in the 1840s. In Saxon Upper Lusatia, four Sorbian Evangelical Lutheran societies were established in 1849 under an umbrella organization in response to the societal changes caused by the revolutionary turbulence. In Prussian Upper Lusatia, the Sorbian Old Lutheran congregation in Weigersdorf/Klitten had already been established a few years earlier. The intellectual leader of this ecclesial separation in Prussia was Jan Kilian, who was at that time still pastor in Saxon Kotitz. Through the introduction of the Unified Church, uneasy believers from Weigersdorf sought council from him in religious matters. As a strict Lutheran, he advised them to break away from the State Church. He established a connection with the Old Lutherans in Silesia, and translated their texts into Sorbian. As a result, the Old Lutheran congregations of Weigersdorf and Klitten were established in 1843. None of the Sorbian clergymen was willing to take over the separatist congregation. Eventually Jan Kilian felt compelled to leave Saxon Kotitz and become pastor in Prussian Weigersdorf in 1848. In the same year, he married Maria Gröschel from Särka, a Sorbian farmer’s daughter from the congregation in Kotitz. She was a loyal companion to him for more than 32 years. Four children were born to the pair during their time in Weigersdorf, but three of them died very young.

Jan Kilian, who in his younger years had given a pledge to dedicate his life to becoming a missionary to the heathen, and for that reason had attended the Mission Institute in Basel as a young theologian, had already been contemplating emigration from a young age. The increasing emigration fever in Germany, especially after the large and successful emigration waves of the Prussian Old Lutherans to Australia in 1838, nourished his hope of being able to merge emigration and missionary work. In the year 1844, when he was still pastor in Kotitz, he had already discussed the advantages and disadvantages of emigration with the Old Lutheran ecclesial authorities in Breslau. Soon, Kilian took practical steps of preparation for emigration. In the year 1845, he made contact with Pastor August Ludwig Christian Kavel in South Australia, the pastor, who, in the year 1838, had led the emigration wave of Prussian Old Lutherans. It was Kilian’s intent to join Kavel’s German settlers with a large group of Sorbs, but he doubted it would be possible to maintain a pure Sorbian identity in such close proximity to Germans. Apparently he reckoned that this emigration would take place very soon, because already in 1846 he was negotiating with the emigration agent responsible for South Australia, Eduard Delius, in Bremen, about a ship for passage to Australia. From Delius, he also received printed reports about the German settlements in Australia, which he passed on to interested church members. In the conviction that he would soon follow, he also took up contact with Pastor Philipp Jakob Oster, of Posen, before he set sail for Adelaide with his congregation in 1847.

In 1848, the same year that Jan Kilian moved from Saxon Kotitz to the separatists in Prussia, the first Sorbian group immigrated to Australia. Enabled by the expansion of the rail network in the 1840s, year after year more Sorbian groups left their homes to move to Australia; 92 people belonged to the largest one. Most emigrants came from the area East of Bautzen, especially from the parishes of Hochkirch, Kotitz, and Gröditz, where the Lutheran movement had its home. Amongst them were the leaders and many members of the Sorbian Evangelical Lutheran societies in Saxony, as well as a few individual members of the Old Lutheran congregation in Weigersdorf. In 1848, Pastor Andreas Kappler of Weissenberg emigrated and in 1849, Pastor Andreas Pentzig, who was ordained in Krischa, today called Buchholz, just before his departure. Some of the groups were pursuing the expressed goal of establishing a Sorbian Lutheran congregation in Australia. This intention, however, failed. In spite of their efforts, they did not manage to establish a central Sorbian colony in Australia or to install a Sorbian cleric as the leader of a Lutheran congregation.

For Jan Kilian, thoughts about emigration fell into the background after taking over his new responsibilities as Pastor for the Old Lutherans in Prussia. The work was arduous. In addition to Weigersdorf and Klitten, he also ministered to small daughter congregations scattered through the Sorbian area in Prussian Lusatia – all together more than 1,200 souls. Every third month he went on a three week trip to the areas around Muskau, Spremberg, and Cottbus, all the way to Lübbenau in the Spreewald region. From the beginning, a dire financial situation was prevalent. The congregants, who could scarcely feed themselves off the sandy soil of Lusatian moor, had to erect two new churches, a parsonage, and a school with their own resources, as well as pay the salaries of the pastor and the teacher. In order to do so, they took large debts onto themselves. Furthermore, two more problems made their lives even harder. Jan Kilian had a running argument with the neighboring congregations who were not disposed to recognizing the Old Lutherans. His congregants were denounced as “Muckers” (or “false saints”) were regarded as odd in their villages, and were rejected by other villagers. There were even incidences in which they were verbally harassed and beaten on their way home from church

After only a short time in Weigersdorf, Jan Kilian was exhausted. There seemed to be only one way to get out of all the conflicts: emigration abroad. Depressed by the conditions, he came to the conclusion, in a 1851 letter to Adolf von Harless, the courtpreacher of the saxonian king in Dresden, that “the consequences of even the smallest churchly separation appear to be ominous, if we stay in the country.” Kilian discussed his wish, to be a chaplain of the Sorbs in Australia and to missionize the Aborigines at the same time, extensively with his Old Lutheran pastoral colleague Ehlers in Liegnitz in 1853. Ehlers was of the opinion that the two could not be combined with each other, and that Kilian would thus have to choose only one of them.

Unfortunate news about the circumstances in Australia and the ecclesiastical disputes amongst the immigrant German Lutherans soon resulted in Sorbs who were interested in emigration looking for a new destination. In the year 1853, the first families of the Old Lutheran congregation in Weigersdorf and Klitten headed out for Texas. Their praise-filled letters had the result that one year later, several hundred Sorbs started out to follow them. They founded an emigration society just for this trip, and it managed the practical concerns. Jan Kilian was asked to move with them as pastor of the immigrants. He assented. The move under Jan Kilian went down in history as the largest emigration of Sorbs, and at the same time as the last great emigration of Old Lutherans out of Prussia.

In September of 1854, 531 Sorbs began their journey with a chartered train from Bautzen to Hamburg. By ship and rail they continued on to Liverpool, in England, where the three-master ship, “Ben Nevis” was ready for them. The passage across the Atlantic to Galveston, on the Gulf of Mexico, went tragically; 81 emigrants died en route from a cholera epidemic and other illnesses.

In early 1855, they managed to buy about 1,720 hectares of undeveloped land in Bastrop County and to found a Sorbian colony there. Derived from the nationality of its inhabitants, Kilian conferred upon it the name Serbin. With great sacrifice and in unfamiliar climatic conditions, the settlers cleared forest, plowed virgin soil, and managed, by and by, to carve out a rudimentary life for themselves. Together they raised a church, school, and parsonage. At the same time, a cemetery was laid out, in which Kilian was to perform the first burial for his own newborn daughter, Maria Theresia, in March of 1855. Serbin became the main destination for Sorbs from Upper Lusatia in the following decades, and as a result, the most important Sorbian colony abroad.

As the first one in Texas, Kilian joined the Missouri Synod – whose full name was the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and other States – in 1855. This German Lutheran Church had been founded by awakened immigrants from Saxony, the so called Stephanianer – so named for their leader, pastor Martin Stephan from Dresden – in 1848 in St. Louis, Missouri – in the same place where only eight years earlier Nollau, together with German and Swiss clergy brethren, founded the German Evangelical Church Society of the West, in 1840. Kilian knew the president of the Missouri Synod, Dr. Ferdinand Walther, who is also described as the “Lutheran Pope of the West,” and other leading clergymen of the Synod personally. In Leipzig they had studied together, and strengthened each other’s faith within their pious circles. As it had been in Lusatia, Kilian also took a position of isolation for the sake of his personal beliefs. He suffered from the fact that he did not find any like-minded people amongst his colleagues in Texas, because they all belonged to the Texas Synod, a synod which, according to Kilian’s view, represented the liberal, watered-down teachings of the Unified Church. Furthermore, Kilian was not even in agreement with all of the teachings of the Missouri Synod, and as a result ended up getting into some arguments with his ecclesial authorities in St. Louis. Amongst other things, he regretted that they could muster up no sympathy for his efforts to maintain the Sorbian language and nationality in their colony in Texas. In spite of all the conflicts, they never came to a breaking point, and that is how Jan Kilian became the father of the Missouri Synod in Texas.

In his congregation in Serbin, Kilian had to tackle an extensive workload. For many years he was not only busy as a Pastor, but also as a school teacher. He was often on horseback, en route to distant settlements where his services were needed. For the most part, economic responsibilities, and the care for his family, he left up to his wife, to whom four more children were born in Texas.

He was not granted a restful life in his new home either. Just when the most important issues were settled in Serbin, the arguments began. Only three years after the settlement was established, in 1858, one group split from the congregation because of religious differences. Although this split would be overcome after a few years, the religious conflict was followed shortly by one of nationality. In the area around Serbin, some Germans had settled, who, with the support of some Sorbs, requested more and more German-language church services and community events. Jan Kilian and his followers fought against this, which eventually lead to a split between a predominantly German St. Peter’s congregation and a predominantly Sorbian St. Paul’s congregation. Besides that, several daughter settlements in the area sought the dissociation from the mother congregation in Serbin, and the establishment of their own congregations. In all of these related conflicts, Kilian sought support from his authorities in Missouri, which, however, he failed to receive.

In light of the many difficulties in Texas, Jan Kilian yearned to be back in Lusatia. It was not to the Old Lutheran Weigersdorf in Prussia to which he longed to return home, but rather to quiet Kotitz in the Evangelical Lutheran state church in Saxony. However he did not want to leave his congregation in Texas without having found a Sorbian successor. He hoped that a young Sorbian pastor from Lusatia would come to Serbin so he could return to his old home. His hopes, however, were never realized.

At the end of his life, he often asked himself if the path he had taken with the founding of the Old Lutheran congregation in Weigersdorf and Klitten which had required so much sacrifice from himself and others had been the right one. On September 12, 1884, Jan Kilian died. His sons carried on the work in Serbin, Gerhard Kilian as a teacher, and Hermann Kilian as pastor.

Jan Kilian is still remembered with reverence today. For the descendents of the Sorbs in Texas, he is the Sorbian Moses, who led his people out of European oppression over the sea to America’s freedom. He went down in Church history as the founder of Old Lutheran congregations in Lusatia, as the spiritual leader of the last great migration of the Old Lutherans out of Prussia, and as the father of the Missouri Synod in Texas. In Lusatia he is treasured by Protestants as well as Catholics as a powerfully elegant poet of sacred songs and hymns.

An overview of the life and works of Jan Kilian shows that there are similarities with the career of Nollau. However what is truly impressive are the differences in personal beliefs and the spiritual home of both pastors. Nollau was sent as a missionary to America, Kilian went as the spiritual leader of a large immigrant society. While Nollau was a deliberate representative of the Unified Church, Kilian, as an avowed Lutheran, strongly rejected the Union, and finally fled from it with his brethren abroad. One further substantial difference between Kilian and Nollau consists of their differing national and social origins: Through his rural heritage, his sense of belonging to the Sorbian people, and his deep-rootedness in the national and sacred traditions of his people, Kilian remained estranged from the quickly developing modern world with its liberal and civil Zeitgeist in both Germany and America. With unshakable consistency and with great sacrifice, he followed the goal he formed early in life, to preserve the Sorbian language and the Lutheran faith as an indivisible entity. His biographer Otto Lehmann described Jan Kilian as “one of the most faithful and important Sorbs that ever lived.”


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