Two Ministers Make Eastex Town Known Over the Nation

The article, found by Dave Goeke in the Wendish archives of the Institute of Texas Cultures in San Antonio, was first printed in the Houston, Texas Chronicle sometime between 8 and 15 March 1968. We know that because John W. Behnken died on 23 Feb 1968 and the article mentions that it was written two weeks after his death.

It is worth mentioning that the town of Fedor acquired its name from Fedor Soder, one of the first postmasters and a store owner in the community. Soder came from Mecklenburg, Germany and first lived in Cat Spring before he moved to the Fedor area. He allegedly is of Jewish descent but that has never been verified.

it is also worth mentioning that Fedor is not in East Texas but is located in Central Texas, a few miles nortwest of Giddings.

Two Ministers Make Eastex Town Known Over the Nation



Chronicle Correspondent

            Fedor — This rural Lee County community of less than 100 population, with a Slavic name and inhabited by people of Wendish and German ancestry has become known throughout the nation because of two men.

            First, the Rev. John W. Behnken, who became president of the Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod) in the United States, Latin – America and Australia, spent part of his boyhood here and may have gained his inspiration for the ministry in this environment. He served as president for 27 years and several more as president emeritus. His career ended with a heart seizure two weeks ago in Hollywood, Fla., at the age of 84.

            Second, the Rev. Gottlieb Birkman, long-time pastor of Fedor Lutheran Church, and Dr. Behnken’s stepfather, was a recognized authority on insects and a person with intellectual vigor. He corresponded with entomologists in colleges, universities and other areas who were interested in his “finds.” Three specimens, about which nothing had been recorded were named for the pastor: Birkmaness, Birkmenza and Fedorenza (after the community).

            Old-timers of Fedor like to reminisce on Pastor Birkman and his search for rare insects and his study of their ways. They remember how he taught his sons and stepsons about the life and habits of ants, bees, beetles, butterflies and wasps.

            The boys carried with them into the fields and woodlands bottles with chloroform for preserving the rarest specimens found. These were sent to entomologists and brought modest fees that went into a college fund for the boys. Fedor residents considered it a marvel that Pastor Birkman could read the Bible in English, German, Spanish, Greek and Hebrew. Near the age of 90 and nearly blind he found comfort and relaxation in reading with the aid of a magnifying glass, from Bibles printed in varied languages.

            At one time 12 children, including two sons and a daughter of widow Behnken, who became the pastor’s second wife, lived in the pastoral home at Fedor. The Birkman group by the pastor’s first marriage (to the daughter of Pastor Kilian, leader of the Wendish emigrants at Serbin and Fedor in Lee County) were George, Paul and Alma, all now dead. The Behnken children were John W., Meta (who became Mrs. Steglich, now of Austin) and William F., now living in retirement in Houston. The second Birkman group, by the marriage of the pastor Birkman and Mrs. Behnken, were: Ernest and Carl, now of Houston; Ella, who became Mrs. Martens; G. C., Frieda, whose husband, Walter Gersh, was drowned at San Luis Pass shortly after being married; and Herbert, now a college professor at Ft. Wayne, Ind.

            The blended group lived together as brother and sisters, neighbors said.

            The Rev. Dr. Behnken was known as a man with a particular regard for working people. He had lived and labored on a farm. He had worked with migrant laborers in the wheat fields around Winfield, Kan., where in the school months he began his preparation for the ministry—27 years as pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Houston and 27 years as national head of the Missouri Synod Lutherans.


Charles Wukasch 2017 Lecture in Leipzig, Germany

Jan Slack asked Charles Wukasch the following questions: 

Was your lecture at Leipzig last year well attended?  Were there questions from the audience?  If so, do you remember any of the questions you were asked?

I can’t recall if I made a head-count, but I imagine there were 25-30 people there, mainly students.  I encouraged questions, comments, discussion, etc. from the audience, but don’t remember more than one or two examples.   I do remember a student whose surname was Mitschke.  Her sister is the editor of Rozhlad .  

I remember pointing out a difference in Texas Wendish which was different from that of standard Wendish (i.e., “good” Wendish).  One of the young women at my talk who speaks Wendish fluently said that those “incorrect” forms exist in the Wendish one hears in the Bautzen area today.  Much of my lecture was on sociolinguistics, i.e., the attitudes people have toward a language.  I told the following joke (which is sadly true):  “If you speak three languages, you’re trilingual.  If you speak two languages, you’re bilingual.  If you speak just one language, you’re – an American.”  That got a laugh out of the audience.  (By the way, the Brits tell the same joke about themselves.)  

I may have mentioned how in the Texas Wendish community some families (e.g., Miertschins, Mitschkes) kept up Wendish for years – good for them!   Others (e.g., my great-uncle Paul Hannusch) had the attitude of “a good American speaks just English.”  One of his sons (the Rev. Hugo Hannusch) told me once that his dad said “you boys are in America.  I want you to learn just English.”  Ich finde das schade!  To je škoda! 

I mentioned the attitude that the Lutheran Sorbs (Wends) in Germany tend to have today.  The late Mrs. Mahling (who with her husband opened Wjelbik in Bautzen, plus the hotel) told me years ago “the Lutheran Sorbs feel you can worship God just as well in German as in Wendish.”  (Substitute English for German or Wendish and it describes the attitude we Texan Wends have.)

Well, I could ramble on, but this is the gist of my talk.  I joke that the best part was after my talk when a group of lovely Wendish female students (all of whom are “real” Wends and speak Wendish fluently – Weldon will meet two of them at the summer course in a few weeks) invited me to a restaurant for piwo, pommes frites, and further talk.  To quote Shakespeare, “be still, my beating heart!” 



David Goeke and Theodore Schuetze

According to Dr Annett Bresan (dr. Annett Brězanec) of the Sorbian Institute in Bautzen, “Theodor Schütze was a well-known personality. If I’m properly informed, he will get in summer 2018 some tablet or monument in his birthplace.

Theodor Schütze / sorbian name: Božidar Šěca

* 15. 1. 1900 Rachlau (Czorneboh) / Rachlow pod Čornobohom    

† 16. 4. 1986 Bautzen / Budyšin teacher, scientist/biologist

Son of Karl Traugott Schütze / Korla Bohuwěr Šěca; Education as teacher in teacher training college in Bautzen;  1922 teacher in Großwelka / Wulki Wjelkow, 1925-1945 teacher in Großpostwitz / Budestecy

Nekrolog – Rozhlad 36 (1986) 6, str. 190-192

This picture by Jürgen Matschie (#79-27-39) was recorded in autumn 1979 in the park of Schmochtitz.

It was a guided excursion of the “Kulturbund der DDR” to monuments in Schmochtitz. Theodor Schütze was the district monument caretaker. On his left is Herbert Flügel and to his right is Erich Lodni (city archivist). The man with the hat to his right is unknown. The three gentlemen knew each other and have the same destinies. All attended the State Seminary in Bautzen and were trained as teachers. In 1933 they entered the NSDAP (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei – National Socialist German Workers Party or Nazi Party) as junior teachers and were no longer allowed to work as teachers after 1945. Due to their good training, they found work elsewhere. Jürgen Matschie

From Dave Goeke:

In the past, I’ve mentioned my acquaintance with Theodore Schütze, the well known Wendish scholar and “Denkmalpfleger” who lived in Grosspostwitz long before the wall came down. He was often written up in a periodical called “Bautzener Kultureschau.” He was the first person to translate some of Kilian’s Wendish into German for me. I learned of him through Gerhard Simmank, a long time correspondent who lived in Frankfort am Main. For Schütze’s services, I sent him coffee, sugar, cloth, cigars, etc., which were smuggled in to him via Simmank. At first all correspondence with him went through Simmank. After a while, however, Schütze began to write me directly. I came across one of his letters to me, along with a photocopy of his picture which he sent me. Looking back, I really feel honored to have personally corresponded with one of the great 20th century Wendish scholars. I’m attaching the translation of one of the first letters I got from him along with the photo of himself that he sent me. There’s something that gives me a sense of pride to have developed a relationship with this Wendish scholar. He was in 80’s when I came to know him.

Anyway, I just thought I’d share this with you.

Following is the initial correspondence between David Goeke and Theodore Schuetze:

DDR 8603 Grosspostwitz, 1/14/1979


Mr. David I. Goeke

110 Morning Valley

San Antonio, Texas 78227


Very honored Mr. Goeke!

I recently receive a letter by way of friendly exchange from Mr. Gerhard Simmank, Frankfurt/Main, which you had written to me on October 10, 1978 which aroused my interest very much. Mr. Simmank also sent me three photos about Serbin shortly before Christmas which you had intended for me. Many thanks for all of it! I had translated a number of obituaries by Pastor Jan Kilian for you which were important to you in your genealogy explorations and, that apparently gave you great pleasure. I want to assure you that it was a pleasure to do the translations since Pastor Kilian had a good grasp of the Wendish language and was precise enough in his writing. This was educational for me, as well. You may, if needed, send me copies. Be aware, however, that it will generally take some time with me before I can get to work on it. I have many assignments here on cultural subjects and also have widespread correspondence so, there is little time to attend to other things one might like to do. As a widower I also live in rather primitive conditions and I am currently not well and pressed hard by a severe winter.

I was surprised and delighted to read of your vivid interest in your Sorbian ancestry and that you are even proud of it. Your current family name, however, does not offer a hint of it. It is sad that Texas and Upper Lusatia are so far apart and that it is difficult to come together! The home of your ancestors is a beautiful land worth loving. I stayed here after 1945, even though I had to survive much difficulty, and have no thought of leaving. Do you have any pictures and books about Upper Lusatia? It is surprising that one still knows of many customs of the Wends where you are. With us the Vogelhochzeit (wedding of the birds) is still very much in vogue, the dear children make sure of it: the Vogelhochzeit is also well presented by Sorbian artists in very lovely musical form (Sorbian Ensemble). The Easter Ride is still performed by the Sorbian Catholics and the coloring of Easter eggs is practiced by the Evangelicals and in some places they are still fetching Easter water. The ancient Spring Fire, also known as the Witches Fire, is still lit most everywhere in the evening of April 30th.

Do you still have plans for a Sorbian Home Festival at your place this year? Mr. Simmank wrote to me about it once. I look at your three photos quite frequently and also show them to many people. I would be thankful if you had some more from Serbin or San Antonio. Picture postcards would suffice. As an aside, the pastor’s name was not John but Jan Kilian as it should have been scribed on his monument. He was born in Döhlen am Czorneboh, a small village an hour away from here. I have searched for ancestors of mine in the book “In Search of a Home” which was passed on to me through the graciousness of Mr. Simmank. I did not find any by the name of Schuetz. Ancestors of my mother, Albert in Rachlau, are among the Australian Wends. Only the ancestors of my daughter-in-law, Prochno in Rackel, are identified in the list.

I did not think that my letter would be this long. I hope that you did not regret the time it took to read it. I wish for you now a good year with splendid health and lots of pleasure.


Theodor Schuetze


Herrn Theodor Schütze den 20 März, 1979

DDR 8603


Sehr geehrte Herr Schütze,

Zuerst, möchte ich Ihnen recht herzlich danken für Ihren Brief von 14.1.1979. Sie können es kaum glauben wie erfreut ich war als ich Ihren Brief bekam. Haben Sie mein allerherzlichen Dank für die Übersetzung die Sie für mich angefertigt haben. Ich bin so sehr froh darüber. Es ist für mich eine Ehre dass Sie mir die Leichenpredigt übersetzt haben, weil jetzt weiss ich das alles in Richtigkeit übersetzt ist.

Unser Plan für das 125ste Jubiläum der Sorbische Einwanderung besteht noch. Wenn alles nach unser Plan geht, werden wir eine Fest an 24 Juni, 1979, feiern. Da werden wire in grosses Picnic haben. Auch werden wir einen dreisprächigen Gottesdienst haben (Englisch, Deutsch, Sorbisch). Leider gibt es nur einen Pastor der auf sorbisch predigen kann. Mehr schade ist es dass nur noch wenige Leute fliessend sorbisch sprechen können. Wir werden auch einen Film zeigen über Serbin und der sorbischen Einwanderung. Es wird sehr nett sein und ich sehe schon der Feier mit Freuden entgegen. Noch schöner würde es sein wenn Sie auch hier sein könnten. Ich möchte Sie gerne persönlich kennen lernen.

Ich lege einige Fotos und Ansichtskarten bei. Ein Foto ist von der Innenseite der Kirche zu Serbin. Die Kirche wurde zwischen 1867-1871 erbaut. Ein Foto ist von Herrn Pastor Jan Kilian. Zwei Fotos sind von der Glocke der Sorben die sie von Deutschland mitgebracht hatten und die ihnen bis 1915 gedient hat. Auf der einen Seite der Glocke steht folgendes eingeschrieben: “ Gottes Wort und Luther’s Lehr’ , vergehet nun und nimmermehr”. Auf der anderen Seite steht: “ Gegossen von Fr. Gruhl in Kleinwelke, 1854”. Die Ansichtskarten sind etliche Landschaftsbilder in Texas und besonders auch in San Antonio, Texas, wo ich wohne.

Herr Schütze, haben Sie von dem “Lebenswecker” gehört? Der Lebenswecker war eine Volksmedizin. Er wurde hier in Texas oft bei den Sorben benutzt. Die Sorben hatten er mitgebracht aus Deutschland. Er ist ein Apparat welcher ungefähr acht Zoll lang ist. An einem Ende gibt es ungefähr dreizig kleine Nadeln. Innenseits des Griffs ist ein Sprungfeder. Mann zieht den Griff, läs es los, und die Nadeln stechen die Haut. Dann reibt mann etwas “Lebenswecker Öl” in die Wunde und dann war alles fertig. Vielleicht war dies ein Vorgänger der Akupunktur. Ich möchte auch fragen ob sie von “Das Siebente Buch Moses” gehört haben. Mann sah es an als Hexenbuch. Die Sorben in Texas waren früher sehr abergläubisch.

Ich muss für heute schliessen. Noch tausendmal Dank für Ihre Freundlichkeit.

Mit freundlichen Grüssen,

David Goeke


Mr. Theodor Schuetze, 20 March 1979

DDR 8603


Very honored Mr. Schuetze,

First of all, I wish to thank you from my heart for your letter of January 14, 1979. You can hardly imagine how delighted I was when I receive your letter. Please accept my heartfelt thanks for the translation that you did for me. I’m extremely pleased about it. It is an honor for me that you translated the burial sermon as I now know that it was done correctly.

Our plans to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the Sorbian emigration is still on schedule. If everything proceeds according to plan, the event will be celebrated on the 24th of June, 1979. We will feature a large picnic gathering and intend to have religious service in three languages (English, German Sorbian). Regretfully, there is only one pastor who is able to preach in Sorbian. And it is even sadder that very few people are still capable of speaking fluently in the Sorbian language. We will also be showing a film about Serbin and the emigration of the Sorbs. It will be enjoyable and I am looking forward to the festivities among friends. It would be even nicer if you could be with us. I would love to get to know you, in person.

I am enclosing a few photos and picture postcards. One photo shows the inside of the church at Serbin. The church was built between the years 1867-1871. Another photo is of Pastor Jan Kilian. Two pictures are of the bell which the Sorbs brought with them from Germany. The following inscription appears on one side of the bell: “God’s Word and Luther’s teaching, will not wane now or evermore”. On the other side it is written: “Cast by Fr. Gruhl in Kleinwelke, 1854”. The picture postcards depict some rural locations in Texas and, especially, also San Antonio, Texas, where I reside.

Mr. Schuetze, have you heard of “Lebenswecker” (that which awakens life)? The Lebenswecker was a folk medical procedure. It was frequently used by the Sorbs in Texas who had brought it with them from Germany. It is a device about 8 inches long. There are some 30 small needles on one end. A spring is located inside the handle. The tension is released as one pulls on the handle and the needles penetrate skin. Lebenswecker oil was then rubbed into the wound which concluded the operation. Might that have been the precursor of acupuncture? Might I also ask if you have heard of “The Seventh Book of Moses“? It was considered a witching book. The Sorbs were very superstitious.

I will have to close for today. Again, a thousand thanks for your friendliness.

With friendly greetings,

David Goeke