Remembering Dr. Joe Wilson

The obituary written by George Boerger first appeared in the October 2018 edition of the Texas Wendish Heritage Society Newsletter.

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Dr. Joe Wilson made incredible contributions to uncovering our Wendish history, a story he discovered through his Wendish bride, Adele Herbrich. Our paths crossed in 1986 when Weldon Mersiovsky pointed me in Dr. Wilson’s direction for help in my own family research. He was a help to me over the years and a wonderful person. Having great respect and esteem for him, I always referred to him as Dr. Wilson, even though I counted him as a friend.

Joe never sought the spot light. He was much happier researching and writing than mingling with large crowds of people. St. Paul Lutheran congregation welcomed Dr. Wilson’s expertise as he took on the task of translating birth, baptismal, confirmation and death records recorded by Rev. Jan Kilian and Kilian’s son, Rev. Herman Kilian. St. Paul members had as much respect for him as he had for them. It was a cherished relationship that lasted for decades and spanning three pastors.

Joe learned Wendish but it was probably only his fifth language. He studied French in college and in 2005, when he met my wife, he immediately spoke French to her. My wife commented that it was the way French was spoken around 1900 and he spoke it well. It had been more than 50 years since he studied the language in college, yet he retained it exactly. How is that possible?

One of Joe’s earlier and largest projects was translating from the old German script to English the baptismal records recorded by Rev. Jan Kilian. Kilian’s records were descriptive and meticulous, but so was Dr. Wilson. With a little help from a graduate student assistant, the records were translated word-by-word and phrase by phrase. Everything was proofed and reproofed, as Dr. Wilson wanted no errors. The result of this work was a book that has become the foundation of family research for many people of Wendish descent. Wilson’s quest for perfection has been immensely beneficial to users of the translated records.

In translating Kilian’s death records, it was a challenge to accurately translate cause of death because terms used in the 1800s were quite different to modern-day medical terms. But Dr. Wilson researched and deciphered Kilian’s words.

In the early 1990s, computers were not what they are today. While Joe employed the latest technology, the index was still prepared by hand, and that in itself was a major undertaking. There are several thousand entries of names including the baptized children, the parents, and the witnesses/sponsors/godparents. As an example of the challenges he faced with his translation project, the index lists six different Johann Noack’s, a Johann Ernst Noack, two Johann Hermann Noack’s, and a Paul Noack whose first name – Johann – was not recorded in the baptismal record. As anyone who has researched his/her Wendish ancestors has learned, the Wends often went by their middle name, and just as often their first and middle names would be reversed in records. Can you imagine figuring out if this is Johann Noack #3 or an additional Johann Noack? There were also seven Maria Noack’s! It would be enough to give me a headache!

Dr. Wilson was one of the great pioneers of research on our Wendish ancestors. While he is no longer with us, his work will outlast us all.

George Boerger

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Regarding Rev Eldor Mickan and Other Things

The following is an email conversation between Charles Wukasch and Dave Goeke about Eldor Mickan and other things following the announcement that Eldor Mickan had died.

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Announcement: Rev. Eldor Mickan (Emeritus, Bulverde), grandfather of Rev. Paul Goeke (CrossPoint, Katy), Rev. Aaron Goeke (Messiah, Boerne) and Rev. Tab Ottmers (Immanuel, Fairview), was called home to Jesus, September 17, 2018 at the age of 101.

Visitation was held Friday, September 21, 5-8:00 pm at Mission Park Stone Oak Funeral Home, 23645 US Highway 281N, San Antonio, TX 78258. His memorial service was Saturday, September 22, 11 am, at Cross Lutheran Church, 2171 E Common, New Braunfels, 78130. A reception followed the service at St. Paul Lutheran Church, 29797 US Highway 281, Bulverde, TX 78163

We remember Maria and their extended family in prayer, and celebrate the victory we all have in Jesus.

David Goeke: I knew Eldor Mickan very, very well. You see, he was my former father-in-law. In point of fact, however, I still consider him my father-in-law to this day…and always will. I owe him a GREAT debt of gratitude not only for being an exemplary Christian father-in-law, but also for having been a remarkable colleague, having served in the same congregation with him for some 14 years. I shall miss him greatly, but am rejoicing that he now stands in the presence of Jesus, his Savior. Eldor was proud of being Wendish. His grandfather, Johann Mickan, came to Texas in the 1860’s as I recall. His mother, Theresa Zoch, was descended from Johann Zoch, one of the original immigrants in 1854. Eldor was a man used by God to impact the lives of many. After graduating from Concordia Seminary, Springfield, he was called to serve as a missionary to Argentina. He learned to speak fluent Spanish. This is remarkable because he already spoke fluent German (having been raised with that language in Copperas Cove, Texas), and, naturally, he spoke fluent English. He married in Argentina to a German girl who had moved from Germany to there with her parents. After a few years, he was called to serve a Lutheran congregation in Alice, Texas. Finally, he was called to serve Mt. Olive Lutheran in San Antonio, where he served for 29 years. He then served at Trinity Lutheran in Corpus Christi. After retiring in Kingsland, Eldor and his wife, Maria, began a Bible study in their home. From that small Bible study was born Genesis Lutheran in Kingsland. Eldor could preach just as easily in Spanish and German as he could in English. He was a humble man….and a giant servant of God.

Charles Wukasch: I recall that Mrs. Koepsell, the wife of one of my teachers, and the principal of, at Trinity Lutheran School in Austin (the school burned down several decades ago and the church didn’t reinstitute it) was a Mickan.

David Goeke: Charles, you made mention of Arnold Koepsell. It may be of interest to you to know that his wife, Lorine, was a first cousin to Eldor Mickan. And like you, Mr. Koepsell was also my teacher. What is really an odd twist, however, is the fact that Mr. Koepsell was also Eldor Mickan’s elementary school teacher in Copperas Cove, Texas. So, when Eldor and I worked with each other in San Antonio, we could truthfully tell folks that we both had the same teacher in elementary school. That wouldn’t be altogether odd except for the fact that Eldor was 31 years older than I.

Speaking of Mr. Koepsell, I had the great honor of serving as one of the pallbearers at his funeral. What a blessing. And, Eldor Mickan preached his funeral sermon. I did an audio interview with Mr. Koepsell prior to his death. Just a remarkable man! His very first call was to Copperas Cove, Texas, as THE teacher and principal, grades 1-8, and the church organist….not to mention having to start the fire in the wood stove in both the school and the church in the winter. His starting salary was $400.00 a year, but when the District President learned of this, he appealed to the congregation on behalf of Mr. Koepsell and the congregation raised the salary to $700.00 per year. Oh, and lest we forget, Koepsell got some “perks.” His final call (handwritten in German), after offering the $700.00 per year reads as follows: “Wasser, nebst Feuerung und Futter für das nötige Vieh,” which being translated means “water, heat (meaning wood for the stove), and feed for the necessary cattle.

Charles Wukasch: Yes, I was at the service and remember Rev. Mickan’s sermon. I also sadly remember that I had dropped by University Lutheran Church over in the UT campus area. I mentioned to Mrs. Born (Rev. Born’s wife – she served as his administrative assistant) that someday I’d look up Mr. Koepsell and say hello. She said, “You’d better make it quick – he’s in the hospital with cancer.” That same day, or maybe the next – I can’t recall all the details, I did go over to visit him. We just had a short talk since he was in his final days. He passed away a couple of days later.

Moral of story – Never put off visiting with loved ones, friends, colleagues, etc. As Grandma Wukasch (née Hannusch) used to say, “Tomorrow never comes.”

Dave Goeke: Back to Eldor, I’ve known few men like him. I remember him telling me once, “David, you have the gift of preaching. I have to work at it.” Well, this was one time when he was clearly wrong. His messages always properly distinguished between Law and Gospel…and believe me, he so stressed the Gospel. He led many people to Jesus. He was a man whose private life and public life were the same. I spent hours and hours with him and can say that without question.

Charles Wukasch: On my maternal (non-Wendish) side, my grandmother told me about an interesting tradition some churches had to help out the pastor. It was called “pounding the preacher.” I don’t know if it was once a year, or how often, but the largely rural congregation would bring the pastor and his family a pound of something: sausage, vegetables, etc. A pound of eggs? LOL

I’m sure many people brought more than a pound.

I also remember someone telling me that in Concordia’s early days, farmers in the Austin area would donate food items, like a big sack of potatoes, a number of links of sausage, etc. to help out the school. I imagine those hungry teenage boys appreciated that! Teenage boys are always hungry. Believe it or not, I was once a teenage boy.

Dave Goeke: Ich wünsche euch alles Gute…und seid Ihr alle Gott befohlen. (I wish you all the best…and for  you to be commended to God.)

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Eugene Wukasch, Texas Architect

It has been many years since I visited the church, but curiously just this past Friday [28 April 2017] my wife and I were driving from Houston to Austin on Highway 290 and I saw the sign to Serbin. It was the first time that I had been on 290 in I don’t know how long. Naturally I thought of my poem, and now here you are asking for permission to reprint it. You are certainly welcome to do so. You may know that it was reprinted once before in Texas Co-op Power in 2002. Thank you for contacting my publisher. I might mention that I saw the church because my late friend Gene Wukasch of Austin invited me to drive out to Serbin with him. It was a wonderful experience. All the best, Dave Oliphant

Eugene Wukasch, Texas Architect

by Dave Oliphant

 

Seton Hospital coming down:

photos he took tell the story

of steel girders & cement walls

crumbled. doubled, pounded to dust-

collapsed windows, where twilight rays

floated motes over janitored floors,

his mother rolled from delivery

to a maternity ward & the further relief of sleep.

Knows the blueprints, the materials,

how substantial they were,

in their way strong as the memory.

Why were they not reused, remembered?

Speaking with quiet rage

of the waste, of energy expended,

of the halls held those hours

where & when he entered the State,

a tear forms in his foreign eye,

streams down his Austin cheek:

Damn it, I was born there!”

Texan, yes, as any,

though by name & blood a Wend,

his Spreewald, his Slavic race

poling their boats like gondoliers,

laden with cabbage & engravings

of the very scene he paints.

His tale, mortar to our luncheon talk,

glides us through those shadowy waters,

disappears us down basement plumbing,

into her screams at his coming

on a table splintered to smithereens,

the vacant block for sale,

its sidewalks still intact

outlining the emptiness of weeds,

the trees, spreading elms, rooted yet,

though reaching about as exiles

missing landmarks on childhood maps,

the pale smear down to his mouth

seeking a forgotten Sorbian word

would house the lumber of loss.

(1977)

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Serbin

Dave Oliphant’s poem, “Serbin,” is included in a book of his poems, titled Memories of Texas Towns and Cities. ISBN: 978-0-924047. It was copyrighted and published in 2000 by HOST Publications, Inc, 3507 North Lamar Blvd, P. O. Box 302920, Austin, TX 78703. Oliphant began Memories of Texas Towns and Cities in the autumn of 1974 and finished it 25 years later in the fall of 1999. This is one of over 25 books of poetry Dave has published. James B. Hall in New Letters says, “Dave Oliphant is probably the most broadly gifted poet in Texas.” – Ray Spitzenberger

Serbin

by Dave Oliphant

 

the doors to its church

remain unlocked

whose ceiling is

a celestial blue

electric its chandelier

since lamps emptied of

the kerosene

they used to use

suspended from

a twelve-foot cord

halfway up or down

a white golden-winged dove

its tail feathers all agleam

flies to yet never arrives

at the pulpit level with a

second floor looks down upon

the heads all bowed in prayer

or lifted in song but above &

behind them can never see the ringed

eight-foot pipes blue gold & white

of their sanctuary’s organ built

by those like the one last Wend

leads the singing still

who came to find

a place to worship & found it here

who brought with them

their 1574 hymnal with

its notes all diamond-stemmed

for their services beneath

their trim bell tower

with its white tin siding

& its weather vane yet soaring

children learning fifty hymns

to retain the Wendish tongue

to restore antiphonal song

the ties between Christ & soul

on square white pillars stenciled leaves

impressed in orange patterns

with their painted black designs

of circles & featherings

the marble-like swirls echoing

the organist’s schwissenspiels

weavings around the held whole notes

Bach fussed at for writing those

inherited by these from Gerhard Kilian

he the great practitioner

of that Leipzig-born tradition

of slurs & passing tones

a version of the almighty ground

right out of Mendelssohn’s Fifth

a sound as if of morning’s light

shining through the winter fog

on their trip from Liverpool

had survived the cholera

as through their Singing Society

had too their “Spinning Wheel”

& though it spun for a while

it turns no more

here or elsewhere

as it did before

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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

 

BY BOB CONNOR

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.

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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

https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theodor_Sch%C3%BCtze

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

To

Mr. David I. Goeke

110 Morning Valley

San Antonio, Texas 78227

USA

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.

Your

Theodor Schuetze

An

Herrn Theodor Schütze den 20 März, 1979

DDR 8603

Grosspostwitz

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

To

Mr. Theodor Schuetze, 20 March 1979

DDR 8603

Grosspostwitz

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

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Folk Customs Preserve Wend’s Hard-won Ethnic Identity

This article by Carlos Vidal Greth first appeared in the Lifestyles section of the Austin American-Statesman on Friday, May 26, 1989. it was a secondary story to The Way of the Wendish. Photos were done by Taylor Johnson.

The Wends, who moved to Texas in part to preserve their ethnic identity, hold dear the remaining folk practices:

•           Easter-egg decoration – elevated to an art form – is practiced by craftsmen In East Germany and Central Texas (photo at right). The decorators inscribe elaborate designs on empty eggshells with a stylus dipped in hot beeswax. After the wax hardens, the eggs are boiled in dye. When the wax is scraped off, white designs are revealed on the brightly colored shells.

•           Another tradition is the gathering of the “Easter water” by older girls in a community. Early in the morning of the holiday, they go silently to the creek and fill pails with water. At daybreak, they “baptize” the livestock and the sleeping household – often to angry yowls – to ensure good luck for the year.

•           The birds’ wedding takes place Jan. 25, when children place empty saucers outside, often on fenceposts out of the reach of dogs and cats. When the children awaken the next morning, they find the dishes filled with candy supposedly left by birds. Parents say that the birds were celebrating their wedding and wanted to share their gifts with human neighbors.

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The Way Of The Wendish – Serbin Home For Traditions Of Ancestors

This article by Carlos Vidal Greth first appeared in the Lifestyles section of the Austin American-Statesman on Friday, May 26, 1989. Photos were done by Taylor Johnson.

NB: The 1853 voyage of the Reform that shipwrecked off of the coast of Cuba did not stay in Cuba long enough for anyone to be required to work in the fields to earn passage to America. The voyage from Cuba to New Orleans was financed by the German Society of New Orleans.

The Way of the Wendish

 Serbin Home for Traditions of Ancestors

            SERBIN – Norbert Groeschel, school and church custodian, performs some of the humblest tasks in Serbin.

            Yet as a great-grandson of the founders of the Wendish community, he is one of the proudest fellows in town.

            “The first pastor of St. Paul married a Groeschel,” he said, his ice-blue eyes alight with ancestral memory. “This is more than a church and a school. For Texan Wends, Serbin is home base.”

            The annual Serbin Picnic on Sunday, a reunion of Wends from around the world, will provide ample proof that this quiet hamlet between Bastrop and Giddings embodies Wendish-American soul.

            The Wends are Slavic immigrants to Texas from Lusatia, an area that included parts of Saxony and Prussia. The modern Wendish homeland occupies the southeastern corner of East Germany near the border of Czechoslovakia.

            Although a few families immigrated to Texas in 1852 and 1853, a group of more than 500 Wends arrived in 1854 to found a homeland in what is now Lee County. They were joined throughout the 19th century by others who eventually formed colonies in Austin, Houston, Port Arthur and the Rio Grande Valley.

            But it is tiny, pastoral Serbin – little more than a church, school, museum and cemetery – that most completely encompasses the Wendish immigrant experience – its faith, spirit, past and future.

            Serbin life orbits around 118- year-old St. Paul, the first Lutheran-Missouri Synod church in Texas and the mother church of Wends in America.

            As austere as its pious name sake on the outside, the church interior glows with fanciful stencils on the ceilings, pillars painted with feathers to resemble marble and what locals proclaim is the highest pulpit in Texas.

            Norbert Groeschel tells weekday visitors that ushers have to provide folding chairs most Sundays to accommodate crowds.

            From the beginning, the honest Christians who peopled the pews of St. Paul have been a hearty lot with a lust for life.

            Church rules posted in Serbin stores in 1866, for example, established some ground rules at St. Paul: Gentlemen are forbidden to wear hats, chew or smoke tobacco, or pack 6-guns in the church.

            The Rev. Paul Hartfield finds his Wendish flock as lively as it was in frontier days. Which isn’t surprising, considering that a stroll through the picturesque Serbin cemetery reveals on the hoariest tombstones names that appear among the congregation today.

            “Martin Luther, who married a Wend, wouldn’t have dreamed of having a picnic without beer,” Hartfield said, chuckling. “He would have approved of the Serbin Picnic. He liked to have a good time. Maybe that’s why Lutherans are so fun-loving.”

            And Wendish Lutherans love sharing their unique story with visitors.

            Laura Zoch, 81, doesn’t need much of an excuse to slip into traditional Wendish costume for visitors. Her face creases in pleasure as she shows off a hand-embroidered scarf.

            “In Europe, each Wendish community had its own distinctive dress,” she said. “Now Serbin has its own.”

            People such as Zoch and Gloria Mae Gersch represent living treasures more precious than anything under glass in the local museum.

            “Wends are so hard-headed,” said Gersch, 64. “We do things our way. That’s why the old ways remain. For instance, Wendish farmers were suspicious of tractors when they first saw them. Life, they figured, shouldn’t be so easy.”

            And Wends, Gersch said, are a superstitious bunch.

            She recalled that when she was growing up, a pickled plum or a penny set in a person’s navel was a folk remedy commonly prescribed for upset stomachs.

            Gersch also remembered that in her youth, people spoke of witches and miracles as if they were real. But belief in supernatural powers and alternative healing systems is not extinct.

            “It used to be I could read the future in coffee grounds,” she said. “I could find my cousin’s stray cattle and my mother’s lost hat. But I’m out of practice.”

            Zoch and Gersch belong to the Texas Wendish Heritage Society, which has 400 members in the United States, Germany and Australia. The organization runs a museum that houses the chronicle of a fascinating people.

            Rachel Schatte, a teacher at the 80-student St. Paul Lutheran School, has witnessed an interest in Wendish history develop among her charges.

            “They see people coming from Austin and Houston to 1ittle Serbin and realize they must have something special,” said Schatte, 25.

            “It is special being Wendish and knowing that though your ancestors were persecuted, they came to a new land with few essentials and succeeded.”

            According to Sylvia Ann Grider’s The Wendish Texans (The University of Texas Institute of Texan Cultures, 1982), Wends come from a group of Slavic tribes who occupied central Europe in the 10th century.

            By the 1800s, however, the group had been decimated by war and cultural assimilation. During that period the Wends were exploited and harassed by the Prussians, who insisted that they speak German.

            Perhaps the most intolerable imposition was the Prussian demand that the Lutheran Wends join Evangelical Reform churches in the Prussian-regulated Protestant body.

            Seeking religious freedom, Wends fled to Australia and America.

            A group of 35 emigrated from Prussia in 1853. Among them were Christoph and Maria Krause the ancestors of Laverne Gersch, vice president of the Texas Wendish Heritage Society.

            “The Wends were shipwrecked near Cuba and lost all their possessions,” Gersch said. Everyone was supposed to cut sugar cane in the fields to earn passage to Galveston. But Maria was pregnant and unable to do the heavy work so she learned to roll cigars.”

            Gersh smiled.

            “I never heard of her smoking a single one. Later that year, they saved enough to come to Texas.”

            The largest group to migrate to the New World chose as their Moses the Rev. Johann Kilian, a scholar and writer.

            “Most immigrants came to the United States for adventure or economic reasons,” said the Rev. Hartfield. “The Wends chose a pastor before they left Europe. They made a religious commitment that remains strong today.

            “We are still in contact with the congregation where Kilian was pastor in Klitten, East Germany. St. Paul is a model of their church.”

            Evelyn Kasper, who runs a ranching and trucking operation near Serbin with her husband Arnold, expressed local admiration for the early religious leader.

            “We still talk about him as though he were alive today,” she said.

            Kilian is remembered in Austin with a hall named for him at Concordia Lutheran College.

             1854, Kilian led 558 Wends to Liverpool, England, where they boarded the three-masted ship, Ben Nevis. Cholera killed 59 on the voyage to Galveston.

            The survivors traveled by ox­carts north to the banks of Rabbs Creek in Lee County. It was a hard January. The Wends lived in brutal conditions until permanent homes could be built.

            But the people clung to a vision of Serbin as the capital of a new “Wendenland.” It would be a place where they could worship as they pleased and continue their Wendish language – closely related to Polish and Czech.

            The irony is that in their effort to establish a colony to preserve their ways, the Wends lost them because of the harsh realities of the frontier.

            Today only a handful of people in the United States speak Wendish, though pockets of Wends in Europe keep the language alive.

            “Our language was one of the biggest things that separated us from the Germans, both in Europe and Texas,” Evelyn Kasper said. “But soon after arriving, our ancestors intermarried with the Texas Germans. We lost our identity faster here than we would have in Germany.”

            Still, the Wends have made a special contribution to Texas history and economy.

            “We are a hard-working people,” Kasper said. “Look at these hands covered with dewberry stains and barbed-wire scratches. One minute I’m a lady. The next I’m a cowhand. But this country is worth any sacrifice.”

            The annual Serbin Picnic starts at 10 a.m. and ends at dark on the common grounds across from the Texas Wendish Heritage Museum on Sunday. Pit barbecue – which sells out fast – will be sold by the pound, as well as other dishes, beer and soft drinks. Visitors are advised to bring picnic tables and chairs. Handicraft and toy booths will offer souvenirs of the Wendish festival. Selected bands play oompah and other kinds of music. The picnic is free.

            The Texas Wendish Heritage Museum is open 1-5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. To get there: Take US. 290 east from Austin toward Houston. Tum south or right on FM 2104 and east or left on FM 2239 into Serbin. Admission is $5 and donations are welcome. For information, call (979) 366-2441.

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The Pioneers Own an Iron Will by Emilie Goldapp

This is a newspaper article[1] found in a box in the vault that had held Daphne Garrett’s working files. Daphne had a sticky note on it indicating that copies of the article were to be filed in the vertical file under “Simmang,” “1854 Immigration” and “1853 Immigration.” Brackets within the text indicate handwritten notes written on the article. At the bottom of a photocopy was a business card with the name Wilbur L. Simank, Stillwater OK. Wilbur was a son of Edmund William Simank who died in 1970 and whose initials, EWS, appear at the bottom of the article.

Many thanks to Rox Ann Johnson of LaGrange for cracking the puzzle. All we have to do now is find the German language newspaper that the article was originally in. It was not the Giddings Deutsches Volksblatt.



[1] The newspaper was published about 1935. That was the year that Friedrike Bartling Simank was 85 years old. (Rox Ann Johnson)

The Pioneers Own an Iron Will.

From Alice, Texas[1]

            Here is another old settler who died, Mr. Lynn.[2] He was a widower for a long time and lost a son during the war. Several children survive him.[3]

            Ms. Minna Riedel is seriously ill in Yorktown Hospital.[4]

            Earlier this year, in the Free Press for Texas, we read that Mrs. Simang was celebrating her 85th birthday.[5]

            Two years ago at the same time we went to Nelsonville[6] to visit our father, so we stopped at Mrs. Simang’s to see how she was. To our horror we were told that she was hopelessly ill, so we did not bother ourselves any further.

            When we arrived at our father’s we found the same healthy and still quite fit, he was more like a 50 year old than 97 years old.[7] In the spring he lay down and in the summer he died and Mrs. Simang celebrated her birthday again this year.

            That’s the last one. She married a son from the families who emigrated from Saxony.[8] All three of them were relatives, Simangs, Warnaschs and Roeslers. [to Texas 1854][9]

            Uncle Simang[10] first emigrated, then the other two families followed on a small sailing ship.[11] The journey took 9 weeks. Everything had to be nailed down because the ship was swinging so severely. The passengers suffered much with seasickness.

            When the wind was calm and the sea was as smooth as glass and the ship was standing still, the passengers were plagued by lonely boredom and homesickness and sang to each other. The women cried and wanted to walk back if they could. Then the captain wished again for wind, which came soon and they became ill again.

            Finally they arrived in Galveston. From Galveston they went to Houston. There the ox carts were ready and we loaded them well with bag and pack. Their destination was to Fayette County, Cummins Creek. That probably took another week. I can still remember how my uncle[12] described the journey to us kids, how slow it was and how dull the area was.

            At last a house became visible and a man stepped out of it and shouted: “Compatriots, stop by, make lunch with us.” This was our first invitation in America, which we were very happy about and accepted with thanks. The man’s name Laas[13] and lived on the square, which was later called Garlin’s place.[14]

            We went on after the meal. We crossed Cummins Creek and soon saw our uncle’s home.[15] From a distance we saw a man sleeping under a tree. As we approached, we saw a mill where corn was ground. From this bread was baked.

            Who wants to eat such bread today? The poorest beggar could not get it down.

            Wheat flour was non-existent. Fortunately, they had brought rye seeds and they planted this, which flourished very well. Then the bread got better. Meat was never lacking. When they needed it, they rode into the woods, shooting a deer or turkey. But salt was nonexistent. They never complained about Indians, nor about depression. [to Texas 9 Sept 1854.[16] Papa[17] was 16 years old when parents came to Texas.]

            Then the war broke out; and it got even worse. The boys should all leave (not all went). My dad[18] has told of some who hid. From a family, the three oldest sons should go to war. The father was sickly and the mother had died the year before. So one of the boys hid. He dug a pit, holding himself bent in it by day, and working in the field at night when it was light. When it was dark in the house, he tanned leather and made and mended shoes.

            When the pension came later, he should also have received some. His name was probably on the list. Was he entitled to do so?

            The stuff the travelers brought along was all they had and they could not buy anything; because it was so expensive and they had very little money. So the women had to produce their spinning wheels and looms (who had brought one and made stuff, dyed it with a variety of weeds, which grew on sandy soil at Beeville.) Indigo was called …

            When the war was over, it got better; but only for those, where the man came home again. Many stayed away and never came back. These were hard times for the farmers. At that time everything had to be worked by hand plowing and a wooden harrow when there was no machinery.

            It should also be noted that all have reached an advanced age, despite having suffered such hardships, and were spared severe illnesses and settled all around in a radius of 10-20 miles and are also buried there. [Especially Good. – EWS. 2/7/55][19]

E. Goldapp[20]



[1] Alice, Jim Wells County, Texas. (Weldon Mersiovsky)

[2] Most likely Belford Johnson Lynn, a widower, born 23 Feb 1857 in Iowa, died 12 Feb 1935 in Alice, Jim Wells County, Texas. Wife was Martha Josephine Diltz who died in 1904 in Iowa. (Weldon Mersiovsky)

[3] The Lynns had 5 children, 4 sons. William, Robert, John and James, and a daughter, Luella. James died of bronchial pneumonia and influenza on 17 Nov 1918, during WWI.

[4] Wilhelmina Riedel died 13 December 1954 in Yorktown, Texas. (Weldon Mersiovsky)

[5] Friedrike Bartling Simank was born on 1 Jan 1850 in Germany and died 7 Jan 1937 in Fayetteville, Texas. Her 85th birthday would have been in early 1935. (Weldon Mersiovsky)

[6] Nelsonville is an unincorporated community in Austin County, Texas. (Weldon Mersiovsky)

[7] Her father was Frederick “August” Roesler, 23 Jan 1836 – 20 Jul 1933, buried at the Scranton Grove Cemetery in Austin County. (Rox Ann Johnson)

[8] She married Herman Ernst Simank (Ben Nevis family #70) on 30 Aug 1869. They had eleven children. Herman Ernst’s mother was Johanna Magdalena Rössler. (Weldon Mersiovsky)

[9] The handwritten note denotes the year that the Simangs came to Texas on the Ben Nevis. (Weldon Mersiovsky)

[10] Herman Ernst Simank, 20 Sep 1836 – 28 Jan 1925. (Weldon Mersiovsky)

[11] The Warnasch’s from Maltitz and two Rössler families from Lawalde migrated on the bark SS Anton Günther in 1860. (Geue) A bark is a 3-5 masted small sailing ship. (Weldon Mersiovsky)

[12] Quite possibly Uncle Herman Ernst Simang but it could also be another uncle. (Weldon Mersiovsky)

[13] Most likely Gottfried Laas who migrated on the Weser in 1858 to Fayette County. (Geue) (Weldon Mersiovsky)

[14] I have been a little confused since first reading the article about which square she was talking about near Cummins Creek: Round Top or Fayetteville are the only real squares nearby. There was a Laas family near Shelby and also in the general Fayetteville area, but the only Garlins were right around Willow Springs and had the store there for a while. I was under the impression that the Simanks were in the general vicinity of Rek Hill. All these places are near Cummins Creek, but only Round Top, Shelby, and Willow Springs are on the east side of Cummins Creek. Perhaps they stopped near Willow Springs and then crossed the creek and Rek Hill is only about a mile farther. (Rox Ann Johnson)

[15] Uncle Herman Ernst Simang. (Weldon Mersiovsky)

[16] 9 Sep 1854 is only one day off from 10 Sep 1854, the date that most of the Ben Nevis group left Hamburg. (Weldon Mersiovsky)

[17] Papa in the handwritten note quite possibly refers to Herman Ernst Simang (Uncle Simang) who was about 16 on the Ben Nevis in 1854. (Weldon Mersiovsky)

[18] August Roessler. (Weldon Mersiovsky)

[19] EWS is Edmund Wilhelm Simank, one of the children of Herman Ernst and Friedericka née Bartling Simank. (Weldon Mersiovsky)

[20] The narrator is Emilie Roesler Goldapp. She married Fritz Goldapp and one of their babies was buried in the Pagel Cemetery at Willow Springs. (Rox Ann Johnson)

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Memories of Kito Lorenc by Peter Barker

The following is a short piece that Dr. Peter Barker wrote about the Sorbian poet, Kito Lorenc after his death last year. The fact that he was born in Schleife came back to him while he was translating Wendische Volkstum (Wendish Folklore) by Willibald von Schulenburg for the Wendish Research Exchange of the Texas Wendish Heritage Society. A Sorbian version of this piece was published in the December 2017 edition of Rozhlad.

Memories of Kito Lorenc

I first met Kito Lorenc in March/April 1990 when on a research visit to the University of Leipzig. It was an exciting time politically and I was delighted when Kito accepted an invitation to come to the UK and give some readings at a number of universities, which he did in 1991. He enjoyed in particular a visit to Gregynog, a conference centre in the countryside of North Wales, where he presented his recently written essay, “Die Insel schluckt das Meer”, to a group of Germanistik students and staff from the various colleges of the University of Wales, which finished with a lively discussion about bi- and interculturality. For several summers after that he came with his family to the Welsh coast where he rented a cottage in a bilingual area and also visited us in our Welsh cottage. He was fascinated to experience directly an area, where the minority language had been able to grow significantly, over the whole of Wales to over half a million mother-tongue speakers in the census of 2001, about 20% of the population, with only the border area with England, the Welsh Marches, and parts of South Wales remaining for the large part monolingual.

From that time onwards I visited Kito and his family in his rural paradise of Wuischke and watched with great interest his advocacy of minority cultures and writers exploiting the productive possibilities of bilingualism in its relationship with the majority language. His play Die wendische Schiffahrt, which was premiered in Bautzen in 1994, is suffused with water images, which emphasize the possibilities of fluidity, whereby both cultures can reach the “Neuwasser” of mutual cross-enrichment. Implicit here is a critique of forms of nationalism, which seek to create barriers between cultures, a view, which was not uncontroversial in the Sorbian context. But he argued that linguistic exclusiveness was no longer possible, and the bilingual writer has here a great advantage, able to exploit the frontiers between the two languages.

I shall miss Kito’s somewhat wicked humour and his intense interest in language and the relationship between different cultures and languages. I was very pleased that I was able to witness the conferring of an Honorary PhD degree at the University of Dresden in 2008, which represented well-deserved recognition of his great achievements as a bilingual poet and his immense contribution to the study of language, in particular in relation to Sorbian.

Peter Barker

London

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