An Enormous Contribution From A Minority Lutheran Church Community In Europe That Deserves Appreciation.

This article by Dr David Zersen was delivered as a conference paper in various formats as a draft for the Foreword to Five Centuries: The Wends and the Reformation. David Zersen, Managing Editor of Concordia University Press.

In recent years, I’ve had several occasions to reflect on the significant impact that minority cultures have had on majority ones. One occasion involved a conference in Werben, Germany at which I was invited to lecture on the impact of the American environment on the Lower Wendish poet, Mato Kosyk. In learning about the work of a fellow lecturer, Dr. Christian Prunitsch, now a professor at the Technical University in Dresden, I came to be fascinated with a website he maintained on minority cultures in Europe. Unknown to most of us are the linguistic and cultural islands that exist, some only marginally, within the borders of larger countries. Representatives of such cultures as the Frisians in Germany, the Sami in northern Scandinavian countries, the Kashubs in Poland and the Basques in Spain struggle to maintain the significant strengths in their heritage.            

Another occasion resulted from a friendship with Dr. Hans Boas, Professor at the University of Texas and Director of the German Dialect Project there. What fascinates me about the latter project is that Dr. Boas is trying to record as many people as possible from those who still speak Texas German, a mixed dialect that results from German immigrants from various parts of Germany settling in Texas and making Central Texas for over fifty years a tri-lingual (Spanish, German, and English) region. The contributions made to food, music, language, architecture and place names by this minority culture are significant, hence the goal to have current speakers of the language tell their stories before the opportunity disappears.

These two experiences influenced my desire to have the tri-lingual (German, Upper and Lower Wendish) text on the relationship between the Wends and the Reformation translated and published for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. On the one hand, Concordia University Texas has a long-standing relationship with the Wendish community of Texas, having been founded in 1926 by thirteen Lutheran congregations in central Texas, the majority membership of which had Wendish ancestry. Concordia still has many students, faculty and staff, who are of Wendish ancestry. With them, Concordia has treasured their love for their ethnic story, their church and their Texas ranches.

Additionally, however, the Wends of Texas came in 1854 to do just what minority groups always seek to do. The words of their spiritual leader, the Rev. Jan Kilian, make that clear: “Preserve good Wends, your father’s ways, the tongue and faith of ancient days.”  To cherish and enforce this hope, the Texas Wendish Heritage Society was founded in 1970 and has provided broad support for educational events, communal gatherings, scholarships for students of Wendish ancestry and financial support for numerous publishing ventures on Wendish subjects, often together with Concordia University Press. This translation and book are significant in that both Concordia University Press and the Texas Wendish Heritage Society are jointly publishing it.

Both entities feel strongly that Five Centuries: The Wends and the Reformation is a significant publishing venture. On the one hand, it is clear that the Wendish community in Lusatia (the historic region of the Wends now within the borders of Germany) wants both to help its constituency value its heritage and to help Germans in general to treasure the gifts that this cultural minority has shared and is capable of sharing with the majority Germany community. On the other hand, this book shares information that has never before been available in English both with people of Wendish descent and also with scholars who have Slavic, historical or theological interests.

The Lutheran communities in the United States, as well as in Australia, know too little of the struggles that a significant Lutheran minority group like the Wends endured as they were suppressed or even persecuted in medieval times or under National Socialism or communism.

The stories told in these chapters about their heroic decisions to demand self-respect as Wends or to cherish their heritage as Lutherans can be appreciated by all readers of these words. The details shared about a lost style of public dress, the way in which education was gradually introduced in a society made literate through the translation of the Bible, and the desire to erect monuments to remember a language and heritage are worth hearing. To those responsible for coordinating this publishing effort bilingually, to the European scholars often unknown to us who shared their research in these chapters, and to the Domowina Verlag, the publishing house that made this book available to us, we owe much gratitude.

The challenges involved in presenting this tri-lingual work to English-speaking audiences were significant. A translator had to be found who understood the contexts and definitions for terms in use over 500 years. Careful attention had to be paid to American orthography and especially the Slavic and German diacritical marks employed in quotations. Additionally, definitions of terms and meanings of organizations had to be requested from knowledgeable people in Europe. Finally, owners of illustrations and those doing reproductions in Europe had to be contacted and paid. This is not a large book, but its importance justifies the challenges that were accepted in order to publish it

Many people deserve thanks for helping to bring this book to English-speaking audiences. The partnership in this project of Weldon Mersiovsky and the Wendish Research Exchange is gratefully acknowledged. The Wendish Research Exchange of The Texas Wendish Heritage Society provided the financial guarantees. Mr. Mersiovsky developed the Index, processed the ordering and acquisition of illustrations used in the book and contacted generous donors whose wholehearted support is gratefully acknowledged. We thank Maria Matschie of the Domowina Verlag for the permission to publish the book and the Wendish Lutheran Superintendent Jan Mahlink for the editorial work that made this research available. Enormous thanks are offered to Trudla Mahling for reviewing much of the translated subject matter that was unfamiliar to us. The excellent proofreading assistance provided by Dr. David Chroust of Texas A&M University was very helpful. The translation work of Dr. Wolf Dietrich Knappe is without peer. Our excellent typographic designer, Eric Mellenbruch, did yeoman’s work as well with orthography, linguistic analysis and proofreading.  Although many people were involved in the entire process, I accept responsibility for the overall design, translation and proofing involved in the publication and will be happy to discuss the project with you now.

Surprise! The Greatest German Hymnist of the Post-Reformation Era Was a Wend.

This article by David Zersen and Eric Mellenbruch first appeared in Serbska Protyka in the Fall 2017.

Click on the following link to see more pictures of Jan Krygar.

The Life and Ministry of Jan Krygar

The most prolific Lutheran composer of chorale tunes following Martin Luther’s Reformation is generally remembered as the German, Johann Crüger. He was, however, baptized on April 9, 1598, as Jan Krygar, in Gross Breesen, a Sorbian village in the Niederlausitz. His father, Georg, ran a prosperous tavern in this small village north of Guben. Difficult as were the times for many who suffered from diseases, burned homes, highway robbery, and the impact of wars, young Jan was able to complete without much trouble his basic education in the Gross Breesen village school and in the Latin school in Guben.  At the age of fifteen, in 1613, he began the typical life of a European wandering student, studying in Sorau, Breslau, Olmütz in Moravia, and, finally, Regensburg, seven-hundred kilometers from home. In Regensburg he began his musical education, studying for a year under Cantor Paulus Homburger, a pupil of Giovanni Gabrieli in Venice, and then continued his peripatetics through Hungary, Moravia, Austria and Saxony. His exposure to various Christian approaches to theology and worship gave a tolerance to his views that helped him in later positions.  At seventeen, he became a tutor for the children of Captain Blumenthal in Berlin, and in the same year he entered the Grayfriars Gymnasium in Berlin to study the foundations necessary for subsequent work in theology. In 1620 he began his studies at the university in Wittenberg, where Luther’s grandson taught and his great-grandson studied. He continued to study music privately while at Wittenberg.

In 1622 he left Wittenberg before graduating and accepted a call to Berlin where he would serve in two capacities, as cantor of St. Nicholas Church, the oldest church in Berlin, and as Music Director of the Grayfriars Gymnasium.  Krygaŕ was twenty-four and would remain in these two positions for 40 years until his death in 1663.

Krygar was responsible for daily worship services at the Gymnasium and for teaching the boys to read and to sing music. He also taught music theory and arithmetic. The position of cantor at St. Nicholas required playing the organ for Sunday worship, as well as for funerals, weddings, baptisms and school events. Krygar experienced numerous personal tragedies during these years. His mother who had been living with his family died in 1632, his wife, Maria Beling, the daughter of the Mayor of Bern, Switzerland, whom he had married in 1628, died in 1636, and ultimately their five children also died. Additionally, both the impact on the economy of the Thirty Year War and of failed crops plus the strife created in Berlin by religious differences among Christians would have depressed anyone. Given Krygar’s very meager salary there was little cause to be positive. Since 1630 he had not written any new tunes, nor had he published anything.

However, somehow, within months after the death of his wife, he met and married Elizabeth Schmidt, a woman half his age at only seventeen years. She was a woman filled with a joi de vivre, a gifted singer, with a positive spirit. Together they had fourteen children. Three years after this marriage, his most creative period began. He collected hymns and began to compose his own. In 1643, he met Paul Gerhard who became his friend and colleague. Later, Gerhard assumed the role of Assistant Pastor at St. Nicholas Church in 1657 and worked there with Krygar until the latter’s death in 1666.

Jan Krygar died on February 23, 1662 and was buried where he had served for forty years, in St. Nicholas Lutheran Church in Berlin. Nothing is known of his wife or his children, or, specifically, whether any of them became musicians after him. For 23 years, the great Wendish tune-smith worked with Paul Gerhard, Krygar setting tunes to Gerhard’s texts. Together they created during this golden era some of the most beloved and enduring hymnody the Christian church has ever known. ‘

The Music of Jan Krygar

Krygar’s musical activities were directly related to his two official positions in Berlin. For the Gymnasium he wrote three substantial educational works: Praecepta musicae figuralis (1625), Synopsis musica (1630, 1634), and Quaestiones musicae practicae (1650). He also, especially in the years 1619–1626 and 1645–1651, wrote motets and other choral works, including sets of both German and Latin Magnificats, which might have been sung either in church or in daily school chapel services. 


Today, however, he is chiefly remembered for his work in another field: Krygar was the most important composer, adapter, and editor of Lutheran hymn-tunes in the seventeenth century. At least seventy tunes are ascribed to him, a number of which are still sung today (Spěwarske za Ewangelskich Serbow contains eleven). And of the several hymnals he compiled and edited, Praxis Pietatis Melica went through no fewer than forty-five editions between 1644 and 1737. 

Part of the enduring popularity of his tunes is due to his association with great hymn-writers such as Paul Gerhardt and Johann Franck, for many of whose texts he wrote music. But Krygar’s work has features of its own that have kept his music a part, not only of Lutheran, but also of other church cultures.

Part of his genius was in fact to draw upon various sixteenth-century Reformation traditions of congregational music – Lutheran, Calvinist, and Bohemian Brethren – as well as the work of earlier seventeenth-century hymn-writers and editors such as Schein, Gesius, and Vulpius. His own tunes were largely a matter of evolution rather than revolution from these traditions and were embedded in hymnals containing much earlier material, so much so that it can be difficult to distinguish absolutely between adaptation and composition in the works attributed to him. Today it is also sometimes easy to forget his debt to earlier material since some of his most enduringly popular melodies show some more modern characteristics.

Very many of his melodies, however, do show the influence of sixteenth-century repertories, perhaps most of all the Genevan Psalm-tunes which were so prevalent in the Berlin of his day and which form a central part of the Psalmodia Sacra (1658) he published at the behest of the Reformed Brandenburg court. He used two simple note values (long and short) almost exclusively, with few more intricate rhythms, and most of his tunes have few large skips. His melodies often show some flexibility or ambiguity between duple and triple meter and make use of some gentle syncopations. Generally, however, they have an easy flow and an underlying sense of metrical regularity. All of these characteristics ally his melodies closely with those of the Genevan Psalter, more so than with the sometimes more angular early Lutheran tunes.

On the other hand, Krygar was working with German-language verse, and he continued to use the bar-form (AAB) phrase-structure so common in German vernacular song. He also wrote some melodies clearly in triple meter with dotted rhythms, and in collections such as the Geistliche Kirchen-Melodien (1649), he was by no means afraid to introduce much more lively and varied rhythms in the accompanying parts written for violins or cornetti.

These simple examples of Italianate concerted music remind that Krygar, despite his debt to the past, was very much a musician of his time, and his hymn-tunes themselves (as did his theoretical textbooks) also show evidence of the changes in music that were taking place. The tunes begin more strongly to emphasize certain tones (especially the first, fourth, and fifth notes of the scale) and to outline triads (chords), and thus to imply particular underlying harmonies. Nor was it necessary to imagine such an accompaniment: his hymnals were printed not only with tunes but also with bass lines and symbols (figures) indicating harmonies. Some of his collections, such as the aforementioned Geistliche Kirchen-Melodien, also had four vocal parts written out, with the melody in the highest voice as was the newer fashion (the so-called Kantional style) rather than in the tenor. And although many of Krygar’s tunes conform to one of the minor modes, a major-mode feel becomes more common in his work. 

In all, this blend of old and new makes Krygar’s tunes simple, attractive, and satisfying to sing. Their linearity and simple rhythms make them easy, their combination of grace and sturdiness make them appealing, and their harmonic underpinning gives them a sense of direction and completion. Some of these characteristics were absent from earlier tunes, while others were exaggerated in the work of later composers. This moderation between extremes has guaranteed the continued use and enjoyment of Krygar’s tunes alongside the words of the hymnists of his age.

Among the best remembered tunes with texts written by others are: Jesus Meine Zuversicht, Schmücke Dich, Wie Soll Ich Dich Emfangen, Nun Danket, Auf ,Auf Mein Herz, Frölich Soll Mein Herze Springen, Jesus Meine Freude, and many others. At least eight of his chorales were used in J.S. Bach’s vocal works.

Although the Sorb, Jan Krygar, is the greatest Lutheran hymnist of the 17th Century, he has more typically been known in the Christian world as the German Johann Crüger. Those who belong to his proper ethnic tradition, however, will appreciate it being acknowledged that he was, after all, a Sorb. Historians, musicians and students of culture may also enjoy, 355 years after his death, finally being corrected.


Did Luther Really Say? Contexts for Luther’s Comments on the Wends

This article by David Zersen first appeared in the Fall 2017 issue of Concordia Historical Institute Quarterly. It is printed here by permission of the author.


People checking the back pages of denominational publications or church newspapers this year may find numerous invitations to join a study/travel-group to Luther-land. They are being encouraged to explore the world in which 500 years ago Martin Luther issued his “Ninety-Five Theses about Indulgences,” allegedly nailing them to the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg, Germany. Additionally, many journal articles and books being published in 2017 are rich with interesting or controversial approaches that explore themes related to the Quincentenary.[i] This article can be seen as supporting that trend.

Among Luther studies that continue to seek a following this year are those addressing his later views on the Jews[ii] or aspects of his personality that had a seismic effect on the world.[iii]  Such studies draw interest largely because their impact was first explored within the context of some much later event. Johannes Wallmann, for example, argues that Luther’s so-called antisemitism of the 1540s never drew significant interest until Hitler’s henchmen used it in their inhuman propaganda of the 1940s.[iv] Likewise, Luther’s complex personality never received much professional attention until in 1958 it was explored by Erik Erikson, a Danish psychoanalyst[v] and, subsequently, in 1961, popularized in a Broadway play.[vi] Other critical studies of Luther all-too-often find fault because a writer may not take seriously the historical, literary, or religious contexts in which Luther’s remarks were first made.[vii] This article seeks to address that shortcoming.

Criticisms made of Luther’s invectives

Some examples of old and continuing criticisms of Luther’s language will be shared first, not because they are the main subject of this article, but because they imply that his invectives against individuals or groups were intended quite personally rather than participating in speech patterns known in his context. Additionally, Luther’s condescending views of diverse ethnic and cultural groups are often regarded from a modern perspective as racist prejudices rather than as off-the-cuff comments known among people in his area. These introductory comments will now provide perspective as this article begins to look more specifically at Luther’s use of language, especially as he seems to excoriate the Wends, also known as Sorbs.[viii]

Many have criticized Luther’s language saying that at times he writes as one who is “bull-headed, course-tongued, and intemperate.”[ix] For example, he felt justified in demanding that the pope and the riffraff that surrounded him should have their tongues torn out and be nailed to the gallows. He dismissed scriptural interpretations by the Jews as so much “piss and sh–.” As he grew older, he became so disillusioned about the Gospel’s rejection by the Jews and the Roman hierarchy that he believed they were in league with Satan and even unrefined language could be used appropriately to attack them. He likewise considered his headaches, insomnia, and temptation (Anfechtung) to be plagues of the Devil that justified all the barbs that language could fashion. “I am fed up with the world, and it is fed up with me,” he wrote to his wife, Katie. “I am like a ripe stool, and the world is like a giant anus, and so we’re about to let go of each other.” Although the many intellectually challenging monographs and lovely meditations found in Luther’s voluminous writings far outnumber these examples of Bierstube banter, many have been troubled by such uncouth vocabulary. Luther justified his words, however, by saying, that his enemies “assail me so atrociously… that they carried me [in my use of language] beyond the bounds of moderation.”[x]

In addition to being appalled by Luther’s unrefined use of language, others have been troubled by the condescension he seems to show with respect to people outside of his circle of family and colleagues. In addition to the castigating remarks made about the Jews and the Roman hierarchy referred to above, Luther often employed offensive words against debating partners, colleagues with whom he disagreed, the Turks, the Muslims, provinces in Germany outside Thuringia and Saxony, the Saxons themselves, the Wends, the citizens of Wittenberg, the members of his parish, and others.[xi] In reflection, later in life Luther wrote, “I have often tried to serve the world with outward dignity and holy seriousness. But God has not allowed it![xii]

As appreciation for  individualism asserted itself in Germany’s Renaissance (Fifteenth-Sixteenth centuries), and the languages of various countries gradually came to replace Latin as the language of scholars, curiosity about uniqueness sometimes vented itself in negative forms. Luther did have an inquisitive mind, and surely was fascinated at times by what he heard about the world outside Saxony. He had visited only Switzerland and Italy. What he knew of others was often hearsay and conjecture. He ruminated on the rumors in his free-wheeling comments during the dinner hour. Students and guests who lived at the former Black Cloister, remembered in disparate ways these reflections now published in the Table Talk volume of Luther’s Works (LW). One can’t miss the abusive nature of many of his judgements.[xiii] He notes that the “Bohemians gobble their food, the Wends steal, and the Germans get drunk.”[xiv] Luther’s negative views of Saxon Wittenberg at times echoed the remarks of contemporaries. Some of his friends wondered why a university should have been established in such a remote place and why God should choose it to be the starting point for the dissemination of His Word. It was, wrote Dr. Mellerstadt, as if [we live] in a slaughter yard where people survive without culture, civilization or discipline.[xv] Luther perhaps built on such biases that we today find surprising. Given the aura of distinction that Wittenberg has achieved in the last 500 years, it is difficult to imagine the disillusionment he shared with his wife, Katie when,  in 1545, he wrote that he wanted to leave this worthless little backwater in Saxony where only drunken, boorish and hypocritically pious people live.[xvi] Down through the years, especially since the publication of the Table Talk, many have been shocked to learn that Luther was rough-on-the-edges, and some of his critics have used these examples to assert that Luther was not a fit spiritual leader, perhaps even bordering on insanity.[xvii]

Revisiting the cultural contexts of Luther’s remarks about the Wends

These critical concerns raised by people troubled with Luther’s occasional coarseness provide helpful background for the real purpose of this article, an exploration of the context within which Martin Luther seems to have excoriated the Wends, Slavs who had a visible yet declining impact in Wittenberg and its environs. While useful for any student of Luther’s language and perspectives, this article also has special meaning in English-speaking countries like the United States and Australia, the two largest countries to which Wendish emigration extended itself in the mid-nineteenth century. Scattered groups of Wends settled in Nebraska and Iowa, but the largest immigration of 764 people established a colony in Lee County, Texas, in 1854. The Australian settlements took place over a ten-year period in Southern Australia beginning in 1848.[xviii] These nineteenth century immigrants in both countries knew themselves as Lutheran Wends and many thousands of their descendants are still proud of their heritage and continue to use this ethno-religious designation. They have a special reason for wanting to know why Luther, their 16th century spiritual mentor, had such negative things to say about them.

            Did Luther really say that Wends laugh at the Word of God after the church service, are as dumb and foolish as cattle, and have no humor and vitality? Did he really say that they steal, are unfaithful and starve out the Wittenberg citizenry?[xix] Did he say that, in short, they are the worst and most evil of people?[xx] Scholars have accepted the challenge to understand why Luther might have said such things and under what circumstances. Two studies by Wendish scholars in 1936 and 1962 drew a number of conclusions about the reasons for Luther’s remarks. These studies were later challenged in a 1983 article in the European academic journal, Letopis.[xxi] In this article, never translated into English, “Die Beziehung Martin Luthers zu den Sorben” (The Relationship of Martin Luther to the Sorbs), Jan Malink asserts that because the two studies were based on questionable sources they should be reviewed. The implication of his own review is important for Luther studies because it demonstrates why Luther’s abusive words about the Wends need to be understood within their original context.

            As an aside, it should be noted that Luther’s main negative references to the Wends are found in the Tischreden,[xxii] but the American Edition of Luther’s Works (LW) has published only one-tenth of the commentary attributed to Luther in the German edition.  Therefore, Luther’s comments about the Wends in this article, including those in the first paragraph of this section, are translations made by the author either from the Weimarer Ausgabe (WA) or from the Malink German article. [xxiii]

In seeking to understand the original context for Luther’s remarks on the Wends, it is worth noting that until 1508 at the age of 24, he would have had little or no contact with Wends.  Before he received the opportunity to teach in Wittenberg, an area that had some history with the Wends, he had lived in Eisleben, Mansfeld, Magdeburg, Eisenach and Erfurt, all outside the Wendish territory. Wittenberg itself, when first appearing in history in 1180, was well-within the Wendish territory. Germanization in the Wittenberg area was strengthened when after 1293 it became a town and the residence of the Dukes and, subsequently, the Electors of Saxony.[xxiv] Writers who have ignored the chronological, geographical and cultural context have all too often implied that Luther’s language about the Wends was a reaction to their oppressive strength in Wittenberg. At his time, however, this was probably not likely.

 Malink explores this assumption when he questions the Mětšk and Wićaz explanations for Luther’s views of the Wends.  They believed that his personal interaction with Wends in Wittenberg, once a Wendish stronghold, led to his views. Malink specifically questions their overestimating the number of Wends in Wittenberg at Luther’s time.[xxv] The implication of this for Luther’s personal views of Wends is important. Mětšk and Wićaz place strong emphasis on a Ratzeberger version of the Table Talk in which Luther is supposed to have said to Martin Bucer, a reformer in southern Germany, “the largest numbers of people in my Wittenberg parish are poor laymen and Wends.” However, other more reliable versions of the 1540 conversation do not place Wends in his parish: “Dear God, in [my] church come girls under 16, women and old men, who don’t understand lofty words.” [xxvi]

            Malink pursues this matter diligently by giving four reasons for questioning the Ratzeberger version used by Mětšk and Wićaz:

  1. Since the twelfth century, there were significant groups from the West settling north-east of Wittenberg contributing to a Germanizing effect in the surrounding area, reducing the strength of the original Wendish presence.
  2. The sixteenth and seventeenth century documents about the visitations that took place in the Wittenberg judicatory provide no references to Wendish issues.
  3. A Saxon church officer, H. W. Kirchhof, writing in 1526, says that east of Torgau (30 miles from Wittenberg), near the forest, some farmers still seek to be and to speak Wendish (implying that they lived at a distance from Wittenberg).
  4. Luther never mentions anywhere in his writings that he did any pastoral counseling with a Wendish-speaking person.[xxvii]

In general, then, Malink believes that the 1936 and 1963 studies paid too much attention to misleading information in questionable sources and are not a reliable witness to Luther’s contact with Wends, either in Wittenberg generally, or in his parish, St. Mary’s. The implication, then, is that Luther’s comments about the Wends pass on long-standing, traditional hearsay common in the greater Wittenberg area, and are not personal vindictive views of Luther.

            Secondly, Malink believes that although large numbers of Wends are known to have studied to be Lutheran pastors at the Leukorea,[xxviii] there is little written evidence that Luther had personal relationships with many of them. An exception he gives is Johannes Briessman (1520-1523), who became responsible for the spread of the Reformation in Latvia. Malink concludes that the paucity of references in Luther’s writings to Wendish students has to imply that the Germanization of the areas from which students around Wittenberg came was already quite thorough.[xxix] Based on what is available in Luther’s own writings, this may be a valid conclusion. However, there is additional information that should be considered in order to form a broader assessment of the original context.

In the first place, numbers are important in this discussion. The population of Wittenberg when Luther arrived in 1512 was around 3000[xxx] and the student enrollment by then was about 1000. Roughly one-third of the community was populated by students. By contrast, Erfurt, the city from which Luther had come, had 18,000 residents in 1512, and was among the largest cities in the Holy Roman Empire.[xxxi] Wittenberg may have seemed like a backwater to Luther, but it is hard to believe that with the growing numbers of students, he encountered very few Wends in his classes. Gerald Stone addresses this issue in his new work, Slav Outposts in Central European History.[xxxii] With the early insistence on the vernacular in the Reformation, Wendish parishes wanting to move in the new reformed direction found themselves without clergy. The new university in Wittenberg, Stone writes, proceeded to supply them.[xxxiii] Some of them were ordained by Luther himself, as well as by Johannes Bugenhagen and Paul Eber, who kept explicit notes about the ordinands.[xxxiv] Interestingly, some of them, whom Luther himself ordained, were not graduates of Wittenberg or of any university, but because of the desperate need, they merely came to be tested and ordained. They came from many backgrounds, including those of sexton, schoolmaster, verger, cloth-maker, barrel-maker, rope-maker, window-maker, furrier, bookbinder and printer. Some were previously Roman Catholic priests. These included Wends like Paul Bossack, Johann Axt, Bartel Span, Nicolaus Poster and Gregorius Kirst. The notes kept by those ordaining the candidates often showed that the ordinand was going out to preach the Gospel in Wendish.[xxxv] The need to have pastors who could serve in the Wendish language for parishes in the process of reformation is made clear from this decree issued by the Upper Lusatian Estates in 1538:

Particularly since in the country and in the towns hitherto we have had to suffer a great shortage of pastors and clergymen on account of the Wendish language, every serf shall be diligently admonished by his masters, and from the pulpit too, so that if anyone has a friend or sons who are proficient in school-work and quick to learn, then he or they should with the utmost diligence be kept at school and not be suffered to lack any possible financial support and promotion. [xxxvi]

Records in Wittenberg show that by 1545 Wendish ordinands were being dispatched to numerous parishes.[xxxvii] While Saxony was at the forefront of the Reformation, the Lusatias[xxxviii] were close behind.[xxxix] Clearly, therefore, while Malink’s point may be correct that Wittenberg itself was no longer in Luther’s day a Wendish stronghold, the University had an important role in serving the needs of far-flung Wendish parishes, whether in towns or in the countryside. The fact that Luther made little mention of these potential ordinands may prove, not that he had no contact with them, but that his contact was self-understood and supportive. If that is the case– that in terms of personal relationships Luther may have had a positive view of the Wends–  and then his coarse remarks about them can’t be explained by saying that it is easy to be negative about people you don’t really know.

Scholars have posed several reasons for Luther’s negative comments about the Wends. Some have felt that because of his German self-consciousness, he simply condescended to Slavs in general and that he showed a tendency toward what today might be regarded as racism. While it should be granted that in certain humanistic circles of the Enlightenment there was a tendency toward German nationalism, Malink points out that Luther could also be as hard on the Germans (“a wild, raw, savage people”) as on others. Luther’s comments are better understand, not nationalistically, but both theologically, Malink believes, and in terms of the cultural context of the times.[xl] On the one hand, Luther never spoke negatively about the Wends in sermons, in his letters or in his published works.[xli] Further, his off-the-cuff remarks at the dinner table were ignored for 400 years until the notes and diaries now known as the Table Talk were finally published in 1929 as a part of the WA. Therefore, and importantly, these poignantly-passed lampoons never strengthened negative attitudes towards Wends among local people, German nationalists, or, for that matter, the sixteenth century theologians in Lutheran Orthodoxy. The comments were “dead-in-the-water” in the years following Luther. Although Luther’s reflections about other people may have been more unrefined than those of his contemporaries, in the free-wheeling conversations around the table, and particularly after a couple beers, things were said by Luther that had their counterparts in the vocabulary of his dining companions. His language did not represent condescension, prejudice or racism so much as it employed a hastily concocted and volatile street-talk put together with humor and slang rather than intellectual formulation. Malink himself believes that since words like Bauer (farmer) and Wend were often exchanged colloquially as terms for country people, Luther’s use of Wend may have simply implied a disdain for the boorishness of the uneducated, whatever their ethnic identity.[xlii]

            At a more theological level, Luther seems to have created a Doppelgänger system in which the common people surrounding Jerusalem were akin to the unsophisticated and reactionary types in the Wittenberg area. Acknowledging that Luther did not regard Wittenberg highly, as previously mentioned, one might understand this reference. He felt that the Jews around Jerusalem who were the worst of all people (see Ezekiel 7:24; Mt. 23:27-39), had as their counterpart the Wends around Wittenberg. Just as God chose to fight the Devil and dwell among the lowliest-of–the-low in the Jerusalem area, so also he chose to reveal the Gospel anew and fight the Devil among the rude and rough people in the environs around Wittenberg. Luther was using a medieval literary structure employing symbolic analogies to make his point. The revelation of God to the sinful people in Jerusalem was the prototype for another theological necessitas, this one being in Wittenberg.[xliii]  As previously stated, given the likelihood that famer and Wend had a common meaning for Luther and his contemporaries, this quote from Luther might not be too surprising: “If there had been a people more in need of repentance than the Wends, then the Gospel would have come to them first.”[xliv]

Accepting contexts as better witnesses than words

            That Luther’s words were often coarse and unkind to individuals and ethnic groups has to be taken for granted. However, the original contexts for these words are important and need to be emphasized. Luther lived in an area that was once dominated by rural Slavs who had never explored the values of sophisticated machinery, literary composition or economic philosophy. They had no written language and many could not communicate in German.[xlv] They were largely poverty-stricken.[xlvi]As the Wittenberg area was Germanized, the Wends remained in remote villages in the countryside. Their contact with Wittenberg was largely as farmers who brought meat and produce to the market. Nevertheless, as Luther’s reformation spread, emphasizing the Gospel message, the translation of the Catechism and the Scriptures, and a subsequent written literature, Wends came to see the importance of training pastors and teachers to serve their parishes and schools.[xlvii] That Luther supported this trend is clear, even if all the details of his participation are not known. His comments recorded in the Table Talk are surely part of Luther’s rough and abusive style, but his encouragement for individual Wends in whose ordination he participated provides a counter-balance and context for the coarse and seemingly condescending language for which he was known.[xlviii] Further, Luther would surely want to be understood as a theologian, more than as a linguist or cultural commentator. He knew himself to be fighting, not against ethnic minorities and cultural sub-classes, but against principalities and powers, against Satan and all his minions. For such warfare, he needed the big guns, not only Scripture itself and the power of logical argument. Heiko Oberman summarizes, “In the total historical context… Luther’s scatology-permeated language has to be taken seriously as an expression of the painful battle fought body and soul against the Adversary, who threatens both flesh and spirt.”[xlix] He believes that modern analysts rob Luther’s abusive language of its significance if it is simply written off as bad breeding.[l] Likewise, suggesting that Luther’s negative comments about the Wends imply racism inserts a modern context into a Sixteenth Century one. As an intellectual who championed education and an interpretation of the Gospel that required linguistic and historical insight, he can be forgiven for challenging rural people without a written language who had not yet discovered Grace’s redeeming potential. Two-fistedly, he occasionally snatched-to-hand street-talk and ethnic slurs to make his points. It was a matter of urgency. Luther was not going to give the Devil his due. The Kingdom was at stake.


[i] Biographies like James Kittelson’s (revised) Luther the Reformer and Martin Marty’s new October 31, 1517 set the stage. Specialty works like Robin Leaver’s The Whole Church Sings and Thomas McPherson’s Prayers of the Reformers (collections of prayers by numerous reformers) place new characters on the stage. Wittenberg Meets the World by Albert Garcia and John Nunes recasts the Reformation themes in the perspectives of black, Hispanic and other writers. Martin Luther and the Enduring Word of God by Robert Kolb examines the schools of biblical interpretation that Luther inspired and offers a cameo appearance by Luther himself. Here I Walk is lovely pilgrimage into Luther’s world by Andrew Wilson and his wife, Sarah Hinlicky Wilson (Lutheran Forum editor), who walked 1000 miles in seventy days from Erfurt to Rome. (All were published in either 2016 or 2017.)

[ii] Neelak Tjernagel, Martin Luther and the Jewish People (Milwaukee: Northwestern, 2016).

[iii] Lyndal Roper, Martin Luther: Renegade and Prophet (New York: Random House,  2017).

[iv] Johannes Wallmann, “The Reception of Luther’s Writings on the Jews from the Reformation to the End of the 19th

Century,” Lutheran Quarterly 3 (1987): 48-60.

[v] Erik Ericson, Young Man Luther (New York: W.W. Horton, 1958).

[vi] John Osborne, Luther (London: Faber and Faber, 1961).

[vii] David Armstrong, Martin Luther: Catholic Critical Analysis and Praise (2011); Patrick O’Hare, Facts about Luther.


[viii] The different usages of Wend and Sorb could introduce a long and complicated discussion not necessary for this article. A large territory between Hannover and Danzig was once populated by various Slav ethnic groups typically described by the majority contemporary historians with the German word Wende. Some, however, used a Slav word based on the term that the Wends (English word) used to refer to themselves, namely Serb. Latin and German words based on this term included Sorbe (Sorb in English). In 1947, this word came into common use in Upper Lusatia for German writers, as well as for scholarly writing in English. After 1990, many Lower Sorbs claimed that the German Sorbe had been imposed on them by the Communists and the Upper Sorbs. In Martin Luther’s own references, the German word Wende (English Wend) is always used, although, as Jan Malink points out, with three different meanings. (“Die Beziehung Martin Luthers zu den Sorben,” Letopis (30, 1983): 54-55). The fact that Malink’s article’s title used the term “Sorb”, however, reflects European scholarly usage in 1983 and subsequently. Further, those leaving Lusatia beginning in 1848 for Australia and in 1854 for the United States, knew themselves to be Wends and refer to themselves with that term even today. Because of the English-speaking audiences in the United States and Australia largely intended for this article, and to avoid constantly translating Luther’s own use of the word, “Wend” will continue to be used for the rest of this article. (cf. Gerald Stone, Slav Outposts in Central European History (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2016), Index, Wendish sense of the word, 2, 56, 77, etc.)

[ix] Erik Gritsch, “The Unrefined Reformer,” Christian History 12, 3 (1993): 35. 

[x]Gritsch, 35.  Each of the Luther comments in this paragraph are quoted by Gritch.

[xi] “The people in Meissen are proud and arrogant in their claim to wisdom which they don’t possess. The Thuringians are neglectful of their duty and greedy. The Bohemians outdo all others in haughtiness The Bavarians are stupid and lacking in talent, which accounts for the fact that they are more upright. The Franconians and Swabians are simple, honorable and obliging. The Swiss are the most distinguished of the Germans, courageous and candid. The Wends are thieves and a very bad sort of people. The Dutch or Batavians are real buffoons. The Rhinelanders are crafty adventurers who are intent on their own advantage.” LW, 54, 1540, #5081, 386. See also Heiko Oberman, Luther: Man Between God and the Devil (New Haven: Yale, 1989), 299.

[xii] Oberman, 321.

[xiii] Aaron J. Gurjewitsch, Das Weltbild des mittelalterlichen Menschen (Dresden: Verlag der Kunst, 1978), 86.

[xiv] Jan Malink, “Die Beziehung Martin Luthers  zu den Sorben,” Letopis 30 (1983): 60.

[xv] Malink, 61.

[xvi] Malink, 43.

[xvii] Heribert Smolinski, “Luther’s Roman Catholic Critics,” The Oxford Handbook of Martin Luther’s Theology, ed. Robert Kolb (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016); John A. O’Brien, Martin Luther (New York City: Paulist Press, 1953), 24: (“… only God knows the extent of the influence upon his thought and conduct of the psychic scars and emotional disorders, with their recurrent moods of melancholy and despair that drove him to the very borders of insanity.”

[xviii] Trudla Malinkowa, Shores of Hope: Wends Go Overseas (Austin: Concordia, 2009), 8-27, 113-144…

[xix] They starve out the Wittenberg citizenry because they provide much of the produce needed to be sold in the markets, and if their fruits and vegetables are not available, people would go hungry.

[xx] Gritsch, 35.

[xxi] Frido Mětšk, in “Die Sorben und die Universiät Wittenberg” in Wiener slavistisches Jahrbuch, Bd. 9 (1962), 32-62 wrote that Luther’s tie with the nobility led him to take a pro-German stance that condescended to the Slavic Wends. Ota Wićaz  in a 1936 lecture to the Mácica Serbska (later published in 1967 by Mětšk) claimed that the Wends surrounding Wittenberg were all farmers and Luther had a negative view of farmers.

[xxii] Volume 54 of the American Edition of Luther’s Works.

[xxiii] Initially, some clarification regarding the use of sources needs to precede an initial review of Luther’s words. Not all of the references cited by Malink can be found in the American Edition of Luther’s Works and Malink uses the German/Latin Weimarer Ausgabe (WA) in his research. Most of Luther’s references to the Wends are found in the six volumes of the( WA )Tischreden (Table Talk) yet, the American Edition has published only one volume of Luther’s total comments, representing only one-tenth of the passages from the Tischreden published in the (WA). Therefore, the references from the Table Talk in this article will often be this author’s English translations of Luther’s remarks about the Wends found otherwise only in the (WA).

[xxiv] Gerald Stone, Slav Outposts in Central European History: The Wends, Sorbs, and Kashubs (London: Bloomsbury, 2016), 83.

[xxv] Malink, 55.

[xxvi] WA, TR, 4, 635, #5047.

[xxvii] Malink, 62.

[xxviii] Leucorea, meaning “white hill” in Greek, is the original name of the university in Wittenberg.  After the University of Halle merged in 1817 with what remained of Wittenberg’s university, the name Leucorea continues to be used for the Martin Luther Halle-Wittenberg University programming/conferencing that takes place in Wittenberg.

[xxix] Malink, 58.

[xxx] Wittenberg had a population of 4000 by the time Luther died, and the student enrollment was close to 3000. 

[xxxi] “Demographics,” Erfurt, Last modified Mar 7, 2017.

[xxxii] Gerald Stone, Slav Outposts in Central European History: The Wends, Sorbs and Kashubs (Bloomsburg: London, 2016), 82-87.

[xxxiii] Stone 84.

[xxxiv] Stone 85.

[xxxv] Stone 85.

[xxxvi] Stone 84 from Knauthe 1767, 235 and Kurzer Entwurf 1767, 9-10.

[xxxvii] Charles Wukasch, A Rock Against Alien Waves: A History of the Wends (Austin: Concordia, 2008), 16. During the Reformation, some forty Wends were ordained in Wittenberg.

[xxxviii] The Wendish territory, Lusatia, lying roughly between Berlin and Dresden, was divided into Upper and Lower Lusatia, each area speaking related, but different Wendish languages. Upper Lusatia ultimately became largely Roman Catholic, while Lower Lusatia became Lutheran.

[xxxix] Stone 87. Lusatia (Lausitz in German) is the historic homeland of the Wends, divided into upper and lower regions. They bordered on various countries like Poland and Saxony, but in 1871, the entire homeland became a part of Germany.

[xl] Malink 59.

[xli] Malink 62.

[xlii] Malink 61.

[xliii] WA, 43, 285.

[xliv] Malink 62.

[xlv] Stone, 97.

[xlvi] Stone, 83.

[xlvii] Stone, 87.

[xlviii] Individual contacts with Wends are worth mentioning here. Philip Melanchton’s son-in-law, Caspar Peucer, was a Wendish student in Wittenberg who in 1543 took up lodging with the Melanchthons, just a couple doors down from the Luther home. Luther died three years later, so he may have known Peucer who married Magdalena Melanchton and became the Dean and Rector of Wittenberg University. A Wend also served for years as Luther’s Assistant (Wukasch, 16).

[xlix] Oberman, 109.

[l] Oberman, 109. 


Austin’s Luther Statue Talks to Students – by Dr David Zersen

This article by David Zersen was originally published in Pomhaj Bóh, the Wendish language church newspaper in Lusatia.

Statues of and memorials to Martin Luther are well-known in Germany and in the United States, but none of them were erected before the mid-nineteenth century. The first statue of Luther was erected in Wittenberg in 1821, but the most famous one, designed by Ernest Rietschel, was the centerpiece of the memorial to the Reformers, erected in 1868 in Worms. Rietschel had died in 1861, but had already laid out the design for the memorial complex that would be finished by his three students, Donndorf, Kietz and Schilling. By 1884, a replica of this statue would be erected in Washington D.C. and in the years that followed, another ten replicas would be constructed throughout the United States. Typically, these statues were placed on the campuses of Lutheran universities and seminaries. Even more significantly, however, the heroic impression lent by the 14-foot tall Luther in Rietchel’s design, made a mid-nineteenth century statement with which Concordia University Texas did not want to identify.

In 1998 when Concordia’s statue was designed, the institution was an undergraduate school that granted only baccalaureate degrees. (Today it grants both Masters and Doctor’s degrees.) Its students entered the university at the age of eighteen and would complete their education by the time they were twenty-one. Concordia’s then president, Dr. David Zersen, had seen many of the Rietschel replicas on Lutheran campuses in which the Reformer demonstrated his “Here I stand” posture with his Bible. Zersen wanted something different for a university founded largely by descendants of Wendish immigrants in 1926 and which enrolled students who weren’t always sure what they wanted to study and who they wanted to become.

Conferring with Eloise Krabbenhoft, a local artist and sculptor, the two discussed possible portrayals. Mrs. Krabbenhoft explored the idea of having Luther sit on a bench so that students could sit next to him and, as it were, have a chat. Zersen, however, had learned something interesting in a 1998 communication from Martin Treu, curator of the Luther Museum in Wittenberg. It was discovered, Treu explained, when the Castle Church was renovated in 1892, that an examination of Luther’s skeleton proved that he was 5 feet 2 inches tall. Feeling that it would be important for students today to identify not with a heroic Luther on a prominent pedestal, but with someone they could cluster around, it was decided to have a standing statue.

Additionally, Krabbenhoft and Zersen wanted a Luther who looked like the students who entered Concordia University Texas at years of age. Realizing that Luther attended the University in Erfurt from 1501-1505, precisely when he was between 18 and 21, Krabbenhoft and Zersen wondered how to portray a Luther at that age. Knowing that the earliest depiction of Luther was Lucas Cranach’s engraved portrait of Luther as a monk at the age of 37, Krabbenhoft employed the technology used by detectives to identify presumed suspects. Working her way back from age 37 to 18 with forensic computer technology, Krabbenhoft created a face for Luther that had never been seen since 1501.

Furthermore, since the Bible was such an important symbol for Lutherans and because Concordia University was affiliated with the Lutheran church, the artist chose to give a special treatment to the book in Luther’s hands. When Friedrich Schorlemmer, at Concordia in 2001 to receive an honorary doctorate, saw the sculpture, he was stunned by the treatment of the student and said that it was the best of the Luther statues he had ever seen. Usually the Luther statues are 25 feet tall and show the Reformer heroically proclaiming, “I have found the truth.” “Here, however, is the eighteen year old student, perusing the Scriptures,” Schorlemmer said, “and seeking the truth. It is the perfect statue for a Lutheran university.”

Luther has moved from the old campus in downtown Austin to the new campus in the bordering hill country west of the city. However, he still has a prominent place at the entrance to the campus. And, as was originally intended, he is an approachable fellow student with whom the co-eds can have a chat. Sometimes, they place a Santa Claus hat on his head or a Palestinian scarf around his neck and ask what he might be thinking about current events or matters of faith. And Austin’s unique likeness of the Reformer, 500 years later, says what only Concordia’s students in Austin, Texas can be expected to hear.

David Zersen


Bronze Plaque Remembers Sorbian American War Heroes by David Zersen

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

Bronze Plaque Remembers Sorbian American War Heroes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. David Zersen, President Emeritus Concordia University Texas


Eating the Way our Ancestors Ate By David Zersen

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

Jan Ernest Smoler and Jan Kilian were contemporaries, although not always friendly ones. As editor of a newspaper in Bautzen, Smoler published negative letters sent from the Serbin colony leading to years of tension between Smoler and Kilian. Thirteen years before the immigration to Texas, in 1841, Smoler and a colleague, Leopold Haupt, published a book of Wendish folksongs, customs, legends, proverbs and eating habits from Upper and Lower Lusatia. The book, which Kilian surely knew, was reprinted twice, most recently in 1992: The foods highlighted by the authors were certainly known to the Texas immigrants. Their reprinting here might provide interesting fare for some contemporary Wendish parties in Texas, and perhaps even some side dishes for the traditional menu at the annual Wendish Fest in Serbin.

Leopold Haupt and Jan Amost Smoler, Volkslieder der Sorben in der Ober- und Niederlausitz (Bautzen: Domowina, 1st ed. 1841/43, 2nd ed. 1992), 213-214. (Bilingual Wendish and German) Introduction and translation by David Zersen. Special thanks to Beata Millier of Bad Sulza, Germany, recently retired from the Domowina, for checking the meanings of some of the original Wendish dishes still eaten in Lusatia today, and for providing the recipes.

Eating the Way our Ancestors Ate

The Wends have three meals a day. Breakfast has two parts. First, there is an early family gathering before going to work consisting of gruel or some type of soup, or even potatoes with the jackets on them. Then a slice of bread, perhaps with a piece of cheese, is taken along to be eaten later. For lunch, there are again potatoes and some cooked dried grains like grits, groats, millet, etc. In summer there is also lettuce and some cucumbers to accompany the meal. Only on Sundays or on special occasions, a piece of meat or a roast will be on the table. In the evening, the typical supper consists of an open-faced sandwich and fried potatoes. For special festivals or local fairs the offerings are better. Everywhere there is cooking, frying and baking and everyone has their fill of the generously prepared bounty. People eat even more grandly when there are special guests such as at a joyful family gathering. Baptismal or wedding celebrations consist of a variety of dishes, and beer and Schnapps are provided in abundance for the guests.

Although the Wends ordinarily eat simply and moderately, nevertheless besides the festival meals there is great variety in the daily meals and dishes. An attempt is made here to describe what might typically be offered. Gruel has already been mentioned. Often it will be prepared by whisking grain into boiling milk until thickened. The favorite dishes include Faustmauke, a preparation consisting of rye flour and millet cooked in milk until thickened. Left over bread (Brotsuppe) cooked in milk is also cherished. Among the commonly eaten foods are grains from the heather regions grown almost exclusively in Lower Lusatia, specifically buckwheat or heather wheat and barley kernels. These are either cooked until thickened with water and then served with butter or bacon, or cut up in pieces with warm or cold milk poured over it. It is also eaten as thin milk porridge. The usual soups are beer soup, milk soup, buttermilk soup, lilac soup, sausage soup, or simply a clear meat broth. The soups, with the exception of beer soup and simple meat broths, are eaten after the other courses of the meal. Raw mushrooms cooked in buttermilk or braised in butter are eaten regularly and with great pleasure. Typically mushrooms like Champignons, Chanterelles, or Milk Caps – even Porcini – are used. Less enjoyed are mushrooms like Morels, typically cooked with rice. Dried mushrooms are cooked either with beef broth or vinegar.

At pork slaughtering festivals people enjoy pork belly. Various kinds of sausage are made, including blood sausage, liver sausage, and scrapple. On the Sunday after the festival, a large ring sausage is made. People invite their friends and eat beer soup, then pork with a gravy made with blood (Schwarzbrühe), then sausage with sauerkraut or cooked onions, and finally roast pork with baked fruit. Beef is eaten with a white sauce, or thick porridge, thick barley soup, mashed potatoes, fried diced potatoes, cabbage, onions or horseradish. Offal is prepared with a whisked sour sauce or a brown sauce. Tripe is made with a sour white sauce. Likewise veal is made using a whisked white or a brown sauce. In addition to these dishes, the following should also be mentioned: liver fried in butter and bacon, smoked pork with sauerkraut or with millet or kohlrabi; additionally, veal roast, quail, chicken, goose and a variety of wild game dishes; boiled eggs, scrambled eggs, crepes, goose sausage stuffed with millet and cream; cucumbers; lettuce with cream or oil or bacon grease; home-style Preisselbeeren (similar to American cranberries) sweetened with sugar; lentils, peas, red beets, turnips, fruits, etc.

Many other things could be added, but perhaps this may be enough. The reader can see that the Wends know how to cook, even though they live in meager heather or sandy regions, where life is often difficult and people must satisfy them­ selves with simple and rather scanty fare.

Two Wendish Soups



Buttermilk Soup

Whisk appropriate amount of flour into cold buttermilk and while stirring, bring to a boil. Add sugar, cinnamon and salt to taste.          


Beer Soup

Bring equal portions of light and dark beer to a boil. In another pot, heat the same amount of milk. Pour the boiling beer into the cooking milk and whisk in an appropriate amount of flour to thicken the soup. After allowing it to come to a boil, remove from heat and add sugar and salt to taste. Then stir in a whole egg that has been whisked with some cold milk. Before serving in bowls, strew some raisins on top.


Cut red cabbage finely and cook in salted water until soft. Fry bacon separately and stir into the cooked cabbage. Add salt and pepper to taste. Separately prepare mashed potatoes. Stir the cooked cabbage with its liquid and the bacon into the mashed potatoes until a thick mixture is formed. Served in bowls and eat with a spoon.

Dr. David Zersen, President Emeritus Concordia University Texas


Listening with Fathers and Mothers

I’ve enjoyed translating and reflecting on addresses and sermons delivered by Pastors Herman Kilian and later Theodore Schmidt at the 75th, 100th and 125th anniversaries at St. Paul’s in Serbin. They encourage us to remember how sermon writing was different a century ago as well as to wonder what parishioners expected from a sermon.

Today’s preachers often use a technique called narrative preaching in which a story is used to capture listener interest as the sermon begins. Sometimes the story is too long or reveals too many secrets of the pastor’s family on too many occasions. The sermons from Serbin usually plunged right into the text, quoted many Bible passages as well as favorite hymn texts. Considered trite today, the sermon often concluded with a hymn, sometimes with the recitation of all the verses. However, given that the laity may have been unacquainted with any literature other than the Bible and hymnody, it was probably appropriate to use these references to draw applications to parishioner’s lives.

The Serbin anniversary sermons also make frequent reference to the importance of holding on to faith until death. Death was a more frequent visitor in Serbin families, and the cemetery adjacent to the church building in which regular worshippers could wander after worship on Sundays called its reality to mind. It’s hard to convince today’s younger generations to buy health insurance because they think they may never get sick, much less die. Members in Serbin understood some of life’s realities better than they are understood today.

Also, the separation between religious denominations was more definitive in Serbin’s early years because language and doctrinal issues tended to enforce it. The Schmidt pastors regularly emphasize the purity of the Word which alone would remain when things like language disappeared. Luther and Kilian were frequently referred to as those who had embraced this purity. Intermarriage and being transplanted to other parts of the U.S. have diminished the strength of this emphasis today, and descendants of the early Wends now living in more ecumenical families and environments throughout the U.S. may regard some of the language used in the early sermons as quaint.

Nevertheless, it’s worth listening to the words once again and listening with the ears of fathers and mothers who first heard and cherished such sermons. Their trust that in the pastor’s use of biblical language and hymnody there was a treasure to be kept is a precious insight. Their reality that life is not without its limits is instructive. And their notion that in the midst of many contemporary words, some of it just chatter, there is a Word worth hearing that is the truth to which faithful Christians still cling.

David Zersen, President Emeritus

Concordia University Texas


A Rock Against Alien Waves by Charles Wukasch

Copies of A Rock Against Alien Waves can be purchased at the Texas Wendish Heritage Society Museum, 1011 CR 212, Giddings, TX 78942 through its Executive Director, This preface was written by Dr David Zersen.


In teaching students about heritage, I have often made the comment that there is no such thing as a generic American. Everyone in this country – for that matter, everyone on this continent – came here from somewhere else. If the people of the Americas have any sense of curiosity at all, they will want to know something about these origins. Here in Texas, there are still to be found representatives of those first peoples whose arrival reaches back thousands of years. Large numbers of Mexican families here can also trace their roots back to a time when this territory belonged to Mexico. Countless explorers, pioneers and settlers came from Europe and Africa; in more recent years, many thousands came from India and Southeast Asia. The schools and cities of this State now comprise a rich diversity formed from these immigrants. To say that all are now Americans is to prize the unity sought for this people. To ignore the cultural, ethnic and linguistic heritage which underlies their place in this nation, however, is to court ignorance as well as psychological confusion. The differences which shape personal perspectives and world views here range on a spectrum from insignificant to profound. Studies which explore these differences make important contributions to the nation’s common life. This study of the Wends is such a contribution.

The Wends who arrived in Galveston in 1854 were unique in a number of ways. They came largely for economic reasons, although they had both religious and cultural views they hoped to encourage and preserve. As a Slavic minority group in the German country they left, they chose Texas because of the opportunity it offered. They came not by tens and twenties, but almost six hundred strong, as a veritable colony, seeking to kindle smoldering embers of ethnic consciousness into a radiant flame in the new world. The fact that Texas functioned somewhat trilingually (English, Spanish and German) in the 1850s made their hopes relatively naïve and, ultimately, led to their assimilation into the dominant German culture in Central Texas. However, this should not detract from the significant contributions that they made to the developing Texas economy, not to mention the moral and cultural heritage of Central Texas. The legacy lives on both in the traditions of many smaller communities as well as in the names of thousands of Texans whose Slavic spellings belie their Wendish origins.

A number of books in English have told the story of this Wendish experiment on Texas soil and two of the best by George Nielsen are still in print. However, there is no comprehensive and current work in English which provides the European history of the Wends, thus setting the stage for their presence in America. The one European work of significance by British Slavist, Gerald Stone, The Smallest Slavonic Nation, is out of print. For this reason, Charles Wukasch’s admirable review of the noble history of these little-known people is a significant contribution to scholarship as well as to the curious student or citizen who wants to know more about personal heritage or the valuable contributions to the United States of America from a proud and ancient people.

Concordia University Press is pleased to make this contribution available not only because of its value for personal and scholarly research, but because Concordia University at Austin is the only university in the world founded primarily by people of Wendish descent. In 1926, almost 75 years after the arrival of the Wends, thirteen Lutheran congregations in Texas which themselves had been founded by people largely of Wendish ancestry, established Concordia in the capital city. Today the University is proud to say to students and a much larger constituency of friends and donors that generic Americans did not found this institution, but rather a unique group of immigrants who took enormous risks to come here (almost eighty of their number died en route) and left legacies which continue to influence our contemporary world.

David Zersen, President Emeritus

Concordia University at Austin

Austin, Texas

(In the Sesquicentennial of the Wendish Immigration, 1854-2004)


The Poetry and Music of Jan Kilian

This book of Jan Kilian’s poetry and music was prepared for the 200th anniversary of his birth on March 22, 2011. Copies can be purchased at the Texas Wendish Heritage Society, 1011 CR 212, Giddings, TX 78942 through its Executive Director, This is the Preface that was written by Dr David Zersen for this book.

There are significant reasons for having doing this publication.

In the first place, although Kilian is remembered in Texas as a pastor and leader in the Lutheran community, there are very few in America who know him as a poet and musician. Primarily, this is due to the fact that Kilian, with few exceptions, ceased to write poetry and compose music after 1854 when the colony settled in Serbin, Texas. Life was hard; there was little time for reflection and little space to write in peace.

Only in recent years has American scholarship, largely instigated by Concordia University Press, discovered the research that had been done by Trudla Malinkowa and others in Germany and in England. Additionally, through the rediscovery of manuscripts that had been untouched in the Serbin library, through copies of editions provided by Dr. Gerald Stone at Oxford, and through a new edition of the Wendish Lutheran hymnal published in Bautzen, Jan Kilian can now be known in United States for the poet and musician he had been prior to immigrating here.

Research into Kilian’s work is ongoing, but it can be said with some certainty that he wrote numerous poems, and tunes to which texts were attached to be sung as hymns. The new Wendish Lutheran Hymnal (Spewarske za Ewangelskich Serbow, Bautzen, 2010) has 19 of Kilian’s hymns.

In the second place, it is significant to publish Kilian’s poetry and music in the 200th anniversary of his birth because this poetry did not exist in English until now. The 1999 book Jan Kilian, published by the Domowina Verlag in Bautzen, and reproducing Kilian’s texts and translations, is in Wendish. This book is based on that work. The Wendish heritage community of Texas which came to know Kilian best (because he lived there for 3o years) will be surprised to read these poems and sing these tunes. They represent a voice from the past that most did not know existed.

Among the difficult challenges involved in preparing this book for English speaking readers were the matters of finding someone fluent in both Upper Sorbian/Wendish and in English, as well as finding someone who could take the English and render it in respectable poetry. Concordia University Press was fortunate on both accounts.

Early on we worked with Viera Buzgova, a graduate of Concordia University Texas whose native tongue is Slovak. She translated thirteen of the texts into a readable English. She has a B.A. in Music and has been heavily involved with organ, choirs, hand bells and early music groups. Viera still lives in Austin, works as a legal assistant and is pursuing a degree in law.

Subsequently, we began to work with Milan Pohontsch, an Upper Sorbian from Lusatia, fluent in Upper Sorbian, German and English, who now lives in the United States. He translated the remainder of the texts as well as narrative and source information from the 1999 Wendish edition of Kilian’s poetry. Pohontsch has Master’s Degrees in Engineering and Economics and is a passionate genealogist and the founder of European Roots Genealogy. He is married and is employed at the Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.

The next step in the process was assumed by Martin Doering, a Lutheran pastor and poet. He took the English texts from Buzgova and Pohontsch and creatively set them in a poetic form that attempted to be faithful to Kilian’s rhyme and meter patterns. Doering comes by his Wendish interests naturally, tracing his family line through the Michalks, as well as through other names like Kurio, Mickan, Schwausch, Felfe, Pampel, and Symmank. He served as chaplain and teacher at Luther North High School in Chicago, where he lives with his bride, Sandy.

Significant as is this process of translation and poetic arrangement, Concordia University Press wanted this English edition to include material not found in the Wendish edition. The goal was to let English speaking people not only read Kilian’s poetry, but also sing his tunes.

Our sources of Kilian’s hymns provided hymn tunes only. Concordia University Press engaged the services of Professor Emeritus Harold Rutz, Chairman of the Music Department at Concordia University from 1964 to 1996, to add harmonies to Kilian’s melodies so that they could be sung by contemporary families, congregations and choirs. Rutz lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife, Viola.

Many of Kilian’s hymns are found in both Lutheran and Roman Catholic hymnals in Germany today, but for the first time English speakers may be able to use them in their own settings. Concordia University Press commends this possibility to those who have responsibilities in such matters, and the copyright information seeks to make this possible.

Concordia University Press is grateful not only for its ongoing partnership with the Texas Wendish Heritage Society in this and other publishing endeavors, but specifically for the fiscal support in this project from one of its members, George Boerger.

Special thanks are offered to numerous people who helped make this book possible. The research carried out by Trudla Malinkowa and the Sorbian Institute for the 1999 work in Wendish is evident from both the Introduction and the Sources and Annotations sections from that work that are translated in this book. Although this English language edition has additional texts not found in the 1999 work, and provides musical settings which did not exist at all in that work, we are deeply grateful for Trudla Malinkowa’s pioneering work on which this book is based. We are also grateful to Dr. Gerald Stone, Professor emeritus at Oxford (UK), who provided guidance on a number of issues related to Kilian’s texts and melodies, and who checked the accuracy of the English poetry over against the original Wendish text.

The last ten texts in Malinkowa’s 1999 work, Jan Kilian, are not included in this book because they were Kilian’s translations of previously existing texts. From a poetic standpoint, this would have involved taking an original text through multiple linguistic generations (German to Wendish to English), which wouldn’t serve much purpose in a work dedicated to Kilian’s own poetry. We have, however, included some verses from one text by Paul Gerhardt for which Kilian provided a tune just to show his interest in reviving interesting texts through the use of his own music.

Special thanks also go to the Domowina Verlag, which gave us the rights to publish much of this material, and to the Texas Wendish Heritage Society for their financial and collegial support.

The faithful and creative labors of many of the above mentioned people were carried out over the course of a number of years. They all served as volunteers because they believed in the importance of passing on this cultural legacy. We cannot thank them enough.

The creative and collegial support provided by Concordia University Press’s typographic designer, Eric Mellenbruch, has given us confidence and relief each time we have tried to make our way through uncharted waters in new publishing projects. We are deeply grateful to him.

Although we are dependent on the information provided by numerous people, as editor of the project I accept responsibility for any errors that may have surfaced in fact or content.


Managing Editor Concordia University Press



Shores of Hope by Trudla Malinkowa

Dr David Zersen wrote this Foreward to Trudla Malinkowa’s masterpiece. We hope that it will inspire you to read her blog and get a copy of her book for your bookshelves and your family’s edification. Copies can be gotten through the Texas Wendish heritage Society, 1011 CR 212, Giddings, TX 78942 by contacting the Executive Director,


In the middle of the living room in our Wisconsin vacation home sits a wicker basket about the size of a clothes hamper. It may seem oddly positioned to visitors, but it assumes for us a focal point around which everything else takes meaning. It was my great-grandfather’s luggage containing everything he owned when he journeyed from Pomerania to Wisconsin in 1867. It reminds us that our ancestors often began with practically nothing and that our subsequent accumulation is more ephemeral than it may seem.

Shores of Hope is a remarkable study in emigration literature documenting the departure of people who often had less than my great-grandfather to four continents: Australia, the United States and Canada, South America, and Africa (South Africa). The details are well­ researched, and the supporting source material is filled with human pathos. It is a very good read, and at times one is filled with emotion to note that many of our ancestors probably underwent similar surrender and loss as well as hope and occasional exultation as they journeyed to unknown climes. In our current settings on these four continents we are all immigrants, even the so-called indigenous peoples, and we stand in awe of the artifacts and research that tell our stories.

Although native peoples lived in various places in all the areas to which the emigrants in this study traveled, these settlers carved out homelands in relatively isolated circumstances. They built huts, dug wells, crafted fences, cooked on open fires, planted crops, and dreamed of better days. In many cases, their humble homesteads were more primitive than those of the native peoples who preceded them.

The Wends in this specific study have a unique history. On the one hand, they are a microcosm of the great emigrations that left Europe in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. On the other hand, they are a Slavonic minority group in an area between Berlin and Dresden, Germany, which has a 1,500-year history and which was assigned territory within Germany’s artificially drawn borders. The economic and religious conditions became so difficult for these Wends and many others in central Europe, and the advertising for emigration was so convincing, that with other desperate people they took ships to lands which promised better opportunity.

In all the countries to which these emigrants came there are today descendants who look back on this history with wonder and admiration. Were it not for these brave men and women, Wends or others, we would not be where we are today.

Concordia University Press is happy to publish the first English translation of this work for a number of reasons.

First of all, it is an excellent and gripping chapter in emigration history that charts an exodus from Europe to four continents. Secondly, for the first time in one volume it provides the details for this broad multi-continental emigration to English-speaking populations in the countries to which the Wends emigrated. Thirdly, it is an important chapter in Lutheran history that has never been told in this comprehensive a fashion. Fourthly,

it is a story unknown to most living descendants of the Wendish emigrants. And finally, it provides background for the founding of Concordia University Texas, the university of which Concordia University Press is a part.

That final reason requires a brief explanation. Between 1854and 1926, the initial Wendish colony in Serbin, Texas,spawned about 20 Lutheran daughter congregations that carried on the theology and heritage of the Wendish pioneers. In 1923, thirteen of these congregations met to plan the founding of Concordia Lutheran College of Texas, which became a reality in 1926. Eighty-three years later, Concordia University Texas can lay claim to being the only university in the world founded largely by the descendants of Wends. And the bell which the pioneers brought with them in 1854 still welcomes all who enter the campus.

A few important linguistic details are necessary in this Foreword. There is an ongoing discussion debate in the scholarly community as to whether the emigrants described in this work are Sorbs or Wends. The discussion is too complicated to address in detail. Following WWII it became appropriate, especially among philologists and historians in the European setting, to call this Slavonic ethnic group “Sorbs,” a form of their native Serbja or Serby.

However, when the emigrants left Europe in the mid nineteenth century, they knew themselves as Wends, and so they are typically known today in the countries where they settled and where readers will typically have access to this book. For this reason, to avoid confusion with the use of two different terms, upon the advice of numerous scholars, we are using “Wend” and “Wendish” throughout this work except where the word may be the title of a book, a newspaper/journal, or an organization.

Another linguistic problem is created with the use of the words Protestant, Evangelical, and Lutheran. Both Protestant and Evangelical can have different meanings in the European and in the American settings. Protestant

can be a generic term in the English speaking world for all denominations which are neither Roman Catholic nor Eastern Orthodox. In Europe, however, it can be used as a synonym for either Lutheran or Reformed or the union

churches which are a combination of both. Within the Lutheran community, “Evangelical” has a historical use, either as an adjective modifying Lutheran or, in European settings, as an alternative word for Lutheran. The word also is used in the English-speaking world to describe a 20th-century conservative movement that sees itself as more progressive than Fundamentalist. Although it will be difficult to choose the right word in all contexts, we have tried to allow the translation to respect the context and use the most appropriate term.

Finally, there is a sensitive difference between the use of emigrant (one leaving a country) and immigrant (one traveling to a country). Depending on their use in the setting in Europe or in the four continents to which the Wends journeyed, choosing the right term can be tricky. We hope that we have used the terms judiciously.

Among those to be thanked for helping to bring this translation to publication are Raymond and Sandra (Miertschin) Matthijetz, the Texas Wendish Heritage Society, and Concordia University Press, who provided financial support. We are also grateful to the original publisher, the Domowina-Verlag, and the author, Trudla Malinkowa, for making this work available to us. Likewise we are grateful to Thomas Fiebiger of the Satzstudio Kontrapunkt in Bautzen for making the original photographs as well as the immigration lists available to us in digital format. We are also thankful to the Board of Concordia University Press for recognizing the importance of this work and giving it priority in our queue of publications.

There are many individuals who need to be thanked, first of whom are the translators themselves. The Texas portion of this work was first given to us for consideration by the Texas Wendish Heritage Society in a rough draft that had been provided by Luise Green and further edited by Jack Wiederhold. Believing that the whole work should be published, not just the Texas section, the Concordia University Press staff solicited the help of two translators: the Rev. Konstantin Hahn, a German­speaking native of the Ukraine who served until his retirement as Assistant to the President of the Ontario District of the Lutheran Church-Canada, and the Rev. Carl Roemer, Th.D., a second-generation German speaker who did theological work at Erlangen in Germany.

We are grateful to many readers who reviewed the manuscript and made comments and corrections, including Mrs. Georgie Boyce (former President, Texas Wendish Heritage Society), Dr. Ceretha Cartwright (CUP Board Member), Mr. Charles Dube (President, Texas Wendish Heritage Society), Mr. Carl Kupfer (CUP Board Member), Mrs. Jan Slack (Managing Director, Texas Wendish Heritage Society), and Dr. David Z. Chroust (Texas A&M University).

Scholarly advice at different points was provided by Dr. Gerald Stone (Oxford, UK), Dr. Charles Wukasch (Austin, Texas), Dr. Roland Marti (Saarbrücken, Germany), Dr. Gunther Schaarschmidt (Victoria, British Columbia), and Dr. Walter Kamphoefner (College Station, Texas).

Special thanks are given to the author, Trudla Malinkowa, who read the translation and gave not only a very thorough critique, but also provided updates, including a new section on the Iowa Wends, as well as some new pictures. Mrs. Malinkowa, a dentist by background, works with the Sorbian Institute in Bautzen, and her areas of specialization include emigration and monument restoration. She is the editor of the Wendish Lutheran magazine Pomhaj Boh and the author of numerous books and articles on Wendish history and culture. Her support throughout the translation and publication process provided a level of quality that we could not have achieved alone.

Finally, thanks are given to Dr. George Nielsen for his willingness to allow us to use his Name List, and to Cathryn C. Petersen for a new addition to this list along with new pictures involving the Wends of lowa; to Kevin Zwar, Honorary Researcher for the Wendish Heritage Society of Australia, and Lyall Kupke, Archivist, Lutheran Archives, Lutheran Church Australia, for their advice; and to Eric Mellenbruch, the typographic designer for Concordia University Press, whose congenial and wise partnership gave confidence over the lengthy process that is involved in publishing a book.

To my wife, who accepted with patience the many months given to editing, translating and negotiating the details on this project, and to my son, Rolf, who helped with computer solutions to tricky problems, I extend my thanks and appreciation.

DAVID ZERSEN, Managing Editor Concordia University Press Austin, 2009