Christian History Project. This site contains the text of 12 volumes on the history of mankind over the last 2,000 years written from a 'collectively-denominational' Christian perspective.

Wends |
Bitter memories live on

Wends is drawn from Chapter Eight, beginning on page 222, of Volume Six, The Quest for the City of the twelve-volume historical series The Christians: Their First Two Thousand Years. If you would like to order this book please visit www.TheChristians.info.

A ‘little Slavonic island in a German sea’ became a footnote of history as the Wends were brutally subjugated by their German rulers

Wends - Bitter memories live on

Wends – Bitter memories live on
Wends (or Sorbs) still comprise a minority in Lusatia, Germany, where their language has been kept alive. These traditionally dressed Wends prepare for Easter with the decorating of eggs. The twentieth century has seen the emigration of numbers of these people to Australia and the United States.

Just before Christmas 1854, the sailing vessel Ben Nevis completed a tumultuous, seven-week trans-atlantic journey from Liverpool, England, docking at last at Galveston, Texas. The five hundred passengers, who had survived rough seas and rampant cholera, undoubtedly said a prayer of thanks before moving on to Houston, the city that many of them eventually called home. To the locals, they probably seemed just another batch of poor German immigrants seeking prosperity. Not so. The newcomers were Wends, an ancient but minute people of Slavic origin, seeking a privilege that had eluded them for more than a thousand years: the right to speak their own language and live without persecution. (Though they are known best as the “Wends,” the people themselves prefer to be called “Sorbs,” a term less used because it becomes confused with Serbian Slavs.)

The Wends appear in the earliest historic references to the Slavic peoples, says historian George R. Nielson (In Search of a Home), but have been little noticed because they were so few in number, and had never formed an independent state. In the sixth century, they followed westward-moving Germanic tribes into a broad area known as Lusatia, between the Oder and Elbe rivers, stretching from fifty miles southeast of Berlin to the border of the later Czech Republic, and including parts of Poland. While some Wends continued west into Saxony, most developed their own culture in Lusatia’s woodlands and meadows.

But before long the German Franks, anxious to secure the eastern border of their Christian Empire, found themselves confronted there by an entrenched thicket of pagan Saxons and Slavs. As A. P. Vlasto notes in The Entry of the Slavs into Christendom, the Germans openly coveted the best Slav lands, and the busy, prosperous Slav ports that offered access to the northern Baltic trade route. Initially the Germans merely conducted raids, selling their many Slavic captives as slaves, usually to the Muslims.

The actual subjugation of the Lusatian Wends began in the early tenth century. It would take nearly three hundred years to completely subdue, Germanize and Christianize them, a process whose events were engraved in Wend memory. Early in the twentieth century, Jacob Barth, their preeminent poet and a student of theology, wrote:

Oh, how appalling was the carnage,
Oh, how hellish the slaughter!
The gallows resounded with screams and curses
As the hounds tore into the masses.
The priests, all the while, chanted psalms
And litanies and sang hymns.
Horrified by the sight of it all,
The sun itself took flight.
Hrabanus entered into his chronicle
(while praying on his knees):
“Charlemagne brought the Gospel to the Wends
To the greater glory of God.”

Ironically, the kings who subjugated the Wends of Lusatia, beginning with Henry the Fowler (912-936) and his son Otto the Great (936-973), were of Saxon blood. The Saxons, Vlasto writes, were seemingly determined to subject the pagan Slavs to the same treatment they themselves received from Charlemagne: “The recent converts became, as often, more rabid and extreme in their turn.” And while “Henry’s policy did not yet amount to a systematic ‘baptism or death,’ this soon became a commonplace Saxon attitude.”

Individual free choice in religion may have been scarcely comprehensible to people bound by tradition and clan loyalties, whether Saxon or Wendish, but cultural resistance could run deep. In 983, pagan Wends rebelled, razing Hamburg and clearing out the Germans from virtually all territory beyond the Elbe. Although the Germans regained Lusatia in a bloody fifteen-year campaign, for almost two centuries there was continuous strife.

In 1168, the Wends bitterly conceded defeat and began a sorrowful period of decline as an impoverished underclass, dispossessed of their property, banned from skilled jobs, required to speak only German. Lusatia and the Wends, described by author Gerald Stone in The Smallest Slavonic Nation as a “little Slavonic island in a German sea,” became a mere footnote of history.

By the early twenty-first century there were fewer than seventy thousand Wends in the entire world, the majority Lutheran and a substantial minority Roman Catholic. While the Wends still consider the town of Bautzen in eastern Germany their capital, only one thousand of its forty-four thousand inhabitants are Wendish, and assimilation is every bit as potent in Texas as Germany. So a Slavic people that has survived epochal persecution now faces a more graceful dissolution through assimilation.

This is the end of the Wends category article drawn from Chapter Eight, beginning on page 222, of Volume Six, The Quest for the City. To continue reading more about Wends from The Christians, Their First Two Thousand Years we suggest experiencing the rest of the book, complete with hundreds of magnificent illustrations, by ordering it at www.TheChristians.info