Schwenkfelders in Silesia & Germany


Harpersdorf Refuge Lutheran Church, pre-WWII

Harpersdorf Refuge Lutheran Church

During World War II Harpersdorfers fled to Isergebirge in February, returning in May to find their homes and the Harpersdorf Refuge Lutheran Church plundered and in ruins.  It has never been restored and is in a very deteriorated state.  Across the road is the lane that leads to the Viehweg Monument.

Three booklets about the former village of Harpersdorf, Germany, are worth reading – The Refuge Church in Harpersdorf, by Siegfried Knörrlich, translated by Sherman L. Gerhard, The Society of the Descendants of the Schwenkfeldian Exiles, 1980; A Challenge:  Am I My Brother’s Keeper?  Sequel to The Schwenckfelder Migration, 1734, Schwenckfeldiana, Vol. II, No. 2, Board of Publications of The Schwenkfelder Church, September 1951; and Exiles of Harpersdorf The Ties That Bind: Excerpts from Und Weider lebt die Heimat: Wege der Erinnerung-Wege der Versöhnung, by Bernhard Hauptmann, translated and edited by Allen Viehmeyer, Schwenkfelder Library & Heritage Center, 2010.

The Schwenkfelders were considered heretics and denied burial in a church cemetery because of their religious beliefs.  The bodies were taken to the cemetery by night with no more than a prayer — no tolling of the church bell, no music, no procession.  The Viehweg Monument in Harpersdorf, erected in 1863, remembers those Schwenkfelder ancestors who were buried in the cattle paths (a sign of disgrace) of Probsthain, Harpersdorf, Armenruh, Langneundorf, and Lauterseiffen.

Viehweg monument on the day of rededication, August 2, 2003.

Viehweg monument on the day of rededication, August 2, 2003.

Catholic Chapel built from fines imposed upon the Schwenkfelders in Harpersdorf (now Twardocice, Poland)

The Viehweg Monument in Twardocice (Harpersdorf) is celebrating its 150th Anniversary this year (2013).  This memorial to our Schwenkfelder ancestors, nearly destroyed during World War II, was fully restored in 2002 and re-dedicated in 2003.  At that time, a translation stone was added, providing English and Polish language versions of the German language text.

The Groditzberg Castle is where many Schwenkfelders were imprisoned. This fortress on a mountain top has been restored and is in remarkably good condition. The remains of a moat around the castle are evident as one enters through a narrow gate. The inner courtyard, now available for picnics, gives graphic impressions of living conditions in the 18th century and before.  Portions of this edifice may be toured to gain a sense of living conditions in the 1600s and 1700s.

Postcard: Groditzberg/Grodiec Castle where many Schwenkfelders were imprisoned for not attending the State Church or sending their children to attend.

Postcard: Groditzberg/Grodziec Castle where many Schwenkfelders were imprisoned for not attending the State Church or sending their children to attend.

After leaving Silesia, the Schwenkfelders made their way to Herrnhut and Berthelsdorf. Herrnhut is the Moravian center where Count Zinzendorf provided protection to the Schwenkfelder refugees and permitted their settlement on land in and around Herrnhut and Berthelsdorf. They lived in this area for 6 to 8 years after leaving Harpersdorf in Silesia and before migrating to Pennsylvania.

The Gemeinde Haus (gathering house and place of worship of the Schwenkfelders) is no longer occupied and is in dire need of repairs. Some years ago, an association was formed to preserve the Gemeinde Haus, restore it, and open a museum interpreting the Schwenkfelders and the Protestant church in Silesia. Overcoming many hurdles, the association has received generous grants from the European Union as well as many matching funds from local interested people, the town of Berthelsdorf, and the Schwenkfelders in America. The mission of restoration is slowly being fulfilled with progress visible to the visitor today.  It is projected to be completed and opened as early as 2017.

The Gemeinde Haus was the gathering house and place of worship of the Schwenkfelders.

The Gemeinde Haus was the gathering house and place of worship of the Schwenkfelders.

Further along the road were some of the homes built by Schwenkfelders during their time in this area characterized by a short roof on one side (the protected side) and a long roof on the other side (weather side). It is amazing that these 250-year-old buildings have stood the test of time – a tribute to the builders of that day.

Former home of Caspar Kriebel, a Schwenkfelder

Former home of Caspar Kriebel, a Schwenkfelder

The Evangelical Church of Berthelsdorf was the place of many Schwenkfelder baptisms, marriages, and funerals as indicated by their records.  Behind the Evangelical Church in Berthelsdorf is a monument, unveiled in 1934, honoring those Schwenkfelders buried there between 1725 and 1734.

Evangelical Church, Berthelsdorf, Germany

Evangelical Church, Berthelsdorf, Germany

Monument placed by the Schwenkfelder in 1934 behind the Evangelical Church, Berthelsdorf.

Inscription translation:
In memory of the faithful
Schwenckfelder refugees
from Silesia
whose remains rest in this place,
erected in loving and grateful
remembrance by the Schwenkfelders
of Pennsylvania


This town was left virtually untouched by the bombing that took place in nearby Dresden during World War II. The narrow streets, quaint shops and the Rathaus, or city hall, are all reminiscent of the days when Schwenkfelders prepared to leave Saxony for Pennsylvania. It is easy to visualize the anxieties they faced as they set sail down the Elbe River from this town to Altona, near Hamburg.

Pirna, Germany

The rathaus, or city hall, in Pirna, Germany

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