Silesia (German, Schlesien; Czech, Sleszko; Polish, Śląsk), a region in east central Europe along both sides of the Oder River. Most of it is divided between Poland and Czechoslovakia. In almost all the principalities and duchies of Silesia there had been Anabaptists from 1525. Half the village of Stolz, near Frankenstein, was Anabaptist at this time. A particularly active Anabaptist in these regions was the furrier Gabriel Ascherham. In Breslau an Anabaptist butcher, Claus Salb, won some adherents and was expelled. Other Anabaptist preachers, such as Ernst von Glatz, Behmisch David of Schweidnitz, Bärtl Riedmaier, who was the leader of one of the seventeen Hutterite congregations in Schäckowitz, Veit Uhrmacher or Grünberger, Walter Schlesinger, and Peter Riedemann (also called the "Silesian"), are named. Also Hans Hut and a certain Oswald (Glait?) and a brother Hess caused the government and established church some uneasiness in the region of Breslau, Glogau, and Glatz, "whereby many people were misled." According to a virulent attack, Wiedertäuferisches Gesindleins in Mähren und Schlesien seltsame Beschaffenheit, Ascherham was considered the founder of a number of the Anabaptist congregations in Silesia. On 1 August 1526, King Ferdinand issued a harsh mandate against not only the Anabaptists and Schwenckfelders, but also the Lutherans. Duke Frederick of Liegnitz therefore protested at the court against this mandate, promising to take suitable steps to suppress the Anabaptists in his lands, but refusing to re-establish Catholic ceremonies. From that time on, Anabaptists who would not desist from error were to be placed in stocks and have an ear cut off. Luther advised the Protestant pastor Johann Hess, who complained that the Anabaptists were getting the upper hand, that he should not report them to the authorities, but let them betray themselves; then the senate would expel them.
To evade these strict measures Gabriel led his followers, also known as Gabrielites, to Moravia. But when persecution began there in 1535, many Anabaptists who had emigrated from Silesia returned, causing a sudden increase in the movement in Schweidnitz, Guhrau, Jauer, and Habelschwerdt. But they had a bitter opponent in the Breslau preacher Ambrosius Moibanus, who wrote a tract against them, for which Luther wrote a foreword. On 28 July 1529, the returning Anabaptists presented a petition to the princes and estates assembled at the Silesian Landtag requesting safe conduct to the assembly so that they might defend their religious views on the basis of Scripture, assuring the assembly that they gave to the emperor what was the emperor's and to God what was God's. They called themselves "the faithful subjects of the prince's grace and authority and obedient brethren and integrated members of Christ's covenant" (Kaster, 61). But the assembly did not consider this appeal. On 30 March 1530, Emperor Ferdinand I ordered Frederick II to take sterner measures against the Anabaptists, since he feared a revolt and a treaty between them and the Turks. On 13 October 1533, the city council of Breslau wrote to Frederick that several Anabaptists were living under the Baron of Bernstein, among them a certain Clement, who preached and induced all kinds of people to move away. Frederick replied that Clement had been imprisoned in the Wohlen tower for several weeks and had again been expelled from the district. Clement was beheaded at Glogau in 1535.
In 1538 the churches in Habelschwerdt were not being attended, because the Schwenckfelders were meeting in private homes. Pastor Petrus Eiserer left the town and gave the keys of the church to the city council. But the Anabaptists laid no claim to the church either. "For them the whole city was a temple; in private homes of citizens they held their meetings. The Neisse and the Weistritz were the great baptistries, into which adults were immersed and made members of their covenant." Immersion was apparently practiced here. In Weizenrode, in the principality of Schweidnitz, when a tailor was about to be arrested in 1536, "an entire little congregation was discovered," to which the servants of the mayor and the miller's wife belonged.
Such proceedings of course precluded any congregational organization. It seems that the Anabaptists continued in Silesia as Schwenckfelders, since the latter often had possession of Anabaptist writings. But as late as the 1570's individual Anabaptists were found in the country.
Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe; Schneider, 1913-1967: v. IV.
Kaster, Archiv für die Geschichte des Bistums Breslau, 61.
Korrespondenzblatt des Vereins für Geschichte der evangelischen Kirche Schlesiens. Breslau, 1887: 38 f.
Luthers Schriften, ed. de Wette III, 263.
Rabus, L. Historie der heiligen auserwählten Gottes Zeugen. 1555: 12.
Schriften des Vereins für Reformationsgeschichte. 1891: 68-71.
Thudichum, Friedrich. Die Deutsche Reformation II. Leipzig, 1909: 135-37.
Volkmer. Geschichte der Stadt Habelschwerdt in der Grafschaft Glatz. 1897.
Cite This Article
Wiswedel, Wilhelm. "Silesia." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1959. Web. 6 Jul 2015. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Silesia&oldid=84975.
Wiswedel, Wilhelm. (1959). Silesia. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 6 July 2015, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Silesia&oldid=84975.
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