PART 2 of 5

When my son stood on the banks of the Vistula River in Krakow, Poland in the summer of 2013 he had no idea that he was walking in the footsteps of his Slaymaker forefathers. During the middle ages and Renaissance, Krakow was a magnet drawing the artist and aristocrat, the entrepreneur and enterprising businessman, to a city that was vibrant and bustling with economic and academic activity. Krakow was a cultural melting pot of people from eastern and western Europe. In a pattern that was being used in Ireland and America, the nobility brought colonists into their thinly settled estates in Eastern Europe. Southern “Poland” was a new frontier offering many of the same amenities that the new world offered in terms of commerce and religious freedom.

The Schleiermacher name would resonate across the continent of Europe from Russia to the Atlantic Ocean and be recognized in the same breath with Voltaire, Hegel, Goethe and Immanuel Kant. When Frederich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher dies, his funeral procession comes to a stop in Berlin. The streets of the city are filled with mourners. It was reported that the entire city and much of the population in the countryside turned out to show their respect. Karl Barth referred to Schleiermacher as “a hero, as theology is rarely given.”

Frederich Schleiermacher was to the rigorous, orthodox Lutheran church what Martin Luther had been to the Catholic Church: A bit of a renegade filled with thoughts of reform and a belief in the common man. He viewed the church as a tool through which governments maintained control, and in which the commoner was to understand that he or she was a tool designed to serve the feudal master here on earth, while looking forward to an eternity in heaven (as a reward for the earthly suffering they would have to endure). This approach helped keep serfs, servants and slaves in check.  Frederich found this to be troublesome and nearly abandoned his faith. He thought his way through it and spent his life advocating the importance of a personal relationship with the Lord. He believed that we are all equal in God’s eye and should view each other with the same regard. Each person, regardless of position, has equal value. No one person is less important than another. He wasn’t the first in his family to have a radical thought about the Church and a liberal view of God and Man. His contributions to the growth of protestantism and religious and secular reform are too numerous to recount in this limited edition. For an exhaustive look at the man’s contributions I recommend the online text Schlieremacher: A Guide for the Perplexed

Frederich was the son of Johann Gottlieb Adolph Schleyermacher (We will call him Johann). Frederich changed the spelling of his surname and distanced himself from his father’s theological beliefs, as well. Johann was a protestant military chaplain and circuit rider operating out of Breslau. He served a number of congregations scattered about the Beskid piedmont region of Southern Poland. He became an iconic and local hero in the village of Seibersdorf.

During the time of the Thirty Years War and thereafter, Protestants in the region had been under attack from the Catholic Church. Protestant worship services were not allowed by ruling Catholics. Protestant farmers and merchants, armed with cudgels and scythes and other farm implements, would congregate in the woods for worship. Johann would arrive in disguise and provide a sermon, song and communion. Persecution was not uncommon. Protestants were burned at the stake. Johann survived and was the key player and savior in the history of Seibersdorf.  Although his strategy saved the people and left the city empty!

For centuries the local peasants had worked not only as farmers but had become recognized as skilled weavers.  The King of Prussia (Frederick the Great) had come to the realization that his small nation could not survive, surrounded by so many warring nations and kingdoms.  He needed to grow an army and he did.  He took a force of 5,000 and turned it into a war machine of 50,000.  He conquered the lands of SIlesia, to the north of the Vistula River and inundated the piedmont of Poland with handbills encouraging weavers to come north of the Vistula and settle into his land in which he would offer religious freedom and a job:  tailors were needed to provide professional uniforms for his troops.  Frederick understood the power of a sharp uniform.

Johann Schleyermacher recognized the opportunity for his congregation and jumped on it big time!  Working as the advance man for Seibersdorf he brokered a deal with Frederick the Great, King of Prussia. The entire community of Seibersdorf would pack up their belongings and move north to Silesia and provide the King with uniforms as needed.  In return, they  expected: “Ten years exemption from taxes; exemption from conscription for themselves and their children; exemption from duties on goods they brought with them; and adquate military protection upon departure and en route.” Finally, they asked that taxes be generated in Prussia that would adequately pay for each peasant’s home. And an additional tax be generated to pay for the construction of their Protestant church.  The King accepted the arrangements.

Within a month Prussian Lieutenant Georg von Woyrsch, two squadrons of 70 men each, and a convoy of 200 empty covered wagons left Silesia for Seibersdorf.  Within 36 hours the covered wagons, loaded down with family belongings, pets, livestock and the entire population of the community,  safely crossed the Vistula and into a new life of religious freedom.

Next up: Johann’s father is accused of witchcraft and flees for his life to Holland