Illuminations, Epiphanies, & Reflections
It appears that most Sanftlebens can trace their origins back to an area in central Europe commonly referred to as Silesia or Schlesien. In fact, it appears that many of the Schlesien Sanftlebens (sometimes recorded as Senftlebens) were concentrated in Nieder, or Lower, Schlesien, with quite a few in an area south of the city of Breslau around the town of Frankenstein.
Although Slavik peoples began to settle in Silesia under the feudal sovereignty of Bohemian dukes as early as the 9th century, the region did not come under the rule of a Polish King until the 10th century. As the area was sparsely populated, the Bohemian rulers actively recruited Germans to settle in the area, and by the mid-1200s the region, to include its towns and cities, was distinctly Germanic. In the mid-14th century, Poland renounced all claim to the region, the King of Bohemia assumed sovereignty, and Silesia became part of the Holy Roman Empire and subsequently the Austrian Empire from 1526 until 1742 when it was annexed by Prussia.
In the closing months of World War II, the Soviet Army began to systematically drive the German inhabitants of Silesia from their homes, forcing them to walk westward through the snow in temperatures that approached -15 degrees Fahrenheit. Frequently the long, slow-moving columns were strafed by Soviet aircraft, and records of outright murder by Soviet ground forces exist. It has been estimated that over 2 million Germans died from starvation, cold, and Soviet bullets during this ethnic cleansing . Following the war, Schlesien was ceded to Poland and renamed Slask; Breslau was renamed Wroclaw; and Frankenstein was renamed Zabkowice Slaskie.
In many ways, the ravages of Silesia's ethnic cleansing during the 20th century is reminiscent of the horrors inflicted on the region during the Thirty Years War (1618-1648). During the early years of the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, the majority of the population of Bohemia and Silesia became Lutheran. In 1617, Ferdinand, the Catholic Duke of Styria, became the King of Bohemia and immediately ordered the Protestants of Prague to cease building churches. The Protestant princes resisted as they believed this act to be in violation of rights of religious freedom granted to them by the throne nearly ten years earlier. Two of Ferdinand's ministers who tried to enforce the edict were tried at an assembly in Prague Castle, and when found guilty, physically thrown through the highest windows of the Bohemian Chancellery. Fortunately for the ministers, they survived the fall, but only because they had landed in a giant manure pile. This "Defenestration of Prague" sparked the Thirty Years War.
In 1929, Heinrich Gabriel authored a book, Am Born der Heimat, that included a memoir of life in Silesia during the Thirty Years War, written by the city clerk of Frankenstein, Kaspar Gloger. His father, a master baker, had served as a city-juror from 1635-1640 and a councilman from 1640 until his death in 1650.
Children, when I tell you my experiences in the Thirty Years War, terrifying pictures appear in my soul. Still today after twelve years of the peace, I am sometimes frightened in my sleep if I dream of Saxon Landsknechts and Swedish cavalrymen.
In the first two years of the war, I knew little about it as I was only six years old. Also, those of us living in Schlesien cared little about the troubles that the Emperor [Ferdinand II] had begun in Bohemia. But 21 February 1620 is a date that I still remember well. We children followed a group of magnificent coaches that had appeared at the arboretum as it traveled to our castle.
In the third car sat the newly selected King of Bohemia, Friedrich V, who was stopping for the evening on a trip to Breslau to receive homage. When I returned home late that evening, my father scolded me and made me stand alone in the room as a lesson because my curiosity at the castle may have led others to believe that I was celebrating the Bohemian insurrection that followed the death of the Holy Roman Emperor, Matthias, in 1619 and his succession by Ferdinand II. (During 1617, Matthias reversed a long-standing policy of state tolerance of the Protestants and attempted to forcefully reconvert them to the Catholic faith. After his sudden death, Ferdinand began to increase the pressure, and the mobility of Bohemia revolted.) Despite my father’s sympathy for the Protestant cause, he worried that the conflict would soon spread to Schlesien and devastate our homeland. His fears were correct for following the defeat of the Bohemians at the Battle of White Mountain (where their army of 25,000 was overwhelmed by the superior numbers of the Imperial forces) Schlesien overflowed with deserters, wounded, and refugees.
Still, we might have been spared from the conflict as most of the Protestant Schlesichen nobility quickly withdrew its support for Friedrich, however in 1621, the Lutheran Duke Johann George von Jaegerndorf, led his forces from Brandenburg to confront the Imperial Army at fortified city of Glatz. Now, the war came; the Imperial forces retreated from Glatz and burned the fields of Camenz and Giersdorf as it departed. Later in August, the Imperial Army returned and occupied Saxony and Schlesien as it laid siege to Glatz.
Oh, children, the soldiers were upon us! The scum of the earth. They cared nothing for our region or traditions. They plundered our homes and farms, and if we resisted we were assaulted and murdered. Our choice was between misery or grisly death. The Imperial army occupied our homes for 42 weeks without ever attacking the Protestant forces at Glatz. Frankenstein alone was required to support 1500 soldiers. It was worse for the nearby villages of Kunzendorf, Baitzen, and Altman, which were completely burned for their Protestant support. Finally, on 3 June 1622, the Imperial forces brought in two large cannons, named the Wingless Dragon and the Black Sow to fire upon the walls of Glatz, however the city continued to resist until 25 October.
After Glatz was retaken, the Imperial army gradually left the area, however we now lived with poverty, hunger, and inflation. Little food was available in Frankenstein as all of our farms had been destroyed. Work and trade came to a halt. Despite the inability to earn a living, we were required to pay the Empire one silver reichstaler and 15 to 20 ordinary talers each year. For these reasons, despite the peace, the city and surrounding farms could not recover.
In August, the Empire declared a new war emergency, and the Imperial army conscripted one-tenth of all Schlesien men to serve unwillingly in its labor battalions. Protestent forces returned to our region as did Wallenstein’s Imperial army. The demands on our food supply were exorbitant. We requested that Wallenstein by-pass our city, which he did but only after demanding we supply beer, wine, and bread for 15,000 men. I spent long days and nights with my father in his bakery, but that was far better than having the Wallensteiners here in Frankenstein. Then, despite his promise, Wallenstein garrisoned an infantry regiment in our city the following January. For six months it stayed making unreasonably severe demands for food and money. We were forced to give them all of the latter, and could only suffer their brutality in silence. To avoid the misery, my sister, Annemarie, and our father moved from town to Reichenstein to stay with my Uncle Ziegler. My brother, Christoph, and I stayed, for we knew how to avoid the soldiers.
Wallenstein and his army finally left in June, but before we could catch our breath, as Schlesien was now entirely under Imperial domination, regional Catholic forces arrived and garrisoned our area for 26 weeks behaving nearly as badly as the Imperial troops. On top of all of our troubles, the Empire forbid us to hold Lutheran services as we had been doing in the city for sixty years, and beginning in 1629 we were forced to become Catholic.
For the next three years, there was peace in Frankenstein, but in 1630, the Swedish King Gustavus Adolfus deployed his forces to assist our Protestant princes. Within two years, the Swedish troops arrived in Schlesien and forced the Imperial Army to withdraw from Breslau. In their retreat, they temporarily occupied Frankenstein. Upon leaving on 3 June 1632, they outrageously started a fire at the northwest corner of the ring that almost destroyed the entire city. Only the parish church, the school, and ten houses survived. We survived too, but only with our naked lives. The Swedes arrived in September, and everyone once more became Lutheran, however in November the Imperial army returned in force and bombarded the city. The Swedish forces withdrew, and we were forced to change our faith once more.
Our city now was little more than a heap of debris, and it again had to grant Wallenstein’s armies passage. The outlying villages were in even worse shape. The Imperial army brought us another dark guest too, “the black plague.” I knew from my grandfather that the plague had visited Frankenstein three times in the past; that was in 1521, 1568, and 1606. Now it came again and took thousands in our principality. Large numbers began dying in the city in August 1633, and it continued until January. I alone carried around 30 corpses to the cemetery. My dear mother, brother Christoph, and the good Annemarie died rapidly one behind the other. The Imperial army flooded the quiet city, plundering all that remained, and destroying the villages of Quickendorf, Peterwitz, Kleutsch, and Zuelzendorf by fire. Those who could, fled to the forests to escape the atrocities. For one and a half years, the scourge of God was upon us, yet we bore it all as routine. Even the Prager Partial Peace of 30 May 1635, which included Schlesien and freed us from supporting Imperial troops, brought no joy.
The following three years were calmer, and much of the city could have been rebuilt using timber from the surrounding forests, but Frankenstein now had only about one-sixth of its pre-war population, and their desire to build was paralyzed by fear of renewed hostilities. My father, however, was one of the few with energy, resolution, and faith in God despite all of the past strokes of fate and he heartily began to rebuild his bakery. Fighting, however, resumed in 1639 and continued until the final conclusion of the war.
Our lot was with the Swedes, oppressors though they could be, and they occupied our city three more times: 1639, 1642, and 1645. The whole time, the Imperial army harassed us and sucked our livelihood like leeches with tax collecting stations and toll roads. With the back and forth of troop movements, we hardly knew which armies we were forced to accommodate in our city; we found them all to be thieves, robbers, murderers, and arsonists. The soldiers, themselves, were no longer concerned with fighting and victory; they had become gangs of robbers and highwaymen, staying only where there were things to be stolen or consumed.
I wish to also tell of the last great battle for possession of our castle. By 1645 our life was so hard under the Imperial gang that occupied our city, that we actually wished we were part of Sweden. Then, they finally came on 1 October under the leadership of General Koenigsmark.
Despite our agreement with the general and our delivery of bread and beverage for 8,000 soldiers, no house remained unplundered. The next day the Swedes advanced to Patschkau without occupying the castle. However, they returned on 27 October and fortified the city with a strong unit and several cannons. The Swedish leader, Captain Kraegel, clearly intended to stay, as he resurrected Lutheran services in the city and established defenses in the castle. Approaches to the castle were cleared and defensive barriers and trenches were prepared. The city was required to provide the Swedes with food, cattle, and grain.
The Imperial attacks were not long in coming, however they were weak for the first six months, as the only damage inflicted was to terrorize the citizens. Then a large Imperial army under the command of General Montecuccoli appeared between the end of June and 1 July of 1646 and attempted to force the Swedes out of the region. Since Kaegel could not hold the entire city against such overpowering odds, he and his soldiers withdrew to the castle to make a last stand. The Imperial army began bombarding the castle on 2 July with three heavy cannon placed on the Zadler Church Bridge and two mortars on Guergaes lane. Infantrymen fired from trenches, barricades, and windows, and repeatedly assaulted the castle at night. The Swedes courageously defended the castle for two weeks until mines were emplaced under the castle walls. They surrendered on 13 July, and we became part of the Empire once more.
Count Montecuccoli then ordered the castle to be destroyed so that the Protestants could never again use it as a fort. A sea of flame devastated its insides and left only the walls standing. The powerful gate tower, however, resisted even a ton of powder.
We thought surely after this destruction of the castle that the battles would now pass us by; however for the next two years, Imperial troops continued to move through our principality, extorting funds, stealing cattle and grain, and keeping us a shantytown.
ended with the Peace of Westphalia on 4
October 1648, but life improved only gradually, and we continued our
for many more years. Even today as I
write in 1660, the horrible wounds of the war still hurt. But
everywhere, new life is now beginning:
the farmer again plows his field; the businessman fills his warehouse,
craftsman toils in his workshop. All
are anxious and hopeful.
does not address it in his memoir, following the Peace of Westphalia,
Silesians were "strongly" encouraged to rejoin the Catholic faith, and
most did. Many of those families that did not, eventually
to Protestant areas.
Christoffer Sanftleben lived in Frankenstein, this is the Silesian
climate he would have entered upon his birth in 1646. While
family records attest to his birth, and no records document his early
life, what is known is that Christoffer eventually became a cavalryman
in the Swedish Army.