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Wendish “Kashubs” in Pommerania

by John Noack

On page 37 of his book “The World of the Ancient Slavs”, Zdenek Vana has described the tragedy and disappearance of the Slavs who occupied most of north-western Europe during the Middle Ages.

These Slavs formed part of the Lekhitic group of the Slavonic languages, which included the vanished Polabian Wends and the still surviving Lusatian-Sorbian and Kashubian Wends, as well as the Poles.

Heinz Lingenberg has written an article in German on the Slavic Kashubs, which is now being translated by Rita Shedda for inclusion in a future Newsletter. As background, the story of the Kashubs was presented in “Polish American Studies” Vol 23, No 1, 1966, which is in our library.

Between 660-900 AD, Slavs moved into the area between the lower Oder and the lower Vistula Rivers where they were called Pomeranians, meaning “inhabitants of the seacoast”. The eastern-most group of Pomeranians became known as the Kashubs.

In about 1,000 AD, these Wendish Kashubs came under the influence of the Poles when an East Pomeranian prince in Danzig married a Polish princess and Polish missionaries were sent to convert the Kashubs.

From 1309 to 1466, the Teutonic Knights colonised this area but Polish influence returned from 1466 to 1772.

As a result of the first partition of Poland in 1773, the Kashubs came under Prussian (German) control. The use of the Kashubian language was encouraged by the King of Prussia in a decree in 1842 but by 1865, Bismarck reversed this with a policy of rigid Germanisation or “Kulturkampf”. Some Kashubian families migrated to North America, including to the state of Wisconsin and a few family names included Burant, Ostrowski, Koziczkowski, Zelewska and Zynda.

After the 1919-1920 Treaty of Versailles, Kashubs found themselves in the “Polish Corridor” but in 1939, when Hitler seized this corridor, the Kashubs were again under German control. In 1950, after the establishment of the Oder-Niesse border between East Germany and Poland, they were again in Poland.

At present, their main centre is Koscierzyna in Pomerania and a town well populated by Kashubs is Gdynia. Over 300,000 people in Poland regard themselves as Kashubs and over 200,000 still speak the Kashubian language. A movement set up in 1846 for promoting the Kashubs was called “Florian Ceynowa” and a present group “Odroda” is aiming at national renewal of the Kashubs.

It is clear from the above that the story of the Wendish Kashubs in Pomerania is very similar to the story of their slavic cousins, the Lusatian Wends or Sorbs who have lived continuously along the River Spree south-east of Berlin since about 500 C.E.