The Slovak Republic is a landlocked country in Central Europe, bordered by the Czech Republic and Austria to the west, Poland to the north, Ukraine to the east and Hungary to the south. The country has an area of 49,035 km2 (18,932 square miles) and in 2013 had an estimated population of 5,415,949.
The Slavs, ancestors of the Slovaks, arrived in the territory of present-day Slovakia in the 5th and 6th centuries. By the 9th century the area came under the jurisdiction of the Great Moravian Empire. After the dissolution of the Great Moravian Empire at the turn of the 10th century, today's Slovakia was gradually integrated into the Kingdom of Hungary (called Upper Hungary), which itself became part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire or Habsburg Empire. After World War I and the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the nation of Slovaks and Czechs established their mutual state, Czechoslovakia. A separate Slovak state existed during World War II and was a client state of Nazi Germany (from 1939 to 1944). In 1945 Czechoslovakia was reestablished and the country came under the influence of the Soviet Union following a communist coup in 1948. The present-day Slovakia became an independent state on 1 January 1993 after the peaceful dissolution of Czechoslovakia during the peaceful Velvet Revolution of 1989.
According to the 2011 census, the majority of the inhabitants of Slovakia are Slovaks (80.7%). Hungarians are the largest ethnic minority (8.5%). Other ethnic groups include Roma (2%), Czechs (0.6%), Rusyns (0.6%), and others or unspecified (7.6%).
In 2011, 62.0% of Slovaks identified themselves as Roman Catholics, 5.9% as Protestants, 3.8% as Greek Catholics, 0.9% as Orthodox, 13.4% identified themselves as atheists and 10.6% did not answer the question about their belief.
Slovakia is situated between Danube in the south and the Carpathian Mountains in the north, between the March River on the west (Austrian border) and the Gran River on the east; it is rich in mineral ores (gold, silver, etc.) and warm springs. Its capital is Bratislava (German Pressburg, Magyar Pozsony). It was here that the kings of Hungary (Hapsburgs) were crowned and the Diet met until, after the defeat of the Turks (ca. 1700), the center shifted back to Budapest.
In the 16th-18th centuries this country was occupied mainly by manorial lords called "magnates," most of whom were of the Hungarian Reformed faith (Calvinists), strongly independent of the Hapsburg government in Vienna. They were organized under a Palatine or viceroy who represented the king in Hungary but frequently refused to accept orders from Vienna. The country bordered on that part of Hungary which was occupied by the Turks (1526-1700), and consequently suffered much by the numerous Turkish invasions, although the more remote mountain areas were less molested than the area along the Danube road. The lords were for the most part as tolerant as the Moravian nobles and were glad to receive Anabaptists as their tenants or "neighbors" (the Anabaptists always tried to buy land rather than to rent it; everywhere they were independent and free).
From 1546 on Slovakia was a refuge for Moravian Anabaptists (Hutterites), although the number of Bruderhofs in Slovakia never exceeded 14 or 15, as compared with the 80 to 90 in adjacent Moravia. (ME II, 859 f., lists all the known Bruderhofs of Slovakia, and gives a map showing their locations.) In the 18th century, when the Hapsburgs eventually gained the upper hand also in Hungary (the Turks had been driven out by Prince Eugene of Savoy, the imperial generalissimo, by 1700) and the independence of the Hungarian magnates was broken, the Jesuits entered this former Calvinistic sanctuary and the Anabaptists were doomed. Those who accepted Catholicism could remain (see Habaner); the rest had to leave as best they could, migrating to the Ukraine (see Hutterites).
The story of the Slovakian settlements of the Hutterites is closely related to their story in Moravia and is in part understandable only in the total context. Though somewhat more sheltered than Moravia, the new Bruderhofs did not produce any great spiritual leader; thus Slovakia became a place for the preservation of the faith and ways of the fathers rather than aggressive new ideas. All the outstanding Hutterite personalities are intimately connected with Moravia, the only exception being the great Vorsteher Andreas Ehrenpreis, active in 1630-62. He could be called "the second founder of the brotherhood" inasmuch as the Hutterites of today are to a much greater extent Ehrenpreis's people than Hutter's people.
In 1546 Sobotište (German, Freischütz), in the northern part near the Moravian border, became the first settlement of the Hutterites in Slovakia; some of the old houses still exist at this place, though the unique clock tower dates back only to 1753. The brethren were invited by the lord Franz Niary of Bedek, lord of the Branc castle (in the Geschicht-Buch phonetically written as Bränitsch, Brainisch, or Präntsch; Magyar, Berencs), but the area belonged actually to not less than thirteen manorial estates, and it was certainly not easy to satisfy all these self-willed lords. Great hardship began in 1548 when King Ferdinand prevailed upon the lords, at least temporarily, to expel the Anabaptists. Now they had to find other places, wandering from Slovakia to Austria, thence to Moravia and back again to Slovakia. At times they had to live in underground tunnels (called Lochy). But by 1554 the Hapsburgs had so many other tasks on hand that they had to leave Slovakia (then a part of Hungary) to itself again. Thus the "Golden Period" set in—1554-1600. In 1588 the lord of Gross-Schützen (Slovakian, Velke Levary), Hans Bernhard von Lembach, imperial cupbearer, invited the brethren to start a Bruderhof on his estate, not too far from the Austrian border, and gave them a charter (Stiftungsbrief, the text of which Zieglschmid published in 1940) containing all the needed protection.
But peace did not last. In 1605 Turkish and Hungarian satellite armies (under Bocskay) invaded the area, killing and plundering everywhere. The Sobotište Bruderhof remained uninhabited for eight years; then in 1613 the lords urged a resettlement, giving the brethren a new and stronger charter (Hausbrief, excerpts of which are given in Beck, 364 note), which was renewed once again in 1640 (text in Klein-Geschichtsbuch, 128 note). The Brethren were granted full liberty of conscience, the right to withdraw from the land at their pleasure, but with financial compensation, freedom from payment of taxes and tithes, compulsory labor only every third year, etc. The lords were to buy all their wares, yet at reduced prices; otherwise the brethren were free to carry on their trades as they wished. It was also understood that the Brethren would not take refuge in litigation, which meant that friendly arbitration should replace manorial court procedure.
In 1621 an exodus took place, in which some of the Hutterites in Slovakia moved on to Transylvania, invited by the prince of that land, Bethlen Gabor, who at that time lived under the suzerainty of the Turkish sultan. On 1 April 1621, the preacher Franz Walter (see Walter family, the oldest living Anabaptist family on record) together with 185 persons moved to Alwinz, where the settlement soon made remarkable progress, perhaps due to Walter's aggressive leadership (see Transylvania). The Thirty Years' War (1618-48), though fought mainly on German and Bohemian land, was strongly felt also in Slovakia. In 1626-27 great sufferings are reported all over the country, caused mainly by marauding soldiers. Since Moravia had expelled all its Anabaptists without exception by 1622 (though Loserth claims that hidden nests of Hutterites were found in Moravia as late as 1650), newcomers to nearby Slovakia swelled the Anabaptist settlements. The Archbishop of Esztergom (Gran) tried to stem this tide by a sharp letter to the royal court in Vienna (1629, text in Beck, 436), complaining among other things about the success which these simple Christians had among the rural population of the area. But since the Catholic clergy had but little power in this part of the Hapsburg land, the Brethren remained by and large unmolested.
Time of Andreas Ehrenpreis (1630-62). Concerning this period there is much material in both the Great and the Small Chronicle of the Hutterites. Surprisingly it is also described in the great contemporary novel Simplicissimus by Grimmelshausen, who draws a glowing picture of these people, their peace, thrift, and inner happiness; in short, he confesses that, were it not for their faith, he would not hesitate to join their community. In 1633, an unpleasant incident happened in Sobotište, when Brethren used brute force to prevent the taking away of horses by a haughty manorial lord. Much misery followed, but what really matters is a model ordinance by Ehrenpreis in 1633 concerning the nonresistant attitude of a genuine Christian, even if that should involve loss of property (Klein-Geschichtsbuch, 168-72, translated by Friedmann in Mennonite Quarterly Review, 1951). As far as Hutterites are concerned this was the only known case of "self-defense" ever recorded. Ehrenpreis's strong leadership became noticeable at once. In 1639 when he was elected Vorsteher, he at once set about reviving and amplifying the old regulations of the church, called Gemeindeordnungen. A large handwritten book (codex), most likely written by Ehrenpreis himself, has been preserved (now in Esztergom), in which all these ordinances are collected and supplemented. The Klein-Geschichtsbuch (519-32) also contains at least one of these ordinances (of 1651), all of which greatly strengthened the inner discipline of the now rather static brotherhood.
Not insignificant was also the attention given to the medical needs of the group: there were a number of excellent barber-surgeons and even a physician among the Brethren during this period, one of these men practicing in the mineral bath of Trenchin-Teplice. A medical codex of that time has also been preserved. Another characteristic feature of the Ehrenpreis period was the new custom of writing down the sermons for all the services throughout the year and for special occasions (see Sermons, Hutterite). Henceforth sermons were read, and the preacher who dared to extemporize a new sermon was frowned upon. The Bruderhof at Kesselsdorf was apparently a particular center of such sermon writing, and the brother Küntsche seems to have been the most productive of all these sermon writers. Some Ehrenpreis sermons, written with pencil in small notebooks, are still preserved by the brethren in Canada; in fact the entire collection of 300-500 sermons of the Ehrenpreis era has been copied and recopied up to the present and represents a most influential element in present-day Hutterianism.
It was also under Ehrenpreis that the last attempts were made at mission work in foreign lands. Brethren were sent to Danzig on the Baltic Sea where contacts were made with a Socinian group. One of this group, Dr. Daniel Zwicker, a physician by profession and a humanist, even came down to Slovakia in the early 1650's to see for himself what the Anabaptist life was like. Eventually he joined the group (though with some mental reservations), only to leave soon again for Danzig, giving up his pledge and other ties.
Since the Brethren were not permitted to start new settlements in Slovakia, they experimented with a new Bruderhof in Germany, setting up a small unit in Mannheim in 1654, which however never showed much inner life and was soon abandoned, most likely due to lack of leadership (the charter of the Hof in Beck, 492).
In 1650 Ehrenpreis put together for the last time all the essentials of the ancient Hutterite faith in a booklet (printed in 1652) entitled, Ein Sendbrief . . . brüderliche Liebe . . . betreffend. One more positive event of this period deserves mention. When Leopold I became Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire in 1657 and at the same time King of Hungary (though only of a rump of that realm), he showed a certain willingness to protect even his non-Catholic subjects. The fervor of the Counter Reformation and of the Thirty Years' War was over, and peace and prosperity were at this time of prime importance for Austria's recovery. Thus, on 29 January 1659, Leopold issued an Imperial Privilege which specifically placed the Hutterites under royal protection, "that all brethren should receive protection (Schutz und Schirm) against violence and persecution" (Beck, 496; see Leopold I). This Privilege covered the Anabaptists of three Hungarian districts (comitats), Bratislava, Neutra, and Trenchin. It is certainly a unique document in the entire history of the Hutterites, but unfortunately, it was soon forgotten, discounted, or disregarded.
The great time of Anabaptism was now over, and a decline set in soon after the death of Ehrenpreis. Poverty and misery of all sorts prompted the Brethren to send a delegation to the Mennonites in Amsterdam asking for material help (the letter of 1665 to these Mennonites closes the Great Chronicle; Wolkan, 666-71). Apparently this action was successful, for the Mennonite Archives in Amsterdam contain a letter of thanks for the generous help received, dated 24 November 1665 (Inv. Arch. Amst. II, 419). This help, however, could not stop the decline (Verfliessen) of Hutterite life. The principle of community of goods was in part abandoned in the later years of the 17th century, and the old discipline began to wane. At the same time the power of the Jesuits began to grow, and after 1700 the Anabaptist Brethren faced a challenge to which their spirituality was no longer a match. Already in 1688 Cardinal Kolonitch tried to insist that from now on infants in Velke Levary, his estate, must be baptized, an order obeyed by the more timid members. In 1733 another order or mandate was issued likewise requiring general infant baptism on the threat of severe penalties for the nonconforming parents. The details of the ensuing bitter struggle are recorded by Johannes Waldner in his Klein-Geschichtsbuch (197-239); as a whole it is a pathetic story of suffering and agony though of a different nature from the 16th-century martyrdom. Only a small fraction managed to leave Slovakia for the Ukraine; the majority eventually succumbed to the pressure and accepted Catholicism, though with much resistance and inner reservation. It was then that mass confiscations of their codices began (30 today in Bratislava, another 30 in Esztergom, 10 in Budapest, and many more simply destroyed), while here and there books were hidden behind walls or under the floors (see Habaner). Even the Edict of Toleration of the enlightened Emperor Joseph II in 1781 was of no help; Brethren from Slovakia went to Vienna for an audience with the Emperor, but he had little understanding for their way of life (though he permitted Mennonite settlers to locate in Galicia at the same time; see Galicia). Thus nothing was achieved. As soon as the Brethren turned Catholic, the Jesuits allowed them all the rest of their time-honored ways of life; the Bruderhof institutions remained unchanged, a common treasury was kept (almost up to 1914), and to this day people continue to live in the old Hofs. Also their most treasured craft, ceramics (Habaner fayence), was practiced far into the 19th century, creating some particularly beautiful pieces before and after 1800. When two American Hutterite Brethren revisited the old Slovakian homesteads in 1937, they joyfully recognized the familiar patterns of life as their own. But the genius had faded away and after a few hospitable days they parted, conscious that Hutterite life was no longer at home in Slovakia, Transylvania, or the Ukraine, but was to be found only in the far away prairie areas of Canada and the United States.
Beck, Josef. Die Geschichts-Bücher der Wiedertäufer in Oesterreich-Ungarn. Vienna, 1883; reprinted Nieuwkoop: De Graaf, 1967: 302, 364, 436, 492, 496, 570.
Friedmann, Robert. "Anabaptist Pottery: The Story of Habaner Fayences." Mennonite Life XIII (July 1958).
Friedman, Robert. "An Anabaptist Ordinance o£ 1633 on Nonresistance." Mennonite Quarterly Review XXV (1951): 116-27.
Friedman, Robert. "Hutterite Physicians and Barber-Surgeons." Mennonite Quarterly Review XXVII (1953): 128-36.
Loserth, Johann. "Decline and Revival of the Hutterites." Mennonite Quarterly Review IV (1930): 93-112.
Wikipedia. "Slovakia." 19 May 2014. Web. 19 May 2014. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slovakia.
Wolkan, Rudolf. Geschicht-Buch der Hutterischen Brüder. Macleod, AB, and Vienna, 1923: 246, 666-71.
Zieglschmid, A. J. F. "An unpublished Hausbrief of Grimmelshausen's Hungarian Anabaptists." Germanic Review XV (1940): 81-97.
Zieglschmid, A. J. F. Das Klein-Geschichtsbuch der Hutterischen Brüder. Philadelphia, PA: Carl Schurz Memorial Foundation, 1947: 128, 168-72, 179-239, 519-32.
Zieglschmid, A. J. F. Die älteste Chronik der Hutterischen Brüder: Ein Sprachdenkmal aus frühneuhochdeutscher Zeit. Ithaca: Cayuga Press, 1943.
The diary of the two Hutterites who visited the colonies in 1937 was published in translation in the Mennonite Quarterly Review in 1959.
Cite This Article
Friedmann, Robert. "Slovakia." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1959. Web. 8 Aug 2020. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Slovakia&oldid=140993.
Friedmann, Robert. (1959). Slovakia. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 8 August 2020, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Slovakia&oldid=140993.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, pp. 545-548. All rights reserved.
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