Who are Sorbs?

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The Sorbs are an ethnic group of around 60,000 people in Germany, with smaller populations in Poland, Czech Republic, and the US. They arrived in Lusatia in the 6th century and were invaded and oppressed by Germans until the 11th century. The Sorbs were Christianized and Germanized, with only small pockets remaining. They suffered during the Black Death and were targeted by the Nazis during WWII. After reunification, they fought for equal rights and cultural heritage.

The Sorbs are an ethnic group of approximately 60,000 people traditionally residing in Germany. Small emigrant populations also exist in neighboring Poland and the Czech Republic, and some 30,000 Sorbs in the United States. They are thought to be related to Serbian people, although this is considered unproven. Lusatian Sorbs are also known under the name of Wends.

Towards the end of the 6th century the Sorbs arrived in the region they now inhabit, between the rivers Nysa and Elbe, straddling the Spree. This is the region now known as Lusatia in Germany, although historically it also included portions of the Czech Republic and Poland.

In the early 9th century their homeland was invaded by one of Charlemagne’s sons and the main city of Bautzen was razed to the ground. In the following centuries they will continue to be invaded and oppressed, until the capitulation towards the end of the 11th century. The new German rulers treated them as second-class citizens and their ways of life were slowly weakened. The easiest path to success under German rule was to adopt the German language and abandon their Slavic heritage, which many did.

At the same time, the Christianization of the Sorbs accelerated enormously under German rule. Although some went on a rampage, maintaining the traditional pagan Wend religion, in the late 12th century the Danes led a crusade against the remaining pagan Wends, destroying a temple complex at Arkona and completing the process of Christianisation.

Over the next two centuries Germans were brought into the Wendiland to settle it extensively, shifting the population from predominantly Slavic to predominantly German. Most of the Vene were almost completely assimilated by this German migration, with only small pockets of Sorbs and Kashubs remaining.

When the Protestant Reformation occurred, the Sorbs joined the Germans in rallying to Martin Luther. Taken by the spirit of his drive to translate sacred texts into the vernacular, they created a written language to publish his Little Catechism.
The Sorbs suffered particularly during the Black Death and the Germans used this as another opportunity to move more immigrants to the region. After the Congress of Vienna, German migration increased further and Sorbs were denied many of their basic rights, although they fought to preserve their cultural heritage.

Many emigrated to the United States at this time, during the mid-19th century, settling particularly in parts of Texas where their descendants continue to have thriving communities to this day. Others remained in Lusatia, which was eventually absorbed into united Germany in the late 19th century.

Along with other ethnic minorities, Sorbs were targeted by the Nazi Party during World War II. Heinrich Himmler, a leading member of the Nazi party, instituted a plan to drive them out of Germany and into Poland, and many more were killed by the army or sent to concentration camps. The marginalization continued for several decades after the war. When Germany was reunified in 1990, the Sorbs began to push harder for equal rights and the reaffirmation of their cultural heritage.

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