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THE TRAIL OF THE AUSTRIAN EXILES TO GERMANY (1590 - 1685)

THE WORK OF TH REFORM COMMISSION

As mentioned before, the Peace Treaty of Westphalia (“Westfaelischer Frieden”) in  1648 did not bring religious freedom to Austria. It was just the contrary: The government continued to put pressure on the non-catholics. In 1652 another order was sent out by the emperor, telling that he himself could determin the religion of his people. Those who would not become catholics were now forced to appear before a commission for further investigation. However, as option, an emigration was also a possible. From this point on, the commission travelled restlessly through the Austrian parishes. One of the areas that did not surrender their Protestant belief to the commission was Lower Austria´s “Waldviertel” (where our ancestors lived). They strictly refused to give in and were finally only overcome by brutal force and the apprehension of those local judges who were not willing to collaborate with the Catholic church. After the year 1652, the authorities´ pressure was further increased. Therefore many emigrants sold their farms and houses far below the market price and decided to leave the country. Many Protestants left everything behind without getting any financial compensation. This was due to the taxation of 10% to 50% on their belonging´s vaule. When the exiles left secretly,  the authorities simply sold the refugees´ possessions. Documents of theses times prove that many people left and were forced to leave everything behind.
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The Waldviertel (wooded quarter) in its beauty. The Exulanten from Lower Austria left their homes until 1680 latest. Very few returned.

They vanished in the dark of night, hoping to cross the borders unharmed. In some cases the refugees were beaten by soldiers or robbers, thrown into prison, robbed and even sometimes sent back home. It also happened that those who were arrested at the border were brutally dragged into a Catholic church, forced to confess and take part in the wholy communion. In the eyes of the church, this made them to Catholics again.

Between 1652 and 1654 the activities of the Reformation Commission led to the “official” eradication of Protestantism in Austria. The Austrian exiles of the 16. and 17. centuries wandered in groups or alone to Hungary, Wurttemberg, Saxony or Franconia. In contrary to the Salzburg Exiles who were banished from Salzburg in 1731/32, the refugees from Inner Austria left quietly. Decades later the Salzburgers were lucky to get an organised (and paid) journey to East Prussia under great solidarity of the population. The exiles that were driven out years before them, did not have this privilige. Nobody welcomed them joyfully at their new homes. Only their deep-rooted Protestant belief and German as their common language made their lives easier in the new surroundings. It was not unusual that the local folk regarded the immigrants very sceptical. Therefore it was rather natural that these religious Austrians preferred to marry among themselves during the first years.

EXPELLED! The arm of the roman-catholic church reaches everybody. This is symbolised by this wooden and stretched out arm holding a cross (seen by the author at Hohenwerfen Castle´s chapel in July 2006).

A Lutheran family escapes through the snowy landscape of Austria: Jesus Christ on the back and the family following behind.

Catholic “Materl” are still everywhere to find in Austria.

Beautiful Franconia welcomed the Exulanten with open arms after the Thirty Years War.

Nevertheless the Exiles mixed with the local population over the years. That is why most of the people living in Franconia today forgot about their Austrian immigrants´ heritage. Sometimes the early Austrian exiles are still considered as “Salzburgers” here. But the movement of the Salzburg Protestants through Franconia on their way to East Prussia in 1731/32 is another story..

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