Return to Table of Contents


When talking about the expulsion of the Salzburg Protestants, it must be mentioned, that the 18. century Austria did not comprise the State of Salzburg as Salzburg was an independent Catholic Church State until 1816 (Congress of Vienna). Already in the year 1528 Martin Luther´s thesis had reached Salzburg and had caused some turmoil among the believers and the church authorities. Matthaeus Lang von Wellenberg, the local cardinal, showed understanding regarding criticism that was aiming at he Catholic church. He only interfered after the poet and scientist Paulus Speratus openly spread Luther´s word in Salzburg. Speratus was thrown out of the country, but the Protestant seed had begun to grow. As further action, the pastor Georg Scherer was decapitated in April 1528 and his dead body burned. Other evangelic priests were imprisoned or expelled. But this did not show much effect. The freedom-loving mountain people in the Salzburger Land did not want to leave from the new belief. When archbishop Matthaeus Lang died, his successors tried to reconcile and did not continue to persecute the Protestants.

Only when the former Jesuit student, Max Gandolf von Kuenburg, elected to the throne of the Salzburg prince bishop in 1668, the counter-reformation was continued with all efforts. When news from the village of Duerrnberg (today: Bad Duerrnberg) and the Deferegger Valley came to Salzburg that the Catholic priests were ridiculed and the people refused to take part in Catholic services, Max Gandolf had to react. So far, he had left the local mine workers alone, because their work was of outmost importance for the state´s income. But for the authorities the point of no return was reached now. As mentioned before, the leaders Joseph Schaitberger, Matthias Kammel and Simon Lindtner were arrested and taken to Salzburg. Withstanding torture, the men stuck to their belief and were thus expelled in the year 1686. They were allowed to take teir wives with them, their children however were taken away by force and handed over to catholic foster parents.

The expulsion of the years 1731/32

A Sendbrief by Joseph Schaitberger

In the year 1727, long time after Schaitbergers and the other people´s expulsion, archbishop Leopold Anton Freiherr von Firmian took the reign over Salzburg. One of his advisors was chancellor Rall, who well understood to talk the people´s protestant disobedience into an uprise. Also the catholic church in Rome slowly demanded stronger activities to stop Lutheranism. When Salzburg´s protestant nobility asked Austria´s emperor for help for their fellow believers, the Salzburg authorities reacted. The local protestant leaders were arrested, tortured and accused of masterminding a rebellion. Do get finally rid of the Lutherians, archbishop Leopold signed a so-called emigration treaty in August 1731 and ordered the expulsion of the Salzburg protestants.

People who did not own houses or land had to leave within 8 days, the others were given 3 months time to emigrate. If necessary, soldiers would force the people out of their homes after this deadline and take them over the border. As a sign of mercy the exiles were allowed to take their children with them. The ruler of Bavaria tried to stop the unavoidable and closed the border to Salzburg. But when he reckognised the hopeless situation of the exiles in this cold winter, he let them into his country. In several treks the Salzburger Exulanten left their homeland and first turned towards Bavaria and Wuertemberg.

The expulsion in winter 1731. Exiles walk into freedom.

In April 1732 those Protestants followed the first wave who owned a house or land. They were lucky, because King Frederick William I. of Prussia had declared to grant them asylum in his kingdom. So 20.000 Protestants from Salzburg left their homeland for good and walked by foot or were shipped to East Prussia. Between May 1732 and November 1733 sixty-six ships reached the East Prussian city of Koenigsberg. 5.500 Salzburgers arrived with 780 wagons. Approximately 5 %  died on the way through Germany. 15.000 of the emigrants were assigned to the area around the city of Gumbinnen.

But there was one group of people that the Salzburg prince bishop would not allow to leave the country: The salt miners who had been rebellious for years. He desperately needed them for the lucrative salt digging for the “white gold”. This income could not be endangered. The miners at the Duerrnberg Mountain still denied any catholic missionary efforts and openly talked about emigration. In the meantime the rulers organised workers who could replace the miners. They knew, that they were not able to stop the religious emigration in the long run. But then the Netherlands had declared to offer asylum to the Duerrnberg and Berchtesgaden mine workers and their families. They also offered to show themselves generous to those willing to move to Holland.

Lorch at the Rhine River, Germany. In winter 1732/33 the ships of the Salzburger passed here on their way to The Netherlands.

In November 1732 the next wave of expulsion began. After an exhausting winterly journey along the Rhine River, the group of mine worker exiles reached the Dutch island of Cadzand in March 1733. But they found their hopes and imaginations disappointed. Nobody spoke their language, the landscape was totally flat and the economic promises were not kept. An influenca epidemy also killed 100 of the 780 emigrants. If they only had followed the other Salzburgers to East Prussia !

In Juli 1733, the first 40 exiles returned to Regensburg in Germany, to report their situation to the Protestant authorities. The Dutch government promised to better support the emigrants, what they actually did afterwards. Nevertheless only 42 families with altogether 216 heads remained in the country. The others moved to the USA or settled in the Franconia, Germany. An area that had traditionally given shelter to protestant exiles in the past.

Links: Die Ankunft der Salzburger Emigranten auf der Insel Cadzand, Niederlande.Rechts: Die Dünen von Cadzand heute.

The descendants of the Salzburgers who stayed in Holland organised themselves in the “Werksgroep vor de Stichting Bestudering von de Geschiedenis Salzburger Emigranten”.

Those Salzburgers who had settled in the Gumbinnen area in Prussian-Lithuania also had great difficulties to settle well in the beginning. This was also due to the fact that the local people did not always welcome them with open arms. King Frederick William I. however understood well to earn the emigrants´ loyality and made the settlement finally a success. The time of the Salzburgers came to an unhappy ending in 1945, when the Soviet Red Army stormed Germany´s Prussian territory on their way westwards to Berlin. The Salzburger descendants, who in the meantime had become German nationals, escaped to western Germany and never returned to their homes.

For many descendants of the Salzburg Exiles this was the last piece of home they saw when being forced out of East Prussia in 1945:
The Westpreussenkreuz (West Prussia Cross) near Weissenberg (Biala Góra) in Stuhm County. The cross then marked the three country corner between Germany (East Prussia), Freistadt Danzig and Poland. It symbolised the hope of the East Prussians to be reconnected with Germany´s heartland, after the 1. World War had created a “Polish Corridor” between the two pieces of Germany. As result, West Prussia had been given to Poland. The cross war destroyed by the Soviet Red Army in 1945 on their way to Berlin.
(To the right is a photo how the cross looked in December 2006).

   Return to Table of Contents