|Brünn, home of Gregor Mendel, the father of modern genetics, was originally the site of a Celtic
settlement. Its origins go back to a castle founded around 1021, and an early document mentions the
settlement in 1091. The town itself was founded in 1243 by Wenceslaus I of Bohemia. Brünn was
situated at the crossroads of old trade routes which joined Northern and Southern European
civilizations. As part of the Habsburg Empire, Brünn represented the center of the province of
Moravia where German settlers arrived in the 12th and 13th Century. Germans were, until the end
of the World War II, the majority population here living alongside of a minority Czech population.
Brünn was destroyed in the Thirty Years War and devastated by the Plague, which killed 2,000 of
its inhabitants. The city recovered and flourished again under the progressive reforms of Austrian
Emperor Josef II from 1760 to 1790, and religious tolerance was imposed. Since for centuries
Germans were the majority, the town mayors were all German. In 1850, Brünn's population was
37,500, with a German majority and an efficient, successful German administration who had
continually developed new and improved roads, lighted and paved streets, gas, water and sewage
lines, new weaving and cloth mills as well as a machinery industry.
In 1882, Franz (Francis) Jehl (1860-1941), the long time German-American assistant of Thomas
Alva Edison, went throughout Europe introducing the Edison light system to the various European
countries. He traveled to Brünn to design and install an electric lighting in the Brünner Stadttheaters,
the oldest theater building in central Europe and the first public building in the world to use Edison's
electric lamps. Edison himself visited Brünn in 1911.
Jehl had participated with Edison from the first attempts to create a suitable thread for the first bulb.
His tours greatly influenced many European scientists, a couple of them being Emil Rathenau, one of
the greatest Edison pioneers in Europe, and Professor Guiseppe Colombo, founder of the great
electrical system at Milan. Jehl later wrote a book titled "Reminiscences of Menlo Park". In it he
relates the following about his meeting with Emperor Franz Joseph:
"In Vienna I was invited to court by the Emperor Franz Josef, and had one of the greatest thrills of
my life," Mr. Jehl said. "I spoke with him in the Hofburg Palace. It was like a fairyland, filled with
officers of the various regiments of the old Austro- Hungarian Empire. Edison was a great man, the
Emperor told me. He said that when Edison invented the phonograph he had instructed his
ambassador to send him one right away. I spoke to him in German and told him about Edison and
his work." Franz Josef was impressed and later, Mr.Jehl was decorated by order of the Emperor.
Although Brünn's historical city center was predominantly Germans, the industrial revolution
changed the town's labor force, and the newer factories and workshops employed many Czechs who
arrived daily from the suburbs. Both languages were understood in Brünn and there were eventually
families of mixed nationalities. It prospered and grew, and by 1910, Brünn had a population of
108,944, of whom 70% were Germans and 30% Czechs. Alas, policies from Versailles after World
War One would soon altar and rewrite the history, culture and ethnic balance of Brünn.
When the Austrian Monarchy was crushed after World War One, the Czechs received their own
state and, with the inclusion of the Slovaks, it became known as Czechoslovakia with Prague as its
capital. A number of neighboring communities were suddenly incorporated into the municipality of
Brünn so that Czechs would become the majority for the first time in history, and therefore Brünn's
administration also became Czech. The numbers of Germans/Austrians in the border regions was
about 3.5 million. In late 1918, only 160,000 Czechs had lived in these regions. A mere twenty years
later, in May of 1939, official statistics numbered twice as many Czechs, or approximately 320,000,
and they had been intentionally lured to these purely German regions to "Czechify" them. This
spelled its doom.
From the beginning, activist Czechs decided to create a Nationalistic Czech state in which Germans
would be robbed of their farms, homes and businesses and resettled elsewhere. The Slovaks had
also become a minority, and the rights of both minorities were soon trampled. In the early years of
the young Czech Republic, even some Germans had been enthused by the new spirit that filled the
Czech citizens, but unfortunately, the two factions were overshadowed by national differences, and
soon Germans had to fight to protect their ethnic installations and organizations. Hard feelings were
growing in intensity, and once the shoe was on the other foot, the Germans were treated harshly and
vindictively, resulting in consistent acts of violence against them. In 1938, the area was annexed to
Note: After the Sudetenland's annexation, many of the new Czech immigrants moved back into their
Czech homeland, the future Protectorate, but none were forcibly expelled.
|Brünn's Capuchin Monastery still holds the mortal remains of Franz Freiherr von der Trenck, an
adventurous Austrian soldier. Born in 1711 in Reggio di Calabria to a military family and educated by
Jesuits, Trenck entered the Imperial army in 1728, but resigned in disgrace 3 years later. He married
and lived on his estates until his wife died in the plague of 1737. He then offered to raise a corps of
"pandures" for service against the Turks but, after being refused, he entered the Russian army as a
mercenary. He was accused of bad conduct, brutality and disobedience and condemned to death for
defying an order to retreat while serving against the Turks as a captain and major. Despite his
insubordination, his sentence was commuted to imprisonment.
Trenck returned to Austria, where his father was governor of a small fortress, but with his bad
manners and surly disposition, he soon came into greater conflicts and he had to hide in a Vienna
convent. After obtaining an amnesty and a commission in a corps of irregulars, he was cited for
bravery and even promoted to lieutenant-colonel, and then colonel in 1744. In February, 1745, he
was given a reception and paid high respects by Maria Therese in Vienna.
He had captured 4,500 soldiers and non-commissioned officers, 27 officers and 9 staff officers as
well as seizing 22 guns, 7 flags, 3 mortars and 3 standards. During the War of Austrian Succession,
Trenck gained fame as leader and commander of the "Pandur", a paramilitary regiment of the
Austrian army, which specialized in frontier warfare and guerrilla tactics. He recruited experienced
Croatian and Serbian mercenaries from the Austro-Ottoman border, infamous for the civilian
atrocities they committed.
During the War of the Austrian Succession, despite the fact that Trenck rallied volunteers to assist
Maria Theresa, he and his irregulars had so busied themselves plundering at the battle of Soor that
the king of Prussia was allowed to escape. Court martialed in Vienna, he was convicted of having
sold and withdrawn commissions to his officers without royal permission, having breeched military
code when punishing his men and having drawn pay and allowance for fictitious men. His brutality
and theft made him detested throughout Austria and Silesia. The death sentence which followed was
commuted by the Empress and he spent the remainder of his life in mild captivity in the fortress of
Spielberg in Brünn, where he died on October 4, 1749. He bequeathed the sum of 30,000 Gulden to
the small town of Marienburg which his troops had sacked and burned.
Austrian Franz Freiherr von der Trenck has been reincarnated as a Czech named "Frantisek
Svobodny pan Trenck". His mummified remains in a glass-topped coffing are on display in the crypt
of Brünn's (now "Brno") Capuchin Monastery. His head, like his name and ethnicity, was stolen a
long time ago and replaced with another head.
|Brünn: Scene of the Crime
|The Population before the Purge
|Trenck, the town
and the theater
|An Old Soldier Reincarnated