The Windish people of Bethlehem trace their ancestry to Prekmurje, a mountainous
region in eastern Slovenia. The Windish
dialect can be traced back 1500 years. Since the Windish were basically of hardy farmer
stock and had no nobility or war machinery among them, they were usually ruled by other
peoples, but were allowed to keep their ethnicity.
Slovenia was part of the
Austro-Hungarian Empire until 1918*. While most of Slovenia was ruled by the Austrians, the Prekmurje
region remained separatist and was under the control (as early as the 9th century) of the
Magyar nobles of Hungary.
At the turn of the 20th century, the Windish emigrated to America, searching for a better
life. Because Bethlehem, at that time, offered employment opportunities at the Bethlehem
Steel Company and at the plenteous cigar and dress factories, it became a mecca for a
large group of these Eastern Europeans.
Although most Slovenes were of the Roman Catholic faith, many Prekmurje Windish practiced
Evangelical Lutheranism. St. John's of Bethlehem is the only Windish Evangelical Lutheran
Church in the United States.
* The "Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes" was formed in
December 1918 and renamed the "Kingdom of Yugoslavia" in 1929.
Slovenia, the northernmost republic of Yugoslavia,
officially declared its independence in 1991. The European Union and the
United States recognized Slovenia in 1992.
Visit www.ifeelslovenia.eu for
Slovenian souvenir items.