Religious & Political History
The Fritscher family was Catholic, and the Austrian Empire was predominantly Catholic when the family lived there. Religion played a large part in the lives of the Fritschers, as it did in the lives of most Austrians. Present day Austria is only a tiny remnant of the old Austrian Empire, and what was then Moravia, Austria is now a part of the Czech Republic. Religion and government were for all practical purposes the same during that period, and the struggle between Catholic and Protestant government rule was a constant one for centuries.
For more than 700 years Germans and Czechs lived together peacefully in the area. It is true that from time to time there were tensions and conflicts, for example the Hussite wars in the 15th century, but they were fought for religious and social reasons, rather than on racial grounds. It should be mentioned, however, that some regions within the Sudetenland (parts of Moravia and Bohemia) were inhabited exclusively by German-speaking people who had no contact whatsoever with Czechs, as in the southern part of Moravia; they were indistinguishable in every respect from the neighboring Austrians. A part of the Sudeten was called the Schoengstgau, an area in parts of Bohemia and Moravia where German language and traditions prevailed surrounded by Czech people with their own language and traditions. This is an accurate description of the Fritschers and inhabitants of the village of Kaltenlautsch. The Fritschers and their relatives always referred to themselves as being from 'Austria'. They spoke German and their traditions were Austrian or German; when they moved to America, they settled in German speaking communities.
In 1526 the lands of the Bohemian Crown, including the regions in which the Sudeten Germans lived, came under the rule of the Habsburgs.1 They thus became part of the "Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation" until 1806, and of the German Confederation from 1815 to 1866. In 1848 the Sudeten Germans were among those who elected members of the first German parliament which met in the Church of St. Paul in Frankfurt.
A Concordat2 signed in August of 1855 between Austria and the Catholic Church, was very favorable to the Church, giving the Church complete freedom in the management of all ecclesiastical affairs. The state gave up all control over the appointment of the clergy, and in matters of church discipline the civil courts had no voice. The state had even resigned to the Church all authority over some departments of civil life. This was the case with regard to marriage, all disputes concerning marriages were to be tried before ecclesiastical courts, and the marriage registers were kept by the priests. All the schools were under the control of the Church; the bishops could forbid the use of books prejudicial to religion. In elementary schools all teachers were subject to the inspection of the Church, and in higher schools only Roman Catholics could be appointed. It had been agreed that the whole education of the Roman Catholic youth, in all schools, private as well as public, should be in accordance with the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. The authority of the Church extended even to the universities.
In 1860 Austria became a constitutional monarchy, and in the next year the foundations of a representative government were laid. It was during the first session of the Imperial Parliament, when a Protestant deputy attacked the Concordat and demanded its revision. Members of the Church in the Upper House and some other Bishops met and prepared a document which was sent to the Emperor, Franz Joseph. The document, called a memorial, stated that the harshest intolerance was being practiced on all sides against the Catholic Church. These events were merely the forerunners of a terrible storm which broke after the disastrous war of 1866. It was 1866, when the Austro-Prussian War broke out. In that 7-Weeks War, Austria was crushed by the army of Prussia who wanted to expel Austria from the German Confederation. Prussia was successful in excluding Austria from German affairs. In July of the next year a Deputy of the new government moved the preparation of three bills concerning marriage, schools, and the mutual relations of the different religious denominations. On the 21st of December, 1867, the new fundamental laws received the imperial approval. The first granted full freedom of faith and conscience and freedom in scientific opinion. The second declared: "All jurisdiction in the state is exercised in the name of the emperor". Thereby the Church's exclusive jurisdiction over marriage was impugned. The third law obliged all officials to take an oath to support the constitution. The Protestant agitation against the Concordat was so strong, that in opposition to it, the Emperor, Franz Josef, reluctantly ratified marriage and school laws, on March 25, 1868. In 1870, the Concordat was abolished by the Austrian Government, and in 1874 laws were enacted which placed all but the inner management of ecclesiastical affairs in the hands of the Government. It was in 1876 when Anna Fritscher traveled to America with her two sons, Joseph and Johann, and her daughter Anna.
1 The Habsburgs were the royal German family that provided rulers for several European states and wore the crown of the Holy Roman Empire from 1440 to 1806.
2 A Concordat is a formal agreement made between the pope of the Catholic Church, in his spiritual capacity, and the temporal authority of a state. As such it is accepted as being a contract between Church and State, a treaty governed by international laws. The Concordat of 1855 with Austria, issued by Pope Pius IX, gave vast rights to the Church.
A Short History of Austria-Hungary and Poland. London: The Encyclopedia Britannica Company, Ltd., 1914.