Women, Beer and Religion
Who loves not women, wine and song remains a fool his whole life long. Martin Luther
The earliest records I could find of the Slovak Suster family date back to the 1730’s in Hungary. In order to understand why the Suster family ended up in Pivnica, located in present day Northern Serbia, I had to poke around in the history of the Lutheran church and of the Austro- Hungarian Monarchy.
In the 1500’s, German theologist Martin Luther introduced the Protestant religion to Europe, strongly protesting against the patriarchal teachings of the Roman Catholic church. He taught that each person could have a personal relationship with God as opposed to only through a priest, and he vehemently denied the Catholic claim that money could free a person from God’s punishments. He also went as far as translating the Bible from Latin into German, making it more accessible to the people and greatly threatening the Pope’s authority.
By the end of the 16th century most people in Hungary had converted to the Lutheran doctrine through Luther’s religious reformation efforts. The Habsburgs reversed this trend in the 17th century with strong anti-reformation pressures, resulting in most people converting back to Catholicism by the end of the century (the better to control them). Many educated individuals – those who could read, who attended university and studied subjects such as law or theology and who were business owners– tended to remain Lutheran or Jewish.
The first and only female ruler of the Austrian Habsburg dynasty was Maria Theresa, born in 1717. A devote Roman Catholic, she did not believe in religious tolerance and instead thought forced religious unity would bring peace to her empire, and so attempted to convert all of the remaining religious holdouts to Catholicism. With the relatively few Lutherans and Jews that refused to convert, she put them in jail, tied them to the stake, banished them to Protestant Transylvania or sent them into exile in swampland south of Hungary, where they were ordered to protect her empire’s border from the neighboring Turks.
Perhaps because it was closest, staunch Lutheran hold-out Štefan Šuster, my 6th great grandfather, chose the swampland. Štefan was born in 1739, in the small town of Cserhátsurány (also known as Surany), located in Hungary near the Slovakia-Hungary border, and was trained as a shoemaker (hence the name Šuster). He and his wife, Maria Palotay, made the month long journey on foot across the flat plains into exile to the Southern Pannonian village of Kysáč in 1775, near Novi Sad. They soon had sons Štefan, Ján, and twins Pavel and Juraj. Town records show they lived in at least two houses in Kysáč, that he made beer and was called “Brew Maker” or “Brew Cooker” – Pivarči in Slovak. (Perhaps the beginning of the present day, super, secret Shusmooth club, in which male Shusters and other honorary members must affix a beer label to their foreheads while heavily imbibing on beer).
Sadly, Maria died not long after having the twins (perhaps during childbirth?), leaving Štefan alone with four young sons ages 5 and under. Soon after his first wife’s death, Štefan married Zuzana Privizer, and together they had a fifth son, Ondrej. In 1787, when Zuzana was pregnant again, seven year old Pavel died. When she gave birth to their sixth and last son a month later, he too was named Pavel ( have discovered this trend to name newborns after deceased children was common in the Šuster family in the centuries that followed). Less than two years later, the oldest son Štefan died at the age of 14.
The loss of Maria and two children must have been difficult for one family to experience in the span of a decade. Not long after young Štefan’s death, the family packed up their belongings once again and headed to the nearby town of Pivnica where they would settle for good, where Štefan would embark on a new career (again influenced by reformation acts of Maria Theresa) and build a foundation upon which the Šuster family would flourish for the next 220 years.