Friday, November 3, 2017

Mom's WW2 Stories: School

When the war started and Poland was occupied by Nazi Germany, the ability of speaking and understanding German became vital. My grandma was a fluent German speaker and she decided to teach the language to her little daughters. Her teaching method was simple - she spoke to the girls in German only. Every day, day by day. At the beginning, mom (a few year old baby girl then) and her two years older sister cried because they did not know what their mother was saying. Therefore, they often asked grandma, with tears in their little eyes, to tell them in Polish what she meant. Although the method may seem a bit drastic, it appeared to be very effective - after three months of such active learning, both girls could easily communicate in German. Then, grandma Irena started talking to her daughters in their native language again.

When mom "became of age" and the very first day of her school education came, she was more than ready considering the German language. It was important as Polish was forbidden - the classes were run by German teachers in German only. Since she could also read and count (the early primary school mathematics level of course), after a short time of her career in the first grade, mom was moved the third one and attended classes together with her older sister.

Frau K., their teacher, seemed not to be keen on the Polish kids and she made them see and feel (literally) it. An example? One morning mom was walking along the corridor toward the classroom, at the same time, a German boy of the same third-year group passed her by. He was running. The teacher saw him ran but when he ran into the classroom, she said nothing even though running in the school building was forbidden. When mom reached the room, Miss K. yelled at her: "Running is not allowed!" and hit her with a stick. It did not help that mom cried and tried to explain: "I did not run Miss. It was Georg.*", she got her beating anyway.

Despite all the years which have passed (mom is eighty-two now), she can still remember what she learned during her first year at school. One of the songs which she very much enjoyed was  Jetzt fahrn wir übern See, übern See. I have found a modern video version of it on YouTube (the teacher and the kids in the video are not related to mom's story in any way).

The song is about sailing across the see without paddles, birds which sang and hunters who blew their horns. The trick during singing is that you are not supposed to sing a certain word. Mom recalls that when they sang the song at the class, whoever happened to make a mistake, forgotten to be silent at the right time, had to stand up.

Another song which she learned at school was Es regnet, es regnet, die Erde wird nass!

This one is obviously about the rain but the children are pleased because they are sitting in a dry place and they will not get wet.

Except singing, there was also reading and Das Büblein auf dem Eise. The poem, written by 19th-century German poet Friedrich Wilhelm Güll, tells a story about a little boy who is eager to check whether the fresh ice on a pond is thick enough to play on it. The poem is quite long and mom can still recite the beginning of it.

All in all, mother's wartime school education adventure did not last long. One day, when mom and her sister came to school, Miss K. greeted the pupils with a "Heil Hitler!", as usual. Then, the Polish children were given homework and told to go back home. It all repeated on the next day. The teacher did not check whether the previous homework had been done, just set another one and, again, "go home" for the Polish pupils. Soon, when they came to school they were not allowed to enter the building at all. The classes were for German kids only.

In the picture mom - ready to go to school on her very first school day (September 1942). The flowers were for her teacher. Mom was wearing a green velvet skirt made by grandma. The white (colored striped) shirt had green buttons with pictures of little colored toadstools on them.

Can you remember anything from your first year in primary school, what you learned then? Well, I cannot. Maybe there was nothing unusual about it or I did not really enjoy it. Who knows.

* The name has been changed 

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