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Yarrow, British Columbia

Edited by
Esther Epp Harder, Edwin Lenzmann, and Elmer Wiens

My German School Experience
by Ed Lenzmann

For me, and I believe for most of us, German school (or Saturday school as we called it) was rather enjoyable. World War II had ended about ten years earlier (ancient history as far as we were concerned) and for us there was no stigma attached to being or speaking German. Those who had attended German school 10 to 15 years earlier felt very different about the experience.

We began German school in grade two. In those days my family spoke mostly High German at home. (I never heard a Low German word, either on the street or in the homes of my friends. It must have been a hidden language in Yarrow.) Before entering school the previous year I had been concerned that I would not understand the teacher. But to my relief and amazement, as I recall, I was able to understand everything she was saying. Having older sisters no doubt helped.

For me, German school was a great diversion from work. Starting in the late fall, Saturday was reserved for 'pulling out raspberries'. We pulled out and carried to ends of the rows the previous year's canes, which our father had cut off at ground level. Later he cut off the tops of the new canes, and so there was more to carry out. German school reduced the workday to half its length. Not a bad deal for someone about nine years old. (Our reward for all this work came in late spring when the canes were burned in a series of fires along our famous ditch, famous for skating that is. Our father said he had to keep the brush from encroaching, but he certainly enjoyed the experience as much as we did.)

I do not remember much about the curriculum, but two things stand out. The first is that we had a reader from Germany, a country with a culture totally foreign to us Mennonites with roots in Russia. The reader was called Die Fibel, and thinking in English we thought that was quite a joke. Being in a Mennonite Brethren German school, we were told to make sure the words Tabak (tobacco) and Kino (theatre) were crossed out in the Fibel. The second thing I remember is that for a while I was the envy of the crowd after winning a yo yo for memorizing, and then reciting, a large number of German Bible verses. Most of them I remember well to this day.

We never did learn the handwritten Gothic German alphabet, but we certainly mastered the printed Gothic German alphabet. This was reinforced by the fact that at home in our family and private devotions we read from Luther's German translation of the Bible. It was printed in the Gothic German.

Early on in life I realized that I was totally bilingual, and therefore in a rather fortunate position compared to those who knew only one language. I still feel that way. Knowing the German language has enabled me to relate meaningfully to older people. Today it allows me to translate materials into English, and it opens up a vast body of written material that would otherwise be closed to me.


German School in Yarrow
by Esther Epp Harder

Most Mennonites arriving in Yarrow spoke very little English ... except if they had spent some time working in other parts of Canada or the United States before coming to Yarrow. They were very determined to keep the German language, so they started a German School for the younger children as well as a Bible School for the older children and youth almost as soon as they came to Yarrow in 1928-29. Peter Reimer was the first teacher and later, Johann Janzen held German classes in his home.

In 1931, it was decided to offer Saturday German School for all children ages 6 to 14 at the Yarrow Elementary School and Rev. Petrus Martens was the first principal and classes would start at 9:30 am and finish at 3:30 pm. After the MB Church was built, classes were held in the foyer of the Church and later, in the Bible School buildings as the classes were available there on Saturdays.

I started Saturday German School in 1945 when I was 6 years old. The classes were in the old Bible School buildings and started about 9:30 and went to noon, with a short break midmorning. Rev. Petrus Martens was still the principal but I'm not sure, but I think my first teacher was Mrs. Anna Bartsch because she had created a first German text book called Die Fiebel - Leselust and had Mr. Neufeld print them at Columbia Press for her classes. World War 2 wasn't quite finished and so it was almost impossible to get German text books for us.

Die Fiebel

Die Fibel Die Fibel
Die Fibel Die Fibel

I loved German School; I could speak German; I could understand what the teacher told me, and I could answer the questions. We were allowed to speak German to our friends and cousins. We spoke only German at home and at Church. My Mom had only German story books and stories to tell me.

In Yarrow Elementary School, where I was in Grade 1, all I understood the first day was the answer to the question: "What is your name?"

Someone told me that no German was allowed, that we had to speak English or there would be trouble ... and my father had said, if I got into trouble at school, there would be more trouble at home. I remember being very afraid that I would do something wrong. I had two cousins in my class, but they both had older siblings, who had taught them English, so even they abandoned me. I don't remember how long it was before I could carry on a conversation in English, but it took me a very long time to make a friend. Looking back on it, it was a very difficult year for me, but I was determined to learn to read and pass grade 1 ... and I did.

Adding to the problem were the alphabets ...

Die Fibel Die Fibel
Handwritten Gothic German alphabetPrinted Gothic German alphabet

The alphabets had different names and the phonetic sounds were different than the English I was learning, however there were 26 letters in English and 26 in German and some of the sounds were similar. We had to learn to read and write the handwritten Gothic as well as read the printed Gothic. We learned both at the same time. Our text book went through the whole alphabet with little stories and poems, see sample page above.

Later, children didn't start German School until they were in Grade 2 in Elementary school. It was much easier for children who could read and knew their alphabet.

Bible Story Book

Bible Stories were a source of reading material for us too.

Biblische Geschicten
Cover of the Bible Story book.
Size of this book: 5" x 6 3/4"

Biblische Geschicten Biblische Geschicten
This is the story of Abraham from Genesis 12
and at the bottom, there are Bible verses too
There are questions to answer in our notebooks,
Bible passages to read and a song to sing.

Using the Bible as a source for reading material and stories is something that I have really appreciated. Our teachers were well trained and took the time to answer our questions.

Many children didn't like having to go to school on Saturdays ... but for our family, it got us out of a lot of hard work ... at least for the morning.

German Reader

Deutsches Lesebuch
Cover of the German Reader

Deutsches Lesebuch Deutsches Lesebuch

This reader is in two parts, part 1 is meant for the Second year student and part 2 is for the Third year student. There are printed short stories, poems and as well as handwritten letters and poems. Some poems have a list of the harder German words with the English words in a list ... see example above at the end of #114. The forward in the book explains that these students need to start working on translating the German into English.

Lesson Book for Homework in Correct Writing, Word Search and Punctuation

In our second year we used another text book ... this one was to help us learn the German Grammar as well as correct pronunciation of the various phonetic sounds that are different in German from what we were learning to do with the English words at the Elementary School.

Lesson Book for Homework Lesson Book for Homework

We were expected to be able to read these words out loud. We had to practice them at home with our parents and then be prepared to read them out loud in class the next Saturday.

I don't have all the books we used at the Yarrow German School, but I still have these that I've used here ... plus one older and 2 newer German-English Dictionaries ... and still there are words that I just can't translate. I think, I have actually translated more material from English into German than German into English. I'm thankful that I still can read and write German. It was very helpful to me at work in dealing with German people who were not comfortable talking English.

My struggle to learn English has also been helpful in teaching and tutoring students who are learning English as a second language and being able to appreciate how hard it is for them.

English - German Dictionary German Bible - Die Bibel

Student's Evaluations

Students were graded with hand written comments and formal report cards.

Esther Epp's Teacher's Comment Elmer Wiens's Grade 1 Report Card
Esther Epp's Teacher's CommentElmer Wiens's Grade 1 Report Card

My father insisted that I go to German school as long as there was a class for me. His reason was that someday Russia would let our relatives out from behind the Iron Curtain and to communicate with them we would need to know German. Little did we know that this really would come true. In the 1970's Russia opened the doors and Germany started repatriating German speaking people. Many of them had to go to German school to learn modern German ... because they couldn't have their own schools in Russia and what they had used at home had too much Russian mixed into it. We visited Germany in 1989 ... and they laughed at us, and told us that we spoke 14th century German. I decided 14th century German is better than none ... so I let them laugh and had a great visit.


   

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