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.
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 ...
|Handwritten Gothic German alphabet||Printed 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.
|Cover of the Bible Story book. |
Size of this book: 5" x 6 3/4"
|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.
|Cover of the German Reader|
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.
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.
Students were graded with hand written comments and formal report cards.
|Esther Epp's Teacher's Comment||Elmer 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.