An article at the Huffington Post puts into perspective something I wondered about, but didn’t know the particulars of — in Baden-Württemberg, our landlord’s father had a strong non-German accent because he was from Czechoslovakia.
The Expulsion Of The Germans: The Largest Forced Migration In History, R. M. Douglas, 25 June 2012
R.M. Douglas is the author of “Orderly and Humane: The Expulsion of the Germans after the Second World War” (Yale University Press, $38)
I always had a devil of a time when Herr E. would come over to the house to do some kind of maintenance. His German was heavily accented and my conversational comprehension was a challenge to us both. Luckily for me he was a nice man. Our family jokingly called him the “garden gnome” because he was always weeding or planting, and he was a skilled gardener. (the lawn mowing, though, was left to us)
I’m fascinated by other languages and have tried to learn something of any language I thought I’d need but, unfortunately, fluency in languages other than English is not my talent. German is my ‘best’ language, but to go by the laughter of the nurse-nun who I called to complain to about my pain after being discharged from the hospital (and the grinning of my German-linguist husband who was listening in), no one will ever be asking me to make speeches to German audiences. (the pain was transient and I only needed to wait it out)
Because Herr E. was retired and therefore acted as his son’s go-between with the renters, and because I was usually the person at home during the day, he and I were stuck with each other for household matters. Conversations between us were sometimes a game of Charades as he tried to tell me whatever it was he needed to inform me about, and I listened as hard as I could to instructions about door handles, the furnace, and bleeding air from the radiators. To my credit, I don’t think I ever used the tactic of shouting to make myself understood, and I know he never did.
I’m saddened, now that I find out that Herr E. was probably deported under less-than-pleasant conditions from the place he considered his homeland.
Expulsion of Germans from Czechoslovakia (1946) Czechoslovak Film Chronicle [YouTube]
He married and raised a family in Baden-Württemberg, but getting there can’t have been the happiest time in his life.