Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Anne Hirschle - July 21, 2006

Learning English

Let's talk about your journey to England. So you said it was a very short time between when your parents left and then you...

I followed and my mother-that's quite, it's interesting too-my mother looked around for a school for me and she found some very-a Catholic school where the nuns-one of the nuns spoke a little German and where they seemed very willing to-they'd never taken a foreign child before. I spoke next to no English and my mother took me to this school, and I couldn't speak any English. And uh, on the first day I came home from school and I said, "I think we're not supposed to go back to school this afternoon. We're going to go to this park and it's going to be sports this afternoon." My mother said to me, "How would you know this?" I said, "I don't know." She said, "Well how did you understand this?" Anyway, I didn't know but I said it, it was true. And everyday when I came home from school my mother said, "Are, are you talking to the other children yet?" I said, "No, how can I? I, I don't speak English and they don't speak German." And my mother was looking out the window and she saw me coming up the street with a bunch of kids from school and we were in very lively conversation. And she said, "Well, now you speak to the other children." I said, "No, I can't speak with them. You know I can't speak to them." So this is quite interesting how children do adjust.


I mean, I was obviously speaking and they were speaking to me, but I was still under the impression that we couldn't really communicate. So uh, one thing it was a Catholic school and they were very, very good to me. And uh, I came home after the second day of school and I said, "You've got to look up in the dictionary a word that's-a very important word. Look it up in the dictionary and the word is pray-for-us." My mother looked in the dictionary, she said, "There is no such word." I said, "Well it's terribly important because they say it several times a day." And-well, you're laughing already, you know is "pray for us." It was said so fast. It was the only thing I could pick up...


...pray-for-us, pray-for-us, pray-for-us. So anyway that was, that was kind of scary to go to a school where I didn't know anybody and I couldn't speak the language. But children do adapt, adapt awfully fast and uh, I learned English in absolutely no time and, in fact, uh, although they were very, very good to me at this school, my mother didn't really want me to stay at this school. She had her eye on a, on a local grammar school and one had to pass an entrance exam to go there and I had only been in England nine months, I think, and I sat for this exam to go to the grammar school and I passed it. So I-thanks to these nuns and the fact that children learn fast I, I, I really assimilated very, very fast.

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