Field recording by Helene Stratman-Thomas of Jacob Becker, 1946, Belgium, Ozaukee Co. Poem by Jacob’s father, Nicholas E. Becker (1840-1920)

One of the three national languages of Luxembourg, along with German and French, Luxembourgish is related to Moselle Franconian (Central) German dialects. Ozaukee County, WI, just north of Milwaukee, is home to one of the largest Luxembourg-American communities; many elderly residents still speak the language of their ancestors. One of Ozaukee County’s most famous Luxembourger residents was Nicholas E. Becker (1840-1920), who wrote a number of poems in his native language dealing with the life of the community. In 1946 the famous Wisconsin ethnographer Helene Stratman-Thomas recorded Becker’s son Jacob singing seven of his father’s poems set to music. The song heard here recalls the experiences of Luxembourger pioneers in Wisconsin.

Dialect: Lëtzebuergesch, Wisconsin German Dialects

Location: Ozaukee, Wisconsin

“In Remembrance”
Gather round, boys, it’s evening in winter,
Whoever can’t see clearly should bring a lantern,
Let’s talk about that time
That lies fifty long years behind us.
Let us tell of what we have achieved,
What we built for ourselves, what we took on for ourselves.
We didn’t have much when we came to this country,
But strength–that we had–and industry and common sense.
We had no houses, no stables, and no barns,
Livestock and feed were hard to come by,
We had no beds, no chairs, and no tables,
And the land we bought was all bush.
We set to work, quite brave and strong,
With clearing and burning everyone was busy,
Houses were built and fences made,
Boundaries between neighbors marked by notches in trees and paths.
It was hard to clear and burn,
With the smoke in the fields and our hands worked raw.
Few complained, everyone had zest,
Everyone’s breast was filled with hope.
And when we had a house, a stable, and a barn,
When we had schools, churches, and other buildings,
And potatoes and bread, and also meat on the table,
We forgot our sufferings, and our hope was renewed.
We carved out roads–crude though they may have been–
To bring the crops to the mills, and then to bring the meal home,
And if one happened to get stuck in thick mud,
One could comfort oneself with a sip from the bottle.
Now we have beautiful lands, houses, and barns,
Maybe some money in the bank, and perhaps even papers,
We’ve overcome much trouble and suffering
And thank God that we are doing so we today.
To be sure, some of us have died,
Perhaps one here and there didn’t succeed, failed,
Yet everyone who is still with us
Utters the Lord’s Prayer that the dead may find peace.