Most active Pennsylvania Dutch speakers today are members of conservative Anabaptist communities, mainly Old Order Amish and Old Order Mennonites. These groups maintain reading knowledge of the High German of the Bible and other religious texts used in church and at home. Very few are able to speak or understand the modern standard German language. This Mennonite Dutchman took an exceptional interest in German and learned to read books and periodicals from Germany and Switzerland, especially ones dealing with agriculture. In this clip he discusses his interest in World War II history and describes something of the experience of American Mennonites during that period.
Dialect: PA Mennonite, Pennsylvania Dutch
Location: Lancaster, Pennsylvania
I remember the Second [World] War from when I was young, when I was still at home. My dad read the newspaper and they talked about it and I remembered some of that. So, then, when I got older, I took an interest in it, and naturally since I had an interest in history and perhaps for the reason that I had a German background, I was interested in the Second [World] War from the German side. I of course knew the English side from reading in school, and since I learned [High] German I thought I could maybe study the history of the Second [World] War from the German side.
And so I bought several books about the Second [World] War and I read a bit about how it looked from the other side, and it wasn’t that much different from what I had learned, except when we read about it in school, we were on the winning side, always the side that won, and that’s the way we used to read about it.
And when I read about it from the other side, the German side, I read it from the side that lost, and what it was like to lose the war, and that of course made a difference. Although now, later, Germany has improved itself and they’re doing well, you might say, for themselves. But just at that time they went through hard times.
We here at home didn’t experience much, those were good times for farmers, during the Second [World] War, because prices were good. And I think you could say that the Mennonites didn’t fight in the war and didn’t experience it firsthand. Everything people said about the war, as it affected people here, was that those were good times. They got good prices for their crops. Although there were some who had to serve time in alternate service camps. Some were drafted, though I don’t think a very high percentage. Some suffered because of it, not exactly very much, they just had to go away from home. They didn’t have to fight in the war, they didn’t get killed or hurt, and their things didn’t get destroyed, which was of course quite different from Germany.
Through my reading I’ve gotten a somewhat better picture of what it was like for the ones who were in the middle of it all and had to suffer, and how bad it was for some of those people. And it was always in the back of my mind that if we, our ancestors, hadn’t moved away from there, we would have been in it, since we come from that area. We would have been in the war and everything that came with it. And we avoided that because our ancestors came over here, so we came through pretty easy, while those in the Old Country didn’t.