|The City of Trier|
Photo by Arno Meyer
I stumbled upon this story simply called, "The Emigrants." I was sure this would be a tale of a family leaving for the new world. Frau Croon began by saying "There were people in the village for whom the stream was too narrow, the street too rough, and the bread too hard. They had been convinced that there was a Utopia to be found where gold lay on the streets and the roasted pigeons flew into open mouths. So they sold their forest, meadows and farm land; their house, and the animals and set off for this new world."
My mind jumped to the history of my own emigrant ancestors and I read on, rather offended at the tone the author had taken. I am sure that Johann and Magdalena Rauls and their children did not expect an easy life, nor did they have one.
Description of the Leave Taking of the Family Schmandjock
After making her critical remarks about the motivation of some emigrants, Frau Coon began describing the Schmandjock family's departure from the village. The husband loaded their wagon with crates and cabinets, his wife brought the bedding and linens, and their son carried a heavy sack on his shoulders. Everything else - their land, the house, the wagon and the two cows pulling the wagon now belonged to a new owner. The cows and wagon, on account of a stipulation of their sale, were being used by the family Schmandjock one last time, to take their former owners to the train station. These emigrants had pulled up all their roots from their Heimat village.
After the wagon was loaded, the three Schmandjocks stood and looked at the house, their house, where father and son, the grandparents and the ancestors had been born and grown up and where most of family had closed their eyes forever. It was from here that the family members had been carried to the silent acre at the end of the village. How downcast the house stood, how reproachfully the dark window-eyes stared. A piece of a curtain, not worth taking with them, hung from a broken pane. The open gate of a stall blew back and forth in the wind, proclaiming this abandonment.
The Tale of These Emigrants Takes an Unexpected Turn.
The wagon rocked as it started to move. The old parents walked beside it with heavy hearts, he with his lips pressed together, she with tears, as if they were on the way to the graveyard. Their son gave strong cracks of the whip. He had talked and talked about going away to the city until his parents gave in. He said that he could earn money without working in the muck from morning until night. In the city one could make something of life and with the money from the sale of the house and land, they could rent a Gasthaus and soon the money would come pouring in. He, Fritz, would stand behind the bar, serving wine, beer and Schnapps and take the money from the customers, no dirt on his hands. He knew all about this because he had made a friend in Kommiß whose father owned a Gasthaus. This young man always had money to spend. It was a fine way to live. In the city his parents could stop working and do what they wanted - sit on the sofa or take a walk in the morning, go the the bake shop in the afternoon to drink coffee and eat Streuselkuchen.
Fritz spoke this gabble into his parents' ears day after day. They were old and had lost all of their other children. There was no one but Fritz to help them as they aged. Fritz was not made of the stuff of a farmer. From the beginning he had a reluctance to work in the fields and in the animal stalls. By the time he returned from his military duty, things had gone badly for his parents. Some of their fields lay untended. The Jewish cattle buyer had taken first one cow and then another and another from the stalls; these sales giving his parents enough money to live on.
Finally the couple gave in to their son, sold everything, paid their debts, and now they were leaving. People of the village came running after the wagon. The women were wiping their eyes with their aprons. Without speaking, villagers reached out their hands to these departing neighbors; then stood and watched until the wagon was out of sight.
As the wagon rattled on, the old ones looked back until they could hardly see the village. After 100 meters, they were at the apple tree that marked the way to their former home village. Next they passed the forest with the "thick beech tree" that belonged to the entire village.
|European Beech Tree|
Wenzel Schmandjock knew that such an old beech tree could not be uprooted and moved. The new trench for it would be too deep and the roots thrust in too powerfully; the ground would be made too rich and fertile so that all of the branches would shudder at the change. Soon the tree would weaken and then die. And like the transplanted beech tree, in the new city full of strangers, the old Schmandjocks were soon dead and the young Schmandjock soon corrupted by the city.
Few of us think of this kind of emigration. Like Fritz Schmandjock, some of the emigrants in farm villages went to cities for foolish reasons. Others went to the city for the same reasons that Johann and Magdalena Rauls left for America. They had decided that life in their village meant more and more poverty. But the decision to settle in the industrial cities in their own country in the hope of a better life was, in many ways, the story of the Schmandjocks. Their roots were from a different kind of soil and the life in the city did not always have a happy ending.