The priest was imprisoned by the Nazis in the concentration camp at Dachau. The numbers tattooed on his arm served as an ever-present reminder.
Now, 30 years later, he was working as a docent at the Dachau Memorial Site. He watched as the four of us — my high-school classmates and I — stood before a poem on the wall, painstakingly translating it from German to English.
We gladly accepted his offer of help. So began a wonderful conversation in which he told us what it had been like for him. Showed us the numbers on his arm. Brought to life things that for us, up to then, had merely been information in history books.
At one point I commented on the beauty of the German language — how the poem we were reading allowed a depth of expression that I didn’t think would be possible in English.
The priest smiled and said, “That’s funny. I see it the other way.” For him, English had much more potential for beauty, nuance, and expressiveness than his native German.
Another way to view the world
I thought of that encounter recently when I read Jacob Mikanowski’s thoughts on English becoming the world’s dominant language. Continue reading