Posted by: Richenda at Monday July 21, 2008 in

What’s a Gefangbuch you ask? It’s a German devotional book filled with prayers, psalms, devotional readings, and hymns.

I found this wonderfully battered copy locally. There were many German immigrants to Oregon Territory and this book, published in 1884, might have crossed the Atlantic with an immigrant headed for work in Fishers Quarry for all we know. Perhaps the owner sailed round the horn. Or maybe boarded the transcontinental railroad and headed west.

It’s really hard for Americans now to imagine the hardships of the ocean immigrant journey. Many who took the trip had nothing, brought nothing. Maybe just a prayer book.

(photo by Frances Benjamin Johnston, c1899)

I came across the above picture while doing research on the web. The picture is from the Library of Congress’ online website, as are the two beneath it. We can’t imagine what it might have been like then. In America’s malls we are so insulated from poverty and desperation. But the fact is that this kind of ‘have nothing’ immigration still persists. But today immigrants travel to Europe, not away from it, and the immigrants are from Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.

Regardless of who and where and when, human beings all have a habit of fleeing the same things—persecution, poverty, hunger, crop failure, calamity, tragedy. And these scenes of flight were all strangely printed on stereograph cards to be viewed in the parlors of the newly mobile and industrial Americans. Perhaps because they symbolized hope for the future more than the desperation of the past.

(photo by William H. Rau, c1902)

This next image, also from half an old stereograph card, shows a group of Italians coming to America. They were refugees fleeing the disaster of 1908, when a massive earthquake and tsunami left 100,000 of their countrymen dead.

(photo by B.W. Kilburn, c1909)

I am curious about the stories of those people. Some of the stone cutters who landed at Solomon Fisher’s Landing were Italians. There were Swedes and Austrians too, and of those immigrants who found work in Fishers quarry, some died fast, and young, before anyone even knew who they were or could contact their families. These quarrymen are buried at Fishers cemetery, though their wooden markers are long gone. We will never know their story.

But for some immigrants, proof exists. Like this hymn and prayer book, this Gefangbuch, which was perhaps the only thing small enough to carry and important enough to hang on to. This prayer book, which, from a letter tucked inside its pages, might yet offer up some part of its owner’s story to tell.

Can anyone translate the German?
(Yes! We have a translation. Our letter is a letter of condolence. See “update” below.)

(Front and back pages. View larger image here .)

(Middle pages. View larger image here .)

I’d love to know who wrote this letter and what it says. I only know enough German to recognize the word Mutter (Mother). Yet this little bit of insight makes me assume that whoever it was who owned this book, they tucked this letter into their hymnal so they could carry with them news of home.


Update! August 4, 2008.

We have a translation for the letter, thanks to Leiselotte Kill, who translated it, and her sister-in-law Sharon who made that possible. Thank you!!

And I learned something I didn’t know before. This letter was tricky to translate in part because it is written in the “old Sütterlin” handwriting style, used primarily in Germany, though also by others, primarily before WWII, though it was also used in some places later than that.

As with other old letter styles, it can flummox those who are not used to them. This caused other nice folks who first looked at this for me (thank you!!!) to throw their hands up and scratch their heads in bemusement.

All the more wonderful to get a translation. Leiselotte was nice enough to include not just a Sutterlin to English translation, but a Sutterlin lettering to today’s German lettering translation, as well.

So, three translations below:

Straight transcription of the letter:

Lieber Bruder mit traurigem Herzen muß ich heute an dir schreiben den abend haben wir die Depesch erhalten das eure einzige Ester Gott heimgerufen hatt tröstet euch nur mit Gott den was er tuht das ist wohlgetahn Ich hatte dir gestern abend einen Brief geschrieben aber den hab ich gez nicht geschikt Vatter u muter wolten zur Begräbnis kommen aber das ist doch nicht sicher mit mutter zu vihl unterwegs im Sommer werden Sie . . wohl kommen. Schreib uns man weiter von die Begräbnis wir trauern mit euch

Translation of the old into today’s German (So müsste es wohl korrigiert heißen):

Lieber Bruder, mit traurigem Herzen muss ich heute an dich schreiben. Am Abend haben wir die Depesche erhalten, dass Gott eure einzige Ester heimgerufen hatt. Tröstet euch nur mit Gott, denn was er tut, das ist wohlgetan. Ich hatte dir gestern Abend einen Brief geschrieben, aber den hab ich jetzt nicht abgeschickt. Vater u. Mutter wollten zum Begräbnis kommen, aber das ist doch nicht sicher mit Mutter. Zu viel unterwegs. Im Sommer werden sie wohl kommen. Schreib uns von dem Begräbnis. Wir trauern mit euch.

Translation from today’s German to English (Versuch einer Übersetzung):

Dear brother, With a sad heart I must write to you today. This evening we received the telegram saying that God has called your only Ester to Himself. Console yourselves with God, for what He does is well done. Last night I had written a letter to you, but I didn’t post ist. Father and mother wanted to come to the funeral, but now it’s not sure with mother yet. Too much being on the road (Alt. Too much travelling). Maybe they’ll come in summer (Alt. They will most likely come in summer). Write (Alt. and tell us about) the funeral. We mourn with you.

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