1. When and where did you attend elementary school, Oma?
I attended elementary school in Herborn, Germany from 1937-1941.
2. Which grades were offered in your elementary school?
We had four grades in elementary, then at age 10 we started Middle School (Mittelschule) or the "Gymnasium", depending on how smart you were. Middle School lasted 6 years and the Gymnasium lasted 8 years. The difference was more languages in Gymnasium.
3. What were the hours of when you started and when you were dismissed?
Depending. In elementary school we started at 8 o'clock, if I remember right, and went until about 12. In Middle School ,we also started at 8 o'clock again and went till about 1 o'clock. But we also went to school on Saturdays.
4. How did children get to and from school?
Elementary--by walking. In Middle School and Gymnasium, I didn't, but some people had to take the train to get to the school because there were only a few schools in the area. Heavy snow was no excuse for not walking to school.
5. How did girls and boys dress for school?
Girls had skirts and some top and in the wintertime , a heavy coat. Boys had pants and some top.
6. Approximately how many children were in each class?
It different, but in general, about 30-40. In the last 2 or 3 years of the war, it was about 50 per class.
7. Did you have the same teacher or a different teacher each year?
In elementary, I had the same teacher. In Middle School, I had a different teacher for each subject.
8. Tell me how the children were disciplined.
Children were disciplined in elementary and even sometimes in Middle School by spankings. Boys mostly, but also girls. Boys were spanked on the rear end and girls were slapped in the face. The other punishment was staying after school, all by yourself, and writing something or taking extra work home as punishment, which usually was writing something 500 times or something like that!
9. Which subjects were taught?
In elementary, it was just reading, writing and artihmetic...and religion. We had religion all through elementary, through all the higher education and through all the war, until the very end. The higher schools were teaching sciences, physics and chemistry, history, lots of sports and Handarbeit, which is needlework (that started in the fourth grade), art, and languages. You had to, in Middle and the higher school, take one language. You could, as a choice, take a second one, which was English as a must and you could take a second one if you wanted to, which was French. But instead of French, you could take shorthand. You started with a language at age 10 as a must, which was English. In the Gymnasium, the highest level school, which started at 10 years of age, too, you had to take English, you had to take French, and you had to take Latin. That was one of the differences between the two higher school systems (Middle School and Gymnasium).
10. Did you get to go on any field trips?
Yes, we did. All kinds of field trips. In elementary, I went with a teacher who had a tiny little cottage in the country and the best students were allowed, like twice a year, to go with him on the weekends and visit his bee house. He raised bees and made honey. We went there by train and it was very primitive, but I guess it was a treat. Later on, in Middle School, we went on field trips mostly to old castles, starting in the fourth and fifth grades.
11. Did the classrooms have any pets?
No such thing!
12. What kind of writing materials did you use?
We had blackboards, we had paper, and we had pens and pencils and ink pens and ink in little bottles and that was about it.
13. What did the school building, classrooms and desks look like?
The school buildings were stone buildings. The classrooms had desks, boys on the left side, girls on the right side and in between, a walkway for the teacher. And the teacher had a desk in front of the class and the blackboards were in back of the teacher, where her desk was. The desks were attached to the floor; you couldn't move any of the seats.
14. Did you have as much stuff (artwork, posters, etc.) on the wall as we do?
We had no stuff on any walls that I can remember! There were just the directions north, south, east and west painted on the ceiling. That was it.
15. Did you have textbooks and what were they like?
Yes, we had textbooks for each subject and the teachers were very, very strict. Our textbooks could not have the tiniest little spot on them, or a fold, or a crumble. They had to be exactly like we got them. In the first few years, we could keep them, but later on in the war, we had to give them back. From the beginning, all our papers, all our notes, all our notebooks had to be absolutely clean and neat. Erasing was an absolute no. Erasing, crossing out, writing over again, you had to do it once in a while, but it got your mark down right away. If you handed some homework in with any crossing out, your mark went just down a whole grade!
16. Did you have any projects like we do at home?
No, we did not have any projects, we had plain homework. We studied out of books and wrote reports. No building little houses or other things, no.
17. How were the parents involved in school?
Not at all. I know there were teacher-parent conferences, maybe, once a year, in the beginning of the war, but my parents never went. Even when the child had a bad grade, like I had one time when I skipped a grade, my parents just told me you better make sure next time, you do better. It was a completely different system. The teacher was in charge and the teacher did his best and if the child couldn't do what it was supposed to do, it was not the teacher's fault, and it was not the parents' fault, it was the child's fault.
18. How were the children with disabilities treated?
I can't be sure here. I know we did not or I did not ever have a child with disabilities in my class, but I know there were some in our town. So I'm just guessing that the churches were running special schools.
19. What were the lunches like? Was there a cafeteria and what did the children pack for lunch?
There was no cafeteria ever in those days. I don't know about now. We packed a lunch which was a sandwich and usually an apple... we ate a lot of apples, especially in the area I was from. And that was it. And we went home at 1 or 1:30 and there was a warm dinner. In Germany, the main meal is served at 1:30. And at night we eat a sandwich.
20. What did you play at recess time?
Oh, the same things that every child plays. A lot of ball playing, running, jump-roping, you know, hitting each other, (laughing), you know, things like that.
21. What is your worst memory and what is your fondest memory of grade school ?
My worst memory in elementary was when I got caught talking in class. I got punished for it and I got extra work for it and I didn't like the looks of the teacher. And my fondest memory? The little trips to the bee house on the weekends, and I liked school a lot in certain subjects. I loved music, I loved sports, I liked languages. I did not like math and it was very, very important and so I had to work awful hard at it, so Ididn't like it very much. But there were quite a few subjects I liked. School never bothered me. With most of my friends and all the kids I knew around me, there was never any question of liking or not liking school. It was something you had to do.
To hear Oma answering the next two questions, click on the microphone!
22. Talk a little bit about some of the activities you had to participate in during the war.
Well, during the war, we had to collect herbs which we had to dry and then turn in. They were weighed and every week, we had to do a certain amount. Like peppermint and camomille, all these things, which were used to make tea. I'm just guessing that a lot of it was sent to the troops in the war. And we also had to pick bugs off the potato fields. The fields were sometimes infested with little bugs which would eat the potatoes. We had to pick off the bugs during schooltime, instead of sports. We did not like that very much. That mostly started in 1941.
23. What did children do after school?
Well, in general, I would say we had much less material things. During the war, we had nothing. But we had much more fun than children do now, I think. For one thing, I lived, as most children did, in a small town, and after school we could run out and meet our friends in town and run around. The only big thing was that you had be home on a certain time. My parents were very strict about that. Other than that, after we did our homework, we were free. We could play outside. Even before I went to school, I can remember playing in .....across the street, they had a factory for building furniture and they had a lot of wood in back, and we would play in those wood stacks forever and ever. It was completely safe, a 100% safe. No cars, no crime. That's why I sometimes feel so sorry for children now. If they want to get out of their house, their parents have to drive them.
For sports, I could walk to the swimming pool, I could walk to the sports arena. We had an indoor gymnastics area where I could walk to. I walked to school all my life.
School was something that wasn't even talked about, fussed about. It was expected. The teachers had much, much more control over the children than they do today. I think some of it has to do with the parents being too much involved. I'm all for the teachers.