Not long ago I was invited to join a group on Facebook that goes by the name of ‘Yecke Yeckes, Hoppe Hoppe Reiter, Young Descendants of Yekkes Seeking to Preserve the Yecke Heritage.’
That’s more than a bit of a mouthful (and I had to have the site’s name up on my iPad in order to copy it out here), but still I joined, first as a proud descendant of the Yecke tribe, and second out of curiosity to see who the fellow-members of my tribe really are.
The thing is, I grew up in England, to parents who came originally from Germany, and most of whose friends were also from there. Those few Yecke relations who survived were scattered all over the world, including in Israel, and eventually I met them, too, and formed an instant bond with most of them.
But I’m an outsider even in that group of Israeli Yeckes. I’m envious of the fact that many of them seem to have grown up with grandparents (none of mine managed to get out of Germany in time), and remember sayings they heard from them and games they played with them. I do remember the game of ‘Hoppe Hoppe Reiter,’ but have no recollection of who it was who played it with me.
The members of the group are very enthusiastic when it comes to going down Memory Lane. One person remembers a certain dish his or her mother used to make, and that triggers a whole host of memories, and even recipes, that people remember or long for. Then someone else recalls a certain German phrase or expression and along comes a series of phrases, some more obscure than others, that people remember. The only phrase I heard my parents say in German was ‘Ach, die kinder!’ probably more in despair than admiration, as far as I can make out.
Once again, I feel excluded from ‘my’ community. My parents managed to escape to England just before war broke out, and it was not advisable to speak German, the language of the enemy. As it happens, they both had a very good command of English, as did their social circle, and so that’s what I and my sisters heard when we were growing up. We were aware of the fact that our elders spoke English with a foreign accent, and found this either amusing or embarrassing or both, but accepted this as a fact of life.
Some members of the Facebook group have expressed a desire to meet fellow-members in order to conduct German conversation. I also felt that desire some time ago, and for the past fifteen years or so have been meeting with a German teacher once a week in order to learn the language (my ‘unknown mother-tongue’), and am now able to read German and even translate it into English.
As for the recipes, as it happens a few years ago my sisters and I embarked on a project to transcribe and translate our late mother’s recipes. This involved weekly meetings with a friend who could read and decipher Gothic handwriting, and then a lengthy process of translating the transcribed texts into English and Hebrew. The illustration at the top of the page shows the cover of the book we eventually published, with dozens of recipes in both languages, as well as the menus our mother worked out for feeding the children at the Sunshine Hostel, which she and my father ran during the war. I’m glad to see that we’re not the only ones, and other descendants of Yeckes have also produced collections of recipes from their parents and grandparents.
The members of the Yeckes’ descendants group tend to be moderate in their views and gently supportive of one another, as befits the tradition of our tribe. It’s a pity that instead of belittling the Yecke culture, as was the tendency in Israel in its early days, the attitude and approach of my compatriots did not gain wider acceptance. Who knows how much bloodshed and anguish might have been avoided had that been the case.