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The following story was written by Liz Lippa and shared as part of the Memory Project.

The language I use now

is not my Mother-tongue.

It is not the language I heard

while lying in my Mother’s womb.

It is not the language I learned to understand

in the first year and a half of my life,

while my family was living in terror,

planning to flee their homeland, Austria,

that had become Hitler’s Nazi Austria.


German was the language I heard

as my family said good-bye to each other.

Good-bye to brothers and sisters and parents,

who thought that maybe

they would never see

each other again.

German was the language

that was used to potty-train me

on shipboard,

as my family sailed the Atlantic

from Vienna to Uruguay.


Spanish was the language I began hearing

when I was just about ready

to talk.

Talk what? German? Spanish?

Maybe both? How?

Spanish was the language I first learned

to read and to write.

I played with friends, I went to school,

I learned the outside world in Spanish.

In Spanish I learned that I was Jewish

and different.


German was still the family language,

the Mother-tongue,

the one we spoke in the house.

I “felt” things in German.

German belonged to me.


Then, before I was ten,

I came to America and

English entered my life.

I struggled to catch on at school,

to use the busses and the trains,

to be independent in English.


I learned about boys

and thought about romance,

became a “50’s” teenager

in English.

In English, I had my wedding

and raised my six children,

and wrote my poems,

and went to college,

and got divorced,

and built my career.

I lived more than fifty years

of my life in English.


And yet, when I hear German,

I strain to listen, but struggle to understand,

because I only have my Mother-tongue

as the language of my childhood.

I only have the German language

of a child,

a child who cannot read or write

but does still “feel” in German.


The language I do best in is English.

So the language where I am most articulate

does not contain my early memories,

but only their translation.

How much is lost in the translation

is something I may never know.