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v Preface Alexandrine is a beautiful name. It was the name of my godmother, my father’s mother. As was the­ custom then in Catholic Rhineland, I should have been named after her. But my parents, Wilhelm and Maria, who were born deaf, found it difficult to say and lipread Alexandrine, and so my father gave me the same name as my mother. My parents subscribed to a daily paper. Every morning, my father put me on his knee, and in his incomprehensible, but to me so familiar, voice he taught me the letters of the alphabet from the paper. When I started school at the age of six, I was already able to read. The exceptional situation of my parents, and of myself, caused me to ask early for the why and how. I wanted to know the story of their lives— where they had been before I was born, and who they had been without me. And, I wanted to write it all down. I read about“deaf-mutes,”as deaf people were called in their time. People without speech and hearing have always been seen as strange and mysterious . In so called primitive as well as in advanced cultures they were regarded as condemned by the Gods, as creatures living under the curse of invisible, demonic forces. Sometimes they were killed, but in some cultures, they were revered as beings with magical powers. In European antiquity, Greek philosophers discussed the phenomenon of deaf-and-dumbness and assumed that a person without hearing could not think. Plato granted deaf people a certain amount of intelligence because they were able to communicate with gestures, but Aristotle decided that people without hearing could not be educated.The Church Fathers of the Christian Middle Ages saw deaf people as monstrosities from Hell.To teach them speech, they thought, was impossible and, worse, presumptuous to divine intention. St.Augustine proclaimed that“the deaf-and-dumb Stories FM Pgs i-viii.indd 5 4/26/2017 12:24:59 PM vi Preface from birth can never receive the gift of Faith, as Faith arises from the spoken word, from sermons, from what is heard.” When my parents went to school, attendance was not compulsory for deaf children; it did not become so until 1911. Despite this, there were several schools for them around the country. The first school was founded in 1778, in Leipzig, by Samuel Heinicke, who was a strong advocate of the oral method. The school in Aachen opened in the 1830s. Without the help of their teachers, my parents would have remained speechless all their lives. They talked to me in their laboriously acquired speech, which I had no problem understanding. They, in turn, read from my lips what I told them soundlessly, while also reading my signs and facial expressions.We always signed and“spoke” with each other. My parents could never do without these. I grew up among deaf people because my parents had deaf siblings and many deaf friends. They were part of my family; I felt at home among them, but also lonely. I found release and happiness in reading and writing, in the great gift of language. Again and again I pleaded with my mother.“Mama, please, you tell me about your life! I want to write down!” I placed paper and pencil in her reach, so that she could jot down bits of memories as they came to her. Initially, she was reluctant.“Why write down? For whom?” she would tell me.“I poor, deaf-and-dumb, Papa too. People not interested!” The notebooks and readers from her years at the Institute for the Deaf in the town of Aachen, which she had kept diligently over the years, now turned out to be of great help in my undertaking. I also asked my father to tell me about his childhood and adolescent years. How had they lived without me, without the daughter who, from early on, had been their interpreter? My parents would be amazed today if they could see with how much interest my readers follow the story of their lives! Over the years, they did tell me about their lives, and I have written their stories here, in the way that they told me. Direct quotes are transcribed in the language they used; in other words, the way they signed to me. For this reason, the translations may not appear to be grammatically correct, though they are if one saw them signed...


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MARC Record
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