Thus, we children had to make ourselves useful even at a tender age; this simply accompanied the pitiable income structure of the region. Certainly, had my parents been able to do so, they would have created a better lot for us. They simply had no other choice, however. What was impossible was simply impossible. Sometimes my mother would say resignedly, “Children, I just think we were born to be poor.”
How often I wished for pair of new boots when I saw how the children of well-to-do parents enjoyed strutting along in such footwear. For me, unfortunately, that was merely a pipe dream and was never fulfilled during my time at home. I had to walk barefoot from early summer until the cold late fall. In that period, footwear constituted an unnecessary luxury for “our sort of people.” Only on Sundays was I allowed to wear boots, which had been bought from some Jewish junk dealer for 1.2 to 1.5 marks as “cast-offs,” mended and patched up everywhere. “Just polish them diligently,” my mother said, “then people won’t notice as easily.” In the winter, I always walked around in clogs on the weekdays; socks were “soled” with coarse patches in order to save darning wool.
Of course, things were a bit better with regard to clothing. At least there was no shortage of necessary patches. After all, what good would there have been in my father’s being a tailor otherwise?! Rarely was it enough for a new suit, however. I still recall with delight how my father pieced together a “brand new” long blue coat for me from the ancient, worn-out coat of a deceased executor. A ten-year-old nipper, I was proud as a peacock of my patentable garment as I set out for church, where I had to join the organ choir of city pupils for a recital. I also cared little that the coattails flapped around my calves and that other boys laughed heartily at me because of it. After all, even our old choirmaster deigned to cast an admiring eye on me on account of my coat, commenting with an affable smile that I looked almost as elegant as Joseph in the colorful coat made for him by the patriarch Jacob. And as for the overlong coattails and rolled-up sleeves, my father said to me knowingly that he had designed them in this “perfect” way in order to give me a chance to grow into it. That in turn was a good indicator of just how long the old “smock” was meant to last.
Source: Franz Rehbein, Das Leben eines Landarbeiters [The Life of a Farm Worker] (orig. 1911), edited by Urs J. Diederichs and Holger Rüdel. Hamburg: Christians, 1987, pp. 5-12.
Translation: Erwin Fink