As a German major in college, I had no idea how many roads I would travel and the people I would meet while learning the language and teaching it to American students. After living as a student in Vienna in 1967, I would make many trips back to this place I call my second home. My host family, the Bazants, invited me in 1974 to come teach English at an Austrian gymnasium, a combination middle and high school. I learned a lot about my own native language that year, along with the Austrian school system while teaching at Sacre Coeur in Pressbaum, Austria. Over the years I continued to study this language that I spoke for two years, hoping not to forget it. And every time I thought I was done, finished with studying German and ready to give the books away, something would happen to alter the course of things.
“It’s in those moments of supreme happiness that one should remember the tears.”
Mignon Langnas, Vienna, August 18, 1943
Approximately seven years ago I had the good fortune to meet George Langnas. In late December 1939 at the age of 4 George arrived in New York from Vienna with his sister Manuela, age 6, accompanied by a family friend. His mother Mignon (shown above) stayed behind in Vienna to take care of her sick and elderly parents. It was seven long years years before Mignon would be reunited with her family in New York. His father Leo sailed from the port of Hamburg on the USS St. Louis in early 1939. After being denied entry into the port of Cuba, the ship sailed up and down the coast of Florida. It was not able to land on U.S. soil and was forced to return to Europe where the passengers were assigned to the countries of France, Belgium, the Netherlands and England. Fortunately, Leo ended up in England. He would finally make it to the U.S. to be reunited with his children in 1940. Over the years George lost all knowledge of his native language German. Around the age of 50 George uncovered extensive family material including letters and a diary related to his mother’s experiences while living in Vienna from 1939 to 1946. With this new material George co-authored a book entitled Mignon – Tagebücher und Briefe einer jüdischen Krankenschwester in Wien 1938 – 1949 (see translation above) with the assistance of Viennese researcher Elisabeth Fraller. A paperback is available as an Ebook entitled “Mignon Langnas” -Tagebuch und Briefe 1939 – 1949.” It is the family’s hope that the English version of Mignon’s story will be published. It has been my privilege to work with George over the years, helping him relearn the language he spoke as a child. In 2010 he was able to realize the dream of telling his mother’s story – a long journey of tears, separation, strife, survival and the devastating price that many paid during World War II.
Above is a picture of Manuela and George Langnas with their father Leo during a visit to the orphanage where the children lived for a short time.