Frederick the Great and a Wendish Soldier

Dr. Charles Wukasch shares some memories.


As I’ve pointed out several times, the Miertschins were one of the Serbin families which kept up Wendish for a number of years. If my memory serves me correctly, Carl Miertschin (the father of TWHS member Monroe) told me that his grandfather came over on the Ben Nevis. He passed the language on to Carl’s dad, who passed it on to him. Carl wasn’t as fluent as was his brother Martin (died around 1970) because Martin married a Bigon (I believe his wife was Herman Bigon’s sister), another family which kept up Wendish. Carl’s wife didn’t speak Wendish.

It’s interesting how different families had different attitudes toward Wendish. My great-uncle Hugo Hannusch told me once that his dad (Paul Hannusch, Grandma Wukasch’s brother) didn’t allow them to learn German and Wendish, saying “you’re in America now – we speak English here.” In other words, Paul equated language use with patriotism.

Here we’re getting off the subject of Wendish, but knowing more than one language can sometimes save lives. Remember the famous Navajo code-breakers of World War II? These were Native American soldiers in the Pacific who had learned Navajo at home as their first language. They fooled the Japanese by passing on important military messages in Navajo, a language that no Japanese knew.

Speaking of multilingualism, I wonder how the Civil War soldiers (of either side, the Blue or the Gray) of Wendish descent managed to communicate with their fellow soldiers, especially the officers. Suppose a young recruit only knew Wendish (or at most Wendish and German), but whose sergeant spoke only English? By the way, it reminds me of an old story about a young soldier and Frederick the Great, neither of whom spoke the other’s language.

I told you I’d tell you the story about Frederick the Great (in German: Friedrich der Große; in Wendish: Bjedrich Wulki or Stary Fryca, “Old Fritz”).

Frederick and the Wendish Soldier

Frederick was like Gen. Patton, a strict, no-nonsense disciplinarian who would like to make surprise inspections of his troops. Well, some of his soldiers didn’t speak German. This particular one only spoke Wendish and was worried about being spoken to by Frederick. His sergeant, who was bilingual in both German and Wendish, told him not to worry. Frederick always asked the same three questions: How old are you? How long have you been in the army? Are you satisfied with both the food and the salary? So he told him how to answer in German “18 years old,” “three days,” “Both!”

Fine and dandy! But Frederick for once reversed the order of the questions. He first asked “How long have you been in the army?”, to which the poor soldier answered “18 years.” Frederick was astonished because the soldier didn’t look that old. So he asked “how old are you?” “Three days old” was the answer. Frederick became furious and asked “are you crazy or am I?” The soldier replied “Both!” 


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *