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American Annals of the Deaf

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  A Richly Detailed Document of Time and Place

In The Stories They Told Me: The Life of My Deaf Parents, Maria Wallisfurth documents the details of her deaf parents’ lives in Germany from the turn of the twentieth century through the rise of the Nazi regime. Their stories provide an intimate insight into their daily lives, from the hardships of her mother's rural childhood to the political and economic turmoil at the time of their marriage in 1925, to the passing of the laws that would sentence them both to forced sterilization.

“My parents, Wilhelm and Maria, were born deaf,” she begins. “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.”

“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. ‘People not interested!’”

“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? Over the years, they did tell me about their lives, and I have written their stories here, in the way that they told me.”


Maria Wallisfurth was born in 1927 in Eilendorf, near Aachen, Germany, and trained as an actress. After her marriage and the birth of her two hearing children, she worked for more than 20 years in the Aachen City Theatre. She currently lives in Aachen.