19th-Century Letters Detail ‘My Life in America’ in New History

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Translator Sigrid Wilshinsky says German Immigrant’s Missives ‘Like Peeking Through a Rip in the Curtain’

Details of mid-19th-century life come alive in the letters of a German immigrant, translated by Sigrid Wilshinsky and recently published as “My Life in America Before, During and After the Civil War” (http://tinyurl.com/9p2avmz).

“Reading Louis Hensel’s letters is like peeking through a rip in the curtain of history and seeing through the eyes of one who had experienced so much,” Wilshinsky says.

Hensel was born in 1817 and lived a life of travel and adventure, as colorfully described in letters to his granddaughter back in Germany. Wilshinsky translated them from Suderlein German into modern English.

As a German immigrant, his adventures include meeting Abraham Lincoln in the White House while pretending to be a translator to various Native American tribes; life in New York City in the mid 1800s; training the Union Calvary as a master horseman; working with a traveling opera company, and various intimate details of an America that was still untamed yet quickly ascending as a world powerhouse.

“My research on Hensel’s life confirmed to me at least two things: that America’s heritage is rich with noble characters, and that we have much to learn from them,” says Wilshinsky, who immigrated to the United States from West Germany in 1962 after her family escaped from communist East Germany a decade before. “He was a hard-working man who fully utilized his talents and embraced what life threw his way.”

The letters also recounted Hensel’s memory of meeting President Abraham Lincoln on March 27, 1863, a meeting mentioned in The Atlanta Century on March 29, 1863.

“The president was greeting representatives of the Cheyenne, Kiowa, Arapaho, Comanche, Apache and Caddo tribes in the East Room of the White House,” Wilshinsky says. “Hensel got in by pretending to be a translator.”

The multi-talented immigrant spent his later years as a music teacher while living in Hawley, Penn.

About Sigrid Wilshinsky

Born in Berlin, Germany in 1943, Sigrid Wilshinsky’s family escaped into West Germany in 1952. She benefited from a world-class education in Berlin, where she focused on art, and immigrated to the United States in 1962. She has since traveled the world as a stewardess and eventually became a resident of the Pocono Mountains, where she has befriended the local wildlife. Like Louis Hensel, the German-born renaissance man of the 1800s whose letters she translated, Wilshinsky is a multitalented individual with many interests.

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Ginny Grimsley
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