My Early Childhood
My first memories are rather vague and disconnected in time and place.
Firstly I remember the dark, musty smelling, billowing skirts of my nanny. When something unpleasant was happening I could hide behind one or all of these skirts. She was very strict and the final authority. Even mother was afraid of her. I was not really afraid of her, but I knew she was the LAW. I could always find her, she was never far away, and she was the centre of my universe. She would punish everyone who was not good to me, especially my nephew Kolia.
Once, when I was sitting on the potty on the balcony on the second floor, Kolia came, sneering at me sitting on the potty. He kicked the potty including me. Down went the contents of the potty over the balcony and part of it spilled with me on top of the contents. My loud yells brought Nanny but Kolia disappeared.
Some time later Kolia came back and this time wanted to take my toy away from me. But I would not give it to him and started howling. Kolia told me to shut up and offered to show me something new – yellow chicks!
We went down into the yard. The old stables were quite empty. I didn’t know what happened to the horses. Were they requisitioned? Were they killed for meat? I don’t know. The stables were dark, only some straw along the wall remained. Even the partitions were gone, used for kitchen stoves. There was a hen and many small, yellow chickens, beautiful chickens inside the stables. I went inside, and Kolia, quickly as he could, closed the door and secured the wooden latch, my toy in his pocket. I did not mind. I was fascinated by the chickens although the hen started pecking at my legs. When I got tired and wanted to get out and could not, I started to yell but nobody came. I did not mind much as I was never afraid of dark places. I followed the chickens some more and the hen stopped pecking at my legs. Then the hen started moving towards a corner, calling the chickens and they all went and hid under her feathers. I stretched myself out on the straw near the hen and went to sleep. Nanny found me when it was already quite dark after looking for me all over the place.
It was discovered that Kolia was to blame for these events and I knew he was severely punished with a belting, but at the time thought it was because he took my toy.
My next memory is of a room which was moving and crowded with people, bundles and furniture. There were many days in this room and I was not allowed out, even when the room was not moving. Only later did I know that we were on a cattle train, converted to accommodate people and their belongings. All these people had gained permission to leave Russia proper (Central Russia) and to go to the place from where they originally came. We were going to Lithuania as father was born there and now Lithuania was an independent country. Only much later did I learn that father was released from prison thanks to friends, especially some poor men, some of them Jews, for whom father had done some favours when he was in a position to do so. Maybe some bribes helped, who knows?
We arrived in Lithuania in the spring of 1921, when I was five years old. We lived there, with only short breaks, for the next twenty three years.
Mother was determined not to live on a farm. If a large city was not available, at least the capital city of Lithuania, Kaunas, would do.
Mother and Father could not have had much cash and, anyway, money had hardly any value. They still had plenty of valuables, such as good pictures, antique carpets and plenty of jewellery, not only mother’s personal, but also that which she received in exchange for the more bulky but expensive furniture, when leaving Russia.
There was also the problem of accommodation as quite a few families arrived from Russia, returning to their native Lithuania. I was considered to be in the way. Perhaps because I was the only child in the house, but I really didn’t understand why possibly because my darling Nanny did not come with us and stayed in Russia with her family. She belonged to the true working class and as such had great hopes to better her future.
It was decided to take me to Jan’s farm, Lenkiele, as father’s farm was very neglected, the house needed repairs and there was no-one suitable to look after me. Both farms were in the oldest part of Lithuania – Somogitia (Zmudz in Polish, Zemajtija in Lithuanian). Most of the ancient folktales originated here, most of the Gods lived in these forests of old, big oaks.
In Lenkiele lived my Uncle Jan and his wife Melia. They had no children but agreed to have me for a while. The house seemed big with dark rooms, small windows, dark furniture and no children’s room with toys and sunshine. It was surrounded by a forest on one side and an orchard from the other two sides. There were no children to play with, I felt rather odd and missed my nanny. I don’t remember being either happy or unhappy. I was a big girl, already 5 ½ years old and rather self sufficient.
I recall being fascinated by squirrels which one could see fairly often when one was left undisturbed on the fringe of the forest. Then came winter and plenty of snow. I became worried about the squirrels and wanted to bring them food but was told that they were a nuisance anyway and not to waste food on them as they have plenty of food under the snow, around the oak – their favourite food – acorns.
One evening I decided to find out if there were some acorns left in the snow under the trees but I was told not to be so silly. I had my wash and was put to bed. I think it was bad luck that I decided to go exploring that night, using the light of the moon. My mother arrived and, not finding me in bed, the entire household started looking for me; first in the house, including the ruined chapel, only to find me cold but happy, just dressed in my nightie, digging snow under the trees looking for acorns. Next morning I was bundled up and Mother took me with her back to Kaunas. There must have been a big row, as in mother’s opinion I was not looked after as promised, I could have got a bad cold etc including rheumatism. I did not get either.
In Kaunas we had a small house, no Nanny, only Miss Olga to look after me. I did not like her as she was always fussing. I loved the place where mother was during the day. It was a shop, half of which belonged to mother, and she was selling goods on commission (and mostly her own jewellery to start with) and the other half belonged to a darling lady who had plenty of toys and would let me handle them. Mother must have had a good business as after a short while she was the sole owner of the shop, but I missed the old, dear lady with her toys.
I got tonsillitis and the doctor advised an operation. According to Mother, no doctor in Lithuania was good enough to operate on her darling daughter, so off we went to Berlin – Mother, Miss Olga and myself. Mother thought she might be able to buy a few antiques for her shop and she also wanted badly to be in a big city, at least for short time after being cooped up in Kaunas (population just over a hundred thousand, I think).
I still remember the dreary hotel room, the street ‘Unter den Linden’ and the doctor’s waiting room. I was told that the doctor was a very good man; he would help me, so that I would never again have a sore throat, that everything would be fine and I would have plenty of new toys, that everything would be a pleasure.
It turned out quite differently. The doctor and the sister spoke only German which I could not understand at all, as at that time I spoke only Russian. Only Miss Olga was with me and then I was taken to another room and Miss Olga stayed in the waiting room. The doctor and the sister were dressed all in white. There were no toys anywhere. They dressed me in a white apron, sat me on a chair, strapped me in and made me open my mouth. I did not like either of them as they started hurting me, first in the arm and then in my mouth. The sister was holding my head and something was hurting me badly. I started to struggle to get out, especially after I spit blood into an oddly shaped dish. I started to yell and they yelled back at me, then they tried to keep my mouth shut. Miss Olga came and told me not to yell as it would spoil the good doctor’s work. I yelled and howled even more. At last they let me go.
I think we were all exhausted. I cried and yelled in the taxi and afterwards in the hotel. Mother came and brought me toys and I threw them back in her face. I hated them all. All grown-ups were liars! I would never trust them again.
Mother shouted at Miss Olga because she was unable to comfort me. Miss Olga was shouting back at mother because she never had to deal with such a monster child like me that she did not intend to stay a day longer when we went back to Kaunas. This was the only bright spot during my stay in Berlin.
The consequence was permanent – through all the yelling I damaged my vocal chords and my voice had only a very limited scale. In addition I never trusted my mother to tell me the truth, especially when she said that everything would be fine, that I would be happy if I did what I was told.
When I was nearly eight years old my parents decided that I should have a teacher and, when ready, go to a German school. The German Gymnasium had a very good reputation, better than the Russian and Polish ones. My parents did not want to send me to a Lithuanian school as in Lithuania there was great antagonism towards Poles, especially against those who for generations had been born in Lithuania. This feeling dated back to old historical times when Poland and Lithuania were joined by a Union (early XVI Century). The Poles began to dominate the Lithuanians. The rich landowners adopted Polish habits, the language of the educated classes became Polish, culture and traditions became Polish, the Lithuanians were Polonized. They were pushed back in status, their language became the language of the peasants, their old folk-tales forgotten, their secret rites neglected. Now, after gaining their independence, they were very proud people, but still had a chip on their shoulders as their neighbour, Poland, was a much bigger and richer country. They were protecting their heritage, which might be swallowed up again by the much stronger neighbour.
My parents were given 18 months to get me ready for entrance exams. All subjects were to be in the German language which I did not know at all. I could read and write in Russian and Lithuanian but don’t remember being taught. The only lessons I had were music lessons where I was doing very well. In the first year in Kaunas I had performed my first concert (I was then 5 ½ years old). I played with an orchestra and it was a great success, especially for my teacher who immediately got more pupils than he could cope with. I still read the music very poorly, but played rather like a monkey who was taught tricks. I must have been a clever monkey as the critics were full of praise for the ‘wonder child’.
My parents found me a German teacher, fully qualified, who lived with us. In addition to teaching she also looked after me day and night. I thought she was not bad but I did not like her particularly as my time was very much restricted by her. She had to try and cram into me in 18 months what others did in a more leisurely three years. Neither of us was told that I could sit my exams another time the next year, when I would be ten and a half.
I was a real brat and now I am sorry for my teacher, Margot. In summer we went to a resort in Pologna, where mother and her friend with three boys rented a house. We had the upstairs flat with a balcony on which there was a nest of wasps.
On day Margot would not let me go to the beach for a swim as I had not completed my lessons. I was furious but had to stay home. In the evening when I was put to bed and Margot at last got free time and could go out, I got out of bed and went into her room. I opened all her drawers and everything I could put my hands on I tossed through the window into the neighbouring paddock. Satisfied, I returned to bed and went to sleep.
Next morning Margot lectured me about my awful behaviour and told me that I would have to apologise and say that I was sorry. I would not do it, explaining that I was not sorry at all, I was even happy that her things got dirty, and she could not teach me to tell lies. She would not let me go swimming the day before, so there…I was upset, so now she could be upset.
No persuasion helped. Margot told me that for punishment I would have to do double the amount of school work until Saturday when Mother was coming down from Kaunas. I rebelled again, refused to work and just sat biting my pencil. But still she would not let me go out. When lunch break came I was allowed to go to another room. In desperation and also being bored, I ran to the balcony and started jumping up and down where I knew the wasps had their nest. I was bitten badly and Margot also received a few stings. As I had many stings on my neck which began to swell, she had to take me to the doctor. In the evening I reminded her that I had not even done the usual homework.
“Can I go to the beach tomorrow if I do my homework?”
I had no more trouble with Margot, nor she with me. We even started to like each other I think, as a few years later she was again with me during a holiday to Pologna. Or perhaps she liked Pologna and it was not easy to get a job during the summer vacations.
The day of the school entrance examination arrived. I don’t remember being worried, Margot was calm too but both parents fussed a lot. I passed better than expected and was told that if I would like to have some additional tutoring, I could jump to a higher class in the next year, which I did. Now I was the youngest in a class of 40. Some were three to four years older than myself, which had some drawbacks. In the new class I was called ‘Baby’ and was determined to prove that I was not.
Some boys and a girl dared me to go to the Russian cemetery at midnight when all the ghosts were awake and waiting. I did not mind, providing someone would help me get out through the bedroom window and catch me in our backyard and later help me back, as my parents would never let me go, especially mother who was uneasy in a cemetery. The Russian cemetery was the most neglected one, especially the corner reserved for the suicides.
The grave of a suicide was agreed on during lunch break. It was in the neglected corner. I was to put flowers and a cross (made by us) on the grave. Both were sprinkled with holy water from our chapel. As arranged two boys helped me get out through the window and we arrived at the cemetery at twenty minutes to midnight. There was quite a crowd waiting for me, even some from the higher class. I was excited and happy, all this to-do just for me, the ‘baby’.
They did not know that I was not afraid of cemeteries or the dead. I had a special attachment to all the dead. I rather envied them. An odd feeling for a child. Somehow, in my mind, the dead ones were the lucky ones, their struggles were over and they were either with God or not. In my thoughts I could not imagine God who, like a father, would never reject his child, even if it was naughty but ready to do better next time. If God was like father as we were taught, he would not reject his child. If one was dead then there were no taboos, no restrictions, one was permanently happy and could do everything one wanted to do.
Everyone checked their watches. I was told to go at 25 minutes to twelve as it was a long way to go and I had to climb over a high fence as the gates were closed. As I knew the cemetery well, I arrived there before midnight, placed my cross and flowers, said a quick prayer wishing the dead a happy time and started to go back by a short cut, not along the path but jumping over graves, each time apologizing to the one buried there. All of a sudden I felt that somebody was holding my dressing gown (I went in my night gown with a robe thrown over it). I stopped and started to speak to the dead one who I thought was holding me, explaining that I was sorry jumping over his grave, but I had to hurry back as I only had a few more minutes left of my allotted time. No go, someone was still holding my gown. I bent down to pat his grave and realized that a branch had caught on my long dressing gown. I started to giggle, thinking of how silly it was of me imagining the dead one was holding me back. I knew that he did not care if I jumped over his grave as he was certainly not there but far away. When I got back everyone gave a sigh of relief. They were all very nervous as I was a bit late. Next day many knew of my escapade but luckily my parents did not hear about it. After that very few called me ‘baby. I liked school and felt happy there.
I loved the school summer holidays even more, which I spent during the next few years in Pakapurniai, the farm where my father spent his childhood.
The house was repainted and one wing renovated. Most of all I loved to be free to roam. Mother and father brought my governess, Tania, and I down, to stay for a day or two and return to Kaunas. Tania was an adorable person. I had already loved her in Kaunas, she was so understanding – she tried to be as discreet as possible when taking me to school and back and later on she even went to the other side of the street, so that a boy could carry my books when bringing me home. Because I liked her I tried to co-operate and do everything possible so that she would not get into trouble with Mother.
Pakapurniai was a place which by now probably does not exist in the Western world. It is very hard to describe. The farm was very isolated in between of nowhere, surrounded by old oak forests, the River Dubiase and some marshlands with plenty of mysteries for a teenager.
My father was never a real farmer and the work was done by a sharefarmer. Father came down only very occasionally. The house was unbelievably cold. One day when some repairs were being done to the house I heard the comments of the workmen: “There is not even one bloody steel nail in the whole place, it is all done with wood.”
I loved those summer holidays. Thanks to father who had a quiet word with the governess, I was allowed to do most of what I wanted. I was allowed to go anywhere I liked. I had to wash only once a day, before going to bed. I was allowed to go anywhere I liked, provided I said where I was going to be. For example: in the morning I said I would be with the cowherd, but later on, if I wanted to go riding and swimming, I had to tell the governess and she would come to the river where I intended to swim. Not to supervise, but just to be there in case I should start to drown. If later on I wanted to go into the forest that was all right too if I told her in which direction I would go.
The governess explained why I should let her know – should my mother come unexpectedly, which she sometimes did, and the governess did not know where I was, we both would be in trouble. I let her know and she let me go where I wanted. It worked out quite well because I do not remember being supervised or scolded.
My best friend was the cowherd. He taught me how to make a flute out of a reed and how to make love. He showed me cows in season and calves being born and his penis. Everything was natural, death was natural as well as birth. I was allowed to stay during the night to see a calf being born. I was fascinated when it was unable to stand one minute and in no time was struggling to get up and being licked by its mother. If a cow died, that was also natural. Everything was just right.
The cowherd and the stable youth told me stories about folklore, about the gods and goddesses, about the big serpents, the old oak trees etc. I was very impressed. When they asked me for stories I felt very ignorant not knowing any, but then I started to tell them stories too, mainly from the Bible, the gory ones about Cain and Abel, the Flood, Goliath, Judas etc all very elaborated upon. I loved telling these stories as I had a wonderful audience asking for more. Later on I did it even at school, mainly adventure stories about gods fighting in the sky during a thunderstorm, about the beautiful Goddess. There was always a heroine, pure and good and beautiful, there was always someone very bad, usually dark haired, and there was always a Prince Charming who rescued the heroine at the last moment. At school I used to tell the stories during lunch break and even by instalments, finishing the following day. It was fun having an audience even of older boys and girls.
In Pakapurnaiai I spent a lot of time also in the forests where I would sit quietly for hours looking at birds, squirrels, insects etc. There was so much to see. Even dew-drops were fascinating. In good light, looking through the drop on a grass blade one could see a lot more detail than usual. I thought that moisture helps to see extra things but when I tried with spittle I could see even less. The cowherd did not know why and anyway who cares, I should not be so stupid. Father told me that the liquid should be clean and spittle was not. I tried it with clean water and father proved to be right.
There was the lovely smell of warm earth, of grass, of freshly mown meadows, of decaying old branches. Now after fifty years I can still remember the feeling; it was Paradise Lost.
The boys taught me how to get a fire going without matches – it was easy if you had an uneven bit of glass but I could also do it with just a flint. Everything was simple and without interference, everything was just right. There was a mating season, there was feeding time, there was death too but there was always life, full of fun and joy.
The stable youth taught me that horses are just like people, one should watch the mean and bad tempered ones but they also could be made friendly if treated the right way. One rule applied: speak nicely, calmly, do not show fear and there is nothing more to it. One has to remember that if a dumb animal is nervous or frightened about you doing something, then one should avoid doing it. Simple isn’t it?
Close to the house was the orchard, it was a big orchard. This was the the old orchard divided by linden trees from the ‘new’ one. Both were really very old. The old one should have been destroyed ages before but it was still there. The ‘new one’ must have been old too as the linden trees were very tall.
One summer about 1928-9 when I must have been about eleven or twelve years old, Tania suggested more often than before that we should go riding to a farm not very far away. The farm belonged to my father’s friend, Pan Vasary. Vasary did not live on the farm. He was a professor of Mechanical Engineering at the Kaunas University and spent his summer holidays in France with his relatives. On the farm lived his only son, Kostia.
A long time previous to this episode, around 1922-3, when I was only about five or six, I had already met Kostia a number of times and felt at the time that I wanted to be married to either father or Kostia. Kostia was then about twelve, which I considered was quite old.
However, in that summer of 1928, when I was eleven or twelve Kostia and I were still good friends. He must have been about twenty-five. I still liked him as he could teach me many riding tricks. He was a Cossack during the Russian revolution and could ride like an acrobat. But I did not like going to his farm so often now as Kostia would talk most of the time with Tania. He stopped teaching me riding tricks, saying that I should exercise more.
I noticed that, in the evening, after I had been put to bed, Tania left the house – not in her usual manner, but rather furtively. Next morning she would still be asleep when I woke up. I decided to find out what she was doing in the evening.
One evening when she thought I was asleep, I heard her leaving the house very quietly. I climbed out through the window and followed her. To my amazement she went to the orchard but I knew there was nothing interesting after sunset. Hiding in the shadow of trees and bushes, I followed her. She went straight to the path of the linden trees and sat down on a bench. Being dark, I could not see her very well and I was unable to go nearer as there was no proper cover near the bench where she was sitting. Within a few minutes I heard the neighing of a horse and then I saw a man running towards the bench she was sitting on. I wanted to jump out and protect her but the man called out…..and it was Kostia. I could see that he was kissing her but could not hear what they were saying. I waited a while but it became boring so I went home back to bed.
Next morning I decided that I should find out a bit more. I went to inspect the benches and find out where would be the best approach for me next time if I should hear Tania leaving furtively. Some trees near the bench were dead and had been removed and other tall lime trees near the bench grew straight, without any branches I could use as support for legs or hands. I would not have a hope to see and hear if they sat on this bench. It did not take me long to find a solution.
The last time mother had come to visit us, she brought us a tin of white paint so that the inside of some rooms could be repainted. There was still plenty left. Next day I decided to paint the benches in the orchard.
I found the benches near trees which were suitable for climbing and also not too far away so that I could hear what was being said. Those benches I did not paint but started to paint the seats on all the others. I was not worried if I should have to wait a few more nights as each day I painted only a few planks, so that the bench was not suitable for sitting on. I told Tania during the evening meal what I was doing: - being a useful person, preserving and beautifying the benches. I made sure that Tania would know that I had left two benches unpainted, explaining that we should have at least somewhere to sit on in the meantime. Tania listened but made no comment. Very soon I switched the conversation to something else as I believed in the teachings of the cowherd: if you are not telling the truth – be as brief as you can, otherwise the grown-ups will find out. He and the stable youth were experts in dealing with grown-ups.
I did not have long to wait as the next night was THE NIGHT. Tania chose to sit on the bench which was most suitable for my purpose. I was able to climb the tall linden tree even before Kostia arrived. My branch was just above the bench. I was really lucky.
When Kostia came there was a lot of kissing but this I had seen before and it was not interesting. Then they started talking and that was a great disappointment. It went like this:
He muttered something which I could not understand. Later on they just sat holding hands and kissing in between. I got bored and sleepy and decided to go to bed as soon as they left. Here and there I decided that if that was what they called ‘courting’ I’d never do it. It was just too stupid.
Next morning I was thinking about the bits I had heard. What did she mean by not clean? I knew she was clean as she had washed herself that morning. Then I remembered – when I had my period, which started when I was eleven, somebody commented that I would not be clean during the next few days. She must have had her period, but so what? As far as I could reason, she was not dirty as blood was not dirty, it was just blood. I could not understand the language of grown-ups and really I did not care much, I thought they all were kind of odd.
I had some more fun in Pakaporniai. Sometimes the boys went to catch yabbies at night. For a few summers I was not allowed to go with them, but this summer when Tania and Kostia were meeting each other, I was allowed to go with the boys. Oh what excitement!
Everyone had a long piece of wood, specially dried and tarred. The eldest boy had a basket lined with special moss and nettles. When we came to the Dubisa River we lit our pieces of wood, illuminating the water and thus attracting the yabbies to the surface. They would crawl out of their hiding places and try to grab bits of old, smelly meat which each of us was dangling, by hand, from a string near their holes. It was my first try to catch yabbies but as I caught only two, the boys decided to give me some from their catch. I promised them SHOP BOUGHT lollies, coloured ones, not home-made and everyone was happy.
I think the yabbies were kept in well water and then thrown into boiling water. It was much greater fun catching yabbies than eating them. I liked eating them but it was too much trouble, as each yabbie was not even a mouthful of food. They were dark when we caught them but when brought to the table they were red.
Now came the time when wheat and rye were mown, when flax was cut and it was time to gather mushrooms for winter. I loved gathering mushrooms in the big forests, but I was also sad as now it meant that soon I would have to go back to Kaunas, as the school year started in September.
I liked school but not much else, except skiing and skating, but that was still a long way off. I hated meal-times and I constantly heard ‘Marusia kishaj’ (Marusia eat up). I disliked vegetables except for potatoes and hated spinach. I did not like soup either nor the sweets made from currants which we had often as father liked it and it was supposed to be good for one. I did not like to wear shoes or be clean or to be dressed nicely with a bow in my hair, nor to play the piano when my parents had visitors. I had to say ‘How do you do?” or “Pleased to see you,” when I really did not like to see them nor did I care how they were. I did not like them telling me how beautiful I was as I knew that I was not, nor them asking me questions about school and not even listening when I tried to tell them. I did not like the smell of people. The women were soaked in some sweet scent and the men smelled of vodka and tobacco. I did not like grown-ups and tried to be on my best behaviour so that I could leave them as soon as mother gave me a wink that I could go.
Most grown-ups bored me as far back as I can remember. My mother gave parties very often. Sometimes I would come down from my bedroom. I would sneak under father’s chair and sit there and listen. When father noticed me under his chair, he would take his fob-watch and let it dangle. I could play with it and still listen, but their talk made no sense. To start with it would be ‘how nice,’ ‘how interesting,’ etc. Later on they would speak about somebody who did something or other wrong, then they spoke about the good old times in Russia and how terrible it was now in the time of “from the double eagle to the red banner”. It was years later that I understood they were speaking about the times of the Tsar and the ‘now’ of the Soviet Republic, which they called the Bolshewiks. At those parties everyone spoke only Russian. I don’t think anyone could speak Lithuanian except father and me. Polish was spoken only by father and a few of his friends who were never invited to the real parties.
I liked school very much except for the first year where I had to fight a lot to establish myself. I had many friends and some were my ‘Special Friends’.
The German Gymnasium was rather an exclusive high school, being about ten times as expensive as the other schools. One third of the pupils were Germans who paid nothing or very little, the majority were children of well-to-do Jewish parents and the rest, a very small percentage, were a mixed group: a few Poles, Russians, very few Lithuanians and some children of fathers who were in diplomatic service.
I had a good memory and a lot of curiosity and learning came easily to me. I could read as far back as I can remember though I don’t know who taught me the alphabet, certainly not Nanny who was illiterate. Maybe my mother’s father, my darling grandpop (Alexander Alexandrowich) - I don’t know.
Grandfather was a godsend as far as I was concerned. He came to us in Lithuania when I was six years old. He was the only one who always had time to speak to me, or rather to answer questions. Nothing was too much trouble. He would even lie on the ground and watch with me the ants or other crawling things, he would build sand castles with me and he would let me handle his fob watch for as long as I liked, even taking it off the chain.
Grandfather did not arrive with us but approximately a year later. When my parents and their friends left Russia, a lot of people were leaving Communist Russia.
The Tsar, his close family and many of his relatives were killed. Murdered. All the upper class, including the big landowners were in danger of losing their lives or facing long prison sentences where most of them would die. All high status civil servants and army officers were not much better off. It was according to all, just a matter of time. Even the middle upper class was also endangered in the same way. In addition, as in every revolution, there were private feuds to be settled. But some did not want to leave their homeland, which they all loved with a deep passion. Most people, those who left, and those who stayed, were thinking that all this would pass, that the Bolsheviks would be destroyed, at least by the menshewiks and life would return, more or less, to what it was before 1917. It would only be a matter of survival during the turbulent revolution.
Grandfather belonged to those who did not want to leave Russia. After a year or so, he realized that he could not survive in Russia and agreed to go to his daughter’s place in Lithuania for the time being, thinking that, should the revolution last too long, he might go to his other daughter in Paris. Both his sons stayed in Russia; one was killed by a stray bullet in 1921.
I really loved grandfather and all my friends loved him too. He never talked down to us, he never reprimanded us and he could always keep a SECRET. The only person who did not like him was the cook, as she had to move out of her room and from then on she slept in the kitchen nook. Tania and the maid kept their rooms as Tania’s was next to mine and the maid’s was dark, without a window.
Now that I am 61 years of age, I am old I realize that grandfather did not always do the right thing and my parents were therefore cross with him and told him off unpleasantly. But now being a grandmother myself, I would surely do the same as grandfather did if in return I could have the full confidence and love of my grandchildren, the way grandfather had mine.
Here are a few examples which have stayed vividly in my memory:
I was playing in the backyard when I saw a procession of ants coming from our brick fence and across to our neighbour’s house, wandering around our yard and then again going back through the brick fence. There were masses of them. I called grandfather to come and watch.
It did not matter that grandfather was reading his paper. I knew he would come because he liked the things I liked and he enjoyed sharing my excitement. Grandfather and I were both lying on the grass watching the ants, both fascinated. Mother came, told me to get up immediately and not to be so silly looking at some stupid ants and lying on the wet grass. My frock was dirty and I might get rheumatism. She was very cross with grandad, really cross. For me, no crying helped, nor pleading. I was not allowed to watch the ants anymore. But I was given a new toy.
Another time, when the snow was melting, granddad and I got into big trouble. Next to our house was the house of my friend Lida. It had a very big garden and a pond. Playing with Lida, I noticed that in the pond where the ice had melted, something was moving, swimming. It was neither fish nor frog, nor anything I knew. When I told grandad about it, he explained that it would probably be little future frogs, which looked different from the big ones. Next morning when my lessons were over, we went to the pond. The little things were swimming a bit further out and I could not quite see them. Grandfather found a plank, put it on the ground near the pond with half of it protruding into the pond. I could see much better lying on my stomach and watching them but disaster struck. In my rush to see better I overbalanced and landed in the pond, head first. When grandfather dragged me out I was wet to the skin and although I asked grandfather to let me dry out there, he would not agree, although we both knew that we would be in real trouble – if not rheumatism it might be pneumonia or even worse. I was not told off at all. I was scrubbed in front of the fire and put to bed with an eggnog which I liked, but I heard both my parents telling granddad off and when I sneaked out to him at night, his face was damp and I was sure he was crying. I was very sorry and told him that from now on we would only do what was permitted and never get into trouble again, but granddad told me that he was not upset about us, but that his own daughter, Julia, who was my mother, could speak to him so rudely. But somehow we did not get into much trouble after that, only once more. Maybe we were both more careful, who knows?
The last time I remember that granddad got into trouble because of me, even with repercussions which followed him to the end of his life, was when I had measles.
In those days measles were considered a very serious illness which could result in many other terrible things. The room I was kept in was in darkness. I was not allowed to read, or even to look at pictures for long. I was allowed to play with beads, buttons and toys. I was even allowed to have father’s calendar in bed. I loved that calendar which could be moved by hands showing the days of the week, months and explanations about sunset and sunrise, about fishing and game for the appropriate season. This calendar father brought from Pakopurnie when his mother died. Granddad used to tell me stories, according to the season to which I had moved the calendar. But even that was not good enough as I had to be left for long periods alone, so as not to get too tired.
Later on I had some tummy trouble. I don’t know what caused it but the food became unbearable, just pulp and mash. I especially missed the fruit. I missed it very much. One day grandfather brought me a beautiful apple and a piece of watermelon saying that I should be quick or he would be in trouble. The apple went down in no time but the watermelon was messy, having pips. Tania came unexpectedly, early from her shopping and caught us.
She ratted on granddad! It was terrible!
My parents withdrew his allowance completely saying that he was spending the money wrongly, harming me and being a silly old man. He must have been then between seventy and eighty but he definitely was not silly. I did not think so then, and I do not think so even now.
He, who once was a really rich man, did not from then on have even one cent of his own, only part of my pocket money which I tried to share with him. But he would spend it again on me. He had to ask for even the smallest of things, which admittedly were bought straight away if considered necessary. But he was never given money.
Grandfather was very upset but then he decided to do something about it. He could not write to his other daughter and ask her for money as it would be kept in trust by my parents, or so he explained. He made himself a box from wood lying in the backyard, fastened a belt around it and from my pocket money bought some pens, pencils and other small items and started to go from house to house selling them at a small profit. This way he has some money although not much.
Many years later, long after grandfather was dead, I had a fierce argument with my parents about something or other and then I told them how cruel they were, depriving an old man of a small allowance. A man who all his life was used to having money, money which was no hardship for them to give. At first my parents tried to tone it down but I knew that they felt uncomfortable when I accused them. Later my mother told me that it did grandfather only good and gave him an incentive to do something and he did earn money. I still think my parents were wrong but who knows?
It is true that grandfather never complained, he was always friendly and laughed a lot and we were still the best of friends.
When I was a lot older grandfather still shared a lot of my free time with me. When apples began to ripen in the neighbouring garden, I used to climb the fence and steal as many apples as I could. We had plenty of apples at home, ripe ones too, but the ones which I stole, although often green, tasted a lot better. Grandfather would stand watch and in case of danger give a piercing whistle. We were both very careful and we never got caught. It did not make a thief of me, nor did I become depraved but I had a lot of fun and grandfather was my friend and shared the fun.
When I was about 12 we moved to another flat again. This time it was in the centre of Kaunas on its main street, Laisves Aleja. On the ground floor was mother’s shop and in the basement was antique furniture which had to be restored or upholstered. One or two men were usually working there. Part of the ground floor was a restaurant. On the first floor was a picture theatre. We lived on the second floor. Although expensive, it was a small flat. Mother wanted it because of the very large basement, as in addition to the antique furniture, she had there also some modern things. She became a representative for Jena Glass in Lithuania and also sole representative for something like a washing machine. The machine looked like copper on three legs. The gadget which was supposed to do the washing looked rather odd. It was a long stick with a rubber container at its end. This rubber gadget was the size of a large pot and had many holes. One was supposed to fill the copper with hot water and soap, immerse the washing and start poking with the stick. The holes in the rubber had a suction power when pulled up and down and the clothes were supposed to come out clean without much effort. I tried it and it was a lot of effort to plunge the stick up and down. Neither of the things were selling well. People did not believe in the heat resistance of the Jena Glass and mother did not spend time on advertising. The washing machine was also a flop as it was cheaper to hire someone to do the washing by hand in the old way, than to spend money on some new gadget. As far as I know, these two instances were the only ones where mother did not make a profit.
I did not like our flat at all. There was no garden, only a balcony. My bedroom, which I shared with Tania, was small and had in the middle two steps as the projector of the cinema was underneath. Grandfather had an awful room. It was a room intended for the cook, next to the kitchen, with no outside window, only a window into the kitchen. Grandfather did not like this flat either as he found it very hard to go up the steps to the second floor. Quite often he was in pain when coming home and consequently went out very seldom. Tania did not like it either as she now had an additional duty – to take the Alsatian dog for a walk twice a day.
One morning, as usual before going to school, I went to grandfather to say goodbye and give him a kiss. He was still in bed and smoking a cigarette, I could see that he was not feeling well. When I asked him, he brushed it off, telling me that he had to gather strength before going to shower, as the steam in the shower made the ache in his chest stronger. We both cursed the flat and the lack of a backyard.
When I returned from school I wanted, as usual, to go first to grandfather, but was not allowed and was then told that grandfather had left us and was in heaven with his wife and his son.
“What do you mean in heaven? Which heaven? When is he coming home?”
“Grandfather…dead…?” and I twisted myself out of the holding hands and ran into grandfather’s room. He looked as though he were asleep but there was blood and foam around his lips which I tried to remove. I kissed him, I hugged him, I shook him, talked to him, implored him to come back and then I realized that he would never come back. Never. He had gone away for always. He was dead! Dead!
I started blaming my parents for this flat which they had taken, the stairs which killed grandfather, for the bathroom without a window where the steam had hurt his heart. For me losing grandfather was a real tragedy. It took many months before I could speak civilly to my parents, and it was not until we moved away from this flat (two years later) that I could think about grandfather without a feeling of hatred to all others, without quarrelling with God who took him away from me. Each night, before going to sleep, I spoke with grandfather in my thoughts, asking questions, telling him about everything which happened to me during the day. The feeling of loss lasted for many years. Nothing will ever erase my feelings and memories of grandfather.
Years later I tried to analyse my feelings of frustration and deep loss. Grandfather never bought me toys or books, never took me to a show but he did sometimes show his disapproval of my behaviour, but always without scolding me. He gave me something which was most important to me. He gave me his time, he gave me the feeling of security and understanding and patience and real love.
Wherever you are, Grandfather, thank you for all you did for me and I hope you are happy wherever you are.
I don’t remember being really unhappy. Angry, annoyed, and frustrated, yes, if something went wrong, bad tempered, but not unhappy. Now I know that love was lavished on me but then I did not think about it. I just took it for granted.
I was certainly sometimes a terrible child. Once, it was soon after my measles, when I was still forbidden to go out. Only our maid was at home and had to look after me with strict orders not to let me go out. Seeing that only the maid was home, I decided to go out and took my overcoat. She would not let me put it on. I started pulling the coat towards me and yelling at her, she still would not let me go. I pushed her and gave her a good solid kick on the shin. She fell and hit her head on the wall and it started to bleed. I helped her to get up and said that I was sorry that I had kicked her but she did not answer and kept crying. My mother arrived when we were still in the hall. I was upset but mother did not scold me at all but scolded the maid as, according to mother, it was the maid’s fault for not being able to handle a child. Funny attitude, isn’t it?
I, being a mother, would have belted my child good and proper and would make it apologise immediately and would have tried to make it up to the maid, but mother never did.
I knew already then that I was in the wrong. Who knows how one should bring up children? I did not grow up to become a monster but wouldn’t I have been a better human being if I had been treated otherwise?
When in later years we spoke with mother about it, she still thought that she had done the right thing. I don’t agree, but I am not an authority on bringing up children.
I did not want to learn French as none of my friends had to and mother’s friends did not speak French when at our place, so why should I learn?
After a few lessons I decided that I did not like either French or my teacher. I discovered that if I kept quiet, pretending to study, my teacher would go to sleep and not bother me and I could read a book which I kept handy for these occasions. One day mother caught us. The teacher was dismissed and mother apologized to me! For giving me an unqualified teacher! When mother thought she did something wrong she would not cover it up. She would try to straighten it out, apologise etc, but mother was not often in the wrong.
This time she explained that she wanted to give financial help to my teacher who was very hard up. When I asked mother why she did not give her money when needed without asking her to work for it, mother’s reply was as unusual: “You are too young to understand. When you grow up, you will understand.”
The same happened at school. Others were blamed for my shortcomings. When I was not good at some subjects, like geography (which I did not like) it was simply because I did not do my homework nor did I listen during lessons. But it was still not my fault. According to mother, it was the fault of the teacher.
Nothing was ever my fault. I was a perfect child. I was the most delightful child a mother could ask for. I was clever, a good pianist, beautiful etc etc. This kind of talk I heard constantly.
I think that perhaps mother did the right things quite unintentionally. Surely, no normal child is so stupid as not to realize when he or she is in the wrong. And a simple mirror is enough to show that one, whilst not too bad, is definitely not really beautiful. And so, I decided already then, when I was about ten or eleven, that I could not trust mother’s judgement. I thought her very clever, she told me that herself and nobody ever contradicted her, but I thought she simply did not understand me.
As far as I can remember, I don’t think that I was always a horrid child. I was a rather odd child, not quite like other children in my age group. For instance, I loved cemeteries and was even, to a certain degree, envious of the ones who were dead and buried there. Don’t misunderstand me, I was not unhappy, but I envied those who were already dead. It was not a morbid feeling, I simply thought that those who were dead are perpetually happy. I had odd dreams which were real to me, in which I could see myself from above, and in which I knew what other people were really like, and what they were doing. It was not only during sleep that these dreams came but also during the day when I was wide awake.
Once when we were at home and sitting at the table, I had one of my insights and started to cry. “I saw a man, he has lost his ten litas but he is poor and needs the money. Oh please, please let me go and get the money back to him.” I was told not to carry on and to finish my meal. When I continued crying and choking on the food, mother asked father to go with me, so that I could see for myself how I only imagined things which were not there. Without a word father got up and taking me by the hand, we left. I knew that he did not think I was imagining this. Father asked me where the money would be. I told him that it was beside the steps of the university and that the autumn leaves were just now covering it and that the man was poor and his trouser cuffs were frayed. Father asked me “Will you recognize him?”
“I can’t, I have not seen his face but he has grey trousers, a brown jacket and he is cold. He has no pullover.”
Father squeezed my hand but did not say anything and we hurried towards the university steps.
Years later father told me that I went straight to the correct side of the steps, pushed aside some autumn leaves and sure enough there was a ten lita bill there. I grabbed it and urged father to go to Daukantas street as I saw the student turning there. When we came to the corner, there was nobody there. I started to cry as I did not know where the student went. Father did not say much, as usual. He only said that he would try to find the student and if he couldn’t, he would from now on, help other students and there were many who needed money. I stopped crying as I believed my father. He never told me a lie and I trusted him.
It was a strange relationship between us. We never talked much, he never bought me toys and he never, ever interfered with mother’s ruling. It was no good appealing to him against mother, but I also knew that father would be trusted as grandfather could. I don’t remember father ever telling a lie. He either replied to my questions or told me to buzz off, or even that he did not know the answer. At first I was astonished that a grown-up might not know the answer to all of my questions, but later on I trusted him unquestioningly, if they were delivered in a definite manner. Quite often father would say that he was not certain, that I should ask mother, the priest, governess etc, depending on what the question was about.
Father was quite different from granddad but very important to me, especially during my teens, as grandfather had died when I was 12½, but father was there during all my adolescent years of upheaval. From childhood until late in life I felt comfortable in father’s company. I knew we loved each other although we never said it. When I pressed father really hard, he would tell me what he really thought, irrespective of what other people’s opinions might be. I don’t know if he realized what great influence he had on me. We trusted each other always and I cherish this thought even now.
I loved school, I was happy there. I had many friends and got on well with my schoolmates. Learning new things was pure fun. I was lucky to have some very good teachers who instilled in me a curiosity, who tried to teach me to do my own thinking. I feel indebted especially to three of my teachers: Herr Gilde, our maths teacher, Herr Kruck our teacher of German literature and Doctor Zipfer, our physics and chemistry teacher, who was also a senior lecturer at the Kaunas University.
Our art teacher was also good, although mother did not like her as already in my first year of high school she told me that I would never be good at art but should at least try to appreciate it. Our headmaster, when I was sent to him for some major misdemeanour, told me that being good at school work would not make me a better woman, that one needs more than book knowledge to be a decent person. My dear Jesuit priest who tried very hard to bring me back to the fold of the church, after I first began to doubt, then completely lost faith (at the age of about 16 or 17). All of them contributed to giving me some foundations. That is what school is for, to give the youngster a foundation for further thinking and living.
My German High School, called gymnasium or rather ‘Realschule’ was different from other schools in Kaunas. It was a non-classical secondary school which meant that instead of Latin and Greek, we were taught more maths, physics and chemistry as well as modern languages.
It was co-educational which was rather exceptional at that time. It had good teachers, better than average, as they were all paid very well because the school fee was a lot higher than in other schools. It had more sports and exercises for physical fitness than other schools. It had better equipment in the large sports hall as well as in the laboratories. It had a very good and extensive library, whereas some schools had no library at all. Since 1932 we had many teachers imported from Germany, most for propaganda purposes, all aimed at indoctrinating the youth with Hitler’s ideas.
At the time when I went to school the emphasis was more on general education than on specialization. Today’s programme of education varies a lot from the one I had. For example matriculation, which lasted about two months from May to late June, with only short breaks before each exam. Some subjects had only one exam, but others had two – one oral and one written. I sat for the following subjects:
Quite impressive isn’t it when compared with today’s 4 or 5 subjects. Of course, we did not cover as much ground in each subject as the pupils do today. But just think about all the 23 exams in 17 subjects, all the swatting during those two months! We all felt more dead than alive when the exams were over. I did not do too well, as during this school year I had no time for most of the subjects, as I started to become engrossed in religious and other matters. During the time of my exams I studied all the nights, sleeping some during the days to catch up as I wanted to pass, which I certainly did.
During all my school years my marks were very erratic except for maths in which I was always good and geography where I always barely had a pass.
When we started English in the first and second term my marks were nought out of five! We did not want to learn English, it was something like French. Nobody I knew could speak English, why the hell should I? I already had three languages plus some Polish. My parents blamed the teacher of course, but decided to give me private tutoring so that I could pass into the next form. I fell in love with my tutor Madame Sabelski (and a bit with her son too) and passed the exams, catching up during the third term. The next year, being still in love with her, I even became first in class. Most of the time I was good in German, as during the term and yearly exams, one was allowed to choose one of the free topics instead of a problem from literature covered during the year.
I had great fun with physics. Doctor Zipfer taught us that the atom could be split but we were not to put this on the exam papers because the correct answer in our text books was that the smallest indivisible unit was the atom, which could not be split. And that was in 1932/33! The exam papers were probably compiled by some old fogies. Doctor Zipfer was not much to look at; he was short, bald, with a big belly and a dirty waistcoat, but he did show us how interesting everything is. 45 years later in 1978, here in Australia, watching TV and the ‘Mad Professor’ (Ed: Dr Julius Somner Miller and his show “Why is it so”) I remembered Doctor Zipfer. He always used to say, “Think, you oafs, why is it so? Think! Just think!” Occasionally, some of us were invited to go to the University where he had his lectures and sometimes I was even allowed to help the students with their experiments.
Herr Gilde, our maths teacher, was quite different. Medium tall, good figure, slightly greying hair. Most of the older female pupils were in love with him. He was a fantastic teacher. He made you think and enjoy it! He used to write on the blackboard a new algebraic quotation and ask the class to figure out how one arrived at this quotation. It was really fun to try and work it out. After the others had their try I, being his favourite pupil, was allowed to have a go. Usually I could arrive at the right answers but in a hopelessly roundabout way, but he did not mind.
Herr Kruck, our German teacher in higher classes, was quite different again. He was no longer married as his wife had left him. He gave the impression that he could not care less about us, that he had to suffer us stupid, slow thinking, unintelligent future grown ups. He was a grave digger during the First World War as he refused to take up arms. He was an odd teacher. He did teach us what he was supposed to teach but at the same time also conveyed, at least to some of us, that what he had to teach was utter rot. I was lucky to belong to the group of his favourite pupils where he would say what he really thought and he certainly did not think conventionally. He went to the trouble to explain why, for instance, he did not like some plays by Shakespeare, but loved some others. Why, in his opinion, even Goethe was not always right, which was really sacrilegious.
Herr Kruck did not mind that I also liked adventure stories and even trashy ‘whodunits’. He only wanted to know why I liked this particular kind of book. Sometimes we even missed a whole lesson, just talking, usually sitting on a bench in the mortuary chapel, as there were seldom dead ones laid out.
Next to our school was a Lutheran cemetery, divided from the school yard by a low fence and a gate which was never locked. The mortuary chapel, a weatherboard primitive building, looked more like a barn than a chapel and had its entrance from the school yard. There were not many Lutherans in Kaunas and only seldom did we have somebody dead in there. We were not supposed to go to the chapel when somebody was laid out, but some of us did. We knew when the verger was out and all who wanted could sneak in, even if the door was locked as the windows were no problem. The coffins were open and the dead ones looked rather nice, as if dreaming. They were neatly dressed, always had flowers. It was pleasant there, not morbid at all.
At home, father did not approve of females smoking, although he smoked cigars non-stop and I always smelled like a smoked salami sausage. Mother did smoke cigarettes but only after heavy arguments with father.
I used to pinch mother’s cigarettes, go to the toilet and practice smoking. The first few times I thought it would kill me and I was even sick but to give up and admit that I was still a baby unable to smoke, was even worse than dying. However, I improved and one day, in 1932, after filching a packet of mother’s cigarettes, I walked into the cemetery, lit my cigarette and walked past the smoking group and from the pocket of my school uniform was sticking out, as if by chance, a packet of cigarettes. I did not speak to them as that would show that I was desperate for their company, but they behaved quite decently, called out to me and even asked me for some cigarettes. I was fifteen then and have kept smoking until now. Stupid isn’t it? The herd instinct is so very strong, especially in the young ones. Although in many ways I was not conventional, I was very dependent on the approval of my equals, a lot more than on adults.
It took many years, many thoughts and hardships until I was able to recognize this feeling and do something about it.
In 1932 when I was in the Tertia Class, the atmosphere of the school began to change slightly. The next year when I was in the Secunda, the change became more noticeable. We had more imported teachers from Germany, had special lectures and films about Germany, about the way of the German youth, about Hitler, about how superior Germany was to all other nations. We got many new books, but all rather similar, all about Germany.
Herr Kruck spent less and less time in the library and I missed him a lot. It was in the library that I first started to like him as he started to teach German literature only in the last few years. I remember when, as a little school girl, I went to the library and asked him which books were really interesting. He would just shrug his shoulders and say:
“I don’t know, I don’t remember all the books. Go and find out. You can see where the books for your age group are stacked.”
When I returned a book which I liked, I would tell him all about it as I was sorry for him, that he had forgotten such an interesting book. This was the beginning of our friendship, as later on he would start asking me questions, provoking me to silly arguments. He was never really cross, he even brought some of his own books for me. Then in 1932/33 he would ask me, but only occasionally, what I was reading and about my impressions, but he never gave any indication as to whether he agreed with me or not. Only once did he ask me if I did not miss some of my favourite authors and that was the first time I realized that many books, including my favourites, had been withdrawn, being of Jewish origin. Even Lessing’s ‘Nathan the Wise’ disappeared from the shelf. I was too wrapped up in the new books about beautiful great Germany to notice the change.
When I came back from the school holidays, which I spent not in Pakapurniai but in Cytowiany (Mr and Mrs Romer’s place), the school had changed drastically. It was my final year, my matriculation year 1933/34. I was 17 and now I was in the Prima class.
From nearly a thousand pupils only a few hundred came back to our school after the holidays. All the Jewish children left and went to a newly founded school. It was the year when Hitler came into power. Some of my close friends were Jewish and I missed them a lot. It was not an easy year for me as I had many, many problems.
Until this year I was a true Catholic, or at least I tried to be one, to the best of my abilities. I had a very good relationship with God, he was never far from me, I could always talk to him. Now, thinking back, I think I spoke with God the way Guaretschi’s Don Camillo spoke. Each morning before school I would go to the church to say a good morning and a short prayer, usually a ‘Thank You’. But now I began to change. I think the beginning was a book by Renan, which I believe was called ‘The Life of Jesus’. Christ was presented as an exceptional human being without blame, to be followed and admired, not as God, but as man. I started checking up in gospels, psalms, other translations, asked my Jesuit priest for reference books etc but the damage was done, the gulf grew wider and wider and I was unable to become a Catholic again.
There were also problems with my parents. Many problems.
In response to religious matters I called them to their face, hypocrites. I was furious with them that they were giving bribes; I blamed them more than those who accepted their bribes. Only many years later did I realize that in the times when they were young, it was a normal thing to do, they were brought up in Tsaristic Russia. And, in respect of bribes, Lithuania did not differ much either.
I could not accept the inequality of living conditions between the poor and the well-to-do.
These talks and arguments we usually had in the evenings when my parents came home, with me sitting, as usual, at the piano, as I had quite a large program for the Conservatorium. Those arguments ended when I got hysterical and a bleeding nose and all my piano keys were covered with blood.
I did not like the friends mother chose for me and I did not approve of anything suggested by her. Father did not speak much, did not suggest anything, only listened. Mother’s arguments would usually finish with, “When you grow up you will understand how one should live, you are still only a child, just wait till you grow up.”
These kind of arguments did not occur very often and usually we got along very well. It sounds odd, but even then I loved my mother. I only hated what she wanted me to feel. I hated what she and many other grown-ups represented. I could not help loving her, I missed her when she went away a few times a year. I knew mother loved me and that father loved us both.
This was the time when I was fascinated more than ever before by the written word. Each new book was a revelation. I discovered something new constantly. I read throughout most of the nights. The books I remember from that year: Upton Sinclair – Jungle, Fink – I am hungry, Dostoyevski – the Idiot and (his) others, Gogl, Chekov, Goethe’s Faust, Shakespeare – essays, Zola, Bronte, Mann, E.A. Hoffman, C. Keller, Zweig. All of Rabindranathas Tagore I could find, Nietzche whom I could quote from memory, Hegel, Spinoza and Kant.
Kant was the worst, although I tried and tried I could not understand him and I still can’t. I was frustrated and mother confiscated his Critique of Pure Reason!
Nobody was able to help me. Herr Kruck told me that I would have to work out all my problems for myself. He called it my ‘Sturm und Drangzeit’, and told me it was like teething. I was furious with him and everyone.
Herr Gilde and Doctor Zipfer were no help either. I asked them about the Suez Canal and about the Eiffel Tower, pressing for details. They would tell me off, explaining that it would take years of studying before I could even begin to understand. But I did not want to wait years, I wanted to understand right then.
A man who lived next to us was a bit of help. He was a drunk, hardly ever sober, but he had a great variety of books and let me read anything I liked. He would even try to answer my questions. He was the first who explained Mendel to me, about the problems in building the Suez Canal and many other things.
I also had another problem – my friends of Jewish parentage who went that year to another school. I could not see them often as they had to study very hard to learn Hebrew, which most of them did not know and, in addition, their parents did not encourage them to see us, those who were still attending the German school.
During that year I admired Hitler. I certainly did and tried to misinterpret him as far as Jews were concerned. To me, the Jews, if I thought of the problem at all, were the ‘Chosen Race’ and the ‘Haunted People’ like the Wandering Jew.
One holiday, when in Pakapurniai, my teacher and governess Luba Giershinowitsch, a Zionist, proved it to me. Once, when we were speaking about the Jewish problem she told me, “Here is a Jewish woman who looks after the orchards. I know she is uneducated, I know she wears a wig, an ugly wig, and you laugh at her wig. I love you, Marusia, I don’t love her, but if I ever had to choose between you and her – I would choose her because she is a Jewess from the persecuted race and I am one too. Don’t ever make fun of her in my presence as I will belt you without your parent’s permission. I do belong to her and she belongs to me – we are the JEWS. JEWS! JEWS!”
Luba, who had got her degree the previous year, was a good teacher in most subjects and she was unsurpassed in teaching a conceited brat like me to understand the problems of race and the will of survival of the Jewish people.
Another problem was school itself. I did not like it much that year and I did not feel happy there anymore. Instead of over one thousand pupils only a few hundred were left. In 1931 there were 46 in my class and now there were only ten. Some of the teachers were missing too, although not my favourite ones. Maybe, because of reading at night I was very sleepy during the lessons and therefore felt guilty because I was not doing my homework I was very much behind in most subjects. I could not make up my mind what I should do with myself. There was no incentive to matriculate.
To start learning now in earnest, now in the middle of the second term? What for? Just for a bit of paper? It seemed stupid and a waste of time.
To go to Uni? I would have liked to study either medicine or mathematics, or even physics, but that was out. We had innumerable discussions about it at home. Mother was unyielding, neither tears nor tantrums were of any help. She explained that she had had a long talk with our Doctor Elkis who had attended me from childhood. He told mother and also me that I was very delicate and could not possibly do the medical course. I was anaemic, my lungs were bad, I had bronchitis each year, I became too excited when deeply interested. Mother was quite convinced that although I was not really ill, I had to be looked after very thoroughly and carefully as I was delicate, almost fragile. During the school years I was exempted from morning gymnastics as it was too much for me. I also had a doctor’s certificate stating that I should never be kept too long at school so that I did not get overtired and so on. So how could a frail child study medicine? Impossible.
Not only was I not allowed to study medicine but also mathematics, physics or chemistry as it would require too many hours of studying and according to mother and Dr Elkis, I would be unable to do it with my health. If I was really dead set on going to Uni, I would be allowed to do Geography, History or some languages. Of all the subjects I could not care less about. The prospects would be to become a teacher which I did not want anyway. I did not have to earn a living as my parents would leave me well provided for. Therefore I decided not to go to Uni at all and just finish conservatorium for which I really did not need to matriculate.
Looking for a way out, I thought about getting married. But to whom? The boys at school were definitely no good. They were all right to carry my books home, even to occasionally give a wet kiss, but certainly not to marry. A few of father’s friends whom I did like were already married and had children older than me. Only Kostia was left, and he was then not yet in love with Tania, my governess.
One day I suggested to Kostia that he should get married and settle down. He agreed that it was time for him to get married. When I suggested we two should get married, he was very rude – he burst out laughing.
I felt that he was unreasonable because, although not a beauty, I was not bad looking and we liked each other. I would be a rich woman as my parents would give me plenty of dowries. So what was wrong?
When he stopped laughing he even apologized in a way. I told him that I did not expect from him any love poems, nor did I expect him to come in a formal dark suit with flowers in his hand, dropping to his knees to ask me for my hand. I was even quite ready to be taught about sex and maybe bear him one or two children, but only if he wanted it, I did not care. He could continue to love Tania and be with her as much as he liked.
When I finished my well-rehearsed speech, he explained that he would never marry me, as he would only marry a girl of a nice disposition (sic!) who could behave herself perfectly, who was a real LADY!
“You, you stupid oaf, don’t you know that I can behave perfectly? Just ask your parents or their friends! When we entertain I am a perfect lady, I know, I hear it often enough. You were never invited to these parties because you are too stupid for words and also too young and your manners were neglected when you were a hussar. Who do you think you are? I tell you – a horrid, stupid oaf! That’s what you are!.”
He asked me why I wanted to marry him. Was I in love with him?
When Kostia saw that I was very serious, he took me to his garden and sitting in the high branches of an apple tree, we spent a long time talking.
Kostia helped me to sort myself out. We remained friends. I agreed to get my matriculation certificate. By now, being in the middle of the second term, I would have to do a lot of catching up. I should stop reading anything not connected to schoolwork. Not a pleasant thought but if I had to, I could do it.
Once again I was attentive during classes, cramming as much book knowledge at home as I could and I went early to bed. Everyone was pleased, not only the teachers but also my parents and school mates. I stopped playing truant and tennis during different school lessons. I was able to catch up, and passed all exams. Six out of ten did it.
Afterwards was the matriculation ball at school but it was not much of a ball. We were so few, even with parents, friends and some boys and girls from other schools who had matriculated. We did not have it in the big ballroom as was done in previous years. It was in a small hall which still seemed too big.
During the next few days we had a few pleasant evenings with one or the other teacher outside school where we smoked at last openly and then….a void.