This year we are celebrating the 70th Anniversary of the end of World War Two. It was such a long time ago. I’m trying to remember what it was like for me in those turbulent years of War, and what it was like for my father as a POW in Germany. It will be part of our Family History. From time to time I might post an extract on my blog. It’s a work in progress. So here is the beginning.
Growing Up In The 1940s
The good old days. No digital technology. No TV. No transistor radios, just a big box in the living room. And a gramophone.
Zagreb, the city I lived in, the capital of Croatia, had only 250 thousand inhabitants. I walked to school and ballet classes with my best friend. We played in the public park in front of our homes, took a tram to the swimming pool or the zoo or the ice skating rink in winter. And the National Theatre, a beautiful neo-baroque building, built at the end of the 19h century, designed by two Austrian architects, well-known all over Europe, where I clapped, laughed or cried, was only a five-minute walk from my home. Just across the road from the theatre is Zagreb University I attended in the 50s. Between these two buildings, in the square in front of the theatre stands “The Well of Life” fountain, a remarkable piece of art by the world-renowned Croatian sculptor Ivan Meštrović. In the circle around the well the young embrace and kiss, while the old figures’ expression is one of sadness. A popular meeting place for students, I often met my friends there but wasn’t aware then it is considered among Meštrović’s finest sculptures. There are many more beautiful monuments in Zagreb and streets with names of famous people that I took for granted. One of them is a street named after Mestrovic’s good friend Nikola Tesla I walked along whenever heading to the centre, to Jelačić Square, or to the Concert Hall in that same street. It was in Australia that I learnt more about the genius of the greatest inventor of the 20th century. The Nikola Tesla monument in Zagreb was created by none other but Ivan Meštrović, a gift from a genius sculptor to a genius scientist. Zagreb is a beautiful city, often called ‘Little Paris’, a cultural centre with historic monuments and beautiful parks where seasonal flowers bloom in carefully tended flower beds. Returning home from my trips to hectic London and Paris was the sweetest thing – there was no better place to live.
I can’t remember seeing many cars in the 40s, but there must have been an occasional one, belonging to the ruling class and the well-off. Buses took us to the nearby countryside and trains all over the country, to the mountains and the seaside.
1940 was a good year. I was five. My Montessori kindergarten teacher, Tante Dédé, spoke to us in French as much as possible. I particularly liked the puppet theatre when Tante Dédé was telling us stories in French. Later in life, when I had children of my own, I dreamed of recreating the magic of Montessori and make a puppet theatre for them, but it never eventuated. I suppose I wanted them to experience Tante Dédé’s thrilling world, a world of make-believe, of creating pretty things out of plasticine and clay, of painting, of sewing and knitting, of song and dance.
Sur le pont d’Avignon, on y danse, on y danse
Sur le pont d’Avignon, on y danse, tous en rond
Dancing was my passion. I would twirl and twirl around the living room to the music out of the big box.
And then, on 2 April 1941, my dad, in army uniform, came to my bedroom to kiss me good night and with a smile on his face, his eyes warm and shining, told me he’d soon be back. I had never seen him in uniform before. Although I was only six, I knew that a man in uniform meant something very serious, something ominous. My dad was going to be in danger. Will I ever see him again? When he switched off the light and shut the door of my bedroom, I clutched my white teddy bear tightly and cried myself to sleep.
A few days later the Germans marched into our town. Soldiers in grey and brown uniforms paraded through the streets and zoomed around on motorcycles with sidecars. The ones in brown uniforms were homegrown fascists.
Tante Dédé’s kindergarten closed down. The age of innocence had come to an abrupt end.
©Copyright Irina Dimitric 2015. All rights reserved.