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 Part 2.
You can read Part 1 here, if you wish.
Part 2 – Primary School
My only two cousins left for Ljubljana in Slovenia to stay with our grandparents. It was safer for their family there. Yugoslavia was falling apart under the onslaught of the Axis: Slovenia, south of the Sava River, came under Italian occupation while the Nazis ruled in my neck of the woods, helped by home-grown collaborators. My mother and I sought refuge on our friend’s farm in Bregana, on the border of Slovenia and Croatia, not far from Zagreb. It was safer for us there, too, in those turbulent first days of occupation. We stayed in Bregana for three months.
Meanwhile, my dad, a doctor and lieutenant-colonel in reserve was captured in Bosnia by the Germans on 15 of April 1941 and transported in cattle trucks with other POWs to Germany. My mother must have given a sigh of relief when she received in November his first letter and a photo from Teschen in Upper Silesia, now Tešin in the Czech Republic.
The first two years of occupation were relatively peaceful both in my hometown and in Bregana on the farm. I started primary school in 1942. It was run by Catholic nuns. I liked my school. I was a good, obedient pupil, and I adored our teacher, Sister Irma. She had a sweet smile and loved me, too, I think because I was a very devout little girl.
I’m the girl with dark plaits in front of Sister Irma, on the right.
Wasn’t Sister Irma pretty? She was young, with a freckled face and when she smiled, I thought she looked like an angel. I wanted to be like her. I wanted to become a nun. A teaching nun, just like Sister Irma. But ballet came in the way. I went to ballet classes with my best friend, Ines. The two of us would become inseparable. We both loved ballet and often performed together. I was happiest in the ballet class. Even happier on stage. In my first performance I was one of the little chickens in Mussorgsky’s ‘Pictures at the Exhibition’. Our teacher, Ana Maletić, ran the best school of modern ballet in Zagreb in Mesnička Street and was a marvellous choreographer. All her students, the very young, like me, and older girls, took part in all ballet performances. For this particular “tableau”, the ‘Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks’, she envisaged the little chicks all in yellow, with yellow socks, so we were asked to dye a pair of white socks ‘little-chick yellow’. But our mothers, Ines’ and mine, objected: they were not prepared to ruin a pair of white socks we needed for school. Oh, how embarrassed we both felt? And disappointed. The other mothers were quite willing to go ahead with the dying, but our mothers were adamant, not willing to change their position. Well, it was decided then that all the little chicks would dance barefoot, which we didn’t mind at all. Mother Hen was an older student. When the curtain went up Mother Hen stood in the middle of the stage, dressed in a large crinoline of feathers under which we, the little chicks, were hiding. Slowly and cautiously the first chick appeared; then the second one, and the third, and so on until all six hatched one by one and were out dancing in a circle around Mother Hen’s crinoline. Then she taught us how to look for worms in the ground, so we scratched the ground with our bare little chicken feet. Next, she taught us how to use our wings to fly, but at the sight of an eagle, she called us back to hide under her feathers. Oh, what delightful fun! I can still dance parts of the routine. But I need the music.
And here is the original piano version. Embedding was disabled by request, but I’m including the link because we danced to the piano version, played by the very talented Mr Marasovic, our regular pianist.
Mussorgsky – Pictures at an Exhibition (original piano version)
Many performances followed. In a German tale for children ‘Der Struwwelpeter’, ‘Stockhead Peter’ or ‘Janko Raščupanko’ in Croatian, I was a comb and Ines was a bar of soap. And another friend, Vesna Kobelja, was a cat. In our ballet class we had to learn each other’s roles and, of course, I still remember some of the steps. The greatest thrill and pleasure was to dance on stage. I never had the slightest stage fright. I knew my steps well and looked forward to appearing from behind the curtain to perform. When I was the comb and finished my dance hopping into the “drawer” behind the curtain, Ana Maletić was there with a beaming face; she hugged me and kissed me on the cheek, and I knew that I did well.
In ‘Petrica Kerempuh’, based on ‘The Ballads of Petrica Kerempuh’ by Croatian writer Miroslav Krleža, I was a little girl playing with my brother, a girl who was of stronger build than me. We followed our mother, a poor peasant, throwing an apple to each other as we danced, which was a bit tricky, but we managed to finish our dance without dropping our “ball”.
The performances were staged in The Little Theatre, as it was called then, in Frankopanska Sreet. Today it bears the name of the Croatian theatre director, critic and essayist Branko Gavella – Gavella Drama Theatre, opposite the church where I worshipped with the nuns and lovely Sister Irma. Ines and I loved pretending to be nuns and teachers. I had a little altar in my room with the figure of the Virgin Mary, and whenever I passed by, I would genuflect and cross myself.
‘So which way will I go? Will I be a nun or a dancer?’ I was torn between those two vocations.
©Copyright 2015 Irina Dimitric. All rights reserved.
This is a treasure. What impressed me the most, is how you, a little girl, danced in ballet while your father was held prisoner. It says something wonderful about the human spirit, about how we reach for beauty and grace even as life pulls us down.
Thanks, Greg, for your thoughtful and encouraging comment.
So very interesting… Listening to piano now. 🙂 as I continue on in my Reader.
Thank you, ladysighs. I’m glad you enjoyed it. And thanks for taking the time to comment. 🙂
Yes, I did enjoy and especially listened to the part of the chicks. 🙂 And when I hear the piece again, I will be listening with an ear in tune to your story.
Thank you, ladysighs, for your kind words of appreciation. 🙂
Thanks, Jan, for your encouragement. 🙂
If anyone ever doubted the wealth of our cultural awareness or the sheer resilience of our spirits, this is the very testimony they should read. The account is so touching in simpicity; how matter-of-fact it’s all made to sound! This is no tale of hardship, but something deeper that happens when you’re left with only one way to go – forward! (I was most touched also, because my Dad played his way out of a concentration camp thanks to his skills as a violin-player, thus saving his brothes’ lives, his mother’s and his own…How he could have found the inspiration to play, had been a mystery to me…) Thank you, Irina.
Dear Lidija, your Dad’s story is fascinating. I hope you’ll find some time to write more about how he saved his whole family. I’m deeply touched by his story and by your appreciation of my story. Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment. Best wishes, Irina
Beautiful post…. I love to see pictures from your childhood and your dad…
So at the end thing didn’t turn that bad for your family… Those should have been the hardest times ever!… Sigh…And yet, there is always hope and I have the feeling that you feel protected somehow…
At your school and with your projects and dreams as regard to the future… One war> Life…
By the way, Mussorgsky’s music is sublime…
Thanks for sharing pieces of your past experiences with us dear Irina.
Sending love & hugs. Aquileana ⭐
Thank you, dear Aquileana, for your lovely comment. Yes, we were very lucky. My dad especially, having served in two world wars.
I’m so happy you enjoyed my post. Hugs ❤ Irina
Hugs right back at you and happy week ahead …. Thursday will be special day, mind you!!!! ⭐ Aquileana 😀
Thank you so much, Irina, for sharing your story. I love reading about you and your father. A world away from my childhood in the north-east of England but we have things in common. I loved ballet and went to classes for a long time. I wasn’t a chicken or a comb, but I remember being a skater to the music of Les Patineurs. I look forward to hearing more of your story.
Hello Marion, yes, we do have things in common. Although I’m a decade older than you, we both belong to the generation before the digital revolution, and whose childhood had been affected by WWII. I’m so happy we’ve connected and can share our memories.
Tom and Ingrid Atkins visited last Saturday. We spent 3 memorable hours together, at times quite emotional. We’re eagerly looking forward to the transcript of your uncle’s diary. But take your time. I understand you’re going to Lamsdorf too.
Aww you were a gal dreaming. I enjoyed this post and learning more about you and your father. I wanted to be a writer as a child and illustrate my own books 🙂 I send you hugs!
Christy, your dream has come true! But I haven’t seen your illustrations yet. 🙂
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Another lovely memory… I would have enjoyed your ballet performances. I love ballet too, although never as a dancer…
Thanks a lot for your lovely comment. 🙂
You’re welcome, Irina