Childhood

The time was also suitable to enlarge his family: I was born in 1919, 26 November and my sister Mira in 1923, 18 February. Two decades of prosperity and happiness were to follow, the period of my childhood and youth when the sky remained always clear and cloudless, sheltered under the secure roof of a loving family. At that time I was certainly not aware of the great wealth I inherited from my parents. To be sure, not wealth based on material achievements, but their appreciation of spiritual and moral values, their nobility of mind, their generosity and kindness toward human beings. Still I hear my mother's words ringing in my ears: 'Ucite djeco, ucite. Sve vam se moze uzeti samo znanje ne!' ('Learn children, learn. Everything can be taken from you except knowledge!') And even though we were lucky to grow up in wealth and opulence we were repeatedly told to be modest and unpretentious in behaviour and dress, especially in the presence of lower-class people or in school. Class distinctions were then still part of the social order; the difference between the 'served' and the 'server' were much greater than today, when machines have replaced manpower. But a few decades ago an average bourgeois household, even the poorest, had at least one help. We had more. Primitive, ignorant folk from villages came to serve in town, as domestics, cooks, chambermaids in households, cleaners and other employees in offices, banks and shops. Many of the 'served' thought of having the right to give orders to the 'servant', not always in a polite way - social insurance was hardly known. In our home the servants were never ordered but politely asked to perform the various jobs. We were told that especially to such people we must be kind, considerate and obliging because we were lucky not to be in their positions. It seems to me that one of the main reasons for my happy childhood was complete agreement between my parents in all important issues concerning our education, political, religious and others which in a great part was due to my mother's submissiveness to anything my father decided. My father had an impulsive nature and would lose his temper easily, raising his voice very high; indeed he could shout for a trifle, but only for a short time - a few minutes later he became entirely calm, forgetting the reason for his excitement. My mother had apparently learned to face such situations and never answered or opposed him. It was perhaps her natural instinct and obviously her calm and composed nature telling her that it was wise to let the storm pass. She never contradicted my father during his 'sanguine' attacks. In fact, my mother agreed in everything with my father, and I think this was not only the case in her children's presence. 'Tata je najbolji covjek na svijetu' ('Papa is the best man in the world') she repeated frequently. She strongly believed in my father's unfailing capabilities and conveyed this feeling to us. The great confidence I had in my father, the belief that whatever he did or decided was right came partly, if not completely, from my mother. I said not completely because the main reason that we and many others trusted my father was his enormous self-confidence, his intrepidity and courage in making decisions, his firmness of character and his optimism. My father's authority was felt at home as well as in his office, in the less significant matters of his private life as well as in his business where he perpetually originated new ideas, planned new projects and methods to increase commercial possibilities. At home, he not only planned our journeys but also packed up our luggage because mother was too excited and felt bad before every trip; he chose the best gifts for mother and for us when he was abroad on business, which occurred frequently, in dresses, bags, sweets, toilet articles, etc. In all matters his good taste was not lacking. My great love for, and understanding of, music came certainly from my father. I shall never forget the great surprise awaiting me at home when we returned from our summer vacation: a huge, black Ehrbar was standing in the corner of our living-room. It was my father's present for my tenth birthday. That year I started piano lessons and practiced for almost ten years. How proudly father listened to my playing and followed my progress. He preferred the classics and above all Beethovens 'Eroica'. He also liked Slavic folk-songs and sometimes played them on a string instrument, the tamburica, very popular in Slavic countries. Of course, it was due a great deal to mother's influence and her high, firm opinion about my father's capabilities that made us so fond of him: he knew everything, he remembered historical dates and events, he could solve difficult problems in math, he translated for us a French passage, he explained an experiment in physics. My greatest pleasure was to discuss with him school lessons: history, geography, languages; he was versed in everything. In particular I liked to repeat with him Latin verses, proverbs and famous sayings. My father was enormously sensitive to whatever pain his children suffered. I remember an incident when I was five years old and had an operation - my tonsils were being removed. My father hearing me scream shouted at the surgeon,'You are killing my child!' Two years later, when I became ill and had to stay away from home in an institute for sick children in Semmering, near Vienna, my father was always there to put me to bed and to spoil me; after a short time, when he realized that I was homesick, he decided to leave me with mother in a hotel where I received individual treatment. With all his energy and resolute nature he was so soft, so gentle, so kind. Yes, it was not the kind of spoiling children in acceding to every whim they might have, neither was it a blind love of embraces and kisses. Our education was well planned; modesty and gratitude, duties towards ourselves and others and self-discipline were essential. Far from the old-fashioned blind obedience of children versus parents, my parents were liberal and understanding and patient to hear and discuss our problems. Evidently there was a limit to our liberty; we knew exactly the difference between us and our parents and there was a certain respect, apparently embedded in us with our mother's milk. When I sometimes asked my father why he was permitted to do something which I was not allowed, he said: 'Quod licet Jovi, non licet bovi' ('What is allowed to Jupiter is not permitted to the ox'), which was one of his favourite proverbs, and no other explanation was given. I said that the relationship between us and our parents was liberal, indeed it was, but only partly. Some subject matters could not be argued; for example, sex, birth and divorce. I cannot remember that the word 'pregnant' was ever mentioned in our house, and when there was a divorce in the family it was whispered like a secret. When I had my first period - I was not yet twelve - I cried bitterly at seeing the blood because I was completely unprepared for the event. Mother comforted me, assuring me that this was the normal course of a girl's development and no illness. With this the case was closed; further questions were not answered. For many years I believed that storks brought babies to their parents; as soon as I could write I wrote a letter, assisted by my little sister, to Mrs Stork -gospodja Roda - in Maksimir, the Zoo in Zagreb, to bring us a little brother. My father who had to post the letter, kept it for my wedding day. To be sincere, I was never curious about sex and did not enquire. Later, in the fifth or sixth grade of secondary school my girlfriends supplied me with appropriate books, mainly based on Freudian interpretations. The parental love was reflected in the care to enrich us with knowledge, 'Knowledge the wing wherewith we fly to heaven'3, no expense was spared, no effort forsaken to offer us the opportunity to study. The knowledge of languages was an important part of the educational system in the circles I belonged to, in particular in the Slavic countries whose languages were not spoken in the 'big world, not like French, German or English, the languages of the Western civilization. A German Fraulein was engaged as soon as I knew enough Croatian. Playing with her and listening to her stories I learned German. I was then four. The fact that our grandmother in Osijek did not speak Croatian was all the more reason to learn German in order to communicate with her. In the second grade of elementary school I had a private teacher for French, and in the fourth grade of secondary school I started private lessons in English. For as long as I can remember, my father was always busy; he left home early, came back for lunch, had half an hour rest and returned to his office. Mother's day too started early, even though she stayed at home with her mother and servants to help her in the household. Everyone had his own obligation and was never idle, thus, since my early childhood, I learned to appreciate the value of time. Table of Contents My Dear Little Sister