My Dear Little Sister

My sister and I were born in Zagreb, in Senoina 7, a quiet street not far away from the railway station. We lived in a rented flat where my mother lived with my grandmother before her marriage. It was a small flat with three rooms, one bedroom in which we slept with our parents, one dining-room and grandmother's bedroom which, at the same time was our living-room. The maid had a separate room behind the kitchen. My memory goes vaguely back to the first years of my life. I would say that the first clear images reach to my little sister's birth, when I was exactly three years and three months old. From the first day I was fond of the new member of our family, taking over the role of the elder, responsible sister. I loved her, protected her, spoiled her. In fact, I adored her and was capable of doing anything she asked for, which she knew very well, soon recognizing her power over me; nevertheless, the affection was reciprocal, she being very proud of her bigger, good-natured sister. Here again my mother's influence was felt: she used to repeat: 'Vi ste dvije jedine seke, jedna zivi za drugu, dok nas vise ne bude!' ('You are only two sisters, one lives for the other, you have nobody else in the world and when we shall be no more you have to care for each other.') This we knew, and behaved accordingly. It is not necessary to mention that we sometimes quarrelled as children usually do, but this was no obstacle for our mutual love. Indeed, one of my first memories is well imprinted on my mind, when I was taken back from my great-aunt, where I stayed during the procedure of Mira's birth (which at those times was performed at home). I can still see myself embracing my mother who was in bed - I was permitted to take the baby'4 in my arms, admiring it. Countless memories cross my mind. Mirica was demanding, vivacious, en- ergetic, bright, gay, quick; in our family she was called 'mali vrag' ('Iittle devil'), she was dark-haired with big, beautiful eyes, the deep blue colour of the sea. Her 'necu' ('no') was pronounced as often as she disagreed with being ordered around; nevertheless, she was sweet with all her opposing nature and I loved her the more. Once, in my fifth year,during our summer vacation, I volunteered to dance in a musical contest for children, only to get some candies for Mirica: I simply disappeared from the table where we were having tea with our parents and father found me dancing solo on the stage. My little sister liked to tell me stories that she had invented, which she preferred to do in the evenings when we were both lying in bed, supposedly asleep; being tired I only nodded with a weak 'yes' from time to time to reassure her that I was listening, which I was not, until one day she discovered my pretence, and changing her tactics asked me to repeat from time to time the contents of her stories. She was indeed so much livelier, so full of temperament; she knew that she could turn her naive, obedient sister around her little finger. As it occurs so often among children of the same parents we were entirely different. Mira surpassed me in so many ways. She was extremely clever and witty. She never had the patience to brood over books, yet she was a very good pupil. Perhaps I did better in school, but this was due to my outstanding diligence and ambition. To her everything came easy, math was her favorite subject which was certainly not mine. She played the piano too and was very talented in languages, as I was. In all the sports she was much better because her body was much more supple than mine; she was flexible and I was stiff. It was of little help that I practiced all kinds of sports since early childhood to become more supple! With Mira it was different. She was courageous and loved every sport, while I was a 'coward'. Mother wanted to give us everything she missed in her sad, fatherless childhood. We had private lessons in rhythmic and classical ballet, later also in modem dancing; we learned skating and skiing and we had sledges to slide on the snow. In summer we played tennis, ping pong, and went swimming. While Mira enjoyed a more active life I found pleasure in books. For hours she played with her dolls, talking to them - she had one favorite, calling her Mira whom she treated like her real baby, behaving like a loving mother- the doll was pale and wasted from Mira's kisses. Obviously, this kind of expression revealed her warm and affectionate nature. Unlike me, my sister was interested in sex early and had a boyfriend before I even dreamt of having one. I think she was only twelve, perhaps less. Many tears were shed because of this relationship which endured for several years, actually until my sister's deportation to the concentration camp. In these matters my parents were stubborn and knew no compromise. My father decided that Mira was far too young for a boyfriend, moreover, the fellow was of the same age which was even worse - girls were supposed to choose older boyfriends. Mira was obstinate and continued to meet her friend; mother was desperate, father walked nervously up and down the rooms when Mira was late for supper. How unimportant and trivial are all these things to me today;
0 God! 0 God! How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable Seem to me all the uses of this World.5
Had my parents been a little more flexible, with more insight for the terrible future, a great tragedy could have been prevented: my sister could have been saved by the young fellow who, according to his mother's non-Jewish origin, was also regarded as such and wanted to marry Mira because he loved her dearly. For the time being, life was smooth, easy and uncomplicated. In the homogeneous atmosphere of an established social and moral order in which I grew up there was no reason for doubts and discontent: I knew exactly my identity and to where I belonged. I only started to taste eternal beauty. I have already mentioned that the complete agreement between my parents has been one of the reasons for my happy childhood. The absence of material worries was another. My father's business increased from year to year. He enlarged his office from one room and one clerk to a staff of twelve, moving to a considerably larger place. He extended his connections with many factories in the country and abroad, his business trips in Europe became more frequent every year, until he made excellent contacts in the United States where he paid one of his last visits. From there he imported paper bags for cement, until then only jute sacks were used for this purpose and my father was the first to introduce the article to Yugoslavia. My father's financial welfare showed good results at home too. After my first year in school we moved to a much larger apartment where we remained until the day when the Ustase ordered us to leave, in 1941. Here Mira and I had our own spacious room, separate from our parents who had their own large bedroom, grandmother had a nice room for herself and there were three additional rooms and a room for the servants with all the conveniences of a flat considered modern at that time. Although the educational tendency of our parents was more concerned with spiritual values than with material goals, the last of the two factors helped so much to realize the first. We could afford many luxuries that were not part of the daily needs and made life so much more delightful. I had little pleasure in buying new clothes and similar articles - in fact I had none, while mother and Mira enjoyed this to the full. Mira followed the latest fashion, not like me who not only abhorred new fashions but avoided talking about such matters, to the great distress of my mother who wished me to be more 'of this world' as she used to say -'Moja Zdenka nije na zemlji, ona lebdi u zraku.' ('Zdenka is not on earth, she is floating in the air.') My pleasure derived from the intellectual emotions that were bestowed upon me so generously, the countless performances, dramas, comedies, ballets, operas, concerts, sometimes with the best known performers from Western Europe, the wonderful vacations in various summer and winter resorts, with the unforgettably beautiful scenery, all over Europe. I appreciated the knowledge acquired during my private lessons in music and languages because I had the opportunity to study much more than school could offer - these lessons were never intended for homework, but were much more advanced and interesting. For a few years we had a German Fraulein, Miss Cohn, a Jewish teacher living with us. At that time it was fashionable in our circles to have Frauleins and Mademoiselles living in the family and taking an active part in the education of the children. The bourgeoisie, the ever-growing wealthy middle class, to which we belonged took over some habits from the disappearing aristocracy. I took great advantage of Miss Cohn's extraordinary intelligence and knowledge, especially in German literature and mythology. Surprisingly, Mirica didn't like her and refused to study with her, in particldar not German. Anti Semitism in Germany had then hardly started, at least not to our knowledge, but my sister must have heard some rumours, and when Hitler's growing strength became the news of the day, Mirica, young as she was, rejected every association with Germany - its language, culture or history. Our well-being was manifested in many ways. My father had various subscriptions for books and periodicals; in addition he bought books all the time and had a very big library. I dare say that books were my greatest pleasure, a pastime that I treasured more than anything else. I never tired of listening to stories, even before I could read. The whole family was engaged in reading, mostly mother, who was also a keen reader. I knew all those wonderful stories by heart, word by word, but I could hear them again a thousand times. Later when I was reading alone, I used to read a book I loved over and over again. When I left my father's house, in 1940, to be married, I had a valuable library with books of my own choice, and a great number of art books lost in the war. My father was very generous and spent money on new things. At each occasion such as birthdays, anniversaries, etc., he came home with a precious gift. My mother had beautiful and costly jewellery, silver objects and porcelain. Although my father was frequently absent from home he loved his home dearly and provided his family with all the luxuries available at that time. He made all the necessary arrangements to furnish our new apartment with furniture, carpets, pictures and curtains. When some changes had to be made, for example after grandmother's death, he had talked with architects and carpenters, planning rearrangements to fit in the new situation. I remember once I accompanied him to a carpenter who had to construct a chandelier for our drawing-room -father carefully examined the various designs, and chose the one that best suited the style of the room. My father did everything with great pleasure and interest and, as much as he had many different obligations connected with and outside of his business, he had always time for us. He had a special relationship with me, while I tried to imitate him in everything. Mother said that I was 'father's and Mira 'hers'; indeed I had some character traits from father, while Mira inherited mother's - people said that I was father's image. During our walks or longer excursions we used to talk for hours; my father then confided in me his future plans; he had always new ideas and projects to enlarge his business and to introduce novelties into the paper industry. I think that he discussed more business matters with me than with mother because he visualized that one day I might inherit what he had started and cherished so dearly. He had immense confidence in me and believed in my capabilities much more than I really deserved, although he was doubtless disappointed at my ignorance of math and lack of interest in the world of commerce. Mira's disposition was more suited to my father's expectations. She was indeed the nesudjeni decko (one who is expected to be a boy). However, the affinity between me and my father was remarkable, perhaps for the fact that I was the first-born.
Table of Contents Grosa, my Beloved Grandmother