I was free but what could I do with my freedom? I did not know.
One of my friends suggested joining her. She had left school the previous year with a man and gone to Prague. Now she wrote letters from all over Europe. She changed to another man and went to Germany, then to France and Italy. The she wrote from Sweden, of course she was with another man again. But this idea did not appeal to me as to me it did not prove that this was the way to be really free and happy.
My Jewish friends were also in a dilemma. Some wanted to go to Israel, other did not believe that Hitler could be a real menace and wanted to stay in Lithuania. Some of them even wanted to go to Russia as they became very Communistic.
My German friends, at least some of them, were also very unsure. To go to Germany as their parents wished would mean to go into the army for a year or two. They did not want to go to Germany – they wanted to stay in Lithuania.
Neither the parents of my Jewish friends, nor those of my German friends, encouraged associations outside their own circle. We met only seldom and on the sly.
I decided to go to our new farm, Karmelowo, which was only 12km from Kaunas, the capital city of Lithuania.
A few years ago father had sold the farm at Pakarpurniai, as the cost to run it was too high. After Lithuania became independent, a land reform was proclaimed. Bigger farms were confiscated by the government and only 80 to 150 hectares were left to owners, the rest either distributed to the landless farmers or taken over by the government for special farms or agricultural schools. It was no means a purely agrarian reform, but had a very deep political motive. The vast majority of the large landowners were Poles not Lithuanians. I, personally, did not know any large Lithuanian landowners, only small farmers. Father was allowed to keep about 100 hectares which were some fields around the house and part of the oak forest. When money was required for the farm, father sold the oaks.
My parents were quite well off as mother had become a good businesswoman. She had an antique shop and had buyers not only from Lithuania, but also other Baltic countries. She mainly sold goods which she bought. She also sold on a commission basis. A few times a year she travelled to other European countries looking for antiques and jewellery. She always included France in her travels as she loved Paris and there she could also see her sister, although they were not close at all.
Father never went away, he did not like travelling and anyway, mother was a better buyer. Father knew only about pictures more than mother did.
We still had a cook, a maid and a companion for me who was to teach me Polish. My parents entertained a lot with all the trimmings. I don’t ever remember being told that I couldn’t have something because it was too expensive.
My parents spent about 100 times more than the wages paid to the cook. The cook had no separate room; she slept in a nook in the kitchen. Servants were hardly ever provided with a separate room and they had no holidays, no sick leave, no old age pension. Nothing. I don’t know how it was in the western countries at that time, but in Lithuania and Poland they had no social securities, they had their keep and small wages. Our house must have been better than some others as our servants usually stayed with us a long time. There were a few reasons for this. Firstly, during the summer we sometimes all went away and the cook at least had a fully paid holiday which she could spend as she liked, but was not supposed to leave the house (which I know she did. Good on her!). Secondly, mother did not know much about housekeeping or prices and did not interfere too much. Thirdly, because we entertained a lot, the servants had an additional income from the guest’s tips, sometimes amounting to a second wage at least. It was a custom in Lithuania acquired from Russia that the servants waited until the last guest left. The guests had to show that they appreciated the party and they were expected to give tips to the servants. The happier they were, the better the tips.
When father bought Karmelowo, a new house was built there. Compared with Pakapurniai it was a small house. It had a large glass veranda, one dining room, one living room and three bedrooms. Attached to it were two small rooms for the cook and maid. Attached to the kitchen was a hut (one room with kitchen) providing accommodation for the farm labourer and his family. From our hall stairs led to the attic where grain was stored in big wooden boxes. Under the stairs were steps leading to the cellar where fruit, vegetables and even potatoes were kept.
There was a place left for the bathroom, which was never built and became a larder for homemade hams, sausages, bacon etc. One washed oneself in the big wooden tub in the kitchen. The toilet was not a septic tank just a hole in the ground, and far away, about 350 to 400 feet! Behind the barn and other outbuildings.
In the barn hay was kept for feeding cattle in the winter months and the non-pressed grain was cleared from the straw and husk in front of the barn on clean clay. The working power was horses (real horsepower!) and some men (not mechanics) supervising them with a whip. They went in circles, round and round the whole day long.
The potatoes which were to be used after winter was over were kept in big holes in the ground. Deep holes were dug, not too far from the yards, the holes covered in straw and earth, looking like mounds. In early spring when they were dug out, steam came from these holes. In this way the potatoes were protected from frost, as in the cellar they would freeze and become suitable only for pig food.
There were no water taps in the house. The water came in buckets from the well, let in deep in the back yard. A special wooden bucket on a chain was used to bring the water up from the well. Luckily we did not have to water the cows and horses often, as the creek, which ran not far from the house, was quite adequate.
We had a telephone but no electricity. Father wanted to install a windmill and a dynamo, but never did. There were kerosene lamps, small ones, big ones and elaborate ones. The maid had to fill the lamps each day and trim the wick and clean the glass.
In the house every two rooms shared a big stove reaching nearly to the ceiling and protruding only slightly from the walls. These stoves had one opening with cast iron doors to burn wood. When only large ember pieces were left, the door was closed tightly. Higher up was a compartment with a shelf to keep food warm if necessary. The whole tiled surface of this oven got so hot that one could not touch it and this was the way all the rooms were kept warm, even when the outside temperature dropped to minus 25˚C or lower. Stoking these stoves was also the job for the maid. The wood for the kitchen stove and the heating of the house was felled in winter, chopped up in spring and stacked for drying in the yard. They were large, round stacks about three metres high.
Not far from the farm was a village, also called Karmelowo. It had a church, a big building partly used as a school and partly for an agricultural college. There were a few houses and there was a shop, something like a general store. It sold vodka, often moonshine, sour cucumbers, fat matches, sugar, and brightly coloured lollies, besides pens, inks and exercise books. It had a few tables covered with newspapers and a couple of chairs where people could wait for the bus which connected the next town, Janowo, with Kaunas.
Through the village and alongside the farm went an old highway which father had used as a young man to go to Russia. Trains did not go through Lithuania, and to catch a train one had to travel to Poland. To get to the nearest railway station one had to travel by horse along this highway.
On the other side of the highway was a forest stretching for a few kilometres to the river Neris where a summer colony for Jewish children was located.
Karmelowo was a mixed farm. Father planted a small orchard. We kept cows and sold milk to Kaunas. Butter and cream were made only for our own consumption as were hams and various sausages. We had pigs and calves for sale. I don’t think we had much wheat or grain for sale. For a few years we had hundreds of hens, chickens and, of course, masses of eggs. However they did not last long as they all contracted some disease and had to be killed and their outbuildings burnt down. Later on we kept only a few dozen hens for our own needs.
We had working horses and one colt, partly Arabian. He was bought for me as the other horses were not much good for riding.
I remember another gadget, one which I saw not long ago in a museum. Our iron. It was not a flat iron. It was bigger, made from cast iron, had a wooden handle and an opening which had to be filled with hot embers, not too big and not too small. One had to blow on it and watch through special openings provided that they were nicely glowing and red. Usually one had to use two of them for ironing. One was kept outside in a windy spot so that when one got cold the other was handy and ready for use. To find out if it was hot enough, one had to lift it up, spit on the bottom of it and if it sizzled it was right.
We sold a lot of vegetables such as cabbages, carrots, cucumbers etc and also strawberries. During the full season we sold 200 boxes of strawberries, each two kilos, every couple of days. During the planting season and the watering time (with a bucket and a can) and also during the gathering season, many extra girls were hired. They worked from dawn to sunset with only a short break during the day. They earned four litas a day. (On average my parents were spending 100 litas a day. For comparison – our cook received 30 litas a month plus keep).
The main reason I went to Karmelowo was to train my Arab horse. I was able to continue my musical practice as we had a piano there too.
Usually mother drove me in her Oldsmobile and picked me up when I rang and wanted to go to Kaunas, irrespective if it was for a few hours or a few days. She never fussed about it. This time I wanted to pretend that I might be moving over to Karmelowo for good because I needed wooden boxes and at least one cart as I had to provide a hiding place for a book, with many copies. The book – “Mein Kampf” by Adolf Hitler, also a few books by Rosenberg. These books were hard to obtain in Lithuania as they were banned that year (1935).
At this time I was very much for Hitler and the ‘Glorious New Germany’. I was truly sold on his ideas. My arguments went as follows:
Before Hitler there was unemployment and depression, he promised to give everyone work, even “if he had to paint the Black Forest white.” He did not have to resort to paint, he simply started production. If it was for arms, why not? Why should he be caught unprepared if other countries started attacking him?
‘Kraft durch Freude’ (strength through fun and pleasure). He provided cheap holidays for the working masses, very cheap, so that even the poor could make use of them. He even bought ships for cruises where the hard-working people were able to spend a few weeks with good meals provided. At least they could see some of their Fatherland!
Hitler Youth – nothing sounded better to me. Every boy and girl, before going to Uni, had to spend a year on a farm. They received no pay, only accommodation and food and had to help the underpaid, overworked farmer. I thought it was an excellent idea that the young people who grew up in towns should at least know how the food which they consumed was produced. As an example, I will quote an incident with a friend of mine, Galina. She always lived in towns being the daughter of a diplomat. It was the first time she had lived on a farm when she came to stay with me in Karmelowo. One morning when I was in a hurry to gather all the available eggs for sale, I asked her to give me a hand. She went happily with me as she was fascinated by everything on the farm, even the cow dung and the smelly pigs. When she found her first egg she called out to me:
“Is it ripe? Can I take it or should I leave it to grow a bit bigger?”
This was a fact and she was then at least sixteen years old, in fact I think she was seventeen.
I agreed with Hitler that the gold parity for the mark was quite unimportant. The goodwill and productive energy of the people should count a lot more than gold stacked in the vaults of some banks. And so on.
Even about the Jewish issue I felt that I had to explain Hitler to others. I explained that he was not persecuting the Jews in general, only those Jews and non-Jews who took money from the poor, just like the Lithuanians who took the farms away from the Poles.
When I think back about my reasoning at that time I must say full marks to the teacher who indoctrinated us and omitted all that might sound wrong. And I must say poor marks for me, as I was so completely naive. It took me about two years until I grew out of it. It took me nearly a year to realize that ‘Mein Kampf’ was not full of beautiful ideas and goodwill to mankind.
It was over a year before I returned the unused copies to the school saying that I had changed my mind and did not want to keep or distribute this book anymore. I had an unpleasant talk with my previous gym teacher but the books went back to school and we did not part as friends. Herr Kruck must have heard about it, as one day when we met in town, he told me he was pleased to know that I had started to think for myself again and was not afraid to admit that I was in the wrong before.
I did not spend much time that summer on the farm and the Arab horse did not get trained. A few years later father sold it to Kostia who was mad about horses.
Two incidents are very clear in my mind from this summer, both connected with Karmelowo.
The first was later called E.S.P (extra sensory perception). From early childhood I knew that I could see things which others somehow could not. At school, there were quite a few times when I knew things or saw events with senses other than the usual ones. I knew this even before school, but thought it was quite normal for grown-ups not to see what I could see, because they were usually a bit dumb and a bit blind. Only grandpop and father never told me that I imagined things but asked for details. But I knew that they two were from other grown-ups. I got into trouble at school when I would say something which nobody was supposed to know. My schoolmates laughed at me and my teachers told me off. I soon learned to keep quiet, only sometimes, quite unintentionally, it burst out of me. These were small and insignificant incidents. This time if was different.
The second was on a hot day and I decided to go swimming in the Neris river. I often went there with my dog. The road took me over the highway and through the forest. This day I went quite happily, accompanied by my Alsatian dog, Ralph. When I passed the highway and was about to enter the forest I stopped. I was frightened. I did not know why. I went swimming so often and was never frightened as there was nothing to be frightened about. The forest was too small to have bears or wild boars. Foxes never attacked a person. I sat down on a log and started to tell myself I wanted to be reasonable, there was nothing to be afraid of and in addition, I had my dog. Nothing helped, every time I was ready to go into the forest I was too scared and had to turn back. Disgusted with myself I called the dog and we went back. I decided that I was hysterical and the best thing to do was to go to Kaunas. When I rang home mother was out and nobody knew when she would be home.
I went to the village to wait for the bus. Before the bus came a car stopped near me and a strange looking fellow asked me if he was on the right road to Kaunas. There were two remarkable things about him – he was a Negro with a funny nose and funny hair and he spoke ENGLISH! He was the first Negro I ever saw. We talked for a few minutes and he offered to take me home. Today, in 1978, it would be improper for a well brought-up 18 year old to accept such an offer. I don’t know what the proper thing was then but I never hesitated, why should I? He was friendly and someone quite new in my experience and I would not have to wait for the bus as nobody knew when it would turn up.
Speaking English and some German he explained that he belonged to a group of a variety show, which was touring Sweden and was not going back through the Baltic countries and Germany to France.
Now, when I think back, I wonder what he thought of our conversation as I was certainly not inhibited asking questions. There was no reason why I should not ask when I was so curious. Firstly, I started a polite conversation and we spoke about music, but it got us nowhere as he did not like my favourite compositions and I did not know much about the ones he liked.
Looking at his curly hair, I asked him where he got his perm? Here or in Sweden? He explained that it was not a perm, that it was his natural hair. Then I asked him if he was so black all over as were his hands. He laughed and said yes, would I like to see his body? I declined. Don’t forget he was the first dark man I saw in my life and he was different from the pictures I had seen of black men.
He did show me the palms of his hands which were not as dark. We talked some more and he also asked questions. He told me that the colour of hair and skin did not matter, that all people had the same blood and the same heart – they all felt the same. Then he stopped the car and did a curious thing. He took a pin from his lapel and pricked his finger and then mine and smeared the blood on a piece of paper. Our blood looked exactly the same. I understood that he was telling me the truth and I know it now – the colour does not matter, we are all the same. He delivered me right to our home and I never saw him again.
I explained to father why I had come home and told him about being silly and frightened to go swimming. Next morning father showed me the newspapers. A mental patient had escaped from the Calvaria Hospital. He had attacked some girls in our forest and killed one. He killed her in a horrible way: he assaulted her and drove a piece of wood through her. Neither father nor I told mother about it as she would have been upset and worried and it would be the end of my freedom in Karmelowo.
Somehow, I don’t know how, father made me mix with the Polish group as he decided it was time I realized that I was POLE! I became a member of a Polish club of water sports. I joined an excursion organized by the Polish group to see a Polish drama ‘Wesele’ in another town, and somehow I made a few new acquaintances who were Poles. I don’t know how it happened but I know that father did it. Szczesna, one of my new friends, who was a true Polish girl, had a picnic once or twice a year which started from her farm. We went by boat for most of the day, with dancing at a hotel in the evening and then returning to her farm. This was a funny arrangement: - when we wanted to swim during our boat trip, boys and girls dressed in swimsuits had to swim at opposite sides of the river Neris which was fairly wide. We were not supposed to go swimming together as it would be improper, but it was quite all right to be kissed and hugged when we were in the boats, and anyway, one could not do much as they rocked too much.
Later on I had a Polish teacher from the Polish school, Pan Mirowski who taught me Polish. I was not too keen as I found reading and writing in Polish to be rather complicated, but the teacher was not bad. He liked books and when I could read fluently he gave me a list of old and contemporary Polish writers and I fell in love with some of them.
Father also engaged a lady, not too old, a Miss Komarowska from a noble Polish family who spent every day with me, speaking Polish only. I rather liked her but in the beginning I found it hard to express myself in Polish.
I don’t know how father manipulated it, I would think it certainly was not done by mother, but all of a sudden I was surrounded by Poles. Somehow I belonged to Polish clubs, I attended Polish balls, I went to Polish houses, I had Polish boyfriends, who were not different from the others, some were fun, some were bores. Some wanted to marry me, others told me their love troubles just as the others did.
My Jewish friends drifted away. Some left Lithuania, some were completely involved with the Zionist problem.
My German friends were engrossed with Hitler and many of them went to Germany. We kept writing to each other, but that was a poor substitute for talking.
The few school friends who remained my friends were: Marusia, a German girl, who became much later the godmother of my son, Jurek. She left school during Secunda and began working. Now she was attending an English Commerce school. I also enrolled and we had at least one afternoon together, first at the school and later talking until late in the night. The other was Mira, a Jewish girl, who did not like the Zionists and wanted to stay in Lithuania, get married and have children. At that time she was studying medicine. She often smuggled me into the Uni when cadavers were being dissected. I was fascinated by the human body and could not get over how complicated it was. I donned the same aprons as the others and was never detected. However, she did not finish medicine. Nor did she stay in Lithuania for ever and ever. She was killed by Hitler’s henchmen in one of the concentration camps.
I still had my two old German boyfriends. One was studying engineering, the other physics. They both left with their parents in 1938 for Germany and both were killed in 1941 at the front in Lithuania. One of them I saw a few hours before he was killed.
The first few years after school were taken up with balls, parties, visiting friends in their country places or in Karmelowo. There were picnics, there was swimming and walking and in-between, studying at the Conservatorium.
There was Ninka, a lot older than myself, at least by five years. In my opinion she was definitely oversexed. She had mad parties at her house. Her brother never joined us. Her mother was a quiet, reserved woman and her father spent more time at the museum where he was the curator, than at home.
As I was still inexperienced, Ninka wanted to do something about it. During one of her parties she called out loudly to one of the young men, asking him to show me his penis as it was freckled. He did not mind obliging, but I was neither embarrassed nor impressed. So what if it was freckled? My sex teachers, the cowherd and the stable youth, had told me long ago that they come in different sizes and colours.
With one of the girls, Jadzia, I became more friendly during the years as she also married a Pole from Poland and had a boy when I had Jurek, but more about her later.
There was Genia whom I liked very much but she came only seldom to Kaunas. This applied also to her sister, Hela and her sister Zosia. We still keep in touch.
I thought I was in love with an elderly man who at that time was a judge, I think. I met him during a holiday in Palanga. We won the first prize for ballroom dancing. He became a bit of a bore, speaking only about how wonderful I was. What finished my love for him was when mother told me that a few years before he had tried to make love to her but mother did not want him, as he was too old for her!
My real boyfriends were rather a mixed lot, each of them not having much to do with the others.
Number one was Czesiek, who, after finishing Uni, became a bank clerk in the Polish bank. He was very nice, very honest, very dependable and well thought of by parents of marriageable girls. He was a good swimmer and it was good talking with him. He thought he was in love with me, but I doubted it, and I was not in love with him.
Olek, a professional violinist and an exceptionally good dancer, and I were just friends. He was teased a lot with just a bit of flirting. He was not in love with me. He was pining for his Great Love – Irka, who lived in Warsaw and he told me a lot about her. He was waiting to go back to Warsaw during the new school year and finish Conservatorium.
Janek, who was a good violinist, was by profession a chemical engineer, related to a famous musician. I thought I liked him a lot, but probably I was not in love with him, as the following incident happened:
After one of the parties he was taking me home, but, being very sentimental, he wanted to drive me to an island on the river Nieris to listen to the songs of the birds who had their nest in the bushes of the cherry tree, which at that time of the year were in full blossom and sweet smelling. I was happy with him. It was a beautiful night, there was a full moon and it was soooooo romantic! He was speaking about love, life, music. I agreed with him on everything. We came to the island, the moon was reflected in the river, the shrubs smelled strong and sweet, the birds were singing. It was so nice. The car was so comfortable, I curled up with my head on his shoulder and…..went to sleep. Afterwards I was very sorry but I must have simply been tired and not very sexily inclined towards him. I had been riding that morning with a stupid horse which would not take hurdles properly. I had a three hour lesson at the conservatorium with the orchestra and I had danced all evening. I know that this is no excuse, but it was a fact. I was happy, happy in his company and, being tired, I just went to sleep. How unromantic. After that night we became just friends.
Vincent. Handsome, tall, well educated, a count and a good Catholic. He was a poor dancer, an average swimmer but good to talk with. He spoke about love and marriage. I liked him really very much and I liked his mother a lot and also his sister, but just not enough to marry him.
It is time to try to describe Kaunas, then the capital city of Lithuania, the city as I remember it when I was still young.
In Tsarist times Kaunas was a garrison town with fortresses and the Sobor (a Greek Orthodox church) in Byzantine style built for the army. When I lived there the Sobor was a catholic church, as Lithuania was 99% catholic. Kaunas had one main street, Laisves Aleja (Freedom Boulevard) about 4km long, all the shops were there, including mother’s. There were also a few elegant restaurants, several coffee houses and near it the radio station and the theatre. In this one theatre were performed operas, symphony concerts, recitals, ballets and dramas. Our own talents were rather mediocre, but often we had celebrities from other countries. Here, as a child I heard the famous Russian bass singer – Feodor Shalapin (Chalapin?). He gave only two performances – one in an opera and one recital. After the recital there was a big ball in his honour, but only three children were permitted to attend. I was one of them, another was my friend Irka Paceviciute, who already as a child was painting extremely well. Later on she went to America where she became known, having her own exhibitions. The third was a Russian boy, a few years younger than me. He was also a pianist and we became friends later on. He went to Canada, became a professional pianist, touring Canada and Latin America. We three children were even mentioned in the newspapers as the future talents of Lithuania (what a joke!).
I did not like my first ball much. It was the official opening of the season which even the president, Smetona, attended, or at least his family and it was a MUST for the first ball. There were too many uniforms, which I did not like even then, too many old people, too long intervals between the dances, too long for supper.
I enjoyed my second ball, the Polish ball. I knew most of the people, and there would not be many old ones, as they couldn’t be bothered spending two days coming from farms and going back just for a night of dancing. Next year I went again to the Polish ball.
I was never allowed to go with a boyfriend to a ball. Father is the one who took me to the ball. He was very nice about it and got lost when the ball started and appeared only when it was time to go home as, again, the proper thing to do was to be brought home by father!
I loved dancing and was happy with any good dancer. The following year, at the Polish ball, I met a Pole from Poland whom mother and I had met a few years earlier when we went to Poland during a summer holiday. Then, when in Poland, I did not take much notice of him as he was much too old. I was still at school and he was nearly at the end of his Uni, I preferred his young cousin, a marine cadet. But now, three years later, he was not old at all. He and his mother had come to Kaunas to sell their farm which was in Lithuania. He danced really very well, especially the circular and I thought him the most handsome man at the ball. His name was Zygmunt Kruszewski. I was very pleased that he chose me to be his partner a few times and I certainly did not mind that other girls were jealous. My boyfriends were cross with him, and with me, saying that I should not dance with an outsider, that there were already enough of our boys there and, anyway that he should have stayed at home, or at least not have come to the ball.
Once or twice during the next few days, I met Mr Kruszewski in the street and we even had a cup of coffee together. My parents invited him and his mother to visit us. His mother was a very good looking woman and she looked young, just like my mother did. She had a very pleasant voice and she was nice to me, but somehow I did not take to her and I did not like the way she praised her son, just like my mother did praising me and looking adoringly at her child.
I still had Polish lessons, but only once a week. I took music again seriously and my teacher, Mrs Malko, was pleased with me. I was selected to play at a few concerts in the Conservatorium, and felt very proud that I was usually placed at the end of the programme, which meant that I played well. The writeups in the papers were good, which did not mean much as they never wrote really badly about us pupils.
I liked Mrs Malko very much although when I went to her at the age of six I hated her. According to me she had a cheek to put me on scales, Hanon and stupid exercises, suitable for beginners only; Me – who had already performed two concerts, including one with an orchestra! How well I do remember my first lessons with her.
During the first lesson I showed off, playing pieces which I knew well. At the next lesson she asked me for something new, she asked me to read simple music and to play scales! She asked about composers and their works. During the next lessons she showed me how to practice scales and I refused to do them. She closed the piano lid and started talking and continued talking for the next few lessons. The gist of her talk was:
I was not a wonder child nor such a pianist that I couldn’t even read music properly and my technique was not worth mentioning, that I was only aping and copying, which was not good enough. I must try to understand music, for without the understanding I was like a book with pages missing. She never asked me to become her pupil, she really did not want me much. She said that I played well for my age, as she had heard me during my two concerts and therefore agreed to give me a try when my parents asked her to accept me. She had more than enough of bad and average pupils! She prepared to accept me as her pupil for a trial period under the condition that I do EXACTLY what she told me to do. Should I justify her hopes, she would keep me and help me, but otherwise not. I could do what I liked, if I didn’t want to work the way she told me – I didn’t have to go back. My parents would find me another teacher, she did not care.
After each lesson I told grandfather all I could remember of her talk. First I was very indignant, then I was a bit doubtful as she was right, I could not read music properly. I had to hear the music a few times before I gave it a try. After the last talk we both agreed that I should give it a try. Others did it, I should be able to do it too.
Now after twelve years I was her star pupil, getting honours and even for the last few years being top in our conservatorium, which I started attending at the age of sixteen. Until then I was her private pupil, going for a half hour each week. I missed a lot of my lessons during those years. During measles I missed three months, every year I missed a lot having bronchitis for long periods. Also I missed two terms during my matric (University entrance) year. I also missed two months when Mrs Malko was on her….DIET.
This diet was in vogue at that time and was according to a book written by a Mr Suworov. My mother tried it also, but only for a short while. The diet consisted of a complete fast for a few days followed by three days of light food, next the fast was increased to one day a week followed again with very light vegetarian food, and so on, increasing the fast until, on reaching forty days, one was allowed to have water for drinking end even a few glasses of water with a teaspoon of honey. Every second day one had to have an enema, one had to use a spittoon and there were many more instructions which I now forget. It did Mrs Malko a lot of good as, according to her, all her gallstones disappeared. It may have been good for her, but for us, her students, it was hell. When she opened her mouth, even to take a breath, it smelled like the dirtiest compost heap. The room smelled like a public toilet which had not been cleaned for ages. One day I felt sick and had to use her spittoon in a hurry. I stopped going for lessons, giving some excuse or other, until she finished her diet. Now we were friends and we both laughed remembering my first year with her.
I liked her first husband, Mr Malko, a well known conductor in Europe and America. He lived with us for a while when he was invited to conduct the Lithuanian Philharmonic Orchestra for a few performances. Our house was also his headquarters when he toured the Baltic countries. He was an interesting personality, probably hard to live with during everyday life, but he was great fun when staying with us. It was 40 or 45 years later when I met him again. It was in Australia where he had a contract for a year or more and was directing the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. One winter he gave a concert in the Melbourne town hall.
I hesitated to see him after the performance. I thought that it would be presumptions of me to go and claim acquaintance after so many years. He was a well known conductor and me, a nothing, and my husband a night watchman. But Zyg told me to go, saying that people like to be reminded of old times when they were young. Zyg proved to be right. When I went backstage, saying that I knew Mr Malko from a long time ago, I was admitted to his dressing room. He was drying his neck with a towel. I blurted out in Russian:
“You are still getting soaking wet, just as before! Here, have another towel. Where is the other shirt?” and then I blushed like a teenager. I started stammering … sorry … long time ago … He stopped me.
When we parted he said: “When we both were in Kaunas who would have though that we would meet here in Australia. You probably did not know where Australia was”
Some years later he died here, in Australia.
Coming back to Kaunas and the year 1934/1935. I still had two or more years at the conservatorium as I was doing the virtuosity course and had to catch up with theoretical subjects to get my Batchelor degree.
Although I enjoyed the winter season full of fun, I was sorry when it ended and that we had to go to Karmilowo. Friends of both sexes visited me often and stayed either for a few hours or days or weeks. I was not waiting for the next season to start as most of my friends did. I felt restless. I simply did not know what I wanted. I only know that I wanted a change and that I wanted to get out! But I did not know what I wanted to get out from, nor did I know where to.
I became moody. I was not unhappy just disinterested and restless.
Both my parents noticed the change in me and tried to help me. I thought I would like to go to Germany but my parents were against it. Father wanted me to go to England but mother did not. They were both agreeable to let me go and at last they decided on Poland. I was told to apply for admittance to the Warsaw conservatorium, which had a good reputation. I did not mind, although I would have preferred Berlin or London. Warsaw was a big city renowned for its musical traditions, its international Chopin concerts held every fourth year. The next one was due in 1935/36.
Lithuania had no diplomatic relationship with Poland. Our passports were printed with a clause stating that it was not valid for Poland or Spain, but this did not cause problems. One could get there via Germany and get the necessary visas. There was no problem in getting the visa as the Lithuanian passport had a line for Nationality written by hand in red ink…. Lenke (Polish). It was not meant to facilitate the Polish visa but warn other Lithuanian offices that the applicant was of Polish nationality and as such, not suitable for many courses, including some courses at Uni. This did not worry me in the least as I grew up with it. I knew that the true Lithuanians hated Poles.
Lithuanians had every right to hate the Poles as far as I could understand. Since the Union at Lublin in the 16th century the Poles were usurping Lithuanian rights. Yet, Lithuania was once a mighty country which even beat the Teutonic Order at Grunwald. But now the bigger landowners who were Poles were bringing their own traditions and pushing out our Lithuanian traditions. Even the Lithuanian language ceased being dominant. The Poles took over our Lithuanian capital, Vilnius! called it Wilno and even now, after independence, they still keep it, although to them it was just an ordinary town on the outskirts of Poland. They would not give it back to us although by rights, according to me, it belonged to Lithuania. The Poles kept it as it was theirs according to Marshal Pilsudski, General Zeligowski, the Versailles treaty and the Curzon line.
During my school years I got used to the boycott of Polish shops, banks etc, to the smashed windows, to the chauvinistic groups from the Uni who sometimes rushed into the church and beat up those who had a Polish prayer book. Although in the true sense I was neither a catholic, since the age of about sixteen, nor did I feel myself to being a Pole, but when going to high mass on Sundays I would take a Polish prayer book with me. Was it an action of – I dare you? Or was I simply on the side of the underdog? I don’t know.
That winter, as usual I spent a lot of time skiing and skating. For skiing we went in groups but skating I used to go alone. After a good windy day the creeks and rivers were fun for skating, as one could go many kilometres on the snow-free ice. One could go really fast especially if the wind was blowing on your back. Skiing was fun too. There were no ski lifts or special runs near Kaunas but one could go along rivers, over hills, through forests and fields. One could go anywhere as everything was covered in snow, even the fences in the fields were no hindrance as they were usually completely covered in snow.
When spring came I started practicing the piano in earnest.
I sent my application to Warsaw – one envelope with the Warsaw address was put into another envelope addressed to the Polish legation in Konigsberg with a covering letter as there was no mail over the Polish / Lithuanian border.
I remember receiving the reply in an official looking and bulky envelope. There was the acknowledgement of my application, the fees would be … I would be allocated to a teacher and could not choose one. It did not matter as I did not know any. The date of the competitive exams from … to … and the most important – a list of my compulsory subjects for the examination. The beginning was for warming up, exercises, scales etc, then an etude of my choice. Already, while reading the letter I decided on the etude by Chopin played all on black keys. A fugue by Bach and then Beethoven. All quite OK with me but then came a choice of either Hayden or Handel. (O my God! I could not play either of them well at all.) Next were a few things by Chopin, also good, and then a composer that I never heard of, Szymanoski. Who the hell was he? And the last item was to be a piece of my liking with only one restriction, it had to be a modern composer. Then a list of theoretical subjects, which were no different to the ones that I had already covered in Kaunas.
With Mrs Malko we decided on Stravinsky and with great trouble we were able to obtain a piece by Szymanoski, which came from Germany.
I was still in Lithuania, not concerned with money arrangements nor my wardrobe but only with my music. Mrs Malko and I both felt apprehensive about the competitive admission exams as the standard of the Polish conservatorium was high by international standards.
My parents made arrangements with our friends in Wilno, Mr & Mrs Oskierka, to look after me. I liked them. A few years later they had a farm in Lithuania not far from Karmelowo, where I spent part of my holidays. Mr Oskierka was a real gentleman, a breed that was disappearing in central Europe. They had a lovely home, beautifully furnished. He had very good taste, being more of an artist than farmer. He had studied in France when young.
It was at his farm, years before, that I had my first offer of marriage, it was also there that I had my first kiss from a man, and not from a schoolboy.
It was also there that I got drunk for the first time in my life. Mr Wladyslas asked me to decant wine from his barrels in the cellar. It was a very simple procedure: the big wooden barrels had a cork which one had to remove and then insert a rubber hose and suck until the wine was running freely. One could either swallow the wine or spit it out whilst sucking. This tube was then inserted in the decanter. He wanted a few decanters from each barrel. I did it quite nicely, I did not like to spit so I swallowed all the first flows. When I finished I was somehow unable to bring the decanter up, and they found me soundly asleep on the steps, surrounded by all the decanters.
It was also there that I realised how badly I spoke in Polish. They teased me a lot, but in a friendly way, even composing some verses.
It was there that I could speak about my ESP as Mr Oskierka occasionally experienced it himself, about the nuisance of it and the embarrassment that it could cause. He knew father’s friend, who predicted my future by reading my stars and star signs. The prediction was made when I was ten years old. I had written it up, including my comments in brackets. It was written in German of course. I would be good at music (sic!) everyone knew it anyway. I would have good abilities in maths and medicine. Some parts about the sun and moon I could not follow (all this I noted in my dairy in 1927, which I re-read in 1978!) That I would marry before the age of 25 and after my twentieth birthday that I would have two sons (mind you not two children but two sons!). That before my thirtieth birthday, around my fifth wedding anniversary, I would be surrounded by death. Death would be everywhere around me, but I would not die and live many, many more years. I would live in another country, very far away, I would have to go over the sea to this other country (my comments in the dairy: hurrah, I will go to America). In this new country, the prediction continued, he could see me and my children and also a husband, but could not tell if it was the same one or another. All of his predictions came true.
At last everything was ready and I could go. Mother somehow managed to get me a pass to cross the border between Lithuania and Poland without going though Germany, and I would be met by Mrs Oskierka and Mrs Lina at the border sentry hut.
I stayed a few days in Wilno, where I went to see Mrs Malko’s friend, and I also met a music teacher Mr Jozefowicz, who was now a music critic. He was very old with a crippled wife but they seemed to be very much in love which I though was odd – to be in love at their age. I liked him as he reminded me of my grandfather. He cheered me up, saying that he thought I would pass and be admitted, although he did not know either how many applicants there would be or how many places.
I remember one or more days whilst in Wilno. Mr Zygmunt Kruszewski showed me around the city, especially the cathedral which had modern lights installed, showing the sculptures without any glare. Mr Kruszewski was quite nice, he even invited me afterwards to a café, Rudicki, where according to him all the intellectuals met, as well as the cheese club members, but it was rather empty at the time we were there. Mr Kruszewski already had his degree and was working at the town hall in the press office on assignments requested by the Lord Mayor.
Next day I left for Warsaw, together with Mr Wladislaw who was going to help me find a suitable room. The extra money which I smuggled out of Lithuania I left with him and he would send me some, bit by bit.
At last I was going to be in a big city, without supervision, but first I would have to pass the exams.