Das Taschenbuch (The Notebook)
Translated from the German
I was born in the Free State of Danzig, a big port on the Baltic Sea. Today, it is part of Poland and has a new name, Gdansk. It is still important as a port and for shipbuilding. I don't remember much about the city, except for the sound of ships' sirens and the silent swinging of the tall cranes which lined the dockside.
But I do remember the shop where we lived.
My father was employed in a large stationery and book shop. He was the manager of the stationery department. The owner of the shop, Herr Schmitt, once lived in a flat above it. But he was very successful in his business and moved out to a big house in the city, where he lived with his wife. My parents moved into the flat over the shop. My father managed the stationery department and Herr Schmitt the bookshop.
The Schmitts had no children and, perhaps because of this, I was always allowed to come downstairs from the flat and wander about the shop. Herr Schmitt would make a fuss of me, and call me Mein Liebchen , my little loved one. I would sit on his knee and pull the large gold watch from his waistcoat pocket, put it to my ear and listen. Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick.
I liked the stationery department best. I loved the papers and pens, and bottles of different coloured inks. They had a pelican bird printed on their labels. I thought that perhaps the ink was made from pelican; but which part of the pelican?
Sometimes my father would take a few coins from his pocket, put them in the shop till, and tell me to choose a sheet of paper for drawing. It was so hard to make up my mind; I would screw up my hands and put them to my cheeks. But when at last I had chosen, I would carry the sheet triumphantly to my mother, upstairs in the flat. There I set to work with my pencils.
In the stationery department of the shop there was a shelf of notebooks. Some were fat and heavy, others thin; some had paper board covers, others expensive cloth bindings. Best of all were the notebooks bound in green cloth with bright red leather corners. Inside they had coloured papers at beginning and end, swirls of green and red. I tried to draw these patterns but I never could. My mother told me that the paper was marbled - dipped into a mixture of oil, water and ink. Nowadays, I have heard of children learning to marble paper at school in their art lessons. I think they must find it exciting.
The very best notebook, in my opinion, was about the size of a school exercise book, only thicker. I used to look every day to make sure that it had not been sold. Herr Schmitt found me one day gazing at the book. He said that I looked as if I knew what I wanted for my birthday. I covered my eyes and ran off; I could not let anyone know how much I wanted that book.
My mother was not very strong. Before I was born, she worked as a clerk in the office of a shipping company in Danzig. After I was born, she still did some work for the company, but at home, upstairs in the flat.
I do not remember my mother very well. She died giving birth to my brother, Hans. And Hans died a few hours later; I never saw him. In those days, childbirth was more dangerous than it is now, both for mother and for child.
My father grieved upstairs in the flat. I remember being with him, sitting on his lap. I don't remember what I felt. When my father went back downstairs to start work again in the shop, I stayed very close to him behind the big polished wood counters of the stationery department.
Herr Schmitt came over one day and came behind the counter. He spoke to me very seriously, in front of my father, holding out the green and red notebook towards me. I can remember exactly what he said.
"This is for you, for when you are older, for when you can write in joined up writing"
He bowed and gave me the book. My father said nothing. I don't know if I even said thank you. I just remember running upstairs. I curled up on my bed, hugging the book to me. Next day, I went over to Herr Schmitt and gave him a big hug, but I still don't think I said anything.
I had the notebook. My father bought a motorbike.
He was a very respectable man, with stiff white collars and dark ties, and though he rode a bicycle, no one would have imagined that he should want a motorbike.
I loved the motorbike. Of course, I knew that it had something to do with my mother's death. The bike was brand new, shining black and silver. My father kept it in a shed in the yard behind the shop. At first, he would not let me ride on it with him. But soon - as soon as he felt safe on it himself, I suppose - he would take me out with him on Sundays and sometimes in the bright evenings of Baltic summers.
We rode out of Danzig and looked for fields and woods where we could walk. On the motorbike, I clung to my father's leather - jacketted back. In those days, not many people wore crash helmets. We didn't, though I wore a red bonnet to hold down my long hair.
Herr Schmitt thought the motorbike amusing. On Mondays, he would tease me:
"And where have you been to, Mein Liebchen, on that wild machine of your fathers?"
And I would reply:
"To Hamelin, Herr Schmitt, with a Pied Piper".
Then I would tell him what I had seen. Herr Schmitt would listen and nod his head, saying Very Good, Very Good . But I did not know what was Very Good: what I had seen on our journey, or my telling of it to him.
I suppose that Herr Schmitt was like a grandfather to me. I do not know how old he was. He had a bald head with a white moustache. I think that the shop was his real home, like it was mine.
Sometimes I lay awake at night thinking about my mother and my little brother Hans. Most of the time I think that I was happy, especially clinging to my father on the back of our motorbike.
On the first of September 1939, the German armies of Adolf Hitler invaded Poland, the country which surrounded the port of Danzig. I did not know the date until later, but I do remember that on the evening of the invasion, after I had gone to bed, Herr Schmitt came up to our flat and talked for a long time to my father. They spoke in German, which was the language that we all spoke, but I could not hear what they were saying to each other. I could only hear the seriousness in their voices.
The next morning my father woke me before it was properly dawn. He sat down on my bed and made me sit up.
"We have to leave", he said, "Because of the war it is best that we go back to my country, Estonia. I'm sorry. Herr Schmitt does not think that it is safe for us to stay any longer. We don't know who the German armies will think are their enemies".
"But we speak German, Papa", I said, anxious and puzzled.
"Yes", said my father, "but I was born in Estonia - you know that. And your mother was born in Poland, in Lodz. So we are not Germans even though we speak German. And now I think that it is necessary for us to become Estonians". My father looked at me, wanting me to agree.
Aber, Ich bin Danziger , I exclaimed - I'm a Danziger. I began to cry.
My father moved closer to me, and putting his arm round me, took a little blue book out of his pocket.
"Look", he said, "This is our passport. Here I am Aivo Saar and here you are, Aili Saar, and - look - see what it says on the cover:
Eesti Varbarik, which means 'Republic of Estonia"'.
"Now we must hurry", he continued, "I have packed all that we can carry on the motorbike, except for three things which you can choose to take".
"But, Papa", I protested, "What do you mean, three things?". I began to sob.
"It's a war", said my father firmly, "It's very bad, for you and for me. There is no alternative for us. Now, hurry, put on your clothes and choose three things".
Within half an hour we were leaving Danzig on my father's motorbike, riding north. I was wearing extra clothes Papa said we could take more with us that way. On his back he had a rucksack. On my back I had a rucksack too. The roads were crowded, but on the motorbike we could weave in and out of the cars, carts and lorries. Strapped to the side of the motorbike were two petrol cans.
I took an amber brooch of my mother's which my father had given me when my mother died. Inside the amber, which is found washed up on the beaches along the Baltic coast, you could see tiny insects trapped.
I took my teddy, Theo.
I took the red and green notebook, wrapped up in brown paper and tied with string.
My father made us travel until it was dark, with only a few minutes to rest and eat the sandwiches he had made before waking me. I was exhausted. As it got dark, I began to cry as I clung to my father's back. He rode on, not knowing that I was crying.
For a long time we had been travelling on roads which got smaller and rougher all the time. I thought we must be lost and began to cry more. Now my father realised and stopped the motorbike.
"It's all right", he said gently, "I know where I'm going. We have crossed into Lithuania. Soon we will be able to stop for the night".
I cried some more.
"What's Lithuania?", I howled, "I don't want to be in Lithuania. I want to be in Danzig".
"So do I", said my father, "But the war will come to Danzig. It will not come to Lithuania".
He put me on the back of the motorbike, and we rode on, but not for very long.
We came to a large village. My father rode slowly along the main street, looking carefully at each house. Eventually, he stopped, lifted me down and got me to hold his hand as we walked towards the door of a quite large house next to a sign which said Pasta, and I guessed meant Post Office.
A woman with a bright blue apron came to the door. My father showed her our passport..
Sprechen Sie Deutsch? Do you speak German? he asked.
"A little", said the woman, "But Polish better".
"Ah", said my father, and began speaking in Polish, which he sometimes used in the shop in Danzig and which I understood a little.
"Is there someone in the village who would give us a room for the night? We are on our way to Kaunas, and my daughter is tired"
The woman looked at me. I clung to my father.
"I have a room", she said, "There is only my brother here with me at present".
I was so pleased to be in that house, to sit down in the kitchen, to see the woman smile, to go to bed hearing voices talking quietly downstairs in the kitchen. I was exhausted from my journey on the motorbike, and slept all night.
But next day we had to travel again. I didn't want to go. Couldn't we stay here, Papa? I asked. My father hugged me and said that we would not travel much further. We would go only as far as Kaunas, the second biggest city of Lithuania. There we would stay for a little while.
"But I thought we were going to Estonia?" I asked anxiously.
"In time, in time", said my father, "If I can get a job in Kaunas, I would like to earn some money before we travel again. I do not know how long it will take me to get work in Estonia. It is a long time since I was there and there are few people who know me and might help me. Herr Schmitt has given me the names of some people in Kaunas who may help".
We stayed in Kaunas for a few months. I do not remember the city. I do remember the strange sounding words of Lithuanian: Aciu means "Thank you"; Prasom means "Please"; Taip is "Yes".
My father was lucky to find work. With Herr Schmitt's recommendation, he got a job as a bookshop assistant. We lodged in two rooms in the house of a Polish - speaking widow whose son was away serving in the army. My father was very anxious about the war, and I heard him discussing with the widow whether it would spread to Lithuania.
In the evenings and at weekends, my father spent many hours learning Lithuanian. He listened to the radio, read newspapers and studied dictionaries and encyclopaedias. My father said that knowing languages would help us get through whatever difficulties lay ahead, and that he hoped that I would be a lover of languages, as he was. But I wasn't happy enough to sit down and learn Lithuanian with him; I read books in German and drew complicated pictures of soldiers, motorbikes, dictionaries and myself.
We didn't go out on the motorbike very often. Petrol was scarce and expensive and I think my father was too worried to enjoy himself. I felt lonely and bored, so though I was anxious I wasn't upset when my father announced that we were going to leave Kaunas and head for Riga, the capital city of Latvia, the country which lies between Lithuania and Estonia. My father said that it would be safer, and that we would be nearly home. I still did not understand why we could not go straight there.
But, still, I was pleased to set off on the motorbike, even though the weather in March 1940 was still cold and damp. Even with three layers of clothing, I shivered as we rode along.
In Riga, I made my first real friend. She was a Latvian girl who lived with her parents across the landing from us in the big house where we had a small flat. Her name was Anita. She had blonde hair and pig tails. I walked to school with her every day, asking her questions about Latvian words for things. I hadn't been to school in Kaunas, but my father said that we would now stay in Riga for some time and that I must go to school. I didn't ask, "What about Estonia?", but I wanted to.
But to have a friend was wonderful. In the evenings now my father was busy studying Latvian, and this time I studied with him. But I was always leaving the flat to visit Anita. My excuse was perfect; she could help me with my studies. And she really did. And because I was happier, it was easier for me to learn.
But we had not been long in Riga when everything suddenly changed. Russian armies ocupied Latvia in June 1940 and the country was made into part of the Soviet Union, ruled from Moscow. The President of Latvia, Ulmanis, was arrested and sent away to imprisonment in Russia, where he died. Many other people were arrested and sent away - deported - or killed. The Soviet dictator, Stalin, was trying to strengthen his position in case of a war between Russia and Germany, and wanted control of Latvia (and Lithuania and Estonia, too) for that reason. The armies of the German Nazi dictator, Hitler, had already taken over Poland, Austria, Czechoslovakia - and Danzig.
My father was shaken by the Russian conquest of the three Baltic countries - Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. He was lucky enough to keep his job in the bookshop, so we stayed in Riga, now having to learn Russian as well as Latvian. My father joked about it, "We are real philologists now!", he exclaimed, and explained to me that "philologist" means a lover of languages.
Anita wasn't so lucky. Her father was a stamp dealer - a philatelist. He had a shop, but he also traded in stamps all over Europe. The Russians were very suspicious of anyone with foreign contacts, and they had put stamp dealers on the list of dangerous people to be investiagted by their secret police. They thought everyone who knew someone abroad might be a spy, an enemy agent against them. So the Russians did what they did with anyone they distrusted: they arrested Anita's father and sent him thousands of miles away to a work camp in the cold deserts of Siberia.
I did not know how to comfort Anita or her mother. I didn't understand what Anita's father had done wrong, nor did I understand what being exiled to Siberia meant. Anita said it was like being sent to prison. You could not escape, not because there were bars on your windows, but because you had no money and no way of getting back to where you came from. You were a very, very long way away from home.
The motorbike stayed in the cellar of the house where we lived. My father cleaned and oiled it regularly, but I had no interest in this. My father said that we could not go for rides because there was no petrol and because it was dangerous.
"Why dangerous, Papa?", I asked.
"Because the Russians are suspicious of everyone, especially anybody different. We speak German at home. We are Estonian. I have a motorbike. I don't want to be deported".
"Nor do I , Papa", I said, "But what is wrong with being different?"
"It makes people afraid", said my father. And he would not say more.
So now we spoke German only to each other. Outside we spoke Latvian, and sometimes my father spoke Russian, which was new and strange to me. Especially the alphabet. My father wrote out a big poster with all the letters and taped it to the inside of our toilet door. At the bottom he wrote, in Latvian and Russian, "Study! Learn! Live!". Even though it was serious and he meant it, the poster made both of us laugh. When I needed to go to the toilet, I used to say that I was going to study my Russian alphabet and my father would wag his finger sternly and say, "Study! Learn! Live!".
The streets and buildings of Riga were now covered with Russian posters, slogans and symbols. There were huge crossed hammers and sickles and five pointed stars on the fronts of all big buildings. In school, we began to learn about Russia and communism and the Russian Revolution of 1917. Some new teachers came to the school, and some old ones were sent away. We did exactly as we were told. We were afraid.
We heard news of the war in Europe on our radio, listening to reports in every language we knew: German, Polish, Lithuanian, Latvian, Russian and Estonian. Sometimes we could hear broadcasts in English from the BBC in London. My father said that one day we would have to learn English, but not now. I remember that he sounded tired when he said that. It was not like him to sound tired. I was surprised and hugged him. He kissed me on the head.
The news of the war became more worrying in the spring of 1941. The German armies were everywhere successful. Where would they go next? My father said that the Germans were worse than the Russians.
"The Russians are cruel and stupid", said my father, "The Germans are cruel and clever".
I know that nowadays we are not supposed to say things like that; it is racist. My father was not being narrowminded. It was true that the Germans were better organised, more sophisticated in their warmaking, than the Russians.
In June 1941 German armies crossed from Poland into Lithuania and Germany declared war on Russia. It was going to be only a matter of weeks or even days before Hitler's armies arrived in Latvia. I knew this time, even before my father told me, what we were going to do.
"We're going home", he said, "Home to Estonia. The Germans will come to Estonia as well, but at least we will be Estonians who can speak German".
The motorbike came out from the cellar, and from under a pile of old carpets in the corner my father brought out the two petrol cans. I remembered them from our previous journeys.
"I have kept petrol for this emergency", said my father, "There is enough here to get us to Estonia. But we must leave immediately. You know what that means, Aili. Choose your three things" And he hugged me.
"Papa, can I give my teddy to Anita?", I asked, "She's lost her father. I want to leave her something to remember us by".
"Yes, of course", he replied.
I ran upstairs and got Theo and knocked on Anita's door. Anita cried, and her mother cried too. They hugged me, and wished me a safe journey.
Now I needed a new third thing to go with my mother's amber brooch and my notebook.
But I did not have to choose. There was a knock at the door of our flat. It was Anita and her mother. Anita was carrying a book, a stamp album, which she gave to me.
"My father kept some stamps at home, not just at the shop", Anita explained, "This album has Latvia's stamps in it. It's for you so that you can remember us and Latvia".
Anita opened the album.
"Look, here you can see a picture of Riga on a stamp and here" she pointed "Here you can see the President".
"Take it", said Anita's mother. "It is not our only one. You have been very special to Anita and she wants you to have this".
I hugged Anita and thanked her mother.
Soon we were back on the road, passing a stream of cars, lorries and people walking. I felt happy clinging to my father's back once again, and at moments forgot that we were leaving Riga and why we were leaving. And I was not worried when we left the main roads and made our way down smaller and rougher ones. But I was surprised when we spent the night sleeping in the hay stored in a farmer's barn.
I say the night but it must have been only a few hours that we stopped, from when it got completely dark until first light. My father said that there was no time to lose. We did not want to be stopped by Russian soldiers or police and we did not want to be caught up in the advance of the German armies.
I did not realise at the time how lucky we had always been in our travels and in crossing from country to country without really being challenged. The motorbike helped us travel fast, and my father seemed to know instinctively when and where to leave the main roads and make our way by rough country roads. Though he explained lots to me, he never explained this. It never occurred to me to ask. What makes me laugh now is that in his rucksack my father always had his suit, ties, shiny shoes and stiff collars. He had his dictionaries, too. Perhaps he could have talked his way out of any problems on the road. But for suspicious policemen or soldiers, a man and a girl on a motorbike carrying stiff collars and dictionaries - that might easily have been too much!
In my rucksack I had my clothes; some pencils and paper; my mother's amber brooch; an album of Latvian stamps; and my notebook, wrapped in brown paper and tied with string.
For the rest of the war, I lived in Tartu, the second city of Estonia and famous for its University - in Estonian it is called the Ulikool. My father, of course, already spoke Estonian but I had to learn it. At least I didn't have to learn the German which we also needed.
We needed the German because Hitler's armies arrived in Estonia not long after us.For a few days, it was not safe to go out. We could hear shouting, shooting and screams at night. The streets were full of lorries which never ceased their comings and goings, so that the whole city rumbled day and night.
We were staying with an old woman, who my father said had been a friend of his family. He called her "Aunt", though she was not his Aunt.
It was during those first few days indoors that my father spoke to me very seriously one day. He said that in future if ever I was asked about my mother, I must not say that she came from Lodz. I must say that she came from Danzig.
"Why, Papa?", I asked.
"Because many Jews come from Lodz, and the Germans hate the Jews. If you say that your mother came from Lodz, a German soldier might be suspicious, and because of our travels, it might be difficult for me to prove that everything is all right".
My father looked uncomfortable.
"I'm sorry", he sighed, "It is not a very good world that you have been born into".
"No, Papa", I said. I was angry. "Can I write to Anita?"
My father looked gloomy.
"It's rather difficult", he said. "The Germans have taken over the post and it may soon be working well enough to write to Riga. You can send a postcard, but you must not write your surname or Anita's. And you must write only a simple message". He looked down at the floor.
I pulled his arm to make him look at me.
"Because Anita was - is - Jewish. It would be dangerous for her and for you to use her surname, Jaeger, which is a Jewish name or for you to use your surname which could be used to trace the card to you."
"Can I go and do some drawing now?" was my only reply.
It was, I think, some time before my father gave me a picture postcard of Tartu and a stamp. I remember the stamp. It was blue and had the German swastika on it as well as the Estonian leopard. My father watched me as I wrote my little message to Anita. He took the card from me when I had finished and read it. Then he put it in his pocket.
I do not know whether Anita got my postcard with the swastika stamp. I doubt it. The Germans set up a concentration camp for Jews outside Riga, at a place called Salaspils. After the war was over, I learnt that Anita and her mother had been sent there. Whether they were killed there or in another camp, I do not know. But they did not survive. Like most of Latvia's Jews, they were killed.
Anita's father survived in Siberia and, after the war, went back to Riga. What else could he do?
At first, my father did not work. There were no jobs in bookshops or stationery shops in Tartu. He was afraid of being taken away by the Germans for their Army or for work camp somewhere far away. As a child, a bone disease had weakened one leg and he walked with a limp. Obviously, that helped him look unfit.
Eventually, he got work in the Tartu post office as a clerk. It helped that he spoke both Estonian and German. Both were needed to do the job.
We continued to live with the old woman. I called her 'Aunt' too, but somehow never seemed to know who she was. I avoided her. We did not have much to eat, or many pleasures, and Aunt and my father always seemed anxious as they read newspapers or listened to the radio. The motorbike was locked away. I went to school, but did not make friends. Estonian children thought I was a German because I spoke German very well but made mistakes in my Estonian. It did not matter that my surname, Saar, was an Estonian one. My teachers were careful towards me, as if I was someone who might harm them.
It was 1944. The war was going badly for the Germans. There was little food in the shops and we had finished the school year early. Russian troops were fighting their way into Estonia from the east.
One day my father announced that we were going to take a holiday. I looked at him in amazement and he smiled.
"On the motorbike", he said, " and just in case we can't get back, we must take our belongings with us, including your three things". He looked at me. l looked down.
"I understand, Papa", I said.
We rode westwards, often being stopped by police and soldiers.My father, of course, spoke German perfectly. He said that we were going to visit relatives on the island of Saaremaa though he did not call it that. He called it Oesel , the name by which the Germans called this large island off the coast of Estonia.
"Are we really going to this island?", I asked my father in Estonian.
"Jah ", he replied in German.
"Do we have relatives there?", I asked, again in Estonian.
"Nein", he replied in German
I asked no more questions.
Saaremaa is the largest of several islands off the west coast of Estonia. Many of the people earnt their living by fishing in the Baltic Sea. Some of the people spoke Swedish rather than Estonian, because their ancestors had come to the island from Sweden. A few people even spoke German, from the days when German barons ruled over the Baltic islands.
We crossed over to the island of Saaremaa by a small ferry and a bridge. It was wonderful. I had not been by the sea since we lived in Riga, and I did not really remember the sight or the smell of the sea there. I did remember the docks of Danzig.
I remember now the soft weather of early summer, the sound of seagulls, and the long discussion between my father and the soldiers guarding the ferry crossing.
And I remember a night when my father left me alone in a strange house in the little village of Saare, right in the south of the island of Saaremaa, and I was comforted by the sound of the sea.
The next morning I was still in bed when he came to see me.
"I cannot explain yet", he said very quietly and slowly, " but I have to ask you to give me your mother's amber brooch". He looked down.
I did not say anything. I got out of bed and went to my rucksack, reaching right down inside for the small box.
"Here, Papa", I said, not looking at the box, "Take it. I know there must be a reason, You can tell me later".
"Thank you", said my father. That was all. He left the room again while I got up and got dressed.
Before long he was back, looking very worried. He sat down on my bed.
"Mein Liebchen, things are very bad. I am trying to get us on a boat to go to Sweden. Many people are going but it costs more money than I have got. We will be safe in Sweden. I must ask you for Anita's stamp album to help pay for our passage".
I had never seen my father look so dejected and miserable since my mother had died. I went over and kissed him.
"I understand, Papa", I said and went to my rucksack. I couldn't help crying. My father hugged me before taking my album from me and going out again.
That night, when it was as dark as it ever gets in a Baltic summer, we made our way to the seashore. My father was pushing the motorbike and we had on our rucksacks. I trudged beside my father, neither of us speaking.
After what seemed a very long time, we came down to the seashore at a point where I soon realised that many other people were gathering in the half - darkness. A fishing boat appeared and everyone moved forward towards the sea, no one speaking. A few men ran forward to help beach the little boat. A man jumped down from it and very quietly asked people to make a queue. He had a piece of paper in his hand.
We moved forward, shuffling. I could hear people quietly giving their names.
It was our turn. To my surprise the captain of the boat spoke in German to my father. He hissed at him, pointing at the motorbike. He called my father a fool - ein Narr - and told him that this was no ship for fools: Kein Narrenschiff, Kein Narrenschiff he hissed.
Another man came forward from the beach. The captain told him to take the motorbike away to the village.
My father handed over the motorbike without a word. I held his hand. He lifted me up into the boat and climbed in after me.
We were in the boat for over twenty four hours, crossing the Baltic Sea to Sweden. The little boat was crowded with people. I slept, leaning against my father. No one talked, for fear that on the wide open sea the Germans or the Russians or some other unknown enemy might hear us.
But from time to time, my father whispered to me.
"This is not a Narrenschiff ", he said, looking around, "This is is a Noah's Ark. Look at that pair of old walruses over there", he said, nodding towards an elderly couple, "and look at that giraffe", pointing towards a tall man craning over the side of the boat in hope of sighting land.
I smiled, and heard the sound of the fishing boat's engine, and the slap of the sea on its side.
I spent the rest of my childhood in Sweden, in the capital city, Stockholm. I have lived there ever since. I speak Swedish most of the time, though I am writing my story in German.
My father got work again in a stationery shop, learning Swedish and then English. He said that he needed no more languages; it had taken five to survive and with two more he thought that he had enough for the rest of his life.
He bought another motorbike. He was riding it to work one day when a car collided with him and he was killed. I was seventeen.
He had already told me our story.
As a young man, he had quarrelled with his parents and left Estonia to seek his fortune in Danzig. There he met a young woman who had quarelled with her parents in Lodz and had also come to Danzig to make her own life. She was Jewish.
My father and mother did not marry, but I was their child and so half Jewish, a Mischling , a child of mixed blood. That was the reason why my father had journeyed back to Estonia, trying to keep one step ahead of the German Nazi armies. In Tartu, after the Germans had invaded Estonia too, he had lived in fear that my ancestry would be discovered and that, like Anita, I would be killed. It was because of my mother's Jewishness that he told me to lie and to say that she came from Danzig. It's funny, but no one ever asked me. Perhaps because my mother was dead, people did not like to ask me too many questions.
None of my father's family knew that he had come back to Estonia. His parents died during the war of illness and age. He did not see them again before they died.
My father was not a brave or strong man, but he protected me and used his knowledge of languages to get us from place to place, taking more risks than I ever realised. He was lucky, but also clever.
I have a love of languages, and after my father's death I studied Philology at the University of Stockholm. My father would have been pleased.
After his death, I visited the Jewish synagogue in Stockholm, but religion means nothing to me. My mother did not practice her religion, and my father always said that if a good God existed, he would not want us to believe in him. So many evil things have been done in God's name.
I did not marry,and until my retirement I worked as a translator with the Swedish Committee of the International Red Cross.
I have not visited Danzig - now Gdansk - or Kaunas or Riga or Tartu since I came to Sweden in 1944, but now that I am retired I will make another journey, backwards through Estonia to Latvia to Lithuania to Gdansk, where perhaps there is still a stationery shop.
I will buy a new notebook to record my travels.
My notebook with the green cover and red corners and marbled end papers is now full up. Herr Schmitt had to wait a very long time for me to learn to write in joined up writing.
Written 1993 for my daughter, Mitzi Pateman, then aged nine. But it is really a story for someone a bit older. First published on this website, with a few changes, 2005.