A beginning Part 2

My maternal grandfather was an Austrian born man who studied engineering. He worked around the world, learning new languages in each port. He described his method of learning a new language as this: Move to the country, find a girl, move in with her and learn her language. He was fluent in 8 different languages.

My understanding of language acquisition is that it is actually quite hard to do. To pick up additional languages, beyond a basic child level, one must make huge changes to the brain. Falling in love releases a huge number of chemicals into the body, which includes the brain, and prompts the brain to be quite plastic. Another plasticity trick is to travel a long way and walking a lot. In both travel and falling in love, the brain is primed to learn new things, to adapt to new situations and to change quite radically.

When my maternal father went to Russia to fill the latest engineering position, he was no doubt looking for a girl to learn the language from. He found this sophisticated, incredibly beautiful Russian minor noble at a party, whom he fell madly in love with and married. Kudos to my grandmother for taming him.

They moved from Russia to France where he scored a new contract. World War Two broke out and France was invaded. This is somewhat awkward for those who have noticeably Jewish heritage.

Why is it that this war was defined as a world war? Why are so many other wars not defined as a world war? The most prolific modern history writers in our culture are from Europe, so European wars must be worse than other wars. Consider some of the wars around the Conga area in Africa – how many countries were involved with them? Or the Board War, which proceeded the first so called world war. Even Australia shipped troupes out to that war. Ah well.

So, my maternal grandfather was put into a concentration camp so that he could work on his crime of having Jewish ancestry. It was somewhat of a shock to my grandmother to discover that he had Jewish heritage and not a matter she tended to discuss with us. My understanding is that Jewish people in Russia tended to inhabit villages and not mix much with other peoples. My grandmother was quite prejudiced against them. In fact, my grandmother was quite racist.

My grandmother wanted to save her husband and so every day she would go to the camp and beg the guards to let her husband go. I don’t know how long that went on for, but eventually one of the guards relented and said that he would have to leave Europe if he were let go. My grandmother went to many charity organisations looking for ways to pay for a ticket out of Europe. They all turned her away. She finally went to a Quaker family and told them of her plight. They gave her the money, she bought a ticket and my grandfather was released. They all left Europe.

My grandfather never talked about his time in the camp. He was also unable, according to my mother, to emotionally connect with people. To him, life was logic and sense.

They landed in Australia and next went to Papua New Guinea. My mother, the oldest of two, was conceived in Papua New Guinea and her parents made a decision that they wanted her born in Australia and thus they would settle down in Australia. My grandfather spoke excellent English, so this was easy for him. My grandmother spoke only Russian with a bit of French, so this was hard. She refused to learn English, as it was too difficult, and only mixed with Russian peoples. My grandfather band her from seeing them until she learned English and as I understand it, she never mixed with them again.

She learned English, slowly. This was facilitated by her getting a job. She got the job because at the time Russia was seen as a great ally, and she was very picturesque lady.