I never met my great grandmother: a Russian lady, who fled to the Arts to survive a Revolution.
A woman who had to leave one son in Russia and venture across hostile waters to the far reaches of Australia, and become Italian, when she married (for the third time) motivated by nothing more than convenience, so her two ‘Australian’ charges could have a father.
A woman who sacrificed her religion, when scolded by it’s head, for nurturing two of her three children in such an environment.
Who refused to speak the King’s english, because of what he’d done to ‘Kolya’ and ‘that German woman’.
Who was reported by a neighbour to Paddington Police Station in Sydney, New South Wales. Accused of being Communist, for merely sharing her experience and opinion…
My Grandparent’s survived two World Wars.
Like most WWII survivors, they suffered to ensure their lines survived in the hope their kin would thrive.
Yet, it never fails to amaze me, how quickly we forget.
I remain confounded by how quickly we dismiss their sacrifice, as our right: especially in the case of the Baby Boomers who bemoan the woes of: not enough money for retirement and the drain of Billy, Bob and Yacov.
I never had the privilege to be nursed by my maternal grandfather – who was born German, raised Russian, spoke in native tongues and died because of his war service, as a proud Australian.
A man, my mother remembers as adorable, loving, and kind-hearted.
The same man the war office has listed as a trained assassin – an original member of the ‘Specialist’ Unit, what today they call SAS.
Conversely, my paternal Grandfather, the man I called ‘Pop’ played accordian.
During his time in service, he cooked.
For us, his time in the kitchen was as the ‘Master Maker’ of Russian Pies – a treat to all his closest family and friends.
But it was music that made this industrious factory owner stand tall. His songs of choice? The only ones I ever heard him sing, belonged to his beloved homeland: that of Mother Russia.
An irony lost on those who, like me in my youth, couldn’t fathom his origins.
My paternal and maternal grandfathers shared a life, both here and abroad.
They fought to survive and proudly served their families and both their native and refuge lands.
They embraced religion as a tool of assimilation. Despite having suffered immeasurably because of the deity of men. Over 900 years of tradition wedding them intrinsically to it.
What I respect of these men, is they knew prejudice.
Which is why they didn’t see colour, only the measure of a man as told by the truth communicated through his eyes.
Between the two of them, they’d seen horrors that even Hollywood couldn’t conjour.
How do I know all of this? It’s the stuff of family legend.
It’s also been my deep-seeded and much loved research project of the last 20 years.
Their stories I know, are documented in The Family Archives, here and abroad. Not that I’ve seen them, because for the most part, we don’t speak of it.
We live in fear of what it will reveal, who it will offend and ultimately the hazards it could spread.
While we are all recipients of legacy, how we choose to nurture it, is entirely our own.
I know my religious heritage is a mixed bag comprising: Eastern Orthodox, Jewish, Catholic and Anglican.
Either and all ways, I am proud that my ancestors had faith.
Because only those who live with and in faith, can actually be faith-filled.
A social and moral value, too often under valued by those who fail to live in gratitude of their parents and grandparent’s sacrifice.
For instance, I know that I’m alive because my grandparents were either survivors of persecution or were ‘adopted’ and housed by Jews: Kept safe among them as one of their own at a time when they themselves were in peril.
I know my great-grandparents socialised with Muslims.
I’m grateful my ancestors knew the diversity of religion and the joy of many peoples.
Because of the humanity bestowed on my ancestors, their line lives on.
And now we have a choice to continue to share a legacy or hide it as though in fear.
Children should not be punished by the shortcomings of the generations that preceded them.
Neither should they ever forget what it is the generations preceeding enabled for them.
As an adult, mine is a respect for the desire and thirst for knowledge, the commitment to honour, service and a life lived well.
We each have a choice to be the best we can be.
Which we all know, is not always an easy thing.
But the truth of the matter is: you don’t have to be great to try, but you do have to try to be great.