My mother got off the train in Grodno, Poland to give birth to me. My parents, grandmother and aunt had left St. Petersburg, Russia in 1922 looking for a safer place and were on the way to Western Europe. My father had seen the dark clouds gathering on the horizon and sensed that a bigger tyranny than that of the Tzars was approaching.
Grodno was at that time in Poland. Those were the days when areas in Eastern Europe were periodically changing allegiance according to who had won the latest war. Grodno would later become part of the Soviet Union. Now it belongs to Beyloruss.
Three months later, the family resumed its journey. After years of peregrination in Germany and France, we ended up in Palestine. At the time the country was under British Mandate, given to it by the League of Nations. Hostilities between the Arab and Jewish populations flared up intermittently but were somewhat contained by the presence of the British. My father was an electrical engineer, my mother what is now called a homemaker. My father grew up when all the isms were in fashion: socialism, zionism, nihilism, anarchism etc. His ism was atheism. My mother was a-religious. Her family, though Jewish, had not committed to any ideology.
We moved to Beirut, Lebanon when I was 7. That country was under a French Mandate and at that time a typical Levantine cauldron of many nationalities living in relative harmony under the benevolent tutelage of the French. Hierarchies were understood without being stated. The French were at the top, the locals at the bottom. It wasn’t until I looked back on it, in older age, that I realized I was speaking four languages by the time I was seven and did not know that this was anything unusual. English was a fifth language added later. I went to school in a French Lycee. The curriculum was the same as in France, strictly academic, only token sports and no social activities. Analytical thinking was encouraged. My preferred subjects were history and later philosophy, particularly the Stoics and later Voltaire and the other Enlightenment philosophers. I graduated in 1939 just as World War II erupted. Because of it we returned to Tel Aviv.
It was there that I met my husband. He was fighting with De Gaulle’s Free French forces and was on leave visiting family friends. My parents knew that family and that is how we were introduced. After the war we moved to France where my first daughter, Dina, was born. Things were not going well in France at the time. Besides food rationing, a wave of communism was about to engulf the region and was only stemmed thanks to the Marshall Plan. I realize now how important a program that was. In 1948 we received American visas and moved to the U.S., settling in the San Francisco Bay Area, where my second daughter, Helen, was born. Eventually I went back to school at U.C. Berkeley where I majored in Slavic Languages and Literature, thus perfecting my knowledge of Russian. I later got a Master’s of Library Science degree and had a 30-year career at the U.C. Berkeley Library followed by a part-time retirement career in the Oakland Public Library System..
We are all influenced by our parents and absorb or rebel against their values. Because I was brought up without many social contacts or activities I read a lot. In the beginning it was mostly French novels. In those days authors like Romain Rolland, Jules Romains, and Thomas Mann were writing epic, multigenerational sagas. They were to us the equivalent of Masterpiece Theatre. In fact the very first Masterpiece I watched was the Forsythe Saga. Later when I had perfected my English I read Somerset Maugham, Aldous Huxley and many others including two uprooted Austrians, Stefan Zweig and Arthur Koestler.
So one might say that those were the events and influences that shaped who I am today: Simone Klugman