Secrets Revealed: Kathy Kacer

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My Secret by Kathy Kacer

Kathy’s novel, Stones on a Grave, is part of the forthcoming Secrets series.

My first language was Czech.

Growing up as the child of immigrant parents was not always easy. Don’t get me wrong. I loved my parents passionately. They had survived one of the worst genocides in history – the Holocaust, and I admired their strength, resilience, and courage. They came to Canada in the early 1950’s and went to work, trying to provide a life for me and my sister that would be better and easier than theirs had been. I admired them for that as well.
My parents spoke five languages each. They could easily and effortlessly move between Czech, Hungarian, German, Polish, and Yiddish. Their English, however, was terrible!!! I guess by the time they arrived in Canada they were older and too overwhelmed with other things to even try and learn a sixth language. They learned only what was necessary to get by. When I was born, Czech was the primary language that was spoken in our house. And so, it was my first and only language until I started school.
I remember arriving at school on those first days and feeling like a complete outsider. I could barely talk to the other kids and I couldn’t understand my teacher. This was not good! I was determined to find a way to fit in with my classmates – and to do it quickly. I came home and announced to my parents that from then on, I would speak only English and they would have to do the same if they were going to communicate with me.
I can’t even imagine what my parents must have thought of their young rebellious child. Of course they wanted me to feel like I fit in. But here I was, denying a part of my heritage, and denying a part of them! They struggled to comply with my demand. I quickly learned English, but in the process, forgot ALL of the Czech I had learned as a child. To this day, I barely speak a word of it.
I can’t even begin to tell you how much a regret that! As I was growing up I realized how much I loved new languages. I studied French, Italian, and Spanish in university. When I travel abroad, I love trying to communicate in the language of the country I am visiting. But every time that I struggle with directions in a foreign country, I am reminded that I once had a first language that I abandoned. As I child I thought it made me different. Now I think it would have made me unique!

Kacer, Kathy 10-15-14

 

Kathy Kacer has won many awards for her books about the holocaust for young readers, including Hiding Edith, The Secret of Gabi’s Dresser, Clara’s War and The Underground Reporters. A former psychologist, Kathy tours North America speaking to young people about the importance of remembering the Holocaust. For more information, visit www.kathykacer.com.

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