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!
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.