When the world is in chaos it’s hard to know where life will take you or with whom.
When my grandfather was a young boy his parents moved to Zadar on the mainland in Croatia. It must have been a bit of a culture shock for the boy from the small fishing village of Pag to find himself in a large and bustling town of Zadar. One of the new neighbours, just a few door down, were a massive family of thirteen children. The family Matalich.
Mother Matalich was alone with the children as her husband had run out a few years earlier and it fell to the older children to pitch-in and keep the family together. Where ever he had gone, he was certainly not loved back in the family who vandalised family photos to destroy any trace of him.
Mafalda (Matilda in English)Matalich loved to sing, a passion that was to serve her well in the future, was known to the Valenti family. Certainly Roberto, Mafalda’s younger brother was a fast friend of Tony, my grandfather’s younger brother by 6 years.
Time passed, my grandfather went to war and back again, the world changed and Italians living in Croatia found they didn’t have a home anymore. They didn’t belong in a Croatia that was only for Slavs, they didn’t belong in Italy as their citizenship was Yugoslavian. Caught in between politics and racism, they had not place to go.
My grandfather and his brother Tony found themselves in Germany of all places, in a town called Delmenhorst, just west of Bremen. Here among thousands of of other lost souls they were picked out of a crowd by none other than Roberto, Tony’s best mate from home. What a co-incidence! Not as startling as seeing the entire Matalich clan also in the camp, the same camp, hundreds of miles from home.
Eventually they would be moved on to Bremerhaven to an old submarine school there until a country could be found to take them.
I guess it’s not surprising that my grandfather and Mafalda would fall in love in that hopeless place. When you’re surrounded by the fearful unknown, who else do you turn to but the ones that remind you of home, when you last felt safe.
Oh, and her singing? During the war she had sung on radio, a genuine radio starlet.
Other people’s stories similar to this one can be found here at the Immigration Heritage Centre.