Yesterday, I reviewed Becoming Alice, Alice Rene’s memoir about escaping the Nazis and the horrors Holocaust as a young girl, settling in Portland, Oregon, with her family, and trying to find herself. Please give a warm welcome to Alice Rene, who is visiting Diary of an Eccentric today to talk a little about leaving the little girl Ilse behind and becoming Alice.
How to Become the Person You Were Meant to Be
I was a pretty unhappy kid. I didn’t start out that way. Actually I was the girl baby that my mom wanted so badly after she’d had my brother some eight years earlier. It wasn’t that she didn’t love him like crazy. She did. But she believed that old wives’ tale that claimed girls stayed closer to their parents than boys when they grew up. She even backed up her theory with a quote, “A son is a son until he takes a wife, but a daughter is a daughter for the rest of her life.”
Besides making my mother happy with my being a girl, I turned out to be my father’s favorite child. So I was in very good shape for the first six years of my life until that day when I watched Hitler’s troops march down my street in Vienna.
Everything changed for me and my Jewish family that day. I learned soon enough that we were not only disliked, but despised to such an extent that our very lives were in danger. I didn’t know then that WWII was about to erupt and trap us in Europe. The next couple of years my family fled to Riga, Latvia, and lived in constant panic as Hitler gobbled up one country after another in his quest to rule the world. The happy days of playing in Vienna’s city park, the Prater, were over. By the time we all survived our harrowing escape and settled in Portland, Oregon, I was a shy, introverted and frightened eight year old traumatized by a hostile world.
That mind-frame stayed with me throughout my childhood. I had no friends except for a neighborhood girl who was so awkward and homely that she had no choice except to join up with the reject that was me. My feelings of not being as good as any other girl remained with me through most of my high school years. To complicate things further, my mom and dad expected me to live by their old-world European rules; no lipstick, no boys, no dating.
That’s when I started to think about a way out of the quagmire I was in. I suppose I could have begun to fight for things like wearing lipstick, dating boys, going to football games and parties … all the things my American classmates could do. But I wasn’t strong enough to take on my dad. I needed to find another way. And I did. It didn’t happen overnight. But eventually I had the idea that I needed to get out of Portland and start making decisions of my own.
It wasn’t easy. There were lots of problems to overcome between my parents and me, but in the end I did leave and it was the beginning of my becoming the person I am today.
I think that if things are not going right for anyone, no matter their age, the first thing that person must do is work out a plan for solving their problems. That person must work toward changing things so as not to perpetuate the conditions that cause the problems in the first place. Decide to make the changes, then make the changes.
Thank you, Alice, for sharing your story with us. I think we all can learn something from it.
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