Joe tells the interviewer what he discovered about the rest of his parents’ family. He mentions continuing anti-Semitism in Europe. Then he describes his last, and favourite, career change.
J.C: [Joe is asked about the fate of the rest of his family].
…because I found letters. I’ve got a lot of letters that I’m going through. It’s very difficult. It’s handwritten letters in Polish. So I’m working my way through some of these. But he had a, my father had a sister who disappeared in Warsaw. My mother had two brothers. The younger brother got married to a Communist and they went to the Soviet Union before the war; disappeared.
The older brother was last seen in the ghetto. He’d be a young man fighting in the ghetto. There were some second cousins and things. I have discovered a second cousin in Warsaw, who is my age. She had to work until she was about seventy. A professor in nuclear physics at Warsaw University, who was brought up with her brother by her mother, the father had been murdered, and didn’t know she was Jewish. They had false papers, a different name, Bernardski…name, a good Polish name…They hid in a village… They had been brought up as Catholics; the mother brought the two children up as Catholics.
INT: How did she find out then in the end?
J.C: At University she found out, after she had graduated. She found out because there was some professor who had the name Centnerszwer who was on a plaque that had opened, he was some… I don’t know… I’ve got a photo of the plaque. He was some famous person there at the university and had this name that she’d come across in the family and her mother would never tell her but then it all, she had to, it all came out. But she had to not tell anyone that she was Jewish because of, you know, what it’s like in Poland today, it’s not changed a great deal. There are big inroads and officially, of course, there is no anti-Semitism. But I came across it a lot because I was working with Americans as a tour manager and I came from Scotland.
It’s funny, people in a lot of countries don’t, they think if you come from Scotland there’s no way you can be Jewish. So I learned a lot. I mean I worked in Austria that was worse than Germany for anti-Semitism.
INT: You’ve certainly had a lot of varied jobs so which job do you think was your..?
J.C: Oh the last one.
INT: The last one? Absolutely.
INT: That was your favourite one.
J.C: I mean I was travelling on the QE2 several times, you know. I was on the Mediterranean cruise, Panama cruise; I was travelling on trains across Russia, bus tours, boats;
I did river cruises in Russia on cruise boats that went up the canals from Moscow to St Petersburg. I was travelling, meeting; I was always with people who were… Americans on holiday – great people. We were always having a great time.
INT: And having all those languages, it must have been much easier?
J.C: Well yes, well the Russian was the best because I got so much work. They needed a lot of Russian speakers. And tourists needed me more than if, say, I was in Ireland… Because I did tours everywhere just, you know, for a break. You can’t do Russia all the time; you would die! The longer I was with the company the more choice I had over what I did.
But in Russia, the tourists, they couldn’t speak the language, they couldn’t read the signs but I could do that; they relied on me. I was important. It was very nice. I got paid tips and made a lot of friends. And we’re just back from America staying with a big reunion of people who were on some of my tours, in fact, my first tour group ever in 1991.
INT: That’s marvellous.
J.C: We travel all over America. I have friends everywhere.
INT: It just shows you.
J.C: And I had never been to America before in my life until I started working with Americans.
INT: And you managed just by going to university to learn to speak Russian well enough to do that?
J.C: I did. I’ll tell you my first Russian course was with a friend of mine, who is now in Australia, and he worked at the city…there was a city college in Cathedral Street, I don’t know what they call it now.
INT: The College of Commerce.
J.C: Yes that’s it. Well he did a class there and I went to his class and I came out with an O-Grade.
That’s the only O-Grade/O-Level I ever achieved and from there I went to Glasgow University evening classes and it was a Professor Beermann, who was Estonian, who did language and literature and I got into a bit more there.
INT: It’s very impressive.
J.C: And in doing student exchanges and then going to work in Russia. I mean I worked for fifteen years in Russia.
INT: Do you think your Polish helped you? Did that make it easier for you to learn it?
J.C: Yes, Slav, because I speak a bit of Czech as well.
In fact I used to speak quite a lot of Czech but I don’t have the chance. Yes, very similar. There are all Slav based, old Slavonic or whatever you call it. But I mean I’m, I don’t, I can’t discuss anything to any great depth.
INT: Most people can’t even in their own language.
J.C: You know, uh huh, you know with a lot of these languages, I’m good, I’m fluent in conversation and everything, I’m OK. And I keep up my French, there’s a Franco-Scottish Society I’m on the committee. I keep up my French there.
INT: You said that you were held back by your primary education but it doesn’t really sound as if you were.
J.C: Oh I don’t…I was going from school to school where they did different things, where in one school you are printing and the next school you are writing. My writing to this day is not very nice.
INT: And does your wife speak languages as well?
J.C: No. She’s tried everything. She’s tried them all.
INT: And did she manage to come with you on some of your trips?
J.C: She’s…In fifteen years she only was allowed to come on two.
INT: Gosh that’s quite a lot, not a lot I mean…
J.C: They don’t, they don’t like it.
J.C: First of all I must have been the oldest tour manager they had. It’s a young person’s, single person’s job, and they didn’t want a tour manager taking a partner because they felt it would, it would detract from their work if they had a partner. Whereas in actual fact when I took my wife she was extremely helpful and sociable of course, and conversant, you know, an intelligent, educated woman was very helpful. So she came on a Mediterranean cruise with me. She got a free trip there as long as she shared my cabin, and I had a single cabin!
INT: Oh dear!
J.C: But I had a bunk. So I could sleep on the bunk. And then she came on one of my Russian river cruises. They were good. They are the best way to see Russia. You get on the boat in Moscow and you do all your tours of Moscow from the boat and then the boat goes up and everywhere it stops, a different day, a different town.
INT: You must have….
J.C: A different city.
INT: You must have had to learn about all these places as well?
J.C: Well you had a guide. No, I wasn’t a guide.
INT: You weren’t the guide?
J.C: No. So I would have a guide with me.
INT: Oh I see.
J.C: When you arrived in Yaroslavl there was a guide waiting for you.
INT: I see and did that guide speak English?
J.C: Oh yes.
INT: But you were there to help them, when he wasn’t there?
J.C: I was there. I had to know something about everywhere but not to the same detail that a guide would. I had to know everything because I had to know everything about Europe; I was everywhere.
INT: That’s marvellous.
INT: And also you would have to take care of people as well.
J.C: Well you… Listen …had to. Illnesses and you know, you had people losing things and getting their pockets picked. I had all these problems to deal with yes but generally it was all very interesting.