Marija Patterson - 'A Woman's Journey'

Wednesday 10 - Saturday 27 March 2021 
(carried over from COVID-foreshortened March 2020 dates)


"These works are a selection taken from a body of work about an extraordinary woman. This is her story.

Janina’s journey to escape persecution and probable death commenced in 1944 when, along with a young child, she boarded a train in Kaunas, Lithuania and travelled to Frankfurt in Germany to take up a position as a nurse. 

My enquiry into Janina’s early years commenced almost 100 years from her birth in 1922, and when she died in 2018 I attempted to make sense of my understanding of her life. She was the only daughter of an affluent family and her early life in Lithuania was comfortable and cultured. When she was an eighteen-year-old University student in 1940, the USSR annexed Lithuania. The middle class was dispossessed of their property, detained and, along with political dissidents, exiled to Siberia. Fortuitously for Janina she was not home when her parents disappeared and she survived the first purge.

One year later, the German Army occupied Lithuania and the next wave of persecution began with an estimated 95% of Lithuanian Jews murdered - either at the hands of the Germans or local 'partisans'. In 1944, with support and paperwork from a Lithuanian Catholic Priest, Janina and her first born child travelled to Frankfurt where her employment in the hospital became her salvation until the end of the War. After the War, and not wanting to return to Lithuania, she ended up in a Displaced Persons Camp in Salzburg, Austria.

Two more children were born in the camp before marrying her husband of 68 years. In 1951, her family of five emigrated to Australia and arrived at Bonnegilla Migrant Hostel in north-east Victoria.

After several moves, Janina settled her family in country NSW and had four more children. During these years, in-spite of the many challenges (suffering from depression and isolation in a country of mixed cultures), she became involved in setting up social groups for other immigrants, educated her seven children in the Catholic faith and school system, and supported her husband in the management of his business. Janina was tenacious - a homemaker, partygoer (sang like a nightingale), fashionista (made exquisite clothes for herself and three daughter), teacher and an obsessive doll maker and collector.

Janina was my mother.

Her early life was privileged, the War and camp years traumatic, life and family in her new country secure. Because of her middle class background, she had high expectations of her children. She was successful in embracing Australia in her terms.

In April 2018 Janina died, letting go, her journey was over – she left a legacy of love and endurance.

I have spent an inordinate part of my life trying to understand her and acknowledge her life. My journey to know her is reflected in this work. To my siblings and me, her early life and war years have been a mystery as it was difficult to wean the story from her. What I do know is all I can tell with some certainty. She carried many secrets to the grave including the fact, discovered after her death, that she was genetically 100% Jewish."

Marija Patterson, March 2020