The young survivor
It took four childhood years for the scare of death to make its way to Rosina.
Soldiering in the battle for her life were doctors of a hospital set up against the invasion of Spanish Flu
Creating the Centena
The fact that my maternal grandmother survived the Spanish Flu was part of our family lore since I can remember. It was only when I looked more closely at the historical facts of the 1918 Flu Pandemic for my Centena research that I realised how massive its impact had been around the world. It killed an estimated 50 million people, by far outnumbering the deaths in the trenches and battlefields of the First World War.
Unlike the epicentre of World War I the geographic origin of the Spanish Flu remains unknown. It is a remarkable fact about Spain that the country did not take part in the war and therefore no censorship prevented news from spreading. Spanish papers were the first to report on the epidemic and so the disease took its nickname from that.
Having survived two world wars my grandmother belonged to a generation in whose lives war was a defining force. She was born in 1909 as an Austro-Hungarian citizen in Franztal, a settlement of Danube Swabians in Zemun, a town that had prospered at the crossroads of the Habsburg and the Ottoman empires. In 1918 Zemun was handed over to the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and eventually became part of Belgrade.
Born Rosina Braschel, my grandmother took the surname Obrovski when she married my half German, half Ruthenian grandfather in 1928. She had to change citizenship twice before she came to Austria in 1944 as a refugee. I knew her as someone from a colourful old European microcosm rich in languages and cultures. She had no higher education but spoke German and Serbian since childhood. When she lived in Austria her native Shwovish dialect gradually mellowed into a more standardised version of spoken German. Her story along with that of many of my relatives has always been proof to me that, like the concept of race, ideas of national identity are fluid, verging on the fictional
26 is a group of writers whose purpose is to inspire a greater love of words in business and in life.