Natascha Jasny was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, on June 11, 1909. Her given name was Natalia, which she never liked, and finally, many years later, she changed it to the diminutive form, Natascha. Her mother, a beautiful Russian Orthodox woman, was a dentist by profession. She had wanted to be a doctor like her father, but after she fainted once too often at the sight of blood in medical school, her teacher suggested she switch to dentistry. Natascha had fond memories of her mother, Maria. She never spoke of her without saying how loving she had been toward everyone in her life. Maria met and married Nahum Jasny, a Jewish economist. Because marriage between a Jew and a Russian Orthodox was forbidden in Russia, Maria officially converted to Protestantism, and the couple was compelled to travel to Finland to become husband and wife.
Natascha's childhood was lived in the shadow of the Russian revolution; she recalled returning home from school on the day it erupted dodging bursts of machine gun fire from the rooftops. Nahum was active in the Menschevik Party, dedicated to non-violent opposition to the Tsarist regime. Once the Bolsheviks had taken over, he was persona non grata, and he, Maria, Natascha and infant daughter Tanja, were forced to flee to avoid imprisonment or exile to Siberia. Their first stop was Harkov in the Ukraine. There Nahum taught economics at the university. After about two years, the revolution, which had started in the north, moved south, and they had to leave. Their next stop was Tblisi, Georgia, where Nahum was an official in the local Menschevik party. About 18 months later, the Bolschevik forces were in position to take over Georgia. Nahum went into hiding for some months, and upon his return, the family pulled up stakes and moved to Linz, Austria, where Nahum found a job teaching at the University. This was an unhappy time for Natascha. She was miserable at school, and there was yet another way of life to adjust to and another language to learn – she had already learned Georgian and Armenian-- and the realization that their old life was over.
Luckily, the unhappy time in Linz was relatively short, and after a short stay in Berlin, the Jasny family made a move which, for once, lasted more than a few months. Nahum took his family to Hamburg, Germany, where all but Maria were really happy for the first time since the day the shooting had started in St. Petersburg.
Despite the uncertainty of the life she had led during the family's refugee years, Natascha remained a sunny, cheerful and warm young woman. She attended the progressive Lichtwark Schule, where she flourished. She remembered fondly one of her French teachers, who took the class on a memorable trip to Paris. She graduated at 16 and moved on to Hamburg University, where she studied Mathematics and Art History.
There she met the mathematician Emil Artin, known as Ma (short for mathmatics). They married in 1932 and soon had two children, Karin (1933) and Michael (1934). The Artins led an active social life that included many academics, artists and musicians. Though not a musician herself, Natascha enjoyed the chamber music that Ma, who played keyboard instruments and flute, organized regularly in their apartment.
Even before she met and married Ma, Natascha had developed a keen interest in photography. She photographed friends, family, landscapes, scenes in and around Hamburg and Amsterdam, and whatever else caught her eye. After they were married, Ma presented her with a Leica camera (the original Leica A), and she started developing and enlarging her film in a darkroom set up when needed in the bathroom of their apartment. She pursued this interest until about 1940. When she was in her late eighties, her third child, Tom, born (1938) in Bloomington, Indiana, rediscovered her photos. Thinking that a gallery in Hamburg might be interested in them, he contacted several; one, the Kunstgenuss Gallery, mounted an exhibit of her work. It was a huge success – so much so that a year later the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe bought all of her prints and, after a major exhibition and catalog, used them frequently in subsequent exhibitions. Natascha's typical response when asked about her success was, "In Hamburg they think I'm famous!" The Museum also houses in its collection of historic furniture a desk and companion bookcase Natascha designed to be built by a Hamburg furniture maker.
Once Hitler assumed power in 1933, the family's position became increasingly precarious. Natascha (half Jewish) and Ma (politically outspoken) hoped to leave Germany for the United States in 1936, but Ma was declared indispensable to the "Fatherland". Then, in 1937, in accordance with Nazi racial laws of 1935, he was placed in involuntary retirement from the university, and the family was able to emigrate. They arrived in New York in the fall of 1937. Some years later, to an acquaintance who quipped that the Statue of Liberty looked pregnant, Natascha replied "Yes, maybe; but when I first saw her I had been running my whole life, and I knew I wouldn't have to run any more."
Through mathematical acquaintances in the United States, Ma became a professor of Mathematics at Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana. There, Natascha had to learn English, which she did with ease, as she had an uncanny knack for languages. There were other bits of culture shock as well. The ice box was literally that, with ice delivered a couple of times a week. The furnace was a coal-feeding monster in the basement, and the selection of foodstuffs at the local market presented a challenge. The bread was, as Ma liked to say, just like cotton; cheese came in cellophane or little jars; with the exception of parsley, herbs were unknown. Natascha was a fine cook, and she met the challenge with alacrity, although there were occasional frustrations, such as the time she sent 9 year old Karin to the store for marjoram, and got a hunk of margarine instead.
A year later, Ma became a professor at Indiana University. This time the move was less traumatic, and the family, which had increased to five when Tom was born, soon settled in to their Arts and Crafts cottage in Bloomington. They resumed the active social life they had enjoyed in Hamburg, counting among their friends people from many departments at the university. The children took up instruments and Ma continued his musical pursuits.
Though classified as an enemy alien during WW II, Natascha was engaged to teach Russian in the U.S. Army Special Training Program, an irony that always amused her. Several of her students remained life-long friends. She also taught Russian at Indiana University. Natascha, ever generous, sent many Care packages to friends and relatives in Europe during and after the war. She was also active in the local chapter of Russian War Relief.
In 1946 the family moved to Princeton, New Jersey, where Ma had a professorship at Princeton University. Natascha also found a new job. She became Technical Editor of the fledgeling "Communications in Pure and Applied Mathematics" at what was to become New York University's Courant Institute of Mathematics. She commuted to Manhattan three or four times a week and held the position up to the age of 81, when she finally turned in her blue pencil and handed the journal over to her successor. She loved her job and the people she worked with in New York, many of whom became friends for life.
In Princeton, the Artins lived in a sprawling house full of chestnut paneling and ageing plumbing built in the 19th Century to house the short-lived Evelyn College for Women. It was perfect for Natascha's wonderful dinner parties, afternoon teas with the family, holiday celebrations and other gatherings that brought people together around great food and plenty of red wine.
Natascha returned to Princeton and New York, and in 1959, to celebrate her 50th birthday, she visited a friend in the Adirondacks, who suggested one day "let's go see Mark on his island". Natascha said, "sure", and that was the beginning of her romance and marriage six months later to Mark Brunswick, a composer and head of the music department at City College of New York. Mark was fond of saying "When I saw Natascha make hollandaise on a campfire, I knew I had to convince her to marry me." His place was a log cabin on a tiny island north of Whiteface Mountain, and this became their summer home. Her children liked to joke about the many guests Natascha invited to visit her there that the island was going to sink for sure. On occasion, the Brunswicks braved the Adirondack winter to spend a bit of time on the island, drilling a hole through the ice for water and burning wood in the Ashley stove, which could heat the cabin to tropical temperatures, even when the temperature outside was 40 below.
Natascha and Mark had a loving marriage, with many friends, travels, celebrations, dinners, family and (rarely) a bit of quiet time. The cabin in the Adirondacks had an old upright piano which Mark used in composition. Mark Brunswick died suddenly in 1971 while he and Natascha were visiting a long-time friend in London.
Natascha continued to spend summers on "The Island". There were more and more grandchildren and great-grandchildren who loved to visit her there. Friends were also in residence, and, although the island never actually sank, it seemed in danger of doing so on many occasions. She made her last trip there the summer before her death on February 3, 2003, at peace, in the kitchen of the house in Princeton she had occupied for over half a century.