AUNT HELA

2022-07-26

AUNT HELA

And you came to visit me anyway. What did you bring? It wasn't necessary. I don't want anything.
Well, well. I know, and you know. It will help like a plaster on a wooden leg. The end is near. Doctors don't talk, but they don't have to.
I've always been that lucky. Look. It happened to me just when I found this old relative in America that wanted to take me.
I was so happy. At last, I will enjoy a little happiness in my life.
You do know nothing. Czarniak? You know very well that he beat me. Why didn't I go away from him myself? Who else would like me, an old woman? Why not with your family? As what? As a family member? And who was cooking the meals? Huh?
From where did I know your mom? From the pre-war time for sure. Just before the war, I visited my relatives in Krakow. She was there for an internship in the dressmaking workshop. How old was she then? Fifteen or sixteen. I was already married with a child at that time.
That's right. I lived in Podhale at that time. No. I became their aunt much later.
Don't you understand anything? Okay. My time is coming soon to the end anyway. I will tell you everything.
My family lived in a village in the Podhale region. There weren't too many Jews there, but apart from some pranks, we lived there like neighbors. When I was a young girl, I always wanted to have fun. In the village, they called me that loose Helka. My father was angry that I dealt too much with the goyim. But there weren't many of us, and we had to go to school, so he couldn't forbid me. One Jontek caught my eye. And he fancied me too. We even dated for a while. But someone gossiped it to my father. He went to Jontek's father, and it was over. They married me straight away to the old Zwancigier, and Jontek was set up with that sickly Aśka. Zwanziger was old, but he still managed to make me pregnant, and I gave birth to a boy. What happened to my son? I'll tell you later.
Zwanziger died when my son was seven years old. It turned out that he wasn't that rich. I had to move back to my parents. The only thing I had after him was a business part, which my relative had in Krakow. That's why I went there from time to time. And I lived in these conditions until the war started.
Jontek? Well, he was married. He did not have too much joy with this sickly Aśka. She didn't even give him a baby. She was so sick. And she died just before the war.
Then the Germans came. They started chasing Jews to the ghetto. I have never looked like a Jew. On the first occasion, I escaped from the ghetto. At first, I tried hiding nearby the village, and Jontek took me in.
My son? He came to me in the village once. But I told him to return to the ghetto. Why? Do you know what kind of child came out of marriage with an old man? He was mentally deficient. Before the war, it somehow got away, although living with such a child was difficult. But when the Germans came ... And he looked very much Jewish. What was I supposed to do? To risk that they will take me too? And on top of that, put Jontek in trouble?
It's easy for you to scrunch your nose right now. You don't know what it was like during the occupation. The feelings? Oh yes. I had feelings. First of all, the fear that they'll catch me. That some bastard in the village will tell the Germans. Because I wanted to live. Because finally, I could live with Jontek as husband and wife. And what would be the advantage if I went to the gas with my son, my parents, and siblings? As it was, I had a least a few years with Jontek.
Yes. That's true. This fear was with me throughout the war. Everyone in the village knew. But no one said anything. I was most afraid of Jontek's family. Because he inherited it from his father, and his younger brother was unhappy with the situation. Because if I had a child with Jontek, all his chances for inheriting Jontek's farm would go to hell. But fortunately, we had good relations with his brother and his family. The brother's wife was sickly, so I mothered their children. They always preferred Aunt Hela to their parents because their father was always busy with something and angry, and the mother was good for nothing. The most attached to me was their eldest, Anielka.
What happened? My bad luck again. First, this Zwancigier, then less than a year after the war, Jontek fell drunk from the rock and broke his head. He crawled to the village, but when he fell, only the priest had to be called to give him his last sacrament.
What was after that? I agreed with Jontek's brother that they would take over the farm for an annual fee and that I would testament it for his daughter. That's right. The same Aniela who visits me and invites me for Christmas every year. She and her husband run the farm now, and everyone there calls me Aunt Hela. Because Jontek was their uncle. They have always been nice to me.
Is it because they like me or because they are afraid I would make up my mind about that farm? What's the difference? It's the only family I have left. And now it doesn't matter at all.
You better go. I'm tired. And tell mum not to bring this broth more.
I do not eat it anymore, and it would be a pity if it should go to waste.

Alex Wieseltier
April 2020

Alex Wieseltier - Uredte tanker
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