Witek? Is that really you?
Holy cow! I would have sooner expected my own death than to see you!
Why are you standing there? Come in! Sweet Jesus! So many years!

Now I recognize you! But it was not easy with all that baldness.
Where is that little Jew with that black shag that no comb would conquer?
Is this the same Witek with whom we stole those sour apples from Maliniak's garden?
I remember your twisted mug when you tried the first one but anyway ate them all.
Even those with worms.

Where is that nibbler who invented all sorts of pranks, for which my mother spanked me? Do you remember when you stole a bottle of homemade plum brandy from your father, and we got so drunk that if it wasn't for me, you would have made a face plant all the way down from the attic?
How old were we then? Was it in the second grade? Don't you remember?

Do you remember how we watched that redheaded Helka from the first floor as she was being shagged by the hairdresser? You were as red as a beet. I told you it was nothing new to me, and that I had done it already!
And you were dumb enough to believe me and were jealous!

We were great buddies. Right?
Franek from the first floor sometimes wondered why I am always with you.
Because you were a Jew, and I was a Pole.
But you were just a friend to me, that's all.
I didn't even know what a Jew was, although my father always was against them.

My mum liked you too.
And this was a lot because she did not like so many others.
But she always said that Witek is a good boy.
Not like that Nathan, who always needed to show off. When they got a fridge, he immediately went out and told everyone whether they wanted to listen or not.
I saw the same fridge at your place, but you never bragged about it.
Nathan always had his nose turned up because his father was a grocery shop manager.
And you never bragged about what your mother was doing.
Do you remember you were with us for days because your mom didn't have anyone to leave you with?
My mother said that now she had two sons. One blond and the other dark.
But it was difficult to say which was which because they were equally dirty!

I remember you didn't go to first grade with me.
But in second grade, we were together again.
Your mother had to take you out of that Jewish school because you allegedly beat up the other children. Then we were together again.

Do you remember us going to that ruined castle to smoke cigarettes in the tower?
Do you remember Nowak, who caught us there? Those were the days!

But we are talking on dry mouths here.
Sit down. I'll bring something at once. This needs to be celebrated!

Witek! Come on! How many years have we not seen each other?
And you don't want a drink? Bullshit! You are not too old for it!
OK! I know that you are neither Pole nor a Catholic, but have you forgotten, damn you, how we drank together?

Do you remember when I visited you in the dorm?
And you said afterward that you will never ever drink a colored vodka again in this lifetime. Because you went downstairs to the cafeteria for bread, your stairs count did not compute, and you ended up with spine pain for a whole month.

Well, to good health! And now for the other leg!
Oh! Come on! One lives only once! You probably won't visit me anymore.
We are old duffers now and are closer to the hole than the stool.

How many years have passed since then?
We didn't see each other before you left either.
When we finished secondary school, you moved to another quarter, and our paths diverged. You went to high school and then to college, and I went to that gastronomy school. When you finished your studies, it totally stopped.

Well. Yes, I know you kept inviting me, but each time I wiggled out.
My mother told me that there was no point. No! Not because of it!
Only because you were that great engineer then, and I was only a kind of cook.

You know that I was never a bookish type.
I always had trouble with those damn letters. Do you remember giving me some crib sheets during class tests in the Polish language? I always had difficulties with grammar.
My father said that it was Jews who most likely invented grammar, so the Poles would have a hard time reading and writing.

Do you remember him? He died a long time ago.
He was much older than my mother was.
He did not dislike just you. He hated all Jews.
For as long as I remember, he always cursed the Jews.
"Jews this, Jews that". There was no evil they were not guilty of.
He even said once that it was a shame that Hitler did not finish his work.
Because now that plague that remained took over the regime security service and persecuted the Polish patriots.

I didn't understand why he was so much against Jews.
Because I knew that he grew up in a town where there were many Jews.
His family lived next door to Jews. These Jews were as poor as his family was.
He went to school with Jews, and apparently had some Jewish colleagues.
Until my mother told me what happened.
Once, when my father was drunk, he was fallen into a confession mood and told her the whole story. But when he sobered up, he said that if she so much as mentioned a word of this, he beat her dead.

Imagine that when my father went to school, he fell in love with one Fajga!
He was a whipster then. But his feeling for her didn't go away.
And it seems Fajga was also interested.
My father lived with his parents in the annex on the fourth floor, and Fajga lived with her parents in the front house, where they occupied half of the story. They were very wealthy.
But my father was stubborn and also good-looking. And if he wanted, he could be very gallant. When he finished school, he got a journeyman job and held onto every penny he earned. Then he would invite Fajga out. First for ice cream. Then to the cinema. And when they were older, he took her over to the theater.

He was cunning enough to become an acquaintance of Grinbaum, Fajga's father.
First, by showing an interest in some astronomy books.
Just imagine! My father and astronomy!
But he discussed it with Fajga's father because somehow, he discovered that Grinbaum was obsessed with astronomy!
My father spent a lot of money on those books. Only to have access to this Fajga.
Grinbaum was impressed. Such a young gentile and he deals with astronomy!
It looked as if he even liked my father and often invited him over because my father was the only person with whom this Jew could discuss the astronomical objects.

One time my father started talking with Grinbaum about the possibility of conversion.
As if he wanted to become a Jew. And when Grinbaum asked him what he knew about Judaism, my father said that he knew the Old and New Testaments.
My father thought that was enough, but there he miscalculated.
Because Grinbaum sent my father to the rabbi. But when the rabbi quizzed him, it turned out that my father's knowledge was lacking.

And that wasn't the worst part.
They asked him to prove that he understood the difference between Judaism and Christianity and to justify his choice of Judaism.
This was obviously too difficult for my father.
When the rabbi asked directly why he wanted to convert to Judaism, he spilled the beans about Fajga. Because then he would have a chance to marry her!
It was clear to the rabbi that this was not about true faith.
He told my father that no conversion could be considered.

And worse, he informed Grinbaum about it all! That caused a terrible uproar.
Grinbaum called my father and said that this was out of the question!
This would be blasphemy because his daughter could only marry a Jew!
And that he considered their acquaintance to be over!
My father was really pissed off, too!
He wanted to renounce his own faith and marry a Jewish woman. And these Jews, instead of joyfully welcoming another believer, treated his offer as an insult?!
Grinbaum said there was nothing to get excited about; they could settle this matter in a humane way.
What did "humane" mean?
It meant how much money my father wanted to say goodbye to Fajga!
That really got my father's goat!
Fajga loves him, and he loves Fajga, and this Jew wants to convert that into money?!
If so, Fajga is already eighteen, and they can do it without permission!
He slammed the door and left.

The next day Fajga was no longer in town! She was sent somewhere to her relatives.
After a year, he heard that Fajga had married an old, wealthy Jew.
Just before the war, Fajga with her husband returned to town.
My father tried to get in touch with her, but she was distant and didn't want to meet.

When the Germans invaded Poland, they ordered all Jews in town to move to the ghetto. Grinbaums, Fajga with her husband, and their newborn child also moved there.
It was known in town what was going on in the ghetto.
The selections had begun. The people were sent away. The young Jews had to work in workshops in the ghetto. The living conditions there were awful.

And then my father decided to try his luck again.
He was a buddy of a Polish policeman who stood guard at one of the ghetto gates.
This friend, in turn, was in cahoots with one of the Judenrat's officials and ignored the contraband and those who went back and forth through the ghetto gate.
It was through this friend that he learned where Fajga worked, and he sent her a note.

So, they met again and talked.
Fajga told my father that on the day she left town, her father called her into the living room, placed a 1000 zlotys bill on the table, and said that this was her worth ... to my father! And to spare her shame, her father arranged for her to move immediately to Uncle Moryc! That is why she was so reluctant to meet my father.
My father told her that all of this was a big lie! That he never forgot her.
That he still loved her. If she loved him too, he would take her away from the ghetto and hide her from the Germans.
Fajga said she needed time to think.

They met the next day. Fajga said that she talked in secret with her mother, and her mother discouraged her and claimed that she did not believe in all that love.
That my father's infatuation could quickly pass away, and he would leave Fajga to her fate. But Fajga wanted to escape from the ghetto, provided my father would also take her child and parents.
My father said that hiding Fajga's family was out of the question.
Even hiding just Fajga under current conditions was madness, which he chose only because he loved her.
After a long discussion, Fajga said that she would give up on her parents, but she would run away only if she could take her child with her!

My father wanted only Fajga.
Why the hell did he need someone's bastard, he thought.
And after all, the screams of a little child can be heard from kilometers away!
How to keep a Jewish woman and a child under such conditions?
And that's the way he explained it to Fajga.
But Fajga said she preferred to die than leave her own child to certain death.
None of them wanted to change their mind.

Finally, my father said there was a window next to the exit gate at which they were meeting. That Fajga had a choice. Either her child and certain death, or him and life.
If Fajga changed her mind, she should put a flowerpot in that window.
Then he would arrange her exit from the ghetto because he already had an understanding with his policeman buddy.

My father came the next day. The pot was not there.
The next day there was no pot either. And the next day. And the day after.
The deportations from the ghetto had begun. And hunger.
My father went every day to see if there was a flowerpot in this window. He still hoped.
Until all were taken away and only corpses remained on the ghetto streets.

Then he understood.
That Fajga loved her child more than him.
That Fajga chose to die as a Jew rather than to live with him.
That Jews preferred death to him, a Gentile.
Since then, he has hated all Jews...

...You know what? I'll fetch some appetizers.

Alex Wieseltier - Uredte tanker
Alle rettigheder forbeholdes 2019
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