FAJGA

2022-08-08

FAJGA

Witek? Is it really you? Holy cow! I would expect my death than to see you! Why are you staying there? Come in! Sweet Jesus! So many years! Now I recognize you! But it was difficult with this baldness. Where is that little Jew with that black shag that no comb could manage? Is this the same Witek with whom we stole those sour apples from Maliniak's garden?
I remember your twisted face when you tried the first one but ate them all. Even those with worms. Where is that nibbler who invented all sorts of pranks, for which I always got spanking from my mother? 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 fall from the attic and be killed? How old were we then? Was it in the second grade? Do you remember that?
Do you remember how we watched that redheaded Helka from the first floor when she had intercourse with our hairdresser? You were red like a beetroot. I told you it was nothing new to me, and I tried it already! And you stupid believed it and were jealous! We were good friends. Right? Frank from the first floor sometimes wondered why I am so much 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 made a big fuss of them. My mum liked you too. And this was a lot because she did not like so many others. She always said that Witek was 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 had always turned up his nose because his father was a shop manager. You never brag 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 the first grade with me. But in the second grade, we were together again. Your mother had to take you out of that Jewish school because you reportedly beat the other children. Then we were together again. Do you remember our escapades to that ruined castle and our cigarette smoking in the tower? Do you remember Nowak, who caught us there? Those were the days!
But we are talking on a dry mouth here. Sit down. I'll bring something at once. This has 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 not a Pole or a Catholic, but have you forgotten, damn you, how we drank together?
Do you remember when I visited you in the dorm?
You said that you would never ever drink a color vodka in your life. Because you went downstairs to the cafeteria for bread, you did not get the correct number of stairs and got pain in the spine for a month.
Well, bless you! And on the other leg! Oh! Come on! You only live once!
You probably won't visit me anymore. We are old duffers now and have closer to the hole than the stool.
How many years have passed 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 gastronomic school. When you finished your studies, it totally stopped. Well. Well. I know that you invited me and I never came. 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 good with books. I always had trouble with those damn letters. Do you remember giving me some crib sheets at Polish classes? I have always had difficulties with those grammar things. My father said that Jews probably invented the grammar so the Poles would have problems with reading and writing.
Do you remember him? He died a long time ago.
He was much older than my mother was. 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 has survived came into the regime security forces to prosecute the Polish patriots.
I didn't understand why he was so harsh against Jews. Because I knew that he grew up in a town where there were many Jews. His family lived door to door with Jews. That they were as poor as they were. He went to school with Jews. And apparently, he had some Jewish colleagues.
Until my mother told me what happened. Once, when my father was drunk, he came in a confession mood and told her the whole story. When he sobered up, he said she never would mention it. Otherwise, he would beat her to death.
Imagine that when my father went to school, he fell in love with one Fajga! He was a little kid then. But that feeling didn't get over. It looked like Fajga also could like him. My father lived with his parents in the backyard on the fourth floor, and Fajga lived with her parents in the front house, where they had half of the storey. They were very wealthy.
But my father was stubborn. He had a look. And when he wanted, he could be very gallant. When he finished school, he got a journeyman job and squeezed every penny he earned. Then he could invite Fajga out. First for ice cream. Then to the cinema. And when they were older, he took her to the theater. He was so sly that he got contact with Grinbaum, Fajga's father. First, about some astronomy books. Just imagine! My father and astronomy! But he discussed it with Fajga's father because somehow he knew that Grinbaum was crazy with astronomy! My father spent a lot of money on these books. Only to have access to this Fajga. Grinbaum was impressed. Such a young gentile and he deals with astronomy! It seemed that he even liked my father and often invited him because his father was the only one with whom this Jew could discuss the stars and the whole Zodiac.
Then my father asked Grinbaum about the possibility of conversion. That he wants to turn into a Jew. When Grinbaum asked him what he knew about Judaism, my father said that he knew the Old and New Testaments. Father thought that was enough, but here he miscalculated. Because Grinbaum sent my father to the rabbi. When the rabbi talked with him, it turned out that my father's knowledge was insufficient. But that wasn't the worst part. They asked him to prove that he knew the difference between Judaism and Christianity. This was obviously too difficult for my father. When they directly asked why he wanted to convert to Judaism, he said about Fajga. Because then he would have a chance to marry her! It was clear to the rabbi that this was not about the true faith. He told my father that no conversion could be considered. And worse, he informed Grinbaum about it! There was a terrible ruction. 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 considers their acquaintance to be over!
My father also became really pissed off! He wanted to renounce his own faith and marry a Jewish woman. And they, Jews, instead of enjoying another believer, treat this as an insult?!
Grinbaum said there is nothing to get excited about and that they can settle this matter like people used to do. What does it mean? It means how much money my father wants to stop that story with Fajga!
This hurt my father deeply! Fajga loves him, and he loves Fajga, and some Jews want to convert their feelings into money?! Fajga is already 18, and they do not need any permission! He slammed the door and left.
The next day Fajga was no longer in the town! They sent her somewhere to the relatives. After a year, he heard that Fajga married an old but wealthy Jew.
Just before the war, Fajga and her husband returned to the town. He tried to contact her, but she was distant and didn't want it.
When the Germans invaded Poland, they ordered all Jews in the town to move into the ghetto. Grinbaums, Fajga with husband and the just born 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. Everybody knew what would happen next.
Then my father decided to try his luck again. He was a friend of a police officer who stayed guard at one of the ghetto gates. This friend had a cahoot 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 day she left the town, her father called her into the living room, put 1000 zlotys bill on the table, and said that this was what Fajga was worth to my father! And to spare her shame, he arranged for her to depart 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 loves her. If she loves him too, he will take her from the ghetto and hide her from the Germans. Fajga said she must have time to think. They met the next day. Fajga said that she talked secretly with her mother, and her mother discouraged her and claimed that she did not believe in all this love. That my father's infatuation could quickly pass away, and he will leave Fajga to her fate. But Fajga wanted to escape from the ghetto, provided my father would also take her child and her parents. My father said that hiding Fajga's family was out of the question. Hiding Fajga under existing conditions was madness, which he chose because he loved her. After a discussion, Fajga said that she would give up her parents, but she would run away only if she could take her child with her! My father wanted only Fajga. He didn't want to risk anything for somebody's bastard. After all, the screams of a little child can be heard everywhere! How to keep a secret about a Jewish woman and a child in such conditions? And he told it to Fajga. But Fajga said she prefers to die than leave her own child to certain death. None of them wanted to change their minds.
Finally, my father said that there was a window close to that exit gate, they were. That Fajga had a choice. Either her child and certain death, or him and life. If Fajga changes 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 police officer friend.
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 next day. The deportations began in the ghetto. And hunger. My father went to see if there was a flowerpot in this window each day. He still hoped. Until all were taken away and only the dead corpses were lying in the ghetto streets.
Then he understood. That Fajga loved her child more than him. That Fajga chose to die as a Jew instead of living with him. That Jews preferred death to him, a Gentile.
Since then, he hated all Jews.
You know what? I think I'll fetch some appetizers.

Alex Wieseltier
May 2020

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