What are you reading, my dear? Doesn't it get boring after a while?
After all, it happened more than seventy years ago!
You were not born yet, and it was not sure that you would ever be born.

Who needs all that constant reflection on the past?
My mom, your great-grandmother, never talked about it, and neither did I.
And yet we survived.

My mother said she preferred to take our secrets to the grave.
Who needs such terrible reminders?
So future generations could also live the lives of the victims and pass the fear and hatred on?

What was so terrible that happened to us?
That we survived it anyway?
Are you sure you can handle the truth as it was?

I haven't much time left in this world, so if you really want to know so badly,
I'll tell it all to you.

Do you know that my grandfather was a Germanophile and my mom's real name was Helga?
Yes, everyone called her Hela. But she was Helga in her certificates.

As a little child, I remember the visit to my grandfather's place, where most of the books in the library were in German.
My mom studied German philology before the war, and before she was married, she worked as a German teacher.
Before I went to school, she taught me to read and write in Polish and German at home.

When we lived in the ghetto, she schooled me intensely in German because she said it would give me the best chance to survive.
Mom was a typist at the Judenrat and translated and drafted official German documents. My father worked in a kind of shop.

In 1942, selections and deportations began.
When they started with our district, my dad was ill and stayed home.
That day my mother took me to her office, but when we returned home, the apartment was empty.
They took Grandpa and Grandma away earlier, so now, mom and I were alone.

Mom started treating me like an adult, even though I was only eleven years old.
Probably because she had no one to talk to about her problems.

My mother overheard a conversation in the Judenrat, from which she learned that the so-called resettlement was one big lie and the people didn't come back.
Then someone told her there was an anti-German resistance group in the ghetto and that it would end badly.
That was the time when most people were deported from the ghetto.

I think it was the end of October when Mom panicked and decided to run.
After she came home from work, she packed a bundle of things and food, and then we were gone.
Mom was helping me to get over the ghetto wall, and, at that very moment, a German gendarme showed up.
Mom tossed him a gold necklace and clambered the wall herself.
The gendarme was so busy examining the necklace that he didn't even look at us.

We saw a church dome nearby and ran in that direction.
I don't know if mom wanted to ask for help in the church, but it was nobody there anyway.

We spent two days and two nights hidden behind the altar.
Nobody noticed us, but we couldn't stay there indefinitely.

We tried the neighboring houses. We entered one and climbed to the attic.
Mom decided we would hide out there for a while.
Someone lived in the flat below as the attic's floor was warm, even though it was late fall.

It happened during our second day in the attic.
We were sitting at a table next to the chimney when the hatch on the floor opened, and suddenly, we found ourselves face to face with a German officer!
Mom kept her head and greeted him in German.
The officer was so surprised that he just stood there and stared at us.
Finally, Mom told him to come in and invited him to sit at the table.
How she had so much chutzpa she couldn't even explain later.
She said that out of a thousand things that flashed through her mind, it was all she could say.

Mom introduced herself as Helga Winkler, which was true, and said we were in a bit of trouble. He started by addressing her as Frau Winkler and said he was perfectly aware of what kind of trouble it was.
Then he turned silent for a long time, after which he said we could stay there for now, and then he went away.
We stayed because we had no other choice.

He didn't show up again until a few days later.
Our food stock, some bread and a piece of old cheese, was just about finished when on the third day he opened the hatch and came in.
He brought bread and cold cuts and asked if Frau Winkler would make three cups of coffee because he had already eaten in the canteen but would like to drink coffee.

During the coffee drinking, he recited a poem about Orpheus or something, and my mom said right away "Rilke".
Then they started talking animatedly.
The conversation was too complicated for my German, but it seemed that both he and Mom became enlivened by having common interests.

At the end of the evening, he said it was the first time in the past two years that he got such an entertaining and intellectually stimulating evening.
Then he wished us good night and departed.

In two days, he came again.
Luckily, we had the leftovers of the bread and cold cuts.
There was a problem with the water supply, but it was raining outside, and Mom could collect some rainwater.

This time, before he and Mom started talking about literature, he asked what we needed for everyday living. He said he was often away from home for a few days and would like to make some provisions for us.

It appeared we weren't in the danger of being sent back to the ghetto or worse, but we were still very nervous.
And so, it went on that way until the end of the year.
They discussed Hegel, Kant, Goethe, Schiller, and many others. And I listened carefully.
Once I got a bit scared after he became angry with my mother when she mentioned Heinrich Heine.

My mother called him Herr Hauptmann and he called her Frau Winkler.
At the end of January, by some strange coincidence, after some shooting in the ghetto, they switched to Herr Heinrich and Frau Helga.

The German also started talking about other things.
He said that he privately did not like killing all Jews but that it was necessary.
He said the initial plan was only to expel them from the Reich.
The Jews, he declared, had always been an undesirable element, not only in Germany but also in other countries.
They were an unwelcome growth on the healthy flesh of any nation and sucked the vital juices of every country they came in.
Since nothing unites a nation more than the hatred of a common enemy, it was possible to unite Germans in their hatred of Jews.
However, getting rid of them posed difficulties.
Those countries, that were officially outraged about the treatment of Jews in Germany, were somehow very reluctant to accept them inside their own borders.
Then the occupation of Poland increased the Jewish problem by over 3 million species.
Their internment was associated with logistical and economic problems since they had to be housed and fed.
During the war, the provisions for the people and the army took a much higher priority.
That's why the Endlösung decision was made.
As a humanist, he had difficulty accepting that decision, but he perfectly understood that, for Great Germany's sake, it was the right decision.
Of course, it was not about the extermination of all Jews.
It would be necessary to have a certain number of them.
After the war, the Jews would be placed in an open-air museum where young Germans could watch them and learn about the times when they were a threat to the country.

He was not impressed by Hitler and his Third Reich cronies.
But in the existing situation, he thought Hitler and the Nazis were useful.
For him, Hitler was a temporary figure to mobilize the mob and the undecided masses of ordinary Germans.
After winning the war and establishing a new world order, Germany would find leaders worthy of the country of Schiller and Goethe.

These evenings lasted until the second half of April when he became angry and told us that the Jews in the ghetto had started murdering his compatriots.
He felt he must have been going soft to put up with them.
He left without even drinking his coffee.

That evening my mother went down to his flat. She came back very quickly.
It turned out that he told her to wash thoroughly first!
We had plenty of drinking water, which was enough for superficial body hygiene but not enough for a bath.
Mom took a hot bath in his apartment the next day and did not come back that night.

From then on, my mother used to visit him often, although he still came now and then up to the attic to have these literary conversations.
Anyway, something changed because he started calling her Helga, and she from time to time Heinrich, perhaps more so when they were downstairs together.

But he was himself all the time. He was straight up about it. We shouldn't ever think he owed us anything.
Helga was just a sexual object to him, and their relationship was never about any feelings. We should never forget that he was the master of our lives.
He was comfortable with the situation, but if things changed, it was clear he would have no problems dispatching us to our doom.
And, when that time comes, he would have no compunction in using me as he used her.

At that time, I was twelve and didn't know what he was talking about.
Sometimes I heard my mother making sounds through the floor, and I thought she was moaning as if she was being punished.
At times, he didn't come to the attic but shouted loudly: "Helga, Komm!" and she immediately went downstairs.

And so, in this manner, the fall, winter, and spring went.

He was often out in the field for a couple of days, and we could use his apartment.
These days were the best. He always ate in the canteen, so we had the daytime for ourselves.

The German and my mom continued to talk about literature.
He was an assistant professor at the University of Göttingen before the war.

But he could also speak about other topics.
Once he said that the German generals should not have allowed Hitler and his gang to take governing power and that the war against France and England before the defeat of Bolshevik Russia was a big mistake.
That the best thing would be to neutralize Hitler and get an alliance with the Allies against the Bolsheviks

Sometimes he used to stare at me and ask if my breasts were growing.
I looked at my mother and saw that she was close to crying. For any reason, I started to be afraid.

It affected me so much that I got a stomach ache and began to bleed.
I got scared and showed it to mom.
And she, instead of calming me down, started to shake too.
She calmed down after a while and said that Heinrich should not find out about it under any circumstances.

Fortunately, he had other issues to cope with because an uprising had broken out in Warsaw.
Now he was not in the mood for intellectual discussion during the rare evenings he could spend in our attic.
He spent most of the time cursing these insurgent idiots who, instead of fighting the Germans, should have joined them in the fight against the Bolsheviks.
They were stupid because they would only swap the German set of occupiers for the Bolsheviks one.

The uprising was bloodily crushed.
We heard sounds of fighting and destruction, and the Germans burnt the city to the ground.

Then he said that it was over.
One evening he put us on a sidecar motorcycle and drove us out of town.
He stopped at a forest and told my mother that our ways diverged here.

He looked at me for a long time. He mumbled "Schade", and turned to my mother and told her to watch out for me because the Kalmyks would not worry if I had breasts or not.
His last words were that when the war was over, he would visit us if he would survive.

Probably that is why, for the next few years, I would wake up at night screaming and would not really know why.

Perhaps now you can understand why mom never wanted to talk about it.

Alex Wieseltier - Uredte tanker
Alle rettigheder forbeholdes 2019
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