JOSEPH

2019-05-17

JOSEPH

Well, and good morning to you too!
Oh, yes. That's correct. Old Joseph that's me.
What? Are they telling stories about me?
Probably because they don't have anything else to do.
The cradle? Of course, I remember it. I am old, but my memory is still OK.
That Old Joseph paints the old cradle in different colors every year?
That's right. But it wasn't always like this. Only after my Kathy passed away.
She died five years ago. Something about a tumor. And she was gone rather quickly.
But she told me the whole truth about Asia before she died.
All that time she didn't say anything, and I did not ask.
The cradle? No, I do not have it. How come?
I don't have it because I gave it to someone.
That's right. After all those years. And I gave it away.
Yes. It is true what they say. I made this cradle 60 years ago. For Asia.
The only reminder.
Well. A lady came. Nicely dressed. One could immediately see that she was foreign.
She had some questions. So I told her about the cradle. I showed it. She wanted to buy it. But when she said she was a daughter of Asia, I just gave it away.
No. Asia never came back. When they released me from prison, she was gone.
Prison for what? Well, I got five years and was released after three.
There were such times. And I confessed. I was never good to tell a lie.
I didn't do it for myself. Everything for that little one.
Times were bad. And one had to make a living.
When I returned to the village, it was hard.
I was absent for nearly three years, and everything on the farm was deteriorating.
Kathy was only occupied with Asia. So everything was on me.
And there were some thefts. All the time something from our scarce inventory was missing.
First, they took some eggs, and then the chickens were stolen.
But when they stole the pig, I took a guard. Three of them came in the night.
Tattered. Scrawny as scarecrows. Jews. And they wanted to steal our only cow!
The first one got with the scythe. He didn't even make a cry. The other one got with a shaft. And the third one escaped. I was so angry that I threw that wounded one into the wagon and drove him to the police station in the morning.
They gave me a big sack of potatoes and said that if I find more Jews, they would reward me. And we just run out of potatoes.
Our only cow was scrawny. And its milk was just enough for Asia.
No. Kathy did not breastfeed.
I don't know. Asia was already there when I arrived. I was absent for nearly three years.
They enlisted me in the army and then the war broke out.
No. I was never in combat because the Germans captured the land before I was taught to hold a rifle.
I wandered around because our village came under Russian rule.
When I returned, I did not ask Kathy. I thought it was a Russian in play.
Because Asia was a bit dark. Such a poor little thing. But what a sunshine!
She was a small thing when I first saw her.
But when she looked at me and blinked with her eyes, oh, Lord!
No. God did not bless us with other children.
I'm not a kind of mournful man. Even when Kathy went to the other side, I did not shed a tear.
Only once. When I came back from prison and saw that Asia was gone.
Oh, yes! I went "hunting" with young Kobielak.
In scarcity time it was hard for anybody.
And these Jews were on the brink of death anyway.
Some of them even begged us to take them to the Germans.
Because in the conditions they were in, they didn't care.
Of course not everyone. So with those ones, we were quite harsh.
That one in the field, these three near the lake, and the two in the grove were weak as kittens. So the German gendarmes killed them right away. The one, who tried to resist, was sent somewhere with a group of some others.
Maybe he survived. Because they showed me some evidence.
They ordered me to sign it, so I signed it. I don't know.
It was in prison when they organized a course for those with a small sentence, I learned to read and write a bit.
No. They did not sentence the young Kobielak because he was already dead.
I stabbed him myself.
What was I supposed to do, when he told me that Asia was so dark that she is probably a Jew, and if we didn't share the money, he would go to the police station?!
When they found his body near the forest, it was said that the Jews killed him and fled to the partisans. And I was silent.
What? That it was terrible? Good Lord! Life was terrible!
Only Asia was a little sunbeam warming Kathy's and my hearts.
When Kathy told me that some relatives came and took Asia, I at once saw that it has broken her heart. Mine too.
That's how it was to live back then.
Only on her deathbed, Kathy told me that she found Asia in a pigsty. Totally naked.
But she smiled at her in such a way that her heart ...
Probably, a Jewish woman had left her there, because the day before there was a roundup with gendarmes and policemen.
She loved Asia more than if she gave birth to her. Me too. I think.
What? Is it late for you? Well. Then goodbye.

Alex Wieseltier
May 2019