Life strictly forbiden

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Translated by Alicja Nitecki

ISBN: 0853035024
Vallentine Mitchell Publishers

Life Strictly Forbidden is the memoirs of the well-known Polish writer, Antoni Marianowicz, told partly through interviews with journalist Hanna Baltyn, and partly through personal recollections of his family before the War and during the Occupation. The honest, in-depth conversations with Baltyn create a unique picture of the formative life of this influential author and the reality of living in Europe under Hitler. The Marianowicz family was wealthy bourgeoisie but at the age of 16, Antoni was forced to live in the Warsaw ghetto. After 18 months, he fled from the ghetto and managed to survive for three years (1942-45) hiding out in a small provincial town near Warsaw where, paradoxically, he and other Jewish refugees hid in a glass factory that belonged to the Waffen-SS.

 

Excerption translated by Alicja Nitecki
"Dialogue and Universalism" No. 6-7/2002

The death of my father

When I read Malaparte`s Kaputt immediately after the war, I was struck by the extraordinariness of his descriptions of the Warsaw Ghetto. Suggestively depicting the inferno of the Ghetto streets, he mainly stressed the uncanny quietness, "I went in... and was immediately overwhelmed by the deathly silence which reigned on streets crammed with an impoverished, regged and frightened mass. The silence was light, translucent" etc.
This was the complete opposite of my recollections in which a terrifying roar dominated. For many years, I thought that Malaparte, a writer not guilty of excessive truthfulness, was, even in this case, embroidering-perhaps he'd never crossed the border of hell on whose walls might have been written the words, "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here". I recently re-read Kaputt and the matter was settled in Malaparte`s favor. That letter-day Dante entered the ghetto with a companion: "a tall, young, blonde man with a thin face and cold, blue eyes". That "black-uniformed non-commissioned officer of a special SS formation-"strode through the crowd of Jews like an angel of the God of Israel". It was the sight of him which silenced the roar, and people were dying of fright, as though they'd seen Death. One rerely met uniformed Germans, especially "black", in the Ghetto, and to meet one certainly boded no good. A terrifying psychopath known as Frankenstein would come into the ghetto in order to kill off a score of passersby, each time. Neither did the others come with good intentions. Because of epidemics, entry into the ghetto was on "official" business only, they made the most of those occasions to privately vent their own murderous or simply sadistic instincts as well. Fortunately, there existed a kind of street wireless telegraph: passers-by warned each other by word of mouth. I can still hear the stifled whisper of an old woman, "Me hapt auf die Panskie-they're seizing on Pańska Street", which saved me from venturing into a round-up. As for me, I moved through the ghetto with great caution and, even without any warning, sensed when something extraordinary was happening by the behavior of the crowd, and also by its suddenly growing quiet. I don't know what threw me off my guard on Saturday the Fourth of October 1941. Perhaps it was the exceptional air of disquiet in the closed-off district. A threat of liquidation hung over the so-called Small Ghetto. In truth, they had managed to set the limits of the deportations at Sienna Street, but everyone was wondering for how long. In his diary for that day, Czerniaków noted: "Morning at Brandt's and Lewetzow's with Szeryński. At ten in the morning a meeting at the governor's about the small ghetto. News is coming in that the small ghetto has been saved. Yesterday Bischof said that Warsaw is a temporary refuge for Jews. The round-ups of streer peddlers has yielded small results". In taking a piece of the ghetto away from the Jews, the Germans had given nothing in exhange, so a population deprived of a roof over its head caused further over-crowding in already terribly over-crowded ghetto dwellings. As a result, the raging epidemic devoured even more people. In addition, the worst news possible was streaming in from the war front: The Germans were enjoying success after success, and preparing for a decisive attack on Moscow. It appeared that nothing was able to stop their crushing onslaught.
The weather that day was also not conducive to optimism. It was rainy and unusually cold for October, the first snows were supposed to come in a few days. Because of the low temperature, I was wearing a hat. Had I only left the house that day without covering my head...
I must have been deaf and blind to everything going on around me, because, walking down Leszno Street after work, I neither noticed nor heard that something very unusual was happening. My distraction almost made me bump into a young, uniformed German who was standing at the edge of the pavement to receive obeisances from passer-by. I wanted to take my hat off, but it was already to late. The German rushed up to me, knocked the hat off my head and hit me across the face two or three times, breaking my glasses. I was dazed, blinded, and covered in blood. Luckily, his next victim appeared, and in this deplorable state, I dragged myself home. I knew that nothing terrible had happened-I was alive, my eyes waren't affected, my teeth were still in place. It didn't make sense to see the situation as a loss of face, and yet I had never felt so abused and humiliated as I did now. I didn't improve matters that I wiped my face with a handkerchief. I should have gone in somewhere, washed and tidied myself up, but where? I can only say in my own defense that I wasn't guite eighteen years-old and, up until now, no-one had hit me on the face. Sore, still bloody, and unable to see much, I went home-where else could I have gone? Before I stepped into the hallway at 39 Chłodna street, I burst into tears. In those days, the staircase was the favorite meeting-place for the residents of ghetto tenants. The apartments were too over-crowded for guests to be invited over, so conversations took place most frequently on staircases where everyone could join in, or leave, at will. You could learn the latest news here-brought back most often by the Community workers-and hear the commentaries of the more intellectual tenants at the moment I appeared on the stairs, Father was standing with a few neighbors discussing the Sienna Street affair. Silence descended. In a voice choked with tears, I blurted out what had happened. Then my father looked strangely at me, and in a very quiet voice, as though talking to himself, said, "I'm not going to survive this".
I was taken into the apartment where I was washed and bandaged, and, with a compress on my face, went to sleep. At around nine in the evening, Father came quietly into my rook carrying a plate with acake on it. He put the plate down beside me and tiptoed out. Immediately afterwards, I heard my mother scream. I didn't need to be told what had heppened. Within seconds, the apartment was full of people. The doctor fromm across the wall was giving my father an injection straight into the hart. I knew it wouldn't help. A silence descended shortly, broken only by my mother's weeping. Father lay dead on his bed. Cigarettes lay on a night table next to him. I took one and lit it. That was the first cigarette I had in my life.

Then I went up to the mirror and loked carefully at my swollen face. I remember thinking in a pathetically childsh way: "Remember this day-the Fourth of October, 1941. It is the most important date in your life. Your father is dead because of you. Your childhood has come to an irrevocable end. Terrible times are coming, you got a taste of them on the street today. You are alone in the world-your father will be making no decisions for you. Look at yourself at this pivotal moment in your life".

Was I surprised by what had happened? Oh, no, I had lived through this moment in my imagination dozens of times, I knew it had to happen. Father had not been feeling well, he loked ever worse, ever older, even though he was only fifty-six. In addition to increasing heart trouble, he suffered from boils-a prevalent disease in the ghetto. Each evening, I rubbed him with creams of some kind and bandaged him-I felt like crying when I remembered the stout, athletic man of two years before. A few weeks before the catastrophe, I had taken a photo of him on the balcony. I took particular care that he wore his armband. He looked like an old man. I thought that this saddest photograph of my father would be an everlasting memento for my children and grandchildren. Unfortunately, it vanished together with all the keepsakes we deposited in the Law Courts the day we fled.
For my father, the stay in the ghetto, despite our decent living conditions, was a true disaster. He had lived his whole life being unusually active, always doing whatever he wanted to. Here, for the most part, he sat passively in an armcher. I liked to sit at his feet. I know he had dark thoughts, was always afraid for me, and wondered how long his financial resources would last. He once said: "You must know that I am looking after eighteen people", and then added, "When I'm no longer here, you absolutely must look after the family. Remember that". Another time, he threw out with feigned indifference, "I'm already an old man and wont't live for ever. If anything happens to me, be good to your mother. She's not an easy person, but that doesn't absolve your of the responsibility, understand?" I understood that he wandet to prepare me for his loss. Most often, though, he didn't say anything. We were capable of sitting immobile like that until something disturbed our silence.
Occasionally, he'd suddenly leap into action, organize something-the departure to the Weigl Institute in Lvov of aspecial emissary, for example, or a welfare activity, adding vitamins to the rationed bread. He'd engage in these things for a time, I even remember him helping to carry sacks of vegetables, and then his strenght would fail and he'd return to his armchair. Once-about ten days before his death-I had to go to the farmacy for some medicine prescribed for him by Dr. Jelenkiewicz. Sitting in the rickshaw, I played out my father's death in a remarkably realistic way, and when I come back felt unspeakably happy that I hadn't yet lost him. Our relationship wasn't always idyllic. I sometimes made him angry by going out ant not returning until just before the curfew. We'd reach breaking point, but it was have to live without people my own age. For his peace of mind, I should have given up my escapades, rare as these were. Now he lay dead on his bed ("It's lucky he died in his own bed, Aunt Pański said) and Mother wept ceaselessly, I shed not a tear. His brother showed up shortly, he'd been fetched by a policeman living in the area. Our neighbors left us alone and we sat in silence with Uncle and Aunt. Mrs Boryńska was no longer with us. In September, her son had sneaked into the ghetto ant taken his mother out almost by force. The day following his death, I delivered the sad news to our relations and friends. It's interesting that almost everyone was skeptical about the cause of the death. They reckoned it was another instance of underclared typhus, it seems that they associated the luxury of dying of a heart attack with normal times. My mother, in the meantime, had contacted with Evangelical-Reformed Community by telephone asking their help in burying Father in the cemetery on Żytnia Street. It was an extremely difficult matter, almost impossible to arrange. The kind pastor Zaunar, however, induced the community to intervenced with the Polish President of Warsaw, Julian Kulski. When we heard about the positive decision the following day, we saw it as bordering on the miraculous: we were permitted to bury Father in the Evangelical-Reformed cemetery, and, furthermore, to take part in the funeral on the "Aryan" side. I know of no other such instances in the life of the ghetto, although I can't rule out that they may have existed. One way or another, it was an example of unusual kindness on the part of the Community and President Kulski, a kindness particularly worthy of being remembered against the background of our situatuon at the time.
The funeral rites took place on Tuesday, October the 7th, in two stages: the first, in the Ghetto, consisted of taking the mortal remains out of the apartment and accompanying them to the wall, more precisely to the gate by Kercelak Square; the second-for my mother and me-was transporting the coffin to the "Aryan" side and takim part in the proper funeral at the cemetery. Of Father's funeral, I've retained disjointed fragments os scenes and conversations: a throng of people we knew and didn't know moving through our apartment, the cortege celaring its way down Chłodna Street, condolences-both routine and memorable. Among the latter, I include those offered by a man I never met before or after who introduced himself to me as a former colleague of may father's from the bank. This man told me a story about how a few weeks before his death my father had come to his house out of the blue, and laid a substantial sum of money on the table saing, "I heard you having problems", and vanished as suddenly as he'd appeared. Another firend of my father's held my hand for a long time whispering, "He helped us. Now all our hope is in you". I don't know what I said, I could think of nothing except what happening around me.
I remember the crush in front of the house and the five of us behind the coffin: me escorting Mother, Uncle Stefan, Uncle Stefek and Autn Franka. The cortege came to halt by the wall and the coffin was loaded into a waiting car. After a length checking of documents, Mother and I got into the car and left the ghetto for the first time in a year. The journey was short, the street was passed strangely empty and quiet. At the cemetery, I was struck by the restful peace and the sight of vegetation. We so much missed greenery in the ghetto that the October landscape of the cemetery seemed like paradise to me, and the funeral-Father's escape from a lant of stoney death to a land of eternal natural rebirth.
Although we had only told a few people, a fairly sizeable group of friends gathered at the burial, among them several who endangered themselves by their presence. We were pleased to see Aunt konarska, about whom we knew nothing other than she was living somewhere on fals papers, but under her own name. Maryla Roszkowska, the widow of a close friend of Father's, came up to us and asked whether we didn't want to leave the ghetto this very moment. If so, her apartment on Marszałkowska Street was at our disposal. Remaining on the "Aryan" side didn't enter into our caclulations for a great variety of reasons, of which the first and most important was Community's pledge to President Kulski. Nevertheless, Mrs. Maryla's offer constituted as essential part of our plans for the future. All these things together left me in a state of bewilderment-I remember not a single word of Father Zaunar's oration. I also don't remember the moment the coffin was lowered into the ground. It was all going on outside of me, I did not want to see anything, hear anything, undesrtand anything.
When we returned to the car wearing our armbands, the children on Żytnia Street, pointed their fingers at us and whispered, "Look! Jews!" There was no hostility in this, merely curiosity aroused by the sight of the officially condemned. I tkink that for people who were setting the world on fire we were pretty pitiful.

*
After this was published I received the following letter from Professor Klemens Szaniawski: "Dear Kazik, I read your account of your father's death in "Tygodnik Powszechny". I will refrain from commenting on it, because what is there to say? You might be interesed to know that this was not the only case of such a funeral. In the same year, 1941, I attended the funeral of a friend of my father's, Leo Belmont (Leopold Blumental) who had died in the Ghetto, and had been an anusual man from many points of view. Shortly, afterwards, his wife was also buried there. Perhaps I'll have the opportunity to tell you all about this. In the meantime, sncerely.... etc. Klemens"*.
The letter is dated the 23rd April, 1988. Unfortunately, there wasn't an opportunity to discuss this. All I can state is that I heard leter about occasional burials of Ghetto residents in Catholic cemeteries. I'm curious whether the Evangelical-Augsburg cemetery (where the Belmonts are buried) and the Evangelical-Reformed (where my father lies) were sites of other such burials at the time of the Occupation.

*Klemens Szaniawski (1925-1990) was an eminent intellectual, professor of logic at Warsaw University and one of the chief advisers of Solidarity. In the 1980s he was one of our most distinguished contributors and a member of our journal's advisory editorial board (Ed).

   

 

 

 

   

Antoni Marianowicz na grobie ojca
na Cmentarzu ewangelicko-reformowanym
przy ul. Żytniej w Warszawie

     
     

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