Translated by Alicja Nitecki
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,
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
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