[At my life-partner Nitza’s & our three sons request/s, I’ve stared collating smatterings of memoirings I’ve written over the past decades, starting from those written since I got my first computer, an Apple IIE, in 1983, when we were living in Geulah Street, Tel Aviv.]
From 1983 on 1943(?)
It was snowing. Henry could see the flakes through the space between the pink floral curtains across the room from his bed.
“Mama, Mamusia! Look!” he called, though he couldn’t see his mother. She would hear from the kitchen alcove, where she’d be making breakfast, and sandwiches for him to take to school. Her answer didn’t match his six-year-old excitement, but didn’t dampen it either. It hadn’t snowed in Shanghai last winter or the winter before: it was almost half his lifetime ago since he’d last seen snow – in Siberia, from the train windows and at the stations where they’d stopped sometimes for days. Too long ago, and he’d been afraid it wouldn’t snow here this winter too. But there were the flakes, still falling as he
From 1984 on 1945/1939>…
I grew up mostly without a father. Not that I’m all grown up yet, at almost 48. I was nine and a quarter when he died (he was 40), so I’d done some growing up before that, but not much. He hadn’t been around much during the year before he died, because he was on his back in the hospital all that year, losing his skin. It had started with a small spot on his forehead, but by the time he died he didn’t have a spot of skin on his whole bandaged body. Raw flesh under the bandages. I visited him, maybe once a week, maybe more, with my mother, probably more at first, less towards the end, when it got to be a bore. I knew he was going to die. He knew too, so did Mum. I didn’t call her Mum then, only started that when we got to Australia, over a year later. She’s dead too, died in Melbourne 17 years ago. I’ll get to that. My father, though, hadn’t been around all that much even before he got that mysterious and incurable “oriental skin disease” as Mum said the doctors had called it. He used to be out all day, doing business he said and Mum said, but I don’t know. Could be, because times were hard, war time, and we were refugees. But I think he found time to have a good time too. Just an impression, no evidence. I’ve not spoken to anyone that knew him since I was a child, except Mum, and I didn’t ask her that question.
This was in Shanghai. We had arrived there in 1940, I think, maybe ‘41. My father had managed to get us out of Warsaw on the day the Germans invaded Poland. During the bombardment. I’ve seen shots of it on TV, but I have no memories of our escape, only some facts I’ve been told. And an image of a room in Warsaw, and of a street full of cars. The room was in our fashionable apartment, a large front room with curved windows over the street, sparsely but ornately furnished, pink wallpaper and a large mirror. And we visited Grandmother before we left, Mother took me, and there was a dark wood staircase running along a wall, and a large mirror at the bottom and the mirror was broken and someone, either Mother or Grandmother said it was bad luck, and my Grandmother looked at me and she looked anguished. I see her white hair, and a face like my Mother’s only with a shorter and rounder nose, and a black dress, a tall fairly thin dignified woman. In the pink room at home I think I waited alone for a while as my parents completed the packing and loaded the car. My father had managed to get petrol. There were many cars in the street. The next memory is the Soviet prison camp on the Lithuanian border.
From 1985 on 1963-67
I’d left the kibbutz, for which I had spent most of my adolescence & young adulthood preparing, I’d left Tel Aviv University, where I had come belatedly, 26 years old, after leaving the kibbutz, to major in Philosophy and English Literature, & soon after this meeting Nitza and marrying her, and most recently I’d left my job as editor of the Australian Jewish Herald mainly because I wanted to spend most of my working time & my mental energy on my own writing. I was still trying to write a great novel, or several, one centered on the kibbutz, one on the difficulties of writing that novel, one more imaginatively symbolic, but none of these projects seemed to be crystallizing: I kept trying, but no real novel seemed to emerge. The experience I was going into could not harm something that was not getting anywhere anyway on the contrary, it might even help. So there was nothing to hold me back: no commitments other than staying alive and supporting my family — my wife and my four month old son, Jonathan. I didn’t believe I would be endangering our survival as a family, or our love. I believed in my love for them, and in the, say. sense of responsibility that arose from this love. From what I’d read, many hippies were also survival conscious & were developing new, alternative ways of living. I wouldn’t risk what was precious in what we had, and I might discover more, to cherish more of that too. Nitza wouldn’t like the idea; she’d be frightened, more than anything. I would try to explain it to her, perhaps get her to try it too, though I would try it first before recommending it. But even if she objected, she couldn’t stop me. And she wouldn’t. I would do what I felt I had to do, and she, I believed, would full accept that.
For this was what I wanted: I was sure of it. Not that life was bad…
I would find a way to score…
From 1985 on 1945, 1967, etc.
WHAT I INHERITED, what has happened, what I’ve done and wanted, what I will pass on: what little I know. Is any of it not inherited? Fate? That I imagine, choose, do? That I ask sometimes, sometimes attempt answers, have at times felt certain of this or that?
What I inherited through the genes that has brought me to this my fiftieth year and this writing, this tale of can I call it love among the ruins, what I have acquired, how if not through inherited capacities, this long longing to articulate, this learned language: facts about these may emerge at any point.
What I inherited materially, when time came to inherit, was little enough. Can I not say I inherited the war which wiped out, for me, what might have been a more substantial material inheritance? Where is the line between what is inherited and what is not? Adolf Hitler, from whom I, among so many, inherited so much loss, yet so much less loss than so many, was himself an inheritor. What is the opposite of inheritance? Is inheritance all or part, is Inheritance the title of this book, or of but one volume, or a chapter?
When my father died, in Shanghai, I was nine. He left me his stamp collection. He had little else to leave, and that little helped my mother, though she had to go to work soon after death.
Fortunately the Americans had arrived, together with Chiang Kai Shek’s forces, to liberate Shanghai from the Japanese, and she was a pretty woman, and got a job in an American PX, even though she hardly knew English. When she died, in Melbourne, twenty two years later, my first son was three months old. She left us the small apartment she had bought with reparations money from Germany, which has paid
for a major part of the cost of the three successive places we have lived in in Israel. She left a few possessions, most of which we sold, and three notebooks, which she had written at my request, two of them while she was living with me in the kibbutz in Israel, and one after she came back to Melbourne.
to tell what of my past is not fantasy? The Nazi army invading Poland in September 1939. I was there, in Warsaw, three years and three months old. I could have been killed, the day the Germans bombed the capital, or during the years that followed, if my parents hadn’t got out of Warsaw the day of the invasion, travelling East. The U.S. Air Force bombing Japanese occupied Shanghai, where I spent most of the war years.
Another title I once thought of was Refugee, but though I started life as a refugee, I don’t live in refugee conditions any more, never did live in conditions like those of the Ethiopian refugees in Sudan, say (good BBC TV hour on them tonight), or of the Palestinian Arabs in the countries around Israel, which is where I now live, why and how is many stories.
In luxury, I said. It’s luxury to spend time writing this rather than helping refugees or victims of natural catastrophes and human atrocities. Help them to live, and then what are they to do, help others to live, and then what? A luxury to think.
During my teens and into my early twenties the 1950s and into the 60s I was a dedicated soul. Most of the time. I mean it. I once tried to write a book about that period, the title was going to be The Member. The sexual pun was intended, for I had trouble with that too during that period. But I was dedicated to a dual cause that of my own refugee nation (as I saw it then) and that of international socialism (as I saw it then.) As I saw it then, bad conditions would be transformed to good, and we, and the movement I was a member of, were actually participating in and contributing to the dual revolution.
[That’s all for now. & here’s a pic of me, sitting at our inbuilt “veranda” overlooking parts of Geulah Street, with our cocker spaniel whom we called Shtoot (we had two dogs, the other was a loving mongrel we called Timmy, I religiously took them for long nocturnal walks, often along the Tel Aviv beach that was later dubbed “Jerusalem Beach”) from sometime around when I wrote these pieces I’ve gleaned from files containing much non-memoiring writing…]