“I’m emotionally autistic…” (lines I just found from April 2012) [Collating Smatterings of Memoirings (6)]

Suddenly, the other day, I found this file. I’d already given up on finding more smatterings of memoirings on my hard disk (it turns out I haven’t done all that much memoiring), and suddenly this showed up. I’ve read it a couple of times now, and I think it adds some info & does a little more than that. It’s in lines (of “verse”), a form I often like to write in. Is it poetry? Maybe, it depends on how you define “poetry”. Is it good poetry? Maybe, & maybe some of it is & some of it isn’t. I don’t know if it matters. It’s another picture of me (as this brief intro is too). Was I planning to continue the story from where it breaks off? Possibly, I don’t remember. Will I take that point as the starting point for a sequel? Possibly… Oh, & I’ve also added two links to two previous memoirings…


I’m emotionally autistic, & like a hermit, she tells me,
& it’s probably, given my history, post-traumatic,
how I don’t keep up contact with friends past or present,
might not initiate contact with my sons if she didn’t
don’t wake up one morning thinking
maybe I’ll do this or that with a grandchild
(she no longer mentions how not open I am with her
or not interested enough in her… she’s no longer frustrated
about that as she long was…& I can see it & feel it, & know it’s true,
(though I think it’s also arche- and stereo-
typically heterosexual-masculine)
& am grateful for this light she has given me.
Though i’m glad when they come or when we’re where they are,
& gladly talk with them & do things with & for them when they want to,
i only rarely spontaneously imagine something to initiate with them,
& even more rarely will myself to.

120414 (cont.)
& only yesterday I was thinking displacement,
my so-many displacements since I was three,
not easily forming attachments or making friends
& when I did & then left them because we moved again
or because I’d broken with them,
hardly ever keeping up contact or even remembering them,
an early strategy for living with separation
ever since we left my loving grandmother in Warsaw
as the German bombs were falling.

yes, she said, & not having much contact with my parents before that,
both too busy with each other & their business & their socializing
(& I can’t even remember the carer I know I had all those first years of my life.

& yes the need was there, & I think I found in the youth movement a lifebuoy,
& again in later years, in the hippie times,
found a way to gather with some people around me,
& again in the Inyan, with only a couple of friends, true,
but visions of a global comradeship…

& I now think maybe it’s the autism
even more basically than the displacements
that affects also my feelings of not really belonging
to any one place, one country, one culture,
as if what I adopt & am adopted by I cannot adopt fully
as evidently I cannot fully commit emotionally
(which I stress, because where it matters practically I can and do)
not feeling fully Australian though Australia’s my home,
for more than a decade this third time around.

the first time I came with my mother when I was 10,
we arrived in Melbourne, Jewish refugees from Shanghai
I was by then no longer in any way Polish,
& from the time in Shanghai when I knew we were Australia-bound
I actually refused to speak to my mother in Polish
so that she could learn English quicker
(& have not spoken or felt Polish since, though I still remember
quite a few words, some opening lines of songs,
as of the national anthem, Jescze Polska nie zginęła,
“Poland is not yet lost”, well – it’s long lost to me).
I of course never thought of myself as Chinese, how could I have,
& the only group identity I accepted then was my being Jewish,
& though there was nothing of Judaism as a religion or of Jewish culture
in my parents’ lives, they had sent me to a Jewish school in Shanghai,
& my father spent the last year of his life
dying in the Shanghai Jewish Hospital,
as all the skin peeled painfully off his flesh
until he was swathed in bandages head to toes
with only his mouth & eyes & nostrils visible…
& died there on Yom Kippur (while I, 9, was praying
in the synagogue, because, yes, I tell the story elsewhere,
he also introduced me to the synagogue
after my parents found my rosary with its golden crucifix)
& was buried at the Shanghai Jewish Cemetery

& we lived in Elwood, St. Kilda, then again Elwood, St.Kilda,
then deep in South Caulfield for several years,
until at 23, after about a decade of membership & involvement,
belonging, to Zionist youth movements,
not one, but three, moving in dialectical leaps from right to left,
from the right-wing, militaristic Betar
(“The Jordan has two banks. This one is ours, & the other is too!”),
to the moderately socialistic Habonim
to the Marxist revolutionary-socialist Hashomer Hatzair,
including a year and a half of preparation for kibbutz living
on the Hebrew Training Farm some miles from Mooroopna
& some years of organizing and group-leading in the movement,
I boarded a ship bound for Genoa, hitchhiked for a few months
around Europe & then took ship to Haifa
to join a kibbutz in the Negev that the movement
had selected for the first Australian contingent
of which we two were the last, to join the kibbutz
because that was the ideal I then believed in & wanted to work for
more than to join the comrades who had arrived there before me
or rather fusing all these in the need to belong…
but almost three years later I no longer believed in that
& left the kibbutz, but not Israel, still feeling more Jewish than anything else,
and also thinking here’s a place where I don’t have to think about being Jewish,
I just am & so’s almost everybody else…
& all those years in Israel I couldn’t feel fully Israeli either,
I’d sometimes think of myself as Australian, but also felt I wasn’t….

the second time, I came with my wife of 16 months, also to Melbourne,
mainly to be near my mother, she wasn’t well…


Two life-changing choices in Shanghai: becoming a member of the Soviet Youth Club & of Betar

Apart from going to school, in Shanghai I also first became a member (& I feel like noting here that one of the first titles for a novel I wanted to write was The Member [ambiguity intended]; nothing came of it, apart from many pages of writing that I subsequently burned, another story I may tell one day) of two organizations that were in one sense very contrary to one another & in another sense quite similar; & in retrospect I have to say that my childhood membership in both of them had a profound influence on the course of my life.

004 sha r 03The two organizations were the Soviet Youth Club, & the (right-wing) Zionist (not that I would have understood either of these two concepts then) youth movement Betar. In fact, the second of the two photographs I have of myself from those Shanghai years is a tinted studio photograph of me dressed in my Betar uniform.

The first of the two that I joined was  the Soviet Youth Club, whose activities were held in the mansion & the expansive treed & gardened grounds of its parent institution, the Soviet Club, in a lovely tree-lined street in the French Concession. I liked going there.  By then I could already speak and read Russian. I started learning Russian because I loved reading, and until the Japanese takeover of the International Settlement towards the end of 1941 (after Pearl Harbor) I’d been going to an English-speaking school & had learned English, & was already an avid borrower of children’s books from a library near the school. When that happened I could get no more books in English. But I was already addicted to reading, though neither or I or my parents would have put it that way then. It was probably one of them who came up with the idea. There was a really good Russian library in the French Concession, which had been left alone by the Japanese because they & the Vichy government of France were already allies. So I could learn Russian. With my gift for languages it shouldn’t be hard. Much of it was like Polish. The different alphabet could be learned quite quickly. So one day I went to the Russian library, & came home with a primer containing the Cyrillic alphabet and the basics of Russian grammar, and a Russian-Polish dictionary. With these & some help from my father (he had spent some years in Moscow as a student & knew Russian well) it was not difficult. After a short while I was borrowing children’s story books, and we would also get a Russian newspaper everyday.

Every afternoon there was a news broadcast in Russian about the progress of the war, & surprisingly soon, & quite suddenly, I was understanding more & more of what was said. And I was also understanding something about this war that had brought me here, to China, where I already understood we would have to live until the war was over, and I was able to follow its progress with optimism. I realized that the Russians were the only ones holding back the power of the Nazi advance. With the adults I longed for the Allied invasion that would help the Red Army in its lone and heroic struggle against the monstrous Nazi machine. By the time I was really proficient in Russian, the situation at the Eastern front was turning. Every day brought another major achievement or advance, and the announcer read the names of the Marshals and Generals responsible for the triumph, and told of those who had been promoted or awarded the Order of the Soviet Union or other glorious decoration.  A twenty-one gun (or sometimes less, depending on the greatness of the victory) salute followed the announcement, and the orchestra played the Soviet national anthem, and this always excited me and filled me with emotion. I knew the names of many of the marshals who led the Red Army to victory in these battles, and they were among me many heroes then, as stalwart and heroic as Robin Hood or Sinbad. On the map on the wall above my desk I kept moving my little red flags on pins westward. And from then on it was a daily event, sitting by the radio, taking notes, marking the map, checking with the newspaper, and afterwards, sometimes, drawing & writing a one- or two-page newspaper in English and translating or simply writing in English the major war news from the Soviet sources.

It was probably at the library that I first heard about the Soviet Youth Club. Here is something I wrote maybe a couple of decades ago, when I probably remembered more about it than I do now:

The Soviet Youth Club. I go with my mother the first time, we see a movie there, my first movie, a big screen, in Russian, black-and-white, and then we go outside the barracks-like building to another on the right of the entrance drive, three-storied, white outside, red flags, and inside are large framed photographs of Stalin who is already my hero from Pravda, and then she takes me to a leader who signs me up and I can come afternoons whenever I like, there’s a games room and there are hours of organized games, with an instructor, a whole group of children running towards one of the group whose back is turned, and stopping when he turns around on a count, not to get seen moving, and hide-and-seek, and volleyball for the bigger kids, and other competitions, group singing, movies, parades, where kids march carrying huge red flags, and huge photographs of Stalin. Now Jesus was lost to me it was good to know the world had a fine father in the great Marshalissimo, and being in the Soviet Youth Club was like being part of a vast Soviet rear cheering the struggle and advances of the heroic Red Army. I felt very proud of this, especially when I was allowed to carry a red flag with an embroidered golden hammer-and-sickle in one of the parades. But I didn’t make any friends there. And I missed Joboy.

At some later stage I also joined Betar. I don’t remember if I first heard about Betar at school, from one or some of my classmates, or whether some friend of my parents had recommended it to me. I also don’t think I understood much of what it was about, I don’t remember having had feelings of wanting to go to Palestine to fight for a Jewish state with a Jewish majority on both sides of the Jordan, which I think I only learned much later was this movement’s declared aim.

Betar was in a large four-story building near the border between the French and the English Concessions. The house had many rooms, and on meeting days, different groups met in different rooms for some of the time, after an assembly parade held either in the large back yard or on rainy or colder days in the large hall on the first floor. In many ways it was like another kind of school, except that you went there once a week, and wore a uniform, and there were groups that were above school age. I liked the uniform, which was something like the uniforms the American soldiers I so liked and admired wore, though instead of khaki it was dark brown, & it had some azure trimming here & there, and adjacent narrow strips of azure and white on the folding cloth cap you wore over one side of your head just like the G.I.s.

The older Betarím (they used the Hebrew form when speaking about themselves, a member of Betár was called a Betarí, and the plural was Betarím, all accented on the last syllable) and the commanders of the groups wore azure ties, but we in the younger groups wore an azure scout-scarf trimmed with white.

I vaguely remember the large hall with a blue & white flag (not like what the flag of the State of Israel would be after 1948, but just like the Polish flag, a broad horizontal white strip with a broad horizontal azure strip beneath it instead of the red horizontal strip of the Polish flag) on the wall & large portraits of the movement’s three iconic figures (Herzl, Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky, google them if you don’t – & want to – know who they were), whom we youngsters may have been told about but I really can’t remember any of the content of the things we were told during our group meetings (though I can easily imagine what they were, based on memories of things I learned later, but see no reason to do so here). We also played games, & learned Hebrew songs. & also did a lot of parade drill, which I liked best of all. I really tried to be good at drill, and I was good at it. I wanted to be as quick as possible in my body’s responses to the commands given by our lovely brown-haired mefakedet (commandress would be the literal translation, so I may as well coin the word). All the commands were given in Hebrew. Some time after I joined we started practicing for a gala parade to be held at a soccer ground, to which all our parents, and functionaries of the Zionist movement and the Jewish community would be invited. I enjoyed the preparations, & remember especially enjoying the actual occasion when it took place.

I have no more actual memories about my time as a member of Betar in Shanghai, & when I left Shanghai in late 1946 I don’t think I gave any further thought to whatever stories I may have been told or ideas I may have been fed there, or even to the activities I’d enjoyed or to people I may have been fond of – until I discovered Betar once again, maybe three years later, in Melbourne, which set me off on the Zionist course of my teens & young adulthood, during which I moved progressively leftwards, from Betar to Habonim, from Habonim to the then-Marxist Socialist Zionist youth movement Hashomer Hatzair, and later became (for about three years) a member of one of its kibbutzim, Nirim, across the border from Khan Yunis in the Gaza Strip  – & then left the kibbutz, & moved to Tel Aviv, & went to the university, & met Nitza, & married her more than fifty years ago now, & we lived for several decades in Israel until we moved here almost 14 years ago (but I’ve mentioned some of these things in earlier pages, & they’re also all chapters for later; here I just wanted to point out that if I hadn’t joined these two organizations in Shanghai none of the later chapters of this story might ever have happened…)