“BRAVE” [Collating Smatterings of Memoirings (5): From 1993, on 1939-40]

brave mummedad1939 meme

Readers of my Memoirings may find that I’ve written before about some of the events I mention in this piece from 1993. Yet it’s a different take, in a different context. & I can’t say that I actually remember any of it, I only remember different tellings of it to myself &/or others, some of it in writing, some more from My Mother’s Memoirs than from my own. & each telling is different…
(“Niemcy” [pronounced nyemtzi — the i short, as in hit], in the text below, is the Polish word for Germans.)

From 1993, on 1939-40: BRAVE

I don’t know if I went for the heroic from my earliest childhood because I couldn’t cope with the pain and confusion I had known since the first moment of heartbreak and sex-collapse and betrayal I remember, somewhere in transit between Warsaw and Moscow, when both my parents screamed abuse and threats at me in my cot when they caught me delightedly stroking my little hard-on and destroyed not only that moment’s sheer delight but also the security I had in feeling they loved me, and frightened me, telling me it would turn black and fall off, and I hated them, and I loved them, and I needed them to love me, and began learning secret wiles. I learned their loving me was not unconditional, which meant I could no longer be me. I loved stroking my little hard-on, now I had to repress. I didn’t want them to catch me again, and I didn’t want it to fall off or turn black. It’ll turn black, it’ll fall off, I won’t be able to do number two any more. I had to stop being me, had to become someone they would love, do the things they liked praising me for, not do things they would stop loving me for. I learned to watch their faces, listen to their tone in advance, to interpret, not to be taken by surprise.

The first most important thing I learned was to be brave. They kept telling me I had to be, and praising me when I was. When we left Warsaw in a hurry, and I had to leave behind all my toys and the new electric train my father had brought me from London for my birthday, which ran on long tracks on the thick carpet in my room, they told me we’d be coming back in a couple of weeks, and it all seemed like a kind of adventure. But after weeks on the road in the car my father had somehow managed to get on the very day we left after the Polish army confiscated the new car he’d bought only weeks before, and almost every day the German planes flying over the road and dropping bombs on the convoys of fleeing vehicles, and Father would pull up and we would run to seek shelter, behind road embankments, wherever, I decided I’d had enough, I wanted to go home. In a restaurant we stopped at I cried and cried. My mother talked and talked at me, but I refused to give up. Then she told me that my father was brave, and he was saving us from the Niemcy, and that she loved him so because he was so brave, and she told me that she was being brave too, that she kept wanting to go back to Grandmother, and she was worried about her, but she was being brave, to help save me, and she loved me, and I loved her and I should be brave too, it would help us all. I stopped crying, and decided to be brave, not as a wile, not for their approval, but because I understood, and I didn’t feel betrayed, didn’t feel their love was conditional on how I behaved or what I did, until that moment when I did, and then I also began my life-long course of self-betrayal, with all the consequent frustration and guilt and shame with regard to my own self-esteem, which were a constant companion whenever I wasn’t enthralled into a heroic story or any of the other options I’ve mentioned.

I was brave most of the time during our flight from Warsaw. Even when Father left us in Lemberg, after the Russians came and occupied it, and he wanted to get away from them too, and we were going to try to get to Lithuania, but the night we set out the car wouldn’t start, so we stayed, and a few days later he sold the car and decided to go on to Vilna by train, by himself, to see the lay of the land and try to get us across. Two weeks later two strangers arrived and said that Father had sent them to help get us across the border. We took the train that night, I and my mother and my nanny and the two strangers. We traveled all night until we arrived at a small city near the border, spent a night in a small hotel there, and next day started out on a sleigh towards the border. Father was waiting for us on the other side. Then there were Russian guards with rifles pointing at us all around us, and after some time we were imprisoned in a barn, with about three hundred other people. I was sick, I was running a high temperature. There was no medical care, no food, no drink. My mother had some condensed milk and chocolate in her suitcase. The Russian soldiers searched us every night, but they didn’t find any of the diamonds or gold pieces my mother had sewn into her buttons and girdle and into the lining of my fur coat and my quilt. One day when we were standing in the fenced enclosure outside the barn my mother gave me a piece of buttered bread and told me to eat it with the buttered side down so nobody would see that I had butter on my bread. I didn’t know how she obtained it, but I knew enough to obey and maintain secrecy. After a week we were released. My mother found a hotel room for us, and after some time made contact with other strangers who agreed to smuggle us across the border for a large amount of money. They decided to wait for New Year’s Eve, when the Russian soldiers would be drunk. It was cold, the snow was a foot deep, I trudged between my mother and my nanny, holding their hands, until we reached a sleigh outside the town. The sleigh could only take us so far, then we had to walk again. It had got dark, and there was a full moon. One of the strangers carried me on his back, because the snow was too deep for me. I didn’t like being on the stranger’s back. After some time I started crying. Dogs started barking, and our progress stopped as we all quickly hid. The strangers were angry at me, and my mother whispered to them, and to me, and I resolved to repress my crying. After a long cold time in the snow we started again, and this time we got across the border.

Collating Smatterings of Memoirings (2) AN EMBARRASSMENT OF RICHES, OR A FLY IN THE EAR

Collating upd wpic
[Only one piece today]

From 1985, on 1968, 1946, 1985, 1965, 1959-62, 1967, etc.

AN EMBARRASSMENT OF RICHES, OR
A FLY IN THE EAR

SOON THE MOON will come up, big and round, like last night, beautiful, from where the lights of the port of Akaba stretch in gleaming dotted lines towards the Saudi port whose name I don’t remember, to cast a growing sheen of beauty across the moving waters before me. I have felt closer intimacy with the moon. Lying under a eucalyptus tree on a hillside some thirty miles out of Melbourne some sixteen years ago, aged thirty two or so, about an hour after letting the small piece of blotting paper with the drop of LSD on it dissolve under my tongue, I saw its beams streaming directly at me, and opened my mouth to drink them in, and felt their power stirring in me, and female forms danced among the branches, inviting and inciting me to join the cosmic orgy, guiding my hands as I lay there straining in delight. Until I tripped off in another direction, as now my mind does, not remaining fixed on any memory or thought, for the sound of the small waves rippling onto this stony beach, incessantly repeating yet never the same, brings me to think of other beaches, and of scenes between my many visits to so many beaches since the first time I came to a beach, a ten year old war refugee, at Repulse Bay in Hong Kong. Not only scenes come though, also thoughts: still I wonder at this inexplicable response to beauty, in sight and sound, and again I ask myself what this remembering is for, and why I have this desire still, or rather again, to share my memories and thoughts, to write at last the book or books I have wanted so many years to write, so many beginnings, so many designs, so many subjects, so many styles, things I apparently cannot communicate in conversation, nor really want to say to any one particular person though there are many people I know and probably many I don’t that I would like to write them to or for, though I could not with any certainty now tell you why. At certain times I would have said I knew why, in my prophetic phases when I believed that what I was writing was important, that it would surely change the world. And there were phases like that even before I started with the psychedelic drugs. So much to tell, so much to make sense of, if one can. All those pages at home, all those stages I’ve been through, and nothing achieved if achievement is what counts, and if it is to be measured by products and income. The waves wash in, the waves wash out. The sea’s surface can be beautiful, and beautiful too is its feel when I swim in it, cool still in early May after the blazing heat of the sun at midday. Beautiful, yet deceptive, or treacherous: a few days ago some sea creature stabbed me in the foot, stinging me with some poison, sending me into excruciating pain such as I cannot remember experiencing, yet reminding me of what I had not felt a long time, the reality of pain. So many things reminding me of so many things lately, especially since last weekend, the seventy two hours of leave I was given from my month’s stint in the reserves here at Taba, the disputed region between Egypt and Israel, where I’m serving as a liaison officer. I had to hitch hike back to Tel Aviv from Eilat, many memories, how I crossed the Jordanian border here one summer night a few months after I got married, and the kibbutz I was a member of the first three years in this country, and… There was an eclipse of the moon the Saturday night I was back, my second son knew from the papers, we watched it in spurts, I remembered the first time I’d seen one, unprepared, in Townsville, Queensland, waiting for a ferry to take me to Magnetic Island on one of my lone excursions, just me and my small stock of hash, into the unknown. That same Saturday morning there’d been a phone call, a publisher’s editor who wanted to meet me, and we met and she wanted to know the story of my life, and telling her as much as I could in speech in the time we had, I knew again that I wanted to write it. How is still a problem.
“You have to know what it’s about,” she said. “Is it about being born in Warsaw and growing up in Shanghai and in Melbourne, or is it about idealism and kibbutz, or about drugs and messianic psychosis, or what?”
I thought she meant my life.
“I don’t know, but I think what it’s about is what it is, what it has been, all of it.”
But she meant the book. And how to put it together. I told her about how many ways I’d tried, never satisfied. And about the time I spent a whole day, burning hundreds of pages. Sydney, Avalon, in the house by the beach.
Book, life, so many flows, like these waves. “An embarrassment of riches,” someone wrote about me once. She’s dead now. Anne. At the Writer’s Retreat, 1967, University of New England, Armidale, New South Wales. Before Jonathan was born. Before my mother died. Before I tried the drugs.
I don’t know any answers. I have no opinions to push. Can’t say I believe in anything. Whatever I’ve learned, if I’ve learned anything, must emerge in what I do, whenever. I have no precepts to pass on to my sons, and much I would like to tell them. I think this is a very special time of the world, and then I don’t think that. Thoughts, like memories, come and go. I don’t know what doesn’t. I think what seems to return is really something else. Sometimes, like now, my mind teems with these things. Enough of standing here and letting them just flit. I’ll get a pad.
Soon the moon will come up. Big and round, from where the port lights of Akaba gleam. I won’t need it for light. A large projector behind me lights up yards of rippling sea and the long lines of quarried rocks spread along the shore. I’m sitting on a large rock, my back against another, writing pad on my knees.
Into the wash and slap of the wind moved waves comes the voice of my “partner” in this liaison post, in Hebrew.
“Are you writing letters or drawing?”
Even here people ask you. How many times have I heard such
questions, in how many places. How many pads.
“I’m writing. Not letters. Not drawing.” Some people can always think of funny answers. What is it with me, always trying to be close to truth?
Not drawing? Maybe I am, drawing what’s here, drawing on memory.
Writing, again.
I said I wouldn’t start writing again until I knew where the narrative would end. I know now where it’ll end. Round about here.
Here, where I brought my pad some fifteen minutes ago, after standing here for some fifteen minutes, seeing and hearing the beauty, feeling the wind, thinking, remembering, wanting, knowing and not knowing.

[Added when typing this handwriting]
The moon didn’t come up that night. Clouds hid it. And I wrote no more until I was home, away from the military atmosphere and routine.

Collating Smatterings of Memoirings (1)

[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(?)

SNOW
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>…

GREW UP
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

5. Crash
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.

INHERITANCE

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…]

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