Dear reader, did you see my father’s eyes darting fire? It is here in this book, a photograph of him with a mustache. He was the one who saved us. He turned desperation into defiance. He carried us over the inescapable and he did it from a distance. His will to live drove us. My mother listened to his words, and I sensed him in my spirit. He actually willed us to live. His eyes never regained that mellow look, not until the war was over. He was polite with people, passing as my mother’s caring friend. He never gave himself away in any manner, except that his eyes burned. But people didn’t know his eyes were burning because he spoke so well and eloquently. He was an educated man. He drove himself for years to attain some standing in the world. He studied late into the night, after his chores were done and his meager living made. And then he obtained his law degree, and he was the only one from that small village to attain a profession. He gained much admiration from his peers, and the very few who survived spoke of him with great respect.
Our survival pursued a hero’s path. Where others walked inattentive, we trod with stealth and let vigilance make peril our prey. So my father walked among dangers in the streets of Warsaw.
According to my father’s story, which I knew nothing of during the war but heard repeatedly thereafter, my father was walking on a street in Warsaw, which he had visited many times before, except that this time the stalker approached him. He said to my father outright, “I know who you are and if you don’t pay me, I will report you to the Gestapo.”
The stranger’s threat released an instant response from my father so not a second was lost to hesitation. My father’s fierceness was always on the edge and it shot forth with lightning speed as he grabbed the accuser by the lapels of his coat. The accuser was sure he had hit his mark and the immediate retaliation shook his certainty and made him quake.
“So you know who I am,” my father hissed into his face. “Well, I will now show you who I really am. You see that Gestapo station over there? You will go there with me and you will see who I really am.”
In his hands now, as my father described it, was a shadow of a man, so terrified had he become of his own audacity. In an instant the tables had turned as he pleaded for his life.
“Please sir,” the stalker pleaded. “I made a terrible mistake, please forgive me sir and let me go.” And my father let him go. This was the first and last time my father was ever threatened in this manner.
My father devised a very practical plan concerning his lodgings. He rented a room and made it known that he would be working during the day, then he rented another room in another part of Warsaw, and let it be known that he would be working at night.
The story he told about his background was that before the German occupation, he had been a Polish officer. I imagine that such credentials would have been very favorably viewed by the Polish civilians, if not downright admired. My father had the stance and gait of an officer. He was 40 years old, straight and robustly built. He always held his head high and had impeccable manners. He also emanated an air of force and self-assurance. His nose, though aquiline, did not seem to present any problem. Such noses are seen among the “Aryans.” It was hooked like an eagle’s beak and then proceeded downward in a very narrow straight line. He grew a thick mustache to balance it and with his blue-green eyes and light brown hair; his did not bear a resemblance to the stereotype of a Jewish face.
My father took dangerous chances. His passion for my mother, as well as his natural needs, drove him to the limit. He would induce her to meet him in some part of Warsaw, where he would lead her to the men’s public toilet and, positioning her in such a way that her feet could not be seen, connected with her in longing and loneliness, and for a few brief moments absorbed the love that would keep him steadfast for another lengthy interval.
This was told to me by my mother during our reminiscing talks after the war and long after my father had gone from this world. When my mother told me this, she did not say it calmly. She said it as a distraught confession, of the ends he had her go to. She herself, who all of her married life was attracted to his passionate nature, was too reserved to ever admit her own needs. Her needs revealed themselves in the pleased way she accepted his affection.
My father was a practical man. He did not delve into his inner self. He dealt with issues at hand, and his analytical abilities of people revolved around a shrewd, matter-of-fact attempt at obtaining his goal. He was therefore totally at a loss and bewildered when one night he had a very vivid dream. He dreamt, as he related it to us, always with the same fearful dismay, that he was watching out of the window of his room when he saw a man from his building being escorted by two Gestapo men to a waiting car. The man appeared to have been taken into custody.
The concreteness of this dream was disturbing enough, but what happened next truly shocked him. One day, not too long after, while he was observing the ongoing events outside his window, he saw this very man, whose face he recognized from his dream, being escorted in the same fashion by two Gestapo men.
Whenever in the future we or his friends heard this story, we shook our perplexed heads at the frightening mystery of it all.
How do people endure such imminent terrors? How do you fall asleep without the aid of a drug, dreading the potential knock on the door? I had my fantasy world, but what did my father have? An answer immediately presents itself: he had his battle-ready guard, his quick, shrewd, articulate tongue, and his well-mannered charm. I believe my father created an aura around himself so that people respected and admired him for that glow.
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