blogitto ergo sum

August 28, 2011

#194 – from Schwartzblatt to Wagner [AKA My dad’s name isn’t Jakob Wagner part III]

Sigh .  Long procrastination time.  Apparently, the more I know, the harder it is, even if this blog post skips forward a bit.  I’ll go back to the more painful stuff.  Eventually.

This is part III of the following:

#160 – My dad’s name isn’t Jakob Wagner

#190 – my grandpa was Moshe Wagner [AKA My dad’s name isn’t Jakob Wagner part II]

[dictionary: saba- grandpa, aba – dad, pulke – chicken drumstick]

Last I left you waiting, my parents sitting in their “home office” and me all ears, ready to hear how my grandfather became my grandfather.

“What is your best saba memory,” I asked my mom.  “Saba riding his bicycle, with two baskets, apples on one side, and sweets on the other side,” she says.  “He always brought the best apples.”  Her voice sounds a bit dreamy.  “I don’t remember apples,” I am a bit annoyed.  “Watermelons too,” my mom still muses.  “I remember that,” I say and can’t help the wide smile that springs to my face. “I remember how in Yom Kippur War, when aba was in the army, he went all over the place looking for milk for Guy [youngest brother, 7 months old at the time].”  A long sad sigh clearly sounds on both ends of this Skype call.

“So, where did saba and savta meet,” I ask.  “In Germany? In Vlademritz?  Where?”

“In 1944,” my dad begins, “the War was over.”

“No,” I counter, it was over in 1945.”

“Ukraine was released by the Russians by the end of 1944, and this is when we left the forest [I have yet to complete this part of the story].  We settled in one of the empty Jewish homes.  I started going to school. I remember German bombers still dropping bombs on us.  The War was completely over in May 1945.”

He continues.  “In the winter of 1945, we moved from the Ukraine to Poland; to Lodz.  From Lodz we moved to WALBRZICH [See].

“In between, we also spent a few weeks in Czechoslovakia,” he adds.  “This is getting to be really confusing,” I sigh.  For one, I don’t completely trust his memory.  Then, given that he was only a kid, how can one remember all this after so many years of denial and repressing.  [Checking the maps however, reveals that WALBRZICH  was located 10 KM from the Czech border]

“Then it was Austria.  We moved around.  It was the fall of 1946, maybe September…”

“Then we made it to Germany.  In the winter of 1946, we settled down in Wetzlar.  We got a one room apartment on the 3rd floor.  It was the three of us and saba’s brother, Jonas.  It was the top floor.  And there was a staircase to the roof.  In the staircases that lead to the roof I had a goat. It was my pet.  I named her KuzuKuzu. She followed me around like a dog.  I would tie a rope to her neck and she would pull me on by bicycle.”  I can’t help laughing.  The image I have in my mind is too funny.

Saba brought her to me as a gift… she was tiny and he carried her home under his coat.  Every evening I had to carry her up the three floors.”

“Why did you call it kuzukuzu,” I ask.

“Well, koza means goat in Polish.”  I verified it with my very own personal Polish interpreter and was satisfied with the explanation.

“Wait,” I stop.  “You had nothing, it’s after the war.  What do you mean kuzukuzu pulled you around the camp?”

I don’t need to be in the room to see the “you are so stupid” look I know he has all over his face.

“I had a bicycle.  Saba had a pair too.  Both pairs made it to Israel with us.  And your cousins got my pair.  These bicycles were made PRIOR to WWII.”  I remember my saba’s bike.  Very solid.  And he took great care of them.  Bike that was made in the late forties and survived until 1978 or so.  Impressive.

There’s no stopping now.

“Once, she run away, with the rope tied to her neck.  Her rope got caught in the fence that separated between the Jewish camp and the American Army camp.  The Jewish Wetzlar camp was split to East and West.  It neighbored with an American Military camp.  I looked for her all over, running through the camp calling kuzukuzu…

Hearing my calls, she started beh-ing.

Before we left Wetzlar, on our way to France, we got one of the locals to butcher her. We got her back preserved and canned.  She traveled with us to France… got on the boat and made it to Israel.   we still ate her when we got to Israel, but not much, only when we had to.  I couldn’t.”

“Stop,” I burst as I keep typing trying to capture what he says..  “WHEN did saba enter your life?  This is what I asked about.  Kuzukuzu can wait.”  Weeks later I’m finally ready to admit that in a childish way, the story angered me.  And for multiple reasons.  Growing with a dad that won’t talk about his past, hide it, lie by omission about it….  And then plain refuse to share, visibly choke when you get him to share…  my assumption was that it was all bad, horrible, unbearable part of his life.  To have a pat, to have a bicycle doesn’t fit into this visualization of misery, having lost everything you own, your own father included.  Why wouldn’t he share these stories with us?  why didn’t he?  My saba was already part of his life, there was no risk of revealing the big Schwartzblatt secret, and yet he didn’t.  and I’m angry, was angry and now am getting over it, ready to share and continue.

My grandparents met in 1946, not sure in which of the displaced persons locations my aba went through since the war was over.  most likely it was in WALBRZICH.

here’s the story of how my saba become my saba:

“Grandma had to support herself since a very young age, as she was orphaned and depended on the favors of relatives.”

Post war, responsible for herself and my dad, she said no to no job, took upon herself whatever it took to support them two, started looking for a job as soon as they arrived anywhere. That independence, the resourcefulness and determination were admired by men [not clear of at that point she already knew if her husband perished in the war or not].  One guy was more proactive, more persistent than the others.  I didn’t like him.  He didn’t like me.

“I was a spoiled kid,” my dad admits.  “It was a Friday night and mom made a Shabbat dinner.  The suitor came for our Shabbat dinner.   I was expecting the pulke – it was MY part of the chicken.   To my surprise, disappointment, anger the suitor got the pulke, and I got the wing.  I remember it as if it was today.  That was his end.  No one can have my pulke!!! [and my mother too]”

My dad was about 7-8 years old at the time.

“what was his name,” I ask.  “Menashe, I think.”

“I guess menashe pulke is how he’ll be named from now on,” I say.

“Then your saba started chasing mom.  He spoiled me.  I was THE ONE.

I know he was married before the war; his wife delivered a baby boy, most likely he never saw his son.  Then he was recruited to the red army; his wife was sent to a concentration camp with the baby.  He served in the srudavoya armia.  At the end of the war he went AWOL and made it to WALBRZICH.”

In response to my question, my aba says impatiently, “I don’t know how many people were there.  Grandma was looking for a job, anywhere, anything… always a survivor.”

“Saba was not only courting mom, but he was also dating me.  He took me to the zoo, , brought me sweets…

When other men visited I didn’t talk to them, kept my mouth tight, no conversation.

They got married without me. I wasn’t at the wedding.  It wasn’t a real wedding.  Maybe they registered.  I don’t know.  I don’t think so.”

“And at this point, are you Schwartzblatt or a Wagner,” I challenge.  There’s a brief pause.

“There wasn’t a ceremony.  While we were on the boat they changed the names.  I remember saba asking me, ‘Vous vilste, Schwartzblatt or Wagner?’ [in Yiddish, what do you want Schwartzblatt or Wagner?”

And I chose Wagner

But I never called him “dad”. I called him Uncle.

I am shocked.  And somehow I vividly recall that my dad would always tease him, “Mr. Wagner”, Moshe Wagner”…  I truly can’t recall even once when he said “aba”.  It was saba said this, saba said that…  how good are we kids in repressing what we don’t want to know; what may hurt us, break our illusion of perfection, they way things need to be…

Everyone knew he is a stepfather, my dad adds, meaning in Israel.  But we didn’t.  And no one said a word.

My mom intervenes “uncle” in Yiddish is “feter”.  Close enough in sound to father…  I keep quiet.

How do you make sense of your ignorance, of finding out, so many years later, that what you thought, what you knew and what you didn’t want to know were all there, in front of you, and yet…  I saw nothing.

And so I say it again, with sadness and longing that never seem to fade, I loved my saba more than the three other grandparents; he was the perfect kind of a saba.  Thank you!


1 Comment »

  1. […] the importance that a pulke played in my life [see #194] the following clip is too hard to resist.  i know that most jokes about Jews and chickens focus […]

    Pingback by #195- what’s in a pulke « blogitto ergo sum — August 30, 2011 @ 13:08 | Reply

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