Boek: Wartime Lies
Author: Louis Begley (his first novel)
Uitgever: Ivy Books, New York
Eerste druk: 1991
The young Maciek is a young Jew living new Warsaw. He is not a normal child, he has problems with his health. He has something with his lungs and sees a giant at nights. There’s a help in house called Zosia. She ‘protects’ Maciek at night for the giant. Maciek’s father is a doctor and his mother is died in childhood. Tania live is the same house.
One week his grandparents come. Maciek loves his grandfather and makes many things with him. His grandmother wants his father to marry Tania according the tradition.
When Maciek’s fever has left, he’s getting better. He still doesn’t go to school, but is outside with Zosia in the mornings. In the afternoon he’s learning with her.
In 1939 Hitler is occupating Sudetenland and Kristallnacht happened. Tania and his father first making jokes about it, but later they’re very serious. When they talk about it in the living room, Zosia and Maciek aren’t allowed to be there. They consider to emigrate (grandparents and Tania).
The situation become worser and worser. Zosia must left the Jewish family, because the Aryen were not longer allowed to be with Jews. The Jewish family must enter their house, because it was need for the Gestapo. They went with their tenants to an appartment near the shop of the tenants. The father stayed in the hospital, where two Jewish doctors were killed by the German. Bern, a friend of Tania was a good help. He worked for the a Jewish organisation and could help the family a little. Tania could work for it too. The situation for Jews become very bad, now the had the armbands, the yellow star and the curfew. There was no school for Jews anymore. One day when Tania came home from work, she told that she had a German friend, called Reinhard. He was a good German who wants to help them. He already had helped Bern to find a way to get to the partisans. Grandmother said that Tania was wrong, because she thought that they would be killed like everybodey else, but Reinhard had told her that he would take care of all of them.
Polish youth thought they were entitled to the same respect of German. They, like Catholic youghts, beating Jews with caned. There had been rumors that a ghetto would be established in T. It become more dangerous for the family and Reinhard would personally hide them in T. They would be separated, but only for a short while, and there was nothing else that could be done. Grandfather must go first. The German go further and further. When they don’t believe the ‘Jews’ men (although they had a Aryan-card) they must let down their trousers. So they went to reconstructive surgeon, but he was unenthusiastic, there were two risks: the infection and for Maciek that his penis would not grow normal.
They go to Erika’s, the daughter of Reinhard, and to his house. They left the Kramers and Irena. The news came that all Jews in T. would be taken away. They could see out their windows the march of Jews to the station, Maciek tried to look for the Kramers and Irena, but their were so many people. Reinhard was right: by Christmas of 1941, T. had become judenrein.
Maciek often listen to the Wehrmacht radio. His favourite soldiersong was ‘Lili Marlene’. It did him think of real love. Maciek loves his grandparents and Tania and of course his father, although he had left him behind and might be dead anyway. He missed Erika, she was not in the Hitlerjugend, but had done national service. Her mother died in childhood too, so that was made her and him alike two ophans, brother and sister souls. At the time production was even more important than studies.
It would be better that grandmother stayed with Reinhard in T., and that Tania and Maciek were going to Lwów, where he had an apartment for them. When grandmother felt better, she would join them. Tania and Maciek could only walk in the evenings for their own security. Tania made jokes about the danger, but Maciek realizes that they were always afraid and nobody was afraid of them. They began to be more regular about lessons. Tania didn’t want me to go on making mistakes ni German. The Wehrmacht radio was reporting nothing as threatening for the Reich. Without any mention on the radio, the ghetto in Lwów had been emptied. Reinhard began to speak of concentration camps where people where meant to die. They wondered they were the only Jews left in Lwów.
Reinhard was woried about grandmother, both he and she thought she had jaundice. He was also worried about Bern, Bern had talked, this was very dangerous. The situation became very dangerous for everyone. One day Tania and Maciek were trapped on the street by a blackmailer. The blackmailer, called Hertz was surely just a poor Jew, trying to survive and to save his wife’s. He needed the money for buying a Aryan-card for his wife and Tania gave it him.
For Maciek birthday Reinhard had given him a set for making lead soldiers. On saterdays, Reinhard always come at nine o’clock to Tania. But this time he wasn’t still there. Tania said she was worried, but there was nothing to be done. If Reinhard would not come this day, perhaps Maciek could sleep in her bed. But Maciek did not want to think about her the way he thought aobut Zosia and Irena. Hertz thought they should leave the apartment the next day at the latest. The Gestapo might find clues when they looked in Reinhard’s papers. Their papers were not bad, but if Tania could pay he wourdl get something really excellent, real papers and not forgeries, for a mother and son. Hertz delivered the new papers, once again he advised Tania to leave the city. Tania wrote a short letter to grandfather, telling him they were coming. Maciek’s new name was Janek. Before leaving, two men came on the door. They ask about a lady with a boy. Tania said they had left a few months ago. But the men didn’t believe her and control her passport once again. They wanted to search the house, but they didn’t do it, when Tania gave them permission. After they had left, they planned to leave right now. It was far too dangerous to stay there.
Tania and Maciek arrived in Warsaw. They could stay in an appartment. The landlady agreed to take them on the condition that they stay no longer than a week. Tania wrote a letter to grandfather, they would met at the Cathedral. They had so many questions to him. They had to lie everywhere. For example why Maciek didn’t go to school: the reason had to be his delicate, congenital heart condition. A nasty problem in the appartmen where the the big-city begbugs.
Tania was searching for a new appartment, but to find one, it was necessary to have connections with Poles, and such connections were precisely what they wished to avoid. They must adapt, because there’ll rise questions as ‘Could they be Jews?’ On the third day after their arrival in Warsaw, they finally saw grandfater. He had changed, he looks older. He was proud of Reinhard and Tania and of course of his little son (who had grown). The trick for the three of them was to stay alive. Grandfather has a room in Mokotów, but he did not think they could move in with him. There were living two others: a lady with her son, he thought they were Jews too. He dealth in leader coats on the black money, because he needs money too. Grandfather said that if they need money, he knew a intelligent Jeweler who dealt in everything. Before leaving the church, they were praying and make the sign of the cross. But then he noticed two men like real policemen, he should never have allowed them to stay so long on that bench talkkking. It was bound to attract attention.
In their new appartment it was very ‘pleasant’. The landlady was very nice to them. Out of the window they could see fireworks out of the getto’s, the Jews there were burning. Pani Dumont was a cheerful woman. The lodgers became her substitute family. She would theach Maciek French. Maciek became sick again: he had bronchitis. On account he couldn’t go to school a gymnazjum teacher out of work visits him. First they listen often to the BBC, it seems that the Reich would fall. Because of bad behaviour Macieks teacher wasn’t very proud of him. That’s why Tania pick off his soldier collection. But when he was playing with Henryk, in his grandfathers apartment he share his collection with Maciek. One day when they’re togehter the Gestapo came on the door, fortunately they won’t be back. But Maciek dit not se Pani Basia or Henryk again, it would be to dangerous for both families.
Maciek would do his first Communion. Tania introduce him to the Priest, called father P. He first have to go to a catechism classs. Tanis stayed in the church until the lesson was over. Maciek learns that he may never break the Ten Commandments, but he’s a liar and a hyprocrite everyday.
On the radio is called: German blood would flow, is already flowing. Grandfather is nervous about money. When Tania thinks she bought a cheap piece of pork, but it appears to be man. Both Tania and grandfather thought it was dangerous not to have a reasonable supply of bank notes on hand. Then there’s a really big problem: the necklace Tania gave to Pani Wodolska was of false stoned set in gold-plated tin. That is an old Jewish peddler trick, and now the police is waiting for them. Then the day of Macieks first Communion came.
Short after his first Communion Maciek had jaundice., like his grandmother just before the end. The front came near Warsaw, it could be recommend in the streets. The A.K. was ready to strike at the enemy and liberate Warsaw. The A.K. was attacking the Germans. The Luftwaffe was bombing and burning Warsaw, the Germans cut of the water as well. It became harder and harder to get food. Tania’s worry about grandfather was extreme. To be in the streets was far to dangerous. Tania and Maciek went to a new, safer cellar. But the big question now was: were they more likely to survive a German or a Russian attack?
One afternoon, an A.K. officer came to speak to the people in the cellar. He said that the Germans could be expected within a few hours, they’ll have to follow their orders without arguments. When the Germans arrived, they must leave the cellar and walk in queues in the street. It was as in T., when they watched the final departure of the ghetto Jews, but on a vaster scale suited to the breadth of the avenues they were walking on and the enormous length of the column, the crowd was contained on both sides by Ukrainians, SS and Wehrmacht. The Ukrainians had dogs and beated people. The arrived to the Central Station. Other people told there was no food and water to drink. New arrivals like themselves had taken their place. Tania asked where they trains would take them. Opinions were devided. Some thought it was just a short ride to some forest where they would be machine-gunned; others talked of concentration camps or work in factories in Germany.
So it wasn’t a good sign. Tania traded her earrings for bread, chocolate, water and make-up.
It was very difficult for a woman and a small boy to eat in a hungry crowd without sharing.
With the water and the make-up they covered themselves to new people. Then they went to a German officer and asked him whether he knew this train was going to and tells him they must have the train to R. She said she was a doctor’s wife from R., about two hours from Warsaw; she had come to Warsaw to buy dresses and have their son’s eyes examinated. The officer believed her and would help to find a train to R. But when they sat in the train, Tania knew she had gone too far with her lies, they would pay for it (Gestapo).
Tania and Maciek won’t go to R., but go to G. There they met several people whom they’re going to live with. Now they live at a little farm. They work with the cows as a farmer. Later they have to help with the harvest of potatoes. Because the work it’s to hard for Tania and Maciek, they are allowed to do something else. Tania will sell bimber, illegal vodka, and Maciek will go with the cows again. Both feel free in G. Everyone says the war is going to end very quickly.
Then Tania is told that a refugee has come in a near place. She’s almost sure the refugee is grandfather. She decided to go to the place. If someone’ll ask Maciek where she is, he must say he doesn’t know, so he does. When Tania arrived, she heard she’s too late: the refugee is shot down a few weeks ago, so she goes back to G. When she tells Maciek about it, it feels like he’s alone on this world, only Tania and he are left, the family is separated as expected.
This was the worst day in their lives.
One day Nowak was convinced they were Jews. He had allready told the Polish police in W.; it wasn’t a question of money because the Polish police didn’t want to have anyting to do with Jews anymore. Instead they gave information to the Germans. The Gestapo would come to get them. Tania and Maciek have to run away from G. Maciek is very ill again and has to visit a docter, but he can’t.
Tania and Maciek came in Kielce. The Russians were only twenty kilometers away. Maciek was still very ill. He visited a doctor. The doctor listened to his lungs: the pneumonia was over, now he had pleurisy, he should take more and more aspirins.
They could stay in an appartment again. They must go in the cellar, because their had been thrown new bombs on Kielce, worser than the bombs in Warsaw. The glass in their windows were shattered. Then they heard an enormous explosion: the appartment had been hit by a bomb. Late the next day, the guns fel silent. They learned they were in no-man’s-land.
Because the cellar was destroyed, they had to move to another place. They find another appartment and when a lady opened the door it appears to be Pani Dumont. The recognized Tania and Maciek directly. Now they knew they were save.
Maciek and Tania go back to Cracow. Maciek has new Aryan papers and a new Polish surname. Macieks father has returned. He too has a new name. His father has met a woman: Pani Doctor Olga. Now, he will have two mothers. His father tells Maciek stories about the Urals and Siberia; Maciek cannot answer questions about the war.
Maciek is attending a gimnazjum. He has his first real friend, called Koscielny, he learns that Maciek is s Jew. Maciek has a dog, he names him Bari. They go to the park every afternoon when Maciek returns from the gimnazjum. Maciek is afraid of the dog, although nobody knows it. One day the dog is hit by a car and died. The truth is Maciek is glad the animal is dead.
One day soon, Tania will leave. Then Maciek and his father and Pani Docter Olga will also go away. He will never see Koscielny again or have news from him, because Koscielny will not know Maciek’s name or what he has become. And where is Maciek now? He became an embarrassment and slowly died. A man who bears one of the names Maciek used had replaced him. Is there much of Maciek in that man? No: Maciek was a child, and our man has no childhood that he can bear to remember; he has had to invent one. And the old song is alie. No matter how long or gaily the music plays, Maciek will not rise to dance again.
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