Thursday, May 15, 2008

Itzik's sad miracle

(Nazis barreling through Europe encounter Gypsies. The man on the right - isn't that Jack Sparrow, a.k.a. Johnny Depp, from Pirates of Caribbean?)

I know Itzik from my days at Machon Meir, where he came to Shacharis and the Casdens, he and I did our work right after the 18 Blessings. Slightly Parkinsonian, his face weathered by the desert sun, it is hard to ignore him. He related to me his story once at a Friday night dinner at Tikvah Aldoobi's, peace be upon her (this is THE woman who refused the Rabin's order to shoot at Altalena).

Itzik's family got caught in the German-occupied Poland with only one asset: a kind acquaintance in all the right places that had arranged false ID papers made for the entire family. They lived as secret Jews in or around Warsaw. His mom worked as a menial labor or cleaning woman, and his father found steady work, resulting in the family eking out an existence somewhat above the level of survival. They lived like this almost to the end of the war, when the Nazis started to suffer defeats on the Russian front, and their anger turned ever more insane towards Polish gentiles.

One evening Itzik's father did not come home. Days passed by, his father was nowhere to be found. Itzik was desperate, and retraced his father's usual route homeward, looking for his father, asking people on the street, and for weeks on end, being utterly desperate, forgetting all fear of being found out and calling his father out loud in Yiddish, to no avail.

Time crawled on, and eventually Nazis in the chaos of defeat, snapped back at everyone who got in their way. They did snatch Itzik off the street, and outright accusing him of being a Jew, sent him to a concentration camp. I don't remember which camp that was, but after having spent there only a week or so, according to Itzik, the camp suddenly got an order to empty out and march westward.

Itzik remembers the endless march of death, when Nazis shot whoever they wanted to vent their vengeance on, or whoever appeared as straggling behind the rest of the prisoners. Itzik does not remember how many days they marched, but he remembers that suddenly a motorcycle with a sidecar drove up to him and a Nazi officer asked him in German adapted to Yiddish, "Hey, boy, what would you like most of all right now? Just ask."

Itzik already got used to the cruel and lethal mind games the Germans played on the inmates, and he felt like it's the end, and said, having in mind heavens, "I want to go home."

The Nazi officer said, "You can go now," and told his motorcyclist to speed away.

Itzik was sure that he was about to be machine-gunned, like he saw other Jews after being stopped by the officer. He stood waiting for death, and realized that the march has left him, that it was deathly quiet, that he was all alone on the wet dirt road. He was too much in shock to move, so he waited on, for some sort of an order. It got dark, and Itzik felt that it was already the dead of night, and he was freezing cold.

Then he realized that the officer was heaven sent to save him, and felt that it was OK to move. He spent nights sleeping in burned out farms, and eventually made his way home. There his mom was obviously overjoyed to see him, having been told by witnesses of his being snatched away. Eventually his mom commanded him to speak to the Jewish Agency, about going to Palestine, where his paternal uncle lived. Itzik left Poland, escaping the approaching Russian military by a matter of hours.

Itzik arrived in Haifa, remembering how traumatized and cruel children survivors that arrived with him were in all aspects of life: playing soccer, having meals, settling down for the night. Eventually finding his uncle, Itzik was invited to a simple weekday dinner. After the meal and minimal conversation, his uncle asked him, "Do you have anything left from your father?"

Itzik sad with sadness,"Just this belt that I am wearing, and nothing else."

His uncle told him, "Give it over, come on." Itzik complied, thinking that his uncle wanted to look it over, to recollect memories of their youth.

His uncle, however, told him that Itzik should go. It was obvious that his uncle was keeping the belt. Itzik got the most painful shock that equalled the shock of losing his father and living through the concentration camp and the death march. He never felt warmth ever again in the Israeli society. His mother eventually came to Israel, and she was his only consolation.

Eventually Itzik got some sort of hold on his life, and got an M. D. in Psychology, and worked in the field till retirement. He did not know exactly how to raise his children, he is divorced after years of dysfunctional family life, and his two sons don't know how to relate to him or each other.

He is also distant. Andrew Casden (see his art) was able to talk to him once, other than my conversation during which he related to me his story. I saw him at the Kanfey Nesharim bus stop, by the Angel's Bakery, and he did not want to tell me how he was doing.He did not look well. Itzhak ben Adam HaKohen.

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