Authors: Jeffrey Lewis
ALSO BY JEFFREY LEWIS
Meritocracy: A Love Story
The Conference of the Birds
Theme Song for an Old Show
Adam the King
First published in 2012 by Haus Publishing Limited
HAUS PUBLISHING LTD.
70 Cadogan Place, London
Copyright Â© Jeffrey Lewis 2012
ebook ISBN 978-1-907822-42-1
Typeset in Garamond by MacGuru Ltd
Cover image: Â© David Turnley/CORBIS
A CIP catalogue for this book is available from the British Library
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“The Jewish migration to Germany, like other strands in the history of German-Jewish ties, is taking place amid a complex web of issues involving emotional questions of memory and forgetfulness, destruction and rebirth, politics and personal fate.”
â The New York Times,
March 23, 1992
WHAT CAN I SAY
? They sent me an invitation in the mail, I received it, I looked. What's this, I'm thinking. The City of Berlin, Germany? Now you get an envelope like that, with the cellophane and the whole thing, you immediately think it's a parking ticket, right? Of course it wasn't a parking ticket, it couldn't be a parking ticket, I hadn't even been a foot in that city in fifty years, and believe me, my memories weren't too great from then, as you can imagine. So I open it and I'm already aggravated. That's where it started.
Believe me, if they hadn't sent me that envelope, I wouldn't have gone.
I could bring a guest, I could go anytime to fit my schedule, the whole thing, I couldn't believe how nice they were, the plane ticket, the hotel. And I must say, you know I thought the hotel, if they were bringing over so many people, how could it be such a nice hotel? But the Intercontinental Hotel, no less.
How could you complain? Room service was good, the hotel was good. I bought a new piece of luggage. And then I had to decide. Should I invite Holly or shouldn't I? The invitation was you could bring two people, what was I going to do, go alone? I didn't even think she would want to. Always with the plans, my daughter, so many plans, here, there, she goes everywhere. If you only have a month's vacation, an invitation from your old mother, I wouldn't want to impose, that's all.
But she was fine with it. “Oh Mom, of course I'll come, are you sure you want to do this, you can't go alone,” on and on. So that was that. We picked the dates, and the people in Berlin, from the government, you almost couldn't believe how nice they were, they had one small change with the date, to fit the other guests who were coming, and that was that.
So we went. Boom. Just like that.
I didn't know what to expect. How could I know, I was just going, they invite me, so I go. And I have to tell you, that city has changed. Everything is just like new there. Now I'm not stupid, of course I knew it would be changed, of course, it was bombed, it had to be changed. But still you don't expect that. I was looking for all the things that I could remember. The zoo was still there. That was good, that was nice. And Wertheim department store? Those people were Jewish, too. A lot of people, a lot of things from then, were, of course. That was the whole problem. I don't want to even get into that. I didn't want to think about it. Just go, look, say thank you, go home.
Well that's what I thought anyway. But you see this is what daughters are for. Daughters are for aggravation. I'm barely unpacked, she's already nudging me, “When are we going to go to the country? When are we going to go to the country?”
“What country? Why country? We just got here. What, it's a whole city, isn't a whole city enough for you?”
The problem was, she had seen a picture, no, movies, we had a movie, which she found, I didn't even know it existed anymore, I mean you don't keep things forever, I thought it must have been thrown out, why wouldn't I have thrown it out? But she found it, of myself and my late husband, her father, in the country. We had a very lovely country house in the country, on a lake, and it was near there that weâ¦
Well I will get to that. I'm getting to that. I don't quite feel like getting to that quite yet, but suffice to say, we had a very nice place on the lake and that was where we would go. My husband had quite a successful business, in mattresses and all kinds of bedding, everything to do with bedding, it was one of the larger shops in that area of commerce, and so we were fortunate. Martin loved the country. He would always talk about the fresh air, he had scarlet fever when he was a boy, I don't know if that had to do with it or not, but he always loved fresh air, we would go there on the weekend and he would stand outside breathing. You could see him taking big breaths. He looked almost like a giant, or one of these pictures at a nudist colony. It just made him happy to breathe the fresh air.
So anyway, that's what Holly was thinking about, that movie where we looked so happy. According to her, that is. But of course she didn't know the whole story.
I should correct one thing. I said Martin looked like a giant. But he wasn't really very tall at all. It was just the way he would stand outside breathing, he
The part that Holly did know, this is what I was going to get to, I'm just going to say it, this is where, when the Germans came, I mean the Nazi Germans you know, but by then it just seemed like the Germans, because that's what they were saying, we're the Germans and you're not, anyway, I'm sorry, I'm losing my point â you know what I tell people sometimes, at my age, I'm going one way and my mind's going the other. My point is, simply, this is where we had to hide in the woods. We hid in this place, we never even knew what it was, it was either from the army from the war, or hunters, we never knew, we had heard different things, but it was cement and only above the ground by about two or three feet, a cement box, that's just what it was like, a big cement box, you couldn't even stand up, and that's where we hid. One year and four and one-half months, to be precise. Then they found us and that was that. Our darling daughter Helena perished on the train. Martin and I somehow were survivors but I'm definitely not getting into that.
Who's to say who's lucky and who's not? That's my feeling.
And believe me, I've seen more than I need to know.
But my daughter, I'm talking about my second daughter, Holly, she never lets a thing go, once it's in her teeth, she never lets it go, you could hit her with a stick and she would be holding on for dear life. She wanted to know all about the country. I said to her, “Holly, we're having such a good time. Here, here's the menu, order some room service.” But no, her hamburger comes and still she keeps asking me. “Why did you keep it a secret from me? Who puts a film in a strongbox, anyway?” Oh and also, she wants to know why I'm having such a good time. I say, “Holly, it's not just me, did you see Mr. and Mrs. Bronstein?” They were with us in our van, they were nice people also, he was anyway, she seemed a little snobbish, from Montevideo, Uruguay, no less. How did Jews get to Montevideo, Uruguay? I didn't even know that. But they were having a good time, too.
“The other people, the Shulmans, they're not having such a hot time.”
“Well that's their problem.” What could I say? It was their problem. I do understand. Of course, you could be bitter, but what's the point of being bitter with
people, they weren't even alive then, they're just trying hard to be nice, to say “I'm sorry.” I accept that. I do. Who's to say who couldn't be in which situation in life? You never know.
Holly, shut up already. Of course I didn't say that. I don't talk like that to my daughter. And she did come all this way too, and giving up her vacation. She works too hard, really. I'll tell you this much about her: She's been living in Paris, France. Until recently she had a boyfriend who was quite nice, a dealer in art, things of that nature, but I don't think she really liked him very much. I wish she'd come back to California, not for my sake, absolutely not, for hers, I think it's good to live in your own country. Why? Because I don't know, but personally I think things are clearer, you always know where you are. She says she's going to, but is not sure when. She's a wonderful daughter, really. Never married. I can understand that. Of course, these days, nobody gets married, that's what it seems like anyway. I don't even bring up the subject of grandchildren. Why be heartbroken?