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Authors: Marie Jalowicz Simon

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I couldn’t hear what he and Felicitas were discussing, but afterwards I realised that she had sold me to him for fifteen marks. She wanted twenty, he offered ten, and they split the difference. Before I left the bar with him, Felicitas poured him another beer – he was a regular customer – and told me to go into the back room with her for a moment. There she told me the story she had served up to him: I was an old friend of hers, I had a husband at the front, and was living with my in-laws. My relationship with them, she told me, had become so unbearable that I had asked her to put me up somewhere, anywhere. She also confided, in an undertone, that Karl Galecki, the ‘rubber director’, was a Nazi whose fanaticism bordered on derangement.

Then we set off. It was so icy cold outside that it took our breath away. He offered me his arm; we did not say a word to each other.

The snow had frozen over and was glittering brightly. The moon was nearly full. I looked up at the sky: the Man in the Moon showed in gigantic proportions, a podgy face with a nasty grin. I felt desperately unhappy. Dogs can at least howl at the moon; I mustn’t even do that.

Then I pulled myself together, thought of my parents and spoke to them silently in my mind. You needn’t worry about me, I told them, not in the least, your upbringing has left a deep impression on me. What I’m going through now has not the faintest influence on my mind or my development. I have to survive it, that’s all. The idea comforted me a little.

Marie Jalowicz in 1942, aged twenty
.

The rubber director’s home was not far from the bar, but he had such severe difficulty in walking that we made slow progress. Finally, we were outside a large building, with an arched entrance leading to a yard. The long, hut-like structure where he lived stood there, and a little further off was a second hut which was his workplace.

He ran the beam of a torch uncertainly over the door, looking for the keyhole – blackout restrictions were in force. I saw the nameplate beside the bell. Then I made my first mistake; to overcome my terrible fear I tried a touch of humour: I gave him a mock bow and said, ‘Good evening, Herr Galezki.’

He stopped short. I was obviously the first person ever to have called him anything but ‘Galekki’. But how was it that I knew the right way to pronounce a Polish ‘c’? To explain that, I had to think up a lie quickly: a Herr Galecki used to live opposite us in my childhood, I said, a Pole who insisted on the proper pronunciation of his surname as ‘Galezki’. The rubber director promptly insisted on more information: could this man be a relation of his, what was his job? And so on and so forth.

Then we went inside the hut. He lived here alone; his wife, he told me, stammering, had left him because she didn’t want to live with a cripple. He had spent years of his life in hospitals and sanatoriums. And now, living here, he indulged in the passion that helped him to endure his loneliness: his fish. The walls of the long room were covered to left and right by aquariums. Here and there a gap between them left room for a piece of furniture, but on the whole the place was devoted to fish. I asked him how many he had. There were far more than he could count by now, an astonishingly wide variety of species.

Then he told me at length, and struggling again and again to get out the individual words, that he had his own fixed routine and wasn’t going to change it. I reacted with great understanding. ‘Why, of course you go to your regular bar every evening. We’re joining forces, but we won’t disturb one another,’ I reassured him, adding, ‘And of course you’ll be eating your midday meal with your mother as usual.’ We addressed each other by the informal
du
pronoun from the first, in the easy, spontaneous way of the bar-frequenting classes.

His bed stood at the back of the long hut where he lived, among the aquariums, and there was a sofa at the front on which I was to sleep. He showed me where to find a blanket, pillows and sheets.

Even without Felicitas, I would soon have realised that he was a fanatical Nazi. He proudly told me how, while he was in a sanatorium, he had made a matchstick model of Marienburg, 
*
dedicating it to the Führer. He asked me to guess how many matchsticks he had used. I guessed some very high figure, but of course it was nothing like high enough. He happily corrected me, and showed me a couple of newspaper cuttings praising this little miracle, with pictures of it. I praised it too.

Towards the far end of this curious dwelling a picture frame hung on the wall, containing another frame, an empty passe-partout consisting of two pieces of glass. Oh dear, I thought, maybe this was someone’s way of portraying a void, or some such nonsense. When the empty item was being framed, a hair must have got stuck in it. It lay at a slant on the surface, and showed an interesting play of colour.

‘Any idea what that is?’ he asked me, pointing at it.

‘No idea at all.’ Even if I’d guessed, I would never have said so. Finally, he revealed the secret: he had acquired this item by complicated means and at some expense, as he told me, closing his eyes. It was a hair from the Führer’s German shepherd.

‘Goodness me,’ I said, ‘I’d never have ventured to suggest such a thing in case I hurt your feelings if I was wrong. Why, that’s wonderful!’

Then he showed me the kitchen, and something that I hadn’t expected in this crazy aquarium: a side door leading to a proper, normal bathroom.

After that we sat together for a while. I had become used to the strange jumble of words that he came up with, and I did not stare at him inquisitively, so he gradually cast off all inhibitions and gave his enthusiasm for Nazi ideology free rein. None the less, I was terribly afraid of betraying myself. I could keep myself from saying the wrong thing, but I didn’t have all my physical reactions under control. For instance, he assured me that ‘the Ewes, the Yoose, the Jews must all die’. I felt myself flushing red, jumped up, pointed to one of the aquariums and said, ‘Oh, look, those fish are swimming in a different way now.’ He clapped his hands in approval – I was a good observer of his darlings!

It was in fear and desperation that I made contact with those fish. I knew no
broche
, no Hebrew blessing for them, and I was not sure whether God existed at all. On the other hand, he was my reliable companion –
hakodaush boruch hu
– and I told him, ‘You must take the
broche
as it comes to me. If you won’t even let me have a
siddur
, a prayer book, or a reference book where I can look things up, it’s no use expecting verbal perfection.’

I think God was reasonable himself, and saw my point. My improvised
broche
ran, ‘Praise be to you, king of the world,
baure ha dogim
, who made the fish.’ I also addressed the fish directly in my mind. I am in mortal danger, abandoned by everyone, I told them. You are innocent creatures, just like me. Please intercede for me, you silent fish, when human beings abandon me.

A little later, the rubber director announced, ‘There’s something I must tell you. This isn’t easy for me, so I will keep it short.’ With bowed head and tears in his eyes, he said he was afraid he must disappoint me: he was no longer capable of any kind of sexual relationship. I tried to react in a neutral, friendly manner, but I was overcome by such relief and jubilation that I couldn’t sit still, and fled to the toilet.

It was the most sublime and edifying visit to the toilet of my life. I conjured up in my mind Friday evening prayers as I had so often heard them in the Old Synagogue, of course in an abbreviated version. I call on you, dear choirboys, to sing, I thought, and made them sing as I remembered it. Everything served to thank God for saving me from deadly danger.

I do not know, of course, just what Galecki really suffered from at the time, but I believed he was syphilitic, and if I had been obliged to share his bed I would indeed have felt myself to be in mortal danger. Once I knew that matters would not come to that, I felt deeply relieved, as if I had been set free.
Hashem li welau iro
– God is with me, I fear nothing, I recited silently before I returned to Galecki.

The rubber director’s hut would really have been an ideal hiding place for me, if only the man hadn’t been such an incorrigible Nazi.

 

*
Translator’s note
: Marienburg – a masterpiece of Gothic architecture now located in Malbork, in northern Poland.

ONE
I was to learn to assert myself
Childhood and Youth in Berlin
1

My parents had been married for eleven years when I was born on 4 April 1922. I was their first and only child, and my mother’s late pregnancy was a great surprise to them both.

Hermann and Betti Jalowicz had both grown up in the Mitte district of Berlin, but in very different circumstances. My grandfather Bernhard Jalowicz dealt in job lots of cheap goods, a business based in Alte Schönhauser Strasse. He was a heavy drinker and beat his wife. His birth name had been Elijahu Meir Sachs, but after emigrating from Russia he had bought identity papers bearing the name Jalowicz from a widow in Calbe on the River Saale.

His sons went to school, gained their school-leaving certificates and studied at university. Besides studying law, my father participated in the Zionist sports movement. Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe were considered physically degenerate, as a result of the cramped living conditions in ghettos and their pursuit of such traditional Jewish activities as selling their wares from door to door. The Zionist idea was to do away with this stigma, and encourage a new national Jewish frame of mind by means of healthy exercise in the fresh air. From time to time my father was the editor responsible for the supraregional journal of the Jewish gymnastics association.

My mother Betti was also active in the Bar Kokhba sports club. Her father was a grandson of the famous rabbi Akiva Eger, and thus belonged to the Jewish scholastic aristocracy. The prestige of his family background enabled him to marry into the Russian Jewish Wolkowyski family, who were very rich, and he invested his wife’s substantial dowry in building up a large forwarding agency with offices on Alexanderplatz in Berlin.

My mother, the youngest of six siblings, had been born in 1885. She was a plump little woman whose intellect, wit and enormous vitality impressed everyone as soon as she opened her mouth. Her unusual combination of dark hair with blue eyes was an attractive feature in her; less attractive were her short, fat legs.

Hermann and Betti Jalowicz, Marie’s parents, around 1932
.

My father, at that time a good-looking young man with many girls chasing him, got to know Betti Eger for the first time on the telephone. He is said to have told her, ‘I’ve heard so many delightful things about you; I suppose I’m sure to be disappointed when I meet you in person.’ My mother immediately fell for that line; they did meet, and fell in love. In 1911 they were married in my mother’s family home at 44 Rosenthaler Strasse. My Eger grandparents’ large apartment lay opposite the newly built courtyard complex of the Hackesche Höfe in central Berlin.

In his early years practising as a lawyer, my father had gone into partnership with his colleagues Max Zirker and Julius Heilbrunn, who had their chambers in Alexanderstrasse. He had been to school with Zirker, who had grown stout since those days, but enjoyed social occasions as much as his partner Heilbrunn. Meanwhile, my father sat at his desk attending to the everyday work of the practice.

Angry resentment gradually built up in Betti Jalowicz. She felt that Zirker and Heilbrunn were unscrupulously exploiting her husband. ‘Let’s build up a practice of our own. We’ll make it,’ she kept telling my father, to encourage him. And a little while before the outbreak of the First World War the two of them did indeed move into their own premises, at 19a Prenzlauer Strasse, a few hundred metres from Alexanderplatz. That address was their living and working space rolled into one.

My mother devoted herself energetically to this legal practice. She had always been sorry that she couldn’t take a school-leaving examination and embark on further studies herself. When her older brothers were studying jurisprudence, she secretly followed the course that they were taking. As a young woman she had been office manager in her brother Leo’s large legal chambers, where she was not only in charge of all the staff but drafted whole documents herself. From the legal viewpoint, they were often so brilliantly written that nothing in the wording or punctuation of her drafts had to be changed.

BOOK: Underground in Berlin
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