Some five or six years older than Eli, Gittel married Eli when he came to visit his brother Motel in 1933. The recent events hardly altered her conviction that all the stories about German unspeakable atrocities were lies. Human beings are inherently good, and Germans are better than anyone else. Whatever his wife said, Eli also believed. Zawichost’s isolation of what was occurring around it sheltered them from reality.
Gittel and Eli now saw that they too would be swept away by what the nation they had believed for a long time to represent the zenith of human achievement. It was as if the earth under them suddenly disappeared. They began shouting at me and insulting me as if I was the lowest under the earth and responsible for the sad state of the world. They could not forgive me for what to their understanding reflected a betrayal, by providing myself with counterfeit baptismal papers.
I had hoped to get some sleep at Eli and Gittel Gutholtz’s before moving on the unknown but could not stand the hysteria which went beyond anything I had experienced before. Shouting goodbye, I left them. I could have knocked on the door of any house and after identifying myself could have found shelter for the night. But I lacked the strength to do so. Instead I walked the main street to and from the Vistula. I may as well begin to learn how to manage without any resources, somehow manage to survive in places where everyone you see is your my mortal enemy.
I am now alone, a hunted criminal condemned to death by the mightiest armies of the world. These armies have killed my sisters and brother, my father and mother, not in the course of war or passion, but part of a deliberate rational policy. The outward reason was that this reflects fascism or Nazism. But his was too facile a reason. Cousins Eli and Gittel, who in their own way drove me out, were neither Fascist nor Nazis.
I must have walked back and forth for more than an hour. The full moon was hiding behind thick clouds and the first drops of rain were harbingers of the heavy rain.
Whereas one aspect of my being urged me to search for aloneness to train myself in self sufficiency, another side told me that I was fooling myself if I thought I could live by myself. Trying to live alone would only make me desperate, which would sooner or later hand me over to the Poles or the Germans.
What I needed even more than protection for my body was protection for my soul, that is to say my Jewishness. The only piece of paper in my back pocket scandalized me. A baptismal certificate affirming my Goyishness made me more miserable than the elements that seemed to conspire against me. Rain, wind, darkness, the cold mud were not unbearable. In Ozerow having the forged documents seemed an external matter, something that would not touch me internally: my inner Jewishness seemed too self evident. Here, in the midst of solitude, having abandoned my father and mother, brother and sister, and my friends, I felt disgusted with myself for being prepared to act like a Marrano, a Mumar, a Meshumad.
To be a Goy was bad enough, but to become an acting Goy seemed to be the most horrible thing that could happen. Did not Maimonides rule that whereas it was permissible to violate 610 of the commandments in order to save one’s life, there can be no excuse for transgressing the remaining three: murder, incest, and idol worship? I did not doubt for a single moment that the actual baptismal act or the affirmation of the divinity of Jesus violated the letter and spirit of the first and second commandments. The matter seemed less simple with regards to carrying of counterfeit scraps of paper asserting that I had participated in such an act or asserted such a belief. Of course even in Ozerow, I had believed myself freed from the Torah and I had begun to doubt the existence of God. Spinoza’s pantheism, with a universe that had no beginning and no end appealed to my mind. What then did it matter whether I was presently acting in violation of the Torah?
Certainly a few medieval rabbis tended to believe that Christians were not idolatrous. On the other hand, there are persuasive arguments that the worship of Jesus as a god is the most pagan creed ever known to the world. Is not therefore carrying of a baptismal paper ipso facto an idolatrous act? For one to whom Jewishness forms the core of his life, does not the pretense of being a Christian constitute a denial of God as well as his own self? For the first time the words of the Sages that declare the act of denying one’s Jewishness equal to murder made perfect sense.
It occurred to me that this mode of reasoning stemmed not from my fear of the abominable idolatrous papers of mine, but from weakness, the lack of strength to face the world of pagans, who tend to murder without any reason. How many Jews have been murdered in Ozerow during the last three years? No one of the Jewish victims or their relatives ever retaliated in the slightest. No German was ever killed. Even more shameful was our restraint from doing anything that might arouse anger among the Germans. Miles upon miles of rubber covered wire served as the communication nerve of the enemy. I now happened to step over one. In Ozerow, we would never cut them. It would only irritate the Germans, but it may arouse them to retaliate against the whole community. This expressed the inner fear which the Germans exploited. By fearing retaliation, we made it easy for the Germans to make Poland Judenrein.
Now that I am a goy, if only on paper, I could begin acting like one. I took the little blade out of my small knife which I had in my pocket, bent down to the ground to the telephone wire and began to cut. First the rubber that covered the wire and then the wire itself. The little blade did well with the rubber but was powerless against the copper wire itself. But pulling the wire with my bands back and forth a few times effectively severed the telephone line. What I had dispassionately desired to do in Ozerow but was too timid to act I carried out now fearlessly.
Somehow I did not feel alone. To be sure, the house of my birth existed no longer. I had never had any possessions and certainly have nothing now. I had been walking back and forth for more than an hour. Thick clouds had hidden the full moon from which drops were beginning to fall. There was no one I was going to beg from, not even anyone or anything I could steal from. But I felt no desperation. The reaction of the cousins I had witnessed some hours ago was still incomprehensible to me.
Years of reading Haskalah and philosophical books such as Feierberg’s Whither and Spinoza’s Ethics had led me to the verge of a kind of agnosticism, even to the verge of atheism. Man is part of nature. Supernaturalism rests on fancy and delusion. Man’s only salvation rests on the path of humanism, universalism, the noble ideals of either communism or liberalism. Somehow I never really trusted communism. The books preaching dialectical materialism bored me with their shallowness. The trials of the old Bolsheviks before the war whose significance I did not understands, suggested that the Communists were more dangerous than the Fascists. The Fascists have advocated brutal power, building up a natural resentment against themselves. The Communists teach an ideal state of humanity, but in fact are no less bloodthirsty than the Nazis. But the liberals were the most dangerous of all modern ideologies. Ready to do battle with Fascism, the liberals are blind to the [TEXT ENDS HERE.]