Goodbye to Father–the enduring impact of fascism

[Tikkun magazine has no staff capable of verifying the accuracy of this article. So we do not print it as a story that we ascertain to be true. Yet we have no reason to doubt it, either. We know that the denial of war crimes is a frequent behavior from national states, and the U.S. has participated in this behavior. And we know that the crimes of the Nazi regimes reach beyond the capacity of most human beings to really come to grips with. So even if this, like Elie Wiesel's Night, is a piece of imaginative fiction, it is still important to read, because it tells of a truth deeper than just what happened to one family–it reminds us of the truths of millions of families, the pains from which are still being felt today as the particular manifestation of fascism in Europe may be taking different forms all over the world.–Rabbi Michael Lerner, Editor, Tikkun magazine

 

Goodbye to Father

Sonja Besford

 

It is Wednesday 8th December 2014. My husband John and I are flying to Trondheim, Norway, to see where my father, Jovo Batinić-Lazica, spent three years (1942-1945) in the concentration camp in Austrått. Also to meet Olga Lund, now a 87 year old woman, who as a young girl helped him and others to survive by simply waving a smiling wave every day at the passing half-starved prisoners on their way to building another Nazi bunker. A pretty blonde girl, smiling a happy, healthy smile, a reminder of how normal life used to look and surely how it would again. Olga became a symbol of hope and everything good in humanity. At least she was to my father, who carried her photograph all the way back to his motherland, Yugoslavia. My journey started with this photograph, years after my father’s death. I guess I tried to find a way of understanding him, his life and, from when I was of 13, our not very successful relationship. I know that I have carried the burden of the “misunderstood child” and have wasted a great deal of my life in not forgiving him. It was Henrich Heine who said: God will pardon me, it is his trade. But that seems to me more of a chanting dictum perhaps used by Nazis and other murderous psychopaths, than something I can apply to console me in my comparatively small and common guilt. I was not interested in God’s forgiveness but I was in my father’s. Mainly because I think I now understand that his behaviour towards me was not some grand betrayal of me, his oldest daughter, but a product of multi-layered historical memories, fears, pain, anger, love, sadness, and finally disgust with the political system which did indeed betray him. I needed to find out how this downward spiral to despair culminated in his death at the early age of 64.

 

I tried to recall all the information my father gave me and my sisters, about those years in a concentration camp in Norway, or indeed anything in his life before us. There was precious little.

I dare say our mother knew much more, but she also kept silent. Then there was this photograph of the mysterious Olga. And the story my father often repeated of how he wanted me, their first born, to be called Olga to honour the Norwegian Olga. And how my mother, when she had calmed down, promised that if their second child was a girl, she could be named Olga. So it came to pass: the sister after me is Olga, a rather good painter much in the style of Munch and Nolde. We call her Goga.

Our childhood was divine, as described in my poem

my mother, my father II

unexpectedly it was on hearing a mazurka

on one rainy-grey london day

that i remembered my mother my father

dancing in triple time to coppelia

skipping and sliding on a parquet floor

clicking heels and stamping feet;

listen to the second beat, mother exclaimed,

oh it’s just not fast enough, father complained;

from all those years ago i see once more

my mother’s radiant presence reflecting

her playful and dazzling haughtiness

wearing an orange hat tilted just so

towards her left eyebrow and red lips

ready to bewitch men and charm women;

i see my father with hunched shoulders holding

his hat against the whirling storm and icy wind

leaving the first footprints in the first snow

which squeaked creaked and squealed

like a happy dog after his master’s affection;

i recall Sunday lunches at the mercy of father’s

pedagogy – today, girls, we shall discuss Aristotle

or cicero or dostoyevski or the roman empire

or the economic strategies of imperialism—

or whatever, and we had to contribute, stealing

secret glances at the clock, wishing the time away (alas)

so that we could be released to run to the cake shop

with alluring odours of cream, nuts and chocolate,

for several baklavas, tulumbas and glasses of boza

(biljana would want one of everything

goga anything she could dismantle

i just watched

jasna wasn’t born yet)

then to the cinema for the four o’clock performance,

three wide-eyed girls in flowery dresses licking ice-cream

while cowboys and indians hounded each other

in zane grey’s formulaic brilliance and our mother

our father waiting to take us to our unhounded home

where even the walls sang and the paintings hummed

 

Father was born of a Serbian couple in Lika, Croatia, in 1925. He was the first born; a further four followed. My grandparents were landowners and farmers. My grandmother, Katarina-Kaca, was said to be the most beautiful woman in Croatia, a lofty claim, which I can confirm (well, sort of, since I don’t know all the women in Croatia), for she certainly was staggeringly beautiful. In my childhood I met them a couple of times and can definitely confirm that both of them were as nasty and selfish as she was beautiful and he handsome. Still, I suppose we should be grateful for their few gifts: first, they were aware that it was difficult if not impossible for a Serbian child to get an education beyond primary school in Croatia, so they sent their children to be educated back to Serbia, (where my grandfather’s family came from in the 17th century); second, for being so self-involved and in love with each other that we, their grand-daughters, were not obliged to visit them or indeed to like them; third, for treating my mother and us with arrogance, bordering on hate, which made it easy to dislike them (with this we all realized that it is not obligatory to like or love one’s family); fourth, after their death, for leaving us a huge amount of land in Croatia, close to the Adriatic.

This land, by the way, we are unlikely ever to see, because it has been administered by a Croatian lawyer in Gospić, T.V. and a Croatian geologist, V.Š., who do not answer my emails, in spite of having been handsomely paid and claiming, a couple of years ago, that everything was judicially “sorted out”. It may have been, but if so, I suspect only for their own benefit. These days anything is possible there, even though Croatia is part of the EU, having been miraculously shoe-horned in on the insistence of their old ally, Germany. Yet today, in spite of that close historical collaboration, there are frequent official denials that in World War II Croatia was a vicious Nazi puppet state; that in Jasenovac (a major concentration camp in Croatia) over 700 000 Serbs, Jews and Roma were exterminated. In a sinister documentary by Denis Bojić, for the magazine Pečat, two present day Croatian apologists – Stjepan Razum (the Croatian Director of the Archives of the Roman Catholic Church in Zagreb) and Igor Vukić, journalist – claim that Jasenovac was a rather tolerant labour camp, where the prisoners mostly spent their time amusing themselves by putting on theatre plays and concerts and passing driving tests.

(See www.youtube.com/watch?v=MtFdMo1QlHg)

 

The war found my father in central Serbia doing an apprenticeship with Stanković-Erić, who had a large business selling arms and ammunition. He had no children. Having unofficially adopted my father, he proceeded to teach him everything he was interested in: about various guns, how to clean and maintain them; about hunting, shooting and dogs; about the First World War and the Salonika Front (Erić was a recipient of the Order of the Star of Karadjordje, as well as other medals for bravery). I think that my father must have enjoyed proper school as well as Erić’s personal ‘gymnasium’, for he did occasionally talk about those years. After the German attack on Yugoslavia, in March 1941, Erić ordered his nephew and my father to empty his vast stores of guns and ammunition and throw it all into the river Jablanica, so that the precious cargo would not fall into German hands. They worked on this all night, for four nights. I remember father expressing his admiration for Erić’s patriotism: “One would have to be a true patriot to say goodbye to so much capital!” – an indication of his future profession as an economist.

I recall admiring my father for being so honest about his reasons for choosing to join the Partisans. He had two school-friends whose interest in politics was greater than his own (then negligible); one declared his sympathies for the Chetniks (Serbian royalists), the other for the Partisans (communists). My father said that it was a question of deciding which friend he liked more. The Partisan sympathiser marginally won and my father joined the Partisans in November 1941.

By then the Independent State of Croatia (Nezavisna Država Hrvatska, NDH), led by the Ustaša (Croat nationalist) Ante Pavelić, had become a fascist, quasi-protectorate of Germany and Italy. The Ustaša’s sadistic brutality and open enthusiasm for killing Jews, Serbs, Romani, the disabled and the handicapped – which they justified as implementing the German Action T4 programme to exterminate “life unworthy of life” (Lebensunwertes leben) – shocked even the Nazis.

Bosnia and Hercegovina was then part of Croatia and provided the active 13th Waffen Mountain Division of the SS Handschar, Bosnian Moslems and Croats who took an oath of allegiance to Adolf Hitler and Ante Pavelić. In Serbian Kosovo, Albanian Muslims similarly formed the 21st Waffen Mountain Division of the SS Skanderbeg. Both Divisions became known for murdering, looting and raping, in predominantly Serbian areas. Balisti Albanians (named after their leader, Balli Kombetar) believed that the Albanians were ‘Aryans of Illirian heritage’. The Axis powers directly influencing the situation in Serbia were: Germany, Austria, Italy, Croatia, Bosnia and Hercegovina, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania and the Kosovo Albanians (but not the Kosovan Serbs who were then a majority of the Kosovan population). In other words, Serbia was isolated as an Allied state, completely surrounded by Axis forces. This is rarely appreciated in the Western histories.

So father went into the mountains to join the Partisans. On retreating from the advancing German and Balisti (Muslim) armies, the agreement in the group was to commit suicide rather than surrender. When the time came, his comrades, Bora Živković and Marija-Jana Djilas, already wounded, shot themselves. Marija was carrying Bora’s child. My father said that he tried twice to shoot himself; the first time his bullet went astray and on the second attempt, the bullet grazed his temple so that he lost consciousness. He woke up to see beech trees and the blue skies above him. At first he thought that he was in heaven, but quickly realized that he was tied up and bleeding from his nose and ears. He was taken to a hospital in Leskovac where he stayed for about two weeks. He was not tortured for information simply because he was so ill that everyone thought he would die. He was then transferred to a camp in Niš, then to Sajmište in Zemun. The latter camp, in the Independent State of Croatia, was notorious for its cruelty and for efficient ways of murdering enemies of the Third Reich. It is estimated that over 40 000 people were killed in Sajmište: 7 000 Jews, mostly women and children, about 300 Romani and the rest Serbs. The camp was opened in 1941 as the Jewish Camp in Zemun (Judenlager Semlin) with SS-Scharführer Edgar Ende of the Gestapo as its commander. In January 1942 he was replaced by SS-untersturmführer Herbert Andorfer with Edgar Ende as his deputy. By September 1942 the gassings of Jews, in a special van sent from Berlin (see David Albahari’s novel, “Götz and Meyer”), were completed and the camp was renamed Zemun Concentration Camp (Anhaltelager Semlin). It continued operating as such until the end of the war. Andorfer and Ende both escaped to South America with the help of the Roman Catholic Church. Andorfer returned to Austria in 1960 and was given a two and a half year prison sentence; Ende was tried in Germany 1968 and declared innocent.

From Sajmište, father was transferred by ship to Austria, then to the German port of Stettin (now Szczecin in Poland), where around 600 prisoners were put on a cargo ship the SS Deutschland which arrived in Trondheim on 1st October 1942. Until ‘the second selection’ was to be made, they were all placed in the camp Strinda near Trondheim (a German submarine base and bunker), where they remained for two weeks.

The ‘first selection’ of the prisoners had already been made in Sajmište in Zemun: on the 18th March 1942, the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht sent orders via the General der Pioniere (South-East Europe) Walter Kuntze, that able-bodied or technically qualified Yugoslavs should no longer be executed, but sent to camps in Germany and other occupied territories as a labour force. Since Germany needed work forces very badly, this order was implemented immediately by the SS-Obergruppenführer and Generalleutnant der Polizei in Serbia, August Meyszner (executed by hanging in 1947). Meyszner and his equivalent in Norway, Reichskommissar Joseph Terboven, seem to have known each other and agreed to transport 12 000 Yugoslavs to Norwegian camps. (On 8th May 1945 Terboven, in a pact with the SS-Obergruppenführer and Police Leader, Wilhelm Rediess, committed suicide by blowing up 50kg of dynamite, although it is recorded that Rediess had already shot himself). Amongst other cruelties, Rediess was famous for implementing the German Lebensborn program in Norway, instructing his troops to sire racially pure Aryan children with local Nordic women.

On the 15th October 1942, 350 mostly Serbian prisoners were transported by ship to Austrått Fort (Austråttborgen). The weather was getting cold, but the prisoners probably had little idea how much colder it would get in the next three winters: the temperature reached minus 40°C. They were taken to unheated wooden barracks, 15 to a room (father was in barrack number 3, room no 14), in a compound surrounded by barbed wire fences and control posts. The prisoners were badly dressed, some half-naked, already starved and exhausted from the long trip and the violence meted out during it.

 

During the course of the War, Norway had 24 concentration /forced labour camps and 110 prison camps. Both types of camps were mostly run by the omnipotent SS Gestapo.

 

The overall head of the Gestapo in Norway was Siegfried Wolfgang Fehmer. He wore an SS uniform with the insignia Sicherheitsdienst-SD (‘Security’, the intelligence service of the SS). He was an inventive sadist, frequently using his adored German Shepherd dog in the torture of the prisoners. At the end of the war, he tried to escape over the border to Sweden, but a British Sergeant, John Maclean, predicted that Fehmer would not leave without his dog. From other imprisoned Gestapo officers Maclean found the whereabouts of the dog and waited for Fehmer to appear, which he duly did. He was sentenced to death by firing squad and executed in 1948.

Another interesting Nazi psychopath operating in Norway was Hans Benno Hüttig. Having been extensively trained in the Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen and Flosenburg concentration camps, he was posted to Norway to supervise the building of concentration camps there. He also had a reputation for extreme cruelty. His death sentence was never carried out and he was released in 1956 to lead a quiet life until his death in 1980 in Wachenheim, Germany.

 

In the forced labour camps (Arbeitslager) in Norway, Soviet and Yugoslavian prisoners were especially brutally treated, because the Gestapo and TODT did not consider them subject to protection under the Geneva Convention, which meant that they could be treated as criminals with even the lowest ranking officer having carte blanche to torture or shoot them for no apparent reason. It was only in the second half of 1943 that these two imprisoned groups got the status of PoWs, which as far as the Austrått camp was concerned brought no improvement in their conditions.

 

TODT: civil and military engineering company, named after its founder, Fritz Todt, a senior Nazi officer, notorious for the harsh treatment of the imprisoned labour force and for his belief that PoWs were an expendable resource which need not be treated with any measure of humanity. He was responsible for the Autobahn Network in Germany as well as many major engineering projects in the occupied territories. When Fritz Todt was mysteriously killed in an air-crash in 1942, Albert Speer (Hitler’s favourite architect) became the leader of TODT. Speer continued the construction of the Atlantic Wall, as well as parts of the Arctic Railway and the main motorway along the Norwegian Coast. In Nuremburg, Speer was sentenced to 20 years of imprisonment and released in 1966. He died in London in 1981. Oscar Lindner, the brutal head of TODT in Austrått, was executed by firing squad in 1946.

In the first nine months of the German occupation of Norway, out of 4,300 Yugoslav prisoners (88 per cent Serbs), 2,100 died from the appalling conditions or were executed; in 1943 the Wehrmacht and the TODT organization took over in order to reduce the death rate since they badly needed the labour force to continue building the Atlantic Wall.

Atlantic Wall: in 1942 Führer Directive number 40 ordered the creation of the Atlantic Wall. It should have stretched from the Spanish border, around the Bay of Biscay in France, through Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark and along the entire coast of Norway (Festung Norwegen), finishing in Finland. Austrått in Ørland was one of those fortifications to protect Trondheimsfjord from invasion by the enemies, especially the British.

The prisoners, mostly communists and Partisans, learnt about this project shortly after their arrival in Austrått. They were to dig a shaft – many with bare hands – about 30 metres down (five floors) into the rocks of a mountain to create the mounting for a triple-barrelled gun taken from the heavily damaged battleship Gneisenau.

‘Gneisenau’: German battleship bombarded by the British while undergoing repairs in the Kiel shipyard, during the night of 26-27th February 1942. The ship had three triple gun turrets, each armed with three 28 cm barrels. The two forward firing turrets were heavily damaged; the aft SK C/34 turret, with a firing range of 42 km, was later installed in Austrått Fort.

The turret had three guns, with each barrel weighing more than 50 tons. The total weight of the steel plating above ground and the guns was over 800 tons. In addition to the gun and associated machinery, Yugoslavian prisoners and German engineers built a maze of tunnels with living quarters, a mess hall, sanitary installations, electrical and telephone communication rooms and storage facilities for various weapons and ammunition.

Conditions in the Austrått camp were dire. Prisoners were worked from five in the morning until eight at night. Injured prisoners, unable to work were immediately executed. Most of the work in Austrått was done by hand, digging and excavating though solid rock, so that there were many injuries. Father cut his hand badly, for which he could have been shot. Another prisoner immediately gave him one precious glove (there were very few) and advised him to pee on the cut – the wound healed quickly. During the eight winter months, when the air temperatures reached – 40°C (– 40 °F), the work continued with no improvement of food or clothing. The guards had particular pleasure in chasing naked prisoners through the woods and making them jump into the fjord, all under the pretext of keeping up the German hygiene standards. The prisoners had to swim among the floating ice floes.

In a very dry monograph, the only document covering that period that father ever produced, he wrote that he could have been shot twice. The first time was when someone stole a bottle of juniper juice and several prisoners were rounded up to be killed unless the bottle was returned. It was returned, father never knew by whom. The second time, a German officer made a remark insulting my father’s mother, which made father extremely angry; so he called the German guard a fascist and a Nazi, which was so obvious that the guard was amused. He said to my father that he would forgive him and not shoot him if my father could carry five sacks of cement (50kg each) at the same time for a distance of 200 metres. Amazingly, father managed it and the guard kept his word.

And there was Olga’s photograph. In March 2014, John and I went to Norway on what might have become a deadly adventure, in a vain search of the Northern Lights. From Trondheim, through the extraordinary kindness of several people, we went to visit Falstad, one of the most notorious camps, where I thought my father had been interned, now a historical research institute and war museum. A kind employee, Anne Line Løvlie Kristoffersen agreed to open the Museum, usually closed on Mondays. The 10th of March was a beautiful, sunny day as we drove to Falstad in anticipation of seeing my father’s name among the prisoners listed. We learnt that out of 260 Yugoslav prisoners interned at Falstad, only six survived by the end of the war. Anne let us into the museum. She lit many candles for our visit. The atmosphere was magical, moving and somehow unreal. I could not feel my father there and indeed his name was not on the list of survivors. Slightly disappointed, the following day we continued our journey north, having left a copy of Olga’s photograph with Anne.

It was supposed to have been a rail trip with the Great Rail Journeys, but in fact we spent most of our time travelling in buses, pushing/carrying our own luggage along icy paths, quite often in the dark, therefore missing the ‘gently sloping hills and distant mountains, majestic lakes and deep forests’ promised in the tour brochure. On 14th March (my father’s birthday and my mother-in-law’s birthday – both long dead), we were again on a tour bus travelling from Svolvær to Narvik.

The weather was horrible, with snow, ice and high winds. As we came out of a tunnel a gust of wind was so powerful that it lifted the entire bus off the road, with forty-two people on it plus luggage, and threw us down a slope into a bog. Fortunately, the brilliant young driver, Kim, managed to stop the bus from overturning by steering it into a large rock and thus probably saving lives. Seven people were badly hurt (the guide broke her back); we were all bruised, mostly from the seat-belts which we were all wearing, well, except for my husband. He was thrown up in the air and finished with his head and the upper part of his body wedged under a seat, two seats in front on the opposite side of the aisle. The seat had to be removed to get him out. He was also only bruised and concussed which was a miracle, as was the bus not overturning. We were all amazed that within half an hour in this middle-of-nowhere place, 16 different emergency vehicles had appeared: fire trucks and ambulances, police cars and a replacement bus to take us to the nearest town, Sortland. Some of us decided not to continue the trip further north, but to return to London, whereupon we were taken to the wrong Narvik airport! This whole Nordic journey was disastrous, except for our visit to Falstad and a visit to a war museum in Svolvær.

A couple of months later I had an email from a senior researcher in Falstad, Arne Langås, saying that he had found Olga! He thought that he recognized the hills behind her, sent the photograph to a local journalist, Terje Dybvik of Fosne-Folket newspaper, and together they traced Olga Lund, now 87 years old and living in Bosberg, about 20km from Trondheim. Dybvik went to interview her and indeed she was the Olga from the photograph. She remembered my father and other prisoners and she very much wanted to meet me.

This time, in Trondheim we booked into the Britannia Hotel, a grand old dame in the middle of town, which now stood, still a dame albeit a rather old and tired one, struggling to regain its high standards of past decades. However, the staff, like everyone in Norway were charming.

Olga Lund, a truly grand dame, not at all tired and still beautiful, greeted us with all the warmth of a long lost and suddenly discovered relative. I also felt a great deal of affection for this amazingly energetic lady who was so instrumental to the survival of my father. We met her charming daughters and their children. We were so honoured by their attentions, their willingness somehow to piece together parts of my father’s life that I knew so little about. We were taken by the Falstad researcher Arne Langås, with Olga and her daughter Ingjerd Lund Eliassen, to the Austrått Fort Museum. We walked along corridors deep below the mountain, which housed a telecommunication centre, an electrical plant, ammunition storage, staff headquarters, sleeping quarters (unused because of water seepage, we were told)… Above this complicated five floor structure stood the triple-barrel gun pointing towards Trondheim fjord. I walked along those corridors knowing that my father had walked them. I felt emotional and tearful.

We were greeted by a group of people: Terje Dybvik (who first recognised Olga Lund in the photo), a journalist from Fosna-Folket newspaper, as well as TV cameras and a couple of other journalists. We were then taken to lunch to the house of Turid and Ingvald Sakshaug Løge in Brekstad. Ingvald was a child during the war. He remembered that the Serbian prisoners used to make wooden toys which they would hide in someone’s discarded jacket. The children, under the instruction from their parents, would take the toys and leave food.

At lunch around the long dining table, sat several Norwegian resistance fighters: Gollbjørg Hegvik Hansen, who is almost blind and who played the most haunting Serbian song on her harmonica, which of course made me cry; Ragnar Jenssen, our guide; Arnt Tore Andersen, another guide, a journalist and author of the book on Ørland 1940-1945 who, after the war, lived in Montenegro for fourteen years.

All my life I believed that it was Olga Lund who had a special relationship with my father, because they both spoke German. According to my memory, it was Olga Lund who received secret messages, requests for food and medicine, which she then delivered to a pre-arranged place so that my father was able to collect it. I now learnt that somehow I had joined two stories or two images together. One of a beautiful, blond young girl, Olga, who waved and smiled at the passing prisoners, and another of a pharmacist’s daughter, Annie Dagrun, who actually delivered food and medicine. Whether she was my father’s special friend or not, I shall never know, for she died in September 2014. Whether it was my father or I who blended two women into one, now seems unimportant. As far as I remember it was always Olga who was mentioned by my father and whose photograph he kept. And it was Olga whom he knew after the liberation and before he returned to Belgrade. For whatever role she played in his life, I shall always be grateful.

After the war, my father finished his degree in economics and became probably one of the youngest commercial directors in the new socialist Yugoslavia. In the concentration camp he became a fully committed communist, which may have been the reason for his getting this high position so young. PKB (Poljoprivredni Kombinat Beograd) was the largest agricultural conglomerate in former Yugoslavia. It occupied hundreds of acres of land just outside Belgrade; it grew wheat, vegetables and fruit; it had animal farms – cows, sheep and pigs; it produced all the dairy products, milk, yoghurt, cheese, butter, kajmak. It supplied almost the whole of Yugoslavia with its products and eventually it turned to exporting, mainly to Austria and Germany. Somehow, father’s professionalism and clear vision managed to overlook the fact that some of the people he dealt with were former Nazis, or at least Nazi collaborators. Because they were rich industrialists, before, during and after the war, most were given minimal prison sentences or were acquitted all together and were free to continue gathering wealth, it being the first and probably the only principle they recognized as important. The PKB trio Zečević /Pavlović/Batinić achieved incredible things: they built whole villages for the workers, provided further education for hundreds, introduced the tetrahedron Tetrapak for milk and yoghurt, opened fast-food kiosks with frankfurters and spicy sausages. Father was an old style communist, so he dismissed his company driver and travelled to work on a bus, just like his workers. He accepted a three bedroom flat for our ever growing family (with brothers and sisters and cousins arriving to complete their university courses and staying for years); Pavlović accepted a five bedroom flat and Zečević built a villa with an apartment for himself on the ground floor and above, another one for his son. They kept their Mercedes cars and drivers. All well deserved, according to my father. In that famous triangle, and further afield, true socialism was practiced only by my father, according to me, who, in an extreme act of socialist and personal generosity, paid out of his own salary for entertaining the foreign business guests. This was unheard of till then (or ever since).

After a couple of other directorships and saving or re-organising ailing companies, and after almost four decades of belief in this dream of equality and generosity, father was at last disillusioned. He had seen too much corruption, too much favouritism and dishonesty. At a meeting of a couple of thousand communist party members, my father delivered a devastating speech. He was a powerful, intelligent and informed orator (as we all, at home, had experienced in discussions after our obligatory Sunday lunches). He explained point by point the reasons for his disenchantment and finished by returning his red communist party membership book. This speech of his is still remembered.

He resigned, became a pensioner and an alcoholic, unable to deal with such huge, life-defeating disappointments.

In his last letter to me, about a year before he died, he paraphrased part of John Keats’ letter to Fanny Brawne: ‘If I should die’, I said to myself, ‘I have left no immortal work behind me – nothing to make (my family or) my friends proud of my memory – but I have loved the principle of (honour, honesty and) beauty in all things, and if I had had time I would have made myself remembered.’

Well, you are remembered, my father. Now and forever.

 
tags: War & Peace   
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