Great thirst

Every year in summer my grandmother invited guests to a festivity in her garden. At the first sight the guests invited  had not much in common, they came from many places and often even different countries, they had different professions, some of them had family, some of them had not, some were older than others and some much younger, none of them was related to another guest let alone to my grandmother, but all guests invited had something very specific in common, they all were survivors of a German extermination camp, and even if the camps differed too, their annual meeting in my grandmother’s garden was called among themselves: The meeting of the „Auschwitzer’s“. And the invitation letters my grandmother wrote beforehand, were opened with “ Dear Auschwitzer’s“ too. I know this for sure, because it was me who assisted my grandmother in carefully putting the letters in cream-white envelopes and licking around the edges of the envelope to seal it properly. I particularly hated this job because my tongue and mouth felt as I would have eaten fur all day long. Before the guests arrived my grandmother disappeared in the kitchen, where I was asked to assist too, but it was a much better job to lick dough out the bowls than moistening the envelopes. My grandfather pulled out the big table and brought down in the garden as many stools as he was able to find in the household. He and I went to the cleaner where the enormous white table linen waited to be picked up and under the surveillance of my grandmother’s very sharp eyes we stretched out the linen and were setting the table with the blue and white Meissen porcelain, my grand-mother preserved all year-long for this special occasion. You have to be very careful she told me and so I walked as slow as I was able to do so, up and down the stairs for many, many times before my grandmother herself brought the strawberry cake, the lemon drizzle, the cheesecakes with rum-drained raisins, the plum tart with almonds, the nougat filled biscuit roll whereas in the middle of the table the Black Forest cake stood or better was enthroned. Next to the cakes there stood four lead-crystal bowls in swan shapes full with cream-white clotted cream, endusted  with cocoa powder. There were silver tea pots and rock sugar in silver doses with the smallest spoons in it I ever saw.  I had to wear a skirt, what I hated and to listen to the long list of good behavior I would have to follow including, not eating with my fingers, never ever licking out a clotted cream bowl, not taking a piece of cake for myself without offering the guests first and I nodded, glancing at the wonderful  cakes all around me. I was especially proud that I was allowed to drink my milk out of a porcelain cup too, like a real madame. Nearly every time, when the garden festivity took place, I sat next to Shmuel Holländer. Once, so I was told and once always meant the time before the camps, Shmuel Holländer was quite a name. He was a hat-maker before he became an Auschwitzer making hats for women and men and for all possible and impossible occasions. Women and men were traveling many hours and kilometers to get a hat made by him than suddenly „once“ came and Shmuel Holländer became a filthy jew who was not allowed to touch heads or hats anymore and when I met Shmuel Holländer, in my grandmother’s garden he sat there silent, taking out his handkerchief every time, after drinking a zip of coffee, wiping his mouth carefully. He had no wife and no children, if he had so before, he never told so. He was not a hat-maker anymore but worked in a small alteration shop. And even on a table full of alienated and hurt to death people, he remained a stranger, his appearance fascinating and appalling at the same time. And even many more years later, I can’t quite say why his appearance evoked this unease, he was someone seeming to suffer from a non curable inner-disease, dragging him further and further away, he never spoke to anyone else than my grandmother and I still can see them both sitting under the old nut-tree, he nearly disappearing in his bulky grey summer jacket, ways too big for him whispering words to my grandmother I was unable to catch up. even while trying to climb upon her lap. But  one a very hot summer afternoon, the hottest so far remembered by the circle of Auschwitzer’s coming together, sitting around the long table amidst the cake and the coffee, I was so thirsty I gulped all the milk in my cup at once and refilled my cup immediately afterwards, to pour down that second cup quickly too but when I longed for my cup  for the third time, I felt a gentle but firm touch on my arm. It was Shmuel Holländers hand. Milk, he said to me earnest and smiling sadly as ever, milk does not quench the thirst. Milk he repeated, never quenches the thirst, milk makes even more thirsty, he said, still holding my arm firmly, looking at me sternly.Many years later I learned that Shmuel Holländer, his wife and children tried to hide themselves on a farm, having only milk to drink, his wife and children begging for some water to get and while Shmuel Holländer was leaving, their hiding place was discovered and Shmuel Holländer never saw his wife or children again, but this I did not know by then, I just remember that firm grip on my arm. The few things I know about him, I learned many years later, when I even longer stopped drinking milk not even using the once so beloved porcelain cups anymore.

 

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