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Manneberg saga - מנברג - Selected passages from the book, out of context

Eli Manneberg

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    Everything Happened - but Not Really

Selected passages from the book, out of context

Everything started with an innocent childish promise that I made to my mother when I was 7 years old. I did not keep this promise till now, and unfortunately I will never be able to keep most of it: to buy her a large bottle of Chanel No. 5 perfume, to buy her a white grand piano and to write a book about our family. She used to remind me about these promises until the day she died. The first two promises became irrelevant many years ago. Now as I sit with my mother who is afflicted with Parkinson's disease, and who looks at me with her wise eyes, her memory as sharp as ever and nothing is forgotten, the piano is out of the question and the perfume was switched to a different kind years ago. But promises must be kept; that's the way my parents brought me up, as they were brought up in the German-Jewish culture. Only the third promise remains…

***

The municipal museum of Rybnik is located at the old town square, called the "Rynek" in Polish. There was a time, when Rybnik was part of Germany and became a city, that the current museum building was the municipality building, and the town square was called the "Ring" in German. During my first visit to the Rybnik museum, the guide recounted the history of Rybnik in detail in fluent Polish, interspersed with English words. He thought he was speaking English. That's when I got my first impression, and as we know, some say that first impressions determine everything. This may be true for superficial friendships, but as the acquaintance deepens it turns out that there are truer, more correct impressions. Over the years, I visited there two more times and became much better acquainted with Rybnik and its inhabitants…

***

Closing the Jewish school was a logical move as far as the Prussian government was concerned, since this move was decided upon within the framework of the general policy of "Germanization" and "productivization" of the Jewish population in exchange for "civil liberty" .In other words a simple general formula of granting "emancipation" in exchange for "assimilation"…

……I had a strange feeling as I wrote these lines at the beginning of the 21st Century, when ultra-orthodox Jews or Beduin Arabs in the State of Israel, in exactly the same way, are encouraged to become part of the economy of the modern State of Israel in exchange for cultural and social "assimilation". Of course, any analogy to events in the distant past and in distant geographical regions, is simplistic. But even so, similar processes can be seen when one examines how a modern country treats its citizens who seek cultural autonomy which does not suit the country's perception of itself and its legal practices. These questions are truly important, since they are beyond the historical analysis of nations and peoples. They are hidden within the biographies of individuals, and each one encompasses a universe…

***

As they strolled close to one another, he could feel her breath. He became dizzy from the scent of her sweet perfume, as they continued on their way to the train station and stopped at the end of the avenue. There wasn't a soul in sight, and he touched her hand inadvertently. She recoiled shyly, but then took hold of his hand hesitantly, and afterwards gripped his hand tightly, in a kind of awkward, inexperienced and bewildered grip. If he could have, he would have pulled her to him and passionately kissed her red lips, but he held back, fearing to hurt her feelings and fearing that someone would see them. A great inner force, born of their restrained, introverted culture, a culture full of social taboos, surrounded by high walls, a culture fortified with prohibitions, stopped them from sinning, from expressing their love, a fact which only made their unconsummated passion stronger. There was a time, and there are places even today, alas, where love is considered a sin.
Only when they reached the platform did they dare to clasp hands in a hurried parting handshake. Their hearts were pounding and their hands were burning as they imagined what the future might bring. When he took his seat in the train, she stood on the platform very close to him. Only the window separated them…

***

If you were to ask someone in the family whether "Bobbe" was a relic from the Jurassic era, they would certainly not have understood the question. But if I had lived then, I would have enthusiastically agreed to this possibility, since there was no question about it in my mind. As far as I was concerned, our dear "Bobbe" represented an ancient, extinct world. By the way, Spielberg's movie, "Jurassic Park" , was extremely successful, making about a billion dollars, but the amber necklace, Bobbe's main asset, disappeared when she died, almost 100 years old…..

***

"Proceed to your interview at the main office". Jozef strode into the large tent, where the duty officer and a clerk awaited him.
"Jozef Manneberg of Rybnik, how old are you and are you married?"
"Yes, I have two children, aged…"
"Soldier, I did not ask that. Answer only what you are asked."
"I am married, 42 years old." The officer scrutinized Jozef from head to toe. What he saw before him was a short, stocky man, partially bald, with some grey hair at his temples, wearing glasses with thick round lenses and narrow black frames. The officer thought he might be a teacher, a clerk or maybe a small businessman.
"Merchant", mumbled the army clerk, and added in a whisper, covering his mouth with his hand, "Jewish".

***

"Do you have a moment?"
"Yes, what is it?, Arnold answered, puzzled.
"I wanted to tell you something. Please have a seat."
Phillip pulled over one of the chairs and cleared off a few boxes that were on it. "I understand that you are Jewish. Actually, I didn't notice until now, even though you come here rather frequently. You speak with a perfect Silesian accent."
"Yes, I was born in Loslau, not far from here, near the Czech border."
"Hmmm…listen, I'm Jewish too."
"I don't believe it. You really surprise me. You don't look Jewish, and I understand from your accent that you're from northern Germany."
"Yes, from Thorn, in western Prussia. You don't look Jewish either."
"So how did you know I was Jewish? Actually that's a strange question. What is a respectable German Jew supposed to look like? … Yet, how did you know?"

***

At the end of her life I sat by her and wrote down her sad story. She told me sorrowfully how she took part in the happy celebrations organized by the Rottweil youth, and that she was a member of the youth choir, chanting and shouting with a heady tempo until they were hoarse, "Die Saar ist Deutsch, Die Saar ist Rein". The Saar is German, the Saar is pure. She didn't comprehend the meaning of the new world being formed at the time. A few months later Sofie was in Palestine….

***

Haj Mustafa would pull up in his black limousine, as befit an honorable, wealthy man, in front of "Guttmann's Foot Comfort Service, licensed by Dr. Scholl" on Allenby Street. He would move the lace curtain aside and peer at the doorway of the institute, taking notice of passersby as well. Only when he managed to see Fraulein Oko stepping in and out of the treatment cubicles in her white uniform, did he hurry out….

***

At the beginning of April 1939, on his first night back, David participated in a stormy meeting, and was asked to mediate in a serious dispute: should they agree to the proposal to found the settlement in the southern or the northern part of the country? He expressed his opinion, and all present listened to him respectfully. They valued his opinion, and he felt again like a fish back in water, as if his absence from the group had never occurred, as if there were no America, as if there were no Hartford, as if his love for Chia did not exist…

***

She entered the gate with a light step, almost like a ballerina of the Bolshoi, notwithstanding her short, round figure. "Here in Paradise", said the angels, "even small, round, heavy people move about gracefully like butterflies. That's the way it is in the paradise of the righteous: the light, airy soul is what matters and not the heavy, clumsy, awkward body. "Rosa Esther Rosenstein, nee Fetner, what do you have in your purse?"
"What, you're checking purses at the entrance here too?", she asked, surprised….