By William Markiewicz
My very first article in Vagabond, August 1995, was “The Devil is Stupid.” I concluded that coincidence exists but usually has no significance. It just happens. This came to mind yesterday when I turned on the TV and found a documentary, “Kike Like Me”, by Jamie Kastner, a young Canadian film director. The coincidence was that recently Vagabond has been filled with Jewish topics and I didn’t expect to write about one more. But it was too interesting to let pass. The director was obviously inspired by the film “Gentlemen’s Agreement” in which Gregory Peck’s character investigates anti Semitism. Throughout Kastner’s documentary, as in “Gentlemen’s Agreement”, when asked “Are you a Jew?” Kastner replied, “Why do you want to know?” And to the end of the movie, the director didn’t reveal ‘what’ he was even if, in my view, there were enough clues that he was Jewish. I imagine that if the director asked me, “Do you think I am a Jew?” I would sincerely reply, “I don’t know and I don’t give a damn.” He would probably answer that he doesn’t believe me because many people had said that and he didn’t believe they were sincere. In his view, this question lingers in everybody’s subconscious. Subconscious is the topic that really interests me.
The French Jewish writer Andre Maurois wrote a short story in which he comes to the conclusion that the subconscious, whether it exists or not, is less important. For him the conscious opinion we have, whether right or wrong, is more important than our subconscious. Example: a young female athlete, tested and found to have masculine genes, said, “I don’t care what my genetic ID is. I look like a woman, I feel like a woman and I am a woman.” People whose subconscious revealed homosexual or pedophile tendencies laughed their heads off at this information, confirming Maurois’s theory. So when I say, ‘I don’t give a damn,’ I really mean it no matter what my subconscious tends toward. Andre Maurois claims, and I agree, that the subconscious, existent or not, is less important than our conscious mind.
Here comes a very intense, true story: I know about it either from the witness or some report -- I don’t remember the source. It was in the early stage of German occupation of Poland during the war. There was a Jewish family -- husband, wife and daughter. It was a good marriage, good husband and father, and they shared deep sentiment. The wife and the daughter were smarter than the father who was extremely nice – sweet voice, shy, always smiling, not talkative. He looked less Polish than his wife and daughter; maybe this was the reason he was scared of the Germans and tried not to leave the apartment. One day when the Jews started to be herded to ghettoes and concentration camps, he happened to be away from home. He came back home and found his wife and daughter dead; Germans had entered and killed his family. He was taken to the camp with the others and became an OD-man, member of Jewish police in the camp. They were uniformed and they didn’t have to shave their moustache or head. This was the privilege the Germans gave those Jews that were ready to take the job. This man – formerly shy, silent, smiling, sweet – transformed himself totally: He became violent, a brute, whip abuser, screamer, cruel, heavy drinker, and slept with Jewish women prisoners. Nobody would have recognized him and everybody stayed out of his way. Was his subconscious suddenly liberated because of the extremely dramatic situation? I knew other people who, after losing their dearest, became aggressive, screaming, violent. So the logical conclusion would be that it is not the subconscious but the circumstances that change people. But, maybe both create these transformations. I know cases of macabre humour, wild behaviour, personal or collective, that would never exist in normal times. So, existence of the subconscious is not denied but usually remains undiscovered if not revealed by extraordinary experiences. I just remembered a story about the Jewish Head of the ghetto nominated by the SS-man in the Polish city of Lodz. There was a group of Hassids gathered and the SS asked, “Who is the oldest?” One old Jew with beard and sidelocks presented himself. The German meant ‘the oldest in rank’ and the Jew confused it with ‘oldest in age.’ The German, believing the Jew was high ranking, selected him to be in charge of the ghetto. And this Hassid, who had spent all his life praying in the Synagogue, suddenly became a fantastic organizer and leader. He grew power hungry, a mixture of generosity and harshness. He was killed by jealous lower rank SS men because when the high dignitaries visited from Berlin, he bragged too much about himself in his perfect German which the majority of Jews knew. Without the ghetto, he would have spent his life praying in the synagogue never becoming aware of his subconscious talents.
Coming back to my hypothetical conversation with Kastner, I think that I could sincerely sustain my answer, that ‘I don’t care.’ Maybe an extreme situation would reveal a quality in me that I don't suspect, some jewel or some dark spot, but all of us have to pass through our existence without being aware of all our potential or whims.Back to the index of the Vagabond