The Betting Gate


By Ildi Ivanji

Translation: Marta Malagurski

To Sasha Goldman, 1977

It's beginning. It means, that I have to go back thirty three years and find it funny, so that it shall be to you and to everyone else amusing and funny, all the things that were so sad that the sadness was on sale for thirty-three years, and now, being no more profitable or actual, should be put into new packagins. And I do not feel like remembering at all, except that I love you in a crazy way that I can not define, and even if I could, I wouldn't know how to do what you are asking of me, so 1 do not understand why you suddenly insist that I should "at least" write letters"? And what do you mean by "at least"? Writing is either a commitment or a need: I have neither. Luckily, it's winter as it was in 1944 and I am writing in the language I did not speak thirty-three years ago. And I hate Bertolucci, you got to take that in, although you too are a bloody film-maker making money by advertising Coca-Cola. That number, 33, 1900 years ago, and the thirty-third year of this century, the year I was born… when did it (which thirty—three) all begin and is not over yet, although Begin and Sadat play marbles in such a cute way. So thirty-three it is. How old are you? 1 would say, 33. You, to say the least of it. You, for one.

Cold or hunger is not what you think it is. What you consider as cold and hunger is pure diletantism. As long as you don't have the need to mock the unpleasant things, to turn them into humor, black, white, red, mauve or multicolored, all is diletantism. As a professional, you have to deal with the problem.

Take cold, for example. To cover yourself you got a coat, 1.4o cm in width, and 90 cm in length. Your length is 1.50 cm. So, what do you do? First, you realize (and you are only eleven years old, you are not twelve yet) that the length is shorter than the width, so the width is the length and vice versa. You cover yourself with the width, so that you and your head are under the coat. You are using the length as the elongation of the wooden ends of a pair of banks on which you lean your back on. Your place is on the upper bank close to the wooden ceiling and you abide there with only the bedbugs to keep you company. That bank was assigned to me unjustly. Children were not permitted to a separate bank. 1 did not have a child available with whom I could have shared that bunk, since I was not particularly popular, and I have pitiless kicked my granny with whom I was initially paired off. So the Counsel of Sages, held a meeting and I was assigned that independent bunk, called "pritche." And, as 1 said, it was the upper one, which stood crossnise in front of the two parallel ones. That pritch was my post of observation my nursery, my bunker and my arsenal. I sometimes sat there, legs wrapped in the Width, (that from now on deserves to be spelled with a cardinal letter and treated as a person.) The Width was of dark blue color, soft, with a wide sash, and was paid for with a whole loaf of bread.

In our barrack there were almost three hundred people, thrown into about a hundred and fifty pritches put one of top of another. Maybe there were more people. Married couples and children, two in a bunk. The rest could do as they please. Some were pleased, because of the already-mentioned professional cold and of some leftover amateurish romanticism. Some were not. After moving out of my bunk, my grandmother was living under me. At night, she used to cry out The bed is rocking, the bed is rocking, people, can't you see what's going on?" The accused were myself and Bela Lux (not yet 13 and 12 full) from Zrenyanin (former Great Bechkerec) who lived on one of the upper parallel pritches with his mother, Hilda Lux. Those two had something to do with the prewar laundry soap "Lux". 1 was not quite sure what "rocking" meant but as soon as Granny Gizzy started screaming, 1 would start rocking with all the strength I had and Bela helped me wholeheartedly. Then the general uproar began. Mother Hilda would swear mostly in Yiddish, quoting Talmud excessively, defending the innocence of her son. She insisted that he had already celebrated his Bar Mitzvah. Some wanted to sleep, Olga would say "…but, Mother.." Luckily her bunk was not close and Bela and 1 would "rock", holding hands. Then the more courageous ones would pee in cans, and, depending on the size of the can, the sound was louder or less loud. Smaller children would start to cry, the rats became upset, the Width would start to shrink, and Granny Gizzy would, appropriate to her age, suddenly fall asleep, lulled by my and Bela's rocking. So peace was restored. But the Cold grew and became more severe and you had to put a lot of effort into exhaling under the Width in order to survive. Till morning.

Then the boring roll call followed. Now already banal, very convenient for mass scenes in war films of all ideologies. They march you out, where the cold is even more severe, and there you just stand. Now the Width on you is tied with the sash, you got wooden clogs on your feet, which are wrapped in bandages made skillfully of sacks and some straw you stole from another person's straw mattress. I managed to wring the slippers out while still in Austria, where 1 was a factory worker in Alt Prerau, preparing tinned food for the Wehrmacht, and I was ten going to eleven years old. I got the clogs and got boxed on the ear on top of it, but it was worth it. And now the scene:

Bergen-Belsen and you wonder how did I survive? Ask Joel Brandt. His partner was Alex Weisberg. They wrote about it in their book AT THE ORDER OF THE DEATH ROW, original title "Bi Shlihut Nidoniim le Mavet",(translated from German by Mr. Ivan Ivanji, well known by us.) Reading that book, in 1966, I learned that Joel, the man 1 was so fond of, ran a corporate business with a world Jewish organization, and in exchange for the never delivered trucks, bought Jews at the rate of four Jews per truck. While they were bargaining, there were some rumors about that in the camp, only hints, for there was no reliable information about the person behind thise interesting dealing and wheeling. We were under unique treatment (quite by chance, WE!). We were put on ice, formal and real, in one part of BB ( not Brigitte Bardot, not the Blues Brothers ) and waited for them to make the deal. In fact, this will be the story about waiting.
I never met Joel Brandt. What a pity! He was mistreated because of that business later, till he died. I would have said something nice to him, I would have said something really nice to him. Did anybody say something nice to him? Believe it or not, he was on trial. Some were not. Do you think I care? No. And again, no. And I loved dogs yet long ago.

I was sitting on my small white chair in the middle of the nursery room in Zrenyanin, late Bechkerek. Waiting for the asked for and well-deserved, live dog. The chair was in fact a small armchair with a headrest, and I was wearing a sailor fashioned dress, of dark blue color (the color of Width) with a white collar and with three (number of my years) Width-dark blue stripes. The dog arrived, a fox terrier. As soon as I established its sex I named it after a girl I liked - Suzy. In fact, the name of the girl was ZhuZhy, but I could not pronounce it since my mother tongue was German, the first gift I was given by my smart parents. Their second precious gift was that in 1941 they did not under the lame excuse of too great love and concern that many other parents had, drag me to the concentration camp (Belgrade fair, 'Topovske Šupe" or something like that, it was never established) where the Germans tested Cyclone-B. So they let Ivan and me try our luck escaping from Bechkerek (then Petrograd, the town had changed its name very often, due to the present "Nagymagyarorszag" wishes) I was 7 and Ivan 12.

Even after the war Cyclone-B was imported to Yugoslavia. There was a firm "Hempro" in Belgrade, who imported it. One day my colleague from Television Belgrade, Misha Lyutsovic, a sound engineer from Titograd who moonlighted in Belgrade somewhere around 1963-1964 exterminating vermin, teased me about it. He was eliminating bugs in his house to, and brought the empty Cyclone-B cans to the studio, right under my nose. The cans were the same, functional and unchanged. I suppose these were leftovers from the war-time. Misha presented me me a gift of two empty cans, as a token to my absolute (in every way) hearing. I went to the manager of Hempro at that time, Ishtvan Laszlo, gave him a friendly warning and drew his attention to the fact that the matter is lacking taste, mildly put. So this cooperation with Germany stopped, the condition being that I should deliver the cans to Laszlo so that no corpus "delicious" would be left in my hands. Being the idiot that I am, I agreed. But 1 suppose that somebody's got them, empty or full, still. I will never forget how Ivan Ivanji (you know him) became green in face when I showed him those cans, fine, yellow with red lettered title saying "tested, confirmed". It was partly because of him that 1 gave those cans back and gave up making a bigger spectackle, since he was on his way up and I did not want to mess with his carrier. In the end, it would have been swept under the carpet, anyway.

So it began with the dogs.

No, it did not.

It began with Waldy, a dachshound belonging to a neighbor, shorthaired and with one blind eye. Every morning, Waldy would come to visit me. He belonged to Waggy the pharmacist, whose pharmacy was on the ground floor of our house. Waldy came and went (all by himself!) and I wanted to have my own permanent dog. You could have serious talks with Waldy, and that mattered. All the others were too distant and boring, Ivan and his canary, Mandy. So, into my life came Suzy, but her dog's life was short, much to my regret, and soon was followed by Zuki, a small silken bastard. I spent two happy years with him, in complete rapport. Then came 1941, Cyclone-B, escaping, and before all that Zuki was placed in care of one barber's apprentice, who because of his pleasant looks was called Monkey. I never saw Zuki again, but my contact with live beings, intimate and honest, was severed. Till I met the yellow mongrel, Boy. But that encounter took place after the war and is of no importance for this story. It just explains some of it, explains why objectively I did not suffer at BB. There were no dogs, and I was therefore introverted to the level that I did not participate but was just an observer. The word was going on that I was a mean, emotionless and selfish child, always finding some amusement, forgetting about human suffering. Now pay attention! I did not disturb them in any way: let them suffer if they want to. They did bother me, not allowing me to live my beautiful life of fantasy, even when it was possible. I "made" my films, "edited" them, brought them together and tore them apart, the leading roles being given to dogs and bears, who spoke the language I understood. We together, were "stealing food" - sometimes in reality and were green of color. I don't know why, but green.

One morning, after the roll call, I witnessed a bargain for a jacket. The bargainers were certain Taussig, engineer from "Mameland" and certain Gross, from the large, innumerable, orthodox family Gross. Gross was selling, for there were many members of the family and it was not absolutely necessary that each one of them had his own jacket. The jacket was put on only when "going out", and why would all the 12 to 16 Grosses go out at the same time? They only went out for roll calls (one of them would always be reported "sick") and to the rather distant latrine. Being a wicked child, I often went out to watch around and collect new material for my "filmmaking" during the night, under the Width. 1 must also tell you that I had problems with the latrine, for I was both dressed and naughty as a boy, and my hair was cut short, and with a name like mine, nobody knew whether I was and what I was. Olga thought that it was less dangerous to be a boy then to be a girl at the age of abaout 12 in BB. So, it was always a problem into which latrine I should go. They chased me from everywhere. You were not drafted into the Army, so you do not know: a latrine is a long bench, with holes at every half-a-meter distance, on both sides of the plank, about a meter and a half wide. Arse to arse. It all was terribly humiliating to me, and any neurofreud would analuse me with great pleasure. But no, not me. I did not succumb even then, so I wandered about in the dark, and sometimes it was dangerous, since it was strictly forbidden to wander after dark. All that would have farfetched consequences on the Cabaret that was formed when the people from Budapest came and because of which you and I decided that I should enter the Time-machine, but… fuck it. At the time being, I am listening to the haggling.

Gross: Ah, ah, ah, mein Gott, mein Gott…

Tausig: This jacket is full of lice. How much do you ask for it?

Gross: Mein-Gott-mein-Gott, full of lice?! Full of lice, so what?! One and a half loaves of bread!

Tausig: Then clean it first.

Gross: On Sabbath?

Tausig: You do not negociate on Sabbath, either. You sell, you clean.

Gross: But I must procure them dinner, feed them.

Tausig: Clean!

Gross; Who buys, cleans.

Tausig: (leaves the scene)

I: (change of position)

Gross: Herr Tausig, Sie haben kein Herz!

Tausing; Nicht fuer die Lause!

Gros: Tausig ur, ne tegye ezt velem!

Tausig: OK, but with lice - one loaf.

Gros: (leaves the scene) Ah,ah,ah!

I: Tausig bacsi, mennyit ad ha kitetuzoem a kabatot?

Tausig: (mad) Egy pofont!

Gross: (coming back): I cleaned them.

Tausig: (falls for it) OK. (Takes the jacket, gives one and a half loaves of bread to Gross, looks into the seams, which, of course are crauded with lice screams) You did not clean

Gross: Let God the Father look upon this! Let God be the judge! He planted his lice, and accuses me! Poor me! Ah,ah,ah! Only that my children should perish from cold, I have no food to give to them. If all the Grosses die, there will be fewer mouths to share the soup with. Thief! Catch him! Help!

Tausig: (Pushes Gross, throws the jacket on the strawmattress, slaps me across the face, 1 run under the Width, peek. Tausig takes the jacket, goes out of the barrack, to clean the lice, probably.

Gross: (murmurs, leaving) What a joke! They are all fine fat gorged lice. Wouldn't even bite him. Had enough and not infected, guaranteed!

I worm my way out. Starting off for one of my prowls I put on my trousers, upper part of my pajama, petticoat, sweater, and on top of all this, the Width. I run, to avoid spotting. Olga and Endre worked as doctors in some barrack-surgery, and the other children in my barrack were cry-babies and spoiled. There was small Peterke, somewhat younger than I, who took his own board to the latrine, to avoid sitting on his bare arse where others had already sat. His mom would later carefully scrub the said board, dry it with a cloth and store it at a safe place. I will never forget the look of importance on Peterke's face, marching through the barrack and the yard, carrying the board toward the latrine. I envied him on his board and for knowing where to go. He's the lucky one, has a board and knows where he's going. I envied him, hated him and never gave him my BOOK to read. 1 bought it behind Olga's back, with my own winnings from Uncle Bede, an architect from Subotica. Because of reasons then unknown to me, Uncle Bede was in the neighboring camp ( he was, in fact, deported as a communist), with some Dutch people, on the other side of the wire. But the book was written for children,and its title was MADAGASCAR. It had 356 pages and I was allowed only to two pages a day (my own order) for, when 1 reach the end of it, it will be the end, one way or another. Olga gave a glass of milk to Uncle Bede every evening, over the wire, and that was also a dangerous task. She worked about twelve hours a day and Hauptmann (whom I will introduce later) gave her a liter of milk every evening from the soldier's canteen. She gave one glass to me, one to Granny Gizzy, one to Endre and one to Uncle Bede. She considered herself to be a being whom the earthly trifle could not affect. Now that the food is mentioned: sometimes we would get jam. In our barrack, marmalade was distributed by a thin witch of a woman, who used to steal it like this: marmalade was sent to us in big cans of ten liters. Each one of us would bring his own piece of bread or a small jar, to get his share of one spoonful. She would then lower the spoon into her jar, humbly hidden behind the big can. From the spoon, a drop or two of marmalade would drip into her jar and the marmalade was collected, slowly but constantly. Since the table she was occupying was diagonal to my observation post one day I got fed up, although she collected the jam for her sick daughter Katy, not yet 14. On that day I shouted at her from my post: "Shove me the Jar-for-Rest, immediately or I will expose you, from up front and behind!" Silently, she gave me the jar, her eyes full of five thousand years old hate and said that I was bad. I did not need the jam. Jam, potato peeling and earth I have never eaten, contrary to my brother in Auschwiz. So I immediately passed the marmalade to Bela Lux, who stuffed himself up with it. During that operation several miserables got a full spoon of jam, and that did not concern me either. I enjoyed my malice (now institutionalized) as I enjoy it today, and this was repeated whenever I felt like it.

For lunch, we were given Dorrgemuese. That was supposed to be a soup made of dried vegetables. It was enriched with potatoes, freshly dug from the earth and not washed. It was also lacking salt. Each one of us got a liter of soup a day. I made up a small comedy of it: I took out the potatoes, washed them and peeled them, as well as the "Gemuese" I used to throw away the earth and what was called soup I never gave it away nor sold it, what 1 picked out of it 1 ate with a little piece of bread or a lump of sugar. Granny Gizzy suffered from diabetes and sometimes, suddenly moved, gave her share of sugar to me. More often did she bartered her sugar for cigarettes.

The days went by mainly in lethargic boredom. Sometimes I would visit two girls from Szegedin. They were the only ones who knew that I was a girl, too. Even their moms were not allowed to knowfind out about that, since they would herald it all over the camp. So, because of reasons of moral, we were not allowed to be "too intimate". One of them was Gaby. She was very beautiful, with black curly hair, and the other one was Aggy, one year our senior who already had something like breasts. From time to time, the three of us, about half past four before dark, would go to the big gate. We had a very special kind of entertainment there. Between the left and the right part of the camp, there was a path where as we named it, "corpses pushed corpses"They did it in wooden carts toward the crematorium. Each cart was pushed by four to six "haftlings", faceless, colorless and absolutely identical. 1 couldn't figure out how, but they seemed to be of same height, too. On the carts, neatly stacked, were fresh corpses from this day. These that pushed the carts had to do it with extreme effort, and sometimes, exhausted, fell and lay there motionless. Then the whole caravan would stop, the fallen one was shaken for a while, and if it was decided that there was no hope or not worth the effort, they would take off his clothes and one some of the still living dead would throw the clothes over his shoulder and the caravan would go on. Our game was a betting game: which one of the living dead will reach the end of the path. The end of the path was the building with the furnaces. I remember, that 1 knew already the proverb "The dog barks, the caravan continues." I missed the dog.

In a barrack, between ours and the one where Aggy and Gaby lived, settled Pick Salami, using three pritches (two parallel and one transversal). Have you ever heard about Pick Salami? In the prewar Hungarian relations, that trademark was smelling as the postwar Gavrilovic sosage in Yugoslavia. At BB that was a family of several faceless grownups and a girl, Vera, who was smudgy and snotty (in reality) and nagging and always sought out our company. We avoided her, since she was also loud and our actions were very delicate and conspiratory. Old Mr. Pick (old for us), her father, was terribly beaten up during our moving to BB (while we were in the showers, and real water was coming out of the faucets, not Cyclone—B). So, Olga was everyday changing his bandages, but in vain. Some tims later, he eventually died from his injuries, but for us kids it did not matter at all. The only important thing (look up Joel Brandt) was that in some mysterious way the Picks managed to smuggle into the camp enormous quantities of Pick Salami and Vera Pik from time to time bribed us with tiny slices of the same, to take her to The Betting Gate. We did this once and never again, beacouse she went into hysterics. Our wagers were what we had: lump of sugar, small pieces of cheese (we got a quarter of a ring of cheese every day or a whole one every fourth day), bread or cigarettes, in exchange for which you could again get food. Vera had only some salami. She was spoiled and thin and she was always fed. Almost the whole family perished for the sacrificing for the good of the only heir. That was of course their business. In spite of all the family efforts, she was sometimes able to steal a bit of salami, watched over for bad times. Now it was not bad enough for them. So we took Vera with us, and I had a good day: all of my "live dead" reached their destinations, and that meant for me two lumps of sugar, half a ring of cheese and a thin ring of salami from Vera. Then, out of the crematorium, the smoke began to pour, what could be felt also at the level of the sense of smell, and then Vera started to scream. And scream. I started to wallop her, for the outsiders should think that this was the reason for her screaming, and to hide the real reason for our being there. I dragged her by her thin blonde hair toward the nearest barrack, where, together with his mother, lived my distant relative, "a good child", Robika Koch. I smacked Vera all the way to the barrack, and when the grownups arrived, I realized that there were only the two of us, since Aggy and Gabby (smart girls) had disappeared in time. Mother Koch (Zhuzhy!) separated us and took me to Olga, to raport. She would have been better off, had she taken care of her own "good child" for he got into big trouble in 1956, in Budapest. But then, in 1944, I was the one who got punished. Gaby and Aggy had brought me the next day what was due to me. Vera never showed up again. My dream of Pik Salami was thus ended and for more than a month we did not go to The Betting Gate. We were sick of it.

Then they invented the School Class. Someone got the idea that the children were "out of control" and seeing " a lot of ugly things"; and that their attention should be diverted. They organized lectures with voluntary teachers in one of the barracks. Here I must point out that Olga kept me very clean. After eight hours of even/day's work in the surgery, having examined all fake and real patients in our barrack, she was still ambitious enough to wash: I had clean clothes every day and was not full of lice like most of the others.

Maybe that trait of my character has roots in that period of my life (according to my astrological sign, I was born with it) that I did not much care for physical contacts with persons not close to me, so I avoided intimate contacts with my co-sufferers of all ages. That morning, I suppose it was the beginning of December, they gathered us at a small space (a bunch of feeble-minded kids) and started the lesson on the ballads of the great Hungarian poet, Janos Arany. 1 do not know whether anybody, anytime would be able to understand the antagonism that prevailed at the time: Bergen Belsen and the Ballads of Janos Arany! I started the first class of high school but did not finish it because of the excursion I am describing to you.I studied with the nuns, who, contrary to others, took in Jewish bastards . So, studying diligently with the nuns, I was very well read in the field of poetry, especially Hungarian. So the ambitious ( and dirty) Vamosy, who took upon himself to be the and teacher to show off, begun with the general theory of the meaning of poetry, the aesthetic approach in the usage of particular words and then, without transition, shot at "Szilagyi Oerzsebet levelet megirta…" (…wrote her letter…)and 1, without transition, continued:"Edvard kiraly, angol kiraly leptet fako lovan!" ("Edward, the King, King of England, rides on his pale horse…".) The man froze. Still, he controlled himself and did not slap me, but only asked where from did Edward pop out?! I explained that Oerzsebet wrote a letter to her son "szerelmes konnyevel azt is telesirta", just to show him that I know that poem, too. The son was Matyas Corvine (at the time of writing letters while shedding tears, only Hunyadi, the son of Sibinyanin Janko of our pre-history). The same Corvine-Hunyadi-Sibinyanin Matyas remained rather unimportant for the history of the world, were we not to give him the credit that allready of his resistance, the Turks did not got to Vienna. This should not be of particular interest to us, while Edward, the King, riding his horse of fading color across Wales, rode upon problems that are still evident. I demanded that we read the poem starting with "Hadd lassam, ugymond, mennyit er a Wellsi tartomany" (i.e.: Edward was interested in the value of his Welsh colony ). And we should not be interested in Matyas Corvine, alias Matyas Kiraly, especially after all the experience with his offspring, who brought us here, to this marvelous class. There was an uproar, I was expelled from the "lessons" ( even in after-war times, this often happened to me) and while Vamosy was pushing me out, I was still screaming A RADVANYI SOTET ERDOBEN HALVA TALALTAK BARCZI BENOT IME BIZONYSAG AZ ISTEN ELOTT (and then on top of voice) GYLKOS EROSZAK OLTE MEG OT , meaning "in the dark forest of Radvanyi, they found Bene Barzi dead, here is the proof before God that he met a violent death". In fact, I was hoping to be thrown out. But as I reached my observation post, the itch started. At first, undefined. I had an enormous experience how a bed-bug itches, and how a flea-bite does. But this was something new. The itching wandered around my body as a thin but well-defined thread, from the neck toward the sleeve and down the spine. 1 tried to scratch, but it got worse. I scratched myself for a long time, standing in front of the pritches and rubbing my back onto their edges. And here Olga arrived, shiningly clean and neat in her "costume" that no costume-designer in the world even for a humoresque of this genre would have the courage to create. She wore Endre's breeches, his shoes size 44, her own short coat, under which she wore a white shirt and her head was wrapped with always clean piece of sack (I used something like that as socks).The sack was tied as a turban since she thought that without her haircut she looked sloppy. She had her medical kit, which she always had with her, so did Endre too. Although they were deported in two different ways and at different time, they met with my assistance (I was with Olga from the beginning), quite accidentally at the famous collection camp Strasshof, near Vienna. They had those medical kits even during this unreal meeting, each his or/her own. Each of the medical kits contained the elementary drugs of that time, syringes, a blood pressure measuring device, a surgical and an edema kit. While we were coming into the camp, a senseless horde (all of us except Olga, who walked in calmly and erect) a fat important German soldier (obviously of higher rank) lined us up as he thought we should be lined up. From now on, I will call him Hauptmann for this is the name we gave him, with or without reason. Suddenly, he demanded that all the doctors come forward. 1 stared at him, wondering and came to the conclusion that obviously he was a doctor, too: besides other symbols, on his collar he had the Sign of Aesculap, a small snake, the same my father had, being a military surgeon, now neither a soldier nor a doctor any more. Hauptmann wore rimless glasses and somehow LOOKED LIKE. The doctors stepped out (among them Olga in her already mentioned costume), Hauptmann stopped in front of her and a little bit baffled asked her "Sie sind Arzt?" (it sounded like SIE S1ND ARZT???), and she calmly answered "Ich bin Arzt", not taking her eyes off him. I had the impression (obviously he had it, too) that at the same time she was sending him a message " Yes, I am a Doctor, and you and the likes of you are to be blamed for my being here, looking like I do, and that I have to answer to your silly questions". That could have been the end of the story, but later Hauptman always stood by Olga, arranged for a surgery for her, and every day brought the most needed medicines, and somehow protected her.

You and I arrived to the moment when she arrived. I hated her turban, her neatness, and her self-assurance. She was always serious, important and sullen. This time she asked me: Olga: What are you doing?

Me: Scratching.

Olga: Why?

Me: Because I'm itching.

Olga: You are always itching for some reason.

Me: This time it's for real.

Olga: Why's that?

Me: Because of Matyas Corvine.

Olga: So you are itching for a good spanking.

Me.- I would say, it's because of a louse. An educated louse, so to say.

Olga: You are talking nonsense.

Me: Vamosy thinks that Matya Corvine is in a world context more important than Edward the King on the pale horse. I disagree. I said so, and in revenge, he delegated to me his most hungry louse, which is now crawling over me,seeking refuge, and 1 do not know what attitude to take in respect to the louse or to Vamosy.

Olga: Take off your clothes.

Me: I will not!

Olga: Immediatly!

Me: (looking around, trying to escape)

Olga: Give me your shirt.

Me: I won't!

Olga: (coming nearer)

Me: (climbing up to my pritch) It's immoral to take off ones clothes in front of men, during the day!

Granny Gizzy (from the lower pritch): She's right.

Olga: But Mother…

Me: But Mother!

Olga: Get down, this moment!

Me: Won't!

Enter Endre, carrying the medical kit. Olga informs him about the problem. He climbs up, carrying his blanket and reaching the pritch makes a screen for me. 1 take off my clothes, give my shirt to him, he takes it with great care, then takes off his glasses, jacket, rolls up his shirt-sleeves and gets to work. In less than ten minutes, he caught it: a fine, fat louse, color of human flesh and full of my blood. My blood-sister! She passed away between Endre's thumb-nails, and my only warm shirt was temporarily thrown into washing water. Olga used to do the laundry in the evenings: by morning, the laundry would be dry. But this time, I was sentenced to sit at my observation post from noon, and in retaliation (when it came to distribution of jam) I asked every now and then for the jar-for-Rest. Bela had overeaten. Aunt Yutza would now and then say to me "Child, you are heartless" and 1 would answer " No sympathy for the lice, as Uncle Tausig said, not for the lice" and so this was the only day during my stay in the camp when they tried to force education upon me, but I did not buckle. Instead, I learned the itch of lice.

That same evening I took a new tenant into my green menagerie: a green mosquito. The purpose of this was to let him bite me when I finish MADAGASCAR. The mosquito bite meant freedom, but I was not able to formulate that in such a grandiose way. Anyhow, the mosquito meant: summer, field, never-ending landscape, without people, without lice and without education. This green mosquito brought a new element into my movie: sound. He buzzed. So, about 16 years late, but my movie got sound, although at the time of SONNY BOY I wasn't even a lusty thought. Anyhow, it was nice.- on my big board of wishes, I wrote down: mosquito bite. Sometime, somewhere, let it itch. Let it itch till it hurts!

1+9+4+4=18. And on 1+8=9. Meaning, the year 1944 should have been a good one for me. You know my attitude toward number nine, remember the famous horse—race in Paris, when we last met and the mare Camicia, who, wearing Number Nine, against logic and professional forecasting, brought me a lot of money. OK, it was not a load of money, because I was not the only one to foresee the combination, there were other admirers of No. 9 obviously, but to stake 50 franks and to get 1.600 on the one and only horse race betting in my life, was not a small accomplishment. But then it was December, 1944, and I expected a miracle to happen on the 6., 15. or 24., since the total sum of dates should have been nine, the year was nine, 1 +9+4+4= 18, and 1 +8=9; and the month was 12, 1+2=3, that was the month, plus 6 or 1+5 (6 again) or 2+4 again, meaning the day was the 9th, plus the total sum of the year amounting to 9,so 9+9=18, and again 1+8=9. I hope you understand, but it doesn't matter if you do not. Since the 6th and the 15th of December passed and no miracle happened, and the whole year went by,so the only lucky day could be the 24th. On the 24th, in the morning, my feet froze, especially the left one, up to the knee. That was the most idiotic roll call during my stay in the camp, and besides, I had a slight fever. And I was ill-spirited. It was a roll call for no apparent reason while it was very late. Olga would have released me because of the temperature, but both, she and Endre have already gone to the surgery and the Huns' had the idea (no logic there) to take a roll call at 9 in the morning! Maybe someone, somewhere managed to escape. I put on my clothes quite sloppily, and being angry, crawled out from under the Width, put it on and put on my bandages carelessly. I didn't even have time to steal a piece of fresh straw for better isolation. And so, after two hours poinlessly spent, freezing at minus 25 Centigrade (motionless), while they counted us over and again, up front, back and sidewise. 1 returned together with other sufferers to the barrack, with one foot less, and then with one more, for it became white. Then red, then mauve, and then the capillaries started to burst. All that was terribly boring. At noon, the people from Budapest arrived.

In fact, at the beginning there was noise, then singing, then laughter. God help us, laughter. 1 did not hear laughter for centuries! People were afraid to laugh, as if it would bring disaster. They were not so much afraid of diseases, grieving, or death, my word of honor. Except for some very impressive cases. 1 don't even remember how people died in Bergen Belsen.They died somehow quite inconspicuously, as if that were a secondary phase in life. And there were old people, and small children and sick people, totaling about five thousand people under my control. And I do not know, 1 tell you, how they died, except when they were beaten or when there was shooting, or during our funs at The Betting Gate. Regarding the shooting, it was not so frequent, their ammunition was scarse, as it is now with our dog-catchers in Belgrade. I do not know whether you are aware of and whether you are interested at all in what is happening here with stray dogs, under the auspices of the current mayor. They murder them with clubs. Simply, twice a week, on Tuesdays and Fridays. They say that the bullets are expensive, the poison is expensive, some injections, too. So the one that are sent for veterinarian experiments are those there are better off (contemporary Mengele). For they are supposedly put to sleep. Most the dogs are into bags and beaten up to death. And there were some quiet protests, the protection of animals, several old ladies with nothing else to do, many young people and I was the loudest. Nothing came of it. Later I thought: I am acquainted with that kind of logic. And there is nothing you can do with such a logic. I understood that 1 am helpless again. As some tried and couldn't in BB. So I stopped thinking about the stray dogs as 1 stopped thinking about the live people till Ruby Trebich appeared, with a guitar and a mouth-organ. So, with the frozen left leg, that 1 scratched bending backwards, light-headed, I learned to love. Namely…

That evening, 24.December 1944. the people from Budapest opened the first B-B-CA-BA-RET and it was preceded by brilliantly performed publicity. 1 am sorry that today BB means Brigitte Bardot or Blues Brothers or something else. For me, BB will always mean Bergen Belzen and its cabaret. Since I ran out on at noon the mentioned day (24.December 1944, 12 hours and fifteen minutes), I almost lost my breath: I saw the most amazing motley of people one can imagine. First, for this transport, the Huns caught the whole audience and all the performers of a cabaret in Budapest, jews and Goys together, but since it was on too high a level (furs, evening gowns, black ties even jewelry), and not wanting to deliver too fine a merchandise fir those problematic trucks, the Huns picked up about fifty partly deaf-mutes, and partly crazy Jews from different respective institutions and added them to the initial crowd. But this did not in any way affect the mood of the "normal" newcomers. They had, as we had, spent about a week in cattle wagons. 75 souls in cattle trucks, without food and just a few drops of water during the journey which lasted at least two weeks; the last twenty kilometers they had to walk since the rails were destroyed by bombs. In spite of all this, they had arrived merry and riotuos as any professional theatrical group behaves when arriving to a new place. The deaf-mutes were a little bit brought to order in the meantime, the insane were cleaned and dressed up. ( All of the insane, opposite to the cabaret's crowd, arrived wearing striped pajamas and thus became our private "Haftlings".) And we were in no time informed that " in the newly opened barrack V/b, a program will be performed for all the present in our camp department, the admission fee being a voluntary donation". When Olga, coming home from the surgery, approached some deaf-mute who seemed to her somehow suspicious, and marched in front of our barrack carrying a poster saying "ALL YOU PEOPLE, WHOSE LIFE IS TOUGH, ARE INVITED TO COME AND LAUGH!" with "Do you have lice?"; the unfortunate stopped, dumb—founded, then shrugged his shoulders and uttered "egy ketu tetu" meaning in verbatim translation "one louse, two lice" but I prefer my poetic liberty of "One more louse in the house".

I started scheming how to run away in the evening to see the show. It seemed impossible. Do I put the old ones to sleep? What with? A bat? Morphine? To steal some out of the medical kit. To faint and let them be sorry for me? To explain everything about Number Nine? To offer some half-witted promises like 'I'll be a good girl from now on?' In the end, I had a brain-storm: diarrhea ! From about four o clock in the afternoon, 1 went every half hour to the latrine, sometimes to that for males, and then to the for females, and arranged it so that the ninth going to the latrine happened at nine o clock. Then I went to the right, paid for the entrance with a small piece of bread, plus two lumps of sugar ( 1 did not want to give away the piece of salami, not knowing what to expect at the show) and among the latecomers stormed into the barrack V/b.

On an improvised stage stood an intentionaliy-negligently masked 'old man' and surrounding him, three similar female creatures. The old man held his hands stretched out the way blind men do and pretended to be blind. In front of the 'stage' made of upturned pritches, sat my old acquaintance the deaf-mute surrounded with the lies of him and kept repeating 'egy ketu tetu' and those around him would add 'h-h-h'

THE BLIND MAN:… k-h-ing w-hithout k-hingdom, 1 father d-h-amned without my doughters. I h-had the s-h-neer to be named L-h-ear. I m-het a sad youngst-h-er, R-h-omeo, hhhis n-h-ame was R-h-omeo and R-h-omeo asked me : 'R-h-ebe L-h-ear, lend me your ear, I w-h-ant to ask you, wh- hy ]-h-ews live dispersed all o-h-ver the w—h-orld?" and I said to him " In order to avoid each other more easily!"

THE DAUGHTERS; Haber tate!

THE BLIND MAN: Listen, R-h-omeo, wherefore art thou R-h-omeo, if you do not know who gathered us into a heap (accelerated), who lighted the little fire, made a the stake to warm up the nation? ROMEO:(leaps onto the stage) W-h-h-ooo? H-h-h…



THE DEAF MUTE: Egy ketu-tetu!

THE BLIND MAN: (Takes a guitar with a mouth-organ attached to it and sings):

This afternoon I went into a pub (plim plom), I ordered some meat the waiter said: 'This is it, no more meat". I asked for some bread."You don't say!" the waiter said. I asked the angry waiter for some salt, at least (recitative) so full of grief I got out,and please note, I was relieved of my own coat! Well, my good men (went on Lear) what kind of a pub is this one here? And let the 'honest finder' who already managed to steal my coat take good care of the specially trained freckled louse, I hear your lady doctor is looking for. It lives in the right seam of the left sleeve. And let him give it back to me, for it will get lonesome. Let her return to her flock.

DAUGHTER No 3. Haber tate!

THE BLIND MAN: My name is Lear, I have no fear to at the darkness sneer. But what an awful darkness! H-h-h. And a terrifying silence. Even radio has no stamina to make an honest confession once a month at least. And it lies, endlessly. (The choir of deaf mutes:"H-h-h")Lie after lie! All because of that character. 1 must not e—h—ven mention h—h—is n—hame. I am so frigh—h—tened. You know, we all are frigh—h—h— tened of him. And we h-h-hate h-h-him. (The chorus of deaf mute: "H-h-h") When he sticks to us, when it happens to us. Let's make a guess, who would that be? His name begins with-h-h the l-h-etter….with 1-h-etter… what 1-h-etter seemed unnecessary this evening? A small one? A small letter? What do you say, you ugly little one? I (getting up) The unnecessary letter is "H"?

THE BLIND MAN: Excellent! Sit down, the letter 'h'! When it sticks to us. Is there anyone who knows what would be the next letter, after 'h'? You, ugly little dark—haired one? Nothing, (the chorus of deaf mute is pretending to laugh" he-he-he). We still do not know what would that be? What letter? What do we hate? What bothers us in our life? And all the letters are already there. He….he… OK, people, don't run away, It's not what you think it is. The word is HEATER!


I wouldn't have the nerve to ascertain that I knew what hipogriff is. But in some way it became clear to me that to these people here, sitting on turned over would-be beds, covered with dirty rags, the situation was FUNNY. At the same time it downed upon me that my conflict, from time immemorial, with those around me and with my own self, was in the fact that 1 considered automatically funny everything that others considered awful. Fhunny. To be able to endure. But of course, up to that moment I did not dare to laugh. And those present were laughing their heads off. Everybody. The performers, the audience and myself, the only child in the whole spectacle. First, I giggeld carefully, like a small rat, meaning my front upper to large teeth peered out, then 1 involuntarily uttered an h-h-h, and already I belonged to the deaf mute and together with them 1 chanted "egy-ketu-tetu-h-h-h!" During that period, on the stage different performers appeared and said some, funny to others, things and I felt cozy and easy going, and I was only sorry that I did not take some supply with me, another lump of sugar or a piece of salami to give to this so very happy choir. Never, neither before nor after that event, did I without reluctance and suddenly feel so much on my grounds, liberated and open to everybody, and willing to love, nor, to say 1-h-o-ve, at least. So this was, approximately the text of the first B.B.Ca-ba-ret. And after the "dramatic part", they started to sing, but the songs were awfully beautiful and everybody sang, at least something like 'zoom-zoom' and then some people told jokes and then some in the audience started climbing onto the stage and performed something and everybody loved everybody else and then the light should have been turned off long ago and then they said there will be another program, a new one, tomorrow, and they said that this new program will contain the up to date daily news provided by the present newspaperman Takach and they promised new songs, which will be provided (to put together and take to pieces the main actor and performer Reuben Trebich), and promised a coat of stale and a coat of fresh jokes and even that the deaf mute will perform some Cicero's speech, transformed into a choir piece and everybody was very happy and I came home , all flushed up and then the hell broke loose. Of course, I was grounded for the next few days. It itched, and hurt and I was running a fever and was punished. And Bela Lux, whose mother went regularly to the B.B.Cabaret every evening, told me that the programs are getting better and better, that they sang a song about me, how I was scratching and how become the first victim of the real art the month. On the 28th there was a roll-call again. I was spared. Everybody screaming: the Germans have found out about the Ca-ba-ret and banned it. On the 29th the Cabaret was performed in the darkness.

While dragging himself toward his "home sweet home" sometime after ten o clock, in the shadow of the barrack, old uncle Rot Barnabash was spotted, beaten up and left in the snow to freeze. And he froze. He was the loudest and the merriest spectator of the audience. On the 30th, the camp was dead silent.

I knew. I knew that something was in the offing. I knew that they would not abandon us. In those days I heard reproach and words about the two thousand years of cowardice, curse, anathema, Hebrew wisdom, Hungarian words, German, Yiddish, Serbian, in all the languages :" We knew that it will end this way. We knew". I knew something else. And on the 31st, after nine o clock in the evening, in our barrack, when everybody was already asleep and even the thought of the New Year's Eve was out of question to be speak aloud about, there was the sound of a guitar. One chord. Sad. I know now: in a minor key. And another one. And the voice so familiar to me said or sang or cried without tears: "Jishkadal ve jiskadash shme rabo…". Accompanied by the guitar and the mouth-organ fastened to his guitar, Ruby chanted the most unusual Kadish of all the thousand years Jewish dying. So our B.B Ca-ba-ret started in the barrack IX/a and lasted for three months and 15 days.

Tomorrow morning, in front of the barrack, 1st January 1945. Totaling 3, not the worst day in its numeric meaning. No roll-call, the sun pretends to shine, I hear 'plim-plom". King Lear, without his beard and mustaches sits on a box, plays guitar and mouth-organ at the same time, and periodically sings, leaning on barrack LX/a. Sitting next to him, with endless bliss on his face the "One more louse in the house". ( "egyketu-tetu")They are supposed to sunbathe. I approach them.

- Hi! (Me)

- Hi! (He)

- H-h-h. (The deaf mute)

- May I sit?

- You may sit

- What's that?

- I blow into it

- And what's that?

- I make a beat on it.

- And what's that?

- 1 look with that.

- And who are you?

- Ruby. Ruby Trebich.

- And who am I?

- I do not know. I don't even know even what you are. A boy? A girl?

- Should I leave now?

- You should leave now.

I leave them. Suddenly sad. I would like to go back. After the Kadish last night he sang a song that everybody joined, and I did not know it. It was about a rooster, who already performed his cock-a-doodle-doo, (in Hungarien) announcing the coming of the dawn. My great interest in poetry led me to the conclusion that some symbolic meaning is hiding in the lyrics. I learned the word "symbolic" from the nuns relating to Holy Virgin Mary. So I understood that someone could hope for something, if he can believe the rooster. That seemed idiotic to me. 1 was all confused and decided to go to the Northern Meridian (that was my name for a distant corner in the camp. "Meridian" was mentioned in the book MADAGASCAR and I did not know its meaning. But from my meridian the "haftlings" could be spotted.

Haftling was a Jew or Goy whom Joel Brandt did not buy. The heftlings were separated from their families (which mainly did not exist anymore), dispersed between men's and women's camp units, without any personal possessions, dressed in striped suits and, by a successful nutrition-cosmetics treatment, made absolutely identical. Out of these heftlings, by an additional technological process became those live or dead more accuatly corpses, on which we, Agy, Gabby and me made bets at the Betting Gate. Olga has forbidden me to watch them, since it was not a nice sight for a child. In fact, nothing around me was a nice sight for a child, but the grown-ups had (and still have) in every situation some categories that are not clear to me to this day. According to these categories, heftling (without his personal guilt but measured by the camp's rules) was lower by class then us, and so was not a nice sight. The fat old woman Licht, shitting beside the hole in the latrine, was a pretty sight. The killing of rats in front of the barracks on Friday mornings, was also a pretty sight, at least not an ugly one. A heftling was not a pretty sight. So I set to watch the ugly sight. Just to avoid going back to Ruby.

There is a commotion among the heftlings. Two German soldiers are throwing turnips at them. Wherever the turnip falls, there is a swarm of heftlings. Then, some of them grab a turnip and starts chewing it, so as it is, covered with eart, dirty, skimpy. Some gather again, awaiting new turnips, and some remain laying flat on the ground. Our customers for the afternoon, 1 thought and set to meet my friends. Something should be devised to trick the stupid Vera Pik out of some salami.

Tomorrow morning about ten in front of our barrack:

- Hi! (me)

- Hi (he)

- And why are you here?

- And why are you here?

- The slightest idea…

- Me because of that "H.I."

- "H. I"? H.I.

- Shall I sit?

- You shell sit.

So I sat down and learned that in Budapest it was quite bearable and that they did not deport the Jews in masses, they only took some of the men to compulsory labor or some worse adventures, if they were communistq. Others were collected into some kind of a ghetto. Fine, in one flat two-three families, almost normaly. People lived, ate, drank and tried to figure out: will they, won't they? And then from somewhere in such a ghetto they brought Ruby and his parents and their dog. Chootack. The name meant corn-cob. Chootack was a Hungarian sheep-dog, black and with very curly fur. Ruby in fact graduated from an actor's school and read law. He probably was not young, although he looked well, for he was not like the grown-ups. He skipped the army, being a Jew and was not taken to compulsory labor, fthanks to a grandma who was a Catholic and her family jewels. So, for some time they all lived fine and happily and sang and howled, everyone according to his talent, until one day some council of Jews from his house or street decided to ban dogs from the ghetto, for it was "conspicuous" and could "provoke". Then Ruby took Chootak to some farmers he trusted. When they parted, Ruby promised to Chootak that he will go on singing, and he, Chootak, should go on being a dog. And promised that he will come back and take him. When Ruby came back to his flat, he felt like crying and then he took the guitar with the mouth organ, went down to the cellar, gathered his belongings, found the likes of him and set to be conspicuous and to provoke. So the first Budapest Ghetto Ca-Ba-Ret was born, each evening a new programme. People came, not only Jews. Somehow even those who did not live in the ghetto came, some actors non-Jews joined, bringing new costumes, texts and songs. And News. And jokes. In fact, the jokes were the most sought for, for example: ' Do you know what moral is? You do not know what morale is? A buyer comes to my shop, buys for 60 fillers, gives a hundred, takes the merchandise and forgets the change. Now the question of morale pops: should I keep the change or share it with my partner?' Or the joke on the theory of relativity. I:" What's the theory of relativity?" Ruby:"You'll see". And says:" Judging by the Einstein's theory of relativity, the Hungarians will say that I am an Hungarian, and the French that I am a cosmopolitan. Judged by skipping the theory of relativity (as is being done now) the French will say that I am a Hungarian, and the Hungarian that 1 am a Jewi. Do you understand?"

- Everything, except "cosmopolitan".

- Doesn't matter.

- And?

- And, one evening in December they gathered the whole company while 1 was being King Lear and dealt with the daily political actualities, and the others did their parts, but without the chorus from Greek tragedy. They loaded us into these fine comfortable cattle cars that you probably know, too. During the whole journey I thought how to rewrite the material for the new audience, for I did not know what kind of audience to expect. After crossing the border, they attached these "brilliant" extras in marvelous costumes and so I got reinforcement in a sens of a Greek chorus.I was proud for knowing (approximately) what a chorus was.

- So, how did you arrive to IX/a?

- Because we decided that all of us, or some of us, should live in some barrack or other. And to perform the Ca-ba-ret in each of them. Both actors and the audience.

Very simple. You can not go out after nine, you do not go out after nine. Both the actors and the audience will remain in their barracks. And the show will go on.


-Hey!-You here alone?

He went on playing, not answering. A song with lyrics somewhat like these:

"I offer you a story hundred miles long
of blue horizons, way up and high
space for rivers mountains and seas
and one birch tree with a dark eye.

I give you the golden crest on a carriage
the lantern from the crippled Captain Cook's ship
the yellow armchair weaving the days
and the vessel in which the harbor slip

I give you the bubbles of champagne with a hat,
the bird that sometimes plucks at the harp,
the wind-stricken moon by sadness blown up
peace for the world and peace for my heart
I love you so much…"

I thought that it was a very beautiful song. Not the most beautiful, I had one of mines, more beautiful, but very beautiful.

—And why are you in our barrack, exactly?

-To make you laugh. You are funny when your teeth stick out. I gave him the biggest grin and went away.

On that day there were no more events, except that suddenly there was Hauptmann. After lunch, very important, he came into the barrack exactly at the time Olga did her laundry. He started to yell at the other women: how could they let lady doctor who works for them all day long, to do the washing on top of it all?! And among them while dropping dead of boredom, there could be someone to give her a hand. And that all of them should pay a little more attention to what is happening to those "across the street". And the partly they should thank the lady doctor that the same thing is not happening to them. I was seized by panic: that Ruby will start accompanying him on his guitar and moutn organ and I tried to catch his eye. He was living not far from me, also on the top floor, together with his deaf mute orderly. Everybody was trembling, and Olga stopped washing for some time, she listened to him, quite calmly, and then declared, in perfect Germann, of course, that she will continue to do her own laundry beacouse "I want it clean". She then turned her back to Hauptmann and went on washing. Hauptmann hiccuped, shut up and declared "If you say so, Lady Doctor" ("ja, wenn Sie so sagen, Doktorin…") and left. Silence set in. I crawled under the Width, waited for Olga to leave for her afternoon work and did my best to dye a black poodle into green and to teach it to talk to the green mosquito. Peterke took his Board to the afternoon visit to the latrine, very important. The housewives exchanged recipes for cakes, roasted meat and winter provisions. Granny Gizzy from time to time loudly and decisively declared her "Jaj nekem!". That "Poor me" did not sound more convincing at BB then years ago in Bechkerec in her personal three—room apartment, that always smelled of rotten apples. It did not sound more convincing than the later "Poor me!" in Subotica, where she had only one couch, living with Olgas. According to this, the 'Poor me!' related to the circumstances had always the same value. I would have to ask Ruby if the theory of relativity could be applied to this case. Einstein's theory. It seemed to me, it would be possible.

One evening, after the New Year's Eve, when our personal Ca-ba-ret was already working smoothly with diverse repertoire, melodies from operettas (sung by 280 voices) and Hasidic songs - the lyrics of which I did not understand, but the melodies are still in my memory- Ruby announced a new number and started singing something like this:

Three tiny little cretures
are turning into cash
smiling like wicked witches
betting on lukewarm flesh

Thet couldn't dei in line
They couldn't live their time
This funny little creatures
Are not yours non are mine

Standing in winter cold
Beside the gauzy gate
they are counting and counting
don't know it's being late

There three tiny creatures
playing their horror-show
will finde one hideous, ghastly, monstrous day
a corpse they to well know.

I wanted to shoot Ruby and show him who is here the corpse ! He saw through our little game, spied, as grown-ups do and is now singing a moving song, pretending to be sad. But, of course, he never refused my salami, bread or sugar, that 1 had won betting on corpses. He said that I should have understood long ago what professionalism is, and that professionalism should be paid for. Of course, he is a professional and being a professional he can say the price for his performing, and the other residents of the barrack (except the deaf-mute) should be happy if a chance occurs for them to be his audience. Exactly because of that ambition of an average member of the audience to excel, slowly some order was brought into the program: it was always known in advance who is going to sing and what, and who is to accompany whom with "zoom zoom" from his place of course or who is going to clatter some can, piece of wood, or spoon. Only Ruby's part of, the program was always full of news, uncensored and unexpected. The anonymous joined in gradually. One evening, after an unusually dramatic sharing of jam and several of my drastic interventions, as soon as we settled each one in his bunk and turned off the lights and Ruby had sung his "announcement", Aunt Yuza, on the level of a bitch who in her late years is in heat but in vain, started to sing "Santa Lucia". It was terrifying! I could not make up my minde: whether to crawl under the straw-mattress for I was so ashamed, or to start screaming. I decided to scream, but silently. I gave my word never to blame her for stealing jam, in case she stops till 1 count to nine. But she did not stop. She even got a big applause! So, "Santa Lucia", after the nightly announcement became the first number every evening. Then an older married couple would sing the duet on an older married couple from the operetta THE BIRD KEEPER. Then one Magda, who with hate in her green eyes under red unkempt hair all the time pointed out that she would become "a mass murderer" if she does not find her father "after the war" (a theory she was able to study and enough practice to see) sang the song "Darumadar, ha elszallsz delfele…". After that all would be moved and for several minutes there was silence, and then Ruby, playing the guitar, would tell us the daily news. Today I would say that he was in fact the first singer of protesting songs, or what Bob Dylan tried to become when he was a child. Only with Ruby it was all humor and reserve. He was a chronicler, watcher, but it seemed that he was not much involved in the event. After the "daily news", new singers would appear or new songs or somethimes ancore was asked for. I remember a sad bass singer, I forgot his face, who several times sang "The cold wind is blowing across the field and the drizzle in falling upon the earth 1 am sure it was 'rain'.
Afterwards, when the "afterwards" came and when I learned Serbian and listened to that song again, they always sung "the night is falling". And 1 am quite sure he sang "drizzle". Here is why: the day after that first "drizzle" at the Betting Gate appeared Dory. Dory was a boy from Novi Sad, somewhat older than us. His real name was Theodore, and 'afterwards' we were allowed to call him 'Tosha' since he wanted to be a Serbian. Following that goal he did some monkey business with his very Jewish family name. Be as it may, Dory would often join us since he was in love with Gabby. He was all by himself in BB and quite a nice boy. He brought some chocolates. " From home" he said. Since he was excellent in several languages, and was rather reliable, 1 asked him what "drizzlel" meant? In ancient Serbian "do_d".

DORY: Do you know what "Vo_d" means?

ME: Are you pulling my leg?

DORY: Karagyorgye. 'The leader".

ME: For Pete's sake!

DORY: You nincompoop. Where will you go back? To Nagymagyarorszag? To Great Hungary? Is it? Learn Serbian, you stupid cow.

GABBY: What about me?

DORY:You are going back to your home, in Hungary. Of course, it would be a bit smaller than the one you left. And this stupid cow is going back to Serbia, Yugoslavia so to say. And she doesn't know what drizzle means, what rain means and what "suzerain" means.

ME: I am going to drop dead here, so I will not need to know. I don't care about the rains and the suzerains: I will go all by myself, on foot, to the crematorium.

RUBY: On how many legs?

ME:You are spying again, you traitor! Fuck off! Fuck off, all of you! And you, grown-ups, let us play. You cooked all this. Let us play what we find amusing, and at hand, and true. And do not mock us. I'll scream louder than Vera Pik, so all the SS and drizzles and rains and suzerains will come over. Fuck off, or find me some other amusement, or other sex or some other world!

Then my eyes started to sting with tears, and so, my business unfinished, I ran toward my barrack and crawled under the Width and for a long time I wailed in silence. I was fed up with everything, finally, for the first time in my life.


Santa Lucia.

The cold wind over the field.

The Bird Keeper.

Each barrack had his so called superior or a president.

In our barrack, the superior was a quiet little man, with beautiful blue eyes, white hair and very bow-legged. To make it short, he was handsome. He was also stern but did not intervene if not absolutely necessary. He tried to keep as much order as we needed to survive. And so, when he heard about our visits to the Betting Gate, he suddenly begun to sing. Without a single word of forewarning.


Santa Lucia.

12 boots (a song new to us, about the Mother, who is always cleaning one pair of boots less, while her sons regularly get shot at different battlefields).
Bird Keeper.
Suddenly, a new voice: The president Sabados. His blue eyes are singing the song about the four horses.


It's a song that every child of Hungarian education knows. But you somehow do not notice it, until it treads on your corn. The lyrics were poetically written by the poet Szep Erno, and somebody later wrote the music. Szep Erno, meaning The Handsome Earnest. The importance of being Ernest, since that was the name of my uncle, who personally gave over his nephew, that is my brother, to the Germans. So Ivan come to Auschwitz. He was not 16, yet. He got out. It's not easy to weed us out. Cyclone-B does not get everybody. But this song did. The four horses exhausted me totally. The said Ernest wanted a horse, as he said, from his earliest childhood. So they bought him a nice one, small, wooden. "Anyam, en nem ilyen lovat akartam" said he, that is "Mother, 1 did not want that kind of horse." He did not even want the rocking horse, the nincompoop. Finally, his mother passed away, quietly, like the proper human being she was, and the four very much adorned horses took her to her grave, graciously. There the Handsome Ernest sang again, full of pain, about the fact that he did not want those horses, either.

After that, we did not go to the Betting Gate anymore.

I remember some nightmares, some of my foolish attemts to be of use to Ruby. How could 1 be of use? 1 did not sing, nor play music, nor act, anything that could have been in any way connected with the Cabare, charming people or something like that. I did not even know how to decently chant the "egy ketu tetu, hi—hi—hi" for in some ways I was shy. During the day Ruby made rounds of his parish and collected material for the every evening's new song. What he sang, seemed much like musical evening news. He would dig out some political news, intrigues, the number of dead in the near and farther neighborhood, the names of the newcomers. As far as I remember, there even were two new born ones. Ruby used to find out who suffered from what illness, which menopausal old woman fell in love and with whom, and, rarely, which German soldier was sent to the Eastern front " because of softness". In collecting the news, 1 somehow discovered some opportunities to be:

1. of use to him;

2. stay close to him;

3. become indispensable.

When you are eleven years old, danger means nothing to you. So, on the 9th of March, 1945 for the first time I went for te first time through the wire fence, to the Poles, he Dutch and the Communists. In that last camp was Uncle Bede (Madagascar book) and I hope to hear many a most interesting information bearing in mind that he depended on Olga's everyday cup of milk and the fact that he was considered very clever and skillful. Clever enough he was far from, since his bones lie somewhere under the feet of today's tourists who being full of sadism or masochism, (that depends) receive psychical electroshocks roaming around Belsen. But I must admit that I did not forecast such a destiny for him, while standing pale and weak near his bunk.

Me: Uncle Bedo?

He: (Almost having a heart attack)

Me: Uncle Bedo, I came because of an important matter.

He: Crawl under my blanket immediately!

Me: (crawling under and whispering) 1 came to pick up the daily new.

He: Daily what?

Me: News, Political, Some intrigue. Or, is somebody pregnant? Has anybody gotten syphilis? Stolen food? Anybody beaten? Died?

He: What?

Me: I haven't got much time.

He: (coming to his senses) Who sent you?

Me: They (that sounded convincingly to me, probably to him as well)

He: OK. So… The world has gone crazy. Can you memorize?

Me: Yes.

He: BBC reports…

It would be a lie to tell you now exactly what BBC reported to Uncle Bedo on that 9th of March. But at that time, I remembered every word of it. I do not know where from he got the new. Olga today tells me that he had some kind of radio and that this was the reason he perished. I returned at sunset, before the time Olga was supposed to be back from the surgery, sneaked up to Ruby and gave him all the news, word by word.

Ruby disappointed me by only saying that I was back in time, and that he was expecting me some time earlier. He saw me leaving and coming back. Obviously, he was again spying on me again.
I did not know whether to be offended or flattered. Afterwards, 1 was feeling very important, at least to myself, since on that 9th of March Ruby's song mainly consisted of my first reporting. I remained anonymous, not only then, but in later days too. I did not care then, and I do not care now. I was nervous for having to promise him that I would go through the wired fence only once a week.

After my fifth successful passing through the wired border between life and death, I fell into Aunt Juca's arms, which meant that 1 lost some of my concentration. That was the end of even bigger spies than myself. Aunt Yuca started to howl like a pregnant hyena. In her momentary amnesia, she forgot that by nature she was only allowed to express herself in "he-he-he". But, while coming out of her, it became somewhat comprehensive and "Ooooooolgaaaaa" echoed through out the camp. The consequences were terrible, although I never admitted anything. I was sentenced to house arrest, without given time and of course, without trial.

That evening, during "Santa Lucia", each child in the barrack had to pee into a ten liter can. Each family had one serving as chamber-pot, in case of, Godforbid, cases of diarrhea or cystitis. Even Peterke had to do that."Santa Lucia" was sung never again.

Then the days stopped being days. There was no Betting Gate, no hanging around. There was nothing. On the tenth of April, Endre diagnosed the first case of typhus fever. The patient was Uncle Tausig, the one that bought that jacket full of lice and probably typhus fever from the Gross family. For moths he has been ill with something called "camp fever" till then. Two days after the accurate diagnosis he died, as if he only wanted to hear the name of his disease.On the thirteenth of April, they suddenly moved us. Nobody could tell why or where.While we approached the camp, near the Betting Gate there was Hauptmann. While we, Olga and myself, walked past him, he salluted us. Olga did not blink an eye. i was somehow sorry for him. We walked along the wide "avenue" between the left and the right area of the camp, between the wirs, by the same route we came in long time ago. I knew that part of the road well, from the time we visited the Betting Gate. People from the left and from the right, people? - for crying out loud: the heftlings -chanted the names of towns. The names of towns they used to live, while they were human beings. Perhaps we can pass a mesage, we in our civilian clothes, with parcels in our hands, we looked like some camp aristocracy.

So, road it was, avenue, whichewer. Faceless faces behind the wired fence. You can hear: Martonvasar, Bor, Budapest, Amsterdam, Oslo, Warsaw, Bratislava, Katowice, Novi Sad, Subotica….SUBOTICA?! Olga comes to a standstill and suprisingly courageously cries out: SUBOTICA? SUBOTICA? From the mass of faceless at out left we hear SUBOTICA SUBOTICA! Olga: But who from Subotica? Who? The Faceless: Olga! Olga! Madam Doctor! It's me! (jumps as high as he can) It is me! Hutter. Subotica. We had to go on.

I remember the train. It wasn't a bad train after all. We heard, and it proved true, that we were going towards Teresienstadt, a ghost town of the Germans for the wide world, where you lived "as in paradise" Stories were told about this in these waggons, which were not cattle waggons but normal third class cars. And everybody had a place. Before boarding the train we even got some bread and for the first time after a year, some half rotten onions that tasted marvelously. Half of the people were afflicted.

I was healthy, dirty but without lice. Ruby was nowhere to be seen. Grandma Gizzy is throwing cards. She brought them from Bechkerec and took them home with her, together with Byron's "Don juan", the vorbidden book of her youth. But in the train, these cards told a horrible fate. She bored me with her horrors and "jaj nekem" My house arrest was still actual. 1 was grounded stiff. The cards were falling from Grandma's hands, predicting ill fate. The Lady of Spades is always on top. It could not be avoided , it was in the deck.

The train advances. The train stops. You eat something. April, 16.1945. First, we heard the sound of the airplane. Then the first gunfire. An explosion. The train stops. We are at a hill. Endre throws me out of the car and yells: "Run! To the forest!"

I run. I turn my head. Behind me, Olga and Endre with their medical kits. Endre: "Lie down!" We all throw ourselves on the earth. I burst of gunfire. A petrifying terror. Petrifying. Again, gunfire. I know fear now. Planes flying low. 1 can see the faces of the pilots. I can see the Americas sign on the plain. Gunfire. Cries. Endre:"Run toward the woods! Run!" I run. Everything repeats itself, everything. Our group is safe, nobody is hurt. Endre is obviously a clever leader. Grandma Gizzy. Endre falls over me from time to time to protect me. We reach the forest.

Suddenly, silence. Nothing. Just nothing. An enormous nothing. We gather slowly. They send me to see what happened to Grandma Gizzy. I go to the train, she is nowhere in sight. 1 enter a car. Suddenly I hear "jaj nekem" and find her beneath a bench. "You and your Lady of Spades!" I tell her full of contempt as if the two of them could have been guilty of anything. Then I run back again, towards the woods. Suddenly, crying. Is somebody wounded, perhaps? Did somebody, perhaps… I go back to the train. At the entrance of one car there is Katy, Aunt Yuza's daughter. She is crying. 1 ask her:

- Why are you howling?

- My mother..

- What about your mother?

She points her finger towards her neck. "My mother is dead1" says Katy.

Santa Lucia!

I reach the woods. Endre is putting some bandages on Esther, the girl that sung about twelve boots. I ask her :" What's the matter with you?" "Nothing", says she, " I got a bullet in my arse".

Endre explains to me how to hold her. And then, nothing. She stops moving.

Endre: 'Take the bag!"

We go on. After few steps we run into Little Miss Milly. Little Miss Milly was the German governess of the four-year old boy, nameless for me, from some Hungarian middle of nowhere. His parents were shot as the most rich family of the mentioned middle of nowhere, a he, then a three year boy, was sent to the camp. Some people were really imaginative. She, Little Miss Milly would not part from her "pupil" although she was a Christian by birth. So, as fate would have it, the two of them were bought in exchange for the trucks. Fine deal. But Little Miss Milly, after a year spent in different camps for Jews, always full of Christian good will, finally came to the conclusion that her efforts were in vain. The child was lying in her lap, as it usually did. Only this time the child was dead.

We go on. The medical kit is of no use, and heavy as hell. And I have something to do. This is important, I thought, these are news. Events.Since we started, there was no Cabaret. Maybe tonight, on this meadow, we could organize something. Ruby explained to me that one should always find something funny in terrible things. Something is always funny.

So, it happened. Loud, disciplined and absolutely incredible, but there was an ambulance. German Red Cross. Complete. Why are they bringing ambulance for the Jews? White nurses with white caps on white heads, white doctors, bottled blood, everything quite well organized. 1 run away. It is the last moment to thoroughly examine the train, to see how are things and if there is any "material".

At the end of the train I meet the reason of all our troubles. The Germans have added several wagons with tanks and guns to our train. The flying idiots thought, at first sight, that we are some f… German army, and started shooting. But, why did they continue to shoot, when we run out of the train like a gang of mad civilians? Whenever 1 did meet a kind American, I had an urge to ask him to explain to me, why did they shoot, even when seeing a gang of mixed civilians jumping out of the train. Now I am less eager: the question became stale. Even before, after hearing the obligatory "nice meeting you," 1 gave up. It was probably "nice" for them.

The first car near the wagons was empty. In the next one, I found the old married couple from the Bird dog operetta. They had their meal, right there. And then several empty cars, again. Grandma Gizzy throwing her cards. The train is marked "uninteresting". I go back, toward the woods.

Gabby is being taken away, slightly injured. Her little brother and mother are crying and trying to follow her. I do not know whether they made it, I never saw them again. These Germans either do not know that we are all Jews (almost everybody speaks German) or they have been informed that we are intended for exchange. On my way, I hear Olga negotiating with a white doctor about the injured she could take on, which one could Endre take on, and which of them should remain in the transportation, what medicine they should provide for her patients, how many bandages, powders and the rest. Nobody asks where we came from or where are we heading. Old Sabaros sits on a log and wipes his forehead with a handkerchief. Even this horse is not good for him. I am trying to create the first verses in my life:

On this day, suddenly everything started falling down and for someone, always on the run this is the and of the trail.

It's no good, I think. No verse. It's only that I see the facts in prose: who is still alive, who died, who is wounded, who terrified and to report to Ruby.

Suddenly, I started to run. I wanted to cry out, but I did not dare, it would be wailing. I run toward the woods, tripped, fell over and run again, shedding the Width in the process. At the end of the woods I sopped and listened. It was the sound of a guitar. Plim-plom. I smirked, composed myself and started toward the sound. It was the Deaf Mute. One louse in the house. He plunks at the guitar strips, happy that he got it and sometimes he would blow into the mouth organ. I came quietly near him.

- Hey!

- Hi-hi-hi.

- Where is Ruby?

- Where is Ruby? He?

- You idiot, - I howled - Where is Ruby?

- One louse in the house. Hi-hi-hi.

Then I saw him. He was sitting nearby, in his characteristic pose, leaning on the big tree in the shade. His legs crossed, his hands ready to make music. And his head leaning toward his left shoulder. He was shot in the middle, in the way he used to hold his guitar.

I stood in front of him. "Ruby", I thought. " What can I say now? I can not sing a Kadish. First, I can not sing, and second, I do not know any Kadish, and third, Kadish is sung only by sons, and if there is no son and you die, and the death should be given a special significance, then some other people's son comes and sing the Kadish instead of the non existent one. And 1, no matter how I did look like, could not be a son. And you are no fatherThe deaf mute came nearer, I gestured to him that he should sit down. With the guitar. 1 gave him the sign, that started him chanting his he-he-he in rhythmically very decided intervals. And, as good as I could, in full voice, I recited the most loved poem of my nonexisting childhood:

…Upon a time a dog stole from the cook an egg the cook then took a knife and cut the dog the neck there came a pack of dogs they dug the dog a grave and on the tombstonme written is
the story of the brave …upon a time a dog stole from the cook an egg the cook the took the knife and cut the dog the neck there came a pack of dogs and dug the dog the grave and on the tombstone written is the story of the brave ……upon a time a dog….

Sasha Goldman - Ildi Ivanyi

9th January 1995, Amsterdam

Here is how the roads are cross all over the Victims of Fascism Square. I think of you ( myself) often as much as I would like to go there, I am repelled to do so. I often remember The Betting Gate. Even here (with the Diary of Anna Frank). Send me a long (enormously long) letter, it's high time. Everything is the same as before, but completely different. Do you go to Subotica? Some dogs arround? What is going on down there? Send me a short letter (before the long one) You can fax it: As regards the New Year, 1 could only wish that it's really NEW to you. Much love,



How shall I endure
your names
when I shall understand
that I shall not see you ever

How shell I endure
your tiny names
your 8-10-12-14- and 18 year
when I shell understand
that I shall not see you ever

In my brain
or in my throat
over the sky and under the earth
how shall I endure your tiny fading pulsating
when I shall understand
that tou hane no faces anymore
nor eyes, nor mouth, nor hair, nor hands
only names
tiny forgotten names
that course in my blood

Lederer Pista, Hahn Yanchi, Wihelm Dodo,
Holaender Ivo, Rosenfeld Mira,
Senes Yutka, Senes Pali, Senes Imre,
Berkovitch Eli, Berkovitch Peter,
Somlo Vera, Somlo Yanchi,
Somlo Feri, Somlo Peter
Kunecz Zuza, Czilag Djuri
and my dearest tittle biggest friend
Kaufer Djuri

How shell I endure
your tiny distant names
when I shell understand
that I'm grown up
that I'm grown old
that I'm dying and
that I shall you never
never never never never


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