Zygmunt Frankel


Chapter 3

Dark Winter

17th November 1939
A drab and nasty autumn, to be followed, I am afraid, by an even more nasty and drab winter. Life has returned to something like normal, but is much more austere. My husband's salary is officially what it was before, but it can buy less. We had to dismiss our maid, with the cook taking over most of her duties, and me helping a bit as well. That was killing two birds with one stone because the maid was the younger and prettier of the two, not unlike me as a matter of fact but slimmer, and I thought I detected an occasional interested glance in her direction when my husband thought I was not looking. Lead us not into temptation, as the Lord's prayer goes. Not that the cook is any old hag either, but she's pushing thirty and is more plain and more religious than the maid. That's reducing temptation and risks by half and that's something. One can't be too careful, especially remembering a certain moment of weakness in the bushes by the little river.
My husband's factory has received a large order for conserve tins and is working full speed. Officially the order is from another Polish factory which fills those tins with various foodstuffs and sticks the labels on. There is a rumour that the original order is from the German army, but nobody wants to look into it too closely, and if it really is from the German army it might be risky to try and do something about it. At best one might lose one's job, and at worst fall into the hands of the Gestapo, their black-uniformed half-police and half-army of which even other Germans are afraid. My husband did talk about resigning for a few evenings, over coffee at home, but it was not too difficult to talk him out of it. His high salary in comparison to his age and experience is due, in part at least, to the factory owner being a distant cousin of his mother, and even if he did find another job it would'nt be as good. And if his resignation was taken as a protest against cooperation with the Germans, God help us. The Germans make no secret of considering themselves the master race, and everyone else their servants, and they rule with an iron hand. The poor Jews are even worse off; they are crowded into a quarter of their own, have to wear those yellow stars - something out of the Middle Ages - and are insulted both officially, in the press and Hitler's "Mein Kampf", and informally - by the Germans and, sad to relate, our own people who should have shown more solidarity with other Polish citizens, whatever their religion. Unless this discrimination is temporary, Leo did the right thing in escaping east. I hope he is alright and we shall meet again one day.
Our food situation - it is rationed - is better than that of the majority, thanks to my family in the country. Their horses, except for an old nag, have been requisitioned by the German army, but the cows, pigs, and poultry are still there, a source of butter, meat, and eggs which are becoming more difficult and expensive to get in town. My father is posing as a simple, though reasonably prosperous, farmer, and the Germans don't bother him. We visited them twice since the situation has settled down, and on each occasion came back with a small suitcase of flour, carefully packed eggs, jars of butter, smoked pork, and even some potatoes. We kept some of it for ourselves, and exchanged the rest for sugar and real coffee, which are difficult to find except at inflated prices.
Absolutely nothing on the Western Front, according to all sources, both German and the illegal foreign broadcasts to which my husband sometimes manages to tune in at night. It is as if both sides are paying lip service to the so-called war, keeping it on the lowest flame possible. Do they have some secret agreement about letting it peter our, leaving Poland partitioned for another century or so? For once, the men don't seem to know. What they had thought was a temporary situation seems to be congealing into a permanent one, with the efficient Germans slowly but surely tightening their grip on us, Czechoslovakia, and Austria, and friendly as can be with the Russians.
In spite of the food shortages my weight has climbed back to seventy-three kilos, perhaps because of more starchy foods and inactivity. I'll have to get a hold on myself, especially with the winter coming, when one stays at home even more; perhaps also some gymnastics, and long walks on nice days.

30th December 1939
A frugal Christmas, with a small tree, modest presents, and just the six of us around the table: Mimi, Marta, and I with our husbands. Mine kissed Mimi under the mistletoe a little too ardently; we've all had a couple of glasses of vodka by then so it's pardonable, but he will have to be watched, just in case. (He also kissed the cook, who blushed deeply).
I wonder whether any historian ever noticed the greatest - I don't mean the most tragic but the greatest, the most widespread, affecting the greatest number of people - evil of wars, occupations, and partitions. It is not, statistically, violent death, or starvation, or disease, or loss of freedom. It is - and I shall underline it - boredom; awful, heavy, grey, dumbing, depressing, paralysing boredom, hour after hour, day after day, week after week, month after month, perhaps even, God forbid, year after year; a sort of home arrest of body and soul, made, in the past weeks, even worse by the dreadful weather with its sleet and wind.
Or am I blaming outside circumstances for something, partly at least, within myself? Hadn't there been, even before the war, after a year of marriage, some nagging longing for something more? Was the unexpected and sudden incident with Leo in the bushes by the river not all that unexpected and sudden? My present state of mind would be enough to drive a less honest woman than myself into the arms of lovers. Mimi, who is in the same situation, feels the same. At least this terrible boredom has given us an insight into the mentality of married women who "take" lovers, some degree of tolerance. It does not have to be nymphomania, or falling out of love with the husbands, or falling in love with the lovers, or craving for physical variety (with Leo, in spite of the breathless circumstances and some physical differences which I did not have the opportunity to investigate further, it was not all that different from doing it with my husband); it's the huge, awful, overhelming boredom.
My husband and I have returned to our conjugal bed, and make love naked again, with the memory of those air raids and that awful shelter fading fast, and yet there is something missing. Is it a craving for a child? Are lovers and children interchangeable, at least in the first years of marriage? My husband and I have decided to wait with our first child until the situation clears up on the Western Front, to make sure that nothing more explodes over our heads for the next few years. I have noticed with some bitterness that my husband has listed all the political and military reasons without mentioning possible shortages of food and vitamins for the child, and while agreeing with him have once again felt resentment against the men who prevent or delay our babies with their politics and wars. That handsome and cultured German officer at the Roma seemed to me less an enemy than a member of the same club as Major Serbenski and Lieutenant Sarna; players united by a passion for the game, merely on the opposite sides of the field, all of them in conspiracy against Mimi and me who would like nothing better than a quiet home with a baby in the crib, and doomed to suffer this awful boredom till then.

10th January 1940
Still nothing in the west, but there is a merry little war going on in the north, with plucky little Finland teaching Russia a marvellous lesson along the whole snowbound front. It's nothing like knifing Poland in the back last year, and only goes to show what a colossus on clay feet communist Russia is. We hope that this is the modest beginning of their end, and that it will grow into something that will get them out of the part of Poland they have occupied, and perhaps also, somehow, the Germans out of the other half, even if it should delay our first child by another year or so. I have managed to drag my weight down to seventy-one kilos in spite of the starchy foods and the winter home arrest, and am determined to keep up the good work.

18th March 1940
A rainy, muddy, and sluggish beginning of spring, but a beginning all the same. Thanks God the winter is over; a minor compensation for the news from Finland. After such a promising start, the brave little country finally had to capitulate, and lost more territory than the Russians had demanded at first. And still nothing new from the west. The men say that neither our allies nor the Germans seem to be interested in pursuing that conflict, and that they'll sign an armistice as soon as what passes for decency in politics allows; something akin to the "honour has been saved" in a duel when one of the participants has suffered a scratch. If they do, I'll be able to have my first baby in peace. After all, damn it, a few generations including our parents were born in partitioned Poland, so if the worst comes to the worst so can our children, can't they?
Still seventy-one kilos. Have started a quarter hour of gymnastics in the morning. Makes you feel really great and fit; and, somehow, even more bored and frustrated for the rest of the day.

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1997 Zygmunt Frankel - All Rights Reserved.
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