Monday, October 14, 2019

Couldn’t you get married now?

‘Washing up after tea Jack [Franklin] expressed his regret that I was unmarried. “Oh, Auntie, such a pity you are wasted. You would make such a splendid wife. Look at the way you make cakes, and iron Dad’s shirts, and the way you can shop and cook! Couldn’t you get married now?” ’ This is from the diary of Australian writer, Miles Franklin, born 140 years ago today. She remains much revered for her novel My Brilliant Career as well as for her encouragement of other early Australian writers.

Franklin was born at Talbingo, New South Wales, on 14 October 1879, the eldest child of Australian-born parents. She grew grew up on a property called the Brindabella Station (in the Brindabella Valley) where livestock was reared on crown land (squatting - without legal rights, though they rights come in time through usage). She was educated at home, and then at Thornford Public, where she was encouraged in her writing, not least by the editor of the local newspaper. While still a teenager, she wrote a romance to amuse her friends, but then sent it to the Australian writer, Henry Lawson. He wrote a preface and submitted it to his own publisher in Edinburgh. My Brilliant Career was published in 1901, and became an immediate success. However, Franklin became distressed because the public saw similarities with characters from her own family. She withdraw the novel from further publication, and it was not reissued until after her death. A sequel, My Career Goes Bung, she had written around the same time, was not published until 1946.

Franklin turned to other ways to earn a living, nursing and being a housemaid. In 1906, she moved to the US, where she undertook secretarial work 
in Chicago for Alice Henry, also an Australian, at the National Women’s Trade Union League. She also co-edited the organisation’s journal. While in the US, she wrote On Dearborn Street (not published until after her death) and Some Everyday Folk and Dawn (1909). She suffered regularly from ill health, and spent time in a sanatorium. In 1915, she moved again, this time to England, where she worked as a cook and freelance journalist. During the latter stages of the Great War, she served in the Balkans as a cook and orderly for the Scottish Women’s Hospitals. From 1919 to 1926, she worked with the National Housing and Town Planning Association in London. She organised a women's international housing convention in 1924.

Franklin returned to Australia in 1927, where she published several historical novels under a pseudonym, though one - All That Swagger - was published under her own name in 1936. However, she again felt dissatisfied with home and Australian literary life and so returned to London, via the US, in pursuit of publishers. She was back in Australia in 1932, after her father died. She joined the Fellowship of Australian Writers in 1933 and the Sydney P.E.N. Club in 1935, and became an active campaigner for Australian literature, encouraging young writers, and supporting literary journals. She never married, and died in 1954. She left a bequest to establish a literary prize - the Miles Franklin Award - which was first won by Patrick White in 1957. Further information is available online at Australian Dictionary of Biography, State Library (New South Wales) or Wikipedia.

Franklin left behind a large hoard of autobiographical written material, diaries and notebooks, held by the State Library, New South Wales. The library lists its Franklin holdings as follows: pocket diaries, 1909-1954; literary notebooks, 1934-ca.1948;  diaries, 1926-1954; and miscellaneous notebooks, [ca. 1850-1954?]. It has also made available online images of more than 300 or so pages from one of Franklin’s pocket diaries (1917-1918). In 2018, Franklin’s last ever diary - which had been thought lost - was found in an old suitcase, and donated to the State Library; see The Age for more on this. The article includes Franklin’s last ever diary entry, on 16 September 1954: ‘Went to Eastwood by ambulance to be X-rayed. Ordeal too much for me. Day of distress and twitching. Returned to bed’.

In 2004, Allen & Unwin, in association with the State Library, published The Diaries of Miles Franklin as edited by Paul Brunton. According to Brunton, none of Franklin’s material, with the exception of the pocket diaries, is strictly chronological. He says he selected diary entries from all the different sources and placed them in one chronological sequence (though each one is given a precise citation at the back of the book). Some pages can be read online at Googlebooks. An interesting academic essay on Franklin and her diaries by Sandra Knowles can be accessed via the Sydney University Open Journals website. Knowles finds Franklin’s diaries more authored and less revealing than Brunton’s commentary suggests: ‘This essay,’ she says, ‘argues that Franklin’s diaries are a performance of privacy and authenticity, through a consideration of her diary audience. Her diaries do not reveal an artificial Franklin, but rather challenge the notion that diaries produce authentic representations of their diarists.’

Here are several extracts from Brunton’s book.

31 August 1935
‘Mother particularly cross, & needing to be endured and humored. Went to door at 11 a.m. and there were Ed & Maggie [Bridle] come to spend day. Glad to see them especially Maggie - but there goes my day. And on Saturday afternoon after I have finished charing the house and polishing the floors I find myself stiff with fatigue. When I wash the dirt from me I lie down for an hour in the afternoon as then Mother seems appeased for a while by the sacrifice of me to charing - but here went my respite . . . Nor & Jack [Norman and Jack Franklin] went to movies and kept me awake till 12.05 a.m. By that time I was so nervous & weary I couldn’t sleep at all and had to arise early to get Norman’s breakfast.’


20 December 1936
‘We called on Miss G [Gillespie] on the way home. Washing up after tea Jack [Franklin] expressed his regret that I was unmarried. “Oh, Auntie, such a pity you are wasted. You would make such a splendid wife. Look at the wav you make cakes, and iron Dad’s shirts, and the way you can shop and cook! Couldn’t you get married now?”

“I’m too old.”

“That oughtn’t to be against you. You could keep house well, and write books in your spare time. I’d marry you, only you are my relation.”

“Consanguinity as well as age spoils my chances,” said I, smothering a grin. The dear youngster was the general as well as the particular Australian male. Write books in my spare time. People 3 & 4 times his age have no more understanding of writing & its demands upon the writer.’

12 January 1938
‘Hot day. Mother spiteful. Norman morose. Ivy A. [Abrahams] in tears. I took Lily to town & did chores: typewriter, looking for washer for Mother etc. Life Hell - can’t write, nothing to hope for - even death has ceased to be a refuge.’

6 September 1943
‘And I am left alone in the desolation of my family graves. Anguish, desolation, nostalgia. It is sad beyond endurance to return to old scenes, but when the scene is empty the arena cold . . .

Each death in my circle, and particularly the going of those who have known or shared my childhood, drenches me with chill terror of the emptiness of this strange isolated land. It is as if I felt the tremors of the first exiles. We took it from the Aborigines. We do not yet possess it spiritually. We destroy, deface, insult, misunderstand it - whack it - but it resists. In the shock of bereavement - the thinning of family support - I see a dark spirit running over the land, a spirit akin to a sardonic smile, with the same mockery that is in the laugh of the kookaburra - that laugh which is loud, robust, hilarious, but aches with a mystery so baffling that it is tragic. That dark smile that runs over the land as if all the nostalgia of oblivion lay there unquenched and unforgiving.

I must not again go alone. The gone-awayness is too sapping. The sunlight caresses the gravestones and the wind sweeping over them intones the very essence of that oblivion from which we came and to which we go.’

12 June 1951
‘Early morning temperature still 2 points below normal. Grey, drizzling mild day again. I telephoned May - Leslie still in bed, poor girl. I began to go over ‘Ten Creeks’ finally for the printer. Solitary confinement - it takes willpower to suffer it without depression.’

1 July 1951
‘Showery day again. Big fire all day. Returned to essay but the discomfort of cold and chilblains kept me from accomplishing any but a page or two. Solitary confinement all day, not even a telephone call in or out.’

22 July 1951
‘Cold day - soon greyed over. I stuck close to essay - didn’t even read paper. At 4 p.m. washed my head, then washed floor & lavatory. Must have been too much. I suddenly had to feel sick so lay on bed till 7. Took no tea. Listened to radio & went to bed. Lit fire at 9.30 a.m. Solitary confinement all day. One telephone call - did not answer it.’

12 September 1951
‘Fine day again, didn’t even take Mrs Morgan’s chicks the greens. Went to butcher, so fatigued I find my stuff is full of repetition & disjointed - a rough draft really and I ache so I can’t straighten my shoulders. Wanted to get to bed by 9 but Mrs Fogden came in & wasted 40 minutes, then jean telephoned & now it is 9.30. Too tired to go for bread so took some of that Mrs A threw over for the chooks.’

8 October 1951
‘Cold cloudy day. Very tired. Pottered. Cut down another limb off the loquat tree, etc. etc. Totally alone all day, not even a wrong number on the telephone. Read some more of ‘Kon-Tiki’. Such a decent book. Perishing - had the heater again in the evening.’

Thursday, October 10, 2019

The Germans are here

Eighty years ago today, a young Polish girl, Mary Berg, was turning 15, yet she was far from celebrating, for her world had very recently been upturned - ‘Everyone is afraid to go out. The Germans are here’, she wrote in her precious diary. She and her family spent most of the war in what became the Warsaw Ghetto, but eventually - thanks to her mother being an American citizen - they managed to organise their flight from German territory, to the US, as part of a prisoner exchange. Soon after, Mary’s diary was serialised in American newspapers, and then published in book form.

Mary (Wattenberg) was born in Lodz  Poland, in 1924. Her father was a prosperous art and antique dealer, and her mother was a dress designer, American born of Polish parents who had returned to Poland when she was but 12 years old. Mary had a younger sister Anna. As the Germans neared Lodz in the summer of 1939, the family fled, on bicycles, to Warsaw; but, a few weeks later, they returned home only to find their shop and apartment vandalised. The Germans requisitioned their apartment in December 1939, and within a week or two the family was summoned to Warsaw by the American consulate. There they remained, as with other Jewish citizens, increasingly confined to a specific area of the city, which, eventually in November 1940, was officially established as a ghetto. When the mass deportation of the Jews (to extermination camps) from the ghetto began, in mid-1942, the Wattenbergs, due to their American connection, were instead sent to a prison in Pawiak, and then to an internment camp in France. In March 1944, finally, they took a train to Lisbon, and a boat to New Jersey.

On arriving, Mary was befriended by a young Yiddish journalist, S. L. Shneiderman who was intrigued by her diary. Subsequently, he worked with her to decipher and transcribe the shorthand script, flushing out some details, for publication in a Yiddish periodical. An English translation in the Jewish Contemporary Record followed (under the shortened name of Berg to protect any family still alive in Poland). It was published as a book by L. B. Fischer in February 1945 - The Diary of Mary Berg - but went out of print in the 1950s. Although, initially, Mary Berg gave interviews and appeared on radio programmes, she later refused to take part in Holocaust-related events, and distanced herself from the diary, preferring to live quietly and privately. Wikipedia states: ‘She is believed to have lived in York, Pennsylvania for many years, where she wed William Pentin and was known as Mary Pentin. Her known relatives, descended from her sister, Anna, who married a pathologist, Leon Williams Powell Jr. and had four children, have either refused to provide or have disclaimed any new or additional information about Berg, so little is known about her years in the United States.’ She died in 2013. A little further biographical information can be gleaned from Encyclopedia.com.

In 2007, Oneworld Publications reissued the book (‘prepared’ by Susan Lee Pentlin) as The Diary of Mary Berg: Growing up in the Warsaw Ghetto, and, in 2019, the book was reprinted again for a 75th anniversary edition. Some pages can be previewed at Googlebooks but the full work can also be found online at EPDF. Many reviews can be browsed at Goodreads. Here are several extracts from the diary, including the first entry, written on Mary’s birthday 80 years ago.

10 October 1939
‘Today I am fifteen years old. I feel very old and lonely, although my family did all they could to make this day a real birthday. They even baked a macaroon cake in my honor, which is a great luxury these days. My father ventured out into the street and returned with a bouquet of Alpine violets. When I saw it I could not help crying.

I have not written my diary for such a long time that I wonder if I shall ever catch up with all that has happened. This is a good moment to resume it. I spend most of my time at home. Everyone is afraid to go out. The Germans are here.

I can hardly believe that only six weeks ago my family and I were at the lovely health resort of Ciechocinek, enjoying a carefree vacation with thousands of other visitors. I had no idea then what was in store for us. I got the first inkling of our future fate on the night of August 29 when the raucous blare of the giant loud-speaker announcing the latest news stopped the crowds of strollers in the streets. The word “war” was repeated in every sentence. Yet most people refused to believe that the danger was real, and the expression of alarm faded on their faces as the voice of the loud-speaker died away.

My father felt differently. He decided that we must return to our home in Lodz. In almost no time our valises stood packed and ready in the middle of the room. Little did we realize that this was only the beginning of several weeks of constant moving about from one place to another.

We caught the last train which took civilian passengers to Lodz. When we arrived we found the city in a state of confusion. A few days later it was the target of severe German bombardments. The telephone rang again and again. My father dashed from one mobilization office to another, receiving a different-colored slip of paper at each one. One day Uncle Abie, my mother’s younger brother, rushed unexpectedly into our house to say goodbye before leaving for the front. He was ragged, grimy, and unshaven. He had no uniform; only his military cap and the knapsack on his shoulders marked him as a soldier. He had been making his way from one city to another, looking for his regiment.

We spent most of our time in the cellar of our house. When word came that the Germans had broken through the Polish front lines and were nearing Lodz, panic seized the whole population. At eleven o’clock at night crowds began to stream out of the city in different directions. Less than a week after our arrival from Ciechocinek we packed our necessities and set out once more.

Up to the very gates of the city we were uncertain which direction we should take -toward Warsaw or Brzeziny? Finally, along with most of the other Jews of Lodz, we took the road to Warsaw. Later we learned that the refugees who followed the Polish armies retreating in the direction of Brzeziny had been massacred almost to a man by German planes.

Among the four of us, my mother, my father, my sister, and I, we had three bicycles, which were our most precious possessions. Other refugees who attempted to bring with them things that had been valuable in the life they had left behind were compelled to discard them. As we advanced we found the highway littered with all sorts of objects, from fur coats to cars abandoned because of the lack of gasoline. We had the good luck to acquire another bicycle from a passing peasant for the fantastic sum of two hundred zlotys, and we hoped it would enable us to move together with greater speed. But the roads were jammed, and gradually we were completely engulfed in the slow but steady flow of humanity toward the capital. [. . .]’

15 October 1939
‘We are again in Lodz. We found our store and our apartment completely looted; the thieves had cut the larger pictures out of their frames. My father is miserable over the loss of the Poussin and the Delacroix he bought in Paris for a considerable sum only a few weeks before the outbreak of the war. We have been here in Lodz for only two days, but we know now that it was a mistake to return here. The Nazis are beginning to intensify their acts of terrorism against the native population, especially the Jews. Last week they set fire to the great synagogue, the pride of the Lodz community. They forbade the Jews to remove the sacred books, and the “shames,” or beadle, who wanted to save the holy relics was locked up inside the temple and died in the flames. My mother cannot forgive herself for having persuaded my father to bring us back here.’

22 July 1942
‘Today the ghetto had a bloody Wednesday. The misfortune everyone expected has struck. The deportations and street pogroms have begun. At daybreak, patrols of Lithuanians and Ukrainians led by Elite Guards surrounded the ghetto, and armed guards were stationed every ten yards. Anyone approaching the gates or showing himself at a window was shot on the spot. The Lithuanians and Ukrainians displayed great zeal in their murderous work. They are tall young beasts of seventeen to twenty who were especially trained for their job by German instructors.

For a long time there has been talk in the ghetto of the impending replacement of the German guards, mostly old soldiers, by young Ukrainians and Lithuanians. Now these rumors, which were generally disbelieved, have been confirmed.

Last night the German authorities informed the Jewish community that all the inhabitants of the ghetto would be transported to the east. Only forty pounds of luggage are allowed per person; all remaining possessions will be confiscated. Everyone must bring provisions for three days. The deportation was supposed to begin this morning at eleven o’clock. The order exempts only those Jews who are employed in German factories and workshops in the ghetto, as well as the officials of the various ghetto institutions. This includes the Jewish police force, the community officials, the employees of the ambulance service, the hospital staffs, the undertakers, and all possessors of registration cards issued by the Labor Office who have not yet been assigned jobs. The families of these chosen people are also exempt from deportation.

The Jewish police is charged with the sad task of preserving order during the deportation and of employing force against those who refuse to give themselves up.
The concentration point of this mass migration is situated at the Umschlagplatz on Stawki Street. The Germans demand 3,000 persons a day for deportation. The panic in the ghetto is indescribable. People with bundles in their hands run from one street to another, and do not know what to do. Many are trying at the last moment to obtain jobs in the German factories of Toebens and Schultz, which are situated in the ghetto. I was told that some people are paying bribes of as much as a thousand zlotys for such a job. The Jews themselves are trying to organize large workshops to make goods for the Germans, in order to give employment to people threatened with deportation.

Today the Jewish police gathered up all the beggars from the streets and emptied the refugee camps. These unfortunates were locked up in freight cars without food or water. The transports are being sent in the direction of Brzesc, but will they ever reach there? It is doubtful that all these starving people will arrive at their destination alive; they will perish in their sealed cars. A hundred persons are crowded into each car. The Polish prison guard who whispered all these details to us had tears in his eyes. He lives near Stawki Street, and he witnessed horrible scenes of people being driven into cars with whips, just as though they were cattle.

Today we received a package of food from Uncle Abie, in which he enclosed a note. Fortunately for us, he is on the police force, otherwise he would not have been admitted to Dzielna Street. His short note expressed despair. He cannot accept the idea that, as a policeman, he will have to help in the deportation, and is thinking of resigning from his job. But, on the other hand, his job protects him from deportation. He wants to know what we think about it.

From our window I can see that something unusual is going on in Korczak’s children’s home. Every now and then someone walks in and, a few minutes later, comes out leading a child. These must be the parents or families of the children, who in this tragic moment want to be with their loved ones. The children look clean, and are dressed neatly though poorly. When I bend out of the window I can see the corner of Smocza Street. There is terrible confusion there; people are running back and forth as though possessed. Some carry bundles, others wring their hands.

Dzielna Street must have been opened for traffic, because suddenly many passers-by have appeared there, and until now it was empty. Often I can see whole families, parents with their children, the mothers holding babies in their arms, and the bigger children following them. There must be many Jews who are reporting voluntarily for deportation - those who have no other way out, no possibility of hiding. The Germans give them a kilogram of bread per person, and promise them better working conditions. But these desperate volunteers do not fill the quota of 3,000 people a day. The police must supply the rest by means of force. They drag their victims out of their homes or seize them in the streets.’

26 December 1943
‘This time we got away with only a scare. The Nazi commission has vanished and the whole camp, Jews and non-Jews, breathed with relief.

This year our Chanukah feast coincided with Christmas, and many Jews and Gentiles felt that this fact was symbolic. Chanukah candles are lit in many of the rooms occupied by Jews, while the Christmas tree in front of the church is decorated with tinsel. Perhaps our common suffering and persecutions will finally eradicate blind race hatred?’

Monday, October 7, 2019

I have been to the Commons

‘I have been to the Commons and found the interior so rich and beautiful as the exterior - the House itself tho’ not over large - of fine carved wood and full of members.’ This is from the diaries of Alfred Deakin, the second prime minister of Australia, who died a century ago today. He served three relatively short terms as PM, and is considered a pivotal figure in the history of the country. He left behind a wealth of autobiographical material including diaries which a recent biographer, Judith Brett, found very useful in terms of revealing Deakin’s inner world.

Deakin was born in 1856 in Melbourne, his parents having immigrated from Britain in 1850. His father was involved in the carrying and coaching trade, later becoming a manager with a decent salary. From an early age, Deakin was schooled with his sister at a girl’s boarding school, however by early 1864, he was enrolled at Melbourne Grammar School as a day boy. Aged 15, he matriculated to enter the University of Melbourne, by evening attending lectures on law, by day earning wages as a schoolteacher and private tutor. He spoke frequently at the university debating club, and was a keen spiritualist. In 1877, he was admitted to the bar, but was more interested in literature and writing (publishing Quentin Massys: A Drama in Five Acts, for example, and A New Pilgrim's Progress). He also wrote for the leading Melbourne newspaper, The Age, after meeting its editor, David Syme, in 1878. Syme proved influential in drawing Deakin into politics, and encouraging him to take on policies of protectionism.

After a turbulent year of elections, Deakin entered the legislative assembly in Victoria in 1880, where he would remain for 20 years. Despite his youth and inexperience, he was a prominent force in negotiating a compromise to secure the Council Reform Act of 1881. The following year, he married Elizabeth Martha Anne, daughter of a prominent spiritualist, with whom he had three daughters. Deakin went on to sponsor an important irrigation bill, as well as measures to protect factory workers; he was also a leader in the federation movement. He attended the conferences that drafted the constitution bill making Australia a commonwealth, and then went to London in 1900 to guide the bill through Parliament.

After serving as attorney general under Sir Edmund Barton, the Australian Commonwealth’s first prime minister, Deakin himself became became prime minister in 1903 as leader of the Liberal Party, in coalition with the Labor Party. A second coalition (1905-1908), also with Labor, passed a series of important nation-building acts - concerning, for example, an Australian currency, copyright, the judiciary, tariff protection, military service. A third coalition (1909-1910) with the Conservatives soon proved unpopular. He retired from Parliament in 1913 but went on to chair the 1914 Royal Commission on Food Supplies and on Trade and Industry. He died on 7 October 1919. Further information is readily available online at the Australian Dictionary of National Biography, Wikipedia, Deakin University, Encyclopaedia Britannica, and National Archives of Australia.

Deakin left behind a large amount of autobiographical material, all held by the National Library of Australia. He seems to have kept diaries for much of his life, though he destroyed some early ones (particularly after completing an autobiography The Crisis in Victorian Politics) or digested them into edited versions. He also kept prayer diaries, travel diaries, and a series of diary-type notes called ‘Clues’. Although there are no published versions of any of this diary material, the National Library of Australia provides a substantial amount of information on Deakin’s archives, including his diaries along with images of the pages.

Judith Brett, who recently published an important biography on Deakin, says in her Sources and Bibliography, that ‘Deakin’s inner world is well documented in the many private notebooks he kept during his life.’ She also says that she found all the autobiographical writing, ‘very difficult to navigate.’ Nevertheless, she does quote extensively from the diaries, notebooks etc. in The Enigmatic Mr Deakin (The Text Publishing Company, 2017). See Googlebooks to preview some pages and The Sydney Review of Books for a review.

Here is a paragraph from Brett’s text which includes quotations from Deakin’s diary dated 24 and 31 March 1887:
‘With so many friends to show him round, Deakin felt immediately at home in the great metropolis, which he judged to be just a vastly scaled-up Melbourne: “Put only one story on the houses, have the streets not quite so clean and a good deal older and twist and tangle all the straight ways and you have London.” Society too was familiar, dinners. At Homes, balls and banquets. Deakin’s debut in London society was at a dinner at Sir Henry Holland’s, the colonial secretary, followed by an At Home for three hundred or so, which “consists of a great crush in, spasmodic small talk in breaks of about five minutes each with a few of your neighbours, and then a great crush out again”. For an outsider looking in on the glittering crowd, with no friends to greet, no political business to transact, the titled men and women were but “faces in a gallery of pictures and talk a tinkling cymbal. . . Titles don’t grow out of a man or a woman - they are stuck on from the outside, and are always artificial and often ridiculous. Even a pallid aesthete with fringed hair, a despairing expression, and a crimson velvet gown did not move me.” ’

The following extract is transcribed directly from the diary page image found at the National Library of Australia website:
April 1887
‘I have been to the Commons and found the interior so rich and beautiful as the exterior - the House itself tho’ not over large - of fine carved wood and full of members. Heard no speaking of special note. Two feeble old Liberals moved an amendment and an aldermanish but capable Conservative made a good solid reply. Easter coming. Start for Scotland on Thursday.’

Finally, here are a few more short extracts from Deakin’s diaries as found in Brett’s book.

3 August 1890
‘Youth is past and manhood unfolded to its full but I find myself still feeble, still doubting, still uncertain of my life and part.’

4 August 1901
‘The web & woof of history discloses the Divine patter thro’ the dim light of understanding. The myriad unseen influences of individuals living or called dead & the myriads of unguessed agencies operating upon & among them without which the secret of life cannot be mastered.’

11 August 1901
‘Virtue is an ordering of the self - continuous, unflagging and ever wakeful to the best ends one sees.’

28 July 1903
‘Determined to resign re High Court.’

30 August 1903
‘I have this year for the first time realised age - the beginning of old age, enfeeblement, of withdrawal, of a spent force.’

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Gandhi’s London diary

‘What led to the intention of proceeding to London? The scene opens about the end of April. Before the intention of coming to London for the sake of study was actually formed, I had a secret design in my mind of coming here to satisfy my curiosity of knowing what London was.’ This is how Gandhi - born 150 years ago today - started a diary he wrote in London aged 19. Only the first 20 pages of the diary still exist, but the text is available online, and appears fairly banal. However, Gandhi has been the focus of diaries written by others, not least Mahadev Desai, his personal secretary, and the French writer/idealist Romain Rolland who did much to enhance Gandhi’s reputation in Europe.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born on the coast of present-day Gujarat, India, on 2 October 1869. He lived an extraordinary life, and is considered the country’s most important political and spiritual leader. He led India to independence in the middle of the 20th century, and was a pioneer of resistance (to the British rulers) through mass civil disobedience without violence, thus becoming an inspiration for similar civil rights movements across the world. He died in January 1948, leaving behind 100 volumes of collected writings, amounting to over 50,000 pages of text. Wikisource has an incomplete listing of the volumes, plus a photograph of them.

The very first volume, which covers the years 1988 to 1896, contains the first 20 pages of what is now called Gandhi’s London Diary. According to A Comprehensive, Annotated Bibliography on Mahatma Gandhi by Ananda Pandiri (which itself runs to three volumes), the diary originally included 120 handwritten pages. In 1909, Gandhi gave it to his nephew who was travelling to London; ten years later the nephew gave it to Mahadev Desai. By then, Desai had become Gandhi’s personal secretary and would stay so for over 25 years. For some unknown reason, Desai copied out only the first 20 pages of the diary, and the contents of the other 100 pages remain unknown.

Here are the first and last surviving paragraphs from Gandhi’s London Diary. All the pages between these two extracts are devoted to an analysis of how the trip to London came about, and a description of the sea voyage. Thus, in fact, it is not a proper diary at all.

October-November 1888
‘What led to the intention of proceeding to London? The scene opens about the end of April. Before the intention of coming to London for the sake of study was actually formed, I had a secret design in my mind of coming here to satisfy my curiosity of knowing what London was. While I was prosecuting my college studies in Bhavnagar, I had a chat with Jayshankar Buch. During the chat he advised me to apply to the Junagadh State to give me a scholarship to proceed to London, I being an inhabitant of Sorath. I do not perfectly remember the answer I made to him that day. I suppose I felt the impossibility of getting the scholarship.’

. . .

‘Mr. Mazmudar, Mr. Abdul Majid and I reached the Victoria Hotel. Mr. Abdul Majid told in a dignified air to the porter of the Victoria Hotel to give our cabman the proper fare. Mr. Abdul Majid thought very highly of himself, but let me write here that the dress which he had put on was perhaps worse than that of the porter. He did not take care of the luggage too, and as if he had been in London for a long time, stepped into the hotel. I was quite dazzled by the splendour of the hotel. I had never in my life seen such pomp. My business was simply to follow the two friends in silence. There were electric lights all over. We were admitted into a room. There Mr. Majid at once went. The manager at once asked him whether he would choose second floor or not. Mr. Majid thinking it below his dignity to inquire about the daily rent said yes. The manager at once gave us a bill of 6s. each per day and a boy was sent with us. I was all the while smiling within myself. Then we were to go to the second floor by a lift. I did not know what it was. The boy at once touched something which I thought was lock of the door. But as I afterwards came to know it was the bell and he rang in order to tell the waiter to bring the lift. The doors were opened and I thought that was a room in which we were to sit for some time. But to my great surprise we were brought to the second floor.’

Elsewhere on the internet, one can find information on Tim Watson’s theory about the missing diary pages being suppressed to hide Gandhi’s affiliation to freemasonry; and there are other Gandhi conspiracy theories in his book Gandhi - Under Cross-Examination


More interesting, though, are the diaries written by others which have Gandhi as their focus. In contrast to Gandhi, for example, his secretary Desai was a committed diarist, and eventually published nine volumes - Day to Day with Gandhi. These can read freely online at Internet Archive or  the Gandhi Heritage Portal. Here is one extract.

15 October 1924
‘Four weeks have ended today since the tapasya of the fast for 21 days was begun. I had ended that chapter with a description of Bapu’s mental struggle and of the happy ending of the fasting vow. It seems that the painful duty of having to write about the fourth and even the fifth week will fall upon me, because it will take Gandhiji at least a fortnight to be up and doing. After a long fast a man may usually feel dull and listless, may not relish new food or may even be tempted to be a glutton, as a reaction from his long abstinence. Bapu has suffered from none of these. He has now begun to take ordinary food with the same ease and cheerfulness as those with which he had begun the fast. The vow ended at 12 noon, but because of the prayer etc. the fruit juice could be taken at about 12.45 p. m. Two days later he began to take milk and gradually increase its quantity - 2 ozs., 3, 4 and so on - and today he has come to 25 ozs. of milk and a few oranges. Before the end of the fast, quite a number of Jain munis (sages) had written to him specially to send their blessings and felicitations as well as detailed suggestions as to how to taper off the fast. The letters revealed inordinate love for Bapu, but owing to his vow to take only five articles of food in a meal, he has not been able to follow in practice anyone of these instructions except that of taking fruit. Even with the diet he is taking at present, everything - sleep etc. - goes on with clock-work regularity. [. . .]

Bapu is generally open to visitors at all hours of daytime except this period of prayers etc. A friend urged: “Now, please, enough of such a terrible vow! Wickedness is certain to persist to some degree in this world.” Immediately Bapu countered with a laugh: “Don’t you suppose I am vain enough to think I possess the power to remove the wickedness of the world! If I fasted, it was only for my own purification. It was my religious duty to undergo that much penance. That has been done. The fruit rests with God.”


Gandhi was also a star character in the diary kept by the French writer and idealist Romain Rolland. Indeed, in 1976, the Indian government published a volume of Rolland’s writings concerning Gandhi: Romain Rolland And Gandhi Correspondence (Letters, Diary Extracts, Articles, Etc.), this too is available at Internet Archive. (NB: An earlier Diary Review article on Rolland - Love of humanity - stated that the only published extracts from Rolland’s diaries in English concerned Herman Hesse. However, this was clearly incorrect as the Gandhi book contains many extracts from his diaries translated into English.) Here are several extracts.

February 1929
‘Gandhi announces in Young India his intention not to leave India this year and to give up the journey to Europe which had been settled on. I understand his reasons only too well; it is an armed vigil. Gandhi has recently obtained from Congress that a final deadline should be set for England by which to grant India her requested constitution. After this deadline, which expires on 31 December next, Gandhi has promised to join the rest of his people in seeking total and unconditional independence. It is thus important that he should not leave the battle-posts at which he is waiting. I write to him, however (17 February), to say that if he cannot come himself he should send to Europe one or several Indians whose moral personalities carry worldwide authority in order to enlighten Europe about the struggle which is about to begin. It is only too clear that as soon as it starts the British Empire will blockade India and flood world opinion with its own false reports so as to turn the world against India. India should thus take the first step.’

December 1932
‘Gandhi is talking about another fast to obtain the opening of a temple to the untouchables; I tell him by cable that European opinion will not follow him in a repetition of his heroic act of last October, if it is for a secondary objective.’

December 1937
‘Gandhi gravely ill in Calcutta (where he wore himself out trying to obtain the liberation of the political prisoners). Tagore, himself scarcely out of bed after a serious illness, comes to see him, and there is a most touching scene. Tagore arrives, still very weak, and unable to climb the stairs. At the doorway he learns that Gandhi is better; he is pleased and, not wanting to disturb him, offers to leave without seeing him. He is told that Gandhi would like to see him and that, but for his state of health, he himself would have gone to Santiniketan. Tagore allows himself to be carried in an armchair; he finds Gandhi at prayer; he remains seated during the prayer, but does not want to disturb the prayer by speaking to him, and he leaves praying for him and blessing him.’


This article is a revised version of one first published 10 years ago on 2 October 2009.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Dunlap, painter and playwright

‘Glenn my Landlord comes to tell me that he will have his two daughters painted in Oil, the Girls so preferring, and I am to do them at $25 each. This restores me again.’ This is from the diary of William Dunlap, who died 180 years ago today. He was a pioneer playwright and theatrical manager in New York City until bankruptcy - money was a chronic concern - forced him into painting society portraits for a living. His main claim to fame is an encyclopaedic history he wrote on the arts, but his diary is also considered an important primary source of information on American society and culture during the first half century of the Republic.

Dunlap was born in 1766 in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, the son of an army officer. He left school at the age of 12 when an injury left him blind in the right eye, but he soon developed an interest in drawing and began copying prints and executing portraits in pastel. Aged 16 he began painting portraits in oil, and indeed painted one of George Washington which is now owned by the US Senate. Dunlap was then sent to London to study with Benjamin West - an artist born in North America but who had settled there some 20 years earlier and had been instrumental in launching the Royal Academy. Dunlap returned to New York City in 1787 where he completed a first major canvas, The Artist Showing a Picture from Hamlet to His Parents. However, he had picked up the theatre bug in London, and soon found himself focusing mostly on writing plays, and then producing them. His first, The Father, or American Shandyism, was performed in 1789.  That same year, he married Elizabeth Woolsey, and they later had two children.

For the best part of the next two decades, Dunlap worked exclusively in the theatre, writing (more than 60 plays, many adaptations or translations from French or German originals) and managing, only to resume painting (miniatures) after he became bankrupt in 1805. He continued to invest his time in the theatre world until 1812 when he turned to executing portraits on commission. After working as assistant paymaster general in the New York militia for a couple of years, he began to paint large canvases of religious and historical subjects. He exhibited regularly at the American Academy of the Fine Arts in New York, and was a member from 1817 to 1828, and well as keeper, librarian, and a member of the board of directors from 1817 to 1819. In 1826 he helped found the rival National Academy of Design, where he served as vice president from 1832 to 1838. He exhibited there from 1826 to 1838, and from 1831 to 1838 was the professor of historical composition.

Dunlap is best remembered for his encyclopaedic three-volume History of the Rise and Progress of the Arts of Design in the United States, published in 1834, which is still considered today an important source of information about artists, collecting, and artistic life generally during the colonial and federal periods. He died on 28 September 1839. Further information is available online from the National Gallery of Art, Wikipedia, Encyclopedia.com, or American Art Gallery.

Dunlap kept a diary for much of his life, and may have left behind 30 or more small volumes. However, only 11 of them - extending over a period of 48 years - were found when, in the late 1920s, The New York Historical Society decided to publish them. Issued in 1930 as Diary of William Dunlap (1766-1839) - The Memoirs of a Dramatist, Theatrical Manager, Painter, Critic, Novelist, and Historian, all three volumes are freely available at Internet Archive (Vol 1 1786-1798, Vol 2 1806-1822, Vol 3 1832-1834). In its preface, the Society noted that Dunlap’s diary had been consulted in manuscript form to good purpose, by historians of drama and painting, but that now, by printing it in a more ‘convenient form’, the diary ‘should be an invaluable source for many phases of American society and culture during the first half century of the Republic.’

In its introduction, the Society goes on to explain that the three printed volumes represent three periods of Dunlap’s life:‘The first includes two years of great importance to the history of the New York stage, when Dunlap was manager of the Old American Company of Comedians, and a lessee of the Park Theatre. The second volume is devoted more particularly to his life as an artist, when, after his bankruptcy, he painted portraits throughout the eastern states as a means of livelihood, returning to the theatre for only a short time as a salaried manager to Abthorpe Cooper. The third volume [. . .] finds Dunlap, old, ill, and impoverished, summing up the knowledge and experience of a life time, in his histories of the American theatre and American arts.’ 


The following extracts are all taken from the second volume, exactly as published (inc. spelling errors etc.).

18 October 1819
‘Take the Steam boat for Bristol to see Cooper for information respecting the south & for letters. Sully has not had a portrait to paint for Phil: since May last & but four for Strangers, he is painting Washington crossing the Delaware, for Exhibition - a fine Composition. In conjunction with [James] Earl[e] he has erected a Gallery & they Exhibit some good pictures but with out success as to profit. Leslie’s Death of Rutland, bold, broad, fine. Horse & Snake. Landscapes by Shaw, good, colouring like Loutherburg. A small Landscape by Gainsborough beautiful & bold. [Charles B.] King is at Washington he will show me some machines for preserving Colours when ground. I called on Warren yesterday, who is always the same good natured, fat, friendly creature, he has 4 or five children by his last wife - politely invites me to the Theatre & greenroom. They have played 12 nights to some profit. I understand that it is to Newcastle 40 miles, by land to hd of Elk 18, by water to Baltimore.

Arrive at Bristol & find that Cooper had gone to Philadelphia. Walk to the Shamony & returning to Dinner, find Cooper landing from Steam Boat and return to his house with him - pass the day & followg night. He gives me letters to [blank] in Fayetteville, Newburn, Wilmington, Raleigh.

To ask S respecting Mr S’s push I did so, and he said he began the business unknown to Trumbul, but soon told all & T appeared pleased to instruct him.’

25 October 1819
‘Prepare to paint a Miniature, but to my great chagrin my Landlord tells me he cannot give me employment, for if one is painted all must be painted. Morse comes to see me & mentions a little loan of money I made him when I last saw him, with promise of repayment before I go. F. Lewis calls to see me. Morse says his situation in the Navy is secure, it is 55 dols pr month. He only needs an arrangement with his former creditors in Massachusetts, to enable him to take orders & obtain a good living. They call him here Doctor Morse. Glenn my Landlord comes to tell me that he will have his two daughters painted in Oil, the Girls so preferring, and I am to do them at $25 each. This restores me again. Returning from a walk to the north over the same arid plain cover’d with pine which is seen in every direction except where water diversifies the prospect, I found the following polite note: “Chas H Graham will be pleased to see Mr Dunlap at the Theatre whenever that place offers any amusement for him. Monday afnoon 25th Oct 1819.”

I wrote a note in answer and leaving it at the door of the Theatre went in & saw a Comedy new to me called “The sons of Erin. I was pleased with it, and found unexpected good acting in some men whose names I had never heard to remember. Mr Finn is natural, has good judgment, good voice, pretty good person, expressive countenance, an easy genteel manner without being graceful. Mr Brown played an Irish servant extremely well. Mr Dalton, a coxcomb in pretty good style. Mr Thomas was above mediocrity. The ladies were my old acquaintances Mrs Young, Mrs Clarke (formerly Miss Harding) Mrs Hayes (formerly Claude & once Miss Hogg) Mrs Wheatley. Mr Pritchard, whom I met yesterday, is to play Othello on Wednesday, first time of appear here.’

8 November 1819
‘Call at Mr Southgates (to whom I was last night introduced) and pass half an hour with Bishop Moore. He is visiting his Diocese, returns here in about a fortnight & then goes home to Richmond. I am to paint his picture gratuitously, he being pleased with the offer, to be given to some friend to the North. He has children in Philadelphia. He recommends my being in Richmond during the session of the Legislature, promisses me his assistance & thinks I shall have employment. Mrs Southgate talks of a picture. Paint on the two Misses Glenn. Evening meet Gilfert at the Theatre. He says he can promise me 2 or 3 portraits to paint in Richmond. I have engaged a room to paint in, at a house but a short distance from my Hotel.’

18 November 1819
‘Mr More, the painter above mentioned as introducing himself to me, hearing that I was going towards Richmond, suggested my stopping at Surry Court house to paint the family of a Mr Price & a Doctor Graves, who wished him to do it, but he had no oilapparatus, he asked 50 dolls for a portrait. On talking to Mr Glen he knowing Price, I write to day to him, & offer to come thither on an engagement for at least 4 portraits at 30, 50, or 75 dolls according to size. Paint on Glen. We have in the house Mr Wrifford a teacher of writing, a New England man, a character, he affords me entertainment, by shrewd remarks & eccentric manners. He is a singer & has a noble voice. Evening read in Kings. How does Elisha’s words “take my life for I am not better than my fathers” agree with the notion of his being an incarnate Angel? The book says 7000 had not bowed the knee to Baal, the Commentator says 7000 does not mean 7000 but a great many thousand, a majority of the nation, soon after the fighting men of Israel are number’d at 7000 & the commentator laments that Israel was so thinned, so reduced in number. “A Wall fell upon 27000 men & crush’d them” says the Com: “probably a burning wind is meant” We are told that what is translated ashes may mean bandage or fillet. Again ‘‘Gan Yirek may mean Garden of herbs or Grass plat. “Naboth did blaspheme God & the King” may be render’d “Naboth hath blessed God & the King” and the word barac may mean either bless or curse. How then is a sincere man to read this book? Again Ahab walked softly may be “barefooted” or groaning or with down hanging head. This curious Book must then it would appear be read with constant doubt as to the meaning of the original independent of all other doubts.’

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

A director’s loneliness

Happy 70th birthday Pedro Almodóvar. He is surely the most famous of Spanish filmmakers alive today, and second only to Luis Buñuel in importance in the history of Spanish cinema. He is not a diarist, by his own admission, but on one occasion, while making the film Volver, he kept a diary of sorts. It’s full of confessional thoughts - but these are far from private as they were written to be shared with his public, as in this example: ‘A director’s loneliness is sacred. And the director himself should be the first to respect it, without sharing it with you as I am doing right now.’

Almodóvar was born on 25 September 1949 in Calzada de Calatrava, a small rural town in the province of Castile-La Mancha. When he was about nine, the family, moved to Madrigalejo, a town in Extremadura, where he was sent to study at a religious boarding school to prepare him for a life in the church. Aged 18, though, he left home for Madrid where he began to pursue his dream of becoming a filmmaker. Thwarted by the closure of the national film school, he purchased a Super-8 camera and began making his own short films, all the while supporting himself with a variety of odd jobs. At the time, he was much involved with experimental cinema and theatre. In 1980, he produced his first feature film (Pepi, Luci, Bom), and then Laberinto de pasiones, the first of several films with the Spanish actor Antonio Banderas.

In 1986, he joined forces with the producer Andrés Vicente Gómez to make Matador, and in 1987, he and his brother Agustín Almodóvar established their own production company: El Deseo, S. A. His first major critical and commercial success came the following year, with Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios (Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown). Almodóvar’s reputation continued to soar, not least with Todo sobre mi madre in 1999 (All about My Mother), which won an Academy Award for best foreign-language film. He was also honoured as best director at the Cannes film festival. He continued to direct films, roughly one every two years, many of which won prizes and were nominated for many more. Volver in 2006 won him the Best Screenplay prize at Cannes, and the Best Actress prize for his entire female cast. His most recent film - Dolor y gloria - was released in March 2019. Almodóvar is gay, and has been with his partner, actor and photographer Fernando Iglesias, since 2002. Further information can be found at Wikipedia, Encyclopaedia Britannica, IMDB, and The New Yorker.

There is no indication among these biographical details that Almodóvar is a diarist. Indeed, Paul Julian Smith in an essay entitled Almodóvar’s Self-Fashioning (to be found in A Companion to Pedro Almodóvar - see Googlebooks, page 31) quotes Almodóvar himself as saying ‘I’m not a diary writer.’ Nevertheless, on at least one occasion, he did keep a diary of sorts - during the making of Volver. This was published as Volver: A Filmmaker’s Diary in a collection of essays, All About Almodóvar: A Passion for Cinema, as edited by Brad Epps and Despina Kakoudaki (University of Minnesota Press, 2009). Some pages can be read online at Googlebooks. It is worth nothing, though, that the ‘diary’ does not meet a couple of the requirements usually applied to diaries: firstly, n
one of the entries are dated, and, secondly, they are often addressed directly to his reading audience (rather than to himself). Here are several extracts from the ‘diary’.

‘On the other side of my desk, in my office in El Deseo, sit three of the actresses who will star in Volver. Each of them embodies an important return. The most anticipated is that of Carmen Maura, but there are two additional returns, full of sense and sensibility: Penelope Cruz, with whom I’ve worked twice before [in Live Flesh and All about My Mother], an actress and a woman whom I adore both on and off the set; and Lola Dueñas, with whom I worked in Talk to Her (she was a nurse, a fellow worker of Javier Camara, and I felt like repeating the experience).

I am extremely agitated about the meeting. Despite the fact that the role assigned to me in this circus is that of the master of ceremonies, it doesn’t mean that it’s easy for me to break the ice. But that’s what it means, among other things, to be a director - at least, in a European country. I’m the icebreaker, the chimney that warms the atmosphere, the mother-father-psychiatrist-lover-friend who, with a simple word, can help you regain your self-confidence.’

***

‘Films, the collection of all the processes that make up a film, entail a wide array of questions - hence the adventurous nature of a shooting. The adventures worth isn’t proportional to the number of answers one finds along the way, it is proportional to the resistance of the people involved. What happens is that the director is driving a train with no brakes, and his job is to make sure that the train doesn’t derail. That’s how Truffaut saw it.


My first question is always similar: Will I feel the same passion I felt the last fifteen times about the new story? Without an answer to this question, it is best to avoid getting involved in a new project.

With Volver the answer is certainly, “yes.” Once again, I have the feeling of handling a story - a fable, a treasure, and a secret - in which I am anxious to engross myself.’

***

‘The first week of shooting is over. I came to Madrid on Friday, at the end of the days work. The “girls” and most of the team stayed behind in Almagro. I miss them, and I like that. I can concentrate better in the solitude of Madrid and I prefer to feel homesick for the shoot and to see it from a distance, in perspective. I leave Almagro in order to miss it. I feel that my films are getting progressively more autobiographical. At least, I am much more aware of how my memories stroll along the sets, like the breeze along the streets of Almagro at night.’

***

‘We leave Almagro today. I am writing from a patio that is swamped with electric material and rocking chairs with “No sitting” signs. It is one in the afternoon and all the shots we have to do today take place in the street and its impossible to shoot until at least four because the sun multiplies on the white walls; the light is blinding and far too flat. We have to wait. The team has disbanded; at this point I like to stay in one of the lifeless interior sets and enjoy the solitude, the clutter of objects, and the silence.


During these two weeks, contact with the villagers has been wonderful. Both with those we cross in the streets and with those who have worked with us as extras. In most of the sequences of La Mancha there are groups of women and men, and, I must say, I’ve never had better extras. There is something priceless about them; everything that they are supposed to do in front of the camera mirrors their own lives. Their presence has given depth and truth to the sequences in which they participate. Women from this land know well what it is like to clean a tombstone, to pray at a wake, to greet the neighbors. And the faces of the men, slowly weathered by the sun and the wind, have a weight and an expressiveness that would be impossible to improvise.’

***

‘Do you like films with ghosts?

Not normally. I am interested in how Buñuel or Bergman treats the apparition of the dead without changing the light or resorting to special effects. Ghosts appear in front of the person who is thinking about them without pyrotechnical effects. They are inner ghosts. I like Hitchcock’s Rebecca [1940] and Vertigo [1958]. And Sunset Boulevard [Billy Wilder, 1950], where the leading character, who is floating dead in the pool, talks about himself when he was alive, as if he were a ghost trapped by the desires of another ghost (Norma Desmond, who in turn is cared for by the phantasmagorical Erich von Stroheim). William Holden when alive is the ghost of the drowned William Holden. A wonderful use of the offscreen voice, endlessly imitated since then. I also like Tourneur, when he tells stories about beings of other species. In general, I don’t like horror stories with ghosts (M. Night Shyamalan), or films with angels, or with U.S. presidents who keep on saving the world.

What ghost does Volver evoke?

It isn’t a ghost, but the whole film is infused with the presence of my absent mother.’

***

‘This week is less intense; we are shooting many of those sequences necessary for credibility, where actors go in and out of houses, stop cars and park them, etc. Everything is important in them, but these sequences, required to locate the action and establish its geography, are hard for me. In La Mancha there were doors also, but people left them wide open so they didn’t interrupt action, but allowed it to flow instead. Those shots of entrances and exits from cars or houses are a requisite of him orthography, even if in quite a number of thrillers the screenwriter and the director decide to make characters appear at each others spaces effortlessly, disregarding all obstacles. Take a look at Basic Instinct [Paul Verhoeven, 1992] and you will see what I mean. Characters show up inside other people’s houses as if they walked through walls. And that’s not right.’

***

‘There is a moment, during each of the processes involved in making a film, when I go to pieces and think that I have irretrievably lost control of my movie. It happens when I write it, while we are shooting (when editing I suffer more that one crisis) and, certainly, when the film is ready and no one has seen it yet, that’s when I truly shit myself.

In order for the crises to be short-lived, you need to have a very close relationship with what you are shooting. I know these crises; I’ve experienced them in every single one of my fifteen previous films. Always. As with all passions - and for me, making movies is essentially a passion - crises evaporate when one irrationally loves what one is doing. (And it has nothing to do with whether the film afterwards turns out to be good or bad, whether the crises were justified or not; often crises arise out of very specific problems. I’m talking about the crises that surface without a justifiable reason and still manage to drag you down into a sea of confusion.)

I am currently living one of those moments. I feel (and I am sometimes absolutely positive) that all I am doing is a mistake, including this “dear” diary. Experience tells me that the only thing that I can do is to take the plunge and closely watch every movement, every shot, every phrase, every pause, every tear, and every joke. I shouldn’t be talking about this. A director’s loneliness is sacred. And the director himself should be the first to respect it, without sharing it with you as I am doing right now.’

Monday, September 23, 2019

A new phase of history

‘The war is coming nearer and nearer to us and it makes one think all the more. We are living in a new phase of history the course of which no man can foresee. Nobody believed that we should be engaged in war, certainly not in a death struggle so soon. We made no preparations, even for war industry to be developed, and we cannot now catch up. It is too late. The year may see us beaten, but it cannot bring us to the defeat of Germany, unless it is by economic means.’ This is from the diaries of Sir Edmund Ironside, a British army general veteran of both world wars, who died 60 years ago today. His diaries, which are extremely readable, provide a fascinating glimpse of British decision-making in the run-up to the Second World War, and during its first years.

Ironside was born in Edinburgh in 1880 into a military family, though his father died soon after his birth. Subsequently, his widowed mother took him often to the Continent, where he developed an ability for learning languages. He was educated in St Andrews, then at Tonbridge School in Kent before being admitted to the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich. He was a tall, strong man and excelled at sports, acquiring the nickname Tiny. 


Ironside was commissioned into the army as a second lieutenant with the Royal Artillery in mid-1899, being despatched soon after to South Africa, where he fought throughout the Second Boer War. He undertook some intelligence work at the time, and his escapades led to claims that was the model for Richard Hannay, a character in the novels of John Buchan. Subsequent postings took him to India and back to South Africa, and saw him rising to Brigade-Major by 1909. He entered the Staff College, Camberley, in 1912, but his course was cut short by the onset of what would become the First World War. He fought in the battles of Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele in 1917 and the following year, as acting colonel, he commanded a machine gun corps on the Somme, subsequently assuming command of the 99th Infantry Brigade. In 1915, he marred Mariot Ysobel Cheyne; their first child was born in 1917, their second in 1924.

Following the war, Ironside travelled to northern Russia as chief of general staff of the abortive Allied expeditionary force charged with countering the Bolshevik revolution. After serving as a military aide to Admiral Horthy in Hungary and as commandant of Camberley Staff College, Ironside spent time in India, was promoted to general, and in 1936 took over Eastern Command, Home Forces. Perceiving the onset of war sooner rather than later, he consistently urged the need to strength the country’s military capabilities. In 1938-1939, he served as Governor of Gibraltar. With the start of the Second World War, he was appointed Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS) - a position he didn’t covet - and adopted a policy of strong defence in France, planning to send 20 British divisions. He also planned to send three divisions to strategic Norway, but the German army arrived first. In late May 1940, he advised Prime Minister Churchill that on a visit to France he had detected 
a sense of defeatism among the generals there, and he advised that British forces in France should be evacuated. Churchill agreed to put him in charge of the home army in Britain, a position he much preferred to CIGS.

However, Ironside’s plans for home defence soon ran up against much criticism, and within months Churchill had relieved him of his position. Six weeks later, in retirement, he was appointed a field marshal, the army’s highest rank. He was raised to the peerage in the New Year Honours as ‘Baron Ironside of Archangel and of Ironside in the County of Aberdeen’, and retired to Morley Old Hall in Norfolk with his family. He died on 22 September 1959. Further information is available at Wikipedia, Find a Grave, The Peerage, or the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (log-in required). Some pages of Ironside: The Authorised Biography of Field Marshal Lord Ironside (by his son, Edmund) can also be read online at Googlebooks or Amazon.

Ironside started keeping a diary in his 20s (‘since his subaltern days’, say Roderick Macleod and Denis Kelly, the editors of the first published collection of his diaries), and he did so, as he said himself, ’to refresh and correct his recollection of the past’. The Ironside Diaries 1937-1940 was published by Constable in 1962, and came about partly at the initiative of Macleod (who had been Ironside’s Military Assistant when he, Ironside, was CIGS). Ironside had forbidden publication of his diaries, but when Macleod sought his help for writing a history of the 1937-1940 period, Ironside relented, giving him carte blanche to quote from them. Ironside died before Macleod’s text was fully ready for publication, and subsequently it was decided that publishing a selection of Ironside’s diaries ‘would be of far more interest to the general public than any account based on the inevitable hindsight and second-thoughts of twenty years after’. 


Every night, the editors explain, Ironside ‘wrote a page and sometimes several pages in his clear and characteristically bold hand, in brown, leather covered, foolscap-sized volumes, each about half-an-inch thick’. They chose their selection from 12 volumes with some 850,000 words. A decade later, Leo Cooper published a second volume of Ironside’s diary extracts with the title High Road to Comman: the Diaries of Major-General Sir Edmund Ironside 1920-22 (as edited by his son, Edmund).

The following extracts are taken from The Ironside Diaries 1937-1940.

26 September 1937
‘About 12 o’clock about 20 cars came up the road. In the leading one, an enormous open grey six-wheeler, sat the Führer in light brown - almost biscuit colour - with a cap with a brown leather peak. On his right was Mussolini in his greyish field kit, almost a light blue. His great black face and big jaw stuck out fiercely. Then he raised his hand in a Fascist salute as did Hitler with his. The German seems less theatrical. Mussolini gave one the impression of trying to look fierce. He stalked up the hill with the Führer almost hurrying beside him. Neither of them big men in size. . . .

The air attack and the tank attack was then launched with a lot of popping and banging. Rows and rows of them coming in waves . . . It showed what a force Germany has created in such a short time, even though it is at the moment in many ways an experimental one. They still require a long time to perfect this great instrument of theirs.

Just after the attack commenced Goering came up in Air Force uniform and walked up the hill. A youngish but immensely fat man, with simply enormous legs. A fair unlined face, and a few longish hairs hanging down under his cap. I should say that his life is not a very good one, for he panted badly coming up the hill and was obviously distressed. He was surrounded by a small band of his party, all frightfully enthusiastic at being in the train of so great a man.

After the attack had been going along for nearly an hour, we, the British delegation, were ushered up towards the tent and introduced to the Führer. He came walking down to us in his long coat and I was at once struck by his vacuous-looking grin - one can hardly call it a smile - and his watery, weak-looking eye. . . Reichenau told Hitler that I could speak German, and I chatted for a minute with him in German. He complimented me and told me I spoke it like a German.

The man struck me not at all. His voice was soft and his German of the south. He made no more impression on me than would have a somewhat mild professor whom I rather suspected of having a drop too much on occasions.

I must say that I was disappointed. The man must have the stuff in him, but he didn’t make any impression upon me. Then, a minute later, Goering came gracefully as an elephant down to us . . . I thought Goering a nasty creature . . . a harsh and domineering voice.

One almost wishes that our rulers could have seen this show. They would have been impressed by the pace at which these people are working, by their obvious earnestness, their sincerity. The more I look at it the more do I think that they will pull off what they are after. The French want us to join with them in an offensive the minute that Germany turns eastwards and attacks her [i. e. France’s] allies there. Can their Army carry out an offensive? I should much doubt if the French soldiers will fight an offensive battle in support of any Ally so far away. . . An offensive against Germany from the West must penetrate very deeply and would be a question of an enormous invading force. It would mean something that France couldn’t, in my opinion, sustain for a minute.

C.I.G.S. worrying himself about little details instead of thinking of the big things. . . Manoeuvres are definitely off.’

27 August 1939
‘Down to Chartwell for lunch yesterday. . . Winston was full of Georges, whom he had seen over in France. I found that he had become very French in his outlook and had a wonderful opinion of the whole thing he saw. He had General Spears with him. The burden of his song was that we must have a great Army in France, that we couldn’t depend upon the French to do our effort for us. That we must get twenty Divisions by Christmas. I told him that we had no such plans in being. He showed me how the French were going to attack Italy and how they held the high ground round the Mont Cenis and looked down upon the Italians below them. I told him that the French had told him far more than they had told our General Staff, that I had been unable, as C.-in-C. designate, to get any clear plan out of things. Winston said that we were trying to get as much control in the conduct of affairs as if we had an Army of one and a half millions. This we couldn’t have. . . I rang up Macleod and he had been to the War Office where they said that news was difficult to get through, but as far as could be ascertained no big movement of the Germans had taken place. They expected them to begin tomorrow.’

6 April 1940
‘A very quiet War Cabinet, and my Instructions to the people who may have to act in Norway if the German reacts [to the mine-laying operation] went through without a comment.

Halifax reported that the Ministers had a difficult time handing in their Notes [telling the Norwegian and Swedish Governments that the Allies were about to lay mines] in Stockholm and Oslo. The old Swede remarked: “Then our two countries are very near to war.” What that meant I don’t know.’

7 April 1940
‘I cannot think that we have a War Cabinet fit to compete with Hitler. Its decisions are so slow and cumbersome. We still refer the smallest thing to a Committee. Halifax is much too good a man to compete with a lot of knaves. The Prime Minister is hopelessly unmilitary. . .  Winston becomes a sort of Chairman of the Co-ordination Committee. We shall have more strength there if he can be kept upon the proper lines. But the whole show is ponderous and clumsy.’

15 May 1940
‘This morning at 8 a.m., just as I was talking to Gort, the P.M. rang up and told me that he had been talking to Reynaud [on the telephone], who was thoroughly demoralized. He had said that the battle was lost. The road to Paris was open. Couldn’t we send more troops? Winston told him to keep calm, that these incidents happened in a war. We have no extra demands from Gamelin or Georges, both of whom were calm, though they both considered the situation serious. I told him this. Apparently the French are giving back at Namur and may bend back to Charleroi, still keeping a hold on us at Wavre. I shouldn’t be at all surprised if the line was back again upon the French frontier before long.

The Germans are using mechanized troops with very few infantry columns. The German tanks are very good and I think that there can be no doubt that the French have been caught unawares and that they have not fought well. That happened in the last war. Drastic steps had to be taken to put things right.

Winston told Reynaud that even if the French gave in we should fight on alone. He was quite calm and very firm.

Italy now seems certain to come in against us. Very soon too. . . Winston has asked the President of the U.S.A. to become nonbelligerent and to supply us out of stock - with forty destroyers amongst other things.

Then the Cabinet decided unanimously to bomb the Ruhr. It starts to-night. An announcement in the papers that the aerodromes of Holland would soon be completely in the hands of the Nazis and England would soon feel the weight of the bombing on her own body. We shall have had a start anyway. One never saw the necessity for courage and determination more [than] at this moment. It will be interesting seeing how the various people react. . . We at least have a Cabinet with some courage now.

I never saw anything so light up as the faces of the R.A.F. when they heard that they were to be allowed to bomb the oil-refineries in the Ruhr. It did one good to see it. They have built their big bombers for this work and they have been keyed up for the work ever since the war began. Now they have got the chance. I am wondering what the result in the way of reprisals is going to be. Shall we get it as soon as to-morrow night in return? It may be a diversion from the bombing in France. They may be too employed there to turn off from their targets.

The war is coming nearer and nearer to us and it makes one think all the more. We are living in a new phase of history the course of which no man can foresee. Nobody believed that we should be engaged in war, certainly not in a death struggle so soon. We made no preparations, even for war industry to be developed, and we cannot now catch up. It is too late. The year may see us beaten, but it cannot bring us to the defeat of Germany, unless it is by economic means.

I have a sort of feeling in the back of my head that if Italy comes in, and this seems pretty certain, she will be the Achilles heel of the Axis. . .’

31 May 1940
‘Apparently, people are pleased to hear of 75% of the men from the B.E.F. coming back with their rifles. In all the rush of trying to get down to the boats, the tendency to throw off all weight is irresistible. I can only hope that we are taking heavy toll of the Germans. With all the bombing going on we ought to be killing a good number. It will all take them time to reorganize and get going again. I also wonder if the French are fighting, too, to get away. I see that the C.-in-C. of the First Army has been captured somewhere near Steenvoorde. . .

Fifth Column reports coming in from everywhere. A man with an arm-band on and a swastika pulled up near an important aerodrome in the Southern Command. Important telegraph poles marked, suspicious men moving at night all over the country. We have the right of search and I have put piquets on all over the place to-night. Perhaps we shall catch some swine.

At 4.30 p.m. I went up to see the King and found him in very good form. He told me that two of the Corps Commanders, Adam and Brooke, were off and that Gort was coming off to-night. That they had 160,000 men odd off. He said that hoped to get off the remainder to-night. Some 11,000 French had come off. I told him how things were going, that we were short and that equipment was wanting everywhere.’

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Things will not go well for Ghana

Kwame Nkrumah, the first president of Ghana, was born 110 years ago today. He led the British colony of Gold Coast to independence and oversaw his nation’s transformation into a republic. But as president, he became overly autocratic and was eventually deposed in a coup in 1966. A diary he kept in the last decade of his life found its way to the United States where it became the subject of a legal battle between its owner and a Ghanaian patriot. Although the diary was returned to Ghana in 2012 amid a flurry of publicity, there seems to be no information online about what it happened to it then, and I can only find one small tidbit concerning its contents: he wrote, ‘Things will not go well for Ghana’, and ‘[my] vision’ for the country will now be ‘lost’.

Nkrumah was born on 21 September 1909 and raised in a rural village in the British colony, Gold Coast. He was schooled at a local Catholic mission, and then at a government training college in Accra. He took up teaching at a primary school, but was then made head of a school at Axim, where he began to become involved in politics. He had heard the Nigerian president Nnamdi Azikiwe speak, and it was him that advised Nkrumah to enrol at Lincoln College, a historically black college in the US, where he himself had studied. Starting in 1935, Nkrumah spent ten years in the US, first at Lincoln, then at the University of Pennsylvania, where he received a Masters of Philosophy and a Masters of Education. At first he supported himself with menial jobs, but he also began to lecture and preach at Presbyterian churches. He was an activist student, organising a group of expatriate African students in Pennsylvania and building it into the African Students Association of America and Canada, becoming its president.

Nkrumah moved to London in 1945, with the intention of studying for a doctorate, but failed to stay more than a term or so at LSE or University College. Instead, he became very involved in organising the Fifth Pan-African Congress in Manchester (October 1945). In 1947, he returned home to take up a position as general secretary of the new United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC) which aimed for self-government. Following extensive riots in 1948, he and other UGCC leaders were briefly arrested. A year later, he split from the UGCC to form the Convention Peoples’ Party (CPP) which was committed to achieving immediate self-government. He initiated a campaign for nonviolent protests, strikes and non-cooperation with the British colonial authorities, but this led to him being arrested and imprisoned for a year. In 1951, though, after being elected to parliament, he was released, and he then became prime minister of Gold Coast in 1952. It would be five more years before full independence was realised and Gold Coast became the self-governed nation of Ghana. Nkrumah was hailed as the Osagyefo - meaning ‘redeemer’ in the Akan language. That same year, in 1957, he married Fathia Rizk, 
an Egyptian Coptic, and they had four children.

While Nkrumah set about building roads, school and health facilities, his style of leadership proved increasingly authoritarian. In 1960 he won a plebiscite for Ghana to become a republic. Nkrumah became president. However, mounting economic troubles and foreign debt (and other troubles) began to threaten his presidency. He was forced to abandon the country’s Second Development Plan; the economy contracted, and widespread unrest culminated in a general strike. An attempt on Nkrumah’s life in 1962, led to his increasing seclusion from public life, as well as to a massive buildup of the country’s internal security forces. While Nkrumah focused on the ideological struggle for black peoples, the crisis in Ghana itself worsened, until, in 1966, while he was visiting China, the army and the police seized power. On returning to Africa, he found asylum in Guinea, where he spent the remainder of his life, writing books, among other things, such as Dark Days in Ghana and Class Struggle in Africa. He died, while in Romania, in 1972. Further information is available online at Wikipedia, South African History Online, or Encyclopaedia Britannica.

In the last years of his life, from the mid-1960s onward, Nkrumah kept a diary. It was with him when he died, but then, somehow, it seems to have found its way to the US. Some 30 years after his death, the diary became the subject of a legal battle. An article to be found online at GhanaWeb describes the story of the diary as reading like ‘a whodunnit bestseller’. For 20 years, the diary was in the possession of an American, a financial consultant called Robert Shulman, but then it was tracked down by Vincent Mbirika, a Kenyan scholar and expatriate who lived in New York, and who wanted the diary returned to Ghana. A law suit followed, and in April 2012 the court agreed that the diary rightly belonged to Ghana and to the Nkrumah family (see New African Magazine, GhanaWeb or Denise Valentine’s blog.)

I have not been able to track down any online trace of the diary since 2012, nor any extracts from it. However, this GhanaWeb article (dated two weeks earlier than the one above) does give some information about the diary, as follows:

‘The diary entries start from the mid-1960s, when the Osagyefo was president, and run to the late 1960s when he had been deposed and was living in exile in Guinea as a guest of President Sekou Toure.

One entry, from 1966, the year Nkrumah was ousted by the military, mentions the purchase of military equipment from the Soviet Union. In another entry, from 1968, when Nkrumah was living in Guinea, the former president instructs his wife, Fathia, to “take care” of their children - Gamal Gorkeh, Sekou, and Samia (who is now an MP in Ghana and chairperson of the Convention People's Party founded by her father).

Possibly the most compelling entry in the diary (which is about the size of a small paperback and has a bookmark with the colours of Ghana’s flag stuffed in its pages), is one where Nkrumah, who had been Ghana’s head of state since independence from Britain in 1957, reflects on the abrupt end of his presidency. It makes clear that Nkrumah was worried about Ghana and Africa’s future. He wrote: “Things will not go well for Ghana” and said his “vision” for Ghana would now be “lost”.’

Sunday, September 15, 2019

I don’t feel like living

‘A living person always has hope (sometimes unconsciously). Although life is difficult, it is also beautiful. Life has its strange charm. (I will tell you the truth: I don’t feel like living, it’s too much for me, I will go to sleep soon and I don’t want to get up).’ This is from the diary of Rywka Lipszyc, born 90 years ago today. She was a teenager confined to the Łódź Ghetto during the Holocaust in Poland and barely survived the war, dying not long after being liberated from a concentration camp. But astonishingly, a diary, a heart-rending diary she kept for six months in 1943-1944 was preserved in Russia for many years, and only recently, found its way to the US and into publication.

Rywka was born on 15 September 1929 into a Polish-Jewish family, the eldest of four children. The family was imprisoned in the Nazi ghetto at Łódź following the German invasion of Poland. Her mother and father both died in 1941-1942; Rywka, one sister and three cousins were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in mid-1944. Her sister was gassed to death on arrival, while Rywka went to work for the women’s commando. Further moves followed, to Christianstadt in Krzystkowice, and to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp from where she was eventually liberated along with her surviving two sisters. She was, however, very ill, and was transported to a hospital in Niendorf, Germany, where, it is believed, she died, aged 16. Further information is available at the official Rwyka website and Wikipedia,

Extraordinarily, a diary kept by Rywka was found amid the ruins of the crematoria at Auschwitz-Birkenau in June 1945 by a Red Army doctor, Zinaida Berezovskaya. She took it back with her to the Soviet Union, and when she died it passed to her son along with other war memorabilia. When, the son died in 1992, Zinaida’s granddaughter, on a family visit to Russia, discovered the manuscript and took it back with her to the US. A decade later, in 2008, she brought it to the Jewish Family and Children’s Services (JFCS) Holocaust Center in San Francisco. A team of researchers and historians then began working to authenticate, preserve, transcribe, and translate the diary into English. Finally, it was edited by Anita Friedman, and published in 2014 as Rwyka’s Diary: The Writings of a Jewish Girl from the Lodz Ghetto by the JFCS Holocaust Centre and Lehrhaus Judaica (a Jewish educational institution now known as Hamaqom | The Place). For more on the diary and its provenance see the JFCS Holocaust Centre, the Rwyka website, the Koret Foundation, or Yad Vashem. There is further information on the website about the film Diary from the Ashes.

The Rwyka website also has a generous selection of extracts from the diary, organised by topic (disease and hunger, work, siblings, etc.). Here are a few of them.

11 December 1943
‘Sometimes I think that life is a dark road. On this road among the thorns there are other, more delicate flowers. These flowers have no life, they suffer because of the thorns. Sometimes the thorns are jealous of the flowers’ beauty and hurt them more. The flowers either become thorns themselves or suffer in silence and walk through the thorns.

They don’t always succeed but if they persevere, something good will come of it. I think it happens quite rarely but in my opinion every true Jew who is pursuing a goal suffers and keeps silent. Besides, I think life is beautiful and difficult, and I think one has to know how to live. I envy people who have suffered a lot and have lived a difficult life, and yet have won the battle with life. You know, Surcia, such people (when I read or hear about them) cheer me up. I then realize that I am not the only one or the first one, that I can have hope. But I’m not writing about myself.

You know, when I’m very upset I admire life. Then I wonder. Why at the same time are some people crying, while others are laughing or suffering? At the same time some are being born, others die or get sick. Those who are born grow up. They mature in order to live and suffer. And yet all of them want to live, desperately want to live. A living person always has hope (sometimes unconsciously). Although life is difficult, it is also beautiful. Life has its strange charm. (I will tell you the truth: I don’t feel like living, it’s too much for me, I will go to sleep soon and I don’t want to get up). Oh, Surcia, if I really couldn’t get up!’

14 February 1944
‘Mr. Zemel came and delivered a speech, or rather he repeated what the Chairman had said before. And: those who are to be deported but are hiding are being aided by other people. This is forbidden … Apparently, this is going to be some kind of easy labor.

But who knows? What’s more, during the working hours between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. nobody will be allowed to walk in the streets. The ghetto is turning into a Arbeits Lager [Labor Camp}.. The apartments will have to be locked. Only the bed-ridden with medical certificates will be able to stay inside. Nobody else. Now I don’t know what’s going to happen to Saturdays … after all, an apartment can be locked with a padlock. What’s going to happen with attendance at the workshops? God! What’s going to happen? Only You know.’

16 February 1944
‘And … one secret … my cousins are almost out of marmalade and brown sugar, but Cipka and I still have quite a lot. This morning we were going to work (Cipka and I) and she told me that on Sunday when we went to get our rations, Chanusia said to Estusia that we’d finish our marmalade and sugar very quickly and they’d have to share theirs with us. Estusia replied, “I surely wouldn’t think otherwise.”

Stupid cousins, you were so wrong! I have my own satisfaction. I haven’t thought of being as “generous” as you! I don’t even think about it. Ha, ha, ha, at the bottom of my heart I’m sneering at them. Anyway, it’s not worth pondering over! Times are terrible … many people have left … there is hunger … but I’ve already written about it. I feel something, but I can’t express it, though I’d like to. I’d like to help everybody … I’d like to be helpful … I’d like to be useful! I’m full of these inexpressible emotions. I don’t know … it’s connected with my longing and I’m so sad. But I can’t be overwhelmed by sadness, because I know that nothing good will come out of it. I’m against evil … I want kindness! I do want it! There is a saying, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” but it doesn’t apply in my case … because I want to do so much … so much, but what can I do? Little, very little, almost nothing…’

28 February 1944
‘I couldn’t write in the workshop, because I was busy with Cipka’s dress. I had a small problem with the soup, so my break was rather sad (because of the soup). But to the point! Sewing something gives me a lot of pleasure and when I finish it I’ll know that I’m stronger … I’ll know that regardless of the conditions I’ll be able to move forward. I’ll have a profession. I won’t depend on my fate, but my fate will depend on me. I feel stronger.

A few years ago, in my dreams, when I was imagining my future, I could see sometimes: an evening, a studio, a desk, there is a woman sitting at the desk (an older woman), she’s writing … and writing, and writing … all the time … she forgets about her surroundings, she’s writing. I can see myself as this woman. Another time I could see a modest apartment which I share with my sister - earlier I thought it was Tamarcia, but today it’s more probable that it’s Cipka. Some other time I can see: an evening, a modest room with lights, all my family sitting at the table. It’s so nice … so warm, cozy … Oh, it’s so good! Later, when they all go to bed, I sit at the sewing machine and I’m sewing … sewing … it’s so sweet, so good … so delightful! Because everything I make with my own hands is our livelihood. It pays for bread, education, clothes … almost everything. The work I do with my own hands … I’m very grateful to Mrs. Kaufman for this … and then (obviously only when I think about it, because it’s not a reality yet), then I feel that, that I can be useful, and not only can, I have to, I have to! (I have to stop now and bring some water.)

Will I be able to write now as I was writing before? I have to try. (Oh, damn it! Cipka took my pencil case and a pen. I had to try four nibs. None of them is good and I can hardly write.) I know, because I’ve said it to myself many times that work is essential in human life, at least in mine. I’d like to dream up work for myself, difficult but rewarding so I’d know that I’m doing it for somebody, that there is somebody. This is most important: I’d like to give but also to take. It doesn’t come easy.’

5 April 1944
‘Because of the holidays there is a lot of commotion. But not everything is positive, unfortunately. Yesterday those who registered for matzos didn’t get any bread. They can starve for a few days or eat matzos. Well, it’s not so easy to be a Jew. At every step there are difficulties. And the weather is capricious, too, although no doubt it is much better, but … children who were adopted receive coupons, so Cipka and I do, too. What we’ll get, I don’t know, that will become clear today. Some kitchens were registering people for the holiday soup. A few girls from our group are leaving at 10 a.m. Today, we’ll find out. Anyway! I wish it were a holiday right now! During the holidays I won’t know where to go first, to Dorka Zand, to Mrs. Lebensztajn, to Dorka Borensztajn and … and I don’t know myself, and now … I’ve planned to write tomorrow, but I don’t know whether I’ll be able to or whether I’ll have an opportunity.

Three years ago the holidays fell on the same days. It was the last holiday, the last Seder with my Daddy. Oh, time goes by so quickly! Daddy was supposed to be released from the hospital for the holidays. Ereve Peysech [the Eve of Passover] like this year, fell on Friday, so Daddy came back on Thursday (like tomorrow). We, the children, were very impatient all day and every few minutes we would approach the window or the balcony to see if an ambulance was coming. […] I couldn’t stay still in one spot but I remember how happy I was that Daddy was coming back. We, the children, weren’t allowed in the hospital, so we would write letters and Mom would take them to Daddy. I discovered so much love for us in Daddy’s letters. God! Perhaps because of this separation, because of these letters, I loved him even more.

In the winter I saw Daddy in the hospital window. He was cheerful, he could easily pour his own reassurance into me, he said he was better, and soon we’d see each other. Didn’t I see for myself that he was doing better? Yes, that’s why I still believed his words. I was full of hope and reassurance myself. Later, Daddy took a turn for the worse, the hospital itself was getting worse, but nevertheless Daddy was supposed to come home for the holidays.

On that Thursday I didn’t remember or I didn’t want to remember that Daddy was feeling much worse than in the winter. However, I was very happy that finally he’d be at home. At that time I remembered only the good things, like Daddy holding my hand on Yom Kippur, the letters and the visits. […] In the evening, at last the ambulance stopped in front of the gate. I was on the balcony and my heart totally stopped for a second. And then it started to pound so violently that I thought my chest would explode. I had no idea what to do: stay in place or run to the door. I don’t exactly remember what I did. I only know that it seemed forever when my Daddy was climbing the stairs. Finally, finally, Daddy was in the room and … how disappointed I was … it wasn’t the same Daddy as the one in the hospital window. He didn’t even smile, didn’t respond to our greetings. He was upset and visibly tired. He wanted to go to bed as soon as possible. We had to leave the room.

God! This feeling! It was in the evening, but the light wasn’t on yet. In that darkness everything was black in front of my eyes. I simply didn’t see anything or anyone. Like a drunk I stumbled into the other room. I felt like sobbing, but I didn’t. I remained silent. Various thoughts were running through my head: what’s wrong with Daddy? Why is he so different? I didn’t expect this. […] I was telling myself that he was only tired, but I was overcome by a strange anxiety. I was bothered by the thought that Daddy wasn’t thinking about us. […] It is true, later I calmed down about the change in Daddy. We even talked to him, although I was very shy, but in my heart … there was a pain, a sorrow in my heart. I don’t know, I don’t know what to call it. Such feelings always wear me out, reduce my energy. I’m unable to do anything. When Daddy wanted a cup of tea, I brought it for him with great difficulty. I had to bring it, because it would look bad that here he is from the hospital and I’m disobedient. The next day I tried to do everything right, although Daddy was very upset. I tried to make every good moment last and not irritate him. Oh, nobody will ever know how hard it was for me and how “cold” I was feeling. And yet nobody knew. […] I withdrew into myself. Nobody could get anything out of me. After all nobody even supposed that I was worried. Oh, how much I needed a kind word, how much I wanted to be alone with Daddy. I wanted him to be like he was in the past. I missed all that and I felt so helpless, so helpless.

After a few days Daddy regained his cheerfulness and good spirits, but I didn’t have any more opportunities to fulfill my dreams. We were all very happy to be in one room with Daddy. We didn’t talk much, but we exchanged looks. Oh, those looks! I couldn’t say anything at all, not even that I wished him to get better, nothing … simply nothing. I was very awkward. But I wanted to, I wanted to. Only God knows this, because I didn’t tell anybody.

Oh, now I’m remembering it all. I can’t even look at Daddy anymore, only at his picture. But I’ll never see Daddy alive, never see him alive again, never again. God! How terrible it is! It’s going to be the third Seder without Daddy, and the second one without any man at all. Last year Aunt Chaiska was here, and today … today there is Estusia. Oh, it’s so tragic! If only Abramek were here! Oh, God, precisely on Pesach, at the Seder, Daddy will be missed most. Oh, he’ll be missed so much …’