1. No matter how old you are, some things you don’t forget.
Last Sunday, Bill and I went to a neighborhood meeting for people interested in joining Community Without Walls. We all had to affix to our shoulders a paper tag on which we had printed our names. At the end of the meeting, we got into conversation with a man who hadn’t taken off his tag yet. The name on it ended with a “cz.”
“Polish?” Bill asked.
Yes, he was from Poland, said the man. He was fit and spry, but his face didn’t look as if he were very much younger than we are.
“Forgive me for being nosy,” I said. “But were you in Poland during World War II?”
He nodded again.
“You must have been a baby,” I went on.
“Not such baby,” said the man. “I still remember bombs. So many bombs.”
“Bombs?” Bill asked. “Did Germany bomb Poland? I thought it was very quick. Hitler marched in and Poland surrendered.”
“He must mean Russia,” I said to Bill.
The man ignored this. “Germany not bomb?” he said. “They were bombing all the time. Lost 25% of Luftwaffe over Poland. Of course Poland lost whole air force, too. Bombs, bombs everywhere. Even now,” and here he looked up at the clear blue of a Princeton summer sky, “even now, when I hear sound of propeller — whrrrr whrrrrr – I am frightened. I duck. Even now.”
He and his Polish wife are both scientists. They’ve lived and worked in the United States ever since completing their university studies. Although they do return to Europe twice a year, their preference is to rent an apartment in Paris for a month in September, and again in April. His wife is fluent in French.
“They’re lucky, “ said Bill after we got home. He was thinking Paris. “We’re luckier,” I said. “We don’t have to duck.”
2. No matter how old you are, you can still learn something new.
The man we met after the Community Without Walls meeting who came from Poland did not have clear handwriting. Or maybe I just need new glasses. I had to squint to make out the name on his paper shoulder tag. It looked like Kaganovicz.
“KagAnovich?” I asked uncertainly.
“No,” he replied. “KaganOvich.”
“I thought the accent was on the second syllable,” I said.
“Third,” said the man. “In Russian it’s on second. You’re Russian?”
“Her parents were,” said Bill helpfully.
“Ah,” said KaganOvitch. “That explains it. Russians say KagAnovitch. But in Poland, always KaganOvitch.”
While I was digesting this phonetic difference, which I hadn’t known before, he added something. “There was a KagAnovich. Lazar Moiseyevitch. Famous Old Stalinist. Murderer. Killed many people. But Russian. I’m Polish. KaganOvich.”
“Lazar Moiseyevitch KagAnovich,” I repeated. “I shall have to remember that. At least long enough to look him up.”
“Just remember KaganOvitch,” said KaganOvitch.
And you see, I have!