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All That Was: Chapter Twenty-Two - Love At First Sight

…Suddenly, amongst the throngs of our many prospective 'business partners' with whom the four of us were engaged in buying and selling goods, Marcel was there. Our eyes met and I instinctively knew that something very special had occurred...

Love blossomed for Lusia Przybyszewicz in war-time Germany. Even though Lusia and her companions were working as “slaves’’ in a hotel, there was time for romantic outings.

Lusia’s wonderful book All That Was is an unforgettable account of courage and a determination to survive during one of history’s most terrible decades.

The book is available form Lusia at PO 404, Vaucluse, NSW 2030, Australia ($25 Australian plus postage)..

Try as I might, I am unable to pinpoint the precise moment of our first encounter. We were at the end of summer 1943. Suddenly, amongst the throngs of our many prospective 'business partners' with whom the four of us were engaged in buying and selling goods, Marcel was there.

Our eyes met and I instinctively knew that something very special had occurred. This new sensation seemed so extraordinary. Not only had I never fallen in love before, but over that whole period of my tortured youth, such a development was completely unexpected. There was a war on and coming out of it alive was the primary objective at all times. This objective consumed all of my energy and resourcefulness in the process. Now, out of the blue as it were, I felt smitten by this very charismatic total stranger.

At the very outset, I found Marcel extremely handsome in the Gallic sort of way. Indeed as I discovered many years later to my amazement when I went to the cinema one day in Sydney, with his looks and his voice, Marcel could have easily been taken for Gregory Peck's twin brother.

As long as the warm weather lasted we met whenever possible. Out in the open we walked and chatted. At such times I took the risk of removing my 'P'; without it I felt less constrained and more relaxed. With all the restrictions placed upon us, and more particularly upon me, our dates were rather infrequent to say the least. All the same by Christmas 1943 we knew quite a lot about each other. It goes without saying that for me all matters Jewish remained out of bounds of discussion until Liberation.

Marcel came from Bordeaux. He was a graduate of Ecole Normale Superieure, an institution where school teachers are traditionally trained in France. He was slightly older than I was. He had already gained some teaching experience in his beloved Gironde, before coming to K.D.F. Stadt. His decision to work in Germany had more to do with his desire to leave behind an unhappy love affair, than it did with the 'lofty ideals' of Petain. Just a few months of work at the Volkswagenwerk were enough to crystallize in his mind an utter loathing for the Germans, a sentiment I had no trouble at all in sharing fully with him.

We also found much common ground on other fronts. We had a similar way of looking and laughing at things; we both loved literature and history. And of course we both followed with the greatest possible passion the current affairs and their direct and devastating impact on our lives.

Coming as we did, from vastly different backgrounds we found it fascinating to explore each other's attitudes to life, values, cultures, general knowledge, and habits. Under his guidance my French improved in leaps and bounds. To my ears his 'accent meridional' (southern accent) was pure delight. To him, the sound of my French resembled that of his favourite Rumanian film star, Ida Pepesco. At long last I found much overdue release for all of the knowledge that I had crammed into my head over many sleepless nights in the kitchen of our Novolipki Street quarters in the Ghetto in preparation for my Matura.

After my daily battles with the toilets and Marcel's efforts on the factory floor, our intellectual exchanges proved exhilarating and fulfilling to us both. The boost to our spiritual well-being was phenomenal. For much of that time, we felt deliriously happy in our togetherness and, therefore, practically immune to the reality around us.

Gradually, I began to share the news from London with my new companion. At that time the tough battle for Italy was just beginning. Throughout September 1943 the Allies made unsuccessful attempts to capture Naples. The Italian Army offered practically no resistance to the Germans. This made the situation particularly grim. In order to cover up Mussolini's downfall Goebbels kept raving about his Fuhrer's brilliant strategies. Then, after the elimination or isolation of the Italian Navy and Air Force, the news came that the Badoglio Italian regime officially declared war on Germany on 13th October. Naples fell on 14th October.

We again rejoiced.

Slowly, we established a network of trustworthy members throughout the French camp. Our purpose was the dissemination of reliable information about the progress of the war. Although I was not the only source of such dispatches, I certainly ended up as one of the important and respected ones among the foreign work force at K.D.F. Stadt.

In the winter months, while the most savage fighting continued in Italy, our private 'resistance movement' organized a cultural circle. We met on some Sunday afternoons inside someone's Stube where we discussed an important painter, writer, or poet. On the rare occasions, when some books were available we read and discussed the works of the author. Occasionally it was my turn to give a dissertation about Polish literary trends.

My favoured topic was the very one I had found so taxing in
my schoolgirl days - our 19th Century romantic period. It encompassed the powerful poetry of Adam Mickiewicz and Julian Slowacki, with its recurrent themes of the martyrdom of the conquered and the yearnings of the exiled.

Now in hindsight whenever I browse through a Polish anthology, I feel conscience-stricken for my childish antics. Notable for their depth and great passion, the Polish masterpieces make for compelling reading.
Sometimes with Marcel's help I translated from memory some Polish poems into French. To be able to explore such subjects in French to a French audience in the void of Nazi Germany filled me with pride and a wonderful sense of accomplishment.

Moreover I was stimulated by the strong emotional upheaval within me. After so many years of self-effacement and constant fear, all of a sudden I felt an uncommon upsurge of energy and courage.

As I was wholly involved seven days a week in endless activities of one sort or another, my life became very intense. It seems I had few concerns with the consequences of my actions, as I became hell-bound on doing my bit in the common struggle.

In the years 1943/44 fate amassed together at K.D.F Stadt a hotchpotch of humankind. There were tradesmen, farmers, university students, performers, professionals of all kinds, as well as good-for-nothing 'faineants'. They all came from many parts of the occupied Europe. Even though the forced labour at the Volkswagenwerk appeared to be a significant levelling factor for this complex maze of people, differences amongst individuals soon emerged.

Those times of grave crisis left no room for hypocrisy or pretence. One had to be blunt and direct in one's search for the truth. By allowing for no compromises we quickly discovered the iniquitous actions of a handful of collaborators whom we learned to dodge.

For the great majority of workers a strong bond of friendship and solidarity became the key to the future. Mindful of this unwritten rule, we all abided by it, and in the process we gained a renewed sense of belonging.

It did not take long before my three Polish girl friends also found partners. Henia chose Henri, who was slightly younger than herself but already a very competent science student at the Sorbonne. His parents managed their own pharmacy in Paris. He had impeccable manners. Together, they were known as 'Henri et Henriette.'

The young man used to receive food parcels from his doting parents, the contents of which he often offered to share with us. It was thanks to his generosity, in fact, that for the first time in my life I had the privilege to savour Nescafe. It tasted just wonderful after all the years of drinking ersatz coffee.

S.'s partner, Paul, was another Parisien. I am not sure what he did for a living. He had a cherub-like face highlighted by a crop of curly hair. He must have been a precursor of our own, home-grown, Bill Kelty.
As an only son, a prolonged life with mother must have taught him the art of absolute obedience. He worshipped S. and showered her with gifts.

R.'s partner, another Paul, turned out to be a much younger and more handsome specimen. He came from Montargis, a provincial town a little to the west of Orleans. He hoped to return one day to Montargis and to become a policeman.

Allowing for the countless limitations put upon us by the German authorities, in retrospect it seems quite astonishing that we were able to enjoy any outings together at all. But we did! And I have in my possession some photographs to prove it. For security reasons and by mutual agreement, S. never appeared on any photos, though the boys were unaware of that resolve.

Of necessity the girls had to communicate with their companions in French. Having studied the language in Poland, Henia faced no special problems. R.'s excellent ear allowed her to pick it up as she went along. S.'s French, just like her German, was a disaster! Remnants of Yiddish would pop up in her speech ever so often. We all reckoned her Paul deserved a medal for so well comprehending her every whim.


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