On september 19, 1941, on his 43rd birthday, a German NCO visists the Warsaw ghetto. He takes 140 photographs with his Rolleiflex camera.
Did he visit the ghetto out of curiosity, or was he hoping to see the Jewish girl, Anna Jankowsky again?
The child from this strange relationship, Jonathan, was given over by his mother tot the 15-year old Benjamin Marcus.
In 1992 Jonathan tells the story of the ghetto like his two fathers had passed it on to him.
There are the photographs of his German father, and a hatbox of his foster father, containing a number of toys that make noises. Ecvery toy is a souvenir of those absent.
The author himself tells the story. It is, after all, his own story.
He only has the photographs and the auditive relics to bring the past life again.
Here you can hear the drama-text in Dutch, but also follow with the English translation.
In front of the wall of a house in Nowolipki street, a skinny man is playing the violin.
Repeating only three or four different notes. A child of about five years old runs out of the picture on the left.
The man is wearing an armband on his right arm.
His coat is too small, his stained trousers too big. He looks anxiouly at the camera.
The photographer, Heinrich Hallman, who visited the Warsaw Ghetto on September 19, 1941, was an NCO in the German army.
It was his 43rd birthday. He was going to celebrate that night with some friends in the Hotel Bristol.
Before he headed for the hotel, he took 140 photographs of the ghetto with his Rolleiflex camera.
On that day he may have met Benjamin Marcus, fourteen years old, employed by the railway at the Danzig station, next to the…transfer point.
His job was loading and unloading wagons. He had moved into number 19 Zamenhof that same year, 1941.
Remember their names well: the casual photographer Heinrich Hallman, German soldier, and the young Benjamin Marcus, fugitive and Jew.
And then there was number three.
The young woman, Anna Jankowsky. She sold material for men’s suits in a tailor’s shop.
NCO Heinrich Hallman had not come to the ghetto
simply out of curiosity.
He was looking for someone.
He was looking for Anna.
He never found her.
Benjamin Marcus found her, one year later.
Just before the first evacuation from the ghetto.
She gave him the baby.
A fifteen-year-old boy with a baby.
Me and my new father. A father of fifteen.
Jonathan. Born of a German soldier and a Jewish woman. From his real father Jonathan inherited the photographs: from his foster father a hatbox with memories: from his mother torn linen pants, a little frayed shirt and a once white armband with a blue Star of David on it.
The sum of these three legacies is..is…utter insanity. They are combined here in this the
first and last performance of the smallest theatre in the world. The theatre of the hatbox.
The oval hatbox contains Benjamin’s legacy, Jonathan Zamenhof, named after the address of his young foster father’s house (number 19 Zamenhof), now performs his only play and tries in vain to subdue his insanity.
Cursed with severe acne, a hunchback and a series of other ailments, he himself prefers to remain invisible. He hides and performs using the sounds made by the toys in the hatbox.
In addition to his father’s insanity, Jonathan also inherited:
One toy piano, Czech made.
Two little bells,
A little wooden tooter.
A clockwork music box.
A hand-cranked music box.
One small mouth organ and one large mouth organ.
A wooden castanet.
A small xylophone, with do-re-mi—fa-sol-la—ti-do.
And his darling favourite: a wooden flute, which with two notes evokes the shrill whistle of the trains.
O madness, what is this obsession of mine with trains?
They make a melancholy sound when in the evenings a dense fog drapes the city and my young father cannot stop trying to talk away his wounds with the stories.
God, was that man was a storyteller!
As if he had lived it himself.
Wait though: he had lived it himself.
He had gone through it all himself, but couldn’t believe it, of course. That is why he had to keep on telling the stories over and over and over again, until probably still telling them he fell asleep and was forever released by a goods train from his telling.
But he had contaminated me.
He had wrapped me up in his stories, as others wrap up their children in nappies. Was he trying to conceal my hump? Was he trying to explain away my spots, to cut them out of my head with the sharp edge of what history had done to him? Did he want to carry his stories before him like a rattle, shouting: I am a leper. I have seen too much, heard too much, smelled to much.
Oh yes, smelled too much.
Nowhere else were people so smellable as in the ghetto. The stench of people packed together.
And also the sick smell of blood.
The first transportation out of the Warsaw ghetto. July 1942.
People in an endless line in Leszno street, and from there they were taken to the transfer point.
My father saw it all. He loaded and unloaded wagons nearby.
He saw how some tried to escape.
And he saw the corpse transport division remove their bodies.
And his grandparents, uncles and aunts, who lived on 35 Nowolipki street at the time, close to the Schultz company. They were carried off as well. And he had seen that with his own eyes. with his fifteen—year-old eyes. He had smelled that, with his fifteen—year—old nose. He had felt that with his fifteen—year—old heart.
Opposite the house on 19 Zamenhof, where my father lived, was 44 Zamenhof, the office of the ‘value’ registration. There the divisional leader of the ‘value’ registration – note the play on words –
took Jewish women and girls upstairs, raped them there and threw them out of the window at night.
He, my young father, more than once had seen the dead bodies of Jewish women and girls lying under the window of the ‘value’ registration. The ‘value’ registration.
And from then even at night he could not close his eyes.
Through his stories, he tried to remove the corpses from his mind.
He described them to me. The girls of the ‘value’ registration.
He deported them to my little boy’s soul. To me, the German’Jewish bastard.
History with a hump — a guilt-hump.
This is a photograph of Nowolipki street. we see the office of the undertaker Hbrdechai Pinkert. There is a sign above the door. Long rows of people are lining up. In the foreground, a little boy, with his back to the photographer, sits next to a pran full of books.
Ai, the coupon.
I will not give up my coupon,
because Pinkert is a beast,
he robs the dead of their coupons.
Ai, the coupon!
That is what the children sang in the ghetto.
My young father’s friend worked at Pinkert’s. His name was also Benjamin. Benjamin Gruszka, but everyone called him Bolek. His father had to give up his greengrocer’s business because vegetables were no longer available in the ghetto, so he started working as a corpse bearer at Pinkert’s. There were plenty of corpses. Always more. His father was soon ‘evacuated’ to Treblinka.
When he was not needed at the railway, my young father used to help Bolek at times. To earn a little extra. A telephone call would come from the Gestapo headquarters in the cellar at 101 Zelazna street. Usually the Jewish police called: hurry to the headquarters. Clear out the cellar. Routine work. Sometimes blood was still dripping from the people.
This is where the little wooden tooter came from. It rolled out of the pocket of a tortured woman.
It was still new.
My young father said it has the voice of the murdered children from the ghetto.
( the little tooter sound)
In April 1941 there were approximately 450,000 people in the ghetto. On 307 hectares. Seven square metres per inhabitant.
This can easily explain the stench in the overcrowded streets. A 130,00 children under fourteen never survived
(the little tooter sound)
On the pavement of a sidestreet lies a child of three or four. Though it is the middle of September, it is not wearing any shoes. It is dressed in rags and can no longer sit up. Three boys of about thirteen run past. Only the middle of the three looks at the dying child.
This is a photograph taken by my real father, Heinrich Hallman, German NCO in Praga, a suburb of Warsaw. Why did he take this photograph? While I was in the belly of Anna Jankowsky, my father photographed this dying child with his Rolleiflex.
Come, children of Warsaw, lament with Rachel.
Here, a girl of about nine is sitting against the front wall of a house. Her sister is lying across her legs. The girl that is still alive is protecting with her hand the body of the reclining girl. She is not looking at the photographer. She is looking left, at someone who is not visible.
Do you get the picture? Can you imagine this girl? She is sitting in the street with her dead little sister on her lap. It is the 19th of September 1941.
She will later take off her sister’s clothes and leave the little body in the street, underneath a newspaper or some wrapping paper. If the family want a funeral, they have to pay taxes. So the bodies are left in the street. Work for the Jewish council.
Adam Czerniakow, the leader of the Jewish community in the ghetto, writes in December 1941: the intelligentsia is dying. Up until then only the poor died, from then on, however, the intelligentsia joined them in death.
Did you only come because of Anna Jankosky, Heinrich Hallman? Or were you planning on buying a fur coat at a bargain price, or a new lens for your Rolleiflex camera? All that cost next to nothing. Foodstuffs were expensive, unaffordable.
That was how my young father, Benjamin Marcus, came suddenly face to face with the little son of the German Governor—General Hans Frank. The little boy, his mother and his nanny came ‘shopping’ in the ghetto. In their Mercedes with an SS—escort. As his mother was getting out of the car, she cried: This is the corner where they have such nice corsets, and those fur coats!
Niklas Frank, in the back of the car, and Benjamin Marcus, on the pavement of Nowolipki street, looked at one another. It was on a Sunday. Niklas stuck out his tongue. Benjamin walked away.
Later, when the car had left, Benjamin found the small mouth organ in the gutter. This too was still new. Just like the little tooter. It could only produce a few notes. Enough to accompany all German songs.
(little mouth organ sound)
When I was twelve, Benjamin gave me a big mouth organ. It was my only solace at the boarding school. Then I forgot about it. Later I found it again in the hatbox.
(large mouth organ sound- silence)
This photograph shows a nan by a pit. The bottom is covered with corpses. They lie close to one another. Next to each other or with their legs intertwined, filling every little space. They are mostly women.
The Jewish cemetery was bordered by the Catholic Polish cemetery and the football field, ‘Skra’. It bordered on the Aryan side then. In between was a wall. People and weapons were smuggled over this wall. Hearses usually had a double bottom or double walls. The entrance to the Jewish cemetery was a gate, beautifully overgrown with ivy.
This is where Jasia Starkopf was taken, accompanied by her mourning mother. Her father had himself locked up in the mortuary with his child. There Jasia woke from her anaesthetic. A friendly doctor had given her an injection to temporarily knock her out.
My young father helped the supervisor of the cemetery, Mr Navojak, to get father and daughter over the wall. He was given the little clockwork music box as a present. The music of the resurrected Jasia.
(little music box sound)
Three dead bodies lie in the foreground of this photograph. In the distance, a young boy throws corpses into a pit. He is wearing gloves — wooden gloves. Down in the pit, a nan is arranging the bodies next to one another.
(little wooden castanet sound)
The little wooden castanet. My young father made that himself.
When he was still a little boy. It consists of a handle and a middle part, against which clatter two semicircular pieces.
First it served as a device to give signals to his friends who had similar castanets. Later, when he worked at the railway, he used it when he saw people being driven to..the transfer point.
( little wooden castanet sound)
Later still, when we lived in Antwerp, he used it to drive away his bad dreams. Now I use it when I light the remembrance candle and try to conjure up the people from papa’s stories.
I never knew them. But I know them. I keep them in this hatbox. I conjure them up. I tear them loose from the lifeless photographs of Heinrich Hallman. I call them back from the streets of the ghetto.
Benjamin said: they never die as long as we think of them, Jonathan. When we forget them, they die a second death.
(Tooter, castanet, spring-loaded music box sounds)
Two children sit leaning against a brick wall.
The little boy is six, the girl no older than three. A tin cup sits between the two. They are begging. They are hungry. They look straight into the lens.
Benjamin Marcus saw the children of doctor Henryk Goldszmit, alias Janusz Korczak. It was the 5th of August 1942. A hot day. The doctor walked with two hundred orphan children to the transfer point.
They all disappeared into the goods wagons. The train to Treblinka. It took the train eleven hours to travel this short distance. Then they walked through two rows of barbed wire, into the gas chamber. Dr. Goldszmit was the last to go in.
My father knew the orphanage children. He often called in at the doctor’s and showed the children how to arve little whistles out of sticks or kindling. Until no more sticks or kindling was available.
After they left, he found the train whistle in the deserted orphanage.
(little train whistle sound)
The train to Treblinka. Children under the age of four travelled for free. Those under ten at half price. All others at group rate. The Jews were transported at excursion rates, which allowed adults to travel half price.
The train journeys were organized by a travel agency. The travel agency for Central Europe was in charge of the invoicing and ticket sales. Gas chambers or holiday resort, it was the same agency, the same procedure, the same billing.
The first transportation of Jews from Warsaw to Treblinka took place on July 22, 1942. The next day Czerniakow, the leader of the Jewish community, committed suicide.
The last note in his diary read: ‘They want me to kill the children with my own hands.’
(little train whistle sound)
A busy street. In front of the houses, men are selling fresh bread. No-one is buying any. A child is leaning against a lanpost. With his back turned on the bread.
In Mila street live the very poorest. In 46 Mila street where 500 people live, 233 people died. This was April 30, 1942, seven months after Heinrich Hallman’s visit to the ghetto. In 51 Mila street where 578 people live, 430 died, 200 of them in the last three months. 21 Krochmalna street where 400 people lived was the record: all 400 of them died.
In 56 Zamenhof, close to 19 Zamenhof where Benjamin had moved to, 10 families died. Frozen to death. In return for two slices of bread Benjamin was given the two little bells as a present. He wanted to return them, but his friend wouldn’t hear of it. Benjamin suggested they would keep one bell each.
(little bells sound)
In the Summer of the so—called evacuation period, he saw with his own eyes Jews being shot dead in the streets of the ghetto.
A German officer shot Benjamin’s friend dead. He was fifteen, just like him. The murderer was an officer known as ‘The slaughterer’. His friend had sheets with him that he intended to sell outside the ghetto. That is how there come to be two little bells in my young father’s hatbox.
(little bell sounds)
This is a story from the hatbox for which I do not have any sound, even words are too difficult. The cries ‘bremze’ or ‘shipse’, hurry, quick, in Polish and Ukrainian.
Look. Or better still: close your eyes and follow me.
Here is the station. The station of Treblinka village. And that is the arrival of a goods train. Each time thirty to fifty wagons. The train was divided into groups of ten, twelve or fifteen wagons that were then driven to the camp.
Quick, quick, quick, yelled the Jews of the blue commando. Out. Hurry. There were also Ukrainians and Germans. Keep your eyes closed.
Once the people were inside, the red commando had to collect the clothes of the men and women and take them upstairs.
First the men were sent upstairs through a long narrow room. The women with children had to wait until they could squeeze in.
Naked, in Summer as well as Winter. With temperatures that could do down to -20 in
December. (Surely you see them if you keep your eyes closed.)
We now find ourselves in the long narrow room. That was a high enclosed area, camouflaged with a foliage of branches, pine branches. A special commando of 20 Jews fetched these branches every day. The camouflage commando.
The long narrow room was also called the Ascension.
In the Ascension, Ukrainian guards were lined up to whip the men who put up a struggle.
The gas chamber was not larger than four by four meters. (Can you imagine this room?)
Up to a hundred and fifty women and children were pushed inside. Small children were thrown over the heads of the people present. (It is becoming difficult: but please use your imagination.)
Then the diesel engines were started and the gas flowed in.
(Now slowly open your eyes. I was going to play something for you, because as you have now come to realize that those waiting would hear the crying and the wailing of the dying….)
Two hours at the most between their arrival and death.
You closed your eyes again?
You were not the only one. I did the same when my young father told me these stories. I was a young man at the time.
But he said: look at me, Jonathan. And let those to whom you pass this look at you.
Are you all looking?
Clothes in small piles. Socks in shoes. Shoes tied together. What did this child hide in his socks?
(little music box sound))
While I spent my pre—school years with the congregation of Catholic sisters, my young father worked on the red commando at Treblinka.
There, at the sisters’ (Xylophone)), I heard the xylophone for the first time. A few days later, Benjamin came to pick me up. The little xylophone was sitting in my small suitcase when I unpacked that night.
(Xylophone and wooden castanet sounds)
I need to clatter.
Mother Anna, look down on me.
Heinrich, wo warst du, Adam?
(Train whistle sound-silence)
A little boy of som six or seven is sitting against a crumbling wall. He is not sitting. He is leaning. He can fall at any moment. A hat is lying upside down at his naked feet, inviting people to throw in some money.
In your photographs we never see you but the way in which you looked at us is visible..
Then I was invisible to you, as now you are invisible to me.
German NCO looks into the eyes of his half-Jewish
son through these photographs.
In the streets, the children are now running about shouting ‘Ausländer raus’, papa.
In my country, they talk about ‘your own folk first’.
Which way do I go? Me with my two fathers?
All of us with our hundreds and thousands of ancestors from all countries?
Do we have to go into hiding again?
Will we again defend every cellar against the dictatorship of stupidity?
(Toy piano sound)
Every night I play with the little orchestra from the hatbox.
Abandoned at the transfer point. He brought it along when he returned from his last working day at the railway.
He smuggled the entire hatbox over to the Aryan side. He climbed over the wall of the cemetery.
Stay with us, his Polish friends had said. The ghetto is on fire.
The box stayed. He returned.
A shahby—looking an with a child on his shoulder. Both barefoot. Behind him, a linoleum shop. The man is looking at a boy of some ten years old. What does he want to know?
(little rattle sound)
A rattle, home—made, just like the little wooden castanet.
Watch out. I am contaminated.
I am still not at home.
From the ruins, men with a cold look in their eyes come up to us.
They shout: quick, quick!
I am the rattlesnake, I said. But they laughed. I was nine at the time.
Now I am older.
My two fathers take me by the hand.
Heinrich, I am learning to look with your eyes. At the photographs of today.
Benjamin, I will put my madness in the hatbox orchestra.
They will hear and see it.
With Isaiah, I whisper: I will give them a name to all eternity.
A name for the mothers carried out from the headquarters of the numerous Gestapos. Listen.
(little tooter zound)
A name for the children who stick their tongues out at the wretched in the many ghettos. Listen.
(mouth organ sound)
A name for the fathers who climb the walls of the graveyards with their children. Listen.
(spring loaded music box sound)
A name for those who give life to their children, till death. Listen.
(train whistle sound)
A name for the friends with whom you share the bread. Listen.
(little bells sound)
A name for those who have gone through hell. Listen.
(little music box sound)
A name for those who preserved us from hell. Listen.
And you all who have a name, Heinrich Hallman, Benjamin Marcus, Anna Jankowsky, teach me to understand my name.
Hear the sounds of the many names in the hatbox.