excerpts

Excerpts

From the Author
Wilhelm Dichter
Q: When you were asked for a couple short book fragments, you thought for a long time. What special significance do they hold for you?

Borysław Poland, where “God’s Horse and The Atheists’ School” begins.

WD: When I was 54, I faced a life-threatening illness. It was then, in a hospital on Long Island that I realized I knew almost nothing of my own childhood. I started recalling old emotions; fragments of people's faces; sounds; and to a lesser degree, words and sentences. I began to put these elements together like a jigsaw puzzle, asking my mother about some de-tails, writing everything down painstakingly. This process took five years and at first I was not aware that I was actually writing a book. The success of "Koń Pana Boga" (God's Horse), encouraged me to continue writing the story of the Jewish boy, who was pushed by the pendulum of history into the abyss of Nazi crimes and later elevated to the Stalinist elite in war-ravaged Poland. Two fragments from the book highlight this extraordinary journey.

I was 4 years old on September 1, 1939 when the Germans attacked Poland from the west. Seventeen days later, the Russians invaded from the east. Based on the secret Ribbentrop-Molotov pact between the Nazis and Soviets, the part of Poland containing our town, Borysław, was given to Russia. It was the end of Polish times, and the beginning of Russian times. In June 1941, the Germans attacked their Russian partners, occupied the land and the German times began. Jews were murdered or deported to the gas chambers. My father committed suicide. Hidden by Christian neighbors under a bed, in an attic and finally in a farmer's well, I waited for death.

I was most afraid of children. I was convinced that they would recognize me instantly in the street and hand me over to the Germans. Grown-ups might take pity on me, but not children. I dreamed that I was running away from them. I was running blindly, farther and farther, until I stopped because I didn't know what to do next. In the shadows under the bed I saw my thin legs in white socks. I slowly lost the ability to walk. During the day I heard the sounds of birds outside the window. Their voices didn't mean anything. I was indifferent to them. I was waiting for the voices of the people who would come to get me.


Q: But you survived...

WD. Yes. In in 1944, the Russians returned and I was enrolled in a school.

We were taught arithmetic in Russian by a lame man in a uniform without insignia. He brought along a newspaper which he placed on his desk. "Children!" he said in Russian. "The best mathematicians in the world are Russians. Lomonosov and Kovalevskaya have no equals. But they are dead. And now, who is the best of all?" He smiled, seeing us looking at the portrait. "Yes, just so. Comrade Stalin." He pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket and asked a boy in the first row, "How much is one times one?"


Q: So you started school in 1944? You were already 9 years old.

WD: Yes, I enrolled into the first grade in a Russian school. The fragment reveals how they indoctrinated the children, and that the teacher was a buffoon.

Q: Did you finish this grade?

WD: No. My mother married a Jewish engineer who had fled to Siberia to avoid the Germans. His wife and child were killed in Poland. We moved westward to what was still Poland, now under Communist rule. My stepfather became very successful, and my unexpected rise began.