17 août 2009

''My work as a reporter has taught me that logical stories, without riddles and holes in them, in which everything is obvious, tend to be untrue."

''Hamlet,'' the story of Andrzej Czajkowski, a Polish-born gay Jewish pianist who donates his skull to the theater, is the most fascinating, problematic and personally revealing story in Krall's collection. Although they never actually met, Czajkowski and Krall were contemporaries. She addresses him as ''you'' throughout, telling him, a little judgmentally, the story of his life as she sees it: grandparents, parents, his early childhood in the Warsaw ghetto. Czajkowski was smuggled out to the Aryan side with his grandmother, while his mother chose to stay with her lover in the ghetto and later was murdered in Treblinka. The boy grows up with an inner rage against his mother.

Then, unexpectedly, Krall adds: ''I shall tell you something now. I knew a certain girl. She was your age; she also had dark eyes like you and hair that was bleached with hydrogen peroxide. . . . I knew that little girl quite well, because I know what the Aryan side was for a child.'' It was, she continues, ''a window that you do not go near, even though no one is watching you. . . . A wardrobe that you enter at the sound of the doorbell. The Aryan side was loneliness and silence.'' Krall tells how this little girl and her mother were brought to a police station by a blackmailer. They had false Aryan papers, given to them by a seamstress named Maria Ostrowska, but the policeman insisted on hearing them recite a Catholic prayer. The mother could not, but the little girl did. While the grown-ups debated what exactly had persuaded the policeman to let them go, the little Jewish girl, Krall writes, had no doubt it was ''the addressee'' of the Christian prayer she had recited.

In the entry for Poland in the Encyclopedia of the Righteous Among the Nations, published in 2004 by Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust memorial, I came across an account, based in part on Krall's own testimony, of how one Maria Ostrowska-Ruszczynska, in the spring of 1943, saved the lives of Jadwiga Krall and her 6-year-old daughter, Hanna. Perhaps it is easier for an author to tell the stories of others. But when Hanna Krall writes her own story some day -- in the first person -- it will be hard to mistake it for fiction.

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