Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Chump
by: Schvach YId

Please forgive the filthy photo.

Oh, how ‘they’ love to chump me. Maybe it’s my ponim. Maybe it’s my obvious lack of savvy. Perhaps it’s my obnoxious swagger. Maybe it’s me.

So there I was, ten years ago, working on a new job as a technician in a university-based academic biomedical research lab (NIH funded) and the post-doctoral fellow with whom I was assigned to work - a young (?) woman from Slovakia (my maternal grandmother’s birthplace; in fact, this youngish woman’s mother and my oma came from the same town) – had reached the end of her stay and was scheduled to leave for a faculty appointment (mazel tov!) in another city. A going away party had been planned, to be hosted in the home of one of my boss’ faculty colleagues, and I was invited. Little did I suspect.

Party day. There I was, and there they were, in the home of the professor whose lab adjoined my boss’ lab. The hosting professor was married to an age peer German woman. They had met when he was a graduate student and she was a lab technician in the same lab, at that same university where I was then employed. As it turned out, the wife’s aunt was visiting from abroad.

There she sat on the couch in their home located along a canal that emptied into a bay in this piece of America’s Bible Belt. She was an elderly woman; she spoke German exclusively to her nice - the wife of the hosting professor - and to the several Germans from the campus who were invited.

As she spoke I was reminded of my paternal grandmother, who had also been German, and who had died just two years before. As I looked at this old German woman she returned my gaze, bolted in her place, and exclaimed that old familiar German ditty, ‘Gott is viel’. I was then informed of the relationship between her and the host’s wife. She was referred to as Traudl! Perhaps the host assumed that I had made the connection, but no, I was too oblivious.

I should be well informed about the cast of characters of the Holocaust, especially of those who dolled it out to us, but regrettably at that point in my life, I wasn’t. Everyone in the lab knew about my Jewish German/Austrian background. On a few occasions I had been asked about it, so given the identity of this German relative and her intended presence at the party, why had I been invited? The joke, if it could be considered a joke, was on me. The egg on my face is still dripping.

Traudl Junger was one of Hitler’s five personal secretaries. She, according to historians, had been present in Hitler’s bunker when he and Eva Braun are reputed to have committed suicide, and according to what I’ve read about her on the web, Traudl Junger had applied to work as a secretary in Hitler’s chancellery rather than having been conscripted. This photo suggests she also knew how to get around the neighborhood.

I didn’t learn of Traudl Junger until years later, but upon viewing her photo, the match of faces and names were unmistakable.

This had been chump escapade #2. Number one had occurred ten years before, when I was employed as a nurse in a large hospital in the neighboring large city.

There, an elderly man had been admitted to the hospital, had undergone a coronary artery bypass, and had been transferred to the surgical telemetry floor where I was employed as a staff RN. His patient chart stated he was 72 years old and that he resided in Nicaragua. The name was overtly German.

When I was assigned to this patient I was told that I was not to touch his food tray except to collect it once his meal was completed. The patient refused to speak to me or to anyone else in my presence, but freely spoke to all other staff members and to his visiting daughter (who said she lived in Switzerland where she worked as a psychiatrist, and who refused to identify herself by name), as long as I wasn’t present. I was informed that I was required to prepare all of his medications in his presence; no other care giver was given the same instructions.

On the second day of this charade, I asked him if he wanted to walk to the toilet – in German (willst du zu klo gehen?). He gave me a look..., and not a word in response.

Working on this same nursing unit was a nurse’s aide, a woman, who spoke with a pronounced German accent. Blond and blue eyed, I never learned her country of origin, but on that same day of theater, she walked up to me and said ‘don’t you think there’s something peculiar going on with that patient?’ Some more was said by her about ‘the war’. The next day the patient was gone from that nursing unit, and so was the nurse’s aide.

To this day I have no idea who he was, but I'm certain of what he was. I cringe at the thought. I'm also certain that the hospital and everyone concerned was fully informed, except me.

The assistant head nurse of that unit made a hobby of provoking and ridiculing me. The head nurse was impotent in her role as manager; I was isolated as a Jew without access to a support network, and as I was then in the process of learning, the local Jewish community was very well kept in its place. It wasn’t New York – unfortunately (years later, during a visit to the same head nurse, she freely admitted that the then assistant head nurse was a class A Jew hater; appropriately, neither one was then working in nursing).

Such lugubrious 'honors' are conferred upon me. There’s more, but not now. I feel a need to wash my face.


chaviva said...

What stories you have to tell ... how fascinating, yet, well I can't think of the right word. Words, in fact, escape me. I can't imagine being placed in such circumstances.

muse said...

Strange. From another world.
I like my world better.

mum said...

Is this really your story?

Schvach said...

Yes; regrettably, it is.

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Anonymous said...

I am very sad to hear from your experiences with people rejecting you for what you are...

But I have to say some things about Traudl Junge:
She wasn't an anti-semite at all. She was very naive back in WWII. And she could never forgive herself to be so oblivious to what the Nazis really did. She thought after the war that others found out about the horrible things going on, so she should have as well.
Read some more about her if you want and you'll probably see it the same way. :)

Hope this makes it somewhat better.

Best regards
Olf Kijewski