Doppelgangers

Jadwiga Maurer
Doppelgangers
  • Scriptum
    Kielce 2002
    144 x 202
    392 pages
    ISBN 83-88825-05-4

Doppelgangers is the retrospective collected prose of Jadwiga Maurer, bringing together her entire literary output. It consists of twenty-two pieces in all, mainly long short stories. Presented in chronological order, they make up a more extensive story of an autobiographical nature. Maurer is interested in a particular version of the fate of the surviving Polish Jews. It concerns the ones who left the country immediately after the war (like the author, who was then a teenager), and ended up in western Germany as former Nazi concentration camp prisoners. Specifically, it is about the Jewish displaced persons who settled in post-war Munich, where most of the stories in Doppelgangers are set, and who studied and did their best to make the leap into so-called normal life there. So the environment Maurer focuses on is a group of Munich university students who speak to each other in Polish, and also several Jewish families from the heroine’s parents’ generation who have settled in Munich. Maurer describes how temporary the atmosphere there felt, and the incredible hunger for life that broke through. Her heroes want as soon as possible to gain a diploma from a German educational institution, highly regarded in the outside world, and emigrate to the United States or Israel. The Doppelgangers of the title are no more than a gallery of alien, but at the same time personal incarnations. By taking a close look at other people and by presenting the wide range of fates experienced after the war by those who escaped the Holocaust, the narrator-heroine tries hard to understand herself. The others (the Doppelgangers) are her mirror.

- Dariusz Nowacki

Jadwiga Maurer was born in Kielce. As a Jewish child she was hidden in a Catholic convent in Slovakia. After the war she and her parents left for Munich, where she studied Slavonic philology. Since 1968 she has been a university professor in the USA, currently at the University of Kansas. She has been writing stories since the 1960s.

Excerpt

One day there was an incredible miracle. In our monthly ration, UNRRA gave us a few lemons each. I was terribly fond of these lemons. I used to sprinkle them with sugar, which also came with the ration, and eat them just like that. For some time I kept the last lemon in the sideboard so that I could gloat over it for a bit longer. Mama predicted that the lemon would go mouldy in there. One day when I came back from school I decided to eat it at last. But the lemon wasn’t in the sideboard. I stretched up on tiptoes and felt into all the corners without grasping hold of anything. “Mama, where’s my lemon?” I cried out at last. “Lemon?” repeated my mother. “There isn’t one. I gave it to the lady upstairs for her son.”
I was so annoyed I couldn’t speak. Mama had given my lemon to the lady upstairs! Mama, who had herself been saved from the Holocaust by a miracle, Mama, who cried every day over the fate of her family, friends and acquaintances. And anyway, did it really have to be spelled out? After feeling annoyed I felt sorrow. I didn’t know my own mother, I didn’t know what she was capable of. The dying offspring of a great family had eaten the lemon that fairly and squarely belonged to me, apportioned to me by the victors. That evening, when my anger and sorrow had slightly abated, I told Mama what I thought. She listened to what I had to say. “You’re right,” she admitted. And after a while she suddenly added: “But it doesn’t alter the fact that this monstrous era has produced perhaps not monsters, but at least some bad people. You are not good. It’s not your fault – even in the convent you had hatred instilled in you, after all.”
So there was no one I could get through to any more. I felt totally cut off from the rest of the world, from everyone, even the people like me who had miraculously survived. Every night I cried, pressing my face into the pillow. It was July now, and all of a sudden the school certificate exams that I had just passed seemed quite unimportant. I cried until late into the night, and heard the last trams rasping their way down to the nearby depot, the American soldiers making a racket outside the pub on the corner, and the rain drumming insistently against the windowpane. I would finally fall asleep towards dawn, aching, exhausted, frustrated and depressed. Even my university studies seemed pointless and stupid – what on earth were they for? Nowadays I realise it was the gradual death of intense emotions, that I was adapting to a life, to a future, to an economic miracle that was still in its infancy, to years of numbness and compromise, indifference and compromise. If not the prince and the lemon, some other incident would have provoked the same crisis. If I had got to know the prince one day, I would at least have stopped and chatted with him on the stairs, and who knows, I would probably even have invited him into our flat. The early years, which I have no feeling for, but which I know existed. The early years, whose flavour is a mystery to me now, of which barely the scantest knowledge remains in my head! I am still to a large extent the continuation of the little girl from wartime Krakow, but I am not in the least bit the continuation of the long-haired ninny of the first post-war years. There’s nothing left of that young person except a few amateur, out-of-focus pictures and some notebooks filled with funnily immature handwriting. (“Look, she’s illiterate,” says Mama, nodding.) And some bleached-out ration cards that used to be pink or blue, I guess, lying about among various bits of paper, and an UNRRA registration card with a tiny photograph from which the small, hard, sullen face of the enigmatic creature whom I never did manage to get to know looks out on the world.
There we sat beside each other on a bench, bent forward, still shivering a bit, despite the summer. We were sitting in the sad state of Doppelgangers, a condition that’s devoid of any sexual feeling, devoid even of feelings of friendship, stripped of all the currents that run to and fro between people. We each felt our own self to be as empty as the familiar landscape around us, locked seven times over in that common feeling, irrevocably sealed up for the rest of our days. A prematurely yellowed leaf tore free from a branch above our heads and was tossed down the avenue by the wind. I watched it go, trying hard to remember more details of those early years. But nothing more came back to me. I couldn’t remember what the young prince looked like at all, or what his mother the dowager princess looked like, or what the ground floor neighbour looked like, nor the concierge. All I can remember is the dark stairwell in that house; apart from that I knew about myself that I was very thin and had long hair that I refused to cut, and that Mama used to shout at me about it. But I refused either to cut or tie up or plait my hair, because I thought I was too grown up for a plait, and I used to cry that I wasn’t on “Aryan papers” any more, so I had no intention of worrying about my appearance. I could look however I liked. And Mama said I was unruly, and that I was behaving like a fifteen-year-old, not a sixth-former or soon-to-be student. “Let’s go,” I said to Karol. “Why should we sit here any longer? It’s chilly and windy. I’ll walk you to the hospital – I’ve nothing else to do anyway.”

Translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones