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the Hiccup

By George Liebermann

Steve and I lived in the same city of Nagyvarad, went to the same Jewish Elementary and High School, ended up in the same concentration camp, where his father was chief doctor of Rewier (camp hospital), and we were liberated by the same U.S. Army, it was only natural that we enrolled into the same Hungarian Medical School in Marosvasarhely in 1946, and rented the same furnished room.

His father asked me to look after Steve, since he considered me more mature. Steve was shy around women. I did not fully understand what he expected me to do.

The first post-war school started in April, 1946. The teaching staff arrived slowly. They had been mostly recruited from the University of Kolozsvar. The attendance was facultative, the proof of knowledge was given by a successful final examinations.

The city was charming and lively. No war left marks on the buildings or the spirit of the population. A wide variety of restaurants offered their tasty local dishes. Pretty girls were enchanted by the many students that suddenly invaded their city. Mothers were hoping for a doctor for a son-in-law. Gynecologists were busy with abortions.

Steve surprised me with his shyness. I never saw him make eye-contact with a girl. At the same time he nagged me to introduce him to a woman.

* * * * *

One day we ate lunch in the Sweet Nest Restaurant. It was cheap and acceptable. We went late and could eat anything we picked at a “fix-menu” price.

Across our table sat two women. They were not bad looking. They caught Steve’s attention.

“Do you like any of them?” I said.

He nodded and pointed his finger under the table at the red head.

“Send her a rose,” I said.

The waiter politely took a rose to the woman. She smiled.

I said, “Smile you idiot.”

Next day was Sunday and I meant to go to a better restaurant, but Steve insisted on the Sweet Nest Restaurant. The two ladies were at their places. The red head smiled at Steve.

“What next?” said Steve.

“Buy her a present.”

Next day, Steve carried a small box, wrapped in a red silk paper. The waiter took it to the lady of his heart; she gently opened it and smiled. I felt that her smile was excessive. My suspicion was that Steve wasted his money.

“What did you get her?” I said.

“I bought her a bracelet.”

”You are an idiot.”

Next day the ladies did not show. Neither did they on the day after. Steve was desperate. “I spent 100 leis for nothing.”

He was restless. “What next?

”Find yourself aaother girl.”

“You know me better than that.”

”Look Steve, I am tired of you. I'll take you to Rose Garden,” I said.

He did not reply.

The Rose Garden was a little park with red little pink cubicles in the middle. It was a nice little meeting place with benches under oak trees. Elegant ladies decorated themselves with inviting smiles. It did not take long before Steve discovered the lady of his heart from Sweet Nest Restaurant, with his gold bracelet on her wrist.

“She is a slut,” Steve said. ”I spent one hundred leis on a low life.”

“You will spend more on so called “decent” women.”

He hesitated, but the lady got him by his arm and carried him away. He was disappointed.

“From now on you find your own women,” I said.

* * * * *

Steve was the best student in High School and his diligence did not lessen at the Medical School. He took notes word by word, short hand and long hand. I hardly ever attended the lectures, but went instead to the compulsory practical, laboratory and dissection classes. I was an avid reader from the beginning of High School. I had an interest in evolution since I was sixteen years old. I read everything available in the library; Thales, Empedocles, Anaximander, Aristotle, Linnaeus, Buffon, Lamarck, Mendel and naturally Darwin, while still in High School.

“What will you benefit from reading those books? How will you pass your examination if you have no idea what the professors are talking about? Girls and books; you will never graduate as a doctor.”

I never doubted that he was right. Still, my bottom could not sit restless, hours after hours and take notes, memorize boring anatomy, histology, and microbiology. I prefered to be a cab driver.

* * * * *

Most of the students had been approached by party agitators and were talked into becoming communist party candidates.

“I am politico-phobic,” I said. But there was no way out. I gave in and became a candidate.

“How do you want to educate the masses, to prevent another Holocaust?”

“I'll go to America,” I said.

“Never say that aloud again,” was the reply.

School started in April 1946, ended in June. One final examination followed the other; first was Biology with professor Dr.H. Subject: Evolution.

On the fatal day, three hundred sixty students were given a written test about Evolution. It did not take me long to write my thesis. I even inserted some funny aspects of my own theories and was the first in class to walk up to Dr.H. and hand him my creation. Only later did I recalled the long look on his face.

A few days later, Steve asked me if I wanted to go to the Med. School to see what our grades were. I declined and he laughed. He came home with a long face.

“You got a problem?” I said.

“I studied hard, you can’t deny that.”

I did not reply.

“You hardly attended his lectures and I never saw you his book in your hands.”

I nodded. “How could you explain that he graded me with nine and your name does not even appear on the list. First I taught that he flunked you, then I found your name on a separate sheet, your name only, all by itself, graded ten with a star atop of it. The best grade ever, never saw one before.”

I did not understand it myself.

* * * * *

After an appendectomy, I found myself in the same room with the director of the Sugar Factory, also a dedicated communist and a good friend of professor H.

We began to chat, actually he did most of the talking, I seldom replied, but when it came to the professor, he wanted to know if he was popular. I described what a great scientist he was, what a shame that he was a Nazi while a Biology Professor at the Halle Medical School in the Nazi Germany.

His face turned red, his hands shook. There was nothing that I could do. He contacted all the Party Officials, the leadership of the Faculty. His Magyar brother, his friend had been threatened by a little insignificant Jewish student.

* * * * *

In 1948 at the party cleansing, my candidacy came to an end, not without scandal and joy. At a meeting with the participation of the entire faculty, I turned out to be the biggest trouble-maker.

The Festivity Room of the Medical School accommodated three hundred and sixty participants. It was jammed with students, and naturally the staff of the Faculty.

At one end long table covered with a red flag or whatever sat the omnipotent committee. I had no idea that a gang of conspirators planned to exterminate me. Only when I heard my name, the tone of voice of the man in the middle of the table sounded threatening. His initial questions sounded harmless:

”Comrade, where were you during the war?”

I wasn’t SS, did not teach at Halle Medical School, haven’t been a Nazi, did not introduce my lectures by commenting on the front-page article of the Nazi Official paper the Voelkischer Beobachter, I thought.

“I was in five concentration camps including Auschwitz-Birkenau and Dachau.”

“Good. Who liberated you comrade?"

Now I dropped the bomb. “The victorious American Army, comrade.”

I looked around, did not expect such vociferation from my fellow students and the Faculty. It was hard to say if there were more sympathizers or adversaries.

The president at the read table shouted:

“The Americans did not liberate people, they occupied them. The Glorious Soviet Army liberated you comrade. Maybe you are too young to understand.”

“But the only soviets I saw were prisoners in the same train with me, three thousand of us and we all were liberated by the US Army.”

At that moment other adversaries went into fierce attack.

A girl who was from my hometown, a survivor and classmate, recalled the beautiful house my family and I lived in. In other words we were rotten capitalists. We lived there until the deportation.

Next, loud communist George Ch. shouted from behind his thick brown framed glasses,

“Comrade L. (he meant me) dared to attack our respected biology professor Dr.H; who just joined the party. He falsely accused Professor H. that he was a Nazi while on the faculty of Medicine in Germany and had commented on front-page articles in a newspaper.”

I replied, “While I was not far away from Dr.H., I was just in a Nazi extermination camp. As far as Miss Ibolya W.'s allegation's are concerned, it seems like she forgot her family’s vinegar factory.”

There was a whispering between the members of the committee, and the president said, “We must have had some distorted information about you comrade L., we will check into that.”

I said only, “Save your efforts, I don’t desire to be a member of the communist party.”

The committee again whispered, one said. “What did he say, what did he say?”

I inflicted a dangerous hiccup into the stomach of professor of Biology. It started after he heard about my allegation of his Nazi past. It went on non-stop, day and night. Specialists in stomach ills, neurologists, surgeons gathered around his bed, of no avail. Finally when he admitted the truth, and renounced to the offered membership in the communist party, the hiccup stopped.

The remembrance of his commentaries of the Vlkischer Beobachter, his fright of the possible consequences of his eminent Nazi past, threatened his career as a professor and a member of the communist party.

It crossed my mind to counter-attack the committee, a bunch of uneducated newborn party agents, there was a simple handy modality: Steve S. was not only my room mate he was also my camp mate and was liberated by the same U.S. Sherman tank columns that freed me. But he was quiet, would not endanger his career.

I let it drop. His hiccup was over.




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