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The First Days of Freedom
By George Liebermann
The first day of freedom, the 30-th of April, 1945, struggled to awake me to reality, shake me out of daze, convince me that I was alive, that my body was my body. A pinch of my skin caused pain and I could bite my finger. Even then, I only believed that my body had been the only territory of my existence left that I could claim as my own. For eleven months it was under foreign occupation, limited in movements, in space, movement, and directions, unless it was in execution of a Nazi order.
In the middle of a clear night, I discovered that the firmament, the Universe with all the Stars, everything that kept moving on its orbit, Saturn, Venus, had never been under Nazi domination and my contact with them remained unaltered, untouched.
I cared less about the cold as I lay on the ground to get full exposure of the Universe above me. I was in direct contact with the atmosphere. The distance from constellations mattered not, it was the only dimension left free that Nazis could not control. I sat in yogi, padmasana, sidhasana, and withdrew my mind from my direct environment that surrounded me.
I always managed to mentally distance myself from the confinement, both in place and time, and allowed my mind to travel in a daze, to go home, to explore the Louvre, and to scale down those eleven months. The Hitlerites thought they had me, body and soul.
Twice the guard in the watch tower spotted my body with his reflector. He shouted and shot at me. He missed, then looked through his binocular, and shouted “hübsche Junge” and shot no more. He peeped. Gay guard in the tower.
After the role reversed, when the Nazis turned into prisoners and I walked freely in the two dimensional Munich, (the third dimension had been bombed out), only remnants of walls, chunks of gates and cellars were left of the once great city.
My freedom of movement sideways on the top off mother Earth, came about on the 30th of April, 1945, next to the village of Staltach. I hitchhiked the sixty four kilometers, more or less, a bike also came my way and I pedaled it eagerly a good ten kilometers. Then an old timer in a wood-fuelled truck carried my thirty five kilograms all the way to the Bavarian suburb.
Isabella Strasse was hardly an hour walk away. The US mini-headquarters set up in a tobacco shop was staffed by a sergeant with a freckled nose and two foot soldiers. They welcomed me in English, I replied in French. The sergeant with his freckled nose kept speaking short and long distance on the phone, until he located a New-York optometrist, a major who spoke French.
He used his hands and nostrils to convey to me what he wanted to say. He pointed to his big wrist watch and his fingers make a sign “three”, the fingers climbed on the abused table towards me, he mumbled “parle Francais”, and I knew that I was in business. On a military calendar in sign language, the date on which his slightly dirty index fingernail lay was the fourth of May. “Le major qui parle Français arrive demain“ I said and he nodded.
Me and time had a problem, camp time was very slow. Freedom time was weird, and I could not get used to it. I took a mental picture of the street: Isabella Strasse and the tobacco shop. I included the freckled nose. Then I moved out, turned right on Tegernseer Strasse, kept on the sidewalk, it was all straight, interrupted only by ruins.
A US truck took interest in me, slowed down, stopped, the chauffeur motioned his right hand through the window, pointed to the back of the truck and I obeyed. He was the first non-Nazi whom I obeyed.
Curiosity killed the cat. Curiosity made me obey. I found food; hundreds of boxes of food, nicely assorted by color. I tore apart a green box. I finished the content in minutes: crackers, chocolate, yellow cheese, margarine, cigarettes. I did not like the cigarettes, nor had I ever chewed tobacco before.
I was at the third box, when I looked up and the name of the street invaded my brain: DACHAUER STRASSE. All my adrenaline was on the move. Dachau? Not me, mister! At the first intersection where the truck slowed down, I jumped off, together with three boxes.
I camouflaged myself in the ruins of an ex-“pissoir,” since I was in the need anyhow.
The major was flabbergasted. I was the first teen survivor he saw. His French carried a heavy New York accent. He did not say much, but took me to an apartment on Tegernseer Strasse, then came back with a big square shaped white bread, a chunk of yellow cheese, butter and ham.
The apartment was still warm from the SS family that left in a hurry. Clothes hung in the wardrobes, high heel shoes were aligned on the floor. Since we were abruptly removed from our home, robbed of our identities, separated by life and death, I haven’t been in contact with such intimate environment. The apartment complex was that of the families of SS high Command, the only intact dwelling I saw in Munich yet.
Just across the street was a dispensary, where I found a French military doctor. He offered me a job as a translator in an ambulance. That was the direct result of my logorrhea, suddenly the need to talk overwhelmed me, and I did it in Hungarian, Rumanian, broken German and fluent French. I escorted the ambulance driven by a pretty British girl. The nurse was French. It was a pity that I was in no shape to date.
An American major interviewed me, the French doctor translated, and I was hired by the UNNRA.
The Red Cross published a list with the names of survivors. I was alone in the world. On a second list I found my second cousin on my mother’s side. Location: Garmish Partenkirchen, a former Hitler Jugend Camp.
I took the train. We hardly moved out, the train stopped, Polish survivors charged into the compartments and threw the luggage of the German travelers through the windows.
Miki, my cousin was in fair shape. He was with his closest friend, and was not impressed by my visit.
Hardly was I back in Munich, fell sick with double pneumonia and pleurisy, and I almost died.
from the December 2005 Edition of the Jewish Magazine
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