Jay Frankston

Issue No. 19 • Spring 2018


Although I never came close enough to the fire to be scorched, the radiation has penetrated my psyche and Nazi boots trampled my dreams, and Loreleis and Lily Marlenes sing under the lanterns of my past.

I recall my childhood in Paris in the late 1930s. Small and puny and dressed in  the name FRANKENSTEIN, a joke to spiteful children of my age, I was the  subject to laughter and derision, and a deep loneliness sucked me in, a loneliness from which I have never come out. It was the time of the “Crosses of  Fire”,  surging  fascism with  its inevitable  anti-Semitic credentials.  It was then that I found  out that I was a Jew. On  the note-books I brought home from  school, scribbled in children’s  handwriting,  the words “DEATH  TO JEWS”  and  “HANG  THEM ALL”  made  me first  aware of a  religious background I had inherited and had not taken to mind.

Unthinking children,  with no way to vent  the bitterness that was  invested in them by their  authoritarian parents, ran through  the streets like wild dogs chasing the  Jewish lamb into a corner and biting its  legs. Since there were only a few of us in each neighborhood I ran the streets alone, fleeing from the horde of misguided children and seeking refuge where none existed.

And in the distance I could hear the sound of those heavy boots marching in cadence and crushing the grapes in its path until the juice, the color of blood, splattered the streets, and the sidewalks, and the gray walls of the houses of Paris. And in the quiet that followed, a long hand, with bony fingers, reached into  every corner of the French night to pluck out the Jewish flies and send them off to Auschwitz. Some had sensed the impending doom and fled from the field of disaster, and some lay so quiet and still that the hand did not see them, but most were caught in the web and carted away to their deaths in the ovens of the devil.

I  was  one of  those who  escaped the  carnage. I found  myself alive and well, living  in New York, fifteen years of  age, not quite understanding what  had happened and yet branded by an everlasting loneliness which still lives in the marrow of my bones.  

It was not until a few years later that I first became aware of the magnitude of the slaughter that had taken place and something inside of me rebelled. Some Jews, whose faith had never been stoic, seemed confirmed in their doubt by the question they raised on their theistic flag pole: “Where was God when six million  of his chosen people were slaughtered  like lambs?”  And  every  fiber of my being revolted against this simplistic attitude. There were no outbreaks in  those camps, few attempts to resist the fate that they succumbed to, no interference with the events that led them to their unnatural end, and I could not help but wonder why.

And  there  I was in  the grips of  my adolescence,  angry and proud,  and promising myself  to let no one scratch  the surface of my moral  fiber, reaching deep within myself for the gleaming sword of justice with which to do  battle in the name of righteousness. And I entered the field of law charging on a white stallion, like a gladiator in the arena, like St. George and the dragon, like Don Quixote and the windmills. And for nearly twenty years I rammed my spear into the belly of the monster and he was barely scratched. But I was tired and weary. My body was scarred and my spirit was bleeding and I had to tend to myself.

So I took off my sword and gave away my horse and retreated to the woods. There I sat under a tree, meditating on the state of my being. I dug my fingers into  the rich black soil and planted the seeds of my discontent. The seasons changed and when spring came around I saw that my seeds had given birth to beauty  and realized how blind I had been. How everything is perfect. How there is no such thing as right or wrong, there is only that which is. How there is an order in the order of things and everything is in that order. And I folded  my hands and let out a resounding “OM”  which  came out  of the depths of my soul and surrounded me with a total sense of well-being.

And then . . . I had this dream:

Over the gate the sign read “AUSCHWITZ”. The ground was cold under our feet  as we stood naked, all in a row,  waiting to be taken to the showers. That’s  how  they did  it you know,  only sometimes it  was a shower, and sometimes  it was gas that came out of  the shower heads. And the ones  that followed loaded the corpses on wheelbarrows and took them to the ovens for cremation.

And  there  we were,  shivering in  the cold, following  and followed by naked bodies whose flesh had fallen off from malnutrition, and the dreadful shower house some distance ahead. And I saw these two Hassidic Jews in front of me praying  in Hebrew with undiminished faith. And I saw these two Jews in back of me grasping a last hope and saying: “Maybe  it will  be really  a shower. After  all, it’s  a shower  once in a  while. Who says  it will not be a shower today?” And I saw myself in the midst of them, walking quietly with resignation,  my hands folded in front of me and the words echoing in my mind: “Everything is perfect. There is no such thing as right or wrong. There is only that which is. There is an order in the order of things and everything is in that order.”

Everything? EVERYTHING? And the words exploded inside my head and I let  out a resounding scream. “NO!  NO! Not  everything.  Not this. I  must stand. I must fight. I must resist. Give me back my sword. There are millions of us and only a few hundred of them and if we have to die we will die our own deaths, and not theirs.

And the night faded and swept my dream away. And with the morning that followed  there descended upon me a great confusion, a conflict within me between that in which I am a crusader, and that in which . . . I am a priest.