Stanley M. Fried
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My cousin Shimon had not had a full night's sleep since the war.  He woke each time he slept or tried to take a nap.  He woke to his own screams and covered in sweat.  I saw this happen once.  His second wife sat me down in their Flatbush apartment and gave me a glass of hot tea.  Shimon was asleep in the next room.  We talked for a while passing the time of a hot summer day in New York.

A cry broke out from the next room:  a whimper after a scream:  another cry.  His wife put her hand on my knee and said, “He's awake now.  He'll be happy you're here.”  She got up from her chair and went into the next room.  I waited, sipped tea in the heat, and stared at the darkened wallpaper.  She returned a few minutes later.  “Go in,” she said.  “He wants you should know.” 

I set the glass down on the table and went to his room.  There was Shimon lying on his bed drenched in sweat.  His high forehead and square, bald head were wet.  He was wearing a strapped undershirt and boxer shorts.  The gray hair on his chest dripped with perspiration.  He smelled of sweat.  Not the rank smell of sweat from heat but the sharp smell sweat has when it comes from fear.  He reached his left hand out to me.  The tattoo on his forearm glistened in sweat.

I had only seen one other like it before.  That was on the arm of the secretary at the Temple where I went for Hebrew lessons.  Shimon's tattoo was the same but it was different.  It was not a thing to joke about the way the kids at Temple would laugh about a woman with a tattoo.  Laugh when all the adults told us not to laugh.  It was not like the tattoos I watched the sailors in Long Beach have penned onto their arms or backs with me peering through windows of parlors near the Pike in that California of my youth.  This one was not a design to marvel at or a joke between children.  There was a number inscribed on his arm.  He was clearly some part of an inventory filed in a place no one ever looked.  He was an article from a storeroom.  When the storeroom closed, he carried it and all of its contents with him into the world.

I sat on the bed beside Shimon.  His hand held onto mine.  He cried as he spoke.  He spoke to me staring at him.  He watched me with:  eyes trying to explain; with an expression trying to apologize.

This was my cousin Shimon who came to visit me that summer at my Aunt Sylvia's apartment in Manhattan.  Shimon:  who could always crack a joke; who made fun of his own Yiddish accent.  Shimon:  who always drank tea from a glass; who would invite me to join him with his friends for a game of checkers at “Cone-Yi-Lan” he would say.  I told him I would go there.   I never did. 

He was my cousin Shimon:  whose last name was Fried; whose last name was not really Fried.  He was a distant link to my father's past being from the same Eastern European town where my father was born.  During the First World War, he took his mother's maiden name - the name of my father's aunt, the name of my father, my name - as his own so he would not be conscripted into the Austro-Hungarian Army.  He would not serve the Emperor.  He could not kill.  So, his name died and was no longer on the registry.  He was reborn as Shimon Fried with forged papers and no record of his birth.  He became a man who did not exist for his government…only for his family, his friends, later for his wife and daughter.

His hand clutched mine.  Tears filled his eyes.  He did not wipe them away.  The tears spilled:  onto his cheeks; onto his pillow.

Shimon told me of the time after the first war:  of his first wife; of his first daughter; of the town where they lived.  Then he told me of their arrest.  They did now know why.  Relocation they were told.  All Jews were to be relocated.  They were taken to the town square along with others who they knew.  He and his wife and his daughter were put on a train with the others to be take somewhere for relocation.

At the camp, he was separated from his family.  Their possessions were taken and they were separated.  His papers were taken – his forged papers – and his arm was tattooed.  His name and his number were entered into a book.  Then the men…  The men were separated.  Shimon was young and he was healthy.  He was assigned to a barrack.  Others, he never saw again. 

It was later…the next day…the next week.   He could not remember.  He did not want to remember but he could not forget.  It was later he was taken to work.  With others, he was marched to a place where women were lined up…naked.  His wife and children were among them…were naked standing there.  He and the other men…other men from his village…were given clippers and told to shave the heads of the women.  Crying, the men cut the hair of their wives, their daughters, their friends from the town where they have been relocated.  They cut off these women's hair then were forced to watch under gunpoint from the guards as soldiers raped some of the women.  The men were forced to watch their wives, their daughters, their friends be raped.  He watched his wife.  He watched his daughter.  At gunpoint, he watched them and the soldiers.  He watched some of the soldiers play with the men. 

They made lewd jokes,” he said, “and some of us they told to take off our clothes.  And some of the men…they were raped just like the women.”  He looked aside.  He cried and said that some of the men were raped watching their wives be raped.  Then it was over and the women were told to stand in a line.  A soldier walked past them and shot each woman in the head.  It was in this relocation that Shimon watched his wife and his daughter be raped and killed.

The men were given shovels to dig a grave.  The were forced to throw the bodies into the grave.  This is where his life ended:  again.  It ended there each time he tried to sleep.  For over twenty years he could dream only one dream.  Every moment of sleep brought back that same moment in time.  One dream – again and again he dreamed that day – that moment.  He saw it again.  He lived it again.  The relocation was permanent.

He never forgave himself for surviving the war, he told me.  He never lost his love for this wife and his daughter.

Shimon told me this though his tears and in his rough English.  Then he dropped my hand.  He sat up at the edge of the bed and dropped his head in his hands.  I noticed his second wife standing in the doorway.  He shook his head from side to side and mumbled something in Yiddish.  He said it again then looked up at me.  “You know what I am saying?” 

“No,” I told him.

“I'm telling you that God punishes us for living.  It is a sin to live  God punishes up for being alive.  He teaches us like we are children.  We want to live – so, we are punished.”

©1987 - Stanley M. Fried


Shimon was first performed at Sushi Gallery in San Diego, California as part of a performance titled Intimate Distance 2. It was published in The San Diego Jewish Times and The San Diego Reporter . Shimon was included in As Times Go By.
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