The story of bravery, strength, and willpower during World War II as seen through the eyes of Mordechai “Mota’le” Papirblat.
For fifty years these pages were lying around, turning yellow, leftover notebooks and pads, covered by lines over lines of circular, dense handwriting. For fifty years they were latent in a house, in a closet, in some psychic attic. Waiting.
I'm writing on my father's pages. Mordechai. Mota'le. A father who had an inexplicable power, within his scrawny body, to escape to the side of the road during that terrible death march, in that frozen January of 1945.
I'm writing about my father, who was then left between life and death, and in that moment crossed the boundary from hell back to life, and started to write. Filling dense lines in a circular and perfect handwriting, which gives meaning to each letter. He started writing a journal, which goes all the way back, relying on his magnificent memory. A journal recording the 900 days that left their imprint on his flesh, in that place. In Auschwitz.
It was a furor. It was an outlet. It was a duty. And a privilege. And proof. The paper tolerated everything, in the truest sense of intention. The names, the dates, the actions. The features of the dead, and the faces of the Nazi human-beast. The sound of crying, the mumbles of encouragement, the silence of desperation, the grinding of power, the muffles screams of the hanging, the hiss if sizzling flesh on the electrified fence. From the morning line-up to the evening line-up. Day after day. 900 days, in Auschwitz.
And only after all was dome, only after all the words found their way out, only after there was written evidence, only then did my father make time for the life he received. To a new land he went, aboard a boat of illegal immigrants, the Enzo Sereni that brought to Palestine survivors like himself. To a detention center of the British colonial government in Atlit, reserved for those without the proper papers. To a kibbutz, to the ranks of the Haganah rebels, to the War of Liberation. And all during this period, in a large brown envelope, nestled within the envelope, were hundreds of journal pages. Waiting.
And after that war he met my mother, and told her something every now and again. How he got away, how he miraculously escaped that time, and how a few years later, usually on Shabbat dinner, usually in front of a full plate, how pieces of stories would rise to the surface. The S.S. man who was in charge of kitchen, who surprised him while scraping the bottom of a pot that he was supposed to wash. The fear. The Punishment. And me, my ears open, with mashed potatoes lodged in my throat, finding it difficult to head down.
And there were encounters with others who were there and stayed alive. Stories of life hanging by a thread. Switching places in the line-up accidentally, in which one morning they took every third prisoner to the firing-squad. Retribution - you're number eight, you're alive. You're number nine, you're dead. And the humanity in all of this. The Dutch Jew who couldn't handle anymore suffering and wanted to run to the barbed wire fence and draw fire from the guard tower. And dad, the veteran prisoner, who convinced him to holdout for just one more day, one more hour, to stay alive. Pieces of stories that would pass right by me, the curious kid that I was, stories framed by death and in which miracles happen every day, for my dad.
And the complete story kept waiting. The journal in a large brown envelope. In it, so I told myself in various explanations befitting my progressing through different age groups, in it was an answer to a question growing inside me, demanding: how did he make it, my father, this specific father, holding on over there staying alive in a world encompassed by death. How did this man, who has no secrets from me, who kisses me softly and lovingly on the forehead before going to sleep, how was he also that man who survived a day in Auschwitz, and then another one. 900 days.
And in my school years, every year, when the sun would rise on Holocaust Memorial Day, I would approach the ceremonies, and the films, and the tractates, as if it were my holiday. A day for many words to be said about six million people who didn't make it, and my father who did. Except I didn't know how, and I waited, unknowingly, for a journal that waited all these years, with its pages turning yellow.
The book 900 Days in Auschwitz – The Carps Smuggle by Mordechai Papirblat, is my father's journal. In 1994, more or less, he decided to lift the cover, to lift the spigot. Hundreds of written pages that immerged from that brown envelope, that saw light after fifty years of waiting, he read them for the first time since they were written, he copied to clean papers, to new notebooks, not altering, not adding and not changing anything but a little. And he handed them to me, for me to turn them into a book. You must.
I read it, going over and over, picking my fingers through the lines, through 500 pages. I discover things, I feel like I'm on my way to finding answers. It seems like they could be, for instance, in the dog story. The dog of the Werkschutz, the guards of the factory, to which my father and his friends were lead one day in their forced labor.
It was the summer of 1944, the smoke from the crematorium stuck to everything, the veterans knew what that smoke was. On the way to the factory, my father noticed the doghouse of a big fearsome dog. The dog barked at them angrily, but my father's eye was drawn to a dish brimming with food, laying in front of the dog house. All that day, and later that night, on a wooden bunk in that prison, my father planned how the next day, when they passed by the dog – he would steal his food.
Slowly but surely, detail by detail, with some help from a friend, a plan was beginning to formulate. How they would draw the dog's attention, how they would empty his bowl, how they would feast on his food without any of the guards noticing, because that would be a death sentence. And the story unfolds, in a magnificently simple way. Two guys scheming, scamming, getting excited. And in the end they succeed. The dog remained hungry for the following days, and dad got an extra ration of food, which made his body stronger for the days to come.
These stories, this book, can make you stronger even today. Like it does for me. My father, before he was my father, was Auschwitz Prisoner Number 46794. That Blue tattoo won't leave his arm, like everything else.
Information about the book: A personal, fascination and unbelievable story written immediately after World War II by a Jewish adolescent. Mordechai Papirblat, being the eldest of five vrothers and sisters, was ordered by his parents to leave the Warsaw ghetto in order to save his life. He scaled the wall, made his way to the countryside, where he hoped to find shelter for the rest of his family. For months he wandered without identity between hostile Polish villages, until caught: in July 1942 he was sent tied-up to Auschwitz, according to the certificate of transport number 16211. Almost three years later, in the death march of January 1945, he managed to escape, through Germany and after travelling for two weeks, back to his hometown of Radom in Poland. There he discovered that from his once great and big family, now only he remained. In January 1946, he immigrated to Palestine.