Chapter 13: Higher Learning
David loved everything about the life in Warsaw, but most of all he loved the fact that he was with his cousin Adam, whom he loved as a brother. They spent most of their time together. Whenever David went back to Wloszczowa to visit his family, Adam would accompany him to the train station and wait until the train departed.
On days when they had no school, they rode their bikes to nearby Saski Park, where they used to find a quiet corner and smoke cigarettes that Adam had “stolen” from the silver cigarette holder that was on his father’s desk in the office.
Adam was full of life full , energy and self-confidence. “I will be the most important and well-known doctor in all of Warsaw,” he would tell anyone who was willing to listen. It worked especially well with the young girls they would meet in the park.
David, on the other hand, was introverted, shy and quiet, and always stayed in the background. Adam would always try to get the girls interested in him. When a group of girls came over to talk to Adam, he would try to introduce David to them. Adam would chat with them, put his hands on their shoulders and bring them over to David. He always wondered what Adam told them about him.
Adam applied to the most prestigious medical school in Warsaw. The following week an official letter arrived from the school, which his mother handed to him at dinner. He opened it, took one look at its contents when his face turned red and he started cursing, ”Psia krew cholera (damn despicable bitches), they should all go to hell, those anti-Semitic swines.” He threw the letter on the table and locked himself in his room.
Moses asked to see the letter and read it out loud.
Dear Mr. Adam Wolowelski,
We are sorry to inform you that although with your exemplary grades you should have been accepted to our school, but since the number of Jewish candidates exceeds ten percent of our total enrollment, we must deny your admittance at this time. You can reapply once again for the next academic year.
Now it was Moses’ turn to fume with anger. Both he and Adam had the same character; both had short fuses and made rash, quick decisions.
“Adam is going to study medicine in Italy and will return to Poland as a specialist,” Moses proclaimed. “I have a friend whose son graduated from the University of Modena and has very good connections there. I will arrange everything tomorrow. Too bad he will lose a year, but if I contribute enough money to the university, they will accept him. I have absolutely no intention of contributing money to a university that discriminates against Jews. This is blatant anti-Semitism directed by the government.”
He then turned to David and said, “Tell Adam to come back now to the dinner table and finish his supper.”
True to his word, the next morning Moses and Adam were on the train for the three-day journey to Modena. Cesia tried in vain to console her nephew Davidek, by telling him that time passes quickly, and even predicted that Adam would study in Modena for no longer than one year and then come back to Warsaw to continue with his studies.
David knew otherwise. Two days after the hasty departure of his cousin and best friend, Adam, David went looking to rent a small apartment so that he could be on his own a little. On Nowo Lipki Street he found a studio apartment, albeit a small one with the toilets in the hall shared by all the apartments on the floor. At least he was on his own, independent and not in the custody of Moses or Cesia. He felt like a free man; a first-year student of dentistry.
During the first week of his studies, David found new friends. His attempts at befriending non-Jewish Polish students were unsuccessful .He didn’t succeed in exchanging more than a superficial greeting with them. The Jewish students welcomed him with open arms, despite the fact that they were a bit suspicious seeing his attempts to befriend the Polish students.
When the Jewish students were told that the last three rows in the lecture hall were designated for them and that they were prohibited from mingling with the Polish students, David joined the other Jewish students and mounted a protest. They stood for the entire lecture and refused to sit in the seats assigned to them.
The university administration was not bothered by the incident. As a matter of fact it really did not care.
That was, until a faculty member named Jan Minkiewicz, a professor of chemistry, identified with the Jewish students. To show his solidarity he gave his lecture while standing in the back of the hall together with the Jewish students. His action was received with boos and whistles from every corner of the auditorium. As a result, Professor Jan Minkiewicz was never again seen at the university.
David found some new friends at the university, Kalman Baranowski and Mina Halpern.
Two weeks later, when he was at his uncle’s house to spend some time with Cesia and little Jerzy, his aunt handed him a letter that had arrived for him at the house.
I finally settled down in this wonderful Garden of Eden. It is not in vain that they say that Italians are beautiful; they are also angelic, gentle, charming and graceful. I have not learned any Italian yet, other than a few phrases such as, “Ti amo” or “sei bella.” Classes in the university have only just begun. The campus is right next door to where I live. I live with an Italian family who has a beautiful daughter around my age. Her name is Roselina, but her mother calls her Rosie. We smile at each other all the time, but in the meantime I only kiss her in my dreams.
In class we have begun learning about the human anatomy. The professor brought to class a disassembled skeleton and each one of us got a bone. I received a hand. Who knows if it is not the hand of a beautiful girl? And what did she do with the hand?
The Italian students are very sociable and welcomed me with open arms. They “Italianized” my name and call me Adamo. I love the song “O Sole Mio” by Enrico Caruso. He is the artist who died about ten years ago. As far as the Italians go, they like wine, cigarettes and dancing. The thing I have in common with them is my love for la Dolce Vita. It seems I was born in Russia by mistake.
My dear cousin, please write to me. How are things with you? How are your studies? Do you miss me? Give my darling Lilly kisses from me.
It was primarily on Sunday that David really felt alone. The entire week he was busy with his studies, as after the lectures he sat at home and studied until very late. Once a month he would travel for the weekend to Wloszczowa, but all other weekends he would spend at home resting and thinking. Some weekends he would meet with Kalman and Mina. Although they were friends, they were not always interested in getting together with him, as they were busy with each other.
David began dating Klara whom he actually knew from high school and had become a close friend of Mina. She was a philosophy student at the University of Warsaw. Although she was not at all gorgeous and perhaps even a bit too skinny for his taste, nevertheless, she had a certain charm about her, a beautiful smile and large shining eyes. The fact that she was a year older than he was, did not bother him much. As their relationship warmed, Klara began spending nights at David’s apartment from time to time and even invited him to visit her parents.
David refused to meet Klara’s parents, because he knew that meeting them indicated a binding commitment and he was not ready for that. Although Klara was upset with David, she did not leave him.
One day she surprised him when unbeknownst to him, she invited her parents to a café, where only the two of them were supposed to meet.
Klara’s parents were very kind to David, especially when they realized that he was Jewish and a student of dentistry. Her father, an independent lawyer, was tall and thin, fair-haired and his speech was short and very businesslike. Her mother was heavy set, not very pretty with coarse facial expressions and a loud voice. She was excessively curious, bordering on the ridiculous. Every question that she asked began with the phrase “If I may ask you.” She would then ask questions such as, “Where do your parents live? What does your father do? Did they originally come from Russia? What Jewish groups are you affiliated with?” This went on until Klara reprimanded her and told her to stop. Otherwise this line of questioning would never have ceased.
Klara’s parents lived in the Praga quarter of Warsaw in a small single-family house with a large back yard.In the quarter there were many factories and workshops. The factory of the finest and best-known vodka produced in Poland, owned by a Jewish family, was located there. There were also many private residences there, as well as a synagogue. The part of the quarter, located in the other side of the Vistula River, did not attract many Jews, and that was where Klara’s parents lived. Since her father represented many Jewish and Polish owned factories in the area, he decided to live in close proximity to them and set up a small office there.
Klara’s grandfather, whose original surname was Finkler, officially changed his name to Feinski. As a result when her Klara’s father was born, he was named Zbigniew Feinski, a real Polish name.
David very much disliked those people who pretended to be Poles and tried to hide their Jewish identity. He was not opposed to enlightenment and assimilation, he just did not like the impersonation. He claimed to welcome progress and the desire to learn and influence, but not to dress up and impersonate the Poles.
Klara was an only child, and therefore her parents took extra care of her and feared lest she got caught up in some communist or revisionist ideology and vanish to Palestine or in one of the communes in the wilderness of Mother Russia. They therefore welcomed her relationship with David even if it was not a serious one on his part. David was prepared to accept this relationship as he was not ready for any type of commitment.
In the second year of his studies, David frequently visited his uncle Dr. Ilia Friedberg, a respected and well-known dentist. His patient list included celebrities, and important public people. He had a reputation as an excellent dentist and his clinic was considered the most sought after among the influential people in Warsaw.
David would stand alongside him and assist him in his work, all the while observing his handiwork, whether it was a difficult and complicated tooth extraction or a tooth restoration. Ilia occasionally gave David the option of treating a patient.