dinsdag 10 september 2013

Johannes Urzidil "Die verlorene Geliebte"

I wanted to share a lovely anekdote I came across in Johannes Urzidils book "Die verlorene Geliebte". He was a good friend of Oskar Baum. 

When Johannes was in primairyschool he was seated in those typical seats-two-in-one benches that were quite the rage in Europe around that time. You can't pick your "neighbour"in this regard, sometimes you are lucky, and sometimes well...it can be a challenge. Johannes was seated next to a young kid with a wooden leg. His name was Janda Svatopluk. Quite the character, teachers were scared of this couragous brat, always having a witty strong reply to whatever someone asked of him.
The kids all accepted his handicap actually quite respected him for it.

You were assigned to sit next to eachother for many years so you got to know eachother quite intimately. Years later, Hitler had just marched into Prague with his comrades and life looked quite grim for Johannes and his friends (Johannes wasn't Jewish but his wife was) not being able to call their own house "home"anymore because any moment someone could bang your door to pick you up to let's put it mildly, less desired destinations.

The only place where you could savely wander without the chance being caught were for instance the graveyards and so Johannes took a walk there often. Never staying long on one particular spot. One day, on his way to such a safe haven he bumped into Janda Svatopluk, not having seen him since primairy school days. Seeing Janda's trashy state, looking like a tramp, he hesitated: "Will I start a conversation or pretend to not have recognised him?" He decided to speak with him, regretting it for a moment as Janda took quite an agressive attitude. Janda was very poor and saw Johannes as this rich guy that has only luck. Yet he invites Johannes over to his "house" a dark small one-room cellar in a small alley in Prague.

Johannes decides to follow his impulse and join him even though he doesn't feel that comfortable. After a relatively uncomfortable time, Johannes having to deal with the discomfort you feel when you see that someone hardly comes by, living in very poor conditions when you have yourself money etc. Janda recognised however that Johannes even though rich in his eyes, is very poor for he had nothing he can call "home"at that moment and offers him refuge anytime it is needed. (nobody would look for Johannes at a "tramps"house)

Johannes thankfully takes up on this offer at the moment it is needed. The last time he visits Janda, Janda smirks and says: I have something from you Urzidil! And voila offers him a note, to Johannes great surprise it are penalty lines he had to write when he got punished at primairyschool after he had done something the teacher found unacceptable. Memories of the event sprang to life in his mind: Back then (and maybe they still do it sometimes now) you had to write 80 times on a piece of paper: I will listen to the teacher and do what he asks me to do, I will be a good boy. Then you had to go home, hand it over to your father who had to sign it and then hand it back to the teacher. In a time where it was quite normal to hit your kid, not the nicest prospect.

So what did Johannes do back then all those years ago? He smartly faked his fathers handwriting and handed it back to the teacher. Sadly his copying skills where not that of a master, the false handwriting was obvious immediatly to the teacher and his father was informed.

Why did you keep this for all those years? He uttered in surprise, then putting it in his jacket.
That night he would go with a nighttrain towards Italy trying to flee the country (not the smartest destination but there was nowhere else to go). Off course they had false papers, hopefully better copied then his old penalty-lines. Seated in the train, he fretted: was it wise to take the night train? will the conductor be less or more attentive at this nightly hour? Well...the conductor did come to control the papers. Bathing in sweat he handed over their false papers.

The conductor said: Are you handing me this?!? you think you can get out of the country with this?! Urzidil became pale but he remained calm saying: yes off course. Then to his bewilderment the conductor starts to laugh untill tears roll over his face. Dear sir, you've handed me the wrong paper....you are trying to travel on penalty lines. Now it was Urzidils chance to laugh and hand him the falsed papers that because this man was still in a laughter fit were not looked at in great detail. This fact, this little paper that caused the conductor to roar with laughter, saved his life. Urzidil and his wife were able to flee to Italy, then miraculously ended up in England. To later travel to their save haven: New York where he lived a wonderful active life to old age. He died in his beloved Europe, during a holiday in Rome.

So....next time you get into trouble, realise it sometimes in fact saves your life in the end....

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