Sunday, January 24, 2010

An early sign of ADHD?

The first offense for which my grandfather had been sentenced to death was his response to being slapped by a non-commissioned officer for obtaining hot water for tea without permission. As he struggled back to his feet, this same officer screamed,
“Zhydovska morda! Jewface, pick up your hand and salute!” (except morda, more precisely, refers to the visage of an animal).

"Until he said that, I had been willing to overlook his bad manners. But you must remember I grew to manhood in a section of Warsaw where a man does not lightly, as the saying goes, let someone spit into his kasha. So, without thinking, I snatched up the full kettle and walloped him once across the head, and, while I was at it, also allowed my fist to find a resting-place on his broad nose. In the commotion that followed, with plenty of warm encouragement for both sides, he ended up on the bottom and I on top, while the blood from our mouths and noses mingled fraternally on the floor.

After the fight, my grandfather had insisted on walking to the hospital to emphasize that he had gotten "the better of the exchange":
"My injuries turned out to be hardly worth mentioning: A tooth knocked out by the first blow, and a finger cut to the bone by the sharp edge of my own smashed kettle. But they insisted on putting me to bed, so that my opponent, who, among other things, had lost part of his nose, should not suffer by comparison.

"[T]Here [his older brother] Mordechai finally found me at two o'clock the following morning. He'd brought his own little welcoming delegation of Jewish soldiers from our home town. But when he found out I had committed violence against a Russian of superior rank, Mordechai, in his loving anxiety over my ignorance and dimming prospects for survival, started to shout at me that unless I learned to control my “Polack temper” I would spend my army years going from one prison to another until I forgot what a Jew was."

But after surviving the first death sentenced, he must have felt invincible. Or after that, what was there to lose? Plus it would have satisfied his “young blood [that] craved excitement.”

In one of the last few chapters of the book, I discovered that my grandfather had understood something about his personality, as did the people who spent time with him. After escaping from a Siberian labor camp (about which you'll read later) his friend, Pyavka,
"Well aware of my knack for getting sidetracked by outlandish adventures, [Pyavka] made me swear my most solemn oath that, no matter what miracles, temptations or disasters befell me in this great, unknown city, I would not forget him, would not leave him abandoned at the railroad station like some shipwrecked sailor clinging to a plank."

An unofficial diagnosis of ADHD? Then the rest of us come by it honestly.


  1. Bryna,

    the story of your grandfather ought to be memorialized...reminds me of City of Thieves by David Benioff....MORE PLEASE!


  2. I loved City of Thieves, too, but fortunately [SPOILER ALERT] there's no cannibalism in my grandfather's book.