Texts & Translation

פֿאַרגעס נישט

Don’t Forget

Avrom Karpinovitsh

Translation by Shachar Pinsker

INTRODUCTION

Avrom Karpinovitsh (1918 – 2004) was a lead­ing fig­ure in the Israeli Yid­dish lit­er­ary scene. His fam­i­ly was among Vilna’s artis­ti­cal­ly most accom­plished; his father, Moyshe Karpinovitsh (1882 – 1941), was a found­ing mem­ber of the city’s Yid­dish Folk The­ater. After escap­ing Vil­na and sur­viv­ing World War II in the Sovi­et Union, he was held in a British intern­ment camp in Cyprus. Karpinovitsh set­tled in Israel in 1949. Short­ly after, he became a found­ing mem­ber of the group Yung Yis­roel. Dur­ing his long career, he pub­lished many cel­e­brat­ed sto­ries that take place in pre-war Vil­na, the Sovi­et Union, and Israel. Don’t For­get” by Karpinovitsh is about a refugee, a Holo­caust sur­vivor, who has passed through a DP camp and a deten­tion camp in Cyprus, and arrives in the midst of the 1948 war. The sto­ry was pub­lished in the sev­enth vol­ume of the jour­nal Di Gold­ene Keyt in 1951, in a spe­cial sec­tion ded­i­cat­ed to sto­ries and poems by young Yid­dish Israeli writers. 

The sto­ry gives voice to many Yid­dish speak­ing refugees and Holo­caust sur­vivors (known as sheryis ha-pley­ta in Yid­dish) who were thrown into the 1948 War imme­di­ate­ly after expe­ri­enc­ing the hor­rors of World War II. Even more sig­nif­i­cant­ly, the sto­ry, like many oth­er texts writ­ten in Yid­dish in the 1950s and 1960s, shows the prox­im­i­ty between the trau­ma of the Holo­caust and the trau­ma of the 1948 War, known by Jew­ish Israelis as the War of Inde­pen­dence and by Pales­tin­ian Arabs as the Nak­ba (the cat­a­stro­phe).

The sto­ry might be read in light of what Michael Roth­berg has called mul­ti­di­rec­tion­al mem­o­ry,” the fact that col­lec­tive mem­o­ries of seem­ing­ly dis­tinct his­to­ries nev­er­the­less emerge in dia­logue with one anoth­er. Such was the case with the Holo­caust and the 1948 War. The con­nec­tion between the Holo­caust and the Nak­ba was inescapable for many, irre­spec­tive of their polit­i­cal or ide­o­log­i­cal affil­i­a­tions — one event suc­ceed­ing the oth­er, in such close prox­im­i­ty, was fused togeth­er into a sin­gle body of his­tor­i­cal and moral images. Nazism became the epit­o­me of evil and a pow­er­ful sym­bol of unbri­dled cru­el­ty; mean­while, the image of the hound­ed refugee, fresh in the minds of Jew­ish migrants when they arrived from Europe, was reawak­ened by the Arab exo­dus of 1948. The metaphor­ic lan­guage of trau­mat­ic Jew­ish expe­ri­ence in Europe was trans­posed onto a Mid­dle East­ern reality.

The cur­rent events in Israel/​Palestine that are unfold­ing, with no end in sight, since Octo­ber 7, 2023, makes this pow­er­ful and dis­turb­ing sto­ry even more rel­e­vant than ever. This sto­ry rais­es ques­tions of trau­ma, mem­o­ry, and vio­lence, of revenge and empa­thy, with­out giv­ing clear answers. They are sim­i­lar to many ques­tions we ask today, as we fil­ter the present through the past.

I wish to thank Yael Chaver, Yaad Biran, Zackary Sholem Berg­er, Alli­son Schachter, and the edi­tors for their help with this translation. 


1.

In a battle for a small boulder between biblical mountains, a Jewish soldier took an enemy soldier captive between the rocks. For a long time, the captive had darted like a lizard between the crooked passages looking for a place to disappear, until his pursuer threatened him with a bayonet and forced him to raise his hands in surrender.

Both the victor and the vanquished were breathing heavily but with dusty sweat running over their eyes in heavy drops they could not look directly at each other. The fear of the one bearing arms was no less pronounced and strong than the fright of the captive, who had thrown away his rifle with its empty magazines during the chase. This was the soldier’s first battle, and he did not even know where he was. Just a week earlier, he had still been busy digging the last meter of the tunnel under the barbed wire fence in Cyprus. A few days ago, he had arrived by ship at the coast of the country whose war he was now fighting. As long as he heard the rough, confident voice of his commander, who knew every little trail around these areas, he had no reason to fear— apart from the command to move forward in attack. Placing the responsibility for his own life in the hands of this tall young man with a mustache calmed the bewildered, jagged fears that he might end up lying on the ground, shot by a random cowardly bullet. But now he had moved far away from the rest of his unit, in the heat of the battle, in order to bring back a living captive. He wanted to prove that he, a newly arrived soldier not born here, could also accomplish something – now he remained helplessly frozen. Suddenly he saw himself in an alien world of overturned blocks of earth that stretched all the way out to the horizon, in sharp, rocky hills. The harsh, craggy lines of the surrounding landscape added to his anxiety. His eyes were accustomed to seeing gently rolling, open green paths, fields of yellow rye, parched trails, and a few barefooted peasant women carrying jugs of milk.

Even after many years of wandering in various countries, he still could not resist the desire to see the landscape of his homeland everywhere, though this longing was always bound up with painful memories of his ruined home. But here everything seemed new and strange – from the courtyard of the kibbutz, where his unit ate an early breakfast before leaving for the mountains, to the spiky thorns coiling at his feet.

The captive was still standing with his face pressed to the rock, arms up in the air, not daring to make a move. After a while, the Jewish soldier began to search the captive, prodding his back with the sharp point of his bayonet. For a minute the captive held his breath. Even though he could find no weapons on the captive, the soldier left him standing in this position. What next? He took another, thorough look around. The stillness of the battle’s aftermath had receded into the early autumn air. Now every scratch of the hobnailed boots on the pebbly soil forced the soldier to turn around to look for something unseen, something hidden among the cracks in the rocks. He tried again to fix his gaze on the foothills. Perhaps some hope lay out there, some guidance in his strange situation. But as before, the landscape showed no signs of life.

“They must have gone back down to the kibbutz, or perhaps they took a position somewhere and didn’t want to give themselves away by moving,” he thought to himself. But the thought didn’t make things any easier. Instead he only became angrier with himself, and with what had happened.

“I shouldn’t have gone so far without knowing the area…Should’ve shot at him— if it had hit him, great, and if not, who cares?” Standing there, his last hope of finding even the smallest trace of humanity now extinguished, he suddenly spotted in the distance a dark gray pillar of smoke rising from between the rocks in the foothills. He stared at the smoke more intently and a smile of relief stretched over his dry lips. Only now did he see where he was. It shocked him that he hadn’t recognized the site before: his unit had begun its climb there earlier. The pointed, conical boulder and the two other massive rocks revealed themselves to be familiar friends.

“If they started the fire, then they must have chased the Arabs beyond the mountains.” He tried to calm himself, but he was afraid to start towards his comrades, worried that the enemy lurked somewhere behind the rocks. Here in the wide ravine, concealed behind a high, stone wall, he felt safe from any danger. One step forward would expose him to the bullet of a sniper. Having considered various options, he decided to wait for the dark, and then make his way forward with the captive ahead of him. He turned the captive around with his bayonet until the two stood opposite each other, then motioned him to sit on a nearby rock. He sat on the rock opposite the captive, holding the loaded gun in his hand.

2.

Both of them sat absorbed in their thoughts and tried to plan how to restore the small piece of the world from which each had been accidentally expelled. The captive pressed his hands together between his knees and buried his gaze in the ground, as if waiting submissively to learn his fate. But his dust-covered, fair face and his occasional wolfish glance around betrayed that he was thinking, planning something. His uncomfortable behavior, sitting on the rock, did not match the common Arab fatalism that discouraged any unnecessary motion. The captive did not sigh, did not sing the monotonous, drawn-out melody of flattery and begging, did not plead, and did not swear vows of innocence, of “They sent me, and I went.” He stayed stubbornly quiet, and clasped his hands. His clothing didn’t have any of that particular oriental sloppiness. The pants were clean of olive oil stains. The English shirt was buttoned up, lying nicely on his bony shoulders. His well-fitted shoes were still shiny and stiff, despite his run through rock and sand. “Probably an officer. That would be nice…”

The soldier could already feel the taste of triumph upon seeing his people again. He sat on the rock rather calmly and kept more of an eye on the gradually thinning pillar of smoke than on the captive. The vision of meeting his comrades and commander excited his imagination. At first, the commander would make an effort to keep his tone official, but then he would forget himself, slap the soldier’s shoulder and announce in boyish amazement: “You really are a true Palmachnik!” Over a bowl of hot soup, the commander would ask him to tell the whole story from the beginning. Everyone would stand around open-mouthed, interrupting him with approving, enthusiastic cheers. And the telegraph girl, that sabra, would no longer look through him as if he were invisible…she shouldn’t think that they are the only ones who….…yes, and the main thing is that he’d ask for a day off to go to Tel Aviv, at least to see the city. People say it’s so beautiful. It had been almost two years since he’d been to a cinema or walked on a street. This whole time – only barbed wire and watch towers…And perhaps he would go to visit Hanna, who had given him her address before she left…Ben Yehuda Street...

His imagination painted a fantasy of tomorrow in strong and bold colors. Everything seemed now closer and happier – the street he knew only by name, the confident boys and girls speaking Hebrew, the bespectacled know-it-all kibbutzniks and looked down on outsiders, just like they had today in the communal dining room, and even the menacing, gloomy mountains.

“As soon as the war ends, I’ll go and work somewhere, settle down, maybe even in a kibbutz, why not?”

Every once in a while, passing, sparse clouds obscured the autumn sun. They moved slowly across the sky like huge bags of air that were about to burst and fly away. The ink-blue mountains blended with the darkened horizon and erased the border between the earth and the sky. New clouds floated in and took over the entire sky. The air became tense. It was hard to breathe, as though one’s whole body was enveloped in a damp steam, like hot humid rags.

“Rain is on the way…”

The Jewish soldier looked up to the sky for a second. Just then, the captive, with cat-like agility, grabbed a stone. Before the captor could so much as look back, the captive was already lifting his arm.The soldier, deep in his thoughts, did not have a chance to pull the trigger. The rifle lay in his hand like a useless piece of iron. But his hesitation was momentary: he moved quicker than the captive, who tried to get up from the rock and hurtle the stone with greater force. The soldier already loomed over the captive, holding the gun. The pale face of the captive, twisted in an animal-like grimace of rage, slackened instantly with deathly fear. The captive let the stone fall from his hand, and as the soldier stood before him wide eyes, ready to stab him with the gleaming bayonet, the captive took a step back, stretched out his hands, and said in a raspy, breathless voice: “Zi hobn kayn rekht, ikh bin krigsgefa…” 1 1 In the original text, the Yiddish seems to imply the use of German
words: “Sie haben kein Recht. Ich bin Kriegsgefa[ngener].” “You have no
right, I am a war cap[tive].”

Both of them remained frozen in this position, one in anticipation of a deadly blow, and the other in terrifying surprise. A fiery, crimson-red avalanche flooded the Jewish soldier’s mind and almost knocked him off his feet. The captive’s hoarse murmur transported him back once again to the earthen hut in the middle of the forest, where he and his mother had hidden after fleeing the ghetto – “Don’t forget, my child, and say Kaddish for your dead father. Even if, God forbid, you remain alone, don’t ever forget…” And later, during the raid, when the Nazi, to the wild shouts of the others, hit his mother over the head with a revolver until her thick hair became bloody, her last cry pierced the clay walls of the hut, and sliced through the snowy forest to the entire world – “Don’t forget…”

And when they, drunk and stuffed with food, chased him, half-naked as he was, from the hut into the frost, he could still hear, as he ran, his mother’s howl.

It wasn’t a request. It was a demand. She was certainly not referring to the Kaddish prayer alone. She demanded not to forget that clever soldier, goaded by his whinnying comrades, who’d managed to strike her just so with the stock of his revolver, so that her brain was splattered all over like a juice from a ripe fruit.

This is him… That same pale face of the Angel of Death. The same cold vicious glance, there in the forest, and here – with the stone. The same killer’s hands with the long fingers that strangled her so powerfully as she cried out… and perhaps this is not the same man?... It’s all the same – a German…

The bayonet pierced the captive’s belly with so much force that his body was almost lifted into the air. The stabbed man held the gun barrel with both hands and tried desperately to pull it out of his raw flesh. This enraged the captor. He jerked the weapon out and once again shoved it under the ribs of the captive; the more the latter wriggled at his feet like a dissected worm, the stronger and more persistent the blows. The soldier wanted to quench his thirst for revenge with the despicable blood that trickled between the rocks. With each thrust, with each torn vein, with every piece of severed flesh, he sought reparation. But reparation didn’t come. The more he cut and gashed, the more he tried to use his rifle muzzle to find the source of evil that lurked in the contemptible captive’s heart, the more he felt a sense of revulsion. The ripped body and the slashed intestines made the air stink like an open pit of garbage. He had to turn his head.

“It would have been better to shoot him…”

He stepped aside and sat down on a rock with exhaustion. Something gnawed at his heart: an unsatisfied thirst for revenge. He put his hot head between his palms.

Suddenly, the picture of his mother, fresh-faced on a Friday evening, surfaced before his eyes. She would never come back to him, not even with a thousand deaths of this murdered man. He felt a desire to snuggle up to someone close, someone of his own, so that he could pour out his entire outrage over his wasted life, to feel the soft caress of a hand. His broad shoulders began to shake with tiny murmurs of childish sobs: Mame...mame...He lifted his head, leaned it against the cliff face and let his tears flow freely.

A lightning bolt split the dark sky, followed immediately by thunder rolling along the entire length of the mountain range. The rain shoved its way through the thick clouds, as though a dam had been breached, and gushed over the earth in dense showers. He sat motionless on the rock, letting the huge drops that splashed his face wash away his salty tears. The water felt like a gentle hand caressing his head and calming the hammering blows of the blood in his temples.

The rain stopped as abruptly as it had begun. A fresh, mild breeze moved the clouds, allowing the sun to bid farewell to the day before melting into the coppery redness behind the mountains. Twilight began to spread among the cliffs. The streams of water rinsed the dried blood from the rocks. The landscape emerged before him, as though new from Creation. The cleansed boulders that had threatened him earlier with their sharp edges now seemed as familiar and close as domestic animals. The twisted, freshly washed trails between the rocks did not scare him any more. The darkened sky hugged him warmly like a mother’s shawl. He looked around in all directions. The boulders bowed their curved, scarred bodies to him in friendship.

Consoled and encouraged by every stone in the soil of his new homeland, he descended the mountain with confident steps.

MLA STYLE
Karpinovitsh, Avrom. “Don't Forget.” In geveb, November 2023: Trans. Shachar Pinsker. https://ingeveb.org/texts-and-translations/farges-nisht.
CHICAGO STYLE
Karpinovitsh, Avrom. “Don't Forget.” Translated by Shachar Pinsker. In geveb (November 2023): Accessed Apr 13, 2024.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Avrom Karpinovitsh

ABOUT THE TRANSLATOR

Shachar Pinsker

Shachar Pinsker is Associate Professor of Hebrew Literature and Culture at the University of Michigan.