Forget Adam Weinberger

Forget Adam Weinberger

“A moving and powerful portrait of a Polish Jew who returned from the camps disconsolate and mute, Forget Adam Weinberger is an unforgettable novel”  —La Libre Belgique

A story that explores the difficulty of speaking about the Holocaust.

First there is Adam Weinberger’s long childhood, in a world that has no idea yet what is in store for it. The childhood of a lover of illusions, who dreams of changing the world and of freeing his family from the burden of a tradition that he finds unbearable.Forget Adam Weinberger

The adolescence of a young boy who is unable to express his love for Esther, his admiration for his uncle, his tenderness toward his mother. The helplessness of a young man who sees that dreams and fiction are unable to halt the destruction of this world and of its inhabitants.

Later there are fragments of narrations, the broken mirror that, through more or less well-meaning intermediaries, reflects the flight of this child who has become a man, who no longer believes in dreams, who no longer believes in words -who has taken refuge in gestures, those of his profession, medicine, and those of his great passion, the construction of ships in bottles.

And who flees words and other people to the point of losing his identity. Between the two is there, of which one dares not speak.

And then, in the end, after forgetting, at the end of all the flights, there is a return of childhood from beyond death, the single truth of fiction – of the narration of life.






Forget Adam Weinberger
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Once I was a child. At least I think so, which in itself is not such a bad thing, since the past, regardless of what people say, is unverifiable. I already had the same name, and the awkward features were taking shape that would later become my adult face,  which today is in a state of decomposition.

I shared my name, like it or not, with the beings who formed the fairly large entity of a family, my family, whom I appreciated in different ways.

Closest to me was my sister Rachel, seven years older than I.  As soon as I was old enough to grasp what was happening and what people around me were saying, I understood that she was perpetually preoccupied by the search for a husband: before meeting one because she feared never finding one, and, once she did, because he spent all his time in the town cafés, sometimes for days on end. Rachel … you weren’t a great beauty, but you were my sister, and I would have preferred another brother-in-law instead of that idle Moishe—belated regrets, you’ll excuse me. In any case, I did what I could …

Along with Rachel and me, the Weinberger family had two other heirs, both male. I never had much to say to Samuel, five years my senior. He was devoted body and soul—especially body—to sports.

When he wasn’t kayaking on the river, he was running, wrestling—anything to work up a sweat and impose his tyranny over me.

The only words I spoke to him, to the despair of my parents, were those of pleading, when he caught me in his iron grip, and curses when I felt I was at a safe distance—often followed by pleading when I had underestimated the distance.

Avner was different. Although ten years older than I, he was kind to me, at least when he noticed my presence. He was “our” rabbi, who, to maintain this distinction, spent all his days immersed in books or prayers.

Samuel, though younger, had quickly exceeded him in size—horizontally and vertically—but he never dared lay a hand on him. To each his privileges: Samuel didn’t hit Avner, but Avner spoke to him even less than he did to me.

So, to surround me with the affection I needed, I had a brother with a mind lost in visions, who tried to instill wisdom in me; another who persecuted me for my own physical well-being; and a sister who either comforted or cared for me, all the time whining about her hypothetical or phantom husband, depending on the time period.

Ruling over us all were my parents, the inseparable couple, Sarah and Avram Weinberger—inseparable because there is nothing like time to twist and tighten the ties that bind.

As our family name indicates, my father’s father was a Hungarian wine merchant like his ancestors before him. But my own father had broken with tradition, since only one brother was needed to carry on the family business and since no one else was there to take up his father-in-law’s lumber company.

Avram Weinberger was a reasonably successful businessman but a worried father. He knew that his elder son wouldn’t take up the trade, but he couldn’t complain because Avner had devoted himself instead to the Eternal One, blessed be His name, and no one was ever against having a rabbi in the family.

However, he had doubts about Samuel’s future. Since he was stronger and more outspoken than most boys his age—I can bear witness to this from having been on the receiving end of his outspokenness more often than I deserved—what adventure wouldn’t tempt him?

My father feared most of all that Samuel might frequent the young Zionists, since he was so well endowed with the physical and mental qualities they required.

As for me … but let’s not go into my father’s suffering just yet.

At this point in the story, the rules of the genre require me to speak of the other half of the parental couple. My mother.

She was … what should I say, other than that she was my mother and everything that follows naturally from that? Beautiful, of course.

She took care of the house and her children. She busied herself all week but even more on Friday, in preparation for Shabbat, our day of rest.

I often watched her work so hard that I began to doubt the true holiness of this day. There’s something rotten in this earthly realm that violates the spirit of the Commandments and prevents people from observing them perfectly unless money is involved— which is not really orthodox.

Even if my father’s income was enough to support a woman and four children—one of them a sports lover—it didn’t allow him to hire someone to help my mother. My parents should have had one less child, but since I was the youngest, I preferred not to think about this solution.

Rachel helped my mother, but she sighed constantly and wasn’t all that useful. As for me, I tried sometimes, but, over and above the Commandments, there is Tradition, and I was a man.

For that matter, during childhood, which often lasts a long time, one doesn’t have that much concern for other people, and it’s only later that one feels remorse.

My father and mother, then, constituted what is called a couple.  The reality of the situation depends on the meaning one gives this word.

They lived and slept together, had married because they were supposed to, and for the same reason had procreated—there was no required number of offspring as long as it was large.

Maybe you’ve seen Fiddler on the Roof? I know fools with university degrees today who assert that that kind of situation couldn’t have existed because they were born in the age of Coca Cola and the Apollo spacecraft.

I had fewer sisters than Tevye had daughters, my father wasn’t a Rothschild and sang off key, but my parents spoke to each other even less than Tevye and Golde.

Certain questions never even entered their minds—too bad for us and for the rest of the world, because it wouldn’t have hurt anyone if they did. There are silences that kill. I say so even if it’s a cliché, because when you know the victim, nothing is a cliché.

When I consider the sum total of the fatigue, the problems, the pain that four children represented for my mother, right from the moment of their conception, I can’t understand how anyone can seriously claim that children are a blessing.

Maybe we brought her a few joys—in our sleep or when we weren’t around—and she had managed to avoid having to live alone, alone with a husband who had nothing to say to her and didn’t even hide that fact with small talk, which sometimes allows others to believe that happiness can exist (although that would require some imagination …).

Forget Adam Weinberger
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As for yours truly, he was born smack in the middle of a war, in the month of June. The fact that he was the youngest didn’t prevent his parents from naming him Adam.

It was as if, lacking any inspiration, they had returned to Biblical sources in search of a name and had stopped fairly quickly, although without having to resort to calling him Tovu v’Bohu or Bereshit, which would be difficult names to have to carry around.

I like my name. It smells of the earth, even if Poland is no paradise.

Oh yes, I forgot to tell you: as if life wasn’t difficult enough, we lived in a small, drab Polish village inhabited one-third by Jews and two-thirds by tranquil, dull anti-Semites, able to suppress their sentiments toward their neighbors of my religion out of Christian charity and good business sense.

I’m exaggerating—they weren’t all anti-Semitic. We even had Christian friends. I’m saying that so you’re aware in advance …

I don’t think I was a difficult child—I caught up later, though—and I was a good student.  My relative calm was closely related to a feeling of profound, general indifference for the universe around me, which should have interested me more.

I didn’t confide in my family or seek their confidences. When my sister started to moan, I fled—unless she was busy caring for me.

I had no friends and a total lack of interest in my religion, which would have worried my mother if she had had the time to think about it and only slightly vexed my father.

If God exists, I said to him with the mature wisdom of a ten-year-old, He doesn’t need me to go to the synagogue to pray to Him.

Moreover, I added, I found most of the Ten Commandments inappropriate and, what’s more, fairly useless. The others, like “Thou shalt not kill” or “Thou shalt not steal,” were so self-evident that it seemed pointless to connect them to any single religion.

I have always been naïve, and I believed for a long time that any person with a minimum of common sense would follow the axiom that one should do unto others as one would want others to do unto him.

I should point out again that I lived in an environment that was rather unusual in Polish Jewish society between the two World Wars.

My father was neither rich nor poor, at least before 1935, and paid little attention to religion. I don’t think he was leaning toward assimilation, though. He was not unhappy that one of his sons wanted to become a rabbi, and he no doubt took this fact as an embrace of Judaism sufficient to reassure his family.

No more was necessary. As for Avner, there were no choices and no worries:  first heder, then yeshiva.  But my father was not eager for his other two sons to follow this path.

He found the classrooms squalid and the teachers too violent. He had no doubt kept in his heart the memory of some unjust punishment he had received, and he wasn’t the type to find relief from his own unhappiness in imposing it on others.

But where should he send Samuel and me? The schools financed and run by the Bund seemed too leftist to him.  Communism represented a greater threat to him than Zionism.

The Tarbut schools were a direct extension of the latter. The Agudath Israel schools were too orthodox, and private schools cost an arm and a leg.

That’s why he sent us both to a free Polish public school, where classes were held only in the morning. In the afternoon, Avner was supposed to inculcate in us the values necessary to make us good Jews, which he did in as perfunctory manner as possible, since he was too absorbed in working for his own future.

This choice brought criticism upon my father. Not only was he offering his children up for conversion, but, even worse, he hadn’t even enrolled them in a Jewish school for the afternoon.

He held fast to his position for a long time, because he didn’t have a lot of time to spend with us, because it was the most economical solution, and because, as I mentioned, he was quite liberal. I admit that I never had any reason to complain about his decision.

Nor about refusing to have any friends, since I lived in a milieu where no one would be tempted to have a relationship with a Jew anyway.

Furthermore, these free afternoons were a blessing. Lost in reverie or just lazy, I read a lot. Weather permitting, I took off deep into the woods with a book and didn’t return until nightfall.

Samuel also took advantage of this freedom, but in a different way. He spent all his time involved in sports. Later he used it to perfect his knowledge of Zionism.  Nevertheless, as you will see, I wasn’t able to enjoy this freedom for long.

So, I was a lonely, dreamy child who spent his spare time wandering through the beech trees along the river—scenery so typical of Poland.

When I heard the particular cries upstream that announced that my brother Samuel was about to burst into view with his friends, paddling like a bunch of maniacs in small boats that the rushing water seemed to want to get rid of by forcing them toward the river bank, I hid behind a barrel and let them pass.

If I had few things in common with my brother, I had even fewer with his friends. I shared my father’s dislike of the Zionists—which most of them were—but for different reasons.

I didn’t take satisfaction in the image of the Jew as martyr, fearful and weak, always afraid of some pogrom. I was a child, and above all I was myself.

I frequented a few non-Jews, the occasional classmate, and I wasn’t religious.  Therefore I saw no reason to flaunt my Judaism, which would only end up causing me problems.

I wanted to continue living peacefully where I was, because moving somewhere else seemed to me to be the worst possible curse. From my point of view, the Zionist adventure and the call for a Jewish state in Palestine—with the requirement to go live there and fight—seemed like implausible and absurd aspirations.

Maybe a Jewish state in Poland … but what would we do with the Poles? I was afraid of the Zionists, because I imagined our government demanding that all Jews living comfortably in the Diaspora should emigrate to the desert, with every other nation following their example to get rid of us once and for all.

Therefore, since I couldn’t climb in the hierarchy of the movement, I must confess that as soon as I was old enough, I used my own pitiful means to attempt to sabotage my brother’s Palestine plans.

Without meaning to, I ended up in this way being a considerable support to my father, which had the unpleasant effect of depriving me of the joys of success and of everyone-for-himself.

Not to mention that this didn’t help make me more likable in my brother’s eyes, even if he wasn’t always aware of my activities and of my responsibility for his setbacks. I have to say that, even if I had good reasons to resent Samuel, he had no lack of detractors for his involvement in the Zionist movement.

My father was against it in principle and because he thought you had to be crazy to go live in a country filled with Brits and Arabs—worse than the Christian Poles, whom at least we were familiar with—and start over from square one.

The fact that Jews had been forbidden for centuries from owning land didn’t help to develop much of a taste for the joys of agriculture in him:

“So, Shmuel” (he thought this Hebrew name was endearing), can you imagine yourself behind a plow?!”

And he tapped his forehead while making an “oy” of consternation.

My mother, too, was against the idea in principle but also because of tradition: her husband was opposed to it, and it was the custom for a Jewish mother to do everything possible to keep her sons close to her.

As for Rachel, she didn’t care, at first because Zionism wouldn’t provide her with a husband and, once she was married, because her husband had lots of faults, but not that one.

Avner, who never thought about anything but the Torah and the Talmud, was violently opposed for religious reasons that I found completely incomprehensible, and that today seem tragic and preposterous: it wasn’t right to found a Jewish state until the coming of the Messiah.

The Messiah didn’t come, but Hitler did in His place, and you have to admit that, in spite of my antipathy toward Zionism, if it had gained steam earlier, the Nazis would have had to go farther to find us, and we would have given them a proper welcome.

But let’s not be unrealistic: even “if”, I can assure you that 80 percent of the Jews would have stayed in Europe for fear of investing their future and their past in such a ridiculous plan. And it’s not by means of “ifs” that we could have beaten the Germans.

I also had measles when I was three, and other normal childhood diseases—normal but painful when you’re the victim—and the Messiah never came out of his hiding place to save me.  So?

The Messiah—now there’s a story … On our street lived a boy named Moishe, whose father was very rich—as a joke we called him Pharaoh, because of his son—and who had the incredible good fortune to take a trip to Rome to visit distant cousins.

Everyone in the community was talking about it: imagine, a Jew from our town in the city of the Pope! And there was a legend that claimed that the Messiah was waiting at the gates of Rome.

Before Moishe left—at that time the question interested me because of all the others, especially my rabbi brother’s—I had asked him to do a discreet investigation.

At his return, I was triumphant: I had been right. The Messiah wasn’t there. I told Avner that he could eliminate one place from his research—I didn’t say it maliciously but rather to help him and save him time.

But he just ran his hand through my hair with a very sad or very religious look, according to your point of view, telling me that Moishe didn’t have good eyes.

I didn’t understand what he meant by that, but I believed the Messianic legends even less.

Anyway, I’m digressing. I introduced you to my family. I’ve set the scene, as they say, because one must respect the reader and never suppose that he’s clever enough to understand everything on his own.

However, I’m far from having mentioned the important things.



Forget Adam Weinberger
Midjourney AI Image inspired by Rachel in Forget Adam Weinberger

To be sure, there is still a lot to say about the members of my family and about my childhood, a period that it’s a pleasure to speak of since one knows for sure that he can’t relive it.

I grew, since I couldn’t do otherwise, and everyone around me got older. Avner was more and more the rabbi—he finally became one altogether—and Samuel confirmed our father’s fears by becoming more and more of a Zionist.

Rachel, searching endlessly for a husband, despaired more and more of ever finding one.

As for my parents, they didn’t work more—that wouldn’t have been possible—but they seemed more and more tired. My father even began to consider Shabbat a blessing, and my mother exhausted herself more and more to observe the day when even Adonai, blessed be He, rests.

If He knew how much my mother did to prepare for this day of rest, I’m sure He would have provided us with two of them. But he didn’t know or didn’t want another day, and now He wouldn’t accept that His Jews be just the slightest bit Christian one day a week.

Too bad, because Sunday is a great idea, right after Shabbat. Luckily for those born after my mother, the British invented the weekend, without asking Him His opinion—but my mother didn’t know anything about the British.

And besides, she would have probably exhausted herself twice as much.

So time passed, and not only in the glorious Polish Third Republic.  But when it doesn’t bring any big changes, besides a few gray hairs at your parents’ temples, you can treat it lightly, even with almost total indifference.

I grew stronger and could escape more easily when Samuel chased me. Avner’s lectures began to get on my nerves, but I still listened to him to make him happy, and I even let Samuel beat me up once in a while so that he didn’t lose confidence in himself.

I was still comforted by my sister, but her tears grew more abundant. I think she must have fallen in love with a young Jew who was passing through. Of course, they never were able to speak to each other, and he left ignorant of the passion that he had ignited—or rather incarnated—for a few weeks.

My parents were also worried that Rachel wouldn’t find a husband. I was approaching my bar mitzvah, and she was almost twenty: two pressing concerns for Jewish parents.

I would have liked to help them by telling them that as far as I was concerned, I could have easily done without this ceremony, but I don’t think that would have given them any solace.

And what right did I have anyway to deprive my family of a celebration? So they sent me to the rabbi, and Avner spent more time teaching me.

As for my sister, my father finally resolved to ask for help from a matchmaker, to the great displeasure of my mother, who knew better than anyone else the results one could expect from such a move.

Although the matchmaker had been creeping around our house for several years and was furious at us for not taking advantage of her services, she got strangely friendly, took her time, and ended up presenting us with what was left at the bottom of the barrel.

When she arrived, I would hide behind the door to spy on her, as she triumphantly proposed an aged alcoholic or some neurotic widower. Rachel found good reasons to despair, as did my parents.

Fearing that the quality of her care for me would decline, or even that I’d end up in turn having to take care of her, I decided to hunt for a brother-in-law myself.

Where could I hope to dig up this rare phenomenon when I was barely twelve years old and the entire male Jewish population had already been approached, or almost?

And there was my mother’s example, which gave me pause. I refused to allow Rachel to ruin her health preparing for Shabbat and appreciated less and less the lethargy that fell over our community every weekend while I wanted to get out and have a good time.

Even Samuel, whose main characteristic was the inability to sit still—even less to reflect on anything—sacrificed himself to the laws of Shabbat. What could I do to help Rachel escape this curse?

I saw only one solution and resolved to befriend the first classmate who had a brother old enough to marry. A goyish classmate, of course. It was the only way to escape the drudgery of preparing for Shabbat and be able to enjoy Sundays.

You need to understand what a sacrifice this represented for me at that time. Not because of frequenting non-Jews (I already explained about that) nor of turning over my sister body and soul to one of them, but to have to—even for a limited amount of time—conduct a friendship, with everything that involved!

A lot was at stake.

For a few days, I asked around discreetly. I was quickly able to choose three families that fulfilled the conditions of having two sons and being Christian. I had a wealth of choices, so to speak, and was already overjoyed: my sister had waited almost twenty years, and me? Two weeks …

The first family, the Majarskis, had a lot going for them. The father was rich—he owned a store and a house and had a servant so strong that he could have prepared Shabbat every day.

Their older son was twenty-five and didn’t seem to be thinking of marriage.  The problem was that, like all good Poles, they were very Catholic.  Every Sunday, the family marched off to church dressed to the nines—the mother several times a week.

What good would it do to change from one form of religious drudgery to another? Especially since, when I tried to enter into a conversation with the younger son, who was in my class, he turned his back to me with disdain, whispering that he didn’t associate with us.

I understood clearly whom he meant. I wasn’t going to put myself out to cultivate a brother-in-law who wouldn’t talk to his wife or his mother-in-law. As my parents’ case proved, it wasn’t necessary to look to a goyish family to match up a couple who didn’t speak to each other!

The second family gave me more hope. The von Statts were Germans who had been in Poland for three generations. If they were crazy enough to come live here, they could certainly consider marrying down.

Furthermore, they were Protestant, not Catholic.  That seemed to be an acceptable religious compromise. There would just have to be an arrangement to maintain the best parts of both traditions.

I was easily able to befriend Hans, a short, husky blond boy who spoke little. We were made to get along, since neither one of us liked to talk.

But, in order not to waste time or limit my options, I also decided to form a relationship with the third family I had selected, the Dobjinskis, completely atheist Poles—which isn’t common—and whose father was a tremendous drinker—which definitely is. Janek, their younger son, had the unfortunate flaw of being a chatterbox—so much so that at school no one went near him.

So it wasn’t hard for me to become his friend. The difficult part was to stay that way for the necessary amount of time.

I spent all my free time with either Hans or Janek. I was received equally well in both their homes, but I have to admit a clear preference for Hans because he was quiet and his family’s cook baked wonderful cakes.

Let’s not forget, though, that my real targets were not my friends: it was their brothers.

I liked Hans’s brother, Johann. He was the same age as Avner, but he wasn’t planning on becoming a pastor—which, for that matter, wouldn’t have thwarted my plans.

Janek’s brother, Pavel, was more like my brother Samuel: he was in constant motion and hardly spoke a word to me. All I needed now was an opportunity for my sister to meet them.

Strangely enough, it was simpler with Pavel. I noticed that he often came to get his brother when school was over. I had only to go home with a new whim: demand that my sister also come to school to wait for me.

Since she was often bored and annoyed my mother with her continual lamentations, my parents willingly gave in to my request.

From that day on, the last few minutes of class were very trying for me. I imagined Rachel and Pavel both waiting outside the gate. When the bell finally rang and we could leave, the first thing I did was look to see if I could distinguish them among those who had come to collect their little darlings.

After a while, I realized that this wasn’t going to be enough: they had the habit of waiting at opposite ends of the long iron fence, so they couldn’t see each other.

I had to act again. One afternoon I announced to Janek that I wanted to introduce him to my beautiful sister. I took her by the hand so she could shake hands with my friend.

And with his brother.  I said to her,

“Rachel, this is Janek, my friend, and his brother, Pavel.”

Then I explained that, since they both came to wait for us, Janek and me, they might as well meet each other. But I didn’t elicit wild enthusiasm, and Rachel dragged me away, barely saying hello.

She wasn’t really putting her all into this. How would she ever find a husband? On the way home I spoke about Janek but mostly about Pavel.

Since I knew so little about the latter, I had no trouble inventing all kinds of positive qualities for him. But Rachel was hardly listening to me, or at least she didn’t show she was.

I was so mad at her that I thought I’d drop the whole idea and return to my beloved solitude, which I had sacrificed for so long.  What was my poor sister hoping for?

Of course, she was far from being ugly, but she was even farther from being rich. And there’s something I haven’t mentioned so as not to make her situation sound even worse: she spent all her time, when she wasn’t crying, reading French novels, which, unfortunately for her, were translated into Polish or Yiddish, if that language means anything to you.

Obviously, Maupassant, Flaubert, and Balzac tried desperately to give her ideas and raise her hopes. It’s easy for a writer to promise happiness to his readers when he knows he doesn’t have to wipe away their tears.

Rachel was often seated on a bench alone, a book in her lap, eyes staring into space, dreaming about the happiness before her in paper and ink and waiting for those sweet romantic lies to become reality.

When my mother called her, she would stand up sighing, wondering where the handsome, rich young man who would love her passionately would appear from.

Before going inside, she would gaze one last time at the road and the horizon.

Often, rather than the longed-for lover, she would see the matchmaker spring up suddenly with her evil smile and loathsome suggestions.

Sometimes I thought that it was weakness on my father’s part to be so liberal that he wouldn’t marry his daughter against her will.  At this rate, if she didn’t abandon her reading and her Madame Bovary dreams, she would end up an old maid.

Getting a grip on herself to accept a husband wouldn’t make her unhappier than that.  Sometimes you have to do things to make others happy in spite of themselves. In any case, that was my plan, even if it was beginning to become a burden.

Fortunately, when I was leaving school the next day, I found Rachel and Pavel talking to each other. I jumped for joy, seeing myself already relieved of my responsibility.

On the way home, I spoke some more about Pavel. I was so happy, that I had no problem finding all kinds of new things in his favor, and it appeared to me that my sister was finally listening to me.

However, for the sake of caution (and because I liked their cook’s cakes), I kept up my friendship with Hans and Johann. And it was thanks to their mother that I had the opportunity to introduce Rachel to them.

This fine woman, who had taken a shine to me, had the idea of inviting me to spend a day in the country with her husband and children. I pretended to hesitate, arguing that my parents would never allow me to leave home for a whole day with people they didn’t know.

But there was perhaps a way: if my sister could join us …

As for Rachel, I didn’t have much trouble convincing her. A ride in a carriage, a picnic on the grass—she had read about that so often!  And since nothing in particular seemed to be going on between her and Pavel, we might as well play several cards at once …

It was a beautiful, sunny Sunday. Mr. von Statt had rented an old carriage drawn by two horses. My sister was overjoyed.

She had put on a simple, pretty dress that made a good impression. Mrs. von Statt knew how to win her over and asked her to sit beside her for the ride.

The women were seated opposite the three of us, while Mr. von Statt, transformed into a poet or a workman by the leisure of a Sunday excursion, held the reins.

I was delighted: it wasn’t only for Rachel that this outing was a first. I immediately decided that I preferred Johann to Pavel as a brother-in-law, and I felt satisfaction in thinking that my sister, even though she saw the latter every day, didn’t seem to have developed an undying passion for him.

The weather was glorious. Hans was as calm as usual, and Mrs. von Statt chatted happily with my sister, whom—miracle of miracles—Johann couldn’t stop looking at.

Rachel, completely absorbed in the conversation with her future mother-in-law, didn’t notice anything.  Of course, the day had barely begun …

Seeing how everything turned out, even today I don’t know whether I should congratulate myself for having offered my sister the opportunity of living for a whole day, plus a few more afterward, as if she were in a French novel.

Of course, such an experience must make the rest of one’s life seem sad and insipid, even after a very brief moment of happiness.

I don’t think my mother ever experienced even a tiny fraction of this joy—although she was the one who put the finishing touches on my efforts.

We stopped at the edge of a river in a patch of thick grass warmed by the sun. Everything was perfect. I was sure I wasn’t going to risk the sudden appearance of my brother Samuel and his friends in their boats: this river was too calm and too narrow.

It was made for peace and quiet, not for Samuel. We unfolded the tablecloth for our picnic. Rachel was trembling slightly and gave me a look every once in a while as if asking me to reassure her that she wasn’t dreaming.

Johann couldn’t keep his eyes off her, his parents were smiling, and his brother was laughing. I was in heaven.

I almost felt like taking an oath of unending friendship with Hans, sealed with a drop of blood.

It’s amazing how strong an illusion can be.

The lunch almost caused a few problems when Mrs. von Statt took out the sausages that were supposed to accompany the salads and the bread. Rachel grew pale.

She had never thought about this.  Me neither, because it had been a long time since my mind was on such things. Pork!

I’ve already said that we weren’t a particularly religious Jewish family—with the exception of Avner. But ancestral customs survive the loss of the faith of which they were the foundation.

And they probably compensate for actual belief in order to ensure that one remains part of the fold. So, except for Avner, whose whole existence it constituted, the deepest religiosity didn’t inspire the day-to-day life of the Weinberger family, even though my father still went to the synagogue with my mother—but seated apart, as you might know—and we all went for big occasions.

Given the times and the region where we lived, we were taking considerable liberties with the Eternal One and His laws! Except for me, no one even thought about easing the rigors of Shabbat or the laws of kashrut for his own purposes.

It was the way we lived: we bought from Jewish merchants, and we would never have looked for any other kind of food. For that matter, we weren’t any worse off eating this way.

With the von Statts, however, in order to manifest my opposition to tradition—though I admit that I didn’t risk those concerned even noticing this expression of my independence—and also to avoid compromising my plans, I accepted all kinds of food, explaining that in our home we didn’t pay much attention to these archaic rules.

We were good Jews who didn’t want to attract attention. So, when Mrs. von Statt invited my sister, she didn’t think it was necessary to prepare anything in particular.

Rachel gave me a troubled look. She wasn’t going to ruin everything for a slice of ham, was she?

If she were going to meet Stendhal, she had to give it her best, and her future happiness was well worth a bite of sausage!

I already said that she wasn’t ugly—I’m taking the risk of creating doubt by repeating it—but what replaced physical beauty in her wasn’t enough to excuse everything. Johann seemed to find her to his liking—let her do as much for the pork!

Rachel had lowered her head and was busy torturing a few poor blades of grass that had nothing to do with this kashrut business.

Fortunately, even though I’ve been speaking about it for a while, no one had yet noticed her malaise. It was up to me …

Pointing to the ham and giving my sister a sharp jab with my elbow, I exclaimed,

“Look, Rachel! Your favorite ham!”

Then, to our hosts, who were already smiling as my sister turned the color of the forbidden meat, I said,

“If you don’t hurry up, she’s going to eat the whole thing. Just think: we have centuries of abstinence to make up for!”

I have no idea what Rachel was thinking at that moment, but I had succeeded in preserving our chances. The von Statts were laughing heartily, and my sister, red as a beet, grabbed the first slice of ham she had ever touched in her life.

She muttered, “My brother always exaggerates …”

“What she hasn’t told you,” I added to outdo myself, “is that our uncle brought us a ham like this one last week, and Rachel ate so much she got indigestion! But I think it will be OK for us to have just a little.”

I couldn’t very well abandon my sister altogether …  Mrs. von Statt, who perhaps suspected something, affirmed that, in any case, there were enough bread and salads so that Rachel wouldn’t die of hunger.

My sister, who had never seen so many people smile at her in such a short amount of time, performed the first act of her life in contradiction not of a law that she was hardly acquainted with and didn’t understand, but of her customary way of doing things, or that of her entourage, which meant about the same thing.

It still warms my heart to think that this trap I set for her allowed her to perform the first freely chosen act of her existence.

Rachel bit into the forbidden meat, not without suppressing a slight look of disgust. None of the von Statts began a discussion on the miracle of a Jew eating pork.

Dreading that my sister might spit everything out, I swallowed my portion. I didn’t calm down until I noticed that she actually seemed to be enjoying the forbidden fruit.

She was also looking more often at Johann. She had probably finally noticed how much the young man was paying attention to her, which must have helped her to forget the exact nature of what was in her mouth.

She even reached out to take some more, but she thought better of the idea and concentrated on the salads and the bread.

They asked her about her activities, her tastes, her plans—things that she had never thought about. She responded in monosyllables, blushing, which the von Statts seemed to appreciate.

Most of the time, I tried to elaborate on her reticence by supplying more information, longer if not exactly true.

I became bolder when I noticed that Rachel didn’t contradict me. Was she beginning to realize exactly how lucky she was? She embellished each and every one of my lies.

The plates were emptied, and the conversation ebbed. Mr. and Mrs. von Statt were slow digesters and thus silent by necessity.

Johann seemed intimidated by Rachel. My friendship hadn’t made Hans any more talkative, and my sister remained mute, staring at the grass.

She raised her eyes once in a while toward Johann and then lowered them as soon as their gazes met each other’s.  Encouraged by his parents’ winks, Johann tried to talk enthusiastically about his studies and his future career as a lawyer.

He planned to move to Warsaw, which must have made my sister’s heart beat faster, since, after all her reading, any capital city for her was Paris.

But even Johann stopped talking. There were a few moments of silence during which I was wracking my brains trying to find a way to bring “my” couple together.

Finally, Mr. von Statt stood up heavily, stretched as much as his sluggish digestion allowed, and announced that he was going to take a nap in the shade. His wife followed him, while I suggested to my friends and my sister that we take a walk along the river.

We started out. I went ahead with Hans, determined to leave behind the ones I already called “the two lovebirds.”

But every time the distance became too great, my sister would call me back. So, she didn’t understand anything! Me, she could see all the time.

A young, handsome, intelligent man was waiting impatiently to speak to her of love; the weather was splendid, and the landscape would have made the surliest civil servant dream of poetry; and she didn’t want me to leave the two of them alone …

Once again, I had to invent something! I was the only one who didn’t have the right to the calm necessary for digestion. I took a look at the river and suggested to Hans that we go for a swim.

I was sure that my sister would refuse to appear in only her slip before people she barely knew, and Johann would therefore be happy to keep her company.

Hans accepted enthusiastically: he found the walk and the heat unpleasant. But my plan wasn’t to my sister’s liking: “No, Adam, it’s too dangerous to swim just after a meal.”

“Oy, oy, oy,” my father would have said, and with him all the Jewish characters that appear in literature.

What was the matter with her? Was she incapable of understanding that the purpose of this day wasn’t to make her appreciate ham so she could become a nun?

Fortunately, Johann showed some initiative:

“Let’s let them enjoy themselves. The water’s not deep, and we’ll stay on the bank to keep an eye on them. Unless you want to swim, too …”

She refused, blushing, and Hans and I didn’t wait for her permission to undress and dive into the cold water.

I hate water. Cold water even more. For half an hour I endured this sacrifice to ensure Rachel’s happiness.

Hans enjoyed the experience much more than I did, probably because of his generations of distant ancestors who had sailed the Baltic, whom he had spoken to me about one day.

They were the source of his family’s relative prosperity. I did my best to look as though I was having a good time and tried hard to resist my growing disgust for the water and for all the questionable things it might be carrying along.

I held back my cries when a lascivious water plant brushed against me, making me imagine billions of microbes and viruses attacking my skin and endangering my health.

I found a little more courage when I finally saw Rachel and Johann alone on the bank, talking quietly. There were long moments of silence, to be sure, but they no doubt had their secret necessity.

Finally, my resistance gave out, and I pulled Hans away in a race to the sunny meadow, where, as quickly as possible, we could get rid of the freezing drops that were clinging to us. I heard my sister shouting that she wanted to follow us. But Johann must have found a new argument, no less convincing. I liked this guy …

I lay on the grass next to Hans, out of breath but delighted, confident in the future, which would provide me with a brother-in-law and free my sister from anguish and a joyless life.

For the first time I imagined what my parents would think if their daughter married Johann or Pavel, a goy … but they had to understand! It was that or nothing.

In our community, there had already been a case of a girl who had married a Christian. Her father chased her from his house, disinherited her, and considered her dead.

Even though she hadn’t left the town, she was never able to see her parents again. The mother despaired but didn’t dare go secretly to visit her daughter, who, people said, cried every day thinking of her parents.

Nevertheless, her husband’s family was charming, not too Catholic, and almost tolerant. The father-in-law even reached out a few times, but in vain. Everyone attributed the death of the young girl’s first baby to her sorrow.

She herself remained between life and death for a long time, but her father never came to see her. Her mother fell ill, etc. The whole nine yards, which didn’t do much to strengthen the Catholics’ love for us.

Our whole community talked about it. They tried to reason with the father, to no avail. My own father often went to speak to him. He condemned his reaction, which gave me hope. But I wasn’t completely reassured.

And in this case it wasn’t just some Jewish girl marrying some young German Protestant or Polish atheist, but his own daughter marrying a goy….

The sun was going down. Rachel and Johann brought us our clothes. We walked back to the meadow, where the parents were still asleep.

We were silent: Hans and I from the sun and fatigue, Rachel and Johann for reasons that transcended words.

Rachel didn’t say another word on the way home. Thank God Hans and I were there. We had had such a good time, we affirmed, that we ought to do the same thing the following week.

Mr. and Mrs. von Statt accepted with pleasure, and Rachel—my going depended on her—complied without batting an eyelid.

After having thanked and taken leave of our friends, Rachel and I made our way back to our neighborhood. I didn’t dare say a word, and she seemed to share my sudden awkward discomfort.

She had become very pale again—she certainly had turned every possible color today! Suddenly, she took a step toward the ditch at the side of the road, leaned her hand against a birch tree, and threw up what her religion couldn’t swallow.

I thought she was going to make a terrible scene, that she resented me intensely for having led her into this trap, and I prepared myself selflessly for the cries and tears that I was so accustomed to.

But she walked back toward me, whiter than ever in spite of having been out in the sun all day.

Her eyes were drowned in tears, but she wasn’t actually crying. In a soft, trembling voice, she asked me, “You won’t say anything to Mama and Papa, right?”

I took her hand with all the tenderness I could muster at that moment, and we walked home, bound together by a great, heavy secret.

The next day, after school, I saw from afar that she was standing next to Pavel. He was speaking freely, but she was barely listening and wasn’t looking at him or answering him.

I thought I would tell her that she needn’t come to wait for me anymore, but I decided in the end that it was premature to sacrifice one of “our” opportunities.

On the way home, I took a risk and made a few references to the previous day’s outing, but most of all to the next one, and I could see that my sister was impatient for the weekend to arrive.

We couldn’t let things drag on. Hannah, the matchmaker, would end up completing her job one day, when she felt her pride was avenged.

The following Sunday was as idyllic as the previous one, especially for Rachel and Johann—even though I had to dive into the cold, repugnant water again.

We continued these expeditions, which became a habit throughout the springtime, and the weekly swim was transformed into a ritual imposed on only those who enjoyed it, namely everyone else but me.

I was annoyed at myself for not having been able to find something else to do the first time, especially since, on our way home from our second Sunday in the country, Rachel remembered that I hated the water.

I can’t help thinking that, from that day on, she took a certain pleasure in forcing this weekly burden on me, in revenge for the ham.

I was going to end up hating Sundays as much as Shabbat, but exams were approaching, and we had to put an end to our outings until summer vacation.

Meanwhile, from time to time I continued to frequent the Dobjinskis. Since he had begun to spend a few minutes every day talking with my sister, Pavel had become more cordial toward me.

This, combined with Janek’s nonstop yakking, made each of my visits to their house extremely trying. I sensed that the family talked about us.

The insinuations and allusions became more and more numerous, and the father, between glasses of wine, began to ask me questions.


First there is Adam Weinberger’s long childhood, in a world that has no idea yet what is in store for it. The childhood of a lover of illusions, who dreams of changing the world and of freeing his family from the burden of a tradition that he finds unbearable.

The adolescence of a young boy who is unable to express his love for Esther, his admiration for his uncle, his tenderness toward his mother. The helplessness of a young man who sees that dreams and fiction are unable to halt the destruction of this world and of its inhabitants.

Later there are fragments of narrations, the broken mirror that, through more or less well-meaning intermediaries, reflects the flight of this child who has become a man, who no longer believes in dreams, who no longer believes in words -who has taken refuge in gestures, those of his profession, medicine, and those of his great passion, the construction of ships in bottles.

And who flees words and other people to the point of losing his identity. Between the two is there, of which one dares not speak.

And then, in the end, after forgetting, at the end of all the flights, there is a return of childhood from beyond death, the single truth of fiction – of the narration of life.

About the author of Forget Adam Weinberger

Vincent Engel Forget Adam Weinberger author
Vincent Engel – author of Forget Adam Weinberger

Vincent Engel was born in Brussels in 1963. When he was five years old, he began to invent stories (the poor, deprived child had no television), and at age nine, he started to try to write them. School for him was clearly a waste of time. When he got home, he wouldn’t waste any of his energies on lessons and homework, either, preferring to devote his time to his passions.

This resulted in a somewhat complicated academic trajectory until he finally went to university, thanks to the tenacious will of his father, for whom a son without a university education was not his son.

Although he hated school and the teachers who didn’t predict much of a future for him, he definitely enjoyed earning a doctorate in literature and becoming a university professor specializing in contemporary French literature. He had a particular interest in issues of memory, especially concerning the Holocaust and what he calls the “desire to remember” (2020).

At the same time, he continued to pursue his writing and chanced upon a crazy publisher couple from Quebec, who would put out his first collections of novellas and become his good friends.

In 2000, he completed Retour à Montechiarro (Fayard, 2001), Volume I of the “World of Asmodée Edern,” which met with great commercial success.

Today Vincent wears many hats: professor at the University of Louvain, novelist, playwright – in particular as friend and right-hand man (although he is left-handed) to the late Franco Dragone for a decade – and screenwriter, not to mention his many collaborations with the press and the media as a columnist and literary critic.

– Translated by Richard Kutner. Richard Kutner is an independent translator of fiction and non-fiction. His translations include After the Roundup, by Joseph Weismann, and Cast Away on the Letter A, by Fred, for which he was awarded a Hemingway Translation Grant from the Book Office of the French Embassy in the United States.

Follow me on Instagram : @vincent_engel_officiel