People were quietly suspecting—at least such was my impression—that I had homosexual inclinations, but these suspicions did not disturb me. At a certain moment I was so obsessed by the Nazi slaughters that my torment was changed into a kind of tenderness for the human body, a longing for it, as if it were no more here, on earth. Because woman’s body had for me, as a man, a very definite value, established in my early childhood, my new tenderness for the human body had to be centered on man.
Just as my first longings for woman’s body turned my imagination away from my mother’s body, so my first longings for man’s body turned my imagination to my martyred brother’s body. I saw before me the body of my brother, beautiful, white, warm, and calm like our hills covered with snow on a quiet, sunny day.
Thus I knew that my feeling for man’s body was an echo of brotherly love and did not point to sexual deviation. My brother’s beautiful nakedness as a symbol of brotherhood, a man’s body—because wars, too, are fought among men.
One day I accompanied a newspaperman to the Hotel Marseille, to meet the first group of displaced persons arriving in New York, the majority of whom had survived the war under Nazi occupation.
The ugliness of the men depressed me. On my way to the hotel I had hoped that the refugees would be beautiful like ore emerging from fire—their beauty was to be an answer to Nazi insults. . . . I was not pained by the women’s ugliness, their ugliness made sense. They had been distended, disfigured by the children who had sprung from and fed on them, and by whom these mothers now stood surrounded as trees by new fruit. Their ugliness was no more offensive than a misshapen tree with beautiful fruit. But the ugliness of the men made no sense at all: theirs was like a frozen grimace of fools and madmen.
Suddenly I noticed a middle-aged man of soul-shaking beauty; he was subtly worn, like an old votive vessel, and because of that, more beautiful. He seemed to have been fashioned of silver, ivory, and mother of pearl. Age was not a component of his personality—youth, maturity, and decline were united in him like contradictory zoological stages in the same animal.
After a long while I realized that I knew this man, that this was Shulim—I had been so stunned by his beauty. Only in our dreams do familiar faces appear so unfamiliar in their beauty.
Shulim was made of the luminous stuff of dreams—how else could one account for his beauty? He was tall, very slender, with an oblong face, sunken cheeks, a yellow complexion, gray eyes, and gray hair falling over his forehead.
When I noticed him, he was standing silent and motionless in the midst of a bustling crowd, but as I walked toward him he had suddenly begun to circulate in the hall talking in a loud voice which reminded me of the monotonous rhythmic screeching of a bird. “A phoenix,” I thought; at that very moment Shulim noticed me, and amidst his birdlike cries we fell into each other’s arms.
Shulim radiated over all the men in the hall. We went up in the elevator to his room, which was dark, gloomy, and would have resembled a tomb had it not been for his wife with an infant at her breast: instead, it suggested a warm animal lair.
Shulim’s sixteen-year-old son resembled his father to such an extent that he seemed to have emerged from Shulim, rather than from his mother. He was not as beautiful, though—he was still raw. Between father and son on the one hand and mother and baby on the other, there was such a difference in outward appearance that either the father and son were human—then the mother and baby were animal, or the mother and baby were human—then the father and son were angels. One might say that the beginning of life was here, in this stuffy room in a New York hotel, Paradise, in which the mother and infant were the Tree of Life, and the father and son cherubs watching over it.
After that I spent many hours walking with Shulim in New York. Walking was a kind of contemplation for him, a simplified dance for daily use. Only when we sat would he speak, and his voice, which had not changed, which still was, as it had been in his boyhood, a birdlike cry, a mixture of joy and fear, carried me back to the summer months we used to spend naked, as boys, on the banks of the river. At that time Shulim was so beautiful, so different from all of us, that we had—not only for our comfort’s sake but also for his—to ridicule him a little, and we nicknamed him “Stork.”
Because of intervening horrors, I remembered nothing of those marvelous summer months except fragments of a melody into which they had long since been transformed, and if I wished to say something about them, I could have managed only a few inarticulate sounds, an intermittent infant’s squeak; but in Shulim’s voice I rediscovered the full melody.
Often, as we sat on a bench and gazed at New York, Shulim would cry out suddenly: “Ah, how beautiful, how beautiful!”
Usually at such times there was a repulsive tenement, a dying tree, or a square littered with refuse before us, and I could not understand why he was so enthusiastic. Finally I discovered that at the sight of something ugly, Shulim often visualized its metamorphosis, its transfiguration from ugliness into beauty.
He was momentarily unemployed, and one day he confided to me that he wished he could resume his pre-war occupation, that is, selling haberdashery. In New York it would be a pleasure to sell attractive neckties, scarves, shirts, gloves, handkerchiefs, belts, and socks; in this abundant country, it is possible to sell beautiful things to the poorest, to working people, Shulim thought, for even the common man has taste, although he has no strength or time to choose.
“Ah, how beautiful, how beautiful!” Shulim repeated, gazing at a showcase of unattractive men’s wear—we had just stopped in front of a small shop in a working class neighborhood. His enthusiasm was all the more ardent because it had grown out of sadness and doubts, like a water lily in a swamp.
“Was it, was it really worthwhile to fight so hard for survival?” he would occasionally ask in his birdlike voice, quickly glancing about him like a bird.
Before the last war, in our native town, Shulim had run a haberdashery which was famous in the entire region, and whose customers were local landowners and professionals. He had not worked when he was single, but, after marrying Chaia who brought him some money as her dowry, he had decided that a haberdashery was the thing for him—this would enable him to constantly handle silk, to dress men beautifully, and to dress elegantly himself. There wasn’t an unattractive thing in his shop)—it surpassed in this way all the shops in the world—and one could find articles there as beautiful as those in the shops of London, Paris, or Warsaw. All our elite knew this. Shulim was proud of his shop, and that is why he contented himself with moderate profits, and did not behave toward his aristocratic customers with the servility displayed by other Jewish shopkeepers. He stood in his shop as if he were there only for pleasure, as if it were not his shop, and it was his appearance, the elegance of his clothes, that encouraged people to buy. When his customers said that he was “a clean man,” they had in mind primarily his physical cleanliness and the purity of his taste; his neatness suggested honesty.
Shulim’s father, a shohet, literally bathed in blood. It was something to see him in the slaughterhouse, with his disheveled beard, rolled-up sleeves, in blood-drenched high boots, bending over an ox, a gleaming knife in his hand. He was very tall, taller than Shulim, with a long red beard, gray eyes, and black hair and earlocks. Possessing a beautiful baritone voice, he composed lovely liturgical airs, which musicians performed at balls at estates. His compositions, all in waltz rhythm, were destined for the Friday evening prayer with which the faithful welcome the coming of the Sabbath personified as a beloved bride.
Each Friday, from morning till evening, Yechiel stood in the blood of the chickens, ducks, and geese he slaughtered, and after sunset he stood as though in fire before the pulpit, his lyrical baritone saluting Sabbath, the bride.
Yechiel refused to be paid for his services as a cantor: it seemed to him that if he accepted remuneration even once he would never be able to compose a tune, and might even lose the purity of his voice.
His wife was homely, thickset, black-haired, and in her youth must have looked like Chaia; jesters maintained that Yechiel had begotten his beautiful Shulim with “Sabbath, the bride.”
During the occupation the old shohet, determined not to let the Nazis dishonor his body, had starved himself to death.
“I don’t know how he did it,” Chaia said. “For several days he ate nothing, and sat over the Bible, humming songs to himself from time to time, and thus went to sleep forever. I don’t know how he did it; my father-in-law was strong as a lion, and no doubt God made it easy for him to die. How beautiful he was after death. I washed his body. What a man, what a man!”
“Where are the heroes of the occupation period?” I asked Shulim.
“Heroes, heroes!” said Shulim, pointing his finger at the earth. “All of them perished, none remain. All were expended only to save mankind. True, a few potential heroes have been left, those who hadn’t time to become heroes; they are the ones who survived the occupation beside the heroes, thanks to the latters’ heroism, and they are the best of the survivors. For they alone have emerged from the occupation to bear witness to the existence of self-sacrifice, loyalty, heroism, and social bonds. . . .”
Only these men, Shulim said, can restore human values, that is, those beautiful qualities which man has acquired thanks to his social bonds. “When I say that all the heroes died,” he exclaimed, “I mean only those who, as though it were the only human way of living, lived for the sake of the community. Some brave men have survived. Remember Miecio Artman, whose father was an estate administrator at Chocien? Under the occupation, Miecio, with only his mistress to help him, hid alone in the woods, and after the occupation he roamed about, an automatic in his hand, killing every collaborator he met. Well, what of it? He has survived, he took his revenge, but how much humanity in him has survived?”
“My father locked himself up in an oaken closet when they came to take him to a concentration camp,” said Chaia, “and refused to open the door. The Nazis shot him through the door and left him there.”
“Ha, her whole family is stubborn,” said Shulim.
He told me nothing about himself. I knew he had worked in a German military depot, where he was the protégé of a certain Captain Heinecke, and that he had spent the last ten months of the war in an underground bunker.
When with apparent casualness I asked him, “How was it with you?” he told me, instead, how his benefactor, Captain Heinecke, had shot Janek—Janek whose aunts had dressed him like a girl until he was six, tying his long hair with bows, or plaiting them into pigtails, so that the other children thought of him as a girl, and he had remained girlish all his life, the image of his mother.
Janek’s mother had died when he was scarcely a few days old, and he was cared for by his mother’s four older sisters, all of them unmarried, and all as beautiful as his mother had been. His guardians decided to bring him up as a girl to replace their dead youngest sister. Janek was for them a substitute sister; his aunts brought him up in such a way that eventually he identified with his mother, and as a grown boy he proudly displayed his feminine grace. He seemed like a young woman awakening from sleep. Was this because his aunts had told him how his mother, a few days after having given birth to him, beautiful amidst the white bed linen, had said smiling, “Good night, my dears,” closing her eyes as though to sleep, and had died?
Seeing Janek with a group of Jews about to be sent to a death camp, Captain Heinecke had walked up to him, taken him by the hand, and led him out—he needed a chauffeur.
For a year Janek was the captain’s chauffeur, handsome in his tight-fitting boots, trousers, and leather jacket, with his blond curled hair protruding from under his leather cap. One day the captain told him to check something in the car engine, and when Janek bent over it, the captain shot him in the back of the head, and walked away. Next day Janek was to be taken to a death camp; he was unaware of this. Captain Heinecke had apparently taken pity on him, or had wanted to prove that he had no sympathy for Jews—or perhaps both motives accounted for his action.
On another occasion Shulim answered my question, “How was it with you?” by telling me how the captain had shot Prokop, who had been the handsomest peasant in our region.
Tall, stoutish, with a bushy golden mustache and large blue eyes, Prokop was different in his handsomeness from the other peasants. Though a descendant of generations of peasants, he resembled an actor playing the part of a peasant. He worked hard, but he was always fresh and relaxed, and his face was joyful and invariably festive; his body, like that of a horse, was always aquiver, it was full of hidden laughter. He dressed peasant fashion in rough homespun fabrics, like all other peasants, and yet there was a soft and elegant quality about him, as though he dressed in silk.
Prokop kept his land, buildings, horses, and cattle in the best condition. He had the handsomest laborers in the village, and the most beautiful wife—for what other wife can be taken by a man who merely looks at her? He had a wife because a farm cannot do without a woman. He also needed her for his beloved laborers: if one of them craved a woman for a change, he did not have to leave the farm.
Though occasionally Prokop was the subject of jokes, no one was surprised by all this nor upset, because villagers calmly accept inborn eccentricities. Prokop belonged to an old local family, he was a good farmer, a good neighbor, and was treated like any other farmer.
One day he had an apoplectic stroke which left him mute and partly paralyzed. Thereafter he dragged himself through the village with a twisted face, one eye pulled down, one arm and one leg stiff, and his organ sadly hanging from his open fly, apparently for convenience, so as not to wet himself while attending to his needs.
His neighbors quickly accustomed themselves to this, too. Most of them regarded Prokop’s condition as divine punishment, an act of immanent justice; the women remarked good-naturedly that “anyway the thing had never been of use.” Captain Heinecke often ran into Prokop in the field, and each time was terribly irritated; finally he shot him. Nobody was present, but everyone knew that Heinecke had shot him: he had several times declared that Prokop should be liquidated, because this was no life for him, nor should people have to look at such a disgusting creature.
“If it was a matter of ugliness, Heinecke should have killed himself,” said Shulim. “Prokop still had a human appearance, but this Heinecke was so ugly, he stank.”
Nothing is so offensive as a beautiful man who, with his youth, has lost his humanity. Such a man’s face, instead of gradually aging, suddenly dies and disintegrates, ceases to be human.
Heinecke was one of those who cannot bear the impact of time, whose humanity fails to cross not only the threshold of old age, but also of maturity; their youth is shortlived, and so is their humanity.
He was a poet; in his early youth he had published a little volume of smooth, superficial verse, written—so he imagined—in the style of ancient Greece, in which human life, reduced to physical elements and male youth, appeared terribly insignificant and short. Life was insignificant, the important thing was death.
Heinecke’s life had shriveled to mere youth, and his youth had shriveled also. Having lost his vitality at a very early age, he was later driven on by the delusion of his own youth and beauty. Thus deluded, he could easily point out the ugliness of others, regarding his ruthlessness toward ugly people as an aesthetic mission. It was on such aesthetes that the Nazis counted for carrying out their extermination policies, and in order to facilitate their mission, they had reduced their victims to the level of repulsive vermin.
Thus it came about that Nazi-occupied countries provided Heinecke with a magnificent field of action. It was this Heinecke who took Shulim under his protection, it was to him that Shulim owed his life—Shulim himself told me so. He made no attempt to explain to me simply and directly how he had survived under such a man: apparently he had not elucidated the matter to himself, and I had the impression that he was not interested. He knew that I could not suspect him of having collaborated with the enemy, for there were witnesses, and this was enough for him.
Shulim did not strike one as a man who concealed something. He had willingly told me about Janek, Prokop, and other incidents connected with the captain, and he related those things with the conviction that he was telling me about himself. Moreover, he thought that the question of how he had survived was of concern to me, not to him, that in the end I would understand, and explain it to him. He expected me to find the key to this affair in himself, if I stayed close to him.
“Remember, one day a beautiful, valuable portrait of a man was discovered in the hut of a poor mountaineer,” he said. “The portrait had been hanging there for years, the peasant had never tried to sell it. He had found it somewhere during the First World War, liked it, hung it on his wall, and then forgot about it—‘let it hang.’ And this portrait has survived. . . .”
Captain Heinecke on arriving in our town had visited Shulim, who had by then closed his shop, and demanded to be shown whatever remained of his merchandise. Shulim had only a few articles left, but each of them was of the finest quality.
“Schoen, schoen,” the captain repeated when Shulim showed him his shirts, neckties, socks, and handkerchiefs. But what struck him most was Shulim’s indestructible beauty—the kind of beauty that distinguishes ancient masterpieces with crumbled noses and lips, with eroded eyes, masterpieces of which there is nothing left but beauty.
Shulim’s hands and fingernails were neglected, yet beautiful; his hair had neither been cut nor combed, yet it lay beautifully on his head; his suit, though worn and stained, fitted him as gracefully as feathers fit a bird’s body, and his ravaged face seemed the more beautiful for being ravaged.
Nature, having given Shulim beauty, could not rob him of it. All his life Captain Heinecke had labored under the illusion that it was he who had been granted such indestructible beauty, and now the discovery of it in someone else strengthened his delusion. Moreover, he regarded Shulim’s beauty as his own. (We always regard others’ possessions that we desire passionately as our own; that is why it is so easy for us to reach out for them.)
He ordered Shulim to deliver the merchandise to his quarters, and to report next day for work in the military depot. Shulim was kept in this depot for over a year. The captain saved him during a few successive round-ups, and arranged an underground hiding place for him in advance if his intervention were to prove unsuccessful.
Why had Heinecke helped Shulim, or, more accurately, why had he not let him die? Obviously, I could not ask Shulim this question. But Shulim himself asked in his birdlike voice: “Why didn’t the lions molest the prophet Daniel? Did he emanate an ardor that frightened the wild beasts who mistook it for fire, or did he emit an odor that kept the lions at a distance?”
My hints on the nature of Heinecke’s relationship to Shulim must, I suppose, be regarded as hypothetical. But if I could repeat all of Shulim’s casual remarks, glances, and gestures, and above all, if I could, by means of words, reveal Shulim to others as he had revealed himself to me, my conjectures would have for others the same truthful eloquence that they have for me.
The fact is that there was some undefined quality in Shulim, and because of this undefined thing Heinecke did not let him perish. More exactly, Heinecke had not let him die because there was something unknowable in Shulim. Heinecke was fascinated by the unknowable.
Shulim did not for a moment allow Heinecke to forget that he was a man, a living being; for a human being lives as long as his humanity is preserved, and as long as Shulim was beautiful, he was a man. He often fancied that Heinecke lay in wait for him, as hungry dogs harnessed to a sleigh will wait for the weakest to drop from exhaustion, in order to fall upon it; even fowl in a coop behave that way. Shulim had to be immaculate, the slightest flaw would have provoked Heinecke, as blood provokes a shark.
In those terrible days his indestructible beauty proclaimed the superiority of life over death; in his presence Heinecke felt that man belonged to life, that he had nothing in common with death.
Shulim’s beauty confirmed Heinecke’s delusion of his own beauty, and aroused his longing for immortality. Thus Shulim’s beauty became his own, Shulim’s life his own, and to protect Shulim’s life meant to protect himself. (That is, I suppose, the meaning of “love your neighbor as yourself.”)
Heinecke would have preferred to treat men as some conquerors treated the women in the countries they had subjugated—he would have spared them all. He reconciled himself to exterminating innumerable men only because he looked upon it as a campaign against ugliness; the condition the men were in convinced him of his motive, and his protecting Shulim proved to him that he was sincere. To defend Shulim was to defend his own convictions.
As his kindred and friends were killed, Shulim grew more beautiful. It was their lives he absorbed rather than their deaths, and the life of each now seemed beautiful to him. Feeling that he must live for them, he absorbed their lives. Constantly threatened by death, he never forgot his own life, as if such a lapse would be a concession to death. In this way he was always struggling against death, transforming death into life, producing a miracle.
Possibly this was the unknowable element that fascinated Heinecke, an element that Shulim had brought in remnants to New York.
“You should have seen how Heinecke grew uglier every day,” Shulim said. “People were being murdered around him, and he grew uglier, as if each death meant another shadow on his face.”
I told Shulim I believed his beauty had saved him from death.
“Maybe, maybe,” he said with a modesty that could only reflect simplicity. “But it pleased Heinecke considerably that I disliked the Bolsheviks, and ridiculed their manners and uniforms.”
Or had Shulim survived merely because he was Captain Heinecke’s lover? I often returned to this supposition, though I realized that it was groundless. But I reminded myself that if this had been so, it would not have embarrassed him to refer to it, as one of the nightmares of the occupation. He would probably have told me about it in that simple, elegant, abstract manner, which enables the narrator to talk about himself as if he were a third person, and which nevertheless enhances the plausibility of his story, although it removes the sordidness from a sordid thing in order to make it more accessible. If Shulim had under the occupation eaten excrement (as one of the great New York antique dealers told me about himself), he would have talked about it as a human misfortune.
Moreover he did not have to tell me—all his experiences had left traces in him, and he disclosed them so tactfully that we, the uninitiate, were able to look at them without batting an eye.
“Since these experiences were so painful, it must be hard to listen to stories about them,” Shulim remarked. The usual thing said on such occasions is: “If I could endure it, you can damn well listen!”
Not only had the occupation failed to kill Shulim’s sensitivity to suffering, it had not even deadened his aesthetic sense; the two were identical for him. One day he told me that an elderly man had accosted his son at a movie house near Times Square and made obvious proposals to him—his son had reported this to him. Anyone who watched Shulim and listened to his account of the incident would have realized that homosexuality was as alien to him as cannibalism.
I went with him to a Turkish bath, and when I saw his body I was certain that Heinecke had looked at Shulim as though he were seeing Christ’s body: for Heinecke, to whom the ideal form was represented by the male body, Shulim embodied great spiritual values, and was therefore negative sexually.
He admired and protected Shulim despite the absence of sexual attraction, and for Heinecke, this proved his own Platonic loyalty to the male body. He needed such proof either because he had grown old, or because the war years had affected him so much.
As I looked at Shulim’s body I felt that to Heinecke he had represented the same thing as he represented to me—an answer to the degradation inflicted on man, and that Heinecke’s protection had been the protest of an offended hedonist. In order to sustain the purity of a protest, in thus protecting Shulim, Heinecke had to refrain from sexual intercourse with him. Moreover I am convinced that if Heinecke had had a sexual relationship with Shulim, he would have eventually liquidated him or let him die.
Amidst the atrocious devastation one beautiful human life had survived, and Heinecke had defended it—he needed this satisfaction.
Shulim told me that one day when he and his wife were already behind barbed wire, prepared to be transported to a death camp, Captain Heinecke had suddenly appeared in an elegant limousine, had shown the guard some document, and then taken Shulim back to the depot, while Chaia remained in the enclosure.
“Well, what did Lot do when his wife turned into a pillar of salt?” Shulim cried in his birdlike voice. “He fled before the rain of fire.” Shulim had thought that he had lost his wife, but the next day the gravedigger Proksymiak, in whose house Shulim had hidden his little son, came to tell him that Chaia was now with him. It turned out that she had entered the latrine at the edge of the enclosure, squeezed herself through the opening into the ditch, made her way across the fence, and escaped through the fields to the graveyard, to Proksymiak’s house.
“I tell you, she comes from a stubborn family,” Shulim screeched, holding his nose with two fingers.
Chaia and their little son remained hidden at Proksymiak’s, while Shulim continued to work in the depot.
One day the captain told him that he could no longer do anything for him, that Shulim must go into hiding. Puk, he added, would come at night and take him to the hiding place.
Puk had previously informed Shulim that he had prepared a hiding place for him by order of the captain, with whom the limping Puk, who was half peasant and half trader, bartered eggs, chickens, butter, cheese, and cream for tobacco, coffee, tea, and sugar. Heinecke had never learned the whereabouts of the hiding place, and Shulim learned it only at the last moment.
At night Puk took Shulim, Chaia, and their son to his farm, where his wife, who was of Jewish extraction, and about a dozen other Jews lived in a cleverly camouflaged ditch in the stable. In that ditch Shulim and his family stayed until the retreat of the Germans.
There were several couples in the ditch. When I asked whether this had not led to ticklish situations, Shulim cried out: “Ah, you’re curious about some stupid details, like all those cheap writers! . . . There was nothing drastic. Occasionally one of us would fancy he saw something, but then he would convince himself he had dreamt it, and he would close his eyes.”
Shulim told me that poor Mrs. Puk, who was a zealous Catholic and very proper, would loudly recite prayers to shield her embarrassment each time she sat on the chamberpot. Or did the poor woman feel most vulnerable in that position, like a dog, and did she pray out of fear?
A lady whose sister had been with Shulim in the ditch told me that the moment Shulim had appeared there, all the others seemed to become nobler.
On the day of the German retreat Prokop’s widow killed Captain Heinecke. She ran into him in the open field and hit him on the head with a log. “That’s for killing poor Prokop!” she had cried.
It was said that Heinecke died out of fear, not as a result of the blow he had received. His body was left lying in the lonely open field for several days.
“Ah, how ugly he was after he died!” said Shulim. “I felt sorry for him.”
“What do you mean? That he shouldn’t have been killed?” I asked, surprised.
“Oh no! He deserved to die after such crimes. But I was sorry for him because after dying he was so repulsive.”
After the German retreat Shulim worked for some time in a tannery, sorting raw leather, but he felt attracted to countries untouched by the war.
“It was ugly everywhere, ugly as death,” he said.
A few months after reaching New York Shulim had a stand with neckties in a downtown section inhabited predominantly by working people and some struggling young writers, artists, and actors.
Not a single necktie on his stand was of poor taste; all were of superior quality in cloth and pattern, and otherwise obtainable only in the most elegant shops of New York. Shulim sold them at a fraction of their price elsewhere, and nevertheless made some profit. He found his way to several manufacturers and wholesalers, buying slightly imperfect merchandise at low prices.
The passers-by were not attracted by his neckties, which were too discreet and subtle for their taste; they were attracted by Shulim’s appearance, his clothing, face, owlish eyes, and stance. A man who stopped at the stand for a moment immediately felt the need to improve his appearance, and bought the first necktie, which could not be ugly because there were no ugly neckties on the stand. While taking great trouble in the choosing of his merchandise from the manufacturers’ and wholesalers’ stocks, Shulim sold it nonchalantly, as though freely dispensing it.
All his neckties sold for the same price; sometimes in the grand manner of a big businessman, he took no profit. After a short time his stand was famous in the neighborhood, and there was delight around him, as if he distributed the beautiful life. Women smiled at him with a touch of fear in their eyes.
Under Shulim’s influence, I too began to dress more carefully, with a kind of childish joy. My body relaxed and was filled with laughter. I began to see myself as a protest against the Nazi degradations. I often visited Shulim at his stand; he kept repeating that he must some day open a haberdashery, a shop with trees before it, and the river behind; and that in a country as rich as the United States, even the poorest man could dress beautifully. He continued to sell his merchandise nonchalantly; occasionally he would delicately remove a customer’s old necktie, and carefully put on a new one—it seemed then that he was dressing up his own son or brother.
Less than a year later he had a lovely haberdashery in a small town near New York. In front of the shop there were beautiful trees, a little river flowed behind it, and his customers were ordinary working people whom he seemed to instruct in elegance.
“Why do we need big cities in such a country!” Shulim cried. “Electricity, gas, plumbing, the telephone, radio, television are everywhere. In a small town people can be more beautiful, particularly working people. If only bombs don’t begin to drop on us someday. If only we’re not suddenly told that we must renounce beautiful neckties because we must have some interplanetary stations.”
He was a dreamer, and his dream was reflected not in his words, but in his entire personality. He was a dauntless dreamer. He never ceased to believe in the promised land, which was revealed to him in one of his adolescent dreams. Not only had his terrible experiences not killed his faith, they had strengthened it. He put it simply: “Since there could be so much horror, there can be just as much beauty.”