Edek, 1945 Diary, Italy

1st January 1945

In the end, we had an argument with the senior sergeant. We go to Forli every day and we don't report to anyone. We have temporarily suspended our excursions to Meldola.

 

 

 

5th January 1945

Our conversation actually started by our coming to the conclusion that a civilian life anywhere was impossible - in peace. But then the conversation went further, into politics, into each of our lives and, again, I felt what I have previously felt - emptiness. Not only the lack of prospects, the lack of opportunities - but actually a personal emptiness inside, a lack of direction, a lack of principles, a lack of ideals and a lack of confidence in anything. Somehow during this discussion emerged a modern type of youth destroyed by war - and it seemed to me that I belong here. A lack of understanding of the issues of 'morality' - the impossibility of determining what is 'good' or 'bad'- a deep cynicism in relation to all matters political, a cynicism in relation to all ideals … with relation to all human affairs. I myself actually still believe in love, but I realize that I am the exception. Because from all these comrades who have wandered through all the brothels in the Middle East and here in Italy - from them I cannot demand this. And now a person remains cold and selfish, ready to do everything for his own benefit and career, a person who can still be sentimental and even 'noble' - but always with a particular purpose and even if for no reason other than to prove to himself that he is after all 'a good, humane' person. He remains a cold thug - and nothing more. And here thinking proceeds logically - it reaches back. The same sentimentality about inhuman cruelty - the same love for dogs and hatred of people - that once used to horrify me - in the Germans! They had themselves raised this post-war generation earlier. And furthermore - this group of young people about whom Rausching writes in his book on Nazism, this group of human wrecks, which had been the ideal ground for the fascist movement - it is us, it is exactly us and we believe in nothing, and we are ready for everything! We have no belief in ourselves - and we have no belief in others!

This conversation made me angry but in the end it did not enlighten me in any way. Is it really that bad? Sometimes it seems to me that it's not, not really. It seems to me, for example, that I still believe, I believe in beauty, in adventure - in drifting - in the eternal search for knowledge and, finally, in love … But I am very young and I know that little is needed to discourage, to ridicule - to render insensible … And then I would end up something like - Brr-no, no I don't want - I want to believe, I want…

 7th January 1945

In the night, orders were received that the military police, together with the Corps HQ, should move to the rear, whilst we are to return to our sub divisions. So we waited all day for the lorries; eventually we got bored and again we went to Forli. I am with Jozek as usual in the Naafi. It is light, there are lots of white light bulbs, tables and waiters dressed in white - if it were not for the uniforms, it would be easy to think that there was no war at all. Jazz music is playing, there is a merry emptiness in my head after the wine, I don't want to think - and I don't have to …

 
 

 

 
 

 8th January 1945

Time 22.00 hrs.

In the morning I was still in a merry emptiness. And now I am back in the unit. But not in my own section - but in Jurek's - somehow it has worked out. Will it continue to go so well? It's dark and there is nowhere to write, there is nowhere to read the letters, the fire is lit but it's still cold - how it will work out, I still don't know. Actually, I do know - it's only the first day. In the office, I found three parcels for me, and two letters. I just don't know how I'll find the time to write back.

10th January 1945

Night duty: you sit and you watch the fire, the glowing coals, the jumping flames and secret, ruby red goblins. I remember that once I used to enjoy staring like this, not only into the fire, but at everything that was colourful, bright or at generally interesting patterns, at the sun, at leaves, the woven shadows or shop displays. I didn't like to move closer and discover what I hadn't seen clearly. I preferred to guess, to make it up with dreams and fantasy - to create a story from the light and the colour; - whilst these things, when seen from up close, would all appear to be just the dry and dull objects and materials of everyday life. I think that many stage decorations should in fact be built on this principle, and I myself once liked to devise set designs and even book covers in this way. A painter must be a poet - otherwise; he becomes just a photographer. One day, I would like to daydream (in colour of course) about all that I have seen, Russia, the north, the desert, the war … Something completely different from what I have been doing until now, because what I have been doing is exactly what I have talked about, this is just photography. I think that I could do some quite interesting stuff; I would just need the time and the material, the poster paints and an airbrush.  Here Miczyk keeps bugging me about drawing - but I really don't feel like doing any. At best, I make these so-called 'photographs'- so that I will always have the material. And one day … yes, yes - pipedreams … I know that in some ways I am very naïve, but I would not like to get to the day when I no longer am able to dream…

12th January 1945

I've written masses of letters and I now have peace again. 

I have now more or less got used to everything. To the frost and the damp and to the service. As much as one can get used to it.  And - strangely, somehow I am feeling better here, on regular service - even though objectively speaking, it is much worse here. Despite this - I feel better and healthier in the cold.

20th January 1945

'Joyful days are turning over like white cards' - except that the days are not particularly joyful. But, just by looking at the calendar, I can see how quickly time is passing. Service again - frost, snow.

 


 

 

31st January 1945

Again at night I was sitting by the fire, and I was thinking. How quickly one forgets, how incapable is the memory of storing impressions and feelings! I was reading a novel by Naglerowa and again I started to remember a little that hunger, spreading like numbness through the body; the thought that constantly circles around that loaf of bread, that wants to break away from it, but constantly returns … and that terrible despair - and silent, motionless, overwhelming in that heat, where each movement leaves you soaked with sweat and weak - draining you of your last bit of strength … Finally, that feeling of being lost in an enormous country, in a foreign, unembraceable expanse … the feeling of being lost … of fear …

I recalled the story of Zbyszek, with whom I was in hospital in Habbaniya. He took the opportunity he was given in Russia to join the army, leaving his mother in the north; he left with the army and she stayed behind. I understood him well and I could not condemn him. It is easy to be brave under fire and, in general, if you have to force yourself for a few moments or a couple of hours to be brave. It is easy to sacrifice yourself under fire for a mate but it is something completely different when it is a sudden and quick death - and something different when it is a slow, awful, suffocating death from hunger, there on the immeasurable steppes, amongst people who are cruel, indifferent and wild.  A damned, damned a hundredfold, egocentrism.

1st February 1945

I received a letter from Teddy [Edward's cousin from America]- it turns out that he is in Italy. I am trying therefore to get a pass.

8th February 1945

I've got a pass. I got it after all. I was ready to go without one, but it's better this way.

9th February 1945

In the morning I left Florence. I had to walk quite a long way before I got a lift. I am arriving at …There I get out - there were no American soldiers. I am wandering around the town square, people are staring at me with interest; in the end I spotted a couple of Brazilians, who explained that there are no Americans here. I return to the road and I decide to go to … there are some troops there. But, again, it is not en route and, again, I have to meander around before I reach the town. I go to the military police, full of Americans, I look at each of their faces, maybe one of them will be Ted - and I realize that I don't actually know what he looks like! But from the police I learn that the 87th Infantry Division is in Lucca … Again, I meander back to the road and I wait for a lift and I am driven back. Again, it is a town full of soldiers, again I look around - I make a detour and find the Command Headquarters of the town - and I find out that they (the Americans) are not here, they are in Bagni di Lucca. 

Again I hitch-hike to Bagni di Lucca. There at the Command Headquarters they tell me that, yes, they have been here, but they are not here now. They have gone to ... By this time I have more or less had enough.  But I try again. I went to… Again, I take a jeep. We drive for some time - when I wish to get off a young lieutenant asks me where I am going, and why, when it transpired  that he belongs to the same division as Ted. He continued to drive here and there, he sorted out various matters and at last he drove me close to the Headquarters. I scrambled up a muddy path and found myself by some low wooden buildings, which looked like a school. I asked at the Headquarters - and they pointed me in the direction of the guard post. I explained to the guard more or less what and how, and he again repeated this to the lieutenant, who then called me over and made a phone call. Shortly after that, he handed me the receiver. I said 'Hello Ted? It's Edi speaking. Hello Edi, is that you?  Yes I got here. Where are you? I'm coming right down to see you! - Will you find the way? Maybe I'll come up to you? - Oh no. I'll find you somehow, they'll tell me; - OK. I'm waiting. - Fine, so long. Over. - And that was it. I thanked the lieutenant. They decided that a jeep would pick me up from K. and drive me down.   After that, we drove into town. 

12th February 1945

I got back from leave. I was afraid that I would not make it before evening, but somehow I got back in time. There are many new things for me to digest. To have a home again - my own home, can you imagine what this could mean to me? It's just that I don't know, I don't know, I don't know whether this really would be possible. I am not thinking here of the practical difficulties - but whether I would at all be able to get used to being dependent on something. Because it is not just about rights, but also about obligations, which I probably will no longer be able to adapt to. Unless of course, I were able to somehow change myself. 'You must make up your mind.' Ted is right.

6th March 1945

The opera again - and disappointment.

8th March 1945

I've seen another good film. I mean interesting. The Americans unfortunately always have such stupid habits; for example, in films they immediately have to introduce emotion. The French know how to do this better. But anyway the film wasn't bad. 'I taught myself 100 years of life in the last 24 hours'. And Deanna Durban has a pleasant little face. 'Easy to look at'- the Americans sometimes have a good way of expressing things after all. (Artistic, T Mann would say. - (Christmas Holidays)

Ponte Vecchio, Florence

10th March 1945

I came back from Florence. I know that I am writing terribly erratically - but I have to. I cannot, in any way, force myself into thinking or expressing myself logically. I have an unhappy feeling that I am back in the army again. But I did get a watch for that. Strange how much importance is attached to these small external trifles. Old bachelor -that's what it is.

14th March 1945

Spring. In some places the trees are beginning to flower; at midday, it is hot, and in the morning it is delightfully fresh and sharp. Sometimes in the sun, time suddenly stops for a moment, or jumps back - a warm memory suddenly floods my imagination. The past, a pleasant memory of an afternoon and sunlit specks of dust in a beam of light, or also Spring in Zakopane and long hikes, where one could get away from people and hear the wind rustling through the trees…

 Castrocaro

 

 

 

I wouldn't say that the idea of being sent into action again - this time as a [?] in the 1st Armoured Regiment, gives me much joy. I have recently started to attach too much importance to life, I am dreaming too much about the future. I would so much like … actually it's not important. It's just that I am afraid that I have, more or less, used up all my good fortune and good luck. But maybe it only feels like that because we have already had such a long period of relative peace. It's like sitting in the waiting room to see the dentist. As soon as one sits in the dentist's chair and opens one's mouth, everything is okay and the anxiety is gone. We laugh when we read about 'the charm of war' or 'the appeal of battle' or 'the pleasure of danger'. But I would have to say that there is something in this. Just like the unquestionable albeit cruel beauty of destroyed houses or piled up ruins. And when we hear the deep roll of an artillery shell and then the malignant, deep shock of the explosion-apart from the immediate fear, which so 'nicely' strikes our faces, besides that one feels a certain relaxation and peace - an emotion, which… it's difficult for me to describe. But 'there is something in this'…. What rubbish.

1st April 1945

[?] killed himself on a motorbike. He was so sure that he would return. And yet …

11th April 1945

We came back from Florence to the regiment. Apparently he crashed his motorbike. 

12th April 1945

I've arrived at the Division. For the moment I am in the second line. And that's good.

13th April 1945

I'm beginning to have a good time. I believe that somehow that it will all work out.

24th April 1945

Axel Munthe: The book from San Michele - I don't know how many times I have read it. I know that each time I like it more. Although strictly-speaking I can't say I 'like' it; the expression is too weak. This is not just a book; it is much more. I don't know whether it is because I know more, and have seen more, that I understand it better, or also because I understand more of the foreign words, including Italian. Life is … actually, no - no definitions will help here.  Sunshine and clouds and spring and night … I cannot take it all in and do not want to lose any of it.

To be honest, here in the camp, I have everything that I could possibly want. Silence, peace, good books … At most, there is a lack of company - people among people.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4th May 1945

The war has ended? So what? - Hope? Too unknown. Much too far off.

An unknown life - sunny, pale. Washed out. A bath, a book, food, cinema, food, a book, food, ping pong and food. A wonderful life - do I really want to live like this?! I've got everything, but I can't live. So, until - Go back! Soldiers don't think - therefore …

20th May 1945

San Giorgio - the beach. Pleasant, only the water is so salty. What for?

21st May 1945

The cinema: 'For whom the bell tolls.' It's a shame I had a headache. Tomorrow I will go again.

'No man is an Island, entire of itself. - Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind. And therefore never send to know, for whom the bell tolls - it tolls for thee.'

John Donne 1624

Hemingway looks good with that beard, just how such a man should look.

22nd May 1945

Today I went to the cinema again, to see the same film as yesterday. It's difficult to know what to say. I like that which is real life - and life is both beautiful and terrible. But you have to be prepared for this; he who prefers not to, can (with certain reservations) live a comfortable and banal life. But I would not give five minutes of my life (of that which has already passed and of that which is still to come) for a hundred years of torpidity.

23rd May 1945

I've been to San Giorgio. I met Jurek Kluger there. Another year in the army? Holy Cow!

25th May 1945

Somehow, in one day, I managed to get to Faenza and back. I have just worked out that I hitchhiked more than 500km. And now - some ceremonial drinking. Gin and Whisky for a change. We have too much of this - and I am already too aware of how it will end.

26th May 1945

Hangover! Oh my God, what nasty stuff. This morning I barely managed to tidy-up my junk - I shut out the light and I lay all day. Now it's evening and only after a bath do I feel more or less like a human being. I'm not going to do that again, or at least not for some time.

27th May 1945

Time is running away with terrifying speed. At some point I count - and I see that soon I will be closer to thirty then to twenty!  Soon I will be old; - and yet I haven't even started living.

2nd June 1945

Ancona. Italian revue. The town looks beautiful in the night from high up. The lights, the lighthouse and the frogs. I never knew that frogs live on the top of a hill instead of at the bottom, or by the water. And, of course, lots of glow worms.

 

Ancona

9th June 1945

Rome. The Vatican and Michelangelo. Once I did not have much respect for marble - I preferred bronze or wood. But at that time I had not yet seen many different things and, among other things, I had not seen the sculptures of Michelangelo. 

10th June 1945

Rome again, this time to the left. The cinema - The Lost Horizon. It was funny this Shangri-Lah. Maybe a little bit artificial?

8th July 1945

Today, I didn't want to go to Rome and I stayed on my own at 'home'. The waves are wretched - there's no way of swimming. One day with my own thoughts and a need to get away. Feeling wretched I escaped to Rome, trying to stem the mood with a little wine and some strong tea - and now I am stuffing myself with cakes and I already feel that my stomach is rebelling.   I have to add that I am sitting on the terrace of the Alexander Club in a soft club armchair and, as usual, I am worrying. Just a little, to aid my digestion. 

And, so, what was I actually escaping from? After all I am living and surviving. I am wasting time; I am gaining experience. (Amusing consolation).

Other things. The matter of this third courage,'the courage to confront one's shame'.   There is a lot written about this - but there is much more that could be written. It is not a question here of a sacrifice for a specific cause, because then it becomes martyrdom. It is rather a spontaneous perseverance and self-confidence, not based on anything genuine. (!*) There is a contempt in this and a childish smile.(!!*) *Author's notes.

15th July 1945

I am teaching myself to swim better in the sea. I have more stamina and I have adapted my crawl to the waves of the sea (deeper and longer breaths - and hence greater rolling, but that can't be helped.) If only the salt didn't sting my eyes so much. Of course, I get a stupid satisfaction from the physical effort. Besides that - let's not talk about it. Another time.

26th August 1945

I have the feeling that I can't continue any longer. I can't bear it. It is basically a malaise but a serious one. I would drive around, search and not settle anything, I would swim a little, get tired and - would fail to settle anything, I swam a little, got tired and - to no avail. The will to live- but in fact no - it's not true, it's only the apprehension of death, fear - but on the other hand irrefutable logic and understanding, that none of it makes sense anyway. They won't release me to study and I think it's because they think I am an idiot - and here it's the army, the army,  the same thing all the time. Tiredness and reluctance build up, and I can't even write, or draw any more, or even think. I have stopped writing letters, because there is no point. And anyway no one will understand. It seems that there is no way out other than to drill a hole in my head. I am clinging on to the hope of these studies, because after all I have to keep hold of something (I have been jumping like this from branch to branch for the past six years!) - but when that breaks, what shall I have to hold on to then?

23rd September 1945

I say that there is nothing to write about. To be honest that's not true, there is something to write about, there is actually a lot. But, to write about something, I would first have to think it through, and this is not what I want to do. I always put all the more difficult issues aside, thinking of course that one of these days, at a suitable moment, I will pull them out. But, it is well known, that moment never arrives. If my thoughts go back like that - I can see that it has always been like that - since September '39. But, in fact, all this time, I have just been following the road - together with everyone else - and I have never even tried to look around - to find my own way. Even at the time when I did tear my way through on my own - when it seemed to me that I would be the only one who would reach here - once I had reached here, I was once again with everyone else - with the masses. It's possible that it is always like this in life, that we are hampered but we feel as if we are rushing. And when one of these days, when we are old - and we want to look back, to remember everything, that we have seen and gone through - then we will see that it is by then too late, that the memories have faded and become lost - and what is left is just an unconnected mass of dates, facts and lost opportunities.   I think that life is more interesting, more terrible and stranger than we can possibly imagine and all we actually know about it is - NOTHING.

7th November 1945

Well, I went for the first time, and we had our first lesson. Admittedly, the toddler was nice-looking even though he had no hair.

8th November 1945

She's called Donatella. Her little brother says 'Tella' - I would say: 'Don.'

19th November 1945

Jurek has gone away to school. I am packing to go on holiday.

20th November 1945

Early wake-up call - 'ba', I woke up an hour earlier and I didn't go back to sleep because it wasn't worth it. I have to shave, wash, pack the rest of my things and take them to the warehouse. I am curious how they will manage here without me.   We are driving to the 5th Division and my driver, despite everything, somehow didn't get lost - strange. We were waiting in the 5th, it was cold, but eventually we left. My legs were frozen solid and it was unbearable. The drive was quite interesting. We arrived at noon, parked the vehicle, because you can't drive into the town and we walked to the hotel. We even managed to wander around the town, to go to a cinema, to go to the Naafi etc. But perhaps the best thing was the bath. My God, how many years is it since I sat in a bath?

22nd November 1945

Memory is a funny and illogical thing, although actually it is not memory as much as one's subconscious.

[last entry]

 

Self Portrait

 

 

With heartfelt thanks to Barbara Wojewodka who helped me tremendously with the translation of the 'Edek 1945 Diary'. Krystyna Mew.

 The original paintings and drawings of the above are held by USHMM and David Holzman.