- from The Invisible Thread
As I write this, a team of Egyptologistsseems on the brink of unearthing Nefertiti'stomb (behind the far wall of Tutankhamun's,allegedly) and the less ancient but no less
vexing disappearance: Peter the Great'sAmber Room (which vanished in the last daysof The Third Reich) seems ready to reappear,though it will be weeks, months, before we know
what the Polish vault contains; among that era'sunsolved mysteries is one I've tried to solve for years,the question arising like a serpent's head from a story
told by a Shoah survivor, my childhood physician,who somehow withstood seven concentration camps*to tell this story, written down nowhere else but here:
where I begin. But how to take you backinside that time? My small town, Ohio,where just an hour away, in Seven Hills,retired Ford mechanic John Demjanjuk— [End Page 105]
found guilty of being "Ivan the Terrible,"the notorious Nazi guard of Treblinka,a verdict overturned on evidence withheld—that summer, new charges are filed against him.
Reading Robert Jay Lifton's two-decade studyThe Nazi Doctors, which tells how SS doctorsmade underling physicians complicit in atrocities,
forcing them to finger prisoners "unfit for work."As the man I'd not seen in two decades revealed:"You learned to say—what wasn't a death sentence!"
When asked how long an inmate needed to recover—even from a broken limb—he'd say: "Two weeks."Anything more meant one-way to blue-black smoke!The retired physician had been a kind of tutelary
spirit of our home through my childhood and adolescence.Mom loved to tell the story—we always asked her totell it again—of bringing me, in my terrible twos,with my then infant brother. (She couldn't get a sitter!)
And how, when he was done examining me, he said:"Well, since the baby's here, I'll take a look at him!"He opened our blue-eyed boy's near constant grin
only to discover "an ulcerated case of strep throat—fatal in one so young." Mom, horrified, said: "The babyhasn't cried—or given any clue"—a Stoic even then.
Then he gave Mom a choice: she could take the babyto the hospital, or she could keep him at homeand bring him in to see the good doctor every dayand he'd administer the remedy to the baby himself. [End Page 106]
"And eef anythingk happen—Day or thee Night—you cole mee, I put on my Pants & thee Shoozeand I come right over to thee house, immediately!"Almost as soon as the good doctor's words vaulted
his lips, he became our presiding household spirit.But now, seeing him over three decades later,our shadows lengthening on his walls, behind us
the light of sunset hitting the big picture window,turning the white walls red-orange, our faces flushed,I wondered: Might other, darker truths now surface?
Reading Nazi Doctors, my eyes lit on one source—a Jewish physician—quoted only as "Tadeusz S"—could this possibly be our good doctor, I'd wondered?"Yes!" he cried, "that's me!" but there were statements
attributed to him, he said, "that weren't quite right."(I'll have to leave these corrections for another time.)Then he spoke of SS holding batons over windpipes."There was no saying no—or you'd get the next bullet!"
But how to tell you of this next rumbling fault lineI stood on in his company—the now octogenariangeneral practitioner who'd retired mere months after
prescribing for Mom's recurring migraines a medicine"contraindicated" by her psychotropic trove of meds,*which landed her in a psych ward. Then a coma. [End Page 107]
My first semester of grad school, studying English,of all the classes, I chose to drop Modern Poetry.(We'd barely begun to scale the walls of Roethke.)I'd then learn of a woman, the mental hospital's
near lifelong resident, a ward of Massillon State,who only a week or so before had decked Momwhen...