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The Diary of Abraham Rosenman
By Cranston McMillan © Copyright 2010
Jacob Green thrust the last forkful of breakfast into his mouth with the same hungry relish as he had attacked the first. To say that he had a healthy appetite was at the least a gross understatement, and the cooked breakfast of steak sausages, double fried egg, hash brown, tomatoes, mushroom and beans would act merely as a small precursor to a larger, infinitely more calorific dinner. The strange thing was though, that no matter how much he ate and drank: and he did so to excess, that it never seemed to show. His sixty odd years had obviously been well lived, but it was difficult to see an ounce of flab anywhere at all on the man; Jacob simply put it down to a fast metabolism and his all round good disposition.
Jacob and I had been friends for the best part of a year, and even though there was probably some forty years of an age difference it made not the smallest bit of difference. It was a companionship based on mutual interests, good conversation and the enjoyment of each other’s company: we really were a most unlikely pair. My girlfriend Judi had never liked him at all, always thought that there was something sinister lurking underneath his well-practiced facade, something that she could never quite place, but it was a dread feeling that troubled her deeply. I had scoffed at her, called her paranoid and simply silly, perhaps she was even a little jealous of our bond, maybe though I would have been as well to pay heed to the more perceptive intuition of the female, but that chance has gone, and I must carry on with my life without regret, and simply hope and prey that salvation will arrive soon.
I had first met Jacob in a musty old second hand bookshop in the old town area of Edinburgh. It had been a first class find, a veritable grotto of literary delights, thousands upon thousands of books, most in massive bookcases, many more stacked from floor to ceiling; a total treasure trove that would have taken months to catalogue. I had been browsing for at least a couple of hours: Greene, Waugh, Huxley, Ian Fleming first editions, 40’s and 50’s pulps and much more when I chanced upon a poor looking hand bound volume, the brown cover was dirty and the pages were badly foxed, but the book entranced me somewhat, and on further inspection I found that the book was actually a journal that had been compiled by someone called Abraham Rosenman. Interestingly and strangely, the first twenty or so pages were totally blank, but when I reached the first hand written pages I was captivated by the sadness and horror of which I read. Many of the passages stayed with me word for word, and only now do I understand why.
The striking first words that I read were:
There is no God.
My Name is Abraham Rosenman.
A stark, blunt statement, but as I continued I learned why the writer had come to this conclusion. Where he was when he had written the journal, and learned of many of the things he had seen.
Today. More arrivals. The sameness of the horror has almost burned the last vestige of humanity from us. We are almost like robots as we usher the new arrivals to their fate. An old man was clubbed to death by the guards simply because he was not moving fast enough. Smits laughed as he smashed his skull with the rifle butt. The old mans son had simply stood and watched. What else could he do?
The writing was simple but horrifying. Written in pencil some of the words were a little blurred, others illegible, but as I read I could almost hear a voice in my head reading the words for me. The pain I felt was real and horrifying, and yet the more I read the more I wanted to learn.
David was executed today. The prisoners and work details were ordered to watch. This was a lesson to anyone who dared ask for more food. The Nazis had almost beaten him to a pulp before dragging his limp naked body towards the makeshift gibbet. Some of the women tried to look away, but they were forced to watch. The noose was roughly pulled over his head and tightened around his neck: then quickly the trap door was sprung and his body fell through. I believe he was dead before they hung him. I pray that he was.
Whoever Rosenman was it was very clear that he had witnessed absolute hell on earth, he had seen the evil of man. I wondered about him, who he had been, what had become of him,
I long now to lie face down with my brothers beside me, I long to feel the cold steel pressed against the back of my neck and feel the merciful bullet deliver me from the evil that surrounds us. How can we carry on after all we have witnessed, how can we go on as if nothing has happened. I know our people will survive, I know we shall carry on triumphant, and yet I feel so alone. I cannot tell them, they would think my reasoning gone. The killers will not win, our lives, our deaths shall be remembered. The world shall learn what happened here.
Suddenly the book was snatched from my hand; angrily I looked up at the man who would soon become my closest friend. A smiling ragamuffin, tall and slim, and although advanced in years he looked supremely fit, his silvery hair and beard gave him an almost grandfatherly quality and there was the friendliest of twinkles in his eyes complemented by a wonderful infectious grin. His clothes had seen better days, an old brown tweed jacket that looked well past its cleaning date, the checked shirt badly fraying at the collar, and his corduroy trousers were at least a couple of sizes too big. I had demonstrated loudly at his ignorance, but he had not been in the slightest concerned, simply waving away my protests with the back of his hand. In place of the journal, he had handed me a copy of Bleak House, and began to extol on the wonders of Charles Dickens. Most of what he was saying drifted over my head as my eye had caught the brand new and quite fashionable pair of training shoes that he was wearing. What however did not seem important at the time was what he had said to me about the journal; it is only now that I think back, and although it still slightly puzzles me I am much clearer on his intent, “you won’t find anyone to help you in there my lad”, a slip of the tongue, a simple mix up in diction, No, Jacob Green never ever wasted words, ever vowel sound, ever syllable was important. I quickly forgot what he had said, and only remembered it again at the beginning of the nightmare.
And so we became friends. Most mornings we would meet for coffee and conversation. We would visit museums, occasionally make a trip to the cinema if something appealed, but most of the time we were happy in our own profound and sometimes not so deep discussions. There was one thing however, that should have warned me that all was not as it seemed; the bookshop, no matter how hard I looked I could never again find the place again.
Judi disliked Jacob from the very first, and she made her distrust obvious. It was as if some sixth sense had triggered, a mental warning klaxon that told her all was not as it seemed. Wednesday nights we would dine out, we both enjoyed the chance to relax and talk. Judi had set working times as a personal secretary and as I freelanced for several Newspapers and magazines I more or less could set my own hours. One particular week we had made the mistake of picking a particularly awful Indian restaurant, the service was slow, the food when we finally managed to have it served was cold and bland, so we simply decided to cut our losses and drop in for some burgers at the local fast food café where Jacob and I spent quite a bit of time, “I don’t want to harp on, but I really think he’s a bad influence. You spend far too much time with him, and now your work is suffering too” She was angry, but I still tried to put up my own side of the story, “Judi, he’s a friend. A good Friend who I like and trust” she wasn’t having any of it though “Trust. That’s a good one. He’s a sneaky old man. The way he looked straight through me when I met him. I tell you he’s not to be trusted. I’d trust him as far as I could throw a piano”. I laughed at that one, but Judi was quick to rebuke me “no, it’s not a laughing matter, and on top of everything he has one of his creepy old friends watching me”. The accusation troubled me and I pressed Judi more on what she had said; she told me that an old man had been lurking around outside her offices, peering trough the window and watching her at lunch when sometimes weather permitting she and her office chums would head for the park. I assured her that Jacob had no “old friends” that I knew of, and that if he had they certainly wouldn’t be spying on her. There was only really one time I had ever seen him with anyone else, that had been several months before. He had been sitting on a bench in Princes Street Gardens talking to a very old man with shoulder length grey hair. The old man looked as if he was passing a parcel to Jacob. I remember mentioning it to him and in his usual dismissive way he had avoided the subject. I never asked again.
Judi and I for one reason or many others saw a little less of each other after that night. We still had dinner every week together and always made it to a show or a movie on a Weekend, but there was a distance between us, a silence. I regret so badly the way that I treated her, and it is painful to me that I shall never be able to put it right. I still love her very much, and think about her everyday. I should have listened, oh, how I should have listened. I miss her.
Jacob and I began to spend even more time together; we began to travel, a few days away at a time: London, Paris and a long weekend in Dublin, it was there that we decided to write together. I had several unpublished works that had long been a source of annoyance, and I had for a long time been looking for someone to collaborate with on new projects. Jacob was the perfect partner, his intellect was immense, and he seemed to let just little bits out at intervals most probably to save me from embarrassment. Overall though, our time working together was the single most intellectually stimulating period in my life until that point. It still makes me a little sad that our work was left incomplete and therefore unpublished; I suppose the world gets along fine without another long-winded critical analysis of great 20th century English artists.
During our period of working together, I began to notice little things about Jacob’s behaviour and memory that were at the least a little worrying. He had always struck me as supremely confident and easy going, a carefree soul who was troubled by nothing at all, but I began to question those presumptions the better I got to know him. He would often nod off mid afternoon for maybe 15 to 20 minutes, a little catnap to get him back in order for the rest of the day; but it never looked like a peaceful rest. Sometimes it would just be murmurings and maybe a little restless moving, but on several occasions Jacob had babbled incoherent nonsense, tossed around in his armchair and once woke with a piercing scream, “bad dreams boy, just bad dreams” and dismissed everything in that increasingly annoying manner. His knowledge of the recent past; the eighties and nineties, was mysteriously non-existent, at first I had thought it was just plain ignorance, but Jacob knew little or nothing that had went on in the last 25 years, it actually stretched back further, but in my wildest dreams it would never have occurred to me why.
Jacob stayed in a small rented apartment in the city centre, and in the course of our friendship, I had never visited his home even though I knew the location. Again, it was something that did not strike me as strange until long afterwards. Most of our meetings were in cafes, galleries or the library, and when we worked on our manuscript, the work was in the main at my own house. Therefore, when Jacob invited me back to his flat for the first time, nothing seemed out of place.
“You live frugally to say the least Jacob”, The Spartan contents of his room were a little disturbing: an uncomfortable looking old easy chair, a dirty mattress with some equally grubby coverings and a pair of what I thought at the time was a filthy pair of blue and white striped pyjamas. A simple table with a few books placed on top: some heavy looking scientific journals, an English thesaurus and the obligatory Dickens. There was a sink and work surface at the window, a solitary coffee mug and a filthy looking electric kettle. “I have simple needs, my boy, very simple needs. Please sit down.” I eased myself on to the chair and found it to be just as uncomfortable as it looked. “We’ve know each other for nearly a year now” Jacob seemed a little distant as he spoke, “its been good, I do like you, do value your friendship, but I’m afraid that is all about to end now”. Being a little stupid I simply thought that he was moving on somewhere else, and my reply must have been a bit comical to him, “I value our friendship as well Jacob, but I’m sure we will keep in touch, anyway how far are you going, it’s not as if your going to another planet”. Jacob smiled, Oh my dear boy, as far as you’re concerned I may as well be”.
Jacob then began to relate an incredible tale, which seemed to be an amazing flight of fantasy, and possibly the ravings of a man who had lost all sense of reality. “Jacob Green, it’s a good name, No? I think so. I actually prefer it to Ladislaus Mayer, but Mayer is my name; my real name, Professor Ladislaus Mayer one time of The Science Institute of Budapest, not important now, not important at all. I was born in 1908”. Some quick mental arithmetic told me that Jacob Green would be over 100 years old if that were true, but I was interested to hear more I actually for a few minutes thought that he was running some fiction idea before me
“My early life was taken up with study. I suppose I did not have much of a childhood, but I was happy, loving grandparents taking the place of my mother and father providing me with the nurture and encouragement that made me the adult I was to become. From school I went directly to University and after graduation I became a member of the Science Institute, it was there that I met Rachel. My sweet dear Rachel, so beautiful and kind, so loving, I loved her from the moment I first saw her. She worked in the Institutes library, long hours. We became friends first, and soon we were inseparable. We married in the spring of 1936; I was the happiest man in the world” Jacob picked up one of the volumes of Dickens from the table and took a photograph that he had placed inside, he handed it to me.
“She developed Polio as a child, she survived, but the disease affected her left leg, which left her disabled. The limb was two and a half inches short and her foot never grew properly, and for all my learning, for all my intellect, there was nothing I could do to fix Rachel’s disability, what good is knowledge if it can’t help to achieve what you really want” I gave the photo back, “she’s very lovely”. For just a moment I thought he was about to cry, tears seemed to be welling up, but he quickly pulled himself together and continued with his tale.
“I think we were the happiest couple in the world. I suppose everyone has the same thoughts when they are in love. We both wanted children, but nothing seemed to happen, Rachel blamed the polio, but I knew better, still I always found it wise not to argue. Hanna quite simply was a little miracle, she was born in late 1940, our lives had never been better” He handed me another photograph of mother and child together, “both so lovely, I’m sure you see that” he said as he took the picture back and placed both back inside the book.
“My friend Moshe Edelman; a fine man, a Dentist, he prided himself on his pain free dentistry techniques, years ahead of his time: I realize that more than ever now. He knew what was coming, but we didn’t listen, no one listened, we didn’t want to believe, and when it happened it was too late. The various Jewish communities in Hungary had remained untouched for most of the war, but in early 44 Eichmann’s Special Section Commandos arrived, just like Moshe had warned, they came like the plague. The round ups started almost at once. Families dragged from their beds at night, shops and houses firebombed, the old, the young herded like cattle to the waiting trains, and the eager German boys would beat anyone who could not keep up. They used our Synagogues as warehouses for the possessions we were forced to leave behind.” There was real pain in every word he spoke.
“Together we were in the first round of deportations from Hungary. We packed as much as we could carry, as much as we were allowed to take. Rachel cried, she just could not stop crying, she knew what was approaching, I think we all knew by that time, but we still did not want to accept it. When the trains arrived, we were bundled into the carriages, the Nazis were brutal, and they hated us. When they could squeeze no more in, they locked us in, padlocking the doors. There was barely room to move, but the women and children managed a rota system for sitting down and resting, the men stood, I stood, I stood for hours, for days, I lost track of time, I slept on my feet, my bodily functions were held till I could hold no longer, we were dying from the moment we set foot on the train. Moaning, crying, wailing, the smell of human waste of sweat of fear, where was our God, why was he punishing us” Jacob’s eyes were now glistening with tears but he continued with his story “When we arrived at Auschwitz, we fell from the carriages glad to have our feet again on the ground. Our relief was short lived, any luggage we had managed to keep hold of was taken from us and we were roughly pushed into groups. Men, women and children were separated, the old and disabled were also put into a separate group, as soon as they saw the calliper on Rachel’s leg she was taken away. I never saw her again. Hanna had clung on to me underneath my long coat, I suppose that saved her. Over a period of two weeks in May 100.000 were gassed, names meant nothing anymore, family was merely a word, there were no tears to cry. One of the officers had recognized me and took me from the group that I was standing with, some of those other men ended up in the Sonderkommando unit, my friend Moshe was given the job of extracting gold and white metal from the teeth of the dead. They had other plans for me” by this time I was listening intently, he was if anything a great storyteller.
“Dr Hans Kruger was chief scientific researcher. He had a mission, a goal. Before the birth of the Reich he had published several papers on time travel theory: all I may add were totally discredited by the intellectual hierarchy, but he was far closer to the truth than any of those staid old conservative fools could ever have guessed. I knew of his work and his experimentations into molecule transfer through created rips in the fabric of time. When the Nazis came to power however, he found a regime willing to indulge his whims. Everything he required was put at his disposal, but after years of failures the high powers had grown tired of him, and so packed him off to the medical research unit at Auschwitz. He made impression enough though to be allowed to carry on his work. He had obviously heard of my pending arrival, and had ear marked me as an assistant. I agreed to help under one proviso, that being that my daughter remained unharmed, Kruger agreed.”
“We worked together on the process. Kruger had been a good scientist, but his mind had become warped with Nazi ideology and his dream of traveling in time. As we set about on our own experiments, it became clear as to why the Nazis were just as keen to perfect time travel, Kruger was obsessed, so much so that he was unaware that I was carrying on my own experimentation behind his back. His mission was simple: find a way of sending soldiers into the past and into the future, time soldiers if you will, spreading the Nazi philosophy throughout history and into the future. The future fascinated him. The trial runs that we undertook were mostly unsuccessful; we had built a transportation booth in which the molecules of the body would separate and would transfer into other pre chosen time zones. The particles were supposed to rejoin when they had reached the chosen destination; sadly, there were many failures. He had used soldiers at first, but what we got back after the first trials convinced him that it was better to use inmates instead, but we carried on working, determined to succeed. The first man to travel and return was a young man from Poland his name was Franciszek. He returned a happy man, he had journeyed more than 10 years into the future, he told us how Germany had lost the war, told us of the Berlin wall, of Israel. Kruger blew out the young mans brains, screaming that he was a liar. I knew though that he was telling the truth. The most important breakthrough for me however was when we discovered that we could transfer two people at the same time, it was then I saw my means of escape.”
Jacob paused momentarily to light a cigarette. His story was astounding, unbelievable, but it was obvious to me that this was no fantastic fiction pitch; he completely believed every word. I had never taken him for mad, but now felt sorry for the poor deluded old man and his crazy tale.
“The trials continued. We sent subjects into the past and into the future. When they returned Kruger would glean information and then kill them. He had become a ruthless killer”
I tried not to laugh, and instead tried to reason a little, “Jacob, something bothers me a little. If prisoners could travel into the future why didn’t they simply stay there?”
“Retrieval device” He pulled up his sleeve and exposed what was obviously his wristwatch, “programmed to return the subject within one hour, mine has been altered I control my own travelling, and I also have another. When we return for Hanna you shall have the second device”
It seemed that Jacob would have an answer for every question, and I therefore decided that I would hear out the remainder of his tall tale, make my excuses and see a lot less of him in the future.
“I know it all sounds preposterous to you, I understand, but all you believe, all your preconceptions are wrong. All you believe about the universe, about God, everything is false. The truths that the human race has yet to discover will completely change the course of the world forever” He stopped talking briefly to pick up the dirty pyjamas from the mattress and quickly rolled them into a ball and stuffed them clumsily into his jacket pocket
“I knew that I had to act quickly. I had told Hanna to come to our workshop, strictly she was not allowed, but that no longer mattered. I made sure that the travel booth was opened. As violently as I could I pushed Kruger into the booth and slammed shut the door. He screamed, he pleaded me, banging on the thick glass with his fists, tears streaming. I made sure he saw where he was going: thirty thousand years into the past. The dates were set and I brought Hanna closer to watch and enjoy this butchers pain and agony. He actually put his hands together as if praying, if I ever had any doubts it was that action that convinced me and I flicked the switch sending him back to his fate. I then told Hanna exactly what to do, just simply hit the switch; I would only be away for a minute. And here we are.”
Jacob took a final puff of his cigarette, dropped the butt and crushed it underfoot. He then dug into his pocket and fished out a second watch. I must admit that I could no longer stifle my laughter, “Jacob, good story but lets maybe get back to reality a bit”. He threw the watch to me “put it on, put it on now”. Stupidly, automatically I fitted the strap around my wrist, I suppose it was an attempt to placate the old fool, “I have synchronized the devices, I shall operate from my unit, you might feel a little but queasy afterwards but that will pass”
I was amused as he kept up the pretence. Turning the tiny winder on his wristwatch and then turning the dial. I should have ripped the damn thing off and threw it to the ground, but like a fool I just stood there. My head began to feel a little light, the room started to grow brighter and I felt something pulling at my whole body. There was noise, broken voices, screaming and then blackness, but a feeling of dropping from a massive height.
“Papa” The little girl ran towards the old man as he pushed open the booth door, lovingly he picked her up in his arms and hugged her with all his might “Hanna my darling” he kissed her cheek. “Papa you look so old”. I could not fully comprehend exactly what was going on, I felt sick, and my head was pounding with the effects of whatever had happened. I noticed the backs of my hands were slightly mottled with some liver spots. “The process ages us my young friend. Roughly about 10 years for every trip we make. I have one trip left” I helplessly watched as he gently put his daughter down, and came back towards the booth. He took my hand and removed the watch, I did not, could not struggle, “the problem with these things is that we only have two. One for myself and one for my daughter, and I need someone to operate the controls from this side. That my friend is your job”.
Slowly I was beginning to regain my senses. The magnitude of what Jacob was saying was only countered by the incredulity that I viewed my predicament with. I struggled to my feet and half walked half stumbled across the laboratory. My first vision of hell, a sight that would stay forever in my mind, he had been telling the truth. Only minutes before I had been in Edinburgh, in the 21st century, a young man with his future ahead of him, a lovely girlfriend, everything. Yet what I saw: Auschwitz 1944. “You were telling the truth. You were telling the truth” I could hardly believe what I was saying. “Jacob, you were telling me the truth”.
He gently took hold of my arm and guided me towards the control panels, “there is no way back for you, you must remain here. When Hanna and I enter the booth all you need to do is flick these two switches”. He pulled the dirty garments from his jacket pocket, not pyjamas but a uniform, a prisoner’s uniform. “Take these” For all the protestations I could have put up, for all the begging and pleading, there would be no point. I knew my fate. There was no other way. Deep down I knew what had to be done. In a few seconds of heightened perception I saw everything ever so clearly. I knew who I was, I knew my duty, and I knew my purpose, the reason for my existence. I nodded at Jacob; he smiled back, a deep warm smile of friendship, of gratitude. “I have something for you, you will recognize it”, Jacob handed me a small parcel, I had seen it before, “Princes Square Gardens” I slowly murmured, Jacob nodded “yes, my young friend, you are beginning to understand”. Taking Hanna’s hand he told the child not to worry, that everything would be alright, he proceeded to gently fit the device on to her wrist, and together they stepped into the booth. Hanna waved at me, a little girl wave of friendship, of gratitude, and she smiled, and in that moment in that simple action from a child it all became worthwhile. I cherish that memory above any other.
Jacob and little Hanna are together and free somewhere in the future. Strangers in a world that is not there own, but that will take care of them. They can live without fear. I hold no ill feeling towards him, as a father he acted in the only way that he could. My sacrifice was not of my choosing, but I gain a sense of solace from the fact that both father and daughter are safe. Although I cannot be certain I feel that, we will meet again, the future, my future may not take as direct a course as I think, maybe there is some twist of fate waiting. Who knows?
I fear that I am running short on blank paper now, my story however has not finished, it is only at the start. There are trials to come, unbelievable horrors. My identity must change and I shall live in darkness. I do not know if I have the strength to survive, but I shall go on. As I finish this part of my story you may recognize the four words at the top of the next page.
There is no God.
My name is Abraham Rosenman.
* * * * *
For more Jewish Stories, see our Archives
from the April 2010 Edition of the Jewish Magazine
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