Secrets from my mother’s Chinese chest, day in 1937, there was a great deal of excited chatter among the adults in my mother’s house in Graniczna Street, Warsaw. My mother was puzzled by it all. “Twoj wujek przyjdzie jutro,” she was told by her father; your uncle is coming tomorrow. My mother had a lot of uncles who passed through town, so this didn’t seem to her like an event out of the ordinary. But the adults continued chattering animatedly about this uncle in German, not Polish. And one German phrase they used stuck in her memory: “Traumdeutung,” dream theory.
In my mother’s mind, the mystery uncle became “Traumonkel,” dream uncle. To a little girl from a bourgeois Yekke Jewish family where adults led their own strange German-speaking lives while children were looked after by Polish-speaking nannies, the idea of a dream uncle was a rather appealing one. She was in any case longing for a dream mother and dream father who would be available to her all the time.
The next day, Traumonkel came to the house — and was quickly spirited away into the adult domain of the sitting room, from which my mother and her sister were banned. She could hear her father and uncle murmuring through the door. But they felt increasingly far, far away, not least because the interview seemed to be taking so long.
Once her disappointment had converted into irritation, and her irritation into anger, and her anger into impatience, my mother threw all caution to the wind. She opened the door to the forbidden sitting room and, against the warnings of her nanny, marched in. “Chcę porozmawiać z tatusiem,” I want to talk to Daddy, she announced as she saw Traumonkel, an old cigar-scented man with a white beard and pebble glasses. She clambered into the uncle’s lap, stubbornly folding her arms in protest. Her father waved her away. But Traumonkel said, “lass das Kind bleiben, Nathan,” let the child stay, Nathan. She remained sitting in Traumonkel’s lap, glowering at her father, for the rest of the interview. #10 #chinesechest #holocaust #polish #graniczka #interpretationofdreams #jewish #family #traumdeutung #father #freud #prewar #yekke #german #warsaw