The history behind “Waiting for Jakie”

Auschwitz gate
Photo by Stanisław Mucha

A Holocaust survivor tries to travel back to a time when she was truly happy.

Survivors of great evils — such as the European death camps in World War II, the lynchings in the United States, the Khmer Rouge killing fields in Cambodia, the Rwanda genocide, and so many others — often never recover from the traumas of their past. During the 1950s and 1960s, when so many were living with the memories of their wartime experiences, psychiatrists were beginning to experiment with the use of psychiatric drugs to treat their patients. Unfortunately, many of these drugs were either too strong, addictive, or both, and patients became dependent, needing more and more of their medications in order to function. I started with that, and worked my way from there.

“Waiting for Jakie” was originally published in the April, 2009, issue of Apex Magazine.

As I mentioned in the history behind “An Awfully Great Adventure,” Gretl, the narrator of this story, is partially based on my partner’s mother. While she, unlike Gretl, was able to avoid the death camps, she watched as her uncle was killed by Nazis, and soon after, with the help of a network of Catholic workers, she and her brother were smuggled to Morocco, where they were reunited with their parents.

Years later, after she and her family came to American, she became the patient of a psychiatrist known for his use of psychiatric drugs. He died before he could wean her off the medications he had prescribed, and she spent the rest of her life addicted to an increasingly heavy drug cocktail. I met her late in her life; I liked her very much and I think she liked me. I remember when she showed me a photo she had of herself as a young woman, right after the war. “I used to be so beautiful,” she told me.

I was alone, and my family was dead, and we were diseased Jewish whores from the camps, but we ate, and drank, and pretended we were regular girls out on dates with three boys who would try to steal a kiss and then deliver us back to our parents.

Waiting for Jakie

Jakie, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, is based partially on my father. As part of the 104th US Infantry Division, he helped liberate the Nordhausen concentration camp. During that time, he befriended two young women who had been prisoners; as a child, I found a photograph of them up in a closet, along with a few other items he had kept from the war. However, his interactions with Gretl are completely fictional.

(A note that has little to do with the story, but which may be of interest: Many years later, during our annual holiday party, I received a phone call: it turned out the two women had settled in Israel, were visiting relatives in America, and were calling all the Krasnoffs in the Brooklyn phone book on the off-chance that my father was still living there. I immediately called my parents, and soon after, the women came to visit my parents at their Long Island home.)

Gretl’s husband Wilhelm (Americanized to William) is based somewhat on my partner’s father, a German Jew who was recruited by the OSS (later to become the CIA) for undercover work in WWII Europe.

Many of the incidents in the story — the arrival of American troops at a concentration camp, the killing of Gretl’s uncle on the lawn of his home — are taken from family histories.

Gretl’s experiences in the concentration camp are taken from a book I read when I was a teenager called House of Dolls. It was written in 1953 by a Holocaust survivor named Yehiel De-Nur, who used the pseudonym Ka-Tsetnik 135633, which is how he was identified in Auschwitz, and was a novella about a young Jewish girl who was forced into sexual slavery in a concentration camp. More recently, it has been documented that, while there were women inmates forced to act as prostitutes in the camps to encourage cooperation among the forced laborers, there were probably no Jewish women among them, because even there, the Nazis enforced their racial laws. So it’s uncertain whether Gretl’s experiences are historically accurate.

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