AN EYE FOR AN EYE
|The Story of ZALMAN KATZ|
The industrial city of Bydgoszcz is located on the Brda River in central Poland, served by a network of inland waterways and railways at the eastern end of the Bydgoszcz Canal. Heavily damaged during the Second World War, it was in the midst of a building boom on August 19, 1959, when the past came full circle and touched the present.
With a population of more than 250,000, Bydgoszcz was divided into districts, each represented by various political officials and several chiefs of police. Joseph Juszkevitz was one of the chiefs of police. Inside his railway hut, the stationmaster was reading a newspaper when his telephone rang. He was instructed to write a telegram to be given to Chief of Police Joseph Juszkevitz. The stationmaster rummaged in his desk for an official telegram form, found a stub of a pencil and laboriously scrawled the twenty words of the short telegram. Painstakingly, he folded the sheet, inserted it in an envelope and sealed it. Unable to leave the station, he telephoned his brother?in?law to deliver the telegram for him. Several minutes passed before a middle?aged man entered the station and the stationmaster handed him the sealed envelope.
"Make sure Juszkevitz signs the receipt book that he received the telegram," the stationmaster told his brother?in?law. "He should be pleased. The telegram is good news."
His brother?in?law tucked the envelope into his shirt pocket and left for the police station on his bicycle. He was not pleased with the errand. Juszkevitz was not a likable man. Rumour had it that during the war he was a German collaborator and had killed many Jews. That did not bother the messenger, but Juszkevitz was a mean son of a bitch, and everyone in Bydgoszcz was afraid of him. Juszkevitz was the last person he wanted to see. He parked his bicycle against the building and reluctantly entered.
An overweight police sergeant in an ill-fitting uniform sat behind a wooden desk. He looked up. "What's your business?" he growled.
Smiling to hide his fear, the brother-in-law answered. "Got a telegram for Police Chief Juszkevitz. It's good news." He reached into his shirt pocket, removed the envelope and waved it at the officer.
"Give it to me. I'll take it to him."
"Can't do that. The telegram's for him. He has to sign my book that he got it."
The policeman scowled, annoyed at having to get up. He went to a door at the back of the room and waved for the brother?in?law to follow. He knocked and entered, while the messenger stood by the doorway, eyes wide with fright and hands shaking as he peered inside.
"Telegram for you," the officer said to the man sitting behind the desk. "He says it's good news."
The chief of police stared at the terrified messenger. Joseph Juszkevitz was a burly, heavyset man with hard features and cold eyes. During the war, he had willingly been involved in conduct that earned him a reputation for ruthlessness. For the past fourteen years he had hidden his past by moving away from Byelorussia to Poland.
Juszkevitz scowled at being disturbed. He extended his arm to receive the telegram, and the brother-in-law scurried forward, placed the envelope in his hand and pushed the receipt book towards him. Juszkevitz turned the envelope over and glared at it as if he could see through its contents. He placed it on the desk and picked up his pen. With obvious disdain, he signed the book and watched the messenger quickly back out of the room. The two officers laughed. The sergeant closed the door behind him, still chuckling at the scare they had given the man.
Juszkevitz tore the short side of the envelope open, removed the single sheet and unfolded it to read its contents. His face turned pale, drained of all colour in an instant, and his breathing quickened as he stared at the words. Perspiration broke out on his forehead. He blinked several times, finally closing his eyes for an instant before returning his gaze to the words that leaped at him, mesmerized by their meaning.
Slowly he rose from the chair and refolded the telegram, placing it in his back pocket. He opened the side drawer of his desk, exposing his revolver. His cold eyes stared at the weapon before he picked it up and left his office by the back door, which opened onto an alley behind the building. Juszkevitz looked around for a brief moment, then placed the gun against his temple and pulled the trigger. The side of his head exploded as he collapsed against the building into a sitting position.
The police sergeant ran outside and stopped short when he saw his superior slumped with the revolver lying next to him. He leaned over and placed his hand over Juszkevitz's heart to confirm the obvious. When he stepped back, the body fell forward, facedown on the ground, exposing the corner of the telegram sticking out of the chief's back pocket.
He reached for it and read the twenty words.
He shook his head in bewilderment.
Why did Juszkevitz commit suicide after receiving such good news?
When I am awake, my memory does not let me forget and neither should those who were responsible.