September 28, 1944
Letters from Theodore Katz
Sept 28, 1944
Somewhere in Luxembourg
And thus I continue my tour of Europe – writing this from “somewhere in Luxembourg.” I’ve found that the greatest difficulty to be found in traveling in Europe, discounting those involving present circumstances, is language. Just as I’ve about smoothed my French enough to the point of minor proficiency, I am suddenly thrust amongst a people whose language is German, though thus far, I’ve seen or had little contact with the populace. What little I did have, left me in a state of utter confusion as I attempted a conversation, trying the few German words tucked away in my mental vocabulary with the result a jargon of German, French, English and even a word or two of Yiddish.
I received your letter with the picture of you holding up the tree. Truly a Hollywood pose, though to my prejudiced mind it doesn’t do you justice. No reflections on Edith’s photography though. Also the news that you’ve sent me a package – I await same with bated appetite. Speaking of packages, Sam just opened a can of gefilteh-fish which in itself is not so odd, but, I assure you that two years ago I’d never have dreamed that tonight I’d be in Luxembourg, eating gefilteh-fish in a seminary for priests-to-be. For that is where we’re quartered for now. A huge building in which Jack, Sam, I and three others share a tiny cubicle. You should see this scene. All of us packed in this tiny space, with three double decker beds and our equipment, all crowding around a single candle trying to write. The “beds” are a hollow mockery. I should call them bed-frames, for that is all they are – no springs, mattresses or even slats, and where one is supposed to sleep only a vacuum. Last night, we foraged a few pieces of board – distributed them to form some sort of support, looking somewhat like the ties on a railroad track.
I retired to my upper “bunk” very carefully for fear of coming down on my downstairs neighbor, Sy Sandler and sought solace in slumber. But to no avail. I felt as though I were on some medieval torture rack, and to add to my difficulties, Sandler began to snore. At first, I thought that a squadron of P-51s had flown in through the window. It kept the other five of us awake for an hour. We were all very tired but the heavy drone of the snores was so ludicrous that we finally gave up all attempts at sleep and became slightly silly, making cracks about Sy’s snores and what it sounded like. Then we all began to snore in rhythm with the culprit – adding whistles and variations of our own. Though the room eventually became a bedlam of noise, Sandler slept on. I couldn’t reach down to prod him because of the fragility of my support. Finally in desperation, I removed my dog-tags, lowered them to the level of his ear and then shook them with a resultant jangle that finally brought him to consciousness. Then came the “piece de resistance.” He rolled over, cursed, and then said “Why the hell don’t you guys go to sleep!” This was too much, and the roar of epithets we heaped on his head were more than these ancient, pious walls had ever heard. Eventually we fell asleep and I awoke this morning with more strikes (in the form of welts) than the first sergeant. Truly, the ground is softer and more yielding.
On the more serious side, I’ll tell you of Yom Kippur Eve. We were out in a rain drenched field up to our ankles in mud when a truck drives up and announced that it would take men to services. Without preliminaries, Sam and I hop on, and we wind up in Verdun, bearded, mud-splattered and rifles on our shoulders in a synagogue with only part of the roof left and most of the praying done with the aid of search lights. Being partly roofless, the place was at the mercy of the elements – consequently being as wet inside as outdoors. But it was packed with troops come [sic] from different places. It was indeed a strange sight. Some Lt. at the ark conducting the services over this dark mass of gleaming, wet helmets and forest of rifles poking up, like dead sticks growing on a cobblestoned street. I couldn’t help but compare it with last year with you in Washington. But I kept my record of going to the synagogue every Yom Kippur, in spite of a marked absence for the rest of the year.
The candle is getting low, so I must prepare to close this letter. My thoughts are with you and don’t let the short letters get you down. When you get a short note, you know it’s only because I haven’t time to write more. And now I’m off to my alleged bed. I’d sleep on the floor, but there’s no room. By the way – How much does a Simmons mattress cost?
P.S. Regards to everyone. Sam sends his best.