The second question should be easy. We are looking at his grave stone. (Click on the image.)
N A T L I T I N G E R
OF NEW YORK
PASSED AWAY IN WARSAW
ON SEPTEMBER 1, 1939
HE IS RESTING NOW
But look again at the year. It can be read as
Here’s the date close up:
Something happened. Either the 9 got changed to a 2, or the 2 became a 9. My guess is that the number began as a 2. Notice that its barrel (right term?) is much smaller than that of the unambiguous 9 in the series. It began as a 2, I think, and someone closed the upper line on itself.
Mr. Litinger’s date of death was first given as September 1, 1932, and someone made it September 1, 1939.
Who? My guess is that the stone cutter forgot himself. The year is 1939, but he makes a mistake and he wishes on Mr. Litinger an early death. This is a benign slip, and in the historical circumstances, a compassionate one.
September 1, 1939 marks the official beginning of the German invasion of Poland and World War II. Warsaw was subject to bombardment from this day onwards. (The attack on the city began September 9, and a siege was imposed September 14.) Nat Litinger died on the day that the war started and Warsaw was first attacked.
For all we know, Mr. Litinger was a victim of the bombardment. The stone cutter wishes on him another end, another date, another death. He does this, of course, accidentally, at the very moment that a stone cutter must be most careful. And now contemplating this record of his misery, he has to stop and put it right. Forget the professional embarrassment, and this is of course considerable, this is a man observing the most concrete evidence of what he really feels…at close to the very moment, the start of the Nazi invasion, he’s trying hardest not to feel it.
I found Mr. Litinger’s headstone today in a cemetery on the south side of Warsaw. This cemetery doesn’t actually look like a cemetery. Not now. It looks this (image right). (Click on the image if it’s hard to see.)
There are no grave stones in this cemetery.
This because the Nazis took them. It is one of the aspects of Nazi Warsaw from which head and heart scramble away in a sheer animal panic. You hear what the Nazis did. In this case, you can see what the Nazis did. But this is a serial holocaust, an effort to exterminate not only the living but the dead. You can’t imagine soldiers (prisoners?) coming here and knocking down thousands upon thousands of grave stones. And what if you did imagine it? You’d be trapped and you couldn’t ever get back. You would have tipped into their insanity or your own.
A little further on, we find some of the headstones reduced to a virtual rubble (image right). Apparently, headstones were used by the Nazis to pave roads, so we may be looking at the ones that were assembled but not yet used. (The "concentration camp" principle at work even here: things brought together for eventual "relocation.") Or, it is possible that these are stones discovered in and around Warsaw and then brought back to cemetery, only to be, shockingly, dumped. We expect barbarism from the Nazis, this is what they were, but not from those who follow them.
In fact, these stones, now some 60 years after the war, might as well be warehoused. There is one small corner of the cemetery where it looks as if someone attempted to return some 30 stones to a circle. Here and there, stones have been propped up as they might have been in the pre-Nazi era. Mostly, these stones are as if stockpiled.
Mr. Litinger’s is one of these. Just lying there. Next to the path. You see the date. As you pass by, out of the corner of your eye, you try to fix it. It’s a 2. It’s a 9. It’s a 2. It’s a 9. Keep walking. Lots of things in this world make no sense. Just keep going. Because there’s a vicious undertow here, and the moment you dwell on it, you can kiss your sanity good bye.
But this headstone is in English and most others of course in Hebrew. Clumsy, Scottish, Canadian, Protestant, needy, Anglophone, here’s a stone that speaks to me! And Nat Litinger, that’s a name I feel I’ve seen before. (And why is it in English, anyhow? Only because Mr. Litinger was born in New York?) So you stick on the 2 that’s a 9 that’s a 2. (How apt that what I can read should read dyslexicly, when, surely, the Hebrew would be limpid.) No, that’s not why I stick on it. I stick on it for the same reason the stone cutter did. Because if the 9 is a 2, well, if only the 9 were a 2. If only time and stone were the same.
See the Wikipedia entry on the invasion of Poland here.