“The Partisan’s Coat”
A novel by Yehiel Grenimann
1. Joe Kamens- Childhood in a Melbourne suburb:
Joe stared into the glass case. The thick fur collar, the tan colour, the length, the deep pockets, the buttons…it was the same coat!
Here in the partisan warfare section of the military museum in Minsk – a memento of the Soviet struggle against the Fascist invaders.
His connection was more personal.
Back then, poking around the family garage, he had noticed a suitcase, under old blankets and clothes. Its golden handle caught his eye. He tried to yank it out. It thudded to the floor of the Kamens’ garage, raising a cloud of dust that made him sneeze.
At first the case wouldn’t open, and it didn’t respond to his kicks and shoves. He went over to his father’s out-of-bounds tool-kit, took out a screwdriver, and stuck it in the lock. A few jiggles – and he heard a click.
The suitcase opened, revealing old clothes: a big old coat, a pair of pants, some shirts. He emptied the clothes out onto the ground. Underneath the pile he found a black notebook.. On picking it up something flittered out and fell to the ground like a dying moth. – a yellowing newspaper clipping.
He picked up the paper. He saw the familiar name “Hitler” in a headline above a picture of soldiers marching, and a map of Europe with arrows marked across it. Unable to understand the words, he folded it and slid it back into the notebook.
As he flipped through the notebook, he saw other pages with newspaper clippings and pictures in them. There was writing in a foreign language that he thought might be Polish.
He also found a pair of worn black shoes, in one of which he discovered a cloth bag.
He pulled out the contents of the bag.
Disappointment. Old medals in a foreign language, not money!
The letters were strange. He saw the Communist symbol, the red Soviet star. He recognized it from the magazine his father would read. The one his mother didn’t like.
A date was inscribed on one of the medals – 1945, the year the Second World War ended. And there was a swastika in one of the pictures. It was lying on the ground under a soldier’s boot.
I know that symbol!
His imagination lit up.
Communists, Nazis, Second World War…his parents’ stories…
He turned back to the coat and looked at it. It had a fur collar. He shook off some dust and tried it on. It was big – too big – and warm, and it had deep pockets. He put the bag in one of them, turned on the garage light and looked more closely inside the suitcase. There was an inscription on the inside of the lid.
He wiped away the dust. Yanosh Kaminski – Ul. Nisca 10 , Warszawa,
“Dad’s name before he changed the family name to Kamens. Must be his address.” he thought. “It’s from Warsaw. That`s where Dad is from….”
He heard footsteps.
He stuffed the clothes, except the coat, back inside the suitcase, closed it and shoved it back onto the shelf.
“Yossi, what are you doing in there?!?”
It was his mother, standing at the garage door.
“Just playing.” He straightened up in front of the suitcase to conceal it.
“What are you wearing?”
“A coat I found here. It’s warm and has great pockets.”
“That dirty old thing! It’s much too big for you!”
Joe made a face.
“Oh, alright, I guess you can keep it, but I will rinse it for you.”
He smiled gratefully.
“Now come, Yossi, it’s time for tea!”
He emerged into the last glimmers of sunset. It was cold. He went into the house wearing his new coat, fingering the jingling bag.
The next morning before school, and before his parents woke, Joe went back to the garage. It was dark inside.
Flicking on the light, he saw the golden handle sticking out from under the pile of blankets, pulled down the suitcase and opened it. Inside, under the clothes, was the notebook.
He picked it up and opened it, carefully. It felt dry and fragile. . There was a picture of a man in uniform standing on a stage surrounded by flags, talking to a crowd. The paper was in a foreign language. Polish? That was the language his parents spoke when they didn’t want him to understand.
He read “ 29 Maj, 1939”. He could work out that date.
That’s the month of May in Polish, and the year is when the Second World War started. It’s May, 1959 now so this is just twenty years old… ten years older than I am.