Born, like David Ben-Gurion, in the Polish town of Płońsk, Mendel Mann (1916-1975) fled to the Soviet Union after the outbreak of World War II, eventually joining the Red Army. He came to Israel in 1948, and became a prolific writer of poetry, essays, short stories, and novellas in Yiddish. In his possibly autobiographical short story “The Encounter,” published in a 1966 anthology, he describes a chance meeting with a familiar-looking woman in the Israeli town of Ramat Gan around the year 1954. What follows is an exploration of the psychic after-effects of the Holocaust. Herewith, an excerpt from the opening scene, in Heather Valencia’s translation:
“Please don’t be offended at my speaking to you again. I wouldn’t have done so if you hadn’t just been passing by while I’m still waiting for my bus. I do know you.”
I said these words with an urgency and certainty that surprised even me. She put her shopping bag down on the pavement and looked at me silently.
“I traveled across Ukraine with the Soviet army, and somewhere in a shtetl in Volhynia I met you. It was a strange encounter. Don’t you remember the Russian soldier who talked to you in Yiddish? Have you forgotten a night journey in a truck with two armed soldiers?”
She wrung her hands and her lips began to tremble. “I don’t know you. I don’t want to know you!” she shouted. Her vehemence made me certain that she was the woman I remembered.
At last the bus came. I was grateful to the driver for saving me.