Passage from Mira Hamermesh's memoirs THE RIVER OF ANGRY DOGS  
     
 

In 1959, the war caught up with me again. At night, in dreams, I was dragged from the cellar and stood up against the wall, with my hands raised.

When my husband had phoned from his office, proposing we go to the cinema that evening, he did not know about my recurring nightmares. My son was at the nursery and I was in the studio painting and scraping, frustrated by a problem with pigment: magenta mixed with burnt sienna refused to glow and the canvas was a muddy patch. I welcomed a distraction.

 
     
 

R had in mind a Polish film at the Academy Cinema, in Oxford Street, and read out a glowing review from the Times about the film 'Generation' by Andrej Wajda. He was a young director who was little known in England but who had won some major international awards.

 
     
 

My English husband spoke with a cultivated accent. He had a melodious voice and was a perfect mimic. He could imitate a wide range of foreign accents but not mine, and that annoyed him. No wonder really, as mine was a hybrid that even Professor Higgins could have found a challenge.

 
     
 

His well-modulated voice conveyed a self-congratulatory satisfaction as the film had offered an occasion to display his sensitivity to my Polish roots. I sensed that he anticipated some expression of pleasure and I tried not to disappoint him. In spite of my undeclared resolve to keep away from anything connected with my birthplace, I wavered. Truthfully, I would have preferred to see a French or American film. Undecided as to how I could get out of it, I left it to chance. Chance had already saved my life on several occasions.

 
     
 

It was time to collect my son from the nursery. I strapped him into his car seat and drove to do the weekly shopping. He got bored with the familiar supermarket lanes, so we went to Regent's park to feed the swans and ducks where he could watch the birds engaged in a fight for the breadcrumbs.

 
     
 

"The big ones are getting it all," my son said, and from the tone of his voice I was not sure if this was a complaint against the injustice, or an acknowledgement that he was learning to accept nature's law. (In the Polish city where I was born, there were no lakes and no swans. The only pools of water I was familiar with were discharged from the factories and coloured by dyes of blue, purple or blood red. I thought the waters of the world were as colourful as the rainbows.)

 
     
 

Later that evening, our baby-sitting arrangement fell through.

"I'll stay at home" my husband decided.

"let's toss a coin" I suggested "Heads goes; tails stays at home."

R. tossed a coin and Queen Elizabeth's head landed by my feet.

I parked in the car park at Selfridges and considered my options. I could tell R. that the film was sold out and go to see another. Despite my resistance, my feet propelled me towards the cinema. At the entrance, the posters showed a montage of young lovers kissing against the background of a German tank. The sight of a Nazi swastika made me panic.

A chatty, young usherette, dressed in black, urged me to go in. "it's really very, very good. Worth seeing." In her smile there was something of a nurses' concern before administering a painful injection. Not to go in would seem cowardly.

 
     
 

The cinema was half-empty. The lights faded and the plush red decorations dissolved into darkness.

The film, shot in black and white, was a love story set in Poland during the German occupation. It old of an encounter between Stach, a young factory worker and Dorota, a female, middle-class student. They had joined the resistance and the war had helped them surmount their differences in class. The grim reality of life in Warsaw was the background to their relationship. The cinema was half-empty. The lights faded and the plush red decorations dissolved into darkness. The film, shot in black and white, was a love story set in Poland during the German occupation. It old of an encounter between Stach, a young factory worker and Dorota, a female, middle-class student. They had joined the resistance and the war had helped them surmount their differences in class. The grim reality of life in Warsaw was the background to their relationship.

 
     
 

In the film, in which Dorota was a leader of a group of conspirators and Stach her recent recruit, loved offered hope of being shielded against a hostile world. Gazing into each other's eyes, they exchanged a mute pledge to endure whatever life might bring. Love, their faces proclaimed, would help them resist the German might. Their first kiss, burdened by frustrated desire, was followed by a scene of Jews being led from the sewers of the burning Warsaw ghetto. Jews were jumping from balconies, whilst across the road a carousel whirled to a cheerful tune. On the other side of the street, Poles were shutting their windows to keep out the fumes and stench of burning bodies. Some slept, some were making love, some prayed.

 
     
 

After a gap of twenty years, the sound of Polish words and the countryside filled me with nostalgia. I could almost smell the scent of wild flowers and feel the summer breeze rustling through the trees.

The heroes of the film took a ride in the countryside on Stach's bike, Dorota, seated on the handlebar, holding a bunch of wild flowers. The country idyll was cut short. Back in Warsaw, Dorota's house was surrounded and her companion watched as she was marched away by the Gestapo.

The film ended with Stach, all alone in a field, awaiting the arrival of a new group of recruits. There was a bunch of boys and girls, and amongst them was a girl sitting on the handlebar of a girl's bike, just like Dorota had. In a frozen posture of grief, he looked at the new, young recruits ready for self-sacrifice.

 
     
 

In the safety of the cinema, I was caught in the cross-fire of Polish history. It triggered a memory of German troops arriving in Lodz, my native city, on the eighth of September 1939. Mother and I were standing by the window, peering through the lace curtain, keen to observe the scene in the street below. History was my strong subject and the Blitzkreig offered a chance to see history in the making. I was unashamedly fascinated by the military might rolling through our street, the scene of a victorious army conquering a city. The young weather-beaten faces of the German conquerors, carried along on the wings of victory, looked triumphant.

 
     
 

Mother pulled me away. "Don't stand there! They shoot at random!"

Her grip on me, both physical and emotional, aroused my resentment. I was well accustomed to Mother's fear of men in uniforms. Throughout the film I had to push my fist into my mouth to muffle the sobs, overcome with a belated sense of loss. I had to suppress an urge to howl like an injured animal.

 
     
 

Since the Second World War, I had counted the passage of time using my Mother's measure, adding the number of harvests accumulated in a lifetime. Some were lean, some fertile. The season's followed one after another; moody autumn skies rolled into winter days. I gorged on life - sweet or bitter. Like most people who had once smelt death, I was hungry for life. I carried it in my teeth like an anilmal. But in the cinema watching the Polish film it tasted bitter. My deferred rendezvous with fate took place in the Academy Cinema There was nowhere I could hide.

The lights came on and the cinema emptied.