May 9, 1993

Mother's Day

They say that Mothers' Day is today, but yours, my Mother, should be every day of the year.
I was your first-born baby, and remained your baby as long as you lived. You always worried about your children and fought for them when necessary; remember, when your youngest son's application to medical school was rejected, because of illegal restrictions against Jews - enraged, you fired a letter to the President of Poland, and you won!
I remember, when I was a refugee during the Second World War, you sent me a letter through a man, a Gentile, who could safely cross the German lines. Your letter was filled with words of concern about me, but not a single word about the misery suffered by you, walled in, in the crowded Warsaw ghetto.
You sent me your diamond ring and the golden tie-pin of my late father - "it's all I can do to help," you apologized. I would like you to know that your ring is to-day on the finger of Lydia, my dear wife, and will be passed down to the female descendants in our family - your memory shall live.

But you were lucky too.
You did not travel, locked in a crowded, stinking cattle car for days without food and drink; you were not thrown in the dehumanizing death camp, nor were you driven naked into the gas chamber.
You were lucky - you did not see your youngest son's fiery death during the ghetto uprising, or the murder of your only grandchild, my son.
You were lucky - you died too early to see all that. You were killed trying to escape from the Umschlagplatz, where the Jews were herded for deportation. You were felled by a single bullet from behind - you didn't even know what hit you.

You, my lucky Mom.





March 3, 1992

Karol's Birthday

Dear Carol:

In one of the last meetings of our writing group you asked each of us to sketch our own vision of God. I had a problem with that: I did not know how to reconcile the notion of an omnipotent and a benevolent Father with the rampant cruelty of men to men in the world.

I solved it at the time by deciding that God did not create our physical world, nor the creatures inhabiting it; instead He created what we might call the Laws of Nature. Thus, He does not control our daily life; we are facing Nature, where the strong win, not the meek. Therefore God had a perfect alibi, and I avoided a blasphemy of doubting His benevolence, or His omnipotence, or both.

But this explanation has been bothering me; more and more a different picture was flashing before my eyes. Frequently I would wake up at night and could not easily wipe these pictures off my mind.

Your simple question stirred thoughts in me which half a century laid down to rest; and I use here the word "stirred" advisedly. I think, perhaps, if I put those thoughts on paper, they would stop haunting me.

The scene that I see is of a powerful spirit towering over a group of several pictures:

Picture One:
A death-barn, a gas chamber, full of naked people. I see a single person kneeling with the face buried in his hands. I see a couple standing in their last embrace. A mother is snuggling a crying youngster, as if trying to protect him.

Picture Two:
Bodies... bodies all over the floor -- some with open mouths, some in a grotesque twist.

Picture Three:
Poor devils, the still alive death camp inmates, tossing bodies into blazing oven mouths. Boxes stacked beside them, some full of golden teeth, others with women's hair.

Picture Four:
My own family. I see my young son (today happens to be his birthday), forced to dig his own grave. I see my mother's body sprawled on the pavement, cut down by a Nazi bullet. I see my youngest brother's body in air, blown apart above a building, dynamited by the Germans during the Uprising. He died fighting.

I believe that the only difference between Dante's Inferno and the Holocaust is that the Inferno was inhabited by sinners.

I am sorry, Carol; I know, this is not easy to read (nor was it easy to write), but I thought that you may want to know the true answer to the Question you posed at our last meeting.

With affection,

Stefan Golston





Jan. 26, 1995


A tall, slender gentleman, of silver hair, Johan was, when I knew him, a retired president of a Norwegian company which was a member of a family of several Scandinavian engineering firms and an American one. To the latter I was consultant for the last twenty years.

The many proprietary patents owned by this group were fathered by Johan's vision and creativity.
But this was not the only attractive side of this man; well-traveled, at home with five languages and not overcome with his importance, he was friendly, interesting, witty and always ready for a joke, even in the midst of a business discussion.

Johan used to visit our American office in upstate New York, bringing his ideas for product development, always exhorting us to think improvements: "Don't sit on your behinds, our competition does not wait for you; we should always to be ahead of them." His own ideas were seriously discussed, although not always accepted.

I spent many hours discussing new designs with Johan: our meetings were often accompanied by some joshing. Once sitting in my office, Johan suggested that time is coming for his retirement from the activities in the organization. Mocking terror I exclaimed "You cannot do that Johan, you are the most important troublemaker in the company!" He looked at me seriously and said "You know, Stefan, I like it."
Another time, when Lydia, Johan and I were having lunch, Johan said that in the afternoon he was going to see the doctor. "My leg hurts me" he said. Lydia, twenty years younger but always a Jewish mother asked, "I don't want to be personal, but are you wearing tall, elasticized socks?" "As a matter of fact, I am" he answered. "Then get rid of them," Lydia said. "They may constrict your circulation."
Next year I was in Oslo. "You know, Stefan," Johan said to me, "Lydia cured me; since I started wearing short socks the problem disappeared." I raised warning finger to my lips: "Shhh, Johan, she has no license!" He put his hand on my shoulder, "Don't worry, I did not pay her."
And so it went.

The death of his wife two years ago hit him hard; he stopped his professional work and curtailed personal contacts, but he is in good health and still lives in Oslo.

(Since this writing, Johan Richter has passed away.)



August 19, 1990


It is a well publicized fact that there is an alcohol abuse in Scandinavian countries; however, of all the Scandinavian cities I know, the most striking example of it I saw in Oslo, Norway.

Oslo is a beautiful and interesting city, and while I was busy working with my fellow engineers, Lydia never missed a minute exploring the city's musea, historic sites and parks. On a weekend she would be my tour guide, and was so good in that that there was a standing joke that she was making some money on the side by explaining Oslo's features to the local citizens. However, let's go back to the problem.

Everywhere on the streets we saw drunken people reeling and tottering, or sleeping on the benches, on grass, or simply lying on the sidewalks. Nobody seemed to pay any attention, let alone take care of them. We were told that any interference with their peaceful activity, or position would constitute violation of their civil rights. Lydia saw a man lying on the sidewalk with his head and upper torso extending onto the traffic lane. He was lying so for a while, until a couple of young men moved his head to the sidewalk and left him there.

One day, waiting for Lydia to meet me I was standing in front of a large building. A shabbily dressed man staggered towards the building, leaned against a column and started talking to me. Soon he switched to English; he was not obnoxious and asked questions about me and America. While we were talking, another one approached.

This one was in much worse shape, hardly could keep his balance. They exchanged few words upon which my new acquaintance pulled out of his coat pocket a can of beer and offered it to the newcomer.

"Why did you do that?" I asked. "Don't you see that he had enough, he hardly can stand?" The man was obviously surprised. "He is my friend," he said with emphasis.

It took me a while to understand his reaction: if craving for a drink is even stronger than hunger, then what is a friend for, if not to relieve the torment?
It flashed through my mind that many of these addicts need a discreet professional help, rather than contempt, which most of us are heaping on them.

While Norwegians are displaying benign neglect towards their street roaming drunks, their attitude toward drunk drivers is just the opposite. The legal limit of alcohol concentration in blood is low, and there is mandatory jail sentence and suspension of driver's license for first offenders.

We were invited by company management to a dinner. Before the dinner we had a drink in a private house of one of the engineers. When time to leave came, our host phoned for a taxi. "I don't want to take risk driving after the drink I had," he explained. "Besides I expect to have some wine with my dinner and wouldn't like then to drive home either."
All our tablemates also came by taxi, except for a couple who came driving their car, but split their functions: he was drinking, she was driving.

Some months later, at home, I came across a certain letter to the editor in the Wall Street Journal. I never wrote a letter to the editor in my life, but this time I could not resist to write one in rebuke. Here is the exchange:

Ms. Judy Shireman from San Francisco wrote:
Norway's tough drinking laws seemingly have not solved the problem. I just returned from vacationing there and I have never seen so many falling-down drunk people, particularly the youth. In beautiful places such as Bergen, in front of the very best hotels, young people had to be barred from entering. The doors literally had to be locked as they pounded on the glass for entry into the discotheque and more liquor. In another elegant restaurant our dinner was interrupted while police wrestled young people to the ground and hauled them off at 7 p.m. Somehow I don't think that throwing Norwegians in jail for one bottle of beer is the answer.

My letter, as printed on 9.25.85 in The Wall Street Journal, is as follows:

Well Grounded
Judy Shireman in her letter (Sept. 5) criticizing Norway's tough drunk-driving laws missed the point. She says in part: "Norway's tough drinking laws seemingly have not solved the problem. I just returned from vacationing there and I have never seen so many falling-down drunk people, particu1arly the youth."

The fact is that there are no tough dr1nking laws in Norway - only tough laws against driving while intoxicated. And the reason Ms. Shireman never saw so many drunks in the streets is that while in Norway the tough laws force them to walk, in the U.S. they are driving cars.
Stefan Golston





Topic: Building A Tree House Where One Can Go To Be Alone.

There was never a tree big enough to build a tree house in the rented apartments where I and my family lived in my youth. When finally I owned a backyard, I was over thirty years old, hardly a tree climbing age.

This is not to say that I did not manage occasionally to find solitude. When I was building my den, for example, and had to put in the wiring for the light and the baseboard heater, I had to work in the attic. In my toolbox, which accompanied me, there, among the nails, wires, pliers, cotton and electric tape, was also a good book, which somewhat foisted itself on me. Attic successfully substituted for a tree house.

My good wife was often concerned about the time and effort this project cost me, as well as she was anxious to see this room finished; however I insisted that for any work to be a hobby it should not have a deadline, otherwise it becomes a chore.

It took two years to finish the den.

At the present time, in my old age, I am experiencing a different type of solitude. With my hearing problem I have to shut myself off from a group carrying an animated, if not sometimes a chaotic discussion, lest somebody would ask for my opinion on the subject. Equally impossible for me is to participate in a conversation in a place with a general din, like in a crowded restaurant. I am left then with my own thoughts; sometime I keep on repeating my mantra:

In keeping with the principle of sour grapes, I often assume that the talk is not worth listening to, anyway.

A Doggerel

I like fixing things
Which cannot be fixed
I like solving problems
Which cannot be solved

I shun the obvious,
Run away from trite,
I hide in the attic --
A book is my delight