Kill List Project – Post 1 – Post 2 – Post 3
I’m revisiting the writers-group prompt from January for this month’s Sunday Post. We won’t meet again until April (we’re a quarterly cabal), but I transcribed my written notes from last month.
Transcribed yesterday – will correct mistakes later. TW – child death; domestic abuse, antisemitism, ww2, physical and emotional trauma.
Character History: “Natan/Natek”
The Germans invade Danzig, where 7-year-old NATAN BYTNER lives with his German-Polish father, Joachim, and his Polish mother, Erzbet. Life improves for his father, an antisemitic administrator who has helped the elected conservative government persecute Jewish locals for years. At the same time, his young blue-eyed blond wife covertly smuggles Jewish children out of the city with her brother, Viktor.
Throughout 1940, his Polish classmates begin disappearing, along with Polish flags, signs, and merchants. Natek’s school closes, and German is the only language allowed at the new school downtown, where his father enrolls him. Things become strained at home after police torch local fishing boats, including his uncle Viktor’s, forcing the man into moving in with them. Father bars Mother from calling him ‘Natek’ and then tosses Viktor out one day after he interferes with him ‘disciplining’ Natek.
Not long after this, a Racial Hygiene Court determines that Viktor is a danger to racial purity; he is castrated and later dies coalescing on the streets. Joachim, now an intake officer at a nearby labor camp, begins drinking and physically abusing Erzbet. She flees in 1941, taking Natek with her. Her mastery of the language enables them to pose as Germans migrating south, yet her constant fear of being found leads them to move so often that Natek cannot make friends.
Erzbet and ‘Natan’ settle into a shared apartment in Dresden with two young widows and their children. On his 11th birthday in 1942, his father barges into the apartment with five German police. Erzbet is dragged into the bedroom and ‘Germanized’ by Joachim and the men. Natan witnesses her rape and flees the apartment.
He wanders the Dresden streets for weeks until a Lebensraum initiative scout collects him. He mentions nothing of his parents, and despite a prominent nose and brown eyes, his platinum blond hair and fluent German get him labeled ‘Aryan.’
Officials hand over 12-year-old Natan to the Giller family outside Liegnitz (f. Legnica). Ernst Giller is a kind-hearted grocer, and his wife, Edith, is a teacher. Natan fits in easily at school, where other boys look up to him. One day in 1944, he walks in on his classmate, Reinhardt, hastily dressing in the gym locker room after football practice. The boy is circumcised and frightened, yet when the other boys enter, Natan blocks their view, allowing Reinhardt to dress unnoticed.
Natan befriends Reinhardt, ensuring none of the others rough house with him or ‘pants’ him in the game yard. During an overnight sports outing, they take adjacent sleeping cots and stay up late whispering about their missing parents. When the boy takes Natan’s hand, he asks to be called ‘Natek;’ after that night, they secretly speak Polish, and Reinhardt teaches him some Yiddish.
One day, Natan overhears their gym teacher discussing an upcoming swim meet with Mister Giller. He warns Reinhardt that a visiting Inspector, some man named Haas, expects them to swim naked. Reinhardt doesn’t appear at the swim meet; the instructor cancels the meet so everyone can search the nearby woods. That night, Werner Haas dines with the Gillers before questioning Natan about Reinhardt.
Mrs. Giller answers many questions, prompting Werner to speak with Natan alone. The Gillers reluctantly acquiesce. Once alone, Haas asks after Reinhardt’s real family, and Natan claims ignorance. Haas shows him a picture of his mother, Erzbet, bruised in a hospital bed. Haas informs him that his father still looks for him. Natan starts sobbing and begs Haas not to return him to Danzig.
The next day, Haas takes Natan on a car trip. While driving through the countryside, Natan implores the man to let him stay with the Gillers. Haas takes him to a remote forest outside Liegnitz and parks. He takes a photo of Natan before exposing himself. The man demands Natan perform oral sex. Before he does, Haas angrily drags him from the car, shoves cash into his hand, and orders him to flee.
The money takes Natan as far as Dresden, where the 13-year-old sleeps with other homeless boys at the railyard. Foraging the woods for food, he encounters a group of Russian and Polish soldiers, and though he speaks Polish, they note his German accent and beat him until Reinhardt appears. Reunited with his friend, Natan sleeps in Reinhardt’s tent, encamped with a hidden Jewish faction in the woods. Natan and Reinhardt wash each other in the river and spend the night kissing and touching until morning.
Old enough to carry guns, the boys follow the resistance group into Dresden for a Valentine’s Day massacre. After midnight, allied bombs fall, and Natan loses Reinhardt in the chaos. In the morning, Natan comes across a mountain of bombed debris and sees curly hairs sticking out from the rubble. He buries his face in the corpse’s hair and smells Reinhardt’s soap.
A liberated Polish laborer, Piotr Mikulski, happens upon a sobbing Natan and drags him away before the bombing begins again.
Natek spends his later teens with Piotr, who takes him back to Danzig, now Gdansk. The man enrolls him in school and enlists him in the ‘Armia Krajowa,’ a group of former national soldiers fighting the Soviet takeover of Poland. In 1948, a month after Natek completed school, Piotr’s faction plans to bomb the State Security Office, but officials have the building tightly controlled.
Natak sees a familiar face on the docket of planned executions—his father, Joachim. The man will face a firing squad as a collaborator, and Natek can access the building after acquiring a pass to watch the execution. Piotr dismisses this, declaring that Natek will attend university in Warsaw and not involve himself in this plan. Frustrated, Natek and some other younger members carry out the bombing. On the day of the execution, however, Erzbet finds her son in the crowd.
Natek is shocked to see his mother, thinking her dead; Erzbet tells him she turned over his father and has missed ‘her Natek’ terribly. Overcome, he embraces her before realizing he must stop his comrades from planting the bomb. He approaches a nearby policeman named Kawa and points out the bomb carrier by asking why a young man would wear such a long coat on a hot summer day. While the policeman ponders the observation, Erzbet appears and declares she’s unwilling to sully their reunion by witnessing his father’s hanging.
Aware that Kawa watches them, Natak expresses anger and tells her he wants to see ‘that filthy collaborator hang.’ Kawa scolds him and tells him to take his mother home. Natak gets his mother out of the courtyard, and at her flat blocks away, he listens anxiously for an explosion that never comes.
Later that night, he returns to Piotr’s and finds the police raiding his home. The old man shakes his at Natak, warning him not to approach; gunfire erupts inside before all Natak’s young accomplices emerge. Investigators shoot each man as he tries to flee. Piotr has a heart attack while in custody downtown. Mortified by his actions, Natak moves in with his mother and attends university in Warsaw as Piotr wanted.
Natak finishes university with a degree in sociology, and at his ceremony in 1951, Bazyli Kawa, now an Inspector, recruits him. Guilt prompts Natak to accept with a covert goal to aid local Armia Krajowa factions as their man on the inside.
Natak completes his law-enforcement exams and training in 1953 and, at age 22, is assigned as a beat cop in southern Gdansk. He makes good on his plans and quickly becomes an asset to the anti-communist underground, warning them of impending raids and freeing those apprehended during round-ups.
During this time, Natek explores his homosexuality at private parties, underground clubs, and daytime movie theaters outside Gdansk.
His search for Reinhardt’s remains takes him to a Jewish mortuary center in Warsaw, where he meets Pabian Kletzki, an Orthodox Jewish records keeper. Realizing that Natek is a member of the state police, Pabian and his boss become unwilling to help; sensing their sudden coldness, Natek writes down the name of a local anti-communist leader and asks Pabian to give it to his boss. When he does, the man orders Pabian to help him. Pabian is unmoved by Natek’s alliances; he thinks the state police and the anti-communist gangs are two sides of the same shitty coin.
Pabian changes his opinion of Natek after seeing him barge into a clandestine gay party outside Warsaw. The plain-clothes policeman warns the lesbian organizer of an impending raid, allowing everyone time to get out. After this, Pabian locates Reinhardt Weisz’s remains in Dresden (a skull and an arm) and joins Natek in collecting them.
Natek arranges a burial for Reinhardt in a Jewish cemetery outside Gdansk. Afterward, he invites Pabian to his apartment, promising wine and the new Miles Davis record he got on the black market. Drinks lead to dancing and sex, where Natak asks about Pabian’s missing toes. Pabian speaks of being a child at Sztutowo and how he and many other boys marched in icy cold conditions for almost two weeks and suffered frostbite. Natek talks, for the first time, about his parents, his life with the Gillers, and his time in Dresden.
A week later, his neighbor, a young woman named Mariette c, accosts him. She attends the officer training school nearby, and without a preamble, she informs Natek that they’re getting married. Natek refuses until she pulls out photos of him kissing Pabian goodbye that morning. She explains over dinner that a single woman will never make inspector, and if Natek marries her, they can purchase a home, and her American girlfriend can move in as ‘their maid.’
At their wedding reception, Erzbet happily dances with her son and then, overnight, dies in her sleep. After the funeral, Natek accepts an inspector position in Lodz with Bazyli Kawa in the city’s criminal investigation unit.
Mari strikes for an inspector position in Lodz in 1956, but sexist superiors deny her advancement. She eventually earns an inspector rank in nearby Kutno, but it’s in the traffic division. She takes it because Rebecca passes her nursing exams and begins working for a local pediatrician.
Natek purchased a home in Kutno with Mari, ‘renting rooms’ to Rebecca and Pabian in 1960 after Pabian gets hired at a Jewish mortuary outside of Kutno.
Natek is the intrepid policeman with his own cadre of demons – and though his wartime childhood doesn’t mirror Berek’s, it relatively close in terms of stolen youth.
Natek suffers a massive loss while investigating Berek’s murders (Pabian’s illness) which forces him to hyper-fixate on Arik. Still, he investigates Berek, knowing damn well the guy is a psycho and suspecting that Ari loves Berek too much to stop him. Natek is careful to avoid exposing the pairs sexuality given his own gayness, so it’s a tightrope situation.
I’ve always wanted to explore a situation like this within the realm of exclusive sexuality; the straight folks being side-characters that don’t factor into the central plot dynamics.