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Poor and R(e)ich in Galicia

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Poor and R(e)ich in Galicia | story.one

Mayor Wynnyzkyj abruptly snaps me out of my thoughts. “Stop!”, he shouts. We can still try Pan Iván, who lives in one of the houses on the former colony road of Dobryanychi. The man is not in good health anymore, but he is one of the village elders. Maybe he can still remember Wilhelm Reich? We leave the car at the roadside and walk down the short gravel path. Above the entrance door, I notice a tin plaque whose embossing, painted over several times, is indecipherable despite my best efforts. During World War II, this was supposedly the house of a German commander. Pan Iván sits lonely on a wooden chair in the crowded kitchen. “Do you know where Wilhelm Reich lived?”, the mayor asks. The Old Man rises ponderously, but to my amazement answers promptly: “Yes, down by the village well!”— “And this well still exists today!” The mayor knows the well, but believes not to have understood correctly. “Yes, that is where he lived!”, confirms Pan Iván again. Now we are completely incited. The mayor shoos me out into the open so that the old man and this sensational news can come to light. So, this is the Ukrainian village, where one of the most gifted and also most controversial psychoanalysts was born in 1897! Pan Iván pauses under the eerie door sign and gestures with his cane: “Excuse me, my legs. I was born in 1930, so I've already lived a little. I remember all the Germans! I grew up with them!” Creeping skepticism spreads: “If you were born in 1930, what do you remember? What kind of person was Wilhelm Reich?” Pan Iván stares gaspingly at the floor. His gaze begins to wander while struggling for breath and words. “That ... I already ... don't know ...” Sobbingly he reveals, “I've been ... long, long ago ... a long time ago I grew up here with these Germans!” Tears gush out of his tired eyes. He grabs his handkerchief, but fails to wipe the wet beads from his face. Now memory guides his hand like a drawing stick. “They fed me! I was only two months old when my father died. We were so incredibly poor that I almost starved to death! The Germans picked me up. One of them was called Heinrich. I trudged to his house and he ordered his wife: “Lisa, feed the boy!” Restlessly, the fine checkered cloth slid over Iván’s face until he regained his composure: “The Germans were decent people. They saved my life as a child.” “Is it possible that you might be confusing this Heinrich with Wilhelm Reich?” “Oh, you know,” says Iván, “what difference does it make? People switch. One marries, the other dies.”

© Stefan Hampl 2021-08-04

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