“The finest energy weapons in the known universe.”
We were in a part of Poland neither of us knew well.
We were in uniform, possessed no documents of any kind,
and had no idea of conditions about us.
We were hungry; weakened by the ordeals of the last few weeks;
and in the now heavy downpour had no protection but our threadbare garments.
In the circumstances, there was nothing to do but trust to luck.
Determining to knock at the door of the first dwelling we came upon,
we got up and walked through the wood
until we came to a narrow strip of grassless soil
that was obviously either a path or a road.
After about three hours of trudging through the rain,
we perceived the outlines of a village, and slackened our pace,
approaching it cautiously.
Tiptoeing quietly up to the first cottage,
we found ourselves at a small, typical peasants’ dwelling.
Hesitantly we stood before the door from under which a dim light issued.
As I raised my hand to knock, I felt a tremor of nervousness and apprehension.
I rapped on the door with brusque over-emphasis to allay my dread.
‘Who is it?’ The trembling voice of a peasant reassured me slightly.
‘Come out, please,’ I replied,
attempting to make my voice sound polite but authoritative,
‘it is very important.’
The door opened slowly,
disclosing a gray-headed old peasant with a grizzled beard.
He stood there in his underwear, obviously frightened and cold.
A wave of warm air from the interior made me feel almost faint
with the urge to enter and bask in it.
‘What do you want?’ he asked in a tone of mingled indignation and fear.
I ignored the question.
I decided to try to play boldly on his feelings.
‘Are you or are you not a Pole?’
I demanded sternly. ‘Answer me.’
‘I am a Polish patriot,’
he replied with greater composure and celerity than I had anticipated.
‘Do you love your country?’ I continued undismayed.
‘Do you believe in God?’
‘Yes, I do.’
The old man evinced considerable impatience at my questions
but no longer seemed terrified – merely curious.
I proceeded to satisfy his curiosity.
‘We are Polish soldiers who have just escaped from the Germans.
We are going to join the army and help them save Poland.
We are not defeated yet. You must help us and give us civilian clothes.
If you refuse and try to turn us over to the Germans, God will punish you.’
He gazed at me quizzically from under his thick eyebrows.
I could not tell if he was amused, impressed, or alarmed.
‘Come inside,’ he said dryly, ‘out of this miserable rain.
I will not turn you over to the Germans.’
The fate of many of them seemed so poignantly sad
that to speak of them in even the most tender, quiet, kind words
would have been like touching a heart torn open
with a rough and insensitive hand.
It was really quite impossible to speak of them at all..
But an invisible force was crushing him.
He could feel its weight, its hypnotic power;
it was forcing him to think as it wanted, to write as it dictated.
This force was inside him;
it could dissolve his will and cause his heart to stop beating;
it came between him and his family;
it insinuated itself into his past, into his childhood memories.
He began to feel that he really was untalented and boring,
someone who wore out the people around him with dull chatter.
Even his work seemed to have grown dull,
to be covered with a layer of dust;
the thought of it no longer filled him with light and joy.
Only people who have never felt such a force themselves
can be surprised that others submit to it.
Those who have felt it, on the other hand,
feel astonished that a man can rebel against it even for a moment
– with one sudden word of anger,
one timid gesture of protest.