In Israel at a meeting of Jewish survivors of the Lodz ghetto, I met a sprightly, remarkably vital old man named Binem Koppelmann. He told me that he lived in Sweden most of the time but came to Israel twice a year to stay in a house he owned in Savyon. The talk turned to the Shoah. He told me of his wanderings, of his life in the Lodz ghetto, and of his arrival in Auschwitz on one of the last transports. He spoke nonstop and passionately, paying no attention to my questions.
When he said he had been a motorman on a Lodz streetcar, I was finally able to interrupt him: "but how was it possible that a Jew was permitted to leave the ghetto?" He said he was the only one to be given this privilege. He had worked at the Elektrogrätewerk [Electrical Appliance works] AEG in Berlin when he was young, he said, and when he told them of the experience he had acquired there, the German authorities issued him a special permit to drive the trolley.
During another slight pause in his avalanche of words I told him that I too had ridden through the ghetto on the streetcar, hiding behind a Hitler Youth uniform.
The old man looked shocked and fell silent. He was frowning with concentration, and I sensed that he was rummaging about in his memory, trying to recall something. He looked at me for a long time and then asked hesitantly, "so, it was you? I was the motorman on that streetcar. Were you really the Hitler Youth who stood behind me, day after day? I was afraid of you and didn't have the nerve to ask you to explain why you kept taking the trolley back and forth. It seemed so odd, so unusual. But I'd never have thought that you were a Jew."
"And I thought you were Polish, " I said, "a suspicious Pole who was trying to find out what I was up to."