Barbara Adair – Researcher and Writer

Veronica’s Baby- A Narrative based on a True Account for Cyril Wides

by on Feb.09, 2016, under Legacy Project

A story for Cyril Wides: a narrative, and a valuable story, based on a part of his life.

Barbara sits down opposite me. We are in a coffee shop in Killarney, the Europa. I have been here many times but not in the recent past. It has changed somewhat. The Jews of Killarney are still here, elderly women and men who have lived here for aeons, it is, but used to be more so, a very Jewish suburb, but now there are many more of Islamic extract. I supposed that both a Shul and a Mosque are close by. The Shul is old, the Oxford Shul, I’m not sure that many people still go there, and the Mosque is further away, but still close, up in Houghton. The same people, almost the same features, just different religions, and even some fashionable looking young women, but nowadays they are black and white, not just white.

“Do we make this like an interview? How will it work?”

She sits down on the chair opposite me and takes out a notebook, nothing else, just one notebook.

“No, not really. I think that you should just talk. I will give you a topic to talk about then just go about creating your narrative out of the few key words that I give you. Or you can tell me anything that you want to tell me. Either way is OK. The interesting thing for me is not so much to get the exact details, memories are what you want to remember, so the truth will always be there, somewhere.”

“For sure, I believe that there is nothing more impressive than the truth, and the truth, this is what I will tell you. And it is an impressive, or should I say impressively devastating story.”

“So speak, tell me your views, give me information. The stuff that you talk about or choose to tell me, this is background, not verifiable data but atmosphere. It is the wallpaper and the decoration of the room. The story will come out, be there somewhere. Why you want to tell it will also be there, somewhere.”

“I remember the absolute truth, but anyway, I think that this is a good way to begin then I won’t feel so conscious of remembering the exact dates, when I went to school etc. But just be aware that it is the truth, the real truth. Great, what do you want to know about my life?”

“Nothing really, tell me what you want to tell me. I just want a sense of how you are in the world. What your place is, where you are and why you want to go there.”

“I think in terms of fact, that’s my trade, ex attorney, we must prove things, the empirical always wins out over the philosophy, although not necessarily over the ethical, but with some things ethics does win, it must I suppose. In fact the case, the one that we will get to, the nub of the story really, I often wonder of the ethics there. Not so much the ethics of the Magistrate or others, they were of a certain political thinking so for them it was probably ethical, their duty so to speak, but of us, me and my legal team, where were our ethics then, were we just chasing the money, adhering to the rules of the legal profession? Anyway basically what I am saying is that I may find it difficult just to speak, say things. I don’t know what you want me to say or how I should say them.”

“I don’t want you to say anything; I just want your words. Your words will be the paint that becomes a picture. So tell me about who you are, where you come from, anything about you and your background that you want to say. Words, just let the words come, don’t formulate them. So tell me about yourself, who are you, what is your identity, how can I make this impact on the story?”

“I think a lot about identity these days, I am unsure why, well I probable do know why, but it is not something that I like to think too often; my identity, the identity of Michael Khan, the lost identity of the baby, his blood baby, my Jewishness and possible who am I really? Do I know my father and his history, my family, do I know who I am or have I just created an identity, as Michael did, maybe not several identities, just one, but created one nevertheless. I seem to have swallowed up the exterior world, the world of the law that I practised, the world of the Jews into which I am assimilated, inverted it and then flipped it back outwards; this is maybe my identity.”

“Tell me more about the Jewish thing, what does this really mean?”

“You should have been around yesterday when I had coffee with my friend Bob, he and I always like a good discussion. At the moment we are looking at the Nuremberg legislation, you know those laws promulgated by the Nazi’s in relation to Jews, and in fact gypsies and homosexuals, in relation to, or how similar they are, to the old South African apartheid laws, Immortality Act, the similarities, the barbarism and callousness, how people were not considered people, good Christian people, they were in many senses animals, dogs, but then we got around to talking about a Jewish identity, or maybe more what it means to be a Jewish person.”

“The Jewish thing is interesting, the similarities between the monotheism of both Islam and Judaism, the singular nature of their laws, the look of both peoples, more Semitic than Caucasian. But identity is more than this isn’t it? Did you get to be thinking about this because Moosa was Muslim and then created a Jewish identity? ”

“I suppose we touched on it, Bob and I, but our talk was more legal, the laws, we compared them, then we began to talk about the isolation of the Jews, how this isolation creates a climate for persecution and yet at the same time has myriad benefits, the benefit of being special, or at least thinking so. And so the Jew creates his identity around this specialness. Then if I look at the Muslim, is he not doing the same thing. Now more than ever Islam is identified by Muslims as being the only religion, the special religion. And the isolation of the Muslim, nowhere is he really assimilated, look at London, Paris. There is of course the politics, the western usurpation of traditionally Muslim lands, but then this is not new, it happened with the Crusades, the stories of Saladin, it happened with the creation of Iraq, Syria, all those Middle Eastern countries, but these days it just appears to be more present, it is always in the news, the suicide bombers, the jihads, the dislike of Israel. Maybe the past created the present, don’t know enough to say this, but anyway do the politics stem from how the religion is perceived or does the religious zeal grow out of the politics? Who knows? Does the Israeli consciousness grow out of the separation and of course persecution of Jews, the Holocaust, or does it grow from the understanding of Judaism itself? Bob is moving to Israel, he is more philosophical than I am, he believes it is important to be aware of Jewish philosophy not just practise, and that this must be cherished and protected. ”

“How much of this related to your understanding of Michael Kahn, or should I say Moosa Khan, what he did?”

“Michael Khan, Michael Kahn, well I say it twice, but Kahn/Khan is pronounced in the same way, you would have to look at how it is written down to get the two kinds of spelling, the Jews and the Muslims spell it differently. He just changed the way he spelt his surname when he jumped from the Muslim fold into the Jewish one. Did you know the name Khan, in India and Pakistan, means leader, or person in authority, think of Gengis Khan, or Kubla Khan, or even Imran Kahn, he comes from a privileged background, he is of high birth. And in Judaism Kahn is a derivative of Cohen, and the Cohen’s are the priests of the Temple of Jerusalem. So both names indicate high birth, status, almost royalty. The Cohen’s are the direct descendants in the male line of Aaron, the brother of Moses; Katz, Koen, all derivatives of the Cohen’s.”

“Interesting. So show me how he perceived himself? How does a name create a person, or does it? Tell me more about Michael, or Moosa, or in fact maybe it was someone else”

“I now think he was a callous bounder who merely used identity to create circumstances in which he could have a good life, the benefits of being a white person in a deeply divided and oppressive South Africa, I did not really think so when I first met him, but then I did not really know the full story, but then, now that is, I sometimes think that there was something more. Sure, who wouldn’t want to be white person in those days, white people had it all, I always like to put the word person after colour or culture now, when you just say blacks, or whites, or Jews, you somehow lose the idea that actually these are people, but anyway, more than being a white person I wonder was his identity cast already in Islam and so therefore he was easily able to cast it in Judaism because they are so similar, the monotheism, the Semitic culture, the Semitic looks? Questions for which there are no answers.”

“And your family background; was it built in the Jewish tradition, community?”

“Not really. Of course there were the stories, stories of why many of the family came to South Africa, how many actually died in the camps. I often wonder about my real, or should I say biological father. Baitz, Max Baitz. What do I know of him, not very much? My mother ran away from him just after I was born, I did not know him growing up as a child; he was supposedly a cad and a bounder. This knowledge come from my mother who clearly had her own issues with him, this is her view, so it is coloured somewhat, and yet I often wonder what the view of others was, that of his friends and colleagues? Apparently he was, this is before I met him, I met him much later in my life, charming, wild and very handsome, flamboyant really, a lady killer. He was born in South Africa, although the name is of German origin, but he was clearly integrated into white South African society. Baitz, the family came from Kiev. There is a story that Berthold Baitz, or maybe it was his son Alfred, they were head of Krupp Industries in Poland, was like Schindler, he helped Jewish people who were persecuted by the Nazi’s, about to be shipped off, or should I say trained off, to the concentration camps. But I don’t think that these Baitz’s are related to me, but still somewhere there must be blood, somewhere we have righteousness in the genealogy. Anyway my father came from Outshoorn, there was a Shul there some time ago, I think actually more than one, maybe two, now they are no longer, the Jews have all moved on, or out, Australia, Canada and to the big cities of South Africa, no longer the smouse’s with their carts of ostrich feathers and clothing moving from small town to small town.”

“Did you ever meet your father?”

“Max Baitz, yes I did. I met him when I was about twenty seven, somewhere then. I was a lawyer, found his telephone number, clearly this was not just a coincidence, I was looking for it, it’s not that I just came across it inadvertently. I called him; he refused to speak to me and denied having a son, whether this was me or any other. His denial of me, did it harm me? At the time not really, I was working, had a small reputation, married to Judith my first wife, what did I really care for my father who had abandoned me. But at the same time I possibly suppressed the effect of being deserted by him, abandoned by my own father as Moosa abandoned his child. We did connect up later; he lived in Johannesburg and for some reason I knew where he lived. Judith and I were driving past his house, he was on the veranda, I stopped, Judith said I should go and talk to him, I in to his house; we became sort of friends, but not really. It was as if we both merely tolerated each other as we were blood but in fact had little or nothing in common. I was a lawyer, as you know; I was caught up in the cut and thrust of criminal cases in and about Johannesburg and criminal cases in those days were fraught with politics, it was like practising at the frontline so to speak. He didn’t seem interested in this, he was just comfortable in life and so questioned nothing. But then I can’t really say this, I did not know him well enough to judge him. But the criminal stuff, in the main it was political because most of the so called criminals were black so there was the racism, among other things, that we had to deal with, anything criminal, I believe, was also an attempt to undermine an unjust system. Anyway, despite my efforts, Max Baitz and I drifted away from each other, he was not my father he was Max Baitz. But in a way I did not need him for my identity it had been formed by my Wides family, and yet there has always been that yearning to know my blood, who am I really?

“Does blood create what you really are, or do you make what you really are?”

“I am not sure, but I do know, to some degree, there was a yearning on his part. Society made it difficult for a father who abandoned his son to then make a comeback, so maybe he was defensive when we met, but he made a comeback. Years later I received some correspondence from an attorney informing me that my father had taken out a policy that matured, he found me as at that time I featured prominently in the news, I was a criminal attorney with a few notable cases, he gave me money as a form, I hope of recognition, that I was his blood. Blood was important to him to.”

“So who was Wides, that’s your surname now, not Baitz?”

“Wides, he was my mother’s husband, second one, my name was Baitz then although my mother called me Lipschitz, this was her maiden name, as she wanted nothing to do with Max Baitz, not even his name, and then Wides. Who was I really? Where did I come from? Wides was very strict as a father figure, but in time I realized good to me, and I was good to him, we developed a mutual respect. He was an atheist, there was no religion in the home, but at the same time, he embraced me into the his Jewish kin and culture. Even when my mother insisted on telling me that he was my blood father he did nothing, he did not deny it and he did not evade this question, he just, I think, wanted to make me feel secure in the family. He never actually said that he was my father, and I never called him dad, he was nameless to me. Strange in those days how Wides was so accepting of me, the child of another man. Women were supposed to be pure, have the children of one man; my mother had given birth to me before she met Wides. And yet in my mind I am sure that Wides knew about identity, knew that I needed one, would in fact crave one, so he accepted me. In fact he was so accepting that when I needed to clarify who I was, my true name and heritage for the purpose of being admitted as an attorney he even adopted me so that the process could be achieved. It was a nightmare process, the red tape, in fact when Max Baitz was approached to give his consent, even though he never accepted me as his son, never embraced me as such, he would not give it. There was a resistance to give up his son, why when he did nothing for me and did not accept me into his life and family?”

“It seems as if identity is performative, don’t we all perform, on a stage, in the theatre of the G-D’s?”

“Perform, what does it mean? I perform my identity, and yet I do not know my true essence, is this what you are saying. But then what is a true essence, you would say there is none, I think that there is, just what mine is I don’t know? Or for that matter what Moosa’s was. Did I tell you that the reason why I became an attorney, or one of the reasons, possible. Wides came from a Jewish Lithuanian background; at that time it had become the fashion for Jews to go back there searching for their roots, and yet he wouldn’t go, he refused to go to Lithuania saying that it was a Jewish graveyard and he wanted life, not death, he wanted nothing to do with his roots or origins. But the attorney thing, he was a deeply ethical man, he knew why Lithuania was a graveyard, although he did not actually experience the holocaust and the deaths, his whole family were murdered by their neighbours just because they were Jewish, those that were close to his family, they turned on them, the woman who was his mother’s best friend denounced her to the security apparatus, she got away from them but was then murdered by the same family. He mourned the loss of his family and hated anything German. And so, despite the fashion for Jews to go back and search for meaning he did not do this. Strangely enough he was proud of me when I began to study German at university, he understood, in some ways, that I wanted to gain insight into the people who had slaughtered my people, and what better way to do it than to understand their language. So he knew about persecution. So even though there was some historical and geographical distance, he knew of individual bestial cruelty. He could not stomach the knowledge of man’s inhumanity to man so he would ruminate on the causes. He hated the apartheid laws, that’s all a digression, I was inspired to become an attorney as one day when I was with him driving home from somewhere, I can’t remember where from, I must have been about fifteen, we passed two policemen assaulting a black man. Wides stopped the car and tried to stop the assault for although the black man may have committed a crime he knew that it was certainly illegal, let alone savage, for them to assault the man. They, that is the police who were doing the assault, arrested him, Wides, then and there, for interference in police work; don’t know what happened to that black man. Wides was charged but not convicted, some pretty strong cross examination brought out the contradictions in the police evidence so he got off. But Wides acted according to his conscience, his morality, his ethics. And I think that this made me realise the power of the law, to have these skills could help in unjust circumstances, not always but at least there was some hope.”

“Tell me more about identity and your concern? Did Michael Khan have a true essence that was Muslim, a true essence in that he was a bounder, a true essence in that he was a Jew?”

“Does a man have a character, an identity, or is he just a schizoid headspace filled with the cacophony of contradiction. This is what I am grappling with right now. Maybe Michael was just that, a cacophony of contradiction who knew that he was onto a good thing.”