|Waterman Alec and Ray|
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Alec and Ray Waterman
My father, Alec Waterman (as he eventually came to call himself) was born with the surname Nasibirski in Blonie, outside
His peasant background was revealed to us during the war when he cut a potato in four, planted it, and grew whole potatoes from the plants. From the age of Alec attended cheder (Hebrew religious school). When 15 he joined the Polish Communist Party. He worked, presumably in
He became a member of the ASSET union (managers and administrative staff) and wore its badge. A stateless person in the
During the war Alec was involved with the visit to the
Alec was heavily involved in the crisis that broke out in the British Communist Party, particularly amongst its Jewish members and its national Jewish committee following the 20th Congress of the Soviet Communist Party, 1956.
Whilst Ray and his close Jewish Communist friends, Professor Hyman Levy, Chimen Abramsky (previously a bookseller, later a professor of Jewish history) and others left the Party, and whilst yet others simply towed the party line, Alec spent the following period atoning for his previous acceptance of Soviet propaganda about the Jewish question. In this he was prepared to collaborate with people he would previously have dismissed as anti-Communists. Whilst Jews moved into the middle class and out of the
But in 1966, and without any warning, he died on the spot from a massive stroke. He re-appeared in two semi-autobiographical novels, later written by Ray. He also appears, under his fictional name, Morris, in a interview she did for a collection of Jewish women's testimonies. (See below). I consider it something of a blessing that Alec did not live to see
Alec brought home from Collet's much 'proletarian literature' from the 1930s US, this being Communist-inspired, or New Deal-funded books and magazines dealing with the lives of workers, Negroes or 'Jews Without Money' (Gold 1930). We also had Emil and the Detective (Kästner 1971) from a mysteriously non-Nazi
Alec sang: not only Yiddish but British music-hall, folk and international
Communist and labour-movement songs. Amongst the latter were those from the little red songbook of the Wobblies, the anarcho-syndicalist Industrial Workers of the World (1973/1909). Written in the
Alec never totally mastered English, mixing his vees with his wubbleyoos in speech, and getting Ray to check his occasional articles for the Communist press. He remained emotionally attached to Yiddish Language and culture all his life. From him we inherited a love for Jewish humour.
He hardly talked to us about his background or family, even before he knew for certain that both family and community had been removed from the face of the Polish earth. So I didn't know what a shtetl (Jewish village) was till I read Sholem Aleichem and Isaac Bashevis Singer. Alec was a convert from talmudic Judaism to talmudic Marxism. I was unable to handle my father's emotionally-violent Communism, even before I began to qualify my own attachment to it. It was therefore as a conscious act of personal reconciliation, as well as out of a sense of political responsibility, that I joined him in yet one more unsuccessful campaign to get the British CP to take a clear public stand against Soviet anti-semitism in the early 1960s.
Editorial note: This is a draft extracted from a larger work that the author is engaged in, he would welcome comments to:
The following notice appeared in the Daily Worker on