Arnold Markowitz, between Sejny and Philadelphia

He loved life. He loved art and people – he would accost them on the street to joke and to involve them in conversation. He was able to speak with everybody, I guess, apart from individuals who were too „nationally-oriented”, because he would find them always too boring.

arnold a casa sua

I got to know Arnold during the summer of 2005, when I briefly worked for the Borderland Center in Sejny. Our friendship lasted eleven years. Arnold would host me in his great apartment in Philadelphia during my American trips, and he would show me the city, telling about its architecture. We would make trips to surrounding places connected with Native American and colonial history: to Stenton, the wonderful residence of James Logan, secretary to William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania; to Womelsdorf, the homestead of Conrad Weiser, who was a middleman between the Pennsylvania Colony and the Indians. We got to Womelsdorf in the late evening, so we could hardly see anything, but we did enjoy the trip. We visited Lancaster – the place of an infamous 1763 massacre of Conestoga Indians, and we stayed for an evening show in the Fulton Theatre that stands on the grounds of a former prison where the Indians were killed. Arnold liked this theatre so much that he sent them a large part of the book collection of his late life-partner Matthew Dolkey, who was a professor of theatrology. Before donating the books he ordered bookplates with Matthew Dolkey’s name and applied them to each of the books.

In Philadelphia we followed the trail of Siegmund Lubin, one of the greatest film moguls in the silent movies period who had established his studio in Philly. In the afternoons we would go to all kinds of restaurants (paying attention not to go twice to the same one): Greek, Palestinian, Chinese. Once we even went to an American bar where, astonished, we observed how a barman „washed” glasses in dirty water with soap, without rinsing. – Next time we will come with our own glasses – jested Arnold to the barman.

In the evenings we would sip a glass of scotch, admiring the view of Philadelphia from Arnold’s balcony. We would speak about everything: Poland, „my” Indians and silent movies, Arnold’s travels all around the world, from Lithuania and Turkey to Peru. Arnold liked to speak in Italian, because although he did not study the language formally, he caught the gist of it thanks to his many visits in Italy.

We exchanged hundreds of emails: Arnold patiently revised my English articles–as he wrote, he „polished (i.e. un-Polished)” them. He edited an English part of my book „Nowa Wola po prostu – New Will Simply” which he liked immensely and I am proud he did. He would inform me what he was doing– e.g. buying the autobiography of Czeslaw Milosz to read, or telling me about the films he watched recently. In August 2011, while traveling through eastern Poland, he wrote me from Lublin that he „is finding travel more difficult than in the past”.

He loved life. He loved art and people – he would accost them on the street to joke and to involve them in conversation. He was able to speak with everybody, I guess, apart from individuals who were too „nationally-oriented”, because he would find them always too boring.

Only now do I realise that even though we kept in constant touch for years, the last time we met face to face was five years ago! This was the time of my Lubin studies — the Free Library where they keep Lubin scrapbooks that I researched is only few blocks from Arnold’s place.

In January of this year he wrote he felt „fairly well” and had left home for a walk for the first time since the end of November 2015.

Poland was always in his heart (his grandparents were born in Poland). He spoke about the recent antidemocratic changes in Poland with sorrow: „How very sad about Poland. The „New Poland” had such promise. Based on my experience,I have told a lot of people about the bright and forward-looking youth of Poland. Let us hope for a turnaround. —- Magari!”

Magari, Arnold…

In February he wrote me that he has just finished „binge-watching on Amazon Prime, two seasons of Mozart in the Jungle”.

In April, commenting on the planned liquidation of the Ludwik Zamenhof Centre in Bialystok, he wrote: „How sad that Bialystok would turn its back on its probably most distinguished son”.

On June 10 he wrote: „I have been having some problems lately that led me to see my primary physician yesterday. That was followed by a consultation with an otolaryngologist the same day and I will be having surgery a week from today for cancer in my jaw. That surgery will be followed at a later time by reconstructive surgery. I am not sure where this will all lead, but wanted you to know in case you are unable to reach me”.

This is the last thing I heard from him. I did not manage to reach him by phone or email anymore. I learned later he did not agree to undergo the operations. He died on July 7. Much too early. I was lucky to know him.

Sejny revisited – Arnold’s article on his visits to Sejny, the birth-place of his father
Arnold – my memory of Arnold and his article on visiting Sejny in Polish


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