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Conversation on Immortality
The scene is a building complex of a secondary school in Southampton, England, the temporary location of several hundred war internees, Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria. The Gymnasium of the school is a huge, solid stone hall with many low wooden bunks set out along the walls.
The time is: Dusk, June30th 1940
The hall is almost empty, as most of the internees are in the courtyard of the school. In one corner, sitting on neighbouring bunks, are four internees, Lowenthal, Steinberg, David, Bergmann
L. What did the commander say?
S. He said that he did not wish to punish anyone and he wanted us to realize that we were here under military law. We knew.
D. Well, well. What were people talking about in the courtyard this afternoon? I saw a lot of people sitting and standing around Prof. Zeisler.
B. He was speaking to a group that had been rounded up together with him in Cambridge. First he asked them to suppress, to the best of their ability, their constant preoccupation with the fact that they were interned and to take their minds off the thought of this blow. He warned them that they might develop some sort of custody psychosis if they did not succeed in deflecting their attention from the apparent injustice that they had been subjected to. He suggested arranging lectures and discussions on all sorts of subjects. Some people asked him to begin himself, immediately, whereupon he did and started by delivering a lecture on immortality.
D. Oh! What a pity I wasn't there.
B. He compared a Greek philosopher - I think it was Parmenides - to a modern British scientist named Dunne.
D. Did he come to the conclusion that there was immortality? What was the gist of his theory?
B. I wasn't listening properly. From the few sentences I caught, it seemed as if he wanted to say that our ordinary time was not the real Time - you know, the Einstein thing with four dimensions - and, since this was so, there was nothing to be afraid of because what is past is not really past once and for all and can be re-experienced in some way or other.
L. Most comforting. By the same person?
S. Immortality? Hm. A topical subject, I must say.
S. I didn't like it at all last night when we were locked up here in the hall during the air raid. Look at the windows; the lower ledge must be at least twelve feet from the floor. How would you get out of this trap if anything happens?
D. Jewish nerves! Do you think the people of Southampton worry about the air raids?
S. I don't know. But I imagine they would not like to be locked up during a raid, either.