In 1944, at the age of twenty-two, Jonas Mekas left his small village in Lithuania, then occupied by the Nazis, in the company of his brother Adolfas. Mekas had begun his literary career as the editor of a provincial weekly paper and had published his first poems. He’d also had a hand in publishing an anti-German bulletin and had written a poem against Stalin; he was twice marked. Jonas and Adolfas set out for Vienna, aiming for Switzerland from there, but were instead pulled off a train near Hamburg and sent to a Nazi forced-labor camp. There, Mekas started keeping a diary.
Eventually, of course, he reached New York, where he and Adolfas founded the influential magazine Film Culture and, later, the Film-makers’ Cinematheque, which grew into the indispensable avant-garde repository Anthology Film Archives. But in the years of the diary, 1944 to 1955, as Mekas navigates postwar Europe and the immigrant landscape of midcentury New York, uncertainty was the only constant. “As I reread these diaries,” he wrote in 1985, “I do not know anymore, is this truth or fiction … I am reading this not as my own life but someone else’s, as if these miseries were never my own. How could I have survived it? This must be somebody else I am reading about.” Originally published by Black Thistle Press in 1991, the diary, titled I Had Nowhere to Go, will be reissued this month by Spector Books.
The three entries below, from January 1948, find Jonas and Adolfas in a Weisbaden displaced-person camp; Mekas is homesick and depressed but is, as he is throughout the diary, tenacious about living one day to the next. —Nicole Rudick Read More