You know why I am sitting at my typewriter in this Montevideo hotel room with its dirty rug & air heavy with dead cigar smoke, mildew & damp, and how roughly seven weeks ago, 10 December 1943, after circling around north from the Swiss border, I entered H claiming to be a Berliner recovering from pneumonia, & you have heard the bare facts as I reported them from Basle the moment I crossed back. Probably every intelligence service in the world has heard them by now. But if you stick to them, you won’t understand what really happened. Of course my original information-gathering plan was a bust, but you’ll agree that these unanticipated developments made the trip (how should I put it?) useful.
H is a heavily Catholic rural village at the edge of the Schwarzwald. I arrived on a narrow-gauge railroad train that had been gasping & shaking uphill for an hour. I’d mildly sedated myself as I always do in these circumstances as a safety measure, to keep me looking bored in the presence of police & SS & busybodies, and the pills let me doze away this trip uneventfully. On arrival I had to wait for a passing wagon to jounce me farther uphill into town. Nearly all the houses are wood, a few stucco, all with steep roofs—the town resembles some kind of giant, shabby cuckoo clock. Four shops & the mayor’s large house including the local Gasthaus & beerhall; and a large stone church. With the sun full east in the early morning, the firs above the town are nearly black against the snow’s dry glitter; the valley below is so bright that when you look back, the village is greened-out by the afterimage, and for a few moments you can barely see. The wooden houses have a cool piney fragrance inside.
It took me days before I could understand & speak the broad local dialect comfortably. I felt like a snooty Berliner—although Berlin, I take it, is well on its way to being transformed into a large pile of rocks. Good job.
H is far from our bomber routes, ordinarily. But when I arrived, there was a story regarding men who had parachuted from a burning bomber, which continued to fly for a few minutes & blew up in the distance. None of the alleged airmen had been seen afterward, but for some reason (perhaps just for fun; there isn’t much to do in H) people were convinced that some had survived and were hiding out above the upper pastures. The local police, all farmers, took due note of the story but were too old & bored to go chasing up & down mountains looking for Allied airmen who were probably not there. On Saturday, Christmas Day 1943, this conversational topic was replaced by a different one: the first note in a crescendo that would have been heard all over Europe had the government & Gestapo not so expertly muffled it.
The one thing that distinguishes H from a hundred other nearby villages is the medieval church, much too large for the town; I’m told it was an abbey church but the rest of the convent was destroyed in some 17th-century war. At first I saw merely a big gray building, complicated & old, such as are scattered all over England, directly in the way of traffic usually. The town as I say is staunchly Roman Catholic, except for a handful of Nazis; there are also some Catholic slave workers from the East, mainly Poles, to do farm work. The government in its paternal benevolence forbade them to go to church.
Overhead at the crossing of this big old church is a celebrated medieval carving of Our Lord on the cross, made of linden wood & painted. It is a pilgrimage shrine in this area, set atop a stone screen that separates the nave from the choir.
On Christmas morning soon after dawn there was a piercing scream from the church: I heard it myself. (My lodgings were ten steps away.) The elderly priest and deacon were already on their way & both rushed inside. (The priest is old & distinguished-looking. The deacon is in his sixties with thinning gray hair & thick spectacles; small & fretful.) The scream had come from Fräulein Emma von M, a young lady not quite twenty-one who was on her knees on the stone floor, slightly in front of the polychromed figure high above, weeping hard—some say hysterically—because, newly fastened to the breast of this carving with a single nail that had splintered the dry ancient wood & made a crack from top to waist was the yellow patch called, hereabouts, the Jew-star. (Since 1942 all Jews still free in the Reich have been required to wear this cloth star whenever they stir out of their houses.)
At first this struck me as an ordinary albeit daring act of vandalism or protest, like painting a slogan on a wall. But the veneration in which the carving is held, the piety of the villagers & the whole region, together with the theological nature of the protest (or whatever it was intended for), inspired in the villagers a kind of shuddering awe from the very start. At times (like a fool) I could almost feel it myself. The stark star, large black nail, and shivered wood all seemed to underline the suffering on the carved face, in a way that was slightly uncanny—especially in the stone-gray shadows of a winter’s dawn.
Someone began to chime the bells & by 6 a.m. nearly the whole town had assembled to view the damage. It was Christmas & everyone would have come anyway, but this event was extraordinary & the noise inside was like an indoor sports arena directly before the match starts. Who did it? The town immediately split in two, like the carving.
One part gave the obvious answer: a Jew or Jew-sympathizer in the village or hiding nearby or passing through on the run. The message: leave the Jews alone in remembrance of our Savior’s having been born a Jew. Others gave the exact opposite answer, which curiously enough was also obvious: a Nazi had done it out of hatred for Christians, to emphasize on Christmas that their so-called Lord was a mere Jew. Later more answers emerged. They too seemed obvious, & contradicted every other solution.
Fräulein Emma believed that a Jew had done it, although her opinion did not emerge clearly until later. It was a full day before she could talk coherently. She wept the whole of that first day, on her knees in church or alone in her dark room, which she rents in the mayor’s house.
Emma had arrived in H only a month before me. She was a Roman Catholic Berliner. Her father was a brigadier killed near Leningrad in late August. The rest of her family (mother & two sisters) were polished off by Allied (I should say USA) bombs in October. But I don’t mean to be flippant. Friends of her mother sent her to recuperate in this village, where her mother’s sister lives. This aunt is Frau R the mayor’s wife; she owns the Gasthaus & is in her late thirties, with a narrow face and the pale, angry eyes of a starving she-wolf. She is a Nazi, the most ardent in the village. The mayor is a large, open-faced, sloppily-shaven man much older than his wife. I took him for a simpleton at first.
On Christmas night the police chief and his men called a meeting in the beer hall. With its great green-tiled stove it is always too warm, except when it is impossibly cold. When you open the door you run straight into a wall of warm moist air with spilled beer & cheap tobacco & sweat to season it, & cooped-up Bavarian chatter, & pretty soon you are wiping your forehead and feeling your chipped ceramic mug slip in your sweaty palm. The police chief (soft-spoken and bewildered) called for attention & announced that a serious crime had been committed against the whole community. The culprits must be found. He begged every villager to be on watch for alien faces, and then asked the mayor where Fräulein Emma was.
Emma was duly summoned & questioned gently before the whole assembly. Why was she so early in church? “I always am,” she said; the villagers murmured agreement and the chief nodded. Did she have any idea who had done this crime? No. Then she was dismissed with a paternal smile. She departed & left much churning murmur in her wake.
One last reason for the serious way in which the town reacted to the desecrated carving was Emma herself. She regarded the event very seriously indeed. And many townsfolk had taken to following her lead on anything to do with the church.
In less than two months she’d become a notable person in this village, well liked & (by some) even venerated. When she first arrived she had wanted to hide—to see & be seen by no one; to speak & be spoken to by no one. But the strategy she chose for hiding was unusual. She took to appearing every day in an outfit resembling a novice’s in a convent—white blouse & long white skirt & a kerchief (which slipped back a little) covering her hair. Often her two hands were clasped together at her waist (also something to do with convent discipline), which gave her a winsome look as she wrung her hands but so rarely unclasped them—& often (not always) she had both a rosary & a crucifix on leather ties hanging from her belt like carpenter’s tools.
But she resembled no carpenter, & no German either, & nearly everyone in the village mentioned this to me at one time or other. She had red hair & blue-green eyes, was slender & lightly built, medium tall, & though she was too thin & her cheekbones were sufficiently prominent to give her a hollowed-out & pious if not saintly look, her lips were full & her bright eyes strikingly beautiful. The high curve of her elegant eyebrows made her eyes seem even bigger than they were.
And don’t imagine that her outfit made her shapeless or frowzy. Most days she wore a pleated linen skirt, a wide belt that emphasized her small waist and a pretty white blouse with small pink flowers so faded they had almost disappeared, open just enough to show her gold crucifix on its delicate chain. These were the white clothes she happened to own; new clothes are hard to come by in the Reich.
On Boxing Day the splinters and wood-dust were neatly swept away, but the damaged carving and nailed-on star were untouched; only an expert, it was said, could repair this fragile, ancient, holy object. The call had gone out, but experts were scarce—like everything else that anyone wanted. And some said it should not be touched at all, because of the somehow sacred significance of its defaced condition.
So the villagers argued, stared & prayed. Everyone had an opinion & expressed it every day, usually several times. Many believed that the vandalism was “a sign” with heavenly connections. Above all there was an air of waiting. Something, the villagers knew not what, was bound to follow. Everyone understood that it was dangerous to attract the authorities’ attention, and so the waiting period was anxious. But the sign-from-the-Lord contingent also expected something further by way of divine communication, & although anxious they were excited, too. Attendance at early mass increased every day. People would gaze at the figure, or kneel & cross themselves & say the Ave Maria or Pater Noster, following Emma’s example.
The mayor’s wife was one of the few who kept her opinion to herself.
Emma was another, except for the rare occasion when she was pressed hard. She was shy except with children, but she smiled at everyone & was never superior or remote. Once I asked her a silly question—about local cooking styles—just to prolong the conversation & she gave me a tolerant smile (how can we talk about cuisine when people grab any food they can get?), then put her hands together palm to palm, just touching her lips, and tilted her head to the side as she answered. Then she smoothed some straggling locks back under her scarf. Every move she made was so artlessly & superbly feminine, you felt it almost as a stab wound. I’m sorry to be writing such things, but you must know them; they are part of this report.
One frequently saw her helping village mothers by minding children as they played in the snow. Often she helped Amschi S sweep out the beer hall & do kitchen chores around the place. Amschi worked for & was scared to death of the mayor’s wife, & seemed to be E’s only friend. Amschi planned to be a nun after the war—but had formerly been a piano student at a conservatory in Munich. I later discovered that her Schwarzwald peasant accent was a thing she could turn on or off at will. It was like mine, only she did it better.
She was a few years older than E with dark hair in long tightly-curled plaits & a broad, prettyish face, & big brown eyes that were deep & serious when she looked at you, even if she had just been laughing or giggling—& don’t get me wrong about these girls: despite Emma’s bereavement, when they were together they laughed or giggled all the time—lovely sounds ringing down the crystal-bright valley. I loved to hear them. Everyone did.
My first Sunday in H, two weeks before Christmas, I had seen Emma taking a small group of Eastern laborers to church. She had one by each hand, & each of those two joined hands with another. Fraternization with foreigner laborers was illegal: slave-workers were shot & Germans were carted off to camps for lesser crimes than holding hands. But no one in H wanted to enforce this law. Still, Emma’s act was dangerous for her & her charges, & called for bravery all around. The four Poles looked at their feet. The villagers looked away. Only Emma smiled, sometimes closing her eyes for a moment or two.
Next Sunday her chain was wider, maybe ten in all, and Amschi was part of it too. They repeated the routine almost every Sunday thereafter. In time many villagers decided to look at them & smile back, & even the Poles raised their eyes.
But after Christmas, despite her smiles & kindness, Emma remained deeply distraught. This was another topic everyone discussed. She prayed long hours on her knees in church, sometimes weeping.
Now let us go back & see what actually happened in those weeks before Christmas. I only learned it myself later. Emma kept a diary, although many dates are blank.
I have not translated these notes; she wrote in English. Make of that what you will. (Her mother at any rate was echt Deutsch and a Nazi, according to the mayor, whose Nazi wife, recall, was the mother’s sister.) The style is strange & I don’t know what you’d call it—epistolary? I’m no literary scholar. Judge for yourself.
8 December 1943, Wednesday night. Gingerly he settled like a cloudpuff while I watched, and then pulled off the silken afterbirth now streaked with blood. But I was all alone & wearier than death. At first my mind barely budged.
[So the parachuting airmen were real. No word about the others, or the location of the landing or the wreck.]
(Later.) I hated him at sight how could I not? I was a rope stretched hard with heavy loathing when I rose to do my grudging Christian duty. And would as lief have hanged him back up by his parachute & left him to dangle & die.
But he was bleeding, helpless & in pain & it was no Christian kindness on my part but mere instinct made me help him. He had just seen his good friends drown in flame & yet—while he bled & I bound—he said through clenched teeth, breathing hard, his face white as water, hauling his way up the sheerest cliff of pain, “I’m terribly sorry to be putting you to this trouble—I’m sure you have no love for Allied airmen. I appreciate it. Very much. And I’m sorry for what you are suffering. It’s clear you are.”
He speaks American English. Later I discovered that he speaks German too, though strangely; seems to cost him effort, yet each syllable comes out in perfect Prussian. He asked whether I were not some “displaced uppercrust Englishwoman,” because my accent struck him that way, and I told him I was neither uppercrust nor English and left it there.
An hour later his pain had eased some & the bleeding thank God had stopped. And so we were silent, grave & lost together. And after that, with color slowly returning to his face, he said, “Ach wow, I always wanted to visit the mountains!” Now looking at me closely and kindly, wanting me to smile—as I did, a little. Then he smacked an exposed rock face just to his left & said, Is this an Alp? (But he was still in pain.)
There is something refined & gentle in his face, & his grief seemed even worse than his pain—though he tried to make me cheerful.
(Later.) How could I save the life of a U.S. airman Lord have mercy, suffering God forgive this suffering girl! Let my mother & my sisters pardon, I have no such right.
[Did he tell her anything? Did anyone else survive the crash? Did this secret relate to the damaged statue? Was the man a U.S. agent? (Impossible: why would they send him to Germany in a burning plane? Or was that a different plane? Or just a myth?)]
(Later.) Just before I closed the door, as I finished trying to tidy the small area around him, as he lay on the floor on the poor mattress I had improvised out of rough old blankets and a linen sheet & brought him a jar of water & a cup & stacked some old boxes in a corner out of the way, & told him a quiet signal he could use to call me from my room, & leaned against a box by his pillow the photo he carried of himself between his parents, I was seeing my own little sisters on the front steps waving to me on that long-ago day I passed my certificate exams; & my tears welled & finally ran down my face. I kept my head turned but he saw anyway & asked “What’s the matter? Can I do anything?”
But I shook my head & wouldn’t answer until the moment I was ready to leave. Then I said, “You’ve done enough, you & your brave friends! You’ve killed my little sisters! And so many other helpless people, you heroes!” And I shut the door. Two minutes later I was so ashamed I went back & said “Please forgive me, I’m sorry,” & he said “Certainly,” & turned away—but the moment before he turned, his face was so angry that I was startled & went away again without another word, & then to church. Tomorrow I will fast & pray.
9.XII.43. I went in to take him food; I was uncertain; he said, “Whatever you are, & whatever you believe, I thank you anyway, from the bottom of my heart, & I’m terribly, terribly sorry about your sisters.” Then I felt like crying. I said very softly “We are all sinners, & I’m worst of all, worse than anyone could ever guess” & he said “I’ve never met a kinder person” & I said “Oh no, no, no, no I’m not” & put down the tray without looking at him & ran from the room so he wouldn’t see me dissolving in gratitude so vivid it was painful why why why?
(Later.) He asked me to tell about my family & the bombing but I could not, except for the barest facts, a few at a time. Then he looked at me so kindly I started to cry; then I went to pray. (But this is unnerving, him separated from me all night by only a door. Why do I trust him that much? Out of weakness no doubt, please God make me stronger. Yes he is gentle but I’m not blind I see the way he looks at me—although even if it is pure lust, in his case there is something sweet about it.)
(Later.) “I mourn with you but can never beg your pardon,” he said, “We must fight every way we can, the Reich must be destroyed; if God ever wanted anything from man, He wants this.”
“So—” I said, softly with my voice trembling—even when I know I am right, I always feel scared when I argue—“you have to kill little children?” And he said, “I hate to kill children!” exploding in an angry whisper, “we do it by accident not policy, we risk our lives every single mission—turn the ship over to the bombardier, float like dumb ducks straight forward through the flak fields—I’ve seen ships explode & men burn to death before my eyes so we can line up exactly on target—you think I want to kill children? You, Germany, made me do this, made me into this”—he was so angry his speech was coming apart, & I don’t recall just what he said—“and don’t you think I suffer for it? Don’t you think we all do?” “But my little sisters are dead!” I said & went away in rage & tears.
10.XII.43. Today as if from exactly the same impulse we both ignored what we had said in anger yesterday. He is frantic to escape to Switzerland because until he does, his parents will think him dead. “Then would it be so awful,” I asked, “to give yourself up & go to a prison camp for the rest of the war? The Red Cross would tell your parents that you are alive.” “For me, yes it would be so awful,” he answered, “I must get back into this fight; and the day I become a prisoner of the Nazis is the day I blow my brains out after killing as many of them as I can. I still have my service pistol & one clip. I won’t live as a prisoner of Nazi Germany.”
Of course he had just seen his friends die & he is a patriot, & brave. Still, his knee is so painful he can barely walk & must wait. And he is almost always so kind that I find myself thinking strange things.
12.XII.43 Only his fourth morning here and my aunt knocked & walked right into my room and was 3 meters away from him on the other side of the wall! “My coffee beans are missing,” she said—she has a small jar & grinds a few on special occasions to add to her “coffee.” “Do you know anything about this?” She knew I didn’t. But I saw her look slowly around the whole room, & her eyes paused at the storeroom door. We must get him out of here.
I thought of news I had been told last week, of a girl in the north, I think Hamburg, who was accused of fraternizing (& what does that imply?—I don’t know) with a French laborer. The Frenchman was shot. Local SS & Hitler-Jugend shaved the girl’s head & put her in the back seat of an open-top car & drove her round & round & round the city, & she had no coat & it was a frigid night & at the end of the ride the poor girl was dead. We must get him out of here.
14.XII.43. Tuesday, St. John of the Cross. I awoke in a shivering sweat thinking about that day & the bombs, & went straight to church & confession, & said that I had dishonored in my heart the memory of my beloved sisters & mother & father, because what else could I say? The rest of the morning on my knees in penance and prayer.
16.XII.43. And what matter if I love to speak & listen to him, & he makes me smile? It’s all my weakness not his strength—that & the odd feeling that I can look straight through his diamond-dark eyes to America in sunshine far away.
He asked whether there were any way I could get him fake papers through my uncle. There is: if you take money or ration tickets & a photo to K.W. So we snipped apart the photo that showed him between mother & father, & Amschi told me she would help. Only she and my uncle know he is here.
[He should not have allowed her to take such a risk. There is Yank gallantry for you.]
18.XII.43 Now I find on two successive nights he has limped & crawled back to that high, rocky place, returning just before dawn; the second time he found a part of one man’s remains by torchlight & wrapped him up & dragged him through snow until he could reach unfrozen soil with his spade, & buried the man, & now asks me what should be said & done at a Protestant’s grave; & how can I answer when he will crawl back there again? Today he was in a daze of pain & exhaustion & sadness, his forehead wet with sweat in the cold storeroom. I went to R’s & then S.L.’s to get aspirin & there was none.
19.XII.43 But I had to answer, and suggested the Lord’s Prayer & a plain cross above. So a third night he climbed, limping, back to that place & said the prayer & raised a knocked-together cross. My heart hammers just to think about it. On his way back he found a place where red holly berries poke like periscopes, he said, above the snow in the lee of a barn, & white-blue porcelains & bright orange firethorn—& he brought me back a lovely winter’s bouquet & said when he gave it to me, “No one sweeter or finer than you in all the world & I will never forget you.”
I felt myself blushing, & knew he saw me blushing, & blushed more, just as a weak girl with no character should & sat down hard & buried my nose in the berries as if they were fragrant because I wanted to hide, no man has ever—& Michael is so handsome though at first I thought him ordinary-looking. His dark deep eyes & thinking forehead. He is quick & graceful & compact & powerful. I looked up with a softer smile than I’d thought I should ever smile again.
“I don’t deserve this,” I said, & he said, “Don’t deserve it?” gently & I said “No, please believe me,” & was not equal to explaining that I had failed as a daughter—as an older sister—as a Christian. I managed to say thank you & I left.
On top of which, though his gashed leg is healing, he hurt his back when he landed & didn’t tell me but now can barely stand up; can’t stand straight at all. I said I must look & saw a huge blue-yellow bruise, though clearly the main problem is inside. But I couldn’t think how to dress it or what to do except bring him hot-water bottles. “It won’t keep me a day,” he said. “My being here is dangerous to you & a week from now I’ll be gone.”
[Why wasn’t he on his way to the Swiss border by now, or over it? A young girl might be sentimental & find herself (or wish herself) in love, but I’ve never met a sentimental bomber pilot yet, much less one behind enemy lines. Perhaps he was hurt, but many have escaped under such conditions.]
21.XII.43 When my uncle & I were alone in the kitchen—I had brought him tea, he never asks for it; never asks for anything—he said in his usual calm way, “How is our American doing? Will he be able to leave soon? I don’t need to say what will happen to us all if they find him here.” I said that he was getting better & would be gone in a week or so.
No one takes care of my uncle & I must try harder. Yesterday I took several pairs of his socks to darn—he wears them to shreds, they barely hold together, & he keeps on wearing them & they are never mended.
22.XII.43. When I came in today he was on his feet leaning against the wall; must have heard conversation through the open window. “The Germans worship a savage who puts Germany on top by grinding out lives under his heel,” he announced, not looking at me, “and you accuse me of killing innocents!” “What do you know about existence in this Reich,” I said, but he went on, “I kill because I’m fighting back, Germans kill because they like to!”
“Oh no no no,” I said, with my voice trembling as always when I most hope it won’t, “I’m no friend of Hitler, I was ten years old when he came to power! And what could you possibly know about friends dragged off in the middle of the night, & informers who used to be your father’s best friend & sat with us laughing around the table listening to the radio Sunday evenings, & the prison camp in Dachau—how brave would you be—”
“Millions cheer him but everybody hates him. It’s a miracle!”
“I speak of myself, I didn’t join BDM until they threatened me, I didn’t do Arbeitsdienst until they forced me, I fought with my mother about the regime every day, every hour, & now she’s gone—and how brave would you be if you didn’t have the United States army standing beside you?”
“Listen, lady, you get no extra points for closing your eyes!” In a rough low whisper that sounded as if some other person were talking & not he.
“One thing he is right about,” I added—“that the world hates Germany & always has, & if we had a saint to rule us it would be just the same. You can’t wait to escape so you can get back into the fight & however carefully you aim you will kill more people, maybe including me. In my family, after all, there is no one else left to kill!”
And I went out.
23.XII.43. He apologized & so did I. Each argument ends the next moment we actually look at each other. He said, “When I get back I am moving to fighters. I can never fly a bomber again.” And I said, “I understand that you have to fight, the Reich must be destroyed—” “And I will help destroy it,” he said, “I have a duty to God and my country & to history, but I also have a duty to you, of gratitude, & more than gratitude. . . .”
But I may must dare not love him, for my sisters’ & my mother’s & my dear Lord’s sake. Two days to find my mother’s body. My little sisters died in pain & terror, I could not reach them, had to shout through the half-crushed wall—choking on black agony in the smoke & dust & foul dark smell of strange things burning—I could barely make myself heard please God have mercy they were so small.
He must escape the instant he can walk. But not before. Besides he cares nothing for me. He is an honest & upright man but as he said himself, what he feels for me is gratitude, that’s all.
(Later.) He uncorks his mind and talks me weak & dizzy about Brooklyn & “the village” & a “studio apartment” full of (overstuffed with) sunlight—where young parents walk their babies in the singing streets, and no one heils.
The only topic he is reticent about is religion—after all, he is a man. But we discovered that in exactly the same summer, 1932, we had each been taken by our parents to France and seen the Sainte Chapelle—& had been more impressed than by any other artwork before or since. He was twelve and I nine—could we have been in the chapel simultaneously, even looked each other straight in the eye? In just a few sentences he taught me so much about it & expressed so movingly his appreciation of its beauty, I knew his Christian feelings must run deep.
Christmas 1943. O My Lord they stabbed you in the breast I bound your wound they bear the shame & I too always, ever! And those burning hellhound Jews, who fell on you with nails & knives again, O Lord the plunging nail that split your chest will punctuate my heartbeat with your wounds, all got for us.
And yet this deed of shame is also ours—the title deed, & we shall will it to our sons & they to theirs forever (ever, ever!).
I tell him all about it & he listens, ravenous, in fascination, asks me every detail. He must feel it as I do. Yet idly I ask him, “Did you do it?” And he says, “You can’t be serious; I don’t even know where the church is.”
Leaving aside Emma’s diary—
By the week after Christmas the usual attendance at morning mass had grown to perhaps fifty—half the population of the village. Mothers would bring their children & all would kneel together. The deacon and villagers put the large altar candles high up on the stone screen flanking the carving. The damaged statue, the villagers’ reaction & local police incompetence made it inevitable that vise jaws would slowly tighten around this place until a culprit could be produced & hauled away. Whatever else it may lack, the Reich has no shortage of police power. On the day after New Year’s a vanguard of two SS men were on their way to H.
On 3 January they presented themselves to the mayor; in under an hour every villager knew all about it. Nothing happened the first two days, so far as the mayor knew. (He & I had taken to talking, & my opinion of him was changing.) Then a meeting was announced for 7 p.m. at the beer hall the next evening.
On the windy, sleeting evening of Tuesday 4 January we had our meeting. SS Major Hans J was in charge: mid-thirties, tall, narrowish; plentiful white-blond hair that seemed to add several inches to his height. The other man, Werner D, was also narrow & tall & blond, but less tall & less blond & more narrow & altogether less imposing. Werner was mean but bored—perhaps the worst combination of all.
Emma was there, too, next to Amschi. As the villagers came in & sat down, you could hear them forcing aimless conversation to fill the void in the pits of their stomachs. No one wants to see the SS.
“All right, we will make this short,” said Hans J, his hat in hand & hair like a ceremonial cockade. “First, welcome to you all & thank you for coming out on this beautiful night!” (A few tentative smiles in the room.) “The Jew’s star on the statue is an obvious attack on the morale of the Reich. The crime must be the work of either a Jew fugitive, or an enemy airman, or a spy. There are spies everywhere: read your own walls!” He pointed to a poster that read Achtung Feind hoert mit!, Pay attention, an enemy may be listening! (I always felt an inner smile & then a quick shock of alarm when I saw that sign.)
“Such people,” he continued, “must be hunted down mercilessly & destroyed. And they will be. Tomorrow we start. At first you might see us mainly in the upper valley; we know that air pirates from England or America have been shot down in this area and they are among the suspects. They are not mere prisoners of war on the run. They are saboteurs, to be gunned down. And so we now go to work on your behalf, & we ask & expect your cooperation when we need you. Good night. Heil Hitler.”
The very next morning, Wednesday the 5th, came the new event. Was there a connection?
This time the deacon was first, but soon Emma was there too. Now blood streaked the statue, coming (it appeared) straight from the nail hole where the yellow star was fixed. The lower part of the star itself was stained reddish-black.
Soon the two SS men were in church along with the crowd. Hans ordered his colleague to investigate. Werner climbed the ancient spiral stair to the top of the stone screen, walked the footpath on top and set a step ladder precariously in the center. “Is it blood?” Hans called from below. Werner wiped his finger on the statue, touched it to his tongue and called down “Ja. Blut.”
The Christmas event had made a big impression, but this one hit harder. The skeptics who had seen casual mischief were less sure of themselves. Many in the village said things like “Somehow the dear Lord must be speaking to us.” Emma was of this opinion, people said.
A day or two later, pilgrim visitors started arriving in force from nearby villages. Some patiently queued up to climb the narrow stairs to the top of the screen, walk to the center, step carefully onto a wooden crate & touch the statue’s feet or the blood stains on its chest if they could reach that high (& had a head for heights).
The evening of the day this parade began, Emma appeared at the town carpenter’s door & urged him to knock together a hand-rail for the footpath because an elderly pilgrim or child could so easily fall & be killed. Eventually the man agreed. But the job, she pleaded, must be done right now, this very night; a child might be killed in the morning! She would stay by him & help however she could, and was sure the mayor would, too. Ridiculous, said Herr N; impossible. But he gave in.
Around 7:00 the next morning I saw the three of them in church. The job was done & they were cleaning up. Exhaustion becomes Emma: her eyes were larger & glowed even brighter than usual. Later I saw her thank & bid good-bye to Herr N—holding his hand in both of hers, leaning forward to kiss his cheek, rearranging & patting down his muffler as she talked. N was energetic, shaggy-haired, in his late forties, a man of few words but good will. He was half in love with her, as so many were.
But the SS were unhappy. There was a growing air of menace in the town. The next village meeting in the little beer hall came on Friday, 7 January. The two original characters stood in front, now with four more assistants; as the crowd in church grew, so did the SS presence.
“First,” Hans began, “I must make clear that nothing whatsoever is to be said about this sordid crime to anyone outside this village. People have been talking. Many people. Every such person is an enemy of the Reich and a Volksschadling who disgraces the German nation, and will be called before a Sondergericht & I can tell you right now what the sentence will be. I would not wish to be such a person. Clear? I personally have shot men for less, with this hand.” (Smiling as he carefully displayed his right hand to the crowd.) “But after all, someone has to do this work. Would you like to do it, mein Herr?” (Speaking to a white-haired farmer at random, who seemed panic-stricken & looked around wildly for his wife.)
“Of course, you will all think, it may be that the criminals have escaped and are far away by now. Why should these officers torment our little, patriotic village? I can understand this feeling. But here are the facts. He was here once and has returned again. And we have reason to suspect that the criminal is in fact in this town, in hiding or—it might be—deliberately sheltered by a traitor to our Volk and Reich and Fuehrer. I can tell you no more. But we have reasons.
“Beginning tomorrow we will be inviting each one of you to the Amtszimmer for a little talk. (The town hall, where the mayor sat ordinarily at a shabby desk beneath an oil portrait of Hitler.) We intend to alarm no patriotic German. We only want the truth.”
The meeting was over. Dead silence. People rose, looked around, saw fear on every face & said nothing & left. The SS men departed; the room quickly emptied. When I left, only three men remained, slightly drunk on watered beer.
Here is the note Emma wrote late that same night:
7.I.44. I told him, “You are in terrible danger, the SS now suspect”—& I explained it to him. “I must go at dawn tomorrow,” he said, “if they find me they’ll arrest you, & God knows.” “But we haven’t even got your papers,” I said. “Then try to fetch them tonight, & if you can’t I’ll go without them.” “But you can barely walk, you can barely stand,” I said—reaching out to touch his check without meaning to. He was sitting, I standing—he caught my hand & kissed it.
“I am leaving tomorrow at dawn,” he repeated. “But the danger is not that imminent,” I told him, “for the time being they only plan to interrogate everyone, & I don’t care what they ask me—”
“And Amschi?” he said, “and your uncle? You are all in danger—I am going tomorrow.” And in the end we agreed that he had to. He made me memorize three different addresses for him in the States, of his parents & his uncle & a friend in Buffalo, New York. Then he went to pack his small kit & clean his pistol, & we agreed I would wake him at 4:00 & we would say our farewells then.
We separated that night in my large dark odd-shaped room, with its door into the storeroom & its faint musty, woodsy smell & two small windows where the panes rattle when the wind sweeps down the valley & the coffee-colored floorboards & shadowy corners that give you bad dreams—& the plain crucifix above my bed—& my father’s gold watch that I kiss every night on the small table; we separated with feelings indescribable. But when he closed the door I felt a chasm of sudden panic & opened the door again without knocking & we embraced again, & then he pushed me gently-gently away & shut the door on my only love & happiness forever.
But in the end after crying & crying I knew I had to change our plans—I had to wait for him to fall asleep, which took a long time, & sneak in & steal his pistol & his beautiful soft U.S. Army boots. (I know he has combat flying decorations but he won’t tell me anything about them; the one medal he speaks of is his “marksman” decoration, meaning that he is a good shot. He is proud of that.) Tomorrow early I will give the boots & gun to Amschi & he will be angry but will never find them. He must stay just a little longer. How can I risk having him cut down by SS machine guns as he limps through the snow?
Thus ends the entry. Her maneuver succeeded & he did not leave next day. (But the fault was clearly his & not hers.) The day after, we learned that if no culprit were found within one week, a whole detachment of SS would arrive to cordon off the town, prevent pilgrims from entering, question every villager who entered or left, and then converge like a noose, searching every inch of every building till they found someone.
That evening I sat with the mayor on a bench outside the beer hall. We smoked our pipes—his being one of those ridiculous German peasant models with a foot-long stem curved like a saxophone. (Maybe not quite a foot.) It was cold, but the view far down the valley was bright moonlight on glassy snow. “Who do you think our Hansel has taken a liking to?” the mayor asked, meaning of course the SS major Hans J. “Our own little Emma.”
I said, “She’s a beautiful girl.”
“And so sweet, & so lovely.”
He nodded, & gave me a quick sideways glance. “What’s happened?” I asked. The mayor knew everything about everyone in his village.
“Oh, nothing. Not much.” Stroking his stubble. “Early this afternoon he asked her—very courteously, I gather—to take a walk with him, to look at the scenery. ‘I’m seldom in this part of Germany,’ he said. So she had to agree. Then this evening he asked her again. He said, ‘The moonlight is so romantic.’”
Two villagers appeared & walked wearily into the pub. The door banged shut. “And?”
“She said she had promised to help some child with his German lesson. ‘Well then, afterwards?’ he asked. ‘I’m afraid the lesson might take a long time,’ she said. So he said, ‘then another time perhaps,’ & bowed & went away.”
After a while he added, “Sooner or later she will refuse him—I mean refuse in a definite way to pass time with him—& then there will be trouble. Let’s hope he gets his man soon & clears out.”
“A girl can’t be arrested for refusing a young man. Not even today.”
“No, not arrested. I didn’t say arrested. But trouble there will be.” He fumbled for matches & relit his pipe. “I think he suspects that Emma is mixed up somehow with the crime against the carving. Do you know what he could do about this? If the young lady were not to oblige him?” (Puffing.) “They say he used to be friends with Heydrich.” He spat on the ground.
But I have gotten ahead of myself, and meanwhile Emma had been writing. I go back to the day of the second event at the church.
5.I.44. The nail plunged home, wood bled as stones had once, & yet again you speak by suffering.
“Why are you so pale?” he asked when I came in, & I told him how blood had come from the spot where the nail penetrated, & he said, “But you don’t think there’s anything miraculous in this?” But then he stopped suddenly, as if something had struck him, & he frowned & thought. I said, “All I know is that our Lord is somehow present in this town, among us.” And he said, “Surely God is present everywhere.” I said, “Yes, but this is different; you can hear His voice. Though we do not understand it. Is He saying that just as the Jews attacked His son, we are attacking the Jews? That we are no better than Jews, who killed their own savior?”
“I think it means just the opposite,” he said.
“That it’s right the Jews should be punished, because they condemned their own savior to death?”
“Nonsense,” he said, “the message could not be plainer: ‘I am a Jew; how dare you persecute my own brothers & sisters?’”
I said no. “Who can ever forget the chorus of Jews in the Johannespassion, where Jesus is presented and they say, ‘Crucify him, crucify him!’ And the Bible says that too.” “But the Gospel authors hated the Jews,” he said. And I said, “How could that be? Some were Jews themselves, originally.” And he said, “But how do you feel about someone who rejects your dearest belief as false?”
“I would feel pity, & would try to feel Christian charity,” I said.
“And you think the Gospels treat the Jews with Christian charity?” “That’s different, they just tell facts,” I said.
“And you know these facts are right?”
“If I don’t know that,” I said, “I know nothing. It’s the Bible!”
Instead of answering he frowned & turned away.
I was confused & am confused; does he reject the Bible? But I know that somehow this is the Lord’s own voice & I must understand.
[Next comes the entry I quoted earlier, where they finally decide he must leave but she purloins his gun & his boots. And then. . . .]
8.I.44. When he awoke I had already taken the things to Amschi. First he was confused that I hadn’t wakened him—then puzzled. Where was his gun? His boots? I explained. He looked at me & his face was dark with outrage—& I looked at him, biting my lip to show my anguish—but we were each more than half faking, & overjoyed that our separation had been postponed at least for a little while. He was so happy he seemed light-headed, & I felt light-headed too, & started to laugh & stopped only with difficulty. Pause. “Let’s try again,” he said, & then I burst out giggling. Finally we reached a point where he could be sufficiently angry with me, & I with him. At last I had to say “Stay just a little more, only until you can walk without pain—for me?”
Then he paced, limping, for several minutes & at length said, “I will stay a little longer; but strictly out of my own selfishness, because I love you, and God knows when or if we ever see each other again.”
“Because you love me?” I said sitting down, turning away, with knocking in my chest. “Why do you say that? Why love me?” Why do I try to tear apart what I want most? But we talked seriously, & then he kissed me. Never before—
Then he pulled my scarf down playfully over my face & then off, & said your hair is so beautiful just please let me see your hair, & I was shaking it out pridefully even as I tried to get back the scarf, & this turned into a tussle that ended with my laughing so hard the tears streamed & I had to bury my face in a pillow, & he was laughing too. My uncle has warned me already about noise, even though this room is separated from the others by the old stable & connected by just the long narrow corridor. We must be more careful. And of course we have only postponed fate for a few days.
9.I.44. Until my sisters shouted my name, I had been strong. There was no air-raid siren. Why didn’t we hear the planes? It was just after sunrise & we were asleep, yet ordinarily we would have heard. I told them help was coming, to be strong & have courage & pray, & help would come—meanwhile I was feeling my way at a run through the smoke, trying every way to get into them, calling to my mother, shouting to my sisters that help would come—& found one tiny opening high up & tried poking & battering it with a heavy piece of charred lumber, but hard as I tried I couldn’t make it any larger, & I was about to run into the street for help when Anna screamed Emmi, Emmi, Emmi!
Why did I stop dead & put my palms & lips to the wall?—the wall itself was hot—& then—I passed out—or my thoughts went dead—& later I was beating on the wall & shouting to them I was coming, coming, coming—dear Lord I should have run out to the street but all I did was pound & shout & sob & shout, & it was all over so fast, I could hear—or imagine—& only then did I rush outside, hysterical—having let them die—yes heard them die & done nothing at all—& it took two men half an hour to break into the room, & carry the two small bodies away.
When I finally told him this he hugged me so gently I knew rather than felt that his arms were around me.
12.I.44. A mist of soothing sadness where I wander lost at peace. Just grazing fingers makes flame flow. “I love the way you tip your head slightly to one side when you listen, & make your eyes wide,”—& I said, smiling, “They just do that, I don’t make them!” And he said, “And the way, when I hug you, you put your hands together on my chest & fold yourself completely into a tight package for me to hold in my arms,” and I said, “All girls do that!” “No,” he said, “only perfect ones.“
Later he held my head firmly in his two hands & tilted it up gently so he could look into my eyes, & then I could see he was about to kiss my lips, but instead kissed my forehead, barely touching, then brought my head against his chest & lowered his own head, tilted sideways, on top of mine, & I was nestled there & said “I like this” & he said “What?” & I said, “Put my head where you like, & do what you want.” So he brought my lips to his & we kissed.
13.I.44. We talked again about my sisters. “Didn’t you say it took half an hour for a group of men to break into the room, but you were with them the whole time, & it was all over in less than half an hour?” I told him I wasn’t sure how long it took. “But it must have been less than half an hour,” he said; “people don’t pass out for more than a few seconds, usually. Even if you had rushed out for help, it couldn’t possibly have reached them in time.” “I don’t know,” I said. “But probably,” he said; “give yourself the benefit of the doubt just once in your life!”
His tone moved me, & I nodded. “Now tell me,” he said, “what would have been easier: being outside, ducking for cover as more bombs fell, or staying with your sisters?” “Nothing could have been more horrible than listening helpless,” I said.
“You gave your poor sisters the one thing anyone could have before the end—your love. Running out on the street would have been easy, & useless, but you did the hardest thing you will ever do. You behaved like a saint.”
“Don’t say such things,” I told him, but was in tears thinking of them, & of how much he wanted to help me.
16.I.44. I love him too much, so much it hurts, yet O Lord my own dear family & friends all scattered like burst fruit & cheap dumped-open suitcases, how can I be forgiven, ever? Now that I’ve taken his sin into my soul & hidden it among the jewels of my own grief?
17.I.44, Monday. More (more!) SS have arrived, a group of at least 20. This morning early I heard raps at two different doors several houses away from us, then occasional voices & sounds that must have accompanied searching; each search went on & on, & an SS guard is left outside each house that has been searched, to make sure that no unknown person sneaks in afterward.
My uncle has been told that our house will not be searched at first, out of respect for his office & regard for his wife & niece. But it will be searched before long unless they find someone first. And where can I put him, what else can we do? Our emergency hiding place is bad: Michael rolled up in the center of a large rug, where he almost suffocates, & in any case the rolled rug looks suspicious. He must sneak out of here, must escape before it is too late. Tomorrow.
18.I.44. We are agreed, the time has come. “I’ll take one more day to study the maps,” he said, “& go tomorrow night; but I have to ask you something first.” “Ask me!” I said. “Two things. These things are harder than you can guess. I think you’ll say no.” “Try!” I said, “try!”
He began. But right away, knocking on my door & my uncle’s voice, Michael back to the storeroom. “They want us for another meeting downstairs.”
“A detachment of SS are already deployed as a cordon around the village perimeter,” said Major J. “We are now 52 men, ladies and gentlemen. Fifty-two.”
Amschi impulsively put her hand on mine & squeezed—under the table on our laps, nobody saw.
“First,” he continued, “they will acquaint themselves with goings & comings in the village—& stop the flow of ignorant, superstitious Christians who, in perfect innocence—I don’t blame these people, they are no criminals—come every day to your Jew-church and by so doing defame the Reich. After a few days, if we still don’t have our man, we will crumble this village to powder in our fist like a lump of dry snow. We will hurt no one who is innocent. But everything will be searched, & no one will escape.”
When I came back upstairs he had fallen asleep & I sat down to write this. Now it will be even harder for him to get out but we dare not wait. I should wake & tell him—& let him finish what he was saying. I am impatient for the moment when we promise each other to be man & wife.
(Later, past midnight.) O my God he is a Jew.
One does wonder just why, with all the men in Germany to choose from—they weren’t all Nazis—the most beautiful girl I have ever seen in all this world found it necessary to fix on an American Jew. Anyway, henceforth you could see crowds down below on the road to the village, & on the small lane that comes from the north. The SS had set up checkpoints & allowed no one to enter town except once when the shoemaker’s wife came home from her mother’s. The crowds were too far off to hear what was being said, except in occasional brief, garbled bursts when the wind changed. But you could see some of the would-be visitors kneel in the snow & pray to the far-off image. And the SS didn’t quite know what to do about it. Once on the north side they pushed all these worshippers away & made them leave. But when a new group accumulated, they were left alone to pray & hold vigil in the distance.
After a day without writing Emma takes up.
20.I.44, yesterday St. Agnes. How could I not know? My very thoughts would freeze my mother’s blood & murder her again: her daughter, the Jew’s proud possession, please God, rip my soul out by the roots & feed my body to the dogs—my sin won’t let me breathe, the race that killed our Lord please Jesus Mary & All Saints please! drag me tied in pain to penitence, or hang me on a gibbet all alone & let me die.
He said he will not go until I let him speak. But I cannot listen. Then he said, “All right, I can’t continue to put you in danger, give me my boots & pistol & I will go tonight.” But I cannot listen to him, cannot even look at him, yet cannot let him go—the pain could split my flesh in two. My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?
(Later.) There were SS men in the front hall. Ten meters, less, from where I sit & write. I couldn’t make out everything they said. It sounded polite. After a few minutes they went away. Next time?
23.I.44, Sunday. He said, “I must speak & you will listen” & I said “You liar, you deceiver!” “I apologize for not telling you,” he said. “I was wrong. When I landed” (speaking quickly because I was on the point of walking out), “I had no idea who you were; then I decided to tell you as soon as the right moment came, but it never did, & that’s my fault. I apologize; what else can I do?” “How can you apologize,” I said, “for being what you just are?”
Then he said, “I was right, wasn’t I?—exactly right not to trust you. Scratch a German, find a Hitler.” I threw a potato at him from the sack & as I opened the door to leave he looked at me with that all-knowing superior sadness, that wounded look you see on Jewish faces, & I left—thrusting my own thoughts away, preserving my rage.
25.I.44. Of course I still bring him food & things but not a word between us. Except, he demands that I return his boots & pistol & I refuse, because in what other way can I defy him? I want him gone. This is illogical. But logic is weak & stupid & emotion wrings its neck. When I refuse to tell him he says, “Then I’ll go without them,” but I know he can’t. So I say, “Don’t be a fool. I thought Jews were smart.”
Twice he’s gone out in the night with his feet wrapped in rags & newspapers looking for boots. But people guard their boots carefully nowadays. When I found out—with the whole town full of SS!—I said without thinking, “Don’t do it, it’s too dangerous!” He said, “Then give me my things.” But I wouldn’t & couldn’t.
Tonight, the same conversation. But this time I added an extra phrase: that I had just spent a fine evening with a cultured German soldier, in fact an SS man, strong & handsome, who had known & loved my father on the Eastern front, & had talked to me about him all evening.
[I’d only heard one word yesterday on entering the beer hall—but the mayor’s wife & Major Hans J had seemed to me to be talking about a military man. Which one? The word I heard plainly was “Winchester”—which might refer to the American rifle or many other things, but somehow I got the idea that Emma’s father had gone to school, I don’t know how or why, at Winchester. Other fragments too made me think they were discussing her father; that the aunt was imparting facts & the major was listening & asking for more. Why? Now it came clear.]
Then he grabbed my wrist hard. I had been expecting this. “I will not let go until you give me what is mine, he said.” I said “No!” I wrenched free & stepped back. He was about to grab again but I forestalled him: I joined my hands at the waist & said, not moving, “Well, go on, slap me, hit me, beat me, I won’t move & won’t tell you.” I raised my chin & looked him in the eye. This was no joke. I knew the rage he was capable of. I thought he might hit me. It was possible.
He was astonished, but I knew what I was doing. Before he could move again I stepped back once more and, without planning to, was opening my belt & stepping nimbly-numbly—one foot, other foot—out of my skirt & then dropped it to the floor, then undid my blouse so fast I ripped the top button off as I squeezed my shoulders forward & together, worked the blouse off & flung it away behind me. I stood before him in my shift, thin slip & stockings, trembling in the cold—hugging myself with bare, cold arms—but then put my hands behind my back to give him freer range & said once more, “Then slap me, beat me, beat me all over, I beg you to, almighty American Jew!—destroyer of babies!—I still won’t tell you.” My eyes were closed, but I felt him look away & then speak with such pain I caught my breath—
“You know I’d never hurt you,” he said. “Not a hair, not for the world. Keep my things. They’re yours.”
It was not right that he should triumph like this. With my eyes still closed I undid the tops of my shift & slip & heard him say Don’t! as though I had plunged a knife into him. I opened my eyes—now I was naked to the waist and he was looking away, almost backward, neck twisted to the side; breathing very hard, & so was I; my breasts quivering & trembling, and reacting to the cold, & I was shivering all over & it was hard to keep still & not embrace myself for warmth. We stood that way for a moment that seemed like a day. Then, still turned away, he said, “Don’t you see that if they find me they’ll get you too! Don’t you understand that they are certain, certain, to find me soon unless I go right now? But how can I? Can I go barefoot through the snow? Give me my things back!”
But as if I were a small child defying my mother I undid the waist buttons & was about to thrust all my things to the floor & stand naked before him when he said “Stop it!” so commandingly that I did stop—& clasped my hands again behind me. The shift & slip slid down partway, to the hips.
“Give me my things!” he said again. Now his voice was not so commanding; it was close to tears.
“Some man,” I said. He turned & went away & closed the door. I was ashamed as soon as I had said it.
Dear Lord, what am I doing?
What am I doing?
25.I.44. I woke at 2 a.m. heart knocking—what if the SS find the gun & boots in Amschi’s room? How could I have been so stupid as to forget this & put her in the gravest danger? At mid-day yesterday, the house where she lives had not yet been searched, but what happened in the afternoon & evening? My dearest friend. I dressed & set out for her house, but the moment I opened our front door I saw SS in front of two houses nearby & they both looked at me. I didn’t know what to do; I looked up at the stars & I prayed & I made myself stay there for several minutes & thank God they did not speak to me, & I went back inside, & I was back where I started—even more terrified.
Soon after dawn I ran out again and—and—no SS guard outside Amschi’s house, thank God, thank God! But still I had to get those things from her house without arousing notice, & everywhere one looks there are SS. (They all nod at me & smile politely!) And I had to suppress the anguish in my face.
I knocked on Frau K’s door. “Would you remind Amschi,” I said, “that she promised to walk to church with me this morning?” She had promised no such thing—but she came, & we set off among the smiling SS men & I spoke to her, not whispering but low, urged her to run back home as if she’d forgotten something, & bring Michael’s things to me, wrapped in—something. She said “Good, he must go, today!” And then immediately she ran off & called back, “I’ll only be a moment,” cheerfully—she is far better at these things than I, can keep fear out of her voice—& soon after I had entered church, had blessed & crossed myself & was waiting, she joined me carrying a small sack of onions with his things wrapped in a sheet among the onions.
I decided to wait & pray, & that was right, because when we parted an hour later & I walked home with the sack, the SS men only smiled but said nothing except “Good morning, Fräulein.” I went to my room & put the sack among the others along the wall. Now I must do something, but please God tell me what. SS men walked past our house—past the storeroom window—five times today that I counted. Half the houses at least have been searched and have SS guards posted outside. Please God, tell me what!
Again I leave Emma’s diary. As the search went on & the noose tightened, “high government officials” came to H. The talk-talk-talk about the “bleeding figure” was expanding from H into nearby towns. Suppose it should reach Tübingen or Ulm, or even Augsburg, or even Stuttgart? Or even Munich? Cordoning off the village had made every rumor wilder. Obviously the government could have executed any number of “guilty criminals,” & no doubt would, but their real need was to catch the actual doer of the deed & put an end to his symbolic acts, in H’s church or any other village’s, so that the talk would die down at last.
They were to arrive in mid-morning, so I beat it up to the hills above the town & no doubt 90 percent of the population would have joined me if it could. The sun was bright and the air still, and I sat on a smooth dry outcropping smoking my Swiss pipe, listening to the distant clonk-clonk of cowbells as cattle scrounged for weeds and moss in the snow. The town was far below.
Suddenly a girl spoke behind me and I jumped. “May I sit down with you?” said Amschi. She asked who I thought the visitors were, and watched carefully as I answered, “No friends of mine.”
“Emma used to come & sit here almost every day.”
“Does she still?”
“Sometimes.” Then she said deliberately, looking me right in the eyes, “I think you are a friend.”
“I’m your friend,” I said.
Far below I heard a door shutting & a Hausfrau calling her children & the far-distant rush of a train. Fast clouds made fast shadows.
“You are a thoughtful man; what do you make of the pierced image? What do you think is its actual meaning?”
She seemed restless, worried, tired; but intent on hearing me. In her large brown eyes I saw blue sky and snowy fields. “Meaning to whom?” I said.
“To Germany. To us all.”
“I suppose the message depends on the unknown identity of the messenger”—which did not satisfy her.
“I know that it means a great deal to many people,” I said, trying again, “and I don’t blame those who read it as a sort of symbolic denunciation”—looking quickly all around before I continued, a habit one picks up after a day or two in the Thousand Year Reich—“of the awful crimes of the government against the occupied lands, & against the Jews & gypsies & others. What do you think it means?”
She frowned slightly & seemed suddenly withdrawn. Then she ran her hand over the back of her head & gave me a small apologetic smile. “I think it tells us,” she said, “that we can’t keep ourselves from murdering our Lord again and again, & then we feel guilty, and we murder some more.”
Someone was calling a dog. The cowbells clonk-clonked.
“It tells us,” she continued, “you are drawn irresistibly by the devil to murder your Lord whom you worship. The bleeding Star of David tells us, too clearly not to hear, that God chose one nation and the devil chose another, and we are the devil’s chosen people. We are the God-murdering nation.”
She was speaking with no trace of a Schwarzwald or even a Munich accent.
“We repent even as we murder. Do you know the start of the St. Matthew Passion?” I shook my head. “To the deepest and saddest music ever written, the choir sings: ‘Look at us—at our guilt, at what we have done & are doing & will certainly do again; behold our guilt.’ We know it all implicitly, but nothing changes. We kill and kill, but he still lives. That is Germany.”
The dog’s owner had shouted again, & the dog was barking in response.
“Is that what Fräulein Emma believes?”
“Emma?” She stopped. “Not exactly. Her views are more complicated. Emma is very, very deep.”
“I know, but you’re deep too.”
She laughed—a cheerful laugh that surprised me. “No, I’m not deep.”
The end came so quickly I can barely sort out the events in my own mind. On the morning of Thursday 27 January we knew there had been another event in church—
That morning Emma was first, followed by the deacon. Both saw that a narrow paper, like a miniature unwound scroll, now ran from the statue’s right palm to its chest, fixed in place at both ends with dark splotches of blood. The priest came in. There were words on the paper but they were illegible from below.
The priest asked the deacon to climb to the top & stand on the crate and read. The deacon hesitated but he went. He read out a printed phrase; it was in Latin & had seemingly been cut (given the soft, deep paper & the wavering letters) from a centuries-old Bible. Neither the priest nor Emma could hear him clearly, & Emma asked him to spell out the words. They said: “Dicesque ad eum: Haec dicit Dominus: Filius meus primogenitus Israel.” The verse was labeled Exodus 4:22, and Emma translated for them. In the English version: “And you shall say to him: ‘Thus says the Lord: Israel is my firstborn son.’”
When I entered the church a little later that morning, the scene was remarkable—Emma on her knees before the statue with head bowed, half the town already there, clustered in a loose group around her and, remarkably: absolute silence. Each new arrival triggered a whispersome rustling as the others brought him up to date, & then silence returned. Many gazed at Emma, some at the statue, some prayed.
That was early morning. Twelve hours later Emma was still on her knees—had been kneeling all day on cold stone without eating, virtually without moving, in the vast pale chill full of hollow echoes & ancient graves. Crowds had come & gone throughout the day. Many SS had come, & they too had been silent & only looked at her a while & left.
Toward 5:00 in the afternoon (the crowd had grown large again) I saw Amschi emerge from the group & kneel beside Emma. They talked, inaudibly. Finally Amschi put her arm around Emma’s shoulders & pulled her close. The two girls touched heads and stayed in that position, leaning against each other, for several minutes. We were reaching the point where the lights indoors grew brighter than the fading day—night comes fast in those mountains—& the windows turned shiny black. There was no colored glass in this church; it was all silvery shades of gray.
Eventually both girls rose, Emma stiffly—she almost fell. Amschi caught her. Both were still facing away from the buzzing crowd; then Amschi backed off, & Emma stood alone. Everyone strained forward. Emma began to speak. Many times since the yellow star first appeared she had been asked to speak in church, & had always said no. But now she spoke—not loud, facing away.
She seemed to be speaking the German of Luther’s Bible. The passage itself sounded familiar to me. “Nach dir, Herr, verlanget mich. Mein Gott, ich hoffe auf dich; lass mich nicht zuschanden werden.” Later I found I was right. She was reciting a Psalm (25) that appears in the Book of Common Prayer, which I must have heard as a small child.
Her voice was exhausted and dense with tears & she kept stopping to collect herself, & continued slowly, unevenly, & then her recitation would vanish once more into tears and she would stop again—as if she were pedaling a bicycle but couldn’t work up enough speed, & kept toppling. It was indescribably painful. One felt for her acutely; yet everyone strained to hear. The Psalm starts, “Unto thee, O Lord do I lift up my soul. O my God, I trust in Thee.” Several verses later: “Remember not the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions: according to Thy mercy”—a long pause: every listener held his breath—“remember Thou me”—a pale, faint voice—“for Thy goodness’ sake, O Lord!—O look upon mine affliction and my pain; and—forgive all my sins. . . .
“Keep my soul, and deliver me: let me not be shamed; for I put my trust in Thee. Let integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait on Thee. O Lord Redeem Israel, O Lord our God—O Lord our Redeemer, redeem Israel out of all his troubles.” “Gott, erlöse Israel aus aller seiner Not.”
Silence. Then Emma walked unsteadily out of the building, & Amschi followed, & the whole church erupted in a frantic chattering buzz. “What does it mean? Our own dear Emma—? And the carving? And the message, and the blood? And the star?”
There is one more entry in Emma’s diary.
28.I.44, before dawn. I said to Amschi, am I right that he is the Jews? Or am I deluding myself in my weakness and ignorance? Is every Jew he? And he, every Jew? Is Michael he? Or am I so weak that I invent, to delude myself, & justify myself—She said you are not weak you are strong. Then it struck me like a clapper, wrung me rang me—he, a living brother of the son of God.
At eight in the evening, my mind made up, I licked my resolution closed & sealed it with a kiss.
I went to him & said, “I am sorry forgive me, pardon!—yes I will do it all,” & we embraced without moving or speaking & he forgave, instantly. How could he? It is another miracle.
“And for this one last night,” I said, “we will be husband & wife, & here are your boots & your pistol & you must leave at dawn.” He said he should leave this night, but I told him that they watch carefully all night & are less careful in the hour after the sun rises. They drink & smoke, & some who are still on watch go inside to get warm. I was breathless, had to stop to get a grip on myself—as if I were a little child whirling & whirling to make himself dizzy, faster & faster, yet I knew what I was saying & doing & have never in my life been more decided. Also he said we should wait, because we will see each other again & be married & the war will end this year; but I knew I would win this argument. I wanted this. This had to be.
And he handled & held me with such sureness & calm, as if he were no more than my rightful owner & possessor, that it was unspeakably soothing, despite the more difficult aspects—& afterward what I had never anticipated, a sweet silence in which he fell asleep, & even I had some minutes of peace before my heart began pounding & my hands turned slowly to ice.
Several times before we lay down I had leaned my forehead on his chest & cried, & he said, “We will see each other soon—the invasion will be this year, & Rome will be free before long, & as soon as we have a beachhead anywhere on the continent, the citizens of Berlin will rise up & throw the murderers out, & it will all be over, & we will be together forever.” And each time I sobbed & said I hoped so, please God—but could say no more—& why should I? Enough that one of us should sink under grief this night.
As I awoke from a stiff daze that was not sleep—I had been aware of the time every moment—I pulled myself mechanically into the dark cold, being careful not to wake him; & I found running childishly through my head this jingle that kept repeating: “So it must be, so it must be; so it must be, so it must be. It must be this moment, immediately. Good night my love, my only love. For so it must be, so it must be.”
And now have I not cause to weep? As good cause as one would desire!—therefore weep! For one of us to drift off into the corpse-cold sea past grief & watch the lights grow smaller, smaller, gutter & blink out is penance enough. But there is even sweetness in this penance because I will be forgiven at last. Will I?
It is twenty minutes before dawn & time is cocked at my back & prods me forward—could I only catch time by the tail & skid it to a halt for just one—no, if I could tear time out of life—
roaring locomotive I embrace am ripped apart & die, or soaring silver flash up high I cannot even reach before it’s gone?
Will copy out for him this note.
I have gone to draw them off it is the only way, the only! If you knew what it is like in this village today—please trust me please—you must escape, now, fast, straight to the Rhein & Switzerland take all the money, all the ration tickets too, go fast! I held on to you too long; the sin is only mine. God bless you always.
I can’t sort out the final sequence. But when I reached the church by the side door—how did I know where to go? Everyone was going there—I saw Emma toward the front with SS all around her & more entering all the time. One was especially aware in the early morning, in that in-between state where you are sleepy but trying to focus, of the stone columns worn smooth & shiny where thousands of hands had touched them over centuries, of the early eastern light making long slant shadows in the nave, lighting the injured carving from behind, making a pale fringe along the top & bottom of the arms; voices echoing off the high vaults & the chill air still as a deep pool in the mountains.
“She made them come here,” someone (or many people) near me said, “and she confessed—loud, everyone could hear—that she herself had done all these things to the carving of our Lord—I did it all, she said, I alone,” & I said, “And you believe her you fool? Do they believe her?” Then a scuffle among the dozens near me as I pushed forward from the transept door toward the front of the church where Emma stood, & the man I had spoken to pushed back, & several others pushed him, & voices said “Never,” “Not Emma,” “She did not,” no no no no no & then we were all aware suddenly of a man among us who was not SS & we had never seen before, dressed in a worn U.S. army officer uniform, chest heaving, bent forward with his hands on his knees—he had come at a sprint—but in a moment he was shouting “Where is Major Hans J?”—terrifically loud—his chest still heaved but his words came out in clear, crisp German. And again he shouted, “Where is Major Hans J?”
At the front Hans J stepped forward & said, also loudly, “I am Major J.” Then more confusion—actions I didn’t see or can’t sort out—but all became aware of the American Jew now suddenly crouched for cover, near the crossing, behind a thick oaken pew, with another pew at his back, with his pistol leveled at Hans J, & he said (or rather shouted), “I ruined the statue, I alone, I am a Jew—then, “Ich bin a Yid!,” in the rasping “Yiddish” dialect—“and an American airman; I did it all, myself, alone, and will give myself up just as soon as Fräulein Emma is out of this building & away from it & gone where you cannot find her, and otherwise I will kill you, SS Major Hans J!—my pistol is aimed at your head & my finger is on the trigger—Emma, move away!—”
Then Hans J made some sort of quick motion, & instantly a pistol shot, terrifically loud in this stone building—the sound & then smoke & then smell—& the Jew had made either an amazing or amazingly lucky shot, because he had hit Hans J in the right arm & the weapon fell from J’s hand as he staggered back, & everyone else stood dead-still in fear or shock & the Jew shouted, “Hans J move forward!—no one else move or I shoot again—”
The major’s arm hung limp & he was bleeding from near the shoulder but he stepped forward, grimly angry—you would have to call this bravery, or at least toughness—& called out, “So, now I understand; I feel very stupid. The little Fräulein and the Yid.” And even louder: “What now, Yid?”
The airman shouted “You, quiet!” and, “Emma, go away, go out of here, now!—I can hold them for half an hour I swear; go!” And she shouted, with her hands pressed to her face in wide-eyed frantic alarm, “No, please no, you must get away from here, you cannot give yourself up, they’ll kill you, they will kill you!” She had walked a few steps towards him but they were still separated by nearly the whole length of the nave. “Get away, get away!”
And this bizarre exchange continued, she shouting tearfully that he must go, he with his gun steadied on the pew shouting to her that she must—twice, then a third time, then a fourth time we heard these volcanic pleadings—& meanwhile everyone in church (except perhaps those two) was holding his breath in certain knowledge that this ice would crack, this branch would snap, violence was imminent, because the whole strange, unstable state of the universe was held in place (so to speak) by the weight of just one pistol—was balanced on a pistol-point—
And it happened: Hans J in a darting sudden motion lunged forward and grabbed Emma with his left hand under her scarf by the hair—a large handful of hair—we heard her gasp & whimper—& in the same motion dragged her backward & wrenched her around up against him, her nose flat to his chest as she stumbled forward & then, in a vile & brutal gesture, forced her down on her knees before him as if he were drowning her, holding her face up tight against his front—& the next second (he’d used Emma as a shield, but that had lasted less than a moment—now she shielded only his bottom half), a thunder-clap pistol shot smashed his forehead apart in a splatter of blood & he reeled backward crumpling, & hit the floor in a grisly heap.
Then rapid fire from many machine-pistols, all aimed at exactly one point—& many people near me were shouting, screaming, running, & Emma was screaming at the top of her lungs & running toward the Jew—who lay dead on the floor, in the center aisle, his pistol (the U.S. army’s admirable Colt .45 automatic) spin-skittering toward me across the stones.
Many were still shouting & some were weeping in shock or fear, & several children’s voices howled, terrified—a crowd of SS converged around Emma and held her back, & another crowd surrounded the body of Hans J, & several ran over to look at the Jew on the floor. It was clear the SS were handling Emma roughly: they were pushing her toward the doors in front. Many villagers shouted “No, let her go, let her be!” I shouted also—& then everything went black.
When I came to, there were many people still in church, & confused talking, & the Jew’s body on the floor not far away in an ugly mess of blood with several SS men standing around it. But Hans J’s body was gone, & most of the SS were gone, & Emma was gone. I staggered back to my room & stretched out facedown on the bed; the headache was so powerful I could barely open my eyes.
Later the mayor came & sat beside me & explained: he had hit me on the back of the head, with the Jew’s own pistol. “Otherwise you would have been in trouble for certain. Of everyone in church you were shouting loudest, ‘let her go!’ And,” with a faint smile that faded fast, “you were shouting in English.”
Emma had been squeezed between two SS men in the cab of a small truck, & driven away.
The next day, as I prepared to leave, there was a crowd in front of the church—150 at least, maybe more—& when I entered by a side door I saw how the crowd turned into a queue within. Many hundreds were inside. The queue made its way slowly to the spot where Emma had been seized, & then turned into a sort of pool circling a heaped-up pile of evergreen boughs, and a few pot-grown marigolds & geraniums—probably every flower in existence for miles around—& messages on cardboard signs propped up against the pews. One said, “We pray for our beloved Emma”; another, “To our holy, sainted Emma—we pray for your safe return.” They were all variations on these themes.
A second queue advanced slowly down the aisle toward the image overhead, where the star still remained & the blood & the biblical verse, & a crowd knelt around that spot, spreading into the transepts on both sides. Some repeated prayers in an undertone. When one stood up to leave, the kneeling group would compact itself a little & the queue would push slowly forward, & another one or two people would join the worshippers or supplicants on their knees near to the image.
I stayed for some time. Couldn’t make myself move. In fairness you would have to say that the American Jew died bravely—stupidly and destructively, but bravely. His would-be rescue had been worse than useless, for he left Emma incomparably worse off. And yet I find that I cannot wholly blame him.
Finally I looked for Amschi & she was not in the house where she rented a room, & Frau K refused to answer or even look at me when I asked where she was. Then I went to the mayor. (This might all have been foreseen, but when the world did suddenly fall to pieces it was hard to keep steady & calm.) The mayor told me that Amschi had been arrested early that morning. The previous night she had dragged the Jew’s body out of the church with the deacon’s help &, with the mayor’s help, buried it in a grave marked only with one evergreen sprig driven into the hard ground.
“I will no doubt be arrested soon,” said the mayor. And added, “My wife seems to be gone!”—with a smile that tried to be casual but was in fact brave & pitiable. Then he handed me Emma’s diary. “It was in her room,” he said; “it must not be found here, but it must be preserved.” I nodded.
“Is Emma still alive, do you think?” I asked. As he was about to speak we saw the deacon through the window, & then he knocked at the door. He was coming to tell the mayor that Amschi had been taken away, & he was worried for himself. The mayor comforted him, saying that he was not known to be any particular friend of Emma or Amschi; and that when he helped drag the Jew’s body away he was merely doing his duty as church deacon. The fellow asked to hear these reassurances again, & then a third time. The mayor patiently repeated. Then the deacon went away.
We were alone again & I looked at the mayor with his large kindly face & heavy jowls & thinning gray hair & his sports coat worn shiny, & repeated, “Do you think that Emma is still alive?” He puffed out his cheeks & ran his hand through his hair & finally said, “Who knows? We can only hope & pray that she is not. Hope and pray. Lovely Emma.”
Only when I was out of the country did I see clearly that Amschi must have done it all—fastened the star with the nail, added blood, added the biblical verse. And I even wonder whether she intended a general statement, or if she might have done it all for Emma. She knew from the start that Emma was sheltering the American. But did she know he was a Jew? And did she know how Emma would react? I suppose that is going too far. But she was a remarkable girl. They both were.
Of course my guess might be wrong.
According to my best information, crowds still wait outside the church and file in slowly one by one.