THE DOORS CLOSE
The car carried me through the half-ruined streets of Düsseldorf, for the last time. I was not destined to see the town again — at least, not for a long time. As I sat and gazed at it through the window, I thought: “It is, now, a fact forever that I have been tried here, today, the 5th of April, 1949.” And turning to Miss Taylor, I said “How sweet it is to ponder over the irreversibility of Time, and the irrevocability, the indestructibility of the past! Only the great moments of our life count. The rest of it is just a long preparation in view of those blessed hours of intense, more-than-personal joy. I have lived such hours today — others on the night of my arrest, the most beautiful night of my life; others in glorious ’40, when I thought the world was ours. Nothing can rob me of those divine memories. Oh, how happy I am?”
I paused, and smiled. We were now outside the town, rolling along the great Reichsautobahn. I continued: “It is the same in the life of nations: it is not the length of historic epochs that matters; it is their intensity — and their beauty. Before the twelve ineffaceable years of King Akhnaton’s rule at Tell-el-Amarna, millenniums of Egyptian history fade away into dullness; Greece is Periclean Greece — a few brief years of unparalleled glory; and the history of Germany, in the eyes of generations
to come, will be the history of the twelve ineffaceable years of Adolf Hitler’s dictatorship . . . plus, — I hope — that of his second coming and second reign; in other words, the history of National Socialism.”
“What about Bismarck?” said Miss Taylor. “And what about the Pan-Germanist movement, already before the first World War?”
“Bismarck, and the Pan-Germanists after him, only prepared the ground for Adolf Hitler,” replied I. “It is the Führer who gave Pan-Germanism its right meaning — its only possible meaning in the world of tomorrow, in which material frontiers will have less and less importance; it is he who integrated it into broader Pan-Aryanisin, showing the Germans the only solid ground upon which .they can and should claim supremacy.”
“The fact that they are the first Aryan nation wide-awake, as I said just now, at my trial. Oh, I am glad I said that! I am glad it shall now be true forever that I said it, even if people forget it. You remember, once, you reminded me that I am not a German? Well, in one way, so much the better — for it is precisely because I am not one that the few truths that I have expressed today take on all their meaning. Don’t I know that?”
Miss Taylor did not answer. But I recalled in my mind a few verses of Victor Hugo which I was made to learn in the school where I used to go, as a child, in France. The verses, end of a passionately patriotic poem written after the defeat of France in 1871, were the following:
“. . . Oh, I wish,
I wish I were not French so that I could say
That I choose thee, France, and that, in thy martyrdom,
I proclaim thee, whom the vulture torments,
My country and my glory and my sole love!”1
In school, we were asked to admire these words. Now, I could not help comparing them with my own sincere homage to Germany, after the bitterest defeat in her history. “Hum!” thought I, with a feeling of satisfaction; “that is all right enough. But Victor Hugo was French. I am not German. It makes a hell of a difference — even if my homage be less dramatically worded than his and, in addition to that, nothing but prose.”
* * *
Apart from Miss Taylor and myself, a policeman in uniform and a young Englishman, sentenced to nine months’ imprisonment for theft and also going to Werl, had taken place in the car. I told that young man what sentence I had been given, and what for, in answer to which he started vehemently proclaiming his personal adherence to the democratic principles in the name of which England had fought. I looked at him with inner contempt, and experienced once more that malignant contentment which I always feel at the sight of the worthlessness of our opponents. I said, ironically: “How interesting it is to hear you defend Democracy!” — which meant in reality: “How lovely it is to meet such an ardent Democrat, who is at the same time a thief!” (the words that I would doubtless have plainly uttered, had I
1 “. . . Oh, je voudrais,
Je voudrais n’être pas Français, pour pouvoir dire
Que je to choisis, France, et que, daps ton martyre,
Je to proclame, toi que ronge le vautour,
Ma patrie et ma glorie et mon unique amour.”
Victor Hugo “A la France” (L’Année terrible)
not wanted to avoid possibly hurting Miss Taylor, who had, only an hour before, made me that invaluable present of ink and paper). I then completely lost interest in the man, and I looked once more out of the window.
That road to Werl, that I was beginning to know so well, I was following for the last time. I was, now, really going to prison — to stay there. And I was happy to go, and happy to wear my symbolical earrings on the way, and to keep my defiant attitude. I knew that I would always keep it; that it was the very meaning of my life; that it would stick to me, even after I were dead, no doubt, in the minds of the few who might remember me. Yet, the sunlit fields, full of daisies and buttercups, and the tender green bushes along the road, and the fruit trees covered with blossoms seemed to me still more beautiful than they had in the morning. For this time I knew I would not see them again. “Another spring like this one will come and go, and I shall not see it,” thought I; “and another will follow, and I shall not see that one, either, and a third one will come, and I shall not see that, unless they decide to send me back to India. But it does not matter. I would not exchange my destiny for anybody’s — not even for that of my comrades who died in 1940 with the illusion of victory in their hearts. For I know, now, that, one day, I shall see the resurrection of National Socialism — and the revenge I have so longed for . . .” Thus I reflected. And I was happy. In the splendour of that German spring — the first I had seen; the last I would see for a long time — I hailed the everlasting victory of Life over Death. “As these trees have bloomed out of the bleak barrenness of winter,” I thought, for the hundredth time, “so, one day, out of those ruins of which the sight now haunts me, the martyred land will live and thrive and conquer again.” And tears came to
my eyes as I imagined myself among the frantic crowds of the future, on the Führer’s return. Still, along with deep happiness, there was now a certain sadness in my heart, because of the overwhelming loveliness of the countryside that I was admiring for the last time.
The car rolled on. I was silent, — lost in the contemplation of the bright sky and new green earth and bright coloured flowers; breathing the fragrance and radiance of life reborn; clinging eagerly to the sight of the sunlit world, as though my last hour of relative liberty had been also the last hour of my life. I knew that every revolution of the wheels under me — now rolling at full speed — was taking me nearer to Werl, nearer to captivity. And I realised, more than I ever had before, how sweet freedom is. And although I regretted nothing — although I would have reacted just the same; spoken the selfsame words of faith and pride; defied the enemies of National Socialism with the selfsame aggressive joy, had it been possible for me to go through my trial again — I had, for a minute, the weakness to admit, in my heart, that it would have been lovely to remain free. And tears came to my eyes. But then, suddenly, I recalled H. E. and my other comrades and superiors imprisoned at Werl, and elsewhere, all over Germany: I recalled Rudolf Hess, a prisoner since 1941, and felt ashamed of myself. Yes, who was I to feel sad for the beauty of spring when the very sight of it had become, to them, like the memory of some former life?
My sadness persisted — perhaps even increased — but was no longer the same. I could have burst out weeping, had it not been for the presence of Miss Taylor and of the two men (and especially of the German driver) and for my desire to keep my standing at any cost. But I would have wept over my comrades’ long-drawn captivity, not over
the prospect of my own; over the persecution of National Socialism — the faith of Life and Resurrection in our times: the faith of the young, of the healthy, of the beautiful — in the midst of that invincible rebirth of Nature, in spite of it, in a spirit that was, and is, in my eyes, an insult to it. I imagined H. E. free again, one day, crossing in the opposite direction that threshold of gloom towards which the motorcar was now carrying me. That day would surely come. But when? When, thought I, would the doors of all the prisons of Germany, and elsewhere, of all the postwar concentration camps, be thrust wide open, and when would we, militant National Socialists, — the youth of the world; the children of spring — come forth and sing, once more, along the highways, our triumphant songs of the great days? Oh, when?
We entered Werl. The Sun had set, but it was daylight still. The road that led to the prison was one mass of flowers. Hanging over the walls of the private gardens that lay both sides of it, thick carpets of new green leaves and millions of tender petals, — white, yellow, pink, red, pale violet — nearly touched the car. I gazed at them, and inhaled as deeply as I could their intoxicating fragrance, as we drove up to the huge dark prison doors.
I got down from the car. I helped the driver to take out my luggage. Then, Miss Taylor rang the bell. And we waited . . .
A golden sky shed its light upon the many-coloured flowers, upon the quiet street through which we had come and the quiet little space where that street met the one that ran parallel to the prison walls; and upon those great high walls themselves, — the forbidding limit of the different world into which I was now to enter definitively; to which I already belonged. The windowpanes of the neighbouring houses facing west, shone like gold. And a soft
breeze brought me the breath of the gardens, — the breath of the world of the free. We might have waited half a minute: perhaps a minute. Again, I thought of my comrades — some six hundred men and a few women, among, whom H. E. — behind those walls for nearly four years. And I realised in absolute sincerity that, had it been possible, I would have gladly remained, myself, a captive forever — renouncing the right to see trees and flowers and even the divine sky for the rest of my life — if, at that price, I could have set them free. I would have, indeed! (I would now, — after tasting freedom once more, in full knowledge of its worth.) And I prayed to the One Whose effulgence is the effulgence of the Sun: “Give them back freedom and power, Lord of the unseen Forces that govern all that can be seen! Restore our New Order, image on earth of Thine eternal Order! — and I don’t care what happens to me.”
I heard the noise of a key in the thick iron keyhole. Slowly, the huge heavy doors were flung open. I crossed the threshold . . . and could not help turning around my head to take a last glance at the lovely, peaceful evening, at the golden sky; to breathe the smell of flowers once more. There was something solemn in that ultimate, fleeting vision of beauty. There was, in that instant, an experience that I would remember as long as I lived. I was not unhappy — on the contrary: a deep, serene joy filled me, and I crossed the threshold with a smile. I knew my place was there, among the others who, like I, (though more intelligently, more efficiently than I) had done their best for the Nazi cause and who, like I, had fallen into our enemies’ hands. And I was intensely aware of being, for once in my life, in my place, — in my place at last! In my place, at least in the hour of persecution, I who, years and years ago, should have come and
shared with those of own race and faith, the glorious life of the great days; I who should have come during the first struggle for power, — when I was twenty — instead of wasting my energy in Greece . . .
With a resounding noise that made me involuntarily shudder, the huge heavy doors closed upon me. Tears came to my eyes. I was now in my new home. And I thought of H. E. whom I would soon meet again; of the other so-called “war criminals” whom I would have the honour and the joy of knowing. For surely — I thought — I would be transferred to the D Wing. I was happy — and moved. Once more, in a flash, I recalled the glory of spring beyond. the now closed doors, — and, also, the skeletons of houses and factories, the miles and miles of charred and blasted walls that cried for vengeance under the sky, day and night; and the people for whom I had fought, in my clumsy manner, and for whose freedom I would have undergone anything. “Germany,” thought I, “in former years, I did not know myself how much I loved thee!” And I felt that there was, between my Führer’s people and I, a definitive link that nothing could ever break nor slacken.
* * *
Miss Taylor took leave of me after the German warder had signed the paper she handed over to him, (thus testifying that I was no longer in her custody.) I had drawn my scarf over my head to hide my earrings from the sight of the warder. Members of the British police in Düsseldorf had seen me wearing them, it was true, and had expressed no objection. But I did not know who these warders were; and if, as Mr. Stocks had once told me, the man whom the British had appointed as the head of the male section of the prison was a notorious anti-Nazi,
there was no reason not to presume that some at least of the warders were of the same kind. And I knew — from my comrades — that a German anti-Nazi is generally much worse than any representative of the Occupying Powers (with, of course the exception of the Jews). After a while, a wardress from the “Frauen Haus” came to fetch me. Two prisoners, — ordinary delinquents — walked ahead of us, carrying my luggage, while the wardress and I talked in a friendly manner.
We reached the staircase leading to the “Frauen Haus.” Frau So-and-so and another one of those who were definitely “in order” were on duty that night, along with the wardress who had come to fetch me, and a fourth one. It is Frau So-and-so who opened the door for us on the landing. “Well . . . ?” asked she, as soon as she saw me.
“All right,” replied I. “Got three years. Expected much worse, especially after speaking as I did.” Then, after a minute’s pause I enquired about the one thing that had worried me all day: “Do you know if H. E. has found my manuscripts?” said I, eagerly. “I asked her to hide them . . .”
“Your manuscripts are in safety in Sister Maria’s office,” replied the faithful wardress. “H. E. and I saw to it. You’ll have them back tomorrow morning.”
“Thank you!” exclaimed I, from the bottom of my heart; “oh, thank you!”
I was taken back to my cell, and Frau So-and-so ordered some supper for me. While I was waiting for it, the four wardresses gathered around me. They admired my earrings, and commented upon my sentence. “Three years is a long time,” said one; “why, that woman in No. 48, who is here for having killed her newborn baby, has got only three years!”
“Naturally,” replied another; “a German baby more
or less makes no difference in the eyes of ‘those people’, while a blow to their blinking prestige does.”
“Well,” put in a third one, “we must try to put ourselves in their place. We have lost the war. It is a fact. And here is a woman who comes all the way from India and takes our side openly. In ’45, they would have shot her. Of course, times are changing — and rapidly, it seems.” And turning to me she said: “I was afraid, however, that even now ‘they’ would give you more than three years. You were lucky.”
“Anyhow, don’t imagine it is my fault if ‘they’ sentenced me only to that much,” said I: “for it surely is not. I spoke the truth, and was not a bit afraid of ‘them’, I can assure you.” And I repeated, summing it up the best I could, what I had stated in my speech before the military Tribunal. The wardresses were amazed “You said that and ‘they’ left you get away with three years! Gosh, it looks as though times are changing!”
“‘They’ perhaps wished to make a good impression upon the Indians, who knows?” suggested I. “The last time I was in London, I was told that there was now a terrific Communist propaganda campaign going on, all over India. These Johnnies probably want to show the Indians how lenient they are, compared with the Russians. They want to propitiate their ex-colony . . .”
“That’s it, that’s it!” exclaimed the fourth wardress. “They are afraid. A good sign!”
“You know what you would have got, if the Russians had caught you in their Zone?” put in another. “Deportation for life to Siberia, or something like that . . .”
“I believe it,” said I. “And so would I, if I had the power to do what I please with one of our sincerest opponents, send him or her to deportation for life — or to immediate death. The Communists are our real enemies,
and know it. But these people . . . these soppy Democrats, these liars, they don’t know themselves what they are nor what they want. Yesterday, they joined the Reds to crush our Ideology. Tomorrow, when they are sufficiently scared of the Reds, they will crawl in the filth to lick our boots — after all they did to us — and implore our help against the Reds . . . . Our help! I wish we keep them crawling as long as it is expedient, or as long as it amuses us, and then give them a good kick and turn against them! But, of course, I am not the one to decide in that intricate game of convenient alliances. It exceeds my brains by far. All I know is that I despise the Democrats whatever they do, and that, if they imagined they were going to gain the slightest sympathy from me by being lenient to me, they made a great mistake. I wish I can, one day, make them feel sorry they did not kill me when they could have . . .”
“My God, if only they could hear you now, I bet they would already feel sorry!” said one of the wardresses, laughing.
I laughed too. My supper was brought in: six slices of white bread, some macaroni and cheese baked in the oven, some butter, some plum jam, a bun with raisins and a jug of hot tea, with sugar and milk. The wardresses, wished me good appetite and good night, and left my cell. I ate the macaroni, a slice of bread, a little of the jam, and put all the rest by for my friend H. E.
Then, I wrote to my husband a letter of twenty pages reproaching him with having tried to save me from captivity when I did not want to be saved, and telling him how happy I was to have spoken as a true National Socialist before, the representatives of the Allied Occupation and before the German public.
* * *
The next day, early in the morning, H. E. came to my cell. The wardress on duty — who was “in order” — pulled the door behind her. We talked a few minutes. “I hear you have got three years,” said my comrade; “you were lucky. I expected you would get at least five; and most of us said ten.”
“Yes,” replied I: “I know. And yet, I did all I could to show the judge and every person present that I was not afraid to suffer for our cause.”
I repeated to her the essential of what I had said in my speech. And I told her about the letter my husband had written, and specified that I had forbidden the lawyer to mention it. H. E. looked at me intently and said “You are truly one of us. I shall never forget you. As you say, the heavenly Powers have spared you for you to take part in our coming struggle.” She put her arm around my waist and squeezed my hand, while I rested my head upon her shoulder for a second or two. I was happy.
“You know,” continued H. E. after a while, “in all my career, I met only one non-German whom I could compare with you. It was a Polish woman whom we caught spying on behalf of England during the war, and whom we shot. I was present at her trial, and remember her speech. You remind me of her . . .”
“Thank you very much for comparing me with an agent from the ‘other side’!” said I, jokingly.
“You must not laugh,” answered H. E. “She might have been misled; she might have been, without realising it, ‘a traitor to her own race’, as you so rightly call all Aryans who opposed us, — for she was no Jewess, I can assure you. But she was sincere and fearless, as you are.
And as I saw our men led her out of the hall, I could not help regretting she had not devoted her fine natural qualities of character to our cause.”
“Well,” said I, “I am glad she was caught and shot. To waste Aryan qualities in the service of Jewish interests, knowingly or unknowingly, is sacrilegious: it is casting pearls before the swine. But tell me: what do you think of the letter I wrote to my husband last night, in answer to his effort to ‘excuse’ me in the eyes of the authorities? See . . .” And I translated to her one or two sentences out of it.
“You should not send it,” said H. E. “It will sadden him, without any profit to the cause. Poor man! He only wrote as he did to try to get you off, as any one of us would have done, if it had been possible. He did his best for you — and for us. Promise me you will not send that.”
“Perhaps, then, I shall not. I shall alter that and a few other passages . . .”
“Yes, do,” said my friend. And anticipating that which I was going to ask her, she added: “I shall bring you back your manuscripts as soon as Sister Maria comes. They are safe. Frau So-and-so must have told you . . .”
“She did. I do thank you for keeping them! I was afraid for them although, apparently, I had no reason to be.”
I then gave her the food and tea that I had put aside for her on the evening before, and my morning’s porridge and white bread. “I’ll take half now and half when I come back,” said she, “for I’ll never be able to carry all that along the corridor without being noticed.”
We parted as usual, greeting each other with the mystic words: “Heil Hitler!”
* * *
I was working on the Chapter 7 of my Gold in the Furnace, — of which Sister Maria had just brought the manuscript back to me — when Fräulein S. (Frau Oberin’s assistant) came into my cell and bade me follow her “to the Governor’s.” To my surprise, I was not taken downstairs and across the prison grounds to the Governor’s office, but just across the corridor to Frau Oberin’s office, where the Governor was waiting for me. (This surprised me, because it was a Wednesday; and the Governor did not generally come in touch with the prisoners there, save on his regular visits to the “Frauen Haus” on Friday mornings.)
Colonel Vickers was sitting at Frau Oberin’s desk. The German interpreter — about whose politics I had heard, from Mr. Stocks, more than enough to dislike him heartily — and Mr. Watts, a dark man with a prominent paunch, who, occasionally, used to replace the Governor — were also present, the former standing up, the latter seated in an armchair. Frau Oberin and the matron of the prison, — the elderly blue-eyed lady, with white hair, who had received me on the day of my very first arrival at Werl — were standing up. So was Fräulein S., who had just entered the room with me.
The Governor gave me an abrupt “Good morning” in answer to my salute, and addressing me rather bluntly, said, to my great astonishment: “The Court has, I see, sentenced you to three years’ imprisonment. Your case is no business of mine, as I have told you once already: I am here only to look after you during the time you remain in my charge. But I cannot help noticing that yours is the heaviest sentence ever given a woman by a British Court, for such an offence as yours, since we are in this country. There must be a reason for it, for our justice is fair. However, you have the right to appeal for
a revision of your sentence, — if you like — provided you can produce sufficient evidence to show that it should be revised. But I must warn you that, if you do so without serious grounds, you run the risk of getting a still heavier sentence for having made us waste our time . . .”
“I have not the slightest desire to appeal either for justice or for clemency,” said I, standing before the desk, with a ray of morning sunshine upon my face, feeling happy. “Had I wished to, I would have, already during my trial, made use of the letter which my husband had sent the authorities to try to whitewash me. I refused to do so. Moreover, given the present circumstances, and given all that I stand for, I consider my sentence extremely lenient.”
“All right,” replied Colonel Vickers, accepting, possibly with a little surprise, but without comments, the unexpected glimpse I had thus just given him of my real self. And, turning to Frau Oberin and to the matron, he said, speaking of me: “She must wear the prisoners’ clothes; and she must work. She will be given the special British diet, as before, being a British subject. But that is all. And if she is ever caught distributing food to other prisoners, her privilege will be cancelled.”
The interpreter translated the words into German for the benefit of Frau R. the matron. Frau Oberin knew enough English not to need a translation.
Then the Governor said to me: “I hope you understand me.”
“I do,” answered I, — all the time firmly determined to continue to give the best of my special food to H. E. without getting caught.
“If your behaviour is satisfactory” pursued he, “you will, regularly, be remitted of one quarter of your penalty, which means that you will serve two years and three
months instead of three years, in supposing that you are not sent back to India in the meantime.”
“May I know,” asked I, “When they are likely to send me back to India?”
“Regularly, not before you have served at least one third of your term of imprisonment, that is to say, not before one year,” replied the Governor. “So you have not to think of that possibility for the present. Have you anything more to ask?”
“I would like to know,” said I, “If I may have light in my cell till 10 p.m.?”
“No.” answered Colonel Vickers; “it is not the rule. And I can see no reason justifying an exception in your case. Besides, it is natural that you should go to bed early, as you will work all day.”
“It is all right,” said I inwardly resentful, outwardly indifferent. “I only asked that, as I was under the impression that political prisoners were allowed light in their cells longer than the others.” I remembered what Miss Taylor had told me the day before, on my way to Düsseldorf.
“Political prisoners are the last people to whom we give light after time — the last ones, in fact, to whom we grant any privileges,” said Colonel Vickers. And, (ignorant as he was of what Miss Taylor had told me about General Kesselring and others writing their memoirs, and General Rundstedt being temporarily released on parole) he added: “We do allow light after eight o’clock to some; but those are all prisoners who write for us, or who do secret work for us in one way or another” (sic).
I pretended not to pay the slightest attention to what I had just heard (as though it did not interest me) and I put forth no further claims concerning light, or writing facilities. I knew the German staff would be easier to
tackle, in these matters, than the representative of British power in occupied Germany. At least the staff of the “Frauen Haus” would be. And the as days were getting longer and longer (a fact which no Occupation forces could alter) I would soon be able to write till ten or half past ten at night anyhow. But I was impressed by Colonel Vickers’ statement: and I immediately drew my own conclusions from it. It threw, indeed, unexpected complementary light upon Miss Taylor’s discourse about British “kindness” to so-called “war criminals.” Now I knew — from a responsible authority — how selective that supposed “kindness” was, extending as it did only to those willing to “do secret work” for Germany’s victors. . . . Well, I was certainly never going to win myself privileges at the cost of such a bargain. Not I!
“Now, I have little time to spare,” the Governor at last told me: “if there is anything you think you need, you can ask Miss M., who is in charge of the women’s, section of this prison. And you can do what she permits you to do. Good morning.”
I bowed in reply, and now Fräulein S. took me back to my cell. The person the Governor had said I should consult and obey, “Miss M.,” was none other than the one whom we prisoners knew as Frau Oberin. She had always shown a particularly sympathetic interest in me, and H. E. who was in Werl so long, had told me that she was a “first class person,” well disposed in our favour and “absolutely reliable.” And when I had asked my friend whether the lady was actually “in Ordnung,” i.e., a sincere National Socialist, she had replied: “She could not tell us so even if she were. Like all those who have managed to retain a job under ‘these creatures’, she is, compelled, to be exceedingly careful. But she will help you as much as she can. She has helped me a lot.” Doubtless,
I would be able to write, if it depended upon her, thought I. And again I felt that, the less Colonel Vickers suspected the fact that I was writing, in prison, under his nose, such a book as Gold in the Furnace, the better it would be for me; and the better for the safety of the book — the better for the Nazi cause, which the book was intended to serve, one day.
* * *
In my cell, I continued to write my Chapter 7 on “Plunder, Lies, and Shallowness.” Upon my table, open at different places, were spread out three or four issues of the Revue de la Presse rhénane et allemande, — selected typed extracts of the German newspapers concerning happenings in occupied Germany, which a French official in Koblenz had very kindly handed over to me as “useful information” for my proposed book, in perfect ignorance of the nature of the book and therefore of the spirit in which I was to use any document.
Time passed. Some two hours after lunch, Oberwachtmeisterin S. the lady who used to supervise the prisoners’ work in the whole women’s section, came in. Middle-aged, short, and a little stout, but extremely elegant, — dressed with utmost sober taste — she was energetic, firm, efficient, of more than average intelligence, and could be charming when she liked. She had always been charming in her relations with me, showing more interest in my career as a writer and in my activities in India than most other members of the prison staff. However, I had not yet made out whether she was “in order” or not. H. E., who knew her much longer than I did, thought she was, but was “not quite sure.” Frau S. herself had repeatedly told me that, since the end of the war she was “fed up with all ideologies” and that she did
not wish to hear a word about any. All I knew with certainty was that she was one of the members of the staff with whom I had the greatest pleasure of talking.
She walked in and asked me with a smile: “Well, how are you getting on? And what has the Governor told you, this morning?”
“He said I must work,” answered I.
“And what work would you like to do?” enquired Frau S. “What are you able to do? — for here some of the prisoners knit, others make nets or bags or baskets; others, who know the trade, make dresses. Do you know how to make anything?”
“I am afraid I don’t,” replied I. “But I can learn.”
Frau S. smiled again. “It takes time to learn,” she said. “It is better to do what one is made for.” And after a pause she asked me: “Apart from writing, and from lecturing in public — and, doubtless, also privately, to your husband and all your friends — what did you do when you were home in India?”
“I used to give lessons in languages, and do translations, when I needed more money than my husband could afford to give me. Otherwise, I did a little painting, I went to a few tea parties; did practically nothing.”
“A National Socialist woman should be skilled in all manner of household work,” said Frau S. watching me ironically, to see how much the irreproachable orthodoxy of her statement would impress me. She was not the first person in Germany to remind me of that, and to make me feel utterly ashamed of myself. For a second, the acute awareness of possibilities lost forever, — the retrospective vision of the woman I could have been — was painful to me. And I looked at Frau S. with such depth of sincere sadness that the irony vanished from the glance of her sparkling grey eyes.
“Perhaps I was wrong not to have striven, in my youth, towards that all-round realisation of my womanhood implied in our ideals,” said I. “I don’t know. I somehow seemed to feel that I was destined to be a wanderer all my life . . . Anyhow, it is no good thinking of the past. Now, my household is my cell. And I shall try to keep it as clean and tidy as I can.”
Frau S. patted me on the shoulder. “I am sorry if I made you feel sad,” she said; “I did not intend to. Now, tell me frankly: what would you really like to do? What would you do if you were free?”
“Continue to write my book,” replied I, unhesitatingly.
“Well, continue now,” said the Oberwachtmeisterin, to my amazement and to my joy. “I shall bring you, for the sake of formality, a little easy work which you will finish in an hour or so. The rest of the day, continue your own real work — your work that matters.”
I was deeply moved. “I can find no words eloquent enough to thank you,” exclaimed I, in a sincere outburst of gratitude, as tears came to my eyes. “This is the greatest favour you could do me. And...” — I could not help adding — “I cannot bring myself to believe that you would regret your kindness if you knew what I am writing.”
“I don’t want to know — now,” replied Frau S. “It is in English, isn’t it? I can’t read English. One day, if it is ever translated into German, as I hope, I shall be glad to read it.”
“If the Gods spare my manuscript till then, answered I; “and if my comrades consider it worth translating . . .”
Frau S. smiled, squeezed my hand, and left the cell.
I was happy. Before my written tribute of admiration to Germany could be translated and published, things would surely have to change a lot. Did Frau S. really think they were likely to? And so quickly? It would be a miracle. But I believed in miracles. My condemnation to three years’ imprisonment only — after the attitude I had shown throughout my trial — was a miracle. The presence of my precious manuscripts, intact, upon the table before me, was a miracle.
I looked up to the bright sky; to the Sun, king of all the Gods, that shone beyond my nontransparent windowpanes and my iron bars. “Invisible Forces Who govern all things visible,” I prayed, “give my German comrades freedom and power. . . . Oh, bring back our grand days!”
* * *
The next day, the 7th of April, in the afternoon Frau R., the matron of the prison, came to fetch me. “Take your things with you — all your things,” she said. Two prisoners, whom she had brought with her, caught hold of my trunk and dragged it out of the cell, while I took my coat, my attaché case, some books, all I could carry. My manuscripts, too voluminous to be hidden, I pushed into the draw of my table, with my inkbottle, pen and pencils. The portrait: of the Führer was there too, between two sheets of paper, as Frau Oberin had told me; in the morning, that it was safer for me not to keep it out, at least in the daytime when so many eyes could see through the spy hole of my cell. Before I left the place, however, the matron opened the drawer.
“You must take these papers also,” said she; “everything.”
“But these I need,” ventured I to reply. “These are my writings.”
“The Governor said you are to work,” answered Frau R.; “he did not mention writing.”
“I know. I heard him myself. But in the evenings, mayn’t I do something to occupy myself? The Governor told me he had no time to enter into the details of my daily routine, but left that to Frau Oberin. I’ll ask her whether I may write after working hours.”
“Others clean their cells and mend their stockings after working hours,” said the matron. “However, if Frau Oberin allows you to write, I have no objection. She is responsible. I only do what I am ordered.”
“So, must I take my papers or leave them here?” asked I, inwardly anxious.
“All right. Leave them,” agreed the matron, to my relief. “But we must ask Frau Oberin, before you may definitely keep them.”
I was taken into the little room into which I had entered on the very first day I had come to Werl. I was asked to undress, and my civilian clothes were put away, carefully catalogued along with the rest of my possessions. And I put on the prisoners’ uniform: over prison linen and a thick grey woolen petticoat, dark blue overalls and a grey apron. I was also given a dark blue woolen pullover and a black jacket to wear when I went out into the courtyard during the “free hour,” or even in my cell, for it was still cold.
I took off every bit of jewellery I wore — gold bangles, gold chain, rings — all save the iron bangle on my left hand (in Bengal, the sign of the indissolubility of marriage). Before giving up my gold chain, I took off the glass portrait of the Führer that I used to wear on it, and put it in my pocket. But the watchful matron caught any gesture: “What are you trying to hide?” she asked
me. I had no alternative but to show her the precious little object.
“I don’t want to part with this,” said I, eagerly. “Don’t take it away from me! It is the last treasure I have. It will do no harm to anyone if I wear it around my neck on a plain piece of string, as some other prisoners wear a cross. Nobody will even notice it.” I was moved, as I uttered these words. The little object was our Führer’s likeness. It was also the gift of a sincere Nazi, who loved and trusted me, whom I loved and trusted; the gift of persecuted Germany, to me. “Oh, don’t take it away from me!” said I, again.
“All right, then; keep it,” replied to my surprise, and joy, Frau R. — she who seemed, so much of a disciplinarian. Had she been touched, in spite of herself, by the spontaneous expression I had given my feelings? Or did she calmly consider it her duty as a German to show kindness towards a true friend of her country) I shall never know.
I thanked her enthusiastically for the favour she had thus done me. Then, as I gathered a few toilet objects to take back to my cell, I asked her: “May I also take this box?”
“What is in it? Face powder? You are not to use that, here in prison,” said the matron.
“It is only talcum powder,” replied I with ease, opening the box, practically full, at the bottom of which I had hidden, the day before, carefully wrapped in soft paper, my Indian earrings in the shape of swastikas.
Frau R. examined the box, without caring to empty it; saw that it was indeed talcum powder, and said, to my delight: “Yes, you can keep it.”
I then; looked at myself in the large mirror that the room contained, and was disappointed. Prisoner’s clothes,
decidedly, did not improve my appearance. I looked much better in my brown tailored suit, or in my lovely dark red frock (both gifts of comrades in England on the occasion of my departure to Germany) or, of course, in any of my “saris.” But I realised that, now, I was dressed like H. E. and the other captive Nazi women, who had all suffered so incredibly more than I for our common cause. And the clumsy, ill-fitted uniform appeared to me as a mantle of glory. And I smiled at myself in the mirror.
“Well you look a pretty girl all the same, in those clothes, don’t you?” said the matron, good-humouredly.
“I do, I know,” replied I with conviction. “An intense inner life — like ours — always makes one pretty.”
In my mind, as a memory from another world, I recalled the Greek nationalist that I had once been — the girl of eighteen who wore hand-woven, brightly embroidered frocks of peasant cut, bought in Athens, and who proudly used to declare: “Paris dictates its taste to all women save me.” And I recalled the woman who had sailed to India a few years later in search of an unbroken Aryan tradition, and who adopted the Indian “sari” to look more of an ancient Greek, more of a Pagan Greek, more of an Aryan Heathen of all times. How all that stress upon externals now seemed childish, desperately childish to me! Had I, for that, missed my fulfillment and done only half my duty? For the spirit of eternal Aryan Pagandom was here, in the ardent hearts and disciplined lives of men in brown or greyish green uniforms, not there, in the Near or Middle East, in vain draperies, nor even in unbroken traditions, followed with less and less understanding. And now, after the disaster, it lived and gleamed, invincible, in the hearts
and lives of the selfsame undaunted minority — in my comrades, so many of whom wore prisoners’ clothes like I would, henceforth. Far better than that of the bejewelled woman in Greek or Indian dress, the picture the looking glass now sent back to me symbolised the realisation of my lifelong yearning; was the picture of my real self.
As I was coming out, I met Oberwachtmeisterin S. in the corridor. I had not seen her all day. She told me, (doubtless out of courtesy) that my new clothes suited me well; and then, addressing me as though I were a friend, not a prisoner, she said: “Do you know that your case has come out on the wireless, last night? They broadcasted one or two of the things you told them at your trial. Indeed, you spoke well.”
She followed me into my cell. The wardress on duty, who accompanied me, left us and went her way. “They also stated that you sold your beautiful Indian jewellery in order to finance your activities in Germany,” pursued Frau S.
“It is true,” replied I. “But why speak of it on the wireless? Any sincere National Socialist would do as much, I hope. However, if the little they said about me, and especially the little they broadcasted of my speech in Court, has contributed to make even one extra German feel proud of his natural Aryan nobility; if it has made even one realise, more vividly than before, what a great thing Adolf Hitler has done for Germany in making her the conscious stronghold of reborn Aryandom, then I am happy; then I don’t mind sitting here three years — or ten, at that — without seeing a tree . . .”
But as I uttered these words, the fleeting picture of bright green fields full of violets, daisies and buttercups; of fruit trees covered with blossoms — the glory of Spring —
rushed back to my memory like a vision of lost paradise, and tears filled my eyes. Yet I still meant all I said.
“Without seeing a tree!” repeated I after a short pause, during which the fleeting vision had forced itself upon my mind, more alluring than ever. “Oh, how beautiful the trees were, in their springly garb, on the day before yesterday, — my last day of liberty! How beautiful were the bushes and the fields full of flowers, along the great Reichsautobahn . . . and how lovely the pure sky, and the sunshine, the divine sunshine! . . . I took a last glance at all that and the heavy doors closed upon me. But it does not matter. It is my place, here, among my persecuted comrades — among those who loved our Führer to the end. And if, even from here, indirectly — through the comments of our enemies upon my case — I have been, at least once more, of some use, well, I am glad.”
Frau S. gazed at me earnestly. “I should not tell you this,” said she, lowering her voice, “but I shall, all the same. And you must believe me, for I speak the truth. Beyond those heavy doors that closed on you, every faithful German, every true and worthy German, respects you and loves you.”
Had I just been told that the world was now mine, I would not have felt more intensely moved. “My Führer’s people,” whispered I, as the tears I tried in vain to hold back ran down my cheeks; “the men of iron, whom he so loved. They!”
In a flash, I evoked my first unforgettable glimpse of the martyred land ten months before: the ruins of Hamburg, the ruins of Brem, of all the towns I had seen on that night of the 15th of June 1948. I recalled the words two humble railway men had then addressed me — instead of denouncing me to the police — when they caught me
distributing my first handwritten leaflets: “We thank you, in the name of all Germany,” words I would remember as long as I lived; words of the working élite of pure blood, erect and dignified amidst the most appalling material desolation. I had seen more of that élite, since then; I had admired it. I knew, now, that no force in the world could kill it; I knew that it would always be there for me to continue to live for — I, who in the despair of 1945, had declared to someone, in India, my desire to “turn my back on mankind, forever.” And lo, a responsible woman and a German was telling me that, in the heart of that superhuman suffering élite I now had a place . . .
“No glory,” replied I to Frau S.; “no broad-scale international honours, absolutely nothing in the world could touch me more than that which you have just said. Tell those faithful Germans of whom you speak, that I am aware of the sacred link that binds me to them, forever and ever. Tell them that I too, love them.”
“I shall,” said the Oberwachtmeisterin.
And she added, in a very low voice: “Among them are people whom I know personally; people who once held important posts in the Party — in which I was too. But promise me you shall never say a word of all this to anyone, not to Frau Oberin, not to any of the wardresses, however much ‘in order’ they be; not even to your friend H. E. Can you really keep it secret?”
“I promise I shall,” said I.
“I’ll come and see you again tomorrow morning,” said Frau S. “Auf wiedersehen!”