“Please, don’t keep on asking me to transfer you to the D wing,” said Frau Oberin. “I have told you over and over again: it is not in my power. By repeatedly showing me how much you resent not being there — which I understand so well — you only make me feel wretched. You forget how limited my authority is here. As I told you once already, you forget that we have lost the war.”
“Alas, I don’t forget that; I know it only too well,” replied I. “But I can never resign myself to the fact, and look upon the glorious recent years as though they were gone forever and their spirit completely dead — as you seem to.”
Seated in an armchair opposite Frau Oberin, in her office, I was thus talking to her, not as a prisoner to the head of the women’s section of the Werl prison, but as a sincere friend of Germany to a German woman. I used to talk in more or less the same free manner to the whole staff, including “unapproachable” Frau Erste. And nobody seemed to object. (Only with the Governor and his assistant Mr. Watts — with the “occupants” — was I extremely careful.)
But Frau Oberin gazed at me sadly. “None of us look upon the recent past as something dead,” said she in a low voice. “But we have to face facts and live the best we can, now, in awaiting better times. Only so, can we in silence prepare the future. Premature exhibitions
of our feelings are of no use. They would do us more harm than good.”
Her words rang strangely like those which one of my comrades — an exceptionally intelligent man as well as an ardent National Socialist — had addressed me in 1948 on the very day I had come to him with an introduction from abroad. Once more, I wondered to what extent Frau Oberin was one of us. Sometimes I could have sworn she was. Then again, she would say something as though to emphasize her aloofness from all political ideologies. And I did not know what to believe. This time, I felt practically sure she was in Ordnung, as we said; so much so that I was going to ask her point-blank: “Don’t you want that beautiful future which the Führer was preparing for Germany and for the world?” But she spoke first, pursuing the trend of her thoughts after a pause. “You could have forwarded the cause of National Socialism, now, much more efficiently than by distributing leaflets. The time is not yet ripe for such spectacular demonstrations.”
“Exactly what Herr A. used to tell me!” thought I. And recalling in my mind the bright, energetic face of my beloved comrade, I hoped, for the hundred thousandth time since the day of my arrest, that nothing terrible had happened to him on account of my foolishness. My first impulse would have been to tell Frau Oberin that I had only brought back from abroad those latest posters of mine because I had been unable to bring back something far better, namely some tangible financial help from foreign friends and sympathisers. And I would have stressed that it was surely not my fault if those friends and sympathisers had so badly failed us. But I remembered that I was not to speak of this to anybody, and I said nothing.
“You air your views too openly, even here in jail,” pursued Frau Oberin, “and thus you make it very difficult for me to do anything to help you render your life in the B wing less dull. I had sent you that Polish woman, hoping that she would be, now and then, company for you. But you have bitterly antagonised her. I had told you before hand that she had nothing in common with you, politically. You should have avoided displaying before her the ardour of your convictions. Can you really talk of nothing else but National Socialism?”
“I can talk of many things; I have done so, to you, haven’t I?” replied I, alluding to former half hours in Frau Oberin’s office, during which I had spoken of such things as modern Greek embroidery, Indian customs, the midnight Sun, or the life of Genghis Khan. “But that woman’s inconsistency got on my nerves. She ranted against the Communists with such passion that I asked her why on earth she had not supported us, and she replied that our ‘methods’ are as brutal as theirs. As if the ‘methods’ mattered, when our ends are so different! And as if one could achieve anything quickly without brutality, anyhow! Then, she told me that she hated the Führer. And that made me wild. I hit back in biting words. And I am glad if she is sufficiently ‘antagonised’ not to wish to come hack to see me. I don’t want her, however cultured she might be. I could never love her. I can never love anybody who hates the Führer and who is the enemy of all that I stand for.”
“I am sorry, said Frau Oberin; “when I sent that woman to you, I did not quite realise yet how extreme you were in your emotions.”
I rose to go away. And I cannot describe exactly what happened then within me. In a flash, I became
aware that this incapacity of mine for being even superficially friendly towards anyone who disliked our philosophy — let alone who hated our Führer — isolated me, in this horrible postwar world, from all but our circles (and, perhaps, one or two kindly, simple women who had no philosophy at all, and no politics). Now, in jail, the company of those of our faith, — of the only ones I loved — was denied me. When freed, I would doubtless be sent back to India, — expelled from Germany at any rate. It would hardly be better. It would be very difficult to remain in constant contact with my comrades, few and far apart. Again, I would be practically alone. “Until when?” thought I. And I burst into tears.
“Indeed I am extreme in my emotions,” said I. “Oh, would to God I could live among people of my own lot, as extreme as myself, to the exclusion of all others! I am sick of the others — of the moderate; of the lukewarm; and above all, of those who would, like to teach me to be moderate and ‘many-sided’, and ‘human’ — ‘civilised’ (a polite word for decadent) — which is against my nature. I am sick of this hostile world in which even that relative liberty allowed here in jail to those of my kind, — the liberty to be together — is denied me; will be denied me even when I am released. Talk of the German concentration camps in former days! My goodness, these rascals who are now doing all they can to hold Germany down, have turned all Europe, all the earth, into one immense concentration camp.”
Frau Oberin got up, put her arms around me, and told me gently that I should not cry; that she wished she could do something to please me. She was sincerely sympathetic. I pursued, speaking, this time, of the British, in connection with myself: “They give me
white bread and marmalade and chocolate on Sundays, and what not; and they imagine they are doing me a great favour for which I shall be grateful; and on the other hand, they cut me off from the D wing. The fools! If only they knew how little I care about their precious special diet! I only accepted it with a precise view to give as much as I possibly could of the good things to the D wing ones — and I shall tell them so, one day. I would much prefer being fed on just bread and water, and being allowed to spend my free time with my comrades!”
“You idealise the D wing ones,” said Frau Oberin. “I have already told you: they are not all National Socialists, as you think. And of those who are, very few are as passionately so as yourself. You would find many of your sort — genuine ones — among the men imprisoned here as ‘war criminals’.”
“I do wish I had the joy and honour of meeting them,” exclaimed I, although I knew that this was impossible as long as they and I remained in jail. And I wiped away my tears with the back of my hand. “But the women are pretty genuine, if they are all like H. E.” I added. “And even if they are not, still I love them. As I said before, I ‘love them because they are the victims of our enemies.”
Frau Oberin kissed me like a friend; like a sister. “I don’t want you to be unhappy,” she said. “Next Saturday afternoon — tomorrow — I shall send you two of the so-called ‘war criminals’ to keep you company in your cell.”
I was overwhelmed with astonishment and sudden joy. “How kind you are,” said I, looking up to her through the new tears that had just filled my eyes. “And you are quite sure you will not get into trouble because of that?”
“It will be all right, provided you do not tell anybody about it.”
“Not even H. E.?” asked I. “She is reliable.”
“Well, tell H. E. if you like, but nobody else. Let it not get to the ears of Frau R., the matron.”
“Is Frau R. against us?” I enquired.
“No; otherwise she would not have been in service, in former days. But she is very strict about rules and regulations — whoever makes them; and she hates any sort of disobedience to orders.”
“I shall say nothing. But, oh, how I do thank you!” replied I, as I departed.
* * *
On Saturday the 23rd April, early in the afternoon, the wardress on duty opened my cell and ushered in two of the so-called “war criminals.” “Visitors for you!” said she, turning to me with a friendly smile, as she let them in. My heart leaped. And tears came to my eyes — tears of joy. “I am happy to meet you,” said I to the two women; “I am, indeed! I dared not expect Frau Oberin would send you to me, but she did after all! I am so grateful to her; and so glad to make your acquaintance. Do sit down. Sit on my bed: it is more comfortable than the stool. I shall sit there too. There is place for three.”
My two visitors sat down. One, a very attractive and fairly young woman, ash-blonde, with large, kind and intelligent blue eyes, was L. M. the one I had seen from my window walking around the courtyard by the side of H. E. during the “free hour.” The other, who introduced herself as Frau S., I had never yet seen. But I had heard of her, from the ordinary delinquents who had been a long time in Werl. Condemned to death
by some Allied military tribunal for having painlessly sent to the next world a certain number of unwanted non-German children, her sentence had been commuted to one of lifelong imprisonment. She was older than L. M. — as old as I, in fact — but still looked young. She had delicate features, a gentle and thoughtful expression, blue eyes and glossy light-brown hair. Had, instead of I, some silly “humanitarian” been introduced to her, knowing, as I did, the reason why she was now a prisoner, he or she would have wondered how a woman with such a sweet face could possibly have been guilty of such an “awful thing.” But I entirely lack that superstitious regard for human life that religion has infused into most people. As a consequence of which, I was but very mildly impressed by the nature of her “offence.” And then, I felt sure that, although I did not yet know them, the circumstances in which the action had taken place would justify it in my eyes anyhow. Most probably, nothing else could have been done, in the given circumstances. And I was waiting with great curiosity for Frau S. to tell me what these were, and how the whole thing had happened.
But L. M. spoke first. “I have heard a lot about you from H. E.,” said she “and I very much wanted to meet you. We are here because we could not do otherwise. We were in Germany, in 1945, when the victorious Allies, enemies of the Hitler Régime, marched in. And we were in the service of the Hitler régime. They were bound to harm us, if they laid hands on us; and they were bound to lay hands on us, as we were on the spot. You came of your own free will, from the other side of the earth, to show us sympathy and to encourage us after 1945, knowing what a risk you were running.
And you are now a captive like us, when you could have been free.”
“I don’t really wish to be free, when most of those whom I so admire are dead or in prison,” replied I, sincerely. “Moreover, even in the outer world beyond bars and prison doors, there is no freedom for any of us, since 1945. Wherever we go, it is like jail to a greater or lesser degree. The only advantage one has, when one is not actually in custody, is that one can, directly or indirectly, to the extent of one’s ability, take part in activities aiming, ultimately, at the resurrection of the Hitler régime — of our world. When I am free once more, that is what I shall again do; but less clumsily than this time, and, I hope, without getting caught again. For, without claiming the ‘right’ to be free, when others who share my faith are prisoners, I want to remain useful, if I possibly can. Here, my greatest torment is to feel myself useless — all the more so that I am not even allowed to be with you in the D wing.”
“But you are writing a book, H. E. told me, a book about Germany today. That will be useful,” said L. M.
“Perhaps, in the future,” answered I. “But when? Now, immediately, here, I can do nothing — not even exchange views with you, my comrades, thanks to the Governor, who, it seems, is afraid I shall ‘corrupt’ you all, and who has ordered that I should remain among the ordinary criminals, most of whom are too stupid to be National Socialists. But I have talked enough about my aspirations and grievances. Tell me something about yourselves.”
L. M. told me that she had been the head of a small Arbeitslager — a labour camp — of which the five or six hundred inmates were mostly Jewesses. Three of these
had died, of perfectly natural deaths, during her administration. But in 1945, when the Allies had taken possession of the place, with their glaring prejudices in favour of the “persecuted” “people of God” and against all manner of “Nazi monsters,” several of the Jewesses had accused her of having, indirectly, caused the death of those three, through a carelessness that could only have its roots in racial hatred (she being a German and an active member of the N.S.D.A.P.). The Allied judges — who spoke nothing but English — had listened to their grievances through the translations of interpreters, who were all Jews, like in all those “war crime” trials. And they believed them — for prejudice and gullibility go hand in hand. However, as some of the inmates of the camp, less fanatically anti-Nazi or perhaps more God-fearing than the others, had spoken in her favour, stating that the three women had died in spite of adequate medical attendance and without having been ill-treated, she was merely sentenced to four years’ imprisonment (in addition to the two years that she had already spent in an internment camp before her final trial). Considering the usual remittance of one fourth of one’s penalty, she expected to be free in 1950, and was beginning to count the months, if not yet the weeks and days. “For it is a dreary life,” said she, speaking of the daily routine in Werl ever since 1947 or the end of 1946. “We get up; we work — always the same work; knitting, in our case — we eat; we work again; we sleep; and we begin the same thing the next day, and the day after, and every day, for weeks months, years. We are allowed to write to our families only once a month. We cannot write any other letters, or anything else. We are not allowed to have any paper and pencil — let alone pen and ink — in our cells. We are given, if we like, a book a week
to read. But it is generally something so dull, or so childish, that it is just as well to read nothing. We have forgotten what intellectual life means; what, in fact, human life means.”
I pictured to myself that senseless, hopeless monotony, for months on end — “enough to drive one mad,” thought I. I could not help feeling a little ashamed of that privilege of being allowed to write, which was so important to me, and which I owed entirely to the patriotic sympathy of the German staff. They, my comrades, captive ever since the end of the war, and Germans, were not given that joy of expressing themselves on paper rather than not at all. What had I done to deserve it? Nothing. It was a purely gratuitous favour that the staff — and specially Frau Oberin and the Oberwachtmeisterin — had done me. I felt infinitely grateful for it and, at the same time, as I said, a little ashamed.
And I could not help admiring L. M.’s serene cheerfulness — and specially that of Frau S. I did not let the latter know that I had already heard of her and of her sentence. She soon told me herself: “I am here for life.” And those words, coming immediately after L. M.’s gloomy evocation of prison routine, rang painfully tragic — all the more so, perhaps, that they were uttered in a detached voice, calmly, almost casually. I shuddered as I heard them — in spite of the fact that the woman’s fate was already known to me.
“You will not remain here all your life,” said I, my eyes fixed upon the sweet, young-looking face. “Take it from me: things will change; things are already changing. These people will be forced to release you sooner than they think. They will be forced to placate us all, more and more, as they will grow more and more afraid of the Communists.”
“I can only wish you are right,” replied Frau S., simply. “Already, through all this persecution, my life has been wrecked: my husband who loved me dearly, and whom I still love, has asked for his divorce, advocating that, as a wife, I am now as good as dead to him. I do not blame him; but I sometimes feel depressed about my fate.”
I thought: “Our hypocritical opponents reproach us with being ‘callous’ about the ‘domestic tragedies’ which might occur as a consequence of the application of our programme. Here is a case for them to meditate upon — a case that proves that they are no better than we are, in that respect, without having the justification of our higher motives.” I asked the woman how old she was.
“Forty-four,” said she.
“We are of the same age. I shall be forty-four on the 30th of September,” replied I. “But would you not like to tell me how you came to be sentenced by ‘these people’? You know who I am. You know before hand that I shall never blame you.”
“I blame myself, in a way, for I am a Christian,” said Frau S., to my amazement. “And yet I don’t know whether it was not the best course to take. I don’t know what to think . . . There are so many problems involved in all this.” And she told me her story.
She was a lay sister and had been, as such, put in charge of a children’s home which the management of the great motor works, Volkswagen Werke, had established near or on the premises of the factory, for the children of the foreign compulsory labourers — prisoners of war or deported civilians. For many children were expected from the day the managers had allowed workers of both sexes to meet one another.
“As long as they remained separate, each sex confined to itself, all was well,” said she. “Then, as soon as this restraint was removed, trouble began, and we had to cope with it.”
“Why ‘had to’? — excuse me for interrupting you,” I asked. “I can’t see why the rule keeping the men apart from the women was ever abrogated, in the first place. Did the managers of Volkswagen Werke suffer from that belief in what the Democrats call ‘the right of every individual to sexual happiness’? I hope not.”
“No; it was not that,” explained Frau S. “It was a mere matter of mass psychology applied to economics. The managers had found out — or were told — that the men would automatically work harder, and produce more, if they were allowed free access to the women after working hours.”
“That is all right,” agreed I. “But then, it should have been made a strict rule that the women were to be examined regularly and that, as soon as one was found pregnant, she was to be made to abort at once. Then, all trouble would have been avoided from the start.”
“That would have been awful!” exclaimed kind Frau S., genuinely shocked “Abortion is a crime.”
I was no longer astonished, now that she had told me she was a sincere Christian. I only wondered a little how, being such a wholehearted upholder of the belief in the equal value of all human beings, she had occupied that responsible post of hers . . . However, I kept that thought to myself, and simply answered her most Christian-like remark with my natural heathenish cynicism.
“A crime!” said I. “There are circumstances in which such ‘crimes’ are the only reasonable thing to do. I should have thus solved the baby problem once and for
all in the case of all foreign women deported to Germany — even in the case of all German women interned in concentration camps, save when the child’s father happened to be of irreproachable Aryan stock. The authorities of the Third Reich had other things to do, in wartime, than to be pestered with ‘problems’ resulting from the sexual activities of anti-Nazis.”
L. M. smiled. Even Frau S. smiled, somehow, in spite of her Christian feelings. “You speak just as the most radical among our people used to, in the Hitler days,” said she, turning to me. “One would never believe that you were not brought up in a Nazi atmosphere. What made you what you are?”
“The fact that I am essentially Greek — not merely by nationality, but in spirit; in the eternal sense of the word, which so many Greeks are no longer, for ages; essentially Aryan, in blood and in soul, which so many Europeans are no longer,” replied I; “the fact that, in spite of a thoroughly Christian education, I have, even as a child, never been impressed — let alone influenced — by the message of Christianity (excuse me if I hurt you by telling you so).”
“You don’t hurt me,” said Frau S. gently. “It only seems strange to me. I was brought up in an out and out Christian and ‘bourgeois’ home. And that has remained the guiding influence in my life, to this day.”
“Well,” said I, not wishing just now to discuss our conflicting philosophies, “what happened when the managers of Volkswagen Werke decided that they would burden themselves with the children of the compulsory labourers? I am interested in this, not only because it so unfortunately ended in the wrecking of your life, but also because it throws light upon the spirit that existed at the time, in Germany, even among
people whose adherence to National Socialism could not be questioned.”
“When children started getting born,” pursued Frail S., “a well-equipped, comfortable modern home was opened for them on the initiative of the factory authorities. A qualified nurse, experienced, and fond of children was sought out to take charge of it, and it was my fate to be selected among the applicants for the post.
All went on fairly smoothly as long as, in spite of the increasing strain of total war, relatively normal conditions could be maintained as regards the children’s food. True, the mothers gave us quite a lot of trouble, at times. You have no idea what debased types some of them were — dirty, thievish, and past masters at telling lies. I employed as many as I could of them in the newly-built home. One would think they would have taken care of their own children at least as conscientiously as we paid nurses did. But they did not. They would suckle the infants, admittedly, but that was about all. We found the children in a filthy state whenever we left them in the keep of any of those women for any length of tine. And besides that, the women used to steal — not out of need, but out of rapacity; steal whatever they could lay hands upon, provided it had a commercial value and then, lie, to exonerate themselves. Medical instruments used to disappear from the children’s infirmary; everyone would swear she did not know where they were until, one day, some of them would be found hidden in some of the women’s mattresses. Then, the suspected ones would again swear “by the holy Mother of God” and all the saints, that they had not the faintest idea as to how the inanimate objects had worked their way there! I have slapped some of those
creatures, sometimes, so much they used to irritate me by stealing, and then taking as they did the name of God in vain.”
Automatically, as I heard this, I recalled in my mind how so many European women whom I had met in the East had complained to me about their Annamite, Malayan, or low caste Indian servants: “The two things one can never cure them of, are stealing and lying,” they used to say. “You catch them red-handed, and still they tell you they ‘don’t know’ how your banknotes, your watch or your silver spoons have found their way into their pockets.” Now I thought: “One need not go out of Europe to find similar roguery!”
“Who were these women?” asked I; “Russians? Poles?”
“They were women from practically all the countries of Eastern Europe,” answered Frau S. “Russians and Poles, no doubt, but Czechs also. And the Czechs and Poles were the worst, as far as I can tell.”
And she pursued her narration: “In spite of all, things went on not too badly, I must say. The children were healthy and happy, although, as their number kept on steadily increasing, the problem of their accommodation became more and more difficult. Finally, we had to pack twenty of them in small dormitories planned for not more than six, or eight. There was no place for them. And conditions were becoming worse every day; food was more scarce; and we were living under the continual threat of bombardment. Still we held on. The mothers — who were becoming more and more troublesome as it was growing more obvious that things were taking a bad turn for Germany — were at least still on the spot. They continued to suckle the tiny ones; and
we kept the others in fairly good condition on “ersatz” food.
Things became serious when the women had to be sent back to their respective countries. Half of them just refused to take their children with them, strange as this may seem. They did not even know who the children’s fathers were. And apparently, they considered that the burden of unaided motherhood was more than they could put up with, in the new uncertain life into which they were now being thrown by the hazards of war. We ran the home, crowded with unwanted children, single-handed, for weeks, amidst the appalling conditions that prevailed immediately before the Capitulation. Food was scarcer and scarcer; milk, unavailable. The babies’ health began to decline on the substitutes we gave them. The elder ones fared hardly better. Disease set in. Medicine was as scarce as food. Space was lacking. It was impossible for us to isolate the sick children from the still healthy ones. In spite of the little care we could and did give them, many died. But the time soon came when the only possible fate awaiting the little ones was death, anyhow — death from hunger, if not from disease. As I told you, their health had deteriorated as soon as the departure of their mothers had deprived them of their natural and customary food. Now, even the substitutes we used to give them were no longer available. Confusion and terror prevailed everywhere. Bombing never ceased — that unheard of bombing, of which many, in Germany, have surely tried to describe to you the hellish fury, which really no words can picture. The alternative before us was no longer to save those few surviving children or to let them die, but, to let them die a painful death, after days of suffering, or . . . to allow them to die painlessly, at once . . .”
I recalled in my mind an episode of my own life that had long haunted me. It had occurred years before — in August, 1930, exactly. One day, then, while I was walking along a street of Athens, my attention had been drawn by pitiful mewing, and I had soon discovered in a dustbin, among ashes, bits of broken crockery and heaps of rotting kitchen refuse, three newly born kittens that someone had thrown there to die. I can never forget the impression that this made upon me. It was in one of those streets on Mount Lykabettos from which one can see practically the whole of Athens, with the Acropolis in the distance, and, further still the deep blue, smiling, shining sea. I picked up the three baby cats and gazed at them for a minute. Their eyes were shut. Their three tiny pink mouths opened regularly in a feeble, high-pitched mew of hunger. I felt in my hands the touch of their glossy young black and white fur. And lifting my eyes towards the distant miracle of marble that the whole world admires, I had realised more vividly than ever that the daily miracle of life was something even greater still. And tears had filled my eyes at the thought of the patient impersonal artistry of Nature that had evolved, out of a germ, those three living, mewing balls of fur. Had not some wretched human being — whom I cursed within my heart, then and ever since — torn them away from their mother, they could have grown into three beautiful cats . . .
But they had been taken from their mother and thrown into the dustbin. I could do nothing to undo that fact. They were too young to be fed artificially, and moreover, I was somebody’s guest, and could not possibly force three cats upon my hostess, who already had two. I could not leave them there to die. I heard that desperate mew of hunger, unceasingly. If I left them there,
it would continue for four days, five days, a week, perhaps, feebler and feebler until the poor little glossy creatures would mew no more. I could not allow that. There was, then, in Athens, to my knowledge, no ‘Society for the protection of Animals’ to which I could take them to be painlessly put to sleep, as I would have in London. There was only one way to put an end to their hunger and misery, and that was to kill them myself, as quickly and painlessly as I could. God alone knows how much I love all animals, especially cats! Yet, this was the only thing I could do for those kittens in the circumstance.
I took them to my room, and there, for the last time, I looked at them, lying in my hand; three round, glossy heads; three healthy furry bodies; potential cats. I would have given anything to be able to save them. But I knew I could not. It was useless to think of it. With tears running down my face, for the last time I kissed the silky little round heads; and I prayed within my heart: “Thou One Who hast patiently brought them into being, Lord of all life, forgive me! — for Thou knowest why I am doing this. And strike the man who threw these creatures away to die of misery!” I then put the newly born kittens in the bottom of a receptacle, poured a whole pail of water upon them, covered the receptacle, and went away . . .
For days, for weeks, their last mew had pursued me. It was better — far better — than that long agony in the dustbin that they would have suffered if I had left them there. But still, it had pursued me; it pursued me even now, after twenty years, every time I thought of the deplorable episode. I realised that Christian-like Frau S. loved all human beings — including the children of our opponents; potential enemies — as I love all animals. And I understood her qualms of conscience. My first impulse
was to relate the kitten episode to her and to tell her that she was, from the strictest humanitarian point of view as innocent as I had been on that awful day of August 1930. But as I reflected, I kept silent about it: it would only, thought I, give rise to a discussion about the respective value of human and animal life in which she and I could never agree; a discussion in which her eminently man-centred, equalitarian, Christian outlook, would come in conflict once more with my life-centred, hierarchical one, as it had for centuries. It would only result in my telling her that potential opponents were surely less to me than potential indifferent creatures, especially if the latter were beautiful. And this was useless, for I could not convince her any more than she could convince me; and I wanted to avoid hurting her.
“You have done your best,” I simply told her; “and those who, after creating the conditions which you were faced with in 1945, have had the impudence to condemn you, are liars and hypocrites.”
“You are right,” admitted L. M.; “you are right . . . although it was a sad alternative . . .”
“I must say that, horrible as they were in warfare, the Allies were not the only ones to blame,” said Frau S. “I mentioned the difficulties we had to face on account of the increase of the number of children. Well, it is true that, had these been thoroughbred German children instead of goodness knows what mixtures of all the nations represented among the compulsory labour squads of ‘Volkswagen Werke’, the Kreisleiter would have taken the trouble to send someone to inspect our ‘home’ now and then, and something would have been done so that we should not have been forced to accommodate twenty children in space planned for six. As things stood, nobody was ever sent.”
“It is only natural that a State — and especially a State at war — should be more keen on the welfare of its own nationals than on that of its enemies’ unwanted brood,” said I. “You should blame the poor wretches’ mothers for not taking them with them, and not the Kreisleiter for not bothering about them. Surely, he had better things to do.”
“Again, I am astounded to see how you are like any of our extremists!” remarked Frau S. “To me, children — any children — are, first of all human beings.”
I was no less astounded to meet a so-called “war criminal” with such an equalitarian outlook.
“I can admit, at most, that, apart from any principles, you felt sorry for those unfortunate children, — who, as I have said already, should never have been born, in the first place,” replied I. “But I find it difficult to reconcile the principles that you seem to uphold with those laid down in Mein Kampf!”
To my further and utter amazement, Frau S. answered: “I have never read Mein Kampf.” Really, I did not know what to think. I felt as though I were dreaming.
“What!” exclaimed I; “you, a German, and, in all probability, a Party member! You, who had the privilege to grow up in the midst of the struggle for power, and to spend the finest years of your life under the Nazi Régime! You, who doubtless have greeted the Führer in those solemn mass gatherings of the time which I have never seen! . . . How could you not have felt urged to read it, at least out of curiosity — to understand the miracle that was taking place all round you; to know who was that Man who had raised Germany from death to life?”
“I was not, then, aware of the tremendous meaning
of the National Socialist revolution,” said Frau S.; “I had lived through it, separated from it by my inherited Christian faith and by my quiet ‘bourgeois’ life; I had apprehended only the externals of it, and adhered to it, nominally, without knowing what I had done. Had I studied it — as indeed I should have — then, either I would have become a real Nazi like you, or else I would have clung to my Christian values strongly enough to refuse to collaborate actively with the new régime. Now — and perhaps more than ever today, after meeting you — I know that one cannot be both a Nazi and a Christian. I did not know it in those days. I did not know what National Socialism was.”
I thought of this woman, imprisoned for life for having acted as the supporter of an Idea in which she did not believe, as the upholder of principles she actually condemned; or rather, merely for having obeyed orders given by someone presumed to have upheld those principles. “A martyr without faith,” thought I. And it appeared to me that this was about the most tragic destiny which I could imagine.
“Many of us, I am afraid, did not know what National Socialism is, both among those who supported the Movement and among those who fought against it,” said L. M. “New ideas — or very old ones, as you say, but abandoned for centuries and therefore looking new — need time to take root in a nation’s consciousness, unless some tragic upheaval forces the nation to awake to their appeal. Normally, had there been no war, no disaster, we would have needed fifty years to become thorough National Socialists. But now, the occupation will make us all so in five. In four, it has already succeeded in turning to Hitler thousands of Germans who, formerly, were mere lukewarm supporters, or even opponents,
of the Nazi régime. And the longer it will last, and the more it will try to force Democracy upon us, the more it will ultimately succeed in uniting us all under the Swastika banner, whatever might have been our convictions in the past.”
“That is encouraging,” said I.
Then, we talked about other things, in particular, about India. Frau S. asked me to explain what was exactly the religious standpoint of Gandhi, which I did the best I could; while L. M. asked me if I had ever met Subhas Chandra Bose, the Indian leader who, during the war, had been the head of the Zentrale freies Indien, in Berlin, and who, occasionally, had spoken on the radio. She was agreeably surprised to hear from me that I had known him personally, and that it was my husband who had introduced him to the Japanese authorities in collaboration with whom he was, later on, to organise the “Free Indian Army” in Burma. I was longing to tell my new friends something of the unknown masterful role which my husband had himself played in the service of the Axis in the East. But I did not. Before leaving India, I had promised not to.
Time passed. We would soon have to separate. “I hope we shall soon meet again,” said L. M., as I told her how glad I was to have had her visit. “I have disappointed you, I know,” said Frau S.; “but I have told you the truth about myself.”
“You have suffered more than I — and more than many of us — for the cause I love. Therefore I love you,” replied I.
The martyr without faith looked at me sadly, and smiled.
On the following morning, H. E. came, as usual. I told her the impression that I had gathered from my first contact with D wing prisoners others than herself or H. B.
“L. M. is indeed a fine character,” she agreed. “She has been my companion during the ‘free hour’ ever since she has been here. Frau S. is also a lovable person, but she is so Christian that it is not true. Her whole outlook is biased; and she can recognise no truth which clashes with the teaching of the Church. We have no time for this obsolete teaching. It is Yiddish, anyhow; isn’t it?” And she added: “I would so like to have a long talk with you about religion, one day. I like your attitude.”
“Can you come this afternoon?” asked I. “It is Sunday today.”
“No. Frau Oberin is not in. We shall have to wait till the end of the week. I’ll ask her to send me to you next Sunday. On Saturday afternoons, I work at the infirmary just as on other days.”
And indeed, on Sunday the 1st of May, she came, not in the afternoon and with L. M., as I had expected, but after supper, when all the cells were supposed to be shut for the night, and alone, which was still more irregular. Two prisoners only, — for reasons one easily guesses — were never allowed to occupy the same cell.
I had kept for H. E. the chocolate and the pudding and one of the two buns with raisins that I used to get for supper on Sunday evenings. “We have ample time to talk,” said she, seating herself upon my bed after we had greeted each other. “Fräulein S. said that she would not come to fetch me before eight o’clock.” Fräulein S. was Frau Oberin’s assistant, who had evidently received instructions to arrange our meeting in the absence of Frau Oberin herself.
“Frau S. was so pleased to meet you; she likes you because of your sincerity,” said H. E. while I watched her with delight, eating the good things; “she told me so in the recreation room. L. M. likes you even more. She wants to come back here with me, on Sunday next. Frau H. also very much wants to come; we were sentenced together in the Belsen trial, and now she works at the Infirmary, with me. She is genuine. You could trust her.”
“I would love to meet her,” said I. “I would love to meet all those who are genuine. I think you should come on one Sunday with one of them, and on the following with another. Thus, I would get to know them all. I was even contemplating to attend the Church services on Sunday mornings in order to meet you and the others. But I reflected that it would probably be of no use. Doubtless I would not be allowed to sit near you, let alone to talk to you after the service. So I prefer to be consistent and not to go. In fact, Frau Oberin astonished me when she told me that you all go. Do you, really?”
“Apart from Frau S. and perhaps one or two others, we go out of sheer boredom,” said H. E. “Who wants to hear the nonsense that the priest tells us? But we have nothing to do in our cells, and Sunday mornings are long.”
H. E. pushed aside the plate in which she had been savouring my custard and apricot jam. “It was lovely, and I do thank you!” said she, interrupting for a minute the trend of her thoughts. Then, resuming her criticism of the Church and of its teaching, she pursued: “You have no idea how silly, for example, all that talk about the resurrection of the dead appears to me. We heard that all over again on Easter Sunday. And in a month’s
time or so, they will tell us how resurrected Jesus went up to heaven before I don’t remember how many all exceedingly reliable eyewitnesses. Such rubbish! I honestly tell you: I much prefer your worship of the Sun as the visible Source of all life on earth. That I can understand, for I can see and feel the Sun. To worship It, — and Life — is to know what one is worshipping. It is natural and logical. Indeed, all my life I have felt thus. I have never really had any use for Christianity, and I used not to, go to church even on festive days, when I was free. There were, then, anyhow, enough Party solemnities to replace the Christian ones advantageously. I never needed any others. But I repeat: I entirely agree with you that, if one must have any religion at all, the religion of glorious living Life — of Nature; of the earth and of the Sun — is the only one I would encourage.”
I recalled the expression “true to the earth” by which Nietzsche has characterised any eternal religion, any philosophy that is not mere words. Quoting the prophet of the Superman, I had myself applied that expression to King Akhnaton’s thirty-three hundred year old Religion of the Disk, about the most rational form of Sun worship put forward in Antiquity besides the Aryan religion of the Vedas with which, according to some scholars, it is indirectly connected.1
I drew from my cupboard a copy of the book A Son of God which I had published concerning that ancient cult and its Founder. “I began to write this in India in 1942, when I still believed that we would win this war,” said I; “when I expected the Japanese Army to take
1 Sir Wallis Budge. See Tutankhamen . . . etc. pp, 114–115.
Calcutta any day, and the German Army to win its way through Russia and High Asia, and the two to meet in imperial Delhi; when I believed that the world would soon be ours. I thought that, being as I was immobilised away from all fields of direct action, the second best for me was to prepare in silence the ground for the new religion of Life destined to go hand in hand with the New World Order. And, to find in Antiquity a simple and attractive prototype of it was no doubt much better than to present it as something essentially ‘ours’. Nobody is prejudiced against Antiquity; while many are against us. But it would be essentially ‘ours’ nevertheless, whatever the light in which I might present it. And with a little publicity — I imagined — the people of the West might take to it; they would at least begin to find Christianity dull, irrational, even barbaric, compared with it, while the Easterners would see in it something as beautiful as their immemorial religions. And foreseeing that, on whatever side they were then fighting, most people would probably feel tired of all wars by the time this one was finished, I purposely laid stress upon the peaceable character of Akhnaton’s ancient religion. Not that I admire it on account of that, — I rather, in fact, admire it in spite of that. But it would look nice, — I thought. It was the best I could do in the way of subtle anti-Christian propaganda on a worldwide scale, after having fought the influence of both Christianity and Islam in India, all those years. It would show people a truly admirable form of worship that had all the heathen qualities and all the Christian ones as well — save that irrationality and that otherworldliness which, in general, nowadays, they don’t particularly like, anyhow — all the Christian qualities including love and benevolence.
I kept off politics, — naturally. I carefully avoided
all allusions that might have led the reader to guess what I was. Only in the last chapter did I say, once or twice, that the religion of Race, in its true form, and the religion of Life, were the same, and that only through a misconception of both could one separate them. Unfortunately, that statement of a few lines, of which I did not notice the non-appearance when I read the proofs, was mysteriously left out from the published book, as though, in the eyes of the London editor, even that exceeded the limits of what could be tolerated in print in 1946. As a consequence, a whole paragraph appears to signify something quite different from that which I had intended. But the fact remains that I still believe that which I had, at first, stated, and that I shall repeat it, one day. The fact remains that my ceaseless effort to combat the pernicious influence of Christianity as represented by the Churches, and whatever I have said or written in support of the cult of the Sun, which is the cult of Life, all goes to prepare the religious background of our National Socialist world Order, of which the prototype is none else but the eternal Order of Nature.”
“What you say now,” said H. E. “I have always felt. Oh, what a pity you were not here during the great days! But tell me more about that Pharaoh of whom you have made such a special study. He interests me.” And looking at the frontispiece of the book, that pictured King Akhnaton, she added: “I remember his face. I have seen it in the Egyptian gallery at the Berlin Museum.”
I told her in a nutshell what I knew of the unsuccessful attempt of the ancient “King of the South and of the North, Living in Truth” to replace the traditional other worldly religion of Egypt, full of intricate abstruse symbolism and centred around the mystery of death, by the
simple joyous cult of cosmic Energy — of that which he called “the Heat-and-Light-within-the-Disk” — made visible and tangible in the rays of the Sun. I explained to her, quoting a couple of texts, how the idea of the equivalence of all forms of energy, no less than that of the fundamental identity of energy and matter, was already implied in his teaching. And finally, I proceeded to stress that he had doubtless understood that such an outlook on the world implied the acknowledgement of the natural diversity and hierarchy of human beings no less than of other forms of life, as something God-ordained, beautiful and desirable. And I recited to her the three lines of Akhnaton’s Longer Hymn to the Sun, which I have quoted so often during the past ten years:
“Thou hast put every man in his place,
Thou hast made them different in shape and in
speech, and in the colour of their skins;
As a Divider, Thou hast divided the foreign people...”
“The divinely ordained differences, expression of the impersonal will of the Sun, can only be maintained, nay, increased, according to the highest purpose of Creation which is to evolve perfect types, if each race is maintained pure,” said I. “And that is why, knowingly or unknowingly echoing the wisdom of ages, a great German of today, a close collaborator of the Führer has written: ‘Only in pure blood does God abide’.”
“Who wrote that?” asked H. E.
“Heinrich Himmler, in the beautiful epitome of National Socialist philosophy which he published under the name of Wolf Sörensen: Die Stimme der Ahnen.”1
1 Meaning: The Voice of the Ancestors.
H. E. gazed at me with enthusiasm. “Oh, what a pity you were not here during the great days!” she repeated. “Our philosophy — which most of us look upon as modern and as German — you seem to have integrated into a solid general outlook on Nature and on man, true as regards all countries and for all times. Time does not exist, for you, — nor space. In a few sentences, you evoke a most splendid solar philosophy, three thousand three hundred years old, only to quote in support of its everlastingness words that Himmler wrote yesterday. The more I listen to you, the more I feel that our National Socialism is indeed, something eternal.”
“It certainly is,” said I. “But surely you did not need to meet me to realise that. The Führer has stated over and over again that his Movement was based upon the clear understanding of the unchanging laws of Nature. He has stressed that ‘man owes his highest existence not to the conceptions of a few mad idealists, but to the acknowledgement and ruthless application of such laws’1; that, our ‘new’ ideas are ‘in full harmony with the inner meaning of things’2; and he considers it the duty of the National State to see to it that ‘a history of the world should be written in which the racial question is given a prominent place’.”3 I quoted Mein Kampf as faithfully as I could and added: “The Führer knows that nothing can make us feel the strength of our position, as much as a sound knowledge of world history. I would have liked to write that history of all
1 Mein Kampf, Part I, Chapt. XI, page 316 (edit. 1939).
2 Mein Kampf, Part II, Chapt. II, page 440 (edit. 1939).
3 Mein Kampf, Part II, Chapt. II, page 468 (edit. 1939).
lands of which he speaks. However, I was overwhelmed by the immensity of the task, and have never yet tried. I might try one day; begin, I mean, — for it would be a work of many years.”
“I have never met the Führer personally,” said H. E. “But I have once met Himmler, and had lunch with him when he came to visit our camp. He was uncompromising and remorseless; absolutely devoted to the cause. Many people disliked him on account of his severity. But you would have liked him — and I believe he would have liked you.”
“I have always had regard for Himmler,” answered I. “I admire him since I have read his booklet Die Stimme der Ahnen. One finds there a scathing criticism of those Christian values that I hate. The book is a profession of true Aryan faith a textbook of Heathendom according to my heart. I love it!”
“I am sorry I have not read it. When was it published?”
“In 1935, I believe. Perhaps earlier. I am not quite sure. I read it myself only last year, when a friend in Saarland lent it to me.”
“Well,” said H. E., “from what you say, and from the one sentence you quoted from it, I entirely agree with it. For it is not merely the silliness of the stories that the priests would like us to believe, that puts me off Christianity. It is also the fact that, whatever one might say, the religion is Jewish. The Old Testament is just a slice of Jewish history — and a pretty gruesome sample of it, too. The New Testament, the priests themselves tell us, has no meaning but as the fulfilment of the prophecies of the Old. Christ, the Messiah announced by Isaiah and other Jews, is a Jew. His apostles are Jews. Paul of Tarsus is another Jew. I have myself always
thought, from the early days of our struggle for power: now, if we really wish to build up a regenerate Germany, and if therefore we are trying to rid ourselves once and for all of Jewry and of the corrupting influence of the Jewish mind in all walks of life, why on earth do we cling to that fundamentally Jewish religion which our fathers were foolish enough to accept, in the place of that of the old Germanic people who, like you, like the ancient Greeks, like the ancient Aryans of all the world, worshipped the forces of Nature, the strength and beauty of their own race, and the Sun, Source of all life, strength and beauty? And since I have been in jail, how many times have I not thought: ‘The Jews are the people responsible for this war; and it is through their worldwide action that we lost the war, and through them that so many of us have died a martyr’s death, that countless others, including myself, are still prisoners. Why should I, therefore, look upon a Jew as God, and upon other Jews as saints and what not, however ‘good people’ these might have been compared with the worthless bulk of their compatriots? If I must deify a man, can’t I deify one of my own race? And all that you tell me today, all that you told me before, confirms my own thoughts. Now I am sure that I am right.”
“Of course you are right!” exclaimed I, delighted to find a comrade whom I truly admired, a real National Socialist who had suffered for our cause, so completely in sympathy with me also on the religious plane. “It is not that I am all that sure that Jesus Christ was a Jew, as Christian tradition asserts. Some people maintain that he was not — and not necessarily with the intention of reconciling National Socialism to Christianity. Some say that none of the Galileans were Jews, nor even of Semitic stock. I don’t know. I am not in a position to
answer the question. Nor do I know whether anybody else can answer it objectively. But I don’t care. It makes no difference whether one answers it this way or that way. Even if Jesus Christ were, himself, not a Jew; even if he and all his disciples were pure Aryans (which, of course, I cannot help doubting) still the Christian religion, as it came down to us, would be kosher from A to Z; still the stress it puts upon the alleged ‘value’ of all human beings, on the sole ground that they are human beings supposed to have a ‘soul’, the way it exalts the ‘soul’ at the expense of the body, nay, the utter contempt it professes for the latter; the way it flatly denies the fundamental inequality of men, rooted in the blood — the divinely ordained and all-important differences — and does all it can, in fact, to suppress those differences, by tolerating shameful marriages provided these be blessed by the holy Church, would be more than sufficient to set it ‘against the moral feelings of the Germanic race’ (I purposely use that expression of the Point Twenty-four of the Nazi Party Programme) nay, to set it against the moral feelings of any Aryans worthy of the name, if a vicious education had not accustomed them to accept it as a matter of course without even caring to know what it implies. I know what it implies. I have studied the Bible as a child and as an adolescent, not merely because I was made to, but because I was already aware of being a full-fledged, militant European Heathen, and knew I could not, one day, fight the imported religion so different in spirit from my own old Greek and Nordic faiths that I so admired, without being able to tell people exactly what it was all about.”
I paused a minute to refuse a piece of my chocolate which my friend wanted me to share with her. “It pleases me much more to see you eat it, you, who have
not had any for four years, poor dear,” said I sincerely. She took it at last, and I resumed my impeachment of Christianity.
“In his discourse before the Areopagus, reported in the seventeenth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles,” explained I, “Paul of Tarsus tells the Athenians that ‘God hath made of one blood all nations of men’.1 That was, — along with the teaching about salvation through Jesus alone and the resurrection of the dead — the new doctrine that the ugly, sickly, half-mad, but diabolically clever Yid, brought to the descendants of the men who, had built the Parthenon, to the Greeks, who were destined to call him, one day, along with the rest of Christendom: saint Paul. That was the doctrine fated to replace the ancient belief in natural blood-hierarchy; the doctrine that was to distil its subtle poison, not only throughout the already bastardized and decaying Greco-Latin world of the time, but also, gradually, into the more vigorous tribes of Northern Europe beyond the Rhine and beyond the Caledonian Wall, the Germans, the Goths, the Scots and Picts, etc. . . . who had hitherto kept their blood pure. In it lies the secret of the domination of the Jew over the Aryan in the Aryan’s own fatherland, for centuries, to this day; that unseen domination, of which National Socialism has made the Germans, at least, if not yet all Aryans, conscious, and of which it has taught them how to rid themselves. But never, I tell you, can we rid ourselves of it, so long as we tolerate that fundamental lie being preached as truth; in other words, so long as we tolerate Christianity as it has come down to us through Paul of Tarsus and his Jewish collaborators and the Judaised Greeks and Greek-speaking Jews of
1 Verse 26.
Alexandria, and the Church, who used — and still uses — the organising genius of Rome in the service of Jewish ideas. Even if we do ‘liquidate’ all the Jews of the earth, still we shall remain, in a way, their slaves, so long as we allow men to regard as ‘Scripture’ the book embodying those selfsame ideas.”
“Right you are!” exclaimed H. E. “I do not know as much as you do about the history of Christianity, nor can I quote the Bible off-hand. But I know you are right. I know the great men of the Party and the Führer himself would have agreed with you in their hearts, even if they had judged that time was not yet ripe for putting openly in practice all that you say. Your talk reminds me of my husband’s passionate warnings against the Jewish danger. You would have got on well with my husband, an old fighter from the early days of the struggle who had won himself the golden medal of the Party for his courage, his outstanding qualities as a leader, and his devotion to our cause. You should have heard him speak of the Jews — and seen him deal with them! He would have understood you, if anyone!”
“Where is he now?” asked I.
“I don’t know myself,” replied my comrade. “At the time of the Capitulation, he was a prisoner of war in France. But for months and months, I have had no news of him.” And she spoke of the loveliness of old times, when she and the handsome, fervent young S. A. — who had met her at some Party gathering — were newly married, and so happy in their comfortable flat in Berlin.
I pictured to myself that happiness of two fine specimens of the natural élite, amidst the majestic setting of the National Socialist Reich at the height of its glory. I admired it, without secret envy, regret or sadness, as one admires a perfect detail in an immense stately frieze,
knowing that, of all the possibilities of each life, Destiny can only work out a few, just as the artist can only chisel one detail out of every square inch of marble. “The strange detail that my life illustrates, in some hidden corner of the same gigantic frieze, has also its beauty, although it is so different,” thought I, remembering in a flash my lonely, fruitless struggle among modern Hellenes and modern Hindus. And turning to my friend I asked her: “Have you any children?”
“Alas, no,” said she. “I would probably not be here, if I had, for in that case, I would have long ago given up my service in the concentration camps.” She paused a second and added, speaking of her husband: “That is what ‘he’ wanted; ‘he’ wanted me to stay at home and rear a large, healthy family. He often used to say that others could have done the job I did, while I would have been more useful as a mother of future warriors. Perhaps he was right.”
The more I looked at the beautiful, well-built, strong, masterful blonde, and the more I realised from her conversation, what an ardent Nazi she was, the more I felt convinced that her worthy husband was indeed right. And I told her so.
We talked for a long time more, relating to each other different important episodes of our lives.
* * *
I met several more of the so-called “war criminals,” my comrades. In particular, Frau H. who used to work at the Infirmary with H. E. came to spend a couple of hours in my cell on one occasion. We spoke of the Belsen trial, of which she was, like H. E., one of the victims, and of my banishment from the D wing.
“If the Englishman imagines that he is doing any
good to the cause of his confounded Democracy by cutting you off from us, he makes a great mistake,” said she, speaking of the Governor of the prison. “I can assure you: nothing has made you more popular among us than this order of his according to which we ‘must not’ come in touch with you. Whatever the occupants ‘order’ us, we immediately feel the urge to do the opposite, anyhow. And in this particular case, our conclusion is that, for the Governor to be so keen on keeping you aloof from us, it must be that he is scared of you; and that, for him to be scared of you, it must be that he considers you a better and more dangerous Nazi than the average. And to think that a non-German can still be so, four years after our defeat, stimulates our German pride, strengthens our faith in Adolf Hitler and our hope in the future of his revolution, and increases our contempt for our persecutors.”
“I am so glad to hear that!” exclaimed I enthusiastically. “I only wish I really were a little more dangerous . . .”
I related a few anecdotes from my life “underground,” before I was detected. And we laughed heartily at the expense of “those Allied bastards,” as I called them, who are out to “de-Nazify” Germany while in fact they cannot even “de-Nazify” me.
But once, I had a great disappointment. I had been allowed to spend my “free hour” with the D wing ones owing to the mistake of Frau P., the wardress on duty that day, who was under the false impression that I had not been let out of my cell in due time with the B wing — a mistake which I was, naturally, very careful not to mention, only too glad as I was to go out twice in the course of the same morning. I walked around the
courtyard in the company of a woman to whom I had never yet spoken, although I had seen her once or twice in the corridor. She happened to be the only one without a companion. Having heard that I was Greek, she informed me that she had “had the pleasure” of meeting several Greeks in her life. “Where?” asked I; “here in Germany?”
“No,” said she; “in Alexandria — and in Cairo, where I spent some years. Also in Salonica, where I have relatives.”
I could not help a movement of surprise. I knew the three places, and I had spent some time myself in the two first ones. But the third — the second town of Greece — one-fifth of the population of which, entirely separate from the rest, in prewar days at least, was Jewish — retained my attention. “Salonica! A queer place for a German woman to have relatives living in!” thought I, as a very nasty suspicion arose in my mind. But I said nothing. It was only a suspicion, after all.
The woman and I spoke about a certain Greek pastry-cook’s in Alexandria called “O Athenaios,” and of the new locality near the sea where I had spent a few days in that town in a Greek family, and of my much longer stay in Cairo, also among Greeks. After which I asked her: “And how did you manage to get here, if the question is not too indiscreet?”
“It is not at all indiscreet,” said she, good-humouredly, “and the answer is sample: I had been interned in Ravensbrück, and there, I had helped the wardresses to keep order. There were too few of these, you know, so they could not possibly do without our help. They gave me a fairly good post, as I speak good French as well as a little English. Well, I did a few things which
I surely would not have done, had I known what consequences were in store for me. And after the war the Allies sentenced me to ten years’ imprisonment. Lucky I was to get away with it so easily, for in those days they were nasty. Fifteen of the wardresses themselves were sentenced to death and hanged. Another one is here, sentenced to imprisonment for life. She is Frau R. You can see her over there walking by the side of H. B. whom, I think, you have met. Two ex-internees like I are here too, one for life and the other for ten years. Believe me: things were not, then, as they are now. Had they caught hold of you then, from what I have heard of you, you would have got a death sentence. People with your views were killed for far less than what you have done.”
“And why were you interned in Ravensbrück, may I ask you?” said I.
“I had done some espionage against Germany, for the benefit of England,” replied the woman, with ease.
Knowing who I was, she could not expect me to praise her for it. But she probably felt that, at least, I could do no harm to her now, and she spoke brazenly. However, seeing the expression on my face as I listened to her story, she added, as though to try to justify herself: “My husband is English. My name is von S.”
My first impulse was to say: “It is a shame that you were not shot. Indeed, justice was too lenient under the Hitler régime.” But I remained silent, and my face was sombre at the thought of the number of traitors that were undermining the whole National Socialist structure, during the war, — ruining the chance of salvation that Germany’s victory would have given the Aryan race, all over the world. I was thinking of the two million agents
in the pay of England of whom a reliable English person from the lower ranks of the Military Intelligence had told me — without, of course, knowing me — in 1946; of the traitors working on the German railways, who used to send regular reports to the London War Office about the movements of troops and of ammunition trains. The idea that such people could have existed in such numbers saddened me profoundly. Then, my horrible suspicion concerning the woman at my side arose once more in my mind. If her relatives were people from the largest ghetto in the Near East, then, her action could be explained, — was, in fact, natural. But then the leniency of those who had allowed her to live was still more incomprehensible . . . I really did not know what to think.
“You know why I am here, don’t you?” asked I to the woman, only to make it quite clear to her that she could expect no sympathy from me. The tone of my voice was such that, I think, she understood.
“I do,” she replied. “I have heard it from then others.”
I did not say another word.
* * *
I no longer had the pleasure of greeting my friend H. E. early in the mornings. Fräulein S. — not Frau Oberin’s assistant but one of the wardresses — had roughly turned her away, I knew not why, one morning, and told her that she had no business whatsoever in my cell. I had heard her. And I had heard H. E.’s abrupt, proud answer: “All right. You will not see me here again.” And I had suffered at the thought that my friend who had represented the power of coercion of the Third Reich in five concentration camps in succession, was now reprimanded
by a young girl twenty-two or so, who was herself executing the orders of Germany’s victors.
H. E. did not come in the mornings, but she came in the daytime, or in the late afternoon — whenever she was expected to distribute medicine to the prisoners who needed any. Sister Maria — or Frau So-and-so — now always accompanied her. “Well,” my comrade would sometimes tell me, loudly enough to be heard from the corridor if any of the wardresses happened to be passing there, “You still have those headaches? I shall give you an aspirin, and you will be all right.” And in fact, she had an aspirin there, ready, in a tiny china dish, to make her visit appear plausible in everybody’s eyes. But in reality, I had never had such a thing as a headache in all my life (save occasionally in India, as a result of the noise) and she came as usual to see me, and to collect my white bread — which she now used to put in a specially made large pocket, under her overalls — and my tea with sugar and milk, which she carried away in a bowl that she cleverly held under her tray.
On the day she had noticed me, during the “free hour,” in the company of that spy formerly interned at Ravensbrück she came long before her usual time — and not with Sister Maria, but with Frau So-and-so, who was perfectly “in order.” Her first words to me were: “I hope you have said nothing, absolutely nothing about yourself to that woman, just now?”
I understood at once. “Goodness, no!” answered I, spontaneously. “Why, she is one of those who should have been shot — or perhaps gassed, for she is at least partly Jewish, if you ask me. She told me herself that she had relatives in Salonica, a town in which there were a hundred thousand Jews before the war (the rest of its population being composed of Greeks and people from
the different Balkan states) — the last place on earth where pure blooded Germans are likely to be settled for any length of time.”
“I am not surprised,” said H. E. “And I am glad if you found her out and did not tell her anything about your affairs. For she is a snake — like all those former internees in concentration camps who sucked up to us only to slander us as much as they could, afterwards, before the Allied military tribunals.”
“Yes, I know the type. But are there many such ones in the D wing?” asked I.
“Not exactly ‘many’, but more than you imagine. There are two from Ravensbrück — one of whom, Frau G., is sentenced to lifelong imprisonment — and half a dozen from other camps.”
“What about Frau R., with whom I talked during the ‘free hour’ on the day after my trial?” asked I, changing the topic. “She too is here for life — unfortunately — unless the face of the world changes to our advantage, and she was in service at Ravensbrück, but not interned there, naturally. I saw very little of her, but I liked her.”
“You would,” said H. E. “She is perfectly all right: one of us, and, as far as I know, one of the best ones in the D wing. I wish she would be allowed to come once with us and spend a Sunday afternoon in your cell. You would get on well with her.” And she concluded “Whenever you get in touch with a D wing prisoner, ask me about her before you speak too freely to her. I know them all. I can tell you who is genuine and who is not.”
* * *
On Friday, the 6th of May, in the late afternoon, I was transferred to cell No. 49 in the A wing. I took with me all my things, including my plant, that had grown many new green and purple and pink and purple leaves since the day it had been given to me.
The cell was a little larger than No. 92. And the window had three transparent windowpanes instead of one. It looked over the broad open space that separated the “Frauen Haus” from the men’s prison, and not over our courtyard; so that I could no longer see my D wing comrades during their free time. I was not, thus brutally reminded, twice a day, of my humiliating banishment from their company.
From the window, I could see the outer wall of the prison and, beyond it, one or two green treetops. In the grass, near the high wall, there was a hut. In the evening, after working hours, I could see the watchman walk to and fro before it, by the wall, a rifle on his shoulder. The building, with five stories of barred windows that faced me was entirely occupied by foreign prisoners: some British subjects, some Belgians, about one hundred and fifty Frenchmen, Czechs, and over six hundred Poles. It seemed as if these were practically the only inmates of the place, so numerous were they compared with other nationalities. And when Frau S, the Oberwachtmeisterin, came for the first time to see how I was faring in my new cell, she said, jokingly: “I know there is no need to tell you not to make signs to the men in the opposite buildings: they are only Poles.” The German prisoners, the majority of whom were so-called “war criminals” — the only men in the whole area who really interested me and with whom I would have willingly come in touch, had I been able to — were confined to a building that could only be seen from the windows on the side of the
C wing opposite the cell I had formerly occupied there (as far as I can understand the topography of the prison without ever having been on that side of the C wing myself).
As I have said before, some of the prisoners of the A wing used to spend their “free hour” with the B wing, others with the D wing. As could be expected, the wardresses had orders not to send me down with the latter batch. But it happened that, in course of time, I did go out with the latter batch, sometimes. As soon as the “free hour” was announced, one was to switch on, from inside, the light outside one’s cell, so that the wardress on duty might open one’s cell and let one out. I had soon learnt on what days the D wing went out first and on what days the B wing did. And I would put on my light when it was the D wing’s turn, pretending to have made a mistake. And it happened that, when the wardress on duty was one of those who were “in order”, as H. E. used to say; or even when she just liked me — and most of them did like me, I think — and when she dared, she would let me out. I would then stand in the back row, against the wall, while we were being counted, so that, in case the matron passed, she would not notice me — for she, of course, would at once tell me to go back to my cell; orders were orders, with her, even if they were given by a representative of the Occupying Powers.
The Oberwachtmeisterin too, was, I must say, unwilling to let me go out with the D wing ones, if she could help it. She liked me, no doubt, but not enough for that. “I would not take that risk, if I were you,” I heard her say, one day, to the wardress on duty who had allowed me to stand in the double row, among the so-called “war criminals.” But it was anything but a blind sense of obedience to whatever authority was in
power that prompted her to speak thus. It was merely fear — fear of Colonel Vickers, who was in a position to give the whole German staff the sack, if he chose to do so, and who might choose to do so any time, if he scented defiance. In her heart, she resented the very presence of Colonel Vickers and of every member of the occupying forces in Germany, as much as I did. And quite probably, the matron herself resented it, in spite of that inborn sense of discipline for the sake of discipline which made her carry out the Governor’s orders with merciless exactitude.
* * *
I thus met a few of my beloved comrades, now and then, for a quarter of an hour. Once or twice, I walked around the courtyard with L. M. — as H. E. was detained at the Infirmary — and once or twice with H. E. herself who, whenever the work that she was doing was not finished in time for her to go out with the D wing ones, would ask the wardress on duty the permission to spend her “free hour” by my side, with the prisoners of the other batch. (Needless to say, I did not object going out with that batch, on such occasions.) I also met Frau P., and Frau H., — not the one who worked with H. E. in the Infirmary, but another one, who had just recovered from a long illness and who had heard of me both from H. E. and from Frau S, who was her usual companion. And I made the acquaintance of one or two others, among them Frau B, a sweet young brunette, sentenced to three years’ imprisonment merely for having done her duty in wartime, and who had already been a year in Werl after having previously remained three years in an internment camp.
“How is it that those three years were not counted
as your term of imprisonment?” asked I. “They should have released you at once, since your sentence did not exceed that period. They told me that the six weeks during which I was on remand would be counted as a part of my penalty.”
“It might be so with you,” answered Frau B. “You are a British subject and moreover, you have been sentenced merely for political activities. We are Germans; and we are supposed to be ‘war criminals’.”
“Yes,” said I; “that is the justice of those slaves of Jewry. ‘War criminals’ indeed! As if their whole conduct of the war; as if, nay, their very action of waging war on Germany with an abominable lie as a pretext, was not itself the greatest crime! Their hypocrisy is sickening. They disgust me.”
She talked most interestingly about different people whom she had met in the camp where she had been staying until her trial, and of others whom she had come in touch with during the war.
“There was an Arab whom I can never forget,” said she. “My dear, such a Jew-baiter I have seldom met, even in our own circles! And I had never imagined that a foreigner could be such a sincere admirer of our Führer. It was all the more striking as the man came straight from Jerusalem.”
“All the less striking, I would say,” rectified I; “for in that case, he must have had plenty of opportunities to study the Jews. And the more one studies them — it seems to me — the less one likes them. I went and spent some time myself in Palestine, twenty years ago, in order to see them at ease in the historic setting of the first land they have definitely usurped, and to fathom the abyss between them and us Aryans, in fact, between them and even the other branches of the Semitic race. But let me
tell you one thing: the Arabs, who are no doubt the most chivalrous people of Semitic stock, can be as anti-Jewish as they like; but they will never free themselves from the yoke of Jewry — any more than we Aryans will — unless they shake off, with time, the strong Jewish influence that underlies their whole religion. True, the founder of Islam was decidedly one of their own people. But he has mingled his own inspiration with important elements of Jewish tradition, and with characteristically Jewish ideas — I mean, with ideas that the Jew produces for export, not for his own consumption, such as, for example, that belief in the priority of the brotherhood of faith over the brotherhood of blood. That has brought the Islamic world down to the level at which we see it now: a worthless hotchpotch of all races, from the pure Aryan down to the Negro; just as the same Jewish ideas have, through Christianity, brought about the decay of the Aryan race. I wish you had told that to your Arab Jew-baiter. And I wonder what he would have answered. I wonder if he would have had the consistency and courage to acknowledge that you were right, and to proclaim our doctrine of pure blood in defiance of the whole historical trend of Islam.”
The woman gazed at me with the same surprise as so many other people had since the day I had set foot upon German soil. And she repeated what H. E. had said; what so many of my free comrades had said, so many times “Oh, how sorry I feel that you have not come here before, in our days of power! What an eloquent propagandist you could have been, you who know the history of the wide world enough to see in it an everlasting illustration of the truth of our Weltanschauung!”
Tears came to my eyes as she said that, for I knew
she was right. Once more, unwillingly — she had thrust the knife into the old wound within my heart.
As I walked up the staircase on that day, when the “free hour” was over, Frau H, who happened to be just in front of me, turned around and asked me why it was that I could not come every day to spend my fifteen minutes’ recreation among the D wing prisoners. Other ones from the A wing used to do so, after all. Why not I?
“The persecutor, — I mean the British Governor of the prison — does not want me to come at all, in fact,” answered I.
“I am told that he is afraid lest I, the unrepentant Nazi, should ‘corrupt’ you all,” said I, with bitter irony.
“There is nothing we want more than to let ourselves be ‘corrupted’ by you,” replied Frau H., expressing the feelings of all my genuine comrades of the D wing.
“Good for you!” exclaimed I, as we walked into the corridor. “That proves that you do not need me — for which I am glad. And your words are all the more flattering. I shall remember them in my loneliness, away from you.” And I added in a whisper, as I took leave both of her and of Frau B., to enter my cell: “Heil Hitler!”
* * *
My friend H. E. continued to come with L. M. and to spend the afternoon with me on Sundays and festive days. I used to wait eagerly, the whole week, for those two or three blessed hours of communion with the two fine women whom I admired. And I shall remain forever grateful to Frau Oberin for having allowed me that
happiness, nay, for having deliberately given it to me, as a compensation for the humiliation inflicted upon me by Colonel Vickers’ orders. I never went to the recreation room at all. And I now spoke as little as possible to the ordinary criminals, whenever compelled to spend my “free hour” with them. I continued writing my book in my cell, as soon as I had finished the little easy work which the Oberwachtmeisterin used to give me to do every morning, with a sympathetic smile, a few kind words, and, occasionally, a cup of lovely real coffee, with sugar. I watered my plant regularly and watched its shoots unfold into tender velvety new leaves. And I counted the days that separated me from the next happy afternoon when the wardress on duty (or Frau Oberin herself) would usher into my cell the two women of my own faith before whom I could talk freely — literally “pour out my heart.”
Sometimes, I would translate passages of my book to them. Other times, we would talk of our lives during and before the war. They, in Germany, I, in India, had striven all these years for the same eternal aristocratic Aryan ideal of perfect humanity, in different ways, through different: channels, with special stress, in their case, upon the social and political side of the National Socialist way of life, in mine, upon the ethics and philosophy at the back of it. Who would have foretold that one day we were destined to meet in jail, and to congratulate one another, and to exalt and strengthen one another’s faith in clandestine conversations?
Frau S. the Oberwachtmeisterin, had lent me a splendid book, Menschen Schönheit, The Beauty of Man — published by Hans Fischer in 1935. I would show my two comrades the illustrations: photographs of masterpieces of classical Greek sculpture representing
warriors and athletes, on one page, and pictures of living German youths and maidens, photographed in more or less the same manly or graceful attitudes — throwing the disk or the spear, or bending the bow — on the opposite page. Together we would admire the noble faces and bodies, each of which expressed more eloquently than any speech, than any book, strength and joy, controlled vitality; the will to power, in the consciousness of perfection achieved; in all their undying loveliness, the virtues and the beauty of the truly master race — our ideal, our programme, our victory in spite of all; our religion; our raison d’être.
And remembering the love that had filled my breast, as a child and as an adolescent, for the fair-haired demigod Achilles, and for the godlike man Alexander the Great, I would point to the pictures of the modern young men, trained under Hitler’s inspiration, and tell my friends: “That is what I have longed for, all my life! That is the beauty I imagined, when, long long ago, I used to read, in the Iliad and the Odyssey, about ‘heroes like unto the Gods’; the beauty of the perfect Aryan, then, now, always and everywhere. That is what I have sought in the submerged but unbroken Aryan tradition of India. Glory to him — our Führer — who has made that a living reality, here, in our times, under our eyes, and to you, his people, who have responded to his call! . . . ‘Like unto the Gods’ . . . Indeed, to you alone — to the National Socialist élite — do those words of Homer apply today. In your young men, the everlasting figure of legend, Rama, Achilles, Siegfried — the same One, under different names — lives, to defeat the coalesced forces of decay. May I see you rise soon, my loved ones; may I see you conquer — and lead! Lead regenerate
Aryandom to the domination of a regenerate earth. That is all I want; that is all I have ever wanted.”
And putting my arms around my two comrades’ necks in a loving gesture, I would feel that, in the depth of our present-day apparent effacement, something everlasting and irresistible united us, in view of the great impersonal task. The joy of reconquered power shone already in our eves. And as they took leave of me, the two representatives of the undaunted élite would repeat to me the very words of my latest posters — my own message to the German nation: “Hope and wait! Heil Hitler!”