Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Investigating My Mother's Disappearance

My mother wears tiny, elegant black velvet slippers embroidered with carved glass beads, but otherwise she favors loafers, and dull, earthy shades of khaki ("shit tones," is how she describes her palate). She hardly ever gets dressed anymore, so she might be in her nightgown—my mother is very specific about nightgowns. Sleeveless, lightweight, with the hemline reaching exactly to her knees. She's tiny, so she often has to shorten her nightgowns by hand. Her nightgowns are pretty, pale pinks and blues, and some are trimmed with tiny seed pearls, eyelet, or satin ribbon. Isn't it curious, that counterpoint of femininity and camouflage, night and day? I hadn't noticed before.

          She craves strong, pungent flavors: sardines, lox, raw mussels on the half shell, sauerkraut, spicy chicken wings, mustard—not ketchup, red wine, liver braised with onions and vinegar, bleu cheese, Kalamata olives in brine.

          When her stomach is upset, she drinks beef broth, but when she has a cold, she always wants chicken soup. I prepare it the Armenian way, with a raw egg yolk and the juice of a lemon. 
          She drinks her coffee black with no sugar, two mugs every morning, while she reads The New York Times. In warm weather, she enjoys an Armenian drink called tahn, an iced mixture of plain yogurt thinned with water.

          My mother prefers specific fruits: pomegranates, blackberries, Concord grapes. She avoids bland, insipid sweets, such as shortbread, but she loves licorice, crystallized ginger, and tart key lime pie. 

          These little details, these specks of information, are important clues. I'm sure no one else possesses her exact constellation of habits and preferences. But of course you should know that her name is Roxanne—Araxie, in Armenian. She's been shrinking for years; now she's really quite small, about the size of a child of 9 or 10—but of course very old and stooped, although she prefers to lie down lately. Her eyes are a deep, penetrating brown, with an owlish gaze. Those eyes convey all her emotion, even when her words don't. And she has a Bronx accent.

          I'm not really a careless person. In fact for decades I don't recall losing anything more cherished than a single earring and, I suppose, my youth. Not until I was 51, the year my mother vanished.

Here my mother would interrupt me. I'm not lost, she'd say, I'm just dead. She was always the practical one. But I won't back down on this. I can retrace my steps exactly.

          I would tell a Private Eye that I sat at your bedside on the fifth floor of Princeton Hospital just before one a.m. on December 18, 2013. I was holding your left hand, which was quite warm. And a little swollen because your kidneys were failing. 

          Every breath you took was followed by a surprisingly loud, shameless gurgle, and an even longer silence. The silence was stretching, and your mouth was stretched in a long oval, like a fish out of water. Of course I couldn't help noticing your resemblance to my father. I would have been sharing this observation with you, except now it was actually happening to you, and we couldn't compare notes anymore.

          Do you believe this, I wanted to say. Did you ever imagine you'd end up like this? But there was no answer, not even in my imagination. 

          There was another deathbed moment you shared with my father. When your blank, fixed features contracted in a deep spasm, with brows knit, a vertical furrow appeared between your eyes—in all your life there had never been such a crease! It may have been a grimace of pain, but it looked even more like concentration.

          I had understood my father's grimace, years earlier, as the result of his effort to stop all systems, once and for all. The heart is so used to beating that to stop altogether must require almost as much strength as pumping. In his expression, I saw the harnessing of all his body's dwindling energies. When you winced like that I knew you would die very soon, but I couldn't keep my eyes open for another second.

          It's so hard to get comfortable in the hospital; the chair was so much lower than the bed, and even though I'd lowered the bedrail it was still dividing us. I couldn't seem to get close enough, but I managed to rest my head against your thigh. I focused on the solidity of your leg under my head rather than the coarse texture of the hospital blanket between us. With closed eyes, I timed the seconds between each gasp...12, 13, 14.

          When I woke up with a jolt you were gone. You had gripped my hand hard with your last strength. I felt it—or imagined I did. 

          I stood up and leaned across your body, pressing my fingers against the side of your throat. There was the faintest reverberation under the skin, and a succession of images flickered through my mind. A runner crosses the finish line and continues to run a few extra strides, stumbling a little, before coming to a full stop. After a performance, the drummer places his sticks against the rim of the drum and there is a tremor. Nighttime, raindrops.

        Once I was sure there was no more pulse I sat down beside you again and waited for the change. Before too long your skin turned a waxen yellow and it was no longer possible to imagine you were living. I hadn't let go of your hand and I would continue holding it for quite a while. I would sit with you till there was no more warmth. The absurd idea came to me that I might be transferring my own heat to you and, if so, we might hold this pose forever; but it was of no consequence. As long as your hand was warm, I held on.

So right there, in those few minutes between closing my eyes and opening them, my mother had vanished. She vanished while I held her hand. 

          My mother doesn't believe in God, she believes in annihilation. She told me often that death is The End. She said it a little smugly, to be honest, as if she was the more rational, reasonable person who refused to be duped or mollified. But it's not reasonable to vanish.

I'm sure you would see that now if you were still here. And even the PI, if he were to materialize, would help me search. 

Monday, April 25, 2016

A Case of You

First Bowie, now Prince. For people my age, whatever else is happening in our lives, this is the year we start saying goodbye. I've been immersing myself in music and stories, perhaps as a way of celebrating life or maybe just to prolong the moment of departure.

          In February, only two months before Prince died, one of his great loves died. Her name was Denise but, as Prince tended to do with his many lovers and musical protégés, he had wanted to rename her. The name he chose was Vagina (pronounced Vah-gee-nah).  Quite sensibly, she declined, and took the name Vanity instead. Of their split, Vanity had said she loved Prince and missed his sense of humor but, "I needed one person to love me, and he needed more." She died a born-again Christian and the two hadn't been in touch for many years.

          Prince learned of her death right before going onstage to perform in Melbourne, Australia. The feeling was very intimate—no band, no backup singers, no dancers—just Prince on the stage, all 5'2 of him, and a grand piano—for his Piano-and-a-Microphone-Solo Tour. Before playing "Little Red Corvette," he told the audience, "I just found out a little while ago that someone very dear to us has passed away, so I'm going to dedicate this song to her." He then proceeded to dedicate every single song to her, in one way or another, working her name into the lyrics and the mood. Denise, Denise, Denise.

          When he returned to the stage for an encore, he said, "I am new to this playing alone. I thank you all for being so patient. I'm trying to stay focused, it's a little heavy for me tonight. Just keep jamming...

          "Can I tell you a story about Vanity? Or should I tell you a story about Denise? Her and I used to love each other deeply...

          "She and I would fight. She was very headstrong cause she knew she was the finest woman in the world. She never missed an opportunity to tell you that." Prince told a story about a fight where he had threatened to throw her into a pool and she replied, You can't throw me in the pool, you're too little. He then asked his female bodyguard named Chick—who was 6 feet tall—to do it for him.

          Love is strange, isn't it? Unpredictable, un-pin-downable, it shows up at the strangest times, in strange ways, taking flight and reappearing in another form. What makes Prince's story so funny and touching? Maybe it comes down to timing. Love in your 30s feels different from your 50s, love after separation, love after love, after betrayal, after death, each leaves a different imprint on the soul, and a different kind of longing. We all have stories, but after awhile the way we tell them changes.

I am a lonely painter, I live in a box of paints.
I'm frightened by the devil
and I'm drawn to those ones that ain't afraid.

The first time I first heard Joni Mitchell's song, "A Case of You," I was around 13 and had never been in love. But right from the start it was my song. I mean, you can't always be in the mood to listen to a melancholy love song, but that was irrelevant. For as long as I can remember, that song has been my touchstone. Anguished, maybe a little embarrassing, but comforting, too, like a beautiful prayer I sing for myself.

          The point is, I'm 53 now, and even after 40 years of life experience, Joni's song was still my song up till last week. 

          The first time I heard Prince's cover of Joni's song, last week, I was transformed. I know that sounds really corny. I know I had probably changed long before but still, without Prince I might never have noticed. With the very first line of "A Case of U," Prince's voice could easily be mistaken for Joni's—but then the earth moves. Breaking through that pure, sweet falsetto the deeply masculine emerges, intimate as pillow talk, from the lower end of his vocal register. 

          He subtly alters the lyrics and some verses are dropped entirely—gone are the bitter lines

          Just before our love got lost you said,"I am as constant as a northern star,"
          and I said,"Constantly in the darkness, where's that at?
          If you want me I'll be in the bar."

Instead he extends the lines

          Remember you told me love is touching souls?
          Surely you've touched mine.
          Part of you pours out of me 
          from time to time in these lines.

          You're in my blood like holy wine, you're so bitter,
          so bitter, so bitter, so sweet and 
          I could drink a case of you, darling
          and still be on my feet, 
          and I'd still be on my feet.

Also, Prince is singing Gospel.

          So the same song, but absolutely different. Prince is still a lonely painter, but he's no longer afraid. That's in the past now. I think if I could use only one word to describe the transformation in Prince's version, it would be matured.

          He could have sung this wearing a purple feather boa and lace gloves, high heels and assless pants, and that still wouldn't be the biggest difference between his rendition and Joni's. 

          When Prince sings it, "A Case of U" is a spiritual. Here, with Prince, these lyrics seem inspired by Rumi, channeling love in all its guises, tapping into the very source of the beloved from within, and turning longing right into praise with every breath. 

          Joni's version ends almost abruptly, the way a candle, or love, sputters out. Prince ends the song in a lower key. His closing bars are a completely different, moodier melody that repeats, insistent, over and over like a promise of returning love. 

          Since the news of Prince's death, I've been listening to this song on repeat, the same way I used to listen to Joni on my record player when I was 13. Like a beautiful prayer we sing together, I feel less alone. There is a plaintive and surprisingly masculine quality in his voice that is so true. It stirs and soothes some deep yearning and I want to stay in touch with it just a little while longer. 

I am a lonely painter, I live in a box of paints.
I used be frightened by the devil and 
drawn to those ones that weren't afraid.

Thursday, April 14, 2016


A protein designed to ticket germs and junk for destruction had been co-opted by the nervous system to ticket synapses for destruction. “It reinforces an old intuition,” my psychiatrist friend Hans told me. “The secret of learning is the systematic elimination of excess. We grow, mostly by dying.” Siddhartha Mukherjee (“Runs in the Family,” The New Yorker, March 28, 2016)
We thrive on destruction. Right down to our most basic physiology, at a molecular level: we sacrifice in order to thrive. Every day our damaged cells are flushed out, our synapses are pruned, and no one weeps while the ruthless human organism strengthens and refines itself at the expense of its outgrown parts. No, it’s not ruthless—immorality is too sentimental a notion to be applied to these insentient bits—discreet, obedient, innumerable—that comprise the human body—the self—and behave, in concert, like an automaton. 

          Likewise when growth goes unchecked in this microscopic arena, cancers develop and the wellbeing of our organism as a whole is threatened by the chaotic proliferation of cells. Unimpeded growth ultimately overtakes and becomes the destroyer. We are most comfortable discussing cancer as an enemy invader. To envision that chaos always threatens from within is harder. But it's just as inappropriate to attribute ruthlessness to a malignancy as to our daily survival. Nothing personal about it, just doing a job. (Or is that the definition of ruthless?)

          Tonight we're all alone: We all lie down. We close our eyes. And we wage war for eight hours, fighting to the death. And, if we’re lucky, we awaken refreshed and remember nothing.

Friday, March 18, 2016

The Swan (Part 11) A Chip off the Philosopher's Stone

XI. A Chip off the Philosopher's Stone

          Most of us probably have recollections of happy hours spent as a child in some kind of constructive activity—from building sandcastles and coloured brick structures to turning bits of odd materials into dolls, animals, houses, soldiers, and, above all, of covering a variety of surfaces, including wallpaper and tabletops, with drawings. Few children can resist the attraction of pencils, crayons, chalk or paint box, and the satisfaction derived from such works of creative art is completely unrelated to the results obtained.

          Once the results become more important to us than the work involved, we begin to become dissatisfied, and usually between the ages of 12 and 15 we abandon our childish pursuits and with it a source of happiness which we can ill afford to lose.

          However, the source remains and promises untold delights if only we can overcome our natural laziness and our unnatural idea that whatever we produce has to be perfect.

          For many centuries men attempted to prepare a substance, called the Philosopher's Stone, which was supposed to have two properties: to turn base metals into silver or gold, and to give eternal life to its owner. The emphasis lay on its power of transformation—be it of coarse matter into something finer or, ultimately, of turning sinful man into a perfect being.

          Creative work, from the very humblest to the greatest works of art, contains something of the secret of the Philosopher's Stone. The transformation of coarse matter into something finer touches on that special brand of happiness which is unaffected by outer circumstances.

          Naturally, it would be more gratifying to put paint to canvas and produce the Mona Lisa than, for instance, to turn a piece of felt into two left slippers, but the final result is not indicative of the happiness that is derived from the actual work.

           There is a magic in creative work as many of us have discovered who have diligently fashioned awkward or beautiful objects out of unyielding raw materials. Take a ball of knitting wool: what is it but many yards of thread, and yet it can be in your power to transform it into a wearable garment. An old cardboard box can be turned into a dolls' house, pipe cleaners into little figures, wire into ornaments, paper into lampshades, lengths of can into baskets and, last but not least, a piece of board with the aid of brushes and some paint tubes into a picture, good, bad, or indifferent. Collectors can transform chaos into order by sorting, labeling, and sticking into albums or arranging on shelves.

          After a day's hard work one may feel inclined to look for passive relaxation—if one is ill or old (or both) one may acutely dislike the idea of exertion. How often does one hear the argument, "I have no energy left for such things." Quite wrong! The only real effort needed is the decision to go and do it. Once started it does not sap one's energy—on the contrary, it provides energy in abundance and with it a feeling of happiness that one had thought lost and that, in truth, had only been mislaid in childhood.

17th July, 1975—Dear William

What you wrote about alchemy made me look for an article which I wrote many years ago, called "The Philosopher's Stone" and which was published—if I remember rightly—by the Chest and Heart Foundation because I sang a praise of creative work in all its forms. (The title is Alchemy for Invalids!)I can't find the article but what I did find was something called "Church Organs" which I shall photocopy in the office tomorrow before I send it to you. I don't think you want to read it but I could imagine that Roxanne would like it as the final appearance of the organist's apprentice was in the organ loft of the Marienkirche—although Roxanne could not climb up to it on account of her operation.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Swan (Part 10) Venice in the Fifties

Life Magazine
X. Venice in the Fifties

11th January, 1958

          There is nothing exciting to report. One wintry week of Venice is quite an experience, though—all kinds of weather with rain (today), freezing rain (and woe unto him who doesn't know his way—but they strew conscientiously to cut down Loss of Life), sun and frost and the fastest fog which comes rolling in from the Adriatic in grey balls and simply blankets out the whole city, as well as moonlit nights which are quite exquisite.

          For someone who has seen weeks and months of Rome, Venice is a city of pompous funereal churches with endless pompous tombs of Doges and precuratori in chapels which are sky high, where somewhere a tiny man on a gilded wooden horse s "IT"—but not the intimate churches of Rome which give one a feeling of musicality. Here all is pomp and great dignity. The 200 and more palazzi which line the curving Canal Grande are white and asymmetrical (very refined in taste) and completely unprotected because in contrast to other towns there was no reason to defend one's house against another member of the nobility because the democratic regime dates back so far.

          The city consists, like a jigsaw puzzle come apart (the seams filled with green transparent seawater), of so many sections but one soon understands that the centre, which is the knot, is the Rialto Bridge (known from postcards) which had Shylock's shoppe amongst many others (still standing). The thing to do is to hop from one of their B pontons into a vaporetto. The pontons rock like mad and the vaporetti seem mostly under water. In the 57½ minutes one has gone from one end of the city to the other, from the Station to S. Marco Square and in this almost hour (?) one passes one phantastically beautiful residence after another because there is no ugly house but all is XVIIIth-century, XVII, XVIth, back to the XIVth. 

          Most of those palazzi are of marble, at least their facades, and have coloured barber poles in the water with the heraldic signs (mostly in gold) of the owner of the palazzo. The poles are used to tie gondolas (all BLACK) or motorboats to. From the palazzi superb marble stairs, flanked by lanterns which are lit up (vaguely) at night, steps lead into the water and inasmuch as the water is the Adriatic Sea, it laps up the steps and often hits the wooden doors.

          The Canal Grande is alive with Gondolas which cross, because there are no more than three serviceable ridges and these gondolas are managed by two gentlemen in black (on rainy days with umbrellas in their left hand!) who stand high in back and low in front and with exaggerated motion and meter-long oars set the black shallow canoes in motion whilst nuns, ladies with laundry baskets on their heads, dogs, gentlemen in fedoras, elegant ladies in furs, stand in the centre of the frail ship which, in the waves caused by vaporetti, rock like mad. But a huge city is completely water-minded; schoolchildren hop into the boats and off they go. 

          All the rest of the city—it only takes minutes to traverse it at most points—moves on foot and the streets are mostly so narrow that if it rains only one umbrella fits into it—so there is endless ducking and shrinking into doorways, and the whole city is like an endless unfolding of theatrical vistas with the most intricate turns and twists and bridges, all of stone and very steep up and down—so that when, as I do it, one walks all day one goes endless staircases up and down again; within the city again numerous palaces with their own mediaeval bridges leading to the front door, churches mostly completely absorbed by the houses; turning a corner you will see, if you crane your neck to look up, suddenly a two-story apse(?) of a gothic church. 

          Through the streets (which here are called not "via" but "calle") the mass of humanity moves and one hears a tremendous hum of voices.

by Canaletto
          Restaurants are beautiful—mostly food to be had at about 8 pm; not before. I went to a modern opera yesterday in the finest theatre of Venice, The Phoenix, which is a completely intact XVIIth-century theatre. I wish I could say that the music was good; my theory that the Italians have lost their taste for music was verified once more. Indifferently good orchestra, fair choir, stinky soloists—and ugly as hell. But as an impression: fine. The city smells beautifully—most people seem to heat with wood, the fishiness (?) is not unpleasant. Most houses have canaries which even in freezing weather are outside the windows where they sing like mad. 

          The strangest thing is lack of desire for light. I have noticed this before in Italy. The city at night is dark. Even the gayest stores have dim lights. My own bulbs are 25 volt which we would give to the girls to burn all night (for nightmares) and even the station, which is one of Italy's three post-war stations, is dimly lit. The city at night is incredibly dark but one's eyes get accustomed to it and I, knowing Italy, always carry a very strong flashlight which means that in museums I creep all over the pictures, lighting up details but hardly ever seeing the whole. For art, the city has heavenly spots and especially the XVIIIth-century painters, such as Pietro Longhi with his small paintings of, practically speaking, every aspect of life, from hunting to tennis playing, to confessing, to dancing—makes you nostalgic for the good old days.

          In contrast to Rome: much less ravishing beauties. This is a hard-working city. And Italy, except for its tourist guest, is no fool's paradise. The amount of work is twice as much as in Holland and 30 times as much as in England. Here everyone works on Sundays and shops are open till 8-9 pm. The post office, for example, opens at eight am—closes at 8 pm or later. I heard from an American that Ravenna has the biggest oxygen plant in the world. And Venice, with all its dreamy (?) aetherial beauty, has a "Waterfront" with freighters and ocean-going vessels of all sizes.

          What is nice here is the damn good food. Bread is better and more varied in Rome, but meat and fih is good and soups are poetic. And one doesn't overeat on the whole. One orders meat which one eats. Then spinach appears upon which one strews parmesan cheese. Then one eats creme caramel and has a demi-tasse of the strong, mellow Italian coffee. If one is elegant one has consomme with vegetables or vermicelli in it at the beginning and a carafe of red wine which is pale red, slightly prickly and knocks me over (but pleasantly so). My breakfast consists of one roll (hard), three tiny dabs of butter, jam and four cups of foaming chocolate (which is, since the XVIIIth century, the drink here). 

          I rise at seven and try to be at my first museum at nine, home at one o'clock and on the beat again at 2;15. At 4 o'clock it is getting dark and at 5:30 I am at "home" writing my daily report and mapping out my strategy for the next day. 

          You can imagine that I sleep notwithstanding the fact that this little albergo lies in the slums with drunks singing till 1 am. The hotel is—as all cheap hotels in the world—run by a family where members sponge on whatever money comes in. Screaming babies, the owner a distraught widow, two effeminate sons, a beautiful daughter and two country maids who are extremely clean and appetizing. My room is immaculate every day. 

          In general: Italy is enormously clean compared to Germany and filthy Holland. Italian train toilets can actually be used. Dutch trains are the way I imagine country trains east of Kiev.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Swan (Part 9): Polio

IX. Polio

I have never been able to understand the nervous reaction of my fellow females to mice. Those wild screams and mad scrambles for chairs and tables. Those agonised commands of "Kill it!" Those pale faces, staring eyes, trembling hands, the ultimate abandoning of all reason, all dignity. I am a tolerant person. I just smile, I make soothing noises, both to the trembling human creatures high up as well as the little furry grey creatures low down. I admit they must be high-strung, I recommend plenty of milk and a few early nights. In any case, I feel terribly superior.

          Now take spiders, for instance. That is an entirely different case. Spiders rattle when they walk, they are thoroughly irresponsible and look like small editions of men from outer space. They always seem to make straight for me. I feel I am fully justified in feeling nervous about them.

          As a matter of fact, the sight of a spider makes me lose all reason and all dignity. I scream and try to climb straight up the nearest wall. Failing that I jump on a chair or table. If I happen to find a spider in the bath it is a matter of screaming for help to remove it or, no bath, and never mind Nanny's voice over some odd 40 years which seems to call out, "Oh, you dirty girl!" I have been known to spend some awful 20 minutes on a balcony with shrapnel falling round me during an air raid, trembling like a leaf because there was a large spider on my bed.

          It took a spider to bring home to me what it really means to have "a slight paralysis of the legs." All was peace. I had just finished reading the evening paper and when I put it aside I saw a spider approaching me rapidly. I gave a scream, but when it came to flight I found that my most intense desire to put lots of space between myself and the fiendish animal did not result in speed. I dragged my legs slowly as I had been dragging them for weeks and I almost collided with the spider. I suddenly began to think. 

          So far I had only been out in an ambulance or a car and now it dawned on me what it would mean not to be able to run. How would I ever cross a street? How would I get on a bus? How would I go to work? I quite forgot the spider and looked at my future for the next few years and did not like it. However, it turned out to be not quite so bad as I as I expected, but certainly odd.

          For once thing, it is not at all easy to convince one's surroundings that a person who walks slowly with a stick is not a perfectly normal human being. On the other hand, it is jolly hard work to remain so. I deeply resent it when people make a fuss of me, when chairs are pushed under me, when they step aside to whisper, "Poor thing." I equally resent it when nobody takes any notice of me, when I am pushed off my balance, when I am not immediately offered a seat on the bus, when I am left waiting.  With other words, I want to have my cake and eat it.

          There are compensations. Time seems to stretch quite pleasantly. If I miss one bus, I think I may get on the one after the next. As I stroll slowly along, I have ample time to see things I have never seen before. I have given up being discreet and I look into all lighted windows as long as I can. 

          I have seen a children's party in progress which I would have missed had I run. I have seen people dancing where I never expected them. I have seen a man playing the piano and six people in the room behind him yawning simultaneously with six mouths wide open. I have seen a rather large woman trying on a rather small jumper and the jumper lost. I have seen a little girl having a piano lesson and she looked very happy. I have seen a very pink man who only wore trousers ironing a very flimsy nightdress—probably a surprise. His tongue was stuck out several inches and his forehead was creased in concentration. I have also seen an owl flying along a street where there are normally no owls about. I have discovered the shape of buildings I never knew were there and I have found trees which I had passed for years without noticing them.

          I also have time to take in smells. I know the Indian boarding house by its nice spicy smell from the basement kitchen. I know who is having kippers and who is having bacon for breakfast. I know without looking that the patch of lilies of the valley is out in the park and that the ice cream factory has its vanilla day and that our factory has switched to rubber for a change.
Lottie in Russell Square, 1966
          I have overcome my fear of crossing streets. I just wait until the traffic thins a bit. It always does eventually; one has to be patient. I wait for a driver to signal me across. I felt terribly self-conscious and guilty in the beginning, holding up the traffic. I imagined all drivers cursed me for making them wait. I now think they have better things to do and probably only dimly see me as an unavoidable obstacle that will eventually remove itself. I still love bus drivers and heavy lorry drivers who wave me across and smile. Ours is a nice country to be lame in. People are friendly and patient. Abroad they are nothing of the sort. They are, on the whole, quite horrid. I have been hooted at and mudguards have brushed me and words have been called which I could fortunately not understand.

          Yes, I have been abroad. I suppose one could quite well travel round the world with a rubber-tipped stick in one's hand and dragging legs. I have not been that far, only across the Channel, but I got there and back again. My great worry was how to get on board a Channel steamer. Nothing could have been easier. A porter almost carried me on board, with my suitcase.

Monday, March 14, 2016

The Swan (Part 4 and three quarters): The Aftermath of War

IV and three quarters. The Aftermath of War

When I look back on my fortnight's stay in Hamburg in June, the first thing that comes to my mind is the incredible shabbiness of everything. When I left Hamburg in 1936 it was on the crest of the wave. It was a wealthy, beautiful, clean place and its inhabitants were confident, energetic, prosperous, elegant and full of plans for a brilliant future. All that has gone so completely as if it had never existed.

          I was prepared to find a great amount of destruction but I was not prepared to find the town look as if they had had a heavy air raid on the previous night. Apparently they have not made the slightest effort of cleaning up and carting the rubble away. Actually they have done a certain amount of clearing up, but there is still so much left.
Henry, in US Army uniform, with Hully
Hamburg, May 1946
Hully observing her ruined home, May 1946 
Family home, Hamburg, 1946
          I gradually realised that one cannot expect much when there is no paint to make things look a bit nicer, no soap to do any cleaning and not much strength to care about things in general, probably no transport to shift the rubble and no petrol to move what trucks they could muster. Unfortunately, this attitude of not-caring-very-much is universal.

          Germans are bad losers. Everyone I met complained endlessly, accused everybody else, blamed the British for all their shortcomings. I must admit that the food position, certainly at that time, was still very bad. Eight-hundred calories would tend in the long run to get everybody down. In a way it is astonishing that they keep on as they do.

          The occupied countries during the war had something to pray and to hope for. The germans do not seem to have any hopes left. This hopelessness, added to sheer physical exhaustion as the result of years of under-nourishment, seem to me most alarming. I took every opportunity of talking to people and trying to find out what they thought. I believe I was told a good deal of what was really in their minds because people who did not know me could not possibly realise I was not German as I speak German with a Hamburg accent. And old friends and acquaintances talked to me as such. I felt in some isolated instances they were conscious of the fact that I was British and tried "propaganda."

          The first thing that strikes one is the dislike of the British which in some cases was really hatred. When we first came to Hamburg at the end of the war there seems to have been a general feeling of relief and even joy. Hamburg has always been much nearer to the British kind of life than any other German town. The frontline troops which occupied Hamburg made a very good impression and there were hardly any complaints. When they made way for other troops, the disappointments began and when the civilian administration arrived, the tide turned against us. The no-fraternisation rule, although justified, has done us no end of harm. By the time it was lifted, there was a kind of unofficial no-fraternisation rule amongst the German population. "No decent German would like to be seen with English people" was an expression I heard repeatedly. There are, of course, exceptions.

          The next complaint was, queer enough, about the inefficiency and laziness of the Administration. Germans are probably the most industrious race on earth and they regard the British with contempt because their offices do not open until 10 o'clock and very often close again at 12. What they do not know about organising is not worth knowing and the present state of "improvising" arouses no respect.

          Requisitioning is another thing which has hit them hard. One can hardly blame the individual for feeling bitter, like, for instance, a school teacher who was told in the morning that she would have to leave her flat by the afternoon. It was during the very cold winter and she had nowhere to go. Finally she went to the attic of her school where she camped amongst packing crates. For some reason or other her flat was not occupied for some months but the doors were sealed and any effort to "loot" her own furniture and belongings was in vain. It is no good telling her that the Germans had an even less gentle way of commandeering houses in the occupied countries.

         On my wanderings through Hamburg I came to one large open space, surrounded by barbed wire and when I asked about the type of bomb which did this rather neat damage I was told there used to be houses on that spot after the war but the British decided to build a kind of compound for their administration and therefore turned the people out and blew the buildings up. Later on they decided against the plan. In view of the quite disastrous housing situation this has been a rather sad mistake.

          The overcrowding, although it is not our fault or at least very indirect, is almost worse than the lack of food. A house that would normally hold four to five people now has some 25 living crowded together in rooms. The present allowance is 4 sq. m. per person so that a medium sized room should hold some five people. This also means sharing kitchens, sinks and lavatories, with all the resulting quarrels, not to speak of infection.

          Gas is rationed, which is another source of irritation. One can hardly blame undernourished and tired people when they cheat and steal. Mothers are frantic to get all they can for their children by any means. Stealing of coal is regarded as a quite legitimate thing by people who would not have dreamed of taking a penny stamp before the war.

          People are quite surprisingly uninformed about the world in general and their country in particular. If we have tried any propaganda at all we seem to have failed amazingly. The absence of wireless sets and scarcity of German newspapers may account for some of it. I talked to highly education people who used to take a keen interest in world affairs. Their knowledge was slight, to say the least of it, and even this type of people seemed to rely on rumours. The quite universal belief is, for instance, that we carry their food to England, fruit is flown by planes and by night directed to Covent Gardens.

          Every single item which German factories produce goes straight on the English market. Every effort of building houses is made impossible because they have to apply for a licence first and fill in endless forms. Permission to use certain raw materials for manufacture is often withheld until the raw materials have deteriorated. This is all done quite deliberately. When I told them that we could not just build houses without any kind of permission and that things have deteriorated in our country because the relevant ministry could not make up their minds to give their permission, they would not believe it.

          When they complained that they could not buy cups and saucers I told them we couldn't either. The fact that our food and clothing was still rationed was only quite vaguely known. They thought it quite interesting to hear that we had electricity cuts. They had never heard of any world crisis. They were just deliberately starved to death as part of the general British plan. Is there nothing we can do to inform them a bit better?

          The last and probably most serious problem was brought to me by a young student who had been a pilot during the war. He said quite openly that he had been an ardent Nazi and that the bottom had dropped out of his universe when all was over. He ceased to believe anymore but he confessed there was nothing to take its place.

          "You see, national Socialism was not just politics to us young people, it was a religion and I can assure you it was a beautiful religion which demanded our fullest devotion and all our thoughts. It is horrible to feel this void but our Lutheran church cannot possibly replace our beliefs. We have a feeling it has failed us when we were willing to turn to it in despair. It has to be something much stronger. We Germans give our best when there are great demands made upon us. Democracy is not a religion and it does not suit the German character. Besides, see what a mess the British are in. There is no advertising value in democracy here."

          I asked whether the Church of England had done anything to help as I had heard of a discussion centre where young students and potential youth leaders were invited to attend lectures and discussion for a fortnight. He admitted they had done some good but it could not possibly influence them as a fortnight was much too short. Much more and more intensive work would be needed to have an effect, especially on cynical and highly critical young men, however ardently they might desire to find new gods to worship.

          When I said that Christianity had certainly gone through a much longer "approbation" period than National Socialism and had proved its worth in this world, he suddenly said: "There is one 'creed' that attracts a great number of us and that is communism."

          Against my usual arguments he put the really dangerous one that is bound to come up sooner or later: "We do not want the Russian Communism, we need a National German Communism."

           If the Church of England cannot convince these young people soon it will be too late. And the problem is that we probably cannot find the right people in time to tackle this formidable task because the best padre will make no impression unless he knows the psychology of young Germans very well indeed. He will have to fight with their own weapons and meet them on their own ground, he will probably have to adapt his idea of Christianity to the German mind, or in other words, we shall have to send out missionaries into a highly civilised country where only the very best minds are good enough. This young German ex-Nazi who is anxiously searching for something to replace his old beliefs, willing to drink from any cup that promises to slacken his spiritual thirst, looking from West to East, waiting for a new "leader" seems so typical of young German people and the idea that we shall fail them in all probability whilst there is still time, frightens and saddens me.
Lottie and Hully, Hamburg, 1946

The Swan (Part 4 and a half): WAR

IV and a half.  A genuine German anti-fascist

TRANSLATED COPY/Translated by H. Jakubowicz

The following is a true and exact rendering of a letter written by a genuine German anti-fascist in the German language. Names of persons and places have been abbreviated.

Paris, August 9th, 1945

Dear H.,

     After staying in Berlin illegally for two and a half years I have returned some time ago to Paris and I am sorry to find that you are not yet back in Europe. Therefore I will give you a short account of all that has happened to me since we saw each other in the Summer of '41.

     When we embarked in Marseilles I was still a mechanical founder in F. Later, however, I was working as a construction engineer in the works at F. During the middle of 1942, however, the position became precarious, the police had the noble intention to arrest me for deportation I vanished and went to B.E. at L. There I spent about seven months. E. had arranged things for himself in L. quite well. Without any difficulties he could study at the "Bibliotheque Municipale." 

     I succeeded in obtaining good documents—naturally forged ones—for the comrades who were living in L. For E. I had procured papers from Lorraine, which he kept for the beginning in reserve because he could still exist legally. We had conceived the plan to go to Germany with our false papers. The plan was discussed exhaustively and E's great experience was a great profit to me. I should go as an advance scout, should reconnoitre and prepare, on the ground of the experiences gained, with my forged papers, his removal too. The French workmen who were, at that time, forced to go to Germany, had all a claim to return on leave after six months. So in February 1943, I left L. with the intention of being back by the end of the summer. 

     E. did not give me the addresses of our people, because they did not know me personally and they hardly would have been prepared to deal with me on the strength of perhaps very vague personal references, because they all had to fear informers. One month after my departure E. was arrested because of an entirely bloody and unimportant difficulty with his papers. Friends who are here reproach him for his alleged careless behavior, but I can hardly believe that. Our connections in L. were so good that, for example, M.F. a short time after his arrest with forged papers, was released again. Probably E. has had just damned bad luck. He was in the clink only for the ridiculous time of a fortnight, but as he had been arrested under his real name the NSV (NS.-Volkswohlfahrt-NS. Charity Organization) took an interest in him. They told him he should not be so dumb as to sit in the clink for the French, he should rather go to the Reich. Because he refused, the Gestapo took the matter up. He was carried away and we have never heard of him again. Naturally, one has to expect the worst in this case.

     In the middle of February I arrived in Berlin. At first I was working as a construction engineer in an aircraft factory in Tempelhof. My flat was in Wilmersford. Already then war morale was on the decline. In the construction offices we were building the "Stukas NN"—the man occupation consisted in sleeping. Even in the construction offices 80% of the staff were foreigners. After about a week I found the first communist. There was no organization, but also in isolation he stuck with unshakable firmness to the proletarian creed. After hardly a month had passed in Germany, the Gestapo arrested me. A French fascist had reported me for "anti-German" activities. Still as a Frenchman I went to the Gestapo headquarter in Burgstrasse, from there to the concentration camp at H. I was able to talk myself out of the charge—for which the punishment was death—and got a close shave with 56 days K.Z. This was not an ordinary K.Z., but a special camp where "intensity was calculated to replace the length of the punishment period." 

     In the main, recalcitrant foreigners got their treatment here. We were about 1,000 men from all possible countries. Our mortality rate in summer was 20 men per day, in winter about double. Daily we had to do about eight hours of heaviest railway work. Three hours march daily to and from the S-bahn (fast suburban railway) building site N. and roll calls every morning and evening extending over four hours in every weather. We received extra rations for heavy manual workers but especially the roll call exhausted men completely. Beatings and murders were perpetrated on principle by the Ukrainians and Poles whom S.S. selected for this task. The corpses were thrown into a large pit. The building contractors received laconic information, e.g. "workmen X. died from pneumonia" or "appendicitis." 

     The death certificates were already filled in in stock with the medical orderly. Only the name had to be put in. The air raids were the most terrible thing because we were locked up in the huts and in case of a hit the men should rather die than be left at large and thereby offered a chance for flight. The maximum punishment for a European was 28 days, for Russians and Poles, 56 days. (As a "political" I was an exception and had also 56 days. As the S.S. was incapable to run the complicated camp administration themselves they appointed some German communists who were already imprisoned for years and who ran the show. I shall never forget these fellows. There morale was entirely unbroken and they ran the camp in model fashion. Their moral and physical cleanliness contrasted impressively with all the other prisoners. After about four weeks of extremely heavy work for which, however, my navy and foundry work at F. had been an inestimable training, I fell ill. When that happened the communists took me into the office because they, as I did myself, assumed that I would remain in camp until the war was over. (Nobody knew my "time.") Daily they read smuggled newspapers and they were informed about the London broadcasts. There were serious valuable political discussions. The communists were of the age groups of 30 and 40 years. Ideologically, they had nothing in common with "the filthy party line." 

     After my release I met a woman with whom I lived the whole rest of the time.

          In November 1943 the heavy English air raids on Berlin began which later on devastated the whole West of Berlin by fire. In spite of the tremendous material destruction these raids naturally  could not bring about the revolution. The effect on the factory was almost insignificant. People suffered the inevitable and life went on. 

          The leave regulations had been changed and I could not return to L. before February 1944. There I heard of A's arrest. This had made all our plans futile. Shortly afterwards I returned to Berlin. 

          There I worked then for X. who built "Panzers" and later I was transferred to Y. where important engine parts were made. 

          Although this work was priority no. 1,  sabotage in this factory was rife. A precision raid by the Americans caused heavy destruction in this factory and nothing went ever right again there. The demanded amount of labor was 72 hours per week. But that was only on paper. We sat there but we did not work. The regulations about secrecy were carried out in such a way that we could take away all the blueprints of the factory if we wanted. Everybody was fed up. I could observe a general "je m'en foutisme" (let them all go and hang themselves). Nevertheless, everyone was subjected to an iron military discipline. S.S. with bloodhounds were in command of the work-security guard. At the most 10% of the workmen were Germans. 

     The air raids had changed their tactical character, after February '44. The Americans attacked, in daylight precision attacks, mainly industrial targets. Civilian casualties in Berlin were relatively few. But when they attacked the city proper, the effect was devastating. So, for instance, in the heaviest air attack on the area of the City of Berlin on the 3rd February 1944. On that day from the Gesundbrunnen in the North to the Hallisches Tor in the South the whole East of Berlin was reduced to rubble. The Americans dropped mainly heavy explosive bombs. Within three-quarters of an hour at least 50,000 people died. The streets were reeking of corpses for weeks and this smell is still in my nose.

          From Winter 1943-44 hardly anybody seriously believed in victory. Almost everybody listened to the B.B.C. Anti-fascist feeling was widespread. Because there was no organised expression of this feeling all the the countless individual actions failed. From the beginning of the war the number of special tribunals had been raised from one to seven. They worked without stopping. In general a miserable travesty of justice. I have listened to some of the trials. The main form of anti-Nazi activity was something like that: whispering propaganda with B.B.C. slogans (the Moscow radio was practically not listened to at all because of its monotony). Ca'canny, absenteeism, actual sabotage, passive resistance. Desertions from civilian and military services were already considerable. A tremendous impression was made by the first sign of the nearing storm, the fall of Italian fascism. The Nazi badges suddenly vanished from the buttonholes. The N.S.D.A.P. had to issue a party order which threatened everyone with expulsion from the Party who did not wear the Swastika. In the dustbins of Wilmersdorf S.S. uniforms were found which had been thrown away. Far into Nazi circles the S.S. had the names of bloodhounds. The most hated man in Germany was no doubt Hein (Himmler). What actually happened in the K.Z. however, the masses ignored. Also I was carried away by the general feeling and I anticipated a coup d'état (a putsch) of the Right after the Italian model in winter. 

     Once again everybody was seized by feverish expectations when the generals made their putsch in Summer '44. At that time I lived near the Landwehr Canal off Bendlerstrasse where the German War Ministry was. At night one heard the shootings. The feeling of the people during the following days is best characterised by the often-heard words, "T'is a pity." From this time onwards life in Germany degenerated unbelievably quickly. Practically, there was only one punishment left: death. Also for petty criminal infringements, according to the so-called "Law against persons harmful to the People's interest." Children under 16 could be sentenced to death. Every soldier had the right to shoot on sight persons whom he only suspected of treason. Sexual morals corrupted. Everybody who could only creep was armed. Women and girls were forced by the Labor Exchanges to man the S.A. and searchlight batteries. The most dangerous profession belonged to a police or Wehrmacht patrol because anybody who had reason to fear them fired on them on sight.

          When the Russians stopped on the Oder in February '45 we believed that the Gestapo would still gather enough force to deal with those elements they thought dangerous. Indeed the assassination of former leading members of working class organisations in the working class quarters became more numerous. Gestapo gangsters bumped them off in this way. From February '45 I never went out unarmed. A doctor who was friendly with me provided me with sickness certificates and I never had to work again. We knew that Himmler had issued the order to "liquidate" all the K.Z. prisoners and ex-prisoners when the retreat from the East had started.

          Form February '45 onward there was an R.A.F. raid with 2-tonners each night. The warning went about 10 p.m. The all-clear came about 4 a.m. The people made a habit of going to the shelters already before the raids started. In addition there were the American daylight raids. Everybody heard with great relief of the breakthrough in the West, this could only be the end. Before the Russians had got going with their assault the Americans had crossed the Elbe between Magdeburg and Wittenberg but then they stopped. For several weeks already gas and electric power in Berlin was confined to a few hours daily. The sirens sounded usually only after the first bombs had announced the presence of enemy 'planes. On April 21st was Adolf's birthday. On the 22nd we heard Russian gunfire in the East for the first time. At the same time the first Stomoviks came. The Berlin Radio announced that Berlin A.A. batteries would now be used only against targets. 

     In the meantime the Gestapo, the S.S. and Co. had fled already. But about 7,000 barricades had been erected. The next day Russian guns bombrded the Alexander Plaatz. Two days later the Russians held already the Ring of Autobahnn round Berlin. That meant that the city was entirely surrounded. I observed the whole carnage from my girl's house in the Brandenburgische Strasse in Wilmersdorf. Now day and night hell was let loose and never stopped. In broad daylight the Russians bombarded the center of Wilmerdorf from Wannsee-Nikkolassee. Although many shells exploded in the middle of the long queues of women waiting for food the survivors went on queueing, forced by hunger. Now there was no gas, no electric power, no light, and no water. There was also no German Army left. From sergeant-major up to general everybody roped in his handful of soldiers in the streets. A motley crowd of marines, Luftwaffe and Army soldiers, of police, Volkssturm, S.A. and S.S. formed the so-called "Combat groups." There armament was very poor. Most of them had "Panzer fists."

          The house in which I stayed was fought for during five full days and five full nights. At first a German obsolete Panzer defended it which after 12 hours had used up its whole ammunition and therefore rolled away. Next morning a Russian "T 34_ advanced against us. At a distance of 22 yds. they fired into the neighbouring building were the police were entrenched. Then a young fellow shot it up from the next building. When the Panzer started to burn several houses went up in flames as well. After that the Russians tried to soften us up with heavy mine throwers. The effect of these things is only to be compared with the heaviest bombs. During that time we played Skat (a German card game) in the cellar. Soon after this the Russians sat in the houses opposite us. Some S.S.-men threw them out again in a counter attack. In one of the houses the women had welcomed the Russians and given them hot coffee. A young S.S. scamp thereupon shot all the inhabitants of the house. "Traitors of the people." Already before an army private had been hanged on a balcony as a warning. In this absolutely hopeless situation the power of Nazi terror was once again demonstrated. The Nazis had the cheek to spread the solgan in the cellars: "We need only hold on for a few more days. The relief army is on the march. It stands on the Avus (the automobile racetrack between the West end of Berlin and Wannsee). In the meantime our flanks had been turned. The Russians advanced through the Uhland Strasse and they fought already for the Zoo-shelter where the Fuhrer's staff was. All the houses opposite us were gutted. The house on our left burnt out. Behind us the Russians already in our block. Uninterrupted infantry fire. Then the roof of the house next to us is set on fire. 

     We had only one way out—to the right, before our house is burnt to the ground. With some bold men I am rushing on to the roof and in a hail of shells we extinguished the blaze. I had to take over the practical command and we decided to close up the breakthrough to the neighbouring houses, that meant to brick up all exits, and to hoist the Red Flag. After a debate of several hours with the NSDAP boobies, I had to withdraw with the others, otherwise the S.S. had liquidated me. In the evening in the midst of battle—it was 1st May—we left the house. Towards night the infantry fire subsided. Under cover of night we looked for shelter. It was an eery sight. The flames of innumerable fires plunged the town in a weird blood-red hue. Now and then a patrol crept from the shadow of the houses and examined us sternly. We were taken in in an ordinary basement where gravely injured people lay around. All the other soldiers drank until they were senseless. But all of them were fighting on. The next morning somebody shouted "Urri" through the cellar. The Russians had arrived. The first thing they did was to take away all the watches "(Urri-Uhren-watches).

          Berlin fell after exceedingly hard fighting. The superiority of the Russians in numbers and material was enormous. Nevertheless the Russians lost here quite a lot. The combat tactics were fighting from house to house. Nowhere did the Russians attack with cold steel as I saw it so beautifully filmed in a Paris newsreel. With snipers they worked from building to building and advanced slowly. The had Panzers for support. But since the appearance of the Panzer fist the Panzer has become a very vulnerable weapon in street fighting. In the first days after the fighting was over I could see the proof of this. Hundreds of shot up T 34s were lying about. In Berlin the Red Army has lost thousands of Panzers. Almost all of them fell to the Panzer fist. I have seen only very few destroyed German Panzers, that means that the Nazis had almost none left and they had also very little heavy artillery. In the Panzer fist the Nazis have created an excellent weapon for civil war. 

     The equipment of The Red Army was very good, very great numbers of AA and light guns. Heavy ones I have hardly seen. Every Red Army man who was in the fighting line had a tommy gun which, however, was much heavier in weight than the German model. The trucks were almost all Studebakers. The officers were clean but the soldiers were filthy and unappetizing fellows. Generally they were peasants. Russian, Ukrainian, Polish and also Mongolian troops participated int he fighting for Berlin.

          When we returned our house was fortunately still standing. Russian soldiers were just starting to loot everything. With us were two Ukrainian girls who could make themselves understood. Therefore they stopped looting. We were still living in the cellar. It was the 2nd May. Berlin did not fall before the next day. Relieved and without any idea of what was to come we wanted to sleep in the cellar  but soon one of the two Ukrainian girls came to my wife and in an absolute panic told her to make herself invisible at once unless she wanted to be raped in the night by Messrs. the officers. The girl had heard such warnings. I did not want to believe it but my wife became scared. The small Ukrainian cried and implored us to go away. As "Frenchman" I asked an officer who understood some German whether I could leave. He said: "Without woman." Then I knew what was coming. 

     We organised a regular escape through a hole in the wall and went to the flat of an acquaintance in the Schmargendorf. There the Russians had already been for a week and we thought that it might be quieter there. In the street I met a woman with her young daughter who pushed a pram. She was crying bitterly. "My daughter has just been raped five times." What I saw later in Schmargendorf was horrible. Without ever stopping the Russians searched all the houses for "arms" and always found women only.These were not regrettable incidents but literally the common behaviour of the Red Army in Berlin. Immature children and old women—as incredible as it may seem—had to atone for the Nazi crimes. It was not rare that individual women were raped up to 30 times. Execrable mutilations of women. 

     An epidemic of suicide began to spread. The rapes were so common that nobody would ever believe if there happened to be a young woman who said that she had not been ravished. Dozens of my own friends, women, have gone through it so that everybody can believe me without fear. A girlfriend asked my wife whether she had also been violated. As I had managed to save her from it the other one asked quite astonished: "What? You haven't had to do that? Does such a woman exist?"—Generally it can be asserted that about half of all the women of Berlin were raped. The city itself was robbed completely clean. There was no exception with foreign workers or their wives or prisoners of war. Who refused was shot. When the Russians captured Berlin there were two and a half million inhabitants left. The rest of the 4 million people had run away with a bad conscience. Those who remained greeted the Russians as liberators. The disappointment was cruel. Many communists on the first day had donned red armlets. After they had seen that their wives and daughters were ravished with the others they threw their armlets away again. For days on end unbroken chains of trucks were rolling eastwards from the Hallisches Tor. Not only watches and valuables were stolen but especially the few household goods which poor workmen had saved from the air raids. The Russian trucks were crammed with mattresses, crockery and clothes. For the Russians who did not know the still relatively high standard of German workers there was simply nobody else than "bourzhuys" left in Berlin.

          On principle looting and raping was prohibited in the Red Army. At least the proclamation said so. Practice, however, was different. In Stalin's proclamations and manifestos Berlin was painted to the Red Army man as the citadel of German Fascism. The bureaucracy simply incited them. The officers in most cases took part in the excesses. Exceptions were as rare as white ravens. However, there were exceptions. Significant for the attitude of the Russian authorities was the following incident. On the second day after the end of the fighting two thousand woman had been treated in the St. Gertrauden Hospital. Naturally the doctors also procured abortions. Then the order came from above that only internal ablutions against venereal diseases were allowed. Abortion of the foetus was prohibited—without doubt out of tenderness for the sacred feelings of the women. I am sorry that I once believed such stories to be atrocity stories of Goebbel's propaganda and that I advised women to stay in Berlin. I shall never be able to forget what I have seen. I was deeply shaken. I heard the same from Frenchmen who returned from Poland and Austria.

          Politically this produced a catastrophe. All those who had waited to be able to wring the necks of the Nazis were as paralyzed. All of them, Germans and foreigners were treated alike. What the Nazis were never able to bring about these Russian idiots succeeded to achieve. There arose something like national solidarity among the Germans. Why report the neighbour as a Nazi if they rob you in the same way as him? Everybody tried to save his own skin. In the general chaos nobody molested the Nazis and they could go underground. A communist whom I knew told me "When the S.S. saw that all was lost they quite comfortably shed their uniforms, burned their S.S. military passes and changed into Wehrmacht uniform. (They all had forged duplicate military passes.) "I have not reported one of them. You will now understand why."

          When the new City administration was organised (the Nazis had destroyed all the files), the gang of petty bourgeois bargain-seekers from Kurfuerstendamm at once pressed to the front ranks. Honest elements gave the new jobs a wide berth. Nazis were fairly numerous in the new administration. The case of one of the most active people of the C.P.-line in Berlin was typical. He was fed up. The working-class elements were openly cold-shouldered. The Nazis had to report themselves but most of them of course did not do so.

          After the fighting had stopped the town looked entirely desolate. Berlin is one heap of debris. Some parts of the city got off more lightly, others have completely gone. Seglitz, Zehlendorf and Neukoelln are not entirely destroyed. There the Nazis had been disarmed by the population and the district had been handed over by the district-burgomaster. The Reichs-Rundfunk House (Reich Radio Headquarters) was surrendered at secret orders as well as all telephone and telegraph cable works. The inner city is absolutely wiped out and is now a desert of stones. All the public traffic facilities went to the devil. The North-South underground railway (S-Bahn) was blown up by S.S. in a place where it crosses the Teltow Canal. This happened during the battles when many thousands of people had sought shelter in tunnels. Many people lost their lives.

          At once the Russians started to dismantle the industrial plants. For instance Siemens, A.E.G., etc. Also the S-Bahn (Suburban railway) was dismantled as well as several trunk railway lines.

          On the 16th May all foreigners had to leave Berlin. I left on the 27th May. I had to go to the transit-camp Wittenberg where I spent one month until I travelled on to France. The grub there was too miserable for feeding a dog. I went to the farmers in order to scrounge something edible. The farmers were entirely stripped of every possession—looted. No cattle left nor any agricultural machinery. Here, the Russians grabbed the women still now, two months after the ceasefire. The villages empty of people, the doctors have no medicine for the women who almost without exception have been infected with V.D. A distressing picture. This winter famine is inevitable under these Russian masters of organisation. Under these circumstances the "Werewolf" has gained some importance. "Werewolf" is the reaction to these indescribable humiliations. Already in Berlin the killing of Red Army men was a common occurrence. Usually the Hitler Youth set also fire to houses with incendiary torches. In Wittenberg we were billeted in barracks of an A.A. regiment where there was an ammunition dump. The Hitler Youth blew it sky-high in broad daylight.

          On the 17th June we crossed the demarcation line. Under the Americans we saw for the first time fairly orderly conditions. Without doubt everything was less bad there. On the return journey we stopped at Bonn and Mainz. The towns are very much destroyed. Aachen is a waste of ruins Coblenz the same.

          On the 26th I arrived in Paris. I saw I., and Z. and R. The I travelled to S. to see W. He has kept himself wonderfully. He was badly shaken by my Berlin experiences. We are just preparing his removal to Paris. In his hamlet he would eventually go nuts. On my return journey I came through L., where I found my genuine papers which I had hidden before I left. I need them for my "legalization."

          Then I returned to Paris. There the Brigade Criminelle arrested me. The scoundrel who had reported me to the Gestapo in Berlin had been shot dead here in Paris. One of my French comrades for whom he had also secured a stay in the K.Z. has taken vengeance on him. After seven days in the clink I was released again. I think I shall find work here but I hope to be able to return to the Reich as soon as possible.