by Savitri Devi
THE DOORS CLOSE
The car carried me through the half-ruined streets of Düsseldorf, for the last time. I was not destined to see the town again — at least, not for a long time. As I sat and gazed at it through the window, I thought: “It is, now, a fact forever that I have been tried here, today, the 5th of April, 1949.” And turning to Miss Taylor, I said “How sweet it is to ponder over the irreversibility of Time, and the irrevocability, the indestructibility of the past! Only the great moments of our life count. The rest of it is just a long preparation in view of those blessed hours of intense, more-than-personal joy. I have lived such hours today — others on the night of my arrest, the most beautiful night of my life; others in glorious ’40, when I thought the world was ours. Nothing can rob me of those divine memories. Oh, how happy I am?”
I paused, and smiled. We were now outside the town, rolling along the great Reichsautobahn. I continued: “It is the same in the life of nations: it is not the length of historic epochs that matters; it is their intensity — and their beauty. Before the twelve ineffaceable years of King Akhnaton’s rule at Tell-el-Amarna, millenniums of Egyptian history fade away into dullness; Greece is Periclean Greece — a few brief years of unparalleled glory; and the history of Germany, in the eyes of generations to come, will be the history of the twelve ineffaceable years of Adolf Hitler’s dictatorship . . . plus, — I hope — that of his second coming and second reign; in other words, the history of National Socialism.”
“What about Bismarck?” said Miss Taylor. “And what about the Pan-Germanist movement, already before the first World War?”
“Bismarck, and the Pan-Germanists after him, only prepared the ground for Adolf Hitler,” replied I. “It is the Führer who gave Pan-Germanism its right meaning — its only possible meaning in the world of tomorrow, in which material frontiers will have less and less importance; it is he who integrated it into broader Pan-Aryanisin, showing the Germans the only solid ground upon which .they can and should claim supremacy.”
“The fact that they are the first Aryan nation wide-awake, as I said just now, at my trial. Oh, I am glad I said that! I am glad it shall now be true forever that I said it, even if people forget it. You remember, once, you reminded me that I am not a German? Well, in one way, so much the better — for it is precisely because I am not one that the few truths that I have expressed today take on all their meaning. Don’t I know that?”
Miss Taylor did not answer. But I recalled in my mind a few verses of Victor Hugo which I was made to learn in the school where I used to go, as a child, in France. The verses, end of a passionately patriotic poem written after the defeat of France in 1871, were the following:
“. . . Oh, I wish,
I wish I were not French so that I could say
That I choose thee, France, and that, in thy martyrdom,
I proclaim thee, whom the vulture torments,
My country and my glory and my sole love!”1
In school, we were asked to admire these words. Now, I could not help comparing them with my own sincere homage to Germany, after the bitterest defeat in her history. “Hum!” thought I, with a feeling of satisfaction; “that is all right enough. But Victor Hugo was French. I am not German. It makes a hell of a difference — even if my homage be less dramatically worded than his and, in addition to that, nothing but prose.”
* * *
Apart from Miss Taylor and myself, a policeman in uniform and a young Englishman, sentenced to nine months’ imprisonment for theft and also going to Werl, had taken place in the car. I told that young man what sentence I had been given, and what for, in answer to which he started vehemently proclaiming his personal adherence to the democratic principles in the name of which England had fought. I looked at him with inner contempt, and experienced once more that malignant contentment which I always feel at the sight of the worthlessness of our opponents. I said, ironically: “How interesting it is to hear you defend Democracy!” — which meant in reality: “How lovely it is to meet such an ardent Democrat, who is at the same time a thief!” (the words that I would doubtless have plainly uttered, had I
1 “. . . Oh, je voudrais,
Je voudrais n’être pas Français, pour pouvoir dire
Que je to choisis, France, et que, daps ton martyre,
Je to proclame, toi que ronge le vautour,
Ma patrie et ma glorie et mon unique amour.”
Victor Hugo “A la France” (L’Année terrible)
not wanted to avoid possibly hurting Miss Taylor, who had, only an hour before, made me that invaluable present of ink and paper). I then completely lost interest in the man, and I looked once more out of the window.
That road to Werl, that I was beginning to know so well, I was following for the last time. I was, now, really going to prison — to stay there. And I was happy to go, and happy to wear my symbolical earrings on the way, and to keep my defiant attitude. I knew that I would always keep it; that it was the very meaning of my life; that it would stick to me, even after I were dead, no doubt, in the minds of the few who might remember me. Yet, the sunlit fields, full of daisies and buttercups, and the tender green bushes along the road, and the fruit trees covered with blossoms seemed to me still more beautiful than they had in the morning. For this time I knew I would not see them again. “Another spring like this one will come and go, and I shall not see it,” thought I; “and another will follow, and I shall not see that one, either, and a third one will come, and I shall not see that, unless they decide to send me back to India. But it does not matter. I would not exchange my destiny for anybody’s — not even for that of my comrades who died in 1940 with the illusion of victory in their hearts. For I know, now, that, one day, I shall see the resurrection of National Socialism — and the revenge I have so longed for . . .” Thus I reflected. And I was happy. In the splendour of that German spring — the first I had seen; the last I would see for a long time — I hailed the everlasting victory of Life over Death. “As these trees have bloomed out of the bleak barrenness of winter,” I thought, for the hundredth time, “so, one day, out of those ruins of which the sight now haunts me, the martyred land will live and thrive and conquer again.” And tears came to
my eyes as I imagined myself among the frantic crowds of the future, on the Führer’s return. Still, along with deep happiness, there was now a certain sadness in my heart, because of the overwhelming loveliness of the countryside that I was admiring for the last time.
The car rolled on. I was silent, — lost in the contemplation of the bright sky and new green earth and bright coloured flowers; breathing the fragrance and radiance of life reborn; clinging eagerly to the sight of the sunlit world, as though my last hour of relative liberty had been also the last hour of my life. I knew that every revolution of the wheels under me — now rolling at full speed — was taking me nearer to Werl, nearer to captivity. And I realised, more than I ever had before, how sweet freedom is. And although I regretted nothing — although I would have reacted just the same; spoken the selfsame words of faith and pride; defied the enemies of National Socialism with the selfsame aggressive joy, had it been possible for me to go through my trial again — I had, for a minute, the weakness to admit, in my heart, that it would have been lovely to remain free. And tears came to my eyes. But then, suddenly, I recalled H. E. and my other comrades and superiors imprisoned at Werl, and elsewhere, all over Germany: I recalled Rudolf Hess, a prisoner since 1941, and felt ashamed of myself. Yes, who was I to feel sad for the beauty of spring when the very sight of it had become, to them, like the memory of some former life?
My sadness persisted — perhaps even increased — but was no longer the same. I could have burst out weeping, had it not been for the presence of Miss Taylor and of the two men (and especially of the German driver) and for my desire to keep my standing at any cost. But I would have wept over my comrades’ long-drawn captivity, not over
the prospect of my own; over the persecution of National Socialism — the faith of Life and Resurrection in our times: the faith of the young, of the healthy, of the beautiful — in the midst of that invincible rebirth of Nature, in spite of it, in a spirit that was, and is, in my eyes, an insult to it. I imagined H. E. free again, one day, crossing in the opposite direction that threshold of gloom towards which the motorcar was now carrying me. That day would surely come. But when? When, thought I, would the doors of all the prisons of Germany, and elsewhere, of all the postwar concentration camps, be thrust wide open, and when would we, militant National Socialists, — the youth of the world; the children of spring — come forth and sing, once more, along the highways, our triumphant songs of the great days? Oh, when?
We entered Werl. The Sun had set, but it was daylight still. The road that led to the prison was one mass of flowers. Hanging over the walls of the private gardens that lay both sides of it, thick carpets of new green leaves and millions of tender petals, — white, yellow, pink, red, pale violet — nearly touched the car. I gazed at them, and inhaled as deeply as I could their intoxicating fragrance, as we drove up to the huge dark prison doors.
I got down from the car. I helped the driver to take out my luggage. Then, Miss Taylor rang the bell. And we waited . . .
A golden sky shed its light upon the many-coloured flowers, upon the quiet street through which we had come and the quiet little space where that street met the one that ran parallel to the prison walls; and upon those great high walls themselves, — the forbidding limit of the different world into which I was now to enter definitively; to which I already belonged. The windowpanes of the neighbouring houses facing west, shone like gold. And a soft
breeze brought me the breath of the gardens, — the breath of the world of the free. We might have waited half a minute: perhaps a minute. Again, I thought of my comrades — some six hundred men and a few women, among, whom H. E. — behind those walls for nearly four years. And I realised in absolute sincerity that, had it been possible, I would have gladly remained, myself, a captive forever — renouncing the right to see trees and flowers and even the divine sky for the rest of my life — if, at that price, I could have set them free. I would have, indeed! (I would now, — after tasting freedom once more, in full knowledge of its worth.) And I prayed to the One Whose effulgence is the effulgence of the Sun: “Give them back freedom and power, Lord of the unseen Forces that govern all that can be seen! Restore our New Order, image on earth of Thine eternal Order! — and I don’t care what happens to me.”
I heard the noise of a key in the thick iron keyhole. Slowly, the huge heavy doors were flung open. I crossed the threshold . . . and could not help turning around my head to take a last glance at the lovely, peaceful evening, at the golden sky; to breathe the smell of flowers once more. There was something solemn in that ultimate, fleeting vision of beauty. There was, in that instant, an experience that I would remember as long as I lived. I was not unhappy — on the contrary: a deep, serene joy filled me, and I crossed the threshold with a smile. I knew my place was there, among the others who, like I, (though more intelligently, more efficiently than I) had done their best for the Nazi cause and who, like I, had fallen into our enemies’ hands. And I was intensely aware of being, for once in my life, in my place, — in my place at last! In my place, at least in the hour of persecution, I who, years and years ago, should have come and
shared with those of own race and faith, the glorious life of the great days; I who should have come during the first struggle for power, — when I was twenty — instead of wasting my energy in Greece . . .
With a resounding noise that made me involuntarily shudder, the huge heavy doors closed upon me. Tears came to my eyes. I was now in my new home. And I thought of H. E. whom I would soon meet again; of the other so-called “war criminals” whom I would have the honour and the joy of knowing. For surely — I thought — I would be transferred to the D Wing. I was happy — and moved. Once more, in a flash, I recalled the glory of spring beyond. the now closed doors, — and, also, the skeletons of houses and factories, the miles and miles of charred and blasted walls that cried for vengeance under the sky, day and night; and the people for whom I had fought, in my clumsy manner, and for whose freedom I would have undergone anything. “Germany,” thought I, “in former years, I did not know myself how much I loved thee!” And I felt that there was, between my Führer’s people and I, a definitive link that nothing could ever break nor slacken.
* * *
Miss Taylor took leave of me after the German warder had signed the paper she handed over to him, (thus testifying that I was no longer in her custody.) I had drawn my scarf over my head to hide my earrings from the sight of the warder. Members of the British police in Düsseldorf had seen me wearing them, it was true, and had expressed no objection. But I did not know who these warders were; and if, as Mr. Stocks had once told me, the man whom the British had appointed as the head of the male section of the prison was a notorious anti-Nazi, there was no reason not to presume that some at least of the warders were of the same kind. And I knew — from my comrades — that a German anti-Nazi is generally much worse than any representative of the Occupying Powers (with, of course the exception of the Jews). After a while, a wardress from the “Frauen Haus” came to fetch me. Two prisoners, — ordinary delinquents — walked ahead of us, carrying my luggage, while the wardress and I talked in a friendly manner.
We reached the staircase leading to the “Frauen Haus.” Frau So-and-so and another one of those who were definitely “in order” were on duty that night, along with the wardress who had come to fetch me, and a fourth one. It is Frau So-and-so who opened the door for us on the landing. “Well . . . ?” asked she, as soon as she saw me.
“All right,” replied I. “Got three years. Expected much worse, especially after speaking as I did.” Then, after a minute’s pause I enquired about the one thing that had worried me all day: “Do you know if H. E. has found my manuscripts?” said I, eagerly. “I asked her to hide them . . .”
“Your manuscripts are in safety in Sister Maria’s office,” replied the faithful wardress. “H. E. and I saw to it. You’ll have them back tomorrow morning.”
“Thank you!” exclaimed I, from the bottom of my heart; “oh, thank you!”
I was taken back to my cell, and Frau So-and-so ordered some supper for me. While I was waiting for it, the four wardresses gathered around me. They admired my earrings, and commented upon my sentence. “Three years is a long time,” said one; “why, that woman in No. 48, who is here for having killed her newborn baby, has got only three years!”
“Naturally,” replied another; “a German baby more or less makes no difference in the eyes of ‘those people’, while a blow to their blinking prestige does.”
“Well,” put in a third one, “we must try to put ourselves in their place. We have lost the war. It is a fact. And here is a woman who comes all the way from India and takes our side openly. In ’45, they would have shot her. Of course, times are changing — and rapidly, it seems.” And turning to me she said: “I was afraid, however, that even now ‘they’ would give you more than three years. You were lucky.”
“Anyhow, don’t imagine it is my fault if ‘they’ sentenced me only to that much,” said I: “for it surely is not. I spoke the truth, and was not a bit afraid of ‘them’, I can assure you.” And I repeated, summing it up the best I could, what I had stated in my speech before the military Tribunal. The wardresses were amazed “You said that and ‘they’ left you get away with three years! Gosh, it looks as though times are changing!”
“‘They’ perhaps wished to make a good impression upon the Indians, who knows?” suggested I. “The last time I was in London, I was told that there was now a terrific Communist propaganda campaign going on, all over India. These Johnnies probably want to show the Indians how lenient they are, compared with the Russians. They want to propitiate their ex-colony . . .”
“That’s it, that’s it!” exclaimed the fourth wardress. “They are afraid. A good sign!”
“You know what you would have got, if the Russians had caught you in their Zone?” put in another. “Deportation for life to Siberia, or something like that . . .”
“I believe it,” said I. “And so would I, if I had the power to do what I please with one of our sincerest opponents, send him or her to deportation for life — or to immediate death. The Communists are our real enemies,
and know it. But these people . . . these soppy Democrats, these liars, they don’t know themselves what they are nor what they want. Yesterday, they joined the Reds to crush our Ideology. Tomorrow, when they are sufficiently scared of the Reds, they will crawl in the filth to lick our boots — after all they did to us — and implore our help against the Reds . . . . Our help! I wish we keep them crawling as long as it is expedient, or as long as it amuses us, and then give them a good kick and turn against them! But, of course, I am not the one to decide in that intricate game of convenient alliances. It exceeds my brains by far. All I know is that I despise the Democrats whatever they do, and that, if they imagined they were going to gain the slightest sympathy from me by being lenient to me, they made a great mistake. I wish I can, one day, make them feel sorry they did not kill me when they could have . . .”
“My God, if only they could hear you now, I bet they would already feel sorry!” said one of the wardresses, laughing.
I laughed too. My supper was brought in: six slices of white bread, some macaroni and cheese baked in the oven, some butter, some plum jam, a bun with raisins and a jug of hot tea, with sugar and milk. The wardresses, wished me good appetite and good night, and left my cell. I ate the macaroni, a slice of bread, a little of the jam, and put all the rest by for my friend H. E.
Then, I wrote to my husband a letter of twenty pages reproaching him with having tried to save me from captivity when I did not want to be saved, and telling him how happy I was to have spoken as a true National Socialist before, the representatives of the Allied Occupation and before the German public.
* * *
The next day, early in the morning, H. E. came to my cell. The wardress on duty — who was “in order” — pulled the door behind her. We talked a few minutes. “I hear you have got three years,” said my comrade; “you were lucky. I expected you would get at least five; and most of us said ten.”
“Yes,” replied I: “I know. And yet, I did all I could to show the judge and every person present that I was not afraid to suffer for our cause.”
I repeated to her the essential of what I had said in my speech. And I told her about the letter my husband had written, and specified that I had forbidden the lawyer to mention it. H. E. looked at me intently and said “You are truly one of us. I shall never forget you. As you say, the heavenly Powers have spared you for you to take part in our coming struggle.” She put her arm around my waist and squeezed my hand, while I rested my head upon her shoulder for a second or two. I was happy.
“You know,” continued H. E. after a while, “in all my career, I met only one non-German whom I could compare with you. It was a Polish woman whom we caught spying on behalf of England during the war, and whom we shot. I was present at her trial, and remember her speech. You remind me of her . . .”
“Thank you very much for comparing me with an agent from the ‘other side’!” said I, jokingly.
“You must not laugh,” answered H. E. “She might have been misled; she might have been, without realising it, ‘a traitor to her own race’, as you so rightly call all Aryans who opposed us, — for she was no Jewess, I can assure you. But she was sincere and fearless, as you are.
And as I saw our men led her out of the hall, I could not help regretting she had not devoted her fine natural qualities of character to our cause.”
“Well,” said I, “I am glad she was caught and shot. To waste Aryan qualities in the service of Jewish interests, knowingly or unknowingly, is sacrilegious: it is casting pearls before the swine. But tell me: what do you think of the letter I wrote to my husband last night, in answer to his effort to ‘excuse’ me in the eyes of the authorities? See . . .” And I translated to her one or two sentences out of it.
“You should not send it,” said H. E. “It will sadden him, without any profit to the cause. Poor man! He only wrote as he did to try to get you off, as any one of us would have done, if it had been possible. He did his best for you — and for us. Promise me you will not send that.”
“Perhaps, then, I shall not. I shall alter that and a few other passages . . .”
“Yes, do,” said my friend. And anticipating that which I was going to ask her, she added: “I shall bring you back your manuscripts as soon as Sister Maria comes. They are safe. Frau So-and-so must have told you . . .”
“She did. I do thank you for keeping them! I was afraid for them although, apparently, I had no reason to be.”
I then gave her the food and tea that I had put aside for her on the evening before, and my morning’s porridge and white bread. “I’ll take half now and half when I come back,” said she, “for I’ll never be able to carry all that along the corridor without being noticed.”
We parted as usual, greeting each other with the mystic words: “Heil Hitler!”
* * *
I was working on the Chapter 7 of my Gold in the Furnace, — of which Sister Maria had just brought the manuscript back to me — when Fräulein S. (Frau Oberin’s assistant) came into my cell and bade me follow her “to the Governor’s.” To my surprise, I was not taken downstairs and across the prison grounds to the Governor’s office, but just across the corridor to Frau Oberin’s office, where the Governor was waiting for me. (This surprised me, because it was a Wednesday; and the Governor did not generally come in touch with the prisoners there, save on his regular visits to the “Frauen Haus” on Friday mornings.)
Colonel Vickers was sitting at Frau Oberin’s desk. The German interpreter — about whose politics I had heard, from Mr. Stocks, more than enough to dislike him heartily — and Mr. Watts, a dark man with a prominent paunch, who, occasionally, used to replace the Governor — were also present, the former standing up, the latter seated in an armchair. Frau Oberin and the matron of the prison, — the elderly blue-eyed lady, with white hair, who had received me on the day of my very first arrival at Werl — were standing up. So was Fräulein S., who had just entered the room with me.
The Governor gave me an abrupt “Good morning” in answer to my salute, and addressing me rather bluntly, said, to my great astonishment: “The Court has, I see, sentenced you to three years’ imprisonment. Your case is no business of mine, as I have told you once already: I am here only to look after you during the time you remain in my charge. But I cannot help noticing that yours is the heaviest sentence ever given a woman by a British Court, for such an offence as yours, since we are in this country. There must be a reason for it, for our justice is fair. However, you have the right to appeal for
a revision of your sentence, — if you like — provided you can produce sufficient evidence to show that it should be revised. But I must warn you that, if you do so without serious grounds, you run the risk of getting a still heavier sentence for having made us waste our time . . .”
“I have not the slightest desire to appeal either for justice or for clemency,” said I, standing before the desk, with a ray of morning sunshine upon my face, feeling happy. “Had I wished to, I would have, already during my trial, made use of the letter which my husband had sent the authorities to try to whitewash me. I refused to do so. Moreover, given the present circumstances, and given all that I stand for, I consider my sentence extremely lenient.”
“All right,” replied Colonel Vickers, accepting, possibly with a little surprise, but without comments, the unexpected glimpse I had thus just given him of my real self. And, turning to Frau Oberin and to the matron, he said, speaking of me: “She must wear the prisoners’ clothes; and she must work. She will be given the special British diet, as before, being a British subject. But that is all. And if she is ever caught distributing food to other prisoners, her privilege will be cancelled.”
The interpreter translated the words into German for the benefit of Frau R. the matron. Frau Oberin knew enough English not to need a translation.
Then the Governor said to me: “I hope you understand me.”
“I do,” answered I, — all the time firmly determined to continue to give the best of my special food to H. E. without getting caught.
“If your behaviour is satisfactory” pursued he, “you will, regularly, be remitted of one quarter of your penalty, which means that you will serve two years and three months instead of three years, in supposing that you are not sent back to India in the meantime.”
“May I know,” asked I, “When they are likely to send me back to India?”
“Regularly, not before you have served at least one third of your term of imprisonment, that is to say, not before one year,” replied the Governor. “So you have not to think of that possibility for the present. Have you anything more to ask?”
“I would like to know,” said I, “If I may have light in my cell till 10 p.m.?”
“No.” answered Colonel Vickers; “it is not the rule. And I can see no reason justifying an exception in your case. Besides, it is natural that you should go to bed early, as you will work all day.”
“It is all right,” said I inwardly resentful, outwardly indifferent. “I only asked that, as I was under the impression that political prisoners were allowed light in their cells longer than the others.” I remembered what Miss Taylor had told me the day before, on my way to Düsseldorf.
“Political prisoners are the last people to whom we give light after time — the last ones, in fact, to whom we grant any privileges,” said Colonel Vickers. And, (ignorant as he was of what Miss Taylor had told me about General Kesselring and others writing their memoirs, and General Rundstedt being temporarily released on parole) he added: “We do allow light after eight o’clock to some; but those are all prisoners who write for us, or who do secret work for us in one way or another” (sic).
I pretended not to pay the slightest attention to what I had just heard (as though it did not interest me) and I put forth no further claims concerning light, or writing facilities. I knew the German staff would be easier to tackle, in these matters, than the representative of British power in occupied Germany. At least the staff of the “Frauen Haus” would be. And the as days were getting longer and longer (a fact which no Occupation forces could alter) I would soon be able to write till ten or half past ten at night anyhow. But I was impressed by Colonel Vickers’ statement: and I immediately drew my own conclusions from it. It threw, indeed, unexpected complementary light upon Miss Taylor’s discourse about British “kindness” to so-called “war criminals.” Now I knew — from a responsible authority — how selective that supposed “kindness” was, extending as it did only to those willing to “do secret work” for Germany’s victors. . . . Well, I was certainly never going to win myself privileges at the cost of such a bargain. Not I!
“Now, I have little time to spare,” the Governor at last told me: “if there is anything you think you need, you can ask Miss M., who is in charge of the women’s, section of this prison. And you can do what she permits you to do. Good morning.”
I bowed in reply, and now Fräulein S. took me back to my cell. The person the Governor had said I should consult and obey, “Miss M.,” was none other than the one whom we prisoners knew as Frau Oberin. She had always shown a particularly sympathetic interest in me, and H. E. who was in Werl so long, had told me that she was a “first class person,” well disposed in our favour and “absolutely reliable.” And when I had asked my friend whether the lady was actually “in Ordnung,” i.e., a sincere National Socialist, she had replied: “She could not tell us so even if she were. Like all those who have managed to retain a job under ‘these creatures’, she is, compelled, to be exceedingly careful. But she will help you as much as she can. She has helped me a lot.” Doubtless,
I would be able to write, if it depended upon her, thought I. And again I felt that, the less Colonel Vickers suspected the fact that I was writing, in prison, under his nose, such a book as Gold in the Furnace, the better it would be for me; and the better for the safety of the book — the better for the Nazi cause, which the book was intended to serve, one day.
* * *
In my cell, I continued to write my Chapter 7 on “Plunder, Lies, and Shallowness.” Upon my table, open at different places, were spread out three or four issues of the Revue de la Presse rhénane et allemande, — selected typed extracts of the German newspapers concerning happenings in occupied Germany, which a French official in Koblenz had very kindly handed over to me as “useful information” for my proposed book, in perfect ignorance of the nature of the book and therefore of the spirit in which I was to use any document.
Time passed. Some two hours after lunch, Oberwachtmeisterin S. the lady who used to supervise the prisoners’ work in the whole women’s section, came in. Middle-aged, short, and a little stout, but extremely elegant, — dressed with utmost sober taste — she was energetic, firm, efficient, of more than average intelligence, and could be charming when she liked. She had always been charming in her relations with me, showing more interest in my career as a writer and in my activities in India than most other members of the prison staff. However, I had not yet made out whether she was “in order” or not. H. E., who knew her much longer than I did, thought she was, but was “not quite sure.” Frau S. herself had repeatedly told me that, since the end of the war she was “fed up with all ideologies” and that she did
not wish to hear a word about any. All I knew with certainty was that she was one of the members of the staff with whom I had the greatest pleasure of talking.
She walked in and asked me with a smile: “Well, how are you getting on? And what has the Governor told you, this morning?”
“He said I must work,” answered I.
“And what work would you like to do?” enquired Frau S. “What are you able to do? — for here some of the prisoners knit, others make nets or bags or baskets; others, who know the trade, make dresses. Do you know how to make anything?”
“I am afraid I don’t,” replied I. “But I can learn.”
Frau S. smiled again. “It takes time to learn,” she said. “It is better to do what one is made for.” And after a pause she asked me: “Apart from writing, and from lecturing in public — and, doubtless, also privately, to your husband and all your friends — what did you do when you were home in India?”
“I used to give lessons in languages, and do translations, when I needed more money than my husband could afford to give me. Otherwise, I did a little painting, I went to a few tea parties; did practically nothing.”
“A National Socialist woman should be skilled in all manner of household work,” said Frau S. watching me ironically, to see how much the irreproachable orthodoxy of her statement would impress me. She was not the first person in Germany to remind me of that, and to make me feel utterly ashamed of myself. For a second, the acute awareness of possibilities lost forever, — the retrospective vision of the woman I could have been — was painful to me. And I looked at Frau S. with such depth of sincere sadness that the irony vanished from the glance of her sparkling grey eyes.
“Perhaps I was wrong not to have striven, in my youth, towards that all-round realisation of my womanhood implied in our ideals,” said I. “I don’t know. I somehow seemed to feel that I was destined to be a wanderer all my life . . . Anyhow, it is no good thinking of the past. Now, my household is my cell. And I shall try to keep it as clean and tidy as I can.”
Frau S. patted me on the shoulder. “I am sorry if I made you feel sad,” she said; “I did not intend to. Now, tell me frankly: what would you really like to do? What would you do if you were free?”
“Continue to write my book,” replied I, unhesitatingly.
“Well, continue now,” said the Oberwachtmeisterin, to my amazement and to my joy. “I shall bring you, for the sake of formality, a little easy work which you will finish in an hour or so. The rest of the day, continue your own real work — your work that matters.”
I was deeply moved. “I can find no words eloquent enough to thank you,” exclaimed I, in a sincere outburst of gratitude, as tears came to my eyes. “This is the greatest favour you could do me. And...” — I could not help adding — “I cannot bring myself to believe that you would regret your kindness if you knew what I am writing.”
“I don’t want to know — now,” replied Frau S. “It is in English, isn’t it? I can’t read English. One day, if it is ever translated into German, as I hope, I shall be glad to read it.”
“If the Gods spare my manuscript till then, answered I; “and if my comrades consider it worth translating . . .”
Frau S. smiled, squeezed my hand, and left the cell.
I was happy. Before my written tribute of admiration to Germany could be translated and published, things would surely have to change a lot. Did Frau S. really think they were likely to? And so quickly? It would be a miracle. But I believed in miracles. My condemnation to three years’ imprisonment only — after the attitude I had shown throughout my trial — was a miracle. The presence of my precious manuscripts, intact, upon the table before me, was a miracle.
I looked up to the bright sky; to the Sun, king of all the Gods, that shone beyond my nontransparent windowpanes and my iron bars. “Invisible Forces Who govern all things visible,” I prayed, “give my German comrades freedom and power. . . . Oh, bring back our grand days!”
* * *
The next day, the 7th of April, in the afternoon Frau R., the matron of the prison, came to fetch me. “Take your things with you — all your things,” she said. Two prisoners, whom she had brought with her, caught hold of my trunk and dragged it out of the cell, while I took my coat, my attaché case, some books, all I could carry. My manuscripts, too voluminous to be hidden, I pushed into the draw of my table, with my inkbottle, pen and pencils. The portrait: of the Führer was there too, between two sheets of paper, as Frau Oberin had told me; in the morning, that it was safer for me not to keep it out, at least in the daytime when so many eyes could see through the spy hole of my cell. Before I left the place, however, the matron opened the drawer.
“You must take these papers also,” said she; “everything.”
“But these I need,” ventured I to reply. “These are my writings.”
“The Governor said you are to work,” answered Frau R.; “he did not mention writing.”
“I know. I heard him myself. But in the evenings, mayn’t I do something to occupy myself? The Governor told me he had no time to enter into the details of my daily routine, but left that to Frau Oberin. I’ll ask her whether I may write after working hours.”
“Others clean their cells and mend their stockings after working hours,” said the matron. “However, if Frau Oberin allows you to write, I have no objection. She is responsible. I only do what I am ordered.”
“So, must I take my papers or leave them here?” asked I, inwardly anxious.
“All right. Leave them,” agreed the matron, to my relief. “But we must ask Frau Oberin, before you may definitely keep them.”
I was taken into the little room into which I had entered on the very first day I had come to Werl. I was asked to undress, and my civilian clothes were put away, carefully catalogued along with the rest of my possessions. And I put on the prisoners’ uniform: over prison linen and a thick grey woolen petticoat, dark blue overalls and a grey apron. I was also given a dark blue woolen pullover and a black jacket to wear when I went out into the courtyard during the “free hour,” or even in my cell, for it was still cold.
I took off every bit of jewellery I wore — gold bangles, gold chain, rings — all save the iron bangle on my left hand (in Bengal, the sign of the indissolubility of marriage). Before giving up my gold chain, I took off the glass portrait of the Führer that I used to wear on it, and put it in my pocket. But the watchful matron caught any gesture: “What are you trying to hide?” she asked
me. I had no alternative but to show her the precious little object.
“I don’t want to part with this,” said I, eagerly. “Don’t take it away from me! It is the last treasure I have. It will do no harm to anyone if I wear it around my neck on a plain piece of string, as some other prisoners wear a cross. Nobody will even notice it.” I was moved, as I uttered these words. The little object was our Führer’s likeness. It was also the gift of a sincere Nazi, who loved and trusted me, whom I loved and trusted; the gift of persecuted Germany, to me. “Oh, don’t take it away from me!” said I, again.
“All right, then; keep it,” replied to my surprise, and joy, Frau R. — she who seemed, so much of a disciplinarian. Had she been touched, in spite of herself, by the spontaneous expression I had given my feelings? Or did she calmly consider it her duty as a German to show kindness towards a true friend of her country) I shall never know.
I thanked her enthusiastically for the favour she had thus done me. Then, as I gathered a few toilet objects to take back to my cell, I asked her: “May I also take this box?”
“What is in it? Face powder? You are not to use that, here in prison,” said the matron.
“It is only talcum powder,” replied I with ease, opening the box, practically full, at the bottom of which I had hidden, the day before, carefully wrapped in soft paper, my Indian earrings in the shape of swastikas.
Frau R. examined the box, without caring to empty it; saw that it was indeed talcum powder, and said, to my delight: “Yes, you can keep it.”
I then; looked at myself in the large mirror that the room contained, and was disappointed. Prisoner’s clothes,
decidedly, did not improve my appearance. I looked much better in my brown tailored suit, or in my lovely dark red frock (both gifts of comrades in England on the occasion of my departure to Germany) or, of course, in any of my “saris.” But I realised that, now, I was dressed like H. E. and the other captive Nazi women, who had all suffered so incredibly more than I for our common cause. And the clumsy, ill-fitted uniform appeared to me as a mantle of glory. And I smiled at myself in the mirror.
“Well you look a pretty girl all the same, in those clothes, don’t you?” said the matron, good-humouredly.
“I do, I know,” replied I with conviction. “An intense inner life — like ours — always makes one pretty.”
In my mind, as a memory from another world, I recalled the Greek nationalist that I had once been — the girl of eighteen who wore hand-woven, brightly embroidered frocks of peasant cut, bought in Athens, and who proudly used to declare: “Paris dictates its taste to all women save me.” And I recalled the woman who had sailed to India a few years later in search of an unbroken Aryan tradition, and who adopted the Indian “sari” to look more of an ancient Greek, more of a Pagan Greek, more of an Aryan Heathen of all times. How all that stress upon externals now seemed childish, desperately childish to me! Had I, for that, missed my fulfillment and done only half my duty? For the spirit of eternal Aryan Pagandom was here, in the ardent hearts and disciplined lives of men in brown or greyish green uniforms, not there, in the Near or Middle East, in vain draperies, nor even in unbroken traditions, followed with less and less understanding. And now, after the disaster, it lived and gleamed, invincible, in the hearts
and lives of the selfsame undaunted minority — in my comrades, so many of whom wore prisoners’ clothes like I would, henceforth. Far better than that of the bejewelled woman in Greek or Indian dress, the picture the looking glass now sent back to me symbolised the realisation of my lifelong yearning; was the picture of my real self.
As I was coming out, I met Oberwachtmeisterin S. in the corridor. I had not seen her all day. She told me, (doubtless out of courtesy) that my new clothes suited me well; and then, addressing me as though I were a friend, not a prisoner, she said: “Do you know that your case has come out on the wireless, last night? They broadcasted one or two of the things you told them at your trial. Indeed, you spoke well.”
She followed me into my cell. The wardress on duty, who accompanied me, left us and went her way. “They also stated that you sold your beautiful Indian jewellery in order to finance your activities in Germany,” pursued Frau S.
“It is true,” replied I. “But why speak of it on the wireless? Any sincere National Socialist would do as much, I hope. However, if the little they said about me, and especially the little they broadcasted of my speech in Court, has contributed to make even one extra German feel proud of his natural Aryan nobility; if it has made even one realise, more vividly than before, what a great thing Adolf Hitler has done for Germany in making her the conscious stronghold of reborn Aryandom, then I am happy; then I don’t mind sitting here three years — or ten, at that — without seeing a tree . . .”
But as I uttered these words, the fleeting picture of bright green fields full of violets, daisies and buttercups; of fruit trees covered with blossoms — the glory of Spring —
rushed back to my memory like a vision of lost paradise, and tears filled my eyes. Yet I still meant all I said.
“Without seeing a tree!” repeated I after a short pause, during which the fleeting vision had forced itself upon my mind, more alluring than ever. “Oh, how beautiful the trees were, in their springly garb, on the day before yesterday, — my last day of liberty! How beautiful were the bushes and the fields full of flowers, along the great Reichsautobahn . . . and how lovely the pure sky, and the sunshine, the divine sunshine! . . . I took a last glance at all that and the heavy doors closed upon me. But it does not matter. It is my place, here, among my persecuted comrades — among those who loved our Führer to the end. And if, even from here, indirectly — through the comments of our enemies upon my case — I have been, at least once more, of some use, well, I am glad.”
Frau S. gazed at me earnestly. “I should not tell you this,” said she, lowering her voice, “but I shall, all the same. And you must believe me, for I speak the truth. Beyond those heavy doors that closed on you, every faithful German, every true and worthy German, respects you and loves you.”
Had I just been told that the world was now mine, I would not have felt more intensely moved. “My Führer’s people,” whispered I, as the tears I tried in vain to hold back ran down my cheeks; “the men of iron, whom he so loved. They!”
In a flash, I evoked my first unforgettable glimpse of the martyred land ten months before: the ruins of Hamburg, the ruins of Brem, of all the towns I had seen on that night of the 15th of June 1948. I recalled the words two humble railway men had then addressed me — instead of denouncing me to the police — when they caught me
distributing my first handwritten leaflets: “We thank you, in the name of all Germany,” words I would remember as long as I lived; words of the working élite of pure blood, erect and dignified amidst the most appalling material desolation. I had seen more of that élite, since then; I had admired it. I knew, now, that no force in the world could kill it; I knew that it would always be there for me to continue to live for — I, who in the despair of 1945, had declared to someone, in India, my desire to “turn my back on mankind, forever.” And lo, a responsible woman and a German was telling me that, in the heart of that superhuman suffering élite I now had a place . . .
“No glory,” replied I to Frau S.; “no broad-scale international honours, absolutely nothing in the world could touch me more than that which you have just said. Tell those faithful Germans of whom you speak, that I am aware of the sacred link that binds me to them, forever and ever. Tell them that I too, love them.”
“I shall,” said the Oberwachtmeisterin.
And she added, in a very low voice: “Among them are people whom I know personally; people who once held important posts in the Party — in which I was too. But promise me you shall never say a word of all this to anyone, not to Frau Oberin, not to any of the wardresses, however much ‘in order’ they be; not even to your friend H. E. Can you really keep it secret?”
“I promise I shall,” said I.
“I’ll come and see you again tomorrow morning,” said Frau S. “Auf wiedersehen!”
The next day, the 8th of April, in the afternoon, I was transferred to cell No. 92, in the B wing.
My trunk, my attaché case, all my things, had been put away into the common cloakroom where the belongings of all the prisoners were kept. But Frau Oberin had allowed me to have my manuscripts, and a few books: H. R. Hall’s Ancient History of the Near East; a book about the Mythology of Ancient Britain; Dr. Herbert Gowen’s History of Japan; two books of Mongolian history, and one about the Art and Civilisation of Ancient America, — apart, of course, from my precious English translation of the Bhagavad-Gita.
I loved those books. They reflected my lifelong interest in the history of all civilisations; they represented something of that stock of information out of which I had drawn, for years, picturesque illustrations in support of our philosophy. I was grateful to Frau Oberin for allowing me to keep them; more grateful to her still for allowing me to keep my manuscripts and to continue writing. I was grateful to the Oberwachtmeisterin, too, for her silent and sympathetic collaboration.
I put my manuscripts into my table drawer. I hid the Führer’s portrait in the cover of the Mythology of Ancient Britain, and Das Programm der N.S.D.A.P. (which I had also managed to keep with me, for references) between the illustrated pages of the Art and Civilisation of Ancient America. I then disposed the books upon two of the shelves of my new cupboard — much smaller than the one I had in cell 121 — and lay upon my bed, less in order to rest (for I was neither sick nor tired) than in order to reflect.
I could not make out why I had been transferred here instead of to the D Wing, where were the cells of all my real comrades. Had they put me in this cell only for the time being? Or was I never to go to the D Wing at all? And again, why?
Once, and once only — on the morning following my return to Werl, before the Governor had come — I had been sent down to spend my “free hour” with those of the D Wing, who had welcomed me with joy. I had had the honour of walking around the courtyard by the side of Frau R. — formerly holder of a responsible post in the management of the Ravensbrück concentration camp, now a so-called “war criminal” sentenced to lifelong imprisonment by our enemies, — and of hearing her address me as a friend. And I had had the pleasure of telling her: “Don’t believe you will stay here all your life! Oh, no! I was but yesterday still in touch with the outer world, and I can assure you that things are changing. An implacable justice will one day fasten its grip on these people and avenge you, avenge us all, and bring us back to power, this time on a world-wide scale, — although I do not know myself how.” And the woman, nearly four years captive, had smiled to me and answered: “I wish you are right. Oh, how I wish it! One always hopes.” But time had come for us to go back to our cells, and we had parted. And then, the Governor had come, as I have already related. And I had had no further contact with my comrades — save of course with H. E. who, as usual, came every morning to my cell, collected whatever tea, white bread, porridge or other food I had for her, greeted me with a sincere: “Heil Hitler!” whenever we were alone (or when Frau So-and-so or any other of the wardresses who were “in order” happened to be on duty) and departed, always in a hurry. I had, morning and afternoon, been sent out with the ordinary delinquents, thieves, black-marketeers, abortionists and so forth. And, goodness, how dull these were! They talked about practically nothing but food . . . and men — trivialities.
While I was in No. 121, I had been given a plant in a flowerpot — a pretty plant, with peculiarly tinted leaves, green on one side and violet on the other, or dark red on one side and pink on the other. I had admired it for five minutes and then, I had watered it regularly and kept it as well as I could. But I had been too completely absorbed in other thoughts to pay much attention to it. Now, I remembered the beautiful and harmless living thing, and regretted that I had not bothered to take it with me. For the first time, I missed it. For the first time, I pondered over the loveliness of its shiny coloured leaves. To my own surprise, the idea that nobody would water it, this evening, brought tears into my eyes and a feeling of guilt into my heart. “Poor plant!” thought I, “I must tell one of the wardresses (or Frau Oberin herself, if I see her) that I want it.” But accustomed as I was to be sincere with myself, I could not help wondering whether I would have given it a thought, had I been in a cell of the D wing, next to some woman whom I could love and admire and with whom I could expect to talk, during the “free hour”, about the excellence of National Socialism, the crimes of the Democracies, and that irresistible revenge that I was — and am still — so intensely longing for.
My evening meal was brought to me, as usual. The wardress on duty was one of those whom I liked the most, one of those who were “in order.” I told her about the
plant. “Of course you shall have it back,” said she, most amiably; “you shall have it, perhaps not at once, — for Frau R. is now very busy supervising the distribution of bread and “coffee” — but certainly tomorrow morning. I am glad to see you love your plant. I have already noticed how it has grown, since the day it was given to you.”
“Could I also ask you,” said I, “why they put me here instead of in the D wing?” “I don’t know myself,” replied the kind wardress; “It baffles me, too, believe me; for your place is there, with the political prisoners not here, with this lot. But I have heard that you were put here by order of the Governor . . .”
“But why?” exclaimed I; “why? Does the Governor imagine he is going to ‘de-Nazify’ me by separating me from my comrades, or what? If that is why he did it, dear me, what a fool he must be! For I have remained for years — by force of circumstances — out of touch with people of our faith, compelled to hear nothing but the damned ‘humanitarian’ propaganda of our enemies, wherever I went. Did that ‘reform’ me? No fear! It would have made me even more of a Nazi than ever, if that had been possible.”
“You are right,” agreed the wardress. “We all know this is just nonsense. No one can ‘reform’ a responsible man or woman who knows what he or she wants. But what can we do? We have no say in the matter — nor has Frau R. nor Frau Oberin herself. We have lost the war and our country is occupied. We are all as powerless as you — all in bondage. The representatives of the Occupying Powers do what they like here, as everywhere else in Germany.”
“I know,” answered I, bitterly, all my hatred for the
Allied Occupation filling my heart, along with that consciousness of the uselessness of effort, which is the most painful feeling of all. “I know. Oh, for how long, for how long more?”
“Nobody can tell.”
I would have willingly continued the conversation. But Frau X. had no time. “Your supper will get cold. And I have also to take back the container,” said she, after a short pause, for the sake of putting an end to our talk. I emptied the large round aluminium vessel, of American make, in which the food had been brought to me; as usual, I put by whatever I could for H. E., and ate the rest.
When the wardress came back, she told me that it was the turn of the prisoners of the B wing to go to the recreation room (where every separate batch of us was allowed to spend two hours every week or so). And she added, — as one’s presence there was not compulsory — : “Would you care to go too? Just to see how you like it? I know it is no company for you. But it can be an experience for you. Take it in that light, as I can’t send you to the recreation room with the D wing, however much I would like to do so.”
Her kindness and consideration touched me all the more that I knew that she was “in order,” and that she understood, as only one of us could, how painful this separation from my comrades was to me. I thanked her.
“I shall go,” said I, making up my mind. “Even if these are not political prisoners, they are at least German women, most of them. And among them, I dare say there are some good elements; perhaps even . . .”
“Don’t you go and try to indoctrinate them,” interrupted Frau X., forestalling in me a very natural propensity
“You never know whom you are speaking to, in that lot. Be careful!”
I said I would be. Yet, I could not help hoping that, even among those women I would find some who, whatever might have been their weaknesses, had retained enough German pride to look back to the National Socialist régime with nostalgia, and, along with me, a foreigner, — along with us — to yearn for its resurrection; some whom, in course of time, I might trust.
* * *
I walked out into the corridor. Some prisoners were already there; others were coming out of their cells. The wardress was opening the doors, one after the other. I had, suddenly, the most vivid impression of being in a sort of “zoo,” of which the keeper was now letting the inmates out for a while. I had noticed how wild beasts do not rush out of their cages as soon as the iron bars are lifted but how, strange as this might seem, they slowly walk out, as though they knew that the freedom offered to them is only relative, and temporary — hardly worth mentioning. The imprisoned women did the same; even after the wardress had flung the doors wide open, they did not appear in a hurry to come out. They came forth slowly, and pulled behind them the iron bars that shut their cells from outside; or they loitered inside for a minute or two, putting away the utensils in which they had eaten their supper, adjusting a comb in their hair, or seeking a pocket handkerchief. They knew that it was not liberty that they were going to enjoy, but just two hours’ relaxation in the recreation room of the prison. And I was an animal in the “zoo” no less than any of them; only, perhaps, a little wilder and prouder animal than most of them — a Bengal tigress, straight from the jungle.
One of the two cells next to mine — that both bore upon their doors a Z. (standing for Zuchthaus, i.e., penal servitude) in the place of my G. (Gefängnis, i.e., imprisonment) — was not opened. “She does not come out?” enquired I, referring to the inmate of the closed cell, towards which I pointed.
“No,” answered one of the prisoners in the corridor; “she is punished; she’s got a fortnight’s ‘Hausarrest’.”
“What for?” asked I, casually, — not really interested, but trying to be courteous.
“For standing half-dressed against her window and dropping love letters to the men, when they come to work in the courtyard.”
The prisoner walked along with me, in the direction of the recreation room. “A silly woman,” she pursued, commenting upon the behaviour of the one who was confined to her cell. “I know it must be hard to be shut in for two weeks, and to work on nothing but dry bread and water. But she asked for it. I would not do what she did. Would you?”
The question was enough to stir me out of the polite indifference with which I had, hitherto, listened to the pathetic story. “I? I should think not!” exclaimed I, shocked at the very idea of someone addressing me such mad words as a matter of course. And I added, hardly able to conceal my contempt for all manner of sentimental affairs: “I have never written a love letter in my life. I always had better things to live for.”
“You are ‘new’ here, I think,” said the prisoner, changing topics, as we entered the recreation room together.
“Yes. I was sentenced on Tuesday — three days ago,” replied I. “But I have remained over six weeks ‘on
remand’ before that. I was then in No. 121, in the C wing.”
“And may I ask you what you are here for?” the woman ventured to say, somewhat shyly, as though she feared being indiscreet.
“For Nazi propaganda,” answered I, simply.
The woman gazed at me with mingled surprise and admiration. “Oh,” commented she, “that is something honourable, — something laudable. For what have we gained with these swine and their Democracy? Nothing but misery. You see, me: I was not a bad woman; not a jailbird by any means; I had never stolen a pin. But now life has become so hard, so impossible! Out of sheer need, I took fifty marks and an old pair of shoes from a neighbour who was none the poorer for that but who went and reported me none the less. I was caught, and got a year’s imprisonment. That would never have happened to me in the Hitler days. We had everything we required, then; and plenty to eat for our children. You were right to fight those Allied bastards. I only wish they had never got you. It is a pity. How long did they give you?”
I suddenly recalled Hildegard X. . . ., my companion in the dark damp cell in which I had been put on the night of my arrest. She had spoken in the same spirit, using nearly the same words. Was the loyalty of the German masses to their Saviour, to such an extent, the mere expression of an unfailing gratitude of the stomach? Perhaps, thought I, although the admission saddened me a little. But I reflected: “And why not? . . . Germans are animals, in fact, like the rest of men; animals first and then Aryans; and National Socialists — Aryans fully aware of their God-ordained superiority — last of all. It is natural. Only a few among them, and incredibly
fewer still among other Aryan people, are National Socialists first and last, supporters of our Ideology solely because it is true, independently of their own comfort or discomfort. And it would be foolish on my part to expect to find representatives of that free and steadfast minority among these women.” All I could do was to wish for the continuation, nay for the increase of material hardships as long as Germany remained occupied, and even after that as long as my friends did not come back to power, bringing order and prosperity with them. Then, the régime would be more solidly established than ever.
I sat down on a bench by the first of the two tables that occupied the room, thinking of this, and firmly determined to exploit the grievances of that woman whom need had led to theft, and to induce her to look upon the return of our régime as her only possible salvation and her sole hope. But I had not the opportunity of doing so: the woman went and sat at the other table, and started playing dominoes with two prisoners who seemed to be waiting for her there. And other women surrounded me.
A short, darkish, middle aged woman, condemned, I knew not for what offence, to long years of penal servitude, sat just opposite me. I remembered her face for having seen her clean my cell several times, and I knew her name for having heard the wardresses call her. “How is it that they put you with us instead of in the D wing,” said she, addressing me as soon as the wardress had closed the door, after the last prisoner had come in. “And did they give you a black jacket? You should have a dark blue one. All the ‘politicals’ have dark blue jackets.”
“And we, who have been sentenced to penal servitude
have brown ones, and those sentenced to mere imprisonment for nonpolitical offences, black ones,” explained her neighbour on the right hand; while her neighbour on the left hand (who wore a black jacket) said to me: “You should complain to Frau Oberin, and ask her to put you in the D wing.”
It was, the first time that I heard that different colours characterised, in Werl, different categories of female prisoners. I had never seen H. E.’s jacket for the simple reason that she hardly ever wore it — and had not yet worn it on her morning visits to my cell. And I now felt utterly humiliated at the idea of being made to wear a black jacket, like the ordinary criminals, I who had believed, up till then, that I was dressed entirely like H. E. and my other beloved comrades. My heart sunk within my breast; and I could have wept. But I pulled myself together. “I wish I could,” said I, answering the suggestion of that prisoner who had advised me to speak to Frau Oberin; “but I don’t think it would be of any use: somebody told me that I am separated from the other ‘politicals’ by order of the Governor.”
“That makes things a little more difficult,” remarked the woman. And another one added, nearly immediately: “But why should the Governor take such a step against you?”
“I am sure I don’t know,” said I. In reality, I was wondering whether he had suspected that, while still on remand, I had, through H. E., been distributing a few copies of my posters among the so-called “war criminals.” (I had, in fact, also distributed some to certain members of the staff, but of that the Governor could not possibly have any knowledge, for their things were never searched.) Then, I reflected that, had any search revealed the presence of papers of mine in cells of the D wing, my friend
H. E. would have told me so. “No,” thought I; “the reasons for my banishment to the B wing must be more subtle: sheer fright that I would keep our spirit alive in the D wing — or perhaps, that I might hear, from my D wing comrades, too many instances of British and Allied atrocities.” But I said nothing.
“In whatever wing they care to put you,” declared the dark-haired woman seated opposite me, “I respect you. You have defended your faith, and done no harm to anybody. I have no time for politics, but still I say: if those people who have come here to give us lessons in toleration really believe in ‘individual freedom’, as they pretend to, why can’t they recognise you the right to be a Nazi, and to express your convictions publicly if you feel you should?”
“Quite!” exclaimed I, glad to find a sympathiser with some regard for consistency. “And why don’t they recognise that right to us all? Why are so many of my German comrades in captivity since 1945, for the sole crime of having done their duty? Of course the Democrats are hypocrites. Don’t ask them to be just, — or even logical. Hatred and not logic has been the motive of their behaviour towards Germany, since and even before 1939. Well, let them reap hatred! Let them suffer a hundredfold what they have done to the élite of the Aryan race, and perish wholesale! They deserve it.”
A young woman seated on my right, was listening to me with interest — although obviously not with sympathy. So were two or three others, among whom was a coarse-looking blonde, seated at the other end of the table.
“It may be that you have done no harm to anyone,” said the former, giving me a suspicious look. “But you can’t come and tell us that your German pals have done
‘nothing but their duty’ as you say. We know them too well.”
“Hear! hear!” shouted the latter — the coarse-looking blonde — before I had time to put in a word. “And you would not look upon them as ‘the élite of the Aryan race’ if you had spent four years in Ravensbrück as I have. It is all very easy to come and stick up for Nazism when you don’t even know what it is . . .”
I felt my blood rush to my head, as though someone had given me a slap. However, I controlled myself. “Excuse me,” said I, in a cold, biting voice, “although I am not a German, I undoubtedly know more about Nazism than you do. I don’t fight for what I don’t know, like the monkeys who compose the majority of mankind, even in most Aryan countries. But that is not all: you seem to think it was the fault of the régime if you were in Ravensbrück. May I ask you whose fault it is now, if . . .”
I wanted to say: “. . . if you are again ‘inside’ — for you are surely not guilty of sticking up posters against the Occupation, as I am.” But the prisoner on my right, — the one who had spoken before the fair-haired woman — interrupted me. “It is no use picking quarrels,” said she. Every one has the right to hold the views he or she likes — even to be a Nazi. What I don’t admit — what I never will admit — is that one should arrogate to one’s self the right to behave in a beastly manner, as so many Nazis have . . .”
It was my turn to interrupt her: “As if we had the monopoly of ‘beastly behaviour’ as you call it!” I burst out. “Yes, now, since the disaster of 1945, the whole world speaks about nothing but our real or supposed atrocities. Don’t I remember the wireless in London spouting out the vilest calumnies against us, in shops,
in restaurants, wherever I went, on my arrival from India in 1946, — during the infamous Nuremberg trial! Don’t I remember that culmination of a long-drawn campaign of lies! And what about the crimes of the anti-Nazis, before and especially since 1945? What about the atrocities of those ‘fighters for the rights of man’, damned hypocritical swine, the lot of them? What about their air raids upon Germany, to speak of something you all know: two hundred thousand civilians killed in Hamburg in one hellish night; twenty-two thousand in a small place like Düren, on the 16th of November, 1944; over thirty thousand in Koblenz on the 22nd of the same month; nearly half a million in Dresden on the 13th February, 1945, and so forth . . . Tell me: if that is not ‘beastly behaviour’, what is?”
There was silence. Even the woman formerly interned in Ravensbrück did not dare answer me, for fear of what the others might say. I felt that I had practically won the discussion, with that precise reference to the phosphorus horror that these women had all undergone. More so: I felt that I would win as many discussions as I liked in Germany, with that argument in support of my thesis; that the Allied bombers, quite definitely (although quite unwillingly) had given grist to my propaganda mill for the rest of my life.
“And if you say that this was an unavoidable calamity of total war, and can in a way be understood, if not, of course, excused,” pursued I, with increased assurance; “if it is not beastly enough to condemn these bastards, what about the less well-known but no less real horrors of the anti-Nazi concentration camps, after the war, and up to this day, not only under the Russians but here in western Germany also? What about the treatment inflicted upon innocent men and women, all these years, in places like Schwarzenborn and Darmstadt, for no other reason that they were National Socialists? I know some who have died, in these and other camps of horror, tortured mostly by Jews, under Allied supervision; I know one in Koblenz, — one of the finest characters I have ever met — who is dying, after three and a half years of martyrdom; who was beaten, starved, made to lie, shivering with fever, in a freezing cold cell. And there are thousands of others whose health has been, ruined forever. Is that not ‘beastly behaviour’ on the part of the Democrats, who pretend to give us ‘lessons’? Their lessons! Their ‘re-education’ schemes and what not! They are not fit to give ‘lessons’ to the wild man eating tribes of Africa (if there still be any), let alone to us, their superiors; to us who at least are not liars.”
Several of my hearers were now inclined to take my side. But the coarse-looking blonde and two or three others (who, like her, I was afterwards told, had spent some time in concentration camps during the great days) and the woman on my right, remained decidedly prejudiced against me. They gave me glances of undisguised enmity. The woman on my right spoke. “That’s all very well,” said she, turning to me; “we know you people are not liars; we know it too well, in fact. We know to what extremes of brutality you can go, in action and not merely in speech; for I am sorry to tell you that the Allied atrocities, during and after the war, revolting as they might be, do not excuse those of your precious pals. Mind you, I do not speak of you, personally; you are a foreigner; you have admired the National Socialist ideology for years; you have identified yourself with it; and you have the courage to come and support it the best way you can, here, in the land of its birth, after the war, when the whole world is against it. That is one thing.
Behaving as your pals did is another. You were not here, then, and you don’t know what went on in their concentration camps. We were in them; we had friends in them; we know. You seem to be hurt because you are not given a cell in the D wing. You think it is an honour to be there. I tell you, you don’t know those of the D wing; you have no idea of the things they did . . .”
My heart started beating faster, as though I felt the woman would say something that I could not possibly hear without flying at her. Already she had said too much. Even more still, perhaps, than her verdict upon my comrades, her hasty reservations as regards me; her confidence that I was surely more “humane” than they, irritated me as an insult in disguise, — all the worse if it was intended to be a compliment. What was there in me that made her feel so cocksure about it at first sight?
“What did they do, which I would not have done — or which you believe I would not have done?” asked I, speaking slowly, in a tone of provocation. “I don’t mean, of course, those who worked for money, or out of fear, being themselves internees promoted to certain minor posts when the camps were understaffed; I speak of the genuine ones — my equals and my superiors!”
“The genuine ones?” replied the woman. “All right; you shall know. Take for example that one who works in the infirmary . . .”
My heart beat still a little faster: the prisoner was referring to my beloved H. E. As though to make it quite clear to me, a woman who had been silent up till then called out: “You mean E., don’t you, not the other one?” (For two so-called “war criminals” worked in the infirmary.)
“Naturally, I mean E.,” said the speaker. (In Werl, the prisoners were all called by their surnames, save by their close friends.) “She is ‘genuine’ enough, isn’t she? Well, you might or might not know that she was three years a member of the staff in Auschwitz; and next to the head of the camp, mind you; no mere wardress. I was not there myself, but somebody who was there six years, and who is now here, told me that she saw that woman, one day that she had lost her temper, flog a wounded prisoner until the poor thing was bleeding from top to toe, and then pull off her bandages, flesh and all. She saw it herself, she told me. She said that had anyone reported it to her, she would not have believed it.”
I did not believe it. I knew from the start that it was another of those innumerable lies that I was condemned to hear until my comrades would come back to power, one day, and silence the slanderers once and for all. I knew it was a lie, not because the alleged action was gruesome; but because it was a pointless, a useless action; not because I thought my dear friend H. E. incapable of murderous violence — on the contrary, I sincerely hoped she was capable of it, if necessary — but because I believed her to be too thoroughly and too intelligently National Socialist to allow herself to be guided by anything else but considerations of impersonal expediency.
“Another time,” said I, sarcastically, “you should cook up a cleverer story than this one, if you wish to impress people who have heard as many lies as I have.”
“But it is not a story; it is true,” insisted the woman; “true, and horrible enough!”
“Well,” said I, “let us put it another way. Let me tell you that, if that person whom you mention had killed her alleged victim, and cut her up in bits, and eaten the bits with mustard sauce, still I could not care less. Are you satisfied, now?”
The woman got up, and left the table. So did two or three others, among them the coarse-looking blonde.
“You should be careful about what you say, here in the recreation room,” said one of the remaining prisoners. “Things get repeated, and work their way to the Governor’s ears. Especially that woman whom you just spoke to, you don’t know what a nasty type she is. Fortunately she is going away the day after tomorrow or so. She has finished her term.”
“What is she here for?” I ventured to ask.
“Abortion,” answered the other prisoner. “She was, formerly, in some camp for the same offence. So were those two who looked at you in such a way and got up. The third one was in too, but for selling on the black market, during the war. And I was told that she is half Jewish, although she does not look it.”
“No, a quarter only,” put in another woman, who joined the conversation. “I know: one who knows her has told me; it is her grandmother, who was a Jewess, not her mother.”
“It is just the same.” replied I, with obvious contempt for such subtle discriminations.
“Quite right!” remarked the woman who had spoken first. Then, after a while, taking me aside, she said: “You know, I understand you. I too . . .” She probably wanted to say: “I too, am a National Socialist.”
I looked at her, a little sceptical, and then thought: “Who knows? Perhaps she speaks the truth?”
“Do you really mean it?’’ I asked the woman.
But before she had time to answer me, the door was opened; the wardress on duty appeared at the threshold. We were taken back to our cells.
* * *
I lay upon my bed, but did not go to sleep for a long time. I thought of these women with whom I had spent two hours; of the discussion I had had with them; of those who were against me, and of those who seemed sympathetic. But even the sympathetic ones were lukewarm; I felt that the great cause for which I lived exclusively was only the second or third concern in their lives, if that. Even that last one who had spoken to me somehow did not seem to me to be genuine . . . “Oh,” thought I, “if only I were in the D wing, with my comrades!”
I thought of the last afternoon H. E. and H. B. had spent in my cell; I recalled all that they had told me of the atrocious treatment inflicted by the Allied Military Police, in 1945, upon them and especially upon the S.S. men in charge of the Belsen camp — men whom I imagined handsome and strong; fearless, disinterested; absolutely devoted to our Führer and to our cause; Nazis like myself, and a hundred times better than myself. And I recalled the words I had spoken from the depth of my heart, in answer to that evocation of horror: “‘They’ have thrown you to the Jews. May I, one day, be given the power and the opportunity to throw ‘them’ to torturers of Mongolian blood!” Then, I suddenly remembered that the next day — the 9th of April — was the day on which the irresistible Mongol, Kaidu, had crushed the coalesced forces of Christendom at the battle of Leignitz, in 1241, exactly 708 years before. “The Aryan race was then united (more or less) in the Christian faith,” thought I; “But now, pretending to champion the obsolete Christian values, the whole West has consented to become the tool of the Jews, and to fight and persecute us, the sole upholders of the eternal values of Aryandom. What if, when the Mongols come again, we were on their side — for the sake of expediency?” It might seem — and perhaps it was — a mad thought. But after all why not? I would not be worse than allying ourselves with the judaised plutocracies of the West, as I had once told Mr. Stocks.
I remembered the half-historical half-philosophical book I had begun, a year before: The Lightning and the Sun. I had not written a word of it since December, 1948. Now, I sat at my table, pulled the manuscript out of the drawer and, (for once, instead of writing my Gold in the Furnace) continued the Chapter 4, about the birth of Genghis Khan.
The wardress on duty — who was “in order” and who liked me — kindly left the light on in my cell till eleven o’clock.
* * *
Days passed. My new cell, much narrower than the first one (it was not wide enough for me to stretch out both my arms completely, from one wall to the other) presented at least the advantage of having one transparent windowpane, through which I could see the sky. Like the first one, only facing the south instead of the west, it looked over the inner courtyard around which the prisoners used to walk, two by two, during their “free hour.” The D wing used to go out with a part of the A wing; the rest of the A wing used to join the B wing; and the C wing — the most numerous, for many of the larger cells there used to accommodate three prisoners instead of one — went out alone.
Standing upon my table, my face against the one transparent windowpane, I gazed at my comrades of the D wing during their free time. I gazed at them as an exile gazes at the hills and fields of home, across the forbidden frontier; or as a young girl, forced to become a
nun, gazes from behind the windows of the cloister at the forbidden world in which she has left her heart. And I idealised them. There was naturally an abyss between them and the other prisoners, the proper delinquents of all descriptions. And my ardent imagination broadened it. Most of the D wing prisoners were innocent women made to suffer for the mere fact of having held responsible posts in the coercive machinery of the Third Reich. Some, like H. E. were sincere, selfless idealists, real National Socialists. Not being given the opportunity to know who was who, I looked upon them all as real National Socialists. And my love transfigured them. Tears dropped from my eyes as I watched them walk around and around the courtyard in their dark blue jackets. To be with them appeared to me nearly as good as being free — even better, in a way; for not only would I have contributed to keep up the Nazi morale among them, but I probably would have heard, from them, more facts damaging to our enemies than from most free Germans; and I could have collected these in a special book. (That was, indeed, thought I, what the Governor feared.)
H. E. who nearly always walked by the side of the same lovely blonde, sometimes looked up to my window. I then stretched out my arm and saluted her. On her daily morning visits, she used to tell me to be patient. Perhaps things would change, with time. Already the whole D wing was protesting to Frau Oberin against the decision that had thrown me among the ordinary criminals. And I used to put my arms around her neck and rest my head upon her shoulder and tell her: “At least, I have you, five minutes a day — you, who represent so much in my eyes; and I have my book, which I am writing. It is something, you know that they did not
destroy that! A true miracle.” And I often added: “I wish I could read to you, in Chapter 6, all that which I wrote about your last days in Belsen, from what you told me yourself.”
H. E. promised me she would try to come one Sunday afternoon, when Frau So-and-so would be on duty.
As for my own daily free time in the courtyard, it was dull, to say the least; and often depressing. So much so that, had it not been for the sake of walking in the sunshine a few minutes, and breathing a little fresh air, I would never have left my cell at all — or I would have gone out once or twice a week at the most. The company of my own thoughts, of my remembrances, of my few books, was more pleasant to me than that of the great number of the ordinary delinquents who, as I have said already, spoke about nothing but trifles, or gossiped about one another, and seemed incapable of holding an interesting conversation more than once. And yet, I had something to learn from them. In those dreary walks around the courtyard, twice a day, in company of the coarsest and commonest elements of Germany, I learnt how to discern many good qualities under the layer of selfishness, callousness and vulgarity that life — and more specially postwar life — had set over them. Among them were good-looking, healthy and strong women, who would have remained or become useful mothers, had the National Socialist régime lasted; had the wretched conditions created in Germany by defeat, not forced them into an unnatural life. “My Führer would understand and forgive their weaknesses,” thought I; “He would love them in spite of all, for they are daughters of his people, and they have suffered.” And I loved them too, — save, of course, those who, having already taken to criminal life during the great days, had brought punishment
upon themselves, then, and who bitterly hated our régime. Still, I could not help resenting my banishment from the D wing.
I would have liked to talk to the woman who had last spoken to me so sympathetically in the recreation room. Somehow, she did not seem keen to be with me during the “free hour.” She took her place in the row, always by the side of the same other prisoner, and merely greeted me occasionally in the corridor with a “Guten Tag!” which I returned. The first question put to me by practically every woman with whom I walked around was the same: “What sort of food do you get, you who are a ‘Britisher’?” It was natural, for they were all hungry; and they also all had complaints about the poor quality of their food, no less than about its quantity. H. E. whose diet was exactly the same as theirs, and whom I could trust to speak the truth, had told me that they all were “fed like pigs” — or rather worse, since pigs are generally given enough to eat, if not more than enough.
I felt ashamed to mention my white bread, porridge and orange jam, as I could not give them any. But the women seemed to know all about it — probably from the prisoners who used to help the wardresses on duty in distributing the food. I spoke of my midday meals, which were as tasteless as anything, being composed of potatoes and other vegetables (nearly always cabbage and carrots) merely boiled. The women showed a certain surprise at such austerity: “But we thought you British subjects were given meat with your vegetables,” said they.
“I never eat meat,” replied I: “never ate any, in fact. And I would not eat vegetables mixed with gravy. I told the Governor, when I came.”
To my great satisfaction, I had not to put up with the endless silly “why?”s and “wherefore?”s that the
mere mention of my abhorrence of animal flesh used to, provoke, as a rule, even among “intellectuals” — perhaps especially among “intellectuals” — of democratic upbringing. These simple women, brought up in the rigid discipline of our régime, were far less interfering, far more tolerant, far more liberal than most upholders of “individual freedom” that I have met. Not one even tried to force unto me the man-centred moral outlook which she might have had herself. The only comment that one of them once made was: “I know two other people who, like you, never eat meat. And they both have your views, too.”
But the women often asked me what I did with my extra white bread: “I give it to Sister Maria, for the sick ones,” I used to answer, concealing, out of tactfulness, the fact that I preferred to give my white bread to H. E. and to my genuine comrades of the D wing. One of the prisoners to whom I had once thus spoken, burst out, with undisguised resentment: “Sister Maria? I’d bet you anything that she eats it herself — or shares it with her darlings! The sick ones don’t see the colour of it, I tell you.”
“What makes you think that?” asked I, trying to look only casually interested. “And first, whom do you mean by ‘her darlings’?”
“Whom I mean? Why, those two who work, at the Infirmary, of course; the E., woman, especially, — she is the favourite of all the staff, from the Oberin downwards, and Sister Maria’s more than anyone else’s; and Frau So-and-so’s, naturally. And not she alone: all the ‘war criminals’ are. They seem to think them wonderful; while they treat us, ordinary delinquents, like dogs.”
It was painful to me to detect in this woman — as I had in many others — that bitter hostility towards the so-called
“war criminals.” “Jealousy, no doubt; thought I, “nothing but jealousy.” And I did not reply. The woman did not like my silence. She understood that, in my heart, I took the side of my comrades. “And you too, seem to think them wonderful probably because they have your views — or because you think they have,” she pursued; “well, you can go and report what I said, if it pleases you; I don’t care!”
“I am a fighter, not an informer,” replied I with pride; “I would, no doubt, denounce a person if it were my duty — that is to say, if we were in power, and if the matter were serious; but now, and for trifles like this? No; I have better things to do.”
Other women would tell me, during the “free hour,” all that was going on in the prison. “You know, that one in that corner cell up there; stout, with brown, wavy hair; Emma, they call her . . .”
“Well, what about her?”
“She has again caught eight days of ‘Hausarrest’. And that dark Polish woman with short frizzy hair, also.”
“For dropping love letters to the men and for answering rudely to Frau Erste, (the matron). The Pole is always getting caught for writing love letters. She also calls out obscene words in her language, when men cross the courtyard, for there are plenty of Poles among them. She is mad on men.”
I was not vaguely interested. I used to answer something — make some anodyne remark — simply for the sake of courtesy.
But once one of those who seemed to know the life history of nearly every inmate of the “Frauen Haus,” took to talking to me about another Pole, or so-called so.
“You have never met that one,” said she “for she is in the A wing. But all the ‘old’ ones, like myself, know her, for she has been here a long time. Formerly, she spent six years in Auschwitz for doing I don’t know what against the Hitler Government . . .”
“Six years in Auschwitz,” thought I; “why, she must be the one whose statement was reported to me in the recreation roost; the one who slandered my Friend H. E. . . .”
I was interested, this time; and very much so. “What about her?” asked I, preparing to listen with all my attention.
“Well,” replied the prisoner, “she can’t bear men: she likes women. And you’d never guess what she did last year, at Christmas time, when we are a little freer than usually . . .”
“What?” enquired I.
“Well, there was then another one who also liked women, (she is out, now.) So they managed to get together and . . .”
The woman described to me, in full detail, one of the filthiest perverted sexual performances of which I have ever heard — something too disgusting to be written in black on white. “And they were caught,” she added; “and dear me what a row it made! . . .”
“The female should never have come out of Auschwitz,” said I, with a feeling of nausea. “One who can do such a dirty thing as that, for ‘pleasure’ does not deserve to live!” And after a pause, I could not help adding: “Indeed, it is refreshing to hear that such a bitch has worked against us. I always said: those anti-Nazis are the scum of the earth!”
“One has to agree that many are,” replied the woman. However, they are not all like this Pole.
“Perhaps. But one could not find a single such depraved specimen among us,” said I with genuine pride. “No sexually debased man or woman, no unclean person of any description, can be a National Socialist. Of that, I am absolutely sure.”
I could not help being impressed by the enormous proportion of Poles and Czechs imprisoned at Werl for theft, complicity in theft or burglary, black-marketeering, and . . . abortion. The greatest number of German women with whom I came in contact during the “free hour” were also there for abortion. Every time they thought it was possible . . . they tried to lessen their guilt in my eyes, and sometimes, they succeeded in doing so. “It is not our fault; it is the fault of those swine,” one told me, speaking of the Allied occupants. “In 1945, in 1946, even in 1947, it was terrible, out here. There was nothing to eat. Our girls used to go with those brutes for a slice of bread — or a packet of cigarettes, that bought much more. And not for their own stomachs, most of the time, but for the sake of their starving families. They often became pregnant, and then called us to ‘help’ them . . .”
I thought of those fine German girls who had been healthy and happy Hitler-maidens a few years before . . . And tears filled my eyes. “Avenge that unutterable misery, and avenge that shame, invisible Lord!” I prayed within my heart, looking to the cloudless sky. And, turning once more to the woman, I said: “You are right; it is the fault of those swine; and still more the fault of those who brought about the downfall of National Socialism: the fault of the traitors, here in Germany; of the Jews and of the slaves of the Jews, all over the world.”
“But things are changing,” the woman pursued; “and the Allies are the first ones to find it out, whether they like it or not. Those very men we lay with for a packet of cigarettes in ’45, we would not touch with a pair of tongs, now that we are no longer starving. Every their officers we loathe. We want our own men.”
“You are quite right,” said I, sincerely wishing that she spoke the truth.
“I myself don’t approve of abortion,” continued the prisoner, coming back to her first topic. “I might be guilty of it, but I know it is not right. But on the other hand, what is one to do with so many children in times like this? And they come, sometimes, whatever people do to avoid them. What do you say?”
It was difficult to express what I thought — not because I had strange views on the subject (I had, on the contrary, exactly the same views as any other National Socialist) but because I had not the slightest experience of the problems, of the difficulties, of the daily conflicts of what is supposed to be “life”; because, in fact, I had never had a personal life nor even desired to have one, and could not, therefore, buttress my views with arguments as convincing as those another person would have used. I felt that, whatever I said would remain abstract; would sound like a party catechism, although it would not be just that. However, this could not be helped. And I spoke. “On principle, I strongly condemn abortion save when it aims at getting rid of the undesirable product of some shameful union,” said I. And I explained: “By ‘shameful union’ I mean the union of a man and woman of different races, or of whom one at least is a sick person or a weakling. In practice, of course,” — I added — “if abortion were carried on among the inferior races, it would not matter much (although I would prefer to limit their numbers by other means). But it is surely a crime to destroy a potential child of pure Aryan blood; to refuse a place in the world to a soul that the heavenly Powers had deemed worthy to take birth amidst the highest form of humanity. I know that, as you say, times are hard. And I know that this Allied Government will do nothing to make them less so; nor will the puppet so-called German Government that will, sooner or later, take its place. But the real national Government that will come back, one day, will help the healthy families of pure blood, just as it did in the past.”
“Yes,” said the woman. “And I wish to goodness that it comes back as quickly as possible. But what are we to do in the meantime?”
“Struggle in silence; hope and wait,” replied I. “What else can one do?”
The woman had already asked me, another day, if I had any children, and I had told her that I had none. She now looked at me sceptically, as though to say: “It is all very easy in theory. But I would like to hear what you would say if you had a family of seven, and were expecting the eighth, and had nothing to give them to eat,” (which was, she had told me, the case of one of the women whom in her euphemistic language she had actually “helped”).
And we talked of something else.
Other women would tell me about their private affairs, — their husbands, their children, their lovers, their neighbours and their mothers-in-law. One, who had accompanied me several times during the “free hour” was a woman of twenty-six who had already three children from her husband and who was expecting a fourth one from another man. “He has left me for another woman,” she one day told me; “so what could I do? I found this man, who is much nicer than he was, and who will marry me, when I get out of this place; he will take the children too, he says. (They are now at my mother’s.) And he writes to me; and such loving letters!”
I was bored. Rut I was thinking to myself: “Twenty-six, now, in 1949. So she must have been sixteen at the outbreak of the war; and ten in 1933. She must remember . . . I wonder what the great days meant to her; what they mean to her now . . .” And turning to my companion I said: “I sincerely wish you every happiness with the man you love. Personally, all I want is to see the Hitler days come back; more so: all I want is to see the Führer’s spirit rule not only Germany, but the world, forever and ever . . .” And I imagined myself coming back, one day, to a new National Socialist Germany, a resurrected Germany, who would open her arms to me. And I was happy in anticipation, and smiled.
But the woman had not listened to my last words. “The Hitler days,” said she, with utmost naturalness: “and who does not want them to come back? I do for one. We were all so happy, then. We had plenty to eat. And although we worked hard, we worked in joy. And we had plenty of fun, too. I remember my months of compulsory labour — the best time in my life. There was a camp of youngsters not far from the place we were. And we used to meet them whenever we could. You have no idea what lovely, handsome young men they were! There were three, especially, who liked me; and . . .”
“It is always the same,” thought I, thrilled for the millionth time at the evocation of that tremendous collective labour effort in the midst of songs and merriment, and yet a little depressed; “it is always the same: speaking
of the great days, nine people out of ten tell me: ‘They were splendid because, then, we enjoyed ourselves’, while only one says: ‘They were splendid because, then, we were building a new world, founded upon health and truth’. Oh, how I wish all my Führer’s people; how I wish all the Aryan race could feel as that one! But I suppose the new spirit cannot permeate them all in a day. Great changes in depth take time.” And turning to the pretty young woman who walked by my side, I told her: “One day, the revenge will come, and then, days even more glorious than those you witnessed. For the Führer is alive.” And as I said that, I imagined, travelling through radiant space in which there are no barriers, subtle, silent waves, preparing, slowly and surely, in the realm of the invisible, by which all things visible are conditioned, the return of our beloved Hitler.
But the young woman said simply: “Of course, he is alive.”
“How do you know it?” asked I, genuinely surprised at the unhesitating naturalness of her remark. “Who told you?”
She answered, equally surprised at my question: “Why, everybody knows it!”
We continued to walk around the courtyard, and for a while, we did not speak. Above us, around us, all over Germany, all over the world, the subtle waves were patiently continuing their unseen play; preparing “the Day for freedom and for bread” in their unexpected manner, with mathematical accuracy.
But the “free hour” was over. We stood in two rows, and, beginning at one end, each one of us called out: one, two, etc., — the number of her place — a formality that we went through each time, so that the two
wardresses who accompanied us might know that none of us was missing. While this was going on, I heard the young woman who had walked by my side call to another one who stood not far from us in the row behind mine: “Irmchen, eh, Irmchen! Don’t forget to come to the recreation room this evening. I’ll show you the letter my Fritz has written to me!”
* * *
I did not go to the recreation room. Instead, I continued writing Chapter 8 of my Gold in the Furnace, which I had just begun.
Before she went home, Frau Oberin came to any cell. She often came. And I was always glad to see her. Although she had never yet said a word from which I could infer that she was in sympathy with my views, she had managed to gain my confidence. I felt I could tell her practically anything I liked. She would never do any harm to me or to any one of us.
“Your cell is rather small,” said she, that evening, after she had returned my greeting. “As soon as there is a larger one available, I shall put you there.” And she asked me in a most friendly manner: “You are not too unhappy here, anyhow?”
“I suppose I should not be, since I can write, thanks to your kindness,” said I. “Still . . .”
“Still what?” enquired Frau Oberin.
I put forth the grievance I had in vain tried to conceal several days. “Oh, do put me in the D wing!” exclaimed I; “Do! You don’t know how depressing the contact with this lot of prisoners is to me, at times! I have nothing to say against them, but I cannot talk to them as I would to those of the D wing.”
“You would like to have the pleasure of indoctrinating the D wing ones, wouldn’t you?” said Frau Oberin with a mischievous smile.
“I hope they do not need indoctrinating,” replied I unhesitatingly. “I hope indeed they are as good National Socialists as myself. I would just like to enjoy some interesting talks, if I am to talk at all. If not . . .”
“Listen,” said Frau Oberin, kindly interrupting me, “nobody, I believe, understands you, here, better than I do, and nobody is more willing than I am to make your life tolerable. I would give you a cell in the D wing straightaway, if only I could. But I don’t give orders, here, as you have perhaps already guessed. I have to consult the German head of the prison, who is also the Public Prosecutor, in whatever I do. And above him is the British Governor . . . It is the latter himself who has expressly forbidden us to allow you to have any contact with the so-called ‘war criminals’.” And she tried to make me understand that, technically, I was not in the same category as they. “You see” she explained “you are a proper political prisoner, while these women are here for having inflicted ill-treatment upon internees in concentration camps or for having been found guilty of such similar offences as are now classified as ‘crimes against humanity’. You have never done things of that nature.”
“Only because I never had an opportunity,” replied I. (And from the intonation of my voice, it was — I hope — evident that I meant every word I said.) “Crimes against humanity,” I repeated, full of contempt for the hypocrisy this expression reveals on the part of those who coined it; “only when we Nazis do them are acts of violence thus labelled. When the Democrats do them, in the interest of the Jews, they are acts of justice!”
“You always seem to forget that we have lost the war,” said Frau Oberin, with sudden sadness, and bitter irony. She talked to me as though I were a German. And in fact, I myself often forgot that I am not one.
“But again, why does the Governor insist that I should be separated from my comrades?” asked I, coming back to the point. “What difference does it make if they and I did not do exactly the same things? We all worked for the same cause.”
“You idealise the D wing ones,” said Frau Oberin.
“They are not all ardent National Socialists as you seem to think. Some never had any politics at all, and just obeyed orders — any orders — just because they were in service.”
“Whatever they be,” replied I, “they are victims of this hated Democracy; victims of our enemies. They have suffered for the cause I love — even those, if any, who do not love it as much as I do; even those who, at the time, might have been indifferent to it. Therefore I love them. Oh, do put me with them! How will the Governor find out? I could remain here, in this cell, so that he would see me here when he inspects the place on Friday mornings; and I could, if you allowed me, spend my ‘Free hour’ with the D wing ones and go to the recreation room with them. Why not? Put yourself in my place!”
“I do put myself in your place,” said Frau Oberin softly and sadly. “I have already told you, nobody here understands you better than I do. Still: don’t insist, for you only make my position more painful to me. I cannot do what you ask me, however much I would like to. Things of that sort always leak out. I would lose my job and not get another. And I cannot afford to risk that: life is already too difficult for us all. But I shall
do all I can to make your life here less dull. I was, for instance, thinking of asking the Governor to allow you to give the other prisoners, now and, then, a lecture about your travels in India and other places. I am sure they would all enjoy it. Perhaps it could be arranged. Today, I have come to tell you of one prisoner who is a little less coarse than most of the others and who, having heard of your academic qualifications, is keen on meeting you.”
“Who is she?”
“A Polish woman. I might as well tell you at once she is definitely anti-Nazi, as most Poles are. But she is somewhat cultured. There are plenty of subjects about which one can talk with her. She speaks both French and English, apart from German and, of course, her own language. Would you care to meet her? I would at least make a diversion for you.”
“I did not come to Germany to meet Polish women and to talk French and English,” thought I. Yet, something told me I had perhaps better accept Frau Oberin’s suggestion. Who could tell? The Polish woman might, indirectly, prove useful, in one way or another. So I accepted. And Frau Oberin left me with a kind word.
The next morning, the Oberwachtmeisterin ushered the woman into my cell. “I hope you will be friends,” said she, smiling. But she was far too perspicacious not to know all the time that we could never be friends. There was irony in her words and greater irony still in her smile. Apparently, she knew me better than, hitherto, Frau Oberin did.
I generally used to leave the Führer’s portrait upon my table from six o’clock in the evening — the time all the cells were definitely shut for the night — to the time I woke up and got ready, the following morning. However,
on that morning, I had somehow forgotten to hide it. It was there like a visible, living presence. And it was too late to hide it now. Moreover, why hide it, Frau S., — whom I was beginning to love more and more — had already seen it several times in its hiding place, and did not seem to object to it in the least. (She had told me of the beautiful large one that she had herself, in her house, during the great days, and that she had burnt, out of fear, “when the Americans had come.”) The wardress on duty, a very amiable blonde, one hundred percent “in order,” did not object either. The Polish woman probably objected. But it was all the same to me whether she did or not.
She was moderately tall, thin, red-haired, neither good-looking nor downright plain. As soon as the door was shut, she sat down and introduced herself. She was a real Pole, she told me — not a Jewess. She had remained in Germany after the end of the war, afraid to go home, she said, on account of the Communists whom she did not like. And she had been sentenced to three years’ imprisonment for black marketeering. She admitted she had done wrong, but half-excused herself by saying that times were so hard that it was very difficult to live honestly. Anyhow, her time had now come to be sent back to Poland, and she was in a fix as to what she was to do. She did not like being in Werl. The food, especially, did not agree with her. But even so, to remain there would be better than to get caught by the Communists and to be packed off to some concentration camp . . . The mere mention of Communism seemed to scare her out of her wits. And the more I listened to her talk, the more I despised her, for I had been told that she was anti-Nazi. I detest anti-Nazis of any description; but I despise those who are at the same time anti-Communists.
Such people have no sense of reality, or they simply do not know what they want.
“I believe there are many Poles who, like you, hate Communism,” said I.
The woman, who had come knowing what I am (she told me so herself a little later) thought she had found, between herself and me, a ground of agreement. “Not ‘many’ but all real Poles hate Communism especially now that they suffered under it,” said she; “All, I honestly tell you,” she insisted, “save a handful of traitors who profit by it. And these are mostly Jews.”
My contempt for her reached its limit — for I find inconsistency sickening. “And why didn’t those real Poles join us, during the war, if they are as thoroughly as you say against the Reds?” asked I, sarcastically. “If my memory does not fail me, the Führer had once proposed them an alliance, which they were foolish enough to refuse, preferring a pact with England — who, incidentally, let them down. Or is it that they woke up too late in the day, when the Reds, — who by then had become England’s ‘gallant allies’ — were already there? Many people seem to wake up late in the day, also outside Poland.”
The woman could not have felt too comfortable between Hitler’s portrait, on the table by my side, and the lashing of my merciless tongue. As for myself, I suddenly had the impression that this sort of conversation could well take place in some police office of occupied Europe, under our resurrected New Order, — provided my comrades would, then, have the good idea of using me in the repression services; and provided, too, that I, once in service, had still a little time to waste. (“And why should they not employ me, then, after all?” though I in a flash. “I am sincere, radical, incorruptible — reliable —
and would enjoy such work. I also know a few languages. I might lack a little diplomacy; but diplomacy will be of less importance, perhaps, when we are once more the masters of the situation.”) And it seemed to me that this interview with a Polish anti-Nazi, now in the dark days, in a prison cell where there was a portrait of the Führer, had perhaps a prophetic meaning.
But the woman answered the few truths I had told her in the manner one would expect: “No,” said she, “it is not that. We do not want the Communists surely. But we do not want you either. By ‘you’,” she added. “I mean the Germans. You have identified yourself with Nazism so completely that I am sure you will find it natural. To us, Nazism means Germany.”
“To me it means that, no doubt, and a lot more,” replied I.
“To me, National Socialism on a world-wide scale means the survival and the rule of the purest Aryan elements; the royalty of better mankind,” said I. “Listen: Democracy — the capitalist economy, along with the parliamentary system with its many parties, its universal suffrage, its electoral campaigns, and all the bribery and corruption, all the dirty unseen bargaining that goes with it, — is definitely doomed. Cry over it if you like. You can do nothing to give it back its lost credit, and its lost potentialities (admitting that it ever had any). You speak like a dreamer when you say you want neither the Communists nor us. My dear lady, who cares what you want — or what I want, in fact? Or what the Poles or the Russians or the Germans want? Whatever the whole world might want, it can only have one of two things: Communism, or National Socialism; either our sole real enemies, — or us. Remark that I do not say: either Russian
domination or German domination. For Communism is not Russia; it is Jewry; it aims, ultimately, at the rule of the unseen Jew over a more and more bastardized world. And if National Socialism is Germany (which, in one way, undoubtedly it is) it is also more — otherwise, hundreds of intelligent non-Germans would not have gladly suffered for it in England, in France, in India, everywhere; otherwise a Frenchman whom I know would not have been shot shouting: ‘Heil Hitler!’, and I would not be here. As I said, National Socialism is Aryandom, of which Germany is, no doubt, today, the vanguard, but which, nevertheless, exceeds Germany. National Socialism means the rule of the best men of Aryan blood wherever there are Aryans and, outside the pale of Aryandom, the rule of the noblest non-Aryan races of the world, each one in its place, and of the best men of each race, each within their own race. The whole world is now before the same alternative as Germany was in 1933. It has to choose: disintegration and death, with the Marxists; or resurrection and life, with us. There is no third alternative; no other possible choice.”
“As far as I am concerned, I can see no difference worth mentioning between you people and the Communists,” said the Polish woman. “You both use the same horrible methods. You are both equally brutal, equally cruel.”
“We are ruthless, but not cruel,” rectified I, interrupting her.
“Well, put it as you like, it is all the same in my eyes,” concluded she, rather impatiently. “You both consider man merely as a means to an end and think nothing of taking human lives. I have suffered through both of you and I hate both your systems.”
“It makes no difference,” replied I. “One of the two
conflicting systems will prevail in the end — and I hope it will be ours; democratic capitalism — the milder form of Jewish rule — is dying anyhow. And I am afraid that those who, like you, hate both us and our bitterest enemies, will sooner or later have to put up with something that they hate. It is bad luck. But it cannot be helped. As for man he has, if not always been considered as ‘merely a means to an end’, at least always been used as such, from the dawn of history onwards, even by those who pretend to give him a so-called ‘dignity’ and ‘equal rights’ whatever be his racial level and personal value. Only the ends for which he is used differ. The ends of the Communists are, openly, ‘individual happiness’ for the greatest number of human beings, and, in fact, the rule of the Jew. Our ends are, openly and in fact, the maximum all-round development of the naturally noblest races — first of all of the Aryan — and their rule, condition of a better world in which all living creatures should enjoy rights, according to their natural status.”
The woman stopped sewing for a while (she had brought her work with her). She looked at me intently and said: “At least, you are sincere. And I respect you for that.”
“Every man or woman who has remained a Nazi in 1945 and throughout the atrocious following years, is sincere,” replied I. “While every professed Communist is not; and still less every professed Christian. That is an encouraging fact.”
“Surely you do not believe in Christianity?” said the woman.
“I? I should think not! Only self-deluded people can imagine they can be Nazis and Christians at the same time. I look upon the Christian superstition (as some Roman emperors have called it) as another trick of the
Jews to enslave the Aryan soul. Moreover, both its man-centred attitude and its other-worldliness repel me, — and would still repel me if none of the early promoters of the religion had been Jews.”
“You are sincere, and logical,” remarked the Polish woman, after hearing this declaration.
“I hope so,” said. I.
“And what do you think about the next world?”
“I have not the foggiest idea about it,” replied I. “If there is anything beyond death, I shall see soon enough when I get there.”
“And you don’t mind not knowing?” she asked me.
I found the question childish. “Whether I ‘mind’ or not, replied I, with a condescending smile, “I do not know; I have no means of knowing.”
The woman gazed at me, astonished perhaps at the fact that I looked so happy in spite of ‘not knowing’ what would happen to me one day when I would die. She remained silent for a while and then said: “I am a Catholic. And now that I meet you after meeting so many of your kind in quite different circumstances, — nay, after having seen my poor son in their hands — I am more than ever convinced that, without the humanising influence of religion, man easily becomes a monster, if given a chance. Your mysticism of the élite will not help him. It only makes him worse. You mentioned yourself, a while ago, the rights of ‘all living beings’. How can you speak of such a thing when you don’t even acknowledge the right of all men to live?”
I repeated before that woman what I had said hundreds of thousands of times, all my life: “I cannot love all men, including the dregs of humanity, including the dangerous people, including those who, without being
positively dangerous, hate all that I love. While I do love all the animals of the world. All are beautiful and innocent. The only living things I would get rid of (apart from dangerous people) are fleas and bugs — parasites. For one has to defend one’s self. As for the religion that tells me to respect the life of a dangerous man while it omits to forbid me to eat meat, I find it absurd. And the civilisation that condemns my comrades for ‘war crimes’ while it accepts vivisection as a matter of course, deserves wholesale destruction.”
“You don’t eat meat?” asked the woman.
“No; never did. I am logical, — you have rightly said so.”
“You are, I admit,” replied she; “now, children are as innocent as animals. Don’t you like children?”
“On principle, yes.” said I; “and first of all, naturally, the healthy children of my own Aryan race, of which I am proud. Then, all the healthy children of the earth, to the extent these are not likely to become a danger to ours, when they grow up.”
“I have seen men of those whom you admire, of those whom you call your comrades, and love, drive before them whole families of terrorised Jews, children and old people as well as others. What harm had those children done? What harm could they do, if allowed to live?”
“They were potential parasites,” said I, calmly. And I added, after a pause: “The men of whom you speak, those men whom I admire and love indeed to the extent they were genuine National Socialists aware of what they were doing and doing it in the proper spirit, did not hate the Jewish children. Dispassionately and according to orders, they did their utmost for the defence of threatened Aryan mankind. I would have done the same in their place.”
And as I spoke thus, I suddenly remembered myself standing in the kitchen of my Calcutta home, one morning, in glorious ’40, listening to my fifteen year-old Indian servant tell me: “Memsahib, I too admire your Führer. He is fighting to replace in the West the Bible by the Bhagavad-Gita: a grownup boy who reads English was saying so just now at the fish market.” The illiterate lad of the Tropics had probably forgotten long ago those words that I was to remember forever and to quote many times, so accurate were they, in spirit at least. And now I thought once more: “Violence, whenever necessary — not nonviolence at any cost — but dispassionate, detached, absolutely selfless violence, applied ‘for the sole welfare of the universe’, yes, that ideal of action, preached in the immemorial Bhagavad-Gita, is also what we preach today; what we represent, in glaring contrast to Christian hypocrisy. And it is precisely that for which the degenerate world hates us.”
But the Polish woman was no votary of the oldest Aryan philosophy. “Well,” said she, answering my last remarks about the uprooted Jews, “that may be; but you don’t know how all this seems monstrous to me. I came to meet you knowing what you are — Frau Oberin had told me. But you surpass what I had expected — expected from a non-German, especially. Without imagining that your National Socialism remained on the philosophical plane, I had never realised that you could be so ruthlessly radical, — as bad as any of the others. Everything in your outlook repels me; everything in your words wounds me. And,” — she then pointed to the Führer’s portrait upon my table, after having, hitherto, as much as she could, avoided looking at it, — “the sight of that man’s face in your cell; the knowledge that he is there, even if I choose to look the other way; the knowledge that he is
your idol, like, alas, so many other people’s, and that you are prepared to commit any crime, yourself, if you think it can forward his ends, that wounds me still more. For I hate him! And I do wish he is really dead!”
My blood rushed to my head. Had I been anywhere else than in a prison cell, I would have opened the door and shouted to the woman: “Get out!” — and doubtless kicked her over the stairs. But I was in a cell. The door could not be opened — nor the window. I tried to contain myself, and retorted as calmly as I could: “And I wish that everyone who hates him would see the death of whomsoever he or she loves — which is worse than dying.”
The woman’s face took on a pitiful expression. “I have lost my only child through your people,” said she, in a low voice, her eyes fixed upon me with even more sorrow than resentment; “I cannot lose more. And I am not even sure whether he is dead or alive. I don’t know where he is.”
“Perhaps in the hands of the ‘gallant allies’ of those who waged war on Germany to ‘save’ Poland,” said I, ironically. “If so, pray that they do not treat him a little worse than we might have.” The woman’s professed hatred for our Führer rang painfully within my heart, and I could not resist the propensity of hitting back over and over again.
“Oh,” replied she, tired, “it is all the same. It could not be worse. In the camp where we were first taken, during the war, I have seen with my own eyes your S.S. men slap and kick my son, then a mere lad . . . But do please let us speak of something else!”
I could have — and perhaps should have — dropped the topic. There was no point in further hurting that woman, even if what I had to tell her were the mere truth,
as doubtless it was. But I was myself too hurt to refrain from striking back a third time. “If your son had not deserved it, he would not have been in a concentration camp,” said I, coldly; “nobody was in one for nothing.”
There was a long silence. The Polish woman was probably thinking about her lost son. I, still in a bitter mood, was thinking: “I wish to goodness this woman would not come back! It is bad enough to be in prison, and there, separated from my comrades, without being, in addition, pestered with anti-Nazis!”
* * *
The woman did not come back. But she left me a few issues of Life, one of which contained a long extract from Winston Churchill’s War Memoirs. In it, the British ex-Premier tried his best to explain that the Führer’s orders to stop the rush of the German armoured divisions to Dunkirk — the orders that resulted in “clearing the way for the British Army,” — were taken on the initiative of General Runstedt, and inspired by anything but the desire to show generosity to England as I had somewhere stated in the third chapter of my Gold in the Furnace. He buttressed his deductions, — he said — upon the “actual diary of General Runstedt’s Headquarters, written at the time.” But as I read that, I suddenly recalled what Miss Taylor had told me of the privileges granted by the British authorities to the so-called “war criminal” General Runstedt, in particular, his leave from prison on parole. And I also recalled Colonel Vickers’ statement to me, on Wednesday morning, the 6th of April, 1949: “Political prisoners are the last people to whom we grant special privileges . . . save in the case they write for us or do some secret work for us, in one way or another” (sic). I could not help . . . “putting two and two together”
and wondering whether General Runstedt’s alleged “diary,” supposed to be “written at the time,” were not just another piece of “secret work” in the interest of the British thesis about the events, written in confinement after the war — “secret work” of the kind Colonel Vickers had had in mind on that morning of the 6th of April. That would no doubt justify all sorts of privileges (if what Miss Taylor had told me were true), thought I, without wishing to be unnecessarily malignant, or even suspicious. And I added a footnote to the page in my Chapter 3 in which I had mentioned Dunkirk.
In another issue of the same magazine, I found an account of the disgraceful manner in which the American Police had recently forced Walter Gieseking, the great German pianist, to leave the U.S.A. on account of his allegiance to National Socialism. Public demonstrations, headed, as could be expected, by Jews, had taken place in front of the hall in which he was to play. And the authorities had abruptly postponed the musical performance until an “investigation into his case” would give satisfactory assurances as to the artist’s “de-Nazification” — which, of course, might have taken a month or more. In answer to which, Herr Gieseking had departed from the U.S.A. by the first plane, utterly disgusted with American behaviour. “And rightly so,” thought I; “for all this fuss, now, nearly four years after the end of the war, in a country alleged to have fought for “individual liberties,” “human rights,” and what not, is enough to make one sick! From the very point of view of those who boast of democratic liberalism, had not the German artist every right to be a Nazi, if such were his convictions?” And for the millionth time, I pondered over the irreducible inconsistency of the Democrats’ position: in accordance with their loudly professed principles, these people simply
have to acknowledge our right to free self-expression and free propaganda — but if they do so, in practice, they run the risk of being overpowered by us in no time. So they prefer not to do so. But then, they become obvious liars and buffoons — “des fumistes,” as the French say, in their picturesque slang. They win themselves the contempt of many moderately intelligent honest people, and become the laughingstock of all those who, honest or not, have wits, and a slight sense of the ridiculous.
The next morning, when my friend H. E. came to take her daily tea, bread and porridge, I told her about the Polish woman that Frau Oberin had sent to keep me company. “At least, she has been useful in letting me have those magazines,” said I, after relating how I had utilised the passage from Churchill’s War Memoirs in my book. “But dear me, how she hates us! All because her blinking son, it seems, was a little roughly handled by the S.S. men, in some concentration camp during the war. Well, she could not expect them to caress him, could she? I told her that he would not have been in a concentration camp if he had not deserved it, and that it served him right. I could not help it. She had asked for it, by the way she had spoken against the Führer. And moreover, it is true. I know it is.”
H. E.’s large eyes brightened. She gave me an enthusiastic smile. “You really told her that!” she exclaimed.
“Certainly. I would not tell you I had, if I had not.”
“Then, I thank you for doing so; oh, you don’t know how much I thank you — on my own behalf, and on behalf of all of us who have been slandered and reviled for the last four years. I am grateful to you for having had the courage to speak the truth and for having justified
us all so-called ‘war criminals’. Since the disaster, we are always wrong; we are murderers and murderesses; torturers and what not; ‘inhuman monsters’. And they never take the trouble to say what scum of the earth was to be found among the internees of our concentration camps, — people of whom three quarters are again locked up, now, under the Democratic Occupation, in spite of the fact that we ‘monsters’ are no longer in power.”
“Don’t I know it?” exclaimed I, “Don’t I know it? One only has to see who are most of the women among whom I am thrown, here in this prison, by orders of the persecutor (I mean the British Governor) instead of being allowed to have a cell in the D wing, among you whom I love. I went once to the recreation room, and do not intend to go again — fortunately, attendance there is not compulsory. I would not go out during the ‘free hour’ either, were it not for the fresh air. Anyhow, one service the Governor has rendered me — without meaning to: he has put me in a position to tell everybody, when I am again free, what sort of people formed the bulk of the ‘victims of National Socialism’ in the former German concentration camps. Already during my one visit to the recreation room, I have met enough specimens of these to be able to assert that all that my friends ever told me in that connection was just the truth. And by the way, excuse me for having completely forgotten to tell you before — I was told that some woman imprisoned here; and formerly interned in Auschwitz for six years, has grossly slandered you.” And I reported to her the whole gruesome story I had heard about the alleged wounded internee; and I stated how I had silenced the woman who had related it to me.
H. E. laughed, and patted me on the shoulder. “You
have a fine reply to everything!” said she, jovially. “But you did not believe the story? — Or did you?”
“Of course I did not,” exclaimed I. “I found the action too pointless to sound real. The tale appeared to me as unlikely and as silly as the other samples of anti-Nazi propaganda that have been inflicted upon me for the last ten or fifteen years. The more anti-Nazi the sillier, seems to be their law of existence.”
“I am glad you did not believe it, said H. E. “For it is a fact that I have never done such a thing. But would you like to know — out of sheer curiosity — who the woman is, who spreads such rumours against me? . . . For I am, sure it is she.”
“She is a Pole — I suppose. During the ‘free hour’, I heard of some Pole who also spent six years in Auschwitz and who is, it seems, entre nous, an homosexual of the lowest type. It occurred to me that it must be the same one.”
“It is the same one, exactly,” said H. E. “I know her. While I was in service at Auschwitz (where I was three years, as I told you) I myself tattooed upon her right arm the number that indicates that she was not condemned to death. But she is not a Pole — anyone could see that. She is a Jewess from Poland, and a despicable type. She was given six years in Auschwitz, for working against us. Then, once in the camp, she sucked up to us, and pushed herself forwards as much as she could. She can speak a couple of languages and has a certain ability. So we gave her a certain amount of power over other internees, that she might help to keep order among them. She abused her power and behaved as cruelly as she could towards her comrades, imagining perhaps that that would make us forget her activities against our régime, which surely it did not. We interfered many
times and severely reprimanded her. And we willingly would have done without her services but for the fact that, as I once told you, our camps were badly understaffed, especially during the war. But we put up with her. When she fell — with us — into the hands of these people, after the war, she tried her best to throw the blame of her gratuitous atrocities upon us, saying that she had done this and that ‘under orders’, when it was not true. She slandered me, and would have got me a death sentence, had she been able to; she slandered others of us who had been in service at Auschwitz. She violently hates every sincere Nazi. Yet, in spite of that, her friends the Democrats gave her fifteen years’ imprisonment, as to myself.”
“All this does not astonish me at all,” replied I. “It is the Jew all over — the cowardly, cringing Jew, full of spite, hate and cruelty and base selfishness. But tell me another thing: It was related to me that this woman was the centre of interest here in Werl, last year at Christmas time, on account of some unnatural and particularly repulsive sexual performance of hers, in the midst of which she was caught; one of the most disgusting things I have ever heard . . . Is that true?”
“Absolutely true,” said H. E. “Fräulein B. can tell you. She knows all about it. Ask her, if you don’t believe me. She will not mind telling you, I am sure.” (Fräulein B. was one of the wardresses.)
“And what does that Jewish woman look like?” asked I, coming back to the ex-internee in Auschwitz.
“She is middle-aged and of moderate height, with black hair that she wears in curls; she has small black eyes, a crooked nose, a typically Jewish face. You will not see her here, for she is in the A wing — unless you meet her in the bathroom.” (We used to bathe,
twenty-four of us at the time, standing under a double row of douches, on Friday mornings, before the Governor’s visit; and prisoners from different wings often found themselves together on that occasion.) “I have seen her myself in the bathroom”; added H. E., “she has hanging breasts, no waist, and a fat, prominent belly — anything but attractive!”
For a minute, I pictured myself the mean, cruel, perverted and ugly creature, crawling to my comrades, who despised her, to save her skin, in our days of power; then, slandering them before the Allied military authorities; charging them with all sorts of ‘crimes’, now they could no longer hit back; and, whenever she could, gratifying the depraved instincts of her flabby body in the dirty manner I had been told . . . The thought of her was surely enough to make one feel sick.
“Her place was in the gas chamber,” said I, summing up in a sentence my whole impression about the female; “and it is a pity you did not put her there.”
H. E. agreed. “Right you are!” exclaimed she. “And she is not the only one, unfortunately. Many others like her — and worse — should have been put there but were not. We were too lenient.”
“Alas, I have said that from the beginning.”
H. E. half opened the door (that she had pulled behind her) to make sure that nobody was listening. Then, coming nearer to me: “But wait and see what happens next time, when we rise again after all that we suffered,” said she in a low voice. “Oh, then! I know a few who will not escape!”
I gazed at her, and I recalled the mental agony, the despair I had myself gone through in and after 1945; and the ruins of Germany; and the long-drawn day to day martyrdom of the Aryan élite whom I admired. “Then,”
said I, my eyes sparkling, “call me! Wherever I be in the wide world, I shall come. And give me a chance to play a part in the repression of the dark forces. I will help to avenge you — to avenge Germany!”
We parted with the usual “Heil Hitler!”, feeling that we understood each other perfectly.
* * *
Soon, it was the 20th of April — the greatest day in Western history; the greatest known day in world history. I had asked Frau Oberin whether, only for that once, I could spend my “free hour” with my comrades of the D wing. But she had replied that she could not allow me to, although she wished she could.
I woke up early in the morning, and saw the Führer’s portrait which I had put, the evening before, on the stool by my bed, against the wall. “Today he is exactly sixty”, thought I; “young, compared with those who led the world against him. Oh, may I soon see him in power again! I don’t mind if I die after that.”
I took the likeness and kissed it — as all devotees have kissed the images of their gods, from the dawn of A time. And I held it a while against my breast. “Mein Führer!” murmured I, in a whisper, spontaneously closing my eyes so as to shut myself off from everything, but my inner world of reverence and love. Those two words expressed the lifelong yearning of my whole being. And recalling the solemnity of the day, I imagined a newborn baby who, to all those who saw him, was just another child, but whom the all-knowing Gods, who had sent him into the world, had consecrated as Germany’s future Leader and the Saviour of the Aryan race; the promised divine Man Who comes age after age, “whenever justice is crushed, whenever evil rules
supreme,” and Who saves the world over and over again. It was not the first time I thus pictured to myself the predestined One: at every successive birthday of his, for goodness knows how many years, I had done so. But now, somehow, I was more intimately aware than ever of the mystical link that bound me to him for eternity. I had sought communion with him in one way and obtained it in quite another. Destiny, that had not allowed me to come and greet him at the height of his glory, had sent me to stand by his people in disaster. And again now, while I had planned to make use of my military permit for Austria, and actually to spend his sixtieth birthday in Braunau am Inn, I was spending it here in Werl, imprisoned for the love of him. In all this I saw a heavenly sign. Not only was I sure that we would rise again and one day acclaim his return, but I felt that I — the daughter of the outer Aryan world — would contribute in my humble way (though I did not know how) to that great resurrection. And a strange exaltation possessed me.
I washed and dressed. And then, my right arm outstretched in the direction of the rising Sun that I could not see, I sang the Horst Wessel Song, and also the song of the S.S. men:
“If all become unfaithful,
We indeed faithful remain . . .”1
I knew that it was against the rules to sing in one’s cell. But I knew also that nobody would say a word to me, especially on a day like this.
1 “Wenn alle untreu werden, so bleiben wir doch true . . .
* * *
When H. E. came, she found me singing. “Our Führer was born exactly sixty years ago,” said I, joyously, as I saw her enter. “Heil Hitler!”
“Heil Hitler!” replied she, “And do you know the news? But promise me you will tell nobody about it — not Frau S., nor Frau Oberin, nor even Frau So-and-so, who is the most reliable of all.”
“I shall not tell anybody. What is it?” “He was seen, now, here in Germany — rushing along at full speed in a beautiful brand-new auto, but still not fast enough for those who love him not to recognise him. One of the men who bring the bread in the mornings has just told me; a so-called ‘war criminal’, like myself, and as firm in his Nazi faith as any of us.”
“And how did he know it?” asked I.
“He has got a message from outside, whether from a visitor or through one of the warders, I could not tell, but he has got it. And this is the message: the Führer is alive, and is here in Germany for some time at least. If it is true, we will soon be free and in power once more.”
I shall never forget the joy with which her face radiated as she spoke these words. I was no less moved. I opened my arms to her, and for a minute, we held each other embraced, as we would have in a great moment.
“And shall I tell you something too which you should not repeat without great discrimination?” said I after this first enthusiasm had subsided. “If what you say is true, it is not the first time he comes. I have heard from someone that he was here sometime about the end of 1947, already preparing in secret, with a few chosen ones, the day we are all awaiting. He has afterwards departed, they say.”
“Is it so! And you are sure it is true?”
“I don’t know. I am only telling you what I was
told. But I know I was told very little — not because our friends ever doubted my sincerity, but because they thought me too stupid, too unpractical, and especially too ignorant of men to discern genuineness in others; because they were afraid that I might easily take a traitor for a real Nazi, and tell him in a moment of enthusiasm things that only the most reliable among us should know. All that I can say for certain is that the Führer is alive and that one day before I die, I shall see him in power. That assurance and that hope sustain me.”
“Our Führer!” said H. E. with that same devotion that I had observed in Herr W. and in all my comrades — that same devotion that I felt in my own heart. And she added, repeating word for word what a humble German working woman, come to clean the railway carriage in which I was, had told me on the morning of the 16th of June 1948: “Nobody has ever loved us as he did!”
“Nobody has ever loved truth and fought for the good of all the living as he did,” said I. “I wish one day the whole world keeps up his birthday. It should.” And we separated, saluting each other as usual.
* * *
When time came for the “free hour” of the D wing, I stood against my window. And not only H. E. but nearly all the others looked up towards me. And many arms went up. And one or two of my comrades even shouted “Heil Hitler!” loud enough for me to hear it from my cell. It seemed as though a wave of enthusiasm, foreshadowing that of the days to come, had lifted them all out of the dreary daily despair of these four years. I cannot say that I had actually caused it, although I had distributed a few copies of my posters (and even one or
two copies of my former more literary leaflets) among them. But I was connected with it. My mere presence in prison for Nazi propaganda acted, apparently, upon the other political prisoners like a sign of hope from the outer world — a sign announcing, soon, a new irresistible outburst of fervour, pride and vitality, dominated by the old battle-cry: “Deutschland erwache!”
Hours passed, apparently as usual, filled by work, with short interruptions for meals and free time. There did not seem to be many women in the B wing who felt, as I did, the greatness of the day. And I have seldom experienced such painful loneliness as during the fifteen minutes I spent on that afternoon, walking around the courtyard by the side of a silly young girl who declared to me, when I reminded her of the Führer’s birth, sixty years before, that she was “fed up with war and warmongers” and that “it would have been better if he had never been born at all.” Tears came to my eyes at the thought that a German could speak thus. But the girl was very young, — less than twenty. I attempted to undo in fifteen minutes the effect of four years’ subtle policy of “de-Nazification.” “He is anything but a ‘warmonger’,” said I. “England, or rather Mr. Churchill, that complacent tool of Jewry, waged war on him, so that the Jews might continue to exploit the whole world. Nobody had striven for peace more than the Führer. Even after the war had started, three times he attempted to put an end to it by offering England an honourable peace, and three times England refused.”
But the girl looked up at me insolently and retorted “Naturally you say that. You would, being a Nazi! But what do you know about it all, any more than I do?”
I felt it was useless to discuss. “Still,” thought I, “one day, perhaps, the kid will remember my words,
and believe me.” In the meantime, I felt depressed. The girl spoke of something else: “Tomorrow, we are invited to a concert in the men’s section,” she said. “They are having one today, among themselves. The tomorrow’s performance will be for us. It will be nice won’t it?”
I could not help wondering whether the organisers among the men had purposely chosen this day, and whether the prison authorities had noticed the “coincidence.” They had allowed the concert, anyhow.
In the evening, after work was ended, I heard the sound of the Horst Wessel Song, coming from the cell next to mine. “So, some do feel the greatness of this day, even here, in the B wing,” thought I. And I immediately took to singing also. My next door neighbour on the other side — a strong, heavily- built peasant woman, mother of seven children, sentenced to twenty years’ penal servitude for alleged complicity in the murder of her husband (which she emphatically denied) — joined in the chorus. She was the first prisoner to whom I had talked in Werl, on the day after my arrival. She had told me once, with pride, that, during the glorious days, she had been given the “mother’s medal” by the Führer himself, and that she always had supported our régime. I often gave her a slice of white bread or a bun or a spoonful of marmalade.
As the weather was hot, the upper part of the windows had been unfastened in many of the cells, and several prisoners were standing and looking out, or talking to one another across the courtyard. I got up upon the table and looked out also, when I had finished singing. Facing me, on the opposite side of the courtyard, were the windows of half the cells of the D wing. “From one of those, one of the D wing prisoners caught
sight of me, and lifted her arm in greeting. I returned her salute and shouted: “Heil Hitler!” But one of the A wing ones — a coarse woman, sentenced to ten years imprisonment for accidental murder caused through an attempt at abortion — called out to me from behind her bars: “It’s Adolf’s birthday today, we know. But we have got the same nasty stuff to eat as on any other day, so it’s all the same to us. You should give us some of your white bread, instead of shouting ‘Heil!’”
I felt depressed and disgusted; — depressed by the feeling that I could indeed do nothing to prove that my love for Hitler’s people was not just words; disgusted at the coarse familiarity with which this woman called the Leader by his Christian name. I, who am not a German, never spoke of him but as “Adolf Hitler” or “der Führer.” I got down from my window but was unable to write, or even to read. Once more, I longed for the return of my German comrades to power. And I cursed the Occupation that postponed it — and Colonel Vickers who kept me, in the meantime, away from the D wing, among the ordinary delinquents.
* * *
The next day, at 3 p.m., we were all taken to the concert given in the church of the men’s section, at the top floor of the building where Colonel Vickers’ office was. We were taken two by two in a row, all those of the same wing together, — and we were made to wear our jackets. The D wing ones walked ahead, leading the whole “Frauen Haus.” Frau S., Frau R., the matron, also called in Werl Frau Erste, Frau Oberin herself, her assistant and the wardresses on duty, accompanied us.
From the top of the stairs, as I began to walk down,
I could see my comrades of the D wing in their dark blue jackets, already crossing the threshold that shut our courtyard off the rest of the world. And again I felt the bitterness of being exiled from them, and made to wear, a black jacket as if I were a common thief or black-marketeer. My eyes followed them along the path that led, between the huge prison buildings of the men’s section and green lawns, and then between the kitchens and the outer wall and across another courtyard, to the Governor’s building, thickly covered with ivy and Virginia creeper.
In the church, where the men, both Germans and Poles, who were to sing and play in the concert, had already taken place upon the benches against the wall, the D wing women sat in front, on the left near the German prisoners most of whom, my friend H. E. was to tell me the next day, were so-called “war criminals” like themselves. The A wing sat behind them, and on the front benches of the right hand side; then the B wing, behind the A wing, and the C wing last of all. I sat on the very left end of a bench, the nearest I possibly could to my beloved comrades, and I gazed sadly at H. E. and at L. M., seated next to her, and at H. B. and the others; smiling regretfully at them as if to say: “How glad I would be to sit with you, if only I could!” But even that place was denied me. Frau Erste asked me to get up and seat myself in the middle of the bench — completely away from the D wing ones. My face crimson with shame, my heart full of resentment, I obeyed. I bore no grudge against Frau Erste; she was only executing the orders of the Governor. I hated the Governor for causing me to be thrust among the abortionists and thieves. And I was all the more humiliated to feel myself sitting in such company, here in front of the men of
whom so many, I knew, were political prisoners like myself.
Throughout the concert, I kept feeling how gladly I would, in my turn, humiliate our enemies, if I were given the slightest power in the repression services of the future, when we rise again. And the truly beautiful music I heard, only served to kindle my excitement in anticipation! That excitement was my only solace against my present bitterness.
As we walked out after the performance, we saw, from a narrow barred window in the staircase, the outer doors of the prison being flung open for a minute to let in a motorcar. We had, from a distance, a glimpse of the outer world with its trees and flowers, with its men and women who went where they liked. One of the women around me, already a year in prison, gazed at the one minute’s vision and quickly called the others: “Look!” she shouted; “Look: the street, — freedom!” I shall not forget that cry of the captive as long as I live. As I heard it, I thought of those I loved, separated from the outer world for four times as long as this woman, and that, just for having served our Führer with zeal and efficiency. And my heart ached. As for myself, I would have found prison life tolerable, had I only been allowed to share with them the daily work, the free time, and the two hours’ relaxation in the recreation room, once every five or six days or so; had I been given a chance to show them my love, and to be, among them, an example of cheerful faith, — a source of strength; nay, I would have welcomed it, as the most appropriate destiny for me, so long as my National Socialist ideology remained persecuted and my betters captive. But as things stood, imprisonment was worse, for me, than for either my comrades the so-called “war criminals” or the ordinary
delinquents, for each one of these was, at least, amidst her own lot.
Once back into my cell; I wept. Frau Erste, the matron, opened the door to let in the prisoner who was to carry away the aluminium container in which my supper had been brought to me. “What is the matter with you?” she asked me, seeing my face.
“Oh, why, why don’t they let me be in the D wing; with my comrades?” I burst out, unable to contain myself any longer, even before the austere matron who was so much of a disciplinarian that some of the ordinary delinquents had nicknamed her “Himmler.”
“You are too dangerous,” replied she, kindly. “You are a firebrand. If you were allowed there, dear me, the whole D wing would be singing the Horst Wessel Song every day.”
Just then, Frau S. entered my cell. “Didn’t you like the concert?” asked she, seeing how dejected I looked, and not having heard what I had told the matron.
“I did,” replied. I. “But what I bitterly resented was to be made to sit in front of everybody among the abortionists and thieves, as if I were one myself. You don’t know how that has hurt me. Why can’t I be with my own kind in the D wing?”
Frau S. smiled. “Because the British Governor is afraid of you,” said she, with a pinch of irony. And I could not help noticing how pleased she looked to say it — as if the mere fact that an official representative of the Occupying Power could fear anybody, were in itself a good sign.
“Tell him that I shall be as good as gold if I am allowed to live in the D wing,” begged I, also with obvious irony.
“Tell him yourself, tomorrow, when he comes,”
said Frau Erste. “If he believes you, and agrees, we don’t mind sending you to the D wing. But until then, we cannot. We don’t give orders, here, now; the Englishman does.” And she departed, having work to do.
Alone with me, Frau S. smiled once more, “Whatever you might tell him, the Governor will not believe you any more than he would us,” commented she. “He is not taking any risks.”
“Which means that I am condemned to stay here, away from my comrades, in practical solitary confinement, until my release,” said I sadly. Then, as I caught sight of my precious, manuscripts upon the table, and remembered how miraculous it was that they were there — and not in the storeroom, with my luggage, or destroyed — I added: “Still, I suppose it could be worse. At least I can write — thanks to you and to Frau Oberin; and that is something. That is perhaps as useful as talking to the D wing ones. And anyhow, I should not complain about my own humiliation, knowing as I do all the humiliations that my Führer’s people have had to put up with since the Capitulation . . .”
Frau S. squeezed my hand and said: “In whatever ‘wing’ you be, here, you are, to us, a living sign of resurrection . . .”
Once more, as on the evening that followed my final return to Werl, I was moved beyond words, and tears filled my eyes. “It is a great comfort to me to hear you say that,” replied. I. “I wish I were indeed such a sign. That is what I have always wanted to be, since the disaster. True, in 1945, I declared emphatically that I only wished to see the whole world laid waste and mankind annihilated. I was then utterly desperate. But as early as 1946, I tried — although in vain — to come to Germany, if only to defy the persecutors of National Socialism
openly, and to die with the people I so admired. (How I remember those horrid days of ’46 in London, during the last months of the long-drawn Nuremberg trial!) And see what I wrote and distributed throughout this martyred land in ’48, as soon as I was able to come!”
Opening my cupboard, I drew from between the pages of a book a hand-written copy of the text of my leaflets, and, pointing to the beginning of the fourth paragraph, I read: “In the very depth of our present-day humiliation, we should sing our glorious songs, well-knowing that we shall rise and conquer again. We are the pure gold put to test in the furnace. Let the furnace blaze and roar! Nothing can destroy us; nothing can shatter our faith, nor lessen our loyalty. The hardships, the tortures, the hatred, the cringing lies that would crush the weak, can only strengthen us, who are strong by nature. One day, we shall rise out of this misery, more like gods than ever. The ruins both of Democracy and of Communism will be lying at our feet. The Judeo-Christian world will be dead, we alone alive.”
“May I have one of those?” said Frau S., who had read upon the paper, with me, the words which I had uttered with the burning eloquence of conviction.
“Of course. You can have this copy, if you like. ‘They’ have left me one of the two last printed copies I had, and moreover, I know the text by heart. I can write it again whenever I like.”
“But be very careful not to tell anyone that you gave me this — not Frau Oberin, nor any of the wardresses,” said Frau S. Again she squeezed my hand and departed.
I now felt happy once more — half-resigned to my exile in the B wing. I repeated to myself the words in which I had put all my heart a year before: “In the
depth of our present-day humiliation, we should sing, our glorious songs, well knowing that we shall rise and conquer again . . .”
“And now, Savitri,” thought I, “do, yourself, what you have called upon others to do: love, and resist; hope and wait; and continue to sing our conquering marches in your place of confinement among common criminals! No humiliation can kill in you the joy of defiance.”
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