Markenburg: November 1929
He alone, who owns the youth, gains the future.
Albert went back to Munich. It had been nice in some ways having him around, but the way his personality had changed was depressing for all the family. On a couple of days during his stay, Albert had gone into town and when Gunther suggested he might go with him, Albert said he wished to go alone. Gunther found this hurtful and disappointing. When they were younger they had gone everywhere together. Yet seeing him stride down the hill wearing that uniform, Gunther was happy to stay behind. His brother’s brief trip home had not gone well.
The day before Albert’s departure was Viktor’s birthday and because the family were all together Elena had organised the delivery of a special cake. A good birthday cake had become something of an exorbitant luxury, so the argument it caused rather spoiled the occasion. It was nothing to do with the cost. Gunther had been despatched down into town to pick the cake up from the Kremmen conditorei. Frau Kremmen, a very pleasant woman, had made the cake herself and it was magnificent. She placed it carefully in a strong cardboard box and even presented him with a handful of small candles. Yet when Gunther got home, after taking the cake into the kitchen, the trouble began. Albert came in and looked at it.
“Who made this?” His mother looked proud.
“Frau Kremmen at the conditorei in town,” she said, “but when your father gets in, don’t tell him. He’ll realise I didn’t make it, but it’s a surprise.”
Albert began to pace up and down, clenching and unclenching his fists. Gunther could tell something was bothering him.
“What’s eating you?” he asked.
Albert pointed at the cake.
“That is. “
“Well,” offered Elena, “I know I didn’t have cakes especially made for you two, but I’ve got both my boys together, and father’s 50 today and he’s worked hard, so I’m sorry if you’re jealous, Albert. But he is your father, after all.”
“I’m not jealous,” said Albert, still staring at the cake as if it had personally insulted him, “but why didn’t you get the cake from the Schultz bakery? We always dealt with Herr Schultz.”
Elena was busying herself laying the table and Gunther could tell she was on the verge of losing her patience. Albert’s expression was decidedly sour and it was shocking that he could be this way on his father’s special day. Elena slammed a plate down and, with her hands on her hips, faced up to Albert.
“Now look, Albert, I don’t know what kind of shopping you do in Munich but I do mine the best way I can in Markenburg. To begin with, Herr Schultz makes good bread and pastries but his cakes are boring and sometimes stodgy. Frau Kremmen’s family are famous for their cakes. Her father was a master patissiere in Vienna. So I’ll shop where I’ve always shopped, and let’s have no more of this nonsense. For heaven’s sake, son, cheer up!” Yet Albert still looked glum.
“Well, I don’t want any of that cake.”
Elena looked extremely angry and walking up to Albert, prodded him in the chest as she spoke.
“Oh, don’t you indeed! Why – because the Kremmens are Jews?”
Albert stood back a few paces. There was a brief flash of how he used to look as a schoolboy when mother chastised him. It was that crestfallen look of someone who knew they were out of order. But the arrogance returned.
“That’s right, mother. You’re getting the picture. The Jews are our enemies and when we come to power –“ But his mother exploded, cutting him short.
“Good Lord in heaven! ‘When you come to power’? When who comes to power? You and those brawling bully boys? What kind of nasty life have you and your snotty little Austrian ‘führer’ got planned for us if a decent family, Jewish or not, can’t bake a cake?”
Albert pulled a chair from the table and sat down. He was about to speak, but once again his mother intervened.
“What happened to you? Of all the families who’ve struggled up here on this hill you and Gunther have had the best of everything, and that includes education. Didn’t Professor Steiglitz and Father Heinzel always say that all our blood is the same colour? If you think your National Socialist party is a new way of thinking, then I might be what your lot might call simple housewife, but the way I see it is that you’ve stopped thinking altogether. Do you think the Burgomeister’s wife stopped to think whether Rabbi Thielemann was a Jew when he saved her husband’s life? Didn’t you play football with Liev Rosenbaum at school? Wasn’t it Herschel Blum who made your first suit and your father’s overcoat?” Albert stared ahead, silent.
“You’re going back to Munich tomorrow,” Elena continued, “so between now and then I want no more of this vile talk in my house. You will celebrate your father’s birthday, and you will eat some of this cake or I will force it down your throat. And when your Uncle Karl arrives, if he starts up with his Nazi this and Hitler that, then I’ll throw him out. Do you understand me, Albert!?” Albert was gazing at the floor. She stood before him and violently gripped his chin between her thumb and forefinger. He stared up at her, shocked.
“I sad do you understand!?”
It was good that this angry exchange had taken place. The afternoon was in the end a light-hearted affair, and Gunther noticed with some relief that when Uncle Karl arrived, mother had intercepted him on the veranda and although no-one could hear what she said, Gunther knew that she had made it clear that this was not a day for politics, statistics and history. Gunther watched as Albert did indeed eat some of the delicious Kremmen cake. To see his angry expression whilst eating such a tasty delicacy almost made him laugh. How could eating cake be some kind of treason?
When Albert and Gunther retired that night, after listening to Uncle Karl’s carefully selected and very funny stories about bureaucracy and hilarious events on the railways, they lay in their beds in the dark opposite each other. Gunther could see the bright stars through the window. Now that the summer was gone, it felt much colder. Gunther’s thoughts went back to happier days. As boys they would watch as the moon shone through the spreading leaves of frost on the windows, and talk long into the night about adventures they might have one day. It all seemed so long ago, and in this silence, Gunther knew Albert was awake.
“How will you make a living with no job back in Munich?” he asked. Albert sighed and lay on his back, looking at the ceiling.
“It’s not about me ‘making a living’,” he replied. “It’s about making a country where we can all make a living. I didn’t want to upset mother like that, but neither she nor father understand. My leader, Herr Himmler, is building a new organisation. We support one another. There may only be a few hundred of us at the moment, but we’re a growing brotherhood. If only mother realised, with all her belief in the Catholic church, that the SS is going to be run on the same lines as the Jesuits.”
“So, do you still believe in God and Jesus?”
“Sometimes. But Germany needs more than a belief in God to be great again. I know you find me changed, Gunther, and deep down it pains me to upset the family, but we have to be strong, and we have a saying in the SS. Sympathy is weakness.” Gunther found this statement disturbing.
“That seems to go against everything we’ve been taught.”
“Everything we’ve been taught? By who?”
“Well, old Steiglitz for one.”
“Oh, he was just a man of his time. He came from that airy-fairy academic elite. If you were going to live your life by everything he said, then you’d never allow yourself any new thoughts or ideas.”
“But didn’t Professor Steiglitz once tell us that a man can be noble only when he has pity for all living beings?”
Albert made a grunting laugh.
“Hah! That was his limp eastern philosophy. Where are all these ‘noble men’? Are they in England, America? France? What pity have they shown us when we needed a wheelbarrow full of currency to buy a loaf of bread? And why should we pity the Jews?”
“What is it with you and the Jews?” asked Gunther, despairingly.
“They are behind all our troubles,” replied Albert. “However, they have provided us in the National Socialist party with some inspiration.”
“It’s simple. In their secret Hebrew conspiracy to take over the whole world, they’ve shown no sympathy to anyone other than themselves. Look at the Bolsheviks. They were a small party who took over a massive country. And how did they do it? With discipline, and a total lack of mercy for anyone who stood in their way. Think about Lenin and Trotsky, and especially Zinoviev. They had no time for romantic love, the ties of family and domesticity. They spent all their time plotting, organising. And it paid off. And most of the Bolshevik leaders were Jews. Yet the communists, with all their organised discipline, couldn’t get a foothold here in Germany because we’re the descendants of a far stronger, more independent race. We’re the sons of the Teutonic knights, pure Aryans. We’ve absorbed the Jew’s organisational skills and we’re using them with more effect than Lenin could have ever dreamed of.”
The discussion went on into the early hours and with each new viewpoint expressed by Albert, Gunther felt the gulf between them widen ever more. It was around 4 a.m. when Albert yawned and said
“Anyway, brother, what are your plans? Are you going to stay here for the rest of your life and make wine, or what?”
“I want to get away. Maybe I’ll join the navy.”
It remained quiet for a while. Somewhere outside an owl hooted. Gunther thought Albert had drifted off to sleep and was about to nod off when he said
“Yes. The navy. That would be a good idea. You’ll get to see the world. And you ought to do it soon. It would be better than serving in the army.”
Gunther was a little confused by this, as he had no intention of being a soldier.
“Well, the navy’s weak enough, but the army’s nothing these days,” he said, “it’s just a shadow of what it used to be. I wouldn’t want to be part of that.” Albert yawned again and Gunther could hear him turning over in his bed.
“You mark my words, Gunther, that situation will be remedied. If I was you I’d join the navy because when we come to power – and we will – I’ll lay any bets that the Führer will bring conscription back. I’ve even heard Himmler discussing the possibility. Versailles means nothing to our party. We’ll spit on the treaty and tear it up, and neither the Yanks, the French or the British will stop us. Germany is waking up. So, if you don’t want to end up square-bashing in an infantry unit, get yourself to sea.”
As a concession to his mother, when Albert left once more for Munich, he wore his civilian clothes. What had transpired over these few days had been too much for the family and it had certainly given Gunther plenty to think about.
His father gave Albert a hug and when mother embraced him she had tears in her eyes. She said something odd to him.
“My son, we love you. You must try to love us for who we are, not what you think we should be. Take care, and just for me, try not to hate so much.” Albert kissed her yet remained expressionless as he climbed onto the cart. On the way down to the station, the brothers hardly spoke at all. Gunther was dreading the possibility that somewhere along the route they might encounter Ruth, but thankfully that didn’t happen.
To Gunther’s surprise, once Albert had boarded the train and was hanging out of the window, he suddenly seemed cheerful. He leaned down and pulled Gunther towards him by his lapels.
“That Ruth – look, I know she’s Jewish. But she’s … well … yes, she is lovely. But I can’t allow myself those feelings. They’re still there, but I’ve had to bury them. Just remember something, Gunther.”
“Remember something? What?”
“If you do try and get something going together, you’d be stupid. It could be dangerous. You’ll have to protect her and watch your own back. So be careful.”
The guard blew his whistle and the engine coughed into life. As Gunther trotted along the platform trying to keep up, Albert smiled broadly down at him.
“I’m still your brother, Gunther. Remember – we’ve got a brilliant future. Don’t forget that!”
Gunther watched the train disappear then stood for a moment on the silent platform with the image of his optimistic brother still in his head. A cold wind began to blow. A ‘brilliant future’? He hoped he was right, but he was beginning to have his doubts.