Vanishing Acts

Vanishing Acts

Edgar Rosenberg From issue: May 1982

 

My father, a prosperous lawyer in Nuernberg, returned from a month-long professional trip abroad to our home in Fuerth to be present at my Bar Mitzvah in early October 1938. His return was imprudent, to say the least; he would have been better off staying on in Brussels. But perhaps he sensed that this was to be the last Bar Mitzvah in Fuerth anybody would have a chance to attend, and though he lacked all religious scruples, I suspect that his sense of history and his slightly wistful sense of endings urged him to join us. Ours is a congregation which dates from the early 16th century and flourished almost uninterruptedly under the friendly auspices of the margraves of Anspach and bishops of Bamberg; and my father may have regarded my initiation as all the more notable for marking a terminal point.

My father was visibly moved by the ceremony; ray mother beamed and waved to me from the balcony; my brother Hans, off in the children’s section, embarked on a breath-holding contest with young Thalheimer, timing himself on a stopwatch my father had given him—three weeks ahead of time, perhaps to avoid needless risks—for his tenth birthday, while I stood below Rabbi Behrens’s pulpit, decked out in a blue school blazer and visored cap and, scared to death of bursting into hysterical titters, failed to catch one syllable of his sermon, which was said to be one of his longest and finest—a tribute to the prominence of our family.

As everyone knows, my father’s forebodings were borne out a mere five weeks later by the event which has entered our textbooks as “Crystal Night,” when our good Altschul and Neuschul were reduced to heaps of rubbish and dust; and as no other Bar Mitzvahs appeared on Rabbi Behrens’s increasingly barren agenda between early October and November 9, mine was indeed the definitive final performance. I must not forget to add that by an amusing coincidence the author to whom posterity owes the term “Crystal Night” was to be tried as a leading war criminal seven years later in the very same chambers in which my Papa had begun his auspicious career!

Instead of returning to Brussels directly after my debut, my father lingered in town, partly to wind down his legal affairs, partly to crank up all needful provisions for our emigration. But the day after Crystal Night, one Florian Leutheuser, one of those priggish, time-minded people on whom our regime seemed to thrive, a former bookkeeper at the South German Trust Company who had wrenched the directorship of the bank from my father as early as May ’33 and never forgiven my father for keeping him waiting until then, rang up the office—his first call in years. Fraeu’n Wedel, the secretary, informed him, correctly if vaguely, that my father was “out” (he was out for lunch). “Aha,” growled the embittered bookkeeper, “oh so, the swine has slipped through my fingers already,” and hung up. My father quietly told my mother to lay out some shirts for him and left for Switzerland the same night. The legality of his flight might have pleased the Party itself: he left with a passport and visa in his vest pocket. At worst, Leutheuser and his crowd might have grumbled at his failure to turn in his passport (as required by law) within twenty-four hours of his return from his last trip abroad. But he had reached St. Gall before that occurred to any of them.

As I said, my father had put his five weeks in town to good use in promoting the family interests. A brief trip to Stuttgart and a cordial reunion with the Haitian consul, Monsieur Amédée Bouchereau, with whom he had broken his bread and shared his kippers ages ago in a Surrey prep school (Conan Doyle popping over from time to time to join the boys in a cricket match), yielded four visas to the Black Island. A mildly draconian telegram to my Aunt Else’s fiance, a certain Herr Karpf, brought almost apologetic assurances from Forest Hills that Karpf would cough up four affidavits to the States; for naturally we planned to escape from Haiti the minute our immigration quota to a more plausible climate matured. An elaborately embroidered exchange of letters with two entirely unknown parties in Montreux (all parties begging each other to accept the expression of their most distinguished sentiments) secured provisional homes for my brother and me, pending our embarkation for Haiti on the Klaus Horn in mid-June. An ardent Anglophile (he carried a Browning revolver as captain in the Sixth Bavarian Field Artillery Regiment), my father would have preferred to see his sons lodged within biking distance of Guildford or Haslemere, but this somehow failed to pan out, and Montreux seemed a sensible second choice. But whether the Klaus Horn would push on to Porte-au-Prince with or without us, or whether the parties in Montreux would ever get to pay for our haircuts—that was more than even my father could promise. For though we had all the visas and affidavits a Jew could wish for, as long as we had no passports not even fifty visas would be of the slightest use to us.

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It is at this point that Prefect Kandl enters the picture. For it was entirely up to him either to unhand our passports and send us packing or, on the contrary, to keep our passports locked in his drawer and keep us nicely in town, just as he pleased. And no man knew Prefect Kandl’s pleasures. But lo: a meager three weeks after my father’s getaway, Mailman Flick brought a somewhat carelessly typed four-line letter, marked by ah overabundance of semicolons and a deficient supply of full stops, viz: that my brother and I were to present ourselves at Kandl’s office on Saturday next, the 3rd inst!

Whether my father ever met Prefect Kandl I can’t now recall; but as a high-priced attorney who had messed mostly in Emigrationsangelegenheiten since his dismissal from the South German Trust and still followed through on a few of his clients in Ostend, London, and Zurich, he could hardly have passed up one or two meetings with our local demon. Prefect Kandl had been sent up from Munich to Fuerth three years before and within a month of his installation had turned into a household word among my scared co-religionists. His hold on the non-Aryan imagination is all the more striking if you consider that his transfer must have involved a signal demotion, for Munich is a city of nearly a million souls, whereas Fuerth has never been more than a town, and hardly more than a suburb of Nuernberg at that; every Nuernberger worth his salt looks down his nose at my townsmen as little better than the stupid people of Helm. And to inspire horror when you have been publicly humiliated is not merely perverse but remarkable, and Prefect Kandl’s fantastic lure redounds to his credit. For that matter, his title may not have been prefect. He was simply head of the Fuerth passport office, but I can scarcely call him Passport Officer Kandl—which would not have been his exact title either. That he was in some way connected with the Secret Police may, however, I think, be more or less taken for granted. Unless the whole thing turned out to be a misunderstanding by the Four Powers, only his dubious police record can explain their extreme measures against him in ’46, when they had so many bigger fish to fry.

And so my little brother and I were to meet the monster head-on in his lair, just the two of us, without an attorney to come along, without any other adult: I could barely wait. The Israelitic School had been shut down since the 9th, and are children pensioners that they can live on vacations alone? I went nearly dotty with fidgetiness and boredom; my furtive lying and endlessly windy gabble, the gruesome quarrels I picked with my brother and with the cook began to alarm the whole house. Any new move had to be a move in the right direction: nothing could be more welcome than Kandl’s summonses.

These citations—four of them, of diminishing interest in the nature of things—were promptly timed to bring us out on the Sabbath, as though Kandl had made up his mind to keep us from listening in on Rabbi Behrens’s Saturday morning prattle. But as Rabbi Behrens had now been deprived of his pulpit for nearly a month, Kandl’s timetable made little sense. As a surly concession to the devout, the Party had licensed a makeshift prayer-house to be set up at the northern reaches of Adolf Hitler Strasse, but I would no more be caught in a wooden shanty, the size of Uncle Tom’s cabin, than I would be caught in a public soup kitchen. My brother, too, a chubby, sunny, bespectacled imp, whose glasses oddly enhanced his childishly droll appearance, found the prospect of shaking hands with our wizard a source of the noisiest gratification. Blithe as a lark, he raced into the kitchen an hour before our summons and from sheer excess of mirth whacked our cook Minna Melba on her behind: a smutty, potato-nosed slattern with dyed red hair, so foulmouthed that only the hopeless shortage of help kept my mother from giving her notice, and a consummate magpie into the bargain, who had no sooner installed herself than she filched my mother’s priceless Vom Winde Verweht and flung it into her quarters as if she were engaged in a private vendetta with Scarlett O’Hara or General Sherman—the book was the sensation of Fuerth; it had drawn rave notices in Max Willmy’s afternoon paper and almost outsold Mein Kampf.

“Well, Minna, old sow,” said my brother, “Edgar and I are off to pay our respects to that creep, old Kandl. Don’t ask me when we’ll be back; just tell Mami not to wait lunch for us. Give me a coughdrop, Minna, will you? Maybe Herr Kandl has a sore throat.”

And off we were. To my great vexation we didn’t run into a soul.

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Prefect Kandl, instead of exercising his right to keep us waiting an hour, gave the appearance of positively lying in ambush for us. I had no sooner reported our names to the chlorotic young brownshirt idling in the hallway and staring at his “Erika” typewriter with a certain glassy tentativeness, as if he couldn’t make up his mind whether to type a comma or colon, or whether the loan-word Visum should be replaced by a less extravagant native term, than Prefect Kandl himself came marching out of his inner sanctum and motioned us to follow him—I rather despised him for getting to us so quickly. The whole thing smacked of very poor business—painfully poor business in light of his reputation and the generally heavy traffic these days. And besides, the “scene” in his office could have lasted no longer than fifteen minutes: no sooner had he marched us into his chamber than we found ourselves out in the street again.

I had barely time to receive more than a rather misty impression of Kandl’s office; I recall its being a large sort of office, located past a row of smaller offices at the end of a long corridor, as if to announce: all roads lead to Kandl. The thing might have been a blueprint for all offices in creation, with a large square desk desperately bare of so much as a paperclip or a rubberband—bare of everything except a phone and a sepia-tinted photo featuring a squint-eyed child in a sailor suit, a child of indeterminate sex: only Kandl and God could have told you whether the child was a Paul or a Paula, a Siegmund or a Sieglinde. But I can swear to the squint and the sailor suit, for instead of facing Kandl the child had been turned around to face Kandl’s young visitors, no doubt because of the prefect’s grandfatherly pride in the child, or perhaps because he himself could no longer bear to look at the squint, or more likely yet in the hope that the squint would most thoroughly confuse and trip up his clients and diddle them into saying something good and stupid. Behind the desk, a large photo of the Leader disguised in a Tyrolean jacket, stooping to accept some forget-me-nots from a dirndl-clad pigtailed slip of a thing, a slightly embarrassed camera smile on his lips; a rolled-up flag in one corner and a potted palm in the other. And that, except for a few chairs, seemed to exhaust Prefect Kandl’s means and promoted an air of desolate vacancy. For all that, he appeared to be quite sufficiently self-assured to dispense with a uniform. He received us in mufti, in a pin-striped blue business suit.

Kandl himself, like the office, was built along tidily geometrical lines: square-shouldered, straight as a ramrod, tall as the Hotel Buegeleisen in New York, his gait so stiff that it betrayed a certain awkwardness, as though he were just recovering from the gout, if the gout were not two hundred years out of date. And though his needle-sharp head of hair might have passed for the spikes in the Iron Maiden of Nuernberg’s belly, Kandl’s phiz ill-matched his prescription physique, with its bilious red cheeks and double fold at the back of his neck. His blue saucer eyes fairly popped out of their sockets, as though restraining themselves with difficulty from springing on you the latest in ghastly weather forecasts. And though he was said to be seized by bursts of hilarity and given to fancy locutions—ill-suited to a public official—we waited in vain for a taste of his legendary buffoonery. He came on as a thoroughly humorless martinet, as humorless as Attorney Held, my father’s Aryan accountant and junior partner, described him. Attorney Held, whose opinions were none too sound and who liked to capture anyone west of Leningrad in a smart epigram, once said to my mother:

Our good Kandl, gnaedige Frau, like the philosopher Schopenhauer, goes down to the cellar after breakfast every morning to practice laughing. Where other people do knee-bends or push-ups to face the day, our elderly Mephistopheles—I beg pardon for the limping analogy, which is hardly fair to our foremost national wit—our Kandl stretches his lips and tests his laryngial organs in the dark depths of his wine cellar. You really must meet him sometime. . . .

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Considering the distressing dearth of business, Kandl seemed to be in a devilish hurry, and the minute he had us trapped in the office with the squint-eyed child and the palm he couldn’t get rid of us fast enough. Before Kandl could open his mouth to say how-de-do, my brother jumped to attention, bellowed, “Heil Hitler, Herr Kandl!” and, extending his hand, he said, “Great pleasure to meet you at last, Herr Gauleiter; I’ve heard a great deal about you from Attorney Held and my Grandmother Arnstein. I hope you had a pleasant ride up from Munich.” And he pulled up a chair and sat down.

Poor Kandl arrested himself in mid-motion as he was about to sit down, his beefy face expressing such pitiable confusion that I instantly tried to explain the fresh child away and with the ingratiating smile of a young confidence man began, “All my apologies, Herr Polizeipraesident” (I really had no idea how to address him); “I beg the Herr Praefekt to make allowances for my brother; Gauleiter Streicher, of course, is a household word in our family; my brother Hans in particular is an avid reader of Gauleiter Streicher’s Stuermer and regards every high Party official as a district leader regardless . . .” At that, my palaver contained a few nuggets of truth. Not, of course, that any Jew would dream of subscribing to our portly Gauleiter’s scandal sheet; heaven forbid! But for years now the Stuermer had been on exhibit in a display case on Blumenstrasse, a few doors down from the Israelitic School, and the caricatures of the Jews on display positively entranced my brother who gaped at them four times a day, on the way to school and on the way home.

But “That’s enough!” Kandl barked; he barked like a drill sergeant and not at all like a district leader. And cracking his finger joints once or twice, either from habit or a misguided trick to scare us, he lit, not into me but into my brother, whom he seemed much to prefer to me. He came to the point at once.

“May I ask when your esteemed Herr Father plans to return from his ‘business trip’?” He addressed my brother by the formal pronoun—“Ihr verehrter Herr Vater,” not “Dein lieber Papi,” as though he had misfiled the ability to distinguish children from adults somewhere along the line.

Naturally my brother was flattered out of his wits to be asked ahead of me and to be addressed as Sie. For the first time in his young life, somebody actually spoke to him as a grown-up! The self-respect with which the prefect imbued him increased my brother’s respect for the prefect; inwardly sticking out his tongue at me for being passed over, his eyes dancing with Schadenfreude, he told Kandl:

Tomorrow morning, on the eight o’clock.

This so caught poor Kandl off guard that he glared at my brother as if his baby-blue eyes were determined to fly out of their sockets once and for all. I was about to come to his rescue again when Kandl silenced me with a gesture so furious that he might have been cracking Streicher’s own whip of raw elephant hide, the famous whip with the silver handle, a birthday present to Streicher from A* H* himself. Kandl’s hair seemed to grow another five centimeters, and an alarming blue vein hammered away at his forehead. But this, too, passed. I thought that at least he could wrench the muddled typist away from his toy and scream for a railway schedule to check out his facts. It must have been at this point that I became aware of a marked characteristic of Kandl’s along with his humorlessness: the man’s fundamental apathy—and this despite the spectacle of furious amazement to which he had just treated us. The point is that his fury spent itself within seconds. It came and went like a breath, a bubble. It struck me that whatever his springs and motives, his crotchets and capriccios might be, whatever my brother or I revealed to him, the facts in the case were destined to remain immaterial, the consequences—inconsequential, checked by a bottomless, fathomless lethargy. To look up facts, figures, and timetables seemed to be absolutely none of his business. Perhaps he had mislaid the urge to check out his facts down in Munich; I really have no idea. Instead, he merely asked:

“May I ask how you came by this information?” Really, he talked to my brother as if the child were any old middle-aged customer in brown Donegal tweeds.

“With the Herr Kandl’s permission, the Widow Melba told me.”

“And who in the devil’s name is the Widow Melba?” asked Kandl.

My brother appeared to enjoy himself as tremendously as I had been primed to enjoy myself; I was green with envy. “Oh Lord,” he said, “that’s a long story. When Gusti Maul,” he “explained,” “quit cooking for us in November without a day’s notice because Herr Maul wouldn’t stand for it anymore, and then my mother hired the Virgin Amalie Fix from the convent, oh pooh, she had a hunchback worse than a camel’s, at least in profile, and then the Virgin Amalie quit on account of bleeding and you guessed it! Annie Kalbskopf called up my mother and said, Lilly, that’s my mother, Lilly, Lilli Bendit knows of an excellent cook, except that she can’t say much else for her, so my mother hired the Widow Melba on the spot, her first name is Minna. I think you’d enjoy her, Herr Kandl; that Minna is a real filthpot and Mistfink, those are her very words, they make my hair stand on end, oh Lord what a greasy female . . .”

“I see,” said Kandl. “Your cook informed you that your father plans to return—tomorrow—on the eight o’clock.”

“Right,” said my brother. He folded his arms and looked at me in mute triumph, as much as to say, “Now we’re getting somewhere. Brother, you just leave it to me.”

“And how,” asked Kandl, “is it that the cook Minna Melba deserves to be in your father’s confidence?”

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At this it struck me that Kandl perhaps wasn’t quite so dumb as he seemed. Obviously the prefect (and only his laziness spoke against this) was fishing for nothing less than a charge of racial pollution to pin on my father and Minna, and breaking my forced vow of silence, I blurted out: “The woman is sixty-two!”

Kandl turned his head toward me in a maneuver which engaged his entire body, for his head seemed as though glued or screwed on to the rest of him so very tightly that his bulging neck had lost its freedom to move.

“Are you insinuating,” he asked, “that the dinosaur age of sixy-two unfits a person for reading or writing?” He actually said “insinuating” and “unfits.”

“Oh no, Herr Polizeirat,” I replied bashfully, batting my eyelashes at him, “by no means.” Evidently Kandl himself had passed the dinosaur age, and it wouldn’t do to offend him. And with my head full of the racial pollution idea, I added, “Frau Melba and my father live 600 kilometers apart—as the Herr Polizeichef knows, of course.” With that for a headstart, I went on glibly and unctuously: “Naturally I can’t claim that Frau Melba is analphabetic or illiterate; in fact, she reads certain odd books, but I can assure the Herr Polizeifuehrer that she and my father are certainly not on writing terms. It isn’t a custom in our family to correspond with our domestics, apart from a postcard I once sent from our vacation in Muggendorf to our governess, Julie Frank, who left our household as a result of the race laws promulgated at the Party Congress of Freedom anno ’35 . . .”

Kandl, cutting me off with another wave of the hand, muttered “analphabetic, no less; illiterate, no less; promulgated, no less”—he repeated himself like a Jew. To my horror the idiot added, “Anno Shmanno, Anno Shtanno; kindly keep your Yiddish gibberish to yourself.”

“It’s Hebrew for ‘ye may recline tonight,’” my brother informed him. “It’s from the Passover meal, where the Angel of Death smites the firstborn, hee hee.” He added truculently: “We don’t speak Yiddish in our family.”

Kandl, perhaps to spare himself the effort of giving his figure another heave by turning it back to my brother, asked me: “Are you in contact with the Herr Doktor? Unless, that is, your entire family busies itself in the kitchen, like the bookish Frau Melba.”

You might have thought that his irony was his one saving trait. It wasn’t; it didn’t detract one ounce from his mirthlessness. But at least his question suggested that he had no interest in pursuing the racial-pollution theory and dropped it as immaterial as soon as my brother had raised it. My brother pouted at having the conversation so unceremoniously snitched from him; then he sat back in his chair, his arms crossed over his tummy, satisfied that Kandl had taken notice enough of him and in mere fraternal fairness should now have a go at me. He even gave me a little encouraging nod and in a stage whisper said, “Mach’s gut, Edgar. He won’t eat you.” I needed all the encouragement I could get, for Kandl’s question really pulled the rug out from under me. I obviously had to curb my unbridled tongue for once, for I had to sort out in my mind just how much Kandl could be expected to know and how much he could not be expected to know—and I had no idea how much he did know. I rolled my eyes at the ceiling for a few seconds, to give myself time to weigh the alternatives and to give Kandl something to look at. Naturally, I avoided the squint-eyed booby trap like the ten plagues.

“Yes, Herr Polizeirat,” I said, “as far as I know, we are in contact. Of course, I can speak only for myself, though I assure you that a person of Frau Melba’s . . . um . . . credentials would never dream of sending my father a picture postcard of the Bismarck Tower or Wittelsbach Bench or the Hippo Hippo at our Kermis, despite my father’s excellent horsemanship in the Sixth Bavarian under the command of our own Prince Rupprecht during our last armed conflict. Yes, I myself did write him recently to congratulate him well in advance on his upcoming forty-ninth birthday which by the oddest coincidence falls on Epiphany. I often wonder why my grandfather failed to call him Caspar or Melchior by his middle name; his first, of course, was given him in honor of the Iron Chancellor whom, I am happy to say, my father met as a six-year-old at Bad Kissingen some years after our Hero’s retirement. My father even presented his namesake with a bouquet of violets and in answer to the Hero’s gracious question, ‘What is your name, handsome child?’ my father replied, ‘Otto, like you.’ My brother Hans added a brief nota bene to my letter” (here my brother sat up and nodded vehemently) “but that hardly amounted to more than ‘Best Wishes’—that sort of thing. I myself presented him with an India-ink drawing of the Nuernberg skyline, chiefly occupied by our fortress, with two dots to indicate the hoof-prints left by the Robber Baron Eppelein von Gailingen’s steed during Eppelein’s timely escape; it may be of interest to the Herr Polizeihaupt that according to one of our history texts a medieval non-Aryan, a certain Jew Jeklein, gave aid and comfort to the famed fugitive. Moreover, I sent my father a profile of Albert Duerer, the Pride of Nuernberg; drawing has long been a hobby of mine and before the November . . . the November securities a drawing master used to come down from Nuernberg to administer private lessons to me; the name of Herr Magnus Simmel may not be unfamiliar to the Herr Polizeikommandant.”

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And now I ask you: what thirteen-year-old has ever been known to utter such perfectly nauseating and unnatural nonsense? The incoherent drivel I talked, the lubricity with which I brought all this forth, the debased precociousness of my nonstop jabber—will it really do to chalk this up to my innate gabbiness, my notorious penchant for mimicking grown-ups, and to the threadbare rebuke that “Edgar is never lost for words”? Yes and no. The point is that under Kandl’s lazily bulging eyes I may well have been lost for words—as never before or since. All I know is that I do not to this day remember talking the sort of sickly rubbish of which I now vented myself. But for the time being Kandl betrayed no desire whatever to release me from my drowsy rambles and tittups but gave me all the time to wallow in my diffuse sleep-talk. Whether he paid any attention to all this blather is more than I know. Not the least of this hideous man’s unfathomed shallows lay in his own sleepy mesmerism, when after all you would expect the essence of hypnotism to lie in the hypnotist’s power to subpoena, so to speak, every last vestige of concentration in him.

“In my letter,” I went on, “I brought my father up to date strictly on family news. It goes without saying that I mentioned a recent visit I paid to my oldest surviving relative, Geheimrat honoris causa h. c. Justus Schnebel, an ancient morsel confined to a room in the Israelitic Hospital on Theater-strasse, the author of an unfinished Philippikon contra Judaeos; the eloquent ancient, alas, is now reduced to munching on grapes and disgusting hospital baby food and can barely speak words of more than one syllable, such as ‘nu,’ ‘oi,’ and ‘pshaw.’ I further informed my father that my cousin Elsbeth Bernheim had recently been delivered of identical twins in Palestine, of whom only the older survived the frightful Zionist heat. Frau Bernheim, née Steinacher, emigrated to Palestine with her husband two years ago; Herr Siegbert Bernheim, a native of Passau, supports the young family on the proceeds of a chicken farm near the Transjordanian bridgehead—not, with the Herr Polizeileiter’s permission, on one of these revolutionary labor-union kibbutzes but a peaceful civilian sandy lot across the street from an icecream parlor. Perhaps the Herr Polizeiinspektor will appreciate my delight that the Bernheim nuptials took place in the pretty village of Buchau-am-Federsee: yes indeed. As my father reminded me, Buchau-am-Federsee has been a landmark of history ever since our national poet von Schiller mentioned it in his play Wallenstein’s Camp, in which the cavalry sergeant asks the first rifleman, ‘You can’t be from about our way,’ and the rifleman shrewdly silences him with the rhyme, 7 am from Buchau-am-Federsee’ . . .”

And that is as far as I got. Perhaps the phrase “silences him” brought Kandl out of his trance. “Your father reminded you?” he pulled me up short. To repeat: from his vacant expression I hadn’t been able to tell whether he had taken in one word I said. All I know is that I had been sheerly unable to stop talking. “So you do receive mail from your father?”

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I faltered for a brief second, and then I went on smoothly enough: “I beg the Herr Praefekt’s pardon for the mix-up. I meant that my father reminded me of the line about Buchau at the time of my cousin’s nuptials in ’36, and as Wallenstein has long been my favorite history play, I underlined the verse about Buchau which the Herr Praefekt so thoughtfully mentioned.”

“But do you receive mail from your refugee father?”

“He definitely has not answered my birthday letter . . .” I stammered—I withheld the obvious fact (as none of the prefect’s business) that my father could not have answered the anyhow premature letter yet. But Kandl was getting uncomfortably warm, and I didn’t care for the offensive reference to the refugee.

“In short,” Kandl terminated the visit, “the Herr Doktor is not returning—tomorrow morning—on the eight o’clock.” The conclusion seemed oddly to take a weight off his shoulders. No doubt it propitiated his bottomless laziness by saving him the trouble of pursuing this labyrinthine affair to its depths for the moment. Since he rasped out his curtain line in the indicative mood, it clearly shut off an answer. But now as the devil would have it, I had rehearsed all along one pat line to suit all occasions, and though the occasion failed to materialize, I had so primed myself for it that I could not help springing the line on him:

“My mother has asked me to refer Herr Kandl to our family lawyer, Justizrat Dr. Karl Mohrenwitz.” This Mohrenwitz was a creature of roughly my father’s age, a perfect joker, obese and comically ugly in his stained Lederhosen, which he wore in season and out of season, even on business. He had cheated the Race Bureau out of its due by marrying, some months before the Party Congress of Freedom, a jolly Aryan fifteen years younger than he, a née Pfifferling, whom he had unearthed in some spot near Floss or Waldsassen, in the leafy Upper Palatinate, and whom he fondly addressed as “Pfefferlein Kleopatra.” He would burst in on her after office hours, yelling, “Pfefferlein Kleopatra / Dein herrlicher Gemahl ist da!” or even, in moments of cruder affection, “Pfefferlein Klosettpapier / Dein himmlisch-schoener Karl ist hier!” or yet, “Kleopatra, mein Raabenherz / Komm’ her zum Dr. Negerscherz!’,” which was really too much. Like Kandl’s, his business seemed none too rosy, nor did he give the impression of taking it very seriously. On the streetcar, two weeks ago, old Frau Miesle, the laundress, weighed down with grocery bags, asked Karlchen to open the door for her at the Jakobinen Street stop, and in answer to old Miesle’s dripping “Why Thank You Very Very Much, Herr Justizrat Mohrenwitz,” Karlchen said: “My pleasure, Frau Gemueserat; it’s the only commission I’ve had since the Anschluss.” And though his so much as talking to the old Miesle in public might very easily have led to a note of denunciation to the Stuermer, Karlchen escaped with his skin intact, perhaps because of his foresight in mating himself to his Pfefferlein, or because nobody caught him in his forbidden traffic, or nobody wanted to catch him, for his pranks endeared him to Jew and Gentile alike.

Not to Kandl! A fatal mistake to mention Mohrenwitz as our referee, but how in the world was I to know! At my dropping his name, Kandl’s blue vein appeared on his forehead, like an omen in the sky, and he said with dreadful distinctness: “The Jew Mohrenwitz may count his days!” Then, as though to cheer himself up, he repeated, “The Jew Rosenberg decidedly is not coming out of his hiding tomorrow,” merely adding, “You’ll hear from me again.” And without getting out of his chair, as if the interrogation had sapped his last ounce of strength and he wanted to go home now, to his asparagus soup or his bitter herbs and the squint-eyed child, he lifted his gouty arm and waved us away.

I looked at my watch: 11:20. The preliminary investigation had lasted not even half an hour.

“Very nice man!” my brother said, banging the street door shut with his foot. “I hope he keeps his promise. Yes, I think we’re getting to be very good at this game. I think I did myself proud, didn’t I, Edgar? And you did yourself proud, Edgar; I’m proud of you, brother. I forgot all about Elsbeth’s baby; it was very clever of you to mention that. I’m glad I remembered to mention the Hebrew. What makes him think that we’re Polacks? Very nice man.” . . .

But two days later that dirty snitch of a Minna gave notice and quit our house the same night. When pressed for an explanation, she sniffed that “she had it up to here” and darkly hinted that “people will talk.” She stuffed her unwashed linen and our General Sherman into her suitcase; and then she was gone, gone with the wind, gone into service in Nuernberg, and within six years she was dead as a doornail, splintered into a million fragments by enemy aircraft. . . .

_____________

True to his word, Kandl invited us in for another chat, on a sunny Saturday a few days after my father’s birthday. The decoration-typist appeared to be permanently arrested between two keys; nobody else was in sight.

Kandl-time went by even more quickly than it had gone by in December, if only because Kandl gave us no chance to treat him to thrilling family anecdotes. Though he kept his evil eye to himself and so kept my tongue in my mouth, he passed through the same stage from double-quick snip-snap hyperactivity to gloomy exhaustion. As if determined to get the wretched business over and done with, he adopted outrageously frustrating tactics: instead of inviting rational answers to rational questions, he preferred to answer the questions himself. When was our absentee Herr Papa returning? Not, he trusted, tomorrow morning. Did our Frau Melba have any news from him? No, he hadn’t thought so. Were we ourselves in correspondence with the refugee party? And, come to think of it, had the reclusive refugee Rosenberg been courteous enough to acknowledge my likeness of the Nuernberg skyline and the joyful tidings from the Bethlehem chicken farm? At this last question, which really did call for an answer, he lifted himself a centimeter out of his chair and looked me hard in the eye, but before I could open my mouth, he saved me the trouble of more lies and nights of romance by one of his see-saw gestures. And for a second I thought that he actually winked at me; he snapped shut one of his bogus baby eyes, barely raising the icicle brow above the unblinking eye; but perhaps he closed it from mere fatigue and a listless desire to go home for lunch now. . . .

The two of us saw him twice more, in mid-February and mid-March. Why should I bother to describe these visits, which followed the same scenario and lacked all point? What did he want from us? By the time I had learned to codify certain abstruse technicalities, I came to assume that Kandl practiced on us what is conversationally known as “psychological warfare”—that the games he played were so many skirmishes in a futile battle of wits which this ghastly numbskull had devised in a moment of infernal tedium. But the point is that this was a game without any goal, without a scoreboard, without rules. What has Kandl to gain by detaining us? What has he to gain by my father’s return? My father’s repatriation might have pleased the retentive Leutheuser; it might have pained a few greasy functionaries, on whom my father still had the goods for dimly attempting to blackmail him in ways of which the Party did not wholly approve—and nothing more.

My father’s flight, as I try to piece this obscure affair together, had, practically speaking, no bearing whatever on Kandl’s pastime. Well yes: had he left his hideout, he would have been nabbed at the border, transferred from his compartment into a cage, and never been heard of again. But his arrest in no way even began to insure our being bailed out. More likely, Kandl would have rubbed his fat hands at catching the biggest haul of the season. I must needs insist on this, for whenever I regurgitate this part of my life, my captive auditors, who are exasperatingly ignorant of the machinery in our commonwealth (especially those who claim to have read up on the subject), who hopelessly misconceive the wheels and pinions and hidden demon-traps which kept our merry government spinning, put down my father’s conduct as feckless and worse—and thus parrot the imbecile argument Kandl was to develop. But by now I have given up trying to talk to the deaf and dumb. . . .

My father’s escape was the smartest gamble he took in his life. Only the Jews of Nuernberg and Fuerth who had been less skillful than he grasped his position with any clarity. As they came straggling back, humiliated, morose, tight-lipped, from their secret winter maneuvers high on the icy plateau down south, with its matchless view on the Alps from the Watzmann to the Zugspitze, and dropped in on us, they spoke of my father in mildly awed whispers, breaking out now and then into an almost maliciously gleeful grin, as if by his move my father had somehow redeemed our fallen race.

_____________

And then, the first week in April, we were to see the last of Kandl—or more accurately, he was to see the last of us; and the meeting was quite spectacular. For one thing, he changed the very ground rules of our unruly game, which called for three players and no more than three, by including my mother in his summons. Though I felt that Kandl was cheating—as if he had all along cast us for a particular play in rehearsal and switched the program on us just before the grand opening—I could hardly regret the inflated casting, for any novelty promised a little excitement. The old script I knew by heart, and since I had been assigned the role of a mute, there were no new lines to memorize, or even improvise.

On the assumption that Kandl was bound to corner her by asking her in all seriousness the one question he had kittenishly asked the children four times now, my mother at long last made up for her truancies by seeking legal counsel and comfort. On the eve of our summons she rang up both Held and Mohrenwitz, with the hoary remark that “two heads are better than one.” But they weren’t. Mohrenwitz for one kept shillyshallying and drifting from one opinion into another. He sounded dismally out of practice, out of his professional element. First he advised my mother to “play dumb.” “You know nothing,” he grumbled into his beer and bitters, obviously ill-humored for once, even a trifle panicked, as if he thought his errand to be an insufferable imposition. “Pretend that it’s none of your business,” he groused; “just tell the old idiot that you’re not in any position to speak for your husband.”

“But Karl,” said my mother, “how can I pretend that it’s none of my business? Suppose Kandl keeps pressing me; how can I say, ‘I really don’t know . . .’ ”

“Well then, play it by ear,” said Mohrenwitz, which was of no help to my mother at all. “Tell that golem that Otto hasn’t made up his mind. Or that as far as you know he hasn’t made up his mind; it hasn’t been mentioned. Have you got a pencil there without having to run miles to get one? Then take it down: Quote: ‘As far as I know, my husband hasn’t made up his mind. The subject hasn’t been mentioned.’ Have you got that? ‘As far as I know,’ etc., etc.—Oh bother, on second thought” (he actually said “on second thought”), “just refer him to me. Tell him to give me one of his deafening calls. During office hours, if you don’t mind, not a godforsaken hour like this.” (It was scarcely five). “As long as I’m up to my neck in this Schweinerei already, I may as well have a few words with our Public Friend Number One. . . .”

“Karl is really terribly careless,” my mother said, rather harassed. “The way he talks about Kandl over the phone. He calls him ‘idiot’ and ‘Public Fiend’ . . .” She shook her head in a gesture of helplessness.

“God!” I burst out, “and he a lawyer! I can’t understand why Papi had to hire that freak when he had his pick of Hans Teutsch and Walter Berlin and Julius Levor and Dormitzer and Semmi Bomeisl . . .”

“He must have hired Karl out of friendship,” my mother said. “Besides,” she snapped, “you seem to forget that lawyers are no longer hanging from chandeliers. The Bomeisls are about to emigrate . . .”

“Where to?” I asked. It had long been customary among Jews to keep score of who was to emigrate where: that game had been played since at least ’33.

“Yugoslavia, I think,” my mother said absent-mindedly. “Either São Paulo or Yugoslavia, but I think Yugoslavia. She has a rich aunt in Zagreb. And the Krautheimers for some stupid reason have visums to Capetown, or Melbourne. . . . Well,” she pulled herself together, “I’d better give Georg Held a call. As a non-Jew, he’s more likely to be up to their tricks. Besides, I like Georg.” . . .

_____________

“Absolutely not,” said Partner Held when my mother had briefed him on Karlchen’s “advice,” omitting all the incriminating tags. “Keineswegs. That’s the completely wrong tack to take.” Perhaps to avoid falling into the same trap as Karlchen over the phone—for his own vocabulary was twice as spicy—he volunteered to come by the house.

“Absolutely not,” the junior partner repeated, hanging up his broad-brimmed flap hat and a raincoat which had seen better days. He kissed my mother’s hand and companionably shook mine and my brother’s—he enjoyed that rare talent, which I have often observed in bachelors, of treating children as grown-ups, though unlike Kandl he could be trusted to tell the generations apart. The junior partner had a few months earlier been tried on charges of flirting with the Red Front and been barely acquitted. He remains to date the only person I know who, during the war, was to see his own death warrant with his own eyes—or his one good eye, for the other had for years been so mutilated, bloodshot, and full of pus that I could hardly bear to look at it, and then again hardly bear not to look at it—and for months he was to hide out in the woods, somewhere near Anspach, living on turnips and field mice. . . .

“Absolutely not,” he said for the third (or fourth) time. “With all respect to Justizrat Mohrenwitz, he may have read his legal vade mecum from back to front, like your prayer book, gnaedige Frau, but his knowledge of human nature, if I may be frank, or his knowledge of Kandl nature, is not, shall we say, flawless, impeccable, unimpeachable,” and he roundly advised my mother to make a clean breast of the whole tedious mess and tell Kandl in so many words that my father’s return was not in the cards. “A sweeping confession, gnae’ Frau, theatrical as the phrase may sound; no half-measures, please. The fact is that Kandl likes nothing better than sweeping confessions; it’s one of his own pet phrases; sweeping confessions are nectar and ambrosia to him. At worst, nothing will come of it, but Kandl will love you for it. Take my word: I know my Kandls and Dr. Mohrenwitz doesn’t know a Kandl from the Negus of Abyssinia or King Zog.

“You haven’t met our good Kandl, I think; allow me to treat you to a one-minute briefing. First he’ll go through the insane routine of asking your name, as if he didn’t know it, and ask you to produce your identification, as if he knew you but didn’t trust you, and then without any ‘gnaedige Dame’ or ‘esteemed Frau Doktor’ or any such extra-official drivel, he’ll spring the question on you, ‘When’s he returning?’ The question admits of one answer only. You needn’t, of course, be rude about it; don’t, for example—I beg pardon for trespassing on the obvious—insult his harebrained amour propre by shouting ‘Never!’ in his face; then again, it won’t do to tax his pea-brained attention span by going on and on like the Berlin-Baghdad Express; you can leave that to Kandl. A modest candor; a becoming—I shan’t say servility or back-licking helotism; a simple ‘I fear my husband is not returning,’ something along those lines. I should even be inclined to omit the apologetic ‘I fear’ as shamefully Byzantine, but with out some such flourish the information would sound immodestly Spartan.

“The rest you can leave to Kandl. Once he has bagged his sweeping confession you will find him: I can’t swear that ‘entertaining’ is quite the proper description—but yes, regarded from a certain viewpoint, enormously entertaining. The man is apt to talk for an hour. Pure drivel; completely unanswerable Quatsch—I mean, literally unanswerable since he answers his own questions; not that you can call them questions, either. I’ve listened to him for two hours and enjoyed myself as much as I’ve enjoyed the Lilac Monologue. Or the first act of The Valkyrie. I believe that Frau Kandl—yes, there is a Frau Kandl, who bore our prefect a child with an ocular birth defect late in life—Frau Kandl is a rapt devotee of our official noisemaker; to judge from certain peculiarities of our prefect’s locutions, he and Frau K. appear to converse exclusively in alliterative rhyme, ‘Whilom our wild wall-eyed wee Wolfram wingeth . . .; for all I know, they warble the Liebestod to each other at breakfast. . . . One more thing, gnaedige: try to keep a straight face while he talks. It may be difficult, but do your best. If you so much as raise an eyebrow, you’ll ruin the whole production. The fact is,” he concluded, “that Kandl is one of your disappointed men. He must have been demoted at birth. Enough, gnaedige; assez. Dixi.

“Oh, one more small matter. At the risk of professional indiscretion, I must ask you to put Colleague Mohrenwitz on ice—at least in anything remotely to do with Kandl. The unhappy fact is that for whatever reason—probably no reason at all—Kandl can’t stomach Justizrat M. I suspect that he finds Dr. M’s niaiseries offensive—no doubt because they’re too much like his own. And while I happen to think of it,” he interrupted himself, as if the thought had really struck him that moment, “I trust Herr Edgar won’t take it amiss in an unworldly hermit like Yours Truly if I put it to him that he might serve the family interests best by leaving the conversation tomorrow entirely to his Frau Mama and Kandl.”

He lightly placed his hands on my shoulders; I blushed to the tips of my ears. “Herr Edgar, I believe, has been blessed with an eloquence even beyond the eloquence which runs in his family; the winged words of our German sages have been known to give wing to his tongue; but in these wretched times, in this stifling air of mattress-graves in which we’ve been asked to make our beds, it’s hardly worthwhile to squander our elocutionary gifts on the deaf and dumb. ‘This country of dumplings and sauerkraut / Puts all its Ciceros to rout’—that sounds like Heine, but I just made it up myself. I trust that Herr Edgar will forgive a hopelessly obsolete bachelor his clumsy curtain lecture.—Herr Hans, of course,” he laughed, “can say anything he likes.”

“Herr Kandl and I get on famously,” said my brother.

“I don’t doubt it,” said Partner Held. “But now I really must run.” He shook hands again, wished us all the best, hoped to be kept au courant, knew that he would be kept au courant, and he donned his flap hat and the raincoat with the missing buttons and bounded down the stairs, taking three steps at a time, catching the Number 11 just as it was leaving the Bahnhofplatz; and by and by he vanished into the Anspach woods.

_____________

It had begun to snow on the crack of dawn. The Bahnhofplatz and Bahnhofstrasse were covered with six-inch blankets of blinding white powder which came up to our shins; we trudged through the snow, our heads buried deep in our overcoats, holding on to each other like a Siberian chain-gang with a few prisoners missing. Not a soul was astir in the streets. On the corner of Adolf Hitler Strasse, a limbless snowman stood guard, with a pipe in his mouth and a snow-covered Hitler Youth cap perked rakishly on his bald head. Farther up the street, a little oak in front of the Bierer villa, the “Hitler Eiche,” seemed ready to give up its ghost. It had been planted, after a great deal of newspaper hoopla, with a crew of UFA camera men milling around, four years ago, and in all these years it remained the sorriest sapling you ever saw. Its arrested development was a standing joke among local Jews and a few irreverent non-Jews as well: Herr Kleixner, the greengrocer, almost went to the pen for calling it “Hitler Leiche”—Hitler’s cadaver. But Kandl must have been out of town that day, or still down in Munich.

“If we have to come here in weather like this again,” said my brother, taking off his galoshes in Kandl’s vestibule, “I hope Herr Kandl will send round a sled to get us”; and as nobody stirred, we sat down, nicely and primly, on a long wooden bench. Not even the flimsy typist was anywhere on display, as if he had prematurely retired or his mechanism had broken down once and for all. Or perhaps he was home with the flu. “My toesies are freezing,” my brother whined—and Kandl emerged from his office and with a frozen nod bade us enter.

With the same cold gesture he bade us sit, my mother directly facing the desk, my brother and I flanking her. As if to keep up with the weather, Kandl had visibly wintered; his white brows and porcupine hair appeared to be more than ever of a wholly frosty composition, held together by hoarfrost and covered by hoarfrost, and his painfully jerky movements suggested that he himself was in process of congealing and had dropped twenty centigrades below zero, at least. But his desk seemed a trifle more animated, for besides the phone and the child with the birth defect a fat Leibnitz ringbinder, its spine lettered “R,” loomed in front of the prefect. Kandl leafed through it with infernal truculence, as if each separate onion-skin leaf offered the stiffest resistance to being turned. I mentally followed each leaf as he broke down its resistance and forced it across the metal bridge: Rahn . . . Regensburger . . . Reichmann . . . Reiss . . . Rindskopf . . . Rosenbaum . . . Rosenberg—and the metal bridge snapped back with such a deafening snap that you might have wondered how anything less than wire had ever held the Rahns and the Rindskopfs and Rosenbergs together.

Kandl, instead of announcing his catch in some such words as, “Ah, here we are,” or “Eureka!” or “Look here, look here, Timotheusl” and without so much as lifting his eyes, asked my mother:

“Your name.” He dispensed with the question mark, as if he thought question marks a highly irregular concession to the Jews and a severe infraction of his prefectorial duties.

“Lilly Rosenberg,” said my mother.

My brother nudged and prompted her: “Lilly Sara Rosenberg.” The fact is that back in August—six weeks before my Bar Mitzvah—the Party had hit on a boldly imaginative regulation, very much to my taste, viz: all male Jews had been invested with the added middle name “Israel” and all Jewish femmes with the name “Sara.” I myself now bragged of as many names as one of the Kaiser’s sons, Edgar Otto Israel Rosenberg; my brother bestrode Schlageter Square as Hans Ludwig Israel Rosenberg; and even my Grandmother Arnstein, at her age and despite her illegible handwriting, had to sign in as Fanny Pauline Sara Arnstein. Oddly enough, this honorific embellishment had been withheld from my father. The Party apparently felt that his middle name “Nathan” spoke for itself—but that was pure carelessness, for the art dealer Nathan had no more Jewish blood in his veins than Minister Rosenberg, the mild-eyed editor of the Racial Observer—in a pinch, even less than Minister Rosenberg, who was rumored to be an octoroon, with a very uncertain great-grandmother up there in the Baltic.

“Your Kennkarte,” Kandl said.

My mother took her identification card out of her handbag and rose slightly to hand it to Kandl across the desk. As Kandl made no move to meet her halfway, she had to lean practically over the desk to pass it to him. My brother patted her on her shoulder. A large capital “J” was stamped on all our ID’s—very crookedly, I must say, as if the stamping official didn’t know his business.

Kandl may have looked at the card; then again he may not have looked at it; he certainly didn’t bother to look back at my mother to verify her identity. Then, in the surprise tactic of the year, he sent the card sailing across the desk with an amazingly dexterous flick of his thumb and forefinger; it landed smack in my mother’s lap; and then the game was up.

Kandl unbent his head, raised it not inchwise but in one abrupt movement, looked at my mother, and, timing his question with gorgeous precision (for my mother was still fumbling with her ID, unbuttoning her handbag, slipping the card inside, and buttoning the bag again), unmistakably working up to the question mark, asked her:

When is your husband returning?

Silence. My mother (the card safely replaced in her bag) lowered her eyes, lowered her head a little, just enough to reveal her bared neck which seemed white as snow above her black woolen jacket; for a second she gazed at some crack in the floor as if she meant to discover its innermost secrets; she ran the tip of her tongue over her lower lip once or twice; then she straightened up and blushing a trifle, as if someone had tossed her the punchline to an obscene joke, said:

My husband is not returning.

Amen. Five words—and Kandl had bagged his sweeping confession. She had spoken her piece almost feelinglessly, with a touch of modesty and defiance. No preparatory “I believe”; no shamelessly Byzantine “I fear” to soften the immodestly Spartan phrase. “Mein Mann kommt nicht zurueck.” The sentence seemed almost to hurl a challenge at him: and now what are you going to do about that? and now what will you do with the three of us? . . . And no sooner had she broken the news than it seemed as though an enormous sigh—a sigh of relief, a sigh of sadness—escaped from the cardboard binder, which appeared to collapse in the same moment, as if all the air had gone out of it, as if the sigh alone had sustained it, given it weight and substance, endowed it with hope and meaning; the sigh wrapped itself round us; and while in the haze I dimly discerned my brother’s arm encircling my mother, I saw Kandl rise to his feet and loom over me like a gigantic shadow. . . .

_____________

Kandl’s turn. Kandl’s turn to deliver a snappy comment, something good and official like “so the cat is out of the bag” or “do you have this in writing?” or at least a wintry “I see” or “Aha.” And in fact he did say “Aha” and “I see” in so many words, but then again not in so many words at all—or if in those words by standing them upside down. He rose from his chair, said “I see” and “Oh so,” and as he rose, the mantle of ice which had kept him in place began to crackle and crack; his frozen fingers began to unbend; his brows shed their icicles; his subnormal temperature rose to a low-degree fever; he cocked his head; and then he began to holler—though he hollered without a trace of mirth, he hollered nevertheless and gave out such volleys of noise that you could have heard him from here to Zagreb or Sao Paulo. What could have happened? It was as if my mother’s innocent comment had transformed the leading robot in Rossum’s exhibit into a six-foot Rumpelstiltskin, a mute aluminum monster into an earsplitting earthling.

“I see,” hollered Kandl. “Aha. Ah so. The Herr Doktor is not coming back. Interesting. Fabulous. Wonder on wonders. The Doktor disdains to desert his delicious domus, the neighborly nest in which he has nestled these full five moons. Five, did I say? Five to the day! The refugee Rosenberg will not renounce the roseate roof he has reared on the balmy borders of the billowing Bodensee. The derelict Doktor, now that he has safely slipped through our sleepless sentinels, elects to eke out his exile in cahoots with the Schandarmerie of St. Gall. Did I mention St. Gall? Gallstones and kidney-stones: St. Gall, of course. Did you hear me mention Zurich or Zermatt or Zug? The devil you did! Genf, Gstaad, or Grindelwald? Romanshorn, Rorschach, or Rapperswil? Fife and fiddlesticks. This very minute the runagate Rosenberg is speeding down Speisergasse, gadding and gallivanting down Gallusstrasse, shuffling and shambling down Schmiedgasse; no doubt about it! How do I know? Ah, but I do. Do you take me for an idiot who doesn’t know beans about his hideaway? St. Gall seems to be singularly fortunate in attracting the refuse and rubbish, the ragtag and riffraff, the dregs and detritus and Dreck of Fuerth in Bayern. To each his own; live and let live. There! The Herr Doktor is not coming back.”

Kandl had uttered all this without apparently taking a breath, as if he were able to hold his breath as long as the Leader knew how to keep his arm raised in the salute. Despite his ironically balanced questions and answers, he belched it all out in the most colorless staccato monotone, without the least vocal contours or modulations, which suggested that he himself placed no more importance on one sentence than on another. And so far, of course, he had said nothing, except to take us on a tour of St. Gall—which was nowhere near the billowing Bodensee. We sat, still as mice, hanging on every nonsense syllable. As he talked, even my mother seemed to have quite forgotten the grounds of our errand. The bell of the Evangelical Church in the park chimed half past eleven; it chimed the half hour feebly and diffidently, with the deference of one whose mission in life it is not to interrupt Kandl.

While he hollered at us, he stood behind his desk, supporting himself on his crimson paws or geometrical elbows; even when he momentarily left the desk to pace back and forth, the movements utterly failed to break his spell, our eyes following him stupidly from one end of the room to the other, as if we were watching a ping-pong game in which Kandl played on both sides of the table. And after treating himself and us to his declaration of tolerance, to live and let live, the Split Personality came to a halt. His train of thought came to a stop; it might as reasonably have stopped at the station before or the station after.

As though he were about to produce a rabbit, or hard-boiled egg, Kandl hauled an enormous red-bordered handkerchief from his breast pocket, depicting a pond, a rock, and a mermaid, Kandl subjecting the whole bucolic ensemble to one of his vanishing acts by first soaking it beyond recognition in the double fold of his neck, then twisting one end of the thing into a tight coil which he stuck up first one nostril, then the other. “Pfui,” my brother muttered; my mother averted her eyes. Thus flushed, Kandl blew his nose with a will and proceeded. “Ah then, where was I?” he said, admitting that he had suffered a lapse. “But of course. The Jew Rosenberg has forsaken his fatherland, forsworn his motherland; don’t contradict me, he has! Our roving renegade, the whilom president of the Jewish Front Soldiers’ League, has thrown in the sponge; instead of facing the firing squad like the fighter he feigns, he has fled from the field in fell and foul wise, like a pimply Frenchman or Yiddish Eskimo. How do I know? Ah. I have the Frau Doktor’s word for it; Frau Sara has made a clean breast of it; Frau Sara has made a sweeping confession. And now and now and now I have a little confession to make”—and here Kandl lowered his voice and as though roused, animated, inspirited by the subject which had eluded him all along, he assumed an air of confidentiality, of bonhomie even; and the very last icicle which still clung to him dropped to the floor and slipped through the crack.

_____________

“And now,” Kandl continued slyly, circling the desk, stopping directly in front of my mother and thrusting his face into hers, “and now I have news for Frau Rosenberg. Frau Sara has unwrapped, uncovered, dismantled her secret, and now I have news for her; all’s fair in our Reich. Does the Frau Sara happen to smell a rat? A little rat, a tiny rat, a pint-sized rat; if I were the Rat-catcher of Hamelin, I’d give it the Pour le Mérite for being the tiniest rat in the Reich. Shall I tell the Frau Doktor my little secret? I shall, I will, I must. One sweeping confession deserves another: all’s fair in Fuerth. The fact is that you brought me no news at all. None. I knew all along that your husband is not coming back. I knew it; I’ve known it for months; I’ve known it since he slipped through the hedgerows of Lindau-am-Bodensee. Not precisely a clean swap, our sweeping confessions; certainly not. Mine may be the surprise of the season to you, but yours are old hat. And now, Frau Sara, what do you say to that? Eh? Eh?”

“I didn’t know,” said my mother, biting her lips and pulling her head a few inches away from the oracle’s fumes.

“Didn’t know what!” said Kandl severely, to conceal his confusion. For he himself had conjugated the verb to know in so many hundreds of ways that he found himself lost in his own epistemological maze.

“I didn’t know,” my mother said, “that you knew of my husband’s . . .”

“Ah but I did,” said Kandl.

“Did you?” my mother said, not without mockery—but that was quite lost on him. She might have wondered why he had summoned her sons four times to find out what he knew all along—except, of course, for the fun of it.

“Allerdings,” Kandl said; and then it was time—almost, not quite—for Wotan’s farewell. “Sub-Prefect Seebald sounded the certain surmise that he trusted the flightling to retrace his steps, to return and ransom the mournful mother and tristful deem. Unwisely he wasted his words on the foxy flightling, his weary vixen and little foxes. Twice I reminded Seebald in forceful wise that the woman’s woe and the lousy young lordlings’ lot were my affair, not his . . .” and here the oracle quite lost his thread and with touching bewilderment gazed at my mother, my brother, and me. The springs and cogwheels which had kept him from going haywire had run down for a moment—just long enough to enable my mother to dive into the depths of the prefect’s soul. Her cheeks took on the rosiest hue; her eyes shimmered; she seemed to be filled with a fine expectancy. . . . But first she had to allow Kandl to wind down his warblings, for the engine within repaired itself straightaway and, his spirits recovered, he began the downward descent. “I knew it. I Knew it For a Fact.” And his prescience brought on a fit of self-congratulatory bimbam in the fat-witted monster, and he landed with a roar and a bump.

_____________

Were we supposed to go now? Almost; not quite. “Is there anything else Frau Sara would like to know? Any other sweeping confessions she would care to trade?”

“Yes,” said my mother, “I would.”

“Oh,” said Kandl, and looked at her like a cow.

“When may we expect to get our passports?” my mother asked.

Had she gone totally bonkers? Had Kandl’s debased Odin music bewitched her completely? Is this the way to confront the authorities? Nobody in his right mind says, “When can we have our passports? Can we have our passports now?”

Kandl, now that my mother had seized the magic wand from him, remained in his moo-cow trance for a minute, and then he tossed back his head to roar; it goes without saying that he roared without yielding an inch to the goddess of mirth. “No, by thunder, you certainly can’t! What an idea! The Jew Rosenberg refuses to face the firing squad; therefore you want your passports. There’s Jewish logic for you, if you pardon the phrase. And why do you want your passports? To join him, of course. Do you think I was born yesterday, or last Tuesday? Oh, this is really the limit. And while I think of it, kindly keep that berserk attorney of yours off my back. Dr. Mohrenwitz is the bane of my life. This very morning that baboon rings me up merely to tell me that you had an appointment with me! As if I didn’t have an appointment book! What next! I suppose he’ll send me a registered letter. Does that shrimp expect me to open his mail!” The mere thought of opening Karlchen’s mail seemed to put him to sleep. “Was there anyhing else?” he asked, closing his eyes and stifling a yawn.

“Can the children at least have their passports?” my mother asked. And Kandl woke up for the last time.

“The children!” he hollered, as though my mother had finally teased him into discriminating between adults and children. “The children! What about them? Hoo—shoo—let’s take a look at them. Ach, there they are. What about them? Of course they can have their passports! Is that what you mean? Who the devil said anything about the children! The children can leave today, tomorrow, next week, this afternoon, right after lunch,” he bellowed at my amazing mother, as if it had all been her fault for not thinking of the children before. “I have nothing to say to these gnats. You there, Herr Edgar. Ugh. A scrawny child. Are you nervous? Are you anemic? Do I make you nervous? Oh do stop that titter! You there, Young Blimp! Look at him! Straighten up, straighten up, chest out, chin in. How do you expect to get into the Palestine navy with that butterfat, you fat fingerling, and take that finger out of you mouth . . .”

“Checkmate to you, Sir!” my brother said, his hand shooting up in the salute.

“Oh shoo,” said the prefect. “Get away from me! See me in two weeks about the passports for these . . . ach: look at them. Or tell that Held of yours to drop by. Not that he’s any better than Mohrenwitz, but at least he doesn’t try to bamboozle me with his Yiddish jabber. Which reminds me that this thing here, this Edgar talks entirely too much. Was that child inoculated with a gramophone needle? And besides he talks the most womanish kitsch—this person talks like something out of a Hebrew ladies magazine or a Yiddish scandal sheet. Palestine pea hens! Palestine twins! Do you think you’re pulling the wool over my eyes? If you plan to bamboozle the Hottentots in Tahiti or Neu-York or Shekago with your Wallerstein doggerel and Anno Shtannos, do you know what will happen to you? You’ll end up on a dunghill or in an insane asylum. Young Blubber here can chase us in one of his submarines . . . Tsch! Do take that greasy finger out of your mouth . . . Yes Yes Yes . . . Heil . . . Heil . . . See me . . . next week . . .” His voice began to trail off; his speech grew insensibly fainter, like diminishing heartbeats; he feebly made as if to wave us out of his office, to shoo us out with his crumpled handkerchief.

But before we could open the door, he had one more treat in store for us, one more trick up his sleeve—the culmination, I fancy, of all his exertions on our behalf. He collapsed in his seat of office and fell asleep. I confess that I may have been indirectly to blame for putting him out. While Kandl fumbled with his embroidered landscape, I had stolen a lingering farewell glance at Young Squint Eyes, now that I had wrestled with him and triumphed—little suspecting that his squint would follow me across the Atlantic. My mother, apparently quite insensitive to the photo during the whole of our visit, must have followed my glance and seemed to be oddly delighted by what she saw. “Oh what a pretty girl, Herr Kandl!” my mother burst out and, no doubt under the impression that the child had been dislocated during one of Kandl’s fits of abstraction, she added “May I?” and turned the child round to face its sire.

“Boy,” Kandl muttered savagely, took a split-second look at the youth in the sailor suit, fell back in his chair and instantly fell asleep. He slept with his mouth wide open, as if he were out to catch flies in his sleep. His body heaved softly; even in sleep his forehead exuded fine beads of sweat; from the depth of his stomach surfaced the gentlest of rumbles; very gently our prefect snored; he snored no more audibly than an insect buzzes.

“Shhh . . .” whispered my mother, placing a finger to her lips. “Kandl sleeps.” And we literally tiptoed out of his chambers.

And so ended our last visit to Prefect Kandl. He was never seen or heard of again.

_____________

Strictly speaking, Kandl was in fact heard of again. He is spoken of still; refugees now in their eighties recall him even more keenly than I do, for they were after all grown-up people in his heyday as the Devil of Fuerth. A hollow devil, but a devil still, for whom people in Flushing and Teaneck and Washington Heights save up their choicest vocabulary to this day. And a mortal devil, whose own days were numbered. Some eight years after he took me to task for my scandalous gossip, the Four Powers apparently sentenced him to death by hanging—or that, at any rate, is what my refugee sources tell me. I have not been able to verify the story, myself, and the whole thing may be no more than wishful thinking by my nostalgic townsmen. If the story is true, our demon at least qualified as a “war criminal”—not one of the Caesars, of course, not one of the Keitels and Kaltenbrunners, Sauckels, Seyss-Inquarts, and Streichers, Fricks, Franks, Fritsches, and Funks—but one of their ten thousand myrmidons, one of the unsung brainless officials. By the time he faced the rope (provided he faced it) he must have reached the biblical age—old enough to face his comeuppance like a man; and unless his body was sent back to Munich or Fuerth, his dust mingles with the dust of Hans Sachs and Sixtus Beckmesser, of Hans Behaim and Regiomontanus, of Willibald Pirkheimer, Michael Wolgemut, and Veit Stoss, and with the dust of Duerer, the Pride of Nuernberg, the subject of my elegant profanations in the becalmed days before my brother and I left Fuerth.

That isn’t the whole story—almost, not quite. It really doesn’t matter how Kandl gave up the ghost—and he certainly gave it up ages ago, whether by rope, enemy aircraft strafing, suicide, or the more natural surfeit; the point is that his specter haunts a wider domain than the refugee colonies from Teaneck to Capetown. Some of my friends must needs see Kandl in every non-Jew, and these chums no doubt will object to the coarse orchestration of names, the crude contrapuntal music I sounded a moment ago. And no doubt they’re quite right, and I’m quite wrong. The other day, leafing through Arnd Mueller’s Geschichte der Juden in Nuernberg, I read that nearly five hundred years ago, about the time of the Jews’ expulsion, their property went on the market and was bartered away for a total of 8000 gulden, that Pirkheimer, the flower of learning, presided at the sordid transaction, and Veit Stoss, second only to Duerer among our artists, was named one of the beneficiaries and got himself Johel Mair’s house cheap; and for the next 351 years not a single Jew was to be seen in the city of Duerer, Hans Sachs, and the Party Congress of Freedom. Some of us moved to Fuerth for a while.

About the Author

 

Edgar Rosenberg is professor of English and Comparative Literature at Cornell and the author of a study of Jewish stereotypes in literature, From Shylock to Svengali. He has written widely on Dickens and modern novelists, and his fiction, translations, and essays have appeared in Esquire, Epoch, Judaism, and journals abroad. The episode published here forms a condensed chapter from a fictionalized family memoir spanning the period from 1936 to 1941.

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