“In Dachau we were forced to look at the so-called gassing installations. They really put on a great show for us there…They showed us normal shower installations that were supposed gassing installations. They showed us two ovens used for 6,000 people who were supposedly gassed. But there were enough people in prison who knew Dachau intimately. Who told us that this was all a big show intended to generate a conspiracy of hatred towards Germany. In Dachau people worked. In Dachau no one was gassed. The two ovens were there to burn those who had died naturally. There were several thousands in the camps and it did happen sometimes. The whole business was laughable to us and proved to us it was just a show going on.
“In any case, it was never intended to kill the Jews. This was a development which came when the war was at its peak–which cannot be justified and God help us, it made many enemies for us after the war. The result? Hardly anyone nowadays thinks of the positive accomplishments brought to Germany and Europe by Hitler.” –Anonymous Munich citizen, 1974
“I would say that if we were not all guilty of crimes, then we were at least accomplices.” –Ostheer Soldier Roland Kiemig, 1991
“We cannot and should not be allowed to win this war.” –Oberstleutnant Helmuth Groscurth in letter to wife after execution of 90 orphaned Jewish children, 1941
In the pre-dawn darkness I struggle out of bed with a groan. When you’ve lived eighty-two years as I have, you learn not to get up too swiftly since one misplaced step could mean a shattered hip.
Once steady on my feet, however, I move with the purpose of a man who’s held command in the past. I pause at the doorway to my bedroom and glance back through shadows at the sheets that lie in tussled balls. The bed is empty. Marina’s been gone for one month yet I still expect to see her form there. She should be lying on her side, the mound of her hips gently rising and falling with her breathing as if bobbing in a current.
In my robe and slippers, I feel my way down the stairway to the second floor. As delicate as I try to be, one of the steps creaks under me. I pause and grit my teeth as if a grimace will somehow muffle the sound. Dora, my fifty-year-old daughter and only child, stirs in the guest bedroom. She’s temporarily abandoned her family in Dover to stay with me since her mother was buried. She knows I’m lonely.
She calls to me: “Papa? Are you okay?”
“Fine, daughter,” I assure her from the bottom of the stairwell. “Go back to sleep.”
“I’m already up. If you wait a moment I’ll come down and brew you some tea.” Although Dora’s mother and I grew up in Germany, and thus never lost the tell-tale “zis” and “zat”, Dora’s a product of London and as such developed a curious continental brogue that can’t be placed with any one country.
“That would be kind,” I say. “If it’s no bother.”
“Of course it’s no bother,” she calls from her closet. I hear her fumbling through a rack of clothes, scraping the hangers over the metal pole, searching for her robe.
In the shadows I creep away from the banister to a pair of French doors. A surly November wind howls outside my walls and whips through the streets of Westminster. This flat leaks like an old vessel and drafts push through the hall.
I nudge open the doors and shuffle into the conservatory, gently closing them behind me. Two leather couches sandwich a mahogany table which in turn pins a Persian rug to the oak floorboards. Bookshelves line the far wall. On the other wall hang photographs from my life. Frozen snippets from my past. Sometimes I have to turn away from them before the memories build…and when I do I come to face a richly stained grand piano that waits for me in the recess of my bay window. The Steinway’s been my constant companion this past month.
I see from my window that it promises to be a crisp, clear autumn day. And as I take in the first hint of pink ribbon peeking over the eastern London sky, I sit down to play. Closing my eyes, I strain to hear in my mind the Beethoven sonata before my fingertips touch ivory. Then I lay them gently on the keys preparing to step into the musical world that has sustained me throughout my life. And I whisper to myself, as I have done every morning for the past sixty years, these words:
“I am not a murderer.”
[Ed. Note: “Hummel’s Cross: is available for purchase at Amazon.com.]