Monday, September 14, 2015

The End of National Socialism by Martin Amis

The place was Bozano, in alpine Italy (and the time was the spring of 1946). My remaining Bormann relatives had met an unlikely fate: they were in a German concentration camp (it was called Bozen from 1944 to ’45). But there was no more slave labor, no more flaying and cudgelling, no more starvation, and no more murder. Full of DPs, POWs, and other internees awaiting scrutiny, it was Italian now, with un-abundant yet appetizing food, reasonable sanitation, and many cheerful nuns and priests among the helpers. Gerda lay in its field hospital; Kronzi, Helmut, Heine, Eike, Irmgard, Eva, Hartmut and Volker were in a kind of military marquee nearby. I said,

“Were the Americans beastly to you, Tante?”
“Yes. Yes, Golo, they were. Beastly. The doctor, the doctor – not me, Neffe, but the doctor – told them I had to have an operation in Munich. Every week there’s a train. And this American said, That train’s not for Nazis. It’s for their victims!

“That was cruel, dear.”

“And they think I know where he is!”

“Do they? Mm. Well if he made it out he could be anywhere. South America, I’ll bet. Paraguay. Landlocked Paraguay, that’d be the one. He’ll send word.”

“And Golo. Were they beastly to you?”

“The Americans? No, they gave me a job .  .  . Oh. You mean the Germans. No not very. They were dying to be beastly to me, Tante. But the power of the Reichsleiter held good to the end. Like your lovely parcels.”

“Perhaps it isn’t the end.”

“True, dear. But it’s the end of all his power.”

“.  .  . The Chief, Neffe. Killed as he led his troops in the defense of Berlin. And now it’s all gone. The end of National Socialism. That’s what’s so impossible to bear. The end of National Socialism! Don’t you see? That’s what my body’s reacting to.”

The next night she said with a vexed look,

“Golo, are you still rich?”

“No ,darling. That’s all disappeared. All but three percent.” Which was actually far from nothing. “They took it.”

“Ah well, you see – once the Jews get a whiff of something like .  .  .

“It wasn’t the Jews, my dearest. It was the Aryans.”

She said comfortably, “But you’ve still got your paintings and object d’art.”

“No, I’ve got one Klee and one tiny but very nice Kandinsky. I suspect all the rest found there way to Goring.”

“Oooh, that fat brute. With his three chauffeurs and his pet leopard and his bison ranch. Mascara. Changing his clothes every ten minutes. Golo! Why aren’t you more indignant?”

I shrugged lightly and said, “Me, I’m not complaining.” Of course I wasn’t complaining, about that or anything else: I didn’t have the right. “Oh, I’ve been very lucky, very privileged, as always. And even in prison I had lots of time to think, Tantchen, and there were even books.”

She worked her shoulders up the bed. “We never doubted your innocence, Neffe! We knew you were completely innocent.”

“Thank you, Tante.”

“I’m certain your conscience is completely clear.”

In fact, I did feel the need to talk about my conscience with a woman, but not with Gerda Bormann . . . The thing is, Tantchen, that in my zeal to retard the German power I inflicted further suffering on men who were already suffering, suffering beyond imagination. And dying, my love. In the period 1941-44, thirty-five thousand died at the Buna-Werke [feeding the slaves would have increased production]. I said,

“Of course I was innocent. It was the testimony of just one man.”

“One man!”

“Testimony extorted by torture.” And I reflexively added, “That’s medieval jurisprudence.”

She slumped back, and went on in a vague voice, “But medieval things.  .  . are meant to be good, aren’t they? Downing .  .  . throttled queers .  .  . in peat bogs. That kind of thing. And duels, Neffe, duels.”

This wasn’t wild talk, about duels (or about peat bogs). The Reichsfuhrer-SS did briefly reintroduce dueling as away of settling matters of honor. But the Germans had already got used to living without honor – and without justice, freedom, truth, and reason. Duelling was re-illegalized after the first Nazi bigwig (an outraged husband in this instance) was briskly shot dead (by his cuckolder).  .  . Now Tante suddenly opened her eye to their full extent and cried,

“The axe, Golo! The axe! Her head sank downwards into the pillow. A minute passed. “All that’s meant to be good. Isn’t it?”

“.  .  .  Rest, Tantchen. Rest, my sweet.”

The next night she was weaker but more voluble.

“Golo, he’s dead. I can feel it. A wife and mother can just feel it.”

“I hope you’re wrong, dear.”

“You now Vater never liked Uncle Martin. But I stuck to my guns, Neffe. Martin had such a wonderful sense of humor! He made me laugh. I wasn’t much of a laugher, even as a child. When I was very young I always thought, Why’s everyone making that silly noise? And even later on I could never see what people found so hilarious. But Papi, he made me laugh . How we laughed .  .  . Oh, talk to me Golo. While I rest. It’s the sound of your voice.”

[Bolo tells her a story of the sadistic behavior of Bormann and his friends, which would spoil the plot.  .  . but Gerda does not find it funny.]

On my last night she made an effort and rallied. She said,

“We have so much to be proud of, Golo. Think of what he achieved, Uncle Martin. I mean personally.”

There was a silence. And understandable silence. What? The intensification of corporal punishment in the slave camps. The cautious dissent on the question of cosmic ice. The deSemitisation of the alphabet. The marginalization of Albert Speer. Uncle Martin wasn’t at all interested in the accoutrements of power, only in power itself, which he used, throughout, for unswervingly trivial ends.

“How he took on the question of the Mischlinge,” she said. “And the Jews married to Germans.”

“Yes. And in the end we just let them be. The intermarried ones. Pretty much.”

“Ah, but he got the Hungarians.” She gave a soft gurgle of satisfaction. “Every last one of them.”

Well, not quite. As late as April ’44 with the war long lost, the cities razed, with millions of people half starved, homeless, and dressed in singed rags, the Reich still felt it made sense to divert troops to Budapest; and the deportations began. You see, Tante, its like that man in Linz who stabbed his wife a hundred and thirty-seven times, The second thrust was delivered to justify the first. The third to justify the second. And so it goes on, until the end of strength. Of the Jews in Hungary, two hundred thousand survived, Tantchen, while close half a million were deported and murdered in “Aktion Doll” in Kat Zet II.

“Mm”, she said, “he always insisted that that was his greatest accomplishment on the world stage. You know, his greatest contribution as a statesman.”

“Indeed, Tante.”

“.  .  . Now, Neffe What’ll you do, my love?”

“Go back to the law, in the end, I suppose. I’m not sure. Maybe keep at it as a translator. My English is getting quite decent. I’ve improved it by hook or by crook.”

”What? it’s a hideous language, so they say. And you shouldn’t really wok for the Americans, you know, Golo.”

“I know, dear, but I am. .  .”

With me this had been the case for some time: I couldn’t see beauty where I couldn’t see intelligence. But I saw Gerda with eyes of love and even on her deathbed she was beautiful. The stupid beauty of Gerda Bormann.

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