On the Top – Guest post by Mark Budman
Some words of introduction by Mark Budman:
I will not try to explain the story to you because I don’t want to spoil the joy of your forming your own opinion. I believe that Andrei Tarkovsky was right when he wrote: “A book read by a thousand different people is a thousand different books.”
Perhaps I wanted to say that normal people’s behavior could turn completely upside-down under unusual circumstances, but nevertheless, people only think they are in control. Only God is.
Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare.
Abraham Katz, the Gauleiter of England, took off his SS cap and replaced it with a kippah. He was tired to the bone, to use an English cliché. It had been a long day in the chain of long days. He pressed a button, and his adjunct, Lieutenant Von Beloff, appeared with a bottle of sacramental wine and two goblets on a silver tray.
“Good shabbas, general.”
“Thank you, Lieutenant,” the Gauleiter said. “Bring the prisoner in now.”
The Gauleiter adjusted his red armband with a swastika, turned off the lights, and walked to the window. He had spent three years here, and still kept wondering at the alien beauty of that richly lit city below, so unlike somber and ascetic Berlin. It’s hard to remember that Berlin was as decadent in the early thirties.
He went to a synagogue this evening, which he hadn’t done often. Time, time was always at a premium.
The pious Jews of London had mixed emotions about praying next to the highest-ranking German official of their conquered land, even if he was the highest-ranking Jew in the Nazi Army. But the Gauleiter didn’t care if they despised him. He didn’t have much sympathy neither for the arrogant British Jews, nor for the Britons at large.
There was a knock at the door.
“Come in,” the Gauleiter said, turning on the lights. A short, black-haired man with a prominent nose sauntered in, escorted by Von Beloff.
“You may leave, Lieutenant,” the Gauleiter said.
“Don’t ask me to repeat my orders.”
“Setzen Sie sich, bitte,” the Gauleiter said as the Lieutenant closed the door.
The little man sat. His hair visible outside the kippah was in complete disarray.
The Gauleiter opened the bottle, poured some wine in both goblets and said the blessing. The prisoner drank some, and then put his goblet back on the tray.
“I’m, sorry, I don’t have a kosher challah,” the Gauleiter switched to flawless English, dropping himself into a chair next to the prisoner.
“That’s not the only thing you should be sorry about, General,” the man said in German in unexpectedly deep voice, looking down at his shoes. His German was good. His pants were frayed at the bottom and were wrinkled beyond decency.
“Be specific,” the Gauleiter said, switching to German as well.
“You’re an occupant, an oppressor. Your SS killed twenty million Slavs, hundreds of thousands of Communists, and thousands upon thousands of Gypsies.”
“Not the German Gypsies, let me tell you, not the German Gypsies.”
The Gauleiter got up and began to pace around the room, forcing the prisoner to follow him with his eyes.
“And not the German Slavs. If we, Germans, wouldn’t occupy you, you would occupy us. It’s that simple. Anyway, we here not to discuss me. I have reports that you’re trying to smuggle weapons to Palestine, to establish a so-called Jewish State. Normally I would let my junior officers handle a case like that but The Jewish community of London interceded on your behalf. That alone wouldn’t affect me a bit. But I’m curious. Why would you want a separate Jewish state, especially in that forgotten desert place?”
The man kept looking down and said nothing. The Gauleiter came behind the prisoner, and stared at the back of his pencil-thin neck. The skin was so thin there, almost like a child’s. The man sat perfectly still.
The Gauleiter put his hand on the pistol’s handle. He was in great shape for fifty-nine, a lady’s man in a well-fitted uniform and tall, mirror-polished boots. He was a good shot, better than most of his staff.
Back in the twenties, he, a decorated veteran of the Great War, and the rest of the German Jews watched suspiciously the rise of the Nazi party. But in 1931 Adolf Hitler was assassinated by a Communist, and Kurt Shoffinger, who became the Fuhrer, dropped anti-Semitism from the Nazi’s platform. “All Germans Unite but the Comminists,” was his slogan. The Jews began to pour to the Party ranks by the thousands. By the time Shoffinger had become the Reich Chancellor in 1933, many Jewish leaders had endorsed him.
The Gauleiter returned to his chair in front of the prisoner.
“I’m still waiting for an answer, patiently,” he said. His voice was colder than the ice of the North Sea.
“I read your book,” the prisoner said. “Imagine No Homyel and no Mogilev? You argued that if your German Reich didn’t build an atomic bomb in 1944, and you didn’t drop your Kleiner Junge and Fette Junge on those two Byelorussian cities, World War II would still be dragging on. Victorious Nazis would not occupy London and Moscow, and the United States would not withdraw its forces from Europe. And you wrote that if the Nazis were not to expose the Communists, they would never ascend to power in Germany. The communists caused Germany’s defeat in the First World War and the 1920s hyperinflation and Great Depression. They deserved the Kristallnacht— breaking windows in every Communist party office.”
“I want your answer.”
“What do you want me to say? The Jewish nation deserves our own country like everybody else,” the man said, still looking down.
“The Jews are not a nation. They are Germans, or Britons, or Russians. They have a common religion, yes. Does that mean that all the Catholics should have a country of their own? Or the Protestants?”
“You’re missing the point,” the man finally raised his eyes and met the Gauleiter’s gaze. “We had been persecuted for millennia. All over the world: Europe, Asia, Africa you name it. We must have a place of refuge, a safe heaven of our own.”
“We are persecuted no more. I’m living proof of that.”
“Chance, pure chance! In your own party there are a lot of powerful Jew-haters, just waiting for a chance to find a scapegoat. And what would have happened if that anti-Semite Mosely had taken over England?”
“That’s one of the reasons we, Germans, are here. To prevent the Mosleys from taking over. To bring law and order to decadent democracies.”
“Still, we can’t count on good Gentiles forever! What if your own Fuhrer would turn against Jews?”
“Never. Not our Fuhrer. Don’t you know the history? We Jews, helped our country to win the war. Einstein, Max Born, Oppenheimer, everybody.”
“What if your Reich would be overthrown?” the little man said. His lips trembled.
“Our Reich is destined to last a thousand years. Beyond that I don’t dare to guess, and frankly, don’t care. A thousand years is enough for me.”
“How about pride? How long should we be the wanderers, counting on somebody else for protection?”
“I’m a proud man. Why would I exchange what I have for a life in a Palestinian desert? And why, as a German statesman, would I allow the people like you to infuriate the Arabs?”
“Because you’re Jewish.”
“First of all, I’m German. I’m afraid you can’t understand that.” The Gauleiter stood up.
“Well, I could see that this discussion is pointless. You and people like you are worthless dreamers at best and at worst enemies of the German Reich. Actually, you’re your own worst enemy as well. I guessed that before I met you, now I know it.”
He pressed the button.
“Take him away,” he said when the Lieutenant appeared.
The little man turned at the door and said, “The higher you climb, General, the more painful is the fall.”
The Gauleiter took another sip of wine when the door closed.
“A State of Jews,” he said to himself. “A contradiction in terms. Same as a State of Generals. Or a State of Short Order Cooks.”
He laughed. Life was good to him in the Third Reich. For another thousand years no one should ask for more.
He had no way of knowing that Kurt Shoffinger had just been assassinated by Polish partisans, and that a man named Heinrich Himmler, the close friend and admirer of late Adolf Hitler, was about to become the Fuhrer of the German nation.