It cannot be

The package fell to the floor with an ominous thud. Miriam walked into the hall wrapping her dressing gown close against the cold. She turned the thermostat dial until she heard a click, picked up the package and walked through to the kitchen.
Miriam poured a mug of coffee, sat down at the kitchen table and turned the parcel in her hands examining the label. Untying the hemp string she folded back the brown paper to reveal a cigar box. Opening the lid she spread the contents on the table top: a letter, some old brittle documents, one looked like a birth certificate, and a faded photograph. There was a masculine aroma of tobacco. Apart from the letter, handwritten in English, everything appeared to be in German.

My dear Miriam

You were far too young to remember me. I have enclosed a photograph of your father. He looks quite glamorous in his uniform, do you not think? The birth certificate is yours. Of course, you had a different name then.
I will contact you by telephone. We must talk.

Kindest regards

Esther

Laying the letter on the table Miriam smoothed the paper with her cold finger tips, as if by doing so some deeper meaning could be deciphered. Outside a neighbour was cutting his lawn. On the wall next to her a radiator ticked, hot water coursing through the pipes, but Miriam felt chilled. She reached out and picked up the photograph. A handsome man smiled at her from some distant time. His peak hat, worn at a jaunty angle, was decorated with the insignia of the Waffen SS. Underneath the stylised eagle, claws gripping a swastika she could make out a skull and crossbones bright on the dark hatband. She turned the photograph over and stared at words written in faint pencil: Rudolph Höss, Commandant of Auschwitz, 8 May 1944 – 18 January 1945.
She thought of the numbers tattooed on the papery skin of her grandfather’s left arm, remembered her grandson’s Bar Mitzvah the previous month. This is not possible. Could not be possible.
The buzz of her neighbour’s lawn mower stopped. In the silence the telephone in the hall began to ring.

The boy soldier

image

The challenge posed at our creative writing class: write a piece from the point of view of a minor character in a story or film. The character I decided on was a German soldier from the novel The Collaborator by Margaret Leroy. The story is set in Guernsey during the German occupation. It is told in first person by the central character, Vivienne de la Mare.

I read this book a few years ago and despite the woeful cover graphics I thought the story powerful and the writing excellent. The narrative contains wonderful imagery of the island scenery juxtaposed with the intensity of the occupation; the tension and emotional turmoil. It is one of the only books that have felt compelled, when only three quarters of the way through, to read the epilogue. I just had to find out the fate of the main characters!

While pondering on how to write my piece I was watching a TV quiz show. One of the questions posed was what an Epistolary was. I had no idea. The answer: a story written in the form of letters. An example is Dracula. This inspired me to write my piece in the form of a letter from the soldier to Vivienne de la Mare. I have tried to write the letter in character, using phrasing that I imagine someone would use writing in a second language.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
Hans Schmidt
Habichtstrabe 139
BarmbekNord
Hamburg
Germany

 

6 May 1956

 
Dear Frau de la Mare

I am Hans Schmidt, the soldier who was under the command of Hauptmann Lehmann in Guernsey during the occupation. You may recall we once conversed in your garden; talked of the flowers, the weather, my cat at home in Hamburg; normal things in the midst of war. Then, at that time I was a young boy soldier of little experience of life.

Recently, I met, by chance, Hauptmann Richter, who is now a doktor at a hospital, local to me in Hamburg. He remembered me. He told me of his visit in 1946 to meet you in Guernsey to bring you the news that your friend Gunther Lehmann had died on the Eastern Front. He told me that it was you who had been sheltering the escaped prisoner Kirill in your house.

He said also that he explained to you that it was I, not Gunther, that betrayed Kirill to the OT after seeing the forced labourer in your garden. Knowing now that he had been, in his homeland Belorussia, a craftsman, a maker of violins, and that he was shot because of my actions fills me with sorrow.

Understand, please. As a fourteen year old boy I was, like many, a member of the Hitler Youth. At a rally in Hamburg I met the Führer. He stopped in front of me to remark on something, some neatness of my uniform perhaps. He looked at me and his eyes were mesmeric. From that moment I would have followed him anywhere. As we all foolishly did. We sowed a wind and harvested a terrible whirlwind. Only my cat was alive to greet me on my return, Frau de la Mare. The cat, only. Now, please believe me, I am a more enlightened man. And so, this letter has been most difficult to compose.

I write to seek your forgiveness. You were a friend to this man Kirill. A good friend when he had none.

My kind regards

Hans Schmidt