Friday, July 17, 2009

stains of ink

Transforming tears into large stains
of ink, the victims who remembers
the burning horrors of terrains
where Jews were transformed into embers
defies the evil once decreed
by enemies of love and peace.
Tears won’t cause the loss of seed
to cause the heartache to decrease,
but if remembered, seed may yet
recover once the stain has dried,
but never will if we forget
how much of it was burned and died.
No stain should cause men to forgive
the crime that makes us shed our tears,
but it may speak to those who live,
so Jews transported once like steers
and slaughtered like repugnant vermin,
may be redeemed by those who think
about them not as seed for sermon,
but trees of life sustained by ink.

Inspired by an article by Michael Kimmelman about Countess Elisabeth von der Schulenburg (“High-Born Prussians Who Defied Their Origin,” NYT, July 16, 2009):
Fritzi, as Count von der Schulenburg was called, served as an officer with the same Potsdam infantry regiment in which Mr. Weizsäcker served. He recruited several of its younger officers for the resistance. Mr. Weizsäcker remembered him with awe: “He was the one to tell us what was needed,” he said. “I saw him just four weeks before the 20th of July, and he told me that soon we would be where we want to go, that we would be called back to Berlin, that we would have jobs to do. “He was not typical high nobility,” he added. “Fritzi was down to earth, provocative and, my goodness, very courageous — the one who inspired us, the one who reminded us that we could not possibly wait until this terrible war found its own end.” Fritzi’s granddaughter, a trustee of the July 20 1944 Foundation, my friend and German publisher Elisabeth Ruge, recalled the other day that it wasn’t until the 1950s that Fritzi’s wife, Charlotte, received a war widow’s pension. Pensions in Germany could be denied in the case of high treason, and German bureaucrats decided to apply that rule to the executed plotters after the war. Ms. Ruge told me that when her grandmother protested, authorities replied that Fritzi had joined the Nazi Party in 1932. It was a German Catch-22, never mind that Schulenburg made up for his mistake, finally with his life.
As Mr. Mommsen has pointed out, even Schulenburg’s interrogators at Gestapo headquarters and during the trial that was a formality to precede his hanging, by piano wire at Plötzensee prison, were impressed by the clarity of his convictions and his composure — by his absolute calm, as Tisa discerned from a photograph of the courtroom scene. Fritzi had been a quiet boy, she noted in an unpublished memoir, but: “During these years of war he had become more serious, a man of immense willpower and self-control, with a look intense and determined. His wit and his quickness sharpened, like the good fencer he was.” After her brother’s death, and with the end of her second marriage, the countess needed a while before despair yielded to a new “daydream of community and love,” as she wrote. The church promised redemption from the burdens of past sins, which, she wrote, weighed on her “like the heavy rucksack I had carried about so often on my wanderings.” But she wondered, “Could I just leave it at the roadside and bounce on, happily ever after?” In a nutshell this was the question Germany faced. Countess von der Schulenburg’s life became a metaphor for the post-war era, a metaphor not lost on the writer Heinrich Böll and others who sought her out. “They saw in her,” Ms. Ruge said, “someone who had a deep understanding of what had happened in Germany, who represented the new Germany but came out of the old one, and who had managed through her independence and sense of freedom to make something good of herself.” The countess’s drawings of coal miners turned them into demigods; those of Jews turn ink stains into tears. That said, she preserved into her 90s her wit and unstuffy lightheartedness, her wonderment at life’s mysteries, among them the family bond. “Tisa saw human nature in all its complexity,” Ms. Ruge said. “Again and again she started something new, finding another place for herself in the world. She loved her family, she was loyal to it despite her differences, despite the fact that at one point it denounced Fritzi as a traitor, because she was tolerant and saw from the family’s failures that you can go through life and make yourself blind.” “But she knew that to criticize the weaknesses of others you’ve got to understand your own weaknesses,” her great-niece added. “And she saw what it meant to forgive.”

© 2009 Gershon Hepner 7/16/09

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