Arnold Zweig: No joy to be born into world of war
From The Case of Sergeant Grischa (1927)
Translated by Eric Sutton
The driver with the drooping shoulders and moustaches stood by and looked dully down into the grave before him.
“They say the fellow was innocent,” said one of the Hamburgers with the sing-song intonation of his native harbour.
“I dare say he was,” said the other, “but what’s the good of that – we’re all innocent.”
“I didn’t want the War,” said the driver suddenly.
It was the first outbreak of that smothered, blunted soul, slave among countless slaves on those wide plains. The two Hamburgers looked at him contemptuously. They did not not need to assure anybody that they had not wanted the War. They exchanged a mocking glance indicative of the fact that they thought the driver was balmy, and that, anyhow, the only men of intelligence were to be found in Hamburg; then with a practised gesture they stuck their shovels into the high neat mound of earth that Grischa’s body, and not the hands of men, had so raised up.
In that very quarter of an hour Dr. Jaconstadt, the civil doctor, removed the child with forceps from Babka’s unconscious body. It was a girl, weighing more than six pounds, well made and with distinctive features whose likeness no one could decide: as a matter of fact, with her short nose, broad cheek-bones, and bright blue-grey eyes she bore a ludicrous resemblance to Grischa’s old mother whom none of them had ever seen. It did not cry, and while Babka was being attended to, it lay still, groping with its tiny fingers, red all over, in a rush basket on a pillow which later on was to serve as its eiderdown. When Babka came out of the anaesthetic, she refused to see it, but when it was held out to her all the same, she smiled the faintest suggestion of a smile and would not let it out of her hands.
Dr. Jacobstadt and the motherly midwife, Frau Nachtschwarz, exchanged a few remarks in Yiddish.
“I think we may congratulate ourselves,” said the woman as she dried her hands.
And the doctor, with his sallow, drawn face and grizzled, pointed beard, shook his head sceptically and answered:
“If you think that being born in such times as these is a matter for congratulation, then I suppose we may.”