Albert Maltz: Conquering the world but losing your son
From The Cross and the Arrow (1944)
Life became drunken, an orgy of unending victory, and the vision of a quiet existence faded before the impact of a Wotan fable come to reality. He had begun to see Germany as the ruler of the world, to see men like himself as the rulers of peoples and states…
“Peace or or war, if you’re a worker, you get bullets.”
He reflected without bitterness, but with a modicum of envy, that the wealthy somehow kept going in spite of war and taxes. By the fragrance of Kohlberg’s coffee, it was real coffee; by the look of the cream he was pouring into his cup, it was real cream; and by the sweet smell of his cigarette, it was real tobacco. And who couldn’t enjoy a war on that basis?
He remembered something that went back to the first week of Richard’s life. He was standing over the crib when Richard suddenly sneezed. Without thinking, and with delight, he exclaimed excitedly to Kathe, “Did you see that? He’s almost human” – and then stammered before her gale of laughter, trying to explain what he really meant…Yet perhaps he had really meant that – the taking on of shape and abilities, the helpless mewing flesh that commenced to see, that learned to smell the nipple in its approach…at six months striking the bottle with lusty joy as he sucked; at a year learning to grasp it in proud possession between two tiny hands whose strength was incredible…to proclaim by loud babbling: “This is mine. I own it. I expect it as my due. I understand this first rule of property…”
But then the child became strong-limbed and a man – and the man, one found, was carved to a special destiny. For he died conquering the land of another people – a people who had fled before him on snowy roads in the bitterness of winter, carrying mournfully their innocent, naked children…And when he died, you, Willi Wegler, his father, asked softly, “What was it for? Why? The passion and the birth, the nourishment and the bringing up – for what – to what purpose – why?” And found no answer.
When war came, Willi accepted it as he would a sickness. He didn’t like it – but there was nothing he could do to change it. The war of 1914 had left a horror in him that no propaganda could alter. When the German armies quickly overran Poland, he was glad – not because it meant victory – but because he hoped that there would be peace. And when peace didn’t come, his spirits sank…
After Poland came Norway, and with Norway the war reached home, Richard was a parachutist, and he was killed in the first days of the action. When the news finally came to the Weglers, it was not merely as a death notice…
There was a public ceremony on the steps of the town hall. A Colonel of the Paratroopers bestowed the Iron Cross on Frau Marianne Wegler. There were speeches, and there was appropriate music, and it was all very inspiring, people said. During the ceremony Willi stood stiffly, a big, blond man with his face painfully empty, his heavy shoulders sagging. Occasionally he rubbed one hand over the other, slowly and awkwardly, as though they were cold. His brain said, “Richard is dead,” but his heart couldn’t comprehend. In his heart Richard was running down the street with his yellow hair tangled into curls.