Opening and closing his hands, the boy Joseph prepared to run the guard post. The right time, he knew, was coming. Every day there was just one right time.
Today, it would be easier. A Polish woman, and a pretty one at that, was leaning over to talk to the German soldiers at the barbed-wire gate. Perhaps she was bringing food that the soldiers would sell to their "brothers" in the Jewish police. Maybe some bread or blocks of cheese would find their way into the ghetto later that night. When he got back from the other side, Joseph told himself, he'd find out.
He had to watch the eyes of the soldiers. Were they both looking at the woman as they talked? Where were their hands? Far enough from their guns? Joseph was small and very quick and this was not the first time he had come to this same gate. He thought, "It's just like playing soccer. Watch the opponent, watch the foot, watch the ball... Now!"
He darted from the narrow alleyway, past a few stragglers, and into the streets of occupied Warsaw. The guards looked up just as Joseph flew by, felt a momentary panic as they realized he could not be stopped, faced each other and laughingly returned to their conversation with the young woman. They had little taste, anyway, for shooting down these young Jews. Let someone else take care of them.
Into the city of his birth, Joseph scurried. How strange. He felt uneasy in his stomach every time he escaped the ghetto. He had to get food. But even as his legs propelled him toward the fish warehouse his grandmother owned before the war, memories came — lines of Polish poetry and Yiddish songs, his father's face, always with a cigar, and his elder half-brother's angry one. He was only twelve, yet he remembered everything.
He remembered how Grandma used to tease his father. "I had twelve sons, but you Shlomo, you wanted only one favorite. So in your old age, you skipped the rest and you got Joseph." Papa wasn't really that old, and he didn't have a beard so you couldn't see any gray hairs. Joseph was proud of his father, although he didn't see him much before the war started. Now he didn't even know where Papa was.
Joseph walked briskly into the twilight. He would have to get back home directly if nothing turned up. Ghetto traders came out an hour after dark. There was no early curfew for the Poles, but everybody seemed to be hurrying. Where were they all going? It reminded Joseph of when he and his friends dropped mud balls on anthills just to see what the ants would do.
Reuben, Baruch, Zygmund and Joseph loved to play together, and among their favorite games was pretending to be brave soldiers of Poland. When Joseph recited the patriotic poems of Adam Mickiewicz, the boys became the fierce horsemen of King Jan Sobieski, and together they gloriously battled the Turkish invaders and saved Poland and all of Europe.
Just a year ago, in May, Joseph had heard the first rumors of war. His mother and sister Shulamit had been talking about it as they cooked dinner. Mama had read Hitler's warnings in the newspaper that attacks on German nationals in Poland must cease, but Hitler was always going on that way. "He has his greater Germany," Mama had flatly stated. "Isn't that enough?" She got up to check the potatoes and lamb in the oven. "Would the Germans really want to start a war, another war," she asked herself out loud, "because a few Germans in Poland were complaining?"
Joseph had hardly been able to wait for dinner to end. He ran to tell his friends. The Germans were coming, he knew it, no matter what anybody said. This was great!
Joseph's friends joined in his joy. "Let the Germans attack," Reuben had boasted. "We'll show them. We've got the best cavalry in the world!" Horses against tanks, Joseph bitterly thought now as he slipped down a little used lane. He had outgrown his old shoes and his feet hurt. Still, Joseph knew, he was lucky to have a pair of decent shoes at all.
Before, Joseph had not wanted for anything. He had been only five when his parents had separated, but Papa came regularly to the house, bringing fresh fish for the family and gifts for Joseph, too. A toy train from Switzerland, books of poetry (this is how Joseph discovered the great Mickiewicz), and even a piece of amber with a tiny bug stuck right in the middle of it.
Mama gave Joseph gifts as well, but most of them came from her patients. Mama was a dentist. She had never said so, but Shulamit had boasted to Joseph that Mama was the first female dentist in all of Poland.
Joseph, curious, frequently crept to the door of her office and listened to the people moaning inside. It seemed to him that whatever Mama was doing only made things worse. Yet, after a short while, Joseph would hear a soft voice saying, "Mrs. Krauze, here's a little something for the boy to have later." And Joseph loved the delicious homemade cabbage rolls and honey cakes Mama's patients made just for him.
So blessed was Joseph. Even Shulamit, who was constantly rushing off to swimming practice, often found time to take her little brother along. With her long legs and arms, lean and muscular body, Shulamit was a champion swimmer. She was in the Vistula River so much that the family promised not to sell her if she turned up in the catch of the day!
Joseph wanted to be a great swimmer, too, so he pestered Shula (only he called her this) until she finally promised to teach him when they went to summer camp. Everyday, for three weeks, this odd couple, the gangly young woman and the short, dark boy, made their way hand-in-hand to a little-known and hidden pool in the river.
Each time Shula led him into the water Joseph became terribly excited. But when the water got deep enough for him to swim, Joseph balked, insisting he forgot how to do the strokes.
"How could you forget?" Shula would shout in exasperation. "We practiced them together just yesterday!" In desperate hope, Joseph would fling himself in the water and wildly kick and beat his arms. It never worked. He'd come up gasping and Shula would pull him to the riverbank again.
The sweet days at camp had ended without Joseph learning to swim on his own, but one Saturday in late September Joseph begged his sister to go one last time to the river. Shula took Joseph on the trolley to one of her favorite spots on the outskirts of the city. It was a sunny day, but not very warm, and no one else was there. As they faced the river, Joseph and Shula stripped to their bathing suits underneath the canopy of a tall linden tree. Joseph waited, as he always did, for Shula to enter the water, but this time she stayed behind. When he stepped in, Shula swooped on him, lifted him up and tossed him into a deep pool.
Joseph was stunned. His feet hit some sharp rocks at the bottom of the river and he instinctively pushed off. He was at the same time alive and dying, paddling strenuously and motionless, feverish with thought and cool, very cool. When he arose, Joseph was swimming awkwardly and, despite his hard feelings, spun around to search for Shula. His sister, he saw, was near. The water was still, a dragonfly buzzed by, and the sun shimmered at the top of the tree.
In that moment, Joseph thought of Grandpa Aaron's face when he came home after praying for hours at the synagogue. Joseph wished he could see Grandpa and tell him that now he knew how to swim. He'd have to wait. Grandpa Aaron lived in Aleksandrow with Aunt Miriam, Uncle Samuel and their two girls. It was difficult for Mama to get away from work, so Chanukah was usually the only time Joseph got to visit Grandpa. Sometimes Mama and Shula had to leave early and Joseph stayed the whole eight days of Chanukah with him.
Grandpa Aaron was very religious, but he was still a lot more fun than Grandfather Joash. After Grandma had died, Grandfather Joash had become even more dour and rarely went out except to do his daily shopping. Grandfather Joash lived in an apartment in Warsaw, not very far from Joseph's house, but Mama hardly ever took Joseph there, and Grandfather Joash was too stubborn, Mama said, to come see them.
Nonetheless, Joseph's mother and father had agreed that the family should do things together as much as possible. Papa always did his best to include Grandfather Joash, and a week after Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, Papa made plans for everyone to go to the cinema. Joseph had never seen a moving picture before and he was overjoyed. This was something he could lord over his friends for a long time!
But Grandfather Joash nearly spoiled everything. He simply refused to go, citing one reason after another. He was too old, his eyes were not good enough, it cost more than he used to earn in a whole week! Papa told Joseph that Grandfather Joash had never seen a movie before either and maybe he was a little frightened to go. Joseph could not understand this at all. "You're not scared, I know, Joseph," Papa said. "You'll just have to show Grandfather that doing something new is nothing to be afraid of."
After much conciliation by Papa, Grandfather Joash finally relented. Joseph was so happy that he didn't even make a fuss about dressing up in his best clothes. But when they went to get Grandfather Joash, he was not nearly ready. His shoes were still damp with polish and he was madly rummaging through all his closets and drawers for the black silk tie he had last worn at his wife's funeral. Mama calmly found it for him, but by the time he managed to put it on (and Papa dried the shoes sufficiently), it was getting late.
Fortunately, the theater was only a few blocks from Grandfather Joash's house. When Joseph, running ahead of them all arrived, he had a great surprise. There was his name in bold letters on the marquee! No one had told him that Joseph in Egypt was the movie they were going to see!
Papa quickly paid for their tickets, and the family filed into the plush and nearly emptied lobby. Joseph didn't want to miss a thing. "Come on," he prodded his family with as much command as he could get away with. "We have to go." He looked at his father for support and with relief Joseph noted an approving smile.
"Joseph," Papa said, "you go first and find seats for all of us." But before Joseph could dash into the theater, his father took hold of his arm and whispered, "Make sure they're close up so your grandfather can see."
Joseph clumsily made his way through the black and crowded theater, looking for an usher as his father had instructed him to do. He accidentally bumped into a woman with a flowery hat and she let out a little scream. Joseph did not move. She ran for an usher and pointed Joseph out to him. The nervous young man whisked Joseph away to a section of seats a few rows back from the stage and immediately hurried to see if there were any more latecomers who needed his help.
Joseph kept close charge of the seats and anxiously waited for his family to join him. At last they came, and one by one settled in. Joseph sat between Shula and Papa and Grandfather Joash sat on the aisle next to his son. He gave him a funny, little smile and rocked back and forth in his seat.
Suddenly, complete darkness descended, and then just as suddenly, it seemed to Joseph, the whole front of the theater was blazing light. The projectionist was testing the equipment, casting a pure beam onto the now luminescent screen. The audience was restless, but Joseph heard the crowd noise diminish as the titles exploded onto the enormous screen. How amazing it was to see words so big!
Joseph became even more impatient for the story to begin. While he knew that the people on the screen were not really Joseph or his brothers (they, Grandpa Aaron had explained to him lived a long time ago in the Holy Land, where Joseph's half-brother Levi was planning to go) he was still very excited to see them.
Then the big words disappeared and a group of young men, dressed in strange robes and headdresses, looked straight at him. Joseph looked back in wonder. They moved their mouths and gestured to each other, but no words came out. It appeared that they all had been struck dumb. Small words, Joseph noticed, began dancing, like white angels, at the bottom of the screen. Joseph couldn't bring himself to look down at them, so caught up was he in watching everything — people, sheep, camels — all leaping fantastically from one place to another.
Joseph felt some great hidden power was marvelously at work. There before him were giant sheaves of wheat bending to the ground and the sun and moon and eleven bright stars falling from the sky. Joseph squeezed Shula's hand. This was their signal that he wanted her to explain what was going on. "They're showing us Joseph's dreams," she said quietly. "His brothers believe he wants them to bow down to him and they are very angry at him."
Joseph held his eyes on the screen. The brothers were arguing violently among themselves and a few of them had grabbed their knives. They slashed them through the air and it looked to Joseph like they were cutting the throat of an invisible sheep. "They want to kill Joseph," Shula whispered, "but one of the older brothers is saying there's a better way to get rid of him."
When young Joseph was thrown into the pit by his brothers, the boy Joseph in the theater became terribly afraid for him. "How could they be so mean?" he thought, and desperately began praying for Joseph's escape.
The audience, too, was troubled. Though most of them thoroughly knew the story, how Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt, only to rise to a glorious position and save his people, nevertheless they held their breath just as the boy did. It seemed to them all that the tale was unfolding for the first time and any outcome was possible.
So they felt, everyone except Grandfather Joash. As nimbly as a very old man could, he sprang up from his seat, shouting "Lalkale, lalkale! This they brought me to see! It's only lalkale!" He brusquely began making his way toward the back of the theater. The Jews right away began laughing loudly. Their Polish neighbors, once they understood the old man was crying, "Dolls, dolls... it's only dolls," quickly joined in as well and soon nearly everyone in the theater was laughing.
Papa brought Grandfather back to his seat, the picture went on and the people quieted back down, but never quite to the deep hush that had overtaken them before. Joseph tried to focus, yet every time he felt pulled into the story again, he heard Grandfather Joash chanting, "Dolls, dolls, it's only dolls" as if he had never stopped. It was only when Joseph, bound by ropes, was handed over to the slave traders that the boy in the theater came to himself. He watched the rest of the movie with full attention and was happy with the ending, the reconciliation of Joseph and his brothers, and the joyous reuniting of the older Joseph, a father himself, with his own father, Israel.
Still, as they left the theater, his mind returned to the part in the movie where Joseph had been made a slave. He wanted to tell everyone that he would never let anyone do that to him, but they were all gaily chatting, gently teasing Grandfather about seeing another show. The night had turned unexpectedly foggy and cold, too cold for Grandfather or anyone to be walking home, Papa said, and he strode up to a waiting droshky money-in-hand.
As the family climbed inside, Shula started up again with Grandfather. "What about Charlie Chaplin," she suggested, trying to keep a straight face. "Everybody in the world loves him, Grandfather." He did not respond, and the horse pulled their droshky at a steady pace, the clip-clop sounds on the cobblestones keeping an almost flawless music in time with the familiar conversation.
In her room shadowed by the great Black Forest that enveloped the old estate, Elsa instantly looked up from her toys when she heard the sound of an automobile on the gravel path. She raced to the window and peeked through the curtains. It was him.
Elsa ran down the stairs, but Father was already opening the door. He grasped his friend's hand tightly and, as they had so many times before, the two marched step-in-step toward his library. This time Elsa knew it would be wrong to interrupt. Their faces were very stern and Uncle Adi only offered a brief smile to Elsa, so intent was he on talking to her father. Normally, she was allowed to run to him, and Uncle Adi would take her in his arms and slip a "forbidden" candy into her waiting hand.
Seeing her out of the corner of his eye, Uncle Adi glanced at Elsa so that she would not be completely disappointed with his lack of devotion. It was enough to stay her. Elsa dutifully kept her distance until Uncle Adi and her father were behind closed doors. She shuffled her feet, wondering what to do next. Maybe her mother was around. Elsa started upstairs to find her, then stopped herself. How many times had Mother told her not to bother her, especially when they had company.
Elsa was lonely and perpetually searching for someone to play with. She had no sisters, only her nasty brother Helmut, who told her to her face he was "too old to play with girls" and pushed her away often enough to show Elsa he meant what he said. Now she didn't even have the heart to sneak into Helmut's room and play with the toy cowboy and Indian set Uncle Adi had given him for Christmas. He got so upset even when she just touched it.
Where was Fraulein Faustenberg? Sometimes, when Elsa was really bored, she would look for her governess, but something told her now that Fraulein Faustenberg was not the answer. Elsa walked straight to her room and sat contemplating the nature of things in her world. What was so important that Father, Mother, and even Uncle Adi, who always played with her, did not have the time? Elsa pouted. She missed Uncle Adi so, and here he was, in the house, and she still longed for him.
Angel jumped from the oak bureau and landed softly on the bed close to Elsa. Angel was a young black cat with traces of white near her shoulders, a birthday gift to Elsa two years before when Elsa was only three. Elsa had been the one to notice Angel's "wings" and from the first had treated her with love.
Angel, Elsa constantly reminded her brother, was one of God's creatures. Mother and Father had told her this when they gave Angel to her and Elsa believed in her heart it was so. She hated it when Helmut picked Angel up by her ears to "make her fly" or tied her up with string. It felt like what happened to Angel happened to her.
Today Elsa was especially grateful for Angel's being there. The cat's soft, warm head filled the cup of her hand, and soon Elsa's attention was more on finding Angel's favorite petting spots than on her sadness over Uncle Adi's swift disappearance. Angel purred and purred, but when she had had enough, nonchalantly righted herself and set off for the door.
Just as Angel was leaving, Fraulein Faustenberg was coming in to help Elsa prepare for dinner. She was so startled by Angel (it was amazing how frequently Fraulein Faustenberg completely forgot that the cat lived in the house) that she tripped and fell down in the doorway. Fraulein Faustenberg was just regaining her feet when Elsa informed her that she was going to dress herself properly tonight and join the family at the table later.
The governess was in no position to argue. Her wits, already confused by her pratfall, were additionally upset by Elsa's surprising demeanor. Never before had the child put on her own formal clothes, much less acted so regally. Before Fraulein Faustenberg could say a word, Elsa, turning toward the big oak-framed mirror in the back of the room, declared, "I'll be down in a little while," and that was that.
When Elsa descended the stairs, arrayed in her fine white dress, her ruby necklace and blood-wine Spanish shoes, Father and Uncle Adi, engrossed as they were in their conversation, could not help but look up in awe. Rather than running willy-nilly between Elsa's legs, Angel stayed close behind as if she were a newly-appointed retainer to the queen. Elsa held her brand-new miniature Dresden doll hidden reverentially in her hands, ready to offer it to Uncle Adi at any moment.
As Frau Brunner guided Elsa to her place, Uncle Adi popped up and hurried to kiss her mother's hand. He bumped into the edge of the table and reached out to balance himself. "Please forgive me," he cried. He had wanted to acknowledge Elsa too with a formal bow and kiss, but had lost his chance and merely patted her sheepishly on her head and returned to his seat.
Everyone at the table could hear the loud, churning noises coming from Uncle Adi's stomach. Elsa thought they were funny, but Mother had told her not to laugh or talk about it. Elsa knew in her heart that Mother did not like Uncle Adi. For one thing, she frequently mentioned that Uncle Adi was not a blood relation. "He's a friend of your father's," Mother would say icily. "When he's a guest in our home, you must treat him with respect." To Elsa, Uncle Adi was just Uncle Adi, and she loved him.
Elsa had no other uncles and Uncle Adi's visits were very special to her. Father seemed to look forward to them almost as much as she did. But tonight was different. Father was not in his typical happy mood, Mother had that white, drawn look on her face she got when she was angry, and Uncle Adi, always good-spirited at the table was instead sullen and unusually flushed. Elsa secretly placed her precious doll under her chair.
Mother had complained earlier how hastily she had had to rearrange the evening. She had been informed only that morning that Herr Hitler was coming, and Pamina, the cook, had already begun preparations for a pork roast. Frau Brunner knew that Hitler would not touch such a meal. He claimed his sensitive stomach could not tolerate meat, but only last Easter he had actually blurted out for all to hear that eating ham was like eating a corpse. Now when he came to dinner, he said, no one had to get blood on their hands just to please him.
Frau Brunner had ordered Pamina to go out and buy vegetables for Hitler's favorite spaghetti dish, and she had reluctantly obeyed. The afternoon coffee klatsch had had to be put off, but thankfully, both Frau Brunner and Pamina thought to themselves, Hitler adored a piece or two of Black Forest cake, and at least that would not have to change.
As Pamina brought the various dishes, the four of them (her brother Helmut was away at his friend's in Hesse) spoke only in spurts. Their great German appetites, of which they proudly boasted, seemed to be missing this night.
Even Elsa found herself picking at her food. She wanted dinner to be fun, with Uncle Adi teasing her about what she did that day, and laughing uproariously at her stories. She wished Uncle Adi would ask her about her beautiful dress, but he refrained, and Elsa didn't know how to make things better.
After dinner was over, Uncle Adi sat quietly sipping a cup of chamomile tea. Mother started to clear her throat and Elsa knew that meant it was time her for to go to bed. She was just about to get up from the table when Pamina rolled out the sweet, dark cake and placed a serving in front of Uncle Adi.
"Pamina," he abruptly said, "Elsa must have some of your delicious cake too. Frau Winter makes me splendid soup, but no one makes a Black Forest cake like you. I shall have to send her to you for lessons. Or perhaps, if the Brunners let you, you'd prefer to come to Berlin." "Thank you, Herr Hitler," Pamina faltered, and blushed slightly. She bent down to get another piece and he stared for more than a moment at her plump behind.
Frau Brunner was aghast. She knew her husband had first befriended this strange man ten years ago when he had been a student in Munich. Hermann had explained that his thirst for company then had drawn him to the beer halls. But here he was a wealthy man, respected at the church, married to a woman from a noble family (Frau Brunner added the counts to the charges in her mind) with his young daughter at the table, and this barbarian was the honored guest in her home. "My God," Frau Brunner suddenly realized, "with the way the election has just gone, the little beggar's probably come here to ask Hermann for more money." She flashed a look at her husband and hoped he would read the meaning in her eyes.
Brunner himself was taken aback by Hitler's behavior. Long ago, it seemed, he had been mesmerized by the power of the man's convictions. A dozen years his elder, Hitler had spoken the words that Brunner felt in his heart. The young man had trembled when he listened; he wanted so much to feel such certainty.
Brunner's family owned four of Germany's finest hotels, and for over two hundred years had been behind-the-scene financiers to European nobility. When Brunner's father had died unexpectedly, he, the only son, had inherited his family's fortune. Free to do as he desired, he had, in short order, greatly increased his already substantial funding of Hitler and the Nazi Party. He had even taken the shoddily-dressed Hitler to his personal tailor and bought him a fine new blue suit.
Hitler had responded with great affection, often prevailing upon Brunner to sit in on backroom strategy sessions at one of his favorite restaurants or cabarets. Brunner, unwilling to offend his friend and mentor, had, on most occasions, quietly acquiesced.
While Hitler ordinarily ordered mineral water and rarely was seen with a glass of beer in his hand, many of his closest comrades, Brunner had observed, drank rather heavily. He had wondered for some time why they acted so dissolutely in Hitler's presence, and even more so why Hitler had permitted such behavior.
Once, when Goebbels had been away, a tipsy Goering had whimsically proposed, "Let's make Brunner the new Chief of Propaganda. Joseph won't mind, I'm sure." (Goering obviously enjoyed poking fun at his absent comrade by referring to him so casually.) He knows Brunner's name means spring anyway. The words will spout from Hermann's mouth like water from a spring!"
They had all chuckled, and Brunner too, at Goering's new joke. He was the one who had given Brunner the nickname "Fountain" because the generous young man (as he liked to call him) had poured so much money into their hands. But Hitler had checked their laughter. He told them that he had been thinking seriously for a few weeks about making some new appointments in the Party organization, and instantly the whole group took up the idea of finding just the right place for Brunner.
Brunner gulped as he remembered how badly he had become frightened. Marlene had had a hard pregnancy with Elsa and Dr. Schmidt had ordered her to keep bedridden. Helmut had been very sick with pneumonia that year too, and had yet to fully regain his health. Hitler had known all this, but merely listened placidly as the men around the table debated Brunner's declination. It had taken a good half hour before Hitler put an end to the conversation. He finally had had enough of all of them, he said.
"Yes, Elsa, you may have a little cake," Brunner uttered. Uncle Adi had already finished his first piece and was starting to wolf down another. He took the last bites and wiped the rich cream from his face with his napkin. "Pamina," he called out. "I like this cake too much. Come, you must take it away. You'll make me fat if I let you. Imagine me going around giving speeches with a great big potbelly. It would ruin me!"
Elsa ate her cake with little pleasure. When she was done, her father perfunctorily said, "Now go give Uncle Adi a goodnight kiss." Elsa enfolded the tiny doll once more in her hands and slowly walked over to Uncle Adi. He still had a bit of red cherry on his mustache and he looked funny. He bent down to kiss her cheek and whispered, "Goodnight, Liebchen, goodnight."
After Fraulein Faustenberg came for Elsa, Frau Brunner politely excused herself. She was not feeling well, she said, and needed to telephone the Leiners before it got too late regarding Helmut's return the next day.
Brunner's last cigarette was still burning in the ashtray on the table. He mindlessly reached for it and burned his fingers. "Hermann, you see, this smoking is not healthy for you," Hitler said. He had brightened a little. "Tobacco is a poison, a poison for you and the nation. You must not let Helmut smoke, Hermann. Germany needs strong young men, hard young men, men who will fight." Brunner put out the stub of his cigarette and began walking to the parlor. Hitler went along and sat on the couch near the piano.
Brunner had hoped the move would bring a change in the conversation, but Hitler immediately pursued his subject again. "They are too weak, Hermann. Wherever I go, men keep tugging on my coat and begging for cigarettes. Goebbels had them fill my pockets. A pack of cigarettes and a coin for each of them." He took a short breath. "How strong my will must be now!"
Brunner said nothing, but Hitler broke the silence. "Well, Hermann," he sighed, "I am glad we are alone and the women have gone." Brunner still did not reply. Hitler had not spoken of it, but Brunner knew why he had suddenly broken off all his engagements in the final days of the campaign and rushed back to Munich. Hoffman, the photographer, had called Brunner that very afternoon. He had been frantic. "That silly girl, Eva, who works for me," he had said, "has just shot herself in the neck."
Hitler had remained with his mistress until he had known she would recover, and had only reappeared days later in public, having his smiling picture taken by Hoffman at the polling station. Brunner had not expected to see Hitler so soon. He had kept away for months after his niece Geli had committed suicide just over a year ago. How glad Brunner had been that Hitler had not come to visit until Easter when the scandal had subsided. In February, Brunner had gone to help Hitler run for president against Hindenburg and even then Marlene had been very upset with him.
Brunner turned to look at his friend. The last time he had seen Hitler so low was a few weeks after his arrest in 1923. Hitler invaded Brunner's thoughts. "Hermann," he asked abruptly, "have you seen the papers? They don't even talk about what day today is, those criminals, those Jews who sold us out. They were the ones who surrendered. Now they call me a criminal. They think they have defeated me. They think I don't know what that turncoat Strasser's up to. Next thing he'll be kissing up to Schleicher and the rest of them. They think they've got me in handcuffs, but I'll get out of this. I'll get out for sure."
Brunner had often heard Hitler rant for an hour or more, but tonight he seemed uncharacteristically tired. "But what can Hindenburg do?" Hitler tried to rekindle his argument. "He'll replace Breuning and in a few months people will be calling Schleicher the Hunger Chancellor. They'll be writing on the walls about their starving kids and the Red bastards will be promising them the moon." He paused briefly. "Remember, Hermann, when Hindenburg asked me to see him in the summer. I fell from heaven, I tell you. I fell from heaven." Hitler brushed a crumb off his sleeve. "But the old man can't last. Everybody knows that. He'll have to see me again, Hermann. Just you wait. He'll see me again," he said.
"Yes, he must," Brunner replied. "You're right." He did not know what else to say. Brunner wondered if Hitler had made any plans yet for Christmas. Brunner had never seen Hitler happy at Christmastime and this year would be particularly grievous for him. Would he want to stay with them? Helmut would be home for the holidays and Hitler could read his Karl May books with him and Elsa, too. She loved to watch Uncle Adi act out the parts of Old Shatterhands and brave Winnetou, especially when he sneaked up on the bad guys and took them by surprise.
Brunner hesitated to bring up the matter. Hitler was so distracted and he and Marlene had not discussed it either, anticipating that Hitler would be occupied in forming a new government in Berlin. A maidservant came in and told Brunner that Herr Hitler's room was ready for him. Brunner promptly thanked her and ushered her out the door.
Hitler had farted and shifted over to the other side of the couch. Brunner walked back to the piano. "Adolf," he said, "would you like me to play? I've been working on The Moonlight Sonata. It's not perfect," he added with a timid smile, "but I am almost satisfied with it." Hitler consented and Brunner played the piece. He mishit a few notes, but otherwise he did very well, he thought. When he finished, Hitler was instantly effusive. "Wonderful, Hermann, wonderful!" he exclaimed. "Because of you, I don't have to play myself anymore. I can just listen to you, Hermann."
Hitler then began going on about the virtues of Beethoven, Chopin, and Schumann. "But who," he asked as if he were only talking to himself, "could compare to Wagner?" He peered up at Brunner. He was going to see The Mastersingers of Nuremberg on New Year's Day, he said, and had assurances from Winifred Wagner that she would be coming from Bayreuth to join him in Munich. As Hitler got up and approached him, Brunner could hear that he was humming parts of the opera to himself. "If Knappertsbusch keeps the pace up," he declared, "it should be a marvelous performance."
He touched Brunner gently on the elbow. "Perhaps you can come, Hermann. And Marlene. You've never met Frau Wagner, have you?" Brunner shook his head. Hitler had spoken of her many times, but had never before proposed an introduction.
"Don't worry, Hermann," Hitler said. "I'm sure you'll know lots of other people there. All you bankers love opera, you know. I'll bet von Schroeder will have the best seat in the house. Have you ever done business with him, Hermann? Be careful if you do. I've heard he's a real clever one. He's got his hands all over Schleicher, they tell me. And Hindenburg too." Brunner was only a little familiar with von Schroeder, and in response gave Hitler a blank look. Hitler's face fell.
"I'll talk to Marlene about the opera tomorrow, Adolf," Brunner said. "It has been quite a while since we've had a chance to all go out together, hasn't it? I'll tell Marlene we could make a little holiday of it. The children could go to the zoo and she can take them to visit her sister in Dachau. And we'll have some time for you to show me how the book's coming along. Has Hanfstaengl found a publisher yet?"
Hitler usually cheered up at the mention of this pet project of his. He loved the idea of collecting the worst cartoons his enemies could come up with and then destroying them with the actual truth. Facts Versus Ink they were going to call it. Brunner himself had put up the first five thousand marks.
Hitler answered, "Hanfstaengl's still picking out the cartoons. They are all lies, Hermann. The Jews will make up anything. They believe they can make fun of me in New York and Paris and everyone will laugh." Brunner was expecting Hitler to explode as he frequently did when he got worked up about the Jews, but instead he only snorted to himself.
Brunner was relieved. "Hanfstaengl's even got a cartoon he wants to use from a Jewish paper in Cairo," he sputtered. "He says he's got a publisher lined up in Berlin, but they'll need more money. I don't know when we're going to publish." He sat down on the couch again. "Hanfstaengl's been too busy and now the whole world wants to know what I'm going to do. They want to knock me off my horse but I'll keep riding until I get to the winning post. If I lose, then I'll just have to end it all."
Brunner was accustomed to Hitler's ups and downs, but tonight he was very uneasy. Should he stay up with his friend if he wanted him to? Brunner did not want Marlene to be disturbed. She was taking Elsa shopping in Pforzheim in the morning and going on to pick up Helmut later in the afternoon. Hitler himself had said he would be leaving not too long after breakfast.
"Adolf," he said, "when you know for certain how much money the book will cost, please tell me. I will get it to you at once. You can rely on that." Hitler nodded. "I think it is time for sleep, Hermann," he said. Brunner bid him goodnight and quietly walked upstairs to the master bedroom. Marlene had taken her sleeping pills again and she only stirred a bit when he came into bed.
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