The Beheaded Rooster

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My grandfather was called Goldschmidt, H. H. I. G. Goldschmidt, and he came from Schirkanyen, near Fogarasch. He was a Saxon of Transylvania, coming from a family "eight hundred years old!" and, documents could prove it, a pure German for twenty five generations. As, because of the name Goldschmidt, he was often taken for a Jew, he kept his ethnic origin card ostentatiously in the chest pocket of his marine uniform, so that anyone could recognize the brown linen cover and above it, the swastika. In his ethnic origin card one could read: "The owner of this card is a pure-blooded German!" It was written black on white. All data in his card was stamped by the Evangelical parish from Schirkanyen. Only this way could you bear the name of Goldschmidt. My father asked him: "Why do you want to be German at all costs? When in Fogarasch you cannot make a move without greeting left and right in several languages? All this is going to end up badly!" Grandfather, worked up, explained: "I am an old Austrian, from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. And you are a defeatist, Felix." That was a complicated word, which we, the boys, didn't really like. My grandfather's full name was: Hans Hermann Ingo Gustav Goldschmidt. Someone with an ear for music could hear in this sonorous enumeration a glissando of a special exercise in vocalization. All five vowels of our native tongue seemed to be deliberately contained in this name, as in the first sentence of the Bible: "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." Even more beautifully, in an alphabetical order – a, e, i, o, u. On the whole, it made up an artistic sound image. Ingo, for instance: how graciously did this "Ingo" create, through its vowels i and o, a polyphonic scale from the brilliant initial a in Hans and, further, from the elegiac e in Hermann up to the gloomy ending from u – Gust or Gustav; the last, as a sort of da capo. For us, the children, the last syllable, "aff", resounded in our ears as an atonal and at the same time familiar sound. We thought, naturally, of the German word for "ape". We didn't have an educated ear for music at that time for understanding such finesse, we were rather prone to dissonances and anecdotes. In this cadence of the first names, his mother ensured her presence in her son's ears, even beyond the grave. As long as grandfather will be alive and someone will call him on his name, this quite ordinary fact will be like a requiem for his melomaniac mother. Only grandma called him by all his first names. She devoted a lot of time to him. "Having time for others is a measure of love," she would always tell us, and my mother approved. It sometimes happened that grandma, before she had finished saying all the first names, forgot what she wanted to say. She was very concise when, at the table, grandpa picked at the bowls too often, or when he was insistently asked to take another serving, as it is customary in Transylvania. Then, she would take his fork and spoon with a self-possessed gruffness and say succinctly: "Gust doesn't ask. Gust thanks!" From a racial point of view, my grandma was different from my grandpa. Her ethnic origin card was dark grey. The cover was engraved only with the victory rune, not with the swastika. She was considered an Arian only, which we, the boys, mistook for "Arabian". We thought of Hadji Alef Omar and we liked to consider him related to us, precisely him, who had eleven hairs in his upper lip moustache, five on the left and six on the right. In the directions for use of the ethnic origin card, one could read: "A pure-blooded German is the person who only has German ancestors. An Arian is the one who does not have Jewish ancestors." Grandma didn't have Jewish ancestors, but she wasn't a pure-blooded German either, because of her Hungarian origin. To be a Hungarian was a hundred times better than a Jew, it was different, entirely different: it was as different as heaven is from earth! To be an Arian was naturally not as noble as being a German. Although, in grandma's case, it was actually the opposite: as far as she was concerned, the Hungarian blood was nobler than the German one. She came from an aristocratic lineage. If you didn't fail with the counting, you could follow on the genealogical tree – high as the window of a castle- eleven generations of noble ancestors, beginning with 1467. Unfortunately, the noble blood thinned, mixing with the bourgeois one. That's why one could take into account only a total of eighty-seven ancestors. The bourgeois ones died away around 1700, the sources were suddenly exhausted, and the numerical rest was probably lost in anonymity. Around 1700, Transylvania was assailed by the kuruts' wars[1], when, together with the Evangelical parishes, the registration papers of the churches had been turned to ashes. In that blaze also perished the memory of the bourgeois and of the peasants. Grandma could recite by heart all the names of her ancestors with the year of birth and of death, as if she read a list of medicines. Before she married, she was a chemist in Freck. Engelbert was of the opinion that every man must have Jewish ancestors. Three logical arguments had led him to this conclusion: first, the finding that the ancestors doubled with each generation, which could be seen on my grandma's genealogical tree; secondly, that in ancient times – the further we go back in time – from generation to generation, there were fewer and fewer people on earth, and lastly, because the Jews are one of the oldest people in the world. If we were to make a retrospective calculation regarding the number of inhabitants worldwide three thousand years ago, we would discover that every person living today has more ancestors than all earth's inhabitants at that time; we should take into account the monkeys as well, for the number to match. Engelbert, who was not only a true oracle and a dream interpreter, but also a math master, set us thinking. Ergo, everyone was related to everyone! The history of the Jews is older than three thousand years. Ergo – a frequently used word in Ardeal – ergo, it means that each and every one of us, every person, has Jewish ancestry, proclaimed our brother. This was a fatal calculation. "Even the Fuehrer has Jewish ancestry!" Everyone covered their ears. The Jews from Fogarasch were called Hirschorn or Thierfeld. Or Schul, Dr. Schul, our former general practitioner. They were also called Glückselich. Some Jew was named Alfred Rosenberg. Another was named Bruckental, with ck and without th, written with a sort of common-sense, different from Samuel von Brukenthal, the greatest man that the Saxons of Transylvania produced and, at the same time, a close friend of the empress Maria Theresa, as the Saxons of Transylvania boasted. "A fine Saxon of Transylvania, this one!" Yes, they were even called Goldschmidt – like us. They even bore the name of Deutsch: Siegfried Deutsch, Brunhilde Deutsch, Florence Deutsch. Deutsch! Which was not only an impudence, but also a shame, an insult to the Fuehrer, as my aunts would often protest: "But it doesn't do them any good at all, no matter how many German names they may bear!" Aunts Helene and Hermine didn't keep their opinions to themselves. The Jewish origin cannot be concealed, even when they bear the name of Siegfried or Brunhilde, it's like a hare lip or like a wolf's mouth. The ears. The hair and especially the nose – all these betray them for Jews, before anyone who is in the least familiar with the characteristics of races. Tante Hermine, who had a poetic gift, and who was secretly producing poems and looked after matters of the soul, would add: "Their destiny is written on these unfortunate people's foreheads. You cannot escape your own destiny!" Both of them warned us in one voice that it's not good to get involved with them. And Tante Hermine would add still: "For, otherwise, you endanger your German soul!" Nevertheless, they would still use the Jewish phrases they were fond of, especially when they got carried away during the conversation: "Well, that one is the mayor's tzutzer." "This is not kosher." "He thinks he's a macher." Or: "She's as thin as a matzah." "These ones are shmat. " "Actually, we, the Jews, should cut our ears and our nose," my classmate Gisela Glückselich told me. When we were in the fourth grade, they expelled her. In the sunny afternoons, mother would sit with Mrs. Hirschorn or with Tante Glückselich on a bench in the park, near the castle surrounded by water. All passers by could see her. The ladies would knit. They would talk about their kids and their maids, about the crochet patterns and about how to make sugar-free marmalade. They never spoke about the times. When it was hot, they sat in one boat and let themselves be gently carried away across the lake, which in Fogarasch was called Tschinakelfahren. Mother didn't worry too much about her German soul. In the boat, on the lake, mother would play the barcarole from Hoffmann's Tales by Offenbach on the flute so artfully that the passersby would stop on the borough's alley, to listen to her. Father had Jewish friends – rummy partners. When he left for Kronstadt on business, he would invite them to ride with him in the car. The Jews no longer had any cars. Although father had only one sister, he used to say that his companions were his brothers-in-law, when the German police stopped their car in the forest called Geisterwald, between Fogarasch and Kronstadt, asking them to present a proof of their identity as Arians. What would grandma do before meals? She would chase bugs, bacilli, and germs. She would wash her hands and us too, whenever she would catch us. What would the dog, Litvinow do? He would wait for us to come home. His greatest joy was on Sunday, when we were all at home. He would romp with happiness. But he was the happiest when he went for a walk with my father. And, finally, Fofo, our maid. Fofo comes from Sophia. What would she do? Fofo would pluck the poultry feathers. She was the only one who even on Sunday had a fixed schedule: she would go to church. Sometimes she would accompany our brother Uwe, at a quarter to twelve, to the second liturgy. The liturgy for the servants, after the high society left the church. From this point of view, we did not belong to the high society. We didn't go to church on Sunday. Neither did we go on Easter time, or on Pentecost. Not even on Christmas Eve, when any decent fellow hurried to receive his reward. Nevertheless, we considered ourselves decent people. Fofo always had the afternoon off. She would then disappear from our sight, and this made her seem mysterious. Nobody from the house knew what she was doing during these afternoons. Which was even more curious, as we knew everything about her. Even what she did during the night. For she slept in the kitchen, behind the stove. Every first Sunday in the month, her four children would come to see her. We didn't know if she had a husband. Her children lived in Felmern, at their grandparents. The village was behind the forest that could be seen from the window of the kitchen, an hour's walk, beyond Aluta, over mountains and valleys. We couldn't really play with Fofo's children. They were different from us, and, besides, they were boring, too. They only talked Transylvanian Saxon, with inarticulate sounds, while we used literary German at home, as it was customary in urban areas. If we wanted to communicate, we had to use our lame Romanian. But nobody wanted to do that. For that Sunday, we countermanded the visit of Fofo's children. It was the first day of the Advent and it would have disturbed the family celebration. The family was made up of relatives and the dog, Litvinow. To all these, Fofo was added by way of exception. Mrs. Brunhilde Sárközi and her two sons (whom we never played with and whom we never invited to children's parties, but with whom we had to have our picture taken, lined up in a row, because this was mother's wish) were not part of the family, but they were very familiar. Despite the Hungarian name, Mrs. Sárközi was a German war widow. Her husband, Adolf from Kobór, near Leblang, a purely Hungarian region, inserted among the Transylvanian Saxon villages from beyond Aluta, had been declared a native German – hell knows why – and had entered among "the first thousand" in the SS army. Maybe because he had married a woman of German-origin, Brunhilde Schropp from Leblang, or because he convinced the district chief from Fogarasch to buy that huge Mein Kampf book, which Schenker didn't even think of buying, or because he rolled his r's on account of a speech defect like a German from Reich – he spoke all four languages of the country just as fluently – or maybe due to his first name. That commendable man had fallen during transport on the Eastern front. He fell at a turn of the train through the open door, casting a last glance at the sun which was setting in the direction of Kóbor. Unrelated to this, in SS Sturmbannfuehrer's letter was written that Adolf Sárközi had died a hero, for the Fuehrer, the people and the country. And, if not before the enemy, then before the front. My mother and I accompanied the poor woman at the German Ethic Group's management board, where she was summoned. When Hermine Kirr, the leader of the German Ethic Group, handed her the letter, she explained: "Comrade, you are now a lucky German war widow. Such a thing cannot be bestowed upon me – unfortunately, I am not married. For you, however, it is a unique distinction, in which you must show pride. Firstly, Germanize this ridiculous name, write it at least with 'sch'. Or better: translate it into German. Sárközi must mean something." Mother said: "This cannot be translated." "Don't interfere with this! You, who sing Jewish arias publicly and disgrace us!" Mother stood up and said good-bye. I wanted to follow her, kicked my heels, and said, with my hands stuck sideways to the trousers: "Grüss Gott!" Instead of Heil Hitler, "Grüss Gott!" And I remained where I was. Mrs. Brunhilde said: "I don't want to lie to you. Sárközi could be translated: 'through the puddles, through the mud'." "Then find something better to prove how German you are!" "I got it! Mrs. Brunhilde's eyes sparkled: This is my salvation, my boys' future. Heil Hitler!" She raised her hand. Starting from then, she always kept her arm slightly bent from the elbow, to be ready for the German greeting at any time. We called her respectfully Tante Heil-Hitler. Since that day on, she always dressed in a blouse and a skirt: the blouse was white and the skirt was black, which, in time, started to look like a uniform. She didn't wear this uniform only when she went downtown, she wore it even at our place, where she worked (and greeted everyone with Heil Hitler, although we had to answer with Grüss Gott – as my father requested us). Once, an idea came upon her, as scandalous as it was Arian and Nordic. In the year of mourning her hair had grown completely white. She combed her hair in a loop. But her thin blouse almost gave way over the breasts that flashed their pink nipples. This made one think – as uncle Erich, father's youngest brother, delightfully stated – of a pink with an Arian shade, nestled in the noblest area of "Nordic breasts" – according to Paul Schultze-Naumburg's catalogue of colors (dedicated to the Fuehrer of the German motherland). Uncle Erich had all the specialized literature about the Nordic race and German woman. And about women in general. "She must have rummaged through my books." My uncle was living as a lodger on Lutheran Street. Mrs. Brunhilde used to clean his bachelor flat. She might have been singing as well. "Why is that woman almost naked?" wondered the Fogarasch people, who looked at her in embarrassment. Uncle Erich explained to them: "Only in this way can she exhibit her German origin." About her work in our house, Mrs. Brunhilde used to say: "I am helping comrade Gertrud to raise her five children. Let's hope that the Fuehrer's child will come soon, too!" We must admit that she helped Fofo with different things around the house. She offered to do the hardest part. In winter, she had to light the fire in the terracotta stove (a job at which we contributed as well, following mother's recommendation: "Whoever is cold should put his shoulders to the wheel!"). Mrs. Brunhilde performed these rough jobs with pride and dignity. Before she started work she would shout: "Work sets you free. Heil Hitler!" She did all this in her new outfit: without the apron and without acquiring any stains, which irritated Fofo and amazed my mother. "How tenacious and precise" or, more suggestively: "as adroit as a puppet!" My aunts admired her: "You see? German man will bend, but he will not stoop!" They pointed to the woman kneeling on the floor and remarked: "The parquetry has a livelier brilliance, more intense, of maximum intensity!" Mrs. Brunhilde had only two boys, Hansi and Nori. Since their father's death, they had to wear, in the summer as well as in the winter, only black stockings, just below the knees. All three of them lived in a little house behind the garden, which she got from my father on one condition: that he wouldn't hear any sort of propaganda with war widows à la final victory and similar stuff, however, the bra was mandatory. Mrs. Brunhilde chose a black one. What would she do on Sunday? Uwe, the nosy dwarf, who was taken to church by the employees in the house, could tell us more about this – with a smiling eye and with a crying eye. Before meal, the war widow cried heartily in the chapel of the humble Brothers monastery, on her knees, with a veil around her shoulders, and with the two boys, one on her left and the other on her right. Even Uwe wiped a few tears. But he was more captivated by that hocus-pocus in front of the altar. "Men and boys had a mask like those worn at Fasching!" The janitor Attila Szabó, a grumpy fellow, wasn't part of the family or of the house; neither him, nor his kin. This evil man would complain to my father about us, the boys, every night, for our mischief. Thank God that the lodging he had while he was working, near the entrance, was separated from the yard by a fence. He wasn't allowed to enter the house except for the winter, when he had to pile up the logs, in the hallway. Two years ago, on that purple Sunday, my father went to the river with the dog, Litvinow, which we all loved, although he bore the name of a Bolshevik commissar of the people – of a mass-murderer, as anyone was well aware. Alone. He didn't want any boy to accompany him. Although it was freezing cold, he wore a simple hat. I knew the path my father had chosen. He would often take his youngest son by the hand and walk with him. Each of us had been, in turn, his youngest son, until the next grew up a little more. The hardest part of the walk was the way to the dead Aluta. In that branch of the river, we would meet, in the thicket, through the melancholic marshy pools that didn't freeze in the winter, the fox with its brazen eyes. We heard the cry of the wild ducks very close. Several times, a herd of wild bores, with tousled bristles and sharp fangs, leaped from where it was, incited by the dog. To this, were added the scary legends of Aluta, a woman of the river who was very much alive, although everyone considered her dead. It was said that she surrounded with her arms the little boys and the lads, and the enamored beautiful girls, and pulled them downwards, into the depths…. Only after we successfully passed this mandatory test – of staying calm, of not even blinking, of pretending that nothing happened when ninety-nine wild boars on the loose ran past us or if white swinging hands, emerged from the pools, seized us – only afterwards did the enjoyment come: the walk on the alley surrounding the fortress. The fortress surrounded by water was the jewel of the small town. Unique in the country, as grandpa used to say. Built by the Hungarian prince Mailat in Renaissance style, it was at the same time a redoubt and a castle. From it came the name of Fogarasch/Făgăraş. In Hungarian it means wooden coins. The people who worked on its construction, were paid in wooden coins, finding comfort in the fact that these illusory coins would be exchanged for gold. Which never happened. On the river we could ride in the boat and in the winter we could skate. On the promenade of the fortress we either, naturally, walked or sat on the bench and watched the passersby. It was a pleasure to walk with my father through that part of the city on Sunday before noon. Everyone greeted him. People would take off their hats, wave, bow, they would always have a courteous greeting at hand. Father responded to the greeting in four languages and with different nuances. We followed him: "Am onoarea sa va salut! Respecte! Toata cinstea! Buna ziua!"[2] This was in Romanian. The most frequent greetings. "Jó napot kivánok! Alázatos szolgája", in Hungarian. He also greeted in Transylvanian Saxon: "Gän dooch!", a dialect which was hard to learn for us, the children. He would say: "Habe die Ehre! Guten Tag! Grüss Gott!". Hardly ever: "Servus!" Never: "Ich küsse Ihre Hand, Madame". Or: "Heil Hitler". He greeted the Jews in the language they spoke at home, often in Hungarian, sometimes in Romanian. But mostly in German. The Jews of Fogarasch spoke German. But German wasn't their native language, as it was for us, because they didn't have a motherland, as we did: das Deutsche Reich. But what crowned it all was the fact that father took off his hat before anyone. On the promenade he would always touch his hat with the hand. In front of the Franciscan church, where the beggars gathered, on a fairly long portion of the street, he didn't even have time to put back the hat on his head. He would even greet those lazybones, teeming with lice. I considered this great. In front of the leader of the gypsy folk music band Dionisie Macavei, my father would take off his hat just as ceremoniously as in front of the Evangelical priest of the town. The first violin soloist of the Trocadero outdoor restaurant would kiss my father's hand, which the priest overlooked. "Each merchant does this," grandpa would subdue our enthusiasm. "Didn't Vespasian, the emperor, declare that: money has no smell, non olet, when he ordered the building of public toilets in Rome, for the state's finances to recover?" We didn't understand a thing. We didn't understand that grandpa wanted to say that my father greeted everyone so amiably only because they were customers, from whom he earned money. We could never have imagined that, because my father was a gentleman. My father was a gentleman. In many respects, he didn't do what the others did. Thus, for instance, we didn't have, in the window of our shop, the plates on which one could read, in a Gothic, high-flown writing style: The Jewish customers are undesirable. Or, shorter: We do not serve Jews. Translated from the German into Romanian by Nora IUGA German edition: Paul Zsolnay, Vienna, 1998Romanian edition: Humanitas, 2001 Eginald Schlattner was born on September 13, 1933, in Arad. He grew up and spent his youth in Fagaras/Fogarasch among different ethnic groups: Romanians, Hungarians, Germans, Jews, Armenians and Gypsies. He attended the school in Sibiu, Fogarasch and Brasov. In 1952/53 he studied Evangelical theology for two semesters, in Cluj, until his expulsion, after which he studied mathematics and then hydrology for one semester. In 1957, before he was supposed to take his degree, he was arrested and convicted by the Court Martial for "concealing the high treason crime". After his release, he worked as a day laborer in a brick factory, then as a construction technician and as a mechanical designer. In 1969 he was finally allowed to take his degree in hydrology, more than a decade after his colleagues. He worked as an engineer until 1973. That year he resumed his theological studies, being, since 1978, a priest at Rosia (Rothberg) near Sibiu. He started to write in 1990, after being silent for more than 40 years. The year 1998 sets off his literary debut with the novel Der geköpfte Hahn (The Beheaded Rooster) at Paul Zsolnay publishing house in Vienna. Thus, after the age of 65, the author has been enjoying immense international success, the novel being reprinted several times in this short interval of three years. Two years later, the novel Rote Handschuhe (Red Gloves) appears at the same printing house, having a great impact as well, making famous the priest from Rosia, who lives in the old parish house, surrounded by gardens and by the park of the church, and who declares proudly and decisively that anything life might have in store for him, "von hier rühre ich mich nicht" ("I will not move away from here").
[1] The kuruts were the armed anti-Habsburg rebels in Royal Hungary between 1671 and 1711. The term is also used to refer to the peasants led by Gheorghe Doja – a Szekler man-at-arms – in the battles against the Turks and the noblemen at the beginning of the 16th century.[2] It's an honor for me to salute you! My respects! Honor! Good afternoon!

by Eginald Schlattner (b. 1933)