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Chapter 34

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« on: March 09, 2023, 09:08:33 pm »

SEVEN endless, golden days, and short deep-sleeping nights gave Mark back the whole of his strength. As he and Karl worked their way through the chain of the Bavarian Alps, sleeping every night at a fresh hut with groups of fellow sportsmen, Mark learned more of the current German mentality than he had yet known.

The complete moral obliquity of the young struck him more directly than it could strike Karl Reuss, who was partially blinded to it by custom; and by his own blood. The boys and girls they met were seldom Nazis, they were the healthiest and soundest Germans, some on leave from the forces, some taking brief holidays from exempted war jobs; many from armament factories, airfields or submarine bases. Their girls were their wholehearted and satisfied companions. All were enthusiastic supporters of the Hitler régime, profound believers in German culture; and quite certain of world conquest. They did not discuss politics but sometimes with proud awe they exchanged comments on their past or future triumphs. Not once did Mark see a shadow on their bright, healthy faces, or hear the slightest criticism of Gestapo methods, Jewish persecutions or broken pledges. Nothing appeared to be more serene than the consciences of these physically sound young men and women. They were good-tempered with each other, and obviously took their war duties and sacrifices extremely seriously, but they took nothing else seriously except their physical well-being. To laugh, to eat and drink, to make love, to enjoy the sport they were practising filled their entire mental horizon. No other subject came up. They never joined observation to experience. They were without philosophy, poetry or pity. When one of their fellow sportsmen took a toss and broke his leg, they carried out their bare duties of first aid, telephoned for an ambulance to meet the stretcher bearers at the foot of the mountain; and left him without a second thought. Not even his girl showed anxiety or grief for him, nor did she dream of cutting short her own holiday to accompany him down the mountain. A few hours later, she had picked up another young man, and was off on a fresh tour; and no one thought the worse of her for it.

After the day’s sport, they spent their evenings in singing martial or sentimental songs. Karl had a charming light baritone voice, and could sing without accompaniments, so that he was much in demand as a song leader.

Between the songs they chatted of their war exploits. Boys and girls alike expressed heartfelt satisfaction at the bombing of London. One or two of the airmen on leave who were present, had actually been on these expeditions; and were consequently looked on as heroes. But they spoke with horror of the bombing of their own cities, as if something sacrosanct had been broken open by savages.

On their last day together, Mark and Karl climbed alone to a higher hut not run as an inn, and seldom frequented by any but the most skilled skiers. They found it empty, left in perfect order by its last tenants, with firewood and blankets ready for use and berths made up.

They had grown very near together in their week’s sport and comradeship and felt heavy hearted at their parting. Both knew that it was probably a final parting. To-night over their frugal supper they spoke more freely and fully to each other than they had yet spoken. Mark told Karl who he was and what he was doing, and in return Karl told Mark the full story of the terrible days before the Nazis took their final control of the German people. “Yet, until that last hour,” Karl told him, “we wrote---we spoke on the radio---our bravest men and women, hungering for freedom, spoke of it brilliantly and truthfully as perhaps no one has ever spoken of it in this land before---until one by one they were strangled into silence. No one helped us,” Karl went on after a pause, a little sadly. “We couldn’t believe sometimes how friendless we were---not Russia---not the Democracies---not the Churches! All who we expected would be our friends failed us. We once thought Eden would save us by prodding England away from Chamberlain through his resignation; but nothing happened beyond that some of us felt we had lost a lukewarm friend. He had no burning words to tell the world. When he threw aside the work he was on, such words might have lit England, and saved France; but they remained unspoken.

“We read the Manchester Guardian as if it were a revelation from God, when we could get hold of it. We met occasional wandering English liberals or labour men, and found their thoughts like ours. We believed in them as drowning men believe in straws. It was only because we were drowning, that we could not see that they were only straws.

“We held on as long as we could alone---but one after the other of us sank and drowned. Many of us were tortured, but few betrayed their brothers. When men came out from concentration camps---if they came out at all---they were generally so hurt you couldn’t get at them. They were finished as men. Perhaps a man cannot really survive being tortured in cold blood by his brother. We have to believe in some part of every human being containing a spark of fellow feeling for another. Where you find he hasn’t---well you lose your own!”

“But you survived!” Mark said gently. Karl shook his head impatiently.

“I want you to understand this properly,” he explained, “so as to tell your people the truth. It is no use expecting us to rise against the Gestapo or to get rid of the Nazis. It isn’t only that there are comparatively few of us who wish to get rid of them, nor that we haven’t got weapons---or power over communications; and that we have the secret police always disintegrating any group we might be able to form---but there is something else we haven’t got---out of which all successful revolutions are made, and which you’ve just been studying this week with me---we haven’t got youth on our side. The solidarity of the youth of this country is wholly against us! How can we make a revolution without it? Every single boy or girl whom we tried to influence would betray us as a sacred duty.”

“But why?” Mark asked frowningly. “It seems so queer somehow! The whole of our youth in Britain is never any one thing or the other---it’s enormously individual and divided. Of course we’ve got Nazis or Fascists as people prefer to call themselves with us, and we’ve equally got---perhaps rather more---Communists among the young; but by far the most of them---whatever they call themselves---are at heart liberals. Liberal, tolerant, interested, that’s the way they are, but they seldom wholly agree or disagree with each other!”

“Yes, but your country is well balanced, normal,” Karl explained. “Ours is wholly neurotic---we must be all because we suspect we are nothing. You in Great Britain feel comparatively certain of your own value. Our self-respect is based solely on force. It was shaken by the last war; it got completely fogged by our half-baked Social Democracy---trying to function under the shadow of the Wehrmacht, which was all the while betraying it. The German nation needed a Hitler before they could feel themselves men again! Nor must you misjudge Hitler just because he’s mad. You must remember that he is mad in just the way Germany wanted. Nor must you forget that he is brilliantly, dangerously mad. Hitler is so concentrated, so superlatively one-idead that he has brought off what he promised to bring off, he’s educated our whole German youth towards hate. He found them irresponsible, shamed, beaten, but as youth always is generous, full of courage, and wildly ambitious, he gave them a goal. He harnessed all their wishes, all their powers---to one single satisfying aim---they were to conquer the world.

“Hitler lied to effect his purpose, but basically he was truthful. He believed in hate and acted upon what he believed. He saw that if you train the young in any religion that makes faith and obedience one thing---you get them solid. The young like religion, they like being made responsible, they like ordering about, and being ordered! They worship easily, if they can take an active part in what they are worshipping. All Hitler had to do for our discouraged young was to shake off their shoulders the unused ideals of the lying centuries behind them. It was a great relief to them to get rid of such moral junk. They knew these virtues were not honest because they had never seen them practised!

“They feel noble now. Look at their firm, healthy, open faces! They feel noble---and they act as criminals. Before Hitler’s education they felt criminal and very seldom---just here and there perhaps---acted nobly. You don’t understand, Mark, what a relief it is to give up being noble or pretending to be---and yet to have the feeling of being noble---perhaps for the first time---because all ideals are swept away from you---and you have only to obey!”

“No,” said Mark, drawing a deep breath, “I don’t understand. Because feelings don’t matter, facts remain what they are, whatever you feel about them!”

Karl laughed a half amused and half exasperated laugh. “No! No!” he said. “Feelings change facts; the whole German nation, as Hitler preached to them of their new glory---drew a long breath of relief. They had to have glory, don’t you see, and it was the only kind handed out to them. They were not inferior after all. They were noble! They were transcendent! Nobody could touch a German. Think of it, born into pure Nordic blood---and not needing to stir a finger about it! To be without responsibility, this is and always has been the dream of every neurotic.

“Blood and soil---where you stood---and what you were---German!---and all the rest of the world greasy, yellow and brown scum!”

“But that’s all nonsense,” Mark objected. “Surely a whole people couldn’t get drunk on hocus pocus!”

“Not by themselves they couldn’t,” agreed Karl, “but what Great Britain and France couldn’t see, before the blitz struck you awake, was that Germany was a revivalist camp, preached at by the most magnetic preacher the world has ever known. We had always believed in force; but our faith had been badly shaken by defeat. Well---it was revived by Hitler! and became a thousand-fold as strong as it had ever been. Remember the Kaiser had already proved, by forcing the schools into intensive Nationalism, that he could make any German a warrior; Hitler merely went one better; he educated every child into being a criminal warrior. The whips had fallen out of our hands only to be replaced by scorpions.”

“But what will become of your people?” Mark asked, “when, and if, as I now believe, you really will be beaten again. How can such a youth as you will then possess---hardened by action into automatic crime---make a new nation?”

Karl was silent. At length, laying down his pipe, he said with sad gravity, “I also believe in the defeat of Germany---I could not live if I did not believe in it. And yet you cannot doubt that the defeat of my country is bitter to me---and the thought of our brave, misdirected children dying in evil for evil, is the greatest tragedy the world has yet seen---greater even than the horrible crime of which we are guilty against the Jews. For it is worse to perpetrate than to be the victims of such a crime.

“When I try to look at the future, beyond the war, I have to try to see it in the space of eternity. Man is only an infant. In no part of this little planet has he yet learned to walk without stumbling. Hitler has at least shown us a new and vital truth. If in one generation he could train a whole nation into aggressive hate, cannot a new Europe train its youth in the generations to come, into creative love? If we could see the Democracies come out of their ancient lies into the truth of loving their neighbours as themselves---we too should have a new goal worth changing our false one for: you and I are teachers, have we not seen how wonderful a wax is put into our hands? You have seen my little Rosa; do you think it gave her less pleasure to help her mother make a pair of gloves for a stranger than to make her own promised Christmas doll a new dress? We gave her the choice. She could not do both, there was so little wool and so little time! You saw she had chosen to make the gloves.”

Mark was silent for a long time. “But could all children choose the gloves?” he asked with a half apologetic grin.

“All children trained to love others as themselves would not, I think, hesitate between a living man and a doll,” Karl answered reflectively. “But how first to train the parents in order to train the children? Since it is only by seeing happiness come of love, that a child can see any sense in practising it; and indeed if there is no happiness in loving there would be no sense in practising it. But we know there is such a happiness!”

“This woman that I love,” Mark said after a pause, in a low strained voice, “I have told you about her---Ida. I took her back into danger. I am exposing her now to great danger, if I once more join her. Should I do this? Should I try even to see her again before this thing ends! I know she is safe now. I telephoned from a public call-box to a friend of hers in Innsbruck. We spoke very carefully, but I gathered she was expecting my return. To-morrow I could be with her again. I had meant to run my risks with her---but now I feel unsure. You say we must train ourselves in love---is it not part of my training to act for her good---whether it is mine or not---whether I ever see her again or not?”

“It is part of your training and hers, to do what is best for our purpose,” Karl said firmly and directly, knocking out his pipe, and refilling it slowly. “Love is not an object for one or the other---to enchant or to be enchanted by. It is no man’s occupation! It is instead the doubling of a great power directed towards a common aim. This Ida---as you have told me---has the same goal as yours! My Gerda and I have also the same goal---it makes a great strength this strength of two. To marry a woman who did not share one’s aim---that would be a disaster! But her death---your death---that would not be a disaster---as I see it---it would be only a tragedy; and what else can we now expect---until this strong tyranny we are fighting together against is over---but tragedy?”

Mark said no more. It was difficult for him, as an Englishman, to believe in tragedy; and still more difficult to believe in it because the next day he would see the woman he loved. But this last night, before Mark was to see Ida, he found he could not sleep. Twice he got up without disturbing Karl’s deep and quiet slumbers. Standing in the open doorway of the hut Mark looked into the vast, unhurried night, probed by innumerable stars.

A little twisted moon sank slowly through the empty bowl of the sky; each peak she passed behind grew bright as silver for a moment before fading into darkness. The hut cast a blue shadow over the fresh snow.

It did not seem possible to believe in that immaculate solitude, that a few miles below there was a city in the clutch of terror, whose citizens had trained themselves to be the enemies of mankind.

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