‘Tis the season to blog about, among other things, cemeteries, here at the end of October. This short story was written by Herr Winfried Werner Linde and posted on his blog Zeitzünder last July, and he has kindly given me permission to translate and post it here. (Liebe deutschsprachige Leserinnen und Leser, hier findet ihr die deutsche Originalfassung.
An Encounter at the Jewish Cemetery in Innsbruck
Winfried Werner Linde
July 24 2013
Sometimes, on hot days, ones seeks the shade and stillness of trees. Sometimes, on the rare occasion when I visit the cremation plot of my mother and brother, I sit on a bench located near the entrance to the Jewish section of the Innsbruck’s West Cemetery.
There is shade there, and the pictures on the gravestones admonish one of ones own past, as well as the life and lessons that perhaps still lie ahead. Perhaps, yes. Because above all is the reminder of this: that man is nothing more than dust, and that the soul is a vague hope, a perception of which one knows nothing, of his own, nor of others. Nothing.
Recently, on a hot afternoon, I sat again at this bench. There were only a few visitors about the cemetery.
As I took one last look back, I spied a woman coming out of the Jewish section. She carried a piece of paper in her hand, saw me, and hurried over to me. She was dressed in red. As she approached, I noticed that she wore a large flower tucked into the collar of her blouse. It was an artificial flower, in the shape of a Star of David — the mark which Jews were made to wear by the Nazis. I started to make room for the woman on the bench as she came nearer. She looked at me, shook her head and said “No. I won’t sit. But thank you, for making room for me.”
As she spoke, she stood before me and handed me the piece of paper. “I’d like to give this to you”, she said. “Don’t ask why. I wrote it, because I could not tell it to anyone. I’ll give it to you and then I’ll have told someone.”
With these works she handed me the paper, which I reluctantly took, and then she turned and went, saying over her shoulder, “Don’t ask, just read.”
“Yes, but…” I tried to object.
“No ‘but’. Read.”
Her voice was already far off, and at the next path she turned and disappeared among the gravestones. Only after she was gone did I realize that she was elderly and very small.
I had to give myself a moment to take in what I had just seen and heard. It had all happened so quickly. Much too quickly.
I stood up in order to try to see where she had gone, in vain. No red, no woman.
Just a piece of paper.
I sat back down, put on my glasses and began to read.
It was a poem, written in clear, very slanted handwriting:
A withered rose on the grave,
a crow cries above,
at the graves of the lonely Jews,
history seems endlessly far.
Ants wander in columns
along the cemetery wall.
The time has again come, when people hate –
the memory of it brings alarm.
We are secure in our grief,
with our daily political worries,
in search of the latest freedom.
The world hasn’t changed –
once again the unshackled hordes
shout and sow hate in time.*
I have to return this poem to that woman as quickly as possible, I thought.
But as hard as I searched for her in the cemetery in the following minutes, I couldn’t find her anywhere.
She had disappeared without a trace.
Not knowing what to do, I turned the paper over — and discovered writing on the other side. “Please do not burn, for the sake of souls at peace: please do not burn. After you have read this, leave it where another may find it.”
I left the cemetery deep in thought, and wondered, where I might leave this paper.
There is a small avenue just outside the cemetery wall, along which cars are parked. I went to one of the cars — I purposefully chose a red car — folded the paper and tucked it under the windshield wiper. I positioned myself a good distance from the wall, in order to see to whom I had given the paper, and what further fate awaited the text from the woman in red.
Almost 15 minutes passed before the car’s lights blinked. The owner had used his remote to unlock the doors. He led a little girl by the hand.
They were just about to get into the car when he noticed the paper. “Yet another flyer”, he said, removed the paper from his windshield and tossed it away.
The little girl saw this and retrieved the paper. She unfolded it and saw the writing. “Papa, there’s something written here. It’s not a flyer, it’s a letter, with handwriting like Grandma’s.”
“Grandma’s been dead a long time”, said the man, somewhat angrily.
“We have to read it. We have to read it!”, she insisted.
“OK, later. Get in and buckle up.”
The girl held onto the piece of paper and got into the car.
The man started the car, and they drove away.
Only then did I notice that my feet ached from standing so long.
Ahead, at the intersection, was a pub. I knew it from earlier days. Fourteen years ago I frequented it often, met friends here and talked our heads off about God and the world.
And sometimes about how it was, back then…
As I climbed the couple of steps into the pub, the noise of discussion flew out to me.
Some things never change, I thought.
Then I opened the door and entered, smelled once again the aroma of wine and beer and schnaps, the smoke of cigars and cigarettes.
It was as if absolutely nothing had changed. Not a thing. Nothing.
*Am Grab der verdorrten Rosen,
darüber die Krähe schreit.
An den Gräbern der einsamen Juden
scheint Geschichte unendlich weit.
Ameisen wandern in Straßen
der Friedhofsmauer entlang.
Es ist wieder Zeit, da Menschen hassen
- Erinnerung macht die Gedanken bang.
Wir sind in Trauer geborgen,
im Alltag politischer Sorgen,
im Suchen der letzten Freiheit.
Die Welt ist nicht anders geworden-
wieder schreien entfesselte Horden
und säen den Hass in die Zeit.