The Jewish wife
Over there we can see men coming
Whom He’s forced to relinquish their women
And coupled with blondes in their place.
It’s no good their cursing and praying
For once He catches them racially straying
He’ll whip them back into the Race.
Frankfurt 1935 It is evening. A woman is packing suitcases. She is choosing what to take. Now and again she removes something from her suitcase and returns it to its original place in the room in order to pack another item instead. For a long while she hesitates whether to take a large photograph of her husband that stands on the chest of drawers. Finally she leaves the picture where it is. The packing tires her and for a time she sits on a suitcase leaning her head on her hand. Then she gets to her feet and telephones.
THE WOMAN: This is Judith Keith. Hullo, is that you, doctor? Good evening. I just wanted to ring up and say you’ll have to be looking for another bridge partner; I’m going away. - No, not long, but anyway a few weeks - I want to go to Amsterdam. - Yes, it’s said to be lovely there in spring. - I’ve got friends there. - No, plural, believe it or not. - Who will you get for a fourth? - Come on, we haven’t played for a fortnight. - That’s right, Fritz had a cold too. It’s absurd to go on playing bridge when it’s as cold as this, I always say. - But no, doctor, how could I? - Anyway Thekla had her mother there. - I know. - What put that idea into my head? - No, it was nothing sudden, I kept putting it off, and now I’ve really got to ... Right, we’ll have to cancel our cinema date, remember me to Thekla. - Ring him up on a Sunday sometimes, could you perhaps? - Well, au revoir! - Yes, of course I will. - Goodbye.
She hangs up and calls another number.
This is Judith Keith. Can I speak to Frau Schock? - Lotte?
- I just wanted to say goodbye. I’m going away for a bit. - No, nothing’s wrong, it’s just that I want to see some new faces. -1 really meant to say that Fritz has got the Professor coming here on Tuesday evening, and I wondered if you could both come too, I’m off tonight as I said. - Tuesday, that’s it. - No, I only wanted to tell you I’m off tonight, there’s no connection, I just thought you might be able to come then. - Well, let’s say even though I shan’t be there, right? - Yes, I know you’re not that sort, but what about it, these are unsettled times and everybody’s being so careful, so you’ll come? - It depends on Max? He’ll manage it, the Professor will be there, tell him. - I must ring off now. - Goodbye then.
She hangs up and called another number.
That you, Gertrud? It’s Judith. I’m so sorry to disturb you.
- Thanks, I just wanted to ask if you could see that Fritz is all right, I’m going away for a few months. - Being his sister, I thought you ... Why not? - Nobody’d think that, anyway not Fritz. - Well, of course he knows we don’t... get on all that well, but ... Then he can simply call you if you prefer it that way. - Yes, I’ll tell him that. - Everything’s fairly straight, of course the flat’s on the big side. - You’d better leave his workroom to Ida to deal with, she knows what’s to be done. - I find her pretty intelligent, and he’s used to her. - And there’s another thing, I hope you don’t mind my saying so, but he doesn’t like talking before meals, can you remember that? I always used to watch myself. - I don’t want to argue about that just now, it’s not long till my train goes and I haven’t finished packing, you know. - Keep an eye on his suits and remind him to go to his tailor, he’s ordered a new overcoat, and do see that his bedroom’s properly heated, he likes sleeping with the window open and it’s too cold. - No, I don’t think he needs to toughen himself up, but I must ring off now. - Pm very grateful to you, Gertrud, and we’ll write to each other, won’t we? - Goodbye.
She hangs up and calls another number.
Anna? It’s Judith; look, Pm just off. - No, there’s no way out, things are getting too difficult. - Too difficult! - Well, no, it isn’t Fritz’s idea, he doesn’t know yet, I simply packed my things. - I don’t think so. - I don’t think he’ll say all that much. It’s all got too difficult for him, just in everyday matters. - That’s something we haven’t arranged.
- We just never talked about it, absolutely never. - No, he hasn’t altered, on the contrary. - I’d be glad if you and Kurt could look after him a bit, to start with. - Yes, specially Sundays, and try to make him give up this flat. - It’s too big for him. - I’d like to have come and said goodbye to you, but it’s your porter, you know. - So, goodbye; no, don’t come to the station, it’s a bad idea. - Goodbye, I’ll write. - That’s a promise.
She hangs up without calling again. She has been smoking. Now she sets fire to the small book in which she has been looking up the numbers. She walks up and down two or three times. Then she starts speaking. She is rehearsing the short speech which she proposes to make to her husband. It is evident that he is sitting in a particular chair.
Well, Fritz, Pm off. I suppose I’ve waited too long, Pm awfully sorry, but...
She stands there thinking, then starts in a different way. Fritz, you must let me go, you can’t keep ... I’ll be your downfall, it’s quite clear; I know you aren’t a coward, you’re not scared of the police, but there are worse things. They won’t put you in a camp, but they’ll ban you from the clinic any day now. You won’t say anything at the time, but it’ll make you ill. Pm not going to watch you sitting around the flat pretending to read magazines, it’s pure selfishness on my part, my leaving, that’s all. Don’t tell me anything ...
She again stops. She makes a fresh start.
Don’t tell me you haven’t changed; you have! Only last week you established quite objectively that the proportion of Jewish scientists wasn’t all that high. Objectivity is always the start of it, and why do you keep telling me I’ve never been such a Jewish chauvinist as now? Of course I’m one. Chauvinism is catching. Oh, Fritz, what has happened to us?
She again stops. She makes a fresh start.
I never told you I wanted to go away, have done for a long time, because I can’t talk when I look at you, Fritz. Then it seems to me there’s no point in talkng. It has all been settled already. What’s got into them, d’you think? What do they really want? What am I doing to them? I’ve never had anything to do with politics. Did I vote Communist? But I’m just one of those bourgeois housewives with servants and so on, and now all of a sudden it seems only blondes can be that. I’ve often thought lately about something you told me years back, how some people were more valuable than others, so one lot were given insulin when they got diabetes and the others weren’t. And this was something I understood, idiot that I was. Well, now they’ve drawn a new distinction of the same sort, and this time I’m one of the less valuable ones. Serves me right.
She again stops. She makes a fresh start.
THE WOMAN you want. The artificial lung, and the dive-bomber! You are monsters or you pander to monsters. Yes, I know I’m being unreasonable, but what good is reason in a world like this? There you sit watching your wife pack and saying nothing. Walls have ears, is that it? But you people say nothing. One lot listens and the other keeps silent. To hell with that. I’m supposed to keep silent too. If I loved you I’d keep silent. I truly do love you. Give me those underclothes. They’re suggestive. I’ll need them. I’m thirty-six, that isn’t too old, but I can’t do much more experimenting. The next time I settle in a country things can’t be like this. The next man I get must be allowed to keep me. And don’t tell me you’ll send me money; you know you won’t be allowed to. And you aren’t to pretend it’s just a matter of four weeks either. This business is going to last rather more than four weeks. You know that, and so do I. So don’t go telling me ‘After all it’s only for two or three weeks’ as you hand me the fur coat I shan’t need till next winter. And don’t let’s speak about disaster. Let’s speak about disgrace. Oh, Fritz!
She stops. A door opens. She hurriedly sees to her appearance.
THE HUSBAND comes in.
THE HUSBAND: What are you doing? Tidying up?
THE WOMAN: No.
THE HUSBAND: Why are you packing?
THE WOMAN: I want to get away.
THE HUSBAND: What are you talking about?
THE WOMAN: We did mention the possibility of my going away for a bit. It’s no longer very pleasant here.
THE HUSBAND: That’s a lot of nonsense.
THE WOMAN: Do you want me to stay, then?
THE HUSBAND: Where are you thinking of going?
THE WOMAN: Amsterdam. Just away.
THE HUSBAND: But you’ve got nobody there.
THE HUSBAND: Why don’t you wish to stay here? There’s absolutely no need for you to go so far as I’m concerned.
THE WOMAN: No.
THE HUSBAND: You know I haven’t changed, you do, don’t you, Judith?
THE WOMAN: Yes.
He embraces her. They stand without speaking among the suitcases.
THE HUSBAND: And there’s nothing else makes you want to go?
THE WOMAN: You know that.
THE WOMAN: Yes, why don’t you?
THE HUSBAND: Things can’t go on like this all that much longer. Something’s bound to change. The whole business will die down again like an inflammation - it’s a disaster, it really is.
THE WOMAN: Definitely. Did you run into Schock?
THE HUSBAND: Yes, just on the stairs, that’s to say. I think he’s begun to be sorry about the way they dropped us. He was quite embarrassed. In the long run they can’t completely sit on filthy intellectuals like us. And they won’t be able to run a war with a lot of spineless wrecks. People aren’t all that standoffish if you face up to them squarely. What time are you off, then?
THE WOMAN: Nine-fifteen.
THE HUSBAND: And where am I to send money to?
THE HUSBAND: I’ll see they give me a special permit. Good God, I can’t send my wife off with ten marks a month. It’s all a lousy business.
THE WOMAN: If you can come and collect me it’ll do you a bit of good.
THE HUSBAND: To read a paper with something in it for once.
THE WOMAN: I rang Gertrud. She’ll see you’re all right.
THE HUSBAND: Quite unnecessary. For two or three weeks.
THE WOMAN who has again begun packing: Do you mind handing me my fur coat?
THE HUSBAND handing it to her: After all it’s only for two or three weeks.
Here come the worthy schoolteachers
The Youth Movement takes the poor creatures
And makes them all thrust out their chest.
Every schoolboy’s a spy.
So now marking Is based not on knowledge, but narking
And on who knows whose weaknesses best.
They educate traducers
To set hatchet-men and bruisers
On their own parents’ tail.
Denounced by their sons as traitors
To Himmler’s apparatus
The fathers go handcuffed to gaol.
Cologne 1935. A wet Sunday afternoon. The man,the wife and the boy have finished lunch. The maidservant enters.
THE MAN snarls: No.
The maidservant goes out.
THE WIFE: You should have gone to the phone yourself. They must know we couldn’t possibly have gone out yet.
THE MAN: Why couldn’t we?
THE WIFE: Because it’s raining.
THE MAN: That’s no reason.
THE WIFE: Where could we have gone to? That’s the first thing they’ll ask.
THE MAN: Oh, masses of places.
THE WIFE: Let’s go then. THE MAN: Where to?
THE MAN: And where’d we go if it wasn’t raining?
THE WIFE: At least in the old days you could go and meet someone.
THE WIFE: It was a mistake you not going to the phone. Now they’ll realise we don’t want to have them.
THE MAN: Suppose they do?
THE WIFE: Then it wouldn’t look very nice, our dropping them just when everyone else does.
THE MAN: We’re not dropping them.
THE WIFE: Why shouldn’t they come here in that case?
THE MAN: Because Klimbtsch bores me to tears.
THE WIFE: He never bored you in the old days.
THE WIFE: Well anyhow you’d never have cut him just because the school inspectors are after him.
THE MAN: Are you telling me I’m a coward?
THE MAN: All right, ring up and tell them we’ve just come back on account of the rain.
THE WIFE remains seated.
THE WIFE: What about asking the Lemkes to come over?
THE WIFE to the boy: Klaus-Heinrich, stop fiddling with the wireless.
The boy turns his attention to the newspapers.
THE MAN: It’s a disaster, its raining like this. It’s quite intolerable, living in a country where it’s a disaster when it rains.
THE WIFE: Do you really think it’s sensible to go round making remarks like that?
THE MAN: I can make what remarks I like between my own four walls. This is my home, and I shall damn well say ... He is interrupted. The maidservant enters with coffee things. So long as she is present they remain silent.
THE MAN: Have we got to have a maid whose father is the block warden?
THE MAN: What aren’t I supposed to have said? If you mentioned anything of the sort to your mother we could land in a proper mess.
THE WIFE: The things I talk about to my mother...
Enter the maidservant with the coffee.
THE WIFE: That’s all right, Erna. You can go now, I’ll see to it.
the maidservant: Thank you very much, ma’am. the boy looking up from his paper: Is that how vicars always behave, dad?
THE MAN: What’s that you’re reading?
Snatches the paper from his hands. the boy: Hey, our group leader said it was all right for us to know about anything in that paper.
THE MAN: I don’t have to go by what your group leader says. It’s for me to decide what you can or can’t read.
THE WIFE: There’s ten pfennigs, Klaus-Heinrich, run over and get yourself something. the boy: But it’s raining.
He hangs round the window, trying to make up his mind.
THE MAN: If they go on reporting these cases against priests I shall cancel the paper altogether.
THE MAN: If all the papers are full of this kind of filth I’d sooner not read a paper at all. And I wouldn’t be any worse informed about what’s going on in the world.
THE WIFE: There’s something to be said for a bit of a cleanup.
THE MAN: Clean-up, indeed. The whole thing’s politics.
THE WIFE: Well, it’s none of our business anyway. After all, we’re protestants.
THE MAN: It matters to our people all right if it can’t hear the word vestry without being reminded of dirt like this.
THE WIFE: But what do you want them to do when this kind of thing happens?
THE WIFE: But that only goes to show how far our people’s recovery has gone, Karl.
THE MAN: Recovery! A nice kind of recovery. If that’s what recovery looks like, I’d sooner have the disease any day.
THE WIFE: You’re so on edge today. Did something happen at the school?
THE MAN: What on earth could have happened at school? And for God’s sake don’t keep saying I’m on edge, it makes me feel on edge.
THE WIFE: We oughtn’t to keep on quarrelling so, Karl. In the old days ...
THE MAN: Just what I was waiting for. In the old days. Neither in the old days nor now did I wish to have my son’s imagination perverted for him.
THE WIFE: Where has he got to, anyway?
THE WIFE: Did you see him go?
THE MAN: No.
THE WIFE: I can’t think where he can have gone. She calls: Klaus-Heinrich!
She hurries out of the room, and is heard calling. She returns.
THE WIFE: He really has left.
THE MAN: Why shouldn’t he?
THE WIFE: But it’s raining buckets.
THE MAN: Why are you so on edge at the boy’s having left?
THE WIFE: You remember what we were talking about?
THE MAN: What’s that got to do with it?
THE WIFE: You’ve been so careless lately.
THE MAN: I have certainly not been careless, but even if I had what’s that got to do with the boy’s having left?
THE WIFE: You know how they listen to everything.
THE MAN: Well?
THE WIFE: Well. Suppose he goes round telling people? You know how they’re always dinning it into them in the Hitler Youth. They deliberately encourage the kids to repeat everything. It’s so odd his going off so quietly.
THE MAN: Rubbish.
THE WIFE: Didn’t you see when he went?
THE MAN: He was hanging round the window for quite a time.
THE WIFE: I’d like to know how much he heard.
THE WIFE: What about that boy the Schmulkes were telling us about? They say his father’s still in a concentration camp. I wish we knew how long he was in the room. THE MAN: The whole thing’s a load of rubbish.
He hastens to the other rooms and calls the boy.
THE WIFE: I just can’t see him going off somewhere without saying a word. It wouldn’t be like him.
THE MAN: Mightn’t he be with a school friend?
THE WIFE: Then he’d have to be at the Mummermanns’. I’ll give them a ring. She telephones.
THE MAN: It’s all a false alarm, if you ask me.
THE WIFE telephoning-. Is that Mrs Mummermann? It’s Mrs Furcke here. Good afternoon. Is Klaus-Heinrich with you? He isn’t? - Then where on earth can the boy be? - Mrs Mummermann do you happen to know if the Hitler Youth place is open on Sunday afternoons? - It is? - Thanks a lot, I’ll ask them.
She hangs up. They sit in silence.
THE MAN: What do you think he overheard?
THE WIFE: You were talking about the paper. You shouldn’t have said what you did about the Brown House. He’s so patriotic about that kind of thing.
THE MAN: What am I supposed to have said about the Brown House?
THE MAN: Well, nobody can take that as an attack, can they? Saying things aren’t all white, or snowy white rather, as I qualified it - which makes a difference, quite a substantial one at that - well, it’s more a kind of jocular remark like
THE MAN in the street makes in the vernacular, sort of, and all it really means is that probably not absolutely everything even there is always exactly as the Führer would like it to be. I quite deliberately emphasised that this was only ‘probably’ so by using the phrase, as I very well remember, ‘I’m told’ things aren’t all - and that’s another obvious qualification - so snowy white there. ‘I’m told’; that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily so. How could I say things aren’t snowy white? I haven’t any proof. Wherever there are human beings there are imperfections. That’s all I was suggesting, and in very qualified form. And in any case there was a certain occasion when the Führer himself expressed the same kind of criticisms a great deal more strongly.
THE MAN: I’d like to think I don’t. I wish I knew to what extent you gossip about all that’s liable to be said between these four walls in the heat of the moment. Of course I wouldn’t dream of accusing you of casting ill-considered aspersions on your husband, any more than I’d think my boy capable for one moment of doing anything to harm his own father. But doing harm and doing it wittingly are unfortunately two very different matters.
THE WIFE: You can stop that right now! What about the kind of things you say yourself? Here am I worrying myself silly whether you make that remark about life in Nazi Germany being intolerable before or after the one about the Brown House.
THE MAN: I never said anything of the sort.
THE MAN: The term Nazi Germany just isn’t in my vocabulary.
THE WIFE: And that stuff about the warden of our block and how the papers print nothing but lies, and what you were saying about civil defence the other day - when does the boy hear a single constructive remark? That just doesn’t do any good to a child’s attitude of mind, it’s simply demoralising, and at a time when the Führer keeps stressing that Germany’s future lies in Germany’s youth. He really isn’t the kind of boy to rush off and denounce one just like that. It makes me feel quite ill.
THE WIFE: What on earth has he got to be vindictive about?
THE MAN: God knows, but there’s bound to be something. The time I confiscated his tree-frog perhaps.
THE WIFE: But that was a week ago.
THE MAN: It’s that kind of thing that sticks in his mind, though.
THE WIFE: What did you confiscate it for, anyway?
THE MAN: Because he wouldn’t catch any flies for it. He was letting the creature starve. THE WIFE: He really is run off his feet, you know.
THE MAN: There’s not much the frog can do about that.
THE WIFE: But he never came back to the subject, and I gave him ten pfennigs only a moment ago. He only has to want something and he gets it.
THE MAN: Exactly. I call that bribery.
THE WIFE: What do you mean by that?
THE MAN: They’ll simply say we were trying to bribe him to keep his mouth shut. THE WIFE: What do you imagine they could do to you?
THE MAN: Absolutely anything. There’s no limit. My God! And to think I’m supposed to be a teacher. An educator of our youth. Our youth scares me stiff.
THE WIFE: But they’ve nothing against you.
THE MAN: They’ve something against everyone. Everyone’s suspect. Once the suspicion’s there, one’s suspect.
THE WIFE: But a child’s not a reliable witness. A child hasn’t the faintest idea what it’s talking about.
THE WIFE: Couldn’t we work out what you could have meant by your remarks? Then he could just have misunderstood you.
THE MAN: Well, what did I say? I can’t even remember. It’s all the fault of that damned rain. It puts one in a bad mood. Actually I’m the last person to say anything against the moral resurgence the German people is going through these days. I foresaw the whole thing as early as the winter of 1932.
THE WIFE: Karl, there just isn’t time to discuss that now. We must straighten everything out right away. There’s not a minute to spare.
THE MAN: I don’t believe Karl-Heinrich’s capable of it.
THE WIFE: Let’s start with the Brown House and all the filth.
THE MAN: I never said a word about filth.
THE MAN: Right, the paper. But not the Brown House.
THE WIFE: Couldn’t you have been saying that you won’t stand for such filth in the churches? And that you think the people now being tried could quite well be the same as used to spread malicious rumours about the Brown House suggesting things weren’t all that snowy white there? And that they ought to have started looking into their own place instead? And what you were telling the boy was that he should stop fiddling with the wireless and read the paper because you’re firmly of the opinion that the youth of the Third Reich should have a clear view of what’s happening round about them.
THE MAN: It wouldn’t be any use.
THE WIFE: Karl, you’re not to give up now. You should be strong, like the Führer keeps on ...
THE MAN: I’m not going to be brought before the law and have my own flesh and blood standing in the witness box and giving evidence against me.
THE MAN: It was a great mistake our seeing so much of the Klimbtsches.
THE WIFE: But nothing whatever has happened to him.
THE MAN: Yes, but there’s talk of an inquiry.
THE WIFE: What would it be like if everybody got in such a panic as soon as there was talk of an inquiry?
THE MAN: Do you think our block warden has anything against us?
THE WIFE: You mean, supposing they asked him? He got a box of cigars for his birthday the other day and his Christmas box was ample.
THE MAN: The Gauffs gave him fifteen marks.
THE WIFE: Yes, but they were still taking the socialist paper in 1932, and as late as May 1933 they were hanging out the old nationalist flag.
THE MAN: That’s the phone.
THE WIFE: Shall I answer it?
THE MAN: I don’t know.
THE WIFE: Who could be ringing us?
THE MAN: Wait a moment. If it rings again, answer it.
They wait. It doesn’t ring again.
THE MAN: We can’t go on living like this!
THE WIFE: Karl!
THE MAN: A Judas, that’s what you’ve borne me. Sitting at the table listening, gulping down the soup we’ve given him and noting down whatever his father says, the little spy.
THE WIFE: That’s a dreadful thing to say.
THE WIFE: Do you think we ought to make any kind of preparations?
THE MAN: Do you think he’ll bring them straight back with him?
THE WIFE: Could he really?
THE MAN: Perhaps I’d better put on my Iron Cross.
THE WIFE: Of course you must, Karl.
THE WIFE: But they’ve nothing against you at school, have they?
THE MAN: How’s one to tell? I’m prepared to teach whatever they want taught; but what’s that? If only I could tell ... How am I to know what they want Bismarck to have been like? When they’re taking so long to publish the new text books. Couldn’t you give the maid another ten marks? She’s another who’s always listening.
THE WIFE nodding: And what about the picture of Hitler; shouldn’t we hang it above your desk? It’d look better.
THE MAN: Yes, do that.
THE WIFE starts taking down the picture.
THE WIFE puts the picture back on its old hook.
THE MAN: Wasn’t that the door?
THE WIFE: I didn’t hear anything.
THE MAN: It was.
THE WIFE: Karl!
She embraces him.
THE MAN: Keep a grip on yourself. Pack some things for me. The door of the flat opens. Man and wife stand rigidly side by side in the corner of the room. The door opens and enter the boy, a paper bag in his hand. Pause. the boy: What’s the matter with you people?
THE WIFE: Where have you been?
The boy shows her the bag, which contains chocolate.
THE WIFE: Did you simply go out to buy chocolate? the boy: Whatever else? Obvious, isn’t it?
He crosses the room munching, and goes out. His parents look enquiringly after him.
THE MAN: Do you suppose he’s telling the truth?
THE WIFE shrugs her shoulders.