The Self-Made Man
BY WILLIAM LAIDLAW
HERR FRIEDRICII NUSSBAUM, who had lived most of his life in Berlin, had two fair reasons for not specially thinking of himself as Jewish. The first was that from infancy he had had no relatives of any description. The second reason was that he needed only to look at his dinner table, his town house on Bendlerstrasse, his country place in the Bavarian Alps, or at one of his big American cars, to see at once that his label was Solid Citizen, German Business Man — A Person of Considerable Influence, in fact.1
It had been a long time since even the angriest dolichoblond individual had used the word ‘Jew’ to Herr Nussbaum in an accusatory sense. Instead he was addressed as ‘Herr Direktor’ or ‘My dear Nussbaum’; occasionally, by sad little fellows whose notes were due, as ‘Exzellenz.’ His consumption was eminently conspicuous; his leisure, part of which was occupied by a charming lady whom he maintained in the Neueswestens, reputable to the last degree. There was absolutely nothing to distinguish him from any other right-thinking chap who had been smart, dug his toes in and got there; and from the knowledge of this Herr Nussbaum took a satisfaction which could not have been equaled if the Angel Gabriel had appeared to him and announced that he was to be given all the titles of the House of Hohenzollern, holdings included.
During the war, when he had had a textile mill near Essen, Herr Nussbaum had been keenly patriotic. True, his uniform cloth had come a bit higher than the bids some of his competitors had offered, but its superior quality had won him the warm friendship of the Boys in Field Gray, as his frequent dinners to ranking officers in the Quartermaster’s Department attested. In 1918, when the end of the world had come, when Red Sailors were putting newspapers down in the palace so that their machine guns would n’t scratch the Kaiser’s floors, when the name of Liebknecht hung over responsible heads like a zeppelin, when the Right Wing Socialists, true Germans even on The Day, were routing their Independent brethren with court injunctions; in 1919, when all the right people had transformed their resentment against the Emperor and the adroit generals into resentment against the new government and were trembling at the inroads the November Criminals were making into sound business, Herr Nussbaum had shivered with the blondest of them. Later, when the Socialist Minister Eisner was assassinated on his way to turn in his portfolio, Herr Nussbaum agreed heartily with his gentile associates that political murder as a rule was beyond the pale of decent society, but that this thing had been inevitable — that it had been the only way to get rid of a man who was wrecking the country.
Copyright 1936, by The Atlantia Monthly Company, Boston, Mass. All rights reserved.
In the year 1920 a thing occurred which was to affect the whole future course of Herr Nussbaum’s life. This was a local but violent Communist outbreak in the Ruhr district, which, extending to Essen, caused the Nussbaum Uni-Tex Mills, Inc., to be seized and held for a full day before government forces could drive the usurpers out. Herr Nussbaum never recovered from the fright this gave him. Having had the normal prejudices of a man of property to begin with, he naturally came, after this event, to regard Communism as a Pope does Antichrist, as the most formidable, the most imminent, the most personal threat in all human existence. Nor did he think henceforth of the dragon as Communism alone. In his mind it took the broader shape of ‘The Red Menace,’ which included various forms of Socialism, of ‘ experimental ’ Democracy, and all other developments smacking of the word ‘Liberal.’ After March 1920, he would often employ several of these different labels in a single sentence, using them all to connote the same individual or group or mode of thought, and could never encounter the mildest mention of ‘Social Reform’ without hearing the gathering drums of Armageddon.
In those days there was certainly much to keep his fears alive. Despite the fact that it had been the present government which had rescued his mill, Herr Nussbaum drew little distinction between its members and the rascals they had chased. Both were Red; the Communists were simply Redder. Men less sensitive than he were virulent against the weak Republic, with its ‘National Economic Council,’ its absurd taxes, and other such tripe. And if, where the retrieving of his mill was concerned, Herr Nussbaum did not thank the government, he could not be called deliberately ungrateful. To him that had been an act of God. It got soon so that Herr Nussbaum outdid all but a very few extremists among his friends in hating the Government of the Weimar Constitution. So much so that when the Kapp Putsch had its momentary success that same spring Herr Nussbaum, though even the most conservative elements repudiated the affair, said it might be a good thing, and, after a general strike had trod the Kapp Putsch out, told some of his friends they could laugh if they wanted to, but they had let slip one of the best chances that had yet come to get the country back on its feet. At about that period he heard for the first time of an agitator down in Bavaria named Hichler, Hippla, — something like that, — but there were so many of these damned Reds around just then that Nussbaum and his acquaintances could n’t be bothered singling out one more. Besides, the mark, which had already gone to hell, was burrowing its way to some unexplored place beneath that, and there was no time to waste on soap-box orators, however resonant.
During the first of those sad inflation years, while Germany juggled desperately with Reparations, dissatisfactions, and the million debilities of a Cæsarean-born Democracy, Herr Nussbaum made money hand over fist. Reluctantly, for it had been the flagship of his life, he let the mill at Essen drift toward the reefs. He put a little of his capital here and a little there. He looked ahead a bit; saw that if one had enough of this increasingly worthless paper he could still do something with the exchange; got a little gold in hand — presently quite a quantity of gold. To facilitate the success of various enterprises he borrowed heavily from the government, which he found had at least that one use. By the time he repaid this money, of course, its value had always sunk to not king at all. Thus Herr Nussbaum soon found the threat of creditors practically nonexistent.
In order to bring more foreign money into his hands, and because he saw that the debased mark was bound to make Germany a favorite playground for people from other countries, he also put a good part of his money into hotels and amusements for the tourist trade. He bought a big hotel in Berlin, another in Munich; two in the Bavarian Alps, a beautiful big one on the Rhine. He toyed with the idea of an enormous hostelry at Oberammergau which would become worldfamous. In a short time, not only in the right quarters in Germany, but in England, America, — everywhere but in France, — Herr Nussbaum’s hotels began to be known. Their cuisines and situations, their excellent service, — above all, the important fact that Jews were not encouraged, — made them just the places for long sojourns as well as for discriminating travelers.
Just the same, however, as Herr Nussbaum and his friends pointed out to one another, things in those days were not so fine as they seemed. There were all sorts of attempts to prevent a man from earning an honest living; certain measures of the government were downright confiscatory; the Red Menace was everywhere. One night in 1921, when Herr Nussbaum came out with some ladies and gentlemen from a quiet little supper in Kempinski’s, he found that someone had taken a piece of chalk and drawn a large pig on the side of his Packard limousine. The pig had a silk hat on, and underneath, obviously the work of an adult hand, it said: ‘Nussbaum.’ Herr Nussbaum and his friends were indignant, but, as neither his chauffeur nor the doorman had seen anybody, he had to content himself with speaking scathingly about it to a police official whom he knew. The official, after a worried effort to convince Herr Nussbaum of his own innocence, gave orders that henceforth policemen were to keep a strict eye out for such things. That same year, when Finance Minister Erzberger of the Centre Party was assassinated, Herr Nussbaum told the lady in the Neueswestens that political murder as a general thing must be deplored by every decent citizen, but that in this instance it had been inescapable — that it had been the only way to eliminate a dangerous man who was bent on sending the country to the dogs.
Also, that same year, as the nation sank in a slough of paper and wages continued to fall behind prices, thousands of people starved in Germany. In many places there was no milk for small children, either in bottles or in their mothers’ breasts. The price of a loaf of bread at that time was a whole handful of marks. That was cheap, however, compared to prices the following winter when the French marched into the Ruhr. That winter, the cold winter of 1923, with no fuel forthcoming and industrial Germany paralyzed, a single roll cost 75 marks, a loaf of bread 700. Americans who happened to be in Germany just then found that they could get 21,000 marks for a dollar. Presently the number of marks one dollar would bring would be two and a half billion.
At first, since France could n’t actually annex the Ruhr, Herr Nussbaum and his friends thought this business might not be so desperate. They said: ‘The German coal masters hold more cards than Coste and his Frogs realize; the occupation will be brief; meanwhile the government, with its programme of passive resistance, will reimburse the operators for their failure to produce.’ Soon, however, the German officials of the district were expelled; Thyssen, Tengelmann, and others were arrested; specific interests were jeopardized along with the general welfare; and Nussbaum, who had only hated the French impersonally when he was sending uniform cloth against them, began to detest France as bitterly as he did the Radicals at home. Simultaneously, out of Bavaria, there came a noise like a child locked in a closet. That fellow Hiffler commenced whooping that the Ruhr was a crime, that the French must be exterminated — Germany for Germans, Germany Top Nation! But first, he cried, out with the enemy in our own house! Out with the filthy Reds, down with the dirty Jews! New Germany — arise!
Apparently this Hitler — or was it Hüchler? — was getting a little money from somewhere. All those who joined his party received nice warm uniforms, very often things to eat. His programme, while not quite original, reflected the personal patterns of two successful men: first, axiomatically, Napoleon’s; second (but in this case consciously), his newly risen neighbor’s in Italy. Attractive to various elements in the Fatherland, it was especially calculated to please the Bavarian provincials, whose insatiable reactionism has made them, since Odoacer, the insurgents of Germany. A vast civil service establishment, of course. Rents to be taken care of; two billions’ worth of food to be drawn from the soil; no more hunger. Not ‘Liberty’ here where the mass, even more than most masses, dreamed of being little burghers: ‘Discipline, Order; A Sausage in Every Pot; Cheap Beer!’ Economic scheme: a bustling cleaning and repairing boom. The Bavarians, even such country folk as bathed only annually, would love the sound of that. Plan of action filched from both Napoleons: the paradox of plebiscite and coup d’état together. Napoleonic item: all moves to be backed by an army of youths who, more than any young men since 1800, would wallow in Opportunity.
Foreigners could gasp, ‘Versailles!’ and ‘ Desperation! ’ when they saw how the Bavarians listened. The fellow Hüchler — who cellularly, if not legally, was a Bavarian himself — knew there was more to it than that. He knew that not bread but the bad poets arc the ultimate social force; that in the Wagnerian world Our Hero can never be defeated (ignobly) unless there is still time for him to turn the tables. More, in these early days this man, whom only a piece of stamped paper separated from the name of Schiklgruber, was spurred on by a need as great as any a little bourgeois — and especially a Bonaparte-Wagner bourgeois— can know. He lacked a label. Worse, the label, the chief tag of all — citizenship. Austria, the spot of his birth, had snubbed him. Germany, in whose army he had served, not at a Brienne or an Artillery School, but before Valhalla, had informed him coldly that she had no record of him. If any whole-souled little bourgeois could stay homeless long, or if there had been no Bavaria, perhaps he might have found himself a Man without a Country. But beer-heavy Bavaria, land of the Schuhplattl and mounds and mounds of food, is a hospitable place.
In olden times the hairy warriors, loving a fight but hating the responsibility of individual action, would only stir behind a leader. The Bavarians had preserved that trait, but improved on it. For generations now they had served a leader whose punitive expeditions were endless, behind whom they could march perpetually in solid step
— not the goose step of the Prussian Guards, but with the stalking stride of Vigilantes. This leader’s name, meaningless in the Bavarian sense without quotation marks, was ‘ Respectable Order.’ And once he stepped forth, embodied and in uniform, the Bavarians would be massed to receive him. Young men and boys began flocking to the naturalistic Austrian’s banner with its Asiatic symbol. Branches of his organization sprang up outside of Munich. People commenced to take notice.
The National Socialist Movement at this period was still too uncertain to arouse much analysis; but, even if it had not been, Herr Nussbaum, whose life seldom pressed him beyond calculation, the mere statistics of analysis, would not have wasted time dissecting it. He left rank theorizing to those persons whose probable incomes at fifty could be determined by glancing at a chart. For himself he, like the fellow Hitler, had an instinct, a good burgher’s instinct, too. Well, here at last, by God, was a man who not only said the hash of the dirty French should be settled, but seemed to have the courage to do something about it if he got the chance! As for Hitler’s curses on the monopoly of Germany by the worldmanipulating type of super-capitalist,
— the Big Fellows, — Herr Nussbaum, for all the people who called that ‘Red talk,’ knew just what he meant. It was perfectly true. A man who was trying to get ahead a little in these days, Nussbaum had discovered, had to be as wary of bumping his head up above as he did of the Bolsheviks in the grass! By God, it ... of course a couple of the fellow’s ideas — his notions about the farmers, for example — were . . .
But what really kindled his interest, the one point which muted the Nazi trumpeting in regard to nationalizing the trusts, abolishing the land tax, and so forth, was what he began to hear about the fellow Hitler and Reds. Suddenly, like a fragrant breeze, it started to go among Herr Nussbaum’s friends that this Hitler wasn’t a Red at all; that indeed he was potentially the very Scourge of Reds! Why, he actually — and even while you were chuckling you had to admit a sort of affectionate admiration for the man’s spirit — he and one of his associates named Rosenberg were actually saying that, once they had got into power and wiped the Reds out of Germany, they intended to keep on eastward until they had demolished Soviet Russia itself! Yes, sir! This Hitler had a lot of very right ideas! He might even — well, you could laugh if you wanted to, but he might in the long run even be the means of saving the country!
A number of Herr Nussbaum’s Munich acquaintances were strong in this view; some of them went so far as to confide that they had made little donations. The next time Herr Nussbaum went down to his place in Bavaria he was surprised at the enthusiasm he found. All over Munich he saw detachments of fine healthy young chaps marching along in crisp new uniforms, singing their spirited songs, disciplined, obedient, ready for anything. By God, you know — well, in times like these, in spite of all you’d heard, you did n’t quite expect it! It did a man’s heart good!
To a person who pointed out to him that the burden of the healthy youths’ songs was the manner in which they were going to rip the guts out of Jews with their knives (a silly, impractical sort of man, whom Herr Nussbaum would n’t have known at all if his brother had n’t been president of Krauss & Sons in Stuttgart), Nussbaum replied, with a worldly smile, that the cry, since it was aimed at the damned Marxists, most of whom were Jews, was as good a rallying yell as any. As for interpreting it just the way it sounded, he reminded Herr Krauss that there were certain political realities; that in order to get the common people behind you it was often necessary to make quite sweeping generalizations. The majority of these Marxists, as he had already said, were Jews, and you could never weed them out one at a time. But when it came down to action, Herr Nussbaum would stake his life on it, nobody who was at all an asset to his community, worker or business man, Jew or Hohenzollern, was going to be disturbed. That was just plain common sense. To substantiate this opinion he pointed to the ‘nationalization of the trusts’ business and to the Leader’s public invitation to the Communists — whose ranks probably included plenty of good people gone wrong sheerly through desperation, and who as men of action, Hitler said, should join him. And yet it was pretty clear how Hitler stood on Communists as such, wasn’t it? Come, come, my dear Krauss, one must be a realist!
Before he returned to Berlin, Herr Nussbaum arranged to spend an evening at a house where the fellow Hitler was to be present so that he could have a look at him. He found him an excellent chap; rather inelegant, inclined to be a trifle hysterical about his mission, perhaps, but with a strong hearty handclasp, a grim purposeful look in his eye — just the man for the job. Respectful fellow, too; for all his scowling, he seemed to know what was going on. Herr Nussbaum gave him his warmest best wishes, and said he would send a little check to help the good work along. When he got back to Berlin he was hot in his praise of this new movement, which, he assured everyone, was going to make Germany Germany again.
The next autumn Herr Nussbaum took a little trip to America. He had noticed that in these evil times the cheap amusement places, such as inexpensive cinemas and so forth, did not suller so much; that on the contrary many desperate people not quite on the bottom layer relied hungrily on these establishments, even when they had to dig into their food money. Herr Nussbaum had in mind a colossal building somewhere in the Friedrichstadt, a thing somewhat like Haus Vaterland, except that you would pay a smaller sum at the door for general admission and then another small sum for each of the things you wanted to do when you got inside. Better things than Haus Vaterland, too. There would also be a cheap cinema, and Herr Nussbaum thought he would call the whole place ’Schloss Nussbaum.’ For getting ideas, for buying the Tunnels of Love, the Machines for Frightening People, the Wind-gushers for the Ladies’ Skirts, and other necessary equipment, he decided that the best place was America.
When he returned to Germany in November he was greeted by a shock, a bit of late news for which his ship’s radio flashes had not prepared him at all. On the eighth, Adolf Hitler and General Ludendorff, dazzled by a beerhall vision of the Sword loose in the Tree, had declared the National Socialist Revolution and marched on the government at Munich. In the Odeonsplatz they had been met by a detachment of infantry and squashed. Sixteen of the healthy youths were dead, the Party was dissolved, and the Leader himself (who in a too precipitous dive for cover had also suffered a broken bone) faced certain imprisonment.
Into Herr Nussbaum’s eyes at this intelligence there leaped the dismay of a shrewd, self-respecting business man who finds he has bought some bad stock. It was not so much that Adolf Hitler’s hopes had failed. It was that his, Nussbaum’s, gauntlet, having been flung down to the forces threatening the Fatherland, had been treated as if it were a child’s mitten. The thing filled him with a sense of personal impotence. For some while thereafter he had only to see the name Marx or Engels on a placard to be driven into a tantrum. In fact, even the name of poor President Ebert was enough, in those days, to cause Herr Nussbaum solid annoyance. Presently he hardly ever thought of the silly fellow Hitler any more.
His irritability at this period, however, could also be laid to a more subtle cause. The fact was, for all his successes in these fool-governed years, Herr Nussbaum had for some time had one bad corn; and the Munich fiasco had stepped on it. This corn was the collapse of his neglected textile business, which was now altogether defunct, the principal responsibility for the mill at Essen (though Herr Nussbaum still owned it) having come at last to rest on the shoulders of a day and a night watchman.
This price for his other gains made him feel foolish. But by no means did it make him turn his back on Essen. From November 1923, the Essen Restoration ceased to be his hobby. It became a Duty — a tiny goad which never left him now, but hovered nightly in his cigar smoke when work was done, and spoiled his rest. Small wonder that on his tender visits to the moribund mill (with French soldiers still slopping past its gate) his thoughts, as he dismounted from his Cadillac, would often turn to Versailles, the government, the Red Menace, the thousand and one agencies which he felt were to blame for this. It was then, too, and perhaps only then, that he would sometimes think again, with the gloomy resentment one accords a heavily backed race horse which has disappeared into a water jump, of the sorry fellow Hitler.
The sands, though, Essen spinning or Essen still, go on dribbling away. Likewise did the various political groups in Germany go on belaboring one another, often bringing their differences into the streets. Leftists, Rightists, Monarchists, Communists; the Reichsbanner and Catholic Centre people; groups of Hugenberg Nationalists, groups of the supposedly disbanded Nazis, and every other sort of group — all united on one point at least: their contempt for the sad Democratic Government, with its notions of compromise. One day Herr Nussbaum, who always kept a little receiving set in his head tuned in for messages from the right quarter, heard some surprising news. It began to be whispered that things where Hitler was concerned could be worse. Certain sound people, it seemed, were still interested in the Leader; his trial, at which he had been allowed to make a most affecting speech, had been managed very skillfully. Ludendorff, to no one’s great surprise, had been permitted to flounce home unpunished. The man Frick, who as assistant chief of Munich’s police had helped the Leader from the inside, had received a stiff sentence; but no one had dreamed of asking him to serve it. As for the Leader himself, ignoring the old Italian precept that you must put the demagogue to death, postponing the French one that he should be offered the suicide of office, the government had parked him nervously in the Fortress of Landsberg-am-Lech, where, surrounded by thick walls and the gifts of a thousand admirers, with his hair in his eyes, — not wildly, like a Bolshevik’s, but combed that way on purpose, — he had done the one thing which, however foreign to him as an individual, he must do if he was truly to conform to the type of Man-of-the-People-in-Jail: written a book. Presently, when he was uncooped, it developed that this book, entitled Mein Kampf, was to be of huge importance to the National Socialist Movement; it filled a need which, until his enforced holiday, the busy messiah had not had the time to supply. It gave his flock a piece of himself to hold in their hands, something to have around the house when his Voice was absent — a Bible.
Herr Nussbaum, having put a wet finger to the wind, read as much of this as he ever read of any book, thumbing through such discussions as ‘The World Menace of Jewry’ and ‘The Jew as the Backbone of Soviet Russia’ (which, after all, had little to do with the Leader’s concrete economic and political proposals), and pronounced it an amazing piece of mass psychology; told his friends they should read every word of it from cover to cover. In 1924 the mark was stabilized. In 1925, after the Leader had got his land legs back, he resumed the official headship of his party. Herr Nussbaum immediately dispatched his congratulations, enclosing a little check, and was answered at once by a letter from an aide-de-camp, full of gratitude and noble rhetoric. That same year the French evacuated the Ruhr. In 1926; in 1927 at Pharus Hall in Berlin, where enough Communist heads were broken to show plainly that D’Artagnan rode again; again in 1927 at Nuremberg, gigantic meetings of the National Socialist Party were held. Sentimental, color-starved Germany responded more and more to the bright flags, the flourishes of brass, the Wagnerian swoopings of Siegfried and his crew. The husky young chaps in uniform, the disappearance of Radicals by night, the Jew-baiting in the streets, increased. At the elections of May 1928, the Nazis were able to seat twelve of their party in the Reichstag.
Also, in 1928, Schloss Nussbaum got going full blast. People swarmed there by the thousands to forget their cares on things which spun them around, or by watching millionaire lovers on a screen. Herr Nussbaum thought that if the politicians would only give business half a chance things might become very satisfactory indeed. However, in that direction, aside from the Red Menace, — or rather on top of the Red Menace, — there was still much to make him gloomy. Old Hindenburg had not been panning out the way certain patriotic Germans had hoped. He was a Junker, a Field Marshal, and a Gentleman, — he did n’t know how to be anything else, — and he was proud of it. Herr Nussbaum heard that if the old man found out a visiting personage was the son of a butcher, or if a minister’s collar was not right, any interview, however important, might go on the rocks. Added to that, despite his boast that he knew nothing about politics, the patriarch wanted to run Germany as if it were an army post, which left things pretty clear for the persons close to him. Any time the old boy seemed on the verge of perceiving what they were up to with him, these wirepullers would show him a picture of himself at the Battle of Tannenberg or tell him a story about six gentlemen of noble East Prussian blood shooting a grouse. It was not, Herr Nussbaum told his friends glumly, a state of affairs which a plain, hardworking business man could enjoy seeing.
The aristocratic gentlemen of the Herren Club were getting to be more and more of a thorn in Herr Nussbaum’s flesh. At first, soon after the war, it had seemed to him that his interests were identical with theirs, that as a man of business who was daily growing in importance nothing could be more natural than his seeing eye to eye with the capitalists, the great industrialists, the uncrowned kings who were the real Top Business Men of Germany. Gradually, however, he saw that while these men gave a certain material recognition to his rise they did so with a queer twinkle in their eyes. He found that he was never sufficiently on the inside to know what was up, which way to jump; whereas certain Junkers, not business men at all, even certain military men of good family, always knew everything. True, some of the lesser members of the Herren Club were Herr Nussbaum’s close friends, sympathized with him, gave him all the information they could. But in the end, when it came to the final test, the men who really ruled had a way of mingling the interests of Business with the interests of Gentility. Whenever there was a truly good thing going, these high and mighty lords were sure to see to it that the best cuts went to their own breed, even when the beneficiary had only made the grade by marrying one of their skinny Junker females. It pleased Herr Nussbaum to observe that the sleek chaps in the Herren Club were a little scared of Hitler. It was these fellows, he told his friends savagely when they spoke of the Leader’s remarks about profiteers and traitors — it was these fellows, who wanted to run Germany and yet stand apart from it, that Hitler meant! And a good thing, too! When, in September 1930, the Nazis increased their seats in the Reichstag from 12 to 107, polling a popular vote of 6,275,000, and he saw that the Herren Club was definitely alarmed, Herr Nussbaum laughed behind his hand.
In those days, when acquaintances complained in his presence of brutal happenings throughout the country, Herr Nussbaum would demand bluntly if the Communists, also frequently appearing in brown uniforms, were not doing the same thing. He referred them to the bottom of page 215 of Mein Kampf, where the Leader said: ‘Up till the autumn of 1923, the Münchener Post omitted all mention of the fists of the proletariat.’ When people he knew suggested that many persons with no political connections whatsoever, innocent Jews and gentiles alike, were being victimized, he gave them a deliberate look and asked them where they would rather live: in Germany with such outrages — or in Soviet Russia? At that time he became an interested follower of the editorials in the Leader’s newspaper, Der Angriff, which he also forced the lady in the Neueswestens to read. That winter, when some Munich Storm Troops were raising money for a big skiing party in the Arlberg district, Herr Nussbaum was only too glad to send a little something along.
During the following months he watched with care the manœuvres of the Herren Club either to cross out Hitler’s private army or to cut him off from it by putting him in some innocuous office. None of them worked. The Leader himself was campaigning for the Presidency. On April 10, 1932, after some jerky balloting, Field-MarshalJunker Paul von Beneckendorff und von Hindenburg was reëlected President of Germany. On April 13, at the orders of that imitation aristocrat Brüning, whose reputation for forthright honesty gave Herr Nussbaum a prodigious pain, no matter what the fellow had done for Germany abroad, Hitler’s Storm Troops were suppressed.
Herr Nussbaum was incensed. This was a real catastrophe, the worst thing that could have happened! Not that the work of the Party, especially the night work of the secret Feme, was altogether curtailed. But the blow, crippling at any time, was sure to be fatal just now. The fact of the matter was, the Leader was broke, drowning in debt; and for a fugleman whose ability to hold attention depended not only on the usual political funds, but on money for bread and circuses as well, poverty plus the Storm Troop edict was the same as Taps. People suddenly commenced to lose interest. In the Reichstag the Nazis were headed for a terrific setback; everything was going to pieces. Herr Nussbaum heard that the Leader was uttering moving threats as to what he would do with himself if failure overtook him now, and for a brief moment entertained the notion of putting up his own money, forming a syndicate to back the Leader. That, however, was too big a thing, too long a shot, too risky. And Herr Nussbaum told himself morosely, as many others were doing at the moment in many different moods, that Adolf Hitler was through.
At this juncture — much as a trick motorcycle rider in a barrel rolls slowly forward and then backward to gather his first momentum — the initial steps were taken toward what would be a blinding finale. With Hitler down, other bids for power began — but cautiously. Priming must go. A little closer to the hitherto unwelcome light crept the finagling Schleicher. Von Papen, all shimmering, flitted forth, his outward grace giving no hint that his plans were dressed in a diving suit. Names flew around: of people; of organizations; Groener, the Iron Front, the Stahlhelm, the Reichswehr — Hitler. Most of all, Hitler. Did Hitler down mean the end — in Valhalla’s dining hall a vacant chair? Or did it mean that the time had come when the Leader must accept a combination, when somebody with the money and influence would be able to mount behind the Man of the People and ride through all sorts of magic spells? The motorcycle began to climb higher, to whizz faster and faster.
Suddenly it became a blur. Schleicher and von Papen; smiles and skulduggery. Schleicher and the Army, Schleicher letting Groener down. Hrüning gone. Von Papen Chancellor; Prince Charming and the Sacred Bull. Von Papen giving the Leader back his Storm Troops. Rifts and new alliances. Another attempt to sidetrack Hitler by having Hindenburg, who had already held his nose at one interview with the paper hanger about the Vice-Chancellorship, offer him the post of Chancellor — which, under the conditions, the Leader could not, of course, accept. Schleicher and Hitler. Hitler and von Papen. Herr Nussbaum did n’t know what to think of the Leader’s relations with these two. Still it was not necessary to look upon them as his surrender to the Herren Club — these men were individuals; and a realist like Hitler could n’t afford to remember that Schleicher had been one of the main flies in his Bierhalle Putsch ointment.
One morning, after it had become known to certain people that both Hitler and von Papen had been viewing the scenery of the Rhine a day or two before, Herr Nussbaum heard stirring rumors involving a banker in Cologne. Another rumor he heard was that Rothschild had offered to put up fifty million reichsmarks provided Hitler would get rid of Schleicher and stop playing up the Jewish angle. Some other banking names, a big munition name, and some heavy-industry names were whispered, though old August himself was dead and out of it. Herr Nussbaum made investigations, found out what was really what, and himself sent the most substantial sum he had yet donated to the National Socialist Party. He also informed the Leader that if at any time the Kaiserhof did n’t live up to the needs of a Headquarters, or if there was an overflow due to increased staffing, his hotel was always at the Party’s disposal — free of charge, naturally.
January 1933 came. The motorcycle was whirling so furiously now that the nervous audience, even those gaping from the choicest seats, could n’t distinguish the machine from the rider. Rumors — some widespread, others select, heard only in lofty places. Von Papen trying to foist Hitler off on the Old Man as Chancellor. Something about a misappropriation of the Eastern Aid Funds. Not Hindenburg himself, but many of his Junker friends. Schleicher, the current Chancellor, the dilettante democrat, enraging the old bull, saying the investigation could n’t be averted. A rumor that the Eastern Aid List was in Hitler’s hands. . . . Von Papen. Schleicher dismissed. Impressive cars driving up to the French hotel in the Wilhelmstrasse. Suddenly the motorcycle roared into its crescendo. It was at the top of the barrel; it was going a hundred miles an hour. Loose talking, Schleicher caught in the act, the plot about the Potsdam Garrison and a coup on the thirtieth exposed. There was a crash of cymbals, a mighty Wagnerian chord from the orchestra; the motorcycle rolled to a stop. And there upon the stage, breathless but unscathed, in full view of his followers, who stood with their arms lifted toward him as if they had been trying to see how tall he was and found him tall enough — there beside his steaming machine, Man of the Hour for more than one group of people, stood the Austrian house painter, Adolf Hitler — legally appointed Chancellor of the German Reich.
Immediately things began happening in Germany.
By the end of spring, Herr Nussbaum, who was now in everything but name and shirt a National Socialist himself, realized that this was as soul-thrilling an era as any patriot had ever had the good fortune to live through. The only thing that both irritated and dumbfounded him was the attitude of some of his friends. Unbelievable as it might seem, many otherwise sound people refused to see that they had been rescued on the one hand from the Reds, on the other from a few slick snobs who, with Schleicher and his soldiers, had wanted to hog the whole trough. Here this chap was preparing to remake the country, wipe out things that for fifteen years had been making Germany a hellhole; and some of Nussbaum’s friends, far from thanking their stars for the new line-up, were even moving their money over to Lombard Street! Herr Nussbaum always kept a little something in England himself, — nothing wrong in that, — but this lack of patriotism made him boil. He was pleased when regulations were inaugurated which cut out such cowardly withdrawals.
As one month replaced another, the bickering grew. The schisms among yesterday’s politicians were as nothing compared to the realignments of friends, business associates, people generally now. Hostility had sprung up between Nussbaum and some of his most intimate acquaintances; he and some people no longer spoke; some of his friends were no longer there. It was amazing to see the variety of men who talked against Hitler, spoke of the Storm Troops as if they were gangsters, drooled about ‘persecution, barbarism, concentration camps’; who complained of ‘censorship,’ for all the world as if a wild Yellow Press had ever benefited them. That fellow Krauss, for instance, the same one who had crabbed about the boys’ songs a few years back, had been caught circulating a nasty little pamphlet and taken to a concentration camp, where from all reports they had only scared him a bit.
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This fellow’s brother, however, the president of Krauss & Sons in Stuttgart, who you would think would be ashamed to have such a little rat in his family, had set up a great stink about the thing, and now he had hustled the whole Krauss lot except himself out of the country. Another acquaintance, instead of being glad his son would have to read Mein Kampf at school in place of a lot of la-de-da stuff that had never prepared any boy for earning his living, said curtly that he was going to take the youngster out of a certain Berlin Gymnasium and send him to England, where he would still have a chance to learn a little decent German. All around Herr Nussbaum, to his unlimited disgust, people whom he had known and with whom he had done business for years suddenly turned out to be quite mad.
During that time he was very close to the Wilhelmstrasse; prominent people in the Party, particularly a young aide named Schmidt, kept him well abreast of all the doings, were deeply appreciative of his support. His hotels, where officials and Storm Troop officers always received special consideration, were favorite places with the new gods. Late in 1933, Herr Nussbaum, pathetically excited by the sight of so much uniform cloth, turned the whole of Schloss Nussbaum over to some Storm Troops free of charge for a big evening’s celebration, and was told afterward that his generosity had made a splendid impression on everyone.
That there was still much confusion that first year, Herr Nussbaum, in his arguments with people, did not deny. He was always, he said, ready to look facts in the face. He admitted willingly that the Storm Troops, not altogether calmed down yet, were sometimes overzealous; that the concentration camps once in a while did get a man who was neither a traitor nor a jailbird. But these things, he said, were unavoidable during such a vast rebuilding. When business acquaintances pointed, panic-stricken, to the growing chaos of Germany’s export situation, Herr Nussbaum, whose own interests were now primarily domestic, replied firmly, if a little grimly, that they must be patient, that there had been a bigger upheaval than they knew. Not only was time a necessary factor, he reminded them, but, as with any new order, they would even have to expect a few outand-out mistakes. For instance, Streicher’s Jewish Boycott in April — that had been a mistake, perhaps an obligatory mistake to save certain political faces. But it had been repaired; the Party had called such nonsense off and it would not be repeated.
He spoke of Schacht’s unquestioned ability, already proven under another régime. If his friends really wanted to see how things were going, Herr Nussbaum said, they would do better to look at reëmployment figures than at exports. And when his listeners gaped at this, wandering whether Nussbaum was more ingenuous than they had thought or simply stupid, and asked if he did n‘t know what particular work was absorbing so many of the jobless, — because if he did n’t everyone else in Germany, and even abroad, did know, — Herr Nussbaum said crossly that of course he knew what they meant, but that war materials were far from being the whole answer. Even if the manufacture of munitions, secret or otherwise, should become Germany’s leading industry, — which was silly, — you still could not attribute such widespread reemployment to that alone. With the calm, reasoning smile which he took pains to preserve in these days he said: ‘Look at France. Of the eighty-nine départements in France, there are only about a dozen which are not, at least to some noticeable extent, producers of wine. And yet would you say that a wine boom by itself could solve French unemployment?’
When Nazi personalities were mentioned, usually in a whisper, — Goering, Hess, Rosenberg, Goebbels, scores of others, — men seeming on the surface to offer a whole microcosm of types, yet having enough cells in common to make them a blood brotherhood even when they quarreled; Röhm, Himmler; Frick, who had once proposed the castration of all homosexuals; Rust, whose appointment as Minister of Education had so affronted a Berlin doctor who had previously reported on his unfitness that the doctor, fanatic chap, had committed suicide shortly after Rust took office; Streicher, whose own lips boasted feverishly of his horsewhip — when these were mentioned Herr Nussbaum was quite fair; he took no blanket attitude. Of some of these men he said that he happened to know first-hand that the stories leveled against them were lies, and he defended them. Of others he said that this or that thing might be true or it might not, he had no way of telling; but that in times like these vicious rumors were circulated like flies, and that he, for his part, refused to believe anything, good or bad, without definite proof. He even admitted outright that one or two figures in the Party were indisputably evil; but he said this was not the Party’s fault. Streicher, for example, was unquestionably a low fellow, but was n’t the Party already starting to scrape away men of that stripe who, barnacle-like, had come to port with it? What about Streicher’s ‘Ritual Murder’ number of Der Stürmer? They’d suppressed that quickly enough, hadn’t they? Why, good Lord, man, it’s about as fair to judge the National Socialist Party by men like Streicher as it would be to judge, say, the whole Republican Party in America by the few scoundrels who sneaked in with the Harding Administration!
People said: Streicher or any other individual aside, tens of thousands of Jews were being tortured for no reason except their race. ‘All right, then,’ Herr Nussbaum said. ‘Perhaps a few innocent Jews are suffering! But have n’t we Jews always suffered? Do you think Hitler invented anti-Semitism? What about Queen Isabella’s two million?’ (The bitterness of his opponents had sent him to the encyclopædia.) ‘Look at old England, the Dreyfuss case, Frankfort — any time or place you can think of! Listen! Has any change, for better or worse, ever come in any country without some innocent people getting it in the neck? You don’t like to think of 1918 here, do you? Or Russia? Or the French Revolution? And yet that’s just where you and I’d be now if this chap had n’t come along! The point is: do you or do you not believe in the greatest good for the greatest number?
‘Look! Here’s a fellow who comes along and says: “Here. This country’s rotting with Reds, other subversive influences. Now I can clean these dirty rats out; I can put the country back on its feet again — if I can get the people behind me! But,”he says, “how am I going to do that — and keep ”m there? Most people are n’t educated enough to realize these evils just as they stand. What rallying cry can I give them that won’t break down sooner or later — that’ll really hit ’em some place where they live?” Then he says: “Well, here’s this anti-Semitism. It’s an ugly thing, but here it is; it’s a fact; it’s been here a long time. Why not, for the first time in its life, put it to some constructive use? As long as it is here, as long as we’ve got to have it anyway! Besides, a lot of these damned Marxists are Jews! And if there must be any innocent victims in the struggle, won’t it be a lot better to have them come from part of an isolated one per cent of the nation than to have a wholesale, unlimited destruction? This way — with this, well, common interest you might say —I can unify my people! Then, when they’re organized, when they’re united through that, I can take ’em on against the real obstacles!” — All right, he does! He does something with anti-Semitism that s never been done before! Cruel, you’ll say — innocent people and all that! But you can’t be sentimental about it; you’ve got to look facts in the face! If you can think of a way that would n’t have been fifty times as bad, I’d like to hear it!’
When Herr Nussbaum said this his friends would often regard him with quiet, meditative eyes and change the subject.
Even the lady in the Neueswestens once burst forth against Hitler. Herr Nussbaum arrived one evening to find her running up and dowm the flat, reviling the Leader’s recent castigation of cosmetics, which he had decreed unfit for German womanhood. Herr Nussbaum said for God’s sake what was she squawking about — that that edict had nothing to do with women like her. The lady in the Neueswestens said he was damn right it had nothing to do with her; she would paint her face green if she felt like it, and if Chariot-puss did n’t like it he knew what he could do! You would think, she said, that instead of standing around snarling at make-up the Leader would be down at some good wigmaker’s getting a couple of false ends for his moustache!
Herr Nussbaum found such talk very annoying, and said so. It was the first time he had ever known the lady in the Neueswestens to be intractable.
Abroad, too, as time went on, there seemed to be an increasingly stubborn refusal to recognize the rebirth which the Leader was bringing about in Germany. Herr Nussbaum, who held blocks of stock in a large toy factory in Nuremberg, saw several letters from dealers in America with whom the firm was accustomed to do quite a business. Three of these letters, written from major cities, said that in order to sell a recent shipment of dolls — dolls representing German waiters holding trays of beer, a neat little number which had always been one of the most popular on the firm’s list — it had been necessary to paint the faces of the dolls black. As the faces for Negrowaiter dolls could be manufactured more cheaply and much more accurately in America, the dealers said, they regretted to inform the firm that they were hereby canceling all orders for this product, but would let the factory hear from them should they want anything in future.
Nevertheless, despite such irritations, Herr Nussbaum found that life on the whole went very well indeed. No doubt it would soon go even better. Considering the state the entire world was in at that time, his various enterprises were marching along quite decently. His hotels, to be sure, had been somewhat affected; at first it had looked as if the temporary confusion would put them on the shelf for a season or two. But whereas there was a falling off of tourists, — a loss in quality, it soon developed, in the case of the resort places at least, — there was no need to worry. Bourgeois adherents of the Party with their pockets newly lined — the thronging families of Storm Troop leaders, petty officials, and so forth — arrived in large numbers to take advantage of Herr Nussbaum’s special rates. These plus such tourists as still came to ski, hear music, see religious plays, or verify the existence of the Storm Troops with their own eyes, kept the books balanced very nicely.
In fact, at the end of the Year One, only three things had occurred which Herr Nussbaum could rate as unequivocally bad, and one of these was not really an occurrence at all, only an obstinately enduring condition which he felt sure would be rectified before very long. This first thing was that Essen still lay idle, friends of the Leader’s, men who had never deserted the textile business, being too well placed for Nussbaum to have got anywhere on the uniform question yet. The second evil was a violent demonstration which some rowdies staged one night in front of Schloss Nussbaum, but which was speedily broken up as soon as the proper authorities got wind of it. The other thing was more personal.
One night in 1933, when Herr Nussbaum came out with the Neueswestens lady from a quiet little supper in Kempinski’s, he found a crowd of people around his Lincoln limousine, some of them supporting his chauffeur, whose face was covered with blood. The windows of his car had been shattered, and sticking from one of them, apparently snatched from a near-by store, was a large sign which said: ‘Juden Heraus!’ Herr Nussbaum bit his lip angrily, but, beyond telling his chauffeur to bring the car on home as soon as he was able, he said nothing. He and the lady went back to the Neueswestens in a cab. The next morning, early, Herr Nussbaum telephoned the Wilhelmstrasse and put the people there on the carpet for what had happened. However, the official to whom he spoke was so apologetic, so honest in his plea of a misunderstanding and the still perilous and confusing nature of the times, that Herr Nussbaum could not but be mollified.
That same afternoon young Kurt Schmidt drove around to bring still more apologies, and first thing you knew, when they had drunk a little brandy together, there they were laughing at the silliness of the mistake, especially when you stopped to think that the poor chauffeur, who was the one who had really got it in the neck, was a gentile. After that their talk drifted to other things.
Nevertheless, Herr Nussbaum was unable to get the lady in the Neueswestens — who, like the chauffeur, was a gentile — to be forgiving in this matter. Long after Nussbaum himself had fallen into the habit of smiling at the incident, she kept on fuming about it, and said it was a dirty, lousy, stinking thing!
The summer of 1934 rolled around. In Berlin during those days there was a good deal of marching in the streets, a strange air of restlessness. Herr Nussbaum, though he had not been there for some time, heard the same of Munich. For that matter it was so all over Germany unless your eyes were shut. The momentum which the Leader had gathered from the Reichstag fire more than a year before was still visible. Many of his projects were in full swing, appeared to be getting on well enough. But there was something indefinable in the atmosphere, something queerer than the report that Hitler’s two-billion agricultural job was on its way to costing ten billion. The fact was, the Postman was at last being asked to look at some of the letters he had brought.
Herr Nussbaum knew, for instance, that he could afford to smile when the different Hindenburg rumors went the rounds; that the old man was neither a crutch to the Leader, nor a threat, nor his prisoner, but a compound of all three. But to be positive in other matters, to identify exact foes and their exact stands in the welter of monarchists, military men, and politicians who lurked about, was more difficult. For example, von Papen, Hindenburg’s whippet, was still around. The finagling Schleicher peered forth somewhere from the bulrushes, hard to find at his official address. Röhm, who had made the climb with the Leader and should have known better, was sulking in the South. There were disturbing rumblings, reactionary and radical, in the body of Storm Troops.
Once or twice curious tremors reached Berlin and even Herr Nussbaum himself, such as on the night when a group of Storm Troopers surrounded his car in Joachimsthalerstrasse and began to insult him. Since on this occasion he suffered no more than an uncomfortable moment, he made no complaint of it until his next meeting with Kurt Schmidt, who was even more indignant about it than Herr Nussbaum was. But when the Wilhelmstrasse itself called up one day to tell him apologetically that a demonstration had just been made against one of his hotels in Bavaria, — a demonstration, they said, which they regretted exceedingly and wanted him to know they were not responsible for, — Herr Nussbaum, perilous and confusing nature of the times or no, could not help being annoyed. That evening, as at the time of the ‘Juden Heraus’ affair, Kurt Schmidt came over personally with further regrets and explanations, and he and Herr Nussbaum spent two hours in a savage discussion of those feeble-minded, no-good elements in Bavaria and elsewhere who could not keep up with the Party’s progress but must cling to attitudes that were over and done with, until, even though they wore the Party’s uniform, they made a mess of it. Kurt Schmidt, who was a romantic, sentimental young chap, said darkly, with a significant look, that the only way to get rid of Medusa’s hair for good and all was to cut off every snake’s head at once — and that he for his part expected to live to see that done.
June flicked by. One night at the end of the month there was a distinct electricity in the air which seemed to say: ‘The Leader is absent!’ The Leader’s absence in itself was not strange. He was often away. The queer thing was that on this particular night his being out of Berlin should impart a shiver to those who watched the Wilhelmstrasse carefully and knew he was not there. Herr Nussbaum asked Kurt Schmidt where the Leader was, and the young aide replied with what Nussbaum thought rather shifty casualness that he was combining a labor-camp inspection trip with a night’s rest on the Rhine — that hotel of what’s-his-name’s — friend of Herr Nussbaum’s, too — just across from the Peterberg. Herr Nussbaum did a little telephoning, and to his great astonishment found out this was true.
In the morning, however, it was other people who did the telephoning. Herr Nussbaum’s phone jangled incessantly. All Germany, the whole world spun with excitement. It had come; young Kurt had lived to see it: the snakes’ heads had been cut off! Late the night before, the Leader had left the little hotel opposite the Peterberg, and, swooping Valkyrie-like through the air, descended on Munich in the flesh. Simultaneously his omnipresent spirit had alighted throughout the Reich, striking. Röhm was dead, with God only knew how many henchmen. The finagling Schleicher would finagle no more. Von Papen had escaped only through a miracle. From border to border the traitors who still lived at sunrise were being rounded up by truckloads!
Siegfried’s Sword! And licked lips and glistening eyes; exact details of Röhm’s Wiessee retreat and the way Heines had been found! Rumors like fire, buckets of gasoline on the fire: that in the confusion even Goebbels’s murder had been attempted; that at the sight of his betrayers the Leader had collapsed, weeping like a broken parent in his faithful Brückner’s arms; that the Leader had filled the role of executioner with his own stern hand; that — the Leader was dead! . . . No! . . .
No, the Leader was not dead. To-morrow, from quiet Neudeck, where the poor old Field Marshal had delayed his final return to Tannenberg just one month too long, the thanks of the Fatherland would find him. But even before that, in the maelstrom of this very morning, there was a single clear fact. No matter where he was at the moment, no matter how he had conducted himself at Wiessee, no matter whether Hindenburg’s message would be genuine or a command performance, the Leader — if only by good balance — was still the Leader. With a single blow he had swept all his enemies away like bugs, old pests and old comrades together. This time even the S. A. held its tongue. Every Brownshirt except the eagles of the Schutzstaffl and a few specially picked safe-bets was to go immediately on an extended vacation.
All that day Berlin buzzed. Detachments of the SchutzstafH, of the Reichswehr, hurrying through the streets — firing squads, no doubt. Glimpses of white drawn faces in trucks hurtling toward the Military Academy. Frightened women and children; frightened men. Herr Nussbaum’s phone went on ringing; he himself kept calling up, trying to get more definite news. At the Wilhelmstrasse, however, they could tell him nothing; they were too busy even to talk to him. Once he managed to get Kurt Schmidt, but the boy seemed under such a strain that he was almost rude. He said he had n’t had a wink of sleep since night before last; he was sorry, there was nothing to tell yet; he would let Herr Nussbaum hear from him when there was, but just now he must excuse him; and hung up. No news that night. Then, the next morning, Herr Nussbaum’s phone rang with a long-distance call from the manager of one of his hotels in Bavaria.
It turned out to be not the manager but his assistant, and the assistant said he had some rather bad news. The night before, a crowd of malcontents — some of them obviously Bavarian Storm Troopers, still wearing fragments of the S. A. uniform despite the vacation order — had attacked the hotel. Herr Nussbaum, the assistant was sure, knew how some of these southern provincials were — the lower orders, that is. They were — well, in regard to certain ignorant prejudices, what you might call pretty violent. No better proof of these people’s stupidity could be found than the fact that they had acted this way on a night when, if they had n’t been well out in the mountains, they’d have been finished on the spot. That is — Herr Nussbaum must know how careful everyone was trying to be around Munich just then. Anyway, aside from the question of general damage, the annoyance to the guests and all, the thing the assistant was really calling about was — well, naturally they had all done their best to protect things, and in the midst of it someone had produced a pistol, and the manager, who up till then had behaved very well, had been shot in the chest. Now, of course the assistant realized the manager was in great pain; he had always been most loyal; but — the fact was — now — probably only because of the state he was in — he was blaming Herr Nussbaum for the whole thing, moaning that if Herr Nussbaum had n’t tried to — well, er — blaming Herr Nussbaum. A cousin of the manager’s, a Nazi lawyer in Munich, looked as if he were going to become very active in the case, try to make something out of it. Naturally, with all the resentment there was in Bavaria at present, — well, bluntly, the manager was a gentile, — Herr Nussbaum could see that quite an issue could be made out of the thing. He, the assistant, was only anxious to see his employer’s interests protected. He wondered if Herr Nussbaum could come right down.
Herr Nussabum said that he damn well could n’t, not in the midst of all this! He told the assistant to stand by and he would set things in motion right away. As soon as the call was finished he telephoned the Wilhelmstrasse, but the only people he could reach at the moment were too unimportant to give him any real satisfaction. The minor officials to whom he spoke, however, were quite upset by his news, tried to soothe him, said they would have Herr Schmidt call him as soon as he came in. Herr Nussbaum, very disgruntled, then drove downtown to see his lawyers.
In the Leipzigerstrasse, as his automobile stopped in traffic, he noticed that a man in a knot of idlers suddenly pointed him out to his companions as if he recognized him. The whole group turned and stared peculiarly at his Mercédès-Benz town car. For some reason this made Herr Nussbaum feel a quick, rasping rage against the traitors who had made all this disturbance necessary. The element of waste in the situation aggravated him. Among other things, the assistant had found time to tell him that when they heard of the Purge in Munich hundreds of tourists on their way up from Italy had turned back as swiftly as if they had seen mad dogs in their path. But all at once Herr Nussbaum’s anger died. ‘Well,’ he told himself humorously, as the old, gentle, nostalgic thought stirred in him for the millionth time, ‘perhaps one good thing may come of it at least.’
But wait a minute! Wait a minute! It might be that one good thing would come of it! It might very well be, Herr Nussbaum thought with a sudden glow, that out of this unpleasant brew would pop at last the longsought corn plaster! Up to this minute he had only thought of it playfully, but when you . . . After all, the Party certainly owed him some sort of balm for these recent occurrences, especially this last mess! . . .
He began to wonder if the Storm Troops would all be reinstated or if a special corps would be selected, with possibly a new uniform. . . . Or, if only the Schutzstaffl remained, how many units and how many files per unit there would be. . . . Any way you looked at it . . . yes, that was pretty sure, there would certainly have to be a lot of new stuff . . . and when you threw in overcoats ... it would have to come from a German manufacturer, too . . . really should all come from one place if it could be handled that way, so as to be good and standard. . . . Anybody who remembered the trouble during the war could vouch for that . . . used to look at a single squad sometimes and see as many different shades of field-gray as there were . . . Ridiculous!
. . . And when you stopped to . . .
For the rest of the drive to his lawyers (who told him with meaning smiles that his position in this case was probably already stronger than any the poor bar could win for him), and again on his way back to Bendlerstrasse, Herr Nussbaum was lost in an exciting reverie, half fancy, half calculation. His eyes were boyishly happy. He sat with his arms folded; and, as his Mercédès-Benz sped along, the index finger of his right hand tapped steadily against his left side with the rhythm of looms in a textile mill.
When he arrived home his man Albert told him Herr Schmidt had phoned, seemed very anxious to see him that afternoon. Albert said that in view of the state of affairs he had taken the liberty of agreeing to an engagement on condition that Herr Nussbaum could cancel it if he chose. Herr Nussbaum was pleased to note the alacrity with which young Kurt had responded to his call. He told the man Albert he had done well.
That afternoon just after lunch, as he was sitting in the comfortable room he called his study (though it was quite bare of books), sipping brandy and dreaming of Essen, he heard a car stop before the house. He went to the window and saw young Kurt climb out wearily, pause to straighten his browm tunic, and come on in. ‘Poor kid!’ smiled Herr Nussbaum sympathetically. ‘Looks as if he ’d been through the machine.’
A moment later he was greeting the young aide — affably, but with enough of injury in his tone to let Kurt know that things like this could n’t just be passed over with a wave and a kiss. ‘ Ah, Kurt!’ he said. ‘Come in, my boy, come in! Well! Sit down! You look tired.’
The boy nodded. He sat down in the chair Herr Nussbaum showed him and put his cap, which he had not given to the servant, on the floor. ‘Sorry I could n’t answer you sooner, Herr Nussbaum,’ he said in a flat voice. ‘I was over at the Military Academy.’
His face twitched. Herr Nussbaum looked at him keenly, went over to a side table and came back with a big hooker of brandy. ‘There are some jobs in life,’ he said, handing it gently to the boy, ‘that aren’t so easy, are n’t there, Kurt?’
The young man’s only answer was to take a gulp from the glass. ‘All the more reason,’ Herr Nussbaum said, ‘to feel a certain satisfaction when they’re over and done with. Besides,’ he added, ‘you’ve got a lot to be thankful for, my boy. You were too young for the war, weren’t you? It went on for four years then.’
Ordinarily you were not supposed to be glad you were too young for the war, but Kurt only nodded. He finished his brandy, and Herr Nussbaum reached over and refilled his glass. ‘Where is He now?’ he asked.
‘I don’t know for certain,’ the boy said.
‘Well, wherever he is,’ said Herr Nussbaum, ‘we can be pretty sure he’s got things under control, I guess. He’s a great man, Kurt! A great, great man! How’s everybody feel about things now?’ he asked. ‘Pretty well satisfied?’
‘Oh, yes,’ Kurt said. ‘I guess things will be all right now.’ He picked his cap up, turned it over nervously, and put it down again.
‘Well, I’II be glad,’ said Herr Nussbaum with a droll face, ‘when things really get all right enough for a poor business man like me to stick his head out of his shell hole again! Lately, with all this war going on around, it’s been hotter than the Revolution for some of us noncombatants!’
Kurt looked up. For a moment he seemed startled. ‘Oh,’ he said, forcing a smile. ‘Yes.’
Herr Nussbaum watched him closely. The boy was very ill at ease; he knew this was no ordinary thing. In his mind Herr Nussbaum began to hear the Essen looms clacking as plain as day. The young man took another swallow of brandy. Then suddenly: ‘Look here, Herr Nussbaum,’ he blurted out. ‘I — I guess you know the Leader is — I mean that we’re all pretty grateful to you for — well, for a lot of things. I mean — there is n’t one of us that does n’t think you’ve been pretty grand all the way through. You know that, don’t you?’
Herr Nussbaum was inwardly amused. Still, the youngster’s sentimental side was one of the nicest things about him. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘it’s very good of you to say so, anyway,’
The boy leaned toward him with almost desperate earnestness. ‘Well, it’s true,’ he said. ‘I mean — the way you’ve stood by the Party. Why,’ he said with an uncomfortable laugh, ‘I guess you were backing the Leader up even long before I was! When I was still a kid, even!’
Herr Nussbaum smiled. ‘I should n’t be surprised, Kurt,’ he said. ‘Let’s see. About 1922 — twelve years. Yes, almost from the very first. You must have been in short pants then.’
Wes,’ the boy said. He took another drink. ‘So that you know, maybe better than anyone, how many sacrifices have had to be made. Not for any individual, but for the Fatherland. I mean — right now, for instance — men who’ve been the Leader’s lifelong friends. What I mean is — I know that you yourself — if you were called on to make a pretty big sacrifice, you’d understand, would n’t you?’
The Essen looms stopped singing. So! Herr Nussbaum thought. Trying to wheedle me into saying I don’t mind — that I don’t care if all the hotels burn to the ground as long as it’s for the Party, eh? Oh, no!
‘That would depend,’ he said, smiling, ‘on what the sacrifice happened to be.’
‘Well,’ the young aide said, ‘it’s a pretty big one. I mean —’
Herr Nussbaum leaned back in his chair and grinned serenely. ‘What do you mean?’ he challenged.
The boy hesitated. Then he raised his eyes and looked straight into the older man’s face. ‘Just this, Herr Nussbaum,’ he said evenly. ‘The Leader thinks you’d better go.’
There was a full thirty seconds of silence. Through the open window, from the direction of Tiergartenstrasse, came a muffled snatch of band music. Herr Nussbaum stared. He said sharply: ‘What the devil do you mean?’
‘I mean go, Herr Nussbaum,’ the boy repeated quietly. ‘Get out of the country.’
Herr Nussbaum felt an angry pressure rising in his head. Suddenly he was more annoyed than he had ever been in his whole life. Suddenly he —
Herr Nussbaum pushed the pressure down. As on previous critical occasions in his career, wiliness shoved every other quality into the background. Careful, careful now! After all, this youngster was nothing but a trusted subordinate. Who was at the bottom of this? Soon find that out! Meanwhile keep the situation well in hand! . . . He rose and glanced out of the window as if he were interested in seeing where the music came from. ‘As a matter of fact, Kurt,’ he said calmly, ‘calling a spade a spade, I do understand. Quite. Now that you speak of it I may as well tell you that I’ve been giving the matter considerable thought for some time. I’ve already arranged, for instance, to change the name of Schloss Nussbaum. Going to call it Schloss Teutoburg. As long as this particular tension lasts it would n’t hurt if people even thought I’d stepped out altogether. Same with some of my other affairs. They can all be run very well right from this house, you know. After all, my dear Kurt,’ he said with a hard laugh, ‘it’s not the name Nussbaum that makes these things go, is it? It’s Nussbaum himself! I intend talking all that over with the Leader personally as soon as he gets back.’
The boy fidgeted. ‘Look, Herr Nussbaum,’ he said, ‘you don’t — I’m afraid it’s more urgent than that. After all, you ’re quite a figure around here, you know. Not only here in Berlin, but in —’
The telephone rang. It began to ring insistently. Herr Nussbaum held his flinty gaze on the young man for a moment and then said, ‘Excuse me.’ He went over to the phone and answered brusquely. He listened a few seconds and when he replied his voice was ominous. ‘Yes!’he said. ‘He has! In fact he’s here now! And I should just like to know — ’
He stopped. From the receiver, its words unintelligible to the young man in the chair, came a harsh, grating voice. It spoke rapidly, in clipped, mechanical sentences. As Herr Nussbaum listened all the color started to drain out of his face. The voice barked on for a minute, and then, as curtly as it had begun, it ceased. Slowly, Herr Nussbaum put the receiver down. His hand was shaking. He came back toward his chair with shambling, uncertain steps, and his cheeks were quite gray, quivering like jelly. ‘You didn’t tell me that,’ he whispered.
‘Tell you what?’ the boy asked uneasily.
Herr Nussbaum’s voice was full of wonder. ‘That I only had twenty-four hours,’ he said.
The boy lowered his eyes. ‘I’m sorry, Herr Nussbaum,’ he said,
‘Twenty-four hours,’ Herr Nussbaum murmured. His voice rose. ‘Yes, that was a friendly little tip! A friendly little tip, he said! Sooner if I can make it, but after twenty-four hours they won’t be — ! God damn you!’ he cried, turning on the young man. ‘What’s the meaning of this? What does it mean? What does it mean?‘
Abruptly the boy stood up. His heels clicked together; his uniformed back was suddenly like a ramrod.
‘I’m sorry, Herr Nussbaum,’ he said, ‘but it’s not my fault.’
He held out his hand, but Herr Nussbaum did n’t seem to see it. The boy went slowly to the door. Near the threshold he hesitated. ‘Herr Nussbaum,’ he said, ‘if I can do anything to help you — help you get ready, I mean — ’
Herr Nussbaum swung toward him savagely and uttered a loud cry. The cry had a sobbing, wailing note in it; it seemed to come from some hollow place behind his nose. Later young Kurt said he had never before realized how Semitic Herr Nussbaum’s voice really was. ‘Get out!’ he screamed. ‘Get out, damn you! Get out of my house! ’
The boy went out.
For ten minutes Herr Nussbaum stood stock-still in the centre of the room. Then, gradually, as the first shock passed, he began to see that there was really nothing to be making such a fuss about. The whole thing was preposterous. Why, the Leader himself was n’t even here! It would all be fixed up all right, no need to worry about that! He struck his forehead wuth the heel of his hand, laughed grimly, shook his head like a diver coming up from an icy pool. Whew! he thought, what a thing to pull on an innocent chap of quiet habits in his fifty-fourth year!
Just the same, it would n’t hurt if he did dig out for a few days. The Leader, the real top people in the Party were pretty well occupied with this purge business right now. That was probably why some little piker or other had tried to take advantage . . . But who could it be? Herr Nussbaum wondered. Well, it would n’t hurt anyway. Besides, he could do with a little vacation; been going pretty hard lately. A couple of weeks, he thought, even a whole month in England might be very pleasant. The only thing wrong with England, Herr Nussbaum thought, with a flash of that sarcastic humor on which he prided himself, was the English. Well, he’d go anyway. No telling how far out of hand some of these mice might get while the cats were away. But when he got back — then, by God, there was going to be a whole pail of arsenic sprinkled around! We’d see about this! Matter of fact, there was no reason why he should n’t write to the Leader personally from England! Yes, he would n’t even wait! He’d start things going from England!
He paced up and down the room. There was still a cold feeling in his stomach, but he kept telling himself things would be all right. All at once his eyes lit on the telephone, and a panicky thought seized him. He went quickly to the phone, but before he called a number he put it down again. Wait a minute, had he gone completely off? Let some of his business associates, even some of the Nussbaum executives, get wind of this, and God Himself would n’t be able to call the shots! He could send any instructions he had to send from England. Besides, there was n’t any of his enterprises that could n’t ride on its own momentum for the time he was likely to be away. He went over to the table, took a stiff drink of brandy, and returned to his pacing. Presently another thought struck him. Again he went to the telephone, and again immediately put it down. No sense frightening her, going through all the explanations that would be necessary. He could drop her a note from the boat. She would understand; he had been called away on short notice before. No doubt he’d be seeing her in a week or so anyway. Nevertheless, although the rent for the flat in the Neueswestens had only recently been paid, he went to the writing desk and made her out a check, also enclosing a brief note which said he had just discovered he would have to go to England on business for a few days. When he had done that he rang for Albert.
In response to his question the man said he did n’t know whether it was the Europa or the Bremen that was sailing that night, but he would find out. Herr Nussbaum said, well, whichever it was, to get him good accommodations as far as Southampton.
‘ Better get me accommodations on the train too, Albert,’ he said. ‘See that I have a compartment to myself.’
Albert said, ‘Yes, sir,’ and asked about packing. ‘Well,’ Herr Nussbaum said doubtfully, ‘put in plenty of stuff. I don’t know just how long I ’ll be gone.’
‘Yes, sir,’ Albert said. Then, as he was going out, he paused and said with a polite smile: ‘Is n’t this rather sudden, sir?’
‘ Yes,’Herr Nussbaum said.
That night he went to the Lehrter Bahnhof in a cab. The rest of the afternoon he had spent in careful thinking. He had successfully resisted all temptations to telephone people, and he had now more than half convinced himself that this was merely another business trip, such a trip as he had taken often in the past and like scores of business trips he would probably take in the future. He even believed he looked forward to the crossing with mild pleasure. The only person who had any intimation of a slight unusualness in the journey was Albert. Herr Nussbaum had told the man casually that in case he was detained longer than he expected to be he would send for his trunks.
As his cab crossed the Platz der Republik it came upon a long column of singing Storm Troopers — some of the loyal Schutzstaffl — marching out from what had formerly been the Friedrich Ebert Strasse but was now the Hermann Goering Strasse. The cab had to stop for them; they passed with their measured tread so close that you could almost touch them; and over Herr Nussbaum there came the same thrill that always, from the very first days, had come whenever he saw these healthy young chaps in large numbers. For a moment as they swung past, eyes straight ahead in their rugged faces, singing their rhythmic marching song, he thought of what these boys had accomplished in the hard years since the Leader had first brought them together. The few rowdy renegades in the South were of no account. It was these youngsters — why, when you looked back on the ragged, dirty scoundrels who’d never earned an honest mark in their lives, trying to turn the country upside down — They did n’t last long against these lads, though! . . . When the cab drew ahead Herr Nussbaum found that he had turned around, that he was still looking at them from the little back window.
At the station there were more of them. Out on the platform still more, some with placards; they seemed quite excited. Probably something to do with the train for Hamburg, where there were still supposed to be more Reds than were healthy. Queer thing about Hamburg; there and in Berlin’s own Moabit, you could depend on it, you were always bound to find the troublemakers popping up again. Herr Nussbaum held back; he wanted to see what the placards said; but the train was about to go — it was time to climb aboard. As his porter bumped ahead of him, leading the way to his place, he noticed some young people in an adjoining compartment — English or Americans, he couldn’t tell which — who were looking out the window at the Storm Troopers and laughing; all except one, who was saying something in a contemptuous voice. Herr Nussbaum, who knew a little business English, listened; and suddenly, at what he heard, he felt a blinding anger. He had a violent impulse to rush in on them, confront them, ask them what the devil a bunch of smug, hoggish Englishmen or simple-minded, profiteering Americans knew about what Germany had been through in the last fifteen years; what right they had to talk about a Man and a Movement that alone — and absolutely alone — had saved the country from ruin. He stood there, fuming; but after all he did n’t know such a lot of English and his porter was waiting — he wanted to be tipped and get off. Besides, Herr Nussbaum thought morosely, they ’ll find out one of these days! They and a lot of others!
He gave the man a coin, walked moodily into his compartment, and hung up his hat. As he did, a great shout went up from the Storm Troopers on the platform, Herr Nussbaum stepped quickly to the window. They were milling around about something; he could see part of one of the placards now — something about that rat Röhm. Before he could see the whole thing, however, the train gave a starting lurch and he was thrown off balance.
By the time he got up to the window again his car had pulled ahead. He could n’t see the placards any longer, only the Storm Troopers nearest him on the platform. He craned his neck, and then, as another loud outburst came from the Storm Troopers, fumbled absent-mindedly with the window lock. It was too stiff to bother with, so again he pressed his nose flat against the pane and looked out. But now the Storm Troopers were no longer in view; even the station had dropped out of sight. Already the train was out on the elevated tracks — it was leaving Old Berlin behind.
He stood at the window, swaying, and he could feel the train gathering speed beneath him. The Neueswestens, and the flat in the Neueswestens. . . . He peered into the night from the compartment which he had all to himself, the big compartment with every seat in it empty but his, and all the luggage racks empty but his; and the night rushed upon him faster and faster. And Jungfernheide and the river and the Schloss. . . . And in a straight line across Charlottenburg would be the Grunewalde and all the cozy villas. . . . The train screamed suddenly with shrill delight. . . . And dark, only dark, and the scattered lights of homes. . . .
And now the train strained forward gleefully, clickety-clack, clickety-clack, clickety-clickety-clickety-clack, shrieking for everything in the night to get out of its way. The lights grew scarcer and scarcer, and if you were looking they faded almost as quickly as you saw them. But Herr Nussbaum did n’t see them. Even before his train had passed Spandau he had slumped down on his seat and stopped pretending.
- It should be emphasized that Nussbaum is a purely fictitious character. — EDITOR↩