The Kindly Ones marches on…
A supervisor on one of my first ever jobs told me I had trouble with transitioning. That may sound a fair comment, but I need to point out that the workplace was a fast food counter in Disneyland and the supervisor was commenting on my inability to move from pouring sodas to scooping fries with sufficient speed or good humour. I think, considering I was a teenager, that I was not nearly sulky enough. However, this woman (who perhaps, even now, is supervising the serving of fat and salt in a theme park near you) and her words are with me. Was she right?
Do I have trouble transitioning – where my writing is concerned? How do you make your brain and your heart big enough for two books at once? I can’t even read more than one book at a time. Rewrites are stalled, holiday books are read, and so I return to my favourite Nazi, Dr. Max Aue, who shares his war in The Kindly Ones, which I last spoke of here: The next chunk of the book is titled Courante, meaning a baroque running dance that typically follows the Allemandes.
Courante finds Aue on a fast train and transfer from the Eastern Front to Stalingrad. It is also a much faster chapter, driving Max through a variety of horrors that leaves him mad and hallucinating, as the relationship with his twin sister comes forward and is addressed directly in Sarabande, meaning a baroque suite featuring slow triple crotchets. The sarabande might not be seen as a passionate music form, sayeth Wikipedia, but there is passion-aplenty once Aue is removed, convalescing, to Berlin. (Spoiler alert) The hallucinations of the siege in Stalingrad are revealed to be a near-death experience – and thank goodness for that, I say, as the hallucinations were even getting to me!
Aue happily shows off his head wound throughout Sarabande, but what of his heart-wound? Only the arrival of his twin reveals the extent of this damage, but she is unwilling – or unable – to do anything about it. She has married and moved on; she has left him stuck in their shared childhood, emotionally infantile. This explains some of the more bizarre fetishes and interests that Dr. Aue exhibits, but really, so far, so Nazi. Meanwhile, cracks are beginning to show in the usually impeccable Max, whose Weltschmerz finds him threatening to shoot party guests in a hotel for daring to celebrate while, “the whole world was twisted in pain, and people should not be having fun, not right away in any case, they should wait a little while, a decent amount of time should go by.” It is this rationale, of course, that makes the character fascinating. We read about perpetrators of evil to learn how they justify their own actions, how they explain their decisions to make them acceptable. We all do that, don’t we, evil or not? It is the “not right away in any case,” that makes the statement so spooky – the appearance, the seemliness, is more important than the belief.
There is a particularly fascinating passage on whether Nazism arose from Zionism; the crafty Dr. Mandelbrod tells Aue that “the very term National Socialism was coined by a Jew… what’s more volkisch than Zionism? Like us, they realized there there can be no Volk or Blut without Boden, without land, and so the Jews must be brought back to the land, Eretz Israel, purified of any other race. Of course, those are ancient Jewish ideas. The Jews were the first genuine National Socialists… ever since Moses gave them a Law to separate them forever from the other peoples. All our great ideas come from the Jews, and we must have the lucidity to recognize it…the notion of the Chosen People, the concept of the purity of blood.” Dr. Aue is more interested in the laws that will have to be rewritten following war, but his natural curiosity in the “Jewish Question,” as well as an inability to get a posting that he likes, finds him in a job where he must survey a number of death camps, as the book rolls into Meneut. He believes it is his job to make them more “efficient”, which means to Max that fewer “workers” die unnecessarily. It is hard to know if Max is being coy or ignorant at this point; he is kept in the dark by most of his superiors, including the mysterious Dr. Mandelbrot. But that is also the point about the Nazis – they all said, and perhaps believed, that they didn’t know anything. That nobody joined up the dots.
Meanwhile, the hallucination/head traumas continue, and Aue spots a prayer shawl around the shoulders of Hitler, a tefillin on his forehead, the little tallith beneath his jacket. Is this his “pineal eye” in overdrive? Only time – and reading – will tell.