Bill Meilen
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THE ARMORER

 

“Aha, Roma? Don’t tell anyone either, but I like Roma music. They are walking music. Sad. Forever wandering, following the long road that goes nowhere. Did you play for a living back home in Germany?”

The accordionist laughed. “Ha! There was no living to be made in Germany—it was hard as a rock, with millions out of work, and many people starving. That’s why Hitler was so successful. He promised hungry men bread and made sure he kept his promise. No—before the war I had a little band in Praha. Entertaining.”

“Praha? Then you are Volksdeutsch?”

“No, not me. Koorfa Czech and proud of it. Bohemian.”

“Czech? I’m Austrian. It’s all right, I understand.”

“I knew you would,” said the accordionist. “You are Austrian, but you’re not a bloody Nazi.”

Rudi looked around, afraid someone might have heard the man. “Shush! Watch your mouth, my friend! There are crazy people around with strong convictions.”

The accordionist laughed. “There are lots of Outlanders in this camp. Magyar, Romanian, Czech, Ukrainian, Serb, Hollanders and so on. If we don’t all look out for each other, we Untermenschen are likely to be stepped on by those S.S. Übermenschen. You know how pushy they can be. They have me worried.”

“Hey, nobody pushes me. I push back. Hard.”

“Just wait. They will. You people are nothing but shit—Afrika Korps. You lost Africa for Hitler remember! You people have been out of the picture for a while, out in the desert with old Wusternfuchs. Germany and its new possessions have changed since you embarked for Africa.”

“Changed? How much more could it change than it did at the Anschluß? We didn’t know what hit us when it came. Flags, marches, damned recruiting officers.”

“It’s all changed beyond recognition. Jew-baiting carried to wild extremes, deportations by rail all over Europe—‘resettling’ Jews and Tzigany in the east—Poland, Ukraine, in a whole network of concentration camps.”

“Jews? There were Tzigany, but no Jews where I come from. Judenfrei, they said. In Vienna maybe. Not in Klagenfurt. I know we’re not supposed to like them, but—the ones I met seemed good bourgeois people. No horns nor tails. They wrote the Bible, didn’t they? God is a Jew, Jesus is a Jew, so was Mendelssohn. There must be a great deal of good in such a talented people.”

“Not in Nazi eyes. Only Wagner will do. So you know nothing about the trains to hell? The concentration camps—Arbeit Macht Frei—Work Makes you Free?”

“Hmm. Herr Göbbel's propaganda slogans like Kraft durch Freude—‘Strength Through Joy.’ Scheiße. We heard things about the labour camp at Dachau, but that place is for political criminals, enemies of the state. The deserving few who should be put inside to protect all.”

“The undeserving many, you mean!” The accordionist’s voice dropped conspiratorially. “Huh. Political criminals? You mean people who walk funny or have a squinty eye, or happen to fancy the company of partners of the same sex.

 

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