In the beginning they played Mozart, and Haydn, and Bach. Strauss. The even played some Chopin.
Then just Wagner.
The German officers stationed in the village liked Wagner. And Beethoven and Bruckner. But the lads didn’t really know how to play Bruckner. And they kind of slaughtered Beethoven. They liked Chopin more.
After 1940 the played Chopin only in secret. Or not at all.
Mostly not at all.
Entartete Musik war nicht mehr erlaubt.
They were from Lenauheim, somewhere in the Banat, and they played in the band:
Baumgartner played the piccolo.
Gaul and Knitsch were clarinet and bass clarinet.
Olaiev, Tintoi, Boată, Ureche were violin, viola, cello bass.
Ciolac couldn’t play, he didn’t have the ear for it, but he spent time with the boys in the band.
Vieru, Bitto and Bohm were triangle, small drum and gong.
There were other lads in the village that were part of the band: Masia and Milente.
There were Erasmuss, Heckl, Jung and Kirsch.
Children. 16, 17, 18, 19 or 20 years old.
They all lived in a German village, somewhere in the wastes of the Banat plain, at the beginning of World War Two.
The lads had to choose, because they were suddenly being called men overnight. Fit for duty. Romanian patriots called upon to protect the ancestral blood, the land and the hearth. Volksdeutsche die den Anruf des Blutes antworteten mussten. Cheap propaganda. Empty words.
And the lads, poor them, were fit for being thrown into the meat grinder.
Baumgartner was 16 and he went into the Hitlerjugend.
Bohm was fat and laughed all the time, with his whole body. The recruiters slapped him around. He had to be serious.
Those German military blokes didn’t have much of a sense of humor.
Knitsch wanted to become an officer in the Wehrmacht, but he became a telephone operator for the Luftwaffe. The Prussian officers made fun of his Swabian peasant’s accent.
Olaiev and Tintoi were drafted into the Romanian Army.
Boată and Ureche could speak some German. They were sent to work in the Third Reich.
Ciolac and Vieru deserted at the beginning of ’41. They were caught after Caransebeș and sent to jail in Oraviţa, after which they were sent to Jilava prison until ’43 when they were released and put into a disciplinary battalion, sent to walk through minefieldssomewhere in the Marshes of Pripyat.
Ciolac lost an eye. Vieru lost his mind, but they got home, back to Lenauheim.
Bitto and Gaul volunteered for the Waffen SS.
Masia and Milente stayed home during the war. Their fathers had managed to bribe the Romanian officers who were doing the recruiting.
Masia and Milente got married, had children and worked.
Masia and Milente were declared as bourgeois and deported to the Bărăgan in 1951. On the day of Pentecost.
Erasmuss played the guitar. Erasmuss liked it so much that he named his guitar. When Erasmuss joined the Panzergrenadier Division Feldherrnhalle, station somewhere on the Eastern Front, he got to carry a 8.8 mm mortar around called Puppchen – Dolly.
Since that day Erasmuss forgot the name he had given to his guitar which he had left behind in Lenauheim, 2000 kilometers away. Somewhere in another life that would never be his anymore.
Heckl, Jung and Kirsch died in the stupidest way at Stalingrad.
Heckl’s, Jung’s and Kirsch’s mothers received letters of condolence signed by the Chief of Staff of von Paulus in which it was relayed to them the heroic manner in which their children had laid down their lives at the foot of the altar upon which the eternal flame of the Third Reich burned.
Mermeze wrote long and winding poems in the nights in which he wasn’t huddled up in the aiming turret of a Heinkel 111 bomber, watching the scenery from up in the clouds, and the people running from here to there while he had his thing on the launch button, counting the seconds before he would hear the howls of the bombs cutting through the air.
Bitto was the Sonderkommandos at work, setting the villages of Belarus alight. And he became ashamed of considering himself a German.
Bohm spent 4 years in front of Leningrad, freezing his ass off, losing 2 fingers to frostbite and getting 3 medals. One for wounds suffered, one for a destroyed tank and the last one for the mere fact that he had survived/
Masia had twins.
Gaul accidentally shot himself in the leg and almost died.
Milente broke a tooth at his daugher baptism. Her name was Annika.
One night, Ciolac heard the parizans singing in the endless beech forests, under a huge moon that seemed ready to burst.
Olaiev was at the Bend of the Don River. He tried to set the motor of a T34 tank on fire with a rag dipped in diesel fuel. And succeeded.
Baugartner shook Himmler’s hand. He stretched out his left hand. The right one he had lost in the Second Battle of Harkov.
Tintoi became a Russian prisoner and was sent by the Glavnoe Upravlenie Lagerei to Magadan.
Tintoi spent 10 years in Magadan telling fairy-tales and stories to a group of vor v zakone, thieves in law that had tatooed the mugs of Stalin or Lenin on their chests so they could not be shot.
Tintoi made it back home in one piece, completely forgetting to speak Romanian, but fluent in Russian. The first word he learned was the hardest, because it wasn’t actually a word, but an acronym – GULag.
Boată worked for the German munitions industry. He survived 3 American bombardments and saw Dresden burning from afar while he was riding the night train towards Berlin.
Ureche, who worked on construction sites, was drafted by the Germans because of a lack of manpower.
Ureche was somewhere in the south of France when the Ameriancs landed in Normandy. He deserted and tried crossing the Pirinees into Spain. He’s still probably around there, buried under an avalanche.
Ureche was from the plain, how was he to know there’s no whistling in the mountains?!
Bitto was fed up with the Nazis and tried to join the partisans. He couldn’t find any and got lost in the forest. An old man gave him shelter in a jut that was in the middle of a fog covered swamp. The old man had a daughter. And Bitto stayed there, happy and jolly, a stranger to the world until he died of old age, in his sleep, at 93.
Erasmuss went mad on morning, at the beginning of the summer of ’44, near Iași. They left him at Socola hospital where he recovered 2 years later, time which he spent behaving like a bird. He got home but was deported to Russia. He was sent to Kazakhstan, but managed to return in ’57.
His hair was completely white at age 35.
Vieru told stories at the pub in Lenauheim in the year ’72 or ’73, but the only one who could understand what he was saying was Ciolac. The rest of the people just watched them and nodded their heads in embarrassment, unable to comprehend. Not knowing who they were. Or what they were about.
There were others, but it’s like they never existed, because there’s no one left to remember them.
They were from Lenauheim.
Mermeze had a beautiful voice.
Baumgartner was tall.
Heckl and Jung were red-headed.
Bitto had green eyes.
Erasmuss had a lisp.
Vieru never could never stop talking.
Ciolac was the most handsome of the bunch.
Boată was pig-headed.
Masia had a sweet-tooth.
Milente smoked since he was 5.
Bohm got back home as thin as a stick.
Ureche only knew how to hum a single tune.
Kirsch’s great-great-great-grandfather used to own a cherry orchard a long time ago.
Tintoi continued telling stories. He told them in Russian. And nobody spoke Russian.
Knitsch was in love with his cousin his whole life. He died a bachelor.
Olaiev was the best at football.
Gaul had cavities.
They sang in secret the Nocturnes of Chopin.
They sang them poorly. But they did it with heart.
This story was initially published in the MOVING FIREPLACES. 2019 book.
Photo credit: Diana Bilec