God of Hunger by John Coutouvidis - HTML preview
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It is widely held that the snows of Kilimanjaro were first revealed to European eyes when Rebman looked up from the plains in 1848 to be dazzled by equatorial glacis. But so had an ancient Greek geographer, albeit many centuries earlier. The discovery of equatorial ice was also reported by yet another Hellene. Writing about the sources of the Nile in his Second book, Herodotus, the proto-historian, tells of snowy equatorial peaks he calls Crophi and Mophi. Could his have been the last ear to a chain of voices stretching back to him from Kibo and Mawenzi on Kilimanjaro? The father of history is suspected by some to have also been the first disembeler. He does admit: ‘The Greeks in general have a weakness for inventing stories with no basis of fact.’ Yet surely, such disarming candour is but proof of his effort at objectivity.
Yes. Kibo first belongs to the Bantu and Nilotic peoples living on its slopes. Then to Greeks. Then to Germans. And only then to any Anglophone: A Johnny come lately as far as Greeks in Arusha were concerned. And when the film, ‘Snows of Kilimanjaro’ was screened at the Paradise cinema, Ernest Hemingway’s son, Patrick, a White Hunter based in Arusha was stopped in the street and told in no uncertain terms that the Greek flag which had been planted on the summit during filming by an ardent patriot should have appeared on screen, thus proving Hellenic provenance.
The Zambezi was also included in Greek claims to Africa; when Livingston discovered the Victoria Falls he noted in his diary meeting a Greek trader doing business at the very site of the ‘smoke that thunders’.
‘What Victoria Falls?’ they would ask at the Greek Club: ‘Papadopoulos’s Cataracts!’ And so it went on in that salon of proud Hellenic discourse, just twenty miles from KK’s coffee farm at Kingore below the slopes of Meru from which the great iced pudding of a mountain could be seen.
KK had acquired his coffee estate from a German who had decided to return to his semi-detached fatherland.
There were a considerable number of Germans in the vicinity. All had been under close observation of the British authorities during the run-up to the Second World War as it was well known that the German Consul in Dar-es-Salaam often came to visit, recruiting fifth columnists, for Adolf Hitler. It was even better known that from 1933, when Hitler came to power until 1945 when he committed suicide, all assemblies at the German School would end with hearty Sieg Heils, arms outstretched. Moreover several Nazis came to stay after the war. And, good medics though they were, former Nazi doctors and nurses came to practice far away from bunkers and camps. Fluent in their language, Kokopoulos knew them all. And that is how he had acquired a library of Nazi film and literature.
His all time favourite film was Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will. He would sit mesmerized by its screening, as did his cronies who demanded of him a translation of the sound track. They particularly liked the sight of the serried ranks of spades and asked him for the words which accompanied that portion of the film:
“ … My Fuhrer, I announce that 52,000 workmen have answered the call.
Hitler: Heil Workmen!
Main Speaker: Heil, my Fuhrer!
Shoulder spades! Lower spades!
Choir: We stand here ready to carry Germany forward into a new age. One people, one Fuhrer, one state, Germany!
Main speaker: Today ... together at work.
Choir: On the moorland.
Speaker: And in the marshes.
And we in the sand.
Choir: In the sand.
Step forward, stalwart German worker.
Speaker: We are planting trees.
Choir: Murmuring woods.
Speaker: We are building roads.
Choir: From place to place.
Speaker: We are creating new lands for the farmer.
Choir: Fields and forests - acres and bread….
Choir: We are true to our Homeland, to the Earth, felling the forests, ploughing the land and sowing the seeds. We are building our homes on firm ground, forging the old bond in fire - the bond between Man and Earth….”
These sounds and sights appealed greatly to the farmers around Kokopoulos. At first they laughed at the sight of disciplined spades. Then reflected how much better Tanganyika would be with such a disciplined and well motivated labour force.
Kombos said “I will erect a platform in my yard and take a salute each morning as I send my people, shouldering their jembes (hoes), off to the fields …” And they all laughed at the thought.
But at the end of one viewing and with the script in hand Manoli once asked KK “And where did all this choreography lead? To war and destruction and the murder of millions including the obliteration six million Jews.”
KK replied, “I don’t know about that. The numbers are too large. We as farmers know what six million of anything is. It can be very small; I once calculated, when considering the crop for Kiru estate, that a pound of tobacco seeds contained six million seeds. It can also be very large, I use on average 60 gunias (sacks) of fertilizer in any one year. They weigh as much as I do; 60 of me. Now I am told that the gas chambers and furnaces started working in the spring of 1943 and did so until the end of the war. Two years to process about 5 million of me; the missing million were killed in other ways. Call a working year 300 days which gives them a workload of 8000 a day. That is not far off the entire European population of this country. Impossible.”
A bound volume of Rosenberg’s speeches, which once belonged to AH, was among the bile that disgraced his upper shelf of books. He would delve into it now and then when his cronies came for poker he would declaim choice passages in a harsh voice which sent them into paroxysms of laughter. Yet his interest in what Rosenberg called ethnic cleansing, was, to him, no laughing matter. He had yet to declare publicly his handle on Party strategy. Let them laugh.
German ways in Tanganyika made Greeks laugh. Many who had been settled onto land which they developed as coffee farms remembered how German officials paced out the land numbering in a loud voice exact lengths and widths by their exact leather booted strides. Manoli told a variant whereby he was paid by the local land officer to accompany his measuring with music; a wind-up gramophone playing German recordings at 78 rpm. A favourite, which Manoli still had and played was, he surmised, about a German officer at the trenches being homesick.
There were trenches here too. On the south-eastern flanks of Mawenzi, close to the road to Taveta and Voi from whence, left to Nairobi, or right to Mombassa.
The Greeks knew of the trenches as the place where Vasili went to blow out his brains during the depression. Suicide was not uncommon then, especially amongst farmers like Vasili who lacked the influence required to live in debt to the Land Bank. He could barely sign his name let alone conduct a conversation with pomposity itself, Colonel Beston, the manager. Here was the epitome of the kokinokolee; ‘the red-arses’ as Greeks called the British. Pinky-white skinned despite years under the tropical sky, British officials were a white race apart. The Boers called them roineks because their necks were invariably red. The Greeks imagined naked lily white bottoms turning red in the mid day sun when, it was said, mad dogs and English men were out and about.
“Never”, shouted Frixos, looking at his hand of cards while following the discussion about the Englezi, so often the topic of conversation over cards at the Hellenic Club. “O Anglos is no fool. At midday he will return to his ‘hello darling’ and his dog. Then eat his lunch. Then listen to the radio or zleep. At half-pas-four he will drink his tea with his ‘bye-bye darling’ and go to the gymkhana club. Not to play cards all day and night like us. He will go to see Bob and Dave and Mickey and arrange a game of golf. After a round, walking for his health, he will order his veeskey and soda and talk some more. Quietly. Not like us, shouting all-ov the time. Then when the sun goes down his bibi will join him for a sundowner. Then they sometimes play a game called a qviss. After that they eat and zleep. That is how to live. Not like us. Upendown all the time. They are regular people. Just like the Germans. But kinder.”
All agreed that is how it was. And how good and proper it was. Until someone would begin to take the piss. ‘Yes, they love their dogs more than their bibis or children. And what is golf? A bloody waste of time. No profit in hitting a small ball with a stick. And is it not better to shout and scream than to murmur in some dark corner? They are strange people. As old Mihali, O Makaritis, Theos Seehoreseton (God rest his soul), used to say, ‘They sing about bananas: Vee have no bananas today. For he is a jolly good fello. Ke so se all of us.’
With memories of the muddled banana song, tears would run into the folds of raucous faces and overflow with ke so-se all of us: ‘and God save us all’ to their ears. A pause would again erupt into hilarity at the thought that the lack of bananas would have the British asking for God’s mercy.
‘Morre ratsa. What a race! And yet they run a great empire. Bravo.’ All agreed and agreed to roars of more laughter that a Greek empire would be a great shambles. They had no problem in accepting the British as their political masters. People of integrity and good order unlike themselves, though they would threaten to smash the face of any xenos (foreigner) who dared cast a slur upon Greek honour. Amongst them were guerrilla fighters escaping revenge for acts committed in the civil war in which eyes were gouged out for much less. Adartes who also took on the Reichswer in acts of resistance equalled only by Poles, for whom Greeks held no especial respect. Lusting after the girls of the Polish refugee camp at Tengeru was all that Poland meant to them. But Germans they respected.
What it was about them was their absolute consistency. No other race had it. The British gave you the benefit of the doubt. Not so their cousins. To the Greeks the resolute discipline and, indeed, harshness in pursuit of policy was remarkable. Because of its clear underlying logic none could question nor doubt its outcome. The German method always achieved its ends. Or came damn close to doing so.
Hero in this regard, and example to all, was a German whom Greeks called Von Lekko; General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck.
When war broke out in 1914, he commanded 3000 men, mainly indigenous native infantry trained to excel in hardship. He knew that no action fought in east Africa could be decisive in the grand sense, but if he could tie down as many troops as possible it would prevent them being used in the main show in Europe.
With Britain, Portugal and Belgium as allies, German East Africa was surrounded on land. And by sea after the Konigsberg was finally destroyed by British gunboats in the Rufiji delta; not however before her crew had dismounted all her guns and ammunition which made a welcome addition to the fire-power of von Lekko’s land forces.
These were concentrated around Kilimanjaro where there was ample food, and from this base they made raids across the Kenyan border, cutting the railway many times and capturing the frontier town of Taveta. The British countered by attacking Tanga on the coast hoping to take Von Lekko in the rear. They failed dismally. After a few days march from Kilimanjaro and some very heavy fighting the Germans destroyed both blades of the British pincer at Tanga and Jassini. British loses were substantially greater than von Lekko’s who left to lick his wounds back at base on the hospitable slopes of Kilimanjaro.
By 1916 the King’s African Rifles were reinforced by troops from India and South Africa. Command was given to the famous Boer leader and former kommando, General Jan Christian Smuts. To Smuts’s shame von Lekko out kommandoed him. Refusing to disperse his troops in engaging Smuts’s dispersed advances, Von Lekko refused even to be drawn into a set-piece battle. Skirmishing all the time he chipped away at Smuts’s forces and his reputation.
When Nigerian and East African reinforcements arrived Smuts pushed on again. At the Rufiji he was engaged by Von Lekko in some very heavy fighting. Smuts crossed the river licking his wounded pride. He then relinquished his command stating that the campaign in East Africa was finished and left for England.
For Von Lekko no such option existed. Only overwhelming odds, including being bombed from the air. As the sheer weight of numbers against him piled up he crossed the Ruvuma into Portuguese East Africa. He drew British columns south with him outgeneraling them completely in a year long chase swinging back into German territory and south again into Northern Rhodesia. On 13 November 1918 he was told of the Armistice and twelve days later capitulated to General Edwards at Abercorn. 115 Germans and 4227 Africans of whom 819 were women had engaged forces often ten times that number. Living off the land in classic guerrilla fashion for the duration of the war.
Given full honours of war, Von Lekko and his officers were allowed to keep their small arms. His was an unconquered army which he repatriated with full arrears of pay before returning a lone hero to Weimar Germany, soon to be forgotten there in the trauma of defeat and revolution.
In Tanganyika his memory was kept alive by admiring Greeks none more so than Theo, who repeatedly visited the Kilimanjaro trenches as a teenager; just a barrack room historian or a Herodotus in the making? Only time would tell but there was no doubt he had an interest in history which he expressed by courting the company of men with history to tell.
One such was Misha Feingeld who lived not far from Kokopoulos’s coffee farm. Misha took great exception to K.K.’s anti-Semitism but felt it to be unwise to tell him so directly. Instead he spoke to Theo who had asked him at the Greek Club to tell him about the war. Misha, born and raised in Poland had, like the Poles in Tengeru, just seven miles down the corrugated road from Misha’s house, found his way with them to Tanganyika.
In all there were 6,000 Poles in the country; mainly women and children. Three times as many as there were Greeks. Together they made up one half of its European population, at its height in 1949.
“When the Red Army invaded Poland on the seventeenth of September, 1939, I was taken into Soviet captivity with around a million and a half others. About 68,000 made it to freedom in Persia in 1942. I was one of the lucky ones. In Karachi I was given a choice. Jerusalem or Tanga.”
“I decided to stay with the many Polish beauties who had survived rather than peel off with Begin for Jerusalem and join his anti-British Haganah; I am not brave. Not like your father. But what purpose in his courage? Despite his education, I cannot understand why he knows so little of the world. I have heard him speak such cruel nonsense about us. I was a young Jewish man in Poland and what happened to Poland and its people was an ordeal beyond the comprehension of many like your father.’
‘Tell me about it Misha. About the ordeal. But before you do, what is anti-Semitism? I asked my father once and he told me it was said of people who dared to speak their minds; people who were critical of the Evrei. But he also said that the term did not really apply if, like him, you admired Arabs because they too were Semites.’
‘Look, Theo. I do not get on with your father. He is just playing with words. anti-Semitism means more than being critical of us. It is an ordeal we had to bear in a war which nearly destroyed us as a people; a nightmare which will forever haunt us. And other people too - The hostilities which began in Poland on 1st September 1939 then spread to Northern Europe Norway and Finland, to Western Europe - France and Belgium, spreading thereafter to the Mediterranean, Eastern Europe and the Far East lasted over 2,000 days. The estimated number of lives destroyed is in excess of 50,000,000. These are huge numbers.”
Theo replied, “I realize that. But another question I want answered is “where was Mungu in all this? Do you believe that God would allow it?”
“Ay, Theo. That is a big question. I’ll tell you what. Come to my place one day and we can talk about these things better than in here; the bar is no place for such discussion.”
“Okay. Great. Why not now?”
“Yes. Fine. I was hoping to find Costas Zourkoskas here, but they tell me he is in Nairobi with Michaelides and Co. to see Mama Africa at the Flamingo. So let’s go.”
The conversation continued in the car.
“You were asking if I believe in God. Yes I do. But like most people I have occasional doubts. You see, I am also a communist. Do you know what that is?”
“I think so. I speak to a number of guys in the Greek Club who call themselves communists. They fought in the mountains. In the Greek civil war. And they are here because they cannot go back. In case they are murdered in revenge for murders they committed.”
“Yes. That would definitely happen. Some things are never forgotten. Especially not in the villages of the Mani where vendetta was invented. The same would hold in the Polish countryside. In Poland too there was a civil war of sorts for many years, even before the war of 1939-1945 broke out. There was great poverty amongst the working classes. That is why I became a communist. And that is why communism came easily to Poland. Because of the gruesome experiences of that war.
It was not just the killing by bullets that caused death. There was great famine too. From 1941. April, May, June of that year saw dreadful conditions in Poland during the weeks preceding the harvest and the forthcoming Russian campaign of the German army which was squeezing every last morsel of food out from Poland in preparation for that event. While I cannot talk of famine conditions in the months between September 1939 and July 1941, it is perfectly clear that after the summer of 1941 there is a very marked deterioration in living conditions in Poland. Statistics which give an idea of their deterioration show a dramatic rise in prices.
By how much?
Let’s do it this way, Theo. If you take July 1939 to equal 100, then by the next year prices had quadrupled; in July 1940 the price index stood at 400 and more each year. Do you understand?” “Sure. But not really why this caused famine.”
They drew into Misha’s drive up to his house on the hill.
“Don’t worry I will explain. Let’s go in.”
Misha led Theo onto the verandah which looked out over coffee as far as the eye could see. Not Misha’s. Farming did not interest him as it did the Greeks. Down below was Komnenos’s place. A descendant of a once great Byzantine royal family he was now in dire straights with the Merus. For two reasons. First because he had an affair with a Meru woman who continued to live in his house. That was a condition forced on him by her clan who told him that if she were to be ejected in favour of any other woman, he would have his throat cut. And second because of the dispossession, by government order, of Meru land on which the Komnenos estate stood, in favour of European farmers.
Misha was openly involved with this land question. He and an American missionary friend of his, who was also a communist, were compiling an account of the injury done to the Merus. It was soon to be published. But Meru affairs were for another day.
“Which chair would you like?”
Theo settled into a settee made of zebra hide.
“We were talking of the huge rise in the cost of food. Yes?”
Theo nodded his assent. But his mind not fully engaged with Misha’s flow off words. Not until he lost sight of the Fish Eagle circling above the distant dam.
“ … Okay let us say that bread in 1939 cost one shilling. In July 1942 was up to 2000 shillings. Huge. Just imagine if your mother had to pay so much for one loaf of bread.’
“Yes. But the price of anything became meaningless because of shortages. And I mean shortages Bwana. Throughout September 1941 sugar and meat were unobtainable and a year later for the month of September 1942 a person could get only ten pounds by weight of anything to eat. Eysh bwana Theo, kikapu moja. Bas. Think of it Theo. A basket of turnips from the market for a whole month. That would be it. We would die. People did. In their tens of thousands. Of hunger. Especially the Jewish population which was given ever less to eat. The Jews were going to die anyway. In Poland their plight from 1942 worsened when the systematic killings began in earnest in the concentration camps. This was the holocaust.”
Theo looked worried.
“You have heard of it?”
“Yes. Of course. Not only that; holocaust is a Greek word and we use it about Smyrna. … Destruction by fire, olokafston. Yes, I have also heard the grown ups speak of the concentration camps and I read a book called ‘Treblinka’ which a Polish woman gave me to read. I had nightmares. I had to run with this machine strapped to my chest and if I rested I was told my mother and grandmother would be hanged in front of everybody. They would swing about with their guts hanging out. And then I was taken to a factory where the machine held me really tightly. It got hot and I slowly melted. Misha were such things done? I mean did these things really take place in the camps. Gassing. Making soap out of people?”
“My father says these things are arloumbes. Fibs.”
“Theo your father does not know. He does not want to know. He has other interests. You have asked me to explain. And I will. Imagine we are sitting in a big posh room in a big posh house. Like the Michaelides place. In that room are important people like Mickey Davis, the Provincial Commissioner, the Commissioner of Police etc.etc. They sit around a beautiful polished table. In their uniforms. In their suits. A proper meeting. Have you seen one?”
“Yes. I went with my father to the Town Council and I could see such a meeting through the windows as I sat in the car waiting for him.”
“Good. Such a meeting was held at a place called Wansee. In a posh house by a lake about the size of Duluti. That house was near Berlin. The men talked. On 20 January, 1942. They talked about the final solution of the Jewish question. That is what they called it. The Final Solution. In other words “We have been trying to get rid of the Jews. It is taking too long. We must come up with a plan to get rid of all eleven million of them as quickly and as efficiently as possible.”
This is what the minutes say.
“What are minutes?”
“Sorry. The British call minutes the notes taken by the secretary at a meeting. A record of what was said. But why they call them minutes I do not know. Ask your old man. He attends lots of meetings.
Misha paused for a second. Looked up at the ceiling and said at Theo “What these words actually meant was that all these people were to be killed by the most dreadful means. By a long drawn out process of suffering first in trains and then in camps, there to be poisoned in gas chambers and disposed of in furnaces.”
“What do you mean by trains, suffering first in trains, why suffering?”
“Theo, Theo, Theo. You have much to learn. ….. They collected people onto station platforms and forced them onto trains. Into cattle trucks. And when thy got out this is what you would see … Misha reached for a well marked book and read a passage:
"It was early in December, 1943. The winter was extraordinarily severe, the temperature falling to 30 degrees of frost (C). I saw a train full of deportees enter the camp station. It was composed entirely of cattle trucks, sealed without water, lavatories, or any heat. The journey had lasted three days and three nights. The people confined in it were mainly women and children. When the trucks were opened, there got down from them spectres who could scarcely stand upright, all dirty and emaciated, in a state of terror. They began to undo their baggage. I approached them and saw that it was frozen children, frost bitten. One, two, ten, twenty, thirty or more. None of the mothers wept, they were as if petrified. Two half dead children had great lumps of ice on their cheeks: it was their tears frozen on their pale faces."
Theo flinched and paled. Misha went on:
“And now imagine that at the inauguration, the opening of the first crematorium, which occurred in March 1943, was celebrated by the gassing and cremation of 8000 Jews from Krakow. Prominent guests from Berlin, including high-ranking officers and civilian personalities, attended and expressed their highest satisfaction with the performance of the gas chamber. They used the spy-hole in the door of the gas chamber. After which spectacle some vomited ….”
Misha got up red faced. “Oh Theo. I cannot talk any more.”
The boy could see how upset he was. And he too stood up.
Misha turned his face from him but stretched out his hand holding the papers. “Here take these notes with you. Read them in your own time and in your own time come again to talk. It is better this way. You will be able to tell me what you think and I can explain anything that will puzzle or concern you. Goodbye, Theo.”
Knowing that his father was away in Nairobi on business, Theo went to the coffee farm that night. His visit pleased his mother very much though she did notice how pre-occupied he was and left him alone in his bedroom. Theo made a note of three points in the minutes that he could not fully understand: What exactly was the Jewish problem? Who was in charge of the Final Solution? And what was it in practice? Also he wanted Misha to explain the term Lebensraum. His father could have provided answers but he dare not ask him for fear of another row sparked by the revelation that he had obtained the ‘minutes’ from Misha.
Next day he went to see him. And put his questions to him. Misha did not quite know how to tackle them in their rawness and decided to cast them in the wider context of yesterday’s discussion.
“Look Theo, … in the end,… by the end of the war, 6 million Jews perished in the German death camps on Poland's soil. In 1945, that nation's population was 24 m compared with 35m in 1938. Some 3m Jews, including nearly all of the pre-war Jewish working class had been killed. Poland lost 1 in every 5 of its pre-war citizens during the war - mainly in the period 1942-45. Think about it. When next in the Greek Club count around the room; one in every five of your friends removed. And I will not stop there. You have got to get the story in context. This war, as I told you yesterday, was a huge killer.”
“The fate of the people in the Soviet Union suggests suffering on a somewhat smaller though comparable scale. The Soviet casualties, Russian and the other nationalities of the Union, show 20m dead and 10m wounded in a country with a pre-war population of 200m; decimation in its most literal sense, Theo; one in ten destroyed.”
At first puzzled, Theo looked at Misha and nodded to show he understood, for the first time, the meaning of a word whose meaning he had not had to define before.
Misha wiped his glasses, returned them onto his nose and continued: “Leningrad was blockaded by the Germans from 1941-1943 and one million Leningraders starved to death out of a pre-war population of 2.5m. The same in Stalingrad.”
“But Stalingrad was also a catastrophe for the Germans at the turn of 1942/43. The surrender there of the German armies made plain to large sections of the civilian population at home in Germany that the war was lost.’
Misha sat back in his armchair and Theo copied him. They looked at each other. Misha spoke first. “Do you want a drink? I will get what you want. Ena bira? Theo smiled. Yes please, mia bira parakalo. They both had one.
And both drank in silence. And drank in the silence as each went over what had been said. Theo had not ever in his life had the experience of being spoken to at length. With such care. With such purpose. He had heard the phrase ‘sitting at the feet of a teacher’ as when they spoke at the club of Socrates or Aristotle. But he had never experienced the act of which his compatriots spoke of with such pride but never practiced; poker was too great a diversion for any debate to develop beyond the initial stages of dialectical display.
“Okay, Theo. Now to your questions. Answers won’t be easy. Well, one will. Lebensraum means living space. The Germans demanded more room. In Europe. Sometimes you may hear that they wanted a place in the sun. This meant that they wanted this country back. But apart from the crowd in West Kilimanjaro I do not think Hitler wanted former colonies returned. He wanted to spread out in Europe at the expense of other nations and for this he went to war. Notice he, he, he. Hitler was a dictator.
You know what that means?”
“Yes of course.”
“Okay. This man also wanted to get rid of all Jews. Why? Because he hated us. Why? Because he saw us as being different from Germans. Of course we are if you look at our religion. But we are, basically, just like any one else. Just people. Special to ourselves. Like Greeks are special to themselves. Which also makes them not German. And you can be sure that if Hitler had won the war there would be no Greek alive today. No Pole, Russian, Rumanian. Yugoslav, Czech etc. etc. They would probably have starved to death or at best remain alive as slaves who would be worked to death. He called non-Germans like these untermensch, not human; sub human.’
Misha coloured. Then paled. And continued after the swift passage of emotion which Theo failed to recognize though he did reciprocate in as fleeting a show of discomfort when Misha said next: “People here are sometimes spoken of as monkeys. Once that is said anything can happen to them. You treat them differently. They are said to feel pain less. Or can go without food and water for longer than us. Or can work in the sun all day etc. etc. You know exactly what I am saying!’
Theo changed his posture in the armchair. He did not rise to Misha’s accusation. It was an unspoken assumption amongst whites that blacks were able, from birth, to endure such conditions without complaint.
Misha continued: ‘And what I am saying is that Hitler just took the next step. He wanted a racially pure Germany. Many people, before him and around him, believed in developing people like horses or dogs or cows. You know, breeding out bad characteristics to get a stronger or cleverer or more productive animal. But we were also seen by Hitler as an infection which weakened Germany as in the defeat in the First World War. He blamed us for it. I wont go into that debate. No need. Just know that Hitler wanted to clear Germany and his conquered lands of all Jews regardless of how the war was going. What do you Greeks say? Valtakatopootapass?”
As over the offer of a beer in broken Greek, Theo again smiled at Misha.
“Well done. … well said: Valto kato pou to pass? Yes. A saying. Put it down, where are you going with it? Or in other words, hold on, this is crazy.”
“Yes. Mad. But it was more than just a saying. The madness was put into practice. How, you ask. I have thought a lot about this and in the end found a simple answer: Human nature. Everyone around Hitler knew what he wanted. So if you were clever you did things for him before he even gave the order. In fact there is no paper signed by Hitler ordering the murder of millions. He did not need to issue it. His cronies, the ambitious ones, the arschlocks, got together and worked out how to do it. There were 11 million of us to kill. Living all over the place. How do you deal with such numbers? Build factories of death. You can only do it industrially. Think of Tanganyika Packers just down the road. They kill hundreds of cattle and pigs every day …”
“Yes I have seen the factory. I have a friend there. The cows come in a line. They are shot in the head. Put on a conveyer hanging up by a hook, skinned, gutted, jointed and out of the other end as sausages or steak…”
“Exactly. The same principles apply. Collect us like cattle onto cattle trucks and take us by train to the factory. Line us up, undress us, lead us into windowless rooms which we are led to believe are shower rooms, hence the sense of undressing, pack us in, bolt the door and pour in the gas like you do on the farm by tractor when you fumigate a crop. Half an hour later get other prisoner slaves to shift the mess into the ovens so that a body becomes dust for ease of disposal. …’
“Jeezus. Bloody hell.”
“Yes. Bloody Hell.”
Many years later, when Theo was in a cancer ward in England, he was reminded, whilst watching television, of the conversation he had had with Misha:
Baldrick: Permission to ask a question, Sir.
Black Adder: Permission granted Baldrick.
Baldrick: ... The thing is, the way I see it, these days there's a war on. Right? And ages ago there wasn't a war on. Right? So, there must have been a moment when there not being a war on went away, right, and there being a war on came along. So, what I want to know is, how we got from the one case of affairs to the other case of affairs?
Black Adder: Do you mean how did the war start?
George: The war started because of the vile Hun and his villainous Empire building.
Black Adder: George, the British Empire at present covers a quarter of the globe, while the German Empire consists of a small sausage factory in Tanganyika. I hardly think that we can be absolved from blame on the imperialistic front. ....
Baldrick: I heard that it started when a bloke called Archie Duke shot an ostrich 'cause he was hungry.
Black Adder: I think you mean it started when the Archduke of Austro-Hungary got shot.
Baldrick: Na, there was definitely an ostrich involved.
Black Adder: Well, possibly. But the real reason for the whole thing was that it was just too much effort not to have a war ... You see Baldrick, in order to prevent war in Europe, two separate blocs developed. Us, the French, and the Russians on the one side and the Germans and Austro-Hungary on the other. The idea was to have two vast opposing armies, each acting as the others deterrent. That way there could never be a war. (But) There was a tiny flaw in the plan.
Baldrick; what was that, Sir?
Black Adder: It was bollocks.’