Amid the routine of daily lifewith its flirtations and quarrels, longings and disappointmentsthe mechanism of persecution spares no one: A renowned opera singer is savagely beaten for suspicion of homosexuality; a mother writes to the Ghetto Administration for a good deal on penknives confiscated from Jewish deportees; a student is tortured by the Gestapo for a vague association with the Young Socialist Workers; a husband files for divorce when his wife shops at a Jewish-owned store. Intersecting stories of common citizens, both sinned against and sinning, reveal uncanny, entwined relationships in a nation where no one remains untouched by suspicion and fear, where respectable housewives become informants and saviors, and children become protectors and abusers.
A masterly display of bravura virtuosity, The Inventory is the final, terrible account of how allold and young, affluent and destitute, the pampered and neglectedwere transformed by oppression and tyranny. Proclaimed a classic in Germany, this unforgettable novel establishes Gila Lustiger as one of contemporary literature’s most important voices.
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A Romantic Start in Eight Scenes
(A Rose-Shaped Brooch)
DORA WELLNER WAS A HEADSTRONG WOMAN. Despite the Slavic influence in her family tree, she had not relinquished a shred of her infamous Galician stubbornness. One morning, in spite of her mother's protestations, she took from the attic the suitcase her father had bought some twenty years before when he had been planning to emigrate from Krakow to America, a trip he ultimately didn't make because of a pair of chestnut braids belonging to the daughter of a distant relative.
Dora took the mutinous suitcase, shook off the dust, and filled it with the clothes she had freshly washed and neatly folded on her bed. She carried the bag two flights down — dragged and heaved it, rather, to the accompaniment of quiet curses — and around noon stood on the edge of the sidewalk, second-class train ticket in hand. There she was, waiting for the cab and looking around at her hometown.
To the right were the orchard and the church, to the left the terraced houses with red-tiled roofs, and far back, at the end of the street, the cemetery, the path through the meadows, and the forest.
The blacksmith was still hammering away. He had taken off his shirt and opened the door wide. Three men came from the fishmarket and piled empty crates onto a van parked in front of her home. A cloud floated by the church tower. The blacksmith's wife called her husband in. The hands of the church clock pressed relentlessly forward toward one o'clock. Dora sighed. At least she had her mother's blessing, if not her father's. While her family was back there sitting at the kitchen table, Dora was traveling where her happiness beckoned, as it beckoned to so many young people — to Berlin.
Scene two: Dora sat next to a woman who was knitting away at something red and stared out of the window. She had left the solitary farmhouse and the brick factory behind her a good hour earlier. The countryside was the same; only the place names sounded unfamiliar. The conductor came through and nodded cheerfully at the young woman. Next stop Stettin.
Dora opened her lunch bag. The promises made at home could not be kept of course. What on earth was she supposed to do with a childless widow, a cousin of her mother's, when she had only just broken free from home? She laid her sandwich aside and took her purse out of the suitcase. Not enough for a hotel, but perhaps sufficient for the small family-run pension near the Ku'Damm, with geraniums at the windows — she had seen the postcard, advertising the pension, on her piano teacher's kitchen table. Dora nodded and contentedly finished off her sandwich. Then in spite of her excitement, she fell asleep, missed both the River Oder and the River Spree, and arrived at last after a wearisome day of travel.
Not a soul knew where she had gone. Her mother's cousin did not know, although she definitely had a notion, which she kept to herself. She remembered a mustachioed man, with whom she had almost eloped to Leipzig thirty years before, because, well, she had not always been a woman of virtue. Would she now have to give up on the idea of the silver fox-fur stole, she wondered? She had wanted to buy it with the first month's rent, and it was ready and waiting for her in the back room of the furrier's. As soon as Dora's mother had announced her daughter's impending arrival and they had sorted out the finances, she had had it put aside for her.
Nor did the mother know where her daughter was. Terrified, she checked the Friday paper and focused on the wrongdoings of the thieves and swindlers, who were up to their usual nasty tricks, particularly in the vicinity of train stations.
The father did not know. He was busy amassing a stockpile of reproaches that he intended to fire at his wife, and therefore had no time to dwell on his daughter.
Dora's sister did not know either, but she dreamed of following suit a few years later. She imagined herself in a pretty frock, sitting in a café, gorging herself on cakes and cream. She was the closest to the truth.
And all the while, Dora was sitting on the edge of her bed, looking by the light of a lamp hanging from the ceiling at a hat, complete with a feather, and a shawl that she had found at rock- bottom prices. A week later, by the light of a different lamp, she was staring at a black dress and starched apron. She had learned her first life lesson: if a person with no income declines to repress his or her tendencies, believing that earning money will progress at the same pace as his or her needs, that person is living an illusion. In short, she was broke. And when she realized that a penniless person does not go far, Dora, now without means but perfectly healthy, was hired by Helene Hirsch as a full-time maid and joined the working masses.
The days went by. Dora stood with her arms on the windowsill of the kitchen window, and that takes us up to scene three.
So this, then, was Berlin she was looking at: the No. 68 streetcar; the advertisement on the wall across the way for the original Luta dolls and baby carriages, impossible to break and easy to clean; the flowery curtains of the third floor were part of it, as were the words of wisdom in the magazines on the coffee table, which explained to Dora how one offers one's ungloved hand upon meeting and upon taking one's leave, and how a lady of breeding even takes her glove off in the street and, furthermore, while paying a hospital visit. Dora read this avidly and stored the information away for later — after all, one could never tell what fate might have in store.
Such tidbits weren't particularly helpful for the here and now, however. For the here and now it would have been more useful to learn how to get rid of butter or margarine stains on the sofa, or to know whether the painting in the drawing room could be dusted.
Dora had declared war on all dust, as well as water stains on the floor. Their life span had always been fleeting in Mrs. Hirsch's home: this was one of the most difficult trials of the cleaning lady, and the one that often led to her downfall.
But why did she do it? Why did she work so hard? Because she had to? Because she had no choice?
Because, secretly, she already had regrets. She carried out every imaginable domestic task to prevent her from having any time to mull things over. For she did not want to face up to what she was ashamed of: she knew not a soul in Berlin; the capital city she had dreamed of so long did not appeal to her at all; she still did not have a boyfriend, and could not have one, since, distressed by the nonexistence of this boyfriend, she never left the house.
She neither slept well nor ate well, and was, in a word, depressed. For a long time she had felt the pangs of despair, which her little game of forgivable self-delusion could not dispel.
She longed to be home. There she had never swept a floor, let alone scrubbed one. But she could not simply go back.
Berlin, you beautiful city. You beautiful city, Berlin. Dora felt sorry for herself. Well, she had gotten what she had asked for. But what a sad, miserable lot for a girl, brimming with impatient youth, and with voluptuous curves.
Reinhard was in a good mood, nestled between two cobalt blue cushions that had made their way all the way over from China to his Aunt Helene's drawing room with the briefest of stopovers in the O.B. department store. His eyes flitted back and forth from the racing results to the maid, who was pouring the afternoon tea.
And this is what he saw (scene four): a powerful back, a curvaceous bust, legs a little on the short side, light brown hair tied back in a ponytail, a suppressed laugh, and delicate fingers which impishly caressed his smooth-shaven cheeks while Mrs. Hirsch was bent over the sugar bowl.
Contrary to all expectations, Dora had delivered herself into Reinhard't hands, and had thus preempted his desires before he himself was even aware of them. Certainly Reinhard was sometimes bemused by his great success, but not for long. He was not a man given to pondering, not one of those painstaking types who immerse themselves in deep reflection; he merely accepted gratefully such fortunate turns of fate without digging for their meaning.
Thus he found himself in an agreeable, relaxing situation. Relaxing for both sides, naturally, thought Reinhard, believing that if he felt at ease surely everyone else did too.
If only his sluggish nature had allowed him a trifle more awareness, he would surely have realized that while he was sipping sweet mocha with Uncle Leo and Aunt Helene, Dora was washing up. That while he was reading the newspaper in the living room, she was folding the laundry. That while his hand hovered languidly over the cookie jar, she was scrubbing the floor. That while he was listening for the soft creaking of the door leading to the upstairs quarters, a quiet sound but one fraught with meaning for him — it was customary for maids to live in the room off the kitchen, but her womanly figure and the complacent smile lighting the face of the master of the house had necessitated other arrangements — she was setting the table for breakfast. Nor were her chores at an end there because, once in her room, she still had to wash, comb her hair, and beautify herself for him. And had he only admitted to himself that Dora was endangering her position through this liaison — that far from being a relationship of comfort, her nerves were frayed and she was horribly tense, in a state of hypersensitivity — the fact is, he would not have acted any differently.
He was experienced, intelligent too, but he simply was not interested in opening his eyes. His lethargic contentment smothered any scruples.
Scene five: Already during their third nocturnal coupling, as he lay next to a sleeping Dora, tracing the sweeping curves of her back with his eyes, Reinhard couldn't help thinking of the end. It was not that he was wearied by it all, he simply had a nagging doubt. However he looked at it, staying with her would mean renouncing other things. It also irritated him that he could do whatever he wanted with her. Did he not deserve something better than a girl he could twist around his little finger whenever he chose?
She certainly had her uses — Reinhard made the most of them — but the more she gave him the less he appreciated her. The same old story.
If demand had risen momentarily, supply remaining constant or declining a tad — had, for example, a rival entered the scene — Reinhard's desire would doubtless have quickened. But Dora, who had not the slightest idea about the interdependency of commodities, who had never heard of production control, who could not hope to realize that some commodities, in spite of their high practical value, have low exchange value ... well, Dora had no time for games.
We cannot deny that Reinhard tried his hardest. He relished the good things in life, and was not ungrateful. And certainly he wanted to be seen in a favorable light. But if that meant, for example, giving up a chess evening at the neighbor's, not to mention several other pleasant pastimes, he would have been very sorry indeed.
What good are pangs of conscience in such a case? It was all decided. The relationship had to be brought to a halt, quickly and painlessly. Reinhard went into town and found a brooch in the shape of a rose, set with splinters of garnet. That should do the trick, he thought. A pretty farewell present that he would pop into Dora's white apron when she was not looking — and cheap to boot.
He can drop dead, thought Dora, reading Reinhard's note that evening. He had attached it to the brooch, and in it he explained to Dora the profound symbolism of the gift. In simple terms — the letter being addressed to a maid, after all — he pointed out that this brooch was not only beautiful and precious, but also a symbol of attachment, as it encapsulated, as everyone knew, something that in this case could only be a memory of evenings spent together, which he would look back on for the rest of his life.
He can drop dead, thought Dora, after reading the lines, complete with melancholic kisses. She undressed, washed, got dressed again, and rang the doorbell of the neighbor on the first floor. He opened the door, smiled at the furious young woman, and, although he had intended to go out, invited her into his bachelor's pad for a nightcap. Scene six: no explanation required.
When Reinhard was back home, busy unpacking his bag, he came across the brooch. Bemused, he turned it around in his hand — it was beyond him. Honestly, what more could one expect of him? Oh, well, he thought. Then he placed the brooch on the bathroom shelf as a souvenir.
And so it came about that every morning when Reinhard reached for his razor blade, his face smothered with lather, he was reminded of the obliging maid. And soon something was ignited in him: if not love, at least wistfulness.
In scene seven, we see Reinhard in a train. He is standing in the corridor smoking a little comforter, ten pfennigs apiece. He is on his way to Berlin. His suitcase is on the overhead shelf. Thoughts whiz through his mind. Briefly, he reflects upon freedom, bowling, beer, family tree, dowry, and culture. And to top it all off, she was a maid. Love is surely no ground for marriage.
Reinhard got out the brooch and held it in his hands, smiling. There he stood, a smiling fool. And the train chugged leisurely onward through Altmark.
In spite of Reinhard's flattering speech, Dora did not let the young man in through her door. She also indignantly refused the brooch that he had brought to make up. From his former sweetheart's coarse behavior Reinhard deduced that he had been replaced — Dora did nothing to contradict him. Frenzied, he demanded a rendezvous, which was not granted, and had to go off to bed having achieved nothing.
Was it the first-floor neighbor, or some other man? Another day went by. Love was no ground for marriage. Had Dora become an obsession for him? He shook his head. He could fight his desire for her. After all, he had managed to give up smoking, apart from the occasional comforter, 10 pfennigs apiece. But not right now, because he did not know whether it was the neighbor on the first floor or some other man.
Scene eight: to clear up this question once and for all, he climbed up to the top floor. It was dusk. Outside, the street lamps were going on. Next door someone was listening to music, and there was the sound of flushing. A neighbor shuffled through the corridor. Reinhard knocked, knocked again, and ran his fingers through his hair. After she had asked what he wanted this time, he delivered, in an embarrassed way, the proposal that she had been waiting for all day.
So there it is, wretched youth in a dark corridor: she is sobbing, he is laughing. They stand there with no ill intentions — there is kissing too — and they do not realize that they have fallen into the trap that life has set for them, using a rose-shaped brooch for bait.CHAPTER 2
IN THE SPRING OF 1924, in spite of vehement protest by the teaching staff, the College of Arts and Crafts at 8 Prinz-Albrecht StraÀe merged with the Academy of Fine Arts and relocated to Charlottenburg. This decision was generally approved of, although it brought a bitter end to the dream, not yet fifty years old, of the independent position of applied arts. Through the merger and the move to another area, considerable sums of money were saved.
When the tangible assets and the furniture had been transported to the new location, the path was clear for generating profit. As neither the Academy nor the Ministry of Culture wanted to bear the operating costs of the empty rooms, a large advertisement was placed in a widely read newspaper, announcing that part of the building was for rent. This would not eliminate the holes torn in the budget of the various ministries by the war; it is a well-known fact that in critical times even such limited cuts in culture have a calming influence.
Before long, several parties voiced interest in the property. To entice them, they were given a linen-bound book extolling the beauty and the historical importance of the area. In fact, the building stood next to the most distinguished Berlin example of the Schinkel school of architecture, and something of its aura rubbed off on the college, or at least so the authors of the book hoped. Whether due to their edifying words or the central location of the building, six months later a proper lease was drawn up between the Prussian Board of Construction and Finance and a private holding company.
On July 1, 1925, the company, Richard Kahn, Inc., took over the free floors. The College of Arts and Crafts held on to the attic and the library. Although Mr. Kahn brought no further fame to the building — nor did he otherwise achieve anything noteworthy for the history books (not even the local ones) — his name should be mentioned briefly. The reason lies with an essay he wrote in his leisure time. Subject: the history of the building rented by Richard Kahn, Inc., and its neighborhood.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Inventory"
Copyright © 1995 Aufbau-Verlag GmbH, Berlin.
Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
A Romantic Start in Eight Scenes,
The Iron Cross,
The Printing Press,
The Story of Little Löwy,
The Sculptor's Workshop,
There Will Soon Come a Time,
The Leather Briefcase,
Lea, or How One Learns to Doubt,
Two Wedding Rings (Gold),
A Fundamentally Flawed Attitude,
50 Kilos of Gold Fillings,
One Hundred Furs,
In These Sacred Halls One Knows Not of Revenge,
The Gold Coin,
You Have Cast Out Love,
The Golden Necklace,
Statement of the Officer for Accounts,
The Pearl Necklace,
Brief Sociology of Crime,
The Ramp — Portraits of Three Normal People,
The Jewish Laborer,
The Coral Necklace,
The Final Balance,