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In this work, the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (the National Socialist German Workers’ Party), has been abbreviated as “NSDAP” or referred to as “the Party” or “the Nazi Party.” The Schutzstaffel (a paramilitary organization under the NSDAP) is usually abbreviated to “SS.” Certain factual elements, including the timing of some events, have been altered for the sake of storytelling.
The train picks up speed as it leaves Stuttgart. He grew up here, amid long shady streets footed in ancient cobblestones and gardens bright-spotted with afternoon light, but it is no longer the place Anton knew when he was young. Stuttgart is slowly falling, its gray innards exposed, blocks of cement cracked like bones, and the bowels of shops and houses ripped open, spilling into the streets. Dust, like ash, hazes the air. How many bombs have fallen on the city of his childhood? He lost count long ago. It is not the place he knew as a boy, but no place in Germany is the same.
He presses his forehead against the window and looks back. The wire rims of his spectacles tick against the glass. In the train’s wake, he can just make out, if he strains hard to see it, the long black line of the track. Straight, perfectly straight, like the road to Riga, crossed by a whirl of cold gray cement dust, bomb dust, dancing this way and that, as if anyone has reason to dance.
He cannot help but feel some affinity for all this gray. It hasn’t been a year since he put away his friar’s habit; gray still suits him, still offers mute comfort, even when he finds it in the corpse of a city. There was a time, those first weeks dressed in an ordinary man’s clothes, trousers and shirt, when he told himself that this would not be forever. When the war ends, he told himself, the Catholic orders will be free to practice again. I will be a friar again, and everything will be restored, will go back to the way it was. That is a story he no longer believes, a tale he cannot tell himself. Someone has remade this world—this place we, the people of Germany, once called home. What passed has passed, and gone is gone. He wears trousers every day now.
Anton straightens in his seat. The newspaper in his lap, neatly folded, rattles its few dry pages together. He lays his hand upon it, palm down, like a friend’s hand falling on your shoulder or a priest’s quiet blessing.
The last small houses at the edge of Stuttgart fall away. The scar of the city lies behind; here the earth’s flesh is whole and blooming—fields of barley ripening, browning in the late-summer sun, and cattle in their pastures, standing belly-deep in green ponds or arrested in their slow progress to the milking shed by the rapid perspective of the passing train. Color and life, sudden and everywhere, lift the pall of silence from the train car. Conversation picks up—tentative, low. Who does not speak quietly in public these days?