7. Red Naphtali

By Peter Fraenkel

Naphthali kept away from the others. He was broad shouldered and muscular with horny hands. They said he had been a miner. Others refused to believe this.  Who had ever heard of a Jewish miner in Germany? After one or two angry altercations he kept to himself.  After all, one had to live among these bloody bourgeois – at least for now.  He kept silent. But he was convinced the future was on his side. Their class was headed for the rubbish dump of history. And that included the consul. Good riddance, too.

True, the consul himself had always been very polite. Too bloody polite!  That’s how they are brought up, these bourgeois. It’s their way of disarming their class enemies. But that class was finished. Their time was up. The consul must have seen that himself and drawn the consequences.

The Poles were always weeping about the loss of their homeland. And the Jews were pining for a homeland they had never even seen… a land their ancestors had abandoned centuries ago…for good reasons, probably. Not he. He would go back to Germany when the time was ripe. He would help to build a new, a different fatherland.

The Poles were singing about Poland being “not yet lost”.  He hummed a different tune. He’d even taught it to young Abie:  “Our homeland is now the trenches round Madrid.”

Abie, ever inquisitive, had asked:  Had he, Naphtali, fought in the Spanish Civil War?  No, unfortunately he hadn’t.  But he hadn’t   been snoozing in a feather bed either. “Three years in a Nazi concentration camp.”  He could still show the scars the bastards had inflicted on him. When he eventually got out it was too late for the trenches round Madrid. Then, puzzlingly, he added: “And of course I was too young for the trenches of Dachau.”

Abie was puzzled. He knew about that Nazi concentration camp at Dachau. His own father had been imprisoned there briefly. But what trenches at Dachau?

He didn’t have to ask.  Naphtali was sure to lecture him on it. It would be difficult to cut him short.  Dachau, he soon learnt, had been famous long before the Nazis built a concentration camp there:  it had been the site of a famous battle in the days of the Bavarian Soviet Republic.

Soviet? Yes, Soviet. Just after the Great War there had been a communist republic on German soil. It hadn’t survived, unfortunately. That had been another battle the comrades had lost – but only temporarily. The last battle – that was yet to come.

Had he broken out of that concentration camp? No. Naphthali explained: Just a few weeks before the outbreak of Hitler’s war most of the comrades had unexpectedly been released. Why? That soon became clear. Most were immediately drafted into army punishment brigades.

“The bastards will probably send them to clear minefields.”  But Jews like him had been told to get the hell out of Germany, at the double!  First they had had to endure another bout of bawling out on the parade ground:

“And don’t you go spreading horror stories about how you’ve been treated here. A holiday camp! Yes, that’s what it was for you – a holiday resort! So watch out: if you go spreading lies, we’ll come after you … whatever rat hole you hide in: Palestine or Patagonia. We’ll get you, and then you’ll wish you’d kept your trap shut.”

After that, Naphtali explained, the only refuge he’d been able to find had been here, this dump. But no! He would not keep his trap shut. Never! Never! Never!