Monday, December 14, 2009

Chapter 8: Swinemunde, 1922

Chapter 8. Swinemunde, 1922.

On holiday with his family. Reinhard Heydrich is watching the maneuvers of the German Navy. “It’s beautiful and exciting to watch,” says Reinhard firmly. They are walking by the harbor, on their way to a trolley. Posters throughout show Admiral Graf von Luckner. “Our great hero,” say the posters. “He’s my hero too,” declares Heydrich. “His best selling book, ‘The Sea Devil’ is falling apart. I’ve read and underlined it so much.”

“We have a surprise for you Reinie. Admiral von Luckner invited us all for dinner tonight. You can hear all his adventures first hand,” says Bruno Heydrich. “He wants to meet you.”

Admiral Graf von Luckner has the physique du role of what people expect from a national hero. Tall, perfectly chiseled nose, high cheekbones, cleft chin, wavy black hair, brownish yellow eyes, beautifully formed mouth. Charismatic. Admiral von Luckner is the most highly decorated war hero in Germany. Even the Allies, his former enemies, admire him.

After finishing the best meal they have had in nearly four years, and hearing truly inspiring stories of daring do, Heydrich is on the edge of his seat. Bursting with excitement, he looks around the table first his parents and finally settling his eyes on Admiral Graf, who looks straight back at him. “I am determined to be just like you, Admiral Graf. I want to become a great and famous Admiral,” declares Reinhard.

Bruno Heydrich chokes on his glass of apple cider. Elizabeth Heydrich gasps. When he finds his voice, Bruno protests. “Musical success is assured for you!”

And what about your ambition to become a scientist?” asks Elizabeth.

In biochemistry,” states Bruno. “This is unbelievable, Reinhard,” he states in disbelief.

Admiral von Luckner, who is also an aristocrat and looks the part, replies serenely, “What do you have to say to that, young man?”

Germany’s defeat crushed both my dreams, that of becoming a Maestro on either the violin or the piano. Regarding a scientific career, I shall always remain a biochemist at heart but I am unshakeable in my resolve to embark upon a naval career.”

Admiral von Luckner presses his point. “It is very prestigious. Even my mother who was very status conscious approved of my choice many years ago.”

Elizabeth is showing signs of softening her stance. “Well, if Reinhard is so determined…”

Admiral von Luckner adds, “After ten years, Reinhard will be guaranteed a full pension.”

He’ll only be 28!” marvels Bruno. “A steady, good income in these terrible, uncertain times.”

With great reluctance,” says Elizabeth Heydrich.

and reservations,” adds Bruno Heydrich, “you have our blessing.”

Admiral von Luckner smiles contentedly, having accomplished the objective of the dinner. He passes out cigars to Bruno and Reinhard Heydrich. “Well?” he asks the young man.

I joined the Frei Korps when I was 15 years old, then the Volk movement. I’ve been in a leadership role ever since, but it’s just too depressing to see what’s become of us all. It’s time for a change. This is definitely what I want to do. How soon can I start.”

“I’ll put in a good word and see what I can do. The German Navy needs bright and determined young men like you.” Admiral von Luckner aspirates on his cigar heavily, while handling one to Heydrich and his father.

The taste of a Romeo y Julieta adding to his joy and pride at Heydrich’s determination, but as the smoke dissapates in the air, he tries to imagine what it will be like without Heydrich around every day.

Reinhard chokes a little but they pretend not to notice.

. . .

Reinhard Heydrich’s bedroom. On the wall are posters of his father’s operas, “Amen” and “Peace”, Mozart’s “Magic Flute” and Wagner’s “Das Rheingold”. Dozens of books are on his desk. His violin has a place of honor, on a small, separate table. He is in bed reading “The Black Mask Magazine,” an English magazine which publishes detective and spy thrillers. A discreet knock on the door. He doesn’t hear it as “The Black Mask Magazine” absorbs him. Louder raps. He says, “Enter please,” in English without looking up from the magazine.

Son, could we talk a bit?” It’s his father and mother.

Heydrich puts the magazine down, jumps out of bed, wraps himself in a silk robe and carries the armchair next to his desk closer to where his mother is.

Mutti! Papi! I thought it was Heinz.”

Elizabeth Heydrich takes the armchair. Bruno Heydrich eyes the matching armchair covered with “Popular Mechanics” and “The Economist” magazines. They are so high, he would not have seen the chair but for its legs. He sits on Reinhard’s bed.

We know you’ve made up your mind,” Elizabeth begins.

And you won’t go back on your decision about a career in the Navy,” continues Bruno.

However, we are in shock over your choice because it came without warning tonight over dinner,” Elizabeth says calmly.

We were not going to argue in front of Admiral Graf von Luckner, even if he is our dear friend,” declares Bruno.

And we are not going to do it now, are we, Bruno?”

No, Elizabeth.”

Both his parents wait tranquilly for their son to speak up. Reinhard is still standing up. “May I?” he asks, gesturing a place on his bed next to where his father is sitting.

Oh, Reinie! We’re so sorry. Of course, you can sit down.”

He does. “Consider this, Mutti and Papi. Half, if not more, of our grand concert halls in Germany are closed for lack of money. The after effects of the war are worse than the war itself. Things are not much better in the rest of Europe, other than Britain with all her colonies and America.”

We agree. For the sake of a rational argument, you could be making good money playing the piano or the violin in a world class cabaret in Berlin,” observes Bruno.

Or you could compose musical scores for films, maybe even play the music at the UFA Film Studios in Berlin,” agrees Elizabeth.

I’m not afraid or ashamed of hard work. Somehow playing in a cabaret or nightclub seems small, petty stuff. Working for UFA Films would be like prostituting myself. I’m too ambitious.”

Elizabeth and Bruno exchange surreptitious glances. Bruno shifts position. “What about…”

Papi, hear me out. I haven’t finished,” a serene, almost fire and ice Reinhard says.

Bruno nods a “go ahead, we’re listening” expression.

I wouldn’t mind owning a cabaret or a string of them. Run properly, they’re good cash cows. Also people talk too much when they’re under their cups. One can obtain unimaginable sorts of information. Films are a marvelous invention. Good moneymakers. I wish we owned a studio instead of a music conservatoire. Information is a powerful tool and will only increase in our century and beyond.” Reinhard folds his long, tapered hands gracefully over his lap.

Bruno clears his throat several times. “I was going to say, what about biochemistry?”

Reinhard mournfully shakes his head, taking his father’s hands into his own. “Oh, Papi, Papi!” He pauses and swallows to keep his emotions under control. “You know many faculties of prestigious universities are operating part time. The prices are so astronomical even the fabulously wealthy are having second thoughts about paying for their children’s education.”

The papers are full of stories of ghost classrooms, professors committing suicide, emigrating to Great Britain or America,” Elizabeth joins in, her voice breaking.

Let’s consider my studies in the Naval Academy an excellent detour towards my dream and, as a consequence, your dreams for me as well.”

Bruno breaks down completely into his son’s arms. “I’ve failed all of you. Especially you, Reinhard. Forgive me.”

Papi, there is nothing to forgive. That’s life and mostly that’s war and the aftermath of war.” Reinhard strokes his father’s thick mane of dark brown hair, tears spilling down his face.

Elizabeth too has tears in her eyes. “So many injustices. I always pray that these inequalities and inequities be removed. Not enough of us pray and I suppose I’ll need to pray more.”

It makes me angry,” sobs Bruno. “Look at the Krupp family or other millionaires. Their sons are dribbling idiots or outstanding mediocrities.”

That is a reminder from God that no one has everything,” Elizabeth declares firmly, leaving the armchair to sit next to Bruno and Reinhard to comfort them.

“How soon do you plan to leave, son,” Bruno finally asks.

“There’s one thing I’d like to do before I go, for a scientist I met. After that, I guess the sooner the better, as it means more money for the family.”


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