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Make Peace
Joerg Liesegang: Herr Schaumschneider didn't want to go down into history with his name on it.

They were playing hide and seek on the little square in front of the so called German House, a white tiny hut really, the windows barred and a mighty door, but decisively little. The NSU motorbike Herr Schaumschneider had reserved for himself with his excellent party connections was leaning next to the door. A fire was burning inside, thick smoke coming out of the chimney. The door was half open, Herr Schaumschneider had been in far too great a hurry entering the building as to do that sort of thing properly.

What he was doing properly though, was burning files and notes that had still remained in the party office within the German House. Just half an hour before he had received the news that the Americans were already in Mauer, just an hour away on foot. Taking the pace they were going, it would probably take them two. Enough time to clear some things Herr Schaumschneider didn't want to go down into history with his name on it.

As mentioned, the door was open, and it wasn't long until one of the boys found his way into it to take refuge in a hiding place that nobody else dared to look into. The house had always been something dark for them in the past few years, something their parents didn't look straight at, something that was just omitted from their everyday lives and thus feared as something unnamed. The little boy stopped in the entry hall, the reception desk, the grey telephones, the picture of Hitler, the posters with everlasting paroles shouting from the walls were enough to enchant him with fear and curiosity. Somewhere within this dark little building feet were scuffling.

Outside, the bright spring sun of March had been narrowing the boy's eyes, inside, with the shutters closed, there was a simple dusk spread out like a thin layer of dust. The boy advanced, wooden panelling cracking under his toes, the muted sounds of the other children calling his name first coming into these concealed walls from the outside, then coming into his ears from the sticky surface the unfamiliarity around him was forming. The boy hushed down the entrance hall, came to another door, which was leaning on its frame.

Herr Schaumschneider whirled around with this chased look on him, ready to assault or run from whatever was coming, whichever would prove to better suit his main cause of staying alive. The boy had entered the room, driven by his interest and want for admiration by the gang outside. He couldn't just come out again, telling the others he didn't see anything. Herr Schaumschneider relaxed as he saw the cowering figure in the shade. "What do you want?"
His voice was commanding, trained by countless cracker-barrels, hundreds of assemblies, gatherings, party rallies. The boy remained silent where he was, right at the door.
"What are you doing here?"

"We were just playing outside, and the door was open, so I…" The boys words like lumps of snow falling off a warming roof. "Playing? Here's something you can play with." Herr Schaumschneider shoved a closed box over to the boy. "Now go away. Hurry."
And the man turned his back on the child, proceeding with his monotonous movements, reaching over to the shelves, a certain grab with his knobby hand and the casting into the fire. The child dragged the box out to the others.

Flags. Little red flags with the black swastika on a white circle. Hundreds of them, intended for a procession that didn't take place, maybe even reserved for the forthcoming 20th of April, maybe just flags stored in a carton for no purpose at all. The children engaged themselves in their new play. There was a town to be decorated. Nobody noticed how about half an hour later, Herr Schaumschneider got on his NSU motorbike and left the village like a mad cow had bitten him.

There weren't that many people left in the village. Old folk, who had barricaded themselves into their internal immigration, some women holding the seams together that were so violently being pulled apart, and the children who were too small to be called up, too weak to hold a gun. So no one was really there to see what was happening. No one was there to appreciate the sea of red little flags that the children propped into the earth like daffodils sprouting from the soil.
No one was there but the Americans, rolling into the village with their armoured vehicles leading the way. No one was there to bath in the light of these beautiful many flags, gently waving in the breeze, except the Sergeant of the small troupe and his Corporal Johnson, sharing their entry with the about fifty soldiers also coming in.

It was Corporal Johnson who saw it first and didn’t believe his eyes. "Well them bloody little bastards" was about as much as could be deciphered from his mouth. Sergeant was cooler. He laughed. "Looks rather pretty, doesn’t it?" Up the street, they could see some boys running with their flags in their hands, dropping them here and there. Running hard as they noticed the American troops driving into the village. And then they could hear the cries of women and them shouting for the children. Nobody was on the street.

So there the Americans stood on the little town square. A few chimneys were smoking, everything quiet as if nobody had ever lived in the houses and farms. A chicken ran from one house to the other, as if it suddenly remembered that there was an egg to be protected. Corporal Johnson ordered twenty soldiers to swarm out, Sergeant stopped them. They would wait. He rather fancied the quiet and peace of the town. The sun shining. The wind rustling through the trees. A pig snorting somewhere in the back of a house. The chimneys puffing like little toy trains. They would wait.

So they did. The soldiers stepped from one foot to the other, leaning on their guns, opening their jackets, shoving their helmets in the back of their heads. It must have been around fifteen minutes. Then the door of a house opened. An old man stepped out. Had to bend his head down, because the lintel was so low. He made signs that he meant no harm. Held his white handkerchief like a bullet-proof shield. So he was the one designated as spokesman. He came up to the jeep. He spoke English, quite good, actually.

"Hello, my name is Gerhard Riemser. We do not want to fight. We surrender this village, sir. There are no armed men in this town, sir." Corporal Johnson took the lead. "What about those flags in the back there?" The elderly man seemed to be in true agony. "Children, it was just the children playing. They do not know what it means, sir. They do not know it was wrong." "Well, you better teach those children better, then, and get rid of those flags, quick." Colonel Johnson put all the gravity he had into his voice. The man bowed his head again and was about to turn on his foot.
"Mister Riemser?" The Sergeant had raised his voice. "Wait. Get the children who did this out here, please." The old man looked shocked. Hesitated. Thoughts chasing each other in his head. "Get them, old man, quick." Colonel Johnson again. "Please. They will be safe, I promise." The Sergeant.

The man turned and disappeared into the house he had come out from. The Americans could hear him talking to somebody in the inside. The voice of a woman got louder and quicker and the old man was persuading her. Then everything was dead quiet again. A back door somewhere was opened. And another one. Colonel Johnson started, but the Sergeant held him back. Then the Sergeant got out from the jeep and went over to one of his officers, talked to him, and he talked to somebody else, then somebody nodded and went to the back of another jeep and pulled a small carton out from the pile. With that the Sergeant came back to his jeep. And waited.

Doors opened and closed. Back doors. The street before them was quiet as a medieval village must have been after the pest had raided through. The pig was making itself noticed, of course. But even the chickens were keeping themselves still. Then one door opened. And another. And another. About five boys came out. Young children in dirty pants and sweaty shirts. Thick worn leather shoes. They met in the street and came towards the Americans as a group. And the old man appeared again, his eyes fixed on the Americans like a hawk.

The Sergeant called the man. "Here, tell the children to put these up. The war is over now. You tell them that. The war is over." And he handed him the carton. The man still had his eyes on the Sergeant. There wasn’t anything going over his face to be noticed. He just said, "Thank you." Turned to the children and opened the carton for them. The boys stood a bit frozen, didn’t know what to do, kept staring at the jeeps and guns and strange uniforms. Then they saw the little flags in the cartons. Just about the same size as the other ones. Blue, red and white. The old man talked to them, sincerely. The children listened. And started to put the new flags into the ground.

That was quite a sight. The Nazi swastika and the Stars and Stripes, blowing together from the flower beds and gardens. From the stone walls and wooden gates. Colonel Johnson got uneasy. The Sergeant was smiling and enjoying the breeze and birds and the snorting of the pig. He was having his eyes closed and was taking deep breaths. "I don’t know what headquarters would say to this, sir." That was what Colonel Johnson was saying. The Sargeant kept his eyes closed and turned even more to the sun. "Johnson!"
"Yes, Sir."
"We’re not making war anymore." Filled his lungs with the wonderful spring air. "We’re making peace, now."

© Joerg Liesegang, 2001

Also by Joerg GOING TO BED the last bus home

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