Anne M. Carson |
03 August 2010
Two poems from a series about Heinrich Himmler's personal masseur, Felix Kersten. He used his influence over Himmler to secure the release of many prisoners — much like Oscar Schindler. Elizabeth Lube was Felix Kersten's Secretary.
Biskupin: the facts
Not quite Atlantis — submerged city of myth — rising entire
and dripping from the depths.
More like the makings — a jumbled mess of timbers
needing careful reassembly.
The national dailies dub it Polish Pompeii, chuffed to uncover
evidence of a site settled by Slavs
as far back as the Bronze Age.
A schoolteacher out walking in '33 finds wood fragments
floating in Biskupin Lake.
Buried deep in history's sediment —
two and a half thousand-year-old ruins.
Five years' work carbondating beams and struts, figuring
the layout — a breakwater, ramparts, one hundred houses
from local pine and oak.
A wooden Iron Age fortress on an artificial island.
Marshland water as preservative.
Here is a past to build a future on. Polish ancestors —
ingenious, skilled, sophisticated builders
able to defend themselves.
Visitors flock — thirty thousand in the first five years.
The euphoria doesn't last long. In '39 Nazi hordes swarm
across the border. All of Poland to be cleansed of Poles —
Lebensraum for pure-blood Germans.
Poland — taken out of Polish hands.
Posing intellectual, Himmler sets up SS Ahnenerbe,
Ancestral Inheritance Bureau
Nazi think-tank briefed to prove
continuous Aryan world rule.
They loot, lie, alter chains of evidence
to claim Germanic reign since the Iron Age
proving history is what the victors say it's going to be.
Like a bunch of Iron Age he-men they muscle into Biskupin.
Himmler makes himself patron,
renames it Urstadt — original town
bending even the name to suit their ends.
Hans Schleiff (Hauptsturmführer, archeologist) at your service
confident he would do the Reich proud.
No qualms about altering the archeological record
fudging facts. He claims German invaders
overcame the early Poles, rebuilt the town,
improving its design.
Biskupin, he glibs, another shining example of the Reich's reach.
A minor wrong
when set against five and a half million Poles
dead by Nazi hands.
Elisabeth Lube opens her heart
Mutti treated him like one of her own. Naturally I helped her out.
I'd darn his socks, turn collars on his shirts,
his cuffs as well. Occasionally he'd get a bolt of cotton —
the tailor run up a few new shirts.
Otherwise I was happy to cut and turn.
Small service when he worked so hard for all of us.
I was vehement at first — why treat a man like Himmler?
But Felix wouldn't be swayed.
Himmler called him round the clock —
as war progressed, his health got worse.
Felix had to go to him, sometimes twice a day.
He said he felt he never had a choice.
I battled with myself about the diamond — Vati gave it to me
just before he died, before the war
when we all still harboured dreams.
Small in carats but light from its facets
shone as sweet as any larger jewel.
I could hardly admit it to myself
but all my shy hopes lay hidden in that stone —
home and hearth, a Mann who cared —
kinder, kirchen, kuche
they call it — the socially sanctioned way.
Already I could see the setting I would choose, the sparkle of it
on my hand. Then I noticed Felix
stuffing pages from the Zeitung
into holes gaping in his shoes.
Well, I needed no persuasion to sell it in the end.
Once I wondered if he'd ask me. Sitting quietly in the parlour —
he said it rested him to see me sew.
The rustle of the cloth, the woodcock calling in the forest —
how quiet it was between us!
How little we needed beyond the sanctity of that brief time.
I was present when he met her — charming, gay Irmgard.
He proposed in front of us all!
She laughed to hear him ask, but didn't turn him down.
Just a few months later they wed.
She was the perfect hostess — something I'd no patience for.
Later she proved her worth in running the estate.
I gave her praise for that — and she gave him children.
But with me he shared his worries — the awful details
of his work, the threat from Heydrich.
He told me when Hitler planned
to force the Dutch from Holland.
I sat with him till dawn
while he figured what on earth to do.
I didn't know how we'd settle in one house but Frau Kersten
and the children moved to Hartzwalde.
I looked after Felix's home and office in Berlin.
His world was big enough for both of us.
I never would have said so publicly but in the end
I think I had the better deal. Felix let me be his own right hand.
No Motherhood Cross of course or extra deutschmarks
for producing progeny as Himmler exhorted us to do.
But I didn't have to worry about him straying
or me losing looks.
He appreciated what I offered at the end
just as he had in the beginning.
Through all the turmoil of those times, the pair of us endured.
Anne M. Carson is a Melbourne writer and visual artist. She has been published widely and recently broadcast a series of poems on slavery in Ancient Greece on Radio National.
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