Page 43 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 22

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— T
h e
itera ture
Lehmkoster, in fact, had a Jewish wife and had hitherto
managed to safeguard her with the connivance of the local
priest—but Siegfried’s chance remark had caught him com­
pletely off guard and he concealed his confusion so ineptly
that Siegfried’s wild surmise soon gained credence among
the others.
Siegfried merely had to mention Ella Lehmkoster’s name
casually, make a joke or raise his brows. But that was
sufficient to spawn a rumor. As soon as this rumor started
circulating, it began to acquire a life of its own. Unguarded,
it sneaked through the alleyways, sauntered through the
streets, moved through living-rooms, public bars, cafes and
shops, a barely audible whisper past people’s ears and right
through them; it was blown along by the wind and pushed
forward by many tongues until grown into a hungry beast
with an existence of its own; it came to rest in the appro­
priate desk. There Ella Lehmkoster’s name was written on
a typewriter that was cleaned every day by a girl in a white
blouse, with her hair in a bun. The name was typed on a
list headed Secret Reich’s matter and some time later a
pencilled tick was placed against it.
An innocent rumor—that was all that was needed so that
one night, probably just before dawn, a car with dimmed
headlights pulled up noiselessly in front of Lehmkoster’s
house. And a few minutes later, minutes which differed in
no way from the preceding or subsequent ones, it left as
quietly as it had come. Nothing more was required.
After that day Lehmkoster never went to church again.
Many years later Engelbert Reineke, one of Lehmkoster’s for­
mer pupils, went to seek out the old teacher who had been retired
soon after the deportation of his wife and had led the life of a
recluse ever since.
The door of Lehmkoster’s house gave on to a gravelly
path that ended at the river. I pressed the bell-button with
slightly trembling fingers. I pressed it once, twice, three
times. But there was no sound at all. Then I noticed a
small glass container fastened to the doorpost; inside it was
a yellow scroll of paper covered with an unfamiliar script,
maybe Hebrew. Small urgent ciphers. Revelations to one
who lacked comprehension, signals from an invisible star,
messages from a ghostly twilight-zone.
Then I heard steps. The door opened and Herr Lehm­
koster stood before me. I noticed at once how he had
changed, how terribly old he had become. His grey beard
was streaked with white; over his shoulders he wore a