The German Violinist
By Patrick Grant
Maor looked up at the fading light bulb above his painstakingly uncomfortable cot. He slowly cracked the withering bones in his body and sat up in his cot. He gazed in awe at the cello that stood before him. The cello his father bought for him after saving three months of work, the cello that decided his career path after earning a standing ovation at his first recital, the cello that paid for his children's meals. The cello that gave him hope in his bleak existence. Maor then began a pre-breakfast symphony, and lost himself in the extraordinary dimension of music.
Maor sighed as he gazed out Frau Umberger's kitchen window only to see Nazi pigs marching up and down the streets he had walked when he was a boy. Frau Umberger patted Maor on his back and assured him not to worry. She would keep him safe. Frau Koch discovered Maor a month ago, an emaciated, pallid old man, clinging to his cello as her fellow countrymen rounded Jews to the Treblinka ghetto. She felt somewhat of a pity for Maor, and took him in. Frau Umberger knew that harboring a Jew was an egregious offence, but she was lonely and needed some company. It was an added bonus that the man she took home was a musical genius. Even if the music he played was always depressing. She and Maor never talked much, but his presence made her whole, and he certainly appreciated her help.
Nighttime soon fell, and Maor popped his knuckles and treaded down to the basement. Tonight, Maor would play Bach's famous Cello Suite No.1, 2, and 3. Maor then grasped his bow and began the masterpiece. He felt his finger tips slide up and down the leathery strings of his cello, closed his eyes and smiled at the wonder he was creating. He was so immersed into the music that he failed to notice the screaming above him. He did not hear footsteps slowly creep down the cellar stairs. Maor stopped playing to wipe the sweat from his brow when he heard a breath that was not his own. He looked up slowly at a towering figure above him. There stood a Nazi soldier, a machine of war, a harbinger of malice. For a moment, the world stopped and watched the two men stare at each other. Finally, Maor mustered enough courage to speak. "Do what you wish." The German pointed at the cello. "Finish." Maor bowed his head and continued.
Gustav was just doing a search of the neighborhood when he heard the music. It was Bach, the great German composer. Gustav's chest swelled with a national pride. He then followed his ears to discover the musician, and congratulate him on a job well done. He was surprised when he saw that the majestic sounds were coming from Frau Umberger's apartment. The fat cow did not seem very musical at all. Frau Umberger came to open the door, but the music did not stop. He figured it was a guest, and asked if he could meet the maestro. Frau Umberger shook her head and slammed the door in Gustav's face. Gustav, a violent man, did not take rejection very well and kicked down the door open only to be nearly slashed by one of Frau Umberger's kitchen knives. "NO!" she shrilled. "You cannot take him away from me!" The damage, however, was done. Frau Umberger barely even felt the hot lead pierce her cranium. The music failed to stop, and Gustav saw that it was coming from the cellar door. He wiped his hands, and walked downstairs, only to see an ancient Jew lost in a musical world.
Maor soon finished, and looked at the floor waiting to hear a shot and be killed by the giant, German swine. But only silence filled his ears. Finally, Maor blurted out, "You killed Frau Umberger didn't you? What are you waiting for? I cannot fight you." Gustav's eyes twitched as his brain bombarded him with courses of action. His thoughts were screaming at him to strangle the filthy Jew, and display his corpse on the street. But his conscious, whatever was left that is, told him to get retrieve his violin. Finally Gustav replied. "You are the greatest I have ever heard." And then he retreated. Maor plopped down on his bed, both exhausted from the playing, and also stunned at the outcome of the ordeal. He heard the German slide Frau Umberger's corpse out of the apartment, and then the door shut. Maor stared at his cello for the rest of the night, pondering all of the horrible abominations that would happen to him. He assured himself that he was too old to be moved to the ghetto. The Germans would just kill him quickly. Then he could see his family, and play music for the rest of time. That was good enough for him.
Maor awoke in darkness, and fumbled to turn on a light. The apartment was empty, and only a dried up puddle of blood accompanied Maor as he quietly sipped weak tea from a faded white mug. He figured the Germans would come bursting through his door, and order him into the streets. He sat at the table for hours. Night fell, and Maor watched the clock tick by the seconds. Then a slow and subtle knock rapped at the door. Maor readied himself. "You may come in." he said with a firm voice. The knob turned slowly, and so did the door. It was the German from last night. He was holding a violin case. "My name is Gustav." the German said, "I was wondering if you would play with me." Maor replied harshly, "I would rather you fire a bullet in between my skull you German dog." Gustav nodded, as he expected that answer. He pulled out a chair, and began to play Wieniaswski's Polonaise No. 1. Maor watched in disbelief as Gustav's fingers glided across his instrument. The German forgot a not here and there, but he had a natural gift. Gustav stopped the music, and looked at Maor, who was still dazed from the incredible music. Maor suddenly forgot his rage against the Nazi. In fact, all the resentment in his bones had vanished. "Come with me." Maor said. The two retired to the basement, and music illuminated the dreadful city for the whole night.
The pair played music for months, every night, until the sun gave its light to the world. Gustav would bring rations for Maor, and in return, Maor taught Gustav to not only be a good musician, but an exceptional one. Everything was going well.
That is, until Maor's fingers started to feel pain for no apparent reason. It hurt just to pick up a spoon to eat soup. But even worse, Maor could not play the cello. For weeks, he pushed through the pain, but it became too unbearable. Gustav noticed this. Sure, it was his duty to exterminate Maor, but lately he did not feel the German national pride like he used to. It had died. Yet, Gustav had never felt more complete then he did while playing music with Maor. One night, he told Maor to stop playing because the pain-stricken expression on Maor's face was just too much to bear. Maor exasperatedly threw his bow on the ground, and immediately started to bawl. Gustav held the old man in his arms, and rocked him until he stopped. Then Maor climbed into his cot, and uttered: "I cannot imagine a life without music." Gustav said nothing, and watched Maor carefully as he drifted off to sleep. Maor did not even struggle when Gustav put the pillow over his face. When the job was done, a single tear dropped down Gustav's face. He started to walk up the basement steps when he turned and noticed the cello standing upright, as the dirty basement light bulb illuminated its shape. "Auf wiedersehen." Gustav said with his voice quivering.
The next morning, Gustav removed his uniform, took his violin, and left for Switzerland. He dazzled the Swiss with his amazing skills, and made a name for himself. Every time Gustav took the stage, he felt Maor's presence looking down on him with great acceptance. And if Gustav has not died yet, he is still there today.