Going Home (a WWI Novella)

A Novella by Bidsche Hohnsalz (from Zehlendorf)

[This novella was published in eight installments from June 3, 1921 to July 27, 1921. It follows a Jewish soldier from his hometown to a German field hospital just beyond the trenches of Verdun through the five years of his deployment. The grim reality of tents filled with the wounded and dying only sometimes pierces the shadows of the soldier’s inner turmoil and anguish heightened by an unrequited love. The specific experience of a German Jewish soldier on the front does come to fore in a couple of passages but the story told is a universal one. A non-fiction account of a German-Jewish medic in WW1–Ernst Levin (1887 – 1975)–can be found here: https://libraryblogs.is.ed.ac.uk/untoldstories/2016/12/07/over-the-line-a-german-medics-war/]

First Installment


At this time he met another girl, the blond Julie, a neighbor who looked somewhat like the university student. He tried to get her to like him—but he wasn’t successful…. The neighbor took quite advantage of him but had a sophisticated way of hiding this, but he eventually went on his lonely way, though he did soon marry without ever having received heartfelt warmth, and him being a well-off businessman.

Like fog envelopes a mountain, great loneliness and never-ending longing hung over this melancholy man such that he saw little of the reality of this world. He sank into his melancholy and began turning his painful experience of love into a type of cult. That beautiful student had once given him a photograph of herself. This now stood, framed, on his desk. From a small mahogany frame that lovely, half-serious, half impish childlike face with its large, thoughtful eyes looked toward the distance. He held dialogues with this picture as one would with an old and cherished acquaintance. During the day he placed blooming flowers in front it and at night a small burning oil lamp.

Back then he lived on the fifth floor of an apartment building near the river. On bright moonlit nights he held “celebrations.” He sat for hours looking at the play of light on the water and placed the picture, that he had hung with floating silk cloth, on a marble tabletop in the bright light.

When the moon appeared in the center of the window’s cross-like lattice he murmured to himself in the secretive abstrusities he preferred, “I must go to her to see if it’s possible to summon her by the strength of my desire.”  When it got to that point he would walk until late at night, tired and stooped, in the quiet street where the student lived. He would stand a like a statue in front of her house staring at the lit up windows of her apartment. When they darkened he would stay a long while as though unconscious until he finally went home and continued his conversation with the picture.

These unusual activities caused him to neglect his business. He grew increasingly and quirkier and more withdrawn until a dark hopelessness took hold of him. His existence seemed useless to him, meaningless and purposeless, and even though he spent hours regarding himself with self-irony and cynically mocking the world, this grim, self-centered grief gained more and more the upper hand.

He almost greeted the outbreak of the war as a kind of salvation and he decided he had to go to France in those early August days, 1914, even though he had a premonition that the war would be an immense catastrophe for his German fatherland. Even though he observed the huge wave of enthusiasm and excitement with raised eyebrows above horrified eyes he felt a kind of inner release.

He was assigned to a medical unit and worked in a large field hospital that was busy day and night. He was the only Jew there and was often mocked for being Jewish. Eventually the others got used to the pale, thoughtful and quiet man who seemed to not have any self-awareness and worked tirelessly.

Every third night he held watch in the large tent where the dying and wounded lay. With a stony face he looked at the immeasurable ocean of pain and troubles and misery that broke around him. Under the horrific impressions and the hard physical labor his former self became submerged in his mind. When he thought of the people from his geographically and emotionally remote home it was as though he looked at them through a thick veil and they faded more and more. But they wouldn’t disappear completely and continued to lead a ghostly life in his mind.

He moved like a sleepwalker.

Within him existed an “I” and a “you,” almost independent of each other, strangers to each other. When he spoke it often seemed to him as though he heard a stranger speaking and he could often observe himself as if he were another person, no longer understanding his own actions and inactions.

That small photograph lay carefully packed at the bottom of his knapsack and he was careful not to take it out lest the old painful thoughts from that closed-off past should torment him again!

In December of the first year of the war he received a postcard with a few friendly, words that didn’t say anything special. This reminder of earlier, dark things hurt him so much that he wandered about as though hypnotized for days He held fantastical speeches with himself and thought of her with a fearful intensity. On his own he gathered his wits, thanked her and made sure that he used bland words that would not let her notice his inner turmoil.

Second Installment

p. 2, Issue 27, June 10, 1921

The infirmary in which he worked was in a pleasant, hilly strip of land north of Verdun; there was a long path with fruit trees that were now bare and lonely, and neglected and overgrown gardens that stretched for miles to the south of the small village, and beyond that, dense, impassable forests. On this quite path he walked those nights when he wasn’t on duty, walked for hours—and the silent nature, as yet unchanged by human hands, the barely inhabited area calmed him somewhat and relieved his tortured, horrible dreams.

After a snowfall, on bright nights he often stood up there leaning on a tree and gazed sadly at the darkening countryside. In the west shone a milky glass light over the irregular wave of the chain of hills in the east—there was the German homeland—there lay impenetrable darkness over the earth. –

Once, late evening, it was still oddly light, while on his walk in the forest he suddenly saw her walking before him; …it was a girlish form in a pale dress that looked just like her,– the same delicate, slender figure that was now oddly taking such long strides….

He called her name, he hurried after her;–but the figure walked on into a thicket without turning around. With ghostly ease she floated in the dense forest as if the trees did not exist for her. He followed her, — thorny branches struck his face, tore his hands bloody, — he still believed he could still see her pale dress glimmer between bushes—panting he worked through the thick undergrowth, always following the alluring, drifting, white glow, … for hours — … until he finally came to and noticed that he was lost in the forest.

For half the night he wandered aimlessly and without a plan, struggling his way through the brush. Finally he came out of the forest; — he stood on the slope of the other side of the mountain, dawn would soon be breaking. Despite it being January the weather was unnaturally mild.  Below him, about a rifle’s range away he saw a weak light flash. He went toward it. It was a small hut standing at the edge the meadow. A petroleum light burned inside. As he neared he saw a white-haired French farmer at the gate. Lifeless as a wax figure the old man stood there and stared at him. Then the old man’s eyes seemed to notice him and glowed with such a flame of anger and hatred that he suddenly felt an uncertain fear and hurried away. Towards morning after more difficult walking he reached his unit – on time.

The constant work in the field hospital’s tents didn’t leave him much time for himself and the deep wound that an unusual fear seemed to have torn open stopped hurting after a while. He saw so much suffering and misfortune that he felt his own to be a minor thing and he was able to see it as a tiny link in the endless chain of the world’s suffering.

The war’s first spring approached. The gardens everywhere were blooming. The blooming fruit trees on the hillside looked like shimmering, white cornflowers. The window flaps of the hospital tents were left open for days so that the dying gaze of the wounded could rest on the silky light blue of the springtime sky or the eternal starlight. But this spring had nothing joyful; it seemed instead to have an eerie stiffness. There was no comforting birdsong. An omen of something new, terrifying hung in the air.

Third Installment

p. 2; Issue 28, June 17, 1921

A new large offensive began. The earth shook quietly from the continuous firing of the funs that echoed over from the front that was only one and a half miles away. Nights, from the crest of the mountains, you could see the glow from the cannon flashes against the red sky. The wounded came in droves. The field hospital’s mass grave at the entrance of the palace was full and a larger one had to be dug.

He often wrote letters for the maimed and wounded that they dictated. Almost all of them had someone back home to write to, to tell of their love, their warmth of their feelings, or to tell of their plight. Only he was lonely. When he thought of Germany his throat closed from sadness. “Why am I the only one with no one?” he would ask himself. “why am I so alone in this world? Don’t I have a greater treasure of unused tenderness and passion than many, many others. Are all the springs of my existence to go unused, all the gardens of my soul to wither?”—

The first Passover during the war was odd. In a shot-up tavern the Jews in the army sat together for a Seder sadly thinking of home. A rabbi field chaplain led the ceremonies. All the necessities had been sent from Germany—only the bitter herbs were missing. “Those we can do without, we have enough bitterness here!” the rabbi said with a sad smile.

The offensive failed. The time of the years-long, desolate and useless war of trench warfare started.

With prophetic clarity he foresaw that the fatherland would not win this war of the titans and that everything would end in the deepest misfortune.

Painfully he felt the meaninglessness and purposelessness of this struggle and the certainty of this awful end combined with the knowledge of the uselessness of his own battles with longing. This left him with a growing wish to die. He went into the trenches closest to the front to pick up the wounded, left all caution behind, and hoped that a sympathetic bullet would hit him. Instead, Death sought out happier men and those more willing to live for his harvest. He remained unscathed.

One night, in high summer, he dreamt of her again. It seemed to him that we was sinking in a pond covered with shining white lily pads…and suddenly he saw her in a lit room, smiling happily, next to Felix that distant relative whom she wished to belong to, and whose hands he held in hers.

He waved to her, he wanted to approach her, but he noticed now how her face darkened and she pointed to a small wound at her temple as he sank more and more deeply. Then he suddenly began to cry and woke up with his face wet with tears. He felt ashamed that he who had not cried since his childhood, almost a quarter of a century, was now as a man pouring out tears, even if it was only in a dream. – Since there was a lot of work he wanted to get up. As he got up his foot stepped on a dried tree branch that the wind had blown through the open window. Outside the mild summer night shone with weak starlight.

He went down to the field hospital. A troop of heavily wounded had arrived again. From among the pitiable that had been laid in his station one young man especially caught his attention–he didn’t moan like the others but lay quietly and peacefully. A bullet had smashed his right knee and he had lain for two days without treatment and his foot was now infected.

When daylight came and he wanted to bring the wounded man some water he was struck to the quick with horror and stared at him incomprehensibly. For it seemed to him that in the pale-as-death face he saw the face of that girl that had completely possessed him. It was the same chestnut brown, full hair, the same sweet, joyful childlike face, the same eyes–it was as though he was looking at her twin brother. And as he bent down he noticed with a strange fear that the wounded man had a small, insignificant wound at his temple. The familiar traits were pale and seemed distorted by pain.

He thought in all seriousness he had one of her close relatives before him; however, when he asked for his name he learned that he was a locksmith’s apprentice from a completely different part of Germany.

He was a very young man, really still a boy. Over the next days his traits became clearer. Mostly he lay there silently with a quiet smile.

The one who remembered his earlier life with pain hardly talked to him but he did put much effort into doing anything he could to relieve his suffering.

After three days his leg had to be amputated.

Deathly pale with large eyes bright with fever the amputee lay on his crude cot and waved him over one evening. “You there,” he pleaded with a quiet, weak voice, “stay with me tonight.” – “Yes, yes, “ I comforted him. ”I’ll come back to you later. First I still have many others I have to take care of.” Everywhere he went in the tent the boy’s ghostly shining eyes that seemed to speak of a supernatural, mysterious world followed him. He was drawn magnetically to go to him as soon as he could. “Come, sit by my bed,” the young man with the ingratiating, almost girlish voice asked. When he sat the seriously wounded man put his arm around him and gazed at him with a gentle smile. Now he looked very much like that faraway lovely girl. “Stay with me,” he asked again, “I won’t live much longer—I want to tell you a few things. You have to know this, I have to tell you…” and then he fell silent, tired again, and stared at him with his wide open and oddly shining eyes. His whole life, he never forgot the gaze of that wounded man. He still had his arm around him.

Fourth Installment

p. 2; Issue 29, June 24, 1921

The kerosene lamp that hung from the top of the tent barely lit the pale face. The penetrating and intolerable smell of a disinfectant hung in the air. Various men groaned and sighed, one who had taken a bullet in his lung gurgled continuously. You could hear bombs explode In the too near distance. Then it was quiet again outside.

He still sat at the edge of the locksmith’s apprentice’s bed and could feel the young man’s heart beat. Suddenly the delirious man began to say confused and incomprehensible things.

He sat there a long time watching the troubled sleeper and thought of that young, blossoming creature back home. A few hours must have passed this way. Outside you could hear the constant rumbling of vehicles going by. The dying young man whispered barely understandably, “Listen…I will tell you!” He bent down to him and noticed how the wounded man very quietly said that girl’s name. He listened in shock. The wounded man only smiled strangely and mysteriously…barely shook his head…lifted his hand in a warning…and wanted to say more…that’s when his glowing eyes turned vacant…he sighed quietly and said no more.

Shortly after he closed the dead man’s eyes and quietly summoned the watch who carried him behind the operating room on a bier that had been hastily improvised from boards.

As he looked back he saw that the moon stood in the middle of the cross-bars of the small tent window.

In the morning he asked for leave, his first and last of the war. He was granted fourteen days and went to the city where the student lived.

Like a completely new, until now unknown world, the streets, gardens and places where he had once walked surrounded him. Some things had changed. People, that he would have gladly seen again were in the enemy’s country. Public life was noticeably dampened. Flags waved from houses to celebrate a recent military victory. At that he smiled painfully, because he sensed what was coming. His worry about the future of the country pressed down on him like a nightmare.

He stayed in a small hotel beside the slowly flowing river and toward evening he went to the house where the girl had lived as he used to do and stared at her window.

It was, and stayed, dark. The next day he learned that she had left long ago and now studied in another city.

He went about like in a dream. He stared at passersby as though they were beings from another world.

All his aimless walks led him back to that house.

His deep loneliness felt like a stabbing pain. Never before did he feel as he did now that non-existence would be his greatest happiness. He envied those whom a green lawn already covered and he felt he was without purpose or usefulness, like a thrown-away fruit with no juice or sweetness.

The hollow and empty pleasures that many in the homeland enjoyed repulsed him. Melancholy overtook him completely and to escape it, he suddenly went back to the field hospital in France after having spent only seven days in Germany.

There, there was more to do than ever. The installation had been expanded, barracks for typhus and dysentery patients had been built. Work started in the morning and ended very late and just as before he had night duty every third day. The months passed.

He took on the care of the sick and he himself because seriously ill with typhoid. He had a high fever for many weeks and lay between life and death. In his delirium the figure of the girl, disdainful and getting away from him, appeared.

When he got up for the first time he had hollow eyes and was very pale, walked like an old man with dragging steps, the hair at his temples was gray and he had the look in his eyes of someone who had seen a ghost.

Fifth Installment

p. 2 Issue 30, July 1, 1921

He turned more and more into stone–is life collapsed, but he did hear in himself the continuous sound of a great, grief-filled melody; within himself he saw a being that was not a picture, but that could speak to him, and that had the features of that girl.

The longing for the end of his tortuous delusions grew ever stronger.

It was an outside incident that brought the resolved decision to fruition. A large number of men were brought to the field hospital who had the upper part of their faces, including their eyes, burned away by a flame thrower.

In the last years he had seen so many horrible and terrifying things that he felt inured to the worst wounds. But something as terrible as this he had never experienced. A unit of German soldiers had been surprised in their trenches by an enemy flamethrower with the result of such absolute horror.

At that the wave of despair and disgust with this world broke over him and he made an attempt to kill himself. The attempt failed and he was left to lay weeks in bed with his dark imaginings.

He did find some comfort when he could once again work. But this work was monotonous and the field hospital stayed in one location, and he was able to spin out the sad threads of his life.

That changed suddenly when he was transferred to a mobile column.

Every night he brought food and munitions to the frontmost trenches with a small wagon on shot-up paths with grenade pits that were barely passable.

The column followed the main army that was making one last attack on Amiens before it collapsed entirely. Every day the troops were somewhere else. For months he didn’t even change clothes. Exhausted and dirty he had to lie like an animal under his wagon or in a pit. They moved at night. They rolled through a devastated landscape. Sometimes a curtain of massive artillery fire showered the fields with lightening and a roaring sound like oncoming thunderstorms.

His duty and his horses called for his complete attention. He was never aware of himself, except on bright nights when he would still take her picture out of his pack and the almost welcome sorrow stirred when he gazed at this relic from a forever lost time. Because of his silence and his quiet self-absorption he was not liked by his comrades. They avoided him and didn’t help him when his wagon got stuck in a crater and he despaired of getting out.

Then came the terrible moment. The German army, already weakened at the core but willing to take on a world of enemies, collapsed. There were rumors that war was over for all time and that all the armies would join in brotherhood, and they were believed. An odd hatred among soldiers for their superiors ignited—some officers were beaten. The dishonorable retreat was wild and chaotic. In village after village the retreating troops were pursued and shot at.

A third of the men in his column died. His wagon caught fire, his backpack went up in flames. By some kind of miracle he saved the old, worn Bible that he always had with him—and her picture.

He was also wounded. He bound his foot and rode his horse who trotted down the frozen roads with a tired, hanging head. It was hard to decide who was more tired and sadder—the rider or his horse. In the ditches along country roads lay abandoned weapons, innumerable pieces of equipment, that were simply left behind to not slow down the retreat.

But we were headed to Germany. We were going home. As he neared the Rhine, he glimpsed days of rest.

Sixth Installment


Revolutionary spasms shook the poor, conquered, beaten country like waves of fever.

After a few weeks he was back in the city where he had lived when it was still peacetime.

The wound on his foot had gotten worse. He spent a long, long time in the hospital. Finally he could limp around on a cane.

When summer came he was released from the hospital and was once again free—as free as five years ago.

He went through the city streets like a sleepwalker. Everything seemed new to him, a new experience, but everywhere he was beset by old memories that a tired, almost broken person would bring back home. Wide rays of sunshine flooded between the rows of houses, the rows of trees along the paths were like glowing green flags. In the courtyards the hurley-gurleys played like before and the children sang…much was as before, and yet everything was different.

Just like years ago he stood once again in front of the house where she once lived and stared with distant eyes at her old room. It seemed to him as though he were watching himself without any sympathy and saw a stranger standing in the quiet street and contemplating fleeting images of dreams.

Suddenly the deep, smothering melancholy took hold of him, his closest friend since his childhood; but the gentle, warm summer sun, the quiet monotonous hum of the sleeping city, the twittering sparrows and the familiar but barely audible Glockenspiel from the Magdalen church tower calmed him and brought him to that half-wakeful state in which he so often lived.

He stood in front of the house for hours. Finally, an old woman appeared and began to clean the window.

He left then. He rode to the city forest and drank in the magic of remembering.

This was where they, his distant cousin Felix, the girl and he, had gone on an outing six years ago.

He walked the same paths, listened to the knocking of a woodpecker and the delicate rustling of the tops of pines in the wind.

He wandered on without hurry.

On that outing they had eaten in the restaurant at the crossroads. He knew every path and step. Everywhere he saw the faces of strangers that wondered curiously at the hunched over, limping man.

One could have given him all the treasures of the world—what were they compared to the magical brightness of the summer day when they had sat together on the grass, and he had secretly caught glances of the beautiful, delicate girl, enchanted by great longing and blissful sorrow.

How many memories drew him today! He would have gladly given them all for that one summer hour six years ago. And he knew that despite what fate could bring him, that day of deep and passing happiness would never return with such glowing beauty.

The summit of his experience, the deepest essence of his youth was gone forever.

He sat leaning against a tree for a while and looked at the blue sky across which large oddly shaped clouds passed slowly like proud swans. He followed them as they sailed by and slowly dissolved on the horizon—like the fate of men, like dreams, as if they had never been.

Then he walked back to the city.

He was staying near his old apartment. He could see the river from his window. On his table stood the picture of the girl. It had been blackened by flames and her features were hardly recognizable. Every day he wreathed the ruined frame with flowers and stared for hours trying to bring her image to life.

It was almost a relief when he realized that a heart ailment which had started during the war had advanced and that he didn’t have long to live. This revelation seemed to announce that his release would come soon.

Seventh Installment


What is the meaning of all this if there isn’t something unknown beyond life that gives it purpose and direction?

A rainy summer was coming to an end. He spent the days wandering around aimlessly, evenings he sat in his room, not truly present, and brooded. “Such an all-encompassing, lifelong, deep feeling as mine is rare on this earth,” he thought. “People pass by each other, hardly know each other, do each other wrong, get dressed, forget each other again, and what they call love is surely something different and pettier than what lives and sings in me. How transitory everything else is! Fate gave only me something as deep and eternal, that despite the years, that time could not weaken…I notice how the candle of my life drips away but its light is only burning brighter. How sad that it isn’t providing light to anyone, that it just purposelessly and uselessly drips away, not knowing the one that had set it aflame.”

His illness got worse and his weakness grew. While his body neared its end, a strange hope combined with an inexplicable superstition grew. Like a plant it grew and grew and filled and brightened his being. It was the hope that as sad and without meaning his life was, it could not end this way, that something unexpectedly glorious, indeed wonderful, would yet enter it.

This hope became so huge that a quiet cheerfulness took hold of him even though he was paler and felt sicker than ever before. It was as though after a rainy day the sun breaks through the clouds once more in the evening and pours its glowing light over the whole countryside.

A while ago he assumed that the girl was already married. Then he heard that she was still only engaged and worked as a chemist in a government institute in a not-too-distant university city. He learned nothing else about her.

He often regretted that the picture of her had become so unrecognizable through wear.

As autumn came his illness had advanced so far that he was certain he would soon be free from his earthly existence. He had rarely felt this quiet inner joy. Now that wondrous thing, that glorious thing that he had so hoped for must happen! He became quite convinced that he would yet experience this final and momentous peak of his existence.

Beautiful autumn days came to the country. The sky was wrapped in a shimmering shawl of unforgettable blue from which rays of light and contentment spread over the city. The leaves of trees flamed in bright red and yellow. The tones of folk songs hung in the air.

The sunset was a passionate, exulting, bacchanal. The red disc glowed in the cloudless sea of color that was the sky and when it sank the air did not cool but stayed warm as in summer.

He sat at an open window, his head hanging down to his chest, brooding until he fell asleep. Suddenly he dreamed he saw her, more real than ever before. She came toward him, got closer and closer. “This is the wonderful thing, this is the great wonder,” he exulted. He came out of the dream and felt blessed. The moon stood in the window’s crossbars and shone on her picture and the features seemed much clearer than usual.

“Tomorrow I’ll see her again,” he rejoiced and looked at the glowing lights strewn across the sky, and the stars seemed to grow this night of expectation.

A golden, sunny day dawned. He went to the neighboring city where he had learned she lived.

He had heard that she worked in the chemistry institute of the university that stood in the park behind the school’s main building. From the outside, the laboratory looked like a small Greek temple and was surrounded by columns. It stood atop stairs in the middle of a pergola and looked down a long path between the building and the street that was lined with marvelous aspens. It was almost noon, early October, but as warm and bright as in July.

Fluttering spider webs sparkled in the air. The birds chirped cheerfully and the sound of muted cello playing came from a ground-floor apartment. The music stopped and one heard the quiet sounds of dishes and silverware. A weak wind blew and rustled the branches of the slim, proud trees.

He walked up and down in front of the white building for almost several hours. He had waited for this special day for years. All of his thinking seemed to have been leading to this high point of his life. Soon he would see her again! His longing grew and grew like smoke that rose to the sky straight as a candle, into the unending—it gave wings to his imagination. What would she look like?



His thoughts tumbled over each other. Images and memories chased each other. His heart beat hard enough to explode. He thought he heard a song coming from somewhere that he had once heard her sing.

Then he thought again about the word “love” and verses from a love poem by a young poet that he had recently read came to him:

Love! Love! What do we people know when there’s love?!
Sensual pleasure alone is transitory
And the harmony of hearts doesn’t temper the passion
Instead let us be true to each other and good,
And in humility recognize that love is not a right,
That many are called but few are chosen.
Perhaps once every thousand years
The divine spark flashes and sets a human heart to burning
Then the sources spring forth and songs, eternal,
Blossom forth from the stammering mouth of the blessed one.
The songs say nothing about lust and possession—
Only desire loosened the be-graced tongue!
So perhaps there is no other salvation for us
Than to deny ourselves and quiet the restless drive
And practice longing until we are holy and one.

[Translator’s note: This poem is spoken by Martin, the lead character in the final act of the 1916 drama, “Liebe” by Austrian writer and four-time Nobel Prize nominee, Anton Wildgans.]

He stood on the stairs of the building with its columns, wholly covered in sunlight, with a lowered head and timidly thought himself to be a chosen one.

Suddenly the cello player on the ground floor of the laboratory building started playing again, first slowly and measured then the melody quickened with a joyful, ringing crescendo into a swiftly flowing song of celebration and stopped suddenly after a few minutes.

All at once the pale waiting man was overcome by his emotion and he wished with such passion and depth as he never had before that she would finally come. He felt his eyes grow moist, he lifted his head and threw his arms up as though in prayer and, without willing it, called out her name. All of his years of sorrow and misery sounded in one half loud cry. And behold! At the end of the path the figure of a girl dressed in white appeared walking slowly toward the temple.

He knew immediately that it was her. The miracle had happened. Had she heard his cry and followed it?

He slowly went toward her. His knees trembled in excitement. Er forced himself not to shout with joy. He recognized her clearly. She had hardly changed. She was still as beautiful as she had been years ago. This was how he remembered her fine, delicate figure. The lovely child’s face touched him as it had those years ago, and all the love that burned in him flashed in an intense ray, as powerful as a bolt of lightning. He held his breath. Now she’d come to him, stretch both hands toward him, and greet him, as he dreamed of yesterday. Now she was so close. He wanted to walk up to her and take her hand, but something mysterious, he didn’t know what, kept him from doing that. What was that? She lifted her head slightly, assessed him quickly and impartially, and didn’t recognize him. She walked past him.

It felt as though something ruptured in his soul, as if the strings of a rare instrument tore with a dissonant sound.

One minute he wanted to rush after her, call her by name and remind her who he was. But he didn’t. Instead he swayed toward a bench and broke into ugly laughter.

Then he stared ahead for a long while.

When evening came he went home.

Cars rolled in the streets, people laughed and chatted, as if nothing had happened.

He stood at the window of his room, still thinking and ridiculing himself. Where was the miracle? He had believed that his feelings could force fate’s hand. A ridiculous and conceited farce the whole thing was. What an overwrought fool he had been. Who was he to her? A stranger that she didn’t even recognize. There was nothing supernatural in this world that was beyond this life and determined the fate of humankind. He didn’t tire of cruelly torturing himself, ridiculing himself, making fun of himself.

The hours passed. Night passed and when morning came he had come to his senses.

Now I am once again completely alone, he said. I only have myself, nothing else in this world. But I don’t want to die here where a hundred things remind me of the past.

With a serious, upstanding manliness he packed his few possessions and got a basket of autumn flowers that he spread at the threshold of the house where she once lived as a kind of leave-taking.

As the sun rose high it shone into the train that was taking him to another country. He sat composed and quiet and looked at the countryside drenched in sunlight, at the fields of golden stalks, at the glowing colors of the glorious trees. I’ll soon be in all of you, he murmured, and it seemed to him as he grew a pair of wings which would carry him beyond time and place.

This entry was posted in German Jewish History, German Jewish Literature, German Jewish Newspapers, Jewish History, Jewish Holidays, Translations, Uncategorized, WWI Jewish Veterans and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Going Home (a WWI Novella)

  1. Pingback: Jewish Liberal Newspaper, June 17, 1921 | Juedisch-liberale Zeitung

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