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J. M. Tyree
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When They Played Bruckner
     To this day I cannot remember what he said to me. Isn’t that absurd? I remember being a little nervous. That was absurd, too, considering the circumstances. We had been conscripted only a few weeks before. We already had uniforms, of course, from being in the Youth. All they had to do was hand us some battered guns, tell us abut the Secret Weapon that would save us if we could only hold out, and order us to fight street by street. That wasn’t hard. We heard what the Russians had been doing. The city was practically ruined, so there were plenty of hiding places. But here was this man whose face I saw constantly, on postage stamps and posters, in films and speeches, and he was pinning the Iron Cross on my dirty uniform in the Chancellery Garden. I felt shabby and unpresentable. He stroked the cheek of the little fellow to my left. I remember he made us giggle but I don’t remember what he said.
     I have learned since that this photograph represents the last time he left the Bunker. Why should I deny that I still looked up to him? I was fifteen at the time, raised on ten years of lies. We had been told that the Allies would inflict the worst on the country if we gave up. There was the so-called Morganthau Plan to keep Germany a primitive agricultural country with no industrial development allowed. If I am not mistaken, that same day in Hamburg, my hometown, twenty-two Jewish children were hanged in the school gymnasium on Bullenhuser Damm. They had been experimented on in Auschwitz and were hanged to conceal the crime. Of course, one always heard rumors.      I had attended the final performance of the Berlin Philharmonic in a semi-official capacity about a week earlier. The concert hall was flooded with light. It was eerie because the building was still intact. The musicians, it came out later, had been conscripted into the People’s Militia, but Speer had ordered their draft cards removed from the files. It was Speer behind the lights, too. Just like at Nuremberg, only this time a little smaller scale! Forgive my little joke. They played Beethoven and Bruckner. Peeping in at that small island of brightness and warmth from our posts outside, you could almost imagine that none of it had happened, that the Potsdamer Platz was still standing. And the music, God! I wish I could describe how it felt just then. It was like the war never was. It was like ... like the opposite of a bombing. We know now that it was prearranged between the musicians and Speer’s people that, when they were asked to play Bruckner’s Romantic Symphony, the end was coming and they must leave Berlin. No one told us.
     They had us placed as ushers outside the hall. We were in our Youth uniforms, and really I was one of the eldest. I was quite vainly attached to my outfit and, at that point, kept it immaculate at all times. As the spectators departed, we were to offer them the baskets we had been given, which were brimming with cyanide capsules. I still have my Cross, somewhere, if you would like to see. That little shirt is still pinned to it.
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