Reading Notes:

Death Is The Cool Night

‘At best the dead are remembered in statistics, at worst they are forgotten as mere specks of dust in the panorama of global dimensions. Yet every now and then one of them comes alive, either real or imaginary, to bear witness to what happened. One of these is Otto Mehring, the leading character in John Tully’s novel.
The year of his birth rules the author out from having experienced in person the periods he describes; but his profound knowledge of history, his research, faultless in every detail, of the Nazi terror before and during World War II, enable him to paint a vivid picture of an individual life, shadowed by constant danger, suffering and tragic losses. ...
John Tully has the gift of the natural story teller. His language is superb, and his compassion allows him to identify with the main character in such an uncanny way, that one could be forgiven for suspecting an autobiographical trait, if one didn’t know otherwise’ writes Marielu Winter in her review (AMBR, Vol 7, No 1).
Questions Raised by the Book

About the Author

John Tully was born in the industrial north of England in 1947. He emigrated as a young child with his parents and grew up in hydro-electric construction towns in the Tasmanian bush. He worked for many years as a rigger and dogman in the building industry, but more recently has been a teacher and university lecturer.
Tully has written a number of short stories for Australian literary magazines. He is the author of a scholarly book on French colonialism in Cambodia based on his PhD thesis.
Extract

From a letter to Otto Mehring from his girlfriend Sophie
18 November 1938
Dear Otto,
I’m sending this letter out with S., so I don’t have to write as cryptically as usual. I hope it finds you in good spirits. Alas, my love, that is more than I can hope for myself, for German society has plunged into an abyss of madness and hatred, you cannot imagine. Such fear I have never known.
As you will know, Herr vom Rath, the secretary of the Nazi Embassy in Paris, was recently shot dead by young Grynspan, a Polish Jew. Good riddance, but the assassination has been the excuse for a pogrom such as has scarcely been seen since the activities of the Black Hundreds in Tsarist Russia, or earlier this year in Vienna following the Anschluss.
The Nazis portrayed the pogroms across Germany as the result of the spontaneous anger of people outraged by ‘Jewish perfidy’, but they were ordered from the top. By Goebbels and Himmler and the whole rotten crew.
I was in Munich when the pogrom began there. It was so brutal and savage that I pray to God that I am spared from ever seeing such things again.
Storm-troopers had been summoned to the Brown House and given complete licence to loot Jewish homes and businesses. They’d been supplied with lists of shops and offices and given a kind of bandit headquarters in the Künstlerhaus.
These ruffians roamed the streets, smashing windows and stuffing their pockets with jewellery and silver plate. Many of them were drunk and bleeding from the shards of broken glass. They defecated in shop windows and defiled houses in the vilest ways. The streets rang with cries of ‘Perish Judah!’, ‘Sieg Heil!’ and all that rubbish. To hear them bawling out in their porcine happiness was unbearable. How I longed to be with you!
As the awful night dragged on, they began to set fire to their victims’ property. The fire brigade was called out, but only because these oafs, in their lust for destruction, had endangered Aryan property.
The only bright spot was that the thugs brawled among themselves for loot; indeed a tremendous fight broke out in downtown Munich. It must have been a primitive and weird scene, these terrible oafs bashing each other and bellowing obscenities by the light of burning buildings.
Following this ‘night of broken glass’ the Gestapo swooped and incarcerated almost all of the male Jewish population of Munich. Some managed to escape, others hid with sympathetic Aryans, many others slit their own throats or shot themselves rather than live in such a world any longer. Perhaps saddest of all was the raid on the Jewish Old Women’s Home in the Kaulbachstrasse. Despite the fact that the inhabitants were paupers who didn’t even have enough blankets for the cold of the advancing winter.
Mobs of freelancers joined in the looting when they were allowed to do so, but not all of the city was so enthusiastic. They say that the workers of the Bavarian Motor Works were so disgusted with what happened that they refused to associate with the factory’s storm-troopers (sent out looting on full pay, incidentially) because of their participation in the pogrom.
Aunt Freda’s house was untouched. As you know she lives in a quiet street in Schwabing and thus was not an obvious target, but we know that the lists of Jewish premises were drawn up in Gauleiter Wagner’s office. It is thus remarkable that she was overlooked. Me too. Still, we aren’t grumbling about it!
The tension and the terror is almost too much to bear. Who knows when the ruffians will decide to strike again? The cemeteries have dozens of fresh Jewish graves every day, and I’m sure that I saw dear old Professor Rosenblum hiding in the park down by the Isar. I do hope he is okay.
Your parents are as well as can be expected. Your brother and sister are fine. Your parents insist that I leave Germany as soon as possible. They think that the Nazis will never give your Dad permission to leave, they also wonder what on earth he could do for a living if he did manage to get out. Maybe they are right, although it sounds terrible to say so.
I’ve been feeling quite ‘off-colour’ of late, but it is only to be expected given the strain of concert tours and the stress of the ghastly events of past weeks. As soon as I feel better, I am going to try to get out. Is there any chance of continuing my career in England, or America? I don’t know. What is certain is that I’m at the end of my tether. I am missing you dreadfully. The weather is damp and gloomy. God only knows what winter will bring with it.
A thousand kisses, my dear Otto. Don’t worry too much about me. You know I can look after myself. With luck we’ll see each other soon. I still have your photograph from the day at the lake on the desk in my room. You say that you have gone a little grey. Will we recognise each other when we meet again?!
Love Sophie