Merkelig hvordan verden fortoner seg, av og til.
Jeg leser mye. Innimellom også bøker. Av varierende kvalitet, men de tjener som regel en av flere hensikter, blant dem å få tiden til å gå og la hjernen få noe å jobbe med. Innimellom humring og kjedsomhet, en sjelden gang, finner jeg passasjer som rører ved meg. Passasjer jeg kan identifisere meg med. I dag fant jeg en slik en:
‘Before any of that,’ I said, ‘ on a Sunday I would often walk to the Bebel platz. It wasn’t the grand architecture that took me there – it was the evil of the place.’
‘What evil?’ he said.
One night in May 1933 the Nazis led a torch-lit mob into the square and looted the library of the adjoining Friedrich-Wilhelm University. Forty thousand people cheered as they burnt over twenty thousand books by Jewish authors.
‘Many years later a panel of glass was set into the ground to mark the spot where the fire had been. It’s a window and, by leaning over, you can look into a room below. The room is white, lined from floor to ceiling with plain shelves– ‘
‘An empty library?’ Whisperer said.
‘That’s right,’ I replied. ‘The sort of world we’d live in if the fanatics had won.’
‘A good memorial,’ he said, nodding his head. ‘Better than some damn statue.’
I looked through the windshield. The tailback was starting to unknot.
‘After a couple of visits to the plaza,’ I continued, ‘I realized the empty library wasn’t the only interesting thing. An old city cleaner with watery eyes, a guy who was there every Sunday sweeping up, was a fake.’
‘How’d you know?’ he asked, professional curiousity piqued.
‘His legend wasn’t quite right. He was too thorough in his work, the grey overalls were tailored a bit too well.
‘Anyway, one day I asked him why he swept the square.
He said he was seventy years old, it was hard to find a job, a man had to earn an honest living – and then he saw the look on my face and didn’t bother lying any more.
‘He sat down rolled up his sleeve and showed me seven faded numbers tattooed on his wrist. He was Jewish, and he pointed at groups of old men of his generation, dressed in their Sunday suits, taking the sun on nearby seats.
‘He told me he swept the square so that they would see him and know: a Jew had survived, the race lived on, their people had endured. The square was his revenge.
‘As a child it had been his playground – he said he was there the night the Nazis came. I didn’t believe him – what would a seven-year-old Jewish kid be doing in that place?
‘Then he pointed at the old university and said his father was the librarian and the family had lived in an apartment behind his office.
‘A few years after the bonfire the mob came for him and his family. Like he said, it’s always the same – they start out burning books and end up burning people. Out of his parents and five kids, he was the only survivor.
‘He passed through three camps in five years, all of them death camps, including Auschwitz. Because it was such a miracle he had survived, I asked him what he had learned.
‘He laughed and said nothing you’d call original. Death’s terrible, suffering’s worse; as usual the assholes made up the majority – on both sides of the wire.
‘Then he thought for a moment. There was one thing the experience had taught him. He said he’d learned that when millions of people, a whole political system, countless numbers of citizens who believed in God, said they were going to kill you – just listen to them.’
Whisperer turned around and looked at me. ‘So that’s what you meant, huh? You’ve been listening to the Muslim fundamentalists?’
‘Yes,’ I replied. ‘I’ve heard bombs going off in our embassies, mobs screaming for blood, mullahs issuing death decrees, so-called leaders yelling for jihad.’ They’ve been burning books, Dave – the temperature of hate in parts of the Islamic world has gone out to Pluto. And I’ve been listening to them.’
‘And you don’t think we have – the people in Washington?’ He said it without anger. I was at one time a leading intelligence agent, and I think he genuinely wanted to know.
‘Maybe in your heads. Not in your gut.’
He turned and looked out of the window. It was starting to rain. He was quiet for a long time and I began to wonder if his blood pressure had taken off again.
‘I think you’re right,’ he said at last. ‘I think, like the Jews, we believed in the fundamental goodness of men, we never thought it could really happen. But damn, they’ve got our attention now.’
Har de. Har vi?
Passasjen er hentet fra “I am a Pilgrim” av Terry Hayes.
Og nei, Bebel platz er ingen fiksjon.
“When you are so full of sorrow
that you can’t walk, can’t cry anymore,
think about the green foliage that sparkles after
the rain. When the daylight exhausts you, when
you hope a final night will cover the world,
think about the awakening of a young child.”