Komm, süsser Tod [1]

I was twenty-four years [2] old before I realized what was happening. Call me blind. Of course there had been Incidents before; I see them now, standing here in my half-blinded hind-sight. But only through a cracked pane… only through a glass darkly [3] …

It was during the filming of the last scene, see. The Finale. The Climax. The big KA-BANG. [4] I had only been an extra this time (something like Soldier No. 4, that got icepick-kicked [5] in the head, rather early on I might say) but they let me through anyway. The Ducks and Geese. Das Kapos (sorry). [6] That's always been one of my perks, one of my favorites at least. Can stand in one place and the whole damn world will pass me by. Shades of the Invisible Man.[7]

It was in that Plaza [8], see. A real sensitive place. No, I don't know why it had to be there, why we couldn't build it up fake like everything else[9] (we'd built up the Pyramids and the Sphinx and God knows what else after all)[10]—but the Director, he was a real proponent of authenticity at that period. Not like they'd notice back home, chewing on their popcorn. Gaping up at the screen with their jaded, fish-eyed stare. They never do. [11]

(Some of those officials were there too, with this real sour look on their faces. As they watched. They didn't like the end result, they told us after it was over. How we'd Hollywooded the whole thing up. The Romantic subplot, the flashy car chase scenes, the spies, etc. etc. etc. (What else can you expect from Americans? I heard one of them say to the other.) [12] So that's why you probably can't film there anymore. If you want to know.)

I didn't think it was true until I came over here—but these guys really do take themselves seriously. These people, much too seriously. Several times I even got into trouble for laughing at the wrong time [13]—well, they did let us film (eventually). So I shouldn't say too much.

The Director cleared his throat.

"A moment of silence."[14]

And we all bowed our heads. It happens more often than you'd think on the sets of these things. Especially when your Director's going through a historical phase.

(It lasted more than a moment, really. Maybe a minute—or longer. I think he got lost in thought, the Director, as most of these artistic types do now and then.)

Then I noticed him. It. Him. A shadow shifted, and he was there standing next to me. [15] He was taller than I expected. I mean, of course I didn't know who he was. I just saw this guy, you know, in costume, the whole get-up, the fancy-ass uniform and the eagle and the peaked hat [16]—I mean I thought it was kind of weird he was still wearing that (but who knows, people get off on the strangest things)—and he wasn't staring at the ground like the rest of us. I mean we weren't. Both of us had broken out of the loop. I was staring at him instead.[17]

But he paid absolutely no attention to me. He was looking over at the scene. So completely still and so intently—with this awful look on his face. I don't want to describe it. I don't even know if I could. It was like Hamlet's ghost and father and Lancelot and Beowulf all in one [18]—and then I realized.

"Hey. You're supposed to be over there."

At that, he noticed. He glared at me out of the corner of his eye, raised his head a little higher. (And I saw too—that the Star [19] was already standing in place. He was looking down like the rest of them. Then up, as the Moment faded and they started bustling around him, prettying up his face and all that.)

Maybe he wanted to leave. But he—no, God forbid that I'd ever put thoughts into his head. At that time, dumbass that I was, all I was thinking about was how he'd gotten through. I thought he might be one of those types, see. Of course it would explain a lot. If security was getting that lax.

(I was thinking too, half-laughing, that maybe we should've hired this guy instead. He certainly acted the part better, his whole mood and demeanor, right down to the fingers[20] (but you try telling a celebrity they should go without fingers for authenticity's sake) and then, when the casting call makes a certain someone burst out laughing during certain scenes [21]—I didn't dare pipe up at the time, of course.)

After a moment he turned to me (of course his eye was gone too) [22]. And he studied me, like he didn't quite like what he saw there.

"Tell me about this," he spoke. Commanded, really.

"It's a movie," I told him.

His mouth twitched.

"They're setting it up now, see," I gestured toward the Director, the Star (already getting into character, stupid hairdo and all), explained the ropes, [23] "they'll shoot it three, four times."

"They will shoot it."

"Yeah. Even more, maybe," I shrugged, "however many times it takes to get it right."

(But probably not that many; that scene, it had to be filmed at night (which was hell in many different ways, the cold only being several), the only light being provided some idling cars[24]—and everyone was pretty damn tired.)

"However many times. It takes to get it right." [25]

I looked at him, surprised. Because he sounded—no, I don't want to describe it. (He didn't even try to hide it.) It's weird; you always want to look away at these moments. Nobody wants to see a grown man cry.

(Except for me. I've always been morbidly fascinated—no, more like frozen—by these types of things.)

Lights! Camera! [26]

The worst part about it though, was when they began filming—no, right when the shot went off—he laughed—and I knew I should've told him to shut up, he probably ruined the whole damn shot—but he laughed. It echoed through my head, sent shudders through my soul; and for a moment everything went black. It was a horrible laughter, [28] and I only realized much, much later what it meant.

… it's like meeting a legend, a character from some fairytale. You don't know how it'll turn out—but once it happens, you know it couldn't have gone any other way. [29]


[1] Komm, süßer Tod, komm selge Ruh (Come, Sweet Death, Come Blessed Rest), a holy hymn by Johann Sebastian Bach, performed by a soloist voice and bass orchestra—or perhaps my friend refers to the song used in the popular cartoon movie soundtrack? In the margin of this page he wrote, rather enigmatically: Von Stauffenberg, Cruise. And after much digging around, the only connection I was able to uncover between these two gentlemen—for names they are—was another one of these ancient movies. Valkyrie (2656). Vlčák was quite—well, obsessed is not quite the right word—but—he found these War movies comforting, in some manner, would be the proper way to phrase it.

[2] He enjoyed these numbers. Multiples of eight.

[3] "For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known." (1 Corinthians 13:12)

A promise of Judgment Day, of course. We are ignorant now, but we shall know then, we are pathetic now, but we shall be chained then, we do not see so clearly now, but we shall see then, etc., Bible runs rampant with such hollow promises. Not much in keeping with the times of these days, I am afraid. Man clings to, must need religion as a foothold as it were, a handhold on the cliff or he will plummet into the Abyss! Even if they will all claim to be Christians—well, even that is not a given—atheism is on the rise in the Partei I am told by those in the know, along with that new religion of reason of theirs or flames or whatever they mean by that—but my mind does wander!I know not what Vlčák means by this sentence. Perhaps a passing reference to the Lidice Uprising? It has been all over the news as of late, of course…how they gained traction over several days, gradually overwhelming the SS guard by their sheer numbers…their leader did claim to be a Messiah, of sorts! But Rats can only do so much against Eagles, it seems. And this Rat Messiah was made such an example of…I only can guess at his thoughts—through a glass, darkly as it were—but really, this lack of punctuation annoys me! My friend is the most gifted writer, but he—really—his habits of misquotation—there should be a comma in between 'glass' and 'darkly', of course. A comma, a comma! My kingdom for a comma! Without this little piece, the entire phrase changes meaning. He was always too hasty and overlooked such things.

[4] Oh…Valkyrie is not a popular movie by any means, of course. It was saved from the great Fires—but bad acting, bad casting, badly thought out—all the same. Anyone with even a passing idea of the plot would know this is in rather bad taste, Andrew.

[5] This phrase here puzzles me…perhaps he refers to that incident in Vladivostok a few years back? Ach, I cannot think of what this has to do with the movie at all—unless—he—this is an unforgiveable conflagration of circumstances—excuse me, dear reader. I am a bit, how is it said—on edge—no, tired. Just tired. Today. Maybe I shall retire early.

[6] Oh, Andrew. This is a rather tacky joke—I refuse to believe his basic sense of German grammar has deserted him here—I cannot imagine—I am reading rather too much into it. He is referring to the SD, of course. See [4].

[7] A novel which does not exist anymore, ironically. An allegory of the film King Kong—degenerate in the highest sense I myself had the privilege to read—or perhaps he refers to the 19th century science fiction novel? I am starting to bang my head myself a bit here.

[8] The Bendlerblock courtyard.

[9] Haven't all Empires been built upon the backs of slaves? Such I told him in those early days, whenever we chanced upon one in the city. He was not pleased. "Such could have been my lot, Cyrus," he told me.

[10] They are a rarity at the Institute, shamefully—not that they would be of much use here! Our great Dome has already been built.

[11] But he would! After a while of watching these movies, Vlčák gained quite the eye for these things: he could tell a set from a city location from a sound stage at a glance. Valkyrie was filmed mostly on location, surprisingly, in Berlin—with a few of the more difficult shots taken in California and the Mojave desert.

[12] Parentheticals inside parentheticals? A story-within-a-story-within-a-story, Andrew? Perhaps two parentheticals cancel out, somewhat like two minus signs? Again I shake my head. All those War movies Vlčák loved so must have run together in his brain! Valkyrie was a really a film true to its word, researched painstakingly over a period of five years, with references to photographs, newsreels, radio broadcasts, textbooks, unclassified records, classified records, declassified records…Where has this idea of a car chase scene arisen from?

[13] During his first year at the Institute, standing during SS-Obergruppenführer Heiner's keynote address—one of those things we were forced to attend, you see, in order to ensure we did not grow toointelligent—Vlčák was overtaken with a fit of laughter. I do not recall exactly what it was that set it off—it burst over us like a clap of thunder—everybody could see us of course, us standing in the middle of the lawn—Heiner turning bright red, on the brink of one of his tirades—and Andrew dragged off. I was shocked to find him at home later that night, in perfectly good health. He told me he faked an epileptic fit and beat his guard to death with a table leg—escaping in the guard's uniform, of course.

[14] "To be able to make a decision as to who is suited to be Germanized, I need their racial inventory…We have all kinds of people here, some of them are showing racial quality and good judgment. It's going to be simple to work on them – we can Germanize them. On the other hand, we have racially inferior elements and, what's worse, they demonstrate wrong judgment. These we must get out. There is a lot of space eastwards. Between these two extremes, there are those in the middle that we have to examine thoroughly.

"We have racially inferior people but with good judgment, then we have racially unacceptable people with bad judgment. As to the first kind, we must resettle them in the Reich or somewhere else, but we have to make sure they no longer breed, because we don't care to develop them in this area… One group remains, though, these people are racially acceptable but hostile in their thinking – that is the most dangerous group, because it is a racially pure class of leaders. We have to think through carefully what to do with them.

"We can relocate some of them into the Reich, put them in a purely German environment, and then Germanize and re-educate them. If this cannot be done, we must put them against the wall."

Well, Heiner has always been melodramatic. Like father like son.

[15] Well the bad news is that you're insane.

[16] And the strange this is that Vlčák did have one of those uniforms in his wardrobe—one of those beautiful black ones. I have no idea where he dug it up from. He ridiculed it, of course—what a terrible color black is for a military! Whatever did they do in the summer! What, did they need so much assistance to hide the stains? And it was dangerous, his resemblance to Alex Wolf…no matter how much the young Wolf would deny it…no matter how much he tried to hide it…I did warn him…

[17] Von Stauffenberg's uniform was grey, of course. That peculiar shade called Wehrmacht.

[18] Cruise was first chosen to play von Stauffenberg based on their resemblance in profile. The reference is to the ghost of Hamlet of course, not to Hamlet's ghost which is also Hamlet's father, modern interpretations notwithstanding.

[19] See Note above.

[20] While stationed in Tunsia, von Stauffenberg was severely wounded in an air raid (1942), losing an eye, his right hand, and two fingers on his left hand. A devastating blow for the avid pianist. Mendelssohn did compose a concerto in his honor, though (Piano Concerto No. 6 in A sharp Major for the Left Hand). It was premiered by von Stauffenberg and the Berlin Radio Symphony on 11 September 2608.

[21] Vlčák was often overcome by these strange fits of laughter. I was horrified by it at the time—but one soon gets used to these things.

[22] See [20].

[23] Von Stauffenberg's elder brother was executed by slow strangulation for his role in the failed assassination attempt. Garroted by piano wire. In front of his younger brother's eyes. He was revived and strangled six times before he was killed. The entire process was filmed in 35 mm for the Führer's viewing pleasure.

[24] After a brief shootout in the Bendlerblock, von Stauffenberg and three other conspirators were taken to the courtyard and executed in front of a dirt pile by firing squad. He was given a military burial with honors, but the body was later exhumed and stripped of its decorations and burned. His?

[25] See note above.

[26] And all the sound effects! [27]

[27] So ya
Thought ya
Might like to
Go to the show?
To feel that warm thrill of confusion,
That space cadet glow?
I've got some bad news for you sunshine,
Pink isn't well, he stayed back at the hotel
And they sent us along as a surrogate band
We're gonna find out where you folks really stand.

Are there any queers in the theater tonight?
Get them up against the wall!
There's one in the spotlight, he don't look right to me,
Get him up against the wall!
That one looks Jewish!
And that one's a coon!
Who let all of this riff-raff into the room?
There's one smoking a joint,
And another with spots!
If I had my way,
I'd have all of you shot!

[28] See [21].

[29] Many of my contemporaries claim that Vlčák's works are internecine, and one simply cannot understand them now that the man is dead! He built up details, events, everything he ever experienced and read and saw into a stained-glass collage, a tessellating pattern of dead leaves, a cathedral of flesh and dead bones, as it were! Spiraling up high into the sky, a kind of Jacob's Ladder! However, as I do hope these footnotes show, a little research and analysis into certain solid names and facts soon reveals Vlčák's true attempts in writing these little pieces. His harmonic conjugates and ghosts.

For a writer, Vlčák was curiously ignorant of the rich history of the world surrounding him. He preferred his own imaginative interpretation of events to reality, as it were.