Detective Janusz entered the gloomy hospital in Przemysl. Following the corridors he arrived in the pathology section, as Thadeusz had told him. Just when Janusz entered the anatomy hall, the lights went out. He lighted the match he had been chewing all the way to the hospital to find his way. A voice came from behind a distant door – a humming of a famous Chopin Prélude. »Mr. Berkwicz? —, you know its forbidden to play Chopin’s music these days! « The door opened – it was the toilet – and the voice asked him to pass on paper and to wait. Janusz ripped of one side of the »VÖLKISCHE BEOBACHTER« he had been carrying under his arm to not arouse suspicion from the SS-guards around the hospital. When ripping of that page, he found the article on the disappearance of Chopin’s heart from the Holy Cross church in Warsaw. Thadeusz had left the toilet, grumbling. He had a bad leg and was walking on sticks. They looked at each other, as they had never met before. »Mr. Berkwicz, what can I do for you?« the detective uttered, when they briefly shook hands.
Mr. Berkwicz told about Ludmilla, a very gifted pianist. She had been awarded the first prize in the first Chopin-Competition in Warsaw and was playing all over Poland, when the Germans invaded that country. Somehow her newly risen fame had arrived at the so-called Nazi Governor General Hans Frank. Known as an art-lover and himself playing the piano, he was obsessed with Chopin and had ordered to transfer all sort of Chopin-paraphernalia to Krakow, his residency, as he had decided to create the Great German Chopin Museum of Krakow. Chopin’s Erard-piano had been transferred from Paris, and lots of other items, including not only scores and manuscripts, paintings, letters, but also hair or a plaster hand of the great Polish master whom Frank had declared to be … German. The inauguration ceremony should be embellished with music by Chopin, of course, and played by that young, talented Ludmilla. Her playing was included in a Wochenschau program which was shown all over the »German Reich«. That’s, where troubles for Mr. Berkwicz began. Detective Janusz showed Mr.Berkwicz the accounts about Chopin’s heart that had disappeared in Warsaw a moment ago. Berkwicz shook his head, uttering: »So, he even stole his heart. « These words didn’t even arrive at Janusz’s ears, or if so, the detective would not have known what to think of. Berkwicz had been in the hospital because of an incident in the street – somebody had pushed him in front of a car, some broken bones were a rather lucky result from this brutal action. »Someone must have denounced her… «, Berkwicz continued, »the GESTAPO came into our house, searched everything and took her away. « – »What for…? « – »To do some tests, here, in this hospital, to scientifically find out, if she was … Jewish. – Scientifically!! « he angrily and distastefully added. When he draws his cigarette-box, offering to the detective, the man grabbed all of the cigarettes and stored them in his trench coat. Berkwicz bewildered glanced at the man who seemed to take advantage of the situation but let go as an advance payment for the investigation – or rescue of Ludmilla.
Janusz stood a moment to think it through, then encouraged Berkwicz into action: »Go to the chief of staff, and tell him, the SS-Doctor for the examination of Ludmilla Berkwicz has already arrived and will proceed – they shall send in the patient. « – »Ok, but: WHO is this doctor? », Berkwicz asked. Janusz with his thumb dryly pointed to his chest. »You?! — that’s what chicken laugh about! « Janusz who had never heard such a saying burst out in laughter and soon the two man, standing in the gloomy atmosphere of a rather broke-down hospital ward, were laughing their guts out of their thin bodies. Berkwicz, helplessly crawling towards the exit with his crutches reminded Janusz to a rare spider. Janusz put on a doctor’s coat and spectacles with a golden colored frame. He looked convincing as an SS-med. Silence came back, when a black figure entered in brisk steps and handed a folder to now Dr.Janusz. A short nod and the SS Adjutant disappeared; Janusz took a swift glance into the files: all sorts of information on Ludmilla Berkwicz were compiled on a two page summary from Sicherheits-Dienst and GESTAPO. The young SS man came back, pushing a young lady in front of him, stopped short at Dr.Janusz and seemed to await more orders. The fearful young lady, a damsel in true distress from her point of view, didn’t dare to look into Janusz’s spectacles-hidden eyes, dragged a seat into a better lit spot and started loudly reading out her biography, expressing admiration when reaching the musical achievements. The last line was added by some other hand, ordering a scientific exam about her being a Jew. He closed the dossier, walked up to the shivering girl, and started to do some improvised measuring of her face: length of nose, proportions of eye-to-ear distances and the like, a row of observations, whereas the SS guy stood still and seemed to observe the examination skeptically about this unconventional method. To get rid of him, Janusz with firm voice barked into the SS-man’s direction: »ABTRETEN! «, which was executed at once. Not a second later, the young lady fell into Janusz’s arms, or rather clutched to his chest to whine about her destiny to be molested by this racist exam hence she had been playing the piano for the Governor General in person.
He took her in her arms and she started to calm down, hum the melody from the famous »rain-drops« prelude which drove them to a soft waltz. After a few steps they stopped. Now what? seemed the unsaid question. Ludmilla broke silence, again, »Doctor, I will show you something… « She took him by his hand and showed him a piano that stood in a corner of the examination room! Covered with a brownish blanket this was one of the many strange things that happen in strange times. The lights went on, the door opened and a fully fledged Wehrmacht-officer entered. He seemed to be even more than just an officer. Both stood still when the man, apparently in reflection made a half circle and stopped accidentally in front of Janusz. He looked astonished at what must have seemed a doctor, and then at the young lady, which slowly came forward. The Nazi’s face lit up, pointing at her and obviously looking for a place where to put her in his memory. He softly started to sing a song, which was about a girl in a polish town a soldier had found, but who never wanted to kiss – he waved her to come closer, as if to kiss her, she turned away and he laughed about his sort of humor. He accompanied her to the piano, urged her to sit down, while he asked the doctor to place the seat he had used a minute ago near to the piano. Ludmilla started to play something she remembered, when the Nazi, calmly sitting and listening, even relaxing, softly and in a high voice pronounced just one word: »CHOPIN«, more like a whisper than in normal voice. When Ludmilla finished the piece with some ethereal chords, he applauded with his leather gloves still on. He stood up and started to talk into Janusz as if he had known him for years, saying that he wondered if the Poles didn’t like or understand Chopin. But! – he added in great emphasis – that he wanted to educate all Poles and to make a people of culture out of them! At this point, Janusz understood who this intimidating fellow in front of him was: Hans Frank himself! He was the person who could save Ludmilla’s life – or ruin it for both of them. At a sudden, some noise behind the door and knocking was heard: the SS man entered with a wooden box to be delivered to »King Stanislaus the delayed« – a nick name for Frank by his SS friends. In fact – it seemed that Frank had ordered Chopin’s heart to be brought to Krakow for his museum and to be examined in this very anatomical compound of the hospital. With an excited red face he ordered Janusz to open the box. The heart which lay in a glass, filled with Cognac, was immediately taken out, Frank mesmerized squealed when he saw the item. Janusz tried to say that the heart was too small to be a human heart; Frank would not listen, declaring that it was a Polish heart and not a German one. But Janusz insisted, non after having dismissed Ludmilla, with a signature of Frank personally on the file, stating that »no suspicious characteristics had been found » – that he had been fooled by his colleague in Warsaw, commandant Bach-Zelewski. In fact, it was the heart of a lamb Frank had been raving about. Exploding in furor about his colleague, Janusz managed to withdraw in time, hearing the Governor General hurling curses through the corridors of the hospital that had little in common with literature. The real heart was sitting on a piano, outside Warsaw, in a morgue. Waiting for his great come back not much later.
Author: Thomas Desi, Vienna, Austria
The winning story of the international short story competition for the project Secret Heart by KOLEKTIVA in 2010.