Leutnant Rudolf Meckel, Panzer-Regiment 35, 4. Panzer-Division
Late summer, 1944. I saw the movie Maske in Blau2 eight times. One time in my hometown and seven times in Radom. What I remember nowadays about that once famous but none-the-less inconsequential film goes back to vague memories of my seeing it in my hometown. Nothing has remained of the seven Maske in Blau showings in the military movie theater in Radom.
There was a girl sitting at the box office in Radom, however. She pushed the tickets to the soldiers across the counter silently and with a deadpan expression. The flirty banter of the Landser quickly died under the gaze of those cool, gray eyes. The girl openly showed that she did not like the Germans.
I never did discover why she was selling tickets at the military movie theater. Perhaps she was one of those informants of the partisans, who had the area around Radom firmly in their hands and also commanded large portions of the city. Perhaps she also sat that the box office in order not to starve, since things were not good for the Poles in the cities at the time.
While seeing Maske in Blau for the second time, I discovered that the wonderfully pretty, slim-faced Polish girl still maintained the box office a half hour after the start of the film to take care of latecomers.
For Maske in Blau, I was a straggler. It was not possible to establish contact with the exciting unapproachable one. There was still that hostile shaking of the head. That meant I could write off the attempts at irony.
Since the German armed forces had achieved their greatest successes with agile combat leadership, I decided to use that tactic. As a straggler for Maske in Blau number four, I stuck my head through the door marked “Entrance for Armed Forces Personnel Strictly Forbidden!” with a masterfully shy smile: “Would it be possible to come in?” It was not possible.
With Maske in Blau five, I was allowed in, but I had to sit silently and motionless in the corner, which could not be seen from the outside.
Moreover, I discovered that for Tanuta—that was her name, the stuff of fairy tales and legends—no tricks nor even the dashing black Panzer uniform would work for that gentle and blooming creature. It resulted in red-faced embarrassment and the fatal feeling that the impression of an awkward school kid had been created.
With Maske in Blau six, it appeared that all previously gained successes, no matter how meager they may have been, were scattered to the wind. The usherette was sitting at the box office. She immediately received the persistent straggler and directed him resolutely into the pitch-black movie hall. All efforts to intercept at least a comforting gaze from Tanuta’s gray eyes ended in failure. And so I sat at the best seat in the house—it was all the way to the rear—angry, desperate and sheepish, all at once. I was disgusted with the limitless kitsch of the movie plot and decided to evacuate the scene of the tragedy and initiate a tactical retreat.
Suddenly, she was there. A shadow, but warm and soft with hot lips. With a touchingly tender grasping of her slender hands, she pulled my head to her face. “You, dear one!” she whispered. Once again: “You, dear one!” I felt tears on her cheeks, salty and cool.
We sat there not moving in the dark, coated over by the flickering light of the film—and saw nothing at all.
Shortly before the end of the movie, she slipped away before I could even think of a word or gesture of goodbye.
I stumbled across the legs of soldiers and looked for the exit, accompanied by cursing and hissing. All at once, the usherette was standing in front of me. She pressed her hand on my arm, beseechingly: “Tanuta already gone! You may not look for her, please!” The harsh Polish accent underscored the hopelessness of any type of questions concerning Tanuta’s whereabouts.
On the next evening, I didn’t see Maske in Blau, but I did post myself in time by the movie exit. Just before the end of the film. The door opened. And who shipped out? The usherette! She looked at me in a distressed manner and with a face that showed no limit of disappointment: “Why you not come? Tanuta has waited the entire film!”
That’s right, the entire film! My stomach was turning over.
The next day, I received marching orders from the adjutant’s office of the LVI. Panzer-Korps. I had been reporting directly to it with my special company, which was in the process of being disbanded in Radom. I was ordered to the Army Movement Center at Lodz, called Litzmannstadt back then, and ordered back to Panzer-Regiment 35, which was en route to Kurland.3
I had one more evening left in Radom. I attended Maske in Blau seven. We sat one more time in the film-flickered darkness and her whispering was like a faint birdsong to my ear. Even though it was Polish and Tanuta’s vocabulary of tender German consisted of “You, dear one!” my heart understood every word. I almost wanted to bawl.
Before she was able to flee in the darkness, I bravely said: “Tanuta, Tanuta . . . today’s the last day. I have to go tomorrow!” Tense and fearful, I awaited her reaction. She remained still. After a short while, she stood up, grabbed me by the hand and pulled me along hurriedly to an exit, which I had not noticed before. On the street, she said to me: “Come!”
We walked slowly in the cool late summer night and through streets unfamiliar to me. There was hardly a word between us. What were we to say?
We wandered through Radom, visibly void of people: a Panzer Leutnant and a young Polish woman. We didn’t think that we were playing with our lives. Radom was full of partisans. Every day, German soldiers disappeared. They were snapped up outside of the secured portions of the city and silently dispatched around the corner.
Incomprehensible heart: it scorns death only to drink in the pain of an unavoidable parting.
The minutes passed in the slow measure of our steps. They led us to a small plaza in which several streets emptied. Tanuta remained standing there, kissed me, pulling my head to her face with both hands. Before she disappeared with swift steps into the nighttime shadows of the houses, she looked at me silently for a long time with a penetrating, transfixed gaze, with eyes that were terrible in their lack of tears.
Don’t days like those—in the middle of a terrible war—weigh more than years nowadays?