The Eternal Heart

The Eternal Heart

Karl Hammer

The path back – that is what we called the path of the mothers and fathers, the parents, who had lost a son, often their only one; the path that is supposed to lead them out of desperation and loneliness back to life. Frau Marianne Harmitz from Saettin describes a meeting with a front-line soldier who reports such a mother’s return: It was in the train. Among the travelers sits a young soldier. His hair had turned gray. He has scarred wounds on his face and lines which only come from great shock. He was traveling on leave, for six weeks, as he said, and since one asked him how such a lengthy leave was possible, he gradually got to talking.

The badly wounded fellow had come from Stalingrad -where he had participated in the difficult battle almost to the very end – by plane to the homeland and a hospital in Vienna. A reception which even moved us hardened men to tears. Incredible love, care, flowers, sympathy. In the next bed is my friend and comrade. At his side, silent and heroic, sits his mother, who sees her only child starting along the path into that wide, unknown land. Across from me is comrade H., who had lost and arm and both feet.

He is alone. Never does one see relatives by his bedside. Troubled and with silent sympathy, his eyes rest on the face of the mother. She feels it, and an invisible band of understanding wraps around her heart.

“Who is this young man?” she suddenly asks me.
“An irreproachable man and comrade”, I answer.
“Unfortunately, yes, and poor.”

She becomes silent. I ponder what these questions – at this hour – probably mean. I know that she owns a large farm, that her husband is dead, and that there, next to her, the son, the heir, the name-carrier, is about to depart on his final journey. His life ebbs away more and more. She holds his hand, which becomes heavier and heavier. And one feels that her heart’s blood recedes, that she feels her life fade with that of her son, who was the content of her life and her first and final fulfillment. Quietly she still holds the hand when it is already cold; we lie silently and do not dare to breathe.

Then she rises and steps to our comrade, who watches her with wide eyes. They reach out their hands. She feels what the warm pressure is supposed to mean: his inner sympathy.

“Now I have a request to make of you, my dear fellow. You were the friend of my son; may I take you to be my son? Everything will belong to you, everything…!” It is like a sob.

Ackwardly, he tries to kiss her hand. And to stammer his thanks. “That”, so ends the soldier’s report, “is what I experienced, and I know for what I return to the front when my leave comes to an end.”

He had seen Germany’s eternal heart: the German mother. He saw her overcome death in her greatest moment.


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