The Map

Lintz  called me from Bad Arolsen and told me to meet him at the Berlin central railroad station at 8:30 PM.

‘And don’t bring anyone with you,’ he said.

‘Why would I bring someone with me?’

He seemed excited, out of breath. He said he had made a discovery in the recently opened secret Nazi Archives.

‘Statler,’ he said to me, ‘you wouldn’t believe what I found. It’s about Rudolf Burkl.’ I was about to protest when he said, ‘Look, I know how you feel about that old Nazi, but this will change everything.’

I have known Lintz for over twenty years and have never heard him this excited. Even when the Wall came down in ‘89, Lintz took it all philosophically. ‘A great day,’ he said without making it sound as if it were. ‘In ten years they will be selling pieces as souvenirs. So much for history.’

Lintz tells me I am part of the new Germany. I take that as a compliment. Here in Berlin, flashy new museums, state-of-the-art embassies, and concert halls rise daily. The architecture here is light, airy, egalitarian. The Reichstag, the former hideout of the Third Reich, stands under a new glass dome. ‘Government is finally transparent,’ I said to my mother after the dome was erected. I called her in Jerusalem where she lives to tell her I was standing at the top of the Reichstag surveying the city. She was very surprised, but not particularly pleased. ‘I still hate Germany,’ she said.

Lintz tells me I are part of the German avant-garde. He says Berlin is much like Soho in New York—trendy clothing; a fabulous Gay Pride parade, even, like this year, in pouring rain; some very lovely neighborhoods; a lot of rich people like me thronging the restaurants. I told Lintz Berlin is more sophisticated than Soho, more modern.

‘In public places Germans are loud and gregarious,’ Lintz told me. “That isn’t sophisticated.’

My mother is even harsher on the Germans. ‘I want to strip all of them of their clothing and put them in a dark space and let them worry about what is going to happen to them,’ she once told me. ‘What a city, Heinrich. How can you live in Berlin? Forget history for a moment, which I will never do. Everyone smokes there, more so than even in sad old Prague, which to this day can’t shake Kafkaesque alienation. I mean the Berlin restaurants are positively putrid with cigarette smoke. And what do Germans eat?  They eat meat, that’s what they eat. Lots and lots of meat.’

I closed up my gallery at 7:00 PM and headed for Il Fortuna for a light dinner (no meat for me). The restaurant was crowded as usual. Berlin seems to me to once again have a 1930’s cabaret quality about it. Hitler art is in great demand. Especially the watercolors he painted as a student in Vienna. But other than that, and the amazing maps of Burkl, the past is closeted. Not a swastika in sight. Guided tours take visitors around what used to be Jewish neighborhoods where soldiers guard the few remaining synagogues. The overgrown, dimpled Rhine maidens who lead the tours never mentioned World War II, except to point out the ruined belfry of Kaiser Wilhelm memorial church, the ‘Hollow Tooth’ as we call the steeple. It’s all that remains of the bombings.

I lit a cigarette and waited for Lintz at the train station. Leave it to someone like Lintz to beat a path to the Nazi archives at Bad Arolsen as soon as the doors were open to the public. Closed since 1955, the archives are composed of sixteen miles of shelving, 50 million pages, all about the victims of the Nazis, recorded in minute detail, down to the last head lice.

‘It was the bureaucracy of the Devil,’ Lintz often said about the Nazi clerical apparatus. ‘They recorded everything about everyone sent to the extermination camps.’

‘I wonder why?’ I asked him.

‘Don’t be stupid, Heinrich. The clerks wanted the Fuhrer to know they were getting the job done.’

‘You mean killing the Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, communists, intellectuals—’

‘Of course that’s what I mean. If you lived back then, Heinrich, you would be soap twice over. Maybe three times.’

The Metroliner pulled in the station with a whisper. I crushed out my cigarette. A handful of tired businessmen disembarked. Lintz came out in a rush. He threw his arms around me and kissed me lightly on both cheeks, as was his fashion. His cologne was spicy as usual.

'Wait until you see what I have,’ he said, stepping back and patting his leather briefcase.

Lintz wore a leather coat and jeans. His boots were black, hand-stitched, and polished to a mirror shine. He didn’t look at all like the historian he was.

‘Show me,’ I said, becoming impatience with all the mystery.

‘Not here,’ he said glancing around the station. ‘Let’s go to my apartment.’

‘Tell me something at least,’ I said grabbing his arm as he started to take off. ‘You mentioned Burkl. I assume this has to do with one of his maps? Maybe a nautical map from the Ostwind?’

The Ostwind had been Hitler’s yacht. Galleries around town had been showing many of the nautical maps Burkl drew for Hitler’s private sailing ship and for the Kriegsmarine. They were beautiful works of art, as were all Burkl’s maps, filled with incredible detail and a kind of magic. The nautical maps were decorated with drawings of warships. There were oval portraits of the Nazi naval high command in the corners. Clouds with puffed cheeks blew wind across tossed seas. The naval vessels were so realistic you wanted to touch them. The man may have been a Nazi, a party kiss-up, but he was a brilliant draftsman. Some say as good as Gustav Klimt. Or Daumier.

I didn’t care how amazing he was. Out of respect for my mother, I would never show any of his work in my gallery.

‘Don’t bother guessing,’ said Lintz, breaking away from me. ‘This is beyond all guessing.’

His apartment was in the Mitte, a neighborhood in what was once East Berlin, in leafy Spandauer Vorstadt not far from my gallery on Linienstrasse. The wind was coming off the Spree that night when we got to Lintz’s place, a third floor walk-up with bare brick walls and oversized windows. I could smell the river, the fish and petroleum in the oily water and something else that I couldn’t quite place. Was it decaying flowers carried by the current?

Once inside the apartment, I lit up another cigarette and put my feet up on the coffee table. Lintz put his briefcase down next to my feet and opened a bottle of Pilsner. He offered me one.

‘Do you have any white wine?’ I asked.

‘Sometimes I wonder if you are really German.’

‘I am the new German, just like you’ve always said.’

Lintz poured me a glass of white wine then went over and tilted open the windows to air out the apartment. Again the strange smell from the river. I was sure I smelled decay.

‘Okay,’ Lintz said to me, starting to open the briefcase. ‘I—no, wait.’ He swiftly closed the briefcase. ‘What do you know about the Warsaw Ghetto uprising?’

‘Is this another history question? Because you know I know nothing about history.’

‘How convenient for a German.’

Lintz sunk into a leather chair and tipped back his beer bottle. I watched him swallow repeatedly then belch. ‘Beer is a visceral drink,’ he said. ‘Wine is cerebral—all in the lips and palate.’

‘So what was the Warsaw Ghetto uprising? And what does it have to do with what you found in the archives? And with Burkl?’

Lintz got up and started pacing the way he does when he lectures at the university. His German became more formal. He began to gesture emphatically, his smallish hands waving.

‘I’ll give you the condensed version because I have whetted your appetite and I know patience is not one of your virtues.’

I thought of objecting but didn’t. He was right. I can’t wait for anything.

‘In 1939, Nazi Germany invaded Poland. The reasons were many: lebensraum for the Greater Germany; overturning the Treaty of Versailles and re-establishing Germany’s pre-World War I boundaries; certainty Britain’s Lord Chamberlin wouldn’t act; protecting the German people in Poland from—’

‘Stop being so damn pedantic. Get to the point.’

‘Are you subject to ejaculatio praecox?’

‘Goddamn it, Lintz, don’t be so crass!’

Lintz smiled thinly. Sometimes I truly loathed his coarseness.

‘In 1940,’ he continued, ‘the Nazis began rounding up Poland’s Jewish population—over three million people—concentrating them in densely populated ghettos in the major cities. The ghetto in Warsaw, the capital, was the largest of the city ghettos with somewhere between 300,000 to 400,000 Jews jammed into a area in the center of the city a kilometer and a half wide and two kilometers long. The idea was to keep the Jews in the ghettos until they could be transported to Treblinka, a concentration camp. Of course the Nazis never told the Jews that’s where they were going. They said they were being “resettled to the East.”’

‘This is sounding familiar,’ I said, getting a sinking feeling in my stomach. ‘I think my mother told me about the Polish ghettos when I was a boy.’

‘Then you know that Jews in the ghettos began dying from disease and starvation by the thousands. The deportations in Warsaw began in the summer of 1942. At first everyone in the Warsaw Ghetto believed the resettlement story. No one could have imagined the reality, the horror. That summer over a quarter of a million Jews died in Treblinka. But Death can’t keep a secret. By the end of the year the inhabitants of the Warsaw Ghetto learned the deportations were part of an extermination process. So, the remaining Jews decided to revolt.’ On the street below, traffic was thinning. The river wind filled the apartment. ‘One of their leaders of the rebellion was a man named Marek Steiner. He was the reason I went to the archives. I wanted to find out what became of him. It was in his file I found what is in my briefcase.’

I got up and went to the window. ‘Do you think I could close this?’  I said to Lintz. ‘The smell from the river is making me a sick.’

‘Nonsense, the apartment needs the fresh air.’ Lintz went over and opened the windows even wider. Then he went over to his briefcase and took out a large square of folded paper. The paper was thick and yellowed with several frayed edges. Lintz unfolded the paper and laid it on the floor in the center of the living room like a picnic blanket.

‘What is it?’ I asked.

‘A fragment,’ said Lintz, the thin smile returning. ‘A fragment from a map Burkl drew of the Warsaw Ghetto.’

‘I don’t understand.  How did you get this?’

‘I stole it from Marek Steiner’s file in the archives.’

‘You stole it! Those are government documents.’

‘Don’t get so excited. This fragment has sat untouched and unseen for over fifty years. It could easily sit for another fifty years or longer undiscovered. In fact, in another fifty years, I’ll wager no one even remembers the Holocaust or goes to the Nazi archives.’

I went over to the section of map. I could see writing in German and tiny illustrations. I got down closer, on my hands and knees, and put on my spectacles. Lintz continued to lecture.

‘Let’s go back to 1940, to Berlin, to the Nazi Office of Maps and Territories, where Rudolf Burkl worked. That was a heady time for him. Burkl was a favorite of the Fuhrer, almost as popular as the architect Albert Speer and Count Galeazzo Ciano, the Italian Foreign Minister and Mussolini’s son-in-law. Burkl became part of Hitler’s inner circle. He often traveled to Hitler’s retreat in Berchtesgaden, high in the Alps, in a chauffer driven Mercedes-Cabriolet. Eva Braun would greet him at the door dressed in a dirndl with a red bodice and show him into the inner sanctum of the Berghof getaway. She would take him up to the terrace where often as not Hermann Esser, Karl Wolff, Martin Bormann in his trademark felt hat, Julius Schaub, and Franz-Xaver Schwarz in Lederhosen would be on lying about on sun beds. Eva Braun was a terrible flirt and often Burkl couldn’t resist blowing beery breath in her ear while Hitler was off petting his Alsatian, Blondi. I have a picture of Burkl posing between Gerda Daranowski and Christa Schroeder, Hitler’s secretaries. In the picture the three are posed on the stone terrace wall with mountains draped in mist in the background. Burkl has his arms around the waist of both women and has an expression on his face best described as sublime. There are also pictures of him playing and swimming nude in the nearby lake—always cold, even in the summer—with Gerda and Christa while Eva Braun filmed them. This Eva Braun home movie actually turned up in 1968 in a video store in Amsterdam. In the movie, Gerda throws a beach ball to Burkl while Christa lies naked on an air mattress. There is no sound but a lip reader can make out the words ‘Deutsche Frauen, deutsche Treue, Deutsche Wein und deutscher Sang, Deutschland uber alles’ coming from Burkl’s lips.          

‘My god, Lintz, you can talk.’ I was still on my knees on the floor. ‘What about this map? What’s it all about?’

‘I’m coming to that. Around this time, Burkl must have been feeling on top of the world because he decided to make the largest map ever created, a life-sized map of the Warsaw Ghetto.’

‘What do you mean, ‘life-sized’?’

‘I mean the map was an exact one to one replica of the actual Warsaw Ghetto—buildings, streets, people. It was one and a half kilometers long and two kilometers wide and was laid out in a cleared section of the Tiergarten like some gigantic chessboard. The map was a reproduction beyond all but the German imagination. The map was so exact it held the location of every man, woman, and child in the Warsaw Ghetto. It showed where every scrap of food was hidden, every pistol. For years the Nazis poured over this map, used the map to control the ghetto’s Jewish population from the Reich’s headquarters in Berlin. The Nazi Commander of the City of Warsaw, SS-Oberfuhrer Ferdinand von Sammern-Frankenegg, made frequent trips to Berlin to study the map with Burkl as his guide. After a while Burkl came to believe the map he had created of the Warsaw Ghetto was even better than the actual Warsaw Ghetto, that the map actually held more information and more meaning than anyone could find in the flesh and blood and disease racked ghetto in Warsaw. “Here there is purity,” Burkl would say of his map. “If I were a Platonist I would say this map is the Form from which the real Warsaw Ghetto comes. But since I am not a Platonist, I will just say the map is a priori. The ghetto is merely empirical.”’

I stared hard at the map trying to understand what Lintz was saying about it, but I couldn’t. The meaning of a map that accurate, that transcendent was beyond my comprehension, beyond modern sensibility.

Lintz seemed to sense my disbelief, and I thought for a moment he pitied me.

‘Burkl and SS-Oberfuhrer Sammern-Frankenegg and Himmler himself would walk over the map in their socking feet,’ he continued. ‘Burkl would point out areas of potential trouble. Once he located the Jewish insurgent Mordechaj Anielewicz just off Muranowski Square. “Keep an eye on this man,” Burkl said, pointing with a rod at a spot on the map. “His leadership qualities are worrisome.” SS-Oberfuhrer Sammern-Frankenegg would always return to Warsaw with new insights about the workings of the Ghetto. “You see this,” Burkl once said during a visit to the map, “secret libraries, here, a soup kitchen over there, a ghetto symphony with rehearsals in the basement of this building here. Listen, can you hear that music? Not Wagner, is it? And look at this—five-year old children sneaking through the guarded walls to the Aryan side. They are smuggling bread in for their parents. And here, at Mila 18 Street, do you see that man?  His name is Marek Steiner, and he is up to no good.”’

I got to my feet. ‘How do you know all this?’ I asked Lintz.

‘From books, Heinrich, from books. The history books are full of stories about the Warsaw Ghetto map. Just because you have never heard of it doesn’t mean that historians haven’t.’

I felt chastised. From what I could see of the fragment of the map on the floor, it was a genuine Burkl. It had that magic about it.

‘Alright,’ I said, ‘go on.’

‘For years,’ continued Lintz, ‘the map of the Warsaw Ghetto served the Third Reich well. Then on January 18, 1943 something happened in the Ghetto that was not on the map. While the Nazis were beginning their second deportation of Jews to Treblinka, an armed insurgency rose in the ghetto. The Jewish insurgents attacked the German army and halted the deportation. Only 5000 of the planned 8000 Jews were sent to Treblinka to be made into soap or lampshades or in some cases rouge. The rouge, by the way, was sold to the Japanese and used as face paint for geishas. The Japanese were already meeting with the Germans on ways to carve up America after the war.’

I lit another cigarette and inhaled deeply. I suppose my ashes were dropping too close to the map because Lintz cried out, ‘Watch out for your cigarette, for god sakes! It won’t do for this last piece of the famous Warsaw Ghetto map to go up in smoke because of a thoughtlessly flicked ash.’

I moved over to the couch but the map on the floor drew me towards it.

‘Why wasn’t the Jewish uprising indicated on the map?’ I asked.

‘That is exactly the question SS-Oberfuhrer von Sammern-Frankenegg asked Burkl. He wanted to know why the Molotov cocktails that a Jewish resistance group called the ZOB, the Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa, hurled from the rooftops at his men, embarrassing him in front of the soldiers, weren’t on the map. At first, Blitz Burkl had no explanation. He accused von Sammern-Frankenegg of making the story up. He said the Jews on the map were not offering resistance. He said according to the map, all 8000 were sent to Treblinka. Von Sammern-Frankenegg stood firm. Himmler was brought in to settle the dispute. With much huffing and puffing he strolled across the map and corroborated Burkl’s account, telling von Sammern-Frankenegg to ‘quit whining’. SS-Oberfuhrer Sammern-Frankenegg returned to Warsaw. The ghetto revolt solidified, spread. Another Jewish resistance organization sprung up. This one was called the ZZW, the Zydowski Zwiazek Wojskowy. Then Polish resistance units from the Armia Krajowa attacked German sentry units near the ghetto walls. Weapons were smuggled into the ghetto: seven Polish rifles, one German and one Russian rifle, 59 pistols of various calibers, several hundred incendiary bottles with fuses, and some machinegun ammunition. Von Sammern-Frankenegg went back to Berlin. Burkl accused von Sammern-Frankenegg of lying to get back at him for a remark Burkl made about von Sammern-Frankenegg at Berghof. When von Sammern-Frankenegg wouldn’t listen, Burkl took him out to the map and showed him Jews docilely following instructions, getting on trains taking them to their death. But now Burkl was beginning to worry. After von Sammern-Frankenegg returned again to Warsaw, Burkl went out to the map alone. It was a cold Berlin night. Snow had fallen all that day but now the sky was clear and the stars were bright. Blitz Burkl trudged through the snow covering the map and found a Polish rifle then a bottle with a fuse in it. He began to wonder if maybe there wasn’t a glitch in the map. Maybe the problem, if there was a problem, was in the translation of Polish into German. Or perhaps it was the Yiddish spoken in the ghetto, with its hidden sarcasm, that was not coming across. Or, worse, maybe he had misjudged the nature of the Jew, missed something in the Jewish character, some rebellious strain, some obdurate independence. With a crew of forty men dressed in heavy frock coats and wearing thick wool socks Burkl supervised a major revision of the map. But by then it was too late. On the eve of Passover, April 19, 1943, SS-Uberfuhrer Sammern-Frankenegg, with squads of police and heavily armed SS auxiliary forces, entered the ghetto to begin an Aktion that was to last three days at the most and put down the uprising. By now everyone knew Burkl’s map was at best flawed, at worse, a fraud. In the real ghetto, von Sammern-Frankenegg’s forces were repeated ambushed by the ZOB and by the ZZW. A Lorraine 37L armored fighting vehicle and an armored car were set afire with petrol bombs. SS soldiers were shot. The Aktion ground to a halt. When word of the success of the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto reached Berlin, von Sammern-Frankenegg lost his post and was replaced by Jurgen Stroop, who called the map in Berlin ‘an epistomological failure’ and refused to even look at it.  Goring, who had never liked the map to begin with, said it was the project of a madman. Burkl was summons to Himmler’s office. “It is with great regret,’ Himmler said to Burkl, ‘that must I relieve you of all your map duties. You and von Sammern-Frankenegg are both being sent to a labor camp in Flossenburg. I trust you will not enjoy each others company.” Burkl blurted out, “What of my map? What will you do to it?” Himmler said it would be destroyed.’

I went back to the map. I ran my hand across it several times as if trying to decipher what there was about it that had fooled so many people. I seemed to sense a kind of energy from the map, perhaps static electricity generated by my touch. The paper didn’t feel like any paper I had ever seen before.

And then I noticed a name on the map fragment. Marek Steiner.

‘Lintz,’ I said in excitement, ‘Steiner’s name is on the map!’

‘At last, you see it,’ he said as if talking to a slow student. ‘This fragment was Burkl’s revenge.’

I was about to say I didn’t follow, but suddenly I understood everything. Lintz must have seen that expression on my face because he said, ‘Now it dawns on you, doesn’t it?’ Then he went on in a tone I thought sounded like triumph. ‘By the end of April, two weeks before Burkl was to be sent to Flossenburg, Stroop had the Warsaw Ghetto torched by his army of Nazi flamethrowers. Block by block all the buildings in the ghetto were burned. Soon there was no air in the ghetto, only black, choking smoke and a burning heat radiating from the red-hot walls. The heat, the heat, Heinrich, was so intense the stone stairs glowed. On May 8 the Nazis discovered the ZOB’s main command post on Mila 18 Street. It was the beginning of the end of the uprising. Many Jewish insurgents committed mass suicide. Captured Jews were systematically shot. On that night in Berlin, May 10, 1943, with the news of the ghetto uprising collapsing, Burkl went out and tore off a corner of the map. This corner.’

I stared down at the map with what I admit was a kind of awe.

‘That night,’ said Lintz, ‘Marek Steiner, the deputy commander of the Warsaws Ghetto uprising, disappeared from the ghetto. He was the last man to escape. For years after, people said Steiner got out through the sewers, but I never believed it. The sewers in the ghetto had by this time been sealed off or filled with poison gas. After the war, Steiner’s journal was found in the woods outside Warsaw. He wrote that he had no recollection of how he escaped. “It was as if I awoke from a dream,” he wrote, ‘and found myself alone and unharmed in the deep and lovely Kampinos forest.”’

‘And the rest of the map?’ I asked.

‘Himmler couldn’t bring himself to destroy it. He had it folded up and trucked to a warehouse in Berlin where it eventually went up in flames in the Allied bombings.’

I got up and went to the window. The smell from the river was intense. I lit another cigarette and turned to Lintz.

‘Can’t you smell that,’ I said, ‘that stench from the river? It’s overpowering.’

‘What is it, Heinrich? Do you find it hard to believe that Burkl actually freed Steiner by tearing off the part of the map where Steiner was hiding?’

‘No, I mean yes, I do find it hard to believe.’

‘The new Germany is all modern and light, full of openness and capitalist vigor. You can’t accept that there is might something in our nature that might still be dark and mysterious, sinister.’

‘You are taking nonsense, Lintz.’

‘Am I? You and your art galleries and your restaurants and your fancy architecture. Your white wine. Do you think all that changes anything? This map is who we really are, Heinrich. This map is what we Germans are all about, what mankind is all about.’

The smell was now overpowering. I went over to the map, my cigarette burning red. ‘Shut up, Lintz,’ I screamed, waving my cigarette at him, the wind catching the glowing tip, spreading the ash. ‘Shut the fuck up!’

DON SCHWARTZ grew up in the Midwest. He currently lives in Northern California where he teaches creative writing.
winner of the 2011 Fulton Prize
Other nations live innocently, in themselves and for themselves, like minerals or meteors; Germany is the universal mirror which receives all, the consciousness of the world (das Welthewusstsein).

—Jorge Luis Borges
   Deutsches Requiem