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Thursday, 7 October 2010

Curzio Malaparte: Girls in the Wheatfields, Romania, 1941


File:Bundesarchiv N 1603 Bild-008, Rumänien, Kinder auf unbefestigter Straße.jpg

Romania, children in unpaved street:
photo by Horst Grund, 1941 (Deutsches Bundesarchiv/German Federal Archive)

They were poor Jewish girls who had fled into the fields and the woods to escape the hands of the Germans. The grain fields and the woods of Bessarabia, between Baltsiu and Soroca, were full of Jewish girls hiding in fear of the Germans, in fear of the hands of the Germans.

They were not afraid of their faces, their terrible raucous voices, their blue eyes, their broad and hairy feet, but they were afraid of their hands. They were not afraid of their fair hair or their tommy guns, but they were afraid of their hands. When a column of German soldiers appeared at the end of the road, the Jewish girls hiding in the wheat and among the trunks of the acacias and birches shook with fear; if one of them began crying and screaming, her companions jammed their hands over her mouth, or filled her mouth with straw; but the girl would struggle and howl -- she was afraid of the German hands; she already felt those hard German hands under her dress. She already felt those fingers penetrating her secret flesh. They lived for days hidden in the fields amid the wheat, stretched out between the furrows among the tall golden ears in a warm forest of golden trees; they moved very slowly, lest the golden ears should sway. Whenever the Germans saw the ears swaying in the windless air, they called "Achtung! Partisans!" and fired volleys with their tommy guns into the forest of golden wheat.

They were Jewish girls, about eighteen to twenty years old; they were the youngest and best looking. The others, the ugly and crippled girls of Bessarabian ghettos, remained shut up in their houses, and peered from behind the curtains to watch the Germans go by and shook with fear. Maybe it was not only fear, maybe it was something else that made these unfortunate women tremble: the hunch-backed, the lame, the halt, the scurvy-scarred, the pockmarked or those with their hair devoured by eczema. They shook with fear as they lifted the curtains to watch the German soldiers go by, and they drew back frightened by the casual glance, the involuntary gesture or the voice of some soldier; but they laughed, red in the face and sweating, within those darkened rooms, and they ran limping and bumping against each other to the window of the next room to watch the German soldiers rounding the bend in the road.

The girls hidden in the fields and in the woods grew pale when they heard the rumble of motors, the clatter of horses, the creaking of wheels on the roads leading to Baltsiu in Bessarabia, to Soroca on the Dniester, and to the Ukraine. They lived like wild beasts, feeding on what little they could beg from the peasants, a few slices of mamaliga bread, some scraps of salted brenza. There were days when at sunset the German soldiers went out to hunt for the Jewish girls in the wheat. They spread out like fingers of a huge hand, raking the wheatfields, and they hailed one another, "Kurt! Fritz! Karl!" They had youthful slightly hoarse voices. They looked like sportsmen beating a moor to raise the partridges, quails and pheasants.

File:Bundesarchiv N 1603 Bild-009, Rumänien, Bäuerin.jpg

Romania, shepherdess: photo by Horst Grund, 1941 (Deutsches Bundesarchiv/German Federal Archive)

File:Bundesarchiv N 1603 Bild-003, Rumänien, NSDAP-Männer mit Geschenken.jpg

Romania, political director of the NSDAP buying bouquets from two flower girls: photo by Horst Grund, 1941 (Deutsches Bundesarchiv/German Federal Archive)

File:Bundesarchiv N 1603 Bild-017, Rumänien, Marine-PK auf Weg nach Konstanza.jpg

Romania, members of Marine propaganda unit with Ford Eifel, pausing by fields of grain on the road to Constanza: photographer unknown, 1941 (Deutsches Bundesarchiv/German Federal Archive)

Curzio Malaparte: Kaputt (excerpt), 1944 (translated from the Italian by Cesare Foligno)


TC said...

Neither fact nor fiction, strictly speaking, Malaparte's great book is a sort of fantasia upon history -- and as such, absolutely one of a kind. It is the reconstructed and elaborated journal of his wanderings through the war zones, primarily on the Eastern Front, as an Italian military officer/observer and newspaper correspondent.

This account of the book, from the first edition jacket copy, is a condensation Malaparte's introduction:

"Begun in the Ukraine in 1941 and finished in Capri in 1943, the manuscript [of Kaputt] escaped time and again inevitable destruction by the authorities. Hidden by a Russian peasant from the Gestapo on the Russian front in 1941, worked on in Poland and while on the Smolensk front, it was carried by Malaparte in the lining of his sheepskin coat as he went from Poland to Finland. On leaving Helsinki he entrusted for safe-keeping separate parts of the manuscript to Spanish and Romanian diplomats who were his friends. Several chapters, written in Berlin, were hidden by friends in the German capitol at great danger to themselves. Some of the last chapters were hidden in the double soles of his shoes when he was arrested by the Fascist authorities and sent to prison in Rome."

From Malaparte's introduction:

"... in Kaputt, War is Destiny. It does not appear on the scene in any other way. War is not so much a protagonist as a spectator. War is the objective landscape of this book. The chief character is Kaputt, the gay and gruesome monster. Nothing can convey better than the hard, mysterious German word Kaputt -- which literally means, "broken, finished, gone to ruin," the sense of what we are, of what Europe is -- a pile of rubble..."

Another excerpt from the book appeared here earlier as Curzio Malaparte: Naked Men.

For photos of Malaparte and his house on Capri, and a brief excerpt from his little known Don Camaleo (a satire at the expense of Mussolini), on the dangers of writing from within the belly of the beast, see Writing: Dangerous (1): Malaparte.

(By the way, a trivia note, the Kriegsmarine cameraman standing beside the Ford Eifel in the bottom photo on this post is, perhaps, Horst Grund.)

Anonymous said...

This particular post is, of course, unbearably painful. The prose and the story it tells makes it so, but then the photos which (for me at least) initially and incongruously lighten the mood, kick in and kick you down.

TC said...


In these Bundesarchiv photos from the advance into the East there is so much that you don't see which is evoked by what you do see...

Of course the mood of the photos both lightens things up, in a superficial way that almost makes things bearable (almost...), and then, as one looks closer and imagines the precise terms of "exchange" between the occupiers and the occupied, deepens into something darker, with that kick down as you so aptly term it.

Elmo St. Rose said...

it's always important to
remember, that it wasn't
the poets who stopped the Nazis

the Iron Guard rounded up a group
of Jews in Bucharest and ran them
through a livestock slaughterhouse
butchering them as if they were
cattle,and packaging them

a child, "like a calf"

miraculous the
American poet whose family escaped
the Nazis and then the Communists

Elmo St. Rose said...

above story about WWII Bucharest
from a book on the Balkans by
Robert Kaplan

Since no one answered my trivia
question, I'll answer it.

It was the Romanian born
Andrei Codrescu

TC said...


Yes, of course, I had Prince Andrei in mind here.

I sent him these posts. And he said:

"Boy, they make me feel strange, coming as they do strange from that slaughter field my mother barely made it out of."