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From Tacheles: Kriminalroman (2008) (Inspector Bronstein and the Coup d'Etat: Tacheles 1934, 2014.

Translator's Note: Readers looking back on the days when the critics upheld the flaming sword before the vigilantly watched gates of pure literature will remember Edmund Wilson's famous judgment that "there is no need to bore ourselves with this rubbish," meaning crime and detective fiction (Wilson 66). If the ceaselessly alert guardians of high culture had been consistent, though, they would have had to ban Fielding and Faulkner, Dickens and Dostoyevsky, and they would have pooh-poohed Sophocles as dismissively as they did Sayers--crime writers all. And from the practical viewpoint, has there ever been a documented instance of readers' giving up detective fiction because of sneers and scolding? Or did disapproval ever dam the torrent of production? The whole critical argument was based on false premises about quality, and most authors and readers exhibited the healthy reaction of paying no attention. The novel as a whole, after all, was once considered too frivolous, merely entertaining, and sensational, after all, but bad reviews from the "right" critics thankfully did not stop Defoe and Richardson, Lesage and Prevost.

Austrian culture never worried about separating high from low, lofty art from folklore and popular literature. Schnitzler sublimated into his psychologically refined art the folk plays he'd grown up with, and you'll find a Carinthian folk tune in Berg's violin concerto, and the ditty "Oh, du lieber Augustin!" in a string quartet by Schoenberg. Many outstanding "real" novels by Austrian authors are unapologetic mystery and crime stories. Kafka's The Trial derives its haunting power from hewing close to the traditions of the genre only to thwart their evidential procedures, and the intriguing mysteries of Leo Perutz have gained many admirers in the English-speaking world. In a novel published in 1937, Heimito von Doderer turned to crime fiction for his necessarily covert indictment of the Third Reich (Ein Mord denjeder begeht, published in English by Knopf as Every Man a Murderer in 1964), as did Odon von Horvath, who examines the guilt of passive complicity in Ein Kind unserer Zeit (1938) (A Child of Our Time, Dial 1939). The Viennese postwar novels by Milo Dor and Reinhard Federmann that involve black-marketeering and spying, such as Internationale Zone from 1953 (International Zone, Ariadne 1999), need not shun comparison with Graham Greene. The best of all these crime novels, the riveting Die Wolfshaut by Hans Lebert (1961), has unfortunately not been translated into English. It is an exceptionally atmospheric novel of war guilt and moral self-discovery in a creepy, depressing small town.

A trend has not been revived in Austria, then, because it never abated. The current spate of detective fiction omits for settings none of Austria's nine federal states, and one book of short stories has a case for each of the twenty-three municipal districts of Vienna. The opera, the famous open-air market, the Naschmarkt, museums, coffee houses, monuments, Alpine ski resorts, vineyards, the glamour of the Salzburg Festival, the marshlands out toward Hungary, the hidden back courtyards of stately or squalid apartment buildings all serve as crime scenes, and just about every sport, profession, and sexual orientation is represented. Old-money grandees and country bumpkins alike figure as characters, sometimes face-to-face.

Time is ransacked as eagerly as is place, and there are crime stories set in every phase of Austrian and European history from the Thirty Years' War on. Among the most popular of recent historical crime novels is a series by Andreas Pittler featuring Detective Inspector David Bronstein and his assistant Andreas Cerny. Bronstein is Jewish and Cerny Czech, so their first challenge is in confronting rejection as unwanted "foreigners" even before the actual investigations can begin. Bronstein's Jewishness becomes an acute and even a deadly problem in the last novel of the series so far, Inspector Bronstein and the Anschluss, published by Ariadne in 2013.

But to back up slightly. Lhotzky's bookstore and cafe on Taborstrasse in Vienna is small, but it lives up to its motto as "More than a Bookstore, More than a Cafe." The "more" is provided by an erudite, affable owner, Kurt Lhotzky, one of whose main areas is detective, mystery, and crime fiction. He specializes in books--histories, guidebooks, novels, autobiographies, and more--about and set in Leopoldstadt, the second district, where his store is located, and the wealth of crime fiction alone set in Leopoldstadt is bewildering. Sadly, the district provides ample material; it was the major Jewish quarter before 1938. Of course the rule of law was destroyed with the Anschluss, so there could be no detective fiction set in Nazi times.

Kurt Lhotzky and his staff know books and foster their authors. Far from just putting books on the shelves, he's read them all, he always has recommendations for his regular customers (a status you achieve on your second visit, along with a loyalty discount), and he sponsors authors' readings with coffee and tea on the house. Never worry about the decline of civilized life in Vienna as long as Herr Lhotzky is in business--and he has a dedicated following.

I met Andreas Pittler when he gave a reading at Lhotzky's in June of 2012, and I alerted my publisher at Ariadne Press, who was in Vienna at the time, that she might want to come as well. Ariadne has begun a series of Austrian crime fiction, and Pittler struck me as an author the house should acquire. I had already expressed my interest to Herr Lhotzky in translating Pittler, so the author walked right up to me and Jorun Johns, the publisher, at the reading, and we came to a cordial agreement on the spot.

Pittler has published five Bronstein novels and a book of short stories. Each of the stories covers a year between 1919 and 1933 and involves Bronstein and Cerny in actual unsolved cases from the files of the Vienna police department. The novels all take place at significant turning points in twentieth-century Austrian history, deftly linking Bronstein's individual concerns and problems to the nature of the crime he is investigating and weaving both strands into the political and social upheavals of the nation at large, creating a continuum that reaches from the private citizen with his personal concerns through his public activity as a police official to the national identity at large. Ariadne has decided to publish the Bronstein novels in the reverse order of their time settings. Inspector Bronstein and the Anschluss takes place in the three days just before Germany annexed Austria in March 1938. As flit weren't enough that Bronstein's days are dearly numbered anyway, the murder he is investigating is of a high-ranking Nazi.

The work extracted here is from the fourth novel in the series. It takes place in 1934 and culminates in the assassination of Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss; the provisional title is Inspector Bronstein and the Coup d'Etat. Ariadne is aiming for publication late in 2014. The third novel is set in 1933, when the same Dollfuss, by an extremely adroit parliamentary maneuver, invokes an obscure procedural point of law to dissolve Parliament and create a clerical-fascist state on the Mussolini model. The second case plays out against the burning of the Palace of Justice in July 1927, after two members of a right-wing militia who had shot an old man and his grandson at a demonstration were acquitted. In the ensuing revolt, the police opened fire on the crowd and killed some ninety demonstrators. This episode is considered the beginning of the end for the frail Austrian republic, the "state nobody wanted." (Krajenbrink's study is very valuable as background.) And the first case is set during the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in 1913. Alfred Redl, an army colonel, was discovered to have been selling military secrets to Russia, and his apparent motive, financing a luxurious homosexual lifestyle, made the scandal one the government was all the more determined to hush up (a futile attempt in an era of "muckraking" investigative journalism). While many Austrians would be familiar with details of the historical backgrounds, one of the aims of the translations is to provide footnotes where necessary without burdening the English-language reader.

The Bronstein novels have Yiddish titles in the original German, not only because the detective himself is Jewish--though as an assimilated Protestant he knows almost no Yiddish--but because Yiddish words and expressions, ironically enough in light of later history, were absolutely standard in the time of the novels' settings. Even anti-Semites used Yiddish words apparently unaware of their origin; they were simply integral to colloquial Viennese German. But author, translator, and publisher were all in agreement that Yiddish is vanishing both in Austria and the United States (though a great masterpiece of detective fiction, Michael Chabon's brilliantly imaginative novel The Yiddish Policeman's Union from 2007, relies on the what-if situation that Yiddish is the main language of a community). The Yiddish titles of the German originals will be included in subtitles, so the novel extracted below will be subtitled Tacheles 1934, as the one already published, Inspector Bronstein and the Anschluss, is subtitled Tsuris 1938.

In the case presented here, the Austrian government has banned the Socialist party, labor unions, and individual rights. It is a dictatorship in which all power explicitly derives from the state. Employers took the opportunity provided by the new corporative state summarily to fire all union representatives, and the final consolidation of government power came in February 1934, after a brief civil war in which Socialists and labor organizers were rounded up and imprisoned. As this novel opens, a prosperous Jewish business owner has been brutally murdered in his own apartment building, kicked and beaten to death. Suspects include the family, some of whose members were at odds with the owner's policies. Two interviews, one with the anti-Semitic manager of the business and the other with the man who had once been the firm's union representative but was dismissed without notice. Omitted material is indicated with a row of asterisks.

Aside from the political configurations, it is intriguing to note that Bronstein, the superior officer, is vulnerable and not very dashing, to say the least, while Cerny, the subordinate, is handsome, capable, kind-hearted, and in every way admirable. Pittler told me that Bronstein is himself as he thinks he actually is, Cerny himself as he would like to be.

Further Reading

Chabon, Michael. The Yiddish Policeman's Union. New York: Harper, 2007

Horvath, Odon von. A Child of Our Time. New York: Dial Press, 1938.

Krajenbrink, Marieke. "Investigating the 'State that nobody wanted'--Austria's First Republic (1918-1934) in Andreas Pittler's Bronstein Series." http:// etc.dal.ca/belphegor/vol10_no1/StatesOfCrime_programme.pdf.

Kuhner, Herbert. "The Lhotzky Brothers." http://viennanet.info/polemics/ the-lhotzky-brothers.

Lebert, Hans. Die Wolfshaut. Hamburg: Claassen, 1960.

Osterwalder, Sonja. Dustere Aufklarung: Die Detektivliteratur von Conan Doyle bis Cornwell. Vienna: Bohlau, 2011.

Pittler, Andreas. Tacheles: Kriminalroman. Vienna: Echomedia, 2008.

--. Zores: Kriminalroman. Vienna: Echomedia, 2012.

--. Inspector Bronstein and the Anschluss: Tsuris 1938. Riverside, CA: Ariadne, 2013.

Sayers, Dorothy L. "Introduction" The Omnibus of Crime. Garden City, New York: Payson and Clarke, 1929.9-47.

Wilson, Edmund. "Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?: A Second Report on Detective Fiction." The New Yorker, 20 January 1945. 58-66.

Ohne Frage war Franz Holzer eine ungewohnliche Erscheinung in Wien. Er trug einen alpenlandischen Oberlippenbart, eine hubertusgrune Waidmannsjoppe mit Hirschhornknopfen, eine grauschwarze Lederhose und wei[sz]graue Wollstrumpfe, die bis zu den Knochen gingen. Seine Fu[sz]e wurden von Halbschuhen umschlossen, die den Wanderschuhen nachempfunden waren, welche der Volksmund Goiserer nannte. Alles in allem wirkte Holzer, der etwa in Bronsteins Alter sein mochte, wie ein Vertreter des Bauernbundes und nicht wie der Prokurist eines in mehreren europaischen Staaten aktiven Unternehmens.

Und wie um diesen Eindruck zu unterstreichen, reichte Holzer den beiden Kriminialisten mit einem lauten "Griu[sz] Gott, die Herren" die Hand.

"Guten Tag," entgegnete Bronstein," wie Sie sicherlich schon wissen, sind wir von der Polizei. Wir untersuchen den Mord an Ihrem Firmenchef Major Cerny, mein Mitarbeiter, und ich bin Oberst Bronstein."

Holzers Lacheln gefror. "A Behm und a Jud. Na des hob i bruacht." Auch aus Cernys Gesicht verflog jede Freundlichkeit: "Uberlegen Sie sich gut, was Sie hier au[sz]ern. Die Beleidigung von Amtspersonen ist kein Bagatelldelikt. "Und au[sz]erdem," fugte Cerny mit suffisantem Lacheln, "war Ihr Chef ja auch ein Jud, wie Sie sich eben so formschon auszudru beliebten."

No question but that Franz Holzer presented a very unusual appearance for Vienna. He sported an Alpine-style moustache and was wearing a forestgreen loden hunting vest with horn buttons and gray and black lederhosen with grayish-white wool socks that came up to his knees. On his feet were slippers made to look like the kind of heavy hiking boots popularly known as Goiserer. All in all, Bronstein thought Holzer--who was probably about his age--looked more like a representative of the Agriculture Guild than the general manager and authorized signatory of a business operation active in several European countries.

And, as if to underscore that impression, he extended his hand to the two criminal investigators with a bluff, "Gru[sz] Gott, gentlemen." (1)

"Good morning" Bronstein replied, "we're from the police, as you surely must know. We're investigating the murder of the owner. This is Detective Cerny, my colleague, and I'm Inspector Bronstein."

Holzer's smile froze. "A Bohunk and a Hebe. This is all I needed." The friendly expression on Cerny's face vanished at once. "You'd better think carefully about the way you're expressing yourself. Using abusive language toward government officials is grounds for criminal prosecution, and it's not a minor offense. Besides," he added, grinning smugly, "your employer was a 'Hebe' as well, to borrow your choice turn of phrase."

"You think I liked that miserable creep? A bloodsucker--that's what he was. A real Shylock. Money-hungry like you can't believe. If I hadn't been forced to work for that lousy mongrel, you can bet I'd have told him flat out what I thought of him."

"Can I conclude from these remarks that your relations with the late lamented Herr Demand were not entirely amicable?"

"Let's not talk about that swine any more. He should have croaked long ago. You wouldn't believe what he paid me--after all the years I slaved away for him. Take a guess. Not one fourth of what you're probably thinking! I got more money from my confirmation sponsor than that crook paid me in a whole year. I'm glad he's gone, and I hope he suffered as much as he deserved, the miserable, rotten Jew animal!"

"Your statements are hardly serving the purpose," Bronstein said, visibly struggling to contain himself. "Up to now there hasn't been anyone we could consider a suspect, but it's my opinion we have one now."

"Are you nuts, you kike?" Holzer burst out, stepping closer to Bronstein and taking up a combat stance. "Cross of Honor First Class, Cross of Honor Second Class, medals and insignia for wounds sustained in combat. I was at Isonzo and took part in nine battles all told. Where were you at the time, shirker? Safe and sound, far from the front."

"Fighting at Tarnow Gorlice," said Bronstein, looking at his fingernails with a bored expression.

"Don't try picking a fight with me, I'll tell you right now! I'm a platoon leader with the Sturmscharen." (2)

"So what? They're not exactly in good standing with the government right now."

"Watch what you're saying!" Holzer spat out.

"I think that's just about enough," Cerny said, inserting himself once more. "What do you say we continue this conversation at security headquarters? Come with us, please, Herr Holzer."

"What are you talking about?" Genuine bewilderment showed in Holzer's face. "I haven't done a damn thing! What do you want from me? I most certainly won't go with you!"

"Have it your way, but now I'm placing you formally under arrest. Hold out your arms!" Cerny pulled out the handcuffs attached to his belt and started to put them on Holzer's wrists.

"Inspector, please, I'm sorry. Maybe I ... overreacted a bit ... just now" mumbled Holzer meekly. His whole bearing was no longer like that of a hardened tavern brawler but more like that of a frightened little boy caught stealing a piece of fruit. It was obvious that Holzer was only now becoming aware of how far-reaching the consequences of his attitude could be. "We can get along fine without the handcuffs. I'll tell you everything you want to know. I'm entirely at your disposition" With a trembling hand he pointed to a grouping of chairs. "Won't you please take seats, gentlemen?"

"Isn't that considerate of you, letting a Bohunk and a Jew even sit down in your presence," Bronstein said acidly.

"You mustn't take my statements personally. I was in a state of justified emotional turmoil."

Bronstein and Cerny exchanged a brief glance. That formulation sounded only too familiar to them. It was coming into ever greater favor with attorneys defending right-wing extremists in extenuation of their clients' actions. Holzer's use of it now allowed them to make surmises about his way of living or at least about the company he kept.

"All right. Why don't we begin by having you simply tell us about your background, Herr Holzer?"

"I was born on December 11, 1885 in Mutters in God's country, Tyrol. My father had a little store there, dry goods and things like that. It didn't do very well, though, because he was a newcomer to the area. We actually started out in Styria. So my father moved us to Vienna in 1888, and a year later--yes, just a year later, because that's when my mother died--he took a job in old man Demand's company. He started out by going around and putting price tags and labels on all the merchandise, but then at some point old Demand let him do the bookkeeping, because it was less tiring. But my father died soon after that anyway. January 1901. I still remember it, because it was so bitter cold that day. Well, there was no more school for me after that, but because I'd had good schooling up to then, old Demand asked me if I'd like to step into my father's job. So that's how I started at Demand's in 1901, and I've been working here ever since. Except for the war, of course; I was in the infantry for four years. Cross of Honor First Class, Cross of Honor Second Class, medals for combat wounds. Iso ..."

"Isonzo. You already told us. What else? Are you married, do you have children, and how did it come about that you were made general manager here?"

"Married? Well at one time I was. But that was a long time ago. The old lady started making goo-goo eyes at a younger man, so I booted her out, the slut. Her bastard, too; the kid probably wasn't mine anyway."

"Does that mean you have a son or a daughter?"

"No, I don't, 'cause Fini went down the wrong path and died two years ago. Tuberculosis, they said, but it was more likely from the way she was living. She only lived to be nineteen, because some Jew pig seduced her and made her work the streets--that degenerate, shameless rat."

Bronstein made a mental note of the name Josefine Holzer. If the case went no further back than two years, he'd certainly be able to find it in the files. It would no doubt be interesting to pursue the story.

"Well, it doesn't matter anyway, 'cause the old woman died in the meantime too. Alcohol. Then Fini's death on top. That was what finally did her in. And just when all that was going on, Demand asked me if I'd like to be his business manager. What a joke, huh? And now those two fine gentlemen, Demand Senior and Demand Junior, wouldn't be able to run the company without me, I'll tell you that. The bookkeeping was a total shambles when I first took over. But I picked up a new broom and swept clean with it, so today we're in fine shape. That's mostly because we let a huge number of workers go; the business couldn't sustain them any more."

"Herr Podlaha too?" Cerny asked.

"Him first and foremost, that Communist revolutionary. He's probably licking the paste off the wallpaper now!"

"So you'd say business is flourishing?"

"No, I wouldn't go so far as to say that. The firm is still being run under the name Demand, of course, but that doesn't enhance its good standing in many quarters these days, if you understand what I mean. We're still on solid ground over in Bohemia, for sure, and the same goes for Galicia. But people are starting to look at us a little funny in Hungary and Poland. That's why I've been saying we'd be better off taking a different name. But the old man didn't want to hear a word about it."

Bronstein made another mental note. It might have been this very issue that stirred up conflict between father and son, because when it came to profits among such people all family cohesiveness would be almost sure to come to a quick stop. By now he'd already eliminated Holzer as a suspect, on the other hand. Bronstein figured him as a big talker, a man who'd "shout and bellow but then turn yellow" when it came down to it and would never step up on his own. He would patiently wait for his hour to strike but would never stick his neck out until it did, Isonzo or no Isonzo.

"Did the old gentleman have any enemies among his business associates or here in the firm?" Bronstein asked.

"You can bet your life he did," Holzer promptly replied, "nobody could stand that poisonous old toad."

"How do you mean exactly?"

"Well, on one hand he was a successful magnate, and that always means you'll have enemies in your line of business, and on the other the workers weren't overjoyed when he kept on tossing more and more of them out."

"Like Podlaha?" Cerny clearly seemed fixated on the former employee representative.

"Would you leave me in peace with Podlaha!? He was a dyed-in-the-wool Communist skunk. Strutting around all high and mighty in 1919; you'd have thought he owned the business. And just a year ago he was spouting pipedreams about resistance and workers' rights and more crap like that. It's a damn good thing for him he wasn't shipped off to Wollersdorf, that subversive? But to tell you the truth, I don't think he'd be up to anything like that. He's just a gutless little puppy."

"What about other workers?"

"There were quite a few rabble-rousers in the crowd, let me tell you. But I never did have the whole picture. You'd have to ask Podlaha about that. Why don't you go and really tear into him? That loser doesn't deserve any better."

"Just as a matter of routine," Bronstein finally had a chance to ask, "where were you the night before last?"

Holzer grew alert. "You mean I need an alibi?"

"Merely routine, as I said," Bronstein played it down.

"All right. First I was at the tavern, drinking and playing cards till about midnight or twelve-thirty. Then I went over to a whorehouse on Anna Gasse and banged some woman from Styria. She was from Murzzuschlag, I think she said; her name was Elfi. A little rough around the edges and sort of sharp-tongued, but really good, let me tell you. Well then it got to be three or four--I don't know--and I went home. Took a taxi, 'cause no streetcars run at that hour."
 *** 


"Meaning you don't have an alibi for the time frame in question," Bronstein stated drily. Holzer flared up.

"If you mean I felt like committing a murder after getting laid, then yes, I don't have an alibi."

"Very well, Herr Holzer," injected Cerny in a calming tone, "that's all for the moment. I hope you understand we have to pursue every lead, no matter how unlikely it may appear. Should we need anything else from you we'll be back in contact with you for further questioning, and for that reason we request you to inform us if you intend to leave the city."

"I'm entirely at your disposition," replied Holzer, trying his best to speak standard educated German.

"Then I think that's all for the time being." Cerny and Bronstein stood up, and Holzer did the same, going to elaborate lengths to show them to the door. But Bronstein waved him off. "Please don't trouble yourself; we'll find our own way out."
 *** 


"What do you think, Chief? Should we call on Podlaha right away? Then we'll have it over with."

Bronstein calmly glanced at his watch. It was a little before eleven, probably still too early for lunch. On the other hand, there was the danger that they could spend so much time questioning Podlaha that they'd miss the midday break entirely. Two souls were now contending in his breast. (4) Cerny seemed to guess what he was thinking, though.

"Right on the corner of Margareten Strasse is the Crown, a tavern-restaurant. Outstanding menu, excellent home cooking. I know because a friend of my wife's, Jana Tlustova, is in the kitchen there. I guarantee she's one of the best cooks in all Vienna. You have to try her beef roulades and have an Old Brno beer to go with them. And Buchteln afterwards, those wonderful jam dumplings. It's sure to be a feast."

Bronstein couldn't suppress a smile. "Cerny, Cerny, you know exactly what a seasoned old cop needs!" Bronstein took out a Donau. (5) "All right, let's go, then."

They rode the streetcar along the Ring to the Opera, then transferred there to the 61 line, which would take them past Karls Platz and the old Barenmuhle into Margareten. (6) They dropped down hard onto one of the wooden benches that made up the seats. Bronstein smoked with enjoyment and tried to picture what Podlaha, the employee respresentative, might look like. Would he be dealing with a gaunt, ascetic revolutionary or a plump Social Democratic union functionary, the kind who'd mouth off like a big shot in back-room gatherings but then fawn and cringe when he wasn't sure of his ground? Podlaha's having apparently submitted without resistance to being discharged made Bronstein suspect he'd be dealing with someone from the second category. That would then more or less exclude Podlaha from the list of possible perpetrators, because he had so far this century never come across a Social Democrat who could pluck up the nerve to pull off such a deed. The Socialists were world-champion talkers but in last place when it came to taking action. That was something you could always and everywhere count on. Even when the water was up to their necks, they'd never stopped talking, and the result was their total elimination from public affairs. And was a little employee representative going to have more intestinal fortitude than the heads of his party? Still, it was possible Podlaha might be able to give them a new lead, say to workers who'd likewise been dismissed but weren't quite so willing to just let it go at that. Anyway, it couldn't hurt to have a look at Podlaha.

"There's Kettenbrucken Gasse; we have to get off here," Bronstein heard Cerny say, and they'd no sooner left the streetcar than Cerny pointed in the direction they needed to take. They went along Kron Gasse towards Mitterstieg and stopped in front of a small three-story house that looked as if it dated from the middle of the past century. In the entryway there was a penetrating smell of something like cabbage, and in the courtyard a couple of little children were pounding away at the long tree.

"Hey kids, where do the Podlahas live?"

"Second floor, number five," came the children's high-pitched voices.

"Well at least we don't have to ask anybody 'What's cooking.'" Bronstein enjoyed turning the idiom to literal use.

"Kale," Cerny said. Bronstein gave him a questioning look.

"That's kale," Cerny repeated, "not kohlrabi. Kohlrabi is like a turnip or cabbage beet, but this smells more like the cabbage plant, and that's what the Viennese call kale."

"Didn't know that" Bronstein grinned. "But I don't think we want any kale, do we?"

Cerny of course knew the play on words Bronstein had in mind. "Kale" also meant "a fight" in Viennese dialect, so that one was very well advised when visiting a tavern in the outlying districts not to respond to the offer, "How about some kale?" because the dish then served up would no doubt be very hard to digest. (7)

Meantime, they'd reached the apartment door. Cerny balled his right hand into a fist and knocked. A short while later the door was answered by a haggard-looking woman of about forty. She furrowed her brow at the sight of visitors. "May I help you?"

"We would like to speak to Herr Podlaha. Is he at home?"

"Who's asking for him?"

"Inspector Bronstein and Detective-Inspector Cerny from Vienna police headquarters."

"Oh please, not again. He just got out on Friday. You can't pin something new on him this soon."

Now it was Bronstein's and Cerny's turn to frown.

"You're not from the political division?"

"No, we're not."

"Oh, so that's why you don't seem to know that my husband's been con

shuffled back and forth between headquarters and political detention since March. They've really got it in for him there, because he was an employee representative. But I can give you my word that since February my husband's been nowhere near places where anything political was happening or even being talked about. Please believe me when I tell you he's learned his lesson?'

"And we do believe you," Cerny said quickly, "but now is your husband here or not?"

"Yes, certainly. Fritz, it's for you. The police."

The woman had called over her shoulder into another room. In short order they heard a groan. "Not again!"

With great exertion Friedrich Podlaha dragged himself into the kitchen, which also served as the entrance to this tiny apartment. It was clear to see that life had taken its toll on the man. Bronstein assumed he couldn't even be forty, but he looked much older. Podlaha walked right up to the two police officers, sighed with resignation and then held out his outstreched arms. "What are you doing?" Bronstein asked.

"Well, aren't you going to put me in handcuffs?"

"Not at all, Herr Podlaha. We're from the homicide division, and we have a few questions for you," Cerny hastened to add so as to take away the man's fear. "You may already know that your former employer was murdered the night before last."

"I didn't do it," said Podlaha automatically.

"As we said," Bronstein replied, brushing aside Podlaha's interjection, "all we want to do is ask you a few questions."

"All right, then, ask away. Won't you please come and sit down?" Podlaha pointed in the direction of the next room, and Bronstein and Cerny followed him without a word. Bronstein was used to all kinds of conditions, but the destitution that confronted him in this room amazed even him. This was the way people in Vienna had lived twenty or thirty years before, but it was hard to imagine that such totally poverty-stricken lodgings even still existed these days.

Podlaha seemed to guess the inspector's thoughts. "I'm sorry that I have to talk with you in this hovel, but with both my wife and I being out of work and blacklisted into the bargain, it's all we can afford. After all, I have to provide for my children as well."

"How many do you have?" The question came from Cerny, of course.

"Five," said Podlaha, not without some pride, "Ferdl's not living here any more, thank God; he's almost twenty by now. And then we got Mitzi married off in May; she now lives on Luxemburg Gasse in Ottakring. (8) So now we have only the three youngest at home, but you try feeding five mouths on just a few schillings a day."

"Since we're talking about personal matters," Bronstein replied, picking up the thread, "perhaps you could just briefly tell us when you yourself were born and how long you worked for Demand."

"I was born on May 1, appropriately enough, (9) in 1894. I come from Bernhardsthal on the Moravian border. Until 1905 my parents worked in a factory in Irdning that manufactured small tools and other hardware items, and Irdning is where I grew up. We relocated to Schloglmuhl in 1906 and I started working in the paper mill there. I remember it was in 1907, because my father was very proud of now being eligible to vote. (10) But then they told him he couldn't after all, because he hadn't lived at the same address for a year. He never forgot that, my father, and neither did I. That doesn't matter, though. They drafted me for military service in 1912, and that's how I came to Vienna. My term of service was automatically extended because of the war. I was in Serbia first, then Romania and finally in Russia. I was taken prisoner there. That was at the end of 1916. So then I experienced the revolution first-hand, but that probably doesn't interest you gentlemen so much. Whatever--in May of 1918 I came back from Russia, and they wanted to pack me off to Italy right away, but I wasn't going to let them do that to me. I went to the Soldiers' Council and joined the Party. (11) I started at Demand's in 1919, after they discharged me, and two years later I became the employee representative. You already know what happened then--Demand booted me out right at the beginning of March. And now here I am."

"And how did your fellow workers react? After all, you were their representative for thirteen years."

"How would you expect them to react? They were all completely demoralized themselves. Don't forget that ten years ago Demand had almost six thousand people working for him in Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Poland. Three thousand of them were here in Austria, four hundred fifty in Vienna, two thousand out in Wildungsmauer and another five hundred in Kittsee. Then overnight he shut down operations in Kittsee. That was in the fall of 1930. Every last one of them terminated. Two months later he cut the Wildungmauer staff back to nine hundred and then pulled out entirely at the beginning of 1932. He's now operating only in Hungary and Czechoslovakia, and they're shipping all over the world. All we have left in Vienna is the main headquarters, and this past spring there weren't even three hundred people left. Of course a lot of them asked me why I wasn't doing anything about it. But what could I have done? Tell me that. We certainly could have gone on strike, and that was clear to me as well. But after all the labor violence in America nobody had the nerve to try it. And as you can imagine, everybody wanted somebody else to fight for them to stay working, but nobody wanted to risk his neck for anybody else. Morale was at a low point even in 1930, and Kittsee hadn't even happened yet. 'Why should I care about them?' they all said when it and Wildungsmauer were closed down. There was no talking to them; they didn't care. I told them that if we didn't fight back right away, it would come back to haunt us. And then when the worst came they all ran to me to ask why I didn't warn them. Then when everything went completely down the drain in February, I knew it was my turn. And sure enough it was."

Bronstein waited a moment, because Podlaha had fallen into brooding silence. "If Demand," Bronstein finally began, "dismissed so many people, then there surely has to be a good number of individuals not especially downhearted about his being called from this world. Or don't you see it that way, Herr Podlaha?"

"Yes, I certainly do." Podlaha's answer was as quick as it was open. "But lots of people hated Demand even in the golden years. He was pretty much a slave driver, the pay was measly, and he even played dirty tricks on his customers when he could get away with it. You should see what lousy quality he fobbed off on them sometimes. 'Well, if they bite, it's their own fault; he'd always say. All in all, he was a real exploiter, a capitalist of the deepest dye."

"A plutocrat?" Bronstein asked with an ulterior motive. He was testing Podlaha, who only looked at him with an expression of sympathy.

"I don't differentiate among capitalists. Capital is what makes or breaks, but it's an invention of the middle class to turn workers' heads. And anti-Semitism, Inspector Bronstein, is simply the socialism of stupid louts. Do you know who said that?"

Bronstein hesitated a bit, then he stammered, "Right now I don't know who ..."

"Bebel," interjected Cerny, who'd been following the conversation in silence. This earned him an acknowledging lift of the eyebrows from Podlaha.

"The funny thing about it, of course," Podlaha continued, "especially in the past few years, is that there were so many people who considered Demand an out-and-out greasy kike, a Jewish bloodsucker. Starting around 1932, a small group of Nazis at work organized themselves into a cell--I had run-ins with them more than once--and they made Demand out to be a regular Shylock. They painted things on the factory walls, the bathroom doors and so on. That upset Demand badly, because he always thought of himself as representing German culture. 'What do I have in common with those ghetto Jews from Galicia and their sidelocks?' he always said, 'I'm a Protestant and always have been.' Right up to the end the poor man never understood that the Nazis don't differentiate between a poor cobbler from the shtetl and an industrialist living in a villa. What is it, Inspector? Is something wrong? You look so pale all of a sudden."

Bronstein was indeed feeling very queasy. He was abruptly reminded of his confrontation with Holzer, and only now did it dawn on him that what went for Demand would go for him as well. His war service, his knowledge of Goethe, Schiller and Eichendorff, his love of Wagner and Brahms would count for less than nothing with the Nazis. In their eyes he was nothing but a kike, a Jew pig, a pathetic specimen. His official position wouldn't be any protection, either; on the contrary, to them he tarnished the position itself and brought disgrace on the government he represented. In the eyes of the Nazis, Austria was a cesspool of a state precisely because it employed vermin like himself. Nothing had changed since the Geserah in Vienna, regardless of the intervening 513 years. (12) If anything, things had grown worse now despite all the emphatic pleas made by Emperor Franz Josef. (13) In 1421, they had at least given Jews the choice of either converting or being destroyed. But today there was no alternative to being destroyed. Demand had been Protestant, like himself, but to the Nazis he was no more than a slimy Jew who needed to be gotten rid of. Yes, Bronstein was feeling nausea, all right. "Could I have a glass of water, please?" he croaked.

Cerny gave his superior a worried look and then stepped in to continue the conversation. "Are those Nazis still working there, and if so, who's calling the tune?"

"No, most of them were discharged last year, when the party was declared illegal. A few held on, though, for example Kotzler; he's still working there, and so is Murer. And there's persistent rumor that Holzer's one of them, too. That wouldn't surprise me, either, because he never made any secret of his hatred for anything that's not pure Aryan. For him, if people weren't German they were Bohunks, Polacks, Dagoes, and of course filthy Jew pigs, even if that coward never even hinted at anything like that about Jews in front of Demand."

"Do you believe Holzer would have had any reason to hasten Demand's departure from this world?" Cerny's flowery way of talking gradually brought Bronstein back to reality.

"Would you like to hear my real opinion?" Podlaha answered Cerny's question with a question in return.

"Yes, absolutely"

"He had lots of reasons, but it would have been pretty stupid if he'd perpetrated such a deed himself or set it up at this point in time."

"Why do you think that?" Bronstein had finally rejoined the discussion.

"Well just look at what they're doing in Germany now. One right after another, Jewish businesses are being aryanized, as they so charmingly call it. That's going to happen sooner or later in Austria as well, because I'm totally convinced that Little Millimeter ... I mean Federal Chancellor Dollfuss is not going to be able to hold his own against the Nazis. (14) Certainly not now that he's robbed two-thirds of the populace of all their rights. And when the Nazis triumph in Austria, which is going to happen sooner instead of later, the hour will strike for Holzer and his ilk."

"How do you mean that?"

"Aryanization; that's what I've been talking about. You surely don't think the Demands and the rest will be able to keep ownership of their businesses, do you? They'll have to count themselves lucky if they can get out of Austria with a whole skin. And if Holzer plays his cards right, he'll first be made acting head of administration and then, sometime later on, owner of Demand and Son. Now you understand what I mean."

"I'll admit there's something to your theory," said Bronstein thoughtfully, still choking on the realization that had come to him earlier. He pushed away his question about what had suddenly made the pogrom of 1421 enter his mind and tried concentrating on the case at hand. "The two Nazis you mentioned ... what's-his-name and the other one ..."

"Kotzler and Murer?"

"Yes. Who are they?"

"Murer is just a little guy; he labels all the bottles. But Kotzler is Holzer's man of all work. Officially he's Holzer's secretary, but he doesn't really do any work. He's only there to be at Holzer's personal disposal. When he's there at all"

"That sounds like we're going to have a closer look at them," said Cerny decisively. At this point Podlaha's wife came into the room. "Gentlemen, please excuse me for disturbing you, but Fritz, it's just about time to eat." Then she turned to the two police officers. "If it's agreeable, we'd like to have you be our guests. There's not very much, and it's nothing special, but it would come from our hearts."

Cerny remembered seeing only one pot in the kitchen. "But there wouldn't be enough for seven, would there?" It slipped out of him.

"Oh the children aren't that crazy about kale anyway." The woman was playing it down. Cerny was truly dismayed. He could read in Frau Podlaha's eyes that she was hoping the two policemen would turn down her invitation, because the children would have to go hungry if they didn't. "No, thanks," he said quickly, before Bronstein could react, "thanks very much, but we already have a reservation at the Crown. And I don't think even we could handle two meals right in a row." He made it a point to smile, which the woman answered with a visibly thankful glance.

"So it looks like that's all for now, anyway," Bronstein contributed. "Herr Podlaha, you've been very helpful to us. All that's left is to wish you a pleasant meal." They said good-bye all around, and the two officers went out to the corridor. But then Cerny took hold of Bronstein by the sleeve for a second and said he'd forgotten something. He quickly slipped back into the apartment, which aroused Bronstein's suspicion. He found a gap in the curtain on the corridor window and peered into the kitchen, where he saw Cerny talking insistently to Frau Podlaha and then reach into his coat for his wallet. Bronstein was dumbstruck at seeing Cerny give the woman a five-schilling piece. Five schillings; Bronstein was floored. But the woman's reaction astounded him even more, for it seemed all Cerny could do to keep her from going down on her knees to him. What was this all about with the money? Bronstein could hardly wait till Cerny was again standing out in the corridor with him.

"What was that all about just now?"

"Oh nothing."

"Nothing? Five schillings are nothing to you? What did you give her money for?"

Cerny sighed and then started in with an answer. "The kids don't have anything, I mean nothing. The man has no chance of finding a job anywhere--not with his background. And it's clear to see the woman is at the end of her rope. So you have to help if you can."

Translated by Vincent Kling

(1.) This regional greeting is still standard in Austria and parts of Southern Germany. It means "God's greeting" but has long been merely a formula without specific religious intent, though many people purposely refrain from saying it because it can imply a profession of faith. Like American Southernisms--for instance, y'all--this expression can be exaggerated for effect through overemphasis and regional pronunciation; here it is a rhetorical item in Holzer's nationalist and rightist repertoire.

(2.) A paramilitary organization founded in 1930 in Innsbruck to support the aims of the Christian Socialist party. Officially titled the Katholische Kulturpolitische Erneuerungs- und Schutzbewegung (Catholic Movement for Cultural-Political Renewal and Reinforcement), the Sturmscharen stated their threefold purpose as advancing Catholicism, Austrian patriotism, and athletics among young men. Not surprisingly, lews were not admitted to this professedly anti-Semitic organization. While the members carried arms at first, they gave up their weapons in 1936 so they could continue to exist as a cultural organization. The subsequent chancellor Kurt Schusschnig was closely connected to the Sturmseharen from the first.

(3.) Wollersdorf was the site of a former munitions manufacturing plant outside Vienna, some of whose buildings were turned into a detention camp by the clerical-fascist regime in 1933. Opponents of every political stripe were detained there, but the new government was especially eager to prosecute the socialist opposition.

(4.) For all his hesitancy and human weakness, Bronstein is a sophisticated and educated man with a love of literature. One of Pittler's effective devices for characterizing him is to have him recall tag lines and classic passages from German literature, in this case a lament spoken by the title character in Goethe's Faust.

(5.) Literally, a Danube. This was the most popular brand of cigarette at the time.

(6.) Margareten is the fifth municipal district of Vienna. To reach it, the detectives ride through part of Wieden, the fourth district. A great many streams, now covered over, used to run through these districts, so there were correspondingly many mills powered by the water. They were eventually all torn down, mostly for sanitary reasons. The Barenmuhle is literally the "Mill at the Sign of the Bear," and the name lives on as a bus stop at a passage between two streets where it once stood. Many streets in Margareten and Wieden are still named after mills.

(7.) The German word is Koch. An equivalent in American English would be "rhubarb," now growing obsolete in the meaning of a heated argument or quarrel, especially on the baseball field.

(8.) Vienna's sixteenth municipal district.

(9.) The international workers' day, celebrating Socialist achievement, widely observed in Austria, especially Vienna.

(10.) Universal suffrage by secret ballot for men was introduced in that year.

(11.) In the last months of World War I, during a time of widespread mutiny, soldiers and workers formed soviet-style councils to take direct action on their own behalf.

(12.) In 1420, a massive pogrom was organized. Prosperous Jews had their money and possessions summarily confiscated, many were driven from the land, and in 1421 some two hundred Jews were burned at the stake, accused of desecrating the Eucharistic Host and dealing with the Hussite heretics. The remains of the synagogue in which many Jews took refuge and committed suicide by setting the building on fire is located under the Holocaust monument on Juden Platz in Vienna.

(13.) However hidebound he was in other respects, Emperor Franz Josef I, who ruled from 1848 to 1916, spoke out frequently against anti-Semitism and refused for a long time, for instance, until forced to bow to outside pressure, to confirm the election of the Jew-baiting demagogue Karl Lueger as mayor of Vienna.

(14.) Because he was very short in stature, Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss was known--not affectionately--as "Millimeter" a cognomen based on "Millimetternich," a not flattering reminder of the former Imperial Chancellor Clemens von Metternich.
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Author:Pittler, Andreas
Publication:The Review of Contemporary Fiction
Article Type:Excerpt
Geographic Code:4EUAU
Date:Jun 22, 2013
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