My Pale Brother (Mein Bleicher Bruder) by Wolfgang Borchert Translated from the German into English by Ben Snyder Project of the GER 403 History of German Literature class Ball State University - Spring Semester 2003
Never was anything as white as this snow. It was almost blue from it. Bluish-green. So terribly white. The sun hardly dared to be yellow with this snow. No Sunday morning had ever been as clear as this. Only a dark blue forest stood in the back ground. But the snow was new and clean like the white of an animal's eye. No snow was ever as white as the snow on this Sunday morning. No Sunday morning was ever so clean. The world, this snowy, Sunday world, laughed. But somewhere there was still a spot. That was a person, who lay in the snow, bent, belly down, uniformed. A bundle of rags. A paltry bundle of skin scraps and bone bits and leather and cloth. Covered over black-red from dried blood. Very dead hair, dead like a wig. Bent out of shape, his last cry screamed, bellowed, or perhaps prayed into the snow: A soldier. A spot in the never before seen whiteness of the cleanest of all Sunday mornings. An atmospheric war painting, full of nuance, a tempting reproach for watercolors, blood and snow and sun. Cold, cold snow with warm, steaming blood within. And over all, the dear sun. Our dear sun. All the children in the world say, "the dear, dear sun." And it shines on the dead, who cried the unheard cry of all dead puppets: the silent, terribly silent scream! Who among us, stands up, pale brother, oh who among us can stand the silent cry of the puppets, when they are torn from their strings and lie around on the stage so stupidly contorted? Who, oh who among us can put up with the silent screams of the dead? Only the icy snow can bear it. And the sun. Our dear sun. In front of the cutoff one stood a puppet that was still intact. One that still worked. In front of the dead soldier stood a living one. On this clean Sunday morning in the never before seen, white snow, the one who was standing addressed the one who was lying with the following terribly silent speech: Ya. Ya, ya. Ya, ya, ya. Your good mood is gone now, my dear friend. Your eternally good mood. Now you're definitely not saying anything more, right? Now you'll probably not laugh anymore, right? If your women knew how pitiful you looked now, my dear friend. You look awfully pitiful without your good mood. And in this silly position. Why did you pull your legs up to your stomach so fearfully? Ah, I see, you took one in the intes- tines. You've soiled yourself with blood. It looks terribly unappetizing, my dear friend. You've spotted your entire uniform with it. It looks like black ink spots. Man, it's a good thing that your women can't see that. You always kept yourself just so in uniform. Your waistline was most important. When you became a corporal, you would only go around in patent-leather boots. And you'd polish them for hours, if you were going to the city that evening. But now you won't be going to the city anymore. Your women are leaving you now for others. Because now you can't go anymore at all, understand? Never again, my dear friend. Never, never again. Now you can't laugh anymore with your eternally good mood, either. Now you lie there, as if you couldn't count to three. And you can't, either. You can't count to three anymore. That's weak, my friend, extremely weak. But that's good, real good. Because you'll never again say to me "my pale brother with the hanging eyelid." Not anymore, friend. From now on no more. Never again, friend. And the others won't applaud you for that anymore. The others will never again laugh at me when you say, "my pale brother with the hanging eyelid." That means a lot to me, you know? That means a whole heap of a lot to me, I can assure you about that. You really tortured me in school. You sat around on top of me like lice. Because my eye had a little defect and my eyelid hung down. And because my skin is so white. So pasty. Our pale little friend here looks so tired again, they always said. And the girls always asked if I was already asleep. My one eye was already half-closed. Sleepy, they said. I had to have been sleepy. I'd like to know, which of us is sleepy now? You or me, hmm? You or me? Who is "my pale brother with the hanging eyelid" now? Hmm? Who, my dear friend, you or me? Me? As he closed the bunker door behind him, a dozen gray faces came around the corner toward him. One of them belonged to the sergeant. "Did you find him, Lieutenant?" asked the gray face and was really gray is so doing. Yes. By the fir trees. A stomach shot Should we go get him? Yes. By the fir trees. Yes, of course. He has to be brought in. By the fir trees. The dozen gray faces disappeared. The lieutenant sat at the tin stove and deloused himself. Just like yesterday. Yesterday he deloused himself as well. Then someone was supposed to report to battalion headquarters. Preferably the Lieutenant, he himself. While he was putting on his shirt, he heard it. Shooting. The shooting had never been like this before. And as the runner again flung open the door, he saw the night. Never before was a night so black, he thought. Non-commissioned officer Heller, he was singing. He was telling a story of a trip to see his women. And then, with his eternally good mood, Heller said: Lieutenant, I wouldn't go to battalion. I would first ask for double rations. You can play the xylophone on your ribs. It's terrible, the way you look. Heller had said that. And in the dark they had probably all grinned. And someone had to go to battalion. So he said: Well, Heller, why don't you go cool off that good mood of yours a bit?" And Heller said: Yes, sir. That was all. One never said more than that. Simply: Yes, sir. And then Heller was gone. And then Heller never came back. The lieutenant pulled his shirt over his head. He listened as the others came back from outside. The others. With Heller. He will never say "my pale brother with the hanging eyelid" to me again, the lieutenant whispered. He will never say that to me from now on. A louse appeared between his thumbnails. There was a cracking sound. The louse was dead. On his forehead - he had a tiny splash of blood.