Shit Buckets, Rage, and Laughter: an excerpt from “Pavel’s Violin

cattle car

“Pass out the shit bucket,” shouted a guard. And be careful with it, I don’t want your filth all over me.” While the bucket was being emptied, someone saw a signpost by the siding.
“Zgorzelec,” he said. “It’s Poland. My God, we’re in Poland.” And the door slid shut.

“It’s not the things you’d think would be the problems,” Pavel said to Aaron. Aaron was standing on Pavel’s shoulders with his face at the window slot, trying to get some fresh air without cutting his nose on the barbed wire. Moments at the window were at a premium, and available only to men who were already close by.

“What are you saying?” asked Aaron, nearly chocking on his small breath of fresh air. “What do you think our problem is, if it’s not the stench in here!” They had been traveling for nearly two days. Most men had not yet had the chance to sit for a few moments. Most had not gotten anywhere near the bucket. And the stench was so bad they had no desire to get any closer. Many just relieved themselves where they stood. Some people cursed them for it. Others understood, and wept.

“It’s not the stench,” Pavel went on. “Or the hunger or thirst, or the constant standing. It’s not even the dying,” he said, glancing toward the growing pile of corpses in one corner. “The real problem is the sheer, crushing boredom. The real problem is suffering and death have become so commonplace for us that we are growing bored with it.” He turned to the others in the car as Aaron clambered down off his shoulders.

“Don’t let yourself get bored!” He shouted at them. “Don’t let this become normal. Rage! Rage at the horror!”

“Getting angry won’t help,” someone said.

“Couldn’t hurt,’ Pavel retorted. “Chicken soup, you know.” And everyone who was still able burst into thankful laughter. “That’s it,” Pavel thought. “That’s what we need. Laughter. Rage and laughter.”

From Chapter 32, “Whatever It Takes,” 2-3 October 1944
“Pavel’s Violin” (C) 2017 Walter William Melnyk
All Rights reserved

In Absam prope Oenipontum, an excerpt from “Pavel’s Violin”

The great Austrian luthier, Jakob Stainer (c. 1619-1683) used this handwritten label in all his instruments:

stainer_label

Jacobus Stainer in Absam
prope Oeinipontum 16–

“Jakob Stainer, in (the town of) Absam, near Innsbruck, (date)

And this is the title of Part I of “Pavel’s Violin,” the story of Jakob Stainer and his crafting of the very special violin.

from the title page of Part I, a quotation from Paul Stoving, in “The Story of the Violin:”

The Tyrolean fastness will guard his memory,
and the eagle will tell it to its young,
and pine to pine,
and the winds in dark recesses
will mourn the memory of Jacobus Stainer.

And the tale goes on from there:

I. Jakob Stainer and the Making of the Violin

II. In the Palaces of Bishops and Emperors

III. The Jewish Community of the Moravian Countryside

IV. The Great Olomouc (AH-lah-moats) Synagogue

V. In Terezin Concentration Camp

VI. In Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp

VII. The Violin Comes to Pavel

Will Paint  The author, playing Pavel’s violin.

A Nice Violin

Excerpt from Chapter 40 of “Pavel’s Violin”Cuckoo

(C) 2017, Walter William Melnyk
All Rights Reserved

“A Nice Violin”

 ~ 6 March 1945 ~

Adam slowed his battered ammunition truck to a stop in front of the house, after another long day. Seven long trips up and down Vružná, Wrosna and Ostrý vrch. Live howitzer ammunition going up, empty shells coming down. It’s hard to tell whether he or his truck was covered with more mud. They’ll both have to be washed down before he can get some rest. The other trucks are already parked, with no sign of any mud having been removed. He rounds the house to the back gate, and finds Novak and Svododa standing there, watching the back window intently.

“Hey, guys, what’s . . .” They both wave him off wildly, and put fingers to their lips to shush him. So he approaches the gate silently, on tip-toe.
“What is it?” he whispers.

“There’s a cuckoo in the house,” Svoboda whispers back.

“A what?”

“Sssshhhhh.”
“A what?” asks Adam, more quietly.

“A cuckoo,” Novak whispers.

Adam listens carefully. There is a blackbird on the chimney pot, silently grooming its feathers. But no cuckoo, in or out.

“I don’t hear anything.”

“Wait. Maybe it’ll start again.” And then it does. Quietly at first, then louder, then more softly again.

“Cuckoo. Cuckoo. Cuckoo.”
“Cuckoo. Cuckoo. Cuckoo.”

And then a child’s melody in ascending and descending scales of sixteenth notes and eighth notes. And then the cuckoo returns.

“It’s The Cuckoo Song,” you idiots,” says Adam. The other two laugh out loud, slapping him on the back.

“Had you goin’ though, didn’t we,” says Novak. “Still, it’s inside.”

The three sergeants cautiously sneek up to the back door, open it quietly, and step inside. Pavel is facing them, playing Komarovsky’s Cuckoo Song on a Violin, his face beaming with delete, enjoying their surprise. He finishs with a slow decrescendo of cuckoo calls. A-F, A-F, A-F; cu-ckoo, cu-ckoo, cu-koo, fading into silence. His audience pauses a moment in wonder, until Pavel bows, and then the three sergeants erupt into thunderous applause.

“It was here when I arrived, sitting on the table,” Pavel says, pointing to the open case. “Here’s the note that came with it.” He hands a slip of paper to Adam, who reads it aloud.

“Dear Pavel,
I hope you will like this Violin. It’s not so new, but very nice, I think. It
comes from a good friend, a Russian Transportation Officer named Sokolov, up in Górkie Wielki who remembers you from your arrival at his unit after your escape. He says you didn’t look much like a violinist then, but he takes my word for it, and wishes you the best. Remember the song we used to sing as kids, The Cuckoo Song? That should be the first thing you play! See you again sometime soon.
Love, Rasti

Pavel holds up the Violin for them to see. “It is a nice Violin,” he says.
It is probably safe to assume that the back room in the little house on the edge of Vendryné has never before experienced the sight of four Czech sergeants dancing circles around one another, and singing,
“Cuck-oo, cu-ckoo, cu-ckoo!”

(C) 2017 Walter William Melnyk
All Rights Reserved

Words of Praise for “Pavel’s Violin”

terezin transportfrom a Reader:

The story is real, a vivid account of the people who lived through an unthinkable time in our history.

Melnyk writes: “I hope you will not just learn about what happened,, but that you will become part of the story, yourself”…….”I hope that you will not only hear the Violin, but you will experience the playing of it”. Well he (the author) takes you there. You are one with the characters, and experience their pain, suffering, hope, and joy. And you hear the music. The wonderful music. The universal language that heals. The Song of Hope…

The author has selflessly pledged to donate all proceeds from the sale of this book to the United States Holocaust Museum and other Holocaust Memorials.