Arbeit macht Frei: Work will set you free. Three famous words that greeted those the Nazis sent to Auschwitz. Three words that could not have been a bigger lie. Tomas Kaulitz is a talented young violinist reduced to playing in empty concert halls for Nazi officers. The war has stayed relatively far away until now, when the horrors of the Nazi era take him and his friends away from a ruined Magdeburg.
Tomas leaned back in his chair, his fingers tapping on the table in a steady rhythm as he listened to Wilhelm ramble on. The blonde man, Max, had given them bread and a bit of sausage to go with their water so there was no reason for Wilhelm to not answer his questions about them. Tomas had let Wilhelm talk about himself and his singing but had kept Wilhelm from saying anything revealing about Tomas and his career. If the news were given to the right people- and Tomas still did not believe Max completely trustworthy though they had been sitting at the table for almost an hour now- that Tomas Kaulitz, one of the most well-renowned violinists in Magdeburg, was in Hamburg instead of Magdeburg where he was supposedly confined to bed rest by doctor’s orders, things could become difficult for them. Wilhelm would be hardly missed but Tomas…Tomas had defied party orders to be with his brother.
Wilhelm’s loud chatter slowed, gaining Tomas’ attention. Someone had entered the room. Tomas glanced up from the table and felt a chill pass through him as he looked at the most beautiful man he had ever seen. Long, dark blonde hair wisped around his shoulders. Deep, sad eyes set in a delicate face; the man captured the breath in Tomas’ chest and held it captive for several never-ending moments as their eyes met. The man blinked and looked away. Max looked up at the man and frowned.
“Excuse me,” Max said. “I need to see to something. David,” he said, addressing the man holding onto his chair, “Can you fetch Jan? We need someone to…look after our guests.”
David nodded and walked away in a soft, elegant glide. Tomas gaped after him until Wilhelm kicked him. Tomas looked at his twin’s confused expression and shook his head to clear his mind.
Max smiled knowingly.
“It seems Jan was correct in his assumptions, then,” Max said smoothly. “Our David is rather attractive, isn’t he?”
“Excuse me?” Tomas snarled, slamming his chair forward. Wilhelm grabbed his arm and yanked him back into his seat.
“Tomas, stop!” Wilhelm said, glaring at his twin. “Max, sir, I think we might have mistaken each other. What assumption is it that Jan made?”
Max’s smile broadened and he leaned forward over the table, steepling his fingers together.
“I am sure that by now you two have realized that this apartment is not exactly a regular home, yes?”
Wilhelm nodded, keeping his hold on Tomas firm.
“That is because it is not. We- Jan, Christian, David, and myself- are in hiding from the police as you two are now. The club you attempted to enter earlier today was a front for a party trap. It attracts singers like you, Wilhelm, dancers, and musicians of…a certain sort, if you will. Now, Wilhelm, can you tell me what that ‘sort’ might be?”
Tomas bristled under Max’s condescending tone of voice but Wilhelm seemed intrigued.
“People like me,” Wilhelm said slowly, loosening his grip on Tomas. “Men who like men.”
“Exactly. Men who like men. Homosexuals in other words. We are the scourge of the party, one of the biggest threats to the Führer’s precious party. He doesn’t want us to exist and has made it his mission to seek us out and exterminate us. Three years ago, there were over a hundred homosexuals in Hamburg. Now there are fifteen. We are five of those fifteen.”
“What happened to the others?” he asked, his eyes wide and fearful.
“Most of them are dead-“ Wilhelm looked stricken. “Some were sent to the work camps and others have simply disappeared. My friends and I went into hiding within the city. We began with eight and now there are five of us.”
“Where are the other three?” Tomas asked, his temper having cooled somewhat.
Max pressed his lips together and closed his eyes.
“They’re dead,” came a dull voice from behind Max.
Tomas glanced at Jan, who took the seat next to Max who slipped away quickly, his hand pressed over his mouth in pain. Wilhelm watched him go as Tomas turned his eyes to the short man.
“I’m sorry,” Wilhelm whispered, putting one long hand over Jan’s and squeezing it.
Jan grimaced and pulled his hand away.
“Please, there is no reason to talk about it,” he said, scraping his chair back against the floor and standing up. “You need a place to sleep. We can offer you shelter but it will come at a price: you need to promise that you will not leave this apartment without one of us. We cannot have you running through the city at will. It’s deadly out there.”
The twins looked at each other. Tomas nodded.
Jan smiled and led them out of the kitchen to a dimly lit room at the end of the hallway. A mattress lay on the floor, two blankets and a pillow lying on it.
“It’s not much but it’s what we have. The sheets are clean at least,” Jan offered, looking embarrassed about the sparseness of the room.
“Thank you,” Wilhelm said as Tom knelt to inspect the bed.
Jan nodded, wished them goodnight, and left. Wilhelm and Tomas settled in for the night.
Over the next few weeks, that apartment would become their only glimpse of the outside world. Max would don a heavy coat early in the morning and leave the apartment, returning before noon with bread and a newspaper. He never spoke of what he did for the hours between when he left and when he returned but every day the apartment would fill with new cups and towels, more bottles of water and many other things Tomas never saw him bring in.
Later in the day, when the light that came through the curtains over the broken windows was stronger, Christian and Jan would leave, returning just before nightfall. They, too, would give no explanation of where they went or who they saw and Wilhelm would not let Tomas ask.
The mysterious blonde David never left the apartment. He would sit at the kitchen table for hours, slowly plucking a guitar in his hands, sometimes humming softly to himself. He played the sweetest, saddest melodies that Tomas had ever heard for hours on end, replaying the same few chords again and again as though working on a sad ballad. Wilhelm had been intrigued by David’s playing and would sit with him, watching him play. David never spoke; just smiled softly when one of the twins tried to talk to him.
That was their day, filled with boredom and waiting and little movement, until the day Max burst into the apartment, screaming at them to pack their things and run: they had been discovered.
Gustav stifled a groan as pain tore through his body once more. The camp the Russians had led them to was in the throes of the coldest winter he had ever experienced. They were given one meal a day and it was poor in quality and quantity. Each passing day Gustav saw his countrymen becoming thinner, their ribs and wrists sticking out to the world with none to care for them.
Dysentery had spread through the camp as well, leaching the soldiers’ bodies of what little nutrition they received. Gustav knew that if they did not get medicine soon, he and his men would die of malnutrition. Already he could see feel the ache in his bones when he stood up and the terrible weakness that made his walking unsteady. And, yet, the Russians expected them to work. Every day they awoke in their cramped, diseased barracks to go out for another day of digging trenches and hauling dirt.
Before, Gustav had feared death. Now, he prayed for it.
The long Magdeburg days turned to weeks as Georg continued to play his music. He heard nothing of Tomas or Wilhelm and had been the first to console the twins’ parents after they had been declared missing, a euphemism for dead. Georg’s heart hardened with every moment he spent playing before officers and servicemen. Blaming them for Tomas’ death, he came to hate them and by association, Georg came to hate music.
The sight of sheet music became abhorrent; the smell of rosin revolting. The sound of sweet cello cords induced a cold fury within Georg and he would spend nights staring at the walls of his room furiously, imaging the deaths of every musician he knew.
Then, when the fury was gone, the anger quenched by the water of time, Georg fell into depression.