Saturday, December 11, 2010

An Open Door: The Nazis, A Piano Player and A Lot of What-Ifs

from Wikipedia article; picture taken July 2006.  Translation: Work Will Make You Free

Okay, so this is how my mind works.  There's definitely something wrong with me.  On one of my online book/reading/writing clubs is a mention of how one of the members was doing some work on a site.  So I go to that site, and there's a mention of how there's this documentary made about this woman who turned 107 in November--this woman is the oldest Nazi concentration camp survivor.  This 2-minute video blurb tells her story--I'll find the name of the documentary so you can watch it, or I'll at least post the link to the excerpt here.  (Okay, here it is.  The documentary is called Dancing Under the Gallows.  Watch this.)  But I digress, let me finish.  So the camp this woman was in was the one the Nazis used to show the rest of the world how "well" they were treating the Jews.  Things were a tiny bit better than the ones, for instance, in Schindler's List.  For example, women were not separated from their kids here, for the cameras.  The one mandatory thing about this camp was that you had to have some sort of artistic talent so that you could make the Nazis look good on camera.  If you couldn't do that, what good were you?  And if you had no useful purpose...You get the idea.

So this woman could play the piano.  Well.  Really well.  Her son was there, too, and he could sing.  She was 39 when put into this camp.  That's older than I am now.  I try to imagine what that must've been like, for someone a little older than me to be put in a camp and to literally play for her life.  I can't do it.  Can you imagine the stress?

That last question is what led to my idea, as dreadful as it is.  Remember that I'm the same guy who's writing a story about what it must've been like to live in Eyam, England as that town voted to quarantine itself, and then watch as 75% or more of its inhabitants died off.  What if, I thought, I lived there at that time, and dying, one by one, were each member of my family that lived in the Rose Cottage (see blog entry, picture and link below if you're interested).  And, oh, you're immune to the plague, but of course you don't know it, so you think you'll die any second as well.  So, anyway, this led me to think: What if you were brought to this concentration camp because you were the son of a woman who could play the piano, or something--and you couldn't?  And, you couldn't sing, or dance, or play any instrument at all.  But you had to learn.  And you tried.  But you couldn't play anything, or sing anything, to literally save your own life.  And the guards come closer, and closer...and you know if you can't sing or play...and you can't.  This other kid can; this other girl can sing; this other girl can dance.  You see each of them saved by their talent.  And you can't.  Until suddenly you're taken away, pushed roughly against a stone wall, a gun is pointed at your ear...and you sing.  Or you don't.  I haven't "seen" the ending yet.

And there's someone else there who's in charge of teaching the singing, or the dancing, or the playing of instruments.  And you, the teacher, know that if you can't teach this kid who can't sing or dance or play a damn thing...Do you lie for him?  Is anyone there such a good judge of singing that they can't tell?  Maybe you put the kid in a chorus full of people who can sing, and make the kid just mouth the words.  To hide him.  To save him.  Would a guard take him aside and make him sing on his own?  Could you, the teacher, tell the guard that it doesn't matter that he's off-key because he's got the perfect pitch to evenly complement the others in the chorus so that, as a whole, they sound better?  Is that even a valid thing to be able to say?  If not, does it matter?  Is it believable?  I know a chorus teacher at a high school I could ask these things to.  I suspect that there's a chorus teacher somewhere in this country who has done this to a kid who just can't sing a note, but, hey, the Christmas concert is tomorrow night, you know?

Whose POV for this story?  The teacher?  The kid who can't play anything and can't learn?  A guard's?  (Someone has to be able to see the chicanery happening.)  Third person omniscient?  If it's all of them, we're talking at least novella length now, and goodbye short story, hello another novel to work on.  (Don't get me wrong.  Having too many ideas is a VERY good problem to have.  I'm not complaining.)

So, this is how my mind works.  It is a scary place to be, I don't mind telling you.  But it's interesting!


  1. Sounds more interesting than scary!

  2. Let's hope I write it as interestingly as I described it!