Helmut Steiner had been rejected on every continent; his writing was deemed not “socially relevant.” The dolts! He drowned his sorrows at the local hofbrau. There one night he met a stranger who proposed something quite odd…
REQUIEM FOR THE FATHERLAND by William McIlvaine
Helmut Steiner was waiting at the gate when the post arrived with news that his manuscript had been rejected.
April 20, 1889
Dear Herr Steiner:
We regret that your novel, The Black Forest Romance, is unsuitable for publication at this time. We are at present interested only in works of realistic fiction with contemporary themes. Our editors are of the opinion that the Romanticism exhibited in your tale is out of step with modern audiences’ taste for socially relevant literature and therefore not worth the financial risk of publication. Please feel free to contact us again when your work meets more contemporary standards.
Editor, Graebner & Sons, Publishers
That was it. The last publisher in Germany had turned him down. It was now logistically impossible for him to get his book published unless he gave it to publishers in England or France or Russia and what guarantee did he have of better luck with them? Russian publishers were notoriously careless with manuscripts and not even Russian authors could get their money from them.
The oafish English, what did they know about literature or anything cultural? And the French! Why, it was precisely the barbaric tones of the new French literature which was sweeping Europe before its crazed, decadent maw that Steiner was so earnestly writing against. Balzac be damned! The trash they were turning out was not literature, it was indecent. And they were the rage, with sweet Deutschland helpless before the onslaught of tasteless, formless, unsentimental books that dissected the degradation of the human spirit instead of celebrating and ennobling it, as the great Germans Goethe and Wagner and their ilk had done. No true German could create such cheap, base, vulgar garbage as what passed for literature in France, and yet even the German publishers were clamoring for it.
If the German people’s taste had sunk so low, perhaps it was no use being a writer for them. German literature cried out for a new voice that would speak for the values and spirit of a people, united under Bismarck and preparing to assume the rightful place of the Teutons and Aryans on the world stage.
Steiner put the manuscript away on the shelf, next to the other unpublished novels, tales, poems, and essays he had accumulated through the years, work that should have constituted the legacy of one of Germany’s greatest men of letters.
He could picture them in their leather bindings with gold leaf on the endpaper, and inscriptions, residing majestically in libraries throughout the world. He could imagine himself the literary giant of his age – Germany’s answer to Russia’s Tolstoy, France’s Balzac, England’s Dickens – residing in modest wealth while acolytes came to visit him and seek his inspiration and encouragement. He could see name appearing proudly in German literary encyclopedias and the subject of scholarly monographs. He could see . . .
. . . that he was a burned-out failure. His years of attempting to build a towering reputation were reduced to a few tales and poems published in obscure magazines that earned him no money and the rejection of his novel by every publisher in the land.
It might not be so bad to end it here and now, he thought. Fitting to emulate Goethe’s “Sorrows of Young Werther” – Goodbye, cruel world and all that. Yes, if he could be sure that in his death his genius would be recognized. Perhaps in a future age – an age in which his predictions of German glory had played out as he had said – then the pages gathering dust on his shelf would be discovered and revealed in their true light, remarked upon by scholars and delighted in by the enlightened masses of Deutschland.
Perhaps if he could create one last great work, something that would secure his reputation. He would have to pull out all the stops, as the pipe organists said. Hadn’t those English Romantic poets all but sold their souls in order to write those verses? Was there not a devil he could sell his soul to?
Who really believed that nonsense?, Steiner thought as he trudged from his tiny house to the local hofbrau. Might as well drown one’s sorrows in the best beer in Munich. Herr Dietrich kept a fine house and was not troubled by the artistic tortures of Helmut Steiner, so long as he paid his tab.
Steiner knew the patrons of Dietrich’s never worried for anything. They were happy enough to plod along in their daily lives, never striving for better ones, never feeling themselves part of a larger destiny. The country had been at peace for nearly thirty years. Life was a good as next week’s hofbrau. To think that he was slaving and sacrificing his life for oafs like Joachim Kleindienst, who spent nearly every waking hour drunk on wine and beer in front of his hovel behind the hofbrauhaus. Or Dieter Schencker, who held down a miserable clerk’s job in his family’s equally miserable iron works, whose products were so shoddy no one in Munich would buy them and so they only sold them to unsuspecting – or uncaring – buyers from out of town. Or Gottfried Pfeiffer, who lived to whore and wench between bouts of fitful employment.
Were these the German people Steiner believed had a destiny to rule the world? Was this what he was striving for – to illuminate and ennoble a race that didn’t know about illumination and wouldn’t have cared to be ennobled as long as they got their beer every day and their whores every night? It is so futile to be an artist, he thought, feeling blacker by the minute until he pushed his way into Dietrich’s, at which moment he was just about ready to renounce his German citizenship and go live with the French, where – he hated to admit it – the wine was better.
“Our poet returns,” crowed one of the regulars as he entered the boisterous room. Ruddy faces turned toward him, some he knew, some he didn’t, but all characteristically stout, mustachioed, and among the older ones, balding. The drinking room was sparsely furnished but filled with bodies and smoke and rowdy with talk and laughter. Steiner was well known here and spent what little money he made drinking and arguing politics and art with whoever would listen.
“Did you create something for the Fatherland today?” sniped a man in a brown suit, mustache holding a trace of beer foam.
“Ach, you just want to be famous,” they would say.
Yes, he did want to be famous, he admitted to himself, but it was because he deserved to be. He was a visionary, after all.
“I see a Germany invincible,” he liked to say. “There will be a time when we stand alone against the world and emerge victorious. The Aryan people will rule in a reich that will last a thousand years!”
Most of his listeners had only a vague idea of what he was talking about. Most of them still thought of themselves as Bavarians, not united Germans. In the north it was the same – Saxons, Wurttemburgians, Schlesweig-Holsteiners. True, the Chancellor Bismarck had forged this German nation in “blood and iron,” as he liked to say. But this bunch of happy Bavarians was unconvinced that they had that much in common with Hanoverians or Westphalians. The idea of a Fatherland of all German-speaking people was slow to sink in.
“Did you create anything for the Fatherland today?” The cry was taken up. Rough laughter trailed Steiner as he retired to a dim corner of the room with a stein to nurse his wounded pride. He endured the heckling silently while moodily registering the presence of a stranger at the table next to his who was not taking part in the merriment that was at Steiner’s expense.
The stranger was dressed in a black suit with a black overcoat and wide-brimmed black hat that must have been the fashion of the day in Hamburg or Bonn, not here in the south, Steiner noted distractedly. The man leaned over and said with a knowing look, “You are a poet, yes?”
Steiner replied with a bitter laugh. “You see how they regard one.”
“Yes, prophets and geniuses are often scorned in their times, but they have a way of living in history when their prophecies are proved true and their works are celebrated for the genius they are.”
“Only after they are dead,” Steiner said.
“Yes, that is unfortunately true.”
“Would that I could sell my soul to some devil to write an immortal sonnet or a tale that would ring true in future ages.” He took a long draught of beer.
“Such a thing could be arranged.”
Steiner quickly sobered up. He looked the stranger straight in the eye.
“Repeat what you just said.”
The stranger repeated it.
“You are the devil?”
The man chuckled. “The devil who reveals himself as the devil would be a very foolish devil indeed.” Steiner noticed that the man did not speak German with an accent he was familiar with. It seemed to come from nowhere.
“Let’s just say that I can aid you in your literary efforts and perhaps grant you the immortality that you wish.”
The man leaned closer, to speak more softly against the din of Dietrich’s hofbrauhaus.
“How would you like to write the most prophetic novel of the dawning 20th century?”
Steiner grinned the grin of a man who knows he is being taken for a fool. In the 20th century he would have said something like, “You’re pulling my leg” or “Yeah, right.” As it was, he said, “You are not being serious with me.”
“Oh, but I am,” the stranger said gaily. “I can give you what you need to know.”
From inside his cloak he pulled a book and surreptitiously handed it to Steiner. The cover said The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. The four-color paper dust jacket astounded Steiner, who felt its smooth surface with his hands and peered intently at the lettering. He looked up at the stranger inquiringly, but the man said nothing and his face betrayed no emotion.
“This happens?” was Steiner’s strangled query.
The stranger pointed to the publication date: 1960.
“I don’t believe you.”
“I have more to show you,” the man said, and pulled out Mein Kampf, paperback histories of the Holocaust and World War II, All Quiet on the Western Front. Steiner had never seen anything like them. No one in the hofbrauhaus was paying the two men any attention.
“But it can’t be,” Steiner sputtered. “You are playing a trick. A very elaborate one, I must admit. The books are a hoax.”
“Oh, they are real, all right,” said the stranger. “I assure you I am not tricking you. The future is there. Write it and you will be famous.”
Steiner was dreadfully confused. Even if he accepted this man’s word that the books were genuine, that the facts they contained were the true history of the century to come and he was somehow privileged to have it revealed to him now, how, he asked himself, could he accept the truth of what they told him? That the German nation would be defeated, not once but twice within a generation, and give rise to a madman’s twisted vision of what it meant to be German, a vision which would go down in ruins of destruction and infamy? Was this the German people’s inheritance?
“I see you are wrestling with your conscience,” the man said after a short time in which Steiner gulped his beer and stared at the table. “The man who sees the future is not promised that he sees what he wishes to see. The future is what you make it now, and already these wheels are in motion.”
“But to be humiliated by the French,” Steiner blustered, and several men turned their heads in his direction. He glared at them and said nothing. They turned back to their talk. And the English! Even that puny country in America!
“No, I won’t hear of it. It’s too much to believe.”
“There is a whole lot more in there that’s too much to believe,” the stranger said. “Think what you’ve got here. You don’t have to believe it. You don’t have to write a history book before history happens. You are an artist. Make a story and I guarantee you will make history.”
Steiner stroked his chin. Yes, he thought, it could be done.
“Let me read the books,” he said.
“Study them,” the stranger said. “But do not let anyone know you have them. I will meet you here one week from today. Bring them with you.”
Steiner hid the books under his overcoat and left the hofbrauhaus. A man near the door winked at his bulging overcoat and said conspiratorially, “The Fatherland!” And then laughed uproariously at his own joke. Others in the hofbrauhaus joined in. As he trudged through the street, Steiner heard them receding in the distance. “To the Fatherland! O Deutschland!”
Helmut Steiner was rarely seen in the hofbrauhaus after that.
November 8, 1951
To: Dr. Albert Einstein
Director, Advanced Technology Laboratory, Berlin
From: Dr. Leo Szilard
Director of Research, Continuum Laboratory #2, Stuttgart
Subject: Discovery, Prime Interest
Dear Dr. Einstein:
Thank you for the glowing mention of our work in Research Lab #2 in your last report. It was quite a lift around here, believe me. Though we all know we are on the verge of a significant breakthrough here, both you and I know how difficult it can be getting this kind of thing justified to the top brass.
Anyway, I think we have an interesting piece of news here which might of interest to you and your objectives.
As you know, according to the ManyWorlds Theory of quantum mechanics, there are many universes, possibly an infinite number, existing parallel to our own, occupying the same space and time. They can only be observed when the single point of deviation from our continuum is detected through photonic regression analysis. Our research so far has verified that these deviations can be used to reconstruct the historical continuum from that point and observe its consequences. Since there is theoretically an infinite number of these deviations at an infinite number of points, it is also factually, not theoretically, impossible to isolate them all. For six months we have found deviation points from our own Time 1 continuum that amount to nothing more than infinitesimal blips: for example, one poor peasant dies one year sooner in one continuum and therefore has one less offspring, the absence of whom in the continuum has negligible consequences compared to our own. On the other hand, a continuum in which the American Colonial Uprising was not successfully defeated by the British would have incalculable ramifications – if we could find it!
This information is by way of background for the recent interesting discovery.
We have detected a very strong deviation in a continuum quite close to Time 1 – almost disturbingly so. The divergence centers upon our own Fuhrer. From what we have been able to ascertain in this line of divergence, the Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler himself, is, rather than a benevolent leader of a technologically sophisticated nation, a despotic ruler of a Germany dominated by fascism and military extremism, and responsible for the extermination of millions of Jews. (Believe me, Dr. Einstein, I find it as hard to believe as you would.) This Hitler-led Germany instigated a destructive, worldwide war that ended with Germany’s defeat and Hitler’s suicide.
I admit I am quite shaken by this discovery. While we know there is a statistical possibility of such a divergence, that such a radical one should be found in such close proximity to Time 1 is perplexing and a little unsettling. As you know, the divergences we identify generally follow a pattern of lesser to greater deviation the farther they are from Time 1. This deviation is a major deviation from that pattern.
I would normally recommend continued examination in this direction, but in this case I will defer to your judgment on how to proceed.
Dear Dr. Szilard:
Thank you for the highly interesting news. It is indeed indicative of a possible breakthrough in continuum research. We have known all along that the vast majority of divergences are trivial and your research is helping to improve the technology to detect the significant ones more easily. The Fuhrer is aware of this, through my briefings with him.
As for the grim discovery therein, it may be a statistical outlier. But I suspect that the point of divergence may actually be at the publication of the novel Fatherland by Helmut Steiner in 1890. It described a futuristic dystopia surprisingly similar to the one you discovered, and had such a profound effect on the politics of the German people that they would never have allowed such an eventuality. Hitler himself read it and it influenced him deeply.
But I do not believe the “evil fuhrer” discovery will cause too many waves, as yet. As a matter of fact, I will be meeting with Hitler tomorrow, and I can give him the message that we have uncovered his “secret self.” Ha ha, Fuhrer. Where have you been hiding all these years? What have you done with the real Hitler? I will tell it to him at tomorrow’s meeting. You know the Fuhrer enjoys a good laugh.