Sunday, May 07, 2023

Sereny again

Into That Darkness 

Shortly before breaking off for lunch – when, I had been told, I would have to give him as much time as he wanted for his meal and rest – I told him that having listened to him for two and a half hours I thought I had better explain what I really wanted. He could then think about it and let me know after lunch whether he wanted to go on. I said that I knew inside out all the things he had said that morning; all of them had been said before by any number of people. And I didn’t wish to argue the right or wrong of any of this; I felt it was pointless. What I had come for was something quite different: I wanted him really to talk to me; to tell me about himself as a child, a boy, a youth, a man; to tell me about his father, his mother, his friends, his wife and his children; tell me not what he did or did not do but what he loved and what he hated and what he felt about the things in his life which had eventually brought him to where he was sitting now. If he didn’t want to do this, but preferred to go on in the vein of that morning’s recital, then I would listen to him, I said, to the end of that afternoon, go back to England, write a little something about the interview, and that would be the end of it. But if, after thinking about it, he decided to help me delve deeper into the past (his past, because things had happened to and inside him which had happened to hardly anyone else, ever) then perhaps we could find some truth together; some new truth which would contribute to the understanding of things that had never yet been understood. If this could be done I would be prepared to stay in Düsseldorf as long as he liked; days or even weeks. I told him, too, that he had to know from the start that I abhorred everything the Nazis had stood for and done, but that I would promise him to write down exactly what he said, whatever it would be, and that I would try – my own feelings notwithstanding – to understand without prejudice.

When I’d finished he didn’t say anything, only nodded. And when a moment later the guard came to take him back to his cell, he left the room with nothing but a small formal bow. I was not at all sure I’d see him again....

Stangl looked indefinably different when he was brought back to the little room on the second floor at 2 p.m. He had taken off his tie and unbuttoned the top button of his shirt, but he still looked spruce – that wasn’t it. He was as well shaved as he had been in the morning – had probably shaved again – yet he no longer looked quite clean-shaven, nor was his skin as taut and young-looking as before....

I’ve thought about what you said,” he told me at once, his voice slightly unsteady. “I hadn’t understood before – I hadn’t understood what you wanted. I think I understand now … I want to do it. I want to try to do it.…”

There were tears in his eyes before we even began to speak of his childhood. “I thought you just wanted – you know – an ‘interview’,” he said, emphasizing that loaded term. I had some English cigarettes and he took one – he was, I soon saw, a chain-smoker. “My childhood,” he began, shaking his head several times, “I’ll tell you.

"Did he perhaps think of you as his friend?" 
"No I don't think he would have dared to think of that. He was very respectful. He a provincial Austrian. I was a Hungarian aristocrat." 

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