/ Michigan quarterly review: Vol. 35, No. 1
S. L. WISENBERG MUSSULMEN* (lament of the Berlin Jews in the midst of it all) In the movie houses before the war, we sat in the dark, the communal darkness still new to some of us, we sat there and watched the newsreels, the grainy big eyes of the Mussulmen, we called them, the Africans who were suffering from starvation, and we thought, There are no people here like that-even the ones streaming in from the East, our coreligionists who seem so strange and dark, the black wings of their kaftans streaming behind them, the clumsy wigs sitting heavily upon them, many decades behind us, even they are not that strange. Though who knew what their eyes had seen-pillows split open, was all we could think of, feathers flying everywhere, because we didn't want to see what lay behind, we didn't want to say the word "pogrom" or begin the recitation of names of cities, made famous because of massacres. We didn't want to see what befell the people our families left behind. They streamed into our cities, into the old neighborhoods that smelled oddly familiar. And in the movie houses, in our pressed dresses and our gloves, with hats and handbags by our sides, we sat in the dark and saw the Mussulmen, starving, skinny not like humans anymore and holding their bowls on their laps, hands open and still. The announcer's rich voice told us of economic upheavals, worldwide market collapse, of dry winds that swirl around the earth. The Mussulmen waited, no longer certain what they were waiting for, their thoughts stopped. The land had betrayed *In Nazi concentration and death camps, those who were close to death, without affect or desire to go on living, were called Muslims or Mussulmen. ("Muselmaener" in German). Some scholars say this is because Moslems were believed to passively surrender themselves to fate. However, others have said that the name came from pre-war newsreels that showed starving Africans, believed to be Moslems. 108
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