Illustration by Andres Garzon
Begin to deliver a verdict a long time coming: “Guilty. Guilty.”
On the first day of fourth grade, Teacher gives me a pet name: “Schwarze, write on the blackboard.”
My hands get dirty with chalk. Teacher touches my leg above the white ribbed knee sock.
The town Neutraubling G’Schichtn–Stories. I, Ilonka, as a pigtailed nine-year-old war refugee from Budapest, in 1951, was abused by Herr Anton Mathes, my teacher in Lederhosen. The man with a slight lisp.
“Open your songbook,” Teacher says.
My mother, Magda, buys me a Liederbuch. Boys and girls sing a Volkssong from Memelland with clear loud voices, “Zogen einst fünf wilde Schwäne, Schwäne leuchtend weiß und schön.” Once flew five wild swans, swans white and beautiful.
“Schwarze, you can’t sing,” Teacher says.
Dieter, Rudi, and I don’t make the school choir. Saturdays, I hear the children from the street, the Schlangenbau school windows wide open.
Bavarian Forest chalk hills ridge. Danube River wetlands. Willow reeds and forsythia grow in bomb craters. A small pond. Just fifty meters downhill from where SS war prisoners worked in the factories of the Luftwaffe Messerschmitt airport. Flossenbürg subcamp for Russians, Poles, and Jews. A mass grave by the round well.
Our renovated two-room Volksschule, the classrooms: tall windows, heavy oak door. And in Bavarian tradition, schoolchildren dress up and celebrate carnival during February Fasching at the Hofbräuhaus. Parade through winter streets. Snow on the concrete airport runway.
Sankt Nikolaus and Christkindl. Iced gingerbread, Pfeffernüsse. My new fairy tale book by Brüder Grimm creates the surreal magic of witches and princesses during my childhood. Langer’s hill, where we take our wooden toboggans.
Gustav Jaich, the school principal. Teacher, Elfride Scholz, a young war widow. The Catholic priest, Pfarrer Böhm. Saturdays sewing and knitting with a Dominican nun, Schwester Anna. First Communion and Confirmation at the Regensburger Dom. Black and white school photos.
During that fourth year, my teacher, Anton Mathes, rides his scooter from Regensburg: Medieval Roman town, ten kilometers distance. Stalks this refugee settlement, families from Schlesien and Sudetenland. We are the only Magyars living in the old airport: Halle #7 by the Moosgraben creek. Butter yellow poplar trees. Birch trees. Using his classroom to meet kids, Teacher grooms relationships with the pre-pubescent. Married with two young sons.
Movie days in the classroom, shades drawn. Whirring film reels. Classmates who see the fondling. Teacher stands behind me, his big body in the dark. My flowered cotton dress. My pigtails. I tell my best friend, Ingrid, one time.
“Ich weiss es schon,” she says. I already know it.
Time and again, it is I whom Teacher chooses to target.
Five decades later, now living in Montréal, Canada, I still keep contact with old school friends. Send Christmas cards to Helga, the principal’s daughter. Spill my story in an email.
“Did you tell anyone?” Helga asks.
On and on it went. Year after year after year. He also molests boys. Finally, Anton Mathes is imprisoned. Sent into early retirement.
“Er war in die Berge verzetzt, weisst du schon warum,” my friend Ingrid tells me. I am taking an overseas vacation in Europe with my family. Riding a train to Neutraubling. He was sent to the mountains, you know why.
Propped up by the illusion of a teacher’s work. Anton Mathes has nowhere to run, no tale to tell.
That happened to me. I thought I was the only one keeping it secret. Yes, it had happened. That’s where he parked his scooter.
ILONA MARTONFI is the author of three poetry books, Blue Poppy (Coracle Press, 2009), Black Grass (Broken Rules Press, 2012) and The Snow Kimono (Inanna Publications, 2015). Forthcoming, Salt Bride (Inanna, 2019) and The Tempest (Inanna 2020). Founder and Artistic Director of The Yellow Door and Visual Arts Centre Readings. QWF 2010 Community Award.
Copyright © 2018 by Ilona Martonfi. All rights reserved.