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Exquisite Corpse - A Journal of Letters and Life
Koloman's Cross
by Peter Freund
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God Almighty Himself, like many a soprano and tenor before Him, found out the hard way. Koloman Goldreich, the music critic of the Temesvarer Tagesblatt, was not easy to please. Jewish by birth, Koloman decided at the age of forty-three, a rather late stage as such things go, that the phrasing of the Old Testament, like that of many an aria he had to review, was not to his liking. One fine summer day in 1936 Koloman opted for the glories of Catholicism and with great fanfare had himself baptized by Archbishop Pacha, no less. He had brought his phonograph along to church and while the prelate was sprinkling him with fresh holy water, a celebrated recording of Schubert's Ave Maria was providing the right phrasing for the event. When they left the Kossuth Square Cathedral, Koloman's chest was sporting a golden cross rivaling in size that of His Eminence.
      Henceforth Koloman would not be seen uncrossed. He wore his cross to the opera, he wore it to the concert hall, to the theater. He wore it even to the urinal, when attending a longer performance. Moreover, wherever he went, people could perceive him as radiating enthusiasm and deep feeling for his newly found Lord. This meant a lot to Koloman, for he wanted everyone to take his conversion for the principled act he had intended it to be and not for the opportunistic rear guard action his former coreligionists suspected.
      He brought to his new religion a healthy dose of fanaticism. He could no longer overlook the superficiality and perfumed artificiality of Jewish composers. Mendelssohn, Meyerbeer and even Bizet came in for long and, in Koloman's mind, long-deserved criticism. In truth Koloman was not all that original, all these points, valid or not, had been made long before him by Wagner, but someone had to import them to the Banat and it fell on the freshly baptized Koloman Goldreich to be the agent of eugenics in the musical life of Temesvar, the Banatian capital. This was the right time for eugenics, for even in Beethoven's homeland a man's worth was established by the size of his foreskin. Should these criteria also be transplanted to the Banat, Koloman's cross could come in handy, as even the most callous SS-man would think twice before taking on a fellow sporting a ten centimeter cross of fourteen karat gold on his chest. Bishop Pacha of course knew that his new convert was one foreskin short and Bishop Pacha was a personal friend of the Führer. To Koloman's mind, this very fact established beyond the shadow of a doubt his own good faith as far as his conversion was concerned.
      Moral issues now weighed heavily on Koloman's thinking. This was reflected in his writing. He did not limit his pieces to critical evaluations of the music and its performance, but started digressing on the intrinsic moral and artistic limitations of Jewish composers. As one thing led to another, Koloman Goldreich came to the insight that these shortcomings were not specific to the arts, but that "the Jew" was incapable of a solid moral existence and as such acted as a corrupting agent in Western civilization. He penned article upon article exposing Jewish decadence and immorality. These articles were well received in a by then fascist Temesvar and even earned Bishop Pacha's praise.
      It was at this point, in the spring of 1937 during a chance meeting on the Corso, that Elemer Silberstein, Koloman's childhood friend, inadvertently blurted out to Koloman, that on the opening night of the opera season there was to be a big party in the nude at the Rosenthal villa. Koloman saw this as the ideal piece of evidence for his case against the corrupting influence of the Jew. Here on an occasion of highest cultural standing, when a star of the Vienna Staatsoper was to grace a new production of Der Rosenkavalier, what does the city's Jewish elite think of, but an opportunity to frolic in the nude and engage in God knows what unspeakable acts at the villa of a textile wholesaler whose only achievement in life amounted to having bought three wagons of cotton the year the Mississippi flooded and to have had luck in the way he invested his windfall. Koloman knew he had to attend. He could then break the story in his column and qualify, as it were, as an investigative reporter of some distinction. Unfortunately the party was by invitation only. Could Elemer Silberstein get him in somehow?
      "You owe this to me, to your old friend."
      "That would not be fair to the Rosenthals."
      As it happened, Elemer Silberstein's wife Mitzi, the pianist, had a recital scheduled the night before the opera was to open and Koloman was to review it. So Koloman, with as much innocence as he could muster, asked Elemer, "Isn't that just the night after Mitzi's recital?"
      At this ominous question Elemer appeared at a loss for words, but after a brief struggle with his better self managed to make the suggestion Koloman expected of him
      "You're right, we'll still be so tired, we won't be able to go anyway, so why don't you just take our invitation, let the Rosenthals say what they want."
      "I am sure Mitzi's recital will be a great success, give her my love."
      On this auspicious remark the two old friends parted and as agreed, in a couple of days Koloman received Elemer Silberstein's invitation to the Rosenthal soirée in the mail. The printed invitation did not specify the guest's name, so it could be used by the bearer.
      From his orchestra seat at the Rosenkavalier premiere, Koloman eagerly surveyed the boxes with his opera glasses. There, to his eyes ostentatiously as always, sat the Rosenthals, the Grüns, the Wolfs and all the other Jews listening to the Marschallin bemoan the flow of time. The ladies in their Schiaparelli and Chanel dresses imported from Paris, were literally aglow in the sparkle of their diamonds and rubies. To think that all this fashion and all these adornments were to be shed, when after the undoing of the Baron Ochs, these ladies and their husbands in tails would repair to the secluded Rosenthal villa and act as if Sodom and Gomorrah had not made it into the Old Testament. But wait, just you wait!
      After the end of the performance Koloman, still in tails, headed for his office to write his piece for the morning edition. From the notes he had jotted down during the performance a glowing review made it onto the page in less than an hour. By then, Koloman figured, the orgy would be in full swing and he could get the scoop of his career. After handing his review to the night-clerk, Koloman called a cab and headed for the Rosenthal mansion by the park.
      He rang the bell at the wrought iron front door and was immediately admitted to the brightly lit red marble staircase leading up to the quite dark entrance hall. There, much to his surprise, Koloman was received by a maid whose one-piece uniform consisted of a well starched white bonnet on her head. Koloman wanted to proceed on through the door to the big hall, from which along with all the loud chatter and the noise of crystal, china and silverware, the sound of live music, probably produced by a naked Gypsy band, could be heard. With a disarming smile, the maid signaled to Koloman that he was expected to undress before gaining admission to the party. The maid then pointed towards a large pile of clothing, floor-length evening gowns, tails, shirts, top-hats, shoes and underwear, all thrown on top of each other in no particular order or system. When lust overcomes the Jew he loses all semblance of civilization, Koloman mused as he reluctantly started shedding his clothes and arranging them into a neat little pile at some distance from the revelers' garments . When in his briefs, he gave the maid a last imploring glance, but this rigorous admissions officer, politely raised her bare shoulders to signal that everything must come off before admission would be granted. Koloman was somewhat embarrassed. At 5'4" he did not have a physique that stands up well to scrutiny, not only was he completely bald, but his baldness had a polished sheen, his lean and far from muscular body was covered in sickly white skin and to see, he wore thick glasses. When totally naked, Koloman gave an uncertain inquisitive look in the maid's direction, and this, though indecently attired, still decent woman smiled encouragingly at Koloman, who headed for the sculptured door to the big hall. The maid quickly opened it and let Koloman in.
      Coming from the dingy entrance hall, Koloman was blinded as he entered the well lit premises. There in front of him stood the cream of Temesvar Jewry dressed to kill, the ladies' karats adding to the glare. As they all stared at Koloman, they saw a doubly well-hung oxymoronic apparition, for on his chest, a safe distance above his circumcised schmuck, a ten centimeter golden cross was also pointing towards the ground which refused to swallow him.

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