Leni Pfeiffer, at the age of forty-eight, seems in serious financial and personal difficulty. Her son is in jail, she is unemployed, and bailiffs have seized many of her possessions. In addition, she is harassed daily by neighbors who call her bitch, slut, or Communist whore. The author learns this while writing a “portrait” of Leni. Because she is both taciturn and reticent, however, he is forced to obtain his information from interviews with as many informants as possible. These range from her loyal friends, such as Margret Schlomer and Lotte Hoyser, to a nun in Rome who knows of Leni only through gossip and records.
Leni’s educational career has been disastrous, primarily because most subjects are presented in a way that neglects a sensual dimension. Her only successes come when, from the age of fourteen to sixteen, she attends a convent boarding school and meets Sister Rahel, who understands Leni’s type of intelligence and respects her instinctive appreciation of nature and of the entire body, including its waste, secretions, and internal organs.
In 1939, her brother, Heinrich, returns from school. The homecoming is troubled because Heinrich scorns his father’s attempts to keep him out of the military and he refuses to be spared when others are not. In defiance, Heinrich joins the army, together with his cousin Erhard. Leni loves Erhard, but he is too shy to consummate their relationship, sublimating his feelings in passionate poetry. In 1940, Heinrich and Erhard are sent to Denmark, where they offer an antiaircraft cannon to the Danes for its value as scrap metal. At the trial, Erhard says, “We are dying for an honorable profession, for the arms trade.” Just before they are executed, Heinrich cries, “Shit on Germany.”
(The entire section is 725 words.)