Fiction Excerpt 'The Jewish Candidate'

In his debut novel, SPIEGEL ONLINE International editor David Crossland posits the question: What would happen if a Jewish candidate ran to become chancellor in Germany? An excerpt addresses the dangerous phenomenon of xenophobia and neo-Nazism in the country today.
When a South African man is brutally beaten by neo-Nazis, no one helps.

When a South African man is brutally beaten by neo-Nazis, no one helps.

Foto: DPA

In the opening chapter of "The Jewish Candidate," Frank Carver, a reporter for the fictitious London Chronicle, is posted to Germany to cover the country's most-fascinating election campaign since World War II. Rudolf Gutman, the first Jew to run for chancellor, is promising to free Germany from the shackles of its past.

But Gutman is in danger. Neo-Nazis secretly guided by Hermann von Tietjen, the brilliant, crazed leader of the popular Free National Party, plot to assassinate the candidate, using cash and contacts of old SS men to hire a killer.

Alerted by a tip-off, Carver and local freelancer Wolfang Renner race to clinch the scoop of their lives, while Tietjen covers his tracks with a devilish gambit that plunges the nation into terror.

As the clock ticks down to election day and the noose tightens around Gutman's neck, their quest turns into a lone, bloody struggle for survival that brings them face to face with modern Germany's dark secret. Will they unmask the assassin in time?

What follows here is a chilling excerpt from "The Jewish Candidate," published this month by London's Peach Publishing and available for purchase as an e-book on Amazon websites in the United States , Britain  and other countries. Although a work of fiction, the issues explored in the tome couldn't be more contemporary given next month's opening of a massive trial of the murderous National Socialist Underground  terror cell. The case is already the subject of intense international media coverage, and it is likely to raise troubling questions abroad about xenophobia that still persists in Germany seven decades after the war and almost 23 years after reunification.

Berlin , Saturday, August 4

David Khosa gazed out of the train window as it rolled through the northern suburbs of Berlin towards the Baltic Coast. After almost a year of hard studying at the Technical University, he was looking forward to his first weekend out of the city since he arrived from Cape Town.

Only three more months left to complete his postgraduate course in electrical engineering and he would be able to return home to pick a well-paid job and marry his fiancee Mbhali, the most beautiful woman in southern Africa. That description always irritated her because it implied there may be an even more beautiful woman in northern, western or eastern Africa, or on another continent. Thinking of her always made him smile. He looked around and saw a young blonde woman sitting across the aisle staring at him. He nodded and said "Guten Tag." She frowned and turned away with a hint of disgust on her pretty face. As if she had caught a whiff of dog shit.

Three more months. When he first came to Berlin he had been so excited, despite the separation from his love. Berlin was such a positive symbol for the world. No more divisions. The fall of the Wall coincided with the end of Apartheid. Everything about it fascinated him, from the Red Army soldiers' rude graffiti on the interior of the Reichstag parliament building to the brilliantly refurbished grand museums, the grand old boulevards, the hidden remnants of the Wall, the Holocaust memorial.

But it only took a few weeks for the fascination to pass. Why did people here look so miserable? What did they have to be sad about? They were rich, everything worked, their lives were incredibly easy. The cool reception he got from many ordinary Berliners as soon as he left campus reminded him of the bad days back home. The way some people on the street and in shops looked at him made him feel uncomfortable. That indignant look as if he had done something wrong, or was about to. The first time he went to a public library, he noticed that one of the staff followed him down the aisle and watched him from a few meters away. As if he was going to slip a book into his bag. Or make a bonfire of Goethe's works and dance around it chanting.

He had worked hard to polish his German and knew it well enough to realize that strangers were addressing him with the informal "Du" rather than the formal "Sie" they reserved for fellow Germans. It was a little thing but it irked him, and he wondered if the whole of Europe was like this.

Even before he left Cape Town he had been warned about attacks on foreigners in eastern Germany. But he was 28 and knew how to look after himself. And he was determined to make the most of his time here. He shut his eyes and thought of the sandy beaches back home. His tutor Bernd had told him he must visit the Baltic island of Rügen before he returned to Cape Town. "Great beaches. You'll feel at home, David." He was looking forward to renting a "beach basket," a covered wicker bench unique to German beaches, and watching the sunset.

The train was a cherry picker. It stopped at deserted, run-down little towns. At Eberswalde, three skinheads got on the train, cackling loudly and carrying a crate of beer. As they moved down the aisle, one of them spotted David, pointed and shouted "Look, a Negro! From Hottentottenland!"

The three skinheads sat down next to the blonde girl and watched David. Two of them looked like twins. They had expressionless blue eyes. Doc Martens boots, military-style trousers and bomber jackets. Their eyebrows were almost white. The third man was obese, with a flabby gut spilling over his jeans. He wore a black T-shirt with some Gothic writing. He stank of sweat.

As David looked around, he noticed that the relaxed chatter from the handful of other passengers in the carriage had stopped and given way to an expectant, nervous silence. The fat youth leaned over and gawped at him. "Eh you," he snarled in English. "You fucking Neger. You go home to Hottentottenland!" The two others started making ape noises and sniggering. They clinked their bottles. David looked at him, shook his head and turned away. He couldn't believe what he was hearing.

The man raised his voice, feigning offence. "Hey, fucking Affe I talking you! You hear me? I talking you! This is Germany. We want no Nigger here. This is a clean country. Hey Neger, Nigger, I talking you!"

He was shouting now. David could smell the beer on his breath. He knew he should move to another carriage but the rage welling in his gut wouldn't let him. He didn't want to give them the satisfaction. No one in the carriage spoke out.

Paralyzed by Horror

A family of four gathered up their beach gear and quietly moved down the train, beyond the sliding doors. A middle-aged man folded up his paper and also left. The blonde stood up and followed him, not looking at David as she pushed past the skinheads. Her departure silenced them for a couple of minutes and they spoke in German, too fast for him to understand.

The train stopped at yet another little town and to David's horror, there were dozens more skinheads on the platform waiting to get on. They carried furled banners and red, white and black flags. There was no sign of any police.

The train moved off. The carriage was now crowded with neo-Nazis. One, a man in his mid-20s sporting a Hitler Youth-style haircut with a severe parting and what looked like a World War Two army jacket, sat down next to him as heavily as he could manage, squeezing him against the window. Two others were sitting opposite him now. The driver announced the next stop was just two minutes away. David decided it was time to move to another carriage. He stood up to get his bag, but a hand grabbed his arm and pulled him down. "Hey, Neger, have a drink with us!" the fat one croaked, standing up. He had shaken his bottle of beer, pointed it at David and sprayed it in his face. "Good German beer, ja! You like?" The whole carriage erupted into wild laughter.

David looked up and saw the emergency break. But the train was already slowing as it entered Wenzlau station. He lunged at the fat one and managed to strike his nose, but not with enough force. A terrific, painful blow smashed into the side of his head. Someone had struck him with a bottle of beer. He felt the cold liquid running down his neck, and the wet warmth of blood. He felt dizzy. He tried to haul himself down the corridor but was tripped up and found himself lying face down on the carriage floor. Fists and boots slammed into his back. A boot stamped on the back of his head. The shouts were deafening. He was alone in a hell of hatred. Someone leant close to his eye and spat: "You're dead you fucking pig nigger." A second later, a sharp, powerful kick jabbed his right kidney. He shrieked with pain. He was suddenly terrified he would sustain lasting damage.

Screaming for help, he got on all fours and scrambled for the exit. Someone kicked his backside and caught his testicles. The blow sent him crashing into the sliding doors. They whooshed open. The ticket inspector was standing over him.

The crowd of skinheads fell silent. The inspector looked down at him. "What's going on here?" David pulled himself to his feet, almost buckling under a piercing pain from his kidney. Blood was trickling down his face. "Helfen Sie mir bitte," he said. Help me please. The inspector looked at him with disgust and stepped back. David pushed past him and hurled himself towards the opened train door. Someone tripped him again and he tumbled down the steps, knocking his head on the concrete of the platform. He hauled himself up and limped along beside the train, aware of people staring at him. He turned round to see the group of skinheads following him.

He turned the corner and staggered up a cobblestoned street. The pounding boots were catching up. He could hear them baying "Negerschwein!" People were coming out of shops to see what was happening. "Hilfe!" he pleaded, but no one did anything. Beer bottles exploded next to him. There was a red brick church about 100 yards ahead up the street. But he knew he wouldn't make it. He stopped in the middle of the street and looked around. Above him, people had opened their windows and were leaning out with their arms folded on the sills, as if they were waiting for some festival parade. Shopkeepers, children, women clutching plastic shopping bags watched him in silence. The mob had almost reached him. The air was filled with a low hum of ape noises. He could hear a loudspeaker in the background. He looked up and saw black balloons rising into the sky. This must be the town they were all heading to for their rally. But the realization had no impact on him. He was too paralyzed by horror, and by the prospect that he might not see his Mbhali again.

There was blood and sweat in his eyes and everything went blurry. "Hilf mir bitte. Help me!" Somewhere in the distance, too far away, he could hear a siren. He spotted a butcher's shop. The owner was standing in the doorway. David ran towards him. But the man stepped inside and slammed the glass door shut. Before he could stop, David tripped over a loose paving stone and went smashing through the door. Glass shattered all around him.

He lay on his back on the floor of the shop. He could feel a warm rush around his neck and started to feel weak. At least the pain had gone. The delicious smell of fried sausage and roast meat filled his nostrils. He turned his head and saw a pool of blood spreading over the immaculate black-and-white tiled floor. The sight made him convulse with a surge of panic. His vision started to go black. He started to shiver. He could hear voices and saw the outline of figures staring at him through the shattered door. Someone laughed. Then heavy boots running off.

The most beautiful woman in southern Africa was so far away. Tears filled his eyes. He tried to picture her but his mind was so filled with terror that she wouldn't come. All he could see was the white sand of Llandudno Beach in Cape Town where he had proposed to her. The most beautiful and kind woman in the whole world. The mother of his unborn children. He tried to say her name but it never came.

On board the SPD campaign bus, Sunday, August 5

Rudolf Gutman read the news of Khosa's death on his laptop, en route to a campaign speech in Dortmund. His campaign manager, Bruno Heise, alerted him to the story. Four skinheads were briefly detained after Khosa's death, but they were unlikely to face any charges. They had a dozen witnesses - their mates and one elderly male passenger - to testify that Khosa struck the first blow. Besides, Khosa died because he tripped and severed his jugular when he fell through the glass door. A tragic accident, as the mayor of Wenzlau pointed out. No one else who was in the carriage, on the train platform or in Wenzlau's high street came forward to testify. The butcher said he closed the door because "the man looked like a wild animal and appeared to be deranged."

Gutman slapped the table. "Jesus Christ! What the hell is going on? A baying mob of Nazis hounding a black man to his death! And no one lifting a finger to help him! Jesus!"

Heise nodded.

"These Nazi bastards have killed almost 200 people since 1990!" said Gutman. "In some parts of the east, they're in charge of local councils, they're even running bloody kindergartens. Can you believe it? They hold village fetes, put up bouncy castles! The kids grow up learning to hate Jews and Muslims before they even know what Jews and Muslims are! Just wait, Bruno. If I get in they won't know what's hit them. I'll clean that scum up. You mark my words."

"Careful, Rudi," Heise warned. "Voters won't elect a Jewish guy who just wants to go round chasing Nazis. They want to hear that their jobs and pensions are safe under a Gutman government. If you don't get that message across you'll be sitting on the wrong side of the Reichstag after election day."

Gutman sighed. Heise was right. As usual. The former tabloid newspaper editor knew what made the average German tick.

"You can't go on too much about neo-Nazis because most voters don't see them as a threat," said Heise. "They just see them as irrelevant whackos. To do anything about them, you've got to be in power. And this is your one and only shot at the job."

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