Nick Tullius   Jody McKim Pharr

Home of the Danube Swabian for over 200 years.



The Shadow of Herta Müller at the Nitzkydorf Cemetery
by Viorel Ilişoi
Translated by Nick Tullius
Published at 30 Oct 2009 by Jody McKim Pharr

From the day they announced on television that the German writer Herta Müller received the Nobel Prize for Literature and it was recalled that she was born and raised in Romania, many people in her native village are asking themselves what is the Nobel Prize and who is this Herta Müller? And if she is a villager of theirs and won one million euros, what is in it for them? Herta Müller is an unknown in Nitzkydorf, the village she put on the worldwide map in a single day.
For two days now, some women are moving about on the paved streets, wider than the widest boulevards in the capital, watching any stranger and asking him if he was from the Nobel, if he brought any money, anything, for them, the villagers of Nitzkydorf, or perhaps some aid, clothing, food, it does not matter what, as long as he has something to give.
The foreigners are only journalists, who came to witness with their own eyes the village that appears only on some of the more detailed maps, but suddenly lit up like a little light bulb on the literary map of the world. And they have nothing to give from Herta. That disappoints the women out on the street, who were hoping for good luck, and makes them take another sip of brandy, to drown their sorrow.
Emilia Hornea, a woman about 60 years old, has been drinking with neighbors for two days. They sit on the street, near the well, and keep praising the Germans, pointing out what they did, what houses, what streets, what wells, schools, churches, and now out of their midst came a woman who won one million euros. From their village, Nitzkydorf, Timis county. One million. Herta what’s her name, supposedly writes books. That’s what they say on television. "Take a look what a home I got from the Germans, boasts Emilia Hornea, pounding her fist into the thick walls, like those of a fortress. There are no people in the world like the Germans". Tears get into her eyes when speaking of the Germans of Nitzkydorf, whom suddenly everybody loves, and she more than all the others together.
Emilia Hornea came around 1980 from a village in Moldova, driven by poverty, went into the home of some Swabians that had run away to Germany, and since then sits there, paying a rent of seven lei per month at the town hall. "No, it’s seven lei and fifty bani” corrects her eldest son. The handle of the door, the photo of the village church, the shutters on the windows, the wooden floor, the tiled stove, all are as they were left by the former owners when they took off into the world. Emilia and her husband have not added a nail. Only the garden is not like it was in the olden days, full of flowers and vegetables, but is now covered with dry grass and thorns.
Like the Hornea family are hundreds of families that came from 32 counties to occupy homes left empty by the exodus of the Germans. Many never knew how well they hit it, did not know what the parquet floor was, so they burned it and spread their clothes directly on the floor. The village, once inhabited only by the Germans, with a few families of Romanians, Hungarians and Jews, now has only nine Germans.
Unlike newcomers who filled the village, the remaining Germans all know Herta Müller. But nobody speaks well of their past fellow villager, or expects anything from her. Of all the Germans, only Anton Kraus tries to obtain, indirectly but insistently, a small benefit from the sudden fame of Herta Müller. He's been a watchmaker, now fallen into an endless drunk, living on insignificant help from the village budget. In the last few days, Herta's Nobel Prize has been bringing him his daily portion of beer, because he does not drink anything else.
"I was a colleague of Herta Müller", he whispers to foreigners, who cannot be anything other than journalists. He asks them to drive him through the village in their cars, so that people can see him in the company of gentlemen. They take him home and carry his water can.
Then, after the first glass of beer, he admits that he was not even a fellow classmate, that he was actually four years older than Herta, and did not often meet her in the school corridors. He says that she was a clever girl and that she loved literature. For another beer or two, he will add that Herta had some oddities, commonly found with artists, and that she deserves the Nobel Prize.
That's all, but others do not know even that much. He did not read any book of hers, and has not seen her for about 40 years, ever since Herta left the village to go to high school. She lived in Timisoara and nobody quite remembers to have seen her in the village. And she'd better not come there, because she would not be welcome, at least the Germans would not like to see her.
In an essay in the book "The king bows and kills", Herta Müller writes: "After the appearance of my books, the villagers spit in my face when I met them on the city streets (in the village I did not even dare to show my face). In the village, the barber told my grandfather - a man almost 90 years old who had been his weekly customer for decades - that effective immediately he will not shave him again. And the peasants did not want to take my mother along in their tractor or in their carts, leaving her to take a punishing walk across the endless fields of corn alone, only because they blamed her for having a cursed girl like me". And her mother, visiting her in Timisoara, reproached her: “For once, leave the village alone; can’t you write about anything else? I must live there, you do not”.
That first book by Herta Müller, "Nadirs" (Niederungen) marked the final break between the writer and her native village.
"She said only lies about us in that book”, says Hildegard Anghelaş, second cousin of Herta Müller. “That Swabians enthusiastically embraced the national socialism of Hitler, when in fact they were forced to fight in the German army. That they were cowards. That her father was a drunkard, while in fact he did not drink any more than the other people and was an extraordinary man, an exemplary father. Let her be happy with her prize, perhaps she deserves it, but she should stay there. I do not think that she will come here, after what she has written about us, the Swabians of Nitzkydorf”.
She has perhaps the only copy of the book "Nadirs" existing in the village, put somewhere in the house. Hildegard does not know where it is. She never read another book by her cousin. Neither did the other Germans in the village. They see Herta Müller on German television, via satellite; they hear what she has to say, and they cannot forgive her.
Only professor of Romanian language Tiberiu Buhn owns the Herta Müller books, and he went to Timisoara when she launched a book, and took several students along with him to meet her. He is a keen admirer of her cutting and refined writing. Otherwise, Herta Müller is an unknown in the village which she made famous worldwide in a single day.

While few still remember her, someone saw her in Nitzkydorf, and as recently as last year, something that perhaps she would not even admit herself. She came by train from Timisoara, alone, got off at the station called - nobody knows why - Niţchişoara, a different name from the village. But she did not enter the village, where people would see her, but walked all along the edge and stopped at the cemetery, at the crypt of her grandparents and her father. There Josef Krady saw her, but more than that he does not want to tell anyone. That is enough for the Swabians of Nitzkydorf to know that in the soul of Herta, there is still a little tender place for the village of Nitzkydorf, otherwise she would not have returned there in secret.
Old man Josef Krady lives fence-to-fence with the house where Herta grew up, which is now inhabited by a teacher. He is 79 years old. It seems as if every Swabian left something with him, when they departed the village; you find in him all that is best and most admirable about the Germans.
He maintains the cemetery and distributes the final resting places. He spends time among the crosses, he cleans and polishes them, so that they look like new, even those over two hundred years old, dating back to the beginnings of Nitzkydorf, meaning the village of Nitzky, count Christoph von Nitzky. "I would move from here”, says the old man, otherwise lithe as a rookie and with a brilliant mind, “because I cannot take the loneliness”. He did not want to go along when his son left, saying that he had no other country and he wants to die here.
Old man Josef is not too hard on Herta Müller for what she wrote about the Germans. And he's mouth-loose and told the Romanians and Ukrainians who moved into the homes of the Swabians to their faces that they were stinky drunkards, primitives, even if the newcomers would beat him up, because neither they, nor the Germans, nor anyone else would like to be told the naked truth.
For old man Josef, a man with only four school classes, but German ones, the Nobel Prize for literature, if so much is said about it, can only be something important. He found out that it is given only to the great writers of the world, and he is proud that such a writer came from his village, even if the other Swabians in the village should feel offended. From Nitzkydorf, not from a village where people drink medicinal alcohol until they fall into the ditch. And that will not happen again for hundreds of years, because the Germans have gone and Nitzkydorf is no longer what it once was, the village of settlers who came with the teacher behind them and first of all built a school.

The Romanian original was published at on October 12, 2009.


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