The White Maiden Male
Rudolph Brazda, the last of eight children, was born in Brossen to parents from Saxony by way of Bohemia, place names evoking a sense of folklore. The family was both blessed and cursed with this forever wedding to fairy tales. His father worked deep in the earth, pulling coal from the black, while Rudolph dreamed of ‘The White Maiden Male’. The magic that followed him even affected his sense of place. After the war to end all wars, he was Czechoslovakian, from a country created out of the air and by the whim of foreigners.
He wanted to dress men so he pursued that profession. He became too focused on their white furnishings, looking for his white maiden male where white briefs meet white thighs. Having failed, he moved on to his next vocation. From the roofer’s perch of his new job, Rudolph could look down on passersby for that perfect white flesh. He spotted it on Werner as he bent to pick up a case of wine; Rudolph followed the bead of sweat as it disappeared down an untanned crease that revealed itself as if only to him.
In the last days of the Weimar Republic, they lived openly together in the home of a Jehovah’s Witness. And Werner brought Rudolph wine whenever he wished for it. As the wine ran through his veins, he felt warmed by love. He felt driven by want. He felt consumed by a white-hot fire and had little desire to douse it. But the next war was fermenting and Werner was compelled to enlist. Rudolph sat on the edge of their bed waiting for him dressed as a bellhop, but that was only because he was now in that service – they were both in uniform and they were both in wrong places at wrong times. Separately they were arrested for violating Paragraph 175, which made homosexual acts between men a crime. Between 1871 and 1994, thousands upon thousands would be convicted. Werner disappeared to Rudolph after they were tried and sentenced. They lost one another in the process. Werner died on the French front surrounded by men in uniforms; Rudolph lost his white maiden male.
Names, names, names, sweetie: Nazi Germany, Sudetenland, Czechoslovakia, the Czech Republic, Karlsbad, Karlovy Vary, Eger, Cheb, Schutzhaft, Konzentrationslager. As the fairytale unfolds, Rudolph moves on and, even when he stays put, the city and country names change. He finds a new white maiden in Anton. He returns to the roofing trade. He is rearrested. He is deported to the Buchenwald concentration camp. His name, like the cities and countries around him, is changed. From August of 1942 he is prisoner number 7952. He stays put but his job changes from forced laborer in the stone quarry, to forced laborer in the infirmary, to forced laborer on the roof. From that vantage point where he is used to looking for his white maiden male, he scours the landscape but white no longer exists as a color or as a state of innocence. At best, all is grey. At worst, all is ash grey. Where snow used to coat the countryside in a blanket of white, in this new country ash coats the landscape of filth and broken bodies. His thirst will never be slaked again. His white maiden male is gone.
Liberation comes to Buchenwald in April of 1945. Number 7952 becomes Rudolph again. He had survived with help. Even in this vile place, he had found sympathy and a hiding place as others were rounded up for the forced marches that would partially empty the camp. On these treks, guards would empty their clips into those whose marching was less enthusiastic. Even in this vile place, Rudolph would find Fernand, a Frenchman and fellow roofer but not inclined to be a new white maiden male. Their experiences in the camp bound them together and so they moved to Fernand’s home of Mulhouse. Rudolph would again find work as a roofer.
A decade in Mulhouse and years of searching from his roofer’s edge would yield little. But Rudolph would find his desire again in the 1950s at a costume ball where Edi was dressed as ‘The White Maiden’. They would build a home together and care for one another for the next decades. Edi would bring him wine whenever he wished for it and Rudolph would be content. He would no longer worry, would no longer be hunted, would finally find a home where the names ceased to change on him. The snow would be white and ash would never fall from the sky. After decades together, Edi died in 2003.
In 2008, Rudolph read a story that did not smack of fairy tales or other half-truths. There was to be a monument commemorated in Berlin to the homosexual victims of Nazism. He told his story. In Mulhouse, they put up a plaque to remember those homosexuals who were deported. He was remembered at Buchenwald. More plaques were put up. He received gold medals. He was made a knight. His story was unfolding like a fairy tale again.
Rudolph Brazda died on August 3, 2011. He was 98. He was cremated and his oddly white ashes were placed with those of Edi. If this were a legitimate fairy tale, Cabernet-colored roses would sprout from the burial site and the fountains of Mulhouse would flow with wine on every August third.
‘The White Maiden’ is the tale of a hunter who wishes for the ancient wines of the cellars at Thurnberg in a moment of great thirst. His wish is granted by the White Maiden but, as a result of drinking the wine, she forever plagues him with a sense of wanting, an inability to take satisfaction in anything. He sees her in everything and everyone. His life is spent in pursuit of her. Historically, the term ‘maiden’ is gender neutral and simply means one whose virginity is intact. Happiness becomes as elusive to Brazda, who finds his maiden and loses him. His life becomes an unending search for his maiden and his world unleashes a curse that attempts to rob him of any pleasure or sense of being quenched.
Sitting in a hospital waiting room, I reached for a Time Magazine, only to discover Rudolph Brazda through his obituary. I have chosen to weave the true-life story of Brazda with the German folktale of ‘The White Maiden’. In a recorded interview, Brazda delivers a frank and rather clipped recounting of the horrific acts swirling around his early life. He makes simple, declarative statements that should boggle the soul and cause us to weep. He was perhaps the last person alive to have worn the pink triangle as a Nazi concentration camp detainee. His life story has yet to be translated into English.
The paper used most commonly in this book is from a private stash of Barcham Green, which was purchased years ago and salted away for just the right project. Other handmade papers come from collaboration with Lisa Beth Robinson, Brian Borchardt, and Caren Heft. The type is Plantin, cast by Michael and Winifred Bixler’s Press and Letterfoundry.