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the island of conclusions

Libertad (XMFC fic, gen)

the island of conclusions

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Libertad (XMFC fic, gen)

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Title: Libertad
Fandom: XMFC
Character: Erik Lehnsherr
Rating: PG (themes of grief and loss)
Warnings/Spoilers: n/a--takes place during the years the movie skips.
Word Count: ~1.5K
Disclaimer: Not mine, no profit.

a/n: the Kol Nidre is the opening part of the Yom Kippur evening service. The Aramaic chant is also called “All Vows,” since it begs that the congregants be forgiven for vows they have taken in the past year. It is repeated three times by the cantor; the congregation’s response is also chanted three times. Yom Kippur is the Jewish Day of Atonement, and is observed as a fast day from sundown to sundown.
a/n: The idea for this comes entirely from linaerys. She didn’t really mean it as a prompt, but was very gracious about letting me write it when I pounced on it snarling and refused to let it go. And then she beta’d it for me. Many thanks, bb!

Summary: Erik knew the look, had seen it his whole life, even before the war. ”You, with your height and blue eyes and straight nose, you can pass. You can be free of us. You are not marked with your difference.” If you only knew, he’d thought then. He thought the same thing now. And it was that thought, as much as anything, that made him move towards the gate.


Autumn in South America wasn’t much warmer than autumn in Europe, but it smelled different. Even here in the heart of a city, the trees were foreign to him, the air scored by scents of unfamiliar food.

Erik had been in Buenos Aires just long enough to find a hotel and have a drink, and now he walked the darkening streets, trying to get his bearings and purge the restlessness from his bones.

True dusk had almost fallen. Away from the commercial districts, the crowds had started to thin; it was a workday evening, after all. But a turn to the right took him to a block with a steady stream of people—lone men and jostling families—hurrying down it.

Curious, he watched as most went into a stone building far down on the left. He was standing directly in front of it before he registered the rounded lintels, the carved six-pointed star above the door. And suddenly he knew what night it was, although he could not have said how he knew—he had not looked at any calendar that would have told him, not for years.

“Ven, señor, ven,” said a stooped old man in a black coat at the gate of the low iron fence that girded the schul. “They are about to close the sanctuary doors for Kol Nidre.”

Erik shook his head, but did not move.

The old man gave him a different look and a false, ingratiating smile. “Perdóname, señor. My mistake.”

Erik knew the look, had seen it his whole life, even before the war. ”You, with your height and blue eyes and straight nose, you can pass. You can be free of us. You are not marked with your difference.” If you only knew, he’d thought then. He thought the same thing now. And it was that thought, as much as anything, that made him move towards the gate.

“If I am welcome,” he ventured. “I am a stranger here.”

“All are welcome,” the old man said. “It is the Days of Awe. But hurry.”

There was a hand on his back, and for a dizzying moment Erik was sure it was his father’s, could almost hear his mother’s voice saying, “No dawdling, liebling, come along.”

But it was only the old man, ushering him into the vestibule and pressing a prayer book into his hands

Dazed, Erik took a kippah from him as well, his hands somehow remembering how to position it on his head. He refused the proffered talit. He had never been bar-mitzvahed, had spent his thirteenth year in a DP camp near Dresden, furiously avoiding any mention of God, any discussion of why He had let such things happen to His chosen people. Did that mean he’d never become a man? Erik wondered now, before he shoved the thought brutally away.

“May your fast be an easy one, my friend,” the old man said, nudging him through the door to the sanctuary and clicking it firmly closed behind him.

So many Jews. It was a plain place, though well-kept, but what hit Erik hardest were the filled rows of seats. All men, of course—he could see the women’s balconies above. So many Jews. It was one thing to know how large Argentina’s Jewish population was, to know that the city held a nineteenth-century synagogue nicknamed “Templo Libertad” after the street that housed it. It was quite another to see them arrayed before him. Young, old, tall, short, but all well-fed and decently clothed, exchanging the news of the day before the holiday began.

The cantor and the rabbi were just taking their places on the bema, dressed in white, as were many in the congregation, and wearing canvas shoes, heeding the injunction against wearing leather on this most holy of days. Erik took it all in with a dull thud of disbelief, amazed that anyone held to the arcane commandments after all that had happened in the world.

There was something else strange about the pair, though it took Erik a moment to realize what it was. They, like man outside, were old: the rabbi slight, frail, almost bald; his cantor portly, with a fine head of white curls. There were no old Jews in Europe. Most of those who had survived the ghettoes and the massacres and the camps, the hiding places in attics and barns, those who did not have rich relatives to spirit them away to the United States—or Argentina—had been undone by the hunger and misery of the post-war years.

A wave of hatred swept through him. It seemed unforgivable that these complacent souls could be alive while his mother, his father, his aunts and uncles, all the boys with whom he’d studied Torah long ago were dead. The fury burned so hot in him that he lost control for an instant, saw the metal book holder on the back of the seat in front of him begin to ripple and twist. He lurched forward with a small strangled sound, calmed the element with a quick thought.

“Estás bien, hermano?”

The man next to him put a hand under his elbow and leaned his dark head towards him. Erik managed not to jerk away—he was still unused to how easily the men in this country touched each other.

“Sí, sí. Todo va bien. Gracias.” Erik smiled, though his mouth felt too full of teeth.

He straightened, stood with the others as the ark was opened and the chant began. The cantor had a sweet, high voice that belied his size, and as he sang it seemed to Erik to detach itself from his body altogether. The melody, the words, did not flow from any single person. They swelled until they filled the room, reaching beyond the arbitrary human distinction between the living and the dead. There was only perseverance, endurance, continuity, and a force that held all memories within it. Erik lost himself for a moment in the ancient sound, and it seemed to wash away a little of his hate.

As the cantor began the imprecation for the second of the three ritual iterations, however, Erik stole a glance at the man who had touched him. He was perhaps five years older than Erik, possibly less, and yet on his other side, improbably, was his teen-aged son—fourteen or fifteen, called to the Torah only a year or so ago. If Erik had not been able guess their relationship from the identical sweep of their eyebrows, the wide curl of their mouths, he would have known from the way the father kept a hand cupped around the nape of his boy’s neck as they listened to the prayer—half-protective, it seemed, half-proud.

Erik jerked his eyes away. Something roiled in him that was worse than loss. This is what had been taken from him. Taken from him before he had a chance to know it. Stolen before he had had chance to take his place among the men.

He forced himself to join in the congregation’s ritual response. Somewhat to his surprise, the melody the synagogue used was a familiar one, and he hardly had to look at the page to remember the words. And so he chanted with them, although the very last thing Erik wanted in the world was to be released from his self-made vows.

All he wanted now was to be gone. As soon as the Kol Nidre was finished, and the doors opened again, he struggled out of his row, almost pushing his way through the trickle of latecomers now being allowed in.

Back in the vestibule, he drew a ragged breath, and removed the kippah with deliberate slowness.

“Leaving already?” asked his friend, the ancient usher. “Young people these days, never any time.”

He held out his hand for the prayer book, and as Erik reached to give it to him, the cuff of his shirt rode up, exposing the last bit of the tattoo along his forearm. The old man froze at the sight, the siddur suspended between them. When he met Erik’s eyes again, his own were blurred with tears.

“Gut yontiff, mijo,” he said gently, taking the book.

And after everything it was this, the homely Yiddish phrase, that pushed Erik past anger into sorrow. His mother’s words, from her rural girlhood on the Polish border, before she came to the city, before she met his father.

“Yom Tov, Rachel, Yom Tov” his father would reprimand her every year. “If you’re going to abandon German at least use Hebrew. No need for that shtetl pidgin.”

But Erik’s mother would just smile, and squeeze Erik to her side. “Gut yontiff,” she’d whisper in his ear.

“Gut yontiff, Abuelo,” Erik said now, though he could hardly see the old man’s face through the storm of his grief.

He stumbled outside and clung to the iron fence with both hands until he could still his breathing, force his unruly memories back into the sealed containers of his mind. Then he re-joined the metal bars where he had broken them, smoothed out a few older dents and chips for good measure, and made his way into the Argentine night, thoughts free of everything save revenge.

a/n: kippah=yamulke/skull cap; talit=prayer shawl; siddur=prayer book; bema=the raised platform at the front of an synagogue; gut yontiff=good holiday . It is customary in some synagogues to not let anyone into the sanctuary while the Kol Nidre is being recited.
  • This is beautiful. So sad and hard and so, so beautiful.
    Great work.

    Edited at 2011-06-26 07:33 pm (UTC)
  • Oh wow, I love this.
  • This is stunning, and exactly the sort of Erik fic I was hoping someone would write. You've captured his inner turmoil so well, and I really love the way you've woven in the idea of his not having gotten to come of age as a Jew along with his not having really mastered his powers, either. It ties in beautifully with the rage and serenity scene in the movie.
  • Ahh, my heart. Poor Erik! This is beautiful. I loved it. Wonderful job. :)
    • Thank you! Poor Erik, I know--but I just needed to know more about this aspect of his sorrow....

      Thank you for reading and commenting!
  • I'm... I don't know if I could say that I enjoyed this, because enjoy is so the wrong word. Appreciate, I think. And blown away. By Erik's grief and rage, more than just his family and his own torture, but the loss of his heritage and culture.
    • I'm glad you appreciated it--and that you thought it did some kind of justice to his grief and rage--it really was the loss of a whole world....

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting!
  • What a beautiful and powerful fic. I've been waiting for a fic that addreses this side of Erik's idenity especially since the film made a foray into it with his memory of serenity that he perhaps himself had shut away when his future was taken away from him..

    I love that this fic seems to indicate a man who's on the edge of a path of reclaiming himself.
    • Thank you so much for the kind words. This aspect of the film really grabbed me--especially, as you say, it chooses a memory of religion for his image of serenity. I'm glad you felt the fic did some kind of justice to the theme.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!
  • (no subject) -
  • Oh. This is the Erik fic I was nebulously hoping someone would write.

    Thank you for sharing it.
  • Wow, this is so beautiful and so sad. Thank you.
    • You're very welcome--thank you for reading and for the kind words! It's a really sad aspect of the movie, but I couldn't get it out of my head....
  • This is beautiful, utterly lovely. It makes my heart hurt and I gotta say, this is way more hurt and way less comfort than I am used to from you. But still, it is perfect the way it is. Just wonderful. <3

    PS...still no first class icon!
    • lol--it's true--I am usually all about the c in h/c, but every once in a while something else comes out instead...

      Anyway, many thanks for the kind words--I'm glad you enjoyed it!

      (I can't find a good first class icon myself...have been making my own Fassy ones)

      Edited at 2011-06-28 02:04 pm (UTC)
  • This is a fantastic fic! There's much to praise, but for conciseness I'll pull out one thing: Erik's reaction to an experience of Jewish community he never (or only very, very young) got a chance to see. He must have scarcely any memories at all of any large group of Jews able to come together to worship.
    • That's exactly what I was thinking when I wrote this--that his experience of a Jewish community must have been so limited, and so overshadowed by persecution--there's something particularly poignant about the movie making him ~11 in 1944--he must have been born just as the Nuremberg laws were going into effect. So there would be some part of him that longs for a Jewish community--it's what he's fighting for, in a way--and another part that resents communities of Jews who've never suffered as he'd suffered.

      /long response.

      I'm so glad you enjoyed the fic--thanks for reading and commenting!
  • This is painful, beautiful, and really needed to be written, and you've done so meaningfully and masterfully. *applauds*
    • Thank you so much for the lovely feedback! I certainly felt like I needed to write it--this aspect of the movie really grabbed me--glad it did the themes some kind of justice.

      Thanks for reading!
  • this is lovely; thanks.
  • This is really powerful and sad. I love it.
    • Thank you! This aspect of the movie really grabbed me (surprise, surprise!)--I'm I did it some degree of justice. Thanks for reading!
  • This made my heart ache and brought tears to my eyes. It's beautiful and so very sad.
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