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When the flood of Nazism enters Isaac and Lulu Fabian's lives, they're forced to flee their home in East Prussia. In Cambridge, England, the Fabians believe they have finally found the freedom that was denied to them in Germany. But the year is 1940, and prejudice, ignorance, and suspicion abound, propelling the British government to round up thousands of Germans—Nazis, sympathizers, and Jewish refugees alike—and ship them off to the Isle of Man, where they are to be interned until the war's ...
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When the flood of Nazism enters Isaac and Lulu Fabian's lives, they're forced to flee their home in East Prussia. In Cambridge, England, the Fabians believe they have finally found the freedom that was denied to them in Germany. But the year is 1940, and prejudice, ignorance, and suspicion abound, propelling the British government to round up thousands of Germans—Nazis, sympathizers, and Jewish refugees alike—and ship them off to the Isle of Man, where they are to be interned until the war's end. It is there that Isaac's story will become intertwined with June Murray's, a translator at the Ministry of Information who is determined to expose the truth about the atrocities being perpetrated across the continent. But June's encounter with internee Isaac Fabian will radically shift her purpose, remolding it into something far more personal and complex than either of them could have ever imagined.
'The jewes are not the men who will be blamed for nothing.'
--Jack the Ripper
It always pleased the Reverend Isidor Fabian that he had only to step out of his synagogue on the Lindenstrasse and there it was, the first of the seven bridges. In fact, he simply had to walk across the road, in a straight line from the synagogue's wood-panelled double doors, and already he was on the Honig Bridge, and into the first chapter of his regular Sunday journey. As he stepped through the doors on this particular morning, sun-bright and clear as February days often were in Königsberg, he felt the heaviness in his heart lift a little in anticipation of the reassuring pleasures of the walk: the smell of the sea-laced air, the sight of the beautiful medieval houses lining the waterfronts, the sound of the gulls crying as they swooped low over the fishing boats, and, most importantly, the feel of his soul cleansing, as underneath each bridge the River Pregel washed his sense of sin away.
Isidor based his weekly walk on Leonhard Euler's 1736 paper 'Solutio problematis ad geometriam situs pertinentis'. The great Swiss mathematician, while crossing the German states by post-wagon in the 1720s, had becomeinterested in a puzzle long discussed by the good burghers of Königsberg - which was: could it be possible, on a single walk, to visit all of the four separate land-masses of the city, crossing each of the seven bridges only once? The burghers had for years tried to solve this puzzle in practice, by endless Sunday walks around the city, but Euler solved it by throwing away the scale map and replacing it with a topological version: in one stroke proving that it was indeed impossible to visit every part of the city crossing each bridge only once, and inventing modern Graph Theory. Isidor, when in conversation with other senior members of the Königsberg Jewish community, was wont to mention often his acquaintance with the 'Solutio problematis', partly because reading a mathematical paper published two centuries ago marked him out as an intellectual, but mainly because it carried the implication that he had read it in the original Latin - and therefore that Isidor was not just an intellectual but, in Jewish terms, a radical: a rabbi prepared to learn the holy language of the Other.
Isidor had to wait for the no. 14 tram to pass before he could cross the street to the bridge. Its slow rumble past took the edge off his improved mood a little, reminding him that, although Jews were not yet banned from using public transport in Königsberg, he knew of no one in the community who would use the trams any more: you were stared at so violently now, especially by the young men, and there was a story going round that Reuben Fischer had got on the no. 37 outside his shop on Kaiser Wilhelm Platz - as he had done every day for sixteen years - and the driver had refused to take his money, indeed refused to drive on at all until Reuben had been forced to turn and walk back to the street. Isidor kept his head down until the tram had continued past some yards away, in case there should be boys at the back window making obscene gestures towards him.
The tram gone, the bridge beckoned, towards the Kneiphof, the densely populated island in the middle of the Pregel around which Königsberg had concentrically evolved, and from which five of the seven bridges shot out - two to the north, two to the south and one to the east, making the island look on a map like a huge scorpion dropped into the centre of the city. Isidor crossed the street, his eyes fixing on the rising Gothic towers of the cathedral, the most prominent building on the Kneiphof. He had always felt that it spoke of his city's tradition of tolerance - the Königsberger Verhältnisse, the Königsberg Way - that the synagogue and the cathedral were built so close to each other. Admittedly, the cathedral faced away from the synagogue, as if disavowing its spiritual forefather, but Isidor still remembered the speech made by the old Mayor in 1896, on the inauguration of the synagogue, the synagogue that Isidor, nineteen years old then, knew he would one day inherit:
It is a savage time we live in today. Long rotten but deeply rooted ideas dare to come to daylight again. Thus, this day appears to me like the morning sun announcing better times. Here, in Königsberg, adherents to all religions and persuasions live next to each other in peace and harmony. To this, the local Jewish population has contributed to no small extent. Stronger than anywhere else, among them the bonds of family and friendship do work; receptive to any progress of humankind, glowing for the arts and sciences, filled with true and genuine humanity, at the same time obedient to the laws of state and faithful to its king, this . . .
And here Isidor recalled that the Mayor paused, looking up at the great dome, the reflections of one hundred and eighty menorah-mounted candles glistening like a constellation on its copper interior (Isidor knew it needed cleaning now, but did not know who would be prepared to take the job, Hartmann and Co. having not renewed their contract); he paused, long enough for it to seem as if his rheumy eyes must have caught sight of something there on the roof, before looking down again at the six hundred or so luminaries seated in front of him:
. . . this is how the same Jew who once was burnt now stands before my eyes, and not mine alone.
But that was nearly forty years ago, thought Isidor, stopping his walk for a second. And then, before the melancholy of time and age could settle on him: so much for progress. The internal shrug that came with the epithet punctured his reverie, reminding him that he was nearly halfway across the bridge, and had not even considered the present condition of his pride.
For this was Isidor's secret weekly project: each of the seven bridges of Königsberg represented, for him, one of the Seven Deadly Sins. As he walked across each bridge, he would force himself to contemplate his own participation in that particular sin; and then feel how that contemplation, allied to the consequent sense of repentance which sprung up inside him like a reflex, would somehow free himself of the taint of the sin as he walked. He imagined it falling off him like the discarded skin of a reptile, off him and over the sides of the bridge, to be swallowed up and carried away by the river, out into the freezing Baltic Sea. Sometimes, he would consider also the sins of his family, or even of members of his congregation, feeling that in some way it might help to lift evil from them, too; that it was part of his calling as their rabbi to use his cleansing process for their benefit, like a prayer on their behalf. His route each week did not necessarily follow the classical order of the sins - pride, covetousness, envy, anger, lust, gluttony, sloth - but instead was based on whichever sin was uppermost in his mind, which, as a matter of self-discipline, he would always leave until last.
Excerpted from The Secret Purposes by David Baddiel Copyright © 2006 by David Baddiel. Excerpted by permission.
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