Cat Frozen in the Snow

Wolfgang Borchert
Translated from the German by E. J. Campfield


Men walked the street at night. They were humming. Behind them was a red speck in the night. A hideous red speck. Because the speck was a village. And the village was burning. The men had torched it. Because they were soldiers. Because it was war. And the snow shrieked under their hobnailed boots. It shrieked hideously, that snow.

People stood around their homes. And the homes were burning. They clutched cookware and children and blankets in their arms. Cats yowled in the blood-red snow. So red from the fire. And this snow kept silent. Because of those who stood speechless around their crackling, sighing homes. Out of sympathy for them, this snow could not shriek. Some had pictures in wood frames with them also. Small ones, in gold and silver and blue. They were of a round-faced man with a tawny beard. People stared miserably into this heavenly man’s eyes. But their homes, they burned and burned and burned anyway.

Near to this village lay yet another village. Over there, they stood looking out their windows that night. And at times, the snow, the moonlit snow, shown a bit pink that far away even. And these people looked at each other. Their animals bred, thrashing against the stable wall. And the people nodded to themselves in the darkness.

Bald men stood at a table. Two hours ago, one of them drew a line with a red pencil. On a map. On this map was a speck. It was the village. And then one of them made a phone call. And then the soldiers turned the speck in the night into the blood-red burning village. With the freezing cats yowling in the pink snow. And for the bald men, soft music played on. A girl sang something. And at times there was thunder. Very far off.

Men walked the street in the evening. They were humming. And they smelled the pear trees. There was no war. And the men were not soldiers. But then there was a blood-red speck in the sky. The men stopped humming. And one of them said: Look, the sun. And then they walked on. But they didn’t hum anymore. Because under the flowering pear trees, the pink snow shrieked. And they were never again to be free of the pink snow.

In a half rebuilt village, children play with charred bits of wood. And then all of a sudden they find a white bit of wood. It was a bone. And the children thrashed the bone against the wall of a stable. It sounded like someone beating a drum. And they were happy. It was so pretty and bright. It came from a cat, this bone.

Translation copyright ©1974, 2002 by E. J. Campfield. All rights reserved.