The Black Notebook
Willi had had the most conventional upper-middle-class upbringing imaginable. Berlin in the late ‘twenties and ‘thirties; an atmosphere which he called decadent, but of which he had been very much a part; a little conventional homosexuality at the age of thirteen; being seduced by the maid when he was fourteen; then parties, fast cars, cabaret singers; a sentimental attempt to reform a prostitute about which he was now sentimentally cynical; an aristocratic contempt for Hitler, and always plenty of money.
He was — even in this Colony and when he was earning a few pounds a week, perfectly dressed; elegant in a suit made for ten shillings by an Indian tailor. He was of middle-height, lean, stooped a little; wore a cap of absolutely smooth gleaming black hair which was rapidly receding; had a high pale forehead, extremely cold greenish eyes usually invisible behind steadily focused spectacles, and a prominent and authoritarian nose. He would listen patiently while people spoke, his lenses flashing, and then take off the glasses, exposing his eyes, which were at first weak and blinking from the adjustment, then suddenly narrowed and critical, and speak with a simplicity of arrogance that took everyone’s breath away. That was Wilhelm Rodde, the professional revolutionary who later (after failing to get the good well-paid job in a London firm he had counted on) went to East Germany (remarking with his usual brutal frankness: I’m told they are living very well there, with cars and chauffeurs) and became an official with a good deal of power. And I am sure he is an extremely efficient official. I am sure he is humane, when it is possible. But I remember him at Mashopi; I remember us all at Mashopi — for now all those years of nights of talk and activity, when we were political beings, seem to me far less revealing of what we were than at Mashopi. Though of course, as I’ve said, that is true only because we were politically in a vacuum, without a chance of expressing ourselves in political responsibility.
The three men from the camp were united by nothing but the uniform, although they had been friends at Oxford. They acknowledged that the end of the war would be the end of their intimacy. They would sometimes even acknowledge their lack of real liking for each other, in the light, hard, self-mocking voice which was common to us all during that particular phase — to all, that is, save Willi, whose concession to the tone, or style of that time was to allow freedom to others. It was his way of participating in anarchy. At Oxford these three had been homosexuals. When I write the word down and look at it, I realize its power to disturb. When I remember the three, how they were, their characters, there is no shock, or moment of disturbance. But at the word homosexual, written — well, I have to combat dislike and disquiet. Extraordinary. I qualify the word by saying that already, only eighteen months later, they were making jokes about ‘our homosexual phase’, and jibing at themselves for doing something simply because it had been fashionable. They had been in a loose group of about twenty, all vaguely left-wing, vaguely literary, all having affairs with each other in every kind of sexual combination. And again, put like that, it becomes too emphatic. It was the early part of the war; they were waiting to be called up; it was clear in retrospect that they were deliberately creating a mood of irresponsibility as a sort of social protest and sex was part of it.