It was wartime, but it still shocked everyone. Imagine, shacking up with a dead girl. And denying it until the neighbors called the Gauleiter to break down the door and half the town crowded in to see. Inflagrante! Well I never! And what did the fellow tell the Gauleiter, bold as brass? That it was nobody’s business but his own. If they could have their good Jews, he could have his good corpse – his Geliebte Elke. She’d been dead for months and he hadn’t killed her, so where was the harm? And what did they know of love anyway?
Now the poor old Gauleiter found himself chased by a wolf into the mouth of a lion. Right away, Hannah, the old witch, the smithy’s daughter, who Gretl and Monika swear they saw copulating with a black horse, glared at the crowd with those threatening eyes of hers and hissed, “Live and let live!” But her threats only inflamed the crowd, and Uwe, the cloth merchant, went so far as to call for setting an example by hanging the young offender and setting up a stake for the witch next to the gallows in the market square.
All the while the Gauleiter did nothing but bury his face in his handkerchief – some say because of the smell, some say because he wasn’t keen on advertising the size of his nose. And because the Gauleiter did nothing, the fire-breathers got the upper hand and were about to carry the fellow off when Karl, the shoemaker blocked the door with his fist balled up and shouted, “Hands off the boy! Each to his own happiness I say!” Whereupon a murmur of doubt rippled through the throng that only stilled when Rolf, the barber, stepped up and clapped the Gauleiter between the shoulder blades. “Be a man!” he cried. “Look here!” He pulled out a copy of the sanitary ordinances that were so dear to him he carried them always in his breast pocket next to his comb and shears. And there it was, written in blackletter for all to see: Cohabiting with a corpse – no matter how lovesome – is strictly prohibited.
“Pah!” said old Hannah, the smithy’s daughter, and threatened with those eyes of hers to turn the Gauleiter’s scrotum into a toad. But the Gauleiter, upon hearing the reading of the law, found his backbone just long enough to do his duty – which is how the beloved cadaver came to be buried in the Jewish cemetery. No one knew if she was Jewish, but the Jews were gone so there was no one to complain. And in the confusion, the corpse-lover made himself scarce.
Now a year passed, and when the engineers’ corps came to dig up the cemetery for a parade ground, they used the gravestones to shore up the riverbank. Then a month later the Gauleiter mustered the men for duty on the Eastern Front, but still no sign of the missing fellow. Some wagging tongues held that the Gauleiter was keeping him hidden down in his own cellar. For three whole years. But truth or falsehood, no sooner had the home guard surrendered than the lad appeared again, and went in search of his beloved, wearing a path between the parade ground and the riverbank that you can see to this day. Every so often he would pause and tilt his head as though he heard something, then turn round and walk back the way he’d come. But most of the time he just stared straight ahead, passing to and fro like the ferry across the Tauber.
And there are some who say it would have been better if he’d died at the front, like Karl the shoemaker, or in the camps like Hannah, the smithy’s daughter.