The Man with the Two Short-Service Commissions (Der Mann mit den zwei Einjährigen)


Now, when everyone is wrapping up the war; when the last memoirs are congealing into books, when the time is very gently approaching in which the heroes of yesterday become the invalids of tomorrow, now, here is someone who wants to unburden his conscience. The midday sun reveals all, it must be said, he has carried it for seventeen years, he can’t carry it any longer. But let’s hear what he has to say:

„Two weeks before going up to the sixth form, I had a moment of weakness, and admitted to Mummy that I was afraid I wouldn’t make it, and that I would have to repeat the school year. Student suicides were just coming into fashion, but hadn’t yet reached me, and it would have been a particular pity to not to have gone up this year, because it would make me eligible for a one-year voluntary royal commission, and just because I had finally given up on verbs ending in µι, and there had been a slight mishap with the equations with three unknowns, two years’ service were in prospect. (I didn’t yet know that it would turn out to be four.) Mummy was not thrilled, and she boxed my ears. („At your age? How old were you at the time? I as a father, you as a son, allow me, from the perspective of education and child-rearing. I take the position, my attitude is more or less…“ Whose story is this? Yours or mine? Mine) so anyway, she boxed my ears. That was on the 14th March. The exam results were published on the 28th, but I was not in the school hall on the 28th as the classes clamoured noisily to find out who had passed. Those who hadn’t passed slunk into their classrooms under a cloud, disdained, rejected, no longer part of it all. I wasn’t there, I was at home, in bed, playing the hypochondriac so well that I really became ill. Two days later I crept into the Bellevue Strasse and collected my report from the school caretaker.

The Klipp school was there where the Imperial Economic Council today justifies its existence by just being there. I sauntered along the long corridor, and couldn’t raise the courage to go to the castellan, who was a sort of cross between a sergeant-major and headmaster, but he gave me my report in an unexpectedly friendly manner. I looked at it, and wanted to give it back to him. That wasn’t my report. It was the report of someone who had passed, someone who had gone up into the sixth form. Me, I had failed. But there stood Kaspar Hauser[1] as well, and that was me, and I looked at the report, and then at the member of the school staff (who is probably called the school guard these days), and then I left quickly, for fear that they could change their minds. And then I swaggered back down the long corridor, a happy, contented, big man. As I arrived at the Bellevue Strasse, I adopted an expression of, „Well, of course. What of it? I have just collected my one-year short-service commission!” I had it, the Einjährige.

But then the problems with the verbs ending in µι only got worse, and those with trigonometry as well. My German essays led me to the conclusion that it’s not enough to love your native language. No, one has to write it in what elderly candidates for school inspector posts consider to be good German style. What the hell! I don’t resent my teachers anymore, I’ve laughed about them and then forgotten them, all of them. And when it became unbearable with the German essays, and a low mark put an end to my ambitions, I really did fail, and, gazing back on the now hopelessly distant sixth form, I left school, and kept on studying for the Abitur[2] as an external student.

These days, in which, despite the exaggerated fears of the pupils and the ridiculous respect of parents for traditional education, so many little eruptions are gradually forcing a reform of the curriculum, the situation is different. But back then, anyone who wanted to take their A-levels as an external student was treated like a criminal. One felt like a defence witness being cross-examined by the council for the prosecution. That’s roughly what the atmosphere was like. I worked like a nigger[3].

„Kaspar“, said my crammer to me one day. ‚Crammer‘, in this case, is a term of endearment; I owe the man a very great deal. He was a great coach, because he took the whole business no more seriously than was absolutely necessary, and should he read this, let’s drink a toast together in our thoughts, in whatever he likes, a gentle Burgundy or a sharp Swedish schnapps. In either case, “Cheers!” „Kaspar“, he said to me, „the examination is in six months. It’s a question of nerves. What is the guarantee that you have really absorbed everything that I have drummed into you? About hyperbola, and Joachim Friedrich[4], and the tributaries of the Tunguska[5], in short, all that makes up an educated person. Don’t laugh! What is the guarantee that you don’t collapse and suddenly forget everything that you knew here so well? There is no guarantee, so we want to have a dress rehearsal! „Shall we engage an external examiner to examine me at home?” I suggested. „Idiot“, said the crammer. „Go and take the entrance exam for the short-service commission.” “But I already have a short-service commission”, I said. „Then do it again!“ said the crammer. „Where?” I asked. „Before the Commission in the Heidestrasse“, said the crammer. And, by God, that’s what happened.

Dear Panter, you won’t put my real name in the Auntie Voss[6] will you? There may be some dashing young man in the state prosecutor’s office who wants to win some brownie points for himself with this story, in the space between blasphemy prosecutions. I laid all my papers, all except the short-service commission from the Bellevue Strasse, which I left at home, in front of the military commission at the Lehrter station. I was admitted to the examination, and I took the exam.

Next to me sat failed cadets, and educated workers who had wrested their studies from the evening hours. In front of us sat dashing officers, and a few sad civilians, and we were examined. It was very severe. Of the twelve young gentlemen who took the exam, only two passed. The other was a certain Salter, who later, despite his short-service commission, went to the dogs. The first was me. That was my dress-rehearsal for my Abitur.

So here I am now with two short-service commissions, maybe that’s why the war lasted so long. And I had to tell the tale at last, because no one, apart from the good teacher, knows about the con. It has weighed heavily on me, and I’ll never go to a psychoanalyst, where it would come out, among lots of other things. And I sit there with my two short-service commissions, and would like to know if someone else wouldn’t like the other one?”

This is the confession of the man with two short service commissions. Should his son embark on a career as an average tradesman, he can give him the second one, because you can’t work without passing exams in this country.


[2] The high school graduation examination. A-levels in Britain

[3] The term is unacceptable now, but criticism of Tucholsky for using it would be anachronistic,.




Author: Kurt Tucholsky

Published in: PantrTigerCo Tucholsky Panter, Tiger & Co.


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