Cascade of haircuts by thadeusz
This story is pure fiction, but all those who know what happened in the ex-soviet republics also know that this fiction is very close to truth.
My real name is Pavel K*** and I was born in a central European country. But I am not ready to disclose the name of this country, and I am going since years under the name of Hans Müller, born in Germany.
I am the 5th child of a family of 5, and also the second boy of the tribe. I was a good boy when I was very young. My teachers let me study at my pace because they considered me as very intelligent. I had decided to let my hair grow "as if I were in Western Europe” and my parents let me do it, because, just like my teachers, they considered me as very bright.
I was 14 when I started grade 10 and was contacted by a gang. They told me that if I did not join them, they would cut my hair. So I joined them, saying nothing to my parents. The gang told me that as initiation test I would have to steal a car. I stole the car, but since I did not know how to drive a car, I had an accident. Nobody was hurt but the car was damaged and the owner had seen me. He gave my description to the police who arrested me and brought me to the juvenile Judge. I was in panic because I had been told that in such cases, the juvenile was put in prison and that there his hair was cut. While I was waiting to appear in front of the Judge, an angry policeman told me:
"You thought you had all the rights, but you did not! The judge will certainly sentence you to a long prison time. He might even extend your minority and decide that you will not come of age before 21. In that case, your hair will be completely shorn. You will be bald during all these years spent in prison. You will wear an uncomfortable prison uniform. You might even be sent to work after your prison time in one of our eastern factories, during years. That will be forced labor and that is exactly what a stupid boy from a rich family needs.”
Luckily for me, my parents were rich and my father was very influential in the ruling political party. He gave instructions to the juvenile Judge and lots of money to the car owner so that this guy lied, saying that I did not look like the guy who stole and damaged his car : he gave another description of the culprit, describing now the gang leader. As a consequence of that, the gang leader, a certain Anton Pokrovski, was arrested and sentenced to stay in prison until he came of age. He also had his head shorn and the "right” to wear a blue workman uniform : for him school time was over, the Judge decided that this boy had to learn to work as mechanic. The angry policeman was also punished … because he had said the truth about me and my family.
As far as I was concerned, it was good: I could keep my long, very long hair and I had avoided a long stay in prison. My parents did well as far as this is concerned: in my old country adult prisons were dreadful places and juvenile prisons looked like adult prisons, except that the juveniles had to learn a trade chosen by the Judge, not chosen by themselves. They also had to work later according to that trade, whether they liked it or not. Freedom was an unknown word in my country, especially for poor people.
I kept studying as before, but my teachers told my parents that I did no longer study that well. I ignored all punishments having now the feeling that I was above the law. Unluckily, that was also my father's feeling for himself. At the end of my 10th grade, my teachers told my parents that I barely got a "PASS” and that I would surely fail my 11th grade. They suggested to let me repeat all my 10th grade courses. My father bluntly refused and told the teachers that his last son was not going to be a failure. He wanted the teachers to take me in 11th grade and to make me pass successfully to the final 12th grade. On this occasion, my parents did not help me, on the contrary. It was obvious that I was doomed to fail my 11th grade, which was worse than simply repeating my 10th grade. But my father was so influential, and so rich, that the teachers accepted me in 11th grade.
What had been foreseen happened. I did not study seriously. I spent most of my nights out of our home, drinking a lot despite my young age and also taking great care of my hair and of nothing else. In any case, my basic knowledge of 10th grade stuff was so poor that I was totally unable to understand what the 11th grade courses were about. The end of the school year came, and a serious failure in my notes came with it. I did not have a "PASS”, not even the permission to repeat this 11th grade: according to the rules of my country, I had to be sent to a vocational school. That my father could not accept for one of his sons (my elder brother made things even more difficult by being really brilliant). So my parents took the only option left open for them: they sent me to a private school, a school held by priests in a monastery. There was a lot of discipline in that school and the priests promised my parents that if I was as intelligent as I had been described, they would force me to study using their whip if necessary. My father liked the idea of having me, the unruly son, whipped by priests. The only problem was that I was supposed to start immediately to try to repeat during the summer, my forgotten 10th grade. If I was able to do it in one summer, I would be admitted to a normal 11th grade and I would not lose too much time; but should I fail in August my 10th grade tests, I would have to repeat my 10th grade too. Of course, all that was very expensive and my parents had to pay a lot: teaching, room and board, and uniform including the mild weekly haircut!
My father, who was antireligious, paid the required amount and my parents left the school, abandoning me more or less for ever in this old convent in the hands of a surveillant. I was dressed in a carefully torn jean (the ‘torn' had taken me much time), a worn out tee shirt, and very comfortable shoes: dreadfully expensive (in my country) Nikes. I had no other clothes with me, nothing else either. As soon as my parents had left, the Headmaster (I learned later that I was to call him by another title) told me that I was going to be placed under special disciplinary rule and that a surveillant would look constantly after me, and punish me "by the whip if needed” every time I disobeyed the rules.
The surveillant, who was dressed in a very neat monk's robe, which looked to me like a penitent's robe, explained that the headmaster was called "Reverend Father”, the teachers were all priests and were called "Father”. My surveillant (who was probably a low level priest) was called "Brother Marcelis”.
Brother Marcelis took me by the hand and lead me to a big room which was full of clothes. The room was labelled "Uniforms” and another Brother took care of it. This Brother, called "Brother Romainus” told me to take off "all my clothes” (which included the underwear) "in order to put on the school uniform, while your old clothes are going to be burned”. I am not going to describe here the underwear I had to put on: the reader has enough imagination to do it by himself. I am only going to say that these pieces of underwear were not as refined as the ones I was used to: they were made of rather coarse fabric and unpleasant to wear. I think now that it was typical monk's fabric.
I then received a grey flannel shirt of a light grey colour, not too dark. The flannel was thick and very itchy. I was told that all the buttons had to be buttoned-up at every moment, as soon as I put on my shirt in the morning until I took it off in the evening. Buttoning completely the shirt gave me a strange feeling: I had never done that and my neck had always been completely free. Moreover, the nature of the fabric and the itchiness it provoked made it nearly unbearable. But Brother Marcelis told me to hurry up and to button my shirt if I did not want to be severely punished, and I started to be really frightened because of the general disciplinary atmosphere. This buttoning process seemed to be very important for the good Brother !
He then gave me pants, short pants ! Again in flannel, but this time much thicker, less comfortable and nearly black. The pants had no fly and the Brother explained, very delicately, and in a very modest tone of voice, that if I needed to pee, I had to go to the toilet room and take off completely my pants (and I might as well say now, my underwear also !). The good brother added insult to injury by saying that another Brother would be present and "would check if I were not playing with ‘it' ”. The pants had no belt but were held by two straps which were in the same material as the pants. They were in fact attached to the pants. I had to learn to cross them in my back and have them straight in front.
When that was done, I received long grey socks (up to nearly the knees), heavy black boots, a nice green and blue tie which I had to learn immediately to adjust to my well buttoned collar and a blue flannel vest with in front the school crest. I prefer, for the sake of discretion, avoid mentioning the school name here, even now, so many years later. Finally, Brother Marcelis gave me a grey cap. He also gave me a set of pajamas, also in grey flannel, which were made with the same lack of fly as my pants, for the same reason explained the Brother adding that "Our pupils must remain pure”. The pajamas had something special: they were made in one piece, a sort of bag with two arms and two legs. There was an opening for the neck with three buttons (which had to be permanently closed when worn), openings for the hands, but no openings for the feet. In fact each leg had an extension which served as slipper explained Brother Marcelis.
He then took me, with all my belongings, to another room which was labelled "Barber”. I felt uncomfortable and did not wish to enter: I explained that I promised to behave well and to study on the condition that I could keep my long hair. But Brother Marcelis replied "You are going to have a haircut, and that will be repeated as often as I think you need it. And on top of this, you are going to behave and to study if you don't want to meet the praying bar !” I did not know what the praying bar could be, my imagination could not help me since I did not know what praying meant. In any case, Brother Marcelis took out of his belt a small instrument which was obviously a sort of small whip and started to agitate it in a threatening way. I did not wish to push the brother into using his whip, so I behave a bit cowardly and entered the Barber's room.
The first and short haircut of this story is that imposed to the gang leader who pushed me to steal a car : Anton's head was rapidly completely shorn on the Judge's order while I escaped that punishment. At that time, I did not realise that the poor Anton's hair was kept very short on the basis of weekly brutal head shavings; I know now and I regret my father's behavior. But then, I was only concerned by my own and very long blond hair. I also felt uncomfortable in my new uniform: for the reader who have ever worn flannel clothes, it must be obvious that the itchiness is uncomfortable and does not disappear before several days, or weeks.
I was told to sit on the barber chair, I was caped and ready for the sacrifice. The barber, another Brother, asked me kindly and smiling:
"Do you like having very long hair ?”
"Yes” was my reply, but Brother Marcelis looked at me and told me that all pupils had to be polite and respectuous of the authority of the Brothers and fathers, at all time, so I should rephrase my answer. I realised that I would better do as he seemed to say and I told the barber: "Yes, Brother Barber, I do like very long hair”
"Well” said the barber "that is not very healthy. We shall help you with that. Luckily you don't have many curls, which would have forced me to shave your hair completely to start reconstructing your haircut. I will do what has to be done.”
I remained silent, but anxious. I did not move as it was obvious that this would create trouble for me.
The "Brother Barber” started by washing very carefully and then drying my hair. I tried to tell him that it was not necessary since I did it every morning, but as soon as I started to speak Brother Marcelis raised his whip and I decided to keep my mouth closed.
The Barber started then to comb my hair. He took lots of time to do so, starting by taking all my hairs together and pulling in order to form a sort of cord above the center of my head, above my head. He then started to sort very slowly and carefully the hairs, bringing them now down in order to form a sort of dome above my head. When all that was done, he very briskly put a bowl on my head and started cutting ferociously every bit of hair that came out of the bowl. When that was done, leaving the bowl on my head, he used his clippers and then he lathered all the visible parts of my head below the bowl, especially the neck and the zone around the ears. He came then with a big razor with a long blade, the type my grandfather was using in old days, and he shaved every square inch in order to let that part of my head completely hairless. He then removed the bowl and inspected my face, but decided that:
"It is not yet time yet to shave your face, but that will come soon.”
The barber, who I learned to call "Brother Arnoldius”, finished his work by placing some kind of liquid on my remaining hair.
He then said:
"I put some fix on your hair to teach them the good position. They will remain in that position for a week, and every week you will come back to me for an adjustment. Later you will also have a weekly face shave. You are not allowed to touch your hair or your face by yourself. Don't touch your hair, even at night in your bed, unless you want a taste of Brother Marcelis' whip and a super haircut from me, a head shave !”
The good brother said that it was simply hair gel, but to me it looked more like hair glue and despite all my adventures in the boarding school my hair never moved between two visits to the Brother Barber.
I was then, for the first time (and the last for a long time), allowed to look at my image in a mirror. It was a full mirror, so I could see my uniform. I did no longer look like myself but like a stupid little boy, with a stupid short uniform. My hair looked awful: it was cut just above the ears "to let you listen to your teachers” told Brother Marcelis, it went in a straight line across my forehead and I could feel that it continued horizontally through the back of my head, leaving my neck completely nude. I felt completely stupid, but Brother Marcelis was there, with his little whip, to help me behave as expected by the priests. I felt stupid in my new uniform, but as most boys, I had not the foggiest idea of what expected me in the future.
My surveillant took me then, in uniform and with my pajamas, to a big cloister room which had been divided in cubicles. These cubicles had no door "So that the surveillant can check what you are doing at night” warned Brother Marcelis. He showed me one of these cubicles and told me that this was my "room” as of that instant. During the day, I had to fold my bed sheet, my cover and my pillow in a specific way and then fold my pajamas and place them on top of the heap. In the evening, I had to make my bed, put on my pajamas and give my complete uniform to the surveillant who would lock it in a small locker next to my "room”. Should I need fresh pieces of uniform, I could go to Brother Romainus in the "Uniform room” and ask for what I needed. I was sure I would get it, without being questioned.
Finally, Brother Marcelis told me that from now on, I had to sleep lying on my back and with both hands above the cover "to avoid all temptations”. I understood very well what he meant, but said nothing about my real intentions. Remember I was nearly 16 and used to go out alone at night !
Brother Marcelis reminded me that this was a Roman catholic institution and that thus I would have to pray with the others at requested moments of the day. When I told him that was an unbeliever and that I did not know how to pray, he had that magnificent answer:
"Do as the others do, imitate the praying movements and words. This will help faith enter your soul.”
Finally he explained the punishment system. The whip could be used by surveillants in case of emergency, but it was not used "to make the sinner do his penance”. In such cases, the sinner was brought to the chapel where he had to stay in the position of the prayer during a certain time, without moving. The punished boy had to remain with his knees on a special bar which made the situation very uncomfortable since, because of the size of our uniform pants, we all had the knees unprotected. The good Brother told me to pray (again) never to be forced to stay on this bar. He then brought me to my classroom where a Father, Father Arnoldus, a teacher, told me how to behave as a 10th grade repeater.
My first night was a nightmare. I went with other pupils to the big cloister room where my cubicle was. I did all that I ought to do: my bed, folding my uniform, putting on these damned pajamas and then I waited. The Brother serving as surveillant for this night came to me, took my day uniform and told me to kneel in front of my cubicle for the evening prayer. I knew I had no other possibility, so I kneeled and joined my hands, imitating my comrades. After a few minutes, the surveillant told us to go to bed "as usual, and I remind the new boy of the rule: sleep on your back with your hands visible above the cover.” After a few minutes, lights went out except for a few blue lamps enabling the surveillant to do his job. I immediately felt the urge to put my hands below the cover and try to "play with ‘it' ”, which was difficult since everything was locked in that horrible bag pretending to be pajamas. I was so busy that I did not hear the arrival of the surveillant. He sprang on me and forced me to leave the bed. He then said:
"Boy, you have sinned, gravely sinned. You will be punished as you deserve tomorrow morning by the Reverend Father. But in the meantime I am going to protect your soul. You will follow me to the Chapel and keep the praying position during two hours. Remember that if you move before I say that it is finished, you have to start the two hours all over again.”
I did as I was told, I had no choice. I did not really pray, I did not know how to do it. So I tried to think about my old good life and about this stupid Anton who started all my miseries. After a while, thinking that the Brother was looking elsewhere, I moved my shoulders because the position was really uncomfortable, especially with my hands up in the air, in the praying position. But the Brother had seen it and I was good to start it all over again. I really tried not to move, but I could not avoid it and was sent back to time zero once more. After that, I tried to be really concentrate on positive thoughts, like my future and my hopes to get out of this prison very soon. Curiously, I did no longer move and after a time that appeared very long to me, the Brother surveillant told me to stand up. As soon as this was done, he said that he would protect me for the future. He produced a pair of gloves looking like boxing gloves, but these were in fact woolen special gloves without fingers. He then attached each of them to one of my wrists by means of a solid leather shoelace. The surveillant then told me in a rather friendly tone to put on these gloves. He then fixed each of them with a strap in such a way that I could neither get free from these super gloves nor move my fingers inside the glove. As a consequence, it was obvious that I could no longer use my hands for the exploration purpose I had in mind. The surveillant brought me back to my cubicle and told me to sleep now, "according to the rule”.
The next day, I was brought to the Reverend Father, before breakfast and in pajamas, still wearing my fingerless gloves perfectly strapped. The Reverend Father told me to kneel in front of him but to raise the head and to listen, not taking now the position of the prayer. He explained very precisely why I had so seriously sinned. I did not believe him, but again I had no choice. He then said that he wanted to punish me in a way that would really be painful and constructive for me. The Reverend Father said:
"We do not want to hurt our boys, but we want to let them forget about their pride. Respect, Humility and Modesty are basic pillars of our Church. You like very much your hair: that is vain. We cannot tolerate that. I thought about asking Brother Barber to shave all your hair as punishment, but that would not respect the person that you are, and that would teach you nothing.” At that point I expected the worse: having my head shorn. But what I got was worse than all possible worse things. The Reverend father went on saying:
"We the monks must help you becoming better. Here, we, the monks and priests, have a tonsure as sign of Obedience to God. I will impose on you a similar tonsure. Not a tonsure of the same size, because you are not a monk yet. Not even a tonsure of the size we impose to our novices. I will simply impose on you a tonsure which will protect you and remind you constantly that you you must be Respectful, Humble and Modest.”
At that point I started feeling very anxious.
Brother Marcelis unstrapped my gloves without undoing the shoe laces and told me to take the position of prayer. The Reverend father took clippers which augmented my anxiety and made me move, leaving thus the prayer position. Brother Marcelis raised his whip and gave me a good kick on the arms which were now out of position. The Reverend Father warned me that next time, it would be several stronger kicks of the whip on the bare part of my legs. I went back, full of fear, to the prayer position, and bent my head on my joined hands, as ordered. The Reverend Father pushed my head completely down on my chest and I could feel the clippers on my forehead. These damned clippers were mowing a line of hair from my front to the back of my head. The Reverend Father, keeping my head bent on my chest, pushed it on one side, then on the other while creating another hairless path from my left ear to my right ear. They did all that, despite the relatively acceptable haircut I had got the day before. I expected more, but nothing came. The Reverend father then said:
"This boarder is now placed under the sign of the cross on his own head. Let us all pray for him and let him do the required penance”
After a few minutes he added:
"Moreover all the other boys will know that you sinned and that you are punished for that because, in order to protect you from further sins, you will keep these special gloves attached to your wrists during a certain time. Just before the morning prayer, the Brother surveillant will unstrap the gloves in order to enable you to keep your hands out of these gloves and pray or do whatever else you have to do with your hands, every evening after prayer, the Brother surveillant will let you put on these gloves and will strap them closed. They will remain like that until the next morning.”
Brother Marcelis took me then back to my cubicle in order to get ready for the public punishment. I was told to put on my day uniform, while keeping the gloves attached by a shoelace to my wrists. It was not easy, but since these gloves were rather thin it was possible. The Brother gave me then a slice of bread and a cup of water as breakfast and brought me to the main courtyard. All the other borders were there and I was told to take off my cap, put it in my pants pocket, and take again the position of prayer. The Reverend Father approached and said:
"Border Pavel K*** has sinned. He will have to wear gloves to protect himself against further sins. He did not show enough Humility and Modesty. For that reason he has been marked on his head and is now singled out by the cross.”
After a short time, I was told to stand up, put my cap on my head and join my comrades. I remained like that during weeks, going to the Brother Barber who kept in good shape my tonsure and also the rest of my hair. After a few months, this Brother started to give me every week a good shave, but "the sign of the cross” remained visible on my head during several months. It really singled me out and pushed me in the good direction: I stopped trying to be disrespectful, simply by fear of another punishment. After a certain time, despite the fact that I was still an unbeliever, I was praying with the others. My gloves were also a way to single me out, but after a short time, it became a routine to get dressed and undressed while they remained attached to my wrists; it also became automatic for me every evening after prayer to stand at the entrance of my cubicle and present my arms in order to let the Brother surveillant attach the strap so that I was locked in the gloves till the morning; and of course the reverse process in the morning.
The situation was uncomfortable and Brother Marcelis was permanently present with his whip. Of all pains I chose the least one: I started to study seriously. Every time I had not learned my lessons well, I got whipped or sent to the prayer bar. I managed to stop this as soon as possible. I became a good pupil, still with my cross on the head and my gloves on the wrists. At the end of the summer I took and passed all exams for my 10th grade and I was admitted in 11th grade. I kept studying then, knowing that being in 11th grade meant "only two more year of this prison life”. I was 16 years old at the time !
I spent peacefully my days, and weeks, studying and even becoming one of the best students of my group. I behaved well: respecting the strict disciplinary rules had become more or less a second nature for me. Suddenly, a few days before the Christmas Holidays, I was called to the Reverend Father's office. I entered his office and saluted him in the appropriate way: hands joined and head inclined. I remained thus until the reverend Father told me:
"I have news for you, bad news but you are becoming a wise boy, nearly a man. So stand erect and listen.”
I did as I was told, slightly anxious but knowing that I had not been punished since a long time, that I did nothing against the rules and that I had good marks for my school work. The Reverend father continued:
"Here you behave well, but your parents are afraid that you might behave badly during the coming holidays. So they do not want to see you at their place and they want you to stay here for the holidays.”
Well, if it was only that, I was not really angry ! My father, full of his political convictions, was often shouting after me. So I could as well spend the holidays in the boarding school. But there was more and the Reverend father went on:
"Your parents have asked the Juvenile Judge to whom you had been previously presented to confine you to this school until you have your diploma or until you come of age, whichever comes later. They used as argument the fact that you could be violent if let alone in the streets. The Judge has agreed. He has notified us that we must consider you from now on as a prisoner, and take all necessary steps to prevent you going out of this monastery without being under the direct control of one of the priests.”
This was not pleasant to hear, but it was understandable. The Reverend Father was speaking very slowly now, and very kindly as if the rest of his speech contained even worse information:
"This means that from now on, whenever you go out with the other boys on an outing, you will have to wear a dog collar with a little chip in it. This little chip will tell the Judge your exact position. In fact the Judge wanted you to wear such a dog collar permanently, but I let him know that I would not permit that.”
Well, the Reverend Father was apparently on my side ! He went on, still very kindly:
"The Judge has also decided that it is now time for you to chose a trade, to have an idea of work for the day after you get your diploma, next year. The Judge, considering the facts presented by your parents, and remembering that there was a doubt about this car theft, has decided that you must choose between remaining forever here as a monk under my control or joining a paratrooper regiment with strict discipline. If you don't choose, the Judge will impose his choice : serve as workman in one of the new factories in the extreme East of the country for a period of at least 10 years, maybe 20. According to the Judge, our country needs more workmen and you would finish there to learn to behave well in the streets.”
Then the Reverend Father looked at me and asked:
"How do you feel about all this, my child ? Speak freely.”
"Reverend father, I feel bad. I liked the idea of being free in the streets and I have too much respect for the ideas taught here to be violent again. Do I have some time to make my choice between the possibilities offered by the Judge ?”
The Reverend Father replied gently:
"You have some time, but not very much. You will take your 11th grade exams and then I will bring you to the Judge where the decision will be taken for after your 12th grade. In the meantime I want to show you that I personally and all the Fathers and Brothers of this school have confidence in you. So I will now personally take of your gloves: you don't need them anymore. In order to let you decide freely if you want to become a monk, I also decide that you don't need to have a tonsure from now on. Let your hair grow naturally. During the holidays, you will be free to go wherever you want inside this school, but unluckily I cannot let you go out alone, not without a dog collar ! Go now, my child, and go in peace.”
I went, took my December exams and passed them brilliantly again. Then I remained, nearly alone, in the school for the holidays. I spent my time reading, having fun with the few boys who remained there, doing some sports with the Brothers and the Novices. I also prepared my courses for the next semester. Brother Marcelis took some of us to a museum, and since we were leaving the monastery, I had to wear a dog collar, as mentioned by the Reverend Father. I hated that, but I believe I did it with some pride and courage.
I had long discussions with several novices and I realized that becoming a monk, as the Judge suggested, was not an option: it was a choice for life, remaining in the monastery without ever touching a girl. And I like girls, even if I avoided anything which could suggest me to "sin” again. Becoming a workman in a far away factory and remaining there during 10 or 20 years was also not a good idea. In fact I wanted now to become an MD, but that did no longer seem to be an option. Joining the Army in my country meant signing for 6 years. But after that I would be free again. So, even if it had to be in a very strict paratrooper regiment, that was the least bad option. I decided that that would be my choice, but also that I wanted to have good grades in school in order to have the possibility to be promoted rapidly. When asked by the Reverend Father, I told him that the Army was my choice he only reacted with these words:
"So you chose the world. I can understand that. But be aware that life in the Army, especially in the brutal Army of our country can be worse than life in a monastery. I bless you my child”
I passed all my exams and was ready to go to 12th grade but before the holiday started, I had to appear in front of the Juvenile Judge to announce him my choice of trade and ask for his approval. Brother Marcelis provided me once more with the infamous dog collar and the Reverend Father took me with him to the court. There he told the Judge how good I had been during all the time I had spent in the boarding school, and how good my results were. The Judge asked me if I had chosen a trade or he had to impose his decision. I told him that I wanted to be a soldier, as suggested by him. A representative of the Army was present. He explained that, considering my former behavior, the Army would only accept me in a disciplinary regiment where I would have no possibility of promotion during the first 6 years. My father who was also present, claimed that one could not do that to his son, but the officer did not accept to change his point of view. My father insisted and the officer made suddenly another offer:
"The Army is ready to accept Pavel K*** as Pvt during 6 years, in a paratrooper regiment and with possibility of promotion, provided that he first go to the Cadet School to get his diploma in ‘military sciences'. Considering that this is a special course of study, in order to get this diploma, the young Pavel must do his 11th grade and his 12th grade in the Cadet School. He will repay the Army for learning this way by serving 4 more years without promotion. His 6 year obligation will start after that, and he will then have ample opportunity to get promoted.”
The Reverend Father objected:
"This boy has just successfully passed all the exams of his 11th grade program in pure Sciences, which is a program opening all possible further studies. The Army proposal would force Pavel to do again his 11th grade and to move to a vocational program”
My father interrupted the discussion by saying that since there was a possibility to place me in state school where he would not have to pay anything, he chose that option for me. He was now decided to stop any payment to the brothers for my education. The Judge turned to me and said:
"I must now either send you to prison till you get your diploma there or be of age, and by law the age limit for becoming of age in that specific case is not 18 as usual but 21, or I must send you to a cadet school with a 12 year military obligation starting now. Which one do you choose ?”
Without hesitation, I chose the Cadet school and I apologised for this choice to the Reverend Father. The Judge decided that it was to be this way and that I would leave the court immediately with the officer. He nevertheless reminded me of the obligation to wear a dog collar whenever I was out of the barracks (now, no longer the school), and this until I got my diploma or became of age, whichever came latest. My father left without saying a word. The Reverend Father, once more, gave me his blessing and promised he would have a small Bible sent to me.
I thus went with the officer to the cadet school, which was in an old building situated inside an old barrack. The officer (a Lt) took me first to the Administrative Entrance room where a Sergeant gave me my Matricule number and took several snapshots of me, under different angles, and took also several measurements including my fingerprints.
We then moved to the Clothing Store where I was first instructed to put all my belongings, i.e. mostly my boarding school uniform, in a big bag: everything would be sent back to the Fathers. This included a small chain with a small cross given by Brother Marcelis when I was released from the glove and tonsure duty: this was his way to wish me then a Merry Christmas, to show that he felt confident in my future behaviour and simultaneously to place me under the protection of the Cross.
I then received a bunch of pieces of uniform, too numerous to describe and I was ordered to put all my new belongings in a soldier's bag. I also received the uniform I had to wear as Cadet Soldier: underwear made of coarse grey-white material and a sort of khaki tee shirt without sleeves. The visible part of the uniform consisted of a pair of baggy trousers at the level of the thighs and provided with bands passing under the foot, held by suspenders made in the same material as the trousers, and a tunic. The trousers and the tunic were made of heavy and uncomfortable material, too hot for the hot weather we had at this moment of the year, and probably too cold for the winter. Both were of a dirty khaki color. They were clearly already worn. The tunic was held by a large leather belt, it had no pockets, a high collar and a large epaulette on each shoulder. The tunic collar had to be kept buttoned, and so had to be the sleeves at the level of the wrists. The tunic and the trousers had no pocket and all the buttons were in copper, with the mention "Cadet School” on it. Compared to the uniform the Sergeant was wearing, the one I was now condemned to wear was a despicable old WW2 uniform, clean but worn out and already partially torn. The Clothing Sergeant printed carefully my Matricule number in each piece of uniform, crossing out the numbers of all the previous owners, which took a lot of time. On top of all this, I received completely new (and thus very uncomfortable) heavy brown high boots, without shoelaces into which the trousers had to be tucked in. To crown everything, I was told to put on my head a sort of forage cap, a small cover too tiny for my head as it was. On the forefront point of this cap there was a tiny copper ball moving in all directions as soon as I moved. The Lt explained that I had to wear this headgear on my head as soon as I was out of a building, and that I had to take it off and store in in my belt as soon as I entered a building. He further said that the little ball attached to the cap was "the symbol of my regiment, the Cadet Regiment: the cadets call it ‘the rat' because it enabled the chiefs to see easily if a cadet is moving when he is not supposed to do so.” Noticing that I had no pocket I asked him where I was supposed to keep my handkerchief. He replied that I could keep it in my sleeve, but that in any case I would not receive any and was not allowed to buy any. Again, this seemed to illustrate the Army wonderful logic and it made me wonder if I had not made a very stupid choice when I decided not to become a monk or a workman ! The Lt also declared that I now had to clean my boots and make my buttons shiny everyday, and he let the Clothing Sergeant give me the necessary material, adding that I would have to buy additional material on my Cadet allowance. Finally, I was told that I was responsible for each of the items I had received, meaning that I would have to repay for the missing or damaged items with my very small allowance. Curiously, I did not receive pajamas.
The Lt taking care of me looked at my hair. I did no longer have long hair, but hair falling nicely from the top of my head all around. It went to a very precise level: the top of my ears. My hair did not move, since it was carefully glued thanks to the Brother Barber's hair gel. The Lt did not like that. He considered that my haircut was not short enough for a soldier and that the Barber would not be able to change it easily. I was thus ordered to take a shower to get rid of the glue. So this officer took me to the shower room to, according to his words, "get you clean”. I think it was a strange procedure to give me first a "new” uniform and after that a shower, but since the Army was working that way, I was not going to contradict them: I knew that if I tried to discuss an order, it would be considered as "disobeying” that order and I would get into troubles. The shower was of course a shower of cold water "to make you strong” said the Lt and without soap "by economy” added the Lt. I started to think that I was now in a strange world, and locked in for 12 long years. Anyway, the boarding school hair gel - hair glue proved to be stronger than plain cold water and I was not able to really wash my hair as well as the Brother Barber at the boarding school, but he did it with hot water and soap. Finally the Lt gave me some soap, foreseen to clean the floor, in order to get my hair rid of "this stupid hair gel”. I now had a good idea of what "cleanliness” meant in the Army !
I was then taken to a barber office where a soldier, working like a real brute, got hold once more of my head and gave me a serious buzz cut. He kept pushing, pulling, turning my head in all possible directions. I had the impression that he took so much time because he wanted to leave me bald. When he was done, I touched my head and I discovered that it was not a baldy at all, but simply a uniform 3 or 4 mm buzz cut, with the same length on the sides and on the top. I had the possibility to look at myself in a mirror and I discovered that instead of the elegant haircut I had received at the boarding school, I now had been transformed and my head looked like a ball full of straight stubble going in all possible directions, but very straight instead of being supple like in the boarding school. I felt my head looked now like the brush my mother used for cleaning in corners, especially to destroy the cobwebs. She called that a "pope's head”. After spending more than a year in religious institution, did I now need to have an inelegant "pope's head” on my shoulders ? I considered this weird, but said nothing: I was a soldier now.
The Lt. took me then to the room where I was supposed to live. There were 6 double beds, one above the other and 12 cupboards. The Lt gave me the order to place all my belongings in a cupboard, copying the order used by the cadet who had the cupboard next to mine. He also told me how to make my bed "in a military fashion”. He finally told me that I had to be in uniform permanently, "even at night when you sleep in uniform underwear”. That was probably why I did not get any pajamas : I now had to sleep in my undies.
When all that was done, it was late because it had taken lots of time, especially in the Clothing Store. The Lt finished his lesson by showing me rapidly how to salute, how to walk, how to stand at attention and how to stand at ease. He then told me to stand at ease "until told to do otherwise” at the foot of my bed. The Lt added:
"Don't move, you would be punished if you ever did”.
He then left me because he was hungry and wanted to eat something. He did not think that I might also be hungry ! I was 17 then. I had chosen to stay 6 years in an elite Army regiment after getting a good high school diploma. Instead of that I had now a future of 12 years in the military, in poor conditions, and with the prospect of getting a second class diploma only, after repeating once more an 11th grade.
I remained "at ease” at the foot of my bed during a long time, several hours probably. I did not move : I had been trained to do so when I was told to stay in the payer position in the boarding school, school which I now deeply regretted. Suddenly a bunch of boys, slightly younger than I was, entered the room. All were dressed in khaki like me, and all had round head in the form of a brush. One of them, Dimitri, came next to me and asked:
"Are you a new cadet”
"Yes” I replied briefly, not moving
"My name is Dimitri. I am your bed and cupboard neighbor. I will keep the bottom bunk and you will take the top one. I will help you getting used to the Cadet School. Can we be friends?”
"Yes, my name is Pavel” I replied, still not moving.
"The Lt brought you here and left you saying you had to stand at ease without moving ?”
"That's typical of him ! You can move now, he has forgotten you. By the way you must get ready for supper and then for study.”
I started to move when another boy, Fedor, entered the room. He looked younger than the others, but he had two stripes on his sleeves. Dimitri explained in a low voice:
"This is Fedor. He is only 14, much younger than we are, but his father is a general. So he has been promoted to Corporal. He is our room-chief and he is not very pleasant because he believes he has more rights than we have. But some Sergeants don't like him.”
I was soon to learn that this was right. Fedor came and looked at me:
"You are a new cadet ?”
"Yes, my name is Pavel”
"You don't speak like that to me. I am your Corporal. You can see it on my sleeves. You address me by saying ‘CPL Fedor' and you obey my orders. To start with, you will clean my boots and my buttons. Now !”
I looked at Dimitri who was standing at ease, looking straight in front of him, like all the other cadets. So I assumed that I had to obey. I took the cleaning material and started to clean this young CPL's boots and buttons. When I was done, Fedor inspected my work and told me:
”For a first day, it is acceptable”
He then got dressed and told me:
"But you spoke to me without the necessary respect, so you must be punished and learn who is the chiefs here. Now lick the sole of my boots” and he raised his left foot.
All the other cadets were still standing and looking at us, so I started to do as told, assuming that this was another rite of passage. Luckily for me, and for my roommates, and unluckily for Fedor, a Sergeant entered the room. This (courageous) Sergeant asked:
"Cadet Pavel, what are you doing”
"Licking the Corporal's soles as ordered by him a few seconds ago, Sergeant”
"Corporal Fedor, did you give this order?”
"Yes Sergeant, this cadet had addressed me in a disrespectful way”
"Cadet Fedor, you have been made Cadet Corporal in order to direct the cadets of this room in a positive way, not to exaggerate and give them stupid and dictatorial orders. Follow me immediately to the brig, the Colonel will examine your case to morrow morning”
The sergeant left and suddenly all the cadets of my room became more animated, boys again !
The same evening, just before we were called to "supper”, Dimitri was appointed as acting CPL for our room. He behaved very well, telling us that he remembered that he was first a Cadet like us, but also that he had to guide us. So he gave clear instructions and we went in a straight line, keeping our distance and marching on step to receive our evening meal, called here "supper” and barely eatable, except for very hungry boys like we were.
The next morning all cadets were called to a corner of the courtyard I had not yet had the occasion to explore. In that corner was a big horizontal bar hanging on two pillars. We were told to stand at attention. Fedor was brought in front of us, still wearing his CPL stripes. The Colonel came and said:
"Cadet Fedor has exceeded by far the tiny authority vested in him for the welfare of his comrades. For that reason, he is demoted to PVT and he will receive now 10 of the cane. Punished cadet, step forward to receive your punishment.”
Fedor stepped forward. A Sergeant tore his stripes away. Fedor then undid his tunic and his trousers and presented his bare bottom. The height of the big horizontal bar was adjusted to Fedor's size and he was told to place his hands and chest on the bar. A Sergeant started then to give him, with great strength, the announced caning. When it was done, Fedor was told to stand straight and to listen to the Colonel who went on:
"Pvt Fedor also tried to humiliate a new cadet. That is unacceptable. For that reason he will receive 10 more of the cane. He will then go directly to the brig where he will spend a full week, with 2 days in chains to think about his crime. But cadet Pavel, who has accepted to be humiliated, has adopted an unacceptable behavior for a soldier of our glorious Army. To teach him how a soldier must behave, he will also get 10 of the cane. Cadet Pavel step forward and get ready while cadet Fedor receives his second caning”
I did not really understand why I was punished, but I felt that this was not the moment to discuss such an order.
Fedor took the position and received his second caning. He was then sent to the brig for one week. The horizontal bar was then adjusted to my height, I was pushed and forced to adopt the punishment position. I received then 10 good ones of the cane, was told to dress again and to join my comrades for the day classes and exercises.
The days went on like that. In class we were not learning much, and my comrades were not interested in studying. We did not do many military exercises. We spent most of our time learning about discipline, about obedience. We also marched a lot, without our bags to prepare for parades, but also with full bags (and it meant a weight of 40kilos on some days) and weapon, during day and night, to "learn to fight”. During these long exercises we received only rations, and not very much. We were getting ready to become "the glorious soldiers of our Army”
I was tired of all this, but I made up my mind to respect my choice. I kept thinking : "You chose this life, it was a bad choice but try to make the best of it.” I had received a Bible from the Reverend Father and I tried to read it, but it was confiscated as "pornographic document” and I received for that 10 of the cane at the punishment bar plus 5 days in the brig. I also tried to learn more seriously. Brother Marcelis had received the authorization to send me books which would enable me to prepare, at night, my 12th grade exams. I had also received a letter from the Reverend Father saying that he was confident I would succeed.
When the winter holidays came, most cadets went home. Cadet Fedor was confined by his father to the Cadet School barrack, not for his bad behavior, but for being demoted. He was furious. Dimitri went away and to my great surprise, I was promoted to acting CPL for our room. Since it was a holiday period and since I was still under judicial control, the Colonel decided that it would be "safer” to make me wear the infamous dog collar. So it was good on the one hand, and bad on the other. Very Army like, at least for my country Army.
In January we had all to take written exams in order to become PFC or CPL, except Fedor who had been excluded of the system and would have to wait one more year to regain his rank. The cadet sitting next to me, Cadet Leonid, looked at my answers and copied them, and the Lt in charge of surveilling of group noticed it, but I did not. The cadet who copied on me was called to the Colonel: we all knew what that would mean. Indeed he got 10 of the cane, a week in the brig and a demotion which blocked any promotion for him during one year. The nasty point was that while we were all at attention in front of the punishment bar, the Colonel announced:
"Cadet Pavel did not take all necessary precautions to stop Cadet Leonid copying. He is thus also culprit of this act and will get the same punishment and the same demotion.”
I really did not expect that and for the first time I protested:
"But Colonel, I did nothing wrong. I was concentrated on my test, not on my neighbor”
"Cadet Pavel, for objecting to your Colonel's order you will get 10 more of the cane and for attempting to disobey a direct order, you will get again 10 more of the cane and 10 days more in the brig, but in chains. On top of this, you are from now on barred from any promotion for 3 years.”
A Sergeant came and got hold of me, forced me to get ready for the punishment and pushed me to the punishment bar. I received my 30 good ones and spent 20 days in the brig, 10 of them with chains on my feet and with handcuffs. During that period, I had time to think and realized that the world I was in was essentially unfair. I also realized that I would never be happy in my country Army because I had been trained to think, and not to obey passively to all possible orders, even to the most stupid ones. So I decided to leave the Cadet School for good, which meant that I was ready to desert this Army into which I had been placed by force. After my time in the brig was up, I started to prepare carefully my escape, knowing that I would have to leave the country and live all on my own despite my age: I was 17 years and 5 months old!
I escaped at night at the end of February. I had very little money (our allowance was about the equivalent 10 US dollars a week) and only my Cadet uniform as clothes. I succeeded to trade this uniform for filthy civilian clothes and to cross the boarder of my country without identity papers. I started to work as well as I could, wherever I could. I was not very well paid because everybody knew my situation of "boy without papers”. I tried to work on a ship but was not accepted. Finally, I arrived in France, near Paris. I was dirty now, my hair was longer than I wished and I was dreadfully hungry. I met a constantly smiling guy, John, who gave me something to eat: that was welcome, I had no more money. John told me that he wanted to meet his brother who was in the French Foreign Legion, so he abandoned me in a bar after giving me nearly all his money. It was not a lot, but with that little bit of money, I succeeded to buy false documents in the name of Hans Müller, born in München, Germany. I tried to find work with these documents, but they were too obviously false. So I had a weird idea: why not try to find John and ask him for more money or food. I now realize I was becoming a beggar.
John had told me where he was going to go to find his brother: the "Fort de Nogent”. I walked in that direction and came to a big door. I knocked at the door asking for my friend "John” (I did not know his last name). The man who opened the door was a big uniformed man with a sort of white hat I had never seen. He obviously did not understand me and I did not understand him. The only words I understood was "papiers, papieren, papers”. I showed proudly my brand new false identity papers and the big man opened the door and let me in. He got hold of my papers and led me, through several dark and gloomy passages to a small room with several chairs. He made a sign showing that I had to sit and wait. After a certain time waiting, but I did not care since I had learned to wait in the boarding school, I was shown into an office where a uniformed man was sitting behind a desk. He had my papers in his hands. He did not say that they were false (and it was the first time) but he smiled and said something in German which I did not understand. I was then shown into a courtyard where my "friend” John was standing. Very quickly I realized I was locked-in in that courtyard, but I did not mind: I just wanted something to eat. After a short time, all the people there, me included, got some food and that was good. After that, all of us were shown to a big bus which took us to a station where we were pushed into a train. I was dreaming and not really thinking about what was happening, except for the fact that each of us received a little box of food for the trip. After a long travel, we arrived in a place named "Aubagne”. Another bus took us to a big building. Since I was fed, I did not protest. In Aubagne, we were all shown to rooms and for the first time in days I could take a shower and sleep in a bed. The people there kept addressing me in German, which was logical considering my papers, but not in my mother tongue and I kept not understanding what they actually wanted. I was asked to take several tests and since the tests were non verbal ones, all went well. In exchange of that, I received more food and the people there seemed to like the results of my tests. John left fairly soon, but I remained, not completely understanding what was happening but starting to guess what these people were trying to do with me. Since they were feeding me, I did not react: I had reached a very low level. Nevertheless, the more food I had, the more I came back to my usual self and became thus able to understand what was happening.
Finally, a Lt took me into his office and asked more thorough questions about my life. I now understood a little bit of French and I tried to answer as well as I could. There were obviously holes in my story, which was the fake story of Hans Müller. The Lt asked me then, in German, how it was possible that a German like me did not understand German. I then decided to be truthful. I explained as well as I could my complete story. He got the name of my birth country and got a translator who enabled me to tell the whole story in details. The Lt then told me that this place was a place where people took tests in order to selected or rejected as candidates legionnaires. I told him that I had guessed that much and that I was ready to become one, after seeing the way the legionnaires were treated and were treating my comrades and me. After all, I had been a Cadet in my birth country Army! But the Lt. asked me how old I was, and I told him truthfully:
"Sir, I am 17, nearly 18 but not yet 18”.
The Lt replied:
"You must be 18 to join the legion without parental consent, and that you will not get easily if I believe you. On the contrary, we will have to expel you and you will go to prison for desertion in your home country”.
He then remained silent for a while and finally said:
"According to his papers, Hans Müller was 19, so he could join the Legion. Are you ready to be Hans Müller and to join the Legion ?”
My answer was simple: "Yes, Lieutenant, I don't have any other choice.”
"Your life will not be easy, are you aware of that ?”
"Yes, Sir. I know what military life is like. I am ready for it.”
"It is not only military life, it is also a life where you will remain during 5 years in the barracks, with very little liberty. Are you ready for that.”
"Yes Sir, I believe that I can survive 5 years in the barracks if I am treated with some respect, and not caned for mischiefs I have not done.”
"There will be no such caning. Physically you look fit, but are you ready mentally ? It will be very hard at times.”
"Sir, becoming a Cadet was a forced choice. Becoming now a Legionnaire is very different”
The Lieutenant stamped a form and gave me a piece of paper saying:
"This is your contract. Sign here and don't forget that for the time being your name in the Legion is Klaus Mahler, born in Köln, Germany and 20 years olds. You have no longer any other official identity and are no longer able to do anything official except being a good Legionnaire.”
I signed the 5 year contract and became legionnaire Mahler. I was sent to the barber who gave me very rapidly, but not brutally, a decent buzz cut like the one each of my comrades received. This barber was a legionnaire, he had been through the same buzz cut and he kept talking about it and about "my future life in the Legion”. It was really a peaceful induction cut. This was the last step I took with respect to haircuts, my last step in the cascade: that day it was completely voluntary. I had had the opportunity to take showers and to be clean, my hair was now going to be short again, very short. I felt elated. I asked the barber, in my poor French, to give me a baldy and he accepted. In fact, I was not the only "new legionnaire” to come out completely bald of the barber chair. I then got my kit: it was a very decent uniform with the famous green beret. It also included a White Képi which we were not supposed to touch for the time being. Life was very hard during the very first weeks, but there was a certain respect from the chiefs. All communications with the outside world were made impossible, but I did not care. We had to train constantly, except when we were doing chores, and we were doing lots of them. But something very special, a special bond was created among all the new legionnaires. After one month of hard training, we had the long Képi Blanc march and at the end I received my White képi and became a real legionnaire. The camaraderie between all the trainees was fabulous. We really became a band of brothers, and still are. Most of us do as I am doing: we keep our hair very short, about 1 mm and have a weekly haircut.
Basic training lasted during three more months, but after the Képi Blanc march everything was more relaxed, except for the chores. Finally, Basic Training was finished and we were told that we would be told to which regiment the Legion wanted to send us. I was first of the lot with the best marks during basic training, so I was told that the legion wanted to keep me in the Training Regiment to help train future legionnaires the way I had been trained and to prepare me to become Corporal after one year. I respectfully said that I would prefer to go immediately to the para regiment, but the chiefs were adamant and I had to stay, with my baldy, in the training regiment. I helped the real corporals to train the new legionnaires, trying not to be too brutal with them as others had been with me. At the end of the year, I was promoted to Corporal and sent, as I had asked, to the only Legion para regiment. I am still there, after 17 years of service and several stays in the Selection Center and in the Training Regiment. I am now Sergent-Chef, i.e. Sergeant First Class. I expect to be soon promoted to Adjudant.
After 3 years of service, the officer who helped me to join when he was a Lieutenant (and who was now a Captain) told me that I could now ask to get my real name back, and after that to become a French citizen. He provided me with acceptable papers in the name of Hans Müller and it is thus with that name that I became for ever Hans Müller, French citizen. In fact these papers have been made by the french Secret Service and are thus perfect for France. The Captain convinced me to start studying again and he helped me learning all that should be known in France to get a "Baccalauréat”: I took the exam and I passed. The Captain wanted me to take another exam and become an officer, but I told him that I liked too much my life full of action to exchange it for the administrative tasks of a Legion officer.
During one of my stays at the Selection and Testing Center, as First Sergeant, I saw a poor guy arriving from my birth country. It was Anton Pokrovski who had pushed me, as gang leader, to steal stupidly a car. He had spent years in prison and after that he had been sent as workman in a factory in the East of the country during 10 years. He was completely disgusted and hoped that the Legion would offer him a second chance. I did my best to help him, but he did not recognize the young Pavel in the now "Sergeant Chef Müller”. I did not volunteer my real identity: it is a secret reserved for the Legion !
I am married now and I have two kids whom I raise as well as I can, trying to avoid my parents' mistakes.
As soon as I was allowed to write outside the legion, I sent a discrete message to the Reverend Father explaining him everything, giving my address and asking for his blessing. A few weeks later "Legionnaire Klaus Mahler”, aka Hans Müller, received a Bible from the Reverend Father and a chain with a cross from Brother Marcelis. I still read this Bible and wear this chain.
After all, life has been good for me.