With Bated Breath
Nicky Gluch (University of Sydney, Australia)
In the library of Fine Music radio station is a plaque in honour of Stefan Kruger. As a new-volunteer, I presumed that Stefan was some man well known to the organisation, but I soon learnt this wasn’t so. He was, in fact, an enigma…
What made her think she would find him, when so many others had failed? She confessed to ego, in part, and unquestionably the passage of time, with the technologies that it afforded. But that wasn’t it, not entirely. She insisted that something purer had motivated her, something inexplicable. An instinct more reliable than hope that convinced her that he would be there, waiting, for her.
It was a Tuesday, always a Tuesday, when she began her search.
Google: Stefan Kruger. Enter.
Tennis player? No.
Doctors without borders? No, but at least interesting.
The link to the scholarship in his name: she’d come full circle.
New search: Stefan Kruger, Sydney. Enter.
Scholarship, scholarship, chess, scholarship…
She clicked on the chess link. There was Stefan’s name, spelt correctly (both the –efan part and the –uger), listed as champion for NSW, 1949 and 1951.
Assuming he was 30, she thought, and we received his bequest in 2009, that would have made him 90 when he died. Plausible. She sent an email to the President of the society.
A Tuesday, some weeks later:
She awoke, stumbled downstairs and bleary-eyed opened her emails.
The attached extract from Chess World of December 1949 gives quite a bit of information about Stefan Kruger the chess player and should help you identify whether he is the same person after whom the Stefan Kruger Scholarship is named…”
Later she would marvel that there was a Chess World, and delight in the fact that a man with as quaint a name as Mr Gastineau-Hills had written her, but in that instant she could not see beyond the paperclip.
Be he a man of 50, she thought, and this search ends here.
She opened the file.
(Not) staring back at her was a man she suddenly wished to know. Humble, that was sure, unquestionably intelligent and perhaps even a bit shy as he pretended to focus on his chess game. But the photographer had caught his eyes beneath the glasses.
Look at me, she thought, tell me who you are. Are you my Stefan?
She tried to read the type but age had faded the letters. She was scared, too, lest she find him a man not worth discovering. Printing a copy, she set out to begin her day.
Later: She found out he was 23. It said so, right at the beginning. Younger than me, she thought, almost unbelievingly. Born in 1926: younger than my grandfather, too. Viennese. The first clue.
She read on. A student at Scots College, finished at 16 (younger and smarter, should she be jealous?), organic chemist, Bowman, Shoebridge, Watson…
Enough with the chess talk and the writer’s bitterness (she was sorry that his preferred Hanks hadn’t won but all it was causing was clutter). She needed something else. Masters, mercurial temperament… ah! ‘says about twice as many words in a minute as anybody else’. She ignored the vital clue that came after, too delighted was she by the jibe. She’d forgive him for playing the game that taunted her, and for attending that Presbyterian school. Now, she felt the writer’s snarl as if at her own face, for in Stefan she had found a spirit most kindred.
Or so she presumed, with what right? Only precedent… the same one that, years before, had her guess that scholarship Stefan was a Holocaust survivor. Yet she was well aware of the others who had sought refuge after the war… Mention Kruger to her father, and he was the man of controversy from his birthplace. But those Krugers had abandoned their umlaut, just as she’s once been asked if she’d misplaced hers. It was a dangerous question to answer.
She turned back to chess Stefan and the overlooked clue. What questions might he have had to answer when he arrived in Sydney in 1939, just months before the world unravelled?
New Message Received:
I advise that Stefan Kruger was the Dux of The Scots College in 1942 with John Hanks the Proxime Accessit. Both are now deceased.”
Death: the premise of her search and yet she hated to accept it. She read on.
“…the late Peter Parr (who ran a chess shop in Sydney for several decades) told me that Kruger went to the USA after graduation and spent his working life there before returning to Australia after retiring.”
Another clue. She thanked Mr Greenwood and scribbled what she had on a scrap of paper.
naa.gov.au: Kruger, Stefan. 1930-1940. Enter.
Kruger, Max. Born 29 July 1886. Anna age 42. Stefan age 12. Nationality German. Travelled per Strathallan arriving in Sydney on 11 July 1939.
He was taking form. A person with parents, origins…
There was only one other entry. It gave another name. Spitzer, Hans. Their sponsor.
ancestry.com turned up nothing for Max and Anna nee Spitzer. Stefan was more fruitful but she wouldn’t realise which records pertained to her until later.
familysearch.com. Still nothing. She felt too shy to run a search of Jewish records. What right did she have to claim him as her own?
geni.com. Nothing for Max but Anna had roots. Hans was her brother. She had parents, too. Dr. Jur. Leopold Spitzer and Margrete Grete. The record was managed by an Israeli; surely now she could rest her case? But no, that wasn’t what true detectives did. She opened the images. Funeral notices written in German. And there it was. Proof.
So Stefan wasn’t just an immigrant but someone who’d fled. She was embarrassed to realise how little she knew of the ’38ers, survivorness being a badge which if not worn made the stories less relevant… said who?
She thought of how little we understand what it means to give up one’s nationhood. To flee persecution only to become the enemy. So that some saviour can naturalise you years later, as long as you’ve given up your language and strange habits.
No matter how you have succeeded, you will always be different. She knew it too well. Dux of her year. A Bachelor’s degree in Science and now a Masters, just like him. She envied Stefan his fellowships, it was what she needed so desperately, but she saw too how they had been in vain. Sydney had not kept him. Could not perhaps. He had left for the US just as she found herself with a ticket to London.
It was time to keep searching. She had Stefan, alive, but only in his death could she prove that the chess player and music lover were one and the same.
For his scholarship was for young musicians, something to give them a start in life. Music, she had always known they had in common, she the radio volunteer, he the station benefactor; it was the other similarities that kept surprising her. But they shouldn’t have. Why else had her instinct urged her to breathe life into the name on the wall?
Now she was so close. Close enough to know that music would not hold the answers. She would have to dig in to her past.
library.sydney.edu.au: Kruger, Stefan. Enter.
A mess, she tried again.
Kruger, Stefan. 1950-2000. Enter.
Hidden amongst the articles by an umlauted cancer researcher, was one on nerves in cats.
She clicked on it, skimmed it with a physiologist’s eye (of course he’d worked in her field!) and then looked at the author’s affiliation. Pittsburgh.
She ran a search in newspapers.com. Some Dr Kruger had made a garden out of rocks. She paid the subscription, zoomed in on the picture and there he was, her Stefan. A bit older and married!
How dare he.
The girl in her felt abandoned; the detective went on.
Searching marriage notices, she found a Ms Cecelia Estes, a Reverand’s daughter whose life had been charted in the tabloids. There, too, she found her obituary, an ode to a Saintly woman, a music lover and, by her death, Stefan’s ex-wife. But perhaps music had bound them, where faith and country could not… she charged on.
Still amongst the newspapers, she searched the Sydney Herald. Perhaps Stefan’s death, too, had been marked, and made mention his wonderful—
—generosity. Her heart sank. There was his death but it when she was four. November, 1997. Twelve years before the radio had ever heard of him.
The breath she’d infused in him left her. She was utterly defeated. Why find this man, his wife, his papers, to fall for him, in vain?
She mourned her loss until Tuesday came and she remembered her debt to Messrs Greenwood and Gastineau-Hills. She’d found their man, if not her own. Retracing her steps, she went back through the records. She turned scribbles into sentences and printed the pictures that had fuelled her. Back amongst the papers, she conceded her defeat, noting his death date and place… Castlecrag.
That instinct made her do, the one more reliable than hope. She searched his name and suburb and found one posthumous note. His will had not been settled, for many years it seemed. The lawyer had sought contacts, a number left… she called it, after 16 years, her hope restored.
What made me think I would find him? I still cannot say for sure. But somehow I knew that in finding Stefan, I would breathe life into myself.
Nicky Gluch is pleased to be able to combine her passions for writing and music. As a volunteer for Fine Music 102.5, Nicky presents on-air and is a feature writer for their magazine. While she awaits her Masters examination from the University of Sydney, Nicky has begun a memoir about her time spent living in Israel. Its title, ‘The Universal Language’, refers to the life-changing experiences that led her to give up medical studies to pursue the (perhaps crazy) dream of becoming a conductor.