The Bee God

By Joseph Felix Ernst

Translation Helen MacCormac

 

The Holy and Mighty One will go forth from his dwelling, and the God of the world will tread upon Mount Sinai and thence come down from heaven in all his mighty power. And all shall be afraid, and the watchers will shake and great fear and trembling will seize them even to the ends of the earth. The lofty mountains will quake and the high hills be levelled, melting like a honeycomb before the flame.
Ethiopian Enoch 1, 3-6

We can vouch for the truth of everything told here. The following notes were recorded in the flying log book of Unterfeldwebel Thomas Seibold, who was posted to Feldluftgau Command Rostov in the Crimea (Крим), and assigned to Air Corps VIII, Sturzkampfgeschwader 97 (StG 97 – the 97th Dive Bomber Wing), Group 2 (II / StG 97) and No. 4 Squadron (4 / StG 97). Seeing as Air Corps VIII and the aforementioned Geschwader 97 conclusively did not exist before the year 1942, and no official documents referring to a time before Seibold’s deployment to the Crimea have been found, we can only speculate on his former period of service. Several personal letters, however, suggest that he was stationed in Vienna in 1940, and thereafter, from 1941 to 1942, in Breslau – where he very probably joined the 12th Night Fighter Wing.

According to his flying log book, which progressed from flight book to log and veritable journal during the period of his anomalous journey, it would appear that on the 14th of January 1943, he had all the bombs of his Junkers Ju 88 a-4 dive bomber removed, and instead loaded additional fuel tanks in the front and rear holds, which together with the four wing tanks held a total of 3620 litres of diesel. Seibold took plenty of provisions on board and faced no notable difficulty in gaining permission to make a long reconnaissance flight along the eastern flank of the Black Sea. He indicated a false take-off time to his copilot and the two gunners, and at 07:35 on January 15th, 1943, he took off in his bomber entirely alone and bore south.

His flight book lists only the basic facts of his departure and offers no information about his reasons or even a word about the ultimate goal of his daring expedition. All we know is that on the same day, after several hours and a flight of some 1000 km, he touched down for the first time at the Van airfield in eastern Anatolia, on neutral territory, where he refueled. The same evening Seibold received permission for take-off, and in the early hours reached a neutral military airfield on the coast of the Persian Gulf ‒ located between Damman and Kuwait on Saudi Arabian soil, to be more precise. There he stocked up on fuel again, had a rest, and then set off just after noon bearing east-north-east. In the evening hours, the Junkers reached Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan, with the fuel tanks almost empty. Seibold spent the night there, refilled the tanks and then took off again before sunrise. Later that same morning, he eventually reached Lhasa, landed ‒ on Tibetan soil this time ‒ and had the tanks filled up again, which took two days to organize due to the lack of supplies in the region. Seibold spent his time checking and cleaning the two V-12 engines and the landing gear. He took off as soon as the aircraft was filled up.

After a 53-hour stay, and after a flying time of another couple of hours, he landed on the runway of the former civil airport of Bangkok, which now served as a Japanese Air Force military base. Here the German bomber was immediately filled up with diesel, and after just a few hours the airplane flew off once more, on course for the Philippine Islands. The extremely short and narrow runway on Mindanao, north of Lungsod ng Dabaw, was the seventh leg of Seibold’s journey from the Crimea, and apart from a bit of flak from an Indian antiaircraft gun in the Kashmir region (in Srinagar, to be more precise), which was ineffectual presumably due to the altitude of almost 8000 m, no further incidents are recorded.

By this time, Seibold had covered a flight distance of about 12,000 km, used approximately 20,000 litres of diesel, and spent almost a week on the run. It is impossible to say for certain which random chance ultimately caused the following events. It would, however, seem as if the next step of the journey failed to go as Seibold had planned. Seibold took off from Mindanao in conditions of poor visibility, high winds, and dense rain. The course was set for South at 05:00. It may be that the compass or the controls failed; we only know that the plane was driven hard to the east, and after a few hours of blind flight and with no fuel left, at 11:32 on January 22nd, 1943 the propellers stopped. The pilot recorded the emergency in his flying log book and steered his plane towards the nearest Pacific island.

Flying log book of Thomas Seibold, 28th of January, 1943

It seems as if the natives of this island only know the numbers one, two and three. I have spent days watching them count provisions, tools, loot and even children. They use their hands, holding up their index finger for one, the middle finger for two and the ring finger for three and utter a discernable phonetic sequence. If, however, the goods to be counted exceed the amount of three, they end their counting with the ever same word and describe a double circle with the right lower arm. I can only assume that the sound sequence and gesture mean no more than ‘many’ or ‘more’ and are perhaps similar in nature to our own nonplussed expression ‘endless’. In general, the natives seem to communicate amongst themselves with their limbs as much as with spoken language, and one tribe member who is certainly deaf and dumb takes as lively a part in the conversations as any anyone here by gesticulating.

 

The nose of the aircraft almost touched the trees. The impact was hard: the landing gear and airbrakes could not be deployed, as the batteries which were usually charged by generators driven by the two diesel engines were completely empty by now. The landing speed was too high, the approach angle too steep. Normally, the fuselage would have burst into pieces when it hit the ground, but as the plane carried nothing but the empty fuel tanks and slapped down in shallow coastal waters, the relative lightness and the pliant surface helped soften the impact somewhat, though it was still immense. The colossus slid through the shallow surf, across the beach and finally came to a halt in the dense undergrowth. There was no imminent danger – no diesel left to explode, and the bomb bays had been unloaded prior to the flight. Only the machine gun in the cockpit and the twin guns at the rear fired several solitary shots during the seconds of main impact.

An overflowing mass of teeming growth spanned out in front of the bomber: beneath never-ending treetops which towered almost 60 m above the ground lay the shadowy organism of a monstrous living creature. Its innards were moist and as green as could be; the wings of countless birds of the forest, including crowned pigeons, parrots, and jungle fowl, hummed like the tense nerves of the mighty monster. Everywhere in the midst of all greenery the individual parts of the creature rivalled each other in color and splendor: No sooner did a tree start to bloom than it immediately shed every single leaf to create a greater spectacle. Flowers reminiscent of cartwheels were wet and red like opened corpses and gave off a smell of rotting flesh with which they attracted clusters of flies. Some orchids of magnificent colour smelled so intoxicating that dazed insects tumbled into their chalices and took a minute or two to come to, flocked in pollen all over. And all of a sudden, from within this extraordinary creature, faces emerged – faces belonging to robust men of the land with firm, tanned skin and an even, steady gaze.

Flying log book of Thomas Seibold, 16th of February, 1943

They took the badge from my lapel – though they did so with the utmost caution and humility. That prized possession is now on a table in the middle of the village decorated with the most magnificent flowers, alongside my goggles and service jacket, which is useless in this heat. For several days now, there has been dancing every night. The rain forest all around us is full of reptiles and amphibians – the most frequent sightings are monitors and other lizards, forest tortoises, snakes, and frogs, some of which sail from treetop to treetop; even a species of snake is able to conquer a considerable distance through the air (without a single limb!). Finally the Junkers started to rust after just a few days. Fine droplets of salt water surf dispersed by the incoming winds saturate the air close to the ground, which is corroding the wreck. The natives still won’t go near the stranded bird, not even after all this time. But two men keep watch day and night in sight of the wreck.

 

A Cessna seaplane landed close to the shore. It had left Saipan a few hours before, the largest spot of land on all the Mariana Islands strung together in the Pacific Ocean like pearls on a string. Apart from the Australian pilot and copilot, the ethnographer Matthias Eickhorn, his assistant Philipp Zieger, and cameraman Simon Dreil were on board. The expedition had been planned three years after the crew of a processing ship belonging to a Palauan sea fishing company had messaged the harbour master in Melekeok and reported sighting single canoes in a remote Pacific atoll which had hitherto been regarded as uninhabited, and the public had got to hear about it. In the end, the expedition headed for the one piece of land on the atoll which offered enough space for a settlement. And of course this remote island had been populated, populated by faces belonging to the robust men of the land, with firm, tanned skin and an even, steady gaze, and the inexhaustible organism that bathed its innards in the shade beneath the thick forest canopy was as green as can be. Tree frogs spawned in the cups of bromeliads, and millions of delirious bees immersed themselves in the heady magnificence of brightly coloured orchid flowers. The bees built their hives in the crowns of the tropical trees, where water vapour from the regions below wouldn’t harm their brood. Drop for drop, the busy insect folk carried the heavenly ambrosia from the intoxicating flower cups all the way up to the utmost limits of the rainforest: and so on this island it was rightly believed that the bees brought the sweet fare to waxen chambers on high, where they enabled it to ripen in winds which had never penetrated the thicket of the forest, and that the great and fastidious Bee God would every now and then come down from heaven to the treetops of the forest to demand his sacred food; and of course it was he who let the forest fruits flourish for the sake of his pleasure and who made the tree-tops grow up to the sky.

When the ethnographer Eickhorn finally climbed out of the cabin of the Cessna and waded through the shallow water towards the shore, he was met with a most disturbing sight: the model of a huge aircraft stood on the beach of the island, made of dry grass, fern leaves, lianas and the branches of strangler figs. The model’s wings, elevators and tail fins, and the giant fuselage were immediately recognizable; even the propellers, exhaust pipes, and cockpit had been carefully crafted. Huge swastikas in white circles on a red base were depicted on the wings and the rudders. Once the expedition managed to fight its way through a few dozen metres of undergrowth into the interior of the forest, they soon found the scant remains of a settlement. The team spent the next couple of days combing through the entire island, until they were certain that for whatever reason, no human inhabitants had survived to this day. Finally, they diligently sifted and sorted through the remnants of the insular culture, and discovered some human skeletons and the remains of an elaborately decorated altar space, which comprised a badge of the Nazi Luftwaffe, a pair of flying goggles, and a German Wehrmacht service jacket. A few wooden planks were still intact and were covered in swastikas of different sizes, as were jewelry, conches, and bowls that appeared to be made from turtle shells: swastikas in white circles on a red background.

Flying log book of Thomas Seibold, March 1st, 1943

There are canoes! They are tied up on the south side of the island. They must be for fishing, though I haven’t seen them being used since I’ve been here. Last night I stowed a week’s rations of fresh water and provisions in one of the canoes. I also managed to secretly retrieve what money was left in the kitty from the wreck. I will set off in the small hours and aim to head west.

 

From “Der Bienengott.” Krachkultur 2016.