A prize-garnering 1977 German novel, only now translated here--set in the Upper Silesian town of Gleiwitz, the little spot where the Nazis chose effectively to begin the bloodshed of WW II. Since Gleiwitz was partially German-speaking, Polish ""provocation"" was given as the reason for the commitment of German troops. Bienek isolates the lives of various residents of the town--chiefly the Piontek family, whose patriarch, Leo Maria, has just died. Through the preparations for and the actual funeral, history is going on, relentlessly, just outside the windows; the Pionteks move through their days in an enveloping wrap of custom now and then torn by fear. There's a portrait, too, of a Bruno-Schulz-like Jewish writer, thrown out of Berlin and returned to his native Gleiwitz to find things there no better for him. Bienek knows this territory well--the book has its moments--but slow spots are everywhere, the story skeins aren't sturdy, and the translation seems stiff and cautious. So-so kaleidoscopic historial re-creation.