We shall be judged by the
footprints we leave behind.
THE JANUS DIRECTIVE
It’s funny how fate
leads us to the most unexpected of places. How the book of life
preordains that events should follow a natural progression. We live our
lives ignorantly meandering from one situation to another, certain that
it is all through design. The years roll by in our insular and perfect
worlds. We laugh, we live, we cry. We love, we give, we strive.
Then on an ordinary day,
fate delivers something extraordinary that forever changes our
Fate reached its hand
into my life through my grandfather. One day he was there, as reassuring
as the sunrise; the next, he was gone.
I missed him more in
death than I ever had in life. Perhaps it was the finality of it all
that shook me so badly. I had taken it for granted that he would be
there - the enduring part of my thirty-seven years that would forever
remain unchanged. How naïve one can be.
The reading of his will
was supposed to be straightforward. The solicitor charged with the task,
the aged Gregory Hart, from my grandfather’s old firm, Kerr and Wilson’s
Solicitors, sat at the head of the large mahogany table and began
reading. "I, Thomas James
McKenna, of Summerfield, Sevenoaks, Kent, do make, publish and declare
this to be my Last Will and Testament, hereby revoking all wills and
codicils at any time heretofore made by me.
FIRST: A. I give and
bequeath to my two children James and Charlotte..."
I held my Aunt Charlotte’s
hand, sharing her strength, while Mr. Hart disclosed the details of the
will: the house in Portland Place, the Summerfield estate, the money,
his stocks and shares. Everything my grandfather had amassed during his
full life dispersed among those he had loved. As an epilogue to his
life, he allotted one hundred thousand pounds to each of his
grandchildren, including me. I could not believe my ears! What a
difference this would make to me. Since most of the meagre salary I
earned as a journalist with the London Daily Tribune was automatically
routed to my estranged wife and weekends-only version of my
five-year-old son, this inheritance appeared to be a silver lining on
the dark cloud my life had become.
The reading progressed
very cordially, and when it was over, Mr. Hart’s office emptied to the
sound of low voices and footfall.
I followed everyone into
the hall, watching as each family member individually thanked Mr. Hart.
When it was my turn, he looked at me, his worn face revealing a sad
smile. Expecting him to extend his condolences, I was surprised when he
asked me to stay behind for a few minutes.
Puzzled, I wondered why
he would possibly want to speak to me apart from the rest of the family.
‘Is anything wrong?’ I inquired. Mr. Hart shook his head. ‘It’s
just something your grandfather asked me to share with you after the
will had been read.’
I nodded and agreed to
stay. Catching my father as he was walking out of the front door, I
explained that I’d follow everyone to Portland Place, where lunch had
‘Thank you,’ said
Gregory Hart. ‘If you make yourself comfortable again, I’ll be back
in a moment.’ He disappeared toward the lobby and I sat quietly,
listening to the soothing ticking of the clock upon the wall. My mind
was filled with a sense of both puzzlement and interest, as to the
reason for Hart’s curious request. When he returned he was holding two
objects: a large parcel wrapped in brown paper, bound by dirty white
string, and a small flat wooden box. Mr. Hart sat down beside me, and I
turned slightly to see his face.
‘Your grandfather gave
these to me,’ he explained, holding both the parcel and box out before
him, ‘shortly after discovering he had cancer. They tell a story,
Sean, a story your grandfather was bound by law and honour to keep
secret while he was alive.’
‘By law?’ ‘Yes.’
He knew what I was thinking immediately. ‘And you’re wondering, if
that was the case, do I know what they contain, and if so, how?’
I nodded but said
‘Well, the answer is
yes, I do know. Your grandfather had to tell someone about the contents
while he was alive, or you would never fully understand what lies behind
them. Who better than a priest, or maybe a solicitor, to share this
burden of secrecy?’ The reply was plausible enough. ‘Seems the
sensible thing to do.’
Gregory Hart paused for
a moment, then continued. ‘Sean, you know your grandfather was very
proud of you, don’t you?’
Though he had never told
me as much, it was something I had always hoped for. ‘I always liked
to think so.’ ‘He was especially proud of you when you covered the
Gulf and Kosovo Wars.’
‘It was my job.’
‘You can say that now,
but you went one step further for the truth. There were times you put
your career, your life even, on the line. Your grandfather always
admired your integrity and dedication to quality journalism.’ Hart
looked down at the two enigmatic items on his lap. ‘He talked about
your strong character the day he came here with these. He told me that
he wished he had your fortitude. He said that you get that from your
I smiled appreciatively.
‘Well, he was right about that. Dad was a great policeman.’
‘Yes, and you are on
your way to becoming a great journalist.’
‘My salary doesn’t
reflect that opinion,’ I said ironically.
‘It is if you don’t
‘And the money your
grandfather has left you?’
I gave a shrug of
acknowledgement. ‘Will come in very handy.’ Gregory Hart pursed his
lips and nodded. After a moment, he looked down, handed me the box, and
said, ‘Open this first.’
I took it from him and
carefully and slowly separated the lid from the body. The shimmer of
gold flashed against the dim light from the desk lamp.
‘Yes, but not any
medal. That, Sean, is a DSO, the Distinguished Service Order, generally
given to officers above the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. Awards to
officers below that rank, as was your grandfather at the time of its
bestowal, were extremely rare. It was, and still is, awarded for a high
degree of gallantry just short of deserving the Victoria Cross.’
I carefully lifted the
medal and examined it more closely. Its beauty was striking: a gold
cross with curved ends, overlaid with an angel-pure heart of ice enamel.
In the centre of the cross, surrounded by a wreath of laurel green,
rested the Imperial Crown in gold, set upon a red background. Above the
wreath, was a crimson ribbon with deep blue edges.
I was bemused.
‘This belonged to my
grandfather?’ I asked in disbelief.
‘Yes. It did.’
‘What did he do to get
Gregory Hart smiled,
knowing the secret he was about to disclose. ‘Do you know anything of
your grandfather’s work during the Second World War, Sean?’
‘Very little; only
that he was almost caught in Dunkirk, and that he ended up working for
essentially is the truth; at least as far as the official line is
‘And the unofficial
He drifted into a moment
‘Paints a very
different picture.’ He paused, then went on. ‘With the invasion of
Poland on September 1st 1939, your grandfather left this firm
where he’d been engaged as a young solicitor, and joined the Naval
Intelligence Division, the NID. Within weeks he was approached by MI-6
and transferred to Brussels where he worked for the British embassy’s
Passport Control Office, "Passport Control" being the
pseudonym and cover used by MI-6 abroad. As you mentioned, your
grandfather narrowly escaped capture in Dunkirk when the Germans
advanced into France in May 1940. He had already got your father and
Aunt Charlotte away with your grandmother when the staff of the British
embassy in Brussels were evacuated to Lille. Luckily fortune kept
smiling on him through the Dunkirk ordeal and he managed to return home,
the same month being assigned to take over as the Head of the Naval
Section of MI-6, at MI-6 HQ in London.’
In my mind, I could see
a younger version of my grandfather, as he looked in his old
photographs, hiding in deserted barns and houses while the German army
‘Are you sure we’re
talking about the same person here?’ I asked.
Gregory Hart smiled
‘You only remember Tom
McKenna as an ageing barrister and your grandfather. When I think of Tom
McKenna, I remember him from a couple of years after the war when he was
first called to the Bar and established McKenna Chambers. He was an
impressive figure surrounded by a long list of rumours about his wartime
exploits. Especially popular was the story about his being parachuted
into France in 1943 to direct Maquis operations under the control of the
I was only vaguely
familiar with the French Resistance and the Special Operation Executive:
a secret organisation connected to MI-6 whose franchise was to "Set
Europe Ablaze" as Churchill put it.
‘We’re talking about
sabotage, assassinations primarily,’ said Hart matter-of-factly.
‘Jesus Christ, I had
‘As I said, he wasn’t
always the ageing grandfather you knew.’
I returned the DSO back
to its case and placed it on the edge of the table.
‘That seems to be an
understatement, Mr. Hart.’
Now Gregory Hart handed
me the large parcel.
‘The time has come for
you to open this,’ he said, releasing the parcel and folding his arms.
I turned the parcel
around until its tied string bow was facing me. I looked up at Gregory
Hart while trying to think of anything that could be more shocking than
the contents of the box I had just opened.
‘Go on,’ he said,
I pulled at the string
until it fell open, and drawing in a deep breath, unfolded the brown
paper. In my hands was a stack of around three hundred sheets of
yellowing paper underneath the title, "The Janus Affair". I
looked up at Gregory Hart. ‘I don’t understand.’
Gregory Hart explained.
‘What you have there
is your grandfather’s account of his very first field mission,
undertaken while he was Head of the Naval Section in September 1940.
Though he went on to take part in many superseding missions for both
MI-6 and SOE, this one always remained a dark cloud at the back of his
mind. When you read it you will see why. It was written some years after
the war with the help of many of the participants. For various reasons,
none of these people, including your grandfather, wanted it published,
and so they all agreed to an unwritten promise, that only after the last
of them had died would it be brought to light. From the day your
grandfather completed it, until the day he brought it here, it was
hidden away in his safe at Summerfield.’ He paused. ‘Sean, he told
me when he brought it here that there was only one person in the world
he trusted enough to ghost over it, smooth out the rough edges, and
breathe life into the story. That person is you.’
I felt a surge of pride.
‘In his final words to
me he emphasised that people need to know what happened. If only out of
respect for many of the people involved, people whose names have
vanished in the mists of time.’ He studied my face. ‘Do it justice.
Make people aware of what happened.’ He paused and shrugged. ‘If
only to fulfil an old man’s dying wish.’
Instead of going to
Portland Place, I had a taxi take me to my flat on the Bayswater Road. I
was filled with curiosity and excitement, and lunch was the last thing
on my mind. I wanted to be alone. I wanted to reach back into time and
understand my grandfather, not as he had always been to me, but as a
young father who had been thrown into the maelstrom of war at a time
when, professionally, he was reaching his peak. Reading this would be
more than a story; it would be nothing less than a diary, a snapshot
into an extraordinary time, and the life of a person who had, until this
morning, been unknown to me.
My apartment was on the
second floor in a block backing onto Albion Street. There was nothing
special to it; it was cold and soulless, with a shared staircase one of
the few things all its occupants had in common. It was something I had
been glad of during my time here; solitude had been prerequisite for
living after my separation.
Before settling down, I
made myself a cup of tea. It was going to be a long day. Laying the
manuscript next to me on the settee, I untied the string once more. I
looked at the title again: "The Janus Affair". Removing it
from its box, I placed it upside down on the settee. To my surprise,
before me was a letter on a white sheet of paper. It bore the date May
24th 2000. It was addressed to me. I began to read.
So now you know. Right
now you are probably feeling a mixture of curiosity and apprehension. I
can assure you, though, that the manuscript you are about to read is a
true representation of the situation I found myself caught up in during
the dark late summer days of 1940. The manuscript was penned towards the
end of 1949 while I was in between briefs. As you will see I had a lot
of help from many of the participants who, for one reason or another,
also wished its secrets to be hidden within its binding so as not to
interfere with the post-war lives they had struggled so hard to rebuild.
An agreement was reached that at a date of our combined choosing, the
story would be brought to light. As you now know, the date settled upon
was the death of the last survivor - me.
It’s strange how the
lives of so many unconnected people were destined to come together,
Sean, to meet at a time, a place, so far from their homelands. It
strikes me as surreal, even now, all these years later. It never ceases
to amaze me.
But I am getting ahead
of myself now. As Gregory Hart has told you, a story needs to be told,
and I can think of no one better to tell it than you. Read the
manuscript, my boy. In a lifetime of defending innocent and guilty
people from all walks of life, both it and this letter are all I have
left to speak for me. When you have finished, return to this letter,
Sean. It’s summing up will determine my fate. Whether things can be
clear-cut in war, or whether time in its wisdom has returned to defend
me, after all".
Monday July 29th
The muted glow from
hooded motorcar headlamps eased slowly along the well-worn street before
creeping to an eventual stop - then darkness. Inside, shrouded by a
taciturn night and the sturdy frame of a black BMW with Berlin licence
plates, three men sat, impassively. Only the sound of laughter and the
occasional rendition of, "Germany, thou art our pride",
floating on the breeze from a nearby Burgerbraükeller, broke the
continuity of silence. The two passengers climbed out, easing shut the
car doors. Both men wore long unbuttoned leather overcoats and trilby
hats worn with their wide brims slightly dipped in order to hide their
faces from the night.
The driver remained
cloaked in the darkness at the steering wheel, the only hint of
occupation coming from the glow of his cigarette, its rapid waxing and
waning betraying his nervousness.
The thin man paced
quickly ahead through the enclosure up to the Registry Office door,
footsteps strident against the harsh concrete ground. He hadn’t
visited Halle on the Saale before, but all Standesamts were much
the same. He took from his pocket two keys he had been assured would
fit, put one into the lock and twice tried to turn it. Nothing happened.
A good start, he thought. He removed it and tried the other. The same
again. I’ll kill Heinz, he thought. He said he’d checked everything
out. "There’ll be no need for a skeleton key". The thin man
let out a long, frustrated sigh. He knew there was little or no time to
lose. A safety restriction of thirteen minutes had been placed on the
entire operation and they were already into their second. Plan B.
He promptly turned to his sturdier cohort and with a quick gesture
pointed towards the door.
The sturdy man reached
inside his coat and quickly produced a hitherto concealed iron crowbar.
He rotated his hands in order to ensure a proper grip, and when ready,
moved toward the door and placed the sloped end of the crowbar between
the hinged wooden structure and its solid frame just below the ageing
lock. Initially he rotated and manoeuvred the bar into gouging out a
spot where it would have maximum impact when he was ready to pull. A
covering of broken wood started to flake away and he bored deeper,
fracturing through layer after layer, tier after tier, acutely aware of
time ticking on. Zero plus ten minutes. He was ready now. Setting
himself in a position from which he could maintain full balance, he
began to heave and pull. The task proved harder than expected. Zero
plus nine minutes. After pausing for a moment to catch his breath,
he set about his task again. He placed the bar in the same man-made
gouge and began to heave. He heard a click. That’s it! he thought.
This time the bar slipped deeper as it cut through the fleshy wood and
invaded a fresh gap left by the warping of wrought iron. The frame
started to whine. The whine soon became a scream whose shrillness
pierced the air like a spear plunging to the soil. Still louder- a few
seconds more and it became a roar. Something had to give. The decisive
point had come. He pulled, putting into it every ounce of remaining
strength his aching body could muster. It’s going! he thought. With a
final almighty wrench most of the wooden fixture broke free from its
metal housing and the door crashed open, swinging along its hinges and
thumping into the wall behind. As the full weight of his body was
suddenly transferred onto his right leg, the sturdy man’s ankle gave
way and he lost his balance and fell forcefully to the ground, the chime
of the bar hitting the concrete ringing through the silent air like an
ancient church bell on a Sunday morning. Quickly he scrambled to his
feet and checked the street. They were lucky. Apparently nobody had
heard them. His relief was tangible. He forced himself to be calm. Too
much time had already been wasted and they had to move on. The thin man
who’d already begun to enter the building looked back and motioned
impatiently to be followed. The sturdier man nodded and moving in the
same direction both now switched on shaded blackout torches which
partially lightened the appearance of an eerie emptiness - a place
smelling of damp leather bookbinding and husky incense - the kind of
place that always seemed unearthly during a dark hollow night with its
creaking bookshelves and haunting echoes, while quite pleasant during
the day when overwhelmed by the warm congenial sunlight.
Zero plus eight
minutes. At the end of a short corridor the two men turned right and
stopped. The thin man flashed his torch at the walls of a sizeable
square shaped chamber that was now before him. Inset into a wall of
stone were wooden cabinets situated at regular intervals each one
pertaining to a specific period in time. In a secluded section near an
exit a few tables had been pushed together for convenience and were
covered in rows of untidy stacks of sheeted paper. A large portrait of
the Führer adorned a wall leading to a staircase, with the symbol of
oppression the Nazi Swastika pinned menacingly below it.
Each knowing their
objective, the two men separated and began their quest at opposite ends
of the chamber. Methodically, they started to inch their way ever closer
to one another searching for their goal, the cabinet that concealed
within its hollow, the marriage certificates for the year 1871. Zero
plus seven minutes. Zero plus six minutes. Zero plus five
minutes. Time dissolved as they circled the chamber, ticking away
unforgivingly even as they neared each other. Suddenly a hushed call
escaped from the silence. The thin man froze. He looked over anxiously.
For a moment he thought it had been his imagination. An instant later
the sturdy man repeated his call sending over a flashing beam of
torchlight to secure his colleague’s attention. The thin man stared at
him. Even in the poor light he could see great excitement on his
colleague’s face. He stood there transfixed for two, maybe three
seconds before the full realisation of how close they were to consummate
success struck him. His mouth felt dry. He was suddenly nervous. Outside
a motor bike interrupted the silent night, the light from its headlamp
momentarily penetrating the interior of the chamber. The low rumble of a
car’s engine came into distant earshot, then faded. He realised these
were just normal nightly noises. Suddenly the teachings of his mentor,
Theodore von Hippel, came flooding back. "Usher all irrelevant
thoughts out of your mind - use every experience that has driven you to
be wherever you are at any moment in time. It’s only the success of
the mission that matters", he remembered Hippel drumming into him,
time and time again, "nothing else. Keep up total concentration for
the span of the operation. Set a time limit and communicate with the
other members of the team, always time the operation and
Despite a parting of the
ways, he still had a profound respect for Hippel’s techniques. They’d
stopped him from getting killed in Poland many times. "Calmness is
of the essence. Whoever is the calmest in the maelstrom will
succeed". And Hippel’s words fortified him as he crossed to the
other side of the chamber, glancing towards the passage to ensure they
were still alone.
Zero plus three
minutes. Uneasily, the two men met and each fixed the other in his
gaze. The thin man looked across; this was indeed it, the date for which
they searched, and the object of their journey. The sturdy man reached
forward and tried the cabinet’s rounded boulle. Again, as with the
door, the fixture was secure. He stepped away and delved into his coat
once more, producing the crowbar. Only a single haul was needed to
reveal a recess full of dust-peppered documents.
For some seconds the
thin man methodically scoured its inside, hunting for the prize; the
registry book which contained within its binding the certificates of
marriage for the month of June. Time ticked mercilessly on as he cleared
the opening, discarding unwanted ledgers onto the floor. He was both
calm and frantic at the same time. Then there it was. He looked at his
colleague knowingly, then back. A large black book inscribed with a
date, the writing illuminated by his torchlight. Prudently, he lowered
the book to the floor. The sturdy man fixed his torchlight on its pages
while his cohort began to examine its content. It took only moments for
him to turn to the second week of June, bypassing records of people who
had lived, loved, and ultimately died in a bygone age; an epoch when
belonging to a particular race did not exclude someone from being a
member of the human family.
Zero Plus two minutes.
Anxiously, the thin man turned to June 10th. Suddenly, in
awe, he stopped reading and looked up. It was a breathless moment. The
two men’s eyes met in unspoken communication, and each man smiled a
long satisfied smile, for before them was a piece of paper men would
gladly trade lives for; it was the certificate of marriage between a
Hofrat Professor Doktor Eugene Krantz, a Catholic whose occupation was
stated as being the Direktor of the Royal Conservatorium of Music in
Dresden, and a woman from Halle-on-the-Saale named Sarah Mautsch, a
Carefully, as if
caressing its consequence the thin man tore away this priceless fragment
of history, folded it in half, then half again and placed it inside his
Having got what they
came for, the two men replaced everything as near to its original
condition as possible, stood and quickly made back for the entrance. The
thin man stopped inside the doorway and peered into the blackout.
"Get away quickly," he recalled Hippel saying. Hit hard and
run". He flashed his torch at the driver twice and waited for a
reply. Nothing happened. Come on! Come on! he thought. He flashed his
torch again; still nothing happened. Come on! Come on! And again -
nothing. Zero plus one minute. Both men knew something was very
wrong. What the hell’s Kai up to, thought the thin man? Had Orpo, the Ordnungspolizei,
come across him? They couldn’t have, he decided; they’d have
stumbled across the operation, too. He forced himself to breathe slowly,
evenly, to concentrate.
The thin man took half a
step forward. Suddenly there was a shrill screech! He jumped back
against the wall momentarily losing his bearings. His heart almost burst
in his chest. He fumbled in his pocket trying to release his Mauser. His
head darted back and forth. Then came a moment of relief as he caught
sight of silhouetted cat bolting away into the darkness. He turned
towards the sturdy man who was holding a Kappmesser knife.
‘It’s okay,’ he
whispered, then pointed at the animal.
As he said the words
something else caught the thin man’s eye, something close by in the
street. Zero. Now the reason for Kai’s inactivity became only
too apparent. Two figures were approaching from the south end of the
street. Orpo! thought the thin man, Municipal Police patrols of two
officers. It had to be. Surveillance had taught the intruders that the
patrols completed each round in anything from thirteen to eighteen
minutes depending on the amount of talking they did. He groped for the
door and slowly moved it until it was nearly closed. The sturdy man
moved backwards and waited behind him; both were in complete darkness
now. The thin man anxiously scrutinised the curtain of gloom in front of
him from behind a small gap between the frame and the door. As the two
figures came into view a wave of relief washed over the thin man. He
eased the door open so the sturdy man could see. The silhouettes were of
a young soldier and his girl walking arm in arm, stopping every so often
to kiss and embrace. Still the orders had been explicit. "Refrain
from contact of any kind unless absolutely necessary". That meant
they had to try to wait where they were until the way was clear. The
couple approached Kai oblivious to their surroundings. Both men were
aware that the Orpo patrol was due at any moment. If that happened
surveillance had showed that they would check out the Standesamt’s
grounds. The damage to the door would be noticed, and they would
investigate further. The only option then would be to immobilise them.
The mission was too close to success to let anyone stand in its way. In
his mind, the thin man mentally begged the couple to get away. They
stopped again, this time directly in front of the Standesamt, and
kissed, hugged and laughed. Zero minus five minutes. The critical
stage had arrived. During the planning of the operation a sixteen
minutes span had placed them with an eighty five per cent chance of
confrontation with the Orpo patrol. They were two minutes in excess of
that. If the couple didn’t move on now, they would have to leave the
building regardless of the non-contact directive.
Suddenly the thin man
whispered, ‘They’re going!’
The couple moved on and
even before they had completely disappeared the thin man once more
flashed his torch into the gloom.
Kai gave an immediate
response. ‘At last!’ In an instant they were out of the building, in
another on the enclosure before it. The moon had vanished. The stars in
their bearings had veiled themselves to their profit. The sturdy man
hurried at his colleague’s heels towards the car. They only had to get
away before the patrol came now to complete the mission. Everything they
had been asked to do had been done. Der Alte had said it would be
there and it had been. "Keep up total concentration for the span of
the operation", rung in the thin man’s head. "Keep up total
concentration for the span of the operation". He opened the
As he got in Kai eagerly
asked if they had it.
Pulling the door closed,
the thin man nodded.
‘We have it,’ he
said, accompanying his answer with a tap at his breast pocket.
Kai had difficulty in
concealing his excitement. With a congratulatory tap on the thin man’s
arm- he whispered. ‘I knew our source was right, Michael. I knew he
wouldn’t let us down.’
The sturdy man gave a
final look around the street before getting in the car.
‘Never mind all of
that!’ he hissed, closing the door. ‘Just get us away from here
before the damn Orpo patrol comes down on us!’
Kai gave a defensive
wave and apologised.
The sturdy man acted as
though he hadn’t heard it and kept on anxiously checking the outside
for sign of the polizei. Zero minus six minutes. The
engine’s ignition broke the quiet of the street. The engine pitch
rose. The wheels rolled forward and the car pulled away. Night absorbed
the soft glow of the headlamps. The silhouette of the Standesamt
soon disappeared into the density of pitch-black darkness. A few seconds
later, the way was empty before them.
Friday August 23rd
The summer sun warmed
the streets and boulevards of Berlin throughout the morning, and gently,
the day passed into what was now an amiable Friday afternoon. The
headlines in the Borsen Zeitung as always told the story of more
success after success, culminating with Göring lately boasting that if
the beleaguered British ever managed to drop a single bomb on the
capital, "you can call me the Jew Meier".
To the majority of the
population it appeared that the war was nearly over. But to others,
daily life was a continuance of the savage war waged against them since
Hitler’s Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei
attained power on January 30th, 1933.
Anna Mahler was one such
person. A twenty-eight year old former student of economics, she had
been forced as a consequence of her Jewish blood, to relinquish her
studies in the first year of Nazi rule - though not before she had
awakened the softer passions in the noted mathematician and Friedrich-Wilhelms
Universität lecturer, Doktor Christian August Mahler. The couple
married, later, despite new Nazi laws that advised such marriages end
through divorce. The previous April, Christian was finally dismissed
from his position at the university for his continuing refusal to
conform. Anna knew she shouldn’t be in Kurfürstendamm. Jews of all
classification were banned from the main shopping streets, so it was a
small act of defiance on her part that brought her here this afternoon,
on her way to visit a friend. She was heading for a small apartment in
Goethestraße, where Jutta Sandler, a former doctor of medicine, now
lived in hiding. Anna hated Nazi classifications. Especially the one
that labelled her as Mischlinge. The term made her feel lower
than an animal - a hybrid dog - the half-breed vermin, it implied.
Streets, bars, hotels, restaurants, public toilets even, all barred to
her classification. And that was just the start. What had made Hitler
hate Jewish people so? Under the Nazis, Jutta had fared even worse. As
with all other Jewish doctors, Jutta had been struck off the medical
register on September 30th 1938. Now after the censure of
some Hitler Jugend teenagers who were forcing an elderly rabbi to scrub
a street corner, she spent her life as a so-called "U-Boat",
living by her wits, one step ahead of the Gestapo’s Jewish
"catchers" from Kurfürstenstraße.
Anna reached the corner
of Bleibraustraße, a street whose north branched off towards the
Bahnhof Savignyplatz. A group of army officers were sitting outside a
café, drinking beer. Anna drew away from them. As she neared the side
of the revenue office on the corner of Knesebeckstraße, she noticed a
disturbance breaking out near the Hotel Roxy. A large crowd was
assembling, more exiting the U Bahn station off Uhlandstraße were
heading the same way. Disregarding everything experience had taught her,
and realising being caught on Ku’damm meant being incarcerated in a KZ,
or a concentration camp, Anna approached.
Through a mass of
bystanders Anna caught sight of a slightly built man being baited by a
drunken mob of SS soldiers who, she heard someone say were from the SS
"Totenkopf" Division. On nearing, she could see that they were
wearing their distinctive black dress uniforms, with the silver skull
and crossbones insignia she hated so much, the double runic
"S" of pagan German which disgusted her, and on their belts,
the terrifying motto "My honour is loyalty".
One of the group, a
tall, well-built man who the others called Unterscharführer, an
SS-corporal, was certain he recognised the petrified man as a Communist
whom he’d known some years before.
yelled. ‘I remember you from the Moltke School. You used to be a
member of the K.J.V.D.’ (The Communist Youth Association). The
Unterscharführer gave a disparaging scoff. ‘I bet you developed into
the perfect Marxist. Come to think of it the Gestapo might be very
interested in you.’
The cowering man
protested his innocence. ‘I’ve never seen you before in my life. I’m
a true National Socialist. I voted for the Führer even before 1933.’
He looked into the crowd in search of support. Panic-stricken, he turned
back, a dark cloud crossing his face. ‘Please! I’m telling you the
truth,’ he protested. ‘I swear it! Wait, I’ll show you my papers.’
The group closed in,
hungry wolves surrounding their prey before the final kill.
‘Shut your filthy
mouth!’ barked the Unterscharführer, slapping the man’s
outstretched arm downward, ‘papers can be bought or forged. And
anyway, I never forget a face.’ His eyes were ablaze now. Anna noticed
that several people had turned away. A little boy covered his eyes.
‘If you’re not the
Communist I take you for,’ the Unterscharführer went on, after
pausing a moment to look around at his audience, ‘perhaps you’re one
of those depraved perverts the Queer Squad hauls in every day. Well,
should you be wearing a pink triangle, you fucking pervert??’
Laughing he prodded the
man’s chest vigorously, his eyes broad with pleasure.
‘Then again, maybe you’re
a fucking Jew.’
The man shook his head
and told him he was wrong.
ignored the man’s denial, ‘Look,’ he joked to the crowd. ‘I
think we’ve caught "Israel" corrupting our clean Aryan
Suddenly, he slapped the
man twice across his face.
The man lifted his arms
to protect his stooped head.
This only seemed to
massage the Unterscharführer’s drunken hatred, encouraging him. He
slapped the man again, hard across his crown.
‘No!’ he snarled.
‘I remember you all right.’
Breathing heavily, the
man continued to proclaim his innocence.
By now the
Unterscharführer had had enough. He set himself in a trained, boxing
stance and cast a deliberate blow, fist closed, towards the man’s
face. A moment later the nose had been obliterated, disintegrating into
a wound of open flesh.
‘Go on, Luther!’
shouted Rottenführer Kessler, his number two, who was seemingly as
intoxicated with brutality as with the amount of alcohol already
consumed. He laughed. ‘Give him the same treatment as that
"Tommy" at Le Paradis.’ Although the crowd couldn’t know
what Kessler meant, Luther immediately remembered the engagement their
company, as part of the 2nd Totenkopf Regiment, had
undertaken against retreating British troops of the 2nd Battalion of the
Royal Norfolk Regiment the previous May, when they had first beaten,
then shot their surrendering foes in the paddock of a farm off the Rue
du Paradis in northern France.
The injured man dropped
to the ground with a frightening intensity. He raised his hands to his
throat, gasping for air as he began to choke on his own blood. Finally,
he managed to breathe.
Others in the group
unable to resist any longer, joined in. For now they were back in
Poland. An ordinary SS-private, an SS-Mann, charged forward and began to
wade into the defenceless man’s head, followed by another who kicked
at his body. While this was going on the Unterscharführer stepped
around and separated the man’s legs. Anna noticed he appeared to be
delirious with a cocktail of blood and drink. Nonchalantly, he lifted a
foot, then catapulted it powerfully forward into the man’s scrotum
with a resounding thud. He cried out in a whisper - a cry that was
little more than a breath. A moment later the man lost consciousness.
The crowd ebbed back stunned into silence. The German people had been
told the soldiers of both the Wehrmacht, the armed services, and the SS
were the flag bearers of goodness and honesty - not the drunken sadists
these were proving to be. Suddenly Anna’s attention was drawn across
the road- to a black Mercedes-Benz that was screeching to a standstill.
Before it had stopped rolling, one of its occupants was out and running.
Another man, patently Gestapo followed him from the car. Anna felt
herself go rigidly cold. She’d heard all about the Gestapo prison, the
Hausgefängnis, on Prinz-Albrechtstraße, and the Kripo cells on
Alexanderplatz, "the Alex". Carefully, as inconspicuously as
possible, she turned and started to walk away. She kept her head down so
as not to draw attention to herself, but all the time she was afraid
something in the way she’d abruptly left would give her away. The
street moved past on either side, a blur in a different dimension. She
heard a torrent of shouts, but dared not turn around. Her shoes were
silent against the pavement- she might have been a breeze. She was
scared. She had to get away.
But then the thought of
Christian calmed her and stopped her outside a clothes shop on
Grolmanstraße. She stood still and thought, He’ll be annoyed that I
put myself in such a position, to put myself at risk. But he also said
that if I was ever in trouble to try to be calm and think clearly.
And then she realised
how right he had been - Christian was always right. If she followed his
words she knew she’d be safe. Act naturally, act naturally. It was as
though Christian was standing next to her, guiding her. She could even
hear his voice, familiar and resolute, composed. Act naturally, she
heard him say again.
And she adjusted her
clothes and walked steadily back to Kurfürstendamm, one shopper amongst
thousands of others.