This was the moment, Franzi told himself. If he wanted to get away, he had to act now. Macher was out on night patrol with two of the others, which meant they probably wouldn’t be back for at least another hour. Himmler was also safely out of the picture, having retreated to the bedroom for another session with Fraulein Potthast. That meant the only people he’d have to contend with were Grothmann and Kiermaier, Himmler’s personal bodyguard. The three of them were sitting in the front room, Franzi in the corner, while Grothmann and Kiermaier sat opposite each other at the table.
For the last three days they’d been holed up in a gamekeeper’s cottage, deep in a
forest somewhere near Flensburg. Before that they’d been continually on the
move, never spending more than a night in any one place. But when they came
here, they found, to the surprise of everyone except Kiermaier, that Fraulein
Potthast, Himmler’s mistress, was already ensconced there. Macher didn’t like
it and neither did Grothmann, but as Franzi saw it, even though she got on
everyone’s nerves, at least she kept Himmler busy and out of their hair for
hours at a time.
All he had to do now was put Kiermaier and Grothmann to sleep. Just get inside their minds, find the rhythms of their
awareness, and then, like stepping into a chorus line, become part of it. Then,
without them noticing it, induce a new rhythm. Make the flow of their thoughts
change from a razor sharp wave into a long, greasy, monotonous roll. Franzi and
his brothers had grown up practicing it on their father. It was easy as Gustav
Loerber was the rare individual whom self-doubt never visited.
Kiermaier, on the other hand, was alertand suspicious and entering his mind felt like walking barefoot across a beach
of sharp rocks with the waves pounding casually beyond it. But gradually,
Franzi got him nodding. Grothmann, to his surprise, turned out to be relatively
easy. The constant creaking and squealing coming from the bedroom had him so
irritated, that all Franzi had to do was set up a couple of counter-rhythms to
send him blessedly into oblivion.
Franzi rose from his chair and began making his way toward the door, carefully shifting his weight from one foot to
the other so the floorboards wouldn’t creak. But halfway across, he felt so overcome
with fatigue that he had to stop and hold onto the wall. He tried to imagine
running into the forest, up a trail, then cutting off to the side until he
found some ferns or undergrowth he could disappear into. And after he got his
strength back, he’d creep off like a badger. He figured they’d give up looking
for him after a few hours, since they could no longer spare the men for a sustained search.
He made another couple steps toward the door. He reached for the handle, checking quickly behind him to make sure the
two were still out. Suddenly, a shrill scream tore through the stillness.
“Oh Hanzeeeeeeee!” shrieked Fraulein Potthast from behind the bedroom door.
Franzi pulled his hand away from the door handle just as Kiermaier and Grothmann snapped awake.
“Oh Hanzeeee, Hanzeee, Hanzeee!”
Oh shit, thought Franzi.
Kiermaier’s eyes were darting around the room. “What happened?” he asked, thoroughly confused.
“I don’t know,” answered Grothmann. He looked suspiciously at Franzi. “What were you doing? I didn’t see you get up.”
“I wasn’t doing anything,” said Franzi as he sank back into his chair. He closed his eyes and tried to
think. But his mind felt like it was full of cold, wet cement, his thoughts moving listlessly through it like dying animals.
By now Fraulein Potthast’s screaming had subsided into little satisfied mewing
noises. Grothmann gave a disgusted look and tried to focus his attention on the
dirt under his nails while Kiermaier’s face returned to its usual blank inscrutability.
Franzi had been trying to escape for a week now, and each time, his attempts came
apart at the last moment. Something always went wrong. Once he got Macher to
run into a hall closet, believing it was a front door, but he barely bumped his
head. Another time, he’d got Grothmann and Kiermaier so angry at each other
that they drew their pistols, but their training got the better of them and
they soon calmed down again.
He remembered going through Flensburg that night and seeing his brothers there with Nigel Westerby. They had to be
planning his rescue, which he absolutely had to prevent from happening. It
didn’t matter what resources Westerby had or what magic Manni could muster up
for the occasion. They didn’t stand a chance against Macher.
There was more creaking of bedsprings, louder, more jerking and arrhythmic.
Grothmann’s eyes narrowed. This weakness of character was something he had not
heretofore suspected about the Reichsfuhrer. But Himmler was insatiable. In the
time they’d been here, he’d hardly done anything but have sex with Fraulein
Potthast. Franzi wondered what it was about being the most hunted man on earth
that could stoke one’s ardency to this degree.
The creaking grew louder. “Jesus God, is that all he’s good for?” muttered
Grothmann. Kiermaier shot him a poisonous look. Grothmann glared back. It
occurred to Franzi that if he’d had the strength, perhaps he might have been
able to engineer another showdown between the two. But he didn’t. Instead he
closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep.
The next thing he knew he was being shaken awake by Grothmann. “Wake up, Loerber,
wake up! The Reichsfuhrer is having an attack.”
Groggily, Franzi followed Grothmann into the bedroom. Kiermaier was already inside,
holding down the writhing, naked Reichsfuhrer, while Fraulein Potthast cowered
in the corner, her dressing gown wrapped tight around her.
While Kiermaier held down his knees, Franzi began working on Himmler’s stomach.
Everything was knotted up, even worse than usual. Franzi let his fingers probe
deep into the muscles and immediately, Himmler’s screaming dropped to a whimper
and he started to relax. Once Kiermaier felt certain Himmler was out of danger,
he took Fraulein Potthast by the wrist and led her out of the room. Himmler’s
breathing began slowing down and he stopped whimpering. “Oh Herr Loerber,” he
sighed. “You have saved me again.”
“Thank you, Reichsfuhrer,” answered Franzi.
“You really are quite remarkable.”
For a few minutes, neither said anything, but Franzi could tell Himmler had something major on his mind.
Finally he spoke. “May I ask you a question, Herr Professor?”
“What do you think of General Schellenberg? Is he someone you would trust?”
“Let me put it this way, Loerber, has he taken you into his confidence on occasion?
You’ve done things for him, secret things?”
Franzi felt the tingling on the back of his neck.
“What were you doing for him most recently?”
“I was helping arrange the moving of some containers to remote locations. General
Schellenberg wanted them dispersed into barns and cellars where they could be retrieved unnoticed.”
“Containers, you said?”
“Yes, Reichsfuhrer. Containers of intelligence files, relating to Source Moonpool.”
“Did General Schellenberg tell you that?”
“No, Reichsfuhrer, I just assumed it.”
“Because Major Steiner was working on it with him.”
“Major Steiner!” Himmler smiled. It was the answer he was looking for. “Major Steiner,
yes,” Himmler said. “But did he ever say anything about gold?”
Franzi acted startled. “Gold, Reichsfuhrer? No, he never said anything about that.”
“Did General Schellenberg ever name any of the locations where they were hiding the containers?”
“Not to me Reichsfuhrer.” Franzi paused long enough to adopt a troubled expression.
The fact was Schellenberg and Steiner had both, unbeknownst to each other,
given him the lists of the locations of the gold. And each list was completely
Himmler went on. “Looking back on it now, with the virtue of hindsight, I think we can
fairly say it was a mistake entrusting the location of the gold to the same
individual running the special operations against the Soviets. General
Schellenberg assured me the man was better than anyone at keeping secrets. But
now they’re both gone.”
“Oh,” said Franzi.
“This puts our negotiations with Eisenhower into a problematic area, since
Schellenberg has not yet fully informed us of the details of the agreement he
has reached with him. I can’t very well go to Eisenhower myself, having no idea
what the status is. That would be showing all my cards.”
“Yes, it would be,” agreed Franzi.
“So you wouldn’t have any idea where he might have gone to?”
“Can ask you another question?”
“What do the stars say will become of me?”
Always the stars, thought Franzi. He hadn’t seen a star in several days, since Macher
wouldn’t let him outside, other than escorted visits to the latrine.
“Reichsfuhrer,” he began, “these are very difficult times. There is much uncertainty about. But know this,” he said with all the stillness he could muster as he tried to think up something.
“Yes?” asked Himmler expectantly.
Franzi tried to mobilize his brain cells into a last minute defense. “I see, I see...”
And then he saw it. A vision, clear as crystal, and almost immediately the
unplanned words came to him. “The change will come very soon, Reichsfuhrer. It
will come even before the moon wanes.” He saw Himmler’s face light up. Franzi
went on. “In the East, two men wait. They stand surrounded by a bloody tide.
They wait for their king, their new king.”
Himmler gasped. “That must be Bulgakov and Rybchinski,” he whispered. “Does one of them have glasses?”
“One of them sits on a horse with a golden mane, the other whirls through the air
like a fish. They’ll wait for you in the place where the sun shines at night
and glows golden from the Earth.”
“You mean Greenland, don’t you? This is amazing!” said Himmler. “Greenland is a place I’ve always dreamed of going to.” But then he added worryingly, “Does it say how long I should stay there? When could I come back?”
Franzi shrugged. Greenland? he thought. Why on earth would anyone want to go there?
“The thing is,” said Himmler, “I still have my career to think about. If I am gone
too long, won’t somebody else take the posts which I am destined for? But go
on, professor Loerber,” he whispered excitedly. “Please don’t stop. Tell me
more! What else do you see?”
“I see a maiden.”
“A maiden? You see Fraulein Potthast?”
Franzi shook his head. “I see another maiden, with long golden hair, in a gown of
feathery white. She stands beside an empty throne next to a stone altar where
there is a golden helmet and a spear.”
“That’s the Spear of Destiny!” Himmler said breathlessly.
“With her right hand she points to the North Star, with the left to a castle, a
castle with four towers.”
“Four towers? That’s Schloss Glucksburg!”
“There is a golden glow from the castle’s West tower.”
“Golden glow! You saw gold? That must be the treasure! We’re supposed to bring it
there. Does that mean it will come? Will the gold shipment arrive?”
“So then I should tell Macher not to move again. Perhaps we should move closer to
the schloss? What do you think? Should we?”
Franzi nodded again.
“Does the maiden say anything?” asked Himmler.
“She says, ‘beware!’”
Franzi had no idea what. “Beware, the Blood of Israel!” he intoned in a voice that frightened even himself.
“The Blood of Israel?” Himmler was shocked. “Not them? They’re after my gold? Well they’re not going
to get it,” he snapped. “The gold is mine! I’ve worked hard for it. Does the maiden have any advice about what I should do?”
“The helmet will go to the true king and with it, the throne. But not before three
bursts of lightning rain on the castle. The gold shall build a new kingdom in a
land of kings where there is no king.”
“That’s Germany!” Himmler was beside himself with excitement. “She has to be talking about Germany. Germany is the land of great and true kings. Will I be the next king?”
“Beware the Blood of Israel. The Blood of Israel will seek its vengeance.”
“It’s a little late for that,” Himmler cackled. “Hitler is already dead. I buried the hatchet with those people a month ago. We shook hands and everything. It’s Doenitz’s problem. They don’t have anything on me! In any event, I’ll have Eisenhower deal with them once I am king.”
After that, Himmler felt so much better he put on his best uniform and strode into
the front room. Macher and the others were back now and everyone was where they
had been sitting earlier.
Himmler smiled at Fraulein Potthast, who was now sitting by herself, forlorn and
frightened-looking, like she had the onus on her for the attack. “Come on, Hedwig, put on your nicest dress, let’s light some candles and have some wine. We’re having a party!”
Immediately she lit up and fluttered back into the bedroom, only to emerge a few minutes
later in a shimmering lavender gown, elbow length silk gloves and a long string of pearls around her neck. She was
young, blonde and pretty, though in a horse-faced way. Now, reaffirmed in her position as the first lady of the SS, she greeted her guests with awkward formality, forgetting that they were all just fugitives from an empire which
had already evaporated.
Himmler wound up the gramophone and handed her a stack of disks and invited her to
choose. She made a great show of picking one out, pulling it out from its brown
paper sleeve. “Play this one,” she said. Himmler put it on and lowered the needle. As the first notes surged out of the horn, he bowed and took her hand in his and they started to dance. The sad, happy rhythm and the swaying melody
began filling the room.
(Excerpt from Germania, first published by Simon & Schuster in 2008, now also available on Kindle here)