The waiter brought their coffee and left. Ziggy stared into his cup and the small white ceramic jars of sugar and milk. The war wasn’t over yet and even a rundown French cafe like this one had coffee, and milk and sugar to go with it.
"I’m sure it’s all been stolen from the Americans,” said Sebastian.
For a moment Ziggy wondered whether his brother had read his mind.
"I didn’t have to read your mind for that. It’s all pretty obvious,”
Ziggy glared at Sebastian. Sebastian looked back exasperated. “Look,
Ziggy, I’m on a job and I don’t have the time or energy to turn
it on or off just to be polite.”
"On a job?”
"I’m with the Blood of Israel. We have to get Franzi out.” Sebastian
leaned forward. “Let me ask you this, Ziggy. Have you thought about
what’s going to happen to us now that the war is over and the Nazis
"Us as in the Loerber Brothers?” asked Ziggy.
"Sebastian gripped the table with both hands. “No goddammit! Us as in the
"Yes, we’re the ones who’ve suffered the most in this war and now we’re
about to be conveniently forgotten. The West should be standing up
for us, but let’s face it, they’ll be the first ones to act like
the whole thing never happened. And where is that going to leave us?
Ziggy nodded impassively. He particularly dreaded Sebastian’s didactic
discussions where the point was waiting, hidden somewhere among a
minefield of polemics.
"Ziggy, the Jewish people need a homeland. The West owes it to us, for
sitting on their thumbs while millions of us got butchered. But do
you think they feel any obligation toward us? Hah! They’re too busy
cutting cozy deals with the SS to help fight their war against the
Russians. It’s not in their interest to acknowledge what we’ve
Ziggy tried hard to imagine Bedell Smith cutting a deal with the SS, but he
guessed the point would be lost on Sebastian. “What does this have
to do with Franzi?” he asked.
"I’m coming to that, Ziggy. My point is that they’re not going to give
us our homeland out of niceness or guilt. The only way they’ll do
it is if we have a dagger at their throats. And with all the dirt
Franzi has on everybody, they’ll give us anything we ask for just
to keep it from getting out.”
Sebastian brought the coffee cup to his lips, but once there he put it back on
its saucer without tasting it. “Listen to me, Ziggy. I can’t do
this alone. I’m going to need your help.”
"Have you thought about using Manni for this? He seems like a better bet
"No,” said Sebastian, with surprising vehemence. “I can’t work with Manni.”
"Not even for Franzi?”
Neither said anything for a while. They drank their coffee and looked around
the room. Outside the sun was starting to get low. Ziggy hoped von
Friedeburg hadn’t woken up yet.
Then Sebastian looked at Ziggy. “You think I like getting dragged back
into all that Loerber crap? Believe me, I was a lot more eager to get
away from it than you were. And magic? I only started doing the stuff
with the dreams a couple months ago. I hate doing it, but you know
something? This is war and in a war you use the weapons you have.
Dreams sow terror in goyim hearts and that is priceless.”
"I take it you don’t care much for goyim,” said Ziggy.
"I don’t hate them per se, but I’m not going to pretend to be one
just to save my lousy skin.”
Ziggy felt the barb strike him. “I didn’t do it to save my skin,” he
Sebastian arched an eyebrow. “Oh? So then why did you go into the Navy?”
Ziggy looked away. He thought about Luth and Cremer. He thought about poor
old von Friedeburg having his fitful sleep on that bed and what
Doenitz had said to him on the bridge and all the men who’d kept
his secret, all dead now, except for Cremer. I’d joined to prove I
could be a good German, he thought to himself, and no one could say I
wasn’t. And he thought about all the photographs and all the
bodies. He looked back at Sebastian and thought, at least he’ll
never need to justify his sanctimoniousness.
"Sebastian, what do you want me to say? I made that choice ten years ago. You
can’t change the past.”
"But don’t you see, that’s where you’re wrong,” cried Sebastian.
“You can join us. Put your past behind you and be what you always
were; a Jew.”
Be a Jew. Ziggy felt overwhelmed by the sheer simplicity of the idea. It
felt right, the way it had echoed in his heart, sitting in temple
when he was young, like waves on the ocean. It was also perfectly
absurd. “Sebastian, I’m a Nazi U-Boat captain.” He pulled open
the neck of his trench coat so his brother could see his Iron Cross.
“Brilliants, swords and oak leaves, Sebastian. There’s no wiping
that slate clean.”
Sebastian shook his head. “Come on Ziggy. You think you’re the only one who
did things they’re ashamed of? Almost anyone who survived the camps
did terrible things, Ziggy, things that make you look like a saint.
You know what we tell them? We say, stop blaming yourself for what
you had to do. Quit torturing yourself for the things that were
outside your control. All that we demand is that you be a Jew among
"Yes, of course, it’s the only place we can ever be safe.”
Sebastian sounded so convincing that even though Ziggy knew what he was saying
had to be full of holes, he couldn’t think of any arguments to the
contrary. “So I take it you have a plan,” he said.
"Well yes, but it’s not completely worked out.”
"Explain what is worked out.”
"Well,” began Sebastian, “we know Himmler has set up his headquarters in a
chateau a few miles outside Flensburg. The time to go in is now,
while there are enough people that it’ll still be easy to confuse
them. By tomorrow they may have moved on somewhere else. We’ve got
a plane waiting, we could be there before midnight. We both put on SS
uniforms, distract, confuse, act as decoys for each other. Get in
close, grab him, get him out, like that!”
"It sounds harebrained,” said Ziggy.
"We’ve pulled off more with less.”
Ziggy nodded. It was true.
"It won’t be without problems,” said Sebastian. “Himmler’s got a
guy working for him named Macher. He’s a particularly tough nut.”
"I know, I’ve met him,” said Ziggy.
Palestine. It sounded like it might be a good idea. Certainly there wouldn’t
be much point in staying in Germany. He didn’t see why the Allies
would be interested in rebuilding it. For all he knew, they’d let
it revert to cow pasture. In Palestine, he’d be just another
pioneer refugee, not a Magical Loerber Brother, not Hitler’s Jewish
U-Boat ace. He could live with that.
Wipe the slate clean. Everything that had happened in the last ten years
didn’t happen at all or it happened to someone else, someone who
lies dead on the bottom of the Atlantic in his iron coffin, or
something very nearly like it.
They talked about it some more, the logistics, the weapons they had, the
size of Himmler’s force. Sebastian seemed to have a lot of backup
manpower at his disposal. Some were already in the area disguised as
Wehrmacht, others as British.
He watched Sebastian holding the coffee cup to his lips as he spoke. The
sophistication he exuded was so natural, Ziggy could hardly reconcile
it with the fumbling affectations which had defined his memory of
him. But then, we’ve all become something else, made by the times
and circumstances we intersected with. Even the ships I sank, the
ones I watched burn and break up, and making myself stand there on
the bridge listening to the cries for help which I could not render,
knowing myself at my most cruel and predatory, none of it will matter
once it’s put behind me. A memory is inherently false, frozen in
time, yet endlessly buffeted by shifting context.
"If we’re going to do it, we need to get going now,” Sebastian said
"Right,” said Ziggy. His throat felt constricted. He pushed the chair back and
got to his feet, suddenly feeling like he was slipping off a trapeze.
“I have to go back now.”
Sebastian looked at him, but didn’t say anything.
Thanks for saving my life,” said Ziggy and quickly went out the door.
(Excerpt from Germania, first published in 2008 by Simon & Schuster, now also available on Kindle here).