Friday, April 26, 2013

Albert Speer, Juggling Fool!

"If the image of Albert Speer, a prominent Nazi, juggling rubber balls as a way to relieve stress in the waning days of the Third Reich doesn't make you sit up and say, "Mein Gott, vas is los?" then Brendan McNally's debut novel, Germania, might not be for you. On the other hand, if rollicking adventures of Jews masquerading as Nazis, secret wartime shipments of gold, SS officers dreaming of hunting walrus in Greenland, and the tense emotional dynamics of theatrical families intrigue you, then Germania will fit the bill quite nicely." (from a review by David Abrams for Barnes and Noble)

Germania by Brendan McNally was first published by Simon &  Schuster in 2008. Now it is also available as a Kindle ebook here.

Friday, April 19, 2013

How the West Texas fertilizer plant catastrophe taught the Czechs about their Texas Cousins

Yesterday I woke up just before dawn as usual and the plan was to start working on my new book about Werner Baumbach and Albert Speer and not get on Facebook, that greatest of all timesucks. But I got on anyway, figuring I could limit it to just five or ten minutes. But when I got on, I saw that my sister Mars, in Austin, had sent a link to a TV station in Waco, and that's how I learned about the fertilizer factory explosion in West, Texas. It said something about possibly up to sixty or seventy dead.

I saw that my buddy Martin Vana, who hosts a morning radio show here in the Czech Republic, was also on Facebook. He likes to FB-chat with his friends while he's on the air. So I wrote him and asked if he knew anything about it.  He got on and said he didn't.  Then I asked him if he understoond that West, Texas is considered the Czech Capital of Texas and that everybody stops there when they drive between Dallas and Austin to get real Czech Kolaches. And he seemed surprised by that. He went and talked to the news director who knew about the catastrophe, but not about the massive Czech angle to it. He told Martin he'd check into it.

A few minutes later my phone starts ringing. And it's this lady in Prague, with Cesky Radiozurnal, asking me to explain what I knew about West and what the town was like and how Czech it was.  And so I did my song and dance to her and she also seemed very surprised.  Then she asked if I thought my wife would mind being interviewed, since she was the one who spoke Czech. And I said she was asleep, but that I'd get her up and ask her. And she said she'd call back in a few.  I got my wife up and explained to her what was happening and she was groggy and unenthused, but when the woman called, she was alert and coherent and readily agreed to be interviewed, which took place live, over the phone a few minutes later. She told them about the Kolaches and how everybody, but everybody goes there, instead of any of the other thousand places on the way to Austin,  how it is a Texas tradition, and how massively West, the Czech Stop and Texas Czechs play upon the Texas psyche. 

Not long after the interview ended,  there was another call.  This time it was from TV Barrandov wanting to know about West and Czech Texas. All of it was basically new to them. And as we went on, I kept remembering all the many times in the last twenty years, I've told Czechs about the Czechs in Texas and how crazy they were about their Czech heritage and how the old people all spoke Czech, like they had for generations.  And I'd tell them about meeting ancient Czech shit-kicking cowboys, who hadn't learned to speak English until they went to school. And how everytime I did, I just got blank stares back, like whatever I was telling them simply didn't compute. And that's when I started coming up with my personal theories about what makes Czechs so different from Poles, is that Poles always understood and accepted the Polish diaspora as being part of themselves.  But the Czechs had lost connection with the diaspora after the War,  especially following the communist takeover. To the Czechs, if you were gone, you were GONE and when you were gone, unless you were immediate family, you were the subject of the the massive Czech indifference.

But this time it was completely different. For the first time, the Czechs we talked to were genuinely interested and curious. Everything we told them seem to mean something.  The TV Barrandov asked where we were. When we told them how far outside of Prague we were, it didn't bother them.  They said they'd send a crew from Jihlava to shoot an interview with us within an hour.

Then there were more calls,  Radio Prague wanted to interview both of us,  me for their English-language broadcast, Katka for their regular show. 

Then another national TV station called, they were also sending a crew, this time from Havlickuv Brod.

We ended up spending the whole day giving interviews.  Before it was over, we were hearing that the Czech ambassador was announcing he would fly down to West to meet people and see if there was anything the Czechs could do for their American cousins.
Now Mother Jones quotes me on West, TX:

But the real point to all this is that for the first time, the Czech seem to understand how much Texas loves its Czech heart and how it beats in everyone's heart back home in the Lone Star State.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Herbert T. Barrow Realizes He Is Now Part of the Barrow Gang

The store is a small unlit room lined with shelves full of canned goods and bags of flour and coffee. On one side of the room, there is a bank of glass cases displaying some forlorn-looking cuts of smoked meat, while a heavyset woman in a white apron stands at the ready behind it.


“What for you?” she asks. I order some baloney sandwiches and ask for a Nehi. She points me to a water-filled tin box where a dozen or so capped bottles sit up to their necks in the dark water. “They’re ice-cold,” she says, nodding toward them. I pull one out and bring it to her. She takes a bottle opener and pries off the cap. “You gonna drink it here, otherwise there’s a two cent deposit.”

“I’ll have it here,” I tell her. She nods like I made a wise choice. She hands it to me and I take a swig. The jolt of cold sugary sweetness hits me like a bomb blast. After all I just been through, it’s an irrefutable reminder I’m still here among the living. I take another long swallow, then I watch her make the sandwiches, laying down three slices of white bread on the wooden counter, then plopping down a slice of baloney on each, followed by another, then another, and then dressing them with dabs of mustard and mayonnaise and covering them with slices of bread, stacking them one on top of another. The woman wipes her hand on her apron, then cuts the sandwiches diagonally. Suddenly I realize how ravenously hungry I am and that if I could, I’d take them right now and gobble them down on the spot. But I don’t, because I’m on the lam and best not to do anything quirky that’ll stick in their memories. No, I’m just a quiet, well-mannered city feller who came and went without giving them no never-mind. Instead I start a conversation.

“Man says you got the Barrow Gang coming through?”

“That’s what they saying on the radio.”

“What’d they say?”

“Only that they’s in the vicinity, going to effect a rendezvous with Clyde Barrow’s cousin.”

“Cousin? Didn’t know he had a cousin.”

“Yes, sir. They say his name’s Herbert T. Barrow and that he’s a bad one.”


“Mad-dog killer he is, G-men been chasing him all the way from Knoxville.”

“And they think he’s around these parts?”

“Yes, sir. Me and Paw got our guns ready in case they come here. Don’t want no mad-dog killers coming for me!” She nods at a brace of ancient revolvers lying on the glass countertop on the far side of the room and I think that if old Clyde spotted them there, he might laugh, but if they was holding them in their hands, he’d likely kill them both without a further thought.

I finish my Nehi, just as she finishes wrapping up my sandwiches in a sheet of white butcher paper. “That’ll be fifty five cents,” she says.

Excerpt from Friend of the Devil, a Texas gothic about a 1930s blues musician who gives the devil a lift as he's escaping to Del Rio, where he hopes to become a singing cowboy on Dr. Brinkley's Border Blaster radio. Available on Kindle.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Happy 2nd Anniversary to Friend of the Devil

On this date two years ago I first put out Friend of the Devil on Kindle.  I confess, we haven't sold thousands of copies yet, but we've sold some. And after having already gone through hell with New York publishing, I don't mind telling you that this is FAR preferable. This way you actually connect with readers and build communities and if any mistakes get made, at least they're your own.


I've been a deadhead longer than I care to admit. American Beauty and Workingman's Dead were a big influence on my life, like a lot of other people. 

So once again I'm reaching out to all you readers out there in Radio-Land. Isn't this a perfect occasion to buy your very own ebook copy of Friend of the Devil or even Germania??

Don't wait, friends!  Get your copy today!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Martin Bormann, His Escape So Far

Of course, one of the big undying mysteries of the last days of the Third Reich concerns the disappearance of Martin Bormann, Hitler's Secretary and Grey Eminence, who vanished not long after leaving the ruins of the Fuhrerbunker.

By now the heavy fighting had started to die down. There was still shooting going on, but it had become sporadic and when it did happen it was lethargic and rarely prolonged. The battle for Berlin was nearly over. From his hiding place, Martin Bormann listened to the growing silence and wondered when his guide would come back. It had even begun to occur to him that he might even have abandoned him. He had left more than an hour ago, telling Bormann that he needed to scout ahead. He’d already done this several times. Just stay put and don’t make any noise he’d tell Bormann. No one will see you here. Stay put, no noise, I’ll be back. And then he might be gone for five minutes or an hour leaving Bormann in a state of indescribable fear.
It pitched Bormann into a kind of hyper-awareness such as he’d never known before. Suddenly there were no empty moments. Every minute was composed of sixty unforgiving seconds, sixty equally-loaded possibilities for being cast into oblivion. No moment was exempt. Each had to be separately negotiated with an eternity that granted no lenience. Each move, each step, each glance was potentially set to kill you and surviving one moment didn’t buy you any grace for the next. That was the way the universe was really structured. Everything he’d experienced previous to this had been nothing but an illusion. And now for the first time, Martin Bormann felt intimately acquainted with just how little order there actually was to the world. He knew now he wasn’t any different from the rats scurrying among the rubble; only bigger and noisier and more cumbersome. Everything that had made up his life until a few hours ago, his high position as the Fuehrer’s closest advisor, was now just an abstraction, barely even a memory. Now there was nothing beyond the moment and memory was just an illusion, a shadow. Every noise he heard, every movement around him was either a signal or noise, and being able to tell them apart was what his survival was now dependent on.

His hiding place was in a burned out building, in a shadowy narrow space just beneath where a large chunk of collapsed wall was wedged between two others. He was safe there, it was true; on two occasions, Russian soldiers had passed by without even a glance in his direction. But despite that, he’d become anxious waiting for his guide to return.

He really didn’t know about the guide. Sure, the man was good, in fact the best, but this gave Bormann little comfort, since he couldn’t be sure of the man’s actual intentions. His orders had been to take Bormann out of Berlin. But was he following his orders? The one thing Bormann was now sure of was they were not taking the route they’d agreed upon. Whenever he’d tried asking the man about it, all he got back was a hard, almost murderous stare. He wouldn’t tell Bormann anything. Once he’d gotten Bormann out into the inferno, Bormann had become wholly dependent on him which made him free to treat him absolutely any way he wanted.

He remembered how, just before departing the Reichskancellei, they’d gone to a map, and how he’d followed the man’s finger along the route he would take to get them out of Berlin. First across the Unten den Linden to the metro station from there they’d travel the underground tracks to Freidrichstrasse station, there they’d come up to the surface and make their way through a succession of passages and underground corridors to the river Spree. They’d cross over on the small iron footbridge running parallel to the Weidendammer Bridge, head past Charite hospital and the Admiral’s palace and from there to Charlottenburg and Alt Moabit where there was still a stronghold where they could rest and prepare for the next leg, traveling either along the river banks or by boat to Gatow. South of there, the Russians still didn’t have much control. That was what they agreed on. All right then, Bormann declared. Next stop Alt Moabit.

< But somewhere after crossing the Unten den Linden, the man evidently changed his mind and began leading him a different way and now after fifteen hours creeping and crawling through an absolutely disorienting mass of devastation, Bormann realized he couldn’t be anywhere near Alt Moabit. So where was he? And why was he there? Where was his guide and when was he coming back?

He decided he needed to look out into the street and see if he could get a bearing. Furtively he crawled out from his hole and started making his way to the front of the building. He went to what had been a window and looked out. The street was empty, aside from the dead and the rubble and the burned out hulk of an armored vehicle lying on its side. The buildings on either side of the street were all shattered and lifeless.

In the distance he could hear scattered gunfire and what sounded like a line of tanks clattering up a nearby street. They could only be Russian, he surmised. He hadn’t seen a single German vehicle operating the whole time since leaving the bunker. There was a heavy haze hanging on the streets. He craned his head at an angle to see what he could make out further down the street. There, in the distance between the destroyed buildings he could make out hazy outline of the Red Town Hall tower. Then staring again hard at a street a few blocks ahead in the foreground he realized what he was looking at was the edge of the big circle where Kurfurstendamm, Kaiser Allee, and Tauentzien Strasse all met. It meant he had to be either in Schoeneburg or Wilmersdorf, at least three miles south of where they were supposed to be.

Suddenly the silence was shattered by an eruption of machinegun fire from a nearby building, joined a few seconds later by frantic rifle fire, and the sound of bullets hitting and ricocheting against the sides of the building. Then he heard the sound of heavy boots clambering up a pile of loose piles of masonry fragments. Bormann immediately scrambled back into his hiding place, holding his breath as a group of Russian infantrymen hurried past. More gunfire, more angry shouts and then silence.

Was that his guide? Had the Russians ambushed him as he was coming back to get Bormann? No, it couldn’t be. Intensely frightened as he was, Bormann’s instincts told him the guide was still out there alive. He’d seen him in action and knew he was too good to fall for something like that. The man was a killing machine, a predatory animal whose own preternaturally keen instincts allowed him not only to be absolute master of the space around him, but also to see and hear things coming from far away. He was master also of the moment, knowing how to spring forward or sink away. He could also, it seemed, make himself invisible even in broad daylight only to reappear wielding a bayonet, single-handedly massacring everything in his way. The man was magic and that was a fact.

Follow me exactly, he’d said to Bormann by way of instruction. And Bormann tried his best to follow, but the going was rough and after seeing his guide perform what seemed like a particularly agile leap from one uneven concrete slab to another, Bormann decided the jump was farther than his un-athletic legs could go, and that it would be more sensible simply to go around them and doing so, promptly found his foot stuck in a hole in between some half-buried reinforcing rods. Resting against one of the slabs he pulled his foot free and in the process inadvertently dislodged some masonry fragments which fell noisily against a battered piece of corrugated sheet metal. Immediately gunfire erupted from a half dozen different spots nearby. Seeing the bullets striking around him, Bormann froze in helpless terror only to have a hand grab him and yank him down into a nearby bomb crater only an instant before a hail of machinegun fire ripped across the very spot where he’d been standing.

The guide was furious. “Idiot!” he snapped. “You want to get us killed?” But Bormann, paralyzed with fright, could only whimper helplessly. The next thing Bormann knew he was being slapped hard by the guide again and again, until whatever it was that had snapped inside him fuzed itself back together and he started coming back to his senses. The guide pushed him away, back to the crater’s side. Then he turned and crept up to just below the crater’s lip and slowly eased his head up to take a look out. He stared out for a few seconds, then, crawling back down, snatched up some stones lying on the bottom and as soon as the shooting had subsided, he tossed them out as high and far as he could throw. At the same instant he slipped Bormann’s arm up over his own shoulder and brought him to his feet. “Ready?” he asked. A second later the stones clattered noisily against some distant hard surface and immediately gunfire erupted afresh but this time directed against where the stones fell.

“Let’s go!” he shouted, pulling Bormann with him out of the crater, and immediately they both began running for all they were worth. Together they ran, galloped in perfect unison like a single, four-legged animal. Over the rocks and under fallen beams, across the midnight moonscape they ran, past collapsed brickwork, protruding remnants of chimneys and shattered walls that were no longer connected to anything. They leapt over craters and through doorways and windows and the facades which were now all that remained of once-proud buildings. They ran past the twisted metal and stumps of trees and the dead and the dying and the lifeless, burned-out hulks of tanks and trucks. Nothing could stop them, nothing could slow them down. They ran unnoticed, in an apparent vacuum. And in the exhilaration of their flight, Bormann felt his fear falling away.

He imagined his was being carried aloft by a winged horse, invisible in the night, apart, unseen, immune, exempt, safe from all the ever-present danger. Then it occurred to Bormann that he was, they were, that winged horse. He’d been enveloped by the magic which his guide cast about.

They ran and ran, Bormann had no idea how long until they stopped abruptly and found themselves face-to-face with a squad of six Russian soldiers, all with sub-machineguns clutched in their hands, but utterly dumbfounded at the sudden presence of two Germans. Before they could even react, the guide had his bayonet in his hand and was already putting it into them. He was absolutely balletic as a killer, moving from one to the other like a gypsy dancer. A few seconds later it was over. Six Russians lay dead and dying at their feet.

Bormann stood, gaping open-mouthed in awe as the guide wiped the blood from the blade. He looked up from the blade, his eyes flashing angrily at Borman. Then he spoke. “Now let’s you and me get one thing straight,” he said in a surprisingly calm voice. “Until we get to Flensburg, I’m the one giving orders, understand? If you want to live, you will do exactly as I tell you, when I tell you. Otherwise you will die very quickly. Is this all clear to you?”

Bormann nodded.

“Good, now listen, this is what I want you to do. Always look at my eyes and hands. If you have to look away, you may do so, but do it quickly, then come right back. Eyes, hands. Got it? ”

Bormann nodded again. “Eyes, hands,” he repeated, wide-eyed, in the getting of real knowledge.

“Good. You do as I say, I’ll get you out of here,” said the guide, smiling grimly. “I’m a cruel man, but fair.”

Bormann nodded submissively. Yes, yes, anything you say. You are the leader! Cruel, fair, sounds good to me!

“All right, let’s move.”

Eyes and hands. Hands and eyes. For the next couple of hours that’s all it was. Hands and eyes, eyes and hands. Bormann let himself be a puppet, following exactly, focused in that strange groove where, without thinking, he did exactly as he was directed: step here and here and there, faster, slower, down, up, tighten it up, hang back. And as different as it was from their earlier run, it nevertheless possessed a similar intimate intensity. They moved together across the Berlin moonscape, creeping noiselessly, in and out of half-flattened buildings, through courtyards and tunnels and passages, across streets and through alleys, past firefights and street battles.

It seemed no one noticed them coming or going. They slipped through the chaos, like a veil cast free in an autumn wind. They went around and by and through and never entered into any local equation. They never mattered. Somewhere in all those battles he’d been in, the guide had learned whatever it took to subvert the laws of physics to the point where one became exactly the same as invisible. That there seemed to be a difference, Bormann was certain, though he didn’t know why, but he did know a lot of it had to do with moving with moments and adhering into patterns.

Onward they pushed through the apocalypse. Onward through the fog. Late morning haze became early afternoon haze. Sometimes when they’d stop to rest, they’d both be crouched in their own silences, resting but never relaxing, always with a hyper-awareness that barely seemed human. And Bormann gazed dumbly at his guide and he remembered that the reason he picked him was because he’d believed he was magic! Magic? He hadn’t known anything about magic back then, he hadn’t even a clue what magic was. But that was why he’d picked him. And look at him now! This is what magic was all about!

But why then did he think the guide was magic? It hadn’t been just that the man was a break-out artist who’d fought his way out of Stalingrad twice. No, it was that even before the war the man had been a famous and celebrated escape artist. Now he remembered! He was Johannes Loerber of the great Loerber Brothers! Funny that during the past harrowing hours he’d completely forgotten. The Magical Loerber Brothers! I mean of all things?

It really was an amazing world. He found himself trying to remember all the things he’d once known about them and about their father. He himself had met Gustav Loerber quite a number of times and he’d seen the brothers perform at Party rallies and nightclubs. Old Gustav had been a bit of a pervert, but at least of the right sort. Hansi, Manni, Franzi, Ziggy and that other one, the one who disappeared and there’d been all that ruckus that never actually got out. He couldn’t actually remember any of it. But Hansi had done those really remarkable escapes in that old stage act of theirs which had always been followed by either the saxophone quartet or the one where two of them were dressed as girls. And then there was the time he’d been lowered upside down into that huge aquarium of water. People were saying for a while then that he was the magic one. If any of them was the magic one it would have to be Hansi, except of course, he couldn’t be, since he wasn’t one of the quadruplets, so he couldn’t possibly be the seventh son. No, he was the older one. Was that the reason the speculation was always on the others? Bormann also remembered how Hansi hadn’t been actually identical either. He’d looked a little different from the others, though not by much.

And to think this is the guy bringing him out. And he would get him out, he was sure of it. He had to get very quickly to Doenitz’s headquarters to make sure he’d be at the top of the new government. And this time he’d have a much freer hand so they wouldn’t make any of the stupid mistakes they’d done last time.

A few minutes later, they were going through a destroyed building when his guide pointed him to the spot where the half-collapsed piece of wall had wedged itself so tightly between the two and told him to stay there and not do anything till he came back. Listen for my signal, two quick knocks and a slow third one. Remember the countersignal; one, and two-three-four, like that.

As he had the times before, Bormann obediently went in and sank into his spot and became as silent as he could. He heard Loerber walking away and all the confidence and exhilaration he’d felt earlier seemed to evaporate right out of him. Once again Bormann felt paralyzed with fear. It went on and on. More Russians went through. More tanks rumbled and clattered up a nearby street. He listened to airplane flying low overhead. More shooting. Men shouting something in Russian. A long silence. Another look at his watch, an hour and a half had passed. Where was Loerber? Where was his guide? He just wished he’d get back. He wished they’d just get out of the city. The other side of the lake, Kladow, was still mostly in German hands. Once he got there he could probably get on some kind of express transit north. He started to worry about what would happen if he didn’t get to Flensburg quickly. Himmler would take over, and when that happened the first throat he’d likely go for would probably be Bormann’s. Himmler as new fuehrer would be a disaster. Himmler was definitely smart in some things, but not as someone you’d trust to actually cut a deal with Eisenhower. He was a man who didn’t even know the meaning of ‘nuance.’ What could someone like that ever accomplish on the international stage? Actually Himmler was quite impossible.

Knock-knock, a pause and a knock.

It came unannounced, among all the noise. Knock-knock, a pause and a knock. My God, thought Bormann. He was back. Loerber was back. He thought about the response.

How was it supposed to go? He gave it. Knock and a pause, and a knock-knock-knock.

“Come on out,” hissed Loerber. Eagerly Bormann did as he was told. He crawled out.

Loerber stood above him. He was carrying a Russian machine gun and had a camouflage cape fashioned around his shoulders. “You all right?” he asked. Bormann nodded.

“All right, let’s go,” he said.

Bormann raised his hand. “Major Loerber, may I ask a question?”

Loerber turned to look at him. He shrugged to indicate Bormann might.

“We’re not going anywhere near Alt Moabit, are we?"

A slight smile drifted across his lips. “No,” he said.

“Then where are we heading to?”

"Pichelsdorf Bridge.”

Bormann felt like he’d been slammed into a wall. Pichelsdorf? “But why?” he asked.

“That’s where my men are,” answered Loerber.

Bormann was about to loudly object, to point out the Loerber’s orders had been explicit: to get Bormann out of Berlin and directly to Flensburg just as quickly as possible. Not to make some personal side trip to check on the welfare of some infantrymen who were probably all dead by now anyhow. He was about to say all this, but Loerber cut him such an ugly look that Bormann never opened his mouth.

“No other questions?”

Bormann shook his head.

“Good, let’s go.”

They continued west. It was the same as before. Bormann kept a close eye on Loerber’s hands and eyes, ready to react to any cue sent his way. He quit trying to recognize landmarks and buildings. It was all somewhere he’d never been and hopefully would never revisit. He focused himself on what they were doing that minute and whenever thoughts of the political situation popped up in his mind, he’d quickly toss it aside and stay fixed on what they were doing. Mid afternoon turned to late afternoon which then started turning to evening. There was a darkening in the haze and all around the shadows started to spread and making things out in all the jumble of ruin and wreckage became harder. But they pushed on. It became dark. The moon rose in the night sky, but the haze was so thick, any illumination it might have provided was masked. Sometimes the Russians fired flares over the battlefield, but they seemed to create more shadow than light.

They reached Pichelsdorf bridge somewhere after midnight. Bypassed and largely forgotten, the bridge still held. And in a shattered building across the street from it, Loerber found what he’d been looking for. Of the two hundred thirty five men he’d marched to the bridge a week earlier, only seventeen were still alive.

“Major Loerber? It’s you! You’ve come back.” Bormann heard them shout incredulously.

Loerber didn’t waste anytime exchanging pleasantries. “Come on, get everyone together, we’re getting out now,” he said tiredly. But even though the way he talked to them was every bit as abrupt as all the time he’d been ordering Bormann around, Bormann could nevertheless detect a comradeship, which he’d never thought him capable of. Whereas Bormann was nothing more to him than a charge, his men he cared about.

“Nothing from here to Gatow but Russians. Anyone not like that?” he called out gruffly.

There were some fatalistic snickers. No problem here. We love Russians. Bring them on. We’ll show them just like before.

“So it’s going to be just like Stalingrad again, huh Major?” asked one.

“No,” said Loerber, resolutely. “It won’t be anything like Stalingrad.”

"But Major, where are we heading to?”

"Flensburg,” he told them. “That’s where the new Fuehrer is.”

“The new Fuehrer?”

Loerber smirked. “Seems the old one blew his brains out in the bottom of the bunker.”

Bormann noticed several of the soldiers spitting on the ground like they’ve all been doing this at his name for years for a long time, but now they were getting a certain particular satisfaction from it.”

“Blew out his own brains, huh?” one said. “Too bad the Russians weren’t given the chance,” said another.

The men regarded Bormann nervously. “So who is he?” one of them asked.

Johannes Loerber put his hand on Bormann’s shoulder and said, “Gentlemen, meet our ticket out of here.”
(A deleted chapter from Germania, Simon & Schuster 2008, now also available on Kindle here).

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Schellenberg Recommends Schwerin von Krosigk for a Job

Another deleted chapter from Germania

It was at about the same moment, not that many miles away, Minister for Finance Schwerin von Krosigk was sitting at a campfire with a dozen-odd members of his staff drinking tea from tin cups in the middle of a field that stood between the lake and a large apple orchard. They’d made their camp there, parking the three ministry lorries and four automobiles in two lines and stringing camouflage netting up over them to make them less visible. They hung some large tarps, like lean-tos, down from the sides of the different vehicles, which they’d slept under. They’d dug a fire-pit off to the side, lined it with large rocks and then arranged their camp chairs and logs around it and in its own way it was almost pleasant.

They’d arrived there the day before last after an absolutely harrowing trip out of Berlin. What would normally have been a five-hour drive ended up taking them the better part of a week. The roads were a nightmare, jammed with everyone who’d been allowed out: mostly it was government people and administrators from the different ministries who’d been given permission to relocate their critical files and other records to Hamburg. And of course it was the Brown Pheasants too; the Nazi party officials, so named because of their sumptuous brown-and-gold uniforms, and even though most of them were no longer wearing them, it was easy enough to tell who they were.


And rather than give orders in time to allow for an orderly withdrawal, it had come at the last minute just as the Russian encirclement of the city was nearly complete. And then it came out all at once and immediately the one or two remaining roads out were completely jammed with private vehicles filled with people, all of whom had been waiting for weeks for the word to come that they could leave.

And the route was long and winding and full of detours since by now, most of the bridges had been knocked out either by the allied air attacks or by their own demolition squads, determined to prevent anything workable from getting into enemy hands. Driving anytime during the day was impossible because of the air attacks which by now were endless, and directed against any thing that moved, regardless of whether it be civilian or military. And anytime there was a military convoy going in either direction they’d have to immediately get completely off the road. But almost worst of all, there were the endless roadblocks and checkpoints where they’d have to present their papers and authorization documents which would then be examined and checked against whatever very incomplete and fragmentary lists the police had been supplied with. More than once they’d been ordered to turn around and go back to Berlin, and if not for some very lucky higher intervention, they would have had to.

They managed to reach Hamburg only to find out that it was about to fall to the British, which meant they’d have to keep going east to Luneberg and then across the Elbe. Their anabasis finally ended at a checkpoint outside Eutin on the Baltic coast, where at first the military police tersely informed him that neither he nor his staff had passes allowing them to enter the Northern Zone, but then after one of his men got one of the liaison officers on Field Marshal Busch’s staff to determine that even if their names weren’t on any of the six official evacuation lists, they should have been included on them, they were issued temporary residence documents allowing them to stay. By that point there were no longer any billets for them anywhere in town so they ended up driving to a field near one of the smaller lakes and setting up their camp there.

Now sitting there in their gypsy encampment it was as if time itself had come to a halt. The things which for so long had defined their existence no longer had any bearing. For the moment they were wherever they were. For the moment there was nothing to escape from and nowhere to escape to. It was a bright warm spring morning and there were leaves on the trees and birds singing and the earth they stood on was warm and soft and full of life. And even though in another five or ten minutes a bunch of British Typhoon fighters might come screaming out of the clouds, with their guns blazing, sending them all scurrying into the ditch, at least now everything was quiet and peaceful and that was good enough.

Throughout the days and evenings they’d sit around a big portable Telefunken wireless listening to whichever news broadcasts they could pick up. It was pretty clear that Berlin was by now almost entirely overrun. Whether the Russians had taken the Fuehrerbunker or the Reichskanzelei was still unclear at that point. But one thing was completely certain, there would be no miracle turnaround such as the propagandists had endlessly prophesied. Berlin, for all intents and purposes, had already fallen.

Sometime during these days he’d find himself remembering the odd conversations he’d had with the SS general Schellenberg and with Himmler. He almost had to laugh when he recalled how portentous they’d seemed to him at the time, all the promise and hope they offered. But now a mere month and a half later, it turned out that none of it had come to anything. After that one bizarre dinner, he’d never heard another word from either of them.

Mostly though, he tried not to think about anything. There was no point dwelling on what was now definitely the past and the future still seemed altogether too elusive to try to construct anything from. As finance minister, there were few jobs presently more irrelevant than his. The end would come in another day or two and he was glad none of it was his responsibility. Besides the weather here in the country was pleasant enough and they still had enough food to last the week. So he sat back and tried to relax.

Now, as he sat in his shirtsleeves drinking tea, one of his section heads pointed at something. “Hey, look at that!” he exclaimed. Von Krosigk turned and saw a long line of green, open-roofed kubelwagens and staff cars slowly lumbering out of the apple orchards toward them.

“I wonder what they want?” someone said.

“Well there’s nobody here but us,” said someone else.

“They’re SS,” observed another.

Fifty yards from their camp, the convoy halted. The front door opened on one of the Mercedes and a young SS officer jumped out and ran towards them.

“What could they want with us?” one of the deputy section heads muttered as they watched his approach. “They must think we’re from a different ministry.”

Then the young SS officer called out, “Is one of you Finance Minister Schwerin von Krosigk?”

“Right here,” answered Von Krosigk raising his hand and then immediately wishing he hadn’t.

“Would you come with me please?” the officer asked. “The Reichsfuehrer SS wants to speak to you.”

“If he’s looking for emergency cash, tell him we don’t have any,” one of the section chiefs muttered in a low voice, though loud enough for the rest of them to hear.

Von Krosigk followed the young officer back to one of the staff cars. Its rear door opened and out stepped General Schellenberg. “Hello Herr Minister,” he began, fixing von Krosigk with his foxy smile. “I’m glad to see you and your staff succeeded in getting out of Berlin.”

Immediately an uneasiness came over von Krosigk. “What is it?” he asked.

“The Reichsfuehrer would like you to come with him to meet Grand Admiral Doenitz. Do you remember that thing we discussed that time, do you think you can tell it to the Admiral?”

“Of course, I remember,” answered von Krosigk. “But why? What does Admiral Doenitz have to do with any of it?”

“We can’t explain that to you right now,” answered Schellenberg. “There’s no time to spare.” Then he noticed how von Krosigk was dressed. “Is that all you’ve got?” he asked, looking slightly askance. “Can you find a tie?”

“General, please tell me what is going on?”

“We need to get moving right away,” insisted Schellenberg. “Don’t you have a tie?”

“I can’t just leave my staff like this,” protested von Krosigk. “I have responsibility for them. We are all still operating here in an official capacity.”

A man stepped out from one of the open kubelwagens. It was a large SS colonel. “Is there a problem here, General?” he asked.

“Reichminister von Krosigk feels that he’d be wrong to leave his staff unsupervised,” Schellenberg answered, still smiling foxily.

“Is that so?” asked the colonel staring hard at von Krosigk. “Maybe you should just do as you’re told.” The way he said it, von Krosigk knew it was probably a good idea.

“Go back and get a tie,” added Schellenberg. “Hurry, the Reichsfuehrer doesn’t want to waste any more time.”

Von Krosigk turned and double-timed it back to the camp. Everyone looked alarmed, and when he asked for a tie, one of his deputies immediately went into a clutch bag, pulled one out, and handed it to him. Without bothering to say anything more than, ‘I’ll be back,’ von Krosigk ran back to the waiting vehicles, fixing the tie around his neck as he ran and hoping all the while that this whole thing wouldn’t get him killed.

The whole way to Doenitz’s headquarters, von Krosigk sat wedged between Schellenberg and Himmler. While Schellenberg was bringing von Krosigk up to speed on the recent developments, Himmler did little besides grunt irritably. At first von Krosigk thought Himmler was extremely angry about something, but then as the ride went on, he began suspecting that the Reichsfuehrer might actually be in extreme pain.

Schellenberg explained how, by some complete fluke, it was Doenitz, not Himmler that Hitler had named as his successor and that since last night Doenitz had been acting in that capacity. This was a disastrous choice since Doenitz, good man though he was, had no knowledge whatsoever of politics or foreign affairs. And now they’d just learned he was looking for someone to handle foreign affairs for him and apparently had his eye on a completely inappropriate candidate, who would be an even bigger disaster and since von Krosigk had always been Himmler’s choice for a foreign minister, he thought he should find von Krosigk and get him there in front of Doenitz so Doenitz could see how well-versed he was in foreign issues and pick him instead. “It’s just a question of getting you there before somebody else shows up,” Schellenberg explained. “It’s also a question of explaining to the Grand Admiral how you think the Western Allies would want somebody like the Reichsfuehrer to negotiate with them. You can do that, can’t you?”

But before von Krosigk could answer Himmler cut in. “Can you tell it to him? Are you capable?” he asked. He looked nervous, like things weren’t working the way he’d expected them to.

“Yes, Reichsfuehrer, of course I can,” said von Krosigk, though he didn’t see how he ever could. Those two previous meetings, all he’d really done was parrot the logic and lines fed to him by Schellenberg.

At first Schellenberg attempted to coach von Krosigk on what he should tell Doenitz and how he should act. But as he went on and on, what he was saying seemed only to further irritate Himmler, until he finally took the hint and stopped talking.

That seemed to placate Himmler. But then after a few minutes of silence, he began moaning loudly. Alarmed at his distress, Schelenberg immediately ordered the whole convoy to halt. As soon as it did, he opened his door and sticking his head out, shouted “Send a medic!” But instead, Himmler rasped out excitedly, “No! Get Loerber!”

A moment later a young SS officer in a black uniform ran up. He stuck his head into the rear compartment to take a look at Himmler’s condition.

“He’s having one of his attacks,” Schellenberg told him. “You have to do something.”

The young man nodded intently. He unbuttoned his dress tunic and handed it to one of the other officers and then began rolling up his sleeves. “Don’t worry, Reichsfuehrer, you’re going to be all right,” he said reassuringly. But the Reichsfuehrer only groaned louder. The young man quickly started unbuttoning Himmler’s shirt so that his chest was exposed. He began working his hands over the man’s chest. “Does that feel better Reichsfuehrer?” But the Reichsfuehrer’s screams did not abate.

Von Krosigk turned to Schellenberg. “What’s wrong? Is he sick? Is, is he wounded?”

Schellenberg shook his head. “It’s his stomach.”

Warily von Krosigk edged himself back, away from the milling throng of SS men.

The young man had stepped halfway inside the car, one foot still on the ground, the other on the floor of the rear compartment, leaning over the Reichsfuehrer’s supine figure.

He stuck his head back out. “Someone get my bag; the black one! Hurry!” he shouted. A few seconds later it was in his hands. A big leather doctor’s bag. “Here, hold this!” he said, thrusting it into a bystander’s hands and immediately began rummaging through it.

“So who’s that,” von Krosigk asked one of the officers. “Is that his doctor?”

“It’s not his doctor,” the officer explained. “It’s his masseur.”

“No, it’s not his masseur,” corrected another officer. “His masseur is in Stockholm. That’s Loerber, his astrologer. Don’t worry,” he added. “He’s good.”

Von Krosigk saw that the young man hadpulled from his bag a small purple velvet sack that appeared to be tied with a golden cord. He undid the cord and from the bag he extracted two large crystals. Holding one in each hand, he then passed them to Himmler uttering something in a very low voice as he did. Himmler eagerly clutched the two crystals in his hands, nodding tearfully, but compliantly to whatever the young man was saying to him. Then the young man took the Reichsfuehrer’s hands in his and pulled them up above his head. He regarded them momentarily, only to correct their apparent alignment, then nodded gravely and turned back outside to go into his bag once more. He took out another small velvet sack, this one bright red and extracted a large, pinecone shaped, hexagonal crystal which he first rubbed with a piece of soft cloth, then he placed it on the Reichsfuehrer’s stomach, shifting its position several times before presumably determining the proper spot where he then left it.

It went on like this for another five minutes, with the young man taking things in and out of the bag, at one point handing a small handful of what looked like a ball of compressed wood shavings to a bystander, instructing him to light it. Once it was burning, he slipped it into what looked like a tiny golden censer on a long chain. Immediately a sulfurous gray-yellow began issuing from the censer’s many tiny holes. Holding it by its chain, the young man then solemnly swung the censer a half dozen times over the Reichsfuehrer’s figure, muttering words that did not sound even remotely Germanic

Even from where he stood, the smell of the smoke made von Krosigk so queasy he wondered how anyone nearer or inside the car could stand it. But to his surprise, no one besides himself seemed particularly affected by it. All the while, the stricken Reichsfuehrer continued faithfully clutching the crystals above his head in the prescribed manner.

As he continued to rub the Reichsfuehrer’s stomach with one hand, with the other, he deftly gathered the two crystals the Reichsfuehrer had been holding, then the one on his stomach. Then, still holding them in his hand, he pulled a handkerchief from one of his pockets, using just two fingers, and wiped the crystals clean before letting them slip back into their velvet sacks, which suddenly seemed to have appeared hanging from his wrist by their golden cords. And with a single, elegant motion, he slipped the velvet sacks off his wrist, pulling the cords shut as he did.

Watching the young man, von Krosigk was struck by the sheer seamlessness of his motions. There’d been no fumbling, no wasted movement. All of it had been executed with the smooth, confident precision of an expert waiter, or a seasoned thief, or a top stage magician performing complicated tricks. Then he remembered that the young man’s name was Loerber.

“Is he one of the Loerber Brothers?” von Krosigk blurted out suddenly.

The SS men officers solemnly nodded. “Yes, that’s Franzi Loerber,” said one. “I’ve been seeing him work all this last week and he’s definitely the magic one!” The others nodded too. They’d also seen him in action.

The funny thing was, after that, Himmler was acting bright and excited and full of energy and ideas. “We’ll set the Grand Admiral right about things. He’ll let me go to Eisenhower. There’s no reason he should go all the way back to square one on this when I’ve already got months of legwork behind me. Yes, Gentlemen, I’ve got a feeling we all might just be having lunch with Ike himself this very time tomorrow.”

Von Krosigk found himself sharing a glance with Schellenberg. As their eyes met, he raised his eyebrows at von Krosigk, like he was completely sharing his boss’ jubilation. Von Krosigk made a polite smile and spent the rest of the drive staring fixedly as he could at a stain mark on the back of the seat in front of him.

When they arrived at Doenitz’s headquarters, a collection of drab, grey, one-and-two storey huts built on the edge of some Baltic inlet, Von Krosigk, walked with Himmler and a dozen of his men up to the camp commandant’s hut. The whole way up dozens of sailors stood watching them like they were almost expecting a show down. In front of the commandant’s hut a line of armed sailors presented arms and after talking with the Grand Admiral’s adjutant, Himmler and Schellenberg were escorted inside, leaving von Krosigk standing with the escorts.

“What happened?” he asked the SS colonel heading Himmler’s guard detail.

“Grand Admiral Doenitz invited the Reichsfuehrer in for lunch,” the colonel said.\

“But what about me?”

“I guess you weren’t invited,” he answered.

“But was the Grand Admiral informed of my presence? I’m the reason the Reichsfuehrer came here.”

“Hey, don’t ask me,” the colonel answered.

Thoroughly peeved, Von Krosigk then turned to the man commanding the Naval guard. “I think I was supposed to go in with them.” The man pointed to a petty officer, standing nearby. “Talk to him,” he said. “He’s the Grand Admiral’s adjutant’s assistant.”

“Excuse me,” said von Krosigk to the adjutant’s assistant. “But I believe I was supposed to go in with them. That man said I should talk to you.”

“I’m sorry, sir, but who are you?” the adjutant’s assistant asked.

“Reichsminister for Finance Count Lutz Graf Schwerin von Krosigk,” he growled. “I was supposed to meet with the Grand Admiral as well.”

“I’m sorry, but the Reichfuehrer hadn’t said anything about it to the Grand Admiral’s adjutant. Finance minister, you say, sir?”

“Yes,” said von Krosigk.

“I need to talk to Captain Ludde-Neurath about this, sir,” he said. “Please wait.”

The adjutant’s assistant went inside. A few minutes later he came out. “Captain Ludde-Neurath would like to know what the matter was you were supposed to talk to the Grand Admiral about.”

So Schwerin von Krosigk told the adjutant’s assistant whatever it was Schellenberg had said about someone to do foreign affairs. The adjutant’s assistant listened dutifully to what he was being told.” He nodded. “Let me go tell Captain Ludde-Neurath. I’ll be back.” He went back in and for ten minutes there was nothing. Himmler’s guard detachment was by then standing at ease alongside Navy guards a few feet away. Their commanders, the scary colonel and a Navy captain wearing infantryman’s feldgrau stood together smoking cigarettes, like they already knew each other. Seeing von Krosigk standing there forlornly, the SS colonel snickered. “What’s the matter, Herr Minister, did the Reichsfuehrer forget about you?” the Navy captain also smiled like it was all typical of what was going on. Von Krosigk glowered back agreeably and found something else to stare at.

Then the door opened and the adjutant’s assistant popped his head out and waved him in.

“I’m sorry about that, sir,” he told von Krosigk. But if you’ll just have a seat Captain Ludde-Neurath will be with you.” He was pointed to a bench in the middle of the busy corridor.

He sat there alone for nearly another hour, wondering the whole time if he’d been completely forgotten and that perhaps he should just quietly find his way back to the encampment. Then, just as he was about to leave, the naval officer he recognized earlier as being the Grand Admiral’s adjutant came up to him. “Finance Minister Schwerin von Krosigk?” he asked.


“Come with me, please.”

The officer, who identified himself as Captain Ludde-Neurath took him down the hall and into to an outer office where two yeoman clerks sat silently typing. “Wait there, please,” he said, pointing him to a chair. He then went inside the inner office, shutting the door behind him. A minute later the door opened and out trooped Albert Speer and Heinrich Himmler. Seeing von Krosigk sitting there as he walked past, Himmler glanced at him absent-mindedly like he didn’t remember who he was. Five more minutes alone. Then ten minutes, then fifteen. And all the while the two sailors kept typing and their furious pace, not even once looking up to acknowledge his presence. Then suddenly the door to the inner office opened a crack and Doenitz stuck his head out and coldly regarding von Krosigk he said, “would you come in, please.” Nervously von Krosigk got to his feet and walked inside the admiral’s office.

Doenitz pointed him to one of the recently vacated chairs. “So, you’ve been Finance Minister since when?” he asked tersely.

“Since 1929, Grand Admiral.”

“And you spent several years living in London?”

"Cambridge, actually. I was a Rhodes Scholar.”

"A Rhodes Scholar? So would you say you understand the English?”

“I suppose so.”

“And how long has it been since you’ve been there?”

“Thirty years.”

“And you think what you know from it still applies?”

Von Krosigk shrugged. “Things don’t always change that much, Grand Admiral.”

Doentiz seemed to accept the explanation. “Would you have any ideas or recommendations about our current situation?”

Von Krosigk tried to remember the things he’d discussed with Himmler and Schellenberg, what they’d agreed on about international contacts with the Red Cross or with Postal Union representatives, but somehow none of it seemed coherent enough to bring up. “I suppose it depends on what the Grand Admiral intends to do,” he said finally.

“What I intend to do is seek an immediate end to the war,” Doenitz answered in a cold, angry voice.

“I see,” said von Krosigk.

Doenitz continued. “Reichsfuehrer Himmler seems to think the Western Allies are eager to make common cause with us against the Bolsheviks. Do you agree?”

Von Krosigk had to think about it. For the last few weeks everyone had been saying just that and they’d all agreed that was what Churchill and Eisenhower and the new American President Truman had in mind. But now that he was being asked that question by someone as serious as the Grand Admiral, he suddenly wasn’t so sure. “I don’t know,” he said.

“So you don’t see any hope of us playing the Anglo-Americans and the Russians against each other?”

“No, Grand Admiral, I don’t know that at all,” answered von Krosigk. “All I know is the Russian card is the only one in our hands that we can use with the West. And the only thing we can do is try to play it the best we can. How well the West will want to play with us is hard to say. I’d be lying if I told you I had any special insight into it.”

“Reichsfuehrer Himmler has just spent much of the last hour singing your praises,” said Doenitz. “He thinks your presence could just about guarantee a favorable reaction from the Western Allies. What do you have to say about that?”

“I’m not actually sure what anybody can accomplish at this point.”

“Well at this point I’d say that anything which Reichsfuehrer would wholeheartedly recommend, I’d probably dismiss out of hand. But Speer seems to have a high opinion of you also. Therefore, if you want the job, it’s yours,” said Doenitz.

Von Krosigk blinked twice. “I’m sorry,” he said, “but what exactly is the job, foreign minister you never said?”

“Foreign Minister,” Doenitz grimaced when he said it. “Actually under the circumstances I think it’d be better to just make it chancellor. You’ll be my Number Two. Are you interested?”

< Von Krosigk was dumbfounded. “Chancellor? You want me to be chancellor?”

< “That’s right,” said Doenitz.

“But, that would be the same position as Bismarck or, or the Fuehrer under Hindenburg. Grand Admiral, I don’t know what to say. Honestly, I am not worthy of this honor.”

Doenitz looked unimpressed. “Count, this is not going to be an honor. It’s going to be a dirty, thankless, humiliating task. Now if you want it, it’s yours, otherwise I’ll need to find someone else. So are you in?”

Von Krosigk nodded. “Yes, Grand Admiral, I’m in.”

“Good,” Doenitz said tersely. “Welcome aboard.”

There was a brisk knock on the door. “Enter!” barked Doenitz.

The door opened and in walked Doenitz’s adjutant with a telegram in his hand. “From Berlin,” he said. He gave it to Doenitz and then turned to leave.

“Wait,” said Doenitz. He stared at the message for a moment then looked up. “Get Speer!” he said.

A minute later, Albert Speer had come in and was sitting in the chair next to von Krosigk. Doenitz held out the telegram for them to see. Speer looked at the telegram. He and Doenitz looked at each other for a moment, then Doenitz handed the telegram to von Krosigk.


Von Krosigk looked at the wall clock. The Fuhrer had been dead twenty-four hours.

“We should work on an announcement,” said Speer.

All three nodded.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Walter Schellenberg and the Cambridge Spies: Anthony Blunt

Shortly after Hitler's death, Walter Schellenberg travelled back to Stockholm to meet with Western intelligence, who turned out to be something more than he'd bargained for. Students of Cold War history should know immediately where this is going.

(Following is a deleted scene from Germania.)“Really quite an interesting idea you’ve got. A mole, you say?” the Englishman said, acting properly impressed by what Schellenberg was propounding. “Quite interesting, yes.”

"Cambridge, you say?” he went on. “Really! How utterly devilish! Well, you must hand it to Ivan for his sheer audacity. Cambridge? I mean that’s something no one ever would have even dared imagine. If this is true, then I’d say we really are in quite a predicament.”

“Oh, I assure you, it’s all true,” chimed in Schellenberg. “Our sources in Moscow are at the very top. And I’m quite sure they’d love working for you.”

“And there are three of them, these Cambridge Spies?”

“Yes,” answered Schellenberg. “Three. Philby, Burgess and McLean.”

“Hmmm,” the Englishman said to himself, his long, elegant fingers stroking his chin as he worked out the different ramifications. He seemed extremely worried. Schellenberg smiled to himself. This meeting was going far better than he could have hoped. Apparently all he’d been hearing about the British giving frosty receptions to Germans only held true when it came to official meetings. When it was unpublicized and without any Americans present, like this one was, they could be quite pragmatic and open about things. This guy was collegial, even friendly. He seemed genuinely interested in what Schellenberg had to say, and once he realized how valuable the stuff was he was being offered, he got downright helpful.

Today’s meeting was one of those professional back-channel things which function best far from the gaze of either the public or government officials. This was the real world, Schellenberg told himself; his proper milieu. That other world, in which those with no imagination preferred to dwell, was really just artifice and delusion. Doenitz, his new Fuhrer, was one such person; a good soldier, but like most military men, too prone to seeing things in black and white, with no understanding at all for gray areas and ambiguities. Well, at least to his credit, he had the sense to send Schellenberg here and let him do his job.

Yes, it was wise to leave some things to the professionals, which is what this Englishman was. His name was Anthony Blunt, a name Schellenberg was already quite familiar with, one of the rising stars of the British Secret Service, and, like himself, a counter-intelligence man. That they’d send Blunt was a good sign that they were taking these overtures seriously and according Schellenberg a requisite level of importance. Not like that poor fool von Friedeburg, forced to surrender to a relative nobody like General Bedell Smith. No, Blunt meant the British were here to deal.

Blunt took his hand away from his chin. He pursed his lips together, then puffing them out the way a bored child might, a bored English child, that is. “Now you know, this is all very nice, General Schellenberg,” he said. “But I really must ask you, what does your Reichsfuhrer hope to get from us in return for this very generous favor?’

Now it was Schellenberg’s turn to appear ruminative. He clasped his hands tightly together, his index fingers pointing upwards like a steeple, touching his lips, fingertips against fingertips. “First of all, he is hoping your organization already recognizes the realities facing Europe at this time. That regardless of all the appearance of good will flowing between Moscow and the West, your alliance with Russia will not last much longer. That for all your best efforts and intentions, conflict will inevitably break out. And when it does, you’re going to need people on your side who have access to information about Soviet intentions and capabilities. ”

“We want you to recognize that, despite all the political propaganda you’ve heard, we are professionals like yourselves. What happened to the Jews was regrettable, certainly, but in all fairness, the responsibility for it should not be laid on our door, but on Hitler’s. I want you to know that Heinrich Himmler never, ever supported the liquidation of the Jews. To the contrary, he opposed it. Many times he confided to me that he regarded any effort to kill off an entire race was sheer folly, if simply for no other reason than the fact that fully two thirds of their population lives abroad. Unfortunately for all, Adolf Hitler proved not to be a reasonable man. Luckily for us all, he is dead.”

Blunt raised his finger. “Really, I do think you’ll find that once everything has blown over…. and yes, yes, the whole thing is regrettable, especially since everyone in the world has by now seen the horrific images. But in the larger view, it is a tragedy that ultimately will be easy to live with. But please, do go on,” he said.

Schellenberg continued. “We also want you and your people to recognize that we can make a unique and decisive contribution to the security of the Western world. He would like to propose a partnership, which for the moment at least, no one else need know about.”

“We would need an enclave of our own, from which we could see to our own internal security requirements. An island or remote estate would be ideal. From there we would be happy to work with your organization and share the intelligence we have on what we are confident shall soon be our common foe.”

Blunt shook his head with a sad smile. “I’m sorry, Herr General, but that would not be an arrangement which my superiors would be able to agree to. The problem is that Mr. Himmler is currently the most wanted man in the world. Everyone in the world is currently hunting for his scalp. What I think would be better is an arrangement that would satisfy all the niceties which the world demands while still allowing your Reichsfuhrer the levels of comfort and privacy which I am sure he would require.”

“Now what I would propose is a sort of custody arrangement whereby the public would be placated by knowing you are in our custody. By doing this we could also ensure that you lads wouldn’t have to worry about being hunted down by some enterprising sorts who, as I understand, expect to find huge caches of gold and other treasures in your Reichsfuhrer’s vicinity. Now if we could report that we had him in our custody, that would force a great many otherwise-motivated parties to call off the dogs. How do you think your boss would feel about that idea?”

Schellenberg frowned as if there was something that troubled him that he couldn’t quite put his finger on. “Custody where?” he asked carefully.

Blunt leaned forward, cupping his fingers around his chin. “Where? Oh…….?” his voice trailed off as if he were exploring that question himself for the first time. Where? Where Where?” He rolled his eyes and arched his eyebrows as he began drumming his fingers upon his chin. “Goodness,” he said sheepishly.

Schellenberg had an idea. “The Swedish government could be convinced to allow us refuge in one of the royal lodges at an undisclosed location. We could be there officially under Swedish custody, but at the same time permitting full British supervision, though I would have to insist on being allowed to run our own on-site security arrangements. But no one would have to know about that. During this time the Reichsfuhrer, myself and others included in this arrangement would submit to full, detailed debriefing.”

“How many people would be included in this scheme?” Blunt asked.

“No more than five,” Schellenberg answered.

Blunt looked surprised. “Is that all?” he asked.

“No, only five,” answered Schellenberg. “There is too much at stake for too many people to know too much about it.”

“I don’t suppose that at this point you’d have any problem telling me who those people would be?” asked Blunt.

“No, I wouldn’t,” said Schellenberg. “There is the Reichsfuhrer, myself, his aides Macher and Grothmann, his medical advisor Gebhardt, my adjutant, Captain Steiner. Oh, and the Reichsfuhrer’s masseur Oberleutnant Loerber.” That makes it seven. Plus of course other support personnel.”

“Support personnel, yes, of course,” agreed Blunt. “No, no, I don’t see any problem with that at all.”

“Kim Philby, a Russian spy.” Blunt shook his head. “Shocking, I must say.”

“Do you know him?”

“Oh, yes, of course. The last man you’d ever think would be red. Same for the others. Shocking.”

Then, suddenly, Blunt was in a big, big hurry to be on his way. There were things that couldn’t wait, a plane to catch. He’d be back in touch, very, very soon. Thank you. Thank you, have a safe trip back to Germany. And he was gone.
Germania was first published by Simon & Schuster in 2008, and is now also available on Kindle here.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Hepcats, Vipers, Texas Outlaws, and Cheap, Cheap Marihuana

This rainstorm is a real East Texas gullywasher. I’ve been sitting here, stuck inside this car for two hours and it still doesn’t give any sign it’s going to ease up anytime soon. I think something is broken. I can get the engine to start, but the wheels won’t turn or anything. My stupid fault. Why did I have to drive off during a rainstorm? Why? The exact same reason I didn’t ditch the car and buy a train or bus ticket to Del Rio. In a word: marihuana.


I’d fully intended to take a little cure from the weed and let my feet put down some roots into straight reality and having come to ground in a place like Nacogdoches, I figured that would be easy to do, since this town is not exactly renowned for its jazz clubs and viper scene. Therefore, imagine my surprise, that as I stroll back to my hotel after having breakfast in a local diner, I should catch a whiff of some exceedingly righteous bush being burned in the backdoor of a Mexican bakery. All I have to do is walk up and say “Mota, por favor?” and the next thing I know, I’m getting set up with a lid of stuff that’s way, way better than any of the shit ol’ Mezz was peddling back on Lexington Avenue. You can probably see where this is leading, right? For a while I’m goofing around the streets of this East Texas city, laughing and feeling fine, and then I sit down on a park bench and pick up a copy of the local rag that’s lying there and right there on the top of the front page is a big article about how the Barrow Gang, now being led by Clyde’s cousin, criminal mastermind Herbert T. Barrow, pulled off two daring filling station robberies in Southwest Arkansas within a half hour of each other, the first of which involved a shootout with the Barrow Gang and a posse consisting of two FBI agents and the celebrated Texas Ranger, Captain Frank Hamer, the three of whom were briefly captured by the desperados before successfully turning the tables on them and sending them on their way...

I put the newspaper down. On the park bench across from me, a couple of old ladies give me a hard look and before I know it, I’ve got me a first-class case of the heebie-jeebies. When I get to the train station, the idea of going up to the ticket agent and having to talk with him about tickets to different places seems just way too complicated and scary. So instead I go find a hole-in-the-wall speakeasy and spend the rest of the day getting myself plastered. Somehow I manage to stagger back to my hotel room and go to sleep.

(Excerpt from "Friend of the Devil," by Brendan McNally, available on Kindle. Get more "Friend of the Devil" quotes and trivia on our Facebook page)

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Himmler Almost Walks Through a British Checkpoint

Ahead of them was their first bridge and it looked easy. There was a checkpoint in the middle of it manned by two British sentries, whose only purpose seemed to be to announce to people that they were now in British territory. In the last fifteen minutes they had not bothered to stop even one of the hundreds of people passing by them.

Macher came over. “We need to go now, Reichsfuhrer,” he said. “The situation is optimal and we can’t risk it changing.”

Himmler nodded, looking over his papers again. “I’m just not sure.”

“Reichsfuhrer,” said Macher. “They’re never going to even look at your papers. They’re only interested in us passing through and not bothering them.”

“All right,” said Himmler. “Just give me another minute.”

“I’ll get the bags,” said Macher and walked off.

Himmler turned to Franzi. “I would like to ask you something, Loerber,” he said. “You are a homosexual, aren’t you?”

Franzi looked at him in disbelief.

“Don’t lie,” said Himmler sternly.

“Reichsfuhrer, I don’t know what to say.”

“Well you do know it’s wrong, don’t you?”

“Lots of things are wrong,” muttered Franzi.

“Don’t change the subject, Loerber,” said Himmler. “It’s one thing to have to do bad things because of operational necessity. But it’s another thing to do it because of weakness of character.”

“I’ve always tried to do the right thing, Reichsfuhrer, but it’s difficult,” said Franzi, boiling on the inside.

“I know that, Loerber,” Himmler answered, sounding suddenly paternal. “I just want you to promise me that when we get to the Argentine, you’ll stop and find a nice Aryan girl and settle down. It’s easier than you think.”

“I promise, Reichsfuhrer.”

“That’s all I have to say,” said Himmler. “Now let’s go.”

Macher said they should go across one at a time. Grothmann went first. He situated himself alongside a woman with her family, carrying one of the children. After that Kiermaier went, also without any problem. Once he saw them both on the other side of the bridge, Macher clapped his hand on Himmler’s shoulder. “Nothing to it, Reichsfuhrer,” he whispered. “Go right past him. Don’t look in his eyes, but don’t avoid them either. You’ll be fine. We’re right behind you.”

Himmler set off. Macher let about twenty people pass by, then grabbed Franzi into the line with him. Immediately Franzi could see it was not going to be so simple. Himmler’s movements were so jerky he stood out even though he didn’t look any different from anyone else in the crowd. Being anonymous had become contrary to his nature. Franzi wondered how long it had been since Himmler had even been in the presence of strangers. Ten years? Fifteen? Twenty? “Maybe I should go alongside him,” he suggested to Macher. “Calm him down.”

But Macher still didn’t trust him. “Forget it,” he grunted. “You’re not leaving my side. The Reichsfuhrer can manage this himself.”

But then, to Franzi’s surprise, Himmler got the hang of it. His footsteps began slowing down, his elbows and shoulders stopped jerking. Forty feet from the checkpoint he started becoming invisible.

Macher and Franzi kept close behind Himmler. Just thirty more feet, Reichsfuhrer. Just twenty more feet, just ten more feet. Himmler was now walking up to the checkpoint and then, he was past it. No problem at all. Himmler was clear. And in twenty more seconds, so would they.

But then Himmler did something strange. He stopped and turned and walked back to the British soldier and showed him his papers. And the British soldier put his hand up and stopped the line and began politely thumbing through Himmler’s documents.

“What the hell?” whispered Macher.

They could hear the British soldier saying to Himmler, “It says here discharged from the Geheim Feld Polizei. That’s SS! I’m afraid I’m going to have to arrest you.” He put his hand firmly on Himmler’s shoulder and said something in English to the other soldier. Himmler looked back at Macher helplessly.

“Wait here,” Macher said to Franzi and began pushing his way through the crowd to the checkpoint. Franzi watched as the British soldiers pointed their Enfields at Macher, who reluctantly put up his hands. One of the soldiers began searching him and pulled out a pistol and a dagger. Next thing he knew, both he and Himmler had handcuffs on.

Franzi stood there for a little while, frozen with disbelief. Then it suddenly occurred to him that he was free and he turned and began walking back to Flensburg.

(Excerpt from Germania)

Monday, April 1, 2013

I'm a Man of West Dallas

I got to admit, that guy has me steamed but good. And for the next half hour or so, the whole time I’m leadfooting it up the road, bellowing curses at heaven, hell and the whole goddamn world besides. To even suggest I fink out my own cousin! I mean the nerve of that guy!

Okay, I reckon since I’ve gotten to this point, I should explain something about myself in case you all haven’t already figured it out. Sure, I may dress and act like a big- city sophisticate, but when all is said and done, what I am, sir, is a man of West Dallas.


West Dallas isn’t the same as Dallas proper. In fact, they’re about as different as you can get. Dallas has skyscrapers with elevators, hot and cold running water and an avenue downtown lined with air-conditioned movie houses. You want water in West Dallas, you best dig yourself a well or pay fifty cents a barrel when the city truck comes by every other week. Yes, West Dallas is its white trash underbelly at the other side of the Trinity River Aqueduct. We aren’t rich or modern or respectable, but damn it, we got our code. We don’t squeal, we don’t steal from each other, and we don’t betray our kin to the laws, no matter what.

I suspect right now, my Uncle Henry Barrow is back home at Eagle Ford, head bent with sorrow, because his eldest son, Buck, has been killed, and because he knows Clyde will soon also be dead. When that day comes, he’ll hold no grudge against the lawmen that killed him because he knows his boy done wrong and had to pay the price for it and that’s just the way things are. But, at the same time, Uncle Henry ain’t going to help them get Clyde. Neither will anyone else. In Eagle Ford and the rest of West Dallas, people don’t do that. They like to put us down and call us the criminal element, but fact is, most of the folks there is perfectly law-abiding. But the folks that ain’t, well, they all conduct their business somewhere else. In shantytowns like Eagle Ford, folks have a saying that all they got is each other. So no matter what anyone does, we all keep our mouths shut and don’t tell on each other the way better folks might. As a result, the cops hate us and the good folks with money and houses and nice churches to go to all look down their noses at us. But we don’t care, because we know who we are and we’re proud.

It’s funny saying all this, being as I am someone who’s spent his whole life trying like hell to get the taint of Eagle Ford and West Dallas off him. Jazz was my ticket out and soon as I could, I taught myself to speak and dress and carry myself so that folks wouldn’t see the West Dallas in me. Heck, I got so good at it, they didn’t even know I was from Texas. I was just this well-dressed, sophisticated jazzman who knew his way around Harlem and Fifth Avenue equally.

Of course, all it took was five seconds in front of Hamer and I’m back to that same mangy, old West Dallas mutt I swore I’d stopped being. And now to have that goddamn sandwich-eater showing up offering me the crumb of redemption, all I got to do for it is help bring down my cousin Clyde. And maybe if I was one of those churchafying, respectability-craving bastards, I’d have told myself, ‘well, hell, old Clyde’s as good as dead anyway, no harm using it to improve my situation a little.’

Well, thank you, but I’m still a West Dallas man and we don’t play them games, don’t sing them songs, so goddamn all of them to hell and Oklahoma for even asking!
(Excerpt from "Friend of the Devil," by Brendan McNally)