Friday, September 27, 2013

Bernadotte in Berlin III: The Coup That Never Happened

This is the last part of a rescued chapter from Germania, exploring the efforts to get Himmler to act against the Fuhrer. The quote at the end about "having to act in one way or another" is a statement actually attributed to Reichsfhrurer Himmler during this desperate period. Shows the complete unreality that was going on.


“So good of you to come, Herr Count,” Himmler said. “It’s always a great pleasure to have you here.”

“So good to be here, Reichsfuhrer,” replied Bernadotte, “especially on this occasion.”

“Yes,” agreed Himmler.

“On this momentous, historical occasion, I should add.”

“Yes,” repeated Himmler, still smiling.

“So tell us, please, how did everything go?” asked Bernadotte.

“Everything went exceedingly well, Herr Count.”

“It did?”

“Yes!”

Bernadotte said nothing, waiting for Himmler to elaborate. Himmler pursed his lips and squinted behind his thick glasses, as though he was carefully considering a proper choice of words for the declaration he was about to make. But none came.

Himmler smiled. Bernadotte smiled. “And?” he asked.

“And?” Himmler asked back quite pleasantly.

“Can you give us some detail?”

“Detail?” Himmler seemed almost troubled by the word.

“What can we tell Eisenhower?”

“Eisenhower?” asked Himmler. “Ah, well yes,” he said. “Ah yes, well, you can say to His Excellency Mister Eisenhower that everything has gone quite well and we are ready to move forward.”

“Can you be more specific, Reichsfuhrer?”

“Yes, you can tell him most assuredly, the German people are ready to stand squarely with him, shoulder to shoulder, in the grand, historic struggle against Jewish Bolshevism!”

Himmler held up his hand and smiled with gracious embarrassment. “Perhaps you should just say ‘the struggle against Bolshevism.’ Don’t mention the Jewish part. Yes.”

“Do you have any documents for me?"

Himmler stared back blankly. “Sorry?” he asked.

“It would be helpful if I could bring back documents to Eisenhower certifying you as the new leader.”

“I’m afraid I don’t have any such documents,” said Himmler, apologetically.

“You don’t?”

“No, the situation as it was, did not allow for it.”

“So you’re saying you merely got a verbal acknowledgement of the transfer of power.”

“Well actually, there wasn’t the moment. The time for that did not present itself.”

“It didn’t?”

“No, sadly,” confessed Himmler.

“Things moved too quickly, you’re saying?” asked Bernadotte, envisioning the exchange of harsh words followed by a shootout. “Things got out of hand? Is everything under control now?”

“Why yes, of course,” Himmler assured him. “Everything is perfectly under control.”

“That’s good,” said Bernadotte, relieved. Schellenberg nodded in agreement.

“Well then, could you just write down now a formal statement describing the incidents leading up to the transfer of power, including Hitler’s fate? That should be sufficient under the circumstances.”

“Hitler’s fate?” Himmler seemed genuinely puzzled. “Whatever do you mean by that, Herr Count?”

Bernadotte stared hard at him. “There has been a coup. Hitler is dead. If Eisenhower is to enter into negotiations with you and your new government, he needs to be provided with the details in a signed, notarized document from you.”

“But our Fuhrer isn’t dead, Herr Count. I just spent three hours talking with him. I can assure you he is very much alive and well.”

“But I thought you just said that you had not had a chance to get either a signed document from him or a verbal acknowledgment. So logically speaking, unless you’ve killed him, how on earth are you the new head of government?”

“You must have misunderstood me, Herr Count. I simply said that during my meeting with the Fuhrer, the moment didn’t arise for discussing such issues. But believe me, Herr Count, I tried. I really intended to bring it up. But the moment wasn’t there. It’s unfortunate, but there you are.”

Himmler turned away to indicate the subject was now closed.

Bernadotte stood in stunned disbelief. All the elaborately envisioned structures of possibilities and outcomes were crumbling and crashing around him.

There was no coup, there was no six-man executive, there were no allies or loyalists for that matter. There hadn’t even been a confrontation. There were no senators with their daggers drawn. There was only Goebbles in the Propaganda Ministry, Doenitz at the Navy, Speer with his war industries. Things were exactly as they had been before. Himmler hadn’t been under any pressure to act because the others didn’t even know about any of it. They were still in the exact same hopeless position as the last time he came down. Exactly the same, only infinitely worse.

He hadn’t even brought it up!

He looked over at Schellenberg and seeing the hopeless exasperation on his face, he almost felt sorry for him. Schellenberg had hitched his fortunes to Himmler’s star, thinking he was Germany’s last best hope, thinking he was a man worthy of his allegiance, his talents. But he’d wasted it all on the man. Himmler was incapable of actually taking initiative. He hadn’t even brought it up!

“You made me fly down for this?” Bernadotte asked, his voice becoming shrill.

Himmler turned back to face him. He clearly wasn’t used to being addressed this way.

“Herr Count,” he said in a calm, measured voice. “I told you I tried. I did my best.”

But Bernadotte was livid. “Reichsfuhrer, you didn’t do anything!”

Himmler looked very hard at Bernadotte. If it had been normal circumstances he’d probably had him immediately taken out and shot. But he knew he couldn’t. He knew that eventually he would have to enter into negotiations. He needed Bernadotte. He tried another tack. “You don’t understand the situation, Herr Count, I went there fully intending to present the ultimatum to the Fuhrer, but when I talked to him I could tell he wouldn’t be receptive. The moment wasn’t there. Neither was the Karma.” He looked away again.

Bernadotte could not believe what he was hearing. “Karma?” he repeated incredulously. “Karma? Reichsfuhrer, I wonder if you are even aware of the enormity of the catastrophe Germany is facing?”

“Oh I assure you, I am, I am. But you have to appreciate my loyalty to the Fuhrer. I owe him everything. Without him, I would be nothing, nothing at all. I have been through an awful lot these last months. And they have had a profound effect on me, a profound effect! I don’t mind telling you, Herr Count, that since the assassination attempt last summer I have for the first time in years, rediscovered my belief in Providence. In God, Herr Count, I am not ashamed to tell you now that I believe in God and I can safely say, sir, that Almighty God has a plan for Germany and the Fuhrer is part of that great plan, and I for one, do not believe it is my place to interfere with it.”

“Your Fuhrer is hell-bent on Germany’s destruction,” exclaimed Bernadotte. “The future of your country now rests entirely in your hands. Unless you or somebody does something immediately, in two or three weeks this country will be nothing but a pile of rubble and anyone who survives will probably greatly envy the dead. If you want to prevent this from happening you should make your move right away.”

“Oh believe me I understand what you are saying. And let me tell you this, and you can tell this to Eisenhower: even if I do not possess full authority at this moment, I recognize that eventually I must act in one way or another. Tell him that!”

"Great! That’s absolutely wonderful!” Bernadotte muttered dryly. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a plane to catch!” And with that Bernadotte stormed out of the office heading straight for the stairs leading down to the courtyard.

Schellenberg ran after him. “Wait,” he shouted. “Let me take you to the airport!”

(This is an excerpt from a chapter that got cut during the final edits of Germania, first published by Simon & Schuster in 2008, now also available on Kindle here).

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Bernadotte in Berlin II: The Coup Is On

Steiner smiled, giving Bernadotte a respectful bob of his head. “General Schellenberg begs your indulgence and regrets that he cannot be here right now, Herr Count,” he said. “But he wants you to know that things are now in motion, such as has been previously discussed. He asks that you wait with me until he can join us.”

Bernadotte grimaced with displeasure, but got in beside Steiner. The driver shut the door and a moment later they were off. Steiner opened his cigarette case and offered it to Bernadotte, who shook his head. For the next hour as they drove around the darkened city Steiner smoked cigarette after cigarette. Neither man said much. Three times the car motorcycle messengers drove up and flagged them down. Each time Steiner stepped out, read the message they handed him, dictated a reply, which Bernadotte couldn’t hear, then got back in the car and ordered the driver to continue, never offering Bernadotte any explanation.

It was only after the third such stop that Bernadotte turned to him and bluntly asked: “Captain, please tell me what is going on?”

The directness of the question seemed to deeply trouble Steiner. For another minute or two he appeared to mull it over while taking long, meditative pulls from his cigarette. Finally he crushed it out. He ordered the driver to park by a row of bombed out buildings. “Come with me,” he snapped to Bernadotte. “We’ll talk outside.” He opened the door and stepped out. Bernadotte followed him out among the rubble. At the edge of a water-filled bomb crater, Steiner stopped. “It’s happening right now. You should have your message for Eisenhower shortly.”

“What is it that you say is happening right now?” asked Bernadotte.

“You know,” answered Steiner evasively as before. “The same thing you and he talked about the last time you were together. You know, in Stockholm.”

But Bernadotte had already had all the indirectness he could take. “Listen Captain,” he barked back in anger and frustration. “Just quit beating around the bush and tell me precisely what is going on!”

Steiner continued to eye Bernadotte uneasily, but then he spoke. “They’ve gone to the Fuhrer to make him step down,” he said. “They’re going to make him leave Berlin for the Obersalzburg. They’ll let him stay on as Reichsprezident, but all the actual affairs of state will be decided by a six-man executive headed by the Reichsfuhrer. There! You asked and I’ve told you. Have you any more questions, Herr Count?”

Bernadotte was stunned. "Yes, I do have a question,” he said. “Tell me, who are Himmler’s allies?”

“I’m afraid I cannot say,” answered Steiner, giving a slight smirk. “Perhaps General Schellenberg will tell you.”

“And you say it’s happening right now?” Bernadotte asked.

“Yes,” said Steiner, “this very moment. I expect we’ll know something very soon.”

“My God!” said Bernadotte, his voice nearly a whisper. Steiner smiled grimly then nodded back at the car to indicate that they should get going.

For the next hour they drove around in silence, Bernadotte staring from the window while Steiner continued to smoke.

So it’s on, thought Bernadotte, as he stared out at the darkened, unsuspecting city. ‘\The coup is finally taking place. So Himmler and his allies had gone to Hitler and laid it on the line. “We’ve come here tonight, Mein Fuhrer, to discuss with you something that can no longer wait. As you know, Mein Fuhrer, the current course of events is no longer running in Germany’s favor. We believe that we are facing imminent disaster and unless a radical course of action is embarked on, Germany and the German people will not survive. We have concluded, Mein Fuhrer, that we must now seek an immediate peace settlement with the Western Allies. Only then can we convince them to join with us against a common Soviet foe. For this reason, Mein Fuhrer, we are asking you to step down and hand over all executive powers to a six-man executive council led by myself. You will continue to reign as Head of State, Mein Fuhrer, but in order to do that we ask that you immediately leave Berlin and reign from the Obersalzburg.

But would Himmler actually say something like that to Hitler? Did he actually have the guts to look him in the face and tell him that? Bernadotte didn’t think so. After all, in none of their previous closed-door meetings had he even come close to professing anything disloyal. Besides, even if he did, would Hitler even listen long enough to let him say it? Would Himmler lose his courage and back down?

If Bernadotte could find a way to reconcile the cowardly, indecisive Himmler that he knew with the other Himmler: the ruthless and cold blooded one who’d murdered millions without a second thought; the Himmler whom all Europe shivered in fear of. Maybe then he’d be able to see what was in the works and what was coming. Perhaps that Himmler was capable of acting differently, that one wouldn’t be so lily-livered when it came down to facing one mere man, even if that man was Adolf Hitler?

It had started to rain, the heavy drops pelting hard upon the car’s roof. Looking out, he made out the familiar darkened silhouettes of the buildings on the western end of Potzdammer Platz. As they drove through the square, he saw work crews shoveling rubble into a bomb hole where some tram tracks had run, while a few feet away welders were busily fitting rails back into place. With any luck, by dawn, the trams would be running again.

But for Himmler there’d be no possibility of  turning back. He’d have to go through with it. Because if he didn’t act right away, his rivals would find out and word of his betrayal would quickly get to Hitler. And if his rivals didn’t, then his allies certainly would if for no other reason than to save their own skins. No, this time he’d have to stand up, and it would have to be tonight.

Bernadotte tried imagining a logical sequence of events, but because everyone involved was so utterly unpredictable, he had no idea what turns such a conversation might take. Probably they’d begin by making a reasonable and respectful-sounding approach. But then, how quickly would Hitler interrupt them with screaming and accusations? And when that happened, how would they respond? Would they get conciliatory? Would they try to smooth over the ugly reality of what they were asking by making emotional pleas? Of course it’s only for a temporary period, Mein Fuhrer, only until we can find a way to stabilize our situation with the Western Allies…..Please, Mein Fuhrer, think about the German people. Think about the women and the girls and the babies and the children, Mein Fuhrer. The Aryan children, what about them, Mein Fuhrer?.....No, Mein Fuhrer, it is not about capitulation, it is about making a strategic alliance that will allow us to fulfill our goals. It is no different that the pact you signed with Joseph Stalin six years ago. Remember that? Frankly, Bernadotte couldn’t imagine Hitler buying any of it.

So then would they start getting direct and telling him all the blunt, unpleasant things he really didn’t want to hear? This war you’ve led us into has gone on too long, Mein Fuhrer.

Too soft, thought Bernadotte, they wouldn’t say that. Something with the word ‘disaster’ would work much better. This war you’ve led us into has been a disaster, a complete disaster. Disaster and ruin, that’s what they’d serve him. You’ve caused disaster and ruin to the German people! It’s gone on too long and the German People cannot and will not take any more. Accuse him of failure to lead, failure to face reality. It’s gone on too long and right now very hard decisions must be made about the future of the German People and, Mein Fuhrer, you have shown you are not capable of making them. So we are asking you to step down now.

And what if Hitler didn’t agree to step down? Hitler wasn’t one who allowed others to challenge or contradict him. Himmler and the others had better have the resolve and determination to follow it through or else they’d be in big trouble. For one thing they’d have to show him who was boss and whose hand no longer held any cards.

It is too late for you to protest, Mein Fuhrer, the decision has already been made and the first steps have already been taken toward seeking an immediate armistice with the Western Allies. I will be going to meet with Eisenhower myself.

And then, they’d be at a point of no return, where they simply couldn’t back down. Everybody’s backs would be to the wall. Everybody: Hitler, Himmler, Himmler’s supporters….The outcome at that point would be completely unpredictable.

Another motorcycle messenger had come up from behind and was flagging them. Steiner leaned forward and instructed the driver to stop. He read the paper the messenger gave him.

“What now?” asked Bernadotte.

“General Schellenberg says we should come now,” said Steiner.

“Is it over?”

But Steiner didn’t answer.

When they arrived at Schellenberg's offices, Schellenberg looked up and gave Bernadotte a quick nod of recognition before turning back to the cluster of officers he was conferring with. For another five minutes Bernadotte waited before Schellenberg finally dismissed them and walked over. He looked harried, Bernadotte observed, like he hadn’t slept in quite awhile.

“So, has Captain Steiner briefed you?”Schellenberg asked.

“He tells me the coup is on,” Bernadotte said in low voice. “Is it?”

Gravely Schellenberg nodded.

“Any news?”

Schellenberg shook his head. “No, nothing yet,” he aswered. “But we expect to hear something anytime.” Then he added, “You understand, Herr Count, the situation is extremely volatile at the moment. Anything can happen. But let’s just say that at this moment I am extremely optimistic.”

Another group of officers was being brought in. Seeing them, Schellenberg cut short the conversation and walked over to them. Bernadotte settled into an empty chair in the corner and looked on as another hushed, but heated discussion ensued. They left a few minutes later only to be replaced by another group and then by another group and another group after that. Three times Schellenberg gathered some of them in front of a hanging map of Berlin, pointing to different key spots around the city, then making an emphatic, circular sweep of his hand converging onto a spot in the city’s center which he’d then pound with his fist. That spot, Bernadotte knew, was where the Reichskancellei and Fuhrerbunker stood. And each time the men nodded gravely, hardened, resolute men, men prepared to do or die. They had to be discussing special units that were being held in reserve in case fighting broke out, Bernadotte decided.

When would the uprising begin? Or had it already started? Fighting could already be erupting all over the city between the insurgents and forces still loyal to Hitler. He began trying to guess who the loyalists might be. Were they SS units whom Himmler didn’t directly control? It was possible. There had been rumors that Kaltenbrunner, head of the SS security service, was a potential rival to Himmler. But would the soldiers in those units obey the orders given to them once they found out what was actually going on? He wondered what their morale was like at that moment. Could any of them still actually think Hitler was capable of getting them out of this mess? He wished he knew.

Then of course there was the whole question of Himmler’s allies. Bernadotte suddenly realized he hadn’t gotten to ask Schellenberg about who they were.

If Himmler had been able to get Goebbles on his side, he’d have something. But did he? What about Bormann, Hitler’s secretary? No way! He was too close. There was nothing in it for him to go against Hitler. And what about the Luftwaffe and its chief, fat Hermann Goering? Might he suddenly show his loyalty to Hitler for no other reason than to regain all the favor he’d lost in recent years?

Bernadotte got up from his chair and walked to the widow. Sluggish light was beginning to fill the courtyard. It would be dawn soon. There were still a half dozen motorcycle riders tiredly milling about, warming themselves around a wood fire burning in an ashcan placed next to a wall, presumably as protection against the rain.

There was the sound of a rifle shot in the courtyard. Instinctively, Bernadotte jerked back from the window, only to realize a second later that it was just a backfire from one of the motorcycles being started up. A couple of the men inside the room gave nervous laughs.

For the first time, Bernadotte started thinking about his own safety. If the fighting spun out of control and nobody had the upper hand, what would he do? Get out! Get back to Stockholm and if he couldn’t get out of Berlin, he’d need to get to the Swedish Embassy. And if he couldn’t make it there, then he’d need to find his way to the Irish Embassy, or the Swiss Embassy. Find a way to get the word to Eisenhower that it was all falling apart.

Maybe if the fighting went on long enough without any clear outcome, that might compel the individual area commanders to seek separate surrenders. Eisenhower might then be able to quickly seize vast areas of territory. That would work too.

One of the radio operators shot his hand up like he had something. He started scribbling down a message on a piece of paper which he then held up. Immediately Steiner went over, grabbed it and then brought it to Schellenberg, who stared at it and then he broke out into a broad smile. “The Reichsfuhrer has left the Fuhrerbunker!” he announced to everybody in a loud voice. “He’s on his way here now.”

Everyone looked immensely relieved. Schellenberg walked over to Bernadotte. “I think you’ll have your message for Eisenhower,” he said quietly, so no one else could hear. Then he turned on his heel and walked back.

Bernadotte looked at his watch. It was 5:45, he now had exactly forty-five minutes before his flight left Templehof for Stockholm. He had to be on that plane.

He started doing the arithmetic in his head. They’d land in Stockholm by eleven. He could be at the Foreign Ministry by noon. Eisenhower could have the message by one. If they felt like moving on it quickly, there could be a ceasefire in effect possibly by midnight. It was all a question of what Himmler was prepared to do.

Then someone shouted “They’re here!” and everyone rushed to the windows that looked down into the courtyard. Bernadotte saw a procession of five Mercedes driving in from the street. The car doors opened and he could see the figure of Reichsfuhrer Himmler confidently stepping out from the back of one.

(This is a chapter that got cut during the final edits of my novel Germania, first published by Simon & Schuster in 2008, now also available on Kindle here).

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Bernadotte in Berlin I: Waiting for Schellenberg

The meetings that morning all went perfectly. As Bernadotte had expected, everyone was eager to sign whatever agreement they were handed, just so long as it was worded vaguely enough and required nothing from them beyond good intentions. He went first to Ribbentrop, and then to Ley. Both were drunk. So was nearly everyone else. And, Bernadotte noted, the meetings all seemed to follow a wholly new protocol, one which adhered to only a few of the old formalities while replacing the others with whatever approximations were at hand.

Previously, before such meetings would start, he’d find himself in a plush ante-room drinking coffee offered to him by young, pretty secretaries. Then a few minutes later, an older, inevitably punctilious male secretary with a leather agenda folder in his hands would appear and escort him into whichever minister’s inner chambers. In the minister’s office, there’d be a large window on one side, an oak-paneled wall on the other, a large rectangular conference table in the center, lined with heavy, carved wooden armchairs and, off by the inner wall, the minister’s enormous, though mostly empty desk, above which hung a large Nazi party banner, sumptuously festooned with golden braid, fringe and tassels.

But this time the young secretaries brought him straight in to the ministers’ offices. There was no longer any point keeping him waiting since the ministers could no longer pretend to have more pressing business. Besides, there was no coffee to offer him, only a weak and bitter brew made from acorns, which they really preferred not serving. The ministers’ offices no longer had glass in any of the windows. Most didn’t even have window frames, since those had been blown out by the bombing. The large conference tables were now buried beneath stacks of bound papers and files. In lieu of lamps and candles, they made do with cups on their desks filled with grease and a burning twist of rag for a wick. And as for the banners, they had grown frayed and musty and the fringe and tassels all seemed to have been stripped from them. He wondered what greater purpose they might possibly now be serving.

But what was most noticeably absent was the colossal arrogance of the ministers and their staff. Now everyone was helpful and solicitous. They’d listen with almost exaggerated interest as Bernadotte outlined the issues at hand. All of them did their best to sound deeply concerned over the refugees’ plight. But they were also quick to point out just how limited they were, and that even if they wanted to help, what could they do? And Bernadotte would tell them this: You can want to help. You can intend to do the right thing, situation permitting. You can lessen the mechanisms of unnecessary suffering. You can agree not to impede missions of mercy. You can agree to that, can’t you? And they’d all say, well yes, if you put it that way, I guess we could. How about we drink on that Herr Count?

By two o’clock he had finished. He went back to his hotel hoping to find a message waiting for him from Schellenberg. His flight would leave at six thirty the next morning. If he missed it, he’d be stuck in Berlin for at least two more days, something he really wished to avoid.

For an hour he lolled in the hotel lobby, reading and rereading a copy of Volkischer Beobachter, trying to act as if having a team of shabbily dressed secret police spies staring at him from three different points in the room didn’t bother him in the slightest. Finally, at three thirty, the clerk at the front desk signaled to him.

He had a message from Schellenberg telling him that a car would come by for him in half an hour. Until then he should continue waiting in the lobby. Which he did, only to get another message twenty-five minutes later that the meeting had been delayed and to stay put until they knew something. He did that too.

Sometime before five another message came in saying that there had been another delay and that if he could please go back to his room or to dinner, they’d let him know later what the new plans were. Bernadotte decided to go out for a walk.

The skies over Berlin were covered in thick, soupy gray rain clouds, which explained why there hadn’t been any air raids that day. As a result, the streets were teeming with people taking advantage of the bad weather to spend some time outdoors. Bernadotte was struck by how tired, hungry and irritable everyone looked. During the two months since he’d last been there, the air raids had become incessant: American heavy bombers attacked during the day, while British ones came at night. And the whole time the Russians kept pushing closer. The thunder of their artillery never seemed to stop. It seemed that in another week or two they’d have the city surrounded. And when they’d done that, the battle would start, the big final bloody battle and there was nothing the Berliners could do to stop it. And when it was finished, that was when the real horror would start; rape, murder, wanton destruction. Bernadotte knew it, and so did all the Berliners he passed on the street.

It hadn’t been quite the same for the Nazi bigwigs he’d been talking to today. They all seemed in a state of alcohol-fuelled unreality. But then Bernadotte had no doubt that when the time came, they’d all find a way out of the trap. People like that always did.

And when it was over, would there even be anything left of Berlin besides rubble and corpses?

When he got back to the hotel, there was still no message for him. He went up to his room, had a bath, dressed for dinner which turned out to be potatoes and cabbage served on none-too-clean plates and mismatched silverware. After that he spent another interminable hour in the lobby. Finally at ten, he’d had enough and went up to his room and went to sleep. At two in the morning he was awakened by the telephone ringing next to his bed. “Bernadotte,” he announced drowsily.

“This is the reception,” said the voice. “Sorry to wake you, Herr Count. But there is an urgent message from General Schellenberg asking you to be ready in the lobby in twenty minutes.”

“I’ll be there,” Bernadotte answered and rang off.

When he got downstairs, a black, six-wheeledMercedes with SS flags on the front mudguards was already waiting for him outside. He settled his bill at the front desk and quickly walked outside to the car’s rear door which the smartly-dressed SS driver was holding open for him. But when Bernadotte looked inside, he discovered waiting for him inside not Schellenberg, but his adjutant, Captain Steiner.

(This is a chapter that got cut during the final edits of my novel Germania, first published by Simon & Schuster in 2008, now also available on Kindle here).

Sunday, September 22, 2013

W.H. Auden Bids Good-Bye to Weimar Berlin


Kadeko was one of the moment’s leading hotspots for edgy and satiric entertainment. Night after night it drew Berlin’s most obscure and disregarded artists and writers, along with a smattering of more successful ones and even the occasional cultural icon. Though Ziggy had never been there, it was Sebastian’s favorite club, and he talked about it endlessly. Who was there, who said what, who said what about whose work, and what the various newspaper columnists had to say about it. Then he would get loudly depressed at how hopelessly corny their act was, compared to Kadeko’s more outrĂ© offerings.

After all he’d heard about Kadeko, Ziggy couldn’t believe what a dump it actually was. It was shabby and smelled of spilled beer. Its ceilings weren’t half as high as at the Admiralspalast and there was only a single level of balcony boxes. It was smoky and grubby with small round tables crowded together on its main floor and booths along the walls. On the stage some clowns were riding around on bicycles swinging at each other with phalluses whose bases resembled the Eiffel Tower while a small combo played harsh circus music. He followed Sebastian as he made a beeline toward one of the booths in the back where a large group of men sat together.

“Hi everyone,” Sebastian said brightly. He put his hand on Ziggy’s shoulder. “This is my brother Ziggy.”

Collectively, the men in the booth regarded them with the sleepy diffidence of a dragon that hadn’t yet fully awakened from a lengthy hibernation. Finally one of them mumbled, “Hullo Loerber.” And that was all Sebastian needed to dart into an empty space on the couch and start talking about how great it was being with some real artists for a change.

Rather than insinuate himself among them, Ziggy remained where he was, surveying the scene around him. He thought he recognized one or two faces from magazines; film actors, he thought. There were some older couples, out for an evening of fun, elsewhere there were people huddled together discussing business of some sort. Everyone else seemed to be in their thirties or forties. Some of the women had silk dresses and artistic hairstyles, others looked like they might be prostitutes. Waiters flittered about with trays full of beer glasses and the occasional bottle of champagne.

Suddenly a man’s voice shattered his musings. “Franzi Loerber! Quit ignoring me and come over!”

Ziggy turned around to see a spectacularly ugly man sitting alone at a table. The man pointed to the empty chair next to him. “Come sit with me and have some whiskey.”

“Actually I’m not Franzi, I’m his brother Ziggy,” said Ziggy.

The man regarded him bemusedly. “The Magical Loerber Brothers. So you’re Ziggy, come sit anyway,” he said.

Not having anything better to do, Ziggy sat down and the man immediately put out his hand. “My name’s Auden,” he said and they shook. “Would you like some Johnnie?” he asked, pointing to his bottle of Johnnie Walker Red. “I’ll have the waiter bring another glass.”

“No thank you, I can’t,” said Ziggy. “We have to go back to perform in a few minutes.”

“Well now, I wouldn’t want to ruin that,” the man said. “I’ve seen you all perform many times. Really quite delightful, I must say. Most of this stuff here tries so hard to be dreadful. They carry so much meaning on their sleeve, but there isn’t any spark, any poetry coming from any of it. If it wasn’t so sarcastic, I wouldn’t even come here. I went to see Schoenberg’s Erwartung performed the other day. That atonal shit gives me a headache. But the Loerber Brothers, they’re like jazz. The kind of jazz you see in cartoons.”

Ziggy looked at him in surprise. Nobody had ever said anything like that about them before. He loved cartoons even more than movies because of the way things moved in them. Rabbits became automobiles, fish became airplanes, dogs engaged in marital spats, guys got hit, broke into a dozen little versions of themselves before recombining a few seconds later. To be compared with a cartoon was better than anything he could think of.

Auden smiled at him. Even though he was probably not yet thirty, his face was already given to immense folds and creases, like some ancient reptile. He stared at Ziggy as if from an endless distance of time.

“But don’t you think we’re a little too traditional for the modern era?” Ziggy asked. “All we do is just old-fashioned circus stuff; acrobatics, songs, tap-dancing, juggling, magic.”

“Exactly!” shouted Auden so excitedly several existentialists looked up with curiosity. “It has a magic! Every time I see you lads perform, I can tell it’s exploding pure and unfiltered, straight from Gustav Loerber’s id. It only pretends to be traditional. What it really is, is surreal! I remember that the last time I saw you do the Hawaiian Hallucination, I …,” Auden let his voice trail off like he’d just recalled something he thought better than to mention. Up on the stage a skinny woman in a short black dress and tiny round hat stood singing something about guys she’d had sex with. Her voice wasn’t very good, but she sang with a matter-of-fact defiance that almost made up for it.

“You are English?” asked Ziggy.

“Yes, I am English,” Auden answered, with just a touch of brittle annoyance, as if once again he’d found himself cast in the hated role of an English tutor, obliged to carry on banal social conversation. “I am English, I teach English, I write poetry and I am a homosexual and I am a full-fledged member of several artistic and literary circles which do not talk to each other. And I think Bertolt Brecht is a pompous twit, which I have the authority to say because I am a regularly published cultural critic. And please do not bother telling me that you would like to visit London some day because the truth is London is a dreadful, joyless place that sucks the life out of you.”

“Do you consider yourself avant-garde?” Ziggy asked.

Auden laughed and shook his head. “I don’t know what I am.”

Ziggy nudged his head in the direction of the men in the booth Sebastian was talking to. “Do they consider themselves avant-garde?”

“Oh, they consider themselves all sorts of things,” answered Auden. He pointed to one of them. “See him? The other day he denounced Mickey Mouse as revanchist.” A slight smile curled on his lips. “Mickey Mouse. Can you imagine?”

He looked directly at Ziggy, anger flashing in his eyes. “And you know what? Nobody stood up for Mickey Mouse. Nobody, not one of them. You see what’s going on, don’t you? If nobody will defend Mickey Mouse today, who will defend Weimar democracy tomorrow? They won’t lower themselves, I’m afraid. Politics is beneath them.” He poured himself more whiskey and took a deep swallow.

“And yes, I love Berlin.” He stared emptily at his surroundings. “But it’s gone now. All of this you see around you is not real anymore. It’s just an echo, and in a little while, there won’t be even that.”

Not knowing what to say, Ziggy looked back at the stage and suddenly he imagined himself there with his brothers, all of them suspended from dangling lengths of fabric, performing one of their acrobatic routines. He saw himself twisting and weaving among the flat strands, his right leg wrapping itself into it while the left leg swung free and his upper torso flexing and pivoting till his head and arms swung down pointed directly down to the stage, and the whole while Franzi and Manni were twirling by their arms around him like dragonflies. Then suddenly they jumped down from the fabric and were running away. And from the darkness rifle shots were ringing out. And then he looked over and saw Sebastian tumbling toward the ground. He looked at Ziggy and sang out, “If I forget Thee, O Jerusalem,” which somehow, inexplicably, turned into; “Get her into the closet!”

“…in London you spend your whole life pretending,” Ziggy heard Auden saying. “Pretending you’re something you’re not, something they tell you that you have to be, just to please some pompous, pretentious, boring old….queens! I’m so sick of it. Living lies poisons you. Promise me you’ll never do that, Franzi.”

Another pause, another sip. “But you do have to play with the hand you’ve been dealt,” he added.

Trying to shake off his visions, Ziggy turned to stare at Sebastian, still holding forth among his friends. As much as he wanted to fit in, it was obvious he didn’t. Though he had adopted some of their sophistication, his brimming enthusiasm completely negated the hoped-for effect. But they indulged him the same way they might a pretty girl who’d found her way into their company; laughing generously at her remarks and acting attentive.

“Come on,” said Auden, “let’s have a drink to old Berlin. I don’t know when I’ll ever see it again. Chris and I are leaving for Amsterdam tomorrow. I don’t want to see what it’s going to turn into. Just give me a hug, Franzi.” He sounded so sad.

What was it about Berlin anyway? wondered Ziggy. How could anyone of such obvious refinement love anything so relentlessly crude?’ He let Auden put his arms around him and bury his head into his shoulder, only to suddenly feel a wet tongue slithering into his ear. Ziggy sprang up from his chair, pulling himself away from the man’s bear-like embrace. He ran over and grabbed Sebastian. “Let’s get the hell out of here.”

“But what about Robitschek?” asked Sebastian. “Isn’t he coming on next?”

“Robitschek was yesterday,” said one of the avant-gardists.

“Come on,” Ziggy pulled Sebastian towards the door. “We’re late.” Then he remembered they had no money left for the taxi. “Can you get any of your great friends to stand you the fare back?”

“I don’t want to do that,” cringed Sebastian.

“Oh for God’s sake!” said Ziggy.

Three minutes later, against his wildest undertakings, Ziggy had found someone wanting to play the numbers game, and five marks the richer, they hailed a cab back to Admiralspalast.

(This is a chapter that got cut during the final edits of my novel Germania, first published by Simon & Schuster in 2008, now also available on Kindle here).

Saturday, September 21, 2013

KG200 Flying Boats Explode in Flensburg Harbor

The four flying boats were being kept in a remote corner of Flensburg harbor in a cove nestled among the broken hills which descended like steps from the side of the fjord.

It was where utility boats, small barges and other shallow-draft harbor craft docked and where the harbor patrol had one of its auxiliary stations. Shortly after the aircraft’s unannounced appearance, Doenitz ordered them towed there, in order to keep them inaccessible and out of public view. Their crews were ordered off them, except for a handful that stayed to look after the aircraft. In addition, a guard was placed there around-the-clock to prevent any unauthorized tampering.

But when Cremer and his men drove in through the compound’s back gates, they were surprised to find that everything was dark and none of the buildings showed any indication that anyone was inside. Then, hearing a low whistle, Cremer peered into the dark and saw one of his petty officers crouched among some stacked pipe, furtively waving at them. He and the others had been hiding there all day, he told them. Several hours earlier, a detachment of kettenhunde, Naval guardsmen, drove up from town and ordered everyone out, after which all the lights were shut down. All but one of the lights, he told Cremer, insisting he come up and see for himself what was going on underneath it.

They quietly made their way down the hillside to an equipment-strewn storage yard built onto the bluff overlooking the cove. Looking toward the harbor, Cremer could see the light of the streetlamp blazing into the blackness. On the way they came to a row of small metal storage sheds, in whose shadow four more of his men were hiding, including Manni Loerber, dressed in navy coveralls and trying hard not to look like a lifetime civilian. One look at his face and it was plain that he had no idea what had happened to the British either.

Leaving the others there, Cremer and the petty officer continued crawling up to the edge of the bluff. Cremer looked down and saw the lamp, standing at the foot of a small boat dock which extended out into the water like a long, narrow finger pointing at the spot out in the water where, half-hidden in the shadows, the four mammoth aircraft were moored.

But that wasn’t all. Clustered underneath the lamp stood a large group of people, easily thirty of them, mostly men, but a few women as well, all of them dressed for travel, in raincoats and heavy hats. They stood with baggage at their feet, as if waiting for a bus. Most of the men were heavyset in a way that suggested their girth was commensurate to their importance, men used to living well and eating amply. Gauleiters, thought Cremer. The handful of women were, on the other hand, nearly all tall and slim, and probably quite young. Only one or two looked like they might be wives.

There were others as well, Luftwaffe personnel, some in utility coveralls and flying suits, others in combat gear, clutching submachine guns. They moved about, attending busily to this and that, talking with each other, checking their watches, occasionally staring out speculatively into the darkness, keeping purposefully apart from the passengers.

The travelers started arriving an hour earlier, the petty officer whispered to Cremer. They’d come in their own cars, which the Luftwaffe men then took and drove away to a far corner of the yard. It had been forty minutes since the last one had arrived. They seemed to be still waiting for somebody.

Out on the water, one of the flying boats was starting to come to life. A row of circular lights blinked on along its fuselage, from below the cockpit to amidships. A moment later, another line snapped on, this one slightly lower than the other, going from amidships all the way to the tail. They weren’t running lights, Cremer realized, but portholes. Someone inside was turning on the interior cabin lights. Red lights filled the cockpit as the silhouettes of two men moved into the compartment and settled into their seats. They’re going through their primary instrument checks, Cremer thought. It’s still going to take a few minutes.

Cremer and the petty officer crawled back. Gathering everyone around him, Cremer laid out his ambush plan and showed everybody their positions. They’d wait till his signal before starting anything. The idea was to get them out in the open, away from their cars, hopefully up on the pier where their escape would be cut off. They would wait until Himmler’s group got clear of their cars but before they reached the dock and could join up with the milling group. Cremer would blow his whistle and the petty officer would use the bullhorn to announce they were all under arrest and unless they wanted to be shot they would immediately toss away their weapons and get down on the ground.

If shooting started, which he expected, they were to concentrate on the muscle, the guys with the machine guns. They’d prefer to capture Himmler alive, but if he made things difficult, then too bad for him! But mainly they wanted to pull Franzi Loerber away from the group. He was the one who looked like Captain Loerber and his brother Manfred here. Take a good look at them in case you don’t already know what they look like, gentlemen. Good luck to us all!

Everyone went to their positions. Suddenly everything was quiet again. Cremer looked at Ziggy, crouched in the shadows. He was looking strange again. What was with him, Cremer wondered. He’d known him most of his adult life and that whole time he was the straightest, calmest, most unimaginatively reliable man he’d ever met. But once back in the bosom of his weird family, he’d become a different person, someone given to trances and psychic pronouncements. And Manni, what the hell was he? When Ziggy had introduced them the day before, Cremer’s immediate impression was that the guy was a total freak.

Staring out past the flying boats into the harbor, seeing the buoy lights swaying with the waves, he thought of all the U-boat patrols he and Ziggy had been on, back before Ziggy had gotten his own command. He wondered if his friend’s famous luck only held at sea or if it would extend to land operations. He prayed it would, since without it, this misbegotten adventure would likely end up in a complete massacre. Their only real chance was to get Himmler’s group off-guard and bluff them into believing there was something more formidable coming at them than a bunch of U-boat sailors armed with pistols and Tommy-guns.

Out in the harbor, all of the anchored warships kept their lights burning, if for no other reason than to not be obstacles to navigation. It made Flensburg harbor look alive and bustling. But the sad fact was that by this point, except for the minesweepers, few ships had anything more than skeleton crews aboard them. Their crews were all permanently ashore now, either massed in some British-run prisoner of war enclosure or waiting to be put in one, or already demobilized and sent home. As for the ships, unless the allies chose to use them for something, they were all lifeless things.

A few small patrol boats combed the waters, searchlights blazing back and forth, happily oblivious to what was going on nearby on land. That’s it, thought Cremer, keep the tension up, but nothing out of the ordinary. Don’t spook them, don’t let them think any of this is the slightest bit different.

The Luftwaffe man in charge stepped out on the dock where the people on the flying boat could see him and held his hands out to show he didn’t know where whoever-it-was, was. Then he turned to the passengers and told them something which didn’t seem to allay their growing impatience. Cremer looked at his watch and realized twenty minutes had gone by. Where were they? What were they supposed to do if Himmler’s group didn’t show? Could it be that they were actually escaping some other way. This whole thing was definitely a massive cock-up.

“Headlights!” someone whispered.

“It’s them!” hissed someone else from the other side of the rise. “Two Horches!”

From where he was, Cremer couldn’t see anything, except scattered illuminations of the headlights on some of the moored boats. But he could hear the approaching cars’ engines coming up the harbor road.

But the Luftwaffe men could see them. One of them began walking up the dock, signaling the pilot. Immediately the flying boat’s six engines sputtered and whined as the large, three-bladed propellers began to turn, slowly at first, then faster and faster as the engines’ metallic whine turned into a loud roar. At the same time another Luftwaffe man stepped forward and waved for the Horches to come up close. But instead, the cars halted nearly a hundred yards away. After a quick, heated exchange of words with the man on the dock, he and two others started towards the cars to see what the deal was.

“Shit!” hissed Cremer. “We need to move over, where we can see what’s going on. Quick!”

They stepped back to keep out of view, then, silently as they could, made their way over to the side of the bluff overlooking the harbor road. It turned out they couldn’t see anything from there either. Cremer turned and saw Ziggy, looking more lost and desperate than ever before.

“What is it?” they heard one of the Luftwaffe men yell at the Himmler party. “You’re supposed to drive up. We’re not running a porter service here.”

“I want you to put out that light!” Macher’s voice yelled back. “Now!”

“We need it on! We’re still loading!” the Luftwaffe man shouted back angrily.

“That’s your problem,” barked Macher. “Kill it now!”

A moment later someone hit a switch and everything was back in darkness. “All right, then,” said Macher. “Keep coming.”

Then there was silence. Cremer started moving to another position. Finally he found a spot where he could see the cars. But in the darkness it was hard to make out anything. There were people moving around, bending over and picking up things. He tried to figure out who was who, but there was so much commotion, he got confused.

Four of them started walking toward the dock in a tight group. Then he recognized the trilby hat he’d seen Himmler wearing back at the farmhouse. Here we go, he thought, slipping the police whistle between his lips. He just needed to get them a little further from the cars, a little closer to the dock and then he’d give the signal.

Then, suddenly, a siren ripped through the stillness and at the same time searchlights flashed on, striking the group with their blinding beams. There was shouting as hands shot up to shield faces from the searing light. Then shooting broke out and the group that had momentary been frozen, broke into scattered, frenzied flight. Two of the figures began running toward the dock, ripping off their overcoats as they did, shouting and waving desperately not to shoot them. But the other two ran back, to the cars, all the while returning submachine-gun fire. More fire was coming from the cars as their engines roared back to life. As the sirens continued to howl, some of their fire hit the searchlights, several of which instantly faded out. One of the men running toward the docks screamed as he collapsed, writhing to the ground. The other clutched his arm before the side of his head exploded.

Cremer stood up. “Everyone hold your fire!” he shouted at his men.

Meanwhile on the dock the passengers were scattering any direction they could, some running into each other, some jumping into the water, others getting hit by bullets, bleeding, screaming with the outrage, the injustice of it all.

And then, just as suddenly, the flying boat exploded in a huge burst of flame.

As the explosion thundered, blotting out even the wailing siren, there was a screeching of tires and a roar of engines as the two Horches turned and tore back down the way they came, still firing at their ambushers as they did.

Frantically, Cremer started gathering his dazed group. “Pull back!” he shouted. “Quickly! We’re getting out of here! Now! Move!”

But Ziggy wasn’t moving. He looked blankly at Cremer, who, seeing his disorientation, grabbed his arm and, with the help of one of his men, pulled him along as they withdrew back up the hillside.

By the time they reached their cars, the huge aircraft was being consumed in flames that lit up the sky. There was a continual cracking of smaller explosions as ammunition inside the aircraft cooked off. Cremer wondered how he was ever going to explain any of this to Doenitz. But at the moment his main urge was to get his men out of there.

“Everyone into the cars,” he ordered in a calm voice.

But Manni stepped in front of him, resolute and serious. “We’ve got to go back and get Franzi!” he shouted.

“How the hell are we going to do that?” Cremer shouted back. “We don’t even know where they’ve gone.”

“I bet Ziggy knows,” said Manni. He grabbed his brother by the shoulders and gave him a slight shake. “Where are they going, Ziggy?” he asked softly, as one might question a child. “Where are they taking Franzi?”

Ziggy looked at Manni like he didn’t recognize him. “Franzi?” he asked. “Franzi?” He turned and stared down the harbor road, like he was waiting for a reply. Then he looked at Manni and then at Cremer, his eyes alert and clear.

“They’re on their way to Schloss Glucksburg,” he told them. “They’re going to make Speer pay for this!”

(A different version of this story, told from Himmler party's point of view, appears in Germania, published by Simon & Schuster in 2008, now also available on Kindle here.)

Friday, September 20, 2013

Flensburg: Beers with British Spies

When Ziggy returned to the offices, Ludde Neurath was sitting at his desk. He looked worried. “Some British officers came looking for you,” he said.

“For me?” asked Ziggy, wondering what Westerby wanted this time.

Ludde Neurath nodded. “Two of them. They wanted to bring you over to the Patria for questioning.” He searched Ziggy’s eyes while he spoke. “The Old Man thought there was something dodgy about them and told them they couldn’t. He told them it wasn’t part of the deal. He said if they wanted to talk to you they would have to either do it here or they could arrest you, in which case their request would have to be in writing.”

“Oh,” said Ziggy, relishing the thought of Westerby getting turned away. “So what was dodgy about them?”

“The way they wouldn’t identify themselves,” said Ludde Neurath. “They didn’t have any papers authorizing them. Usually we get some notification first. They also weren’t interested in talking to you here. When I told them you’d be back, they said they didn’t want to wait.” He waited a moment, then asked solemnly: “Is there something you should perhaps be telling me about?”

Ziggy shrugged dismissively. “There was a British officer who hounded me a little when I was at Montgomery’s headquarters,” he said. “And he was waiting for me at the airport when we came back from Berlin. He knows that my brother was with Himmler’s party that night in Ploen. He thinks I might know where they are now.”

“Do you?” asked Ludde Neurath.

“No,” answered Ziggy.

“That’s good,” said Ludde Neurath. “We were thinking, maybe you shouldn’t be here from now on. We can have you doing something less visible until things quiet down.”

“Let me think about it,” Ziggy told him.

Ludde Neurath nodded and went back to the inner suite. The afternoon wore on. The flow of supplicants and other visitors petered out. At six o’clock Ludde Neurath told Ziggy he could leave. Ziggy fetched his leather overcoat and left. On his way down the stairs he saw a British officer waiting at the landing below, leaning against the window chatting with a janitor. It was Westerby. Seeing Ziggy approach, he straightened up, and, smoothing down his jacket with a quick sweep of his hands, broke off his conversation with the janitor and stepped forward into Ziggy’s path.

“Ahh, Capitan Loerber!” he said, feigning surprise and delight. “How nice to see you.”

“Good afternoon, Major Westerby,” answered Ziggy.

“So how are things?” Westerby asked.

“Oh, everything seems to be going just fine. How is it for your group?”

“Oh, busy, busy,” said Westerby. “You know how it is. There are never enough hours in the day. They have us running around from one place to the next. Half our orders are contradictory.” He fumed agreeably to show they were both essentially in the same boat.

Ziggy nodded.

Westerby widened his eyes. “Come for a drink,” he said. “I know a little place just around the corner.” He pointed behind him with his thumb. “What do you say? Beer and a chin wag among colleagues. Besides, there’s someone I’d like you to meet.”

At least it was a different tack from the strong-arming they’d evidently tried upstairs, thought Ziggy. He’d appreciated how Doenitz had stood up to them, but he also doubted there was much point in trying to resist. If they wanted to interrogate him, they’d easily find a way.

“A beer would be nice,” agreed Ziggy.

“That’s the ticket,” said Westerby. “Right, come along.”

They walked quickly out the gates and downhill toward the waterfront, their boots marking a crisp tattoo against the cobblestones. They passed milling groups of forlorn, resentful-looking soldiers, Westerby nodding to them while keeping up his jaunty pace, like this was a fine day and he was glad to be strolling around, enjoying the air. Up ahead the Patria loomed gray and ugly in the dimming, early evening light. Ziggy noticed it had a Union Jack fluttering atop its mast.

Once underway, Westerby no longer seemed compelled to make small talk. Ziggy could sense an alertness and intensity to him he hadn’t noticed previously. As they made their way along the quayside past the tied-up tugs and minesweepers, Ziggy wondered what the interrogation would be like. Westerby’s cordiality didn’t fool him. He already knew that for all their outward manners the British were real bastards whenever there was something they really wanted. Once they’d have him aboard the ship, he’d effectively be in British territory and they could do what they liked.

Standing at the foot of the gangway were two British troopers in full battle gear, their Enfield rifles fixed with bayonets. Menacingly they eyed Ziggy as he and Westerby approached. This is where it ends, thought Ziggy dismally. Oh well, he told himself, at least he’d had a decent run. Sixteen patrols, one hundred sixty thousand tons, two destroyers, and he’d always brought his crew home. That was something. But to his surprise, instead of turning to go up the gangway onto the ship, Westerby walked past it like the Patria wasn’t even there.

“We’re not going aboard?” asked Ziggy.

“Heavens no,” said Westerby with a shudder. “This is a social call.”

They kept walking. The town of Flensburg stood at the far end of the quay. They went past several ancient brick warehouses, and then turned onto a side street, walking past rows of shuttered shop-fronts. Halfway up an alley they came to the back entrance of an old hotel. The door opened and some Wehrmacht officers came out, laughing among themselves, obviously drunk. The sight of Westerby and Ziggy failed to evince any interest from them. One of them even held open the door for them. Going through a small vestibule lined with dustbins and mops, they entered a narrow corridor painted an ugly green, with more soldiers making their way out, buttoning their coats and putting on their caps as they did. They also paid scant attention to Westerby as if the presence of British soldiers was no longer anything exceptional. At the end of the corridor a beefy-looking petty officer guarded a door. He coldly eyed them both, but then, recognizing Westerby, nodded, and ushered them inside.

It was a pub, all right, dark and smoky and smelling of spilled beer, with soldiers and sailors of all ranks sitting clustered in groups at long, battered wooden tables. They weren’t all German, either. More than a few were British. There were even a few Americans. There wasn’t much mixing, but at the same time, nobody seemed particularly bothered by the others’ presence.

“I thought there wasn’t supposed to be any fraternization,” said Ziggy.

“There isn’t,” answered Westerby. “That’s why it’s going on here.”

They went to an empty table in the back of the pub and sat down at one end across from each other. A waiter came, set down three steins of beer, put down a paper chit on the table, put down three marks and moved on.

Ziggy took his beer, sliding it closer to him. Westerby did the same, but then folded his hands on the table like he was waiting patiently.

Ziggy eyed the third beer. “So where’s your colleague?” he asked.

Westerby nodded over to the corner of the room. Ziggy turned to look and noticed a trim figure heading towards them. He recognized him at once. It was his brother Manni, grinning at him like the Cheshire cat. He sat down next to Westerby. “Hello Ziggy,” he said, barely able to contain his effervescence. He pointed to the beer. “Is this for me?”

Ziggy was stunned. He stared at his brother, unable to speak. Westerby gave a slight smirk. “I’d like to introduce you to a colleague of mine,” he said. “But as I can see, you’re already acquainted.”

“What do you mean ‘colleague?’” Ziggy managed to ask.

“What I mean,” answered Westerby unblinkingly, “is that your brother Manfred has been my prize agent for the last ten years.”

Manni flashed out his hands. “Surprise!” he giggled. “You’re not mad, are you?” he asked, with fake anxiousness.

“You’re a British spy?” asked Ziggy, still thoroughly taken aback.

"That’s nothing,” Manni whispered, his eyebrows raised as he leaned forward, “Franzi’s a Russian one.”

Ziggy stared at him for a long time, like he couldn’t be sure any of it was real. Then Westerby cleared his throat. Ziggy saw the exasperated expression on his face. He was obviously irritated by the way Manni was treating what was to him still a deadly serious subject. Looking at Westerby, Ziggy realized for the first time the man was deeply worried.

“Which is why I’ve asked you both here tonight,” said Westerby. “Franzi is in a perilous situation right now, and it’s important we get him out.”

“Come on, Ziggy,” cooed Manni. “Say you’re glad to see me!”

Ziggy ignored him and continued to look at Westerby. Something had gone extremely wrong, that was why he had brought him here. This time he wasn’t just fishing for information. He was in a deep fix and Manni, being Manni, was not being any help.

So Manni, the quintessentially silly person that he was, had been working for the British and despite all that, he’d apparently been successful enough to have survived doing it. Amazing, he thought. And now the war is over and here is Westerby finding out that his prize agent is first and foremost a prize loon!

"I thought you said Franzi was your friend, but here you’re telling me that Manni is your agent. What is going on?”

“Well, you can hardly expect me to reveal the identity of my agent to you while there was still a war on, old boy,” drawled Westerby. “But yes, what I told you was the truth. Franzi was my friend. He is also a brave soldier and spy and right now there are a lot of people after him. I’m going to need your help to get him out of Himmler’s clutches. There is an awful lot at stake here, Captain Loerber. If you’re interested, I’ll explain it to you. Otherwise you’re free to leave now. What is it?"

Ziggy decided to stay.

Once Westerby started speaking, it was as if a veil had dropped, revealing an aspect of him that until now had been hidden. Franzi was in deep trouble but then so was Westerby. In the ten days since Ziggy first met him, he’d found himself on the other side of the looking glass and now there was no longer anyone on his own side he could trust. That was why he’d come to Ziggy now. The situation was desperate and he needed help.

Yes, it was about SS gold, but it was also a lot of other things, other people, other sides, other interests. There wasn’t anything that he could put his finger on. All he really had were a lot of suspicions and definite bad feelings. But for someone in his business that was all he needed.

What was particularly telling, he said, was how much interest there was in Franzi from so many different quarters, but also from his own organization. It didn’t make sense. True, Franzi was now part of Himmler’s inner circle, but then so were a lot of other, more important people, people like Macher, Grothmann, and Gebhardt, except nobody in London was screaming for their hides like they were screaming for poor Franzi Loerber’s, who on the face of it wasn’t anything more than a crackpot homosexual masseur and fortuneteller! No one in London was supposed to know he was a spy. Westerby had gone out of his way to make sure no one did. Why then all the interest?

“You, Captain Loerber, happen to be the first person in creation whom I have informed of that fact. So why is everybody wanting him. I mean, even if they had figured out that he was our Joe, even that should not have excited the interest that it had. Not unless they’d figured out about the Russian connection. But how could that be?”

Westerby explained how it had started. He’d been in Berlin since the 1920s, operating under trade cover of a Swedish businessman. His real job of course had been as a talent spotter for British Intelligence. As a habituĂ© of the Berlin cabaret scene, he’d gotten to know many performers including Franzi and Manni.

Manni hadn’t been Westerby‘s first choice. It had been Franzi and he’d spent more than a year getting to know him and feeling him out. But when he did finally make his pitch, Franzi to his shock and consternation told him he had already gone to work for the Russians. It was something he had already started having doubts about. But you know how it is, he told Westerby; once you’re in, you’re in. The important thing was that he’d at least be fighting fascism this way. Sadly Westerby had to agree and decided not to force the issue. He knew the Bolsheviks weren’t ones to countenance changes of heart. They shook hands and wished each other good luck, maybe we’ll meet again after the war.

Dutifully Westerby wired back ‘no sale!’ to London, without going into any interesting details. Then he proceeded to recruit Manni Loerber, who despite all his incipient silliness, turned out to be an outstanding agent.

By then it was the middle of summer and war was on the horizon. Germany and Russia had just surprised everyone with their sudden entente and their armies were already massing along Poland’s borders. As he was about to leave, Westerby instructed Manni to be ready for the opportunity where he might bring his brother into the fold, though were he to do so, he should under no circumstances reveal his identity to London.

Then, when halfway through the war, Manni began sending material that appeared to originate from SS Headquarters, Westerby surmised Franzi had been won over. Westerby’s bosses were at first delighted, but quickly grew curious, then suspicious. Who was this source? they demanded. Westerby professed ignorance. It was somebody, he told them, somebody Manni knows who’s decided to spill information. Manni can do that, he told them, he’s very charming, very manipulative.

It was nice stuff, but at the same time, it wasn’t anything that could be classified as ‘top drawer.’ The information it provided was more corroborative than anything else. Even so, the overlords remained unduly curious as to who it could be coming from.

He told them he didn’t know. Finally, after a lot of hemming and hawing and beating around the bush, they asked him point-blank if he thought it might be Franzi Loerber. He told them he didn’t think so and gave a number of reason why not. The two brothers had had a serious falling out and weren’t speaking. Being in the Annenherbe, an SS mystical research institute, Franzi was far from the SS mainstream. Besides, he was much more of a committed Nazi than he’d initially thought. To put them off track, Westerby described what a social butterfly Manni was and how he enjoyed a wide circle of acquaintance. It was much more likely that the material was coming from one of those sources. They tried to pick his explanation apart, but Westerby held firm until they seemed to lose interest.

It didn’t last, though. Shortly after that they were back under other pretenses, wanting to know what he knew about Franzi Loerber, what he remembered, what his impressions were of him, never saying why they were interested. He told them as little as he could without appearing like he was holding back on them. But something, he knew, was definitely up.

Westerby had that old-school fieldman’s near-pathological fear of ever letting his employers know too much about anything he felt they didn’t need to know.

Manni slapped his hand upon Westerby’s shoulder. “All this time, Westerby’s been looking out for Franzi, like a guardian angel. I mean this man is a complete prince!” he declared with a surprising gush of emotion.

“It’s true, Captain Loerber,” said Westerby. “There’s been hardly a night during the last three years when I wasn’t worrying about him. I’d thought that if I could come up with something either dull or clever enough I could kill their interest in him, but, I’m sorry to say, that’s not how it worked out. Since the beginning of the year, I’ve been approached by people outside the Service asking about him, all kinds of people. I don’t know how it got out, but it did. Right now, he’s one of the most hunted men in Europe.”

“What kind of other people?” asked Ziggy.

“Germans, Swedes, people who act like they’re Brits or Americans, Russians, Jews. It was bad during the war, but now it’s a flood. Once they get him, they’re all going to tear him apart.”

“Honestly, I thought it would be easy once I got here. My guess was that with all the chaos going on, for a while at least, people would have other things on their minds and I could come in and spirit him away. But I was wrong about that too.”

Westerby ran his finger along the side of his beer glass, wiping off the moisture clinging to its surface. He stared at the glass in angry silence and even Manni didn’t seem to feel compelled to fill in the moment with one of his jokes.

“I figure this is our last chance,” Westerby said finally. “I can’t do this on my own. There’s nobody on my own side I can trust.” Then, to Ziggy’s utter shock, Westerby grabbed his hand and turned it so the palm faced upwards. “Look!” he implored. “Look, Captain Loerber, there must be something you can see! You have to find out where your brother is. You’re our only hope!”

Ziggy stared down helplessly at his palm, not having any idea what he was supposed to be seeing there. He looked back up at Westerby, lost.

“Look!” Westerby repeated, fairly shouting. “Find him!” He wasn’t imploring, he was giving orders, the same way Ziggy had ordered faltering crewmen back to their stations during the worst part of a depth charge attack. “What-do-you-see?”

Ziggy didn’t see anything. He didn’t do palm reading. There wasn’t anything there. It was just a goddamn palm for Christ’s sake, nothing but lines and creases and folds. He knew he had to deliver, had to give Westerby something, anything! He stared harder.

“You must get past your ill feelings,” said Westerby suddenly. “Do it for him, please! He told me about what happened that time. It’s not important, you know that. Do it for him. You’re the only one who can help him now. Without you he’s lost!”

Ziggy burned with embarrassment. He wished Westerby would go away. He wanted to run off away from Westerby, away from Manni. Go back to the calm and safety of Cremer’s Guard Battalion and let what happens happen.

Westerby’s grip tightened on his hand. He could tell Westerby was reading it all. He looked down on his palm. The web of lines on it was as dense and chaotic as the erratic routes of Himmler’s convoy crisscrossing the countryside ahead of their pursuers. Their paths had no apparent destination or goals, merely outrunning the dogs, but never managing to find a haven for very long.

Franzi, was he far or near? What were his eyes seeing? What was he thinking? What did his skin feel? Warmth or cold? Cold or warmth? Cold. Dry or damp? Dry. What was he smelling? Cooked cabbage and tinned beef, cold on a plate. Cigarette smoke, open window and a night breeze, smell of pine. Pine trees outside the window, the wind blowing through them. Ziggy felt his eyes glaze as his focus narrowed, looking past the lines.

They were in a farmhouse, a different one than earlier. They were inland, but still close enough to smell the sea. They’re keeping within reach of Flensburg. Forest nearby, men hiding inside it. A line of kubelwagens hidden under camouflaged tarps. They’re staying put, waiting for something to come. Everyone is tense. Arrangements for escape keep falling through.

“No one’s going anywhere until the gold comes,” Ziggy said aloud.

“Where are they?” asked Westerby.

Ziggy didn’t know.

“Find a landmark!”

He had to get Franzi to go outside and look around. But it was not allowed. Go outside Franzi! Make an excuse, tell him something. The stars! Tell them you have to look at the stars! He could feel Franzi getting up from the table and shuffling outside ignoring the voice, Macher’s, asking him what the hell he thinks he’s doing? But Franzi has already pushed the door open and has stepped outside into the farmyard. The pine trees are roaring in the wind. Franzi turned his head up to stare at the night sky, the broken clouds sailing overhead. Look around, Franzi! Find me a landmark! Something! Nearby was a small stand of pine trees and beyond were fields with a forest beyond it. He could sense Franzi turning around and walking to the front of the farmhouse. There was a lane leading up to a road a hundred yards ahead bordering the farm. Franzi’s eyes followed the road down into a shallow valley where he saw a town full of darkened houses and a church tower and just beyond that there was a castle, low with four stubby towers on the corners, topped with high cone-like roofs. He could see it stood against the shimmering black water of a lake. And then Macher came and grabbed Franzi and the connection was broken.

“That’s definitely Schloss Glucksburg,” Manni said confidently, after Ziggy described what he’d seen.

"Do you know how to get there?” asked Westerby.

Manni chuckled. “Well I should,” he told them. “That’s where I live now,” he announced with a pronounced touch of self-importance. “Me and Speer and General Baumbach.”

“Baumbach of KG200?” asked Westerby. “You’ve never mentioned him before.”

“Well I only met him yesterday,” Manni answered. “Speer wanted me there to help set up his office.”

“Do you think Himmler knows this?” asked Ziggy.

“As a rule of thumb, the Reichsfuhrer knows everything,” quipped Manni. “He still runs all three of Germany’s intelligence services. He should know who his next-door neighbors are.”

“Can you take us there?”

“Sure.”

Westerby turned to Ziggy. “We may need some more help on this. Do you think your friend Cremer would mind cooperating?”

“I could ask.”

Westerby folded his hands together. “I guess now we’re getting somewhere. Talk to Cremer, see what you can get from him. We have to make this work. Franzi has done more to defeat the Nazis than probably anyone in this whole war. And what’s going to happen is the victors will feast on him,” said Westerby.

“Of course Manni here is also a great unsung hero of the war,” he added, not a little sardonically.

Manni waved him off. “Just don’t go including me in any of this. You know me, I’m just a humble entertainer, an artist. I don’t concern myself with the political sphere. That was something Franzi was passionate about, not me!”

They got up to leave. Manni went his own way but Westerby decided to walk back with Ziggy to the Marineschule.

Once again, they slipped back into silence. Ziggy felt like he was now one very big step closer to getting Franzi. Westerby wasn’t such a bad sort, for an Englisher. He could work with him. He decided he should chat him a little about the earlier incident that day, when Westerby’s presence caused such a ruckus at the office.

"You know you managed to get the Grand Admiral riled quite a bit this afternoon,” he said.

"What are you talking about?” asked Westerby.

“Well you weren’t exactly very diplomatic about the way you demanded I go with you for questioning."

“What?”

“To the Patria,” continued Ziggy. “They’re actually still very bitter about the way you guys ejected them from it the other day.”

“I never did anything of the sort,” insisted Westerby.

“Well that’s what they told me you said when you came in with that other guy, acting like we were already your prisoners. The Grand Admiral is trying to be very ‘by the book’ about this, you know.”

“What other guy? I never came by your offices today.”

Ziggy looked at him in alarm.

“You mean some British officers came by today trying to take you to the Patria for questioning?”

“Yes, I was out. The way they described it, I assumed it was you.”

A worried look returned to Westerby’s face. “I’ve got a feeling the dogs are a lot closer on our trail than I’d thought. Be careful, Captain Loerber.”

When they reached the Patria, Westerby drew himself straight to attention and gave Ziggy a stiff salute. It was so far the only remotely military act which Ziggy had seen him perform. Ziggy returned the salute. “I’ll be in touch with you,” said Westerby. “Do talk to Cremer, see if he’s willing to help.”

“I want to thank you for looking out for my brother,” said Ziggy.

“If you’re speaking of Franzi, I’d tell you ‘not at all.’ But if you’re referring to Manfred, I’d tell you war is hell. Good night Captain Loerber.”

He turned and marched up the gangway onto the Patria’s main deck.
(This is a chapter deleted during the final cut of my novel Germania, first published by Simon & Schuster in 2008, now also available on Kindle here).

Admiral von Friedeburg Give His Final Salute, Takes His Leave

They drove down to the waterfront. There, on the quay beside the Patria, groups of people had gathered, talking nervously among themselves, like they knew they were about to witness something historical. There they found Galbraith and several of the others standing together in boisterous mood. When Manni approached them, they all seemed taken aback to see him there.

“Minister Speer thought you would like to have these reports,” said Manni, feeling a little ridiculous. But then he realized Galbraith was also embarrassed. Manni, like Speer, was from yesterday, an inconvenient reminder of something that wasn’t supposed to spill over into the present. Manni sensed his unease and imagined he probably felt like a swain that had been tracked down by the chambermaid of a lady whom he’d assiduously courted for what turned out to be only a brief dalliance.

Choosing to accept with aplomb the unpleasant role which had been accorded him, Manni gravely held out the reports to Galbraith like it was his bastard child. The effect must have worked, for Galbraith visibly froze with trepidation and reticence. Then, casting his eyes down in mock shame, Manni offered the unloved documents to Nitze. Please sir, his eyes seemed to be saying, give them a good home!

Nitze took the papers and began browsing through the titles. “Hey, this is some good stuff,” he declared. “An appreciation of the effect of bombing on the manufacture of specialty steels, Experience of the Vegesak shipyard in streamlining manufacturing processes for the Type XXI U-boats. Hey, look, here’s one on plans to destroy the Soviet Electrical Grid."

"You take care of it then,” Galbraith sniffed without interest.

“Gosh, a month ago this stuff would have been worth several times its weight in gold,” observed Nitze. “Now it’s just historical ephemera. Jesus, how the worm turns. Thanks. Say, where’s your brother Sebastian? We’ve been looking for him.”

“I don’t know,” said Manni. “He seems to have gone off on his own.”

Nitze laughed. “That guy can put a tomcat to shame!”

Manni laughed too, but it had a hollow sound. He looked at all the bustle. “What is going on here,” he asked.

“It’s the Kibosh, my friend,” said Ball. “The last of the Third Reich is finally being dissolved.”

“Oh,” said Manni, like he wasn’t entirely sure what it entailed. “I guess it took this long for the paperwork to catch up.”

George Ball laughed, Galbraith gave him an icy glance like he should feel free to leave. Nitze continued going through the reports, smacking his lips with delight as he did.

“We’ll tell your brother you were looking for him,” said Spivak pointedly.

Then Manni spotted Ziggy standing alone at the gangway, like a wallflower at an orgy. He excused himself to the Americans and went over.

“Hello, Ziggy,” he said.

“Hello,” said Ziggy.

“Seen anything of Franzi?”

“No.”


“Here comes somebody,” shouted someone in the crowd, “an admiral. Is it Doenitz?”

“I can’t tell,” answered someone else. “Ask him,” he said, pointing to Ziggy.

“Scuze me,” the man said. “Is that Admiral Doenitz up there?”

Ziggy looked up. It was an admiral coming down the gangway, escorted by a gruff-looking British soldier. But not Doenitz. Tall, not short, his posture stooped, his eyes defeated and lifeless, coming down the gangway with the heavy-footed shuffle of a man on his way to the gallows. It was von Friedeburg.

Reaching the bottom he stopped and turned to Ziggy. He spoke to him like each word was an effort. “Well Captain Loerber, I suppose this is the end. I want to thank you for your service and your comradeship. When you see the Grand Admiral, will you give him a message for me. Tell him this, ‘Admiral von Friedeburg, having fulfilled his duty to the last full measure, is taking his leave.’ Do you have it?”

Ziggy stared hard into von Friedeburg’s glassy eyes. “I will give him the message,” he said. “Goodbye Admiral.”

They saluted. Von Friedeburg turned and went with his guard over to a waiting truck. As the driver and the guard brought down the truck’s back gate, they looked up to see a large group of U-boat men being led down the quayside under British guard.

They were marching and as they approached von Friedeburg, they snapped into a salute and began singing defiantly. It was We are Sailing Against England, a song from the old days, when the future still looked bright, and their enemies’ days numbered.

“Heute wollen wir ein Liedlein singen, 
Trinken wollen wir den kuhlen 
Wein Und die glaser sollen dazu klingen 
Den es muss, es mus geschieden sein

“The nerve!” fumed Fassberg. “I think somebody needs to remind these birds they’ve lost.”

“Fucken’ Krauts!” yelled someone else.

Gib’ mir deine Hand, 
deine weisse Hand Leb’ wohl, 
leib wohl Denn wir fahren, 
denn wir fahren, 
Denn wir fahren gegen Engeland, Engeland.

Ziggy watched von Friedeburg. His eyes were on the ground and he seemed too wrapped up in his own thoughts to notice them marching by. Ziggy snapped to attention and returned the passing men’s salute. “Admiral!” he shouted.

Unsre Flagge und die wehet auf dem Maste, 
Sie verkundet unsres Reiches Macht, 
Denn wir wollen es nicht langer leiden, 
Dass der Englsihmann daruber lacht.

“Admiral!” Ziggy shouted again, louder than before. Von Friedeburg looked up and came to attention and brought his right hand up sharply to his brow. The British guard grabbed him by the shoulder and pulled him up onto the truck.

The marching sailors had passed, but they continued to sing the final refrain.

Gib’ mir deine Hand, 
deine weisse Hand Leb’ wohl, 
leib wohl Denn wir fahren,
denn wir fahren, 
Denn wir fahren gegen Engeland, Engeland.

"What happened to Franzi? Where is he?” Manni asked Ziggy.

“I don’t see anything,” answered Ziggy. “Give me a minute."

“Here comes another one,” someone in the crowd shouted.

“Which one is it?”

“An army guy.”

“It’s General Jodl.”

“Yeah? Ooo’s ‘ee when ‘ee’s ‘ome?”

“Head of the OKW operations staff.”

“Well he looks like an imbecile.”

“Imagine him leading anyone in battle?”

“I can’t imagine any of them leading anyone in battle.”

“Here comes Doenitz!”

“Jesus, I’m starting to feel like a bobbysoxer waiting to see Sinatra.”

“He’s so dreamy!”

“He looks like a pinhead.”

“Yeah? Well so does Montgomery.”

“So does Eisenhower.”

“So does Churchill.”

“So does Truman.”

“Well, Doenitz looks like a bigger pinhead than all of them.”

“That’s for sure!” Both the British and American elements of the crowd could agree on that.

“Honestly, who’d have thought that after spending all these years fighting the Nazis, they’d turn out to be just a bunch of jerks!”

Ziggy watched Doenitz being led off. God knows what fate awaited him. Maybe they’d hang him, maybe he’d just spend the next ten years in jail. Either way, Ziggy found it hard to care. This was a good day for Germany, he grimly told himself. The regime which had led them into the depths of barbarity was being expunged from the face of the earth.

He thought about his life as a U-boatman, his years at sea and the war which he shouldn’t have survived. He saw the image of himself standing on the deck of a ship staring out into the endless expanse of cold gray sea and suddenly it all felt like somebody else’s life.

But something about it didn’t feel right. He closed his eyes and let the image wash over him the way a memory could not. And he realized that image was not himself at all. It was Franzi, standing on the deck of a trawler which was only then clearing the Kattegat and making its way into the open waters of the North Sea. He couldn’t tell if he was happy. But he knew he wasn’t worried. At least not the way he’d been for the last ten years. He was with friends, friends, just like Sebastian had talked about.

The vision faded. Ziggy turned to Manni. “Don’t worry about Franzi,” he said. “He’s doing all right.”

Manni brightened. “Really?” he asked.

“Really.”

(This is a chapter left out of the final cut of my novel Germania, first published by Simon & Schuster in 2008, now also available on Kindle here).

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Speer Tells the Americans Everything About Ball Bearings, but Won't Talk About Jews

By now, Albert Speer's fortnight-long discussions with the bankers-, economists-, and Wall Street lawyers-in-uniform who made up the United States Strategic Bombing Survey (USSBS) have become the stuff of legend to a certain kind of World War II history buff. It has even found mention in a song by The Who. It is certainly one of the things that stoked my interest in the Flensburg period.  Below is excerpt that got cut from the final version of my novel, Germania.  I think the editor thought it was too technical to hold the attention of  hipsters and people who live in Olympia, Washington. But I wrote about it the way I did, because I still believe that if you can't grasp the importance of things like ball bearings and abrasives and oil baths, then you'll never understand how the fate of humanity sometimes hinges on seemingly inconsequential things.

Enjoy!


Speer decided to change the subject. “One thing I should mention, regarding ball bearings, is that, yes, there were times when for one reason or another we experienced some short-term shortages. During those times, yes, we were forced to turn to outside, foreign sources for ball bearings.”

Paul Nitze frowned. “Other sources? You mean Sweden?” he asked.

Speer gave a nod. “Yes,” he said, “from Sweden. But also from other sources.” He raised his eyebrows and gave a world-weary shrug. “I’m sure you know what I mean.”

Still frowning, Paul Nitze shook his head. “No. What do you mean?”

“From all those trading companies in South America and Spain that got them from American subsidiaries,” answered Speer.

“You’re saying you got American ball-bearings?”

“Of course. We also bought Canadian ball bearings and ones from Britain as well. There was a brisk trade in them through Ireland.”

After that they broke for lunch.

When they resumed, the discussion turned from the effects of aerial bombing, to a topic which seemed to fascinate everybody both in and outside of Germany: the wonder weapons.

“I’ll be honest with you,” began Speer. “They may have had great propaganda value, but personally, I never believed in them. My experience in other fields taught me that whenever you pioneer radical new technologies, you are going to have too many unexpected problems and at that time, our margin for error was not one that would allow for it. Of course we did it anyway. But very few ever reached completion. And when they did get produced we had neither the fuel for them nor the trained personnel capable of operating them.”

“The V-2 rocket is an interesting case in point. By all indications it was an incredible weapon. It went several times faster than the speed of sound, traveling into to the very realm of outer space. And its effect on the British public was possibly even too great to quantify. But when you look at the costs and the resources involved in bringing it to production, you have a different story.”

“We estimated that building a V-2 rocket cost approximately as much as it cost you Americans to build a B-17 bomber. On the face of it, it is a meaningless comparison, of course, since it was something you could afford and we could not. But be that as it may, it does nevertheless allow us to make a number of important observations.”

“Both cost the same to build and the V-2 missile’s one-ton warhead is roughly equal to a B-17’s bomb load. However the V-2 can only be used once, while the B-17 will keep flying until it is shot down. We estimated that on average a B-17 will complete seventeen missions before this happens.”

“Nineteen and a half,” corrected George Ball.

“Be that as it may, the V-2 will only fly once. Though I am sure the B-17’s vaunted Norden bombsite was never quite able to land a bomb inside a pickle barrel as had often been claimed, under the right conditions, if used properly, it successfully put bombs onto a factory or some other designated target. The V-2’s accuracy was so poor it could not be directed against any specific strategic target. At best it could be sent to hit a city or some other broadly defined area, and even then it stood a fifty percent chance of falling outside a thirty-mile circular area probability. Ultimately it was nothing more than a terror weapon.”

“But it was quite a terror weapon,” interjected Paul Nitze. “If anything came close to breaking the English will, it was that.”

“I’ll give you another example,” said Speer. “We had something called the ‘Volksjaeger,’ or ‘People’s Fighter.’ It was a rather ingenious little jet-powered aircraft that was built almost wholly from plywood and other non-strategic materials. One day someone came up with the design, literally on a paper napkin. We talked about it, drew it up, started a program, and one hundred days later we had one built and actually flying. After that we started building them in underground factories in the Harz Mountains. We even had a program set up to train Hitler Youth to fly them. I think the first unit became operational about three weeks ago. If they ever managed to do anything with them, I haven’t heard, but I doubt it was much.”

“It was an incredible achievement, but ultimately it was a complete waste of resources which we could not afford to squander. We would have been better off using our talents on something more prosaic, but useful. But of course, the Fuhrer liked that sort of outlandish thing. It captured his imagination and it allowed him to talk about the kind of visionary weapons that would restore our qualitative advantage and bring us to victory.” He gave a disgusted grimace. “A complete waste.”

“I guess that was lucky for us,” the young Air Force officer said joylessly.

Everyone nodded, including Speer. At that moment he suddenly remembered the other young officer who’d come with them that first time, the one who looked exactly like Manni Loerber. He’d never returned. But then, neither did Manni. He wondered if they’d found each other. 
(Germania was first published by Simon & Schuster in 2008, and is now also available on Kindle here)