Thursday, May 22, 2014

Himmler in Hiding: Himmler's Astrologer Ponders the Cambridge Spies

“I thought I told you not to go outside,” said Macher. He was furious. He pointed to the house. “Get back inside now.”

Meekly, Franzi Loerber did as he was told and started walking back to the house. “I needed to see the stars,” he mumbled apologetically.

Macher was unimpressed. “You pull something like that again, I swear I’ll blow your brains out. I don’t care how great the Chief thinks you are.” had no doubt that Macher would not hesitate to shoot him. Only the day before he’d killed an SS man who’d given him backtalk. Just like that. Bullet in the head, drag the body off, somebody clean the blood off the floor. Now where were we?

The others were standing along the side of the house, keeping back from the open front yard as they watched Macher throttle Franzi. There were three of them, Grothmann, Kiermaier and Gebhardt, who until then had been on lookout duty. Himmler was standing at the threshold, buttoning up his trousers as he stared out at them. “Macher, what is it?” he demanded. “Is everything all right? Tell me what is going on?”

“Zonag the Magnificent here wanted to go look at the stars,” Macher fumed. “Little fairy’s going to get us all caught.”

“He wanted to look at the stars?” Himmler asked. “Well maybe you should let him.” He turned to Franzi. “Did you see something? What was it?” he demanded, his voice squealing with excitement. “You should let him look, Macher. How can you expect him to complete my horoscope? Let him stay outside. I’ll watch him.”

Macher shook his head. “It’s too dangerous,” he said. “Everyone back inside.”

From far inside the house, a woman’s voice, high-pitched and fretful, called out, “Heinzi, what is it?”

“It’s nothing, nothing at all,” Himmler called back.

“Then come back to bed,” they heard her purr. “I’m so cold.” Even from outside, it was easy to tell she was pouting. Immediately Himmler turned and made his way back inside, unbuttoning his trousers as he did. Macher shook his head with disgust, then, turning his attention back to Franzi, he grabbed him by the collar and threw him against the ground. “I’ve about had it with you,” he said.

Franzi got back to his feet and stumbled back inside, numbly making his way into the empty parlor. But once there, he found that he could not, for the life of him, remember which chair he’d been sitting in before going out. There were four chairs in the parlor and four of them sitting there in them; Franzi, Macher, Grothmann and Kiermaier. Each with his own place and for Franzi to sit in someone else’s was to invite no small amount of abuse upon himself. By this point, everyone’s nerves were on edge and being at the absolute bottom of the totem pole, Franzi was everybody’s target of choice.

He tried to remember, but couldn’t. The vision he’d just had left him too drained. Even though it had been barely five minutes since he’d been sitting there, the way his head felt it could have been last year. He remained standing, woozily surveying the chairs, hoping to let the others sit down first.

"Sit down!” barked Macher.

Franzi went to an armchair and fell into it. “Get out of my chair!” Kiermaier growled from the doorway. Wearily, Franzi got back up and looked at the other chairs. “I’m sorry,” he mumbled. “Where was I sitting?” Angrily, Kiermaier pointed to the one across from him and Franzi lowered himself again, feeling more dazed than he ever had in his life.

“What’s with you, anyway?” asked Grothmann. “You’re acting strange.”

Franzi put his hand to his brow and said. “I’m sorry, I just...bad headache."

“Oh? So the Swami is having trouble getting out of his trance?” sneered Grothmann.

Franzi gave a week grimace and nodded.

“Hey! The Reichsfuhrer might buy that crap but don’t expect me to,” said Grothmann combatively.

Franzi closed his eyes and let the back of his head rest against the top of the chair. He tried to gather his thoughts, but his head felt like it was full of cold, wet cement. His thoughts moved listlessly through his brain like dying animals.

Then he remembered the vision and what he’d seen, and as dead as he’d been feeling, he suddenly felt a spark of warmth in his heart. Ziggy was near! Manni too, he knew it now with a certainty. They were looking for him, they were looking for him together! Was it even possible? And there was someone else there too, holding Ziggy’s hand and forcing him to look…….It felt like his old friend Nigel Westerby. He couldn’t believe it, but he knew it was true. What were they doing? What did they know? What could be going on that would bring them all together like this? For the first time in weeks he felt hope.

Up till now, he’d been feeling so worn down from fear and futility, he knew he’d soon run out of the strength and will to continue contending with Macher. The only reason Franzi was even alive was that no one else could take away Himmler’s pain. But that didn’t mean they trusted Franzi in the slightest. He was nothing more than a servant, someone they would have gotten rid of long ago if they’d been able to figure out a way to do without his talents. Nothing he could say could ever convince Macher that he wouldn’t try to run away at the first opportunity. As a result, they wouldn’t even let him go out unescorted to the outhouse.

The others got out quite a bit. Every few hours one of them would go sneak around outside to make sure no one had infiltrated in. Franzi had volunteered to go, but Macher wouldn’t let him. “This is man’s work,” he’d say with a superior smirk, as if being homosexual made Franzi an inferior sneaker.

Were they setting up some plan to rescue him? Did they know something about Himmler’s plans that he didn’t know? Franzi knew next to nothing about any of the day-to-day planning that went on. He wasn’t even sure how much Himmler knew. They seemed to be keeping a lot from him, ever since Macher found out he would confide things to Franzi during the course of a massage. They were making very sure that none of that information filtered down to him.

But since the Reichsfuhrer had nothing mundane with which to impress Franzi, he’d resorted to handing him morsels of information on a far grander scale. He never told him very much, by themselves they were all tantalizing, but useless little chunks.

Except what no one understood about Franzi Loerber was his ability to store up all the little chunks and fit them against and alongside each other until he managed to piece large pieces of the puzzle together. And by this point he actually knew quite a lot about the extent of German infiltration into the Soviet intelligence apparatus.

He knew they had two men in the NKVD’s Thirteenth Directorate, which handled foreign counter-intelligence. He didn’t know their names but he did know something about how they operated. He knew that they were among the bargaining chips that Schellenberg hoped to use to get them all in with the British. He also knew that the Soviets had British Intelligence pretty well riddled with their people whom they’d recruited straight from Cambridge. He even knew several of their names, Burgess, Philby, Donald McLean. But there was also another one, one whom Schellenberg had yet to identify.

He knew lots of other things as well. It wasn’t just spies and infiltration and intelligence estimates. He knew about linkages. He knew about the trading houses and holding companies and the foreign subsidiaries and which bankers and industrialists had worked with the Nazis throughout the war. He knew about British lords and American senators. There were plenty of powerful people out there with a vested interest in keeping that information from ever getting out. It was a sure bet that they’d have their people out among the advance parties tidying up and removing certain inconvenient realities before the main force arrived.

Just then a loud creaking of bedsprings erupted from the other side of the parlor wall. Himmler and his mistress were at it again. It had to be the fifth time that day.

Her name was Fraulein Potthast and she was, Franzi had learned, the Reichsfuhrer’s longtime mistress. She had already been living at the farmhouse for two weeks when they had arrived. Apparently Himmler had Kiermaier arrange her accommodation without anyone else knowing about it. She was young, blonde and pretty, though in a horse-faced way. She was also vivacious, flirtatious and loud. She liked wearing shimmery silk robes; lilac and silvery blue and when it was cold she would wrap herself in a heavy, full-length fur which she told them was sable, though Franzi knew it was something else.

It was strange having her brought into their pared-down, die-hard ranks. Franzi could tell Macher didn’t approve of such a reckless change to what had until then been his flawless regime of evasion and escape. But before he could voice his objections, the Reichsfuhrer had already vanished into the bedroom with her.

Her presence was a mixed blessing to say the least. She got on everyone’s nerves and seemed spectacularly unmindful of the perilous situation they were in. It didn’t register with her that they were, at that moment, the focus of possibly the largest manhunt in history. All that mattered was that finally she was the one closest to the Reichsfuhrer! That his mighty empire was now down to a handful of people and that it barely extended beyond the farmhouse was of no consequence. She had him now! She had risen to the very top and no one could take that away from her.

And because of this, she felt entitled to rule the roost, to be treated as the lady of the house, First Lady of the whole SS Empire. She would voice her opinions, she would ask questions, demand answers and accounts. She demanded deference and was quick to inform the four subjects of her dominion which of them were currently on her good list and which were not.

On the other hand, she kept Himmler occupied and out of their hair for hours at a time. Until now, Franzi never had the impression the Reichsfuhrer was much of a swordsman. He seemed more the mousey, schoolmaster type, too prissy and fastidious to ever get really down and nasty. But now he was absolutely unstoppable. Nothing, it seemed, spurred the Reichsfuehrer’s romantic ardor quite like impending doom.

It shouldn’t have affected Franzi’s situation either way except that it did. It made it a lot worse. To his dismay, Franzi discovered that Fraulein Potthast regarded him as her rival. Even though she managed to occupy nearly all of the Reichsfuhrer’s waking attention, there were nevertheless things he needed that she could not provide, physical things, things altogether too similar to her own ministrations for her to be able to brush them aside.

For much as Himmler was now generally calmer and more stable from having her around, his stomach did occasionally erupt into paroxysms of pain, that were worse than ever before. When that happened there was nobody who could take the pain away but Franzi. Each time, she would be dismissed from her privileged place and forced into the common room to sulk while Franzi would come in and go to work on Himmler’s stomach and abdomen, kneading the spasms and squeezing out the knots and replacing them with warmth. He’d listen to Himmler as he’d freshly detail all his fears and he’d calm him and tell him about what the stars were saying about the future. And by the time he’d leave, the Reichsfuhrer would again be glowing in happiness and optimism. Sometimes he would want to have a little party, light the nice candles, break out a bottle or two of the good stuff and even play the gramophone. During which time Fraulein Potthast would feel impelled to act as the charming hostess, addressing everybody with pet names of her own devising; everyone, of course, except Franzi. And they’d all have to treat her with graciousness and deference, which was asking an awful lot of Macher, who had a hard enough time keeping up the pretense that she was anything more than some snatch-on-the-run.

Franzi opened his eyes only to see Kiermaier staring at him. Kiermaier had the unnerving quality of sitting motionless and staring straight at you for an hour, two hours, three, it made no difference to him. He didn’t talk about things, he didn’t give off any indication what he was thinking, if he was thinking anything. And as the groaning bedsprings grew noisier and more imperative, Kiermaier’s stillness only grew disconcerting. Franzi knew better than to start a conversation or, worse, make a comment about what was going on in the next room. Kiermaier was Himmler’s personal bodyguard and while he might have to put up with Macher’s or Grothmann’s little digs, he certainly wasn’t going to take anything from Franzi Loerber.

Franzi drifted back into his thoughts about his brothers and wondered if the view he’d found of the town and that castle was enough landmark that they could find their way. He hoped he was right, he prayed to God they were coming to get him out of this hell. It would be so wonderful to be rescued, to be free. He felt like a Rapunzel locked in a tower, waiting to let down his golden stair, so he and his rescuers could descend it, dismantling it in the process and taking it with them on their escape. Wherever they were going, he knew they’d need it.

The creaking grew louder, but always irregular and arrhythmic and punctuated by the Reichsfuhrer’s sporatic, labored grunting. Does he think himself a great lover? Franzi wondered. Is he relishing his role of public stud? Probably.

“Jesus God, is that all he’s good for?” It was Macher, seething with disgust. He hated weakness in any form and the thought of serving a Reichsfuhrer so enslaved to his own urges ran against his grain.

Kiermaier shot him a poisonous look. “Watch your mouth,” he growled. Macher pursed his lips into a contemptuous sneer, but said nothing. Franzi looked down, not wanting to get drawn into the argument, knowing it would only get him beaten on by both of them.

Macher had only been Himmler’s adjutant for the last two months, but Kiermaier had served as bodyguard for twenty years. It didn’t matter that Macher outranked him and was obviously in charge, Kiermaier’s loyalty was absolute and he wasn’t about to let Macher or anybody even suggest disrespect to his boss. The two butted heads on a regular basis, and, as a result, Franzi sometimes fantasized about Macher and Kiermaier having such an argument that it would get out of hand and they’d end up shooting and killing each other, leaving Franzi free to walk out. But he knew it wasn’t going to happen. They were both pros, and knew better than to tread very hard on the other’s space. Besides, any excess anger they had, they usually took out on Franzi.

He thought about Ziggy and Manni again. How would they escape? Would they steal through the night fields and forests, hiding in the shadows while their pursuers and the victorious armies forged past? And after that, what? Would they find passage across the waters aboard anonymous, nondescript steamships, melding themselves into the mass of humanity in transit?

Where would they go? Anywhere, as long as it was someplace where the dogs couldn’t follow. A sunny land, somewhere lazy and entropic. Someplace where they could go to ground and hide themselves, someplace where even the presence of three identical-looking foreign men would scarce arouse curiosity in the good-natured natives. Spain, Portugal, Chile, the Andes, Uruguay, The Argentine. On second thought, maybe not The Argentine, since it seemed like half the SS was already on their way there. Uruguay, then. Buy a hacienda or a cattle ranch, sink into happy oblivion, keep a low profile, maybe marry, have children. Why not?

Then another thought came into his head. If they were planning to come and rescue him, they had better get a move on it. Even though Macher and the others had gone out of their way to keep Franzi in the dark, he knew beyond a doubt that something was about to happen. There had been several visitors during the last few days, all coming from Flensburg to discuss things with Macher and Grothmann. Every time they did, he’d get sent into the parlor with the girl while Himmler stayed hidden in another room, listening in on the conversation.

That very morning, in fact, a Luftwaffe officer came up in a jeep driven by two British soldiers, both of whom remained in their vehicle while he went inside to talk to Macher and Grothmann. About the only things Franzi actually made out was the Luftwaffe man saying ‘flying boat,’ and Macher telling him, ‘we’ll have it here tomorrow.’

We’ll have it here tomorrow.” What could Macher have been referring to? What could the Luftwaffe guy care about that much besides payment. He couldn’t want Reichsmarks. No paper money, unless it was Swissfrancs. Couldn’t be British Fivers either, not with the way Schellenberg had been forging them. No, for something like that, it’d have to be Specie; Gold, up front, payment in hand, nothing promissory. Thank you very much, welcome aboard, take any seat you like, we’ll be taking off shortly!

Besides, the Russians were also closing in on them. Only a few days earlier, while they were hiding out in a manor house on the edge of a small village, looking out the window onto the street, Franzi noticed a zigzag mark in yellow chalk on a traffic sign across the street. An inconsequential mark, to be sure, not something anyone would pay any attention to, except that, it hadn’t been there the day before, and it just happened also to be the hailing mark of his old Moscow-Center spy ring. They were looking for him and he didn’t know what to do.

The obvious answer was of course that they were looking for Himmler to bring him to justice. He could find a way to leave them a countermark and lead them to him, which would earn him praise and reward and even a bright, quiet, unproblematic future.

Of course another possibility was that they also wanted the Gold. In which case he could only expect praise and reward if the gold was going to the public good, which was, by the nature of the substance, a bit of a stretch. More likely, they’d want to pocket it for themselves and get rid of him.

Perhaps they wanted him because he’d been their man inside the SS for all these years and it was time to get their spy out and bring him home. Even on an honest, straightforward level, the idea sounded horrendous. He had no desire to go to Russia, even as a hero of the Soviet People. But he knew it was doubtful they would ever do that.

But there was always the possibility they’d figured out he wasn’t a Soviet hero at all, but someone who’d been playing both sides and giving his best work to the British. If that was the case, it wouldn’t be a quick shot in the back of the neck. No, Franzi would have real hell to pay!

Could they have figured that out? Ever since he’d learned from Schellenberg that the Russians had their own people at the top of British Intelligence, he knew it was a very real possibility. All it would take was someone figuring out where Manni had been getting his information from and passing it on to the Russians, who’d promptly connect the dots.

The creaking grew louder and louder, Fraulein Potthast began moaning and making little mewing squeals of joy and then she started screaming full out. She’s faking it, Franzi thought to himself. He’s putting it to her with that pathetic asparagus sprout of his, thinking he’s King Kong reincarnated. Franzi saw Macher and Grothmann exchange a less-than-bemused glance.

Then suddenly it wasn’t the girl who was screaming but Himmler! He shrieked out in excruciating agony, infinitely worse than he had during any of his previous attacks. Kiermaier bolted up from his chair and ran over to the bedroom to investigate. If that bitch has tried something, Franzi could hear him thinking. Had she bitten him someplace? Goddammit, I’ll kill her! 

(A slightly different version of this chapter appears in Germania, Simon & Schuster, 2008, now also available on Kindle here). 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Himmler's Bungled Escape

There was a British checkpoint in the middle of a bridge half a kilometer up, reported Grothmann. Nothing to it, just two very bored Tommies with enfields and a field telephone. Even so, they all traded looks with other. It was, after all, their first enemy checkpoint.

They’d go through one at a time, Macher told Franzi and Himmler. “It’ll be easy,” he said. “Keep twenty yards apart. When you get there, go right past the sentry. Don’t look him in the eye, but if you’re challenged, don’t avoid them.” He gave Himmler and Franzi each a tap on the shoulder. “Don’t worry, gentlemen, you’ll be fine. I’ll be right behind you.”

Then he took Franzi aside. “All right, Loerber. This is where it starts. Once we cross that bridge, we’ll be in enemy territory. I assume you know how to act. We don’t start anything, but we’ll finish it when it comes to that. You understand?”
He waited for Franzi to nod that, yes, he understood. He went on. “Now listen, there’s no reason we can’t walk through every British checkpoint we come across. There’s too many people out there. As long as you don’t call attention to yourself, they’ll never see you.

"We can walk to Munich in two weeks,” said Macher. “Once we get there, the networks will take over and everything will be easy. Once we get to South America and have the chief settled into some hacienda somewhere, I’ll cut you loose with a nice fat share for you to disappear with. Sounds good, doesn’t it, Loerber?” Again Macher paused and waited for Franzi to nod, then he went in for the kill.

"Now I have to know I can count on you. I have to know that if I go off somewhere to check something out for ten minutes you’re not going to be sneaking off somewhere. Because if you do that, you know what I am going to do?”

Franzi nodded that yes, he knew the answer to that. Macher nodded for him to say it aloud.

"You’re going to hunt me down and kill me,” he said.

Macher nodded. “That’s exactly right. Now can I count on you as a brother-in-arms?”

Franzi nodded effusively. “Yes, Colonel, yes! You can count on me!” Franzi said it with complete earnestness and sincerity. Franzi Loerber was ready to follow Macher to the ends of the earth, which was roughly what Macher had in mind.

Macher was incredible. Never in his life had Franzi seen anyone who came close to him. No one had his awareness or his instincts. Nobody moved like him, like a shadow or a panther. And the casual way he killed put even Manni to shame. No one, except perhaps Grothmann.

"You can count on me, Colonel,” Franzi said again and then added, “I swear, sir.”

Macher nodded solemnly. “All right,” he said, giving Franzi’s shoulder a punch. “Now go get the Reichsfuhrer ready.”

Franzi walked back to the other end of the clearing where Himmler was sitting on a tree stump. Macher made it sound so easy. To get to Munich all they had to do was keep walking and not attract any attention to themselves. But of course there was a problem: Himmler. For twenty years the spotlight had been on him. He was someone the whole world had looked at and pointed out and now he was completely incapable of blending in, of becoming just one in the mass of humanity. He stood out like a sore thumb and now it was Franzi’s job to teach him otherwise.

Himmler was sitting against a stump, sourly examining his new set of identity documents.

What is it, Reichsfuhrer?” Franzi asked wearily.

"I don’t see how this is going to work,” Himmler said, his voice tinged with hysteria. “Here, look at it.” He thrust the papers into Franzi’s hands. Franzi looked. The name on them didn’t say Himmler, but Hitzinger, Heinrich, a sergeant in the Special Field Police, demobilized a week earlier. The face in the photograph wasn’t Himmler’s either, but the resemblance was good enough to get through any cursory inspection.

"Honestly, Reichsfuhrer,” said Franzi. “It’s just fine.”

"But look at this,” said Himmler, tapping his finger on the demobilization certificate. “It looks like it was run off on a mimeograph machine.”

Franzi tried not to sound exasperated. “I’m sure it was run off on a mimeograph machine, Reichsfuhrer,” he said. “But that’s how it’s being done these days.”

Himmler shuddered. “But it’s all so cheap, so unconvincing.”

"Jesus, thought Franzi, what does he want? An engraved, watermarked parchment? Even now, when Himmler’s empire was down to five people walking on foot, the man’s expectations flourished on a grand scale.

"Reichsfuhrer,” said Franzi. “Forget about the documents. They don’t matter. What matters is you.”

He stopped and waited for Himmler to say something or to look him in the eye. Finally he did.

"You have to learn to make yourself invisible.”

"Invisible?” asked Himmler, cringing at the idea.

"You have to carry yourself like you’re nobody. The way you’re walking now tells the world, you’re a king in disguise. And that will get you caught. Tell yourself I’m nobody, I’m nobody, I’m the same as everyone else here. I’m tired, I’m hungry, I’m scared, I’m nobody. Nobody.”

Himmler grimaced unhappily.

"Reichsfuhrer, think of King Alfred and the cakes.”

"He was English.”

"He was Saxon, just like Henry the Fowler.”

"Well, Henry the Fowler never had to,” grumbled Himmler.

"He didn’t have to because it wasn’t his destiny,” said Franzi. “But it is your destiny, Reichsfuhrer. It is what the stars demand.”

Himmler let out a bitter laugh. “The stars? Sometimes I think my stars have abandoned me. Why else would things have gone so badly?”

"Reichsfuhrer,” said Franzi. ”Things are not going that badly at all. We’ll be in Argentina soon. And never think that your stars have abandoned you. The stars always know who they belong to.”

At this, Himmler seemed to brighten. “Really?” he asked.

"Absolutely,” answered Franzi.

"Well, then they have an odd way of showing it,” sniffed Himmler. “Look, Loerber, I just don’t know how to act like I’m nobody. All this time I’ve been somebody people look at and pay attention to. Anything else just doesn’t seem right. I wouldn’t know the first thing about being just a nobody. I wouldn’t know where to begin.”

Franzi had an idea. “Reichsfuhrer, you know the song Harlem Rhapsody, don’t you?”

Himmler sniffed. “Well of course I do,” he muttered. “What does that have to do with anything?”

"Well, you know the words, don’t you?”

Himmler looked confused. “I didn’t know it had words,” he said. “I thought it was just a tune.”

"You don’t know the words to Harlem Rhapsody? Franzi rolled his eyes like it was hilarious. “Not even how it begins? Honestly, Reichsfuhrer!”

Franzi wiggled his finger and made sure he had Himmler’s attention. “Reichsfuhrer, it starts like this.” He began singing the opening bars, the ones everyone would always whistle or hum, Doo dah dah doo - doo doo, sing it with me. Doo dah dah doo – doo doo!” And Himmler sang it with him in his whimpering voice. “Doo dah dah doo, do do! Doo dah dah doo, do do!”

And then Franzi added the words. "Nobody knows - my name." And Himmler sang it with him. “Nobody knows my name. Nobody knows my name.”

And then it dawned on Himmler. “Nobody knows my name,” he sang. “Nobody knows my name. Nobody knows my name.”

"You’ve got it?”

Himmler nodded.


"Is he ready, Loerber?” asked Macher.

"He’s ready.”

"Let’s go!”

They joined up with Kiermaier and Grothmann, who were waiting for them at the edge of the woods, looking down on the crowded roadway. They moved in a group down the embankment to the road and stepped into the mass of people making their way toward the checkpoint.

Argentina would be nice, Franzi told himself. Once he got there, maybe he’d even change his name to Ramon! Of course in order to get there, he’d have to hold Himmler’s hand all the whole way to Munich and then across the Appenines to Italy or Spain. He’d prefer not having to do it, but he didn’t want Macher to kill him either. Franzi wanted Macher to like him and Franzi could tell Macher almost did.

Franzi looked over at Himmler trudging up the road flanked by women and two old people wheeling bicycles. He paid them little notice, he just kept singing to himself as he walked along.

Nobody knows my name. Nobody knows my name.

And sure enough, Himmler’s fledgling waddle had already started to even out. He wasn’t quite the sore thumb he’d been earlier. Perhaps they just might make it to Munich.

They came around the bend and there was the bridge and the two Tommies with their enfields. Just as Grothmann had said, they weren’t showing any interest in any of the hundreds of people who were passing by. They seemed to be there purely as signposts, to indicate that this was now British territory.

A hundred yards from the bridge, Macher had them stop and then started sending them across one at a time. Grothmann went first. He situated himself alongside a woman with her family, carrying one of the children. After that Kiermaier went, also without any problem. Once he saw them both on the other side of the bridge, Macher clapped his hand on Himmler’s shoulder.

"See you on the other side. We’re right behind you.”

Himmler put up his hand. “Just one thing before I go,” he said, turning to Franzi. “I would like to ask you something, Loerber.”

Franzi stared at him. “Reichsfuhrer?” he asked.

"You are a homosexual, aren’t you?”

Franzi felt his mouth drop open.

"Reichsfuhrer,” said Macher. “I don’t think this is the time-“

Himmler put up his hand. “Answer my question, Loerber, and don’t lie!”

"Reichsfuhrer,” said Franzi, trying to contain his rage. “I don’t know what to say.”

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

"Lots of things are wrong,” muttered Franzi.

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

"I’ve always tried to do the right thing, Reichsfuhrer, but it’s difficult,” said Franzi, pretending he wasn’t boiling on the inside.

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

"I promise I will, Reichsfuhrer.”

"All right. That’s all I have to say,” said Himmler. He reached out to shake their hands. “Colonel Macher, Professor Loerber. I’ll see you men on the other side.”

Himmler walked up the road, humming quietly as he did.

They watched him approach the bridge. He walked easily, like he’d been walking for weeks and had the hang of the road.

"It’s working,” said Macher. “Good work, Loerber!”

"Thank you, sir,” said Franzi.

"Cut out the ‘sir,’” grunted Macher.

Franzi thought about Buenos Aires for a moment, then changed his mind.

He had to get the sentry to notice Himmler. He had to make the sentry wake up and see that the meek little demobbed field police sergeant was the one they were supposed to be keeping an eye out for. And at the same time he had to make Himmler start calling attention to himself again. And he only had about twenty seconds left to pull it off!

He focused on the Tommy. The Tommy’s gaze was leaden. He’d been there since morning and his brain was barely functioning.

Franzi started hitting him with little mind-bursts on the right and then left hemispheres, that got his eyes opening and shutting in mild spasms. The sentry shook his head and started examining the people going past him. But it only lasted a few seconds and his awareness began to deaden again. Franzi hit him with a stronger burst. Wake Up! The sentry shook his head again. He was awake. Good. Now Franzi focused on Himmler, ambling comfortably toward the sentry. "Nobody knows my name. Nobody knows my name,” he hummed, moving with the notes. Franzi decided it needed an extra beat.

"Come on, Reichsfuhrer. Just thirty more feet,” whispered Macher. “Just twenty more feet, just ten more feet. That’s it.”

"Nobody knows my name,” hummed Himmler, to which Franzi added Cha-cha-cha!

"Nobody knows my name, Cha-cha-cha sang Himmler, twitching to the left. "Nobody knows my name, Cha-cha-cha,” and a twitch to the right.”

"What the hell is he doing?” gasped Macher.

"Nobody knows my name, Cha-cha-cha! Nobody knows my name!”

Franzi jumped back inside the sentry. Look over there! Look at him! That’s the one! Him! That’s the guy! Look! See!

And seeing through the man’s eyes, Franzi saw him fixing on the half-dancing figure coming up to him. But even though the man’s movements were starting to register, the sentry’s brain slipped back to half sleep.

Himmler walked right past him, quietly humming as he did. Himmler was clear! Macher nudged Franzi.

But then Himmler did something strange. He stopped and turned and then walked back to the Tommy and once he had the man’s attention, he showed him his papers. They could hear him saying, “Are these good?”

The Tommy, now thoroughly awake, put his hand up to stop the line and began politely thumbing through Himmler’s documents.

"What the hell?” whispered Macher.

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

"Wait here,” Macher said to Franzi and began pushing his way through the crowd to the checkpoint. As he approached them, the two Tommies brought up their rifles and pointed them at Macher. Macher reluctantly put up his hands. One of the soldiers began searching him and pulled out his pistol and knife. Next thing he knew, both he and Himmler had handcuffs on.

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

It was nearly nightfall when a Red Cross lorry pulled up and the driver leaned out and asked if he wanted a lift into town. “There’s something very big going on there,” he said.

(A slightly different version of the "Himmler's Arrest" chapter from Germania, Simon & Schuster, 2008, now also available on Kindle here).

Sunday, May 4, 2014

May Day 1945, Hamburg

Doenitz got up from his chair and opened the door to the outer office. Ludde-Neurath was staring at the war log. “Sir?” he asked, looking up.

"Captain, I need to ask you a question and I want a completely honest answer,” said Doenitz. “Do you ever get into conversations where during the course of it people say to each other or to you, “This war has to end.” Do you ever get into these conversations?”

For one very long, uncomfortable moment, Ludde-Neurath stared back hard at him like he wasn’t sure it was a trick question or something else. Then he answered, “Sure, all the time.”

"All the time?”

"Sir, what do you think people talk about?”
Doenitz nodded and went back into his office. He finished off the coffee, set the cup back down and rubbed his eyes. Then he switched off the desk lamp and in the darkness swiveled his chair around toward the window. As his eyes grew accustomed to the darkness, he saw the first light was beginning to gather in the Eastern sky. In another hour, the first allied air attacks would commence. They would hardly discriminate between refugees and military traffic.

Today was May first, May Day. A funny time to start.


Later that morning, Doenitz convened his first government meeting. He announced to his staff that he was now the Head of State and would be seeking an immediate cessation of hostilities with the West while continuing military operations to support the evacuation of the Baltic.

But it was May Day; Day of Revolt. And in Hamburg, the surviving residents declared a Socialist Revolution. In keeping with a century-old tradition, they hung red flags from lampposts, buildings, windows, anywhere they could. Of course the only red flags anybody could find had big circles with swastikas at their centers. But once those were cut out and discarded, everyone agreed they served their historic function quite sufficiently. Kaufmann, the Hamburg gauleiter, sent Doenitz an ultimatum: if he did not allow them to declare Hamburg an open city, they would turn against the city’s defenders in order to avoid further British attacks. Doenitz was furious, but there was nothing he could do. He radioed a request to the British for a truce.

By now his government was seven hours old. It consisted of himself, Speer and two advisors. Speer pointed out that they needed someone to handle diplomatic affairs. They spent the better part of the morning searching for someone to fill the combined post of chancellor and foreign minister. Within hours, candidates began to show up. The first was von Ribbentrop, Hitler’s old foreign minister. As usual, he was drunk. He loudly demanded Doenitz restore him to his post, citing his close friendship with the current British Prime Minister, “Mr. Vincent Churchill.” He was promptly ejected from the premises. Himmler arrived next with Count Schwerin von Krosigk, the old finance minister and a onetime Rhodes Scholar, upon whose coattails Himmler hoped to ride back into power. Doenitz ejected Himmler and kept von Krosigk, if for no other reason than to prevent the Reichsfuhrer from forming a shadow government.

They held another government meeting. Von Krosigk conceded that at this point their diplomatic options were few. He too had heard the rumor about Schellenberg’s negotiations with Eisenhower but after having spent the morning with the Reichsfuhrer, he had no reason to believe it had any basis in fact. “One thing is certain, Grand Admiral,” he said to Doenitz. “We’ve only got one card we can play; the Russian card. If we can convince them that without our help, they too will be swallowed up by the Red Tide, we might have something.”

Then someone pointed out that the question of whether Hitler was alive or not still remained and not knowing might hamper any negotiations. That glaring fact had slipped their minds. Not long after that, a final telegram came from the bunker informing Doenitz that Hitler had died the previous day, several hours, in fact, before Doenitz received word of his appointment. The Fuhrerbunker and all of Berlin went silent. That night, Doenitz went on the radio and announced Hitler was dead.

The next morning Doenitz summoned Admiral von Friedeburg, his longtime deputy and new head of the Navy. “I want you to go to Field Marshal Montgomery and negotiate an end to the fighting,” he told him. “Try to get him to agree to a partial surrender in the Northern Sector, but above all, persuade him to give safe conduct to civilian refugees and to retreating military personnel. I know we are in no position to bargain. We are beaten. Nevertheless you must do this for the sake of our people. You must get him to agree.”

Watching von Friedeburg leave, Doenitz felt a momentary surge of hope. Von Friedeburg was the best man he had; tough, courageous, forthright and professional. His presence made Doenitz feel, at least in that instant, that his government might rise above all the prevailing depravity and opportunism and make something of it that was decent and good.

(Excerpt from Germania, Simon & Schuster, 2008, now also available on Kindle here).