Speer suddenly remembered an incident from ten years earlier when Hitler’s takeover of the government was still not entirely complete. Speer’s organization had been given offices in a building whose occupants were at variance with their orders to immediately vacate. When they didn’t move fast enough, someone sent in stormtroopers. Speer remembered coming in to look over his new office and finding a large bloodstain on the oriental rug on the floor. ‘Don’t worry about that, we’ll take care of it immediately,’ they told him. Sure enough, the next time he went in, the blood-stained carpet was replaced by another. The incident was never mentioned and he hadn’t given it any thought until now.A chapter from Germania (Simon & Schuster, 2008) that didn't make the final edits. Kindle download available here.
But then it’s easy to have no conscience when all you’re is an acceptor, someone who does what he’s told and leaves it at that.
That night, sitting around the campfire, Speer decided to try to get Manni Loerber to talk.
“I have a question,” he said. “Do you mind telling me what all that stuff is you keep talking about at the factories, which always seems to compel everyone to throw away all caution? What does it all mean?”
Manni grinned. “It doesn’t mean anything, Herr Reichsminister. Look, let’s just keep this simple. You do your job, I’ll do mine. All right?”
Speer tried another tack. “You know, I saw you and your brothers perform many times back in the old days,” he said. “You seemed like such a fun bunch.”
Manni sat silently reflecting on it for a while, the light from the fire dancing on his face. “Yeah, well, it was a long time ago,” he said, like they were talking about someone he’d never met.
Then von Poser spoke up. “If I remember, Herr Manni, didn’t your brother Ziggy go into the Navy? He became a U-Boat captain, sank a lot of enemy ships. I don’t recall hearing of his death. Is he still alive?“
“I wouldn’t know colonel, we haven’t talked since before the war.”
“And your brother Franzi? What about him? Didn’t he join the SS? Wasn’t he doing some kind of research?”
A tiny spark of humor showed in his eyes, causing the curtains of his reserve to part just the slightest. “Yes, he’s one of the Reichsfuhrer’s seers.”
“Alchemist, actually. That was his training. But mostly they use him for horoscopes.”
Von Poser laughed. “Heinrich Himmler uses alchemists? That is too funny, Herr Manni.”
“You might not think it was funny if you were an alchemist having your talents squandered making horoscopes for people who have no future.”
“I can see your point,” chuckled von Poser. Everybody feared and hated Himmler and the thought of him shivering in front of an astrologer seemed particularly rich.
“What about your brother Sebastian?” asked von Poser. “He disappeared, didn’t he? For all the gossip the afternoon papers used to print about you boys, when he vanished no one said anything. Some people thought it might have been something, political.”
Manni shrugged. “Your guess is as good as mine, Colonel. Father refused to talk about it.”
“And you, Herr Manni, what have you been doing all these years?”
“Oh? This and that.”
“Meaning precisely, don’t ask.” But he said it without rancor.
“And now you’re part of a three-man campaign to save the Ruhr.”
“That’s right, and if you ask any more questions, it’ll be a two-man campaign in about thirty seconds.”
At around ten, they got back on the road heading to Nuremburg, but a couple hours into it, it began raining so heavily that they finally gave up. They found an abandoned farmhouse on the side of a hill overlooking Detmold and went to sleep there. When they awoke, shortly after dawn, it had stopped raining and the heavy gray cloud cover opened up to blue skies and swarms of enemy fighters. “I don’t think we’re going anywhere today,” declared von Poser. They found some dry wood and got a fire going. They made coffee, sliced some bread and opened their last remaining cans.
“What have we got?” asked Manni.
“Fish, potatoes, and gooseberries,” answered Speer.
“Sounds perfect,” said Manni.
“Colonel von Poser tells me that today is your birthday. Allow me to offer you many happy returns of the day.”
“Thank you,” said Speer, a little uncomfortably. They’d been traveling for a week and this was the first time the young man had directed anything personal towards either of them.
“I’ll tell you what,” he said. “In honor of the occasion, I shall teach you the single most important skill I know, one that will definitely guarantee your success in the postwar world.” But then he waved his finger at Speer. “But you must promise never to ask any more stupid questions.”
Speer stared at him, stunned, feeling a mixture of curiosity and fear. He hoped this would not have to involve making a pact with the devil. As it was he was already trying to weasel out of an existing one.