Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Smoking Cigarettes and Waiting for the Rain to Stop with Admiral Von Friedeburg

They were put into a clapped-out Humber and driven out to the Luneberg aerodrome, along with a dozen members of Montgomery’s staff who were being sent with them. But by the time they’d reached the airfield, the drizzle had turned into a downpour and they were informed everything had been grounded. They were taken into a hangar where chairs had been set up for them; ten for the British contingent, and a few feet away, two for the Germans. There was a large hole in the re-enforced concrete roof through which rain poured into a Messerschmitt fighter, whose after section had been crushed by a massive chunk of fallen concrete. The little airplane stood on its front wheels, wings still bravely stretched out, but with its nose pointing helplessly upward. They faced the wrecked airplane in meditative silence. It seemed to Ziggy like it was in pain.

Under the propeller, its wide, ovular air intake gaped in outraged protest, like the screaming horse in Picasso’s Guernica. In the cold glare of emergency lights, the rain falling through the hole glittered like snowflakes. It battered the forlorn wreckage, pelting the glass windscreen, rolling down the wings in heavy rivulets, and dripping from the propeller blades.

The British officers exchanged bits of conversation with each other, but it had been so long since Ziggy had used his English, it seemed more like birds’ chirping than anything else. He couldn’t tell what the Admiral’s state was. He made Ziggy feel restless. They’d been together since early afternoon, and except for screaming at him that one time, von Friedeburg had barely acknowledged his presence. Now they were apparently destined to be together for another couple of days and he had a feeling it was going to be the most thankless duty he ever pulled.

Ziggy wondered what was going to happen now that the war was ending. Had the Allies found out about all those camps the SS were running? There’d be hell to pay once they did. Everyone was already scrambling to disassociate themselves with them. It gave him a certain grim satisfaction.

Ziggy noticed a heavyset British officer wandering around the hangar, rifling through tool cabinets and drawers. He didn’t seem to be part of the delegation; there certainly hadn’t been a chair set up for him. The seated officers kept looking at him and exchanging terse noises among themselves, until finally the general in the group murmured something to his adjutant; the adjutant said something to the aide and the aide got up and went over to the man as he went through a tray of screwdrivers. There was a brief, inaudible exchange of words and a moment later the aide sheepishly returned to the adjutant and muttered something. The adjutant turned to the general and ran his forefinger down the side of his nose. The general nodded and the whole matter was dropped. The man continued going through the drawers, handling the tools and acting like he was the only one there. Except Ziggy knew the man was watching him.

It went on like this for a while before the man at the tool rack looked back at the aide, gesturing with a thrust of his chin toward Ziggy. The aide got up and walked over to Ziggy. “Major Westerby would like a word with you,” he said.

Ziggy stood up. “I’d better go see what he wants,” he said to von Friedeburg, who didn’t react.

Seeing Ziggy approach, the man dug into an inside pocket of his duffle coat and pulled out a packet of cigarettes.

“You’re Major Westerby?” asked Ziggy.

The man nodded. “How is your Admiral?” he asked in perfect Berlin German. “Do you think he’ll be fit enough to perform his function?”

“He’ll do what he has to,” Ziggy replied.

Westerby nodded approvingly, then offered him a cigarette. Ziggy hesitated. It would be nice to know how he was expected to conduct himself in the situation. Could the bounds of icy correctness be stretched to include smoking a cigarette over business? He stole a look over at von Friedeburg, who seemed oblivious. The British officers, on the other hand,stared at them intently.

“Let’s go around the corner,” Westerby suggested. He led Ziggy to a spot along the side of the hangar where they were protected from the rain by the overhanging roof. Ziggy let him light his cigarette.

“I saw you perform many times at the Blue Diamond,” said Westerby. “Your brother Franzi was a friend of mine. In fact, both your brothers are friends of mine.”

Ziggy looked again at his face, trying to recognize him. He wasn’t sure. Between the four of them, there had been constant traffic backstage of friends and acquaintances.

“Look Major,” said Ziggy. ”If you don’t mind, I’d rather not make this a social occasion.”

Westerby ignored him. “The reason I’m asking,” he said, “is we’re trying to learn Franzi’s whereabouts.”

“How would I know where he is?” asked Ziggy. “I’m in the Navy, not the SS.”

“My understanding is you saw him two days ago when the Reichsfuhrer came to Naval Headquarters in Ploen. He’s apparently become part of Himmler’s inner circle.”

Ziggy didn’t say anything. How could Westerby know that?

Westerby continued. “As I understand it, part of your falling out with your brothers came when they joined the SS and Nazi Party. I’m wondering if you’re still as big an anti-Nazi as you were before the war.”

“Major, if you don’t mind, I’ll just smoke this by myself.”

“What if I told you that neither of them are what you think.”

“Major Westerby, if you’re trying to drop broad hints that they’re both Allied spies, then I already know.”

“Well if you know that, then perhaps you can tell me who Franzi’s been working for?”

“Well, the British, of course.”

Westerby explained that Franzi was actually a double agent of sorts. He’d started out working for Moscow, but then around the time he’d begun having second thoughts about them, Manni - who by then was working for Westerby - convinced him to share the information he was sending eastward, assuming that no one in Moscow would ever be the wiser. Only it didn’t work out that way.

Ziggy tried to listen, feeling his mind clouding over with the sheer assault of information. Cambridge, Moonpool, Schellenberg, and then the Russians. All he knew was that it sounded exactly like the kind of thing Manni and Franzi would find irresistible. Sowing chaos, playing different sides against each other, and with the help of their magical abilities, repeatedly escaping by a hair’s breadth. Though supposedly there was a moral angle to it, he doubted they could even think in those terms.

“Not that Franzi was pro-Bolshevik, mind you. Not at all. Like yourself, he was anti-fascist. They just got to him before we could,” said Westerby.

“But why are you telling me this?” asked Ziggy.

Westerby looked at him searchingly. “Because Franzi is in great danger, and not just from the SS, whom he’s trying to flee, but also from the Russians who want to kill him to keep things he knows from getting out. And I don’t mind telling you, Captain Loerber, that once it starts, none of you will be safe. We need to get him away from Himmler. My organization is thoroughly infiltrated by the Russians. There isn’t anyone there I can trust. Manni and I will do what we can, but we need your help to get him out.”

Ziggy was incredulous. “My help? How do you expect me to help you?”

Westerby was adamant. “Captain Loerber, you’ve got the guard battalion. That’s more than we have. You can ask Cremer for help. He’s your friend. You’ll be at an advantage. Doenitz will be setting up his government in Flensburg. I’m sure Himmler will not be far away. It shouldn’t be that difficult to locate him.”

“How do you expect me to locate him?” asked Ziggy.

Westerby looked exasperated. “For Heaven’s sake, man, you’re magic, remember?”

For a long moment the two stared at each other. Ziggy couldn’t decide if Westerby was pulling his leg or completely nuts. He looked into the hangar and there was the injured fighter plane, its gaping mouth bellowing from the depths of its pain. The Blood of Israel will have its vengeance!

Ziggy looked down at the packet of cigarettes in Westerby’s hand and snatched them. “I have to go back now, Major,” he said quickly. “Thank you for the cigarettes.”

He went back to sit with von Friedeburg. After another hour of waiting in silence, they were taken to an empty mess tent where two metal trays of food had been set for them. After that they were led to a small tent where there were two cots set up, each with a thin blanket. They were told they should be ready to leave at short notice, once the rain had lifted.
(Excerpt from Germania, by Brendan McNally, Simon & Schuster, 2008)

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