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?”


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."


“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).

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