Monday, October 7, 2013

The Death of Admiral von Friedeburg as Observed by a British Guard

After accompanying von Friedeburg back to his quarters, the British soldier barked at the admiral’s orderly to help him pack. The orderly nodded and began opening the drawers of the admiral’s bureau and stuffing their contents into a suitcase. The soldier sat down on von Friedeburg’s bed and lit a cigarette, casually flicking the spent match onto the floor.

After staring at his suitcase for a minute, Von Friedeburg turned to him and said he needed to use the bathroom. “Help yourself,” the soldier replied, “just keep the door open.” He accompanied him to the bathroom and stood his post outside the doorway, to keep an eye on him.

And perhaps if he’d kept his eyes fixed directly inside the bathroom, everything might have worked out all right. But instead he turned and allowed other things to wander into his field of view. Nice things, shiny things, expensive silver, gold, bronze and marble things, sitting on the Admiral’s bureau and sideboard. Leaving his rifle resting against the wall, he strolled over and began helping himself to whatever came his way: a silver cigarette case, a plaque, a small clock, a bronze figurine, an ivory letter opener, an ornate magnifying glass. And while he was at it, he also took the Breton lace doilies that they’d been resting on. So enrapt was he in gathering spoils, he never noticed the bathroom door shutting until the sound of the key turning in the lock roused him from his beguilement.

Alarmed, he ran to the door and hammered on it with the butt of his rifle. His mission had been dirt-simple; deliver the prisoner alive with his bag packed. As long as he fulfilled that, he could get away with stealing anything he fancied. But they’d made a point of warning him against just this sort of thing. Only a week before, Preutzmann, one of the SS leaders, had committed suicide while in custody. And this guy was a lot higher up on the Nazi food chain. He was head of the Navy!

Finally the door came open and revealed the Admiral already slumped over on the toilet, his eyelids in their last flutter, his face beginning to turn blue, and everywhere the bitter scent of almonds. He’d taken cyanide!

The soldier ran back into the bedroom, where the orderly stood helpfully, but disinterestedly at attention. “Get a doctor!” he shouted. “Now!”

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

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