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He did not come closer. In this crowd it would not be wise. To hold her in his mind was enough. She smiled at the Englishwoman and then turned toward Eli. The smile was for him.
He mouthed the words Christ Church, then nodded. Her smile broadened before someone stepped between them, and the connection was lost.
Herschel Grynspan heard his friend, Hans Schumann, ascending the steep stairway to the attic room. When he opened the door, he carried a basket of bread and two different kinds of cheese, as well as a bar of Dutch chocolate.
Herschel sat up on his cot and wordlessly watched Hans. The radio played sad French love songs as the rain drummed on the roofs of Paris overhead.
“As I promised,” Hans said happily. “I have been to the home of your uncle.”
Even this news did not cheer Herschel. “And?”
“He is well. He sends his greetings. He also sends this—” He tossed an envelope to Herschel. It tumbled onto the floorboards face up. Herschel leaned forward and stared at the Polish stamp and postmark. The name Berta Grynspan was on the return address. “They are—” Herschel swallowed hard and fought to regain his breath. “In Poland.” He picked up the envelope. It had been opened. Herschel looked sharply at Hans. “What does it say?”
Hans shrugged. “I did not read it. Your uncle . . .”
As if the paper were holy, Herschel pulled it gingerly from the torn envelope. He looked up at the high window and the gray patch of sky beyond. He tried to imagine himself in Poland, with his parents and his sister. Tears of longing stung his eyes as he began to read silently:
By now you must have heard what happened—we have been deported back to Poland. Papa was hurt, and I have been so frightened! On Thursday evening, rumors were circulating that Polish Jews in our city were being expelled, but none of us believed it. At nine o’clock that evening a policeman came to our house to tell us to report to the police station with our passports. When we got to the station, practically the whole neighborhood was already there. Almost immediately we were all taken to the town hall. No one told us what was happening, but we realized this was going to be the end. They shoved an expulsion order into our hands, saying that we had to leave Germany before October 29. We were not allowed to go home, so we have nothing—not a penny. Could you send something to us?
Love from us all,
Herschel could feel his olive skin blanching as Hans watched him.
“What is it?” Hans urged. “Are they all right?”
“They . . . want me to send them . . . something. I have nothing to send!” Herschel lay down on his bed and stared at the dark rafters of the attic. “What can I do? Oh, Hans! How can I help them? . . . I cannot. I cannot!”
The hands of Ernst von Rath trembled only slightly as he held the tip of his cigarette to the flame of the match. He should not have been smoking, he knew, but something about these Gestapo men reawakened the old urge . . . the need . . . for tobacco.
He inhaled, then tried to gaze steadily into the face of the Gestapo agent who had called him to Berlin from Paris for the express purpose of investigating the death of agent Georg Wand.
“ . . . a tragic loss to the force. Georg was quite effective. Too effective, some said.” The man rubbed his bald head and smiled gently. “Perhaps it was his effectiveness that got him killed, eh?”
Ernst shrugged. He flicked the ash of his cigarette with practiced nonchalance. “This business of espionage is far beyond me, Herr Vargen.” Did his nervousness show? Inside, he seethed with anger toward Thomas von Kleistmann. Why had Thomas not been content to slip away in the night? Why had he killed Georg Wand and left Ernst alone to answer these questions?
“Espionage, beyond you?” Leo Vargen laced the question with amusement. He studied Ernst, as if waiting for him to react. Was he frightened? Did he have something to hide?
“In the embassy we call it by another name. Politics.” Ernst played the game well.
Vargen did not accept the lightness of his tone. “But you and Thomas von Kleistmann were friends.”
“Acquaintances. Two single German men in the Paris Embassy. We had an occasional drink.”
“How is it that you did not know he was against the Führer?” Vargen bore down.
“He never told me.” Ernst shrugged.
Incredulous, Vargen’s eyes widened in disbelief. “Are you saying that he never expressed his feelings about our Führer and the goals of the Reich?”
“Why should he tell me? Would you tell someone if you were a traitor, Herr Vargen?” Ernst inhaled again. The cigarette helped. He was doing well.
Vargen tried a different approach to the inner workings of the young aristocratic diplomat. “Who do you think might have let him out of his quarters that night? Who among the embassy staff?”
“Thomas had a way with women. Have you interrogated the French maid?”
“She was not working that night.”
Ernst smiled a knowing smile. “What has that got to do with it?”
Vargen would not be pulled from the scent. “We are almost certain that a member of the German staff unlocked the door.”
Ernst no longer trembled. “I still say that the guard did not lock it in the first place. Those of us who remained in the dining room would have noticed if anyone had sneaked up to let him out.” Ernst played the role of one who was also curious about the miraculous escape of Thomas. He was almost enjoying himself now. Almost.
“Friedrich Wanger expressed the thought that you might have let the prisoner go free.” A direct assault.
Ernst deflected the blow with a laugh. “The French maid is still a better guess than that!” He leaned forward. “Believe me, Herr Vargen, had I known what von Kleistmann was up to, I would have killed him myself.”
Vargen’s eyebrows raised in a sort of satisfaction. “Ah. Yes.” He rubbed his bald pate again and took a step toward the door. “Come on, then,” he said lightly.
Was the interview over? Ernst rose from his chair and followed. He snubbed out his cigarette in the ashtray as Vargen crossed the foyer, and then jerked his head toward the stairs that led to the basement offices and storerooms below the Ministry of Information.
Ernst grinned quizzically as the two men descended the steps in silence. Vargen closed the door firmly behind them and then walked quickly down a long corridor with unoccupied rooms on either side.
“You espionage types,” Ernst quipped, wishing he had another cigarette. “I did not even know there was such a maze down here. What is—”
Vargen was smiling broadly now, enjoying his own game. His look stopped Ernst midsentence. The weight of foreboding washed over him. Vargen unlocked a steel door and opened it slowly before he switched on the light.
The scene before him made Ernst gasp and choke back the bile that rose in his throat. The room was spattered with blood. On the concrete floor, the body of a man lay stretched out on two wooden planks fastened together like a cross. Railroad spikes protruded from his hands and feet. The face was battered beyond recognition, but Ernst knew instantly who it was.
“Thomas—?” He felt the chamber spin around him.
Vargen had an almost cheerful look. He kicked the steel door shut, and Thomas turned his head toward the two men. He was still alive!
“We caught him in Holland. Boarding a ship to England. Thought he would escape, no doubt. Traitor. Convicted, sentenced, and duly executed.”
Ernst felt his stomach churn. He could not lean against the wall. The blood . . . He must not faint. What had Thomas told them? He must not have told them everything. How could a man endure this and not beg to tell all?
Ernst looked in horror on the smiling face of the Gestapo executioner. “Then why have you not . . . executed him? For the mercy of God, why this?”
“You politicians.” Vargen laughed. “You like things clean.” He shrugged. He walked over to Thomas and placed the toe
of his boot on the head of the spike in his hand. “He is not dead because he has not told us what we want to know.”
Thomas coughed, cried out in agony. “Nothing . . . to . . . tell. God! Let me die.”
Ernst turned away and retched on the floor. “Kill him,” he breathed. “Please. Get it over with. Kill him!”
Ernst did not look at Thomas, but everywhere he looked was proof of his friend’s courage.
Vargen pulled his Luger from its holster and extended it to Ernst. “But Herr vom Rath, you said you would have killed him yourself . . . ” Vargen shook his head in amusement. These diplomats could talk, but when it came to the actual matter of one’s duty, they were less capable than a woman. “Well?”
Ernst stared at the pistol. Thomas groaned. “I cannot—” Ernst gasped—“cannot kill . . .”
“Ah, well.” Vargen was still smiling. “He will die eventually anyway.” He started to put away the gun. “Perhaps before I leave for Palestine tomorrow, or after you return to Paris?”
“Please!” Thomas moaned. “For God’s sake . . .”
Ernst snatched the weapon from the hand of the Gestapo agent. Sweat poured from his brow, nearly blinding him. He took a step toward Thomas. His hands trembled until he feared that he would drop the gun.
Thomas gazed at him pleadingly, forgiving him for what he must now do.
Vargen looked on with the satisfaction of the master of the Hunt. He was always pleased to blood a young hound for the sake of the Reich.
He continued to smile even as the shots rang out. Four of them. One after another.
Beg, Buy, or Steal
Göring studied the proposal presented by the British ambassador. He immediately called the Chancellery to speak with Hitler. Now he was sorry he had done so.
Hitler’s invitation to Hermann Göring to join him at the Chancellery for an evening meal was more an order than a request.
Göring hung up the telephone and scowled at his servant. “So. I am to have dinner at the Merry Chancellor’s Restaurant,” he quipped dryly. “To tell you the truth, the food there is too rotten for my taste. And then, those party dullards from Munich! Unbearable!” Göring patted the broad expanse of his belly. “Tell the cook to have my meal prepared beforehand. I will eat here before I go to dinner at the Chancellery.”
After a dinner of veal topped with asparagus and washed down with a fine white wine, Göring felt that perhaps he could face the Führer’s simple vegetarian fare and mineral water.
The Führer said nothing of his purpose to Göring as he led an entourage of thirty guests into the large dining room, forty feet square. In the center was a large round table ringed by fifteen simple chairs with dark red leather seats. Here the most honored guests were seated with Hitler. There were four smaller tables in each corner of the room for the less important sycophants and toadies of the Führer’s intimate group.
Göring faced three glass doors that led out into the garden. Trees were leafless and desolate in the autumn twilight of Berlin. In spite of Hitler’s great diplomatic triumphs over Great Britain and France in Munich, he was as moody as the weather these days.
“I did not listen to my Voice,” he was telling his astrologer, who sat to his left. “You see, we might have had all of Czechoslovakia if only I had heeded the whisper of the Voice. Instead, I listened to statesmen and generals.” He inclined his head to Göring, for Göring had not been among the army staff who had urged the Führer to over-caution in the matter of Czechoslovakia.
The astrologer, a thin, pale man with a fringe of gray hair like a laurel crown around his head, seemed quite sympathetic. “It is not too late for that, perhaps, mein Führer. We will consults the charts in the matter of what remains of Czechoslovakia. Call in your medium, and we will pursue the question.”
Hitler raised a finger. “But not tonight.” Again he looked at Göring. “I have pressing business after dinner.”
Göring pretended to eat the same poor meal that Hitler ate—meatless, tasteless dishes with cabbage soup. This sort of simplicity gained Hitler respect among the folk of the Reich. Plain china plates. Plain, smoothly plastered walls painted ivory. The seeming austerity of Hitler’s Merry Restaurant, as he called his dining room, was an example of his own modesty.
Within this setting, the gaudy uniform of Göring seemed more tasteless than the vegetarian main dish. Hitler, however, did not resent Göring’s outlandish uniform or ostentatious lifestyle. When the meal was finished Göring alone accompanied the Führer through yet another set of glass doors, through a salon, and back into a living room that was about a thousand square feet in area. In this room nothing about the furnishings was austere. A fireplace illuminated the beamed ceiling with dancing shadows. Wood wainscoting circled the room occupied with leather furniture and marble tables.
The medals across the broad expanse of Reichsführer Hermann Göring’s uniform glistened when he walked into the Führer’s private quarters at the Chancellery. His flabby cheeks were red with the rouge he applied to his waxy skin. His face was ecstatic with the news he brought to Hitler today—almost as bright as Hitler’s look was dark.
“We have had an interesting question posed to us from British Ambassador Henderson, mein Führer,” Göring began.
Hitler glared at him. “Well?”
“It involves a sale of sorts of the Jews . . . modified slightly from what we discussed earlier. It may well be a benefit to the Reich economy.”
Hitler nodded. “I am aware of this plan. Composed by Theo Lindheim in London and presented to the British government by the Jew-warmonger Weizmann.”
Göring was startled by this detail. He had not known. He had heard only that the plan had been discussed by Chamberlain’s cabinet as a humanitarian possibility for relief of the Jewish problem. “Theo? Lindheim?”
“Close your mouth, Hermann!” Hitler snapped. “The man was always clever. You cannot expect him to be otherwise until he is dead.” Hitler gazed thoughtfully at the eagle on the mantel of his fireplace. “But that is only a matter of time.”
Göring became apologetic. How could he have thought the plan to export German products in exchange for Jewish lives was a good one? How could he have been so foolish to assume that this plan might work? His face was flushed in earnest by the time he finished.
“It is a good idea,” Hitler replied. “If Satan himself appears at my bed with a plan to benefit the German people, I listen. Perhaps as we turn up the flame on the Jews, we should also reconsider how we might profit from their pain and cause the other nations of the world to suffer as well.” He stood and warmed his hands by the fire. “Tell Foreign Secretary von Ribbentrop to refuse all approaches of the British in this matter. And then you negotiate privately with them, Hermann. Your own little arrangement, as it were. We cannot allow the English to think that they have any power over us in the matter of trade or our treatment of Jews, can we? No! And so I delegate this to you!”
[Sarah, add missing dingbat]
The lamps of Hermann Göring’s vast Karinhall estate were all dimmed, except for the one that burned on his desk.
His field marshal’s uniform was slung carelessly over the back of an oversized leather armchair. Like the uniform and the mansion, the furnishings had been specially constructed so that the bulk of Göring could sit anywhere comfortably.
Tonight he worked on some solution to this Jewish economic problem, as Hitler had instructed him. As supreme head of the Ministry of Economy and commissioner of the Four-Year Plan for making Germany independent from other countries, the Jewish element suddenly added another dimension to the unsteady situation. Simply confiscating the personal belongings and assets of the Jews had not paid off over the years, as he had originally expected. The Reichsbank had benefited in only a small way compared to the loss of trade experienced from foreign boycotts of German goods.
How strange it seemed that it was Theo Lindheim who had conceived the plan—Theo, who had lost everything he
had in Germany, and then had almost lost his life in the bargain.
Göring lifted his massive head from the pool of light and stared at the wall of bookshelves that held the rare books once owned by Theo. Göring had saved them from the Nazi book burnings, not because he was as well-read as Theo, but because they had value. Economic value. One day, when this fanatical reaction against literature had burned itself out, no doubt Theo’s first editions would be worth even more. This was also the case with the Lindheim collection of Monet paintings that now graced the bedroom of Göring’s wife. “Decadent art,” the Führer called it. But Göring himself had chosen it; it would certainly appreciate in value when things settled down again in Germany.
He yawned and rubbed the back of his neck with weariness. A slight smile crossed his lips. He owed a lot to Theo Lindheim. Books. Art. A few pieces of Louis XIV furniture, and . . . the piano in the ballroom. The Jew had been an excellent judge of value. A shrewd and clever businessman indeed. Göring almost liked him. At least he respected him for his financial judgments and his ability as a pilot.
Göring groaned slightly as he lifted his bulk from the desk chair and walked in his stocking feet toward the green leather sofa where he collapsed. His blue eyes were red-rimmed with exhaustion. He stared at the books, then glanced at the light that glinted on the medals of his uniform. He remembered the words of his Führer, and whispered a dark prayer in hopes of an answer to this economic problem—an answer that would give him praise from his master and another Reich medal. “Satan himself . . . by my bed,” he murmured. His words drifted off and his heavy eyelids closed of their own will.
The vision came clearly to Hermann Göring. Outside in the starlit night he could hear the hounds of Germany baying in the depths of the great forest. The hunt was on…
He opened his eyes, and sound and color swirled into the room. He had seen these colors somewhere—somewhere. Trying to focus his eyes, he looked toward his uniform. It was splattered with the red blood of a stag. Behind it he saw the shrouded image of the painting of the German god Wotan that hung in Hitler’s quarters. The colors emanated; the howl of the hounds sounded from this canvas, from within its brushstrokes. The eyes of Wotan were the eyes of Adolf Hitler. Göring tried to comment on the remarkable likeness, the beauty of the color and the excitement of the sounds of the hunt, but his voice failed him.