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Hans Schumann’s eyes blazed as he spoke, and Herschel hung his head in shame. Perhaps Hans was right. Suicide was stupid, futile, and selfish.
“You took my gun away. You sold it to feed me. Or so you said. How can I kill a Nazi? I have to untie my own bed to get enough rope to hang myself! You think I have not thought of how good revenge would feel?”
“If you kill yourself, Hitler will rejoice that another Jew is out of the way. So make them grieve in Berlin. Steal the laughter from their lips as they steal ours. Steal a Nazi life as they take thousands of Jewish lives. Make them grieve, Herschel, and they will hear you!”
“I will help you if you mean it.”
Herschel leaned forward, begging for that help. “Yes! Tell me how!”
Ernst vom Rath could not close his eyes without seeing Thomas’s broken body before him. The sound of an automobile backfire outside the Paris Embassy made him jump, spilling coffee at the breakfast table.
Other members of the embassy staff eyed him with curiosity, perhaps suspicion. Obviously, whatever Ernst had witnessed in Berlin had left him shaken and nervous. Had he been involved with the escape of Thomas von Kleistmann, after all? Every glance seemed to ask that question. Was Ernst a part of some anti-Nazi undercurrent, in spite of his denials?
Ernst found himself raising his hand in the Heil Hitler salute with an added gusto these days. At times when his own voice echoed in the vast marble halls, he felt that perhaps he was overdoing his pretended loyalty. But the pretense was inspired by fear, by the vivid and horrible tableau of Thomas pleading for death on the floor of the Gestapo building.
This afternoon a new Abwehr officer was introduced to the staff as the replacement for von Kleistmann. This fellow was of powerful build with stronger Aryan characteristics than his unfortunate predecessor. Fritz Konkel was younger than Thomas had been. Only twenty, he had distinguished himself as a group leader in the early days of the Hitler Youth. He had learned to march and drill with a burnished shovel over his shoulder. Blond, tanned, muscled, young Konkel had once been chosen by the Führer himself from a line of other young recruits. “Here is the ideal of the Aryan race,” the Führer had remarked. “It is specimens like this that we should send abroad as representatives of our race!”
Rumor held that Hitler himself had chosen this officer for duty in the Paris Embassy. He had overridden the selection of Abwehr Chief Admiral Canaris with a strong warning: “You chose the traitor Thomas von Kleistmann for the Paris Embassy, did you not? This time I shall trust no one but myself for such an appointment.”
As the new man was introduced to each member of the staff, Ernst found himself perspiring. The radiators hissed behind him. As he shook the hand of the Nazi officer, Ernst mopped his brow and blamed the flush of his face on the heating system.
Konkel flashed an arrogant smile. “You do not know heat, Herr Secretary vom Rath, until you have stood in formation for hours in the sun and then looked into the eyes of our Führer.”
If Thomas had been alive to hear such a comment, no doubt he and Ernst would have secretly ridiculed the young officer’s devotion to sweat and duty and der Führer. But Thomas was not alive. Ernst was alone among the embassy staff in his loathing of such foolishness.
He managed a smile. “No doubt if the Führer were here at the Paris Embassy, we would not need radiators to make us sweat,” he mumbled. A foolish thing to say. “His . . . personal warmth . . . would be sufficient, ja, Officer Konkel?” This was a nice recovery. Ernst had managed to put the ball back into Konkel’s court.
“That is true,” Konkel replied in the only way he could. This handsome Aryan god was strong and devoted, but not clever. His dullness, at least, was a consolation for Ernst.
Konkel proceeded down the line of introductions and then turned as the ambassador clapped him on the back and announced, “Officer Konkel has been personally selected to manage the continuing investigation of the traitor von Kleistmann and his activities here in Paris. I have been instructed by the Führer himself that every staff member is to show Officer Konkel the utmost cooperation in his duties. Some things are known, of course, from the confession given by von Kleistmann before his execution.”
Ernst blinked. All other words faded from his hearing. What confession? Had Thomas made some confession? Whose names were mentioned in some moment of weakness when the torture became unbearable? Ernst pulled himself back to the droning voice of the ambassador.
“Of course, the unquestioned loyalty of each remaining member of this staff has been checked and rechecked. That is not at issue here. What is requested is even the smallest item of information that might have been overlooked. A name or place Thomas von Kleistmann might have mentioned in passing.”
At this, the pretty French maid from the German-speaking province of Alsace raised her hand timidly. Thomas had spent time with this witless woman. He had wooed her, and some whispered that she had unlocked his door on the evening of his escape.
Office Konkel eyed her with the same sort of interest that Thomas had shown. He smiled. Raised an eyebrow. He strolled easily toward her. “What is it, Fräulein?
She blushed, enjoying the gaze of this handsome replacement. “Bitte, Officer Konkel . . . Thomas . . . er . . . Officer von Kleistmann once wrote a letter to a woman in London. He burned it. I saw its remains in the ashtray in his room.”
Konkel clasped his hands behind his back. He rocked on his toes and eyed the woman with a different sort of interest. “You perform your duties quite thoroughly, Fräulein.” He smiled. “I shall remember not to leave correspondence where you might come across it.”
A twittering of nervous laughter filtered through the group. Everyone knew she and Thomas had occasionally been lovers. The motivation of her jealous curiosity was evident to everyone but Konkel. “I thought you should know,” she stammered, flushing with embarrassment. “I thought—”
“Why did you not mention this sooner?”
“I only just thought of it this morning. Preparing your room. It was his room and I . . . only just remembered it.”
“A woman in London?” Konkel frowned thoughtfully over the top of her maid’s cap. “The name was Elisa?”
She nodded excitedly. “Yes. Yes. That was it!”
“Ah,” Konkel nodded and grinned. This was not news. This was nothing they did not know. “Yes. Thank you, Fräulein. We are aware of this . . . relationship. Quite aware.” He swept his hand over the group. “But these details are the sort we are looking for. Things that will help us piece together the puzzle and trace the line to its conclusion. Yes. It is confirmation. And if any of you has such a small incident that you think might assist, the Reich will be grateful, of course.”
Ernst’s mind went wild with thoughts of all the hints he might have left inadvertently. Would some insignificant word or glance between him and Thomas be remembered and traced? Had Thomas told Elisa about his comrade in the Paris Embassy? If she were captured and tortured, certainly she would not have the strength to remain silent as Thomas had . . . as they said he had!
Ernst felt ill. He wondered if anyone noticed the way the blood drained from his face. Was he under suspicion, in spite of assurances by the Berlin Gestapo? In spite of the fact that he had taken the gun from the hand of Vargen and . . .
The ambassador was speaking again, smiling pleasantly, patting the new officer on his back. “We are quite sure that all this unpleasantness will soon be behind us. Forgotten and done with. Then we may all settle in again to our duties for the Fatherland here in France.”
Haggard. That was the word Leah would use for Eli Sachar as he took a seat on a packing crate and stared mournfully into his chipped china coffee cup.
“I do not mean to intrude,” he said, mindful that arriving at dawn on the doorstep of a just-married couple was an intrusion. “But I have not slept all night.”
Shimon sat shirtless across from him and pulled o
n his socks. “Neither did we,” he mumbled in German with a quick look at Leah. She was dressed, but she stood making an irritated face behind Eli’s back.
She shrugged. This was not really their honeymoon, after all. And the man looked as if he were near death. So she had offered him a cup of coffee on the condition that he would go get the water and give them five minutes to pull on something. Here sat Eli, not wanting to intrude, but . . .
“Your wedding,” Eli said through a rusty sounding voice, “was so beautiful. I saw you together last night, and I knew that . . . I cannot . . . that no rabbi will . . . that Victoria and I . . . ” He dissolved into tears.
It was embarrassing for Shimon to watch him weep. Leah was instantly ashamed that she had resented his being here when he was in such pain.
Shimon grimaced and glanced nervously at Leah. So? Would she help, already? Say something? Shimon was a touch hung over, and this was too much at 6:15 in the morning. He whacked Eli on his arm. “Pull yourself together, man! Are you drunk? Finish your sentence!” he said gruffly.
Leah started to protest Shimon’s roughness, but then she saw that Eli responded instantly with renewed composure.
“Yes. Yes. You are right. I am acting like a . . . you see . . . I told my parents about us. Me and Victoria. Of course I will never be a rabbi if I marry her, even if she converts, because it is forbidden for a cohen to marry a proselyte. You see?”
Shimon nodded, a broad aha nod. “I had forgotten that one. Yes. Well.” Maybe the man had reason to weep. Shimon became more gentle. “So. Have you decided not to marry her, then?”
“What?” Eli sounded irritated. “No!” He looked insulted. “It is just that I think . . . we should not wait. There is no rabbi in the entire Old City who would marry us regardless of whether I leave the Yeshiva. And the women were talking . . . there are rumors that you are . . . maybe friends with the English priest at Christ Church? He brought you here, nu?”
Leah ran a brush through her hair and walked toward him. “Eli,” she said gently, “Reverend Robbins will not perform the ceremony for you and Victoria unless both of you are Christians. At least I think that is the way it works.” She bit her lip. “This is very serious business. More than marriage. More than leaving Yeshiva. More than disregarding the wishes of your family.” She reached out to touch his hand briefly. “You cannot deny your faith!”
His chin went up defiantly. “But you did! I heard what you said about Jesus, the Christ of the goyim, on the night of your concert!” His tone was angry, accusing.
Leah sat down beside Shimon and fixed her clear brown eyes on Eli. “You did not hear me if you think that we have in any way denied our faith as Jews or our heritage.”
Shimon interjected, “Hear me now, Eli. Leah and I believe that Jesus is the Messiah of Israel, the Holy One we watch for and pray will come to redeem His people Israel! First He came to redeem us individually, as the prophet Isaiah wrote in the fifty-third chapter. He died for our sins. The Lamb of sacrifice given by God for our sakes. But He will come again as King to redeem the nation Israel. It is written, and we are seeing the beginning of the fulfillment.”
Eli frowned, as if a thousand arguments filled his mind. “Christians have slaughtered Jews in the name of Jesus for centuries!” His voice was bitter with the truth of this.
“Those who have done these things have never known Him,” Shimon answered quietly. “Many who call themselves by Christ’s name worship a false Christ created by Evil to serve Evil. The real Jesus said that this would happen.”
As Leah prayed for the right words to speak, a thought came to her clearly. “Eli, suppose I say I am a disciple of Eli Sachar, and I take a gun and go into the marketplace and find a baby who is in the arms of its Muslim mother. Then I point the gun at the child and say, ‘You are a Muslim. Eli Sachar is a Jew. In the name of Eli Sachar I am going to kill you!’ And then I murder that child in your name.”
“Never!” cried Eli.
Leah and Shimon exchanged looks. “Well, then? How must the Lord feel when the name of the Holy One of Israel is used so wickedly?”
“But . . . is this a different Jesus that you speak of?” Eli blinked at them as if they spoke a foreign language. “Different from the One whose name the goyim invoked as they slaughtered us over the centuries? As they murder us now in Germany?”
“Our Lord Jesus is as different from that false Christ as the bright sun is different from blackest night!”
“Tell me plainly what Jesus you mean? How can you say that name beside the word Messiah?” Eli looked startled at these words. He ran his hands through his hair and Leah noticed he was not wearing his yarmulke. She took his cold cup of coffee from the crate and warmed it with a drop from the coffeepot. She gently urged the cup back into his hands and he took a cautious sip.
Shimon began again carefully to explain what he knew as truth. “To cut off the real, historical Jesus from the name Messiah, Holy One of Israel, Redeemer, and Lord . . . this is the greatest blasphemy. Many Gentiles who call themselves Christians commit this blasphemy every day. I have felt their hatred.” Shimon turned slightly to reveal the scars on his back and shoulder. “I have felt their lash and heard their curses. Seen them destroy others in the name of their false Christ.” A strange smile played on Shimon’s lips. “They called me Christ-killer even while they were killing innocent children! And inside my heart I heard the voice of the Lord whisper, “It is they who killed me!”
He paused and looked deeply into Eli’s eyes. “If there is any victory that causes Evil to rejoice, it is to hide our Messiah from us by distortion, brutality, and false doctrine.”
Eli’s face filled with a hunger to understand. Could it be that Jesus approved of the mercy and truth spoken of in the Torah? Then this was a very different Jesus indeed that the one he imagined!
Shimon reached around to retrieve his Bible. “Through evil men, Satan himself has twisted the Holy Word of God until Jesus is made to appear to be everything we fear. To keep a son of the Covenant from recognizing the Messiah is a great victory for Satan against God, you see. Jesus was a Jew, descended from King David just as our prophets foretold. Put away the Gentile church and Gentile religion and persecution. Empty your mind of their lies and darkness. You must meet Jesus first through the Prophets, Eli, and then look at His life! Come to Him as a Jew, for the sake of your eternal soul! Face-to-face you must look at the real Jesus, and then you must choose to deny Him or believe Him.”
His arms piled high with volumes of rabbinical commentary on the book of Isaiah, Eli cautiously climbed the stairs of the Sachar apartment. He kicked the door in an awkward knock. His mother threw open the door and her face displayed a range of emotion beginning with sullenness, changing rapidly to surprise, and finally relief as she called out. “He is home! Eli is home! God be thanked! And his arms are full of books!”
Eli entered the front room as Hermann peered around the corner from the kitchen. “What’s all this?” he asked gruffly, but the relief was also evident in his eyes.
“Books from the Yeshiva library,” Eli said as though nothing else needed discussion. True to his vow, he would not mention Victoria’s name again to his parents. “I have met an apostate and a liar here in the Quarter, and I will prove his argument false through the words of the ancients.”
Ida began to weep and mutter her thankfulness to the heavens. “You see! You see what a rabbi he will be! He is done with this foolishness! Oy! It is all over, Hermann. Our son is back home.”
“So leave him alone, already!” Hermann Sachar ducked back into the kitchen with a gesture that seemed to say, I knew Eli was no fool. He was certain the boy would see reason.
Eli did not tell them that this had nothing to do with what he had decided about Victoria. They would know soon enough. Why make things harder? He was angry at what Shimon and Leah had told him. Their gross misinterpretation of the Holy Scripture angered him and challenged his y
ears of education. He had pulled every book and commentary on Isaiah off the shelves of the Yeshiva. In this matter of Jesus, he would not take the word of a Jew from Vienna. A musician from Austria—what could he know?
Throughout the afternoon, Eli studied the sources he spread across the floor of his bedroom. His mother brought him a food tray and left it beside his bed without a word. She did not wish to disturb the study of her son the rabbi. And he did not notice when she entered and when she left as he turned page after page of two dozen volumes.
Moshe finally broke the silence in a tone of derision. “Well, as they say in the world of the goyim, the prodigal has come home, eh?”
Eli looked up at Moshe. He had not understood the jibe. “What? Ah, Moshe. Shalom.”
The food tray was untouched. Moshe picked up half a sandwich. “Do you mind?”
“No. I was just studying.” Eli wiped his eyes. How different the world looked to him.
“So, you have made your choice.” Moshe flopped down on his bed and bit into the sandwich. “Books over true love, nu?”
Eli looked down at the yellowed pages of a commentary and then back into the smirking face of his brother. “Sometimes, Moshe, there is more passion and love in the pages of a book.” He frowned. “And all the answers are there. Truth.”
“Well, forgive me. I am from the real world, you know, where love and truth are very rare these days.” He seemed almost angry. “Where Arabs blow up Englishmen and Englishmen blow apart their promises of a Jewish homeland. And where Jews, even a Jew I thought more sensible than the rest, are afraid to love Arabs for fear of what might be said.”
Eli focused on the book. “Be quiet, Moshe,” he said wearily. “You do not know.”