Chapter 10: Working for Hitler
The next several weeks were spent rotting away in a Gestapo jail in Paris. The worst part about it was that I wasn’t able to hear from or about Maria. Had they arrested her also? Would I ever see her again? Would I even have the opportunity to tell her goodbye and that I loved her one last time?
The jail cell doors were flung open. Two uniformed SS men handcuffed my hands and my feet and escorted me to the street, where I was placed in the back of a jeep. There were three armed guards in the jeep with me, and two other jeeps with armed guards, one in front of us and one behind us, which accompanied us all the way to Berlin. It was a long and uncomfortable trip. I was taken to a holding cell and left there for three days before I had any visitors.
Scarface returned, escorted by a couple of members of the SS. They relocated me to a large government administrative building adorned with Nazi flags. We were instructed by a secretary to wait. Soon the secretary’s phone rang. After she answered she looked at Scarface and said, “The führer will see you now.”
Behind the large oak desk was a timid-looking man with glasses. He looked as if he were an accountant. He introduced himself as Heimlich Himmler, the chief of the SS, and then he introduced Joseph Goebbels, chief of the propaganda ministry. Himmler congratulated Scarface on catching a big fish and assured him that he would receive recognition. Then he looked at me and said, “Welcome to Berlin, Herr Luciano. We are mystified to have such an important American gangster in our presence.”
At this point, I wasn’t certain if it were in my best interest to allow them to think that I was Luciano or not, so I decided to keep my options open for the time being. I answered in the manner that I thought Luciano would answer. “The feeling is mutual, Herr Himmler.”
Himmler smiled and asked, “Did you enjoy spending the führer’s money?”
“If I had known the money belonged to anyone other than the Mob, I wouldn’t have taken it.”
“What did you do with the money?” he asked.
I explained that I had purchased real estate in France and spent a lot of the money on various things, but most of it had been spread among various banks in Switzerland, England, and Canada. I felt that it was important to be truthful about this, for Maria’s sake.
“Did you have any trouble spending it? No problems with depositing the money in any of those banks?’
“No, none whatsoever. If we could just forget this whole matter, I will round up what’s left of the money, sell the real estate, and I may be able to return the full amount that I took. I made some good investments.”
Himmler, still smiling, opened a briefcase atop his desk and said, “That’s OK. You did us a favor.” He then removed a stack of British sterling pounds from the brief and placed it in front of me. “There are twenty thousand pounds. Take it. It’s yours. I want you to paint the town with your wife this coming New Year’s Eve.”
“What? Is this some sort of joke?” I asked.
“We don’t joke about such matters, Herr Luciano. We have a proposition for you. The money that you stole is counterfeit—made right here in Berlin.” He paused to see my reaction. I was stunned, but I didn’t show it. “We realize that you are in a predicament. You can’t return to America—the Mob will kill you. You cannot return to Italy, because if the Mob doesn’t kill you, Mussolini will. If you try to escape to England, we will kill your wife first and then you.”
“What do you want me to do?”
“I think that you are going to like this assignment.” Himmler explained that his plan was to devalue the British currency by flooding the market with counterfeit money. “Your job is to spend like there is no tomorrow, with emphasis on circulating the money internationally.”
Goebbels instructed me to get as much of the money into the hands of the Mob as possible. “Use it to buy heroin from your old pal, Vito Genovese, and sell the poison to the American Mob in return for American dollars, which you will deposit into a German bank account that we designate.”
Himmler suggested that I travel to Argentina and make some real estate investments there and elsewhere. “In case you get any bright ideas about trying to slip away, know that you will be under strict surveillance at all times. Your wife’s passport has been collected. She will not be allowed to travel abroad. If you make any attempts to escape, you will receive a life sentence of hard labor, and she will receive punishment more severe than you can imagine. Those are your options: live like a king, or die a slow and miserable death.”
“You aren’t giving me a difficult choice,” I replied. There was no point in mentioning the unlikelihood that Vito Genovese would rather do business with me than to kill me, and ditto for the American mobsters.
“Yes, but we do not want an answer from you until after you’ve seen something that we have in store for you tomorrow,” Himmler said.
Instead of returning to jail, I spent the evening as Himmler’s house guest. He was hosting a dinner party for none other than the führer himself Adolf Hitler. This was an incredible turn of events. Earlier in the day, I was in a jail cell, thinking that I was destined to have a noose around my neck, and now I was being treated as a dignitary.
Himmler introduced Hitler to me. Hitler looked me in the eye and said something in German, but I wasn’t sure if it was intended for me or Himmler. He did not extend his hand to shake, and neither did I. Himmler and Hitler had a short conversation in German, obviously about me, because I heard the name Luciano a couple of times, then Hitler walked away to talk with others at the party.
Himmler looked at me and said, “Lucky for you that the führer agrees that you might be useful to the Third Reich.”
“Herr Himmler, may I ask a question?”
“Of course, Herr Luciano.”
“How much money are we talking about? How much do I get to spend?”
“As much as you can before the world realizes that it is counterfeit money. More is better, but just so that you know, we’ve printed nearly thirty million pounds sterling and can print more any time that we want.”
“There is nothing that you can show me that can change my mind. I accept the offer.”
“I am certain that what you see tomorrow will not change your mind, but will give you something to remember in case you ever need reassurance that you made the right decision.”
The next morning I was driven by Himmler to a medical research facility in Dachau, where I was introduced to Dr. Sigmund Rascher.
“Welcome to the world’s premier medical research program. Come this way, gentlemen.” We were led to a room where we were seated to view through a large pane of glass some of the doctor’s research. Another man wearing a lab coat that matched Dr. Rascher’s entered the room. Rascher made the introduction. “This is Professor Dr. August Hirt of the Strasbourg Anatomical Institute, which has provided the grant for the research into the effect of high altitude on flyers.”
Professor Hirt, as he preferred to be known, said, “We believe this valuable research will save the lives of many Luftwaffe pilots.”
We were informed that an experiment was about to begin. We turned our attention to the room on the other side of the glass. Rascher explained that we were looking at a decompression chamber. A naked man, escorted by two men in lab coats, was placed in the chamber, which had a glass door enabling us to see his entire body inside the tiny space. The machine began to make a rumbling noise, and an indicator dial at the top of the chamber began to move. The naked man began to wince, obviously in pain. The dial moved some more. Himmler whispered in my ear, “Do not look away.” The tortured man began convulsing, his hands and head taking turns banging on the glass door. Then suddenly, his leg burst. It was awful, and I couldn’t help turning away.
Himmler spoke in a commanding tone this time. “Keep watching.” The poor soul in the chamber began pulling his hair in an effort to relieve the pressure. The dial turned more, and then he started tearing at his face, then hitting his head with all his might against the chamber, trying anything to stop the suffering. The dial turned more, and suddenly the man exploded into a bloody mess. I lost it. I threw up my breakfast right there on the spot.
Himmler leaned over and said, “You needed to see what will happen to your wife, should you ever disappoint me.”
“You made your point. I get it. You had me with the money.”
The image of the man exploding in front of me kept playing over and over in my mind, no matter how hard I tried to think of something else. Himmler seemed unaffected. He laughed at his own jokes all the way back to Berlin. I had heard the Germans were sick bastards, but how could anyone even imagine this cruelty?
The trip home to Paris was much more enjoyable than the bumpy car ride to Berlin. I was flown with Scarface on a luxury plane owned by the Luftwaffe. Scarface’s name was Hans Fischer, and he was assigned the responsibility to supervise me. Himmler had instructed him that wherever I went, he would go.
Our first stop was to get Maria out of jail. We were so happy to see one another. We hugged so tightly that I was afraid that I was going to hurt her. Scarface dropped us off at our apartment, and I recall how odd it was that he told Maria politely how pleased he was to have made her acquaintance. Are these fucking people insane? He shot at us, threw us in jail, and then tells us that he is pleased to make our acquaintance. Geez.
Maria and I made love that night as never before—over and over, all night long. The next morning we gave one another a report. She went first and explained that Katie and Ella had been arrested and charged with high treason.
“There is nothing that we can do for them, I explained.”
Now it was my turn to give her my report. I contemplated whether or not to tell her everything, including the scene at the Nazi medical research facility. I made the decision to tell her everything, so that she would know what we were facing in the event we tried something stupid, like trying to rescue another English soldier. She trembled in my arms and wailed like a baby after I told her what I had seen. We cursed the Germans, the Nazis, and most of all, we cursed Hitler. We were unaware of the listening devices that the SS had installed in every room in our apartment. In the end, the Nazi spies heard us agree that we had no choice but to do our very best to serve our German masters well.
Himmler instructed me to get to work right away upon my return to Paris. The Germans set up a special number for me to use so that I could call anyone in the world without them knowing my whereabouts. I called my mother’s number, but it had been disconnected. Carlos’s number was next. He was very surprised to hear from me, but after we exchanged pleasant greetings, he told me the bad news. My mother was dead. He couldn’t say who did it, but it was a hit in retribution for my taking the Mob’s money. My heart sank. She had said that she had something on the Mob that would keep her alive. Now I realized that she was just protecting her little boy. Carlos gave me a few minutes to gather myself following that news, and then we began to talk business.
“VG is trying to return to New York, if he can make his legal troubles go away. If that happens, there may be a war. He is determined to replace the prime minister as the boss, and that means war.”
VG was code for Vito Genovese and the prime minister was code for Frank Costello. As Carlos was telling me this, it occurred to me that the Nazis were likely listening in on this conversation, and it was beneficial for them to think that I was Lucky, so I replied, “It may be time for VG to know that I am not in jail but am in full control of the family once again. I have a plan.”
The phone went silent. Carlos wasn’t sure if I was talking in code or if I had lost my mind. “OK, let’s hear it.” It was highly unusual for mobsters to talk business on the telephone, but we didn’t have much choice. I had to be conscious of the fact that someone on the American side might be listening in on our conversation as well.
“First, I need to know if all will be forgiven if I repay my debt with interest. If that is possible, tell me how much it will take. I am willing and able to pay my debts, whatever the amount.”
“I will see what I can find out. Give me a few days,” Carlos replied.
The news of my mother’s death was difficult to handle. Losing your mother is bad enough, but to know that you are responsible for her death is worse. My hatred for the Mafia festered—Frank Costello, Vito Genovese, and Ben Siegel especially. I had a burning desire for revenge, but then I saw the image of the exploding man and thought of Maria. I had to control my desire for revenge in order to keep her safe; unless I could find a way to get revenge that benefited the Nazis.
The wheels were in motion with the Mob; next on the agenda was to plan the biggest and most extravagant New Year’s Eve party in the history of Paris. For this, I needed Drago.