Chapter 12: Deep Sleep
It was May 1942 when the wheels of the plane stopped and the door opened for us. Waiting for us was an official German SS staff car, bearing two Nazi flags, one above each headlight. One of the soldiers opened the car door so that we could climb inside. Hans and I were surprised and concerned that the highest-ranking SS officer, Heinrich Himmler himself, was there to meet us at the airport. Hans looked especially worried. Himmler was agitated. With restrained anger in his voice he asked me, “Have you followed my strict orders to have no communications with anyone outside of Argentina?”
“Yes of course,” I replied. The ramifications of not following orders were clear to me and I would not do anything that could jeopardize Maria’s safety.
“Herr Himmler, may I respectfully ask what this is about?” asked Hans.
Himmler answered in German, but I could understand only a few words, including “der führer.”
“Did you have any communications with your gangster friends in New York while we were in Argentina?” Hans asked me.
“No! I’ve made no calls, not even to my wife. What am I being accused of?”
Hans told me that der führer himself wanted to answer that question. Hans didn’t have to explain how serious the charges were for Hitler to address them personally during a war whose outcome it seemed would determine the very existence of civilization.
With Himmler leading the way, we walked past all checkpoints straight to the office where Hitler and the minister of propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, were waiting for our arrival. Hitler was in a foul mood and began by shouting questions at me in German. Hans interpreted for us: “The führer wants to know how and why you were able to convince longshoremen in the United States to spy against the Third Reich.” Himmler handed a report to me, which had been transcribed into English for my benefit.
The report claimed that Lucky Luciano had ordered the members of the longshoremen’s union to cooperate with the American police. As a result, a German American spy ring had been uncovered and several attempts of sabotage had been foiled. It was time to reveal my true identity.
“I am not Lucky Luciano. My name is Giovani Cado. Luciano and I look virtually the same as twins, in part because we are half-brothers—sons of the same father.”
Himmler and Hans told Hitler that my story must be true, because I had been of valuable service to the Third Reich, and there were no records of any foreign calls made by me in Argentina. Hitler calmed down and after reflecting on the conversation said, “This is a plausible explanation. Keep him Berlin. I may have more use for him.”
Maria was on the next train to Berlin. Our reunion was divine. Each time we separated, we seemed closer with each reunion. She was to return to Paris after three days, but I went over Hans and straight to Himmler to request that she stay with me in Berlin, and he agreed.
The English were onto the German’s counterfeit scheme, which resulted in their recalling all notes to be replaced with an entirely new design. The German response was to do the same thing to the Americans. The counterfeit printing press went into action, and I was charged with devising a plan to pump the fake American money into the international economy.
Hans was anxious for me to unload the two million American dollars onto the market somehow, but it was hard to operate from Berlin. Cities were being bombed on a regular basis, knocking out telephone service. The Allies were intercepting calls from Germany.
To make matters more difficult, Vito Genovese switched sides after America joined the war and had returned to New York. Mussolini cut off all Italian ports for his use. The New York Mob never delivered the weapons either. I had to come up with another plan to distribute the counterfeit money into the world’s economy.
Weeks went by without my having devised an acceptable plan, and Himmler was growing impatient with me.
Hans was ordered to drive me to the Czech town of Lidice to witness another gruesome Nazi atrocity on the morning of June 10, 1942. In retaliation for the assassination of a German general, the town was surrounded by German troops who rounded up all of the men and boys over the age of fifteen, and made the women and children watch while they were executed. Then the Nazis systematically burned building after building. Next, construction crews cleared all of the debris, roads, monuments, and every last remnant of the town, so that there was no evidence that it had ever existed. Finally, the women and children were hauled away to labor camps.
“Why did Himmler want me to see this?” I asked Hans.
“He wants to motivate you. He thinks that you are stalling on your assignment out of loyalty to America. He wants you to know how ruthless he can be to enemies.”
“Tell him that I got it the first time.”
Himmler’s plan worked. I devised a plan the very next day. It involved my old pals, Drago and Rocko. Hans would have to get permission to allow them to travel overseas with the money. My request was granted.
Maria and I returned to our apartment in Paris and put in a call to Drago and Rocko to tell them that I had a lucrative job for them. A meeting was held a day later, on my balcony overlooking the rue. The first hour or so was spent on small talk, as was our tradition, but then it was time to get down to business. Maria brought two small suitcases on cue, handing one to each of my friends. Rocko and Drago opened the cases and stared at a million dollars each. Rocko’s jaw dropped. Drago was also speechless.
“Each suitcase has the proper travel documents for both of you to travel to a little country in Central America called Panama. You are to go there and deposit half of this money in an account in my name, and you keep the rest. If you do exactly as I’ve instructed, we will do this again, and again, with each amount becoming larger.”
Drago, being the accountant, wanted to know more details, so I explained that all the arrangements had been made for them to be flown to Spain, then Malta, then South America, and then to Panama. They were to depart right away.
Maria and I spent the next several days in Paris. It was good to see Carol and Collette, the only other people in France other than the Nazis who would talk to us. Other neighbors gave us dirty looks as we walked by. One teenage boy followed us home, and once we were inside our apartment, a brick was thrown through our window. The brick had a swastika scratched on it to let us know the reason for the attack. We returned to Berlin the following day.
The war created enough distraction that I was all but forgotten, for the time being. Hans stopped following me around and our meetings became more and more infrequent. The idea of escaping crossed my mind. Maria and I went for a walk through the city and to a park. We double backed enough times to be certain that no one was following us. Once completely comfortable that we were able to speak freely, I told her that I thought that Germany was going to lose the war. “If that happens, we will be tried as traitors to our country. If given the chance to escape, we need to take it.”
“But where would we escape to? We can’t go back to America or Sicily.”
“Panama. We still own a home there, on the beach; and I have a substantial amount of money in a bank there.”
Maria began to tremble. She was terrified of the Nazis, and rightfully so. She wanted to know how we could escape this terrible place.
“The SS provided me with fake identities and traveling papers for Drago and Rocko to take counterfeit money to Panama. I am going to try the same thing, but this time I am going to see if I can get travel papers for their wives as well, but you and I will go in place of Drago and his wife. Did you notice how little we were watched by Hans and the SS this last time that we were in Paris? I think that either we’ve gained their trust, or they are so busy with higher priorities that we aren’t as big of a concern as we once were.”
Heinrich Himmler and Adolf Hitler
“What will happen to us if we are caught?”
“That is too horrible to think about. We must not try unless we have a high probability of success.”
The wheels were put into motion right away. Within days Hans delivered four million counterfeit dollars and travel papers for two married couples. A meeting was held to explain the plan to Rocko and Drago. Once again, from our Paris apartment balcony overlooking the rue, we started with small talk, but I wanted Maria to participate in the conversation this time.
Drago described their previous journey to Panama in great detail. “It was virtually event free. The Germans assisted us to the demarcation line and from there it was no problem making our way to Spain.”
It was now time for me to explain my plan. “I have something to ask of you, Drago. It could be dangerous.”
“Anything for my Don,” he said with a smile.
Realizing that the Nazis had likely planted listening devices in my apartment, I whispered the plan in his ear.
After hearing my plan Rocko and Drago left our apartment with their suitcases filled with fake money and traveling papers. That evening at precisely ten o’clock, Maria and I opened the pantry and walked down the stairs to my hidden wine cellar. On the far side was a section of the wall that opened inward with a pull. From the outside, there was no evidence that this part of the wall opened as a door. There Drago and his wife were, right on cue. They entered through the secret door. Drago’s wife presented Maria with a wig, and Drago presented me with an extra pair of eye glasses and his top hat and overcoat. We traded house keys, and before Maria and I said goodbye for the final time to our most loyal friends, we told them our real names.
We walked to Drago’s house, which was no more than ten blocks away, entered their house and waited for Rocko and his wife to appear the next morning. They were right on schedule. Maria was wearing the wig and I was wearing the items given to me by Drago. We had no trouble boarding the train that took us to a frontier town on the demarcation line. There had been no sign of Hans.
Our plan seemed to have worked. We disembarked from the train with the intention of boarding another that would carry us to unoccupied France, but there was Scarface! We had gone too far to get caught, so I leaped into action by rushing Scarface and tackling him. “Run, Maria! Help me, Rocko.”
Rocko sprang into action too. He grabbed Maria, wrapping both arms around her so that she could not run away. Within seconds three other SS men were on the scene, pulling me off of Hans.
“I’m sorry, Cicero. I’m an agent for the Gestapo.”
My heart sank. The plan was so perfect. We would have made it, had it not been for that treacherous Rocko. Now what was in store for us? I begged Hans to forgive us, to give me another chance. I promised that if he would forget this whole thing, that I would do spectacular things for the SS. If nothing else, please let Maria go. I begged and begged.
I was detained at Gestapo headquarters in Paris until I could be transported back to Germany. Once again, Maria and I were separated. My memories of what I saw at Dachau and Himmler’s words whispered in my ear played over and over in my head. Suicide would be much better, if only I could find the opportunity.
Gestapo agents rode with me on the train back to Germany. Just as I had feared, I was taken straight to the medical research facility in Dachau. Bound in a straitjacket, I waited in a padded cell. Rascher and Hirt appeared with two orderlies. I’m not proud to say that I was more frightened than I had ever been. The image of that man tearing at his face, ripping out his hair and banging his head on the glass, trying anything to stop the pain before he burst right open, was worse when I realized that was likely going to me my fate, but even worse, Maria’s fate. I cried like a scared little boy and screamed, “Please, please! Don’t do it. I will do anything. I’m begging you!”
Rasher instructed Hirt to inject me with a sedative. I jerked as much as I could, trying to avoid the needle, but it was useless. He injected something in my neck and soon I felt very relaxed. I stopped screaming and my eyelids grew heavy.
Hirt leaned down to talk. “There is no reason to fear. You are not going to be hurt or killed. The experiment that we are going to perform on you is for the good of science, for mankind, and the Third Reich.”
Then, everything went black.
To be continued…