Chapter 9: Doctor Viktor Fries
Doctor Viktor Fries
Viktor Fries was born in the village of Oberndorf, Austria, to Catholic parents, but had been orphaned tragically, when only eight weeks old, when his parents were both killed in an avalanche, while out skiing. He was brought up by his widowed Grandmother, originally Jewish, but who had 'converted' to Catholicism when she married his Catholic Grandfather. After his death, she had secretly reverted to Judaism, and, again in secret, had the young Viktor circumcised and dedicated to her God.
Quite graciously, she would allow the young Viktor to choose for himself which path to follow, but , despite the fear of anti- Jewish prejudice, Viktor would show a marked bent towards his Grandmother's secret faith. Her father had been a celebrated Chemist, and, in private, she was just as capable. As a woman, she would never be accepted locally in that vein. Her eldest Son, Viktor's Father, had also followed in that tradition, as would Viktor ! Only, he managed to master the Holy Trinity of science, Physics, Biology and Chemistry, and would achieve the title of Doctor in all three disciplines ! Catholicism wasn't exactly the greatest supporter of science in those days, but there was an innate tradition for learning in the Jewish tradition, indeed a thirst for knowledge, and he was able to sit under some of the finest scientific minds in the whole of Austria, a country which, with its mountainous beauty, he loved with a passion.
One field in particular fascinated him. It never ceased to amaze him, how plants, animals and even human beings reacted to the freezing cold temperatures around him, especially when an animal or a person was hurt. It seemed to Viktor, that it was indeed an advantage to suffer injury in the freezing cold. Cryogenics, this was to be his chosen field. He had had a rather uneventful childhood. There were few children of his own age, growing up in Oberndorf, and the fact, that he was an orphan ,caused most of those, that there were, to distance themselves from young Viktor. In fact, most of his most significant social contacts were with those of his Grandmother's generation.
One thing for certain there was, however. Viktor Fries was growing up, when German and Austrian Science was at its zenith. The question was soon to be posed, however, what particular direction was it going to follow, when it came to its particular use ? For we are, of course, talking about Nazism here, and the terrible dilemmas facing the German Speaking Scientific Community under Adolf Hitler.
Initially when they came to power, despite the personal distaste for Nazis, and a fear of their Anti-Semitic rhetoric, the shackles placed, hitherto, on science by a rural Catholic culture, were now off under Hitler. Science, and therefore Scientists, flourished, as the doors were now flung wide open to every kind of scientific endeavor. But, therein lay the problem ! Catholic Scientists had always been critical of any way, in which fellow scientists might try to ' play God.' This was exactly what Nazi Science was to be all about !
They were particularly interested in his early research on cryogenics, the idea being that Party Members might be able to cheat the onset of old age, by the freezing process, then awaken in a Nazi Golden Age, when the effects of old age would have been conquered, and a much longer life could be guaranteed !
For Viktor, still in his early twenties, when the Anschluss with Germany came, it seemed, that this was his great worth to the Nazis, a worth that, perhaps, had caused them to be somewhat less than thorough, when investigating his past, for evidence of Jewish ancestry. But they were, nonetheless, aware of his opposition to the Party, and, therefore, applied leverage of the most Nazi kind.
By this time, Viktor had fallen in love, and become engaged to Monika, a junior laboratory assistant at the University of Vienna. She was summarily whisked away during the night, imprisoned in a concentration camp, and kept alive for as long as Viktor co-operated with them in all their various scientific endeavors.
At one point, he was briefly recruited to produce a form of cyanide gas, to be used ' i the Control of Rodent Pests.' But Viktor had already heard the rumours about the use to which cyanide gas was actually applied, and he deliberately used an out-of-date additive to the only consignment he handled, rendering it totally ineffective. He was later to discover that the lives of thousands of Jewish women and children were saved, since it took the Authorities at several Camps months to be able to order in replacement supplies !
He was also coerced into working on the Army's Automatic Weapons programme, designing and constructing prototype weapons, that would operate efficiently in severe Russian winters. Needless to say, he incorporated the occasional little flaw here and there in the overall designs !
Other examples, in his private campaign of subterfuge and sabotage, included 'mistakes' in the exact mix of chemicals in the manufacture of artillery shells and the fuel for V2 Rockets !
But it was to be Viktor's versatility, that would occasion him to find himself at the heart of the most dangerous weapons program of all, the development of an Atomic Bomb. Viktor, himself, still claims to this day, that he and a select group of dedicated scientists around him, could have been the first to win that deadly race. Even though they all felt very much German, and feared the doom and destruction of their homeland by the Allied Powers, they strove to avoid the doom and destruction of the World ! Together they sabotaged their own programs and calculations, in such a subtle way, as to disguise the true nature of their intent. How many millions of lives they may have saved !
Then, one day, in their Top Secret Laboratory, as the War was coming to its close, in burst a group of specially selected American soldiers !
- Are you Doctor Viktor Fries ?
- I am, Ja.
- You are hereby under arrest, by order of the President of the United States, and are to accompany me to our nearest Headquarters !
Some strange arrest ! For, after a short period of intensive interrogation and interviews, Fries spent the last few weeks of the War in a luxury mansion in Allied Occupied West Germany. In the course of his debriefings, he had expressed his deep concern for the safety of his fiancee, and had informed his benevolent 'captors ' of the last known camp, where she had been incarcerated. The Americans had made it a number one priority to locate her, and secure her safe return kto Viktor as part of an arrangement under the terms of Operation Paper Clip, whereby many of Germany's top scientists could be secreted away to the United States, and offer their services to the Government, in return for immunity from any form of prosecution.
Within a few weeks, Viktor Fries was driven to a special hospital created for the survivors of Hitler's Death Camps, and there was reunited with a woman he simply did not recognize. Highly, highly emaciated, and bearing the scars of surgical procedures, performed by fellow scientists, it was Monika...it was Monika.
You can only imagine the vortex of emotions Viktor felt at that moment...
Hers would only be a partial recovery. Once she had put on enough weight, and was strong enough to travel, they both found themselves in America, where Viktor initiated a preliminary program for research into cryogenics. He and Monika were married, but, because of the nature of the experiments, which a Nazi scientist had carried out on her, it was many years before they were finally blessed with a child, a little girl they called Heidi.
Unfortunately, and tragically, their joy was to be short lived. For the exertions of carrying the child to term, and then delivering her, caused a weakening of an already weakened heart, and Monika passed away just two days later with Vikor and little Heidi in her arms.
Viktor was devastated, but, alas, even then, he did not have time to grieve, as his infant daughter was born grossly underweight, and with health problems, that would result in 'touch and go' life or death illnesses throughout her childhood, and into her teenage years. That Nazi scientist had inflicted even more heartache on his Family.
He left the Cryogenics Program to be nearer to his daughter, who required constant care on a regular basis in Gotham's Special Children's Unit at Gotham General Hospital, and took up the appointment as Head of the Science Department at Gotham High.
He would be, however, both a full time scientist, as well as a full-time tutor ! He would be a man driven. For Heidi was finally diagnosed with an incurable degenerative illness, that eventually would kill her, before she reached adulthood. It was a race against time ! Viktor was pursuing a course, where he could prepare both his and the body of his daughter, in such a way, that they could be cryogenically frozen alive, and then revived at a future date, when a cure had been found for Heidi. Then, as Viktor himself would put it, life might " restore the years that the locust had eaten."
This would involve using a mixture, an, as yet, untried formula of chemicals, to alter their blood in such a way, as to enable the freezing process to take place, without causing any lasting tissue damage, before, once and after the state of long-term frozenness was reached. For the procedure to be properly tested, he would require the assistance of the Government body he had helped to found. They worked together. Viktor felt that the research would benefit thousands of people suffering the very predicament he faced.
Word finally would reach him the day of the fateful Prom for Tom Wayne's year, that all the tests were positive, that the procedure would work, and that Fries and his Daughter should make their way to Washington immediately. As closely involved as he had been with the academic careers of all his students at Gotham High, he only had time to pack a number of implements and other equipment, and share a few last words with colleagues and students alike at the Prom, without actually saying goodbye..., and then he was gone.
At a secret location in Washington, both he and Heidi were prepared over a few days with a course of injections, and then, gradually, cryogenically frozen.
Both he and his beloved Daughter were to awake as if from a good night's sleep decades later. But, instead of being able to resume a normal life, and for Heidi to be cured of her disease, both Viktor and Heidi had to be kept in conditions, where the temperature could not be any warmer than -8 degrees centigrade ! This was a state of affairs, that he had not for one moment foreseen.
They had awoken in a military research facility, established to prepare soldiers for permanent placement in Northern Alaska, where they would guard that particular stretch of American frontier from possible Soviet invasion. The penny finally dropped for Viktor Fries. This had been the hidden agenda all along. The facility he had helped to found had discovered that there was a flaw in the formula he had created, whereby, once frozen, the body could never again be exposed to normal temperatures. They had known this a full month before facilitating the procedure he and Heidi had undergone. This discovery, however, would prove, fortuitously, to be of great benefit to cynical elements within the Government, looking to produce the perfect Arctic Super Soldier, an army of men and women able to operate comfortably in sub-zero temperatures, without constriction ! As that penny finally hit the floor, Viktor Fries let out a yell in uncontrollable despair !