For the tenth time in as many minutes, Justine checked her reflection in the glass Unsatisfied she pinched her cheeks to give them color. She sniffed the bottle of what her landlady described as Eau de Toilette the woman brewed in her kitchen, before dabbing a few drops behind her ears. This, plus the bath they allowed her this morning, might prevent her from having an offending odor.
She smiled at her reflection. Ari should be here any minute. While she hadn’t produced information for him, he visited every few days. While sharing little of himself, Ari listened to her stories of life in Nuremberg and in the forest with her fighting band. Is this how love felt? Could an exciting man, like him, be interested in her?
At least she felt confident about her hair. One girl she worked with at the Ministry had been a beautician, so she trimmed Justine’s hair that afternoon.
Taken by the Nazis early in Justine’s teenage years, Justine’s mother never instructed her in the feminine arts. Thus, Justine knew little about the fashionable grooming needed by young ladies. Or the subtle tricks a girl required to capture a young man’s heart. For now, she relied on advice from women in her life.
A knock at her door interrupted her preparations.
“I hope you brought some of that delicious sausage again,” she proclaimed as she rushed to the door. “Have I learned to read the signs well?”
As she opened the door, she gasped, clutched her chest, and stepped back when the Commissar strode into the room. He glanced at her and leered. While removing his leather gloves, Jovanovich strolled around studying the furnishings. Silent, Justine’s eyes followed him as he prowled.
Paused in his study, he turned. “I know you are expecting company so I won’t stay long. Sausage, you like? What else?” He resumed his scan of her apartment. “Perhaps I should bring you something also the next time I visit. You have done much to make these barren rooms livable.”
“Thank you, Commissar.” Her eyes downcast, her stomach churned, wondering if Ari would also walk through the door. Perhaps, seeing the open door, he would abort their meeting.
Jovanovich’s eyes moved to the doorway. “You should close the door to stay warm. Captain Shapiro will see my car outside as warning enough to delay his arrival.”
As she closed the door, Jovanovich seated himself at her table. “I apologize for neglecting you since I drove you here, but other things demanded my attention. I hope it goes well with you?”
While moving to the stove, she spoke over her shoulder. “May I make you some tea?”
He shook his head as he drew a flask from inside his leather jacket. “That would be lovely, but would you join me in some schnapps, instead? I believe this is the mint you enjoyed when we were in Berlin. Let’s use the jars you keep in the cupboard to hide the pistol.”
Justine went to the cupboard. As instructed, she returned with the jars then joined him at the table.
“I keep a close watch on my friends, for their safety.” He poured a measure into each jar. “There are a lot of evil people wandering around. Yes?”
“I take it you do more than watch. You search my room also?”
Instead of answering, he hoisted his jar as if proposing a toast. “To your friends in the Jewish Brigade. I hope we work for the same ends.”
Justine tapped her jar to his, then took a sip.
“Do you know that besides hunting Nazis, they rescue Jews from the camps and run them to Palestine?” He glanced around the room. “We help them when we can, but what they do is dangerous and upsets the British, but…?
I am sorry for dropping in this time unannounced. In the future, I will be more careful, so I do not interfere with Captain Shapiro’s work.” He shrugged. “But I must leave for Moscow tonight and may not be back for a month.” His eyes locked on hers. “I have a list for you to check for us. I will need the information as to their whereabouts as soon as I return.”
She said nothing as he drew a folded paper from his vest pocket, which he handed across to her.
After unfolding it, she frowned as she read the ten names.
“Can you read my atrocious handwriting?”
“Who are they?”
“War criminals. Vicious, sadistic. That is all you need to know. As I said, I will be gone at least a month. The evening I come again, I will make a sideways chalk mark on the hallway wall where the Captain also leaves your signal. It will not be on a day that he comes, but soon after.”
“You support the Brigade’s work?”
“Yes! I also encourage you to join in their efforts to bring these Nazis to justice.” After finishing his drink, he rose and re-buttoned his coat. “There are also others. Former partisans or camp survivors here in the city doing the same thing.”
“Partisans. Here? Didn’t all the partisans go home?”
“Unfortunately, they are without homes to return to,” he answered, looking back over his shoulder as he approached the door. “Worse yet. When they return to reclaim their confiscated property, those who stole their property murder them. It seems, for some, the war did not stop the anti-Semitism.”
“So, the struggle continues?”
“Yes, there is one group in particular that is sending groups to many of the larger cities. Abba Kovner is their leader.” He slipped on his cap. “They have a big plan for getting revenge. I am not sure what it is, but if they kill these swine that destroyed so much, then I applaud them. Ask Captain Shapiro about them.”
As she placed the list in a large crock on the table, she nodded. “I will try to finish this before you return.”
He smiled and stepped out the door.
The next day during her lunch hour, Justine slipped into the vacant file room. While she had access to the file room, she suspected she needed to be discreet.
After checking the list once again, she strode down the row of cabinets until she came to the B’s. Once she opened the correct drawer, she thumbed through the folders. Frustrated when she failed to find the file, she leaned against the open drawer. Then she remembered an American clerk had arranged them when the office opened them. Not realizing the Von before the last name signified that the person had a noble heritage and not their last name, they might place it in the V’s.
Quietly closing the drawer, she moved down the row. Before opening the drawer, she glanced around to make sure she remained alone with the files. Satisfied, she opened the drawer. As she suspected, there it sat under the Von heading.
After studying the picture of a handsome young man stapled to the first page, she flipped through the thick file. More pictures of the man standing beside a rocket, or with uniformed Nazis like Goering. But never in uniform himself. Just suits and ties.
Without enough time to extract the needed information, she returned it to the drawer for now. As she closed the drawer, she set her list on the cabinet’s top. After placing a checkmark next to his name, she returned the list to her pocket. She would start with this file on her next visit so she would have time to find the needed information.
Back at her desk, she thought about her disappointing evening. Ari failed to come after the Commissar left. She enjoyed his visits. Not only because of the delicious food he brought, but she enjoyed the man’s company. Different from other men, especially, the European Jewish men, he had confidence. Not arrogant, but a self-assurance that comes from strength.
As she sat down, the American officer supervising her section approached, smiling.
“Justine, we missed you at lunch.” He set a cloth bag on her desk. “I worry about my girls.”
“I am fine, Major. I just needed a walk.”
“I am sure with winter coming soon, we won’t have many more fine days like today. It’s just with the rationing I worry that you and the others do not get enough to stay healthy.”
“Major Worth, you sound like my mother.” Justine smiled at the genial man. His wire-rimmed spectacles now glinted in the sun beaming through the window. “She always worried about me and the rest of us children being too thin.”
“Any word yet about her and the rest of your family?”
“No, I posted messages on the local boards, but received no replies.”
“Well, I heard a rumor that the Russians collected a lot of records from the camps. Maybe they’ll share them with us soon, and you can get some good news.”
Justine hung her head. “I sometimes think it better to not know, so I can still hope.”
“Have you finished collecting that material I needed for the trial?”
“The dossier for Goering will be completed by tomorrow.”
“Good, I meet with the prosecutor general then. He seems eager to proceed. Fears they might all kill themselves before we can hang them like they deserve. Also, tomorrow morning Mr. Ford wants to show that documentary of the camps. He wants our reaction before he does the final editing.”
Justine said nothing at first as she recalled what she had witnessed herself when they liberated the camps. She wondered how a film might capture the entire experience. The smells of death filling the air or the inmate’s pitiful whines as they came to free them.
“I know with what might have happened to you and your family, watching this might be too much. If you like, you can skip it.”
“No, Major, since I saw what it was like with my own eyes, I might help guarantee that this piece of evidence does the proper job.”
“Well, I will leave you to it then.” He strode off, leaving the bag on the desk without mentioning it.
Alone now, she pulled out the list, making sure she had, in fact, put a checkmark on the proper place. She also underlined it to help her memory while it was fresh in her mind. She wondered as she did this. Why would the Commissar be interested in this Werner Von Braun?