ON THE HIGHWAY 50 MILES FROM NUREMBERG
With dark clouds looming on the horizon, Willi leaned against the little man who called himself 1650089’s shoulder as they shuffled down the road. He paused, leaned on his walking stick. “Please, I need to rest a moment.”
Without releasing Willi’s hand draped over his shoulder, the little man shook his head. “Just a little further. A storm is coming, and there might be shelter ahead.”
“No, if I don’t stop for a moment, my leg will collapse. Then what?”
“You might be taller than me, but I ate better, so I can carry you.”
Willi groaned with the next step. They paused. “Why don’t you leave me?”
1650089 scowled. “You saved my life. I should abandon you?”
A truck approached from behind. 1650089 released Willi’s arm as he stepped into the lumbering truck’s path. The vehicle’s brakes shrieked as it stopped inches from the little man.
The driver, chomping a cigar, scowled from beneath his cap. His eyes trailed 1650089 as the little man scurried up beside the truck.
After rolling down the window, the driver leaned out, aimed a pistol at 1650089.
The little man doffed his cap as he stared up at the driver. “Please, sir, my friend’s injured. We need a ride.”
The driver shot a quick glance at Willi, leaning against his walking stick before turning back to 1650089. “Is it just you two?”
1650089 nodded. “They released us from the prison camp in Ally. We only want to go home.”
“Where you headed?”
The driver gave Willi an appraising glance, then scanned the horizon. Dark clouds now rolled above while thunder rumbled in the distance. He turned back to 1650089. “Okay.” He waved the gun in 1650089’s face. “But remember, I have this, and I am not afraid to use it.”
After Willi climbed into the cab, he slid next to the driver, who greeted him with a scowl. “Of all the people in the world, I end up helping you?”
Willi cocked his head. “I’m sorry. We’ve met before?”
As 1650089 climbed in, the driver shoved the idling truck in gear and drove off. “Guys like you probably don’t remember every summons.”
“I gave you a summons?”
“Ja, claimed I was speeding. Cost me fifty marks. So, they locked you up in Ally?”
The driver peered around Willi at 1650089. “Guess there is some justice in the world. He there too?”
Willi glanced towards 1650089, leaning against the passenger window, snoring. “No, politically unreliable.”
The driver snorted. “That makes him okay in my book.”
Willi extended his hand, “Willi Kneldson.”
“Sorry, takes both hands to keep this beast on the road. If you don’t remember, I’m Werner. Werner Moeller.”
Willi chuckled. “Moeller? I didn’t recognize you with the mustache. As I remember, speeding was among your smallest indiscretions.”
“Stuff wasn’t mine. I just drove.”
“Ah, your lawyer made that point effectively as I recall.”
As rain poured down outside, the two talked while 1650089 remained asleep. Willi nodded at the glow on the horizon. “They have lights?”
“Not in the city. That’s the camp where they’ve locked up the SS. City is up ahead. Gotta place to stay?”
After Willi gave his address, they passed through the ruined city streets.
“The Amis and British bombed everything. Because of the nearby factory and power station, this area got the worst of it.”
As they rounded a corner, Willi leaned forward. His heart sunk as the truck’s headlights illuminated the street. Except for a lone structure at the intersection, nothing remained but rubble mountains lining the road.
The truck slowed. “Your house is here?”
Willi pointed ahead, where a single wall protruded above the rubble pile. When the truck stopped, 1650089 sat up, rubbed his eyes, and looked around.
Werner shoved his hat back on his head. “Nothing here now.”
Willi nudged 1650089. “Please, I must see.”
After Willi stepped down, 1650089 slid back inside as the rain poured down. Werner removed a flashlight from beneath his seat. “Here, be careful, there is a lot of broken glass around.”
With the rain dripping from his forage cap’s visor, Willi trudged through the mud. A lump formed in his throat as he ran the light’s beam over the pile, searching for some sign of his family. He trained the light on the structure’s remaining wall. Nothing, not even the pictures his wife loved, remained. Just this black smeared blank wall. Tears formed in his eyes as he ambled back to the truck.
As he slid next to 1650089, the little man placed his hand on Willi’s sleeve. “Perhaps they are sheltering somewhere else.”
Werner nodded. “There are boards posted by the pumps. People looking for relatives post notices. You can check there tomorrow.”
Willi hung his head. Brushed a tear from his eye.
As Werner’s brow furrowed, he gave the pair an appraising glance. “For now, I have a small apartment over my garage. Not much, but you two are welcome to it Unable to speak, Willi said nothing.
With a weak smile, 1650089 turned to Werner. “Thank you. That is most kind.”
BERLIN, GERMANY, THE RUSSIAN ZONE
As Jovanovich climbed the marble stairs, he vowed to walk to his meeting with Justine later that evening. His legs, stiff from constant traveling, cried out for a good workout. After turning right at the landing, he knocked before passing through a door halfway down the hall.
“Ah, Major, I am glad to see you back.” Colonel Zhukov rose, gestured to the vacant chair before his desk. “I hope you had a pleasant journey as well as a safe one.”
Jovanovich waved the sheet he carried. “Yes, I also have a larger list than before.” After passing the document to Zhukov, he settled into the offered chair. “The general also sent his regards along with some tins of caviar and vodka. He is pleased with our source inside the Ministry of Justice.”
Zhukov glanced up from the sheet. “The Jewess?”
“Yes. Many on this list are prominent Nazis and war criminals. We may locate them through the offices there.”
With a smirk, the Colonel filled two glasses from a bottle on his desk. As he scooped up the sheet again, he passed one glass to Jovanovich. “It is accurate. This list?”
“You are driving to Nuremberg today?” Zhukov asked as he downed his glass in one gulp, then refilled his glass.
“Yes, I will get this list then to our contact, and she can work on it right away. We must move quickly. Our Allies may already slip some of these people away.”
“Why would they do that? Is there something valuable about these Nazis?”
“They told me nothing. But I went drinking one night with Komarovsky. He told me some interesting rumors.”
“Ah, Komarovsky. I like him, but when he gets drunk, his loud mouth will land him in Siberia or worse. What did he tell you?”
“He claims they are German scientists who worked on their jets and rockets. We grabbed a few and some prototypes. They proved better than expected. Now the wheels on the committee are anxious that we develop these things too.”
“And they worry our Friends might do the same. That must get the big Comrade into a frenzy. If we fail, Comrade Beria might invite us back for one of his commendations.”
Jovanovich said nothing. The walls in this place notorious for having ears. Comments like Zhukov’s, even in jest, were often enough to bring down the wrath of the state.
When Jovanovich remained silent, Zhukov chuckled. “Major, you are paranoid!” Zhukov shook his head. “As the Party’s Organs, we can do and say what we want.” Zhukov’s smile vanished as his eyes roamed the room as if searching for something. “As long as we are productive, of course.”
“I am confident our source will lead us to these persons. Perhaps then we can recruit them to our cause.” Jovanovich hoped his declaration of party allegiance registered on any recording made of this discussion.
“So, we contact and recruit them?” Zhukov belched as he lit a cigarette. “What if they are not interested in working for us?”
“I was told that we were to make sure that the Allies, especially the Americans, should not benefit from possessing their knowledge.”
“So, if they do not come willingly, we kidnap them. If we cannot kidnap them, we kill them.”
Again, Jovanovich shrugged.
“I will not keep you. If you want to make Nuremberg before dark, you will need to leave shortly. Keep me informed of your progress and needs.”
Later, while driving darkness descended, Jovanovich studied the passing countryside. The shoulders of the road showed marks from the passing of tanks and other heavy vehicles. Occasionally they passed a demolished house. Still, the remaining area showed few signs of the horrific war that recently marched through this land.
Once they joined an American truck convoy as it left Berlin, they passed through checkpoints in both zones with ease. Also, traveling with this large group insured their safety from hijackers who waylaid solitary vehicles. Like highwaymen of old, they stopped the travelers, looting anything of value from passengers at gunpoint. Often, they also made off with the car if they thought they could sell it.
A glow on the horizon suggested they approached Nuremberg. Since he had not seen such a display since the war, he wondered if they had been able in his absence to get enough electricity going to produce this light.
Eventually, they passed lit up tents and barracks of the Langwasser Camp. Once past it, darkness descended. Bathed in shadow, the city loomed ahead.
After parking in front of Justine’s apartment building, he emerged from the car. When he found no chalk mark on the wall, he left one himself. Relieved, the Palestinian had not preceded him.
At Jovanovich’s apartment building, the driver helped him carry his bags inside, and together they trudged up the long stairs to his room. After dismissing his driver, he made his way down the stairs, determined to walk to Justine’s carrying the bag of food over his shoulder.
The crisp night air carried the aroma of burning coal and wood. How would these people make it through the winter? He asked himself. Many had no homes, let alone fuel to heat them. Around the corner, light streamed from Justine’s window.
Stopped in this desolate moonscape, he gazed at the light, feeling as if he might be coming home. Surprised, he realized he looked forward to seeing Justine. Gaze into those eyes. Watch the candlelight dance in them. He swung the bag he carried over his shoulder around to the front. Glanced at the gifts he’d shopped for in Moscow. He hoped they pleased her. But why? He asked himself. Had she become more than an instrument to do his bidding? That might endanger them both.
While beautiful, something else about this woman attracted him. Jovanovich never loved a woman besides his mother. For his needs, like others, he frequented prostitutes. But love? An emotion he did not understand. Could it resemble how he felt right now? He hoped not. He should have no feelings for this woman. A mere tool in his quest to find these war criminals. He could not afford to have feelings for her that might hold him back from putting pressure on her to perform. A danger both to her and himself.
Commissar Jovanovich had been the man who swung the bullwhips at Stalingrad, driving the people to charge the Nazis in waves. This taught him how to harden his heart for the good of the Motherland. Instead of wanting to please her, he must make her desperate to please him. Could he do that? He hoped so. He shifted the bag to his shoulder before continuing his trudge down the street. At her building’s entrance, he marched up the stairs to her door.
As he climbed, her door opened, lighting the staircase. He nodded as he passed her in the doorway.
“Thank you for lighting the hallway.” After closing the door behind him, he held the bag out at arm’s length. “Please, here are a few things I found in Moscow that you might find useful.”
“You are back early.”
“It seems there is a new urgency in our project.”
Cans rattled inside the bag as he set it on the table.
“What have we here?” She grinned as she pulled can after can from the bag, reading the labels as she did. “I have not had fruit in ages. Thank you so much.”
She came to his side and squeezed his hand. Her nearness and the pressure made him light-headed, his cheeks warmed.
“I worried today.” As she spoke while placing the cans in her cupboard. “I rechecked things on the list and found some strange things.”
“You found the people from the list?” Relieved, he might celebrate instead of pressuring her compliance. “Let’s drink a toast to your success.”
After retrieving a corked bottle from the bag, he took down two jars from the cupboard, which he filled from the bottle.
“I don’t know if I have gotten what you wanted or not. They have done strange things with the files.”
“What do you mean?”
“I found seven. They were all being held at a place called Kranesburg Castle. Do you know where that is?”
With the filled jar paused before his lips, his brow furrowed. “I am not sure, but we can locate it. Is that what you said was strange?”
“No, I had some time to go back and see what else I might see in the files that might be of interest.” She paused, looking back at him. “All but one file were gone.”
“Gone? All but one?”
“Yes, Von Braun’s remains. They misfiled it in the V section. Whoever took the others must not have known this and missed it. I could not ask about it, of course, because no one has asked me to find these files. If I asked, it would be suspicious.”
“You were correct in being discreet. It is as I feared the other Allies are not being honest with us. This is valuable, but I need more to present my case properly.”
Jovanovich grasped the sack on the table. He reached into the bottom to retrieve a small box, which he opened.
“This is a miniature camera.” He passed the tiny metal box to Justine. “Pull on the sides, and you can see the lens.”
After she opened it, a chain dangled down. “And what is this chain for?” she peered through the tiny viewfinder. “Is it to carry it easily?”
“No, that allows you to photograph documents easily.” He held out his hand. “Here, I will show you.”
Once he pulled his new list from his pocket, he smoothed it out on the table, then adjusted the tiny camera’s knobs.
“I will set it up for you now, so all you need to do is set the paper you photograph in front of you, press this button, and it copies the paper. The chain shows the proper focal point for the camera.” He turned knobs on the lens. “There, it is set. What is the light like in the room where they have the files?”
“It is good. Lots of overhead lighting, and then there are document tables throughout the area.”
“It is important. Copy the Von Braun file as soon as you can.”
“Who is this Von Braun? What has he done?”
“I do not know all the details of his crimes. Just that he ran a program using slave labor that killed many of your people and mine.”
“I saw a camp like that in Austria. It was terrible.”
“Here is another list.” Jovanovich handed her the sheet from the table. “The priority is Von Braun’s, but copy these as soon as you can.”
“But why are the Americans, the British, or the French hiding these people? The people I work for do not seem to be the kind of people that would just let criminals like this escape. There must be a reason.”
“I am sure we will discover it once we confront them with the evidence. Who knows? They might not have been guilty at all. Maybe they were really spying for the other Allies, and now they are being rewarded. Regardless, we worked together to defeat the Nazis. Now all these countries must continue working together to make sure that it never happens again.”
“I will try my best. I hope they have not already found the Von Braun file.”
“If they have, then we will just keep trying until we are successful.” He smiled, relieved at her willingness to continue. “Please, let’s enjoy this fine Russian wine I brought, and you can tell me what else happened while I was gone.”