Chapter 40: THE WORD OF A WOMAN
Captain Scharf, 6, July 1963
I am sending this note to you to plead for your help. I know you know what happened that night. I believe you understand Stefan was defending me from Colonel Anker. Doesn’t the attack against me carry any possible weight? You saw what he did to me when you were present and the condition you found me in. He would have killed me if Stefan hadn’t gotten there when he did.
Please, I am very grateful to you and your kindness when you found me, but please, please, don’t let Stefan be put to death because of me.
“Mama, I know this is hard for you, but you are my only help.
Please, please get this to Captain Scharf.”
“Ella, I will do whatever you ask,” Mama sighed heavily, “but you need to prepare yourself for any outcome.”
I knew she was right, but I couldn’t think about it. Even though I was a victim, the word of a woman was rarely trusted. In this case, it was my word against a dead Colonel.
Mama had always been honest with me, and this was no time to conceal the probabilities. She told me people had been sentenced to death for lesser crime against an officer, and if it was true that Stefan did kill Colonel Anker . . . I turned my head when she said this and pleaded with her not to say it out loud. It may be true, I just couldn’t bring myself to hear it.
After she left, I walked to the window. Summer was in full swing, but you wouldn’t know it from my view. I glanced at the damaged building directly across the street. Mama said it had been bombed in April 1944. She was home when the air raid sirens went off, but could not get to the basement before the strike hit. The impacts shook both the walls and floor nonstop for hours. At the time, she didn’t know what the target was or where the missiles hit. As a young, frightened mother, she hid in a closet with her two small daughters for three days.
The crumbling walls that continued to degrade over time had never been removed or rebuilt, along with three additional structures nearby. It was a constant reminder of a war-torn people, but there was something about the building I felt connected to. Maybe it was because I felt I, myself, had taken a beating like that building and resembled an inability to rebuild or start over. I brushed my hair back and ran my finger across the bruises on my face and wondered if reconstruction was even possible.
There was too much about that night that was still confusing. I didn’t know how Stefan found me. Somehow, Scharf brought him. I know he was the one who pulled the Colonel off me, possibly the one who threw him against the wall and carried out the blow that killed him. The reality of the dreadful event continued to press on my mind, and I suffered significantly each time I relived the moment Stefan was ripped from my grasp. It was a painful recollection.
Mama returned by afternoon the same day I wrote the letter saying she could not get to Captain Scharf himself. The man she left the letter with assured her he would deliver it. I had never felt this helpless in my entire life, and now all we could do was wait.
Three days later, a letter arrived addressed to me, delivered by a Volkspolizei officer. Mama immediately brought it to me in the living room, where walking more freely about had led me to my latest perch, the rocking chair. The only remnants of my facial injuries were the slight discoloration and the scar where my stitches had been. Mama removed them herself. It was my broken ribs that took more time to heal. I rushed to open the letter, the envelope dropping to my feet.
Fräulein Adela Kühn, 9 July 1963
I received your post and appreciate your desire to clarify the situation, however, I was recently removed from the case for multiple reasons I cannot disclose. I assure you I included specific details in my final report including the nature of your injuries and the condition in which I witnessed Colonel Anker in prior to my departure. It was during that particular absence I made a call on the house of Koen Franke who you mentioned as your employer. It was then I confirmed the information you gave regarding the incident two days before.
Herr Franke was unavailable at the time, but Stefan, whom I had been acquainted with, insisted not only on your innocence, but since you were an employee of his, he should accompany me back to where I left you. Through my respect for our professional relationship, I conceded. I had no indication, other than his concern, that he would not handle things appropriately. At least until we arrived and he managed to reach the room before me or the officers who traveled with us. It is because I cannot explain Herr Franke’s actions before I arrived and found the Colonel deceased that has presented the greatest doubt. Yes, I believe you sustained terrible injuries—I hope you are recovering well—but the death of Colonel Anker must be accounted for, and that is what Stefan will face trial for. I am sorry I cannot offer better news.
Sincerely, Captain Scharf
I crumpled up the letter and threw it angrily to the ground.
“I should be the one to die!” My first reaction was filled with wrath, then heartbreak convulsed through my body. I slid to the floor as sobs saturated the room.
Mama G picked it up and read it before kneeling by my side. The same hand that had spent countless hours mending me, soothed in a familiar fashion, but I could not be consoled.
“Stefan is paying for me!” I curled up, my legs pressed against my stomach, shaking relentlessly in repeated cries, “It’s all my fault! It’s all my fault!”
“Please, Ella. Don’t do this.” The quiver in mama’s voice confirmed the situation was as bad as I imagined. I’m going to lose Stefan.
Stefan, who saved me, will pay the ultimate price because of me.