Holding a ruler to Konrad’s right foot, Jurgen called out measurements.
“What did the Commander say to you yesterday?” Hilda whispered as she jotted the information. “Dr. Murdock was very nervous while you were gone.”
The ruler was switched to the other foot and Jurgen called out statistics.
“Jurgen, what did the Commander say to you? What did you discuss? Is everything okay?”
He picked up Konrad and carried the boy from exam table to crib and lay him down. Konrad pulled himself up and looked at Jurgen, hoping their interaction would not end, but the doctor turned away and picked up another clipboard from the table and jotted a few more notes.
Hilda walked to his side. “Jurgen, why aren’t you answering me?” she demanded. “Tell me, what happened? What did he say?” The room was bright and when he faced her she could see his calm demeanor.
“It is like you say; it’s a mission for Germany and the future of its people and here I will remain, to tend to these children,” he glanced at Konrad but saw the boy standing and looking at him and quickly returned attention to Hilda. “And to raise them to be big and strong so that they can fight and kill for Germany. Or to be killed, for Germany.”
“Or be bred for Germany and have their offspring do the killing, or be killed,” Jurgen pondered. “Maybe the offspring will kill the parent for not being German enough. That actually would make sense,” he laughed. “Think about it, Hilda. There’s more probability of that happening than the ideal.”
“Must it always be so grim?” Hilda asked.
“Grim?” Jurgen replied. “They could be killed by Germany – that may be their grim fate. In fact, that may be our fate,” he chuckled.
Hilda smiled. “Tell me, the Commander is your friend?” Her voice was serious and her excited.
“Friends? I don’t know.” He paused. “But yes,” Jurgen answered and smiled, “we have known each other since we were young boys, if that’s what you mean. He pulled me from a river once, after I’d fallen through the ice.”
“He saved your life?” Hilda’s voice rose. “Why didn’t you say anything? Jurgen! How can you keep that to yourself?”
“Please, I would’ve been fine if he hadn’t pulled me out. He didn’t save my life, he just helped me out of the river after I fell into it,” Jurgen clarified, smiling. “You know, the key to surviving a fall through the ice is to not panic. I would’ve gotten out without him. I would not have panicked.”
“Still, I can’t believe you didn’t tell me and I think that keeping that information from me is wrong,” Hilda complained and paused. “What was he like as a boy?” she asked.
Jurgen moved closer and grabbed her wrist. She was surprised and causally attempted to shake free, but he held tight. “If we’re having this conversation I’m holding your hand,” he said in a strong, even tone.
Her big eyes fluttered and she quit struggling as his fingers locked with hers.
“He’s my commander now,” Jurgen explained. “He can ship me out to a labor camp at any moment – on any whim. He can deploy me to the front – he can do anything to me and so, you see, you can’t be friends with a man like that, no matter your past. I just play along and do my job. Be friendly and follow orders, do as I’m told, and then I will survive this war, hopefully.”
“Yes, and hopefully with my mind will be intact.”
“Do you not love Germany, Jurgen?” she asked.
“Why does everyone ask me that?” Jurgen replied, releasing her hand and stepping back and turning and looking out a window. “How can a man love a country?” he wondered aloud, annoyed. “How can a man love a country that does not allow a woman like you to love me?”
Hilda walked to his side. “Are you assuming that I would love you?”
“Well,” he turned and looked at her, “the Commander gave me an order, the SS wants me to reproduce, that’s one thing that we talked about,” Jurgen reported.
“Oh,” said Hilda, her smile disappearing, “but they have told you that before.”
“Yes, but this time he gave it as an order. ‘Mate with your wife!’” Jurgen boomed. “‘That’s an order!’” He laughed. “They don’t care that I can’t stand the thought of touching her. That doesn’t matter to them. Not at all.”
“Why should it?”
“Why should it? Aren’t my best interests theirs?” he asked. “Why would they, my country, force me to make babies with her, when I could be happy touching you?” The palm of his hand rested on her hip and pressed before eventually pulling. “Me having babies with you….” Jurgen looked back to Konrad. “And he wants me to mate with that wonderful bastard’s mother.”
Pain washed over her face and his hand was removed. She walked to Konrad and rubbed his head. “He’s not a bastard,” Hilda said, her back to Jurgen. His stare was heavy and Hilda willed herself strength and control of emotions. He made her feel good, there was no doubt, and it would be easy to love him. He would be a good provider and was kind, and obviously loved children. But no! Be strong. Picking up Konrad and holding him with one arm, she adjusted his blanket with the other, the feel of Jurgen’s eyes remaining. Control, she reminded herself. Control yourself. For the Party! Do it for the Party. Anything and everything for the Party! “He has a father, and obviously a fine Aryan father at that,” she continued, lowering the boy onto the mattress. “Finish that and get yourself some sleep,” Hilda guided Konrad in a soothing voice, handing him a bottle. “Grow big and strong. Do it for Germany.”
“How does that make you feel?” asked Jurgen.
“You know he really likes you,” she said.
“The baby? Ha, I don’t care. He’s just a baby and I really don’t care what he thinks.”
She didn’t look at him and walked over to the exam table and folded a bed sheet. “Well, the Norwegian woman is said to have Viking blood in her and Konrad is an incredible baby,” Hilda said. “And she, I think physically, is primed to have another and who better for her to have a baby with than you? You’re a fine choice to be the father. I think it is a wise selection by the Party.”
“The father?” he asked, annoyed.
“To father her next baby.”
1938: Though looking the perfect Aryan-German woman when she volunteered to have babies, the SS deemed Hilda unworthy. A descendant of bad blood was their diagnoses; her father was an alcoholic and grandfather went crazy near the end of his life.
“But he was 70 when he lost his mind,” Hilda argued to a man charged with making the determinations. They sat across from each other at a long, thin table near the back of a large, mostly empty room. “And sir, he fought in the great German victory at the Battle of Sedan – the Battle of Sedan!” she continued. “In one of Germany’s finest moments, sir, my grandpa was there. He was there when Emperor Napoleon and his men were captured. Does that not count? Does his service count for nothing?”
“Yes, of course it does,” the man confirmed. “But not for this.”
Hilda sighed and tugged on her coat, needing a moment to gather strength. “My father, sir?” she asked. “He saw the horrors of the Great War up close, first in Belgium and France and then on the Eastern front trying to stop the Russians and then back to the Western front. He had a tough time with all he did; fighting for his country and all of the loss he witnessed. His fallen countrymen; if he didn’t drink he cried for them and if he did drink, he bawled – what’s the difference?” she asked. “Drinking provides him a few hours not to feel his pain and to be able to remember them fondly. He’s better when he drinks, other than at the end. At the end there’s heavy weeping and anger for Germany’s loss, but that goes quickly. And me, sir, well I don’t drink at all,” Hilda promised. “Not at all.”
“But you may start at any minute,” the man justified. “And, of course, your child would have those same weak genes that we are trying to prevent from being passed along. I certainly hope you can understand that.”
Hilda nodded. “And now my father loves the Nazi party. He truly does. Seeing Germany rise from the ashes of a war he didn’t think they should have lost is a dream of his, and many that he fought with,” she explained. “And he’s getting better, really.”
“Good, then he will understand what we are trying to accomplish.”
“But it’s me that you are denying,” Hilda declared, her voice rising. “Not him. I’m the one wanting to have a baby for Germany. I’m the one that wants to have a baby.”
His eyes grew stern. “Now calm down and listen young lady. The attempt to establish a race free of impurities is not easy and I am sorry, but your blood, and what is in it, doesn’t help us in that quest.” The man briefly studied her paper work. “You are a nurse, correct?”
“Yes sir, I am,” she managed hopefully through her crushing disappointment. “My studies are being completed and then I will become a nurse.”
“Okay, that’s good; I will file your information,” he said looking at her. “You know if you think about it and believe what we are doing with these programs, there may be some work for you in this regard in the future. Would you like me to note that?”
Holding a newborn baby had almost been a reality. The cries, smells and sounds; the feeding, burping and cleaning; she was ready to experience them and they were close and when her baby died she comforted herself, it was not the time. She was young and there would be many babies, conceived under better circumstances. Yes, this hurt but it was okay. That belief helped her, but now there was this man saying she wasn’t worthy of bearing children for Germany. Looking at him, Hilda forced a smile and struggled to recall the question. “Yes sir, I would like you to note that.”
“But, if you are with child or if you have one while in this position, you will not have a job,” he warned forcefully. “Is that understood?”
Hilda nodded and thanked him and slowly walked home. Tears built at the outset of her journey, beginning as a trickle and transforming to a river and then a sobbing that culminated in weeping. Thankful that no one was home, she ran into her bedroom and curled up in a ball on her bed and continued to cry unnoticed. She wanted a baby so bad her stomach hurt. Was it wrong to want a baby? Many babies? The negative categorization broke her heart and Hilda did not understand it; she wasn’t a drunk and wouldn’t go crazy! She was strong and healthy and would be a great mother.
After enduring an hour of sorrow, Hilda rolled over and looked out the window. Across the street, attached to a building, was a Nazi flag that gently flapped in the afternoon breeze. Its colors were well-defined beneath the clear blue sky. To think of her needs was against the Party’s best interest, and she knew better. Growing up her family had taught the duties of a German woman: children, kitchen and church, and nursing. Her relatives loved the warring Empire and later supported the struggling Republic. When the Fuehrer came to power her family supported his actions without demonstration. They wanted a strong Germany. It is all they ever wanted. Hilda thought he was brilliant and hung on his every word. She wanted more than a strong country. She wanted a great Germany and could make her country better by being a nurse.
Eugenics interested Hilda from the time it was introduced to German Society. A mentally handicapped neighbor boy raped her; she was 14 and got pregnant, but the baby didn’t survive birth. The ordeal caused depression but a year later she saw a poster for the Law for the Prevention Hereditary Disease of Offspring and the thought made her smile. Yes! the boy wasn’t evil, she realized. He was just dumb. If people like that are prevented from breeding… “Yes,” she declared again.
Thinking about her baby was confusing. Since she was a young girl Hilda planned on having children and the idea of not being able to love one never occurred to her. Wrapped in a blanket she would gently touch its face and marvel as expressions grew but if her baby survived and took after its retarded father, and was a tax on the Fatherland, would she be able to love it? It’d still be swathed in a blanket and her fingers would be able to stroke its red cheeks and she would be able to watch it develop. Yes, she would have loved her flawed baby. No, correcting herself, she couldn’t have; it would’ve been no good for the Germany – it would’ve been a burden. Yes, to love something weakening Germany was wrong, Hilda determined. But, was it possible not to love her baby? Or was it? Oh, the Party! The Fatherland! And her duty! Her baby, and dreams and desires… oh, how the head swam.
Finally, Hilda decided it hurt too much to contemplate a fate she’d never know and committed herself to studying and through her readings an awareness had arisen; walking to or from a market or school Hilda began recognizing the feeble and criminal minded; homosexuals, insane and such living in her community.
“What’s this?” her mother asked, holding her daughter’s papers.
Hilda smiled. “Those are my lists,” she reported proudly.
Her mother looked closer. “Lists of what?” she asked.
Hilda thought it was obvious; drunks were on one piece of paper, insane, homosexuals and strange on others. “People to sterilize,” she answered. “People that the Party doesn’t want to breed.”
Her mother looked at the list again. “The boy at the grocer?”
Hilda furrowed her brow. “Yes! He’s strange.”
“Strange?” her mother replied in disbelief. “What do you mean strange? Do you mean like the boy that hurt you? He’s not like him, you know.”
“Yes mom, of course I know. But he’s strange,” Hilda repeated. “And I don’t think he should reproduce.” She probed her mother’s eyes. “Do you, mom?”
Hilda’s mom slowly looked over the list. “Drunks?” she asked. “How can you judge men that drink? You know that your father wasn’t born a drunk. The war made him one. The horrors of what he saw made him one.”
“Yes mom, I know. But people that are alcoholics are that way because they are genetically prone to be that way,” she explained. “They are prone to take to the drink and that is not a good trait. Many men were in the war that don’t drink.”
When finished with her nursing education she began applying to eugenic programs. One position was at a euthanasia center, but they looked at her and quickly deemed her too young and innocent. “Do you realize what we do here?” asked a man that took her application.
“Yes, I think so,” Hilda replied. “You make sure that the people that burden Germany do not reproduce, correct? You make sure that they don’t pass along their bad genes.” Hilda thought about her father and grandfather and the Party’s category she had been placed and wondered if it would be best to be sterilized when married. The thought made her sigh. No children? It was hard to accept. But the Party! Yes, the Party!
The man smiled. “Yes, very good, I guess you could say that. But do you know how we do that?”
The blues of her eyes darkened as she thought. “Sterilization?”
“Ha – well yes, you could say that also,” the man chuckled. “But here, at this center, we get the worst Germany has to offer and we take them out of German life by taking their lives.” His tone was serious and he watched Hilda for a moment. “We end their lives to ease Germany’s burden,” the man furthered.
Hilda pondered his words. “You kill them?”
The man nodded. “Yes. We gather them together in a special room and we gas them.”
Gas them? Gas them! No, he was right, she wasn’t ready for that job and kept applying and soon got a position at a nursing center near her village. A year later she was transferred to the Castle.
In 1938 the second of the Soviet Union’s five-year plan ended and the third began, but it was cut short. The leader of Germany, who had viewed the large neighbor to the east as easy for the taking since he was a young man, ordered his army to begin bombing Soviet-held Polish cities and the Russians were forced to focus resources on defending their land.
Igor grew up poor and had gone hungry and was desperate before the revolution, but life got better and the Soviet Union grew stronger. There was industry and education, which lead to jobs and security and he was happy and met Maya and they married and had Vladimir, their only child.
Vladimir loved learning and playing with his friends and at home did chores he never thought of as work. His favorite was stacking the wood as his father cut. Logs would be split and kicked to the side and Vladimir would gather and do as taught. “Can I use the axe?” he asked one day as they walked back to the house. “Can I split the wood?”
“Ha,” his father chuckled as he wiped the sweat from his brow. “No, no, you’re too small. This is a big and heavy tool that’s meant to be used by a man. And you’re a small boy. You are not a man.”
His father’s laughter was rare and when it happened Vladimir smiled. “But papa, I’ll be a man soon,” he’d told his dad. “I’m getting stronger,” Vladimir declared.
Transformation had slowed on the Russian countryside but Europe was changing rapidity and one summer evening from his bed Vladimir heard his parents having a serious conversation that carried on late into the night. There was war. There was sadness. And fear. Was his father going away? Vladimir couldn’t be sure and continued to listen. He heard his mother crying, and his father explain that there was no choice.
The next day, while playing outside, Igor approached him. He carried the axe loosely in one hand and took a long look at the boy. “Okay there young man, let’s go see what you can do with this,” and he extended the handle to his son. “Let’s see how strong you really are.” Vladimir was unsure and did not reach for the axe. “Come on now, take it – chop some wood, young man.”
Its heaviness presented a struggle but having watched his father split endless amounts of wood Vladimir knew the routine and began. Grab handle with both hands and rest blade on log, take deep breath and initiate a backswing, bringing axe to side and then shoulder before peaking above head. Back arched, one foot off the ground, and then lowering and bending; the downward swing began. His body shifted and small arms moved tool and wrists finished the job, the blade striking and splitting log in two.
Both halves fell to the side and his father gathered and inspected them. “I think that these will burn,” he proclaimed.
With Russia’s success came strong government and with that strength came absolute power and when Igor was told to join the Russian Army there was no other option and he packed a bag, said goodbye to his family and was off to train in the Soviet military.
Vladimir and his mother missed him but with help from family and neighbors they were able to take care of needs around their home. The government provided food and clothing and new routines began.
Then, home on leave, Igor showed up on the doorstep and was greeted warmly. A meal was prepared and family and friends gathered in celebration. There was drinking and talking and Vladimir loved the festive atmosphere.
The following morning his father rose early and tended to the property. He fixed a hole in their fence and worked on a squeaky door, but a majority of his labor was on wood; winter was fast arriving and he had been away and unable to stockpile for the cold months.
“Are you going away again?” asked Vladimir as he stacked.
“Yes,” his father replied, and swung the axe. The wood split and he moved pieces to the side and grabbed a log and placed it on the chopping block. He looked at his son. “You are going to have to do this,” Igor said and swung the axe, kicked the wood away and grabbed another log. “I’m going to need you to do a lot more around here. Your mother is going to need you to do more around here.” Vladimir covered his eyes and squinted. “And the most important task is to always have enough wood,” his father cautioned the boy. “Never assume that winter is going to end or that the fall is going to stay. Always have more than enough wood ready to burn.”
“Wood is very important; it’s the most important thing that you have to do. You see all this wood?” His voice rose and head motioned to the large pile behind him. “I’m going to cut and split what I can before I leave, but I need you to cut the rest and stack the logs so that they dry and will burn easy,” his father explained. “You don’t want to have wet wood on a cold night; you’ll go cold.”
Vladimir nodded. “Okay.”
“And you know how to stack it, right? I’ve taught you that.”
The boy nodded.
“And well, later tonight then I’ll teach you to light the fire, to make it burn.” He shook his head slowly. “Your mother shouldn’t have to do that; she’s going to have enough to do.”
Vladimir nodded. “Do you think you’ll be back soon?”
His father looked towards their house. “When I come back doesn’t matter to you! The only thing you should worry about is being there for your mother and always having wood for her.”
His heart raced. There was an uneasiness from his father that he had never witnessed. “I will be here, sir,” Vladimir replied. “And I’ll do the wood like you said – I’ll cut it and stack it.”
“I need you to listen and obey her,” his father said, turning and grabbing the boy tightly by the shoulder, fingers pressing against small bone. “When I come home and find that you haven’t listened to her, you will be punished.” He squeezed Vladimir harder. “Is that understood?”
“Yes sir,” Vladimir said, fighting the forming tears.
Three nights later his father sat at the kitchen table pouring vodka into a cup and drinking. He had worked hard getting the house ready for his departure. Pour and drink. Pour. Drink. He was alone and thoughts of marching and firing and being fired at burned his soul. Mud and cold and bullets and bad food, if there was food at all; nothing about war appealed to him. He wasn’t scared to die, but was scared to suffer. No, he didn’t want to suffer. There was a job and food on their table, a loving wife and son being left behind; life was good and Igor didn’t want to go and grew angry and soon stood above the sleeping Vladimir.
“Build a fire,” he commanded. “Get up now and do it! Let’s see it done right before I leave!”
Looking up at a menacing shadow, the boy was confused and rubbed his eyes.
“I said now, boy! Get up now!” his father bellowed before striking his son upside the head.
Vladimir scrambled from bed to a neatly stacked woodpile by the door and grabbed and carried logs to the fireplace. He set them in the firebox and realized something was wrong. Groggy, he attempted to focus. Matches? No, not yet. But what then? What was he forgetting?
“You’re messing this up!” his father snapped. “You need to be able to make a fire or you’ll freeze! You don’t know what you are doing!”
Kindling! He forgot the kindling and scrambled to a wooden box, opened it and collected small branches, twigs and tree bark and raced back.
“How were you going to start a fire without kindling?” his father asked. “How were you going to do that?”
Vladimir knelt next to the fireplace and removed logs, but being sleepy and nervous he struggled and had trouble and lost his grip.
Standing above him, drinking from the cup and watching, “You call this building a fire? You can’t even lift the logs,” his father declared. “You are no man! You are not even close to being a man.”
A bed was made out of the small pieces of wood and bark and Vladimir searched for matches. He looked on the mantle, but they weren’t there. Where were they? Urgency came over him. They were always on the mantle! He darted to the side of the fireplace and looked around its corner. No, not there either. Where? Full-blown panic began as his father’s glare was felt. He was waiting for him; disappointed in him. And then Vladimir heard him laugh.
“Looking for these?” Igor belittled and watched Vladimir turn around. “Can’t light a fire without these, can you?” he said and slung the box, a corner hitting the young boy on his cheek, slightly below the eye. “You can’t even find matches! You’re going to have to be able to do this,” the man demanded. “If you can’t, you and your mother will freeze! If you can’t do this you’ll freeze! And die!”
His face hurt and the pressure was intense; he was six and didn’t want his mother to freeze and felt overwhelmed but carefully picked up the box and struck a match and it came alive. Carefully Vladimir held flame under bark, but it did not catch fire.
“That’s one! One match wasted!”
Holding next match, he took his time and again it lit and flame was carefully held below bark. Vladimir watched the smolder, but it didn’t light.
He kept trying and after the fifth match a small fire was started. Vladimir blew on the flames and added logs onto of the fire and blew again. He felt good remembering the steps and added a piece of wood. The flames built but then the added wood teetered, rolled and flattened the flames and his heart sank. He stared into the fireplace. The room was silent. He could sense the seething, and waited.
“How am I going to be able to leave if you cannot do this?” his father shouted. “How can I go away if you cannot build a simple fire? How can I go and kill Germans if you cannot be here to take care of things? How?” His frustration boiled over and he slapped Vladimir. “How?” The young boy felt the sting but remained calm and tried again but the match box was quickly knocked out of his hands and he was hit again.
“I’ll build a good fire,” Vladimir pled, desperately reaching for a few of the matches spread across the floor. “I can do this, papa. I can build a fire.”
“No, you can’t! And won’t.” The next slap was a solid blow that stopped Vladimir. “You can’t and because of that you and your mother will freeze.” Another landed upside his head and stars were seen. The young boy blinked while attempting to curl up but there was another from the other side and he was knocked flat onto the floor. “I’ll come home and you’ll both be frozen! Frozen dead!” his father shouted and slapped the back of Vladimir’s head. “You’ll both be frozen.”
Maya ran in from the other room but despite her protests Igor continued to hit the boy. Slap. Slap. “No papa. Please, no.” “Igor! Stop!” Slap. Slap.
“You’ll never build a fire. You’re going to both freeze.”
“I’ve got to go! And the last thing I need to be worrying about is your mother!”
Slap. “Papa,” Vladimir cried. “Don’t go! Don’t go papa.” Slap. Slap. Slap.
Hilda had been at her position at the Castle for a month when she first laid eyes on Jurgen. “He is tall and handsome and has the instincts of a mother,” she wrote in a letter back home. “I’ve never seen a man like that with a baby. I instantly wanted to be close to him, I hate to admit, mother, but of course resisted. After all, I am at this clinic for a reason.”
“Dr. Roth,” said Dr. Murdock while reviewing his file. “Based on your performance thus far, your request for Nurse Hilda to be on your team is granted.” The doctor looked at Jurgen. “However, please note the Party’s policy on relations and relationships. As you know they would like you to reproduce, and that nurse is not on the qualified list of women for you to do so with. Is that understood?”
“Sir, she’s the best nurse here,” Jurgen answered briskly. “And that is the only reason I’ve requested her. I would like to work closely with her, but not reproduce with her.”
Dr. Murdock smiled. “Okay,” he said in his careful way. “Okay.”
Dr. Roth and Nurse Hilda worked with the German boys until the clinic’s first Vikings arrived. Three weeks later a seven-month pregnant Helga, radiating her condition, arrived at the Castle. “Look at her,” marveled Jurgen.
“Yes, I can see her.”
Hilda nodded. “I see her.”
“You know, if I’d only seen her face I think I would’ve been able to tell that she was pregnant,” Jurgen claimed. “I really think so – she just wears it so.”
“Yes, well there’s going to be a little extra weight on her face,” Hilda said.
Pretty and strong, yet fragile; or was it the fragileness that supplemented her attractiveness and made his heart flutter like no one ever had? Oh, Hilda, he thought and smiled and picked up another chart.
More Viking women arrived and soon the first Norwegian baby was born. It was a boy and they moved him into a special room and began the special care. “He’s quite large,” observed Hilda as she held him. “Quite a big baby.”
“Yes, I agree,” said Jurgen as he took the child from her arms and lifted him above his head. “It makes you wonder how big her child is going to be.”
“Her child?” Hilda asked, taking the baby back.
“Yes, hers’.” He looked at Hilda before jotting a few notes. “You know, Helga’s child,” Jurgen continued and looked back to her for confirmation. “I wonder how big her baby will be. Don’t you?”
“I guess that I haven’t really thought about it,” replied Hilda.
“You haven’t thought about what that woman’s baby will be like?” He was surprised. “That woman that looks like she was born to have babies? I am eager to see what her baby will be like compared to the others, and I can’t believe that you aren’t.”
She shrugged her shoulders. “I look forward to her giving birth,” Hilda conceded. “But I haven’t thought about the size of her baby compared to the other babies. And, frankly, I don’t see her as being different than the other mothers.”
Their work continued. Every day measuring and monitoring and when a baby was born they started another chart. Then, three weeks before Helga was due, the Commander sent a telegram to Jurgen, insisting he attend a eugenics conference in Berlin.
He walked down the hall and into Dr. Murdock’s office and showed him the cable. “She needs to come with me,” Jurgen stated.
Dr. Roth was not known for making demands and his insistence caught the man by surprise. “Who? The Viking woman? What do you want to do, show her off?”
“No,” Jurgen laughed and shook his head. “No, Nurse Hilda; she needs to come with me.”
“Nurse Hilda?” asked Dr. Murdock. “What? Jurgen why does she need to go the conference?”
“Sir, other than you, she knows more, and cares more, about eugenics than anyone in this place,” Jurgen explained. “And Dr. Murdock, I truly do believe that it would be highly beneficial to the Program. I really do think she needs to come with me.”
The Castle’s staff, grateful not to be working in a camp or fighting on the front, toed the Party line. But Dr. Roth was different and pushed and questioned authority and that frustrated Dr. Murdock, avoiding unneeded attention was a goal. He looked at Jurgen, shook his head and sighed. Was this a game? Or a serious request? he wasn’t sure, but Jurgen’s relationship with the Commander could never be forgotten. “Okay,” Dr. Murdock conceded and leaned forward. “But if the SS come here and ask questions, I trust that you’ll be able to answer them to their liking.” He was humorless. “I don’t want any trouble from them.”
“Yes, of course,” Jurgen told his boss. “There will be no trouble.”
“I don’t want your things coming back to me,” the older doctor warned. “I am very clear on that, correct?” he asked and waited for Jurgen to nod. “Dr. Roth, I don’t have to tell you that the people we work for have little interest other than succeeding, and that quest to succeed makes them a desperate people and that desperation causes them lash out when they feel that control is not theirs. Are you following me? Do you understand?”
“Yes, of course. You are very clear.”
“If they feel that their rules are not being obeyed….” He shook his head. “You will obey the rules, won’t you, Dr. Roth?” Dr. Murdock asked. “I can count on you?”
“There’s no doubt about that, sir.”
Arriving via train they checked into the conference and later, five rows from the back of the auditorium, she listened intently as speakers captured her interest. A light along the edge of the theater illuminated her profile. Adjusting himself, Jurgen would briefly position his head to take in Hilda’s scent before returning and watching her expressions. Slowly he’d lean closer before sitting straight. Again and again he’d get closer, and pull back, and when the lectures were finished and he was alone, drinking in his room, her scent remained alive and he felt madness.
No, he couldn’t go to her room. A promise was made to Dr. Murdock and the threat of working in a camp was powerful and Jurgen fought the urge. Oh, the camps. Were they a propaganda-like threat? Or real? The Party used them to keep everyone in line; citizens, soldiers and doctors; nurses – everyone: Camps are awful places! With horrid conditions! You do not want us to send you to one! Not to work! And certainly not to be detained!
Of course he didn’t want to go to one; the Party was right about that. Yet he did want to love. Yes, love! And he took a drink and thought of how throughout time men risked much for love. There were books, plays and poems written about them. Operas! Would opera exist without risking for love? Jurgen took another drink, and another, and decided she was worth being sent to a camp.
He stopped; there was the issue of his wife. Could he be that man? Leaving her behind and falling in love with another woman? They were married and he wanted to keep his commitment. But, he hated having regrets and unfulfilled needs, and life was short; there was a war and who knew what the future held, he rationalized, and poured another drink. He couldn’t. It wasn’t right. But he did.
The next day, sitting together, both thought of his advance. Jurgen, pleased by his courage, was happy she hadn’t gotten on the first train back to Hancock. There would be one more night, he thought; their last night together in Berlin.
Would he try again? Hilda wondered, regretting not concentrating on the lectures. Jurgen had been the perfect gentlemen, and then knocked. He did leave without incident, and was once again proper and paying attention to the speakers. Maybe he gave it a shot and it was over. Was she interested in him? No! Hilda admonished the thought; she was there to learn and bring knowledge back to the clinic. That was her mission! That was what she was going to do, she told herself. This is for the Commander, the Program and Germany, and Hilda straightened and focused.
When the conference finished he asked Hilda to join him for dinner and her heart skipped. “No, I don’t think that it’s a good idea. I’m just going to eat in my room,” she explained. “I have some pastries from earlier that I stuffed into my purse,” Hilda admitted and smiled. “I should just go to my room.”
“Pastries?” Jurgen asked and laughed. “No, I understand; you’d rather have pastries than sit in a restaurant and eat the finest food available. Warm food, food that’s been cooked – no, I understand.”
Hilda looked at him. “I just don’t know if it’s right,” she said. “And, well, you are married.”
“We work together,” he countered. “You know, it’s okay for colleagues to eat together.”
“Colleagues?” she questioned and laughed. “We are hardly colleagues; you’re a doctor and I’m a nurse. You are my boss. That does not make us colleagues.”
Her smile devastated him. It wasn’t toothy. It wasn’t meek. It was perfect and made her gorgeous. “Tell me, how often do you get to eat in a restaurant?” Jurgen asked. “Do you eat at them often? Did your parents take you to restaurants when you were growing up? I’m sure that in your little town these past years you grew tired of eating in restaurants. Am I correct?”
Hilda laughed. “Dr. Roth,” she pled. “You know.”
“No, Nurse Hilda, I understand. You are tired of the all of the waiters in their suits bringing you food prepared by the most talented men in a kitchen this side of Paris – geniuses that use only the finest ingredients, right? But you do know this is a Nazi dinner? A celebration of the Party! And you, being a Nazi, really should attend.”
“Okay,” she said and laughed.
“It’s your duty.”
“Yes, I guess that you are right and it’d be an honor for me to go to this dinner. But really, just dinner, okay?”
“Just dinner? What do you mean?”
Hilda’s eyes looked about the room as she leaned forward. “Last night,” she said, hushed. “Last night, Dr. Roth?”
Looking confused. “I’m not sure what you are talking about, but of course, just dinner,” he confirmed and smiled. “Just dinner is good enough for me.”
Before they sat down Jurgen arranged for a bottle of champagne to be brought to the table and he kept their glasses full throughout and when the last bites of chocolate cake were gone, ordered another. “Jurgen,” Hilda protested, “we shouldn’t – we are late.” Her tone was bubbly. “It’s going to be a long day tomorrow and I don’t want to miss anything.” She paused. “Then we have to take the late train to Hancock. I can’t believe we have to go back tomorrow, but we do.”
Watching a heavy tear trickle down her cheek he struggled to formulate a plan for crying and raised his glass and drank. “It’s okay,” Jurgen assured. “It’s been nice here but I’ll do my best to make it bearable back there, okay.”
“Thank you,” she said and brushed another tear aside.
Her sweet voice had grown quiet and they sipped their champagne, Jurgen watching Hilda focus on the glass in her hand. Here it goes, he thought. Too much to drink; she’s going to cry. But Hilda raised her champagne into the air.
“Well, here’s to the last night in Berlin,” she toasted.
Yes, Jurgen smiled. “Yes, here’s to Berlin,” he agreed and their glasses clinked. “Thanks for coming to dinner. We’ll finish this bottle quickly and get you back to your room. I’ve enjoyed having your company.”
They talked and laughed and soon the bottle was empty. “I’ve had too much,” Hilda admitted. “And I blame you. I need to go back to my room. Really, Jurgen; I need to go to bed.”
“I’ll walk you?”
She shook her head and laughed. “I’d say ‘no’ but know you will anyway, I’m sure, right?”
Jurgen smiled and offered his arm.
“That’s okay, I can walk,” she said, trying not let on to any balance issues while thinking of ways to keep him out of her room. But, suddenly, they were there, and he was inside.
They embraced as the door shut. He kissed her and she kissed him back. What would the Commander think if he knew, she asked herself when questioning right or wrong. From uniform appearance to quality of work to giving into desire, Hilda was careful to avoid disapproval from a man she’d never met. Before, in the grass by the Castle or alone with Jurgen at day’s end, when the desire to kiss him became strong, she was able to extinguish the passion by thinking of the Commander and his condemnation of her actions. The Party! The Program! The disapproval! And thoughts of wrong were overcome. However, now, in Jurgen’s strong arms, with good wine flowing through her bad blood, she stopped trying to please the Party and allowed herself be loved.