Pytor was led into the courtroom. His blond hair had turned premature gray. His jacket was threadbare and hung loosely around his now bony frame. The guard shoved him toward a wooden chair that was below the judge’s vacant seat. Two Nazi flags hung on poles on either side of the court’s bench.
“Yuden hundt, (Jew dog) sit. I don’t know why there’s a trial. We all know the result,” the guard laughed.
Pytor sat where he was told. The officer took a step back. He didn’t blame him. He hadn’t been allowed to shower in days. His clothes still reeked of smoke and dried blood. Two months had gone by since he was found at the building and arrested.
Was it a day, a week? He didn’t know how long he had stayed under the staircase. The men who pried open the metal door must have been startled.
“Da ist ein mann . Ist er am Leben.” There’s a man. Is he alive?” He heard someone say.
He didn’t move. Another asked, “Wer bist du? Wie heiben Sie?”
He felt being jabbed, and opened his eyes. Someone poked him in the ribs with a rifle.
The uniformed man asked again, “What are you doing? What is your name?”
Pytor tried to speak. The words stuck in his mouth. He felt himself being lifted.
“Vasser, water” he used his remaining strength to say. That was all he remembered. The next time he opened his eyes was in a hospital. His stay there wasn’t long. Three days at most. He was treated with typical German efficiency. The doctors and nurses checked on him. He was given food and drink. On the last day two policemen came. They gave him his old clothes and took him away blindfolded.
“Guten Nachmittag, good afternoon,” said the man who sat across from Pytor.
Pytor hesitated then nodded. His eyes were no longer covered. He glanced at the metal door that had closed behind him. He sat in front of a small wooden table in a large room. Another chair was on the other side. The walls were blank other than a large portrait of the Fuhrer. Pytor held the front of his coat closely together with his free hand. The chill of the room seeped through.
The man who gave him the smoke wore a black uniform with an SS insignia.
Pytor inhaled deeply and then coughed. It was the first cigarette he had in weeks. The uniformed man waited until he stopped.
“My name is Captain Heigel. You have been brought to Plötzensee prison. I am giving you this courtesy because you are not German, but a Polish citizen.”
Pytor listened but stared at the ash being formed.
“We know who you are. Your identification card was in your wallet, Dr. Rakowski.”
He raised his head and stared at the interrogator. An icy feeling swept through him. He had a sudden urge to tap his pockets. Why hadn’t he remembered Katalyna’s letter sooner? What happened to it? In the chaos of the fire and the hospital he had forgotten. He would be considered a spy if the bastards found it.
He cleared his throat. “Yes, I am a Polish citizen. I was in Berlin for a conference.”
He struggled to find his voice. “Yes with Dr. Reinhart Gertz.”
The Captain tapped his Mont Blanc fountain pen on a pad of paper. “Gertz is an authority on Juden relations. Is that not so?”
“Yes, he has written extensively on the subject.”
“Did you actually meet with him?
He stared at the cigarette smoke swirling above before answering. “I think you already know. I stupidly wanted to see Berlin before the meeting.”
The SS captain smiled and scribbled something on his pad. “We’ll come back to why you wanted to see Dr. Gertz.” He looked up from the paper. His blue eyes had a twinkle. “Berlin is famous for its cabarets. Why did you pick the Kabarett Musikspaß? There are so many others.”
Pytor shivered. There was no good answer. He raised his eyebrows and sighed. “I don’t know. It was near the end of the street and…”
“Oh Dr. Rakowski, a man of your station going into a place like that. Tsk tsk.”
“You knew what it was?”
He let go of his coat. “No. The signage said music. I’m a professor I mean I’ve studied music. I thought I’d be listening to…”
The captain laughed. “Oh that’s a good one, Dr. Rakowski. You went there to listen to the music. Who were you with?”
Pytor shifted his weight and re-crossed his legs. The question unnerved him. Should he name Ana? He stared at his interrogator. What do they want to hear?
“Captain Heigel, you have put me in prison for what I don’t know. I am a guest in your country…”
The Captain leapt out of his chair and slapped him hard across his face. “Don’t be insolent, Dr. Raskowski. You took our hospitality and shit on it. Now, who were you with?”
He rubbed his face and looked wildly around the room. The Captain stood next to him ready to land another blow. “Okay. A young woman,” he finally said. “I met her at a café.” He put his head down and spoke softly. “She was the one who told me about that…place.”
“Captain, I am ashamed. I’m a married man.”
“Of course, understandable uh huh.” The Captain took his seat. He put his elbows on the table and leaned forward. “You are lying, and we both know it. Doctor it will go badly for you. I tried to be civil one gentlemen to another but…” He looked up at the ceiling. “You came to Berlin to destroy the cabaret. People were killed because of you.”
“What? Captain Heigel, “I did no such thing. I almost died in that building.”
“I will not tolerate your lies,” the Captain shouted and knocked the chair over as he got up. He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a crop. He flicked his wrist and the whip made a whoosh then crack when it struck the table. He stood over the prisoner. “Let’s try again, Dr. Raskowski. I want names and details. Germany must be protected from scourges like you. Do you know how many people lost their lives?”
Pytor looked up.
“Do you care?”
“Captain, I, too, was a victim. I didn’t…”
The whip went across his face. “False.”
“You bomb thrower. We have witnesses. Where did you get it?”