SEVENTEEN - Günter
I must admire this frail looking woman. She has been dealt blow after blow since I have seen her, and she has taken each and every one on the chin and not crumpled. Yes, she looked to me for support and possibly strength after she heard about her father, but she recovered soon. And now, she is asking me to take her back to Prague so the rest of her family doesn’t have to face the consequences of what she terms as ‘her failure’.
Barring extremely extenuating circumstances, I am not allowing that.
Right now, though, I need to tell her about the two men who will come to see me later in the day. She needs to hide in the bedroom and absolutely not be seen or heard.
I lead her to the couch to sit down and say, “A couple of SS men will come to see me in a few hours. Stay in the bedroom and do not make yourself known.”
She tips her chin up and says, “I need to be in Prague.”
Yes, and I need this war to be over. I am not going to get into this discussion with her! I pin her with a look and state the alternative, “I can always tie and gag you in there.”
Her eyes widen and her mouth drops open. Well, what did she expect? That I’d walk into that discussion? Well, she needs to understand that it is not even open for discussion. I am keeping her safe for as long as I can without endangering the long term objective.
“I will keep quiet,” she says and I am about to smile in triumph when she adds, “If you promise to let me go back to Prague.”
I am not a very patient man, to begin with, and I need to start studying the documents that I have brought back from the Commandant’s office.
"Was zur Hölle!” I snap at her, my impatience and frustration bleeding into my tone. I see her flinch and take a deep breath to get a handle on my building anger, before starting again, “Don’t be an idiot, Klara. You know they will not stop going after your family and friends just because they find you. Their safety is something you should have thought about before you started down this path! And what do you think your mother and sister will want? For you to sacrifice yourself because of some misplaced sense of loyalty? Fighting a war....being a hero...it’s not easy, Klara,” I end with a sigh.
I take a breath. I can see on her face that it is finally sinking in, little by little. I am suddenly so tired. I can see this innocent woman getting corrupted in front of my eyes and I want to bring my own plan into action right now. It will stop this madness forever!
Her soft capitulation brings me back from my thoughts. I am relieved.
I spend the hours after that pouring over the manifests of the transports arriving from Prague. It does not take long for me to see that, although there is no pattern to it, there are some trains that are processed by Seidl himself, and not Ernst Weber whose duty it is, officially, to unload and document the contents. The contents of transports departing from here, almost all of them, have the final destination recorded as Berlin. From what I can see, the contents are entirely made up of every last valuable stripped from the Jews that arrive here, each with two suitcases. In plain-speak they are the trains that carry the loot back to the capital, to be used to finance the war.
I try and not get affected by the fact that the ‘contents’ of the incoming trains are real people, but it is impossible. Based on the number of people disembarking, it is clear to me that they must endure conditions worse than animals in the trains. The picture that is forming before me is revolting. The transports, the living conditions here in the town, coupled with the reports that I have been disregarding as blown out of proportion are coalescing into a horrific reality in front of my eyes.
I had heard of Jews being killed in large numbers, like the instance near Odessa, but I had never put much stock in the rumors. Rumors fly like locusts during times of war, gathering momentum and size as they travel. But now that I have been in Berlin, Warsaw and Prague for some time, I am beginning to see through the thick cloud of Goebbel’s propaganda which is effectively fooling not only the world but us as well.
I am digressing. I get back to studying the manifests, but soon realise that I will not learn any more from them. Obviously, the contents that are recorded have to be doctored. I am now certain that Weber is not involved in the scheme that Fuchs has cooked up. Müller’s involvement or non-involvement is inconsequential now. Once I take Siedl into custody, everything else will fall in line.
Joachim brings our lunch from the canteen and I take the opportunity to close up the documents that I have been poring over. Klara is preoccupied during lunch, which is understandable given the news she received in the morning. I want to make her feel better but I am on the wrong side of the fence to be much help. Besides, I don’t really do gentle!
“I will try and get information about your mother and sister,” I tell her instead.
She looks up at me and says, “Thank you. I really appreciate all you have done for me so far.”
I am surprised at this declaration. Until now, I have been half a shade better than an enemy. I wonder what finally convinced her that I am not her enemy.
“I will be back in two hours,” I tell her and step out. Weber has been ordered to report to me at 17:00 hours. I have clear three hours which I intend to put to good use.
I know this fortress town very well. There are few places here where one can hide stolen materials such as paintings, gold and silverware and jewels. That is what Fuchs has been pilfering from the various palaces and churches around Prague.
Hitler was first alerted of this when my brother Karl noticed some priced paintings missing from Prague Castle when he was there four months ago. Since then, I have come to Prague three other times, visiting various churches and palaces and noting the disappearance of different pieces of art. I have had my people investigating this and the investigations indicate that the treasures are being moved to Terezín.
I direct Joachim to go to the Small Fortress. I know there is a network of tunnels beneath the fortress. On the way there, we collect three SS men who have actually been working for me. The five of us get to the Small Fortress and, as I had expected, no one objects my presence there. No one can. I am the highest ranking officer here.
Once inside, I first take a walk around. Traditionally, this fortress has housed the prison. It is no different now. The prisoners are in terrible shape. But, by now, I am not expecting it to be any different. I then ask to be taken to the mortuary. I know that beside the mortuary is a door that leads into one of the longest tunnels under the fortress. That has to be the first place I search. The person currently in charge of the prison looks surprised at my order to be taken to teh mortuary.
"Generalmajor?” he starts. Then, he stops talking, snaps out a salute and starts towards the mortuary. I could have gone there myself, but this is better. The longer Siedl is unaware of what I am doing, the better. As soon as I find even a part of the treasure, I will have Siedl arrested. I am sure he will happily give away the rest of the names.
I have a quick look at the mortuary, and move on to the next door. The man showing me around suggests, ”Generalmajor, Commandant Seidl has ordered that this door not be opened.”
I send him a look and ask, “Soldier, are you refusing to follow my orders?”
“No...no, Generalmajor,” he stammers, “I do not have the keys to this door. Commandant Seidl keeps them with himself.”
“I see,” I say, thinking about how much I wish to stress the point right now. I want to finish this business quickly. “Joachim, break the lock,” I order.
The soldier wise keeps quiet. Joachim shoots at the lock, breaing it in an instant. I walk in through the door. “Does Seidl come here often?” I ask the soldier who has followed me inside.
“No, Generalmajor. He comes every few days. There is no schedule. But he does not allow anyone to go in, except the Czech, Janeček. He takes him inside, sometimes,” the man continues. He seems to be eager to talk now that we are heading into the tunnel. He continues, “Kurt is here most nights, and he was saying that Commandant Siedl is here in the night, with Janeček.” He lowers his voice, as if he is afraid that someone will overhear him, and continues, ”Generalmajor, Kurt was saying that they move stuff into this tunnel at night. He does not know what they move. But he says it comes on the transports from Prague.”
That is more or less all I need to know. I increase my pace and walk further into the tunnel. There are smaller tunnels that fork out of this Long Tunnel and several of them are dead-end tunnels. I take one of these, and hit pay-dirt at the end of it. Rows of paintings which once belonged in Prague Castle are are lined up along the walls at the end of teh tunnel.
I turn around. I do not need to see any more. I know the Commandant’s house is within the Small fortress. I ask the soldier, “Is the Commandant likely to be home at this time?”
“Yes, Sir, Generalmajor. He is always home for lunch and two hours after that.”
“Good. Let’s go.”
The soldier is smart. As soon as we step out of the tunnel, he starts towards the Commandant’s house. I stop him, “You need to keep a guard on this door. Do not let anyone in.”
The man salutes and takes up position beside the tunnel door. Joachim, my other men and I go on to the Siedl’s house. He is, indeed, home. I tell my men to arrest him and put him in one of the solitary confinement cells in the fort. The man is so surprised, he cannot say a word for the longest time. After that, he lets out a string of profanities and threats. My men ignore it all as they march him to his cell. I call the Commandant’s office from his house, and order Janeček to be arrested and put into solitary too.
Then I make the all important call to Hitler and update him. He sounds shocked. Fuchs was his wonderkid, afterall!
I know my men will interrogate Siedl and get the names of all his co-conspirators and have them arrested. So, I am free to go back to the house assigned to me. I do not need to see Weber anymore. My work here is done. Now I need to sort Klara out.