Honor and Innocence: Against the Tides of War, a historical romance novel by Glen Hierlmeier, will be released March 2014. This book takes the reader through the devastation left by World War II across the European and Asian continents following its main character Hank Fischer, who was drafted to the American Army in 1945 shortly after his high school graduation.
During his service, Hank befriends a German prisoner-of-war, Max, who tells Hank of his twin sister, Roberta, also in captivity. An unlikely romance buds between her and Hank, leaving Hank conflicted between his allegiance to the American Army and his love for Roberta. Hank decides to break out Max and Roberta, and together they make a desperate flight through war-torn Germany where they witness first-hand the destruction post-war Europe has endured. Leaving Max behind in Switzerland, they make their way to the port city of Trieste, where they board a ship and depart to the seas, dealing with pirates, facing adversity, making new friends,
and desperately seeking a safe refuge in a place where their love can flourish.
Follow Hank and Roberta on their intense and captivating journey from country to country as they seek refuge. Read as they make their way through bombed-out cities filled with dead bodies, giving a rare glimpse into the tragic consequences of war, as they remain together bound by love.
About the Author:
Glen graduated from the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, then earned a Masters of Business Administration at The University of Wisconsin at Madison. He served in the US Air Force on the Manned Orbiting Laboratory space exploration program and on the design phase of the development of the F-15 fighter aircraft. After leaving the Air Force, Glen returned to Wisconsin and became Vice President of the largest bank in his home state, First Wisconsin National Bank. In 1979, he moved on to become President and CEO of several real estate development and management companies. Glen retired in 2009 to devote
full time to his grandchildren and his writing. Glen is the author of Honor and Innocence, We Had to Live: We Had No Choice…, and Thoughts From Yesterday: Moments to Remember.
“Hank, this is what I want you to do.” Captain Stein stepped closer and looked Hank squarely in the eyes with a very serious look, as if to say, this is damn important to me, so listen carefully and do what I tell you to do. He had Hank’s attention anyway with everything he revealed without Hank making any effort to find out for himself. All this information was just ‘falling into his lap’.
“Yes, sir. What can I do?” Hank was anxious to know what Stein had in mind for him to do.
“I want you to meet with the girl, Roberta. Get to know her first; don’t get in too much of a hurry. We don’t want to spook her into keeping her mouth shut. Use your friendship with Max to get her confidence; she’ll want to know everything about him. Use that to find out what you can about how much she knew or Max knew about what Schoellkopf was doing. Find out who he was talking with and meeting with. They should know who was coming to the house. She probably knows what they did with the records from his office. We need everything, every scrap. Get any clue you might be able to schmooze out of her that could help us find the bastards who are still on the loose out there.”
Hank was dumbfounded—speechless—couldn’t contain his angst. He felt the heat rising on his skin and knew he was turning a bright red. He felt like he had unexpectedly been caught in a devious plot—couldn’t run forward or backward—couldn’t do anything to get out of the plight thrust upon him.
“What’s the matter, Hank, you look like you just saw a ghost?”
“Ah, ahhh, nothing, sir. Ah…I…ah, just never imagined I would be doing this kind of thing. You caught me off guard. All I ever wanted was to be a farmer. I never in a million years thought I would be chasing criminals in Germany. I don’t know the first thing about this kind of work.”
“You’ll do fine, Hank. I saw how you befriended Max and that makes you uniquely prepared to meet with his sister; his twin sister no less. You’re just looking for information. Get to know her; gain her trust. You are a good man, Hank, just be yourself. At any rate, none of us chose to be where we are now, but we have to do what we have to do, and this is what our country wants us to do right now. I know how much you love America, and I know you’ll get this job done for all of us. Now, pull yourself together, man, and get to work. Go see her right now.”
Hank silently chaffed at the sound of being called a “good man”, which he certainly wasn’t feeling at the moment. He was trapped in his own plot, thinking, Why in the hell did I ever agree to meet with Oliver and Max. Now look at the fix I’m in. I should have let well enough alone and never seen them again. Gain her trust? What about Max’s trust? Hank felt dirty and didn’t see his way out of his mess, so he did the only thing he could think to do in the moment.
“Ok, if that’s what you think I should do, then that’s what I’ll do.”
“Those are my orders, Corporal.”
The ride out to the Displaced Persons Camp, the DPC, wasn’t nearly as long as Hank would have liked. He needed time to think, but within minutes, the Army Jeep pulled up in front of the impoundment surrounded by a tall wire fence with barbed wire strung along the top. He showed his identification papers and they drove into the compound. Max had a sick feeling in his stomach and his hope that something would happen to keep his meeting with Roberta from happening was fading fast. He had no alternative but to see his job through. He felt like he was losing his integrity—felt ashamed.
The detained SS Officers and those related to them were being held apart from the displaced persons, the officers in one row of former Army barracks and the women and children in separate barracks, divided by another wire fence. His meeting with Roberta had been arranged in a small building nearby that was formerly used as an office for the commander of the former German Army facility.
The guard escorted Hank into the building where Roberta was waiting in a small interrogation room in the rear.
“I’ll lock the door behind you. Knock when you are finished.” The guard instructed as Max entered the room.
Roberta sat on a straight backed wooden chair at a small table in the center of the room. The late morning sun streaked through the barred window at the rear casting its golden glow across the floor and onto the black prison gown she wore, forming the image of the bars from the window. It struck Hank as a very sad scene. He saw Roberta as a victim caught up in an evil situation. Hank was more excited than he even imagined he would be—his breathing elevated and everything around him seemed to disappear except the vision of Roberta seated with her head down, eyes fixed blankly on the table. He was still uncertain how he would begin, and awkwardly pulled his chair out and sat down without speaking, quietly looking at her as she sat still with her head hanging down—sadly, he thought. The sight of her and the sadness evoked a flow of empathy in him. He decided to sit quietly without speaking and wait for her.
Roberta didn’t move. Hank was struck by how small she was, much smaller than Max, but with the same dark brown hair, almost black. Her skin was silky smooth and her hands were so tiny and looked so innocent. Hank realized he hadn’t looked at a woman seriously, really looked at a woman since he left Wisconsin. It had been four months. He was enjoying their silence.
After what seemed to Hank a very long time, Roberta slowly raised her head, revealing the dampness of tears on her cheeks; she had been crying for a very long time. Then she raised her sad silver-blue-green eyes to meet his. He was startled at how beautiful she was and her look seemed to penetrate right through him as if she could see all the way to his heart. He was momentarily mesmerized; the golden glow of the sun seemed to shimmer, and his heart beat faster—he had not expected this. It took a few moments before he realized they had not spoken. He felt awkward.
“Hello, my name is Hank.”
“Do you know who I am?” She quietly intoned just those few words, but they were music in his ears, like the wind blowing gently through the pines atop the bluffs at home. They beckoned him, made him feel warm.
“Then you know why I am here?’
“Yes, I do.”
“Are you going to help me?”
“Well, I don’t know?” Hank was taken aback. He didn’t expect her to ask for his help, but deep inside he knew that’s what he wanted to do. It was his natural instinct to help. He had no idea what she had been told of his visit. “What do you think I can help you with?”
“They broke into my home and took me away. I have not done anything wrong. I am innocent. I had no idea what my father was doing in the SS. I only know that he is a very generous and kind man who is fair and just. Why have you imprisoned me?” Roberta spoke pitifully from her broken heart. It was obvious she was suffering greatly in her circumstances. “Are you here to interrogate me too? Like the others? Do you want to force me to say things that are not true? Should I tell you lies so you will leave me alone? They told me my father is dead, that he killed himself that he didn’t really care about me. How could they be so cruel? Why? Why? Why?” Roberta began sobbing uncontrollably, and Hank felt the full emotional burden of her pain, reacting how he would to any person in need; he reached his arm around her shoulders and comforted her.
“It’s OK. It’s OK. I understand. Go ahead and cry. I don’t mind. There, there.” Hank was drawn to her as if by a spiritual force, not a magical or religious experience, but a feeling he understood her and felt her pain intensely.
It was several minutes before Roberta could compose herself. Hank withdrew his arm somewhat reluctantly. She felt really good to him.
“No, Roberta, I am not here to interrogate you. I’m not going to badger you, threaten you, or abuse you in any way. I am very sorry about your father. I’m sure he was a very good man and he loved you very much. I need to get to know you better so I can understand how I can help you. There is nothing I would like better than for you to be able to get out of here and go home. This war has been miserable for all of us.”
“Home? Home? I have no home. My home in Munich was given to the Nazi’s. The British have taken my home here in Hamburg. My mother is dead, now they tell me my father is dead, and my brother was taken prisoner by you Americans and I don’t know if he is alive or dead! I have nothing, nothing, and no one!”
Hank was startled. It was enough that Roberta began sobbing again, but he was surprised to learn she had not accepted that her father was dead, and she didn’t know about Max either. Hank felt an incredible sadness for her, but he thought better of telling her that Max was alive and he knew where Max was, and that Max was looking for her. These were things he could use at the right time to get Roberta to cooperate and maybe even to forge a friendship. He would need time to decide how to proceed, and just when to tell her these things. He needed to get out of there for the time being and come back prepared the next day. At that moment his head and his heart were at odds with each other. He needed time to get his emotions sorted out, and didn’t know for sure what he wanted for himself. The words his father spoke to him the last night they were together rang in his ears… sometimes your special moments will grab you unexpectedly. No matter how they come, you have to be ready. Hank wondered if this was such a moment. His heart seemed to be immersed in ecstasy, but his head was pulling him back—trying to discern the wisdom of his father’s words. The moment and its illumination necessarily had to pass, but the conviction it etched in his heart would remain forever.
Hank knew Captain Stein would be anxious to hear how his meeting went, so he was prepared with a very positive report, telling the Captain that it went very well; he had established a great rapport and formed the beginning of a friendship that surely would yield good results. It would just take more time. He didn’t want to push too hard. Stein thought that was great, just what he had thought would be the best approach himself. He knew it would take a little time.
Sleep never really came for Hank that night. Every time he dozed off he saw Roberta looking at him with those big beautiful eyes, hair flowing in the breeze and a smile on her lips that melted his heart. He tossed and turned, dozed off again, and was awakened time and again by his vision of Roberta. His visions were interrupted with his confusion about what or when to talk with Roberta about her father and Max—then, of course, there was Max, and Oliver, who were anxious to hear from him about Roberta the next evening. Hank was in a mess.
Toward the early morning, he gave up trying to sleep. He lay in his bunk wrestling his anxiety about how he would approach Roberta to get information that would satisfy Stein. He was in a quandary over forces pulling him in opposing directions. He didn’t believe Roberta was guilty of doing anything to support the Nazi’s and he didn’t think she knew anything about what her father was doing, but he was under pressure to come up with clues. The opposing force was more compelling— he thought he might be in love for the very first time. Whatever he chose to do, he would follow his heart.
The first thing the next morning, he left for the prison camp, arriving early. He asked for Roberta to be summoned and sat nervously at the table for what seemed a very long time. His heart leaped when he heard footsteps on the wooden floor and rose to face the door, not sure if she would be happy to see him again, but hoping she would. She stood just inside the door with her head tilted toward the floor until the guard closed the door behind her and slid the lock in place with a heavy clunk.
When she raised her head Hank captured the image he would remember all his life. Roberta’s eyes sparkled in a way he had never seen eyes sparkle, the smile on her lips stretched wide, she lighted up the room like sunshine, and she vanquished any reservation that remained. She really was happy to see him! And, she was so beautiful. He was in love. He had the sensation of having no weight, all the concerns of his life evaporated, nothing else mattered.
His first impulse was to rush toward her, wrap her in his arms and caress her, but he hesitated, thinking it may not be what he hoped. At that first movement, Roberta leaped forward into his arms. He felt the brush of her hair and the exquisite softness of her cheek on his as her arms stretched up to squeeze his neck and he leaned to fold her into his arms. The warmth of her body pressed firmly against him brought a surge of emotion he didn’t know could be so strong. He longed to kiss her lips, but held her tightly, her head pressed against his neck and shoulder, and felt her body gently throbbing as her warm tears of joy wet his neck and cheek. It had been so long since he felt such intimacy.
“Roberta, you feel the same way I do don’t you?
“Oh, Hank, It has been so long since anyone cared how I feel; so long since I have felt anyone so sensitive, who cared about me. I thought I would never feel this way about anyone! I feel like we have known each other a very long time, well, since forever.”
“I feel the same way!” Hank was giddy, as excited as a young high school boy at his first prom with the most beautiful girl he had ever seen. Then he realized there was something he had to tell her that he must say right away.
“Roberta, I have good news for you?”
Roberta stood back and looked up at Hank with a look Hank understood. She wanted good news, she was desperate for good news. She couldn’t speak, her expression said, tell me…tell me, now!
“Max is alive!”
Hank caught Roberta as her legs buckled under her, falling into his arms as she wept with joy. Once again she was comforted in his arms. Hank felt good. He was able to make her happy.
She quickly composed herself. “Where is he?” Is he here, in Germany? Has he been wounded? Is he well?”
“Whoa, whoa, little one. Yes, he is here in Hamburg and he is perfectly fine. He was captured by our American troops in France and has been in a prison camp in America, but now he is here in Hamburg, safe and sound.”
“Here in Hamburg?! When can I see him? Can he come here?”
“Those are good questions, but the answers are not easy. Of course, he cannot come here to see you, or he would be arrested just like you. And, of course, you cannot go to see him. But I have an idea that may have to suffice as the best we can do for now.”
“What is it? Tell me!”
“I will continue to meet with you as we have been meeting. I can carry messages for both of you, but they will have to be verbal only. I don’t want to risk anything written. I know you want to see him and hold him, but we cannot do that now. But, I have an idea. I will arrange for Max to come near here at a distance and you can see each other across the field. Look out that window. You see there is a woods there? I will have Max come to the woods so you can see him and he can see you. I know it isn’t what you would like, but for now it may be the best I can do.”
“Anything, anything. I’m so happy to know he is alive. Thank you, thank you, my darling!”
Her words startled him. My darling, he pondered the thought. He had never heard those words from anyone but his mother. They felt good, really good, and he was delighted to see her happy.
There was little rest for Hank again that night. His heart and his mind were being pulled in different directions. He had made commitments to Max and Oliver, then to Captain Stein, and now to Roberta. He had always been trusted by everyone, a pillar of integrity. Now, he would surely destroy that reputation. As he tossed and turned, and scolded himself for getting himself into such a quandary, his thoughts kept going back to Roberta, warm thoughts full of wonder and excitement. But, as the night progressed, doubts began to creep into his head.
Hank couldn’t deny how he felt; he felt fantastic, incredible. He had met the girl of his dreams—love at first sight. He couldn’t wait to see her again. She was everything he had always imagined she would be, everything he hoped for in a woman. Yet, he began to wonder, is this real? Could it be possible for two people to be in love when they’ve only known each other for two days? Was he being foolish? Had the events of the past five months and his absence from the comforts of home made him vulnerable in a dangerous way? A frightful pang of fear shot through his gut as he thought: Is she just using me? Does she see me as her way out of confinement? Am I being fooled by her? Maybe she doesn’t care about me at all; she only needs me to get what she really wants. Why should I trust her? I don’t really know her. Oh, what a fool I must be to fall for the first beautiful woman who shows an interest in me, who caresses me. Am I that vulnerable? Am I that foolish?
Thoughts of Roberta dazzled and confused him; nothing in his young life had ever left him so unsure of himself. No amount of concentration overcame the cascade of emotions flooding his chest. He tossed and turned long into the night, soaked his pillow through with his sweat, though he wasn’t warm, and felt his pulse exploding his temples; alternating between visions of pure, romantic love and sheer foolishness. The pull on his heart skidded back and forth like a tug of war. That is…until he recalled his mother’s words, spoken on his eighteenth birthday, just after a high school sweetheart informed him that another man had won her heart.
Hank, you are such a precious son. I adore you. I am sad when you are sad, but you must know this pain you feel will pass. Sometimes love is fleeting, it may disappear as quickly as it appears. You have your whole life ahead of you. I know you will meet the woman who will love you completely, and for your lifetime. I have no doubt. Love between a man and a woman cannot be easily defined; love comes in many forms and is never the same for everyone. Almost always love charges into your life like a cosmic experience, even magical, it is so difficult to predict or understand. Sometimes that special feeling in your heart really is true love—sometimes not. When love comes suddenly, we can be swept off our feet. It’s a dazzling experience that confuses us. That’s often called love at first sight, but it’s never really love at first sight. If it happens to you, don’t take it for granted, it’s very special and you won’t want to lose it. It’s one of the best feelings you will ever have, and I believe the best beginning for true love.
Don’t be deceived, true love has to be built; it takes a lot of hard work and may take a very long time. When two people stop working on their love, it fades, no matter if it’s the first month, the first year, the tenth or the twenty-fifth. There will always be difficulties and complications, that’s how life is, not just marriage. Use those difficulties to work on making your marriage stronger. Don’t expect not to have challenges, welcome them and be ready to take them on together. Everything really worthwhile in your life will require hard work. Your marriage is the one very most worthwhile jewel you will ever have.
Laying silently in the darkness, eyes wide open, thinking warm thoughts of his mother, a smile came across his face. Of course, he thought, mother is right. I have to work on it. Tomorrow I’ll have to find out if Roberta truly feels the same way about me. Sleep finally came.
He should have been exhausted the next morning, with little sleep and tormented the whole night through with all his mixed emotions, but his adrenalin had taken over. Hank needed to get things resolved, and though he wasn’t sure how to do that, he needed to attack his demons head on. By the time he met with Oliver and Max in the evening he wanted to have his life back on track. Since he was drafted there had not been a dull day in Hank’s life. He never knew quite what to expect, and that day would be no different. It would begin with his report to Captain Stein.
Hank was surprised to see the Captain waiting for him. Stein motioned Hank to his office as soon as Hank appeared in the doorway. Hank’s curiosity was aroused.
“Hank, we have to release everyone except the SS Officers. The staff and family are being released as soon as possible. We’ll have 30 days to hold the officers and unless we can get enough evidence they participated in war crimes we’ll have to release them too! Something about the Geneva Convention says we can’t hold them unless we have sufficient evidence to take them to trial. It’s foolish as far as I’m concerned. What kind of fair trial did the millions of dead Jews get?”
Hank was stunned again. His first emotion was that he was losing Roberta, but his first thought was that might be best. He had to set his feelings aside and listen to Stein without revealing his feelings.
“I’m sorry, sir. I know how important this is to you. It really would be a shame if guilty men went free.”
“Ya, well, there’s nothing we can do about it but work our butts off to get the evidence we need to hold the bastards. That’s our job, and by God, we’re going to make sure every last one of them hangs for what they’ve done. Did you get anything out of the girl?”
“I thought I was really close…I mean…I think she was beginning to trust me. I needed more time; maybe a few more days, but I’m not sure she knew anything.”
“Come on, Corporal, of course she knows things. I’ll bet she knows plenty. We’re losing a good opportunity by letting them all go. It makes our job harder.”
“What will we do now?”
“We’ll get busy interrogating the officers. The British have been at it for weeks. They have files on all of them. The Russians are sending men to help too, and we’re getting some young Army lawyers by next week. Today, you and I are going out there to go through files. We’ll make a list of the ones that look like they were in charge, in some position of leadership, the higher the better, then we’ll start meeting with them. I want to get the top guys.”
Hank didn’t know what to think. His emotions all melted together in a jumble of confusion. All he could do was follow orders for the moment, until he could sort through all the feelings bombarding him.
Within a few minutes he and Stein were on their way to the compound, where they came upon a blur of activity. Those who were being released were jubilant as groups of them gathered in the streets to celebrate. There was pitched cheering, yet, others pushed against the fence separating them from officers, loved ones and former employers who they would be leaving behind. There was sadness and tears, as well as questions about what may lay ahead for each of them, the uncertainty for those who were released to communities that may not still exist, and for those who remained in custody, facing the possibility of imprisonment or death.
As Stein and Hank walked into the officer’s compound, Hank did his best to keep Stein from seeing him looking among those being released through the fence. In spite of his doubts, his heart told him he was in love and he was growing desperate about losing Roberta so soon, thinking she could be gone forever, and wishing he could know for sure if what they had begun was truly love, or whether he was just a fool. They were moving too quickly for him to see clearly. He couldn’t find her. They were up the steps and into the meeting hall, leaving behind any chance he might see her again. He was numb, unaware of anything going on around him.
“Hank, Hank, come on, get moving. Pay attention!” Stein gave him a nudge toward the stairway leading to a room above, where they spent the rest of the morning poring through files, assessing information that had been gathered by the British, looking for clues to help them decide which officers they would interrogate first. Stacks of files were set aside, awaiting the lawyer’s arrival. Hank couldn’t focus his attention; all he could think about was that he may be losing the one person who was right for him, the one he would commit his life to. Convicting German criminals wasn’t important to him at that moment.
By noon Stein was satisfied they had enough files to get started. They were loaded in the back of the truck and about to leave.
“Captain Stein, I’d like to see if I can find Roberta and make an appeal to her to give us the information you believe she has. Once she is gone, it will be lost. I think it’s worth a try.”
“If you think so, Hank. There can’t be any harm in trying. In fact, I like your attitude. Go ahead, get what you can, and jump on another truck heading back later. I’ll see you in the morning. Good luck.”
Hank felt relieved that Stein went along with the idea, but he felt a tinge of guilt for taking advantage of Stein’s trust in him.
Trucks loaded with released detainees were rolling out the gate as Hank walked over to the camp. He ran alongside each truck calling Roberta’s name but got no response. Others were still loading near a barracks building to the rear. He ran into the building asking each person he came to about Roberta until an older woman stopped him.
“Yes. Roberta was here. But she has gone.”
Hank’s world came to a sudden stop. He just stood there as people pushed past him toward the trucks. He lost her. She was gone. Maybe she didn’t love him after all. Maybe she just didn’t need him anymore. He really didn’t know what to think. He only knew this was the worst day of his life.
As he walked back toward the gate past the office where he had met with Roberta, the guard who had brought Roberta to the meetings called out to him.
“Corporal! Corporal Fischer! Come quickly. There is someone who wants to see you.”
Hank wouldn’t allow himself to believe it could be her. He hurried into the building and found the front office area empty, but the door to the room in back was ajar. He slowly opened the door and there sat Roberta. She leaped from her chair and into his arms with a scream of delight.
“Oh, Hank, Hank! I knew you would come for me. I knew it in my heart!”
“They told me you had left. I thought you were gone!”
“I couldn’t go. Where would I go without you now that I have found you? I love you, Hank, I love you! I feel like I have loved you since always, and forever.”
Her arms wrapped tightly around his neck and her lips found his. Her words washed away any doubt. He had never known such elation. He was in love. It was real. He was sure of it.
“I love you, Roberta. I love you, too!”
Hank was ready to spring into action.
“Roberta, I have to get back to headquarters, but here is what we must do. Max will be in the woods at 1715 hours, just as we planned.”
Roberta couldn’t contain her excitement about finally seeing her brother.
“Oh my God! Ohhhh, my God! I’m going to see him! I’m really going to see Max!”
“Listen carefully, Roberta, we have to be really careful about this. All of the Allies have detachments assigned to find the people involved with the SS, so they’ll be looking for Max sooner or later, and maybe even now. He’ll be taking a big risk coming near here, but the plan is already arranged and we can’t stop it now. He will be in the woods at 1715, and you will have to be there to meet him. He will be coming on a motorcycle, and there will be room for you in the sidecar with Max. Just be sure you don’t get any nearer the camp or let anyone in the Occupation Force see you. Get in the sidecar and get away from here as fast as you can; you can stop and embrace Max after you are far away from here.”
“But what about you, Hank? When will I see you again?”
“I don’t know, my love, I don’t know right now. I’ll have to figure that out. I know where you will be with Max, so I’ll get there as soon as I can. I have to take care of things here first. Now go, get your bags together and walk to the woods while everyone is leaving so no one will notice you go, then hide there until you see the motorcycle.”
She reached up to hug Hank, holding him for a long, tender moment, as if she wasn’t sure she would see him again, and not wanting to accept that possibility. She walked away without looking back, leery that she may lose him, but anxious to see Max, and not knowing what else to do but follow Hank’s instructions.
Hank caught the next truck back to headquarters and immediately went to Stein’s office, but didn’t find him there.
“Is Captain Stein about?” He inquired of the orderly.
“He went to the camp.”
“Yes, I know, I went with him this morning, but he came back around noon.”
“Yes, he came back, but about half an hour ago he left for the camp again. I don’t know what happened, but he was in a damn big hurry to get out of here.”
Hank wasn’t sure what to think about that, but he was worried. He couldn’t imagine why Stein would turn around and go back so soon. What was out there he needed to go back for so soon? He was nervous about it, and sat at his desk and fidgeted through some files without really paying attention to what he was reading. He couldn’t get it out of his mind that Stein was at the camp with Roberta. His tension was becoming fierce. About an hour later, Stein walked through the door…with Roberta following behind in the custody of two MP’s; she was crying.
Hank jumped to his feet, then slowly sank back trying not to look more alarmed than he should, not wanting to let Stein see the strength of his surprise and emotion. Roberta glanced up to see Hank, but immediately lowered her face to the floor, not wanting to show her familiarity with him.
“Look who we have here, Hank—the pretty little Roberta has come to spend a little more time with us.”
“But, I thought we had to release all family members.”
“That’s what they said, but what they don’t know won’t hurt them, and I couldn’t let this one get away. Her daddy was just too big in the SS to just let her walk away. It bothered me all the way back, so I just turned around and went back for her; let them complain if they can figure out she wasn’t released. By the time anyone knows she’s here, we’ll have what we want from her. She’ll be our little secret, and in no time we’ll have her singing for us. I’ll interrogate her right now while she’s frightened and upset—she may be vulnerable. Then, I have a cozy little place set aside for her in the SS camp where she’ll be locked up until she decides to cooperate.”
The grin on Stein’s face made Hank sick to his stomach. Didn’t anyone live by the rules anymore? He thought to himself. He felt the urge to kill Stein right on the spot; the strength of his anger surprised him, he didn’t know he could be so angry or think so violently. He only knew he had to get Roberta away from Stein.
And Max! He suddenly thought of Max who would be in the woods that evening looking for Roberta in the camp, across the field, but Roberta wouldn’t be there. The camp holding the families would be empty. What would Max think? He would probable think Hank had deceived him. He couldn’t get word to Max. For the first time in Hank’s life, he had no idea what to do. He just sank into his chair in despair, feeling like he was trapped in a complex web of lies and deceit. Once again he wished he were back in the Baraboo Hills of Wisconsin where life was simple and good. He thought, my mother wouldn’t like the mess I’ve made of things, not one bit! I’ve got to figure out how to get myself out.
Hank walked the three miles out to the camp. He had to meet Max to let him know what happened. If Max found the camp empty he would surely think Hank tricked him. All the while, as he walked, Hank’s thoughts were with Roberta being interrogated by Stein, and he grew angrier and angrier at Stein.
It was already 1730 by the time Hank walked into the woods. At first he didn’t see Max and Robert hidden behind a thick stand of bushes, but they had seen him approaching. Max called out when Hank came near.
“What’s going on here? What kind of hoax is this? It doesn’t look to me like anyone is even in that camp.”
“Calm down, Max, and let me explain. I’m sorry. I had everything set up, but my plan was upset. The American Army lawyers decided they had to let all the families go unless they had sufficient evidence to hold them for crimes. They were all released this morning.”
“Then where is Roberta? Why isn’t she here with us?”
“I’m sorry, Max…”
“What? Has something happened to her? What happened, Hank? What happened?!”
“She’s OK. She’s not hurt. It’s just that…well, Captain Stein is refusing to go along with the release order where Roberta is concerned. She’s being held for interrogation. Stein thinks she has information to help him find SS Officers he’s tracking down.”
“You mean he’s using her to get my father don’t you?”
“Well….no, Max, that’s not what I mean. I, I…”
“You what? What are you trying to say, Hank?”
“Max, your father is dead.”
“Dead? When? How? Are you sure? How do you know?”
“It’s official. He’s on the list of deceased SS suspects at Headquarters. I’m sorry, Max.”
Max bent over at the waist holding his face in his hands, staying still for a few seconds before going to one knee as if the wind had been knocked out of him. He gasped, letting out several loud piercing cries that startled Hank, sounding like the awful squeals of death white-tailed deer made when they had been hit with his deadly bullets.
Momentarily regaining his composure, Max wanted information. “How did it happen? Do you know? How did they kill him?”
“No one killed him, Max. I’m sorry I’m the one who has to tell you this, but you deserve to know. The end of the war was very chaotic. Germany was losing huge numbers of men on both fronts, but most particularly on the Russian front. Hitler was holed up in his bunker outside Berlin, but the Russians were closing in fast. Hitler was not going to be taken alive. He and his mistress, Eva Braun, planned to kill themselves with cyanide pills and they instructed all their staff to do the same rather than be taken alive and tortured by the Russians. It’s unclear whether Hitler and Braun took the pills or if they shot themselves in the head; the details are still pretty murky, but they are both dead along with many of the top SS Officers. Some of the Officers, like Heinrich Himmler, surrendered and are in custody waiting to be tried. They will be convicted and shot, I am sure.”
“But my father was in Athens, Greece.”
“Yes, he was. He was found there, in his office along with all of his senior staff. They all took the cyanide when they heard Hitler was dead.”
Max wept as Hank and Richard moved away to give him time by himself. Within a few minutes, Max had bravely composed himself, but exuded a determination Hank had not seen in him before.
“Roberta. What about Roberta? Where is she?”
“Stein has confined her in a special room among the Officers. I haven’t been there to see exactly where she was taken, but the camp is heavily guarded, not like the camp where the families were detained. If you are thinking of breaking her out, I think you would be foolish to try.”
“What about you, Hank? Shouldn’t you be turning me in too? What are you doing standing here telling me all this? Aren’t you breaking your orders?”
“That’s right, Max, I’m in an incredibly awkward position here. Sometimes the distinction between right and wrong gets really blurred. A few months ago I thought morality and righteousness were crystal clear, but now I see how muddy the water can get. I have compromised myself in more ways in the past few days than I ever thought I would in my entire life. I’m not sure anymore what’s really important and what isn’t, and it’s even more complicated than you might suspect.”
“What is that supposed to mean? It’s more complicated?”
“Well, as you know, I’ve met with Roberta the last couple days. She is quite a woman, Roberta.”
The thought of Roberta stimulated Hank and he couldn’t keep a smile from forming on the corners of his lips though having just told Max about his father, he was trying his best to be stoic.
“I think we’re in love, Max. Roberta and I are in love.”
Max didn’t say a thing, just stared dumbfounded at Hank, but after taking a moment to absorb the scene, Richard let out a laugh, causing Max to flash a stern look in his direction, shutting him up.
Max looked back at Hank.
“In love? You’re in love with Roberta? Just how do you think that can work, and in just two days? Let me see here. Oh yeah, you are an American, she is a German. You’re assigned to track down SS Officers, and she’s the daughter of one of the highest ranking ones. She’s, like in jail, and you are the jailer. She’s about to go free and you are left behind in the American Army. Now tell me, how do you think this is going to work for you?”
“What do you mean, she’s about to go free?”
“Like I said, she’s about to go free. Our father is dead and she is all I have left in this world. On the grave of my father, I swear to you, Roberta will not spend another night in her confinement.”
“You’re crazy, Max. You’ll both be killed. I understand how upset you are; I’d be just as upset if I just heard my father died, and I know it’s horrible that Roberta is being held. You may not want to believe it, but I’m really upset about that too; even though it’s been only two days. I love Roberta whether you want to believe it or not. Now, let’s settle down here and think this through.”
“There’s nothing more to think about. My mind is made up. Now what are you going to do Hank? Are you going to follow your heart or your orders?”
Hank felt like he was wrapped tightly in the middle of a huge spider web, and a deadly spider twice his size was coming for him. He couldn’t move. He felt doomed. Maybe I deserve this. Maybe this is what happens when you forget your values and compromise your integrity. Maybe your guilt grows and grows until you can’t control it and it consumes you. You finally see what you’ve done wrong, but it’s too late to do anything about it; there are too many things to deal with.
“Well, Hank? What’s it going to be? Are you with us or against us? Are you in or out?”
Hank just shook his head slowly, disgusted that his actions had led to such a momentous decision point. Visions of his home in Wisconsin flashed through his mind—his mother, father, sister, the farm, the hills, the lakes, fishing, hunting, and all the many things he loved and missed so much. He was confused and conflicted. His mind told him to do the right thing, but his heart ached. He felt all that he had held most dear in his life passing away, while his heart yearned for Roberta, alone and locked up not more than two hundred yards away. At that moment, his past seemed to slip painfully away, his present boiled, his future lay uncertain. His world was closing in to suffocate him.
Moments passed fitfully as Hank contemplated his decision.
“I’m in…I’m in! God help me, I’m in!”
Hold On, Berta
Once Hank committed himself to helping Max and Roberta he was fully engaged and wasn’t looking back. In all probability he would never be able to go back to his former life, and he knew how much he was sacrificing. Ironically, he again drew strength from his family in Wisconsin—a strong work ethic based on his German ancestry, and a determination to complete every task to the best of his ability. “If you are going to do it, do the best job you can do and don’t give up until the job is done,” his father used to tell him. His mind was clear, he accepted his predicament, and focused on his next challenge. By the time the three of them returned to Richard’s place, Hank had a plan.
Oliver was livid when he heard that Roberta had been kept in custody when the others were released. He never liked Stein and his expletive laced rant was replete with threats that he would personally kill Stein if he was given the chance.
Max heard all he wanted to hear from Oliver.
“Ok, Oliver, that’s enough! Get over it. We need to focus on the situation as it stands right now, and accomplish what we need. We don’t want to further complicate matters with emotional outbursts or by taking actions that only get us deeper into trouble—calm down.”
Before Oliver could make his usual immature retort, Hank stepped up.
“I think I know how to get Roberta.”
Max was surprised. “Well, let’s hear it then.”
“Today, Stein came back to headquarters with Roberta and interrogated her there. It’s a much more secure area and away from the SS Officers who I am sure will complain bitterly about her detainment. I would guess those are the reasons he brought her there, and I’m willing to bet that’s what he will continue to do. It also means he doesn’t have to go to the camp himself; he can stay in his comfortable surroundings. Right now, Stein trusts me. Until the lawyers arrive in a few days, it’s just the two of us and a couple clerks.
“I’ll volunteer to be the one to get Roberta from the camp tomorrow morning. About half way back, the road goes through a heavily wooded area, just to the west of an old farmhouse that burned. You can tell which one I mean. It’s the only one near that area that has burned and the silo is still standing but its roof is gone. Max, you drive the motorcycle out to the woods near that house and hide in the trees. Go out early and find a way to get the bike out the back. The area is full of back roads and paths used for farm wagons and animals. This country is just like back home, there are old roads and trails going everywhere. If you can find a way to get us out of there without going back to the main road we can make our escape tomorrow; if not, we’ll have to come up with another plan.
“When we get to the farmhouse, I’ll have Roberta claim she has to relieve herself in a hurry—an emergency. I’ll order the driver to stop so she can go behind the burned out barn. I’ll stand watch in front of the barn. Be sure you and the motorcycle are as close to the barn as you can get without being seen. If the opportunity comes when the driver is not paying attention, Roberta and I will run to the woods where we will meet you. On the motorcycle we can get back here well before they can catch us. It will take the driver five or ten minutes to get back to headquarters and alert them. He may not even care that we escape, everyone’s pretty upset that Stein held Roberta. They don’t really want any part of it, but they’re afraid to say anything.”
Max was pensive, caught up in thinking through the plot, then his face broke out in a broad smile.
“Good, Hank. I think it can work. If I can’t find a route for our escape, then I won’t be there, and we’ll have to come up with another plan. Good. I know this kind of farm country very well. You are right, there are dirt roads leading everywhere. If necessary I may have to cut across a field or through a woods, but on the bike we can go where the Army trucks and Jeeps can’t go. I’ll have a route planned by the time you get there; when will that be do you think?’
“I am guessing it will be around 0900. Let’s say you get to the woods not later than 0830 to be on the safe side.”
Max was pleased and Oliver nodded his approval. Max held out his hand to shake Hank’s; Oliver could tell Max was impressed.
“I like your idea, Hank, it was quick thinking. You would have made a good officer. Now, I’ll have Richard take you back while Oliver and I start thinking about how we get out of here once we have Roberta. Thanks, Hank. We’ll see you at the woods in the morning.” Max had a big grin on his face.
Hank could hardly wait until morning, he was so excited. He thought he would feel worse about running off from the Army, and he didn’t know if he would ever see home and his family again, but he was determined to see his plan through. He didn’t like the thought that the Army, and maybe even Stein himself, would be after him, but strangely, he didn’t regret his decision. If that was the price he would have to pay to be with Roberta and be in charge of his own life, then he was willing to pay it. He felt no remorse, only excitement for what lay ahead. The bare essentials were packed in a small duffel bag that wouldn’t be conspicuous. He left all of his uniforms, except the one he wore.
By the time the bugler played “Taps” signaling the end of the day and lights-out, he and everyone in the barracks were in their bunks. As soon as he closed his eyes he saw the image of Roberta against a backdrop of the moon and the stars as if the universe held their future together. He never saw the heavens so bright and clear. He chuckled to himself and a half grin lifted one side of his face as he thought to himself, They say we haven’t known each other long enough, but I’m not going to miss the one chance I may have in my life to keep the girl of my dreams—I know the shining star I see. I don’t know what may come in the days ahead, but I know what tomorrow will bring, and I am at peace.
He slept so well that the next sound he heard was Reveille over the loudspeakers at 0600 hours instantly bringing him to attention. It was still several hours before he would leave to escort Roberta to headquarters, and the wait would seem like an eternity. He was showered, dressed, and had breakfast all before 0700. He was so confident he would be able to make his arrangement with Stein he didn’t think much about it; everything seemed to be going according to plan.
To control his nervous energy, he went to headquarters early and shuffled through his files on SS fugitives while keeping one eye on the door for Stein, hoping he would also be in early. No such luck, but Stein was right on time at 0800.
Just as Stein had the previous two days, he motioned Hank to his office as he walked in. This time, Stein had a different look on his face, a curious look as if he had just discovered a big secret, and he was in a hurry. Hank rose quickly, sensing an urgency, and sat across the desk from Stein. Stein put his feet up on the desk and leaned back in his chair. Hank hadn’t seen him do that before. Stein’s “curious look” turned into a “you-won’t-believe-what-I-just-found-out” kind of expression that shook Hank up. He wasn’t prepared for any surprises—not on this day!
“Guess who I just got off the phone with.” Stein seemed to be baiting Hank and it made him even more uncomfortable, as if something big was about to happen and it wouldn’t be good. Hank hesitated before he spoke.
“I couldn’t even guess, sir.”
“I’m Stein, Hank, Stein. Unless there’s another officer present, like I said before, I’m just plain Stein.”
Hank was never comfortable calling him Stein, he thought it was just Stein’s way of getting people to drop their guard—and Hank wasn’t about to drop his guard.
“Gotcha, Stein.” Two could play the casual game, Hank mused to himself.
“I didn’t believe it would happen. It’s a miracle! They found Haynes ALIVE! I didn’t get the full details, but apparently he was able to make it to shore before he lost consciousness and was taken in by a family who were squatting in an old house in the woods near the river. I guess he fell into a coma and had some broken bones, but he was groaning and they thought he was telling them not to let anyone know he was there. The Military Police finally found him when they searched the house. Damndest story I’ve heard in all my life!”
Hank nearly fell out of his chair. He was sure the terrified look on his face would give away the secret he was holding tightly, as if with Haynes alive, Hank would now become the target of the Army’s investigation. His plan would be ruined.
“Ha! You’re just as surprised as I am aren’t you. I didn’t think there was any way on God’s green earth Haynes could survive that fall into the river. I thought sure his body was trapped underwater and he would never be found.”
Hank desperately tried to compose himself, but felt his life slipping away, along with Roberta. Maybe, just maybe, he could still pull off his escape before Haynes showed up and made an allegation against him, or tried to kill him. Haynes reappearing gave him even more reason to run. His worrying over Haynes was justified.
“Where is Haynes now?”
“He’s here, in Germany. They called me from Bremerhaven this morning. He was on the next ship that left from Galveston three weeks after we did. I would have thought he’d be reassigned stateside, but apparently he was so determined to be reassigned to his unit they agreed to let him come—what a guy!”
Yeah some guy. Hank thought to himself. He’s after me!
“He’s been in Bremerhaven for a few days while they figured out how to put us together. Damned Army doesn’t know one hand from the other. He’ll be here this afternoon. I asked that he be assigned to work with us.”
Hank couldn’t believe what he heard. Haynes coming to Hamburg now—to work with them? If Stein agreed that he be assigned to work with them, then Haynes must not have made any accusations against him. Hank sensed an opportunity he had to grab before it was too late.
“You know, Stein, Haynes and I had our problems.”
“Yes, I know, but those were under different circumstances. I know you both pretty well, and I like you both. You’re the kind of men I need, so I think it’s worth a try. Anyway, I already put the paperwork through, that’s why Haynes is on his way here now.”
Hank had to act fast, he could see his chances getting slim. Stein had no idea how dangerous Haynes was, and Hank was near desperation.
“Stein, with Haynes coming in later, I’d better go after Roberta now so we can put pressure on her to talk. The sooner the better, while she’s upset. We don’t want to give her time to calm down and put a story together for us.”
“That’s why I like you, Hank, You’re always thinking. You’ll make a good officer someday. You are right. Go after her and I’ll be ready when you get back. It’s 0815 now, so let’s say you get her back here by 0945. Now go.”
Hank prayed that Stein wouldn’t see the monstrous sigh of relief he muffled as he headed for the door.
He was exhilarated as he walked to the motor pool where a security guard was waiting to drive him to the camp and retrieve Roberta. He felt like he was in the clear.
“Good morning, are you the man who’s driving me out to the camp this morning?”
“That I am, Corporal. Are you alone? I have Captain Stein here on the manifest.”
“Yes. Captain Stein sent me. I’ll be going alone.”
“Hold on a minute, I’ll have to call over there and get that directly from him. You aren’t on the manifest.”
The wind went out of his sails a little. Every little glitch could be fatal, he thought, while he told himself not to worry—it’s just routine. While the call was being made, Hank thought of another strategy that was worth trying.
“Ok, Fischer, we’re good to go. Hop in.”
“Say, I know the way out there. There’s no need to have both of us go. I’m perfectly capable of securing a small woman on my own.”
“Sorry, can’t do. Procedure you know.”
“Well I thought it was worth asking. Let’s go.”
It was just past 0830 when they approached the burned farmhouse about half way to the camp. Hank was getting more anxious with every minute that passed, thinking of seeing Roberta and how surprised she might be to see him. He thought he would have to get a signal to her so she wouldn’t look happy to see him and raise suspicion. He worried that Max wouldn’t be in the woods, but as they approached, Hank was in the passenger seat in the front and caught a glimpse of Max tucked into the woods, out of sight if you weren’t looking right at him. His heart began to race—everything seemed to be working as planned. Hank put his hand out the window and up over the roof where the driver couldn’t see him give Max an assuring wave.
At the camp, Hank stopped the driver as they walked into the security building where Roberta was held.
“Say, I think it would be a good idea if I went into the room by myself for a minute. She’s very upset about being detained and I’ve met with her a couple days and I think I have her trust. She will probably be a lot calmer if I go in to get her.”
“Sounds reasonable to me. Suit yourself. I don’t need any trouble. I’ll be right out here.”
Hank knocked and opened the door slowly so he could see where she was. When he spotted her he put his hand up as if to say, quiet, quiet, be careful. He spoke firmly as those outside might expect him to, while mixing in instructions under his breath.
“Act like you’ve never seen me before. Trust me, do as I say.”
Roberta quickly caught on and played her part well, in a demanding, yet womanly tone.
“Where are you taking me? What are you doing? You have no right to keep me!”
“Just settle down, lady, it will go a lot easier on you if you just cooperate. No one wants to hurt you. Come along, we’re going for a ride.”
Then under his breath, he whispered. “When I say, ‘We certainly bombed the living hell out of this place’ make a big point about having a bathroom emergency, like you’ve got to stop immediately. Go behind the burned out farmhouse. I’ll give you a couple minutes then I’ll let you know what to do after that. Be prepared to run. Just follow me when I say go.”
With Roberta in the front passenger seat, they headed back down the road toward the farmhouse. Just as he planned, Hank said, “We certainly bombed the living hell out of this place.” Immediately Roberta acted like she had a horrible stomach cramp and demanded the driver to stop at the farmhouse that was approaching on the left. Of course he did what any gentlemen would have done. He stopped in front of the farmhouse, situated perhaps 75 yards or so from the road. Roberta jumped out, playing her role to a “T”. Hank was right behind her.
“I’ll keep an eye on her…well, I don’t mean that really, I mean I’ll stand watch so she doesn’t pull anything funny.”
The driver was amused and stretched back against his seat, unsuspecting. Hank was pleased—one more step successfully executed.
Hank could hardly walk a straight line, he was so nervous. His heart banged against his chest and sweat beaded on his forehead. He could see Max tucked into the woods. He moved closer to the edge, straining to get a glimpse of Roberta…and then the driver saw Max too.
“Hey! What’s going on? There’s someone in the woods!” He jumped out of the truck.
“Go! Go! Roberta!” Hank ran behind the house and took her arm. Seeing them take off, Max roared toward them. In seconds they were in the sidecar and sped away toward the back of the farm as the driver ran to the truck. Once he was sure they were secure in the motorcycle, Hank looked back and to his amazement, the driver was turning onto the farm, giving chase.
“Go, Max! Go! He’s coming after us.”
Hank didn’t expect this. He didn’t think anyone would care enough to want to go after them, particularly not a driver. He yelled a few distasteful words in his direction that were quickly swallowed up by the roar of the motorcycle. Within half a mile, the old farm road Max had found narrowed to a livestock path not more than five or six feet wide between two wooden fences strung with barbed wire, just enough room to get the motorcycle through, but not enough for a truck. A couple hundred yards down the path and Max slowed and angled the cycle enough to see the truck stopped where the road narrowed and they all let out a laugh, more out of relief than anything. The driver had done them a favor, really, it would be just that much longer before he got back to headquarters. By that time they would be safe in Richard’s apartment.
Max looked down at Roberta with the sweetest, softest, most endearing look Hank had ever seen, and said, “Hold on, Berta! We’ll stop up ahead when we’re out of sight and I’ll squeeze you like there’s no tomorrow!”