Thursday 12th June 1941 - Berlin
The corridors of the University clinked loudly with the sharp footfall of Heinrich Amsel. His purposeful stride took him quickly towards the elevator where he pushed the button to go up to the library. Amsel was a tall imposing man whose broad shoulders and full figure seemed to fill the elevator leaving little space for anyone else to join him, if indeed there had been anyone else in the University at this late hour. The door to the library would usually have been locked but Amsel found it conveniently open and made his way quickly to the correct aisle, correct shelf and correct book. There between pages 33 and 34 he found what he had come for. A photograph. A photograph of a family; two parents and three children. A well-presented family, a family of wealthy means and a family who had once had good status amongst their community. The only reason for this family’s fall from grace was that they were Jews. On turning over the photograph Amsel saw that a grid reference, date and time were written on the back. He quickly pocketed the photograph and returned the way he had arrived. Once again his strong stride showing no signs of nerves or hesitation. Amsel had, he believed, arrived at his meeting point, picked up his instructions and left without anyone being any the wiser. And Amsel was always very certain of his beliefs.
It was only when Philipp Bauer was certain Heinrich Amsel was well out of sight that the S.S. Hauptsturmfuhrer stepped out from the small library office. Hidden in the shadows Bauer had been able to see Amsel collect his instructions and leave all under three minutes. Even for an experienced officer like Bauer the three minutes had seemed indeterminately long. Not helped by the sickening gurgling noises coming from the librarian whom Bauer had knifed barely thirty seconds before Amsel arrived. Bauer looked down at the small man. He was sitting up, his back against the desk, clutching his neck, blood oozing between his fingers and his eyes pleading in vain. Bauer’s parting comment to the dying man as he quietly closed the office door was to inform him that he should have kept better time. If the librarian had stuck to his schedule he would have left for home 12 minutes before Bauer had arrived and therefore saved his own life. Bauer left the University the same way Amsel had. His shoes making no sound as he walked.
Saturday 14th June 1941
At 6:45pm Philipp Bauer was making his way across Berlin to a party he had been invited to earlier. Berlin was cool in the evening and the walk gave Bauer time enough to absorb the energy Berlin pulsated with. The strength, pride and elegance of Berlin oozed out of every building and citizen that Bauer passed by and as he reached the smart apartment block where he was to spend his evening, Bauer’s heart began to race with the vitality that Berlin fed him. He was let into the apartment by a maid who quickly returned to his side with a tray. The apartment glistened with a shine Bauer rarely saw anymore. Mirrors reflected the colourful paintings that adorned the walls and the furniture was plush and draped with smart looking people Bauer didn’t recognise.
“Hirsch!” a voice called out from behind Bauer, “Hirsch! So glad you could make it.”
Bauer turned to see his host smiling broadly at him. Nils Traugott; writer, film-maker and hero. And here was Bauer standing in Traugott’s apartment. Bauer could feel the adrenaline pumping the blood round his body. His ears rang and his eyes fixed on the man in front of him. It took him a full three seconds to realise he was being spoken to. A sharp stab of fury brought him to his senses and Bauer hoped that the look of confusion hadn’t given him away. A child’s mistake he thought.
“Herr Traugott!” he said, “It is a delight to be here. I feel honoured to have been invited.”
“Nonsense Hirsch, no it’s Philipp tonight, you don’t mind do you?” Traugott didn’t wait for an answer. “I want to introduce you to some of my colleagues, I know you will be impressed and I know they will be jealous when I introduce them to the man who has re-awakened my fire for photography!”
Bauer surprised himself by blushing and quietly followed the man around as he took him from person to person. A blur of faces turned into a cascade of names and soon Bauer was shamelessly smiling and chatting along with the party, allowing himself to be swept along with the wave of excitement that came with each new introduction. Bauer met women with cutting laughter and men with wild ideas. He drank from weightless champagne bowls and ate sugary desserts that melted quickly away in his mouth. He felt the deep tread of the carpet under his feet and sank into velvet cushions on vast sofas. The noise, tastes and sensations warmed him from within.
Traugott was the perfect host keeping each guest happy and nourished. His face always smiling and Bauer found he couldn’t help but stare at the man. A loud squeal of delight broke Bauer’s haze and for a moment he couldn’t see what everyone else could. People were looking past Traugott with smiles and making soft noises. Bauer began to rise from his seat to peer around Traugott when Traugott turned, bent down and twirled around a small golden haired boy dressed in neat striped pyjamas. The women were all talking about how beautiful Traugott’s son was, how he looked just liked him and won’t he make a fine film-maker for the Fuhrer one day. The men in the room smiled at the scene patiently and motioned to the maid to re-fill their glasses. It was only Bauer that noticed as the small boy dropped something to the floor. Philipp bent to pick it up and with a smile reached up towards Traugott with it. It was only as Traugott quickly took it back forcing into his pocket that Philipp realised what he had just held. The photograph of the Jewish family. The photograph Amsel had picked up to pass on to his contact. The photograph the librarian had hidden amongst the books. And it was the photograph that the SS Hauptsturmfuhrer Bauer had placed on the dead body of an informant as bait. Bait to catch a traitor.
Bauer fought against the urge to throw down his drink and confront Traugott. As a loyal servant of the Fuhrer it was his duty to expose traitors but he bit down on the desire and tried to think. His face flushed hot and he forced himself to sit on the sofa and gulp down the fizzy liquid in his hand. Even after the drink his mouth remained dry and it took all his strength to keep a smile fixed in place. The collar on his shirt became tight and the clipped voices of the room began to irritate.
“Are you alright Hirsch?” a voice said. “Hirsch?”
Bauer strained his head up to see Traugott staring down at him. A cold empty look in Traugott’s eyes. “Can I get you a glass of water?”
“No!” said Bauer, “I mean No thank you Herr Traugott. I think I may have had a little more champagne than I am used to. Perhaps some air would do me good.”
“I see,” said Traugott, “Or maybe a lie down? I can get the maid to show you to the guestroom.”
“No, no, no thank you,” repeated Bauer, “I should go. I don’t want to spoil such a wonderful party. You have been most kind.” He got up to leave unable to look directly at Traugott.
Traugott’s hand was held out in front of him.
“Then I thank you for coming and wish you a safe journey home. I trust I will see you at the office on Monday?”
“Of course, of course,” answered Bauer hastily. He slowly reached out his hand and as the film-maker’s hand grasped his, he looked up. The candle glow reflected gently in Traugott’s eyes. A soft, appealing look reached out towards Bauer and he quickly withdrew his hand. Within three minutes he was back on the Berlin streets gulping the cool summer air of the city.