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Authors: Anne Blankman

Prisoner of night and fog

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Copyright Page

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Dedication

To Mike, who knows why

Contents

Title

Dedication

Part One: A Girl of Wax

Chapter 1Chapter 2Chapter 3Chapter 4Chapter 5Chapter 6Chapter 7Chapter 8Chapter 9Chapter 10Chapter 11

Part Two: The Great Magician

Chapter 12Chapter 13Chapter 14Chapter 15Chapter 16Chapter 17Chapter 18Chapter 19Chapter 20

Part Three: In Desperate Defiance

Chapter 21Chapter 22Chapter 23Chapter 24Chapter 25Chapter 26Chapter 27Chapter 28Chapter 29Chapter 30

Part Four: The Infernal Machine

Chapter 31Chapter 32Chapter 33Chapter 34Chapter 35Chapter 36Chapter 37Chapter 38Chapter 39Chapter 40Chapter 41Chapter 42Chapter 43Chapter 44

About the Author

Author’s Note

Select Bibliography forPrisoner of Night and Fog

Acknowledgments

Copyright

About the Publisher

PART ONE

A GIRL OF WAX

Nothing is more enjoyable than educating a young thing—a girl of eighteen or twenty, as pliable as wax.—Adolf Hitler

 

1

GRETCHEN MÜLLER PEERED THROUGH THE CAR’Srain-spotted windshield. Up ahead, a man was crossing the street, so far away he was little more than a child’s cut-out stick figure of spindly legs and arms and head. She could tell from his broad-brimmed hat and long coat that he was a member of the Hasidic sect.

“Look at the Jew,” her brother, Reinhard, said. He and his friend Kurt started snickering. Gretchen ignored them and glanced at her best friend sitting beside her in the back. Lights from passing buildings flashed over Eva’s powdered face and the lipstick tube she was opening.

“You needn’t fuss with your appearance for Uncle Dolf.” Gretchen smiled. “You know how he always says he’s a man of the common people.”

Eva reddened her lips with a quick, practiced sweep of her hand. “Yes, but he’s so fascinating. I want to look my best for him.”

Gretchen understood. Adolf Hitler might be an old family friend to her, but to Eva, he seemed glamorous and mysterious, the most famous man in Munich. Although Uncle Dolf had never held an elected office—for serving as a mere Reichstag deputy would be beneath him, and local politics didn’t interest him—he had set his sights on the Chancellery itself, and was campaigning for the presidency. Lately, politics had kept him so busy that his invitation to share dessert and coffee with him was a rare treat.

The car jerked to the left.

“What are you doing?” Gretchen cried.

The engine growled, a sure sign that Kurt had punched the accelerator. The tires skidded across the rain-drenched cobblestones, and Gretchen gripped the front seat so she wouldn’t slide into Eva.

Yellow beams from the car’s headlamps cut through the darkness, illuminating the Jew for an instant, making his face ghostly as he stood still, staring in shock as the car shot toward him. His mouth opened in a scream, and, dimly, Gretchen heard herself screaming, too, begging Kurt to stop.

The Daimler-Benz careened in the other direction, its back end fishtailing. The abrupt movement shoved Gretchen against Eva so hard she lost her breath. They were going too fast—they were going to fly over the curb and plow into a group of ladies in front of a clothing shop—and then there was a harsh grinding of gears and the brakes slammed so hard, she and Eva were thrown back in their seats. The car stopped.

For an instant, no one moved. The engine ticked as it cooled down, a tiny sound in the silence. Gretchen took a deep breath, trying to slow her frantic heartbeat. Then the boys slithered out and started to run, their jackboots thumping on the ground. A small piece of her wanted to cheer them on—after all, Uncle Dolf had explained to her many times how Jews were subhumans, determined to destroy her and other pure-blooded Germans—but part of her hesitated. The man’s face had been so frightened.

“I wish they wouldn’t bother with him.” Eva pouted. “Now we’ll be late.”

Being late was the least of their problems if Reinhard and Kurt started a street brawl. Through the windshield, Gretchen watched the boys launch themselves at the Jew. He barely had time to cry out before they seized his arms and began dragging him toward the alley.

Gretchen scrambled out of the automobile. She knew her brother too well to doubt what would happen next. Just as she knew how furious Hitler would be if Reinhard started a street fight. Uncle Dolf was always complaining that Party members had been branded as a group of brawlers. Dozens of times he had said that if the National Socialists wished to make any electoral progress, they must appear law-abiding. For Uncle Dolf’s sake, she had to stop her brother.

The wet cobblestones, slick from the recent rainfalls, slipped beneath her feet, but the breeze was dry and it carried the sounds of the boys’ shouts. “Filthy Jew!”

From the back seat, Eva sobbed. “Don’t leave me alone!”

“I need to stop them.”

Gretchen slammed the car door shut. Dusk had fallen early, painting the jumble of brick and stone buildings along the avenue with stripes of blue and black. Electric streetlamps broke apart the descending darkness, throwing small white circles on the Müncheners walking along the sidewalk—burghers in fine suits strolling to restaurants for a fancy meal, day laborers in stained jackets and patched trousers trudging to beer halls, office girls in flounced frocks striding to their rented rooms, all with their heads down, faces turned away, so they didn’t have to watch the two boys pushing the Jew toward the yawning gap between the stone buildings.

Exhaustion slumped their shoulders, and hunger hollowed their cheeks. Rampant unemployment and inflation and starvation had weakened them—that’s what Uncle Dolf would say. Germans had become so wrapped up in their tiny lives, in trying to survive by any means they could, that they didn’t see the danger creeping closer. This was how the Jew triumphed, a sewer rat slipping into a barrel of apples and spoiling them all, without anyone noticing until the first rancid bite.

Gretchen exhaled a shaky breath.The Jew was her eternal enemy. Those words had guided her heart for twelve years, thanks to her honorary “uncle” Dolf. She owed him so much. He had taught her about art and music, all the things that her father hadn’t understood and her mother found dull. In gratitude to him, she had to prevent Reinhard from damaging the Party’s reputation with another street fight.

The Jew’s heels slapped on the cobblestones as Reinhard and Kurt pulled him closer to the alley. Nobody looked toward the struggling boys. Across the Brienner Strasse, a group of men opened the Carleton Tea Room’s door, letting out a stream of soft lamplight. They wore the plain brown uniform of the SA—the Sturmabteilung, or storm troopers—the same division within the National Socialist Party to which Reinhard and his friends belonged.

There would be no help from that quarter. If she called out, they would run across the avenue, their fists raised and ready.

“Please!” the Jew screamed. The long, harsh sound pushed against her ears, so hard that she wanted to clap her hands over them and block the cries out. What could she do? SA men across the street, and inside the café, Uncle Dolf probably sat with his chauffeur, eating strawberry tarts and waiting for her and the others with growing impatience because he wanted to leave for a musical at the Kammerspiele. She couldn’t go to him, not when asking for his assistance would expose Reinhard’s part in a street beating, and Mama wanted the Müller family to remain above reproach.

She had to stop the boys.

Her feet smacked into the pavement as she ran into the alley. It was lined with stone, and so dark she had to blink several times for her eyes to adjust. Rubbish bins leaned against a wall, and they were probably stuffed with kitchen waste, judging from the rank stink assailing her nose. And there, at the far end, her brother and Kurt leaned over the man.

He lay on the ground. Between the boys’ legs, she caught sight of him: a sliver of his face, pale and smooth; an eye, dark and wide; and the corner of a mouth, red and moving as he shouted, “Stop!”

A cry hurled itself from Gretchen’s throat before she could snatch it back. “Don’t hurt him!”

She froze. What had she done? She had meant to tell the boys to stop their foolish behavior, that Uncle Dolf would be angry—not defend a Jew. But the pain in the man’s voice had been more than she could bear.

Reinhard paused. In the shadows, he was a column of darkness, like Kurt, but she recognized the hard line of his shoulders and his massive six-foot-tall frame as it slowly unfolded from its crouching position. Only eighteen, just a year older than her, and he was already a solid wall of muscle. He moved toward her, into the rectangle of light thrown from a window two stories above.

Gretchen’s mouth went dry as sand. When she looked at him, she might have been looking at a male reflection of herself, as they had been when they were young children: white-blond hair, cornflower-blue eyes, fair skin, all of the features their Uncle Dolf praised as Aryan. While her hair had darkened to honey and her eyes had deepened to navy, however, Reinhard’s appearance had stayed the same. He hadn’t changed. He had only gotten bigger.

“Go back to the car,” Reinhard said. “And make Eva shut her mouth.”

Gretchen glanced back. The automobile sat across the avenue, parked cockeyed from its sliding stop. In the back seat, Eva rocked back and forth. Probably crying, but so quietly they couldn’t hear. One small blessing, at least. Reinhard detested tears. A few passersby glanced at the car, then shrugged and went on.

“She’ll be fine,” Gretchen said. She had to speak now, before she lost her nerve. “Reinhard, you shouldn’t do this. You know how angry Uncle Dolf would be if he knew—”

His laughter cut into her words. “Kurt! Gretchen thinks the Führer will be angry if he finds out what we’re doing.”

Kurt laughed, too. “We’re defending ourselves, Gretchen. Didn’t you see this subhuman walking across the street, right in front of us? Why, I did all I could to avoid hitting the fellow!” He leaned down and grabbed a fistful of the Jew’s hair, yanking hard so that the man had to look up. Resignation had stamped itself onto his pale oval face. The slumped set of his mouth told Gretchen that he knew he had no chance of getting away.

“You ought to let him alone,” Gretchen said. Inside, she was shaking, but her voice sounded calm to her ears. “This behavior is exactly the sort that Uncle Dolf says makes the SA look like a bunch of brutes.”

Reinhard glanced at her, his eyes blank and emotionless. Sometime during the fight, he had taken off his suit jacket. Suspenders formed dark slashes against his white shirt. He had rolled up the sleeves, and she could see the muscular ridges of his forearms.

Familiar knots tied in her stomach. Reinhard wouldn’t touch her, she knew; he never did. What he did was far worse. And she was disobeying him, in front of his friend.

She should go back to the car. But his eyes fastened on hers with such intensity that she couldn’t rip her gaze away. He was younger than she had thought, about twenty-five to her seventeen, and his face looked soft, the chin roughened by a few patches of stubble, as though he couldn’t grow a proper beard. He wore the black clothes of the traditional Hasidic Jew: thick trousers, long flapping coat, yarmulke pinned to his brown hair.

His lips moved silently.Please.

How could she refuse him, when he lay on the ground, so broken and quiet? How could she walk back to the automobile, knowing the boys’ fists were quickly cracking him into pieces? How could she pretend he was incapable of true feelings, when she had heard him cry out in pain? But he could be pretending. Uncle Dolf always said the Jew assumed whatever disguise suited his purposes best. Especially a victim, if it permitted him to escape.

And yet, the slowness with which the Jew hung his head, clearly giving up on her help, made her decision for her. “Let him alone. Uncle Dolf is waiting for us, and he’ll be annoyed if we’re late.”

“Waiting for us fellows, you mean,” Reinhard said. “I think you and Eva have shown you’re quite incapable of handling an evening out on the town.”

With one hand, he grabbed the Jew by the coat and jerked him into a sitting position. Then he plowed his other fist into the man’s face.

“Stop!” Gretchen screamed. The ease with which Reinhard hit him sickened her. She had never seen a street beating before, and hadn’t known it could be so brutal.

With one swift motion, Reinhard wrapped an arm around her waist and pulled her against him. Through the layers of their clothes, she felt heat rolling off him, pushing into her skin. His familiar scent of cheap cologne and cigarettes clogged her nostrils. Each breath she inhaled, she breathed in more of him. Her stomach roiled.

“I told you,” he whispered into her ear, “to go back to the car.”

“What’s the matter here?” A stern male voice boomed down the alley.

Reinhard released her. Gretchen staggered sideways before she slapped a hand against the stone wall for balance. Peering into the alley was a man in a dark green uniform. Lamplight glinted off the metal insignia on his helmet. She sagged with relief. A state policeman.

A small crowd had gathered behind the officer. Some of the men stood on tiptoe, trying to look over the policeman’s shoulders.

“Nothing is wrong,” Reinhard said. “A misunderstanding, that’s all.”

“Get along, then,” said the policeman. He shrugged. “And look smart about it.”

Reinhard and Kurt ambled out of the alley. Gretchen watched them head across the street, toward the café. She could guess what would happen next: The boys would strut to Hitler’s table, Reinhard dropping into a chair and smiling away Uncle Dolf’s annoyance at their lateness, then casually saying Gretchen and Eva couldn’t come. Uncle Dolf would sigh with irritation until Reinhard asked him about one of his favorite topics, music or painting or used cars, and Uncle Dolf would start talking, a shower of words, until he had completely forgotten about the two girls who were supposed to complete their table tonight.

It was better that way. The fewer people who knew what had happened in the alley, the better. What had she been thinking, defending a Jew? She must be going mad.

But she hadn’t been able to stop herself. There must be no more death in the streets. Not after what had happened to her father.

A picture rose in her mind: Papa, facedown on the ground, blood reddening the cobblestones. He had died only a few miles from here, his body pierced by policemen’s bullets.

Faintly, she heard someone wheezing for air, and realized it was herself. She stared at the wall, memorizing the pattern of the stones and lines of mortar, until Papa’s image slipped away.

The Jewish man limped toward her. He had cupped his hand around his nose. Through his fingers, she saw blood trickling over his lips, onto his chin.

“Is it broken?” she asked.

“No, I don’t think so.” His voice sounded light and cool, like softly falling snow. “Thank you. A thousand thank-yous, Fräulein.”

She didn’t know what to say. Gratitude from a Jew was a poisoned gift, Uncle Dolf had told her. They smiled in your face and slid a knife between your ribs. And yet this man looked at her with such clear, thankful eyes. “You’d better get home,” she said at last.

On the Brienner Strasse, he limped away in the direction opposite the one her brother and Kurt had taken. By now, the crowd had scattered. All except a lone man, watching her. He stood beyond the streetlamp’s illumination, so he remained in shadow.

“You’re not at all like the others,” he said. The voice was young and quick, with the sharp accent of a Berliner. Not a man, but a boy, perhaps her age or a little older. She wished she could see him. “Are you, Fräulein Müller?”

She started. How did this stranger know her name? And what did he mean, comparing her to Reinhard and Kurt? “Who are you?”

He took a step closer. He wore the plain dark suit and white shirt of an office worker. His eyes seemed so dark, they might have been black. Beneath the slash of his brows, they watched her carefully. Through the shadows, she could barely trace the long sweep of his jawline and the lean shape of his face—a beautiful fine-boned face, but so fierce she instinctively took a step back.

His teeth shone white when he opened his mouth. “You’ve surprised me, Fräulein Müller. Not an easy feat, I promise you.”

“Who the devil—”

Heels clicking on cobblestones interrupted them. Eva hurried toward her, holding her hat on with one hand and clutching her pocketbook in the other. “Gretchen! What in merciful heavens has been going on? Why did you leave me in the car all alone for so long?”

Gretchen hesitated. “Wait a moment.” She turned back to the stranger. But the shadows where he had stood only seconds ago were empty.

 

2

WHAT A WRETCHED EVENING.” EVA TUCKEDGretchen’s arm under hers, propelling them toward the Carleton Tea Room. “For a moment, I truly thought Kurt was going to hit that man. Thank goodness he managed to swerve away in time.”

Swerveaway. Gretchen cast her mind back. The automobile had jerked to the left, then to the right, before lurching to a sudden halt. Kurt had aimed the car toward the Jew, then lost his nerve and yanked the wheel in the opposite direction. That was the true reason the car had fishtailed and stopped. Not because of the wet cobblestones. A sudden chill sank into her bones, even though the August evening was warm.

Gretchen said nothing as Eva chattered on. There was no reason to frighten her friend about something they couldn’t change. “I do think those boys were frightfully rude,” Eva said, “going on without us! And after all the trouble I went to, curling my hair and pressing my best blouse! I know Reinhard’s your brother, but he can be so beastly sometimes.”

Gretchen shuddered. Eva had no idea how right she was.

With an effort, she pulled herself back into the conversation. “Eva, I’m sorry, but Reinhard said we can’t go to the café with them. He’s upset with me.”

Eva stopped walking. “Well, I like that! Who the devil does he think he is?”

That was what Gretchen had wondered so many times about Reinhard. What did he see, when he looked in the glass? Or did he not look at all?

“And I was so anticipating spending time with Herr Hitler.” Eva sighed.

Gretchen understood: Uncle Dolf was a rising star in a political party that had limped along on the fringes for years and was finally starting to surge in popularity. Sharing his table meant curious gazes from other diners, and Eva adored attention. After all, missing Hitler himself wasn’t that much of a disappointment—Eva worked as a camera apprentice for Heinrich Hoffmann, Hitler’s favorite photographer, so she often saw Hitler when he dropped by the shop.

“I’m sorry,” Gretchen said.

Eva’s silvery laugh rang out as clearly as a bell. In the thirteen years they had been friends, Gretchen had never known Eva to be angry for long. “Foolish boys. Well, our absence is their loss. Why don’t you come back to my apartment? I’ve a new stack of film magazines, and a Karl May book I want you to borrow. The bits with the cowboys and Indians are simply thrilling! Only . . .”

The pause pulled between them. Eva bit her lip. “Only you must promise not to mention Herr Hitler to my father,” she said in a rush. “I didn’t tell Papa we were supposed to see him tonight.”

Gretchen nodded. She knew too well how deeply Herr Braun disapproved of Uncle Dolf, and how he tolerated her and Eva’s friendship only because they were girls, and therefore they weren’t expected to think about politics. These days, when she went by Eva’s apartment, she tried to avoid Herr Braun, knowing if he saw her, he would start grousing about the Austrian upstart politician and saying a young lady like her had no business gallivanting about with a fellow old enough to be her father. As though Uncle Dolf saw her as anything except an honorary niece of sorts, the adored child of the man who had died for him.

A sick feeling hollowed out her stomach. Acknowledging Herr Braun’s feelings would create a wedge between her and Eva. So she forced herself to smile as they strolled to the streetcar stop, listening to her friend chatter about how wonderful it would be if she could get away from her strict papa and become a famous actress, like Marlene Dietrich, or perhaps a world-renowned photographer, flying off to exotic locations while poor Gretchen toiled at university, studying to become a doctor. Gretchen smiled and said all the right things, and tried not to think about the mysterious stranger, or the Jew in the alley, or her voice screaming at the boys to stop.

But when she glimpsed their reflections in a shop window—both slim and dressed in their best blouses and knee-length pleated skirts, Eva’s heart-shaped face surrounded by a cloud of dark-blond hair, her cheeks powdered and rouged so skillfully you only saw the cracks in the cosmetics if you stood close, and her own oval face, tanned and unpainted, her hair pulled back in a shining braid, like a proper National Socialist girl—she wondered at their forced happy tones. As though they were both hiding secrets. How odd. Eva had nothing to conceal from her. And she, Gretchen, had such strange fears about her brother, she wouldn’t even admit them to herself.

In the morning, Gretchen lay among her twisted sheets, listening before she dared to move, thinking again about the mysterious stranger from outside the alley. Whowashe? From the street, bottles clinked as the milkman set his wares on the front steps. Horses clip-clopped over the cobblestones, dragging carts full of vegetables and fruits, fish and bread to the Viktualienmarkt. A distant streetcar’s bell clanged, and an automobile’s motor hummed, carrying an early driver on his journey. A typical Sunday morning, outside, at least.

Still she didn’t sit up. With every ounce of her body, she listened to the boardinghouse settling around her. Down the hall, a toilet flushed. No surprise there, since three elderly ladies with small bladders shared her floor. Someone coughed. Frau Bruckner in the next room, no doubt, who sneaked cigarettes and then splashed herself with violet scent to cover up the unladylike odor of tobacco.

Safe, everyday sounds. Gretchen rolled onto her side. Dawn had painted her tiny box of a room pale gray. Everything looked the same: the battered old armoire in the corner, the writing table with its tidy stacks of library books and school texts, the whitewashed walls covered with cheap postcards of foreign places that she longed to visit, and the desk chair hooked under the doorknob.

Last night, as she always did, she had barricaded herself in her room. Reinhard might have been able to force open the door, but he couldn’t have stopped the chair from crashing to the floor and waking her. Since the chair was still upright and she had slept through the night, Reinhard may have already set a booby trap for her elsewhere in the house, as punishment for questioning him in front of Kurt.

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