FOR INTRIGUE THAT KEEPS YOU GUESSING
The sudden screeching of Joseph Goebbel’s high-pitched effeminate voice from the radio behind the bar disrupted further conversation: “The murderer has confessed!”
Immediately alert, Erich ordered the bartender to turn up the radio’s volume. A hush fell over the reception. Goebbel’s shrill voice ranted on.
“The murderer has confessed! Herschel Grynszpan, a 17-year-old Polish Jew has admitted to killing Ernst vom Rath, the Third Secretary in our Paris Embassy. Let every Jew in Germany be identified tonight with this unspeakable crime against the German people. NO Jewish business, NO Jewish home, and NO Jewish body will enjoy Reich protection from German citizens revenging their slain brother. We will rid Germany of these UNTERMENSCHEN! The German people are entitled to their time of vengeance!”
His voice shrilled, out of control. “And the time is NOW! Destroy the miserable Jews before they ravage our youth in their prime! Seek out every one and make him pay…PAY…PAY for this public assault on an esteemed Reich representative of the German people! Let no mark of Jewish life continue to exist in Germany!”
His frenetic pitch cut off sharply, and the Funeral March from Beethoven’s Third Symphony broke in. In shock, no one in the Club moved. Lady Grace’s hand turned to ice in Erich’s palm. Several moments of stunned silence passed until, once again, the radio retched with Goebbel’s ravings. “No German is safe from the miserable Jews until they are all gone!”
Lady Grace gasped in disbelief. “He’s ordering a pogrom!” She pulled her hand out of Erich’s.
“Hush! Someone might hear you,” he implored her. In a protective gesture, he turned her in his arms and rested her face against his chest. She looked up at him. The whites of her eyes bulged, partly in shock, partly in anger, as the journalists and the Nazi officers in the Club began rising from their tables. He prayed she wouldn’t do anything impulsive by joining them. He could hear loud speakers blaring outside with Goebbel’s news. Listening to the madness of his caterwaul screeching from every street corner made Erich’s soul shudder.
All at once, a brown rain-coated storm trooper burst through the entrance doors. He waved copies of Der Volkische Beobachter and threw one newspaper down on every table. “Read!” he ordered. “READ!”
Erich stared at the ugly heavy-set black headlines, sick at heart, until he grew aware of Lady Grace’s gaze on the SS rune affixed to his rigid collar. At last, fear and disgust registered in her face.
“No, Lady Grace . . .”
Kurt Lindahl spat on him. “This is one story you pigs can’t squash!”
Erich inwardly cringed at the newsman’s venom.
The other correspondents stormed out the entrance behind Lindahl. As Lee rose to follow, Ludwig Ketmann strode in front of her, blocking her path. Erich held Lady Grace’s elbow to steady her as she stood against him, watching.
Ketmann hissed in English, “I can have you and your press friends deported.”
“Don’t favor us,” Lee shot back.
He sneered. “Today the Jews. Tomorrow the Catholics. And the day after that . . . ALL journalists.”
Smirking, he continued to stand in front of her. Erich watched Lee jut out her chin in defiance and sweep by him. Erich could see her shoulders square as she marched away. Ketmann glared after her. When his attention turned back to Erich, he arched one eyebrow explicitly.
Erich stilled every emotion that might betray him and stiffly nodded.
In response, Ketmann’s lips split into a twisted smile of smug satisfaction. He slapped his leather gloves against his thighs, swung around and cut his way through the stunned onlookers to the foyer, leaving in his wake absolute terror.
“Please,” Lady Grace pleaded, “how do we get out of here?”
Erich led her to the checkroom. One Wehrmacht officer was passing out coats to people who called out their check numbers.
“Where’s Sir Fletcher?” Lady Grace asked in alarm.
Erich looked around. “I don’t see him. Don’t worry. No harm will come to you tonight. Not while you are with me.”
A mixture of emotions filled her eyes.
Erich pushed through to the coat rack, retrieved his SS peaked cap and tapped it on his head, before he found her hooded ermine cape. He wrapped it around her shoulders and rushed her outside. Beyond the horizon, a funnel of fire shot into the night sky. Its eerie glow formed an evil halo.
A hushed voice near them whispered, “They are burning the great synagogue on Fasanenstrasse.” The presence of Erich’s SS uniform quelled further remarks.
Erich felt disgraced and helpless. He led Grace away from the Press Club entrance and the people exiting it to a windowless section of the building further down the sidewalk where he could not be overheard. “Lady Grace, I could not let you speak your mind inside. I’m sorry. Germany has lost all dignity and decency tonight,” he whispered disconsolately.
He lifted his cap and shaved his fingers through his close-cropped hair as he stared at the torched skyline. Black ribbons of smoke drifted closer. Acrid odors from the mixture of kerosene and smoke burned his throat. Tears blistered his eyes. From the distance, a jumble of sounds riddled his ears: jeering shouts, painful shrieks, glass shattering and jackboots thundering. He gritted his teeth and resolutely set his cap with the matte silver Waffen SS Eagle and Totenkopf Death’s Head emblems aligned over his brow correctly.
“It’s murder!” Lady Grace condemned him. “Full scale murder! What kind of people are you?”
In anguish, Erich searched to give her an answer. “We are not all Nazis, Lady Grace. They have the power. They can destroy us at will.”
“But there are more of you than there are of them! How can you let them do this to innocent people? There must be something we can do!”
She looked around in desperation for some sign of help, but the people he saw hanging out their windows or filling the nearby streets gawked in silence. One old man shook his head and pulled his wife back inside their upper floor flat. He closed the window and pulled the curtains. Erich closed his eyes in shame.
Just then, a black cab pulled up to the curb. Lee jumped out and ran up to the English pianist. “I don’t have time to explain, but Sir Fletcher says you have to come with me, Lady Grace.”
“NOW!” insisted Lee.
“If not now, WHEN!” Erich quoted to Lady Grace. Her eyes reflected her surprise, and disillusionment. He took her by the elbow and ushered her toward the waiting taxi.
“Take good care of her, Miss Talbot,” he said, helping them slide into the back seat. As he started to close the door, the English girl’s sad blue eyes pleaded with him.
He paused. “This is my homeland. Right or wrong, I belong here.” He banged the taxi’s back door shut. “Lock your doors.” He then saluted them and rapped the hood of the trunk to signal the driver to move on. As the motorcar pulled away, he could see Lady Grace’s distraught face peering back at him through the rear window.