Robert Conroy and J.R. Dunn
The Party Kreisleiter droned on, trying to instill courage into a group of old men and young boys. He was talking about dying for the Reich. Wolfgang Kohl doubted that the man had been within twenty miles of combat.
“To us,” he shouted, “falls the honor of defeating, no, destroying the Red Army and its murderous, thieving, raping hordes. We will save the Reich and earn the undying gratitude of our beloved Führer, Adolf Hitler!”
“Sieg Heil,” someone shouted, and Wolfgang forced himself to echo the words. He wanted no one to suspect that his loyalty to the Reich and the Führer were anything but total. Any hint of defeatism would mean death, by firing squad or being hanged by a wire from a hook, without the formality of a trial. There was no time for such niceties. The Russians were too close. When conditions were right—as they were this very moment—the rumbling of artillery could be clearly heard. It could be assumed to be Red Army guns. The German Army was short of everything, including shells.
He wiped the sweat from his brow. At age fifty-five, he was just too damned old to be running around trying to save the Reich from itself. But the choice had been made for him. He was now a captain in the Volkssturm whether he wanted the dubious honor or not.
The Volkssturm—“People’s Storm,”—was symbolic of the desperation that had taken hold of what was left of Nazi Germany. Boys scarcely in their teens and old men on the far edge of retirement, called on to the fight the Red Army, one of the greatest forces of pure destruction ever fielded. Once an ardent supporter of Hitler and his vision of the world, Wolfgang no longer had any confidence in anything that emanated from Berlin.
He glanced over his shoulder at his good friend and fellow veteran of the Great War, Willi Grossman. Willi rolled his eyes. The Nazi was a pompous pain in the ass. Not only was Germany short of guns and ammunition, it was also short of good speakers.
Wolfgang had been appointed commander of this forlorn group because he had been an NCO in the previous war. He was in charge of this band of a score or so and his job was to lead it to either destruction or slavery. The distant rumble of artillery told him he didn’t have much time to make up his mind.
The official wound it up with a final “Heil Hitler” and plopped down into his seat. The car roared off in a cloud of dust, preceded by a motorcycle soldier who kept looking upwards at the blue sky and the clouds that would have been lovely any other time. Today, they could be hiding Jabos, Jagdbombers—enemy fighter-bombers that prowled the German sky unopposed, shooting up everything that moved.
“That man was a bloody fool,” said Willi. Instead of a rifle, Willi had a Panzerfaust, a single-shot anti-tank weapon. It was effective only at close range, which meant that the shooter either had to be very quick and lucky or suicidal, and Willi was neither. As commander, Wolfgang had been given an old Mauser rifle and a Luger that might have been new in World War I. He thought the ammunition he’d been given came from the Franco-Prussian War.
Wolfgang was about to comment when two planes shrieked overhead at nearly treetop level. Everyone scattered or hit the ground. Seconds later, they heard explosions and the sound of machine-gun fire. Then silence.
Wolfgang picked himself up. A column of black smoke arose from the road where the official had gone. “I’ll go check,” Willi said. “By the way, it looks like some of your troops have gone home to their mothers.”
Wolfgang swore. Eight of his young charges had indeed run away from the terrifying American warplanes. But could he blame them? Not at all. He just hoped they made it home safely and didn’t fall into the clutches of the SS.
While waiting for Willi to return, he led the rest off the road and told them to keep a sharp eye out for Yank planes.
When Willi finally did return, his face was gray. “Not much left besides a few torn-up bodies. The only thing I got was a decent camera and a wristwatch and a few hundred Reichsmarks that will make good toilet paper in a few days.”
“Throw away the camera and the watch, Willi. If the SS catches you with them, they’ll assume you stole them and they’ll hang you for it. If we get to the Americans, they’ll just confiscate it, which is another word for stealing. Keep the money, though.”
Willi lowered his head. “I’m not going to the Amis.”
“No?” Wolfgang had been afraid of this. Willi’s disapproval of Wolfgang’s plans had been clear from the first.
“No. The SS . . . they’re all over the place. The Amis. Who knows what they’ll be like. And . . .” He looked Wolfgang in the eye. “I’ve just got a bad feeling about it.”
“Y’know, it’s just…”
Wolfgang raised his hand. “I understand. So what are you going to do?”
“Go home. I’ll hide out in the woods when the Reds get here until things calm down.” He hoisted the watch and camera. “I’ll keep these for later. I can trade them.”
“Good idea…” Wolfgang raised his head. “What do you hear, Willi?”
Willi looked surprised. “Why… nothing. The bloody Reds have stopped their shelling. But why?”
“I can think of two reasons,” Wolfgang answered. “Either they’re short of ammunition, which I doubt, or they’ve shut down so they can reposition their guns. Move them closer to us, of course, not farther away.”
“You’d better get moving.”
“Yes.” He gripped Wolfgang’s hand. “Good luck to you, comrade.”
“And to you, old man.”
Willi didn’t look back, and for that Wolfgang was grateful. He’d left the Panzerfaust. Wolfgang gestured Anton over and told him to put it in his pack. The boys were examining him curiously. “Let’s go,” Wolfgang said. “We’re off to the Elbe.” And maybe some Americans we can surrender to, he told himself.
# # #
People running away can move much faster than those who are chasing them can gain. First and foremost, those running away didn’t have to worry about ambushes, booby-traps, and mines, while the chasers do. Not even the Reds were suicidal; thus, they were able to put a little more distance between them and the Russians.
Nor were they alone. The roads had been filled for days with streams of refugees, ragged, hungry, and frightened, all headed west, to anyplace beyond the reach of the Russians. The flood had slowed to a trickle the past few days, but some were still visible. They were careful and skittish, slipping out of sight whenever anyone else appeared on the roads–nobody wanted to stumble across a murderous and vindictive SS unit. So Wolfgang’s ragged little horde, dressed in a grubby mix of civilian clothes and oversized Wehrmacht gear, largely had the roads to itself.
They came in sight of a farmhouse. A small pile of goods lay in front of it, next to what appeared to be a child’s wagon. As Wolfgang watched, a woman emerged with yet another armload. Several of the boys waved and shouted. She looked up, startled, then waved back and turned toward the house.
They were passing the farmhouse when she emerged once again, clutching a bowl. “Here boys, a little something to eat.”
The boys gathered around with shouts of glee. Wolfgang glanced at Dieter, their mascot Nazi. Dieter’s father was a local Blockleiter, a convinced National Socialist, and the apple hadn’t fallen far from the tree. Dieter had taken to muttering curses at the refugees as they had patrolled the roads over the past week, and yesterday had shouted at one pitiful group as they passed. He wasn’t taking defeat well at all.
But hunger had evidently overcome any sense of conviction. There he was among all the others, intent on what the woman was handing out.
Potatoes, Wolfgang saw, baked in their skins. His mouth watered at the sight. He hadn’t been eating any better than the boys.
“I’m glad you came by,” she was saying. “I’ve cooked everything. I’m not leaving a thing for… those people.”
She glanced up at Wolfgang, and her mouth twisted. She hesitantly came toward him and offered the bowl. He nodded his thanks and selected a potato. It was still warm, almost too hot to hold, in fact.
She paused for a moment. She was very young, little more than a girl. Of course, they all looked like girls to him these days.
“You know,” she said in a low voice, “these are just boys. You can’t take them into battle.”
He met her eyes. “I know, Fräulein. Believe me.” He considered telling her what he had planned, but Dieter wasn’t the only last-ditch Nazi around.
She dropped her eyes. “I’m sorry. It’s just… my husband’s out fighting somewhere, and I haven’t heard…”
“I know.” His own two sons, Rolf and Franz, were both safe. Rolf was in an American POW camp in a town called “Utica,” and Franz was a Luftwaffe maintenance officer without much to maintain these days.
He gestured toward the wooden wagon. “You’re going to the river? You can come along with us.”
She shook her head. “I still have to figure out what to take.”
“All right. But be quick, now. The Reds are still a ways off, but they’ve got patrols out.”
She looked back at him and for the first time he could see how frightened she was. “I see. Thank you.”
He saluted her with the potato. ‘Thank you, Fräulein. Let’s go, boys…”
They headed on down the road, the boys still wolfing the potatoes. Wolfgang slipped his into his jacket pocket. Back during the last war, the real war, as he thought of it, the officers always ate last. See to the troops first, make sure of their comfort. After they ate and slept, then it would be your turn.
Anton dropped back to walk beside him. Smaller than the others, and young for his age. Anton was a sensitive child, quick to weep, worried about his mother and sisters, who were in Frankfurt with the boy’s aunt. Wolfgang glanced at the Panzerfaust in two pieces in the boy’s pack. He wondered if it was too heavy for him. For the life of him, Wolfgang couldn’t picture the boy firing that weapon.
“What did she say to you?” the boy asked him.
“Oh—she’s worried about her husband. He’s at the front somewhere.” A pretty girl. He thought of his wife, dead these three years.
“Fighting the Russians?”
“No idea. I hope not, for his sake. Say–you didn’t finish that potato so quickly, did you?”
“No. I saved half for later.”
“That’s good thinking. We’ll make a soldier out of you yet. Always think ahead. I remember back in the trenches…”
Ahead of them, the boys suddenly stopped short. Wolfgang caught his breath and moved forward, images of Russian troops leaping into his mind.
He came to a halt. Around the bend, sheltered by a small grove of trees, a Kübelwagen sat half off the road. An enlisted man was on one knee, wrestling with the rear tire. Behind him, an officer stood regarding them. Seeing Wolfgang, he strode toward him, his right hand rising. “Seig heil.”
Wolfgang lifted his arm. Around him the boys echoed the words. He heard a click of heels. Dieter, no doubt.
He drew in a sharp breath as the officer came to halt before him. He’d been injured, and badly. Half his face was horribly burned, the skin taut and scarred. His left eye was little more than a dark dot peering at him through reddened skin. On his cap was a skull and bones, and his collar bore the runes of the SS.
“Good day, Obersturmführer.”
“Could be better.” The officer gestured back at the car. “As you can see.”
Wolfgang turned to the boys. Spotting Gus—his name was August, but he insisted on being called that—he gestured him to the Kübelwagen, where the enlisted man was heaving at the spare. Gus was a farm boy, used to working with machinery.
The Obersturmführer nodded his thanks. “On patrol, are you?”
“That’s right, sir. This is our district.”
“A lot of refugees.”
“I’m afraid so.”
The officer’s face twisted. Wolfgang blinked despite himself. “Running like rats,” he said. “Disloyal. Cowardly. No better than…”
Wolfgang shifted uncomfortably. Glancing at the boys, the officer stepped toward them. “What a pleasure it is to see such a loyal crew. With boys like these, how can we lose?”
A few of the boys simply stared at him. The rest nodded and made agreeable noises.
“Keeping faith with the Führer, the Reich. Ready to do your duty. Ready to fight.”
The officer smiled–at least it looked like a smile. He turned back to Wolfgang. “Tell me, have you heard of the Redoubt?”
“Yes, of course.” The Alpine Redoubt–everyone had heard of it, if only by rumor. A huge network of mountain fortresses, well stocked with weapons, ammunition and supplies, where the Third Reich would make its final stand.
“That’s where we’re going. The Redoubt. To carry on the fight to final victory.” He swung toward the boys. “The Führer foresaw even this. He realized that the way would be hard and would not always go in Germany’s favor. So he has created the Redoubt—the strongest, most powerful fortress in the history of the human race. A million men are marching there to prepare for the last battle. The Führer has promised us new weapons, weapons of a type never before seen, against which the Allies have no defense. With these, we will throw them back… All of them. Those mongrels, those human worms…”
The officer paused for a moment to regain control over himself. Wolfgang kept his features straight. The greatest fortress in history? Secret weapons? Like the V-2, he supposed, which had been steadily destroying London for the past six months. The last he’d heard, London was still there.
Wolfgang thought of the enormous clouds of bombers passing overhead with no opposition at all. He thought of the stories he’d heard of the endless parade of American tanks and armored cars. He thought of the Jabos. They’d be lucky if their Redoubt held out for a week.
“….we will chase them out of Germany and resume the march toward victory.” The officer gazed about him, his damaged face discolored. “Only the best will man the Redoubt. Only the finest among all Germans. Do you think you’re good enough?”
The boys gazed at each other, dumbfounded. Several of them glanced at Wolfgang.
“Which of you will volunteer for the Redoubt?”
It was Dieter who stepped forward, of course. “Obersturmführer,” he said. “I know I speak for all of us when I say that this unit will be proud to serve the Führer in the Alpine Redoubt.”
“Excellent,” the officer said. “I was not mistaken. The minute I laid eyes on you…”
The enlisted man approached. “Sir… we’re ready.”
“Good.” The Obersturmführer turned to Wolfgang. “Remain here, and I’ll send a truck to pick you up. It won’t be more than half an hour or so.” That eye bored into him, as if daring him to disagree. “Understood?”
Wolfgang replied in the affirmative. The officer nodded and turned away. A moment later the Kübelwagen was in motion. It halted beside Wolfgang. “Half an hour.”
As it pulled away he gave the party salute. The boys responded, Dieter loudly shouting, “Heil Hitler!”
The other boys glanced at each other before turning toward Wolfgang. He swung away, unwilling to meet their eyes. This certainly changed things. How could he take them across the river now? But to let them go to this Redoubt, this mad last-ditch fantasy… He’d promised their families he’d take care of them. Anton’s mother had wept and clutched his hand…
Gus was standing behind him. Wolfgang turned to face him. “Yes, Gus.”
The boy licked his lips. Your typical Thuringinan farm lad, square-faced, thatch of blond hair. “The Sturmmann… he told me, when we were changing the tire…”
“We’re not going to the Redoubt.”
“No sir. He said the Obersturmführer is gathering Volkssturm units to go into battle against the Russians. That will let them send SS units to the Redoubt.” He fell silent, eying Wolfgang uncertainly.
Wolfgang nodded. It made sense. A lot more than the other story did. Why send boys when experienced units were available?
“The Obersturmführer… there’s something wrong with him, isn’t there?”
“Yes. There’s something wrong with him.”
Wolfgang gripped the boy’s shoulder and led him back to the others. The boys fell silent as the two of them approached. He thought of the Great War. The final day–the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. How relieved they had been, as the guns fell silent, as they emerged from the trenches to blink up at the sky like creatures newborn. The sting and shame of defeat far outweighed by the knowledge that it was over, that they would live.
They had been scarcely older than these boys here. It was over now, too.
“Tell them what you told me.”
He watched their faces as Gus spoke. Amazement, incredulity, and on one face, open outrage.
Dieter shot to his feet. “What are you saying?”
Wolfgang raised a hand. “Dieter...”
The boy ignored him. “Are you trying to say that an officer of Adolf Hitler’s elite guard lied to you? Is that it?”
“Well, somebody’s lying,” Anton said. “You think it’s Gus?”
Dieter ignored him. “You are slandering an officer of the Third Reich. That’s what you’re doing. You are talking treason.”
Wolfgang took a step toward him. “Dieter—”
“Get away from me, old man.” The boy pointed at him. “You’re the cause of this. Some of the things you said in class… I told my father. He said you’d gone soft. That you were little better than a Red—”
Another boy spoke. “What if they do send us to fight the Russians?”
Dieter turned back to them. “So what? You’ll die fighting for Germany anyway, right?”
The other boy rolled his eyes.
One of the others murmured, “You know what the Russians do when they catch you?”
Dieter glared at them and swung back toward Wolfgang. “You’re going to the river to surrender, aren’t you? You’re running out.” He walked over and bent down for his father’s Mauser. “Well, you do what you want. I’m fighting for the Reich.”
Apart from a single glance over his shoulder, the boy ignored him. A moment later he was out of sight around the bend.
Wolfgang sighed and gestured the rest of the boys over to him. “We’re going to cross the river, and we’re going to find the Amis.” He paused a moment. Several displayed open relief while others eyed him expressionlessly. “If it came to a battle, it would make no difference if we were there or not. We wouldn’t last five minutes. A futile gesture. I’m responsible for you, and I’m not going to let that happen.”
“Anything’s better than fighting the Russians,” one of them said. The stony faces softened. “Poor Dieter.”
Wolfgang smiled. “All right. To the Elbe. We’re going to get off the road, head over the fields.”
“We’re going to the Americans?” That was Fritzi. He could be a little thick at times.
“You’d rather wait for the Reds?” The rest of the boys laughed.
# # #
The fields were still a bit muddy from the spring rains, but the going wasn’t too bad. He could see clumps of other refugees in the distance. They were avoiding the roads too. Perhaps they’d had their own encounters with the SS.
Wolfgang glanced over his shoulder several times, fearing he’d catch sight of an approaching truck. The Obersturmführer had said half an hour, but you never could tell. He was relieved when that grove of trees dropped out of sight.
The boys were chattering among themselves, pointing out various landmarks as they walked. He thought of Dieter, walking the roads alone. He hoped he didn’t run into those SS men. He hoped the boy didn’t get his wish.
To die for the Reich… millions still thought that, all across Germany. Enough to man the Redoubt? Perhaps so. But Wolfgang Kohl wouldn’t be among them. Neither would these boys.
Wolfgang had once thought the same as all the others. Back in the early days, the late twenties, with the cities and towns of Germany in near civil war. You were either a Red or a Brown. He’d made his choice. He’d sung the songs, marched with all the others. He’d fought in the streets against the Bolshies, and he couldn’t honestly say he regretted that. He recalled the one rally he’d attended at Nuremberg. The exaltation of it–the massed torches, the spotlights reaching toward the heavens, the swastika banners flapping in the breeze. It was as if he’d become part of a greater organism, something larger and grander than himself.
He couldn’t say exactly when he’d stopped believing. There hadn’t been any particular moment. It had been one thing after another–Hitler’s mad gambles, the beatings of innocent Germans on the streets–Jewish or not, it didn’t matter to him. Wrong was wrong. The invasion of Russia. (And why had that been necessary, exactly?) The endless bombing raids, night and day. The tales of massacres brought back from the east. One day, he had just woken up wanting no more to do with it. Any of it. Or course, by then it was far too late….
The roar of engines took him by surprise. He looked up to see the Jabos overhead, shockingly close. He raised a hand. “Boys! Get down…”
They were already dropping to the damp ground. He settled down beside them. He glanced up at the planes. Four of them this time, in a loose formation of two pairs. Franz had told him that they’d learned that from the Luftwaffe. They were close enough so that the rockets slung under their wings were clearly visible.
“Thunderbolts,” one of the boys said. Yes, that’s what they were. Big, tubby-looking things. No match for German fighters. But they didn’t have to be—there were so many of them.
They flew off, uninterested in a clump of wanderers in a field. Wolfgang got to his feet and slapped at his pants knees. The boys were getting up as well. “Let’s keep an eye open, eh?”
They laughed, their voices loud with relief. Heads turning to search the sky, they moved on toward the river.
# # #
Somewhere on the other side, a church bell began tolling. Life went on, even amid this madness.
He stood a few feet back from the shore–the edge was abrupt and slippery. The boys remained in the brush behind him. Along this side of the river there were quick, furtive movements and occasional figures visible. People were keeping to their own groups, afraid of running into the SS so close to safety. There was no one to be seen on the other side.
He waited five minutes, then ten, before a man at last crept out of the brush on the far shore. He shouted to Wolfgang but the wind snatched his words away. He had to repeat himself several times before Wolfgang caught what he saying. “How many?”
“Fourteen,” Wolfgang called out. “Boys.”
He was about to repeat himself when the man raised a hand. After a long inspection either way along the river, he gestured behind him. Two younger men appeared dragging a boat. A moment later it was on the water and on its way across.
Reaching into his vest pocket, Wolfgang pulled out his watch. It was his father’s watch, given to him just before the old man died back in ’38. It had been bought by his grandfather, back in the 1880s, during the days of the Second Reich. He ran his fingers over the external engraving. It had run perfectly for all those years. It had never once needed repair.
The boat touched the shore. The man once again eyed the shoreline to either side, then gave the sky a quick once-over. Wolfgang stepped down the embankment to help pull the boat in.
“Need to keep an eye out for the Jabos. They’re like crows.”
“I know.” He was of old peasant stock, sturdy and short, his face red, and lacking several teeth. Wolfgang squeezed the watch one last time and handed it to him. The farmer examined it, clicked open the cover, and held it to his ear. “Good,” he said. “Now, you’ve got fourteen, you say.”
“That’s right.” Several of the boys had emerged from the brush. He waved toward them. “And me.”
“Volkssturm, are you? Well, it’ll take two trips. Half and half.”
“Fine. How are things on the other side?”
The man gave him a gap-toothed smile. “Getting a little crowded.”
“I can imagine. Any sign of the Amis?”
“Not yet. Some claim they’ve spotted patrols, but I’ll believe it when I see it. They’re not far off, though. A day, maybe less.”
Wolfgang nodded. The boys had gathered around them. He pointed them to the boat. “Squad A first,” he told them. He’d divided them into two squads when they’d first been organized last November. It gave them a more military tone.
A moment later the boat was filled. The boatman grabbed an oar and told Gus to pick up the other one. They pushed off. Several of the boys called back to them.
Wolfgang cast an anxious eye overhead, but the sky remained clear. One of the remaining boys whispered something about “going away.” Anton answered him: “It’s still Germany.”
Wolfgang eyed him a moment. He was a deep one.
The boat had nearly reached the opposite shore, a little ways down from where it had set out. Someone called to him from this side. A small group was approaching on the river road, eager to intercept the boatman when he returned. Wolfgang was about to answer them when they came to a sudden stop, then fled into the brush.
It was then that Wolfgang heard the engines. He swung around to see a truck approaching from the opposite direction, led by a Kübelwagen. As he watched, the Obersturmführer rose, gripping the windshield and shouting at him.
He turned to the boys. “Into the brush, now. Go!”
He watched them vanish, then glanced across the river. The boat had reached the other side and they were dragging it out of sight.
The Kübelwagen screeched to a halt. He turned to face it. The Obersturmführer leapt out, followed by two men from the truck, both carrying rifles. The officer shouted an order and pointed across the river. The two began shooting at nothing.
The Obersturmführer strode toward Wolfgang, his teeth gritted, his damaged face blood-red. Behind him, Wolfgang could see Dieter sitting in the Kübelwagen behind the driver.
He needed to buy time for the boys. He tried to gather his thoughts, but then the SS man was upon him. Wordlessly, he raised a gloved hand and struck Wolfgang across the face.
The blow was followed by two more, stunning him and driving him to his knees. A second later he was flat on his face, being stomped by the boots of the other SS men. All he could hear was their ragged breaths.
They backed off at a barked order from the Obersturmführer. “Come here, boy,” he called out. “There you are. That’s what a traitor looks like.”
Wolfgang raised his head. Dieter stood about six feet away, staring down at him. Spitting out a gobbet of blood, he shifted to push himself up. A booted foot slammed him back down into the dirt.
“Your teacher. That’s what you said. I can imagine what he taught you. Degeneracy. Cowardice. Treason. Not to stand up for the Führer, for the Reich, for the people. We can do without teachers like that. Get him up!”
Two sets of hands lifted Wolfgang up and started to drag him toward the truck. He gathered his feet beneath himself and shoved them away. “I can walk!”
He heard them laugh. Up ahead, the Obersturmführer smirked over his shoulder.
The officer directed the truck to back up to a tree with branches nearly extending out over the river. “I’ll teach you to stand for something. Then I’ll hunt down those little rats of yours. They’re traitors too. You taught them that and you led them here.”
He turned to Dieter, standing a step or two behind them. “You will shout to them and tell them it’s all right, that it’s safe to come out, that nothing will happen to them. You understand?”
Dieter’s mouth fell open but he said nothing. The officer flicked a glove against his cheek. “It’s for the Reich, sonny.”
The two SS men shoved Wolfgang toward the rear of the truck. The tailgate was down, and the officer’s driver had thrown a noose over a stout branch. His face was tired, as if he’d done this too many times.
He stepped to one side and the SS men pushed Wolfgang forward. There was a cry from down the road.
Forty feet away the young woman from the farmhouse stood a few feet ahead of her wagon. “What are you doing? He’s a teacher!”
The driver gave her a brush-off gesture. “Go, Fräulein. Just go…”
“No!” The Obersturmführer shouted. He took a step in her direction. “You stay right there. Don’t make a single move. You hear me?”
The girl stepped back as if to flee but did as she was told.
“We’ll take care of her afterward. Teach her to mind her business.”
One of the SS men chuckled to himself. At a gesture from the officer the two of them half-hoisted, half-shoved Wolfgang onto the tailgate. He got to his feet under his own power and turned to face the river as the noose was dropped over his head and made tight. He felt a weight in a jacket pocket. He’d never had time to eat that potato.
The driver dropped off the tailgate. The officer gazed up at Wolfgang. “This is an act of cleansing. I want you to know that. You are not worthy of life, not worthy to be a member of the Reich, not worthy to call yourself one of the German people. You are a parasite, a coward, a thief, and a traitor. You also led others, innocent boys, into treason with you. And you did this in time of war…”
Wolfgang cut him off. “War? You’re telling me about war? I fought in a real war, a man’s war. We didn’t send boys out to fight for us.”
The officer gritted his teeth.
“It’s over, you son of a bitch. You and your Redoubt. How long do you think that’ll last? How long before the Allies roll over that? They’ll crack you like an eggshell.” He spat at the officer’s feet. “That for your Redoubt. And your Reich, too.”
The officer clambered up on the tailgate beside him. That maimed eye glared into Wolfgang’s face. “I’m going to let you dangle. Ten minutes, fifteen. Then I’m going to cut you down and wait until you come to… and then I’ll blow your fucking head off.”
He leapt of the tailgate. “Make it slow. I don’t want his neck broken.”
Wolfgang took his last glimpse at the world. He looked south down the river, and was about to turn his head when he saw them.
Two dots on the horizon, growing as he watched, suddenly sprouting clear and defined wings. They shifted their path to bear down on the truck. The Jabos–there was no running from them now. How strange life was! Only a moment ago he had looked at them with hatred and fear. But now here they were, his friends, come to save him from a shameful and agonizing death.
The truck vibrated as the engine started. Bright flashes burst beneath the wings of the planes. There were shouts and movement below him, but that was of no interest to him. He raised his head, seeing his wife’s face, his two sons, the boat bearing his boys across the river. You did rather well after all, he thought, as he was engulfed by white, cleansing fire.
Copyright © 2015 Robert Conroy and J.R. Dunn
The late Robert Conroy was the prolific author of many alternate history novels including Himmler's War, Rising Sun, Liberty: 1784, 1920: America's Great War, and 1882: Custer in Chains. Germanica, his alternate history novel featuring the fabled Nazi "Alpine Redoubt," debuts in September.
J.R. Dunn is the author of time travel novels This Side of Judgment, Days of Cain— widely hailed as one of the most powerful time travel novels to deal with the Holocaust—and Full Tide of Night, as well as nonfiction entry Death by Liberalism: The Fatal Outcome of Well-Meaning Liberal Policies. He was the long-time associate editor of The International Military Encyclopedia and is now an editor at The American Thinker.