Granville acknowledged Paul’s concession with a slight nod and then proceeded to lay out the plan we had devised the night before. When our breakfast was over it would be convivial punctuated with handshakes and smiles. Then the colonel would walk us out the side entrance of the hotel where Cookie would be waiting for us with our Jeep. He would thank Paul loudly and let anyone in ear shot hear him say that we were forever in his debt. We would then drive away while Granville slipped back into the hotel.
Our mission was to visit a number of the cities open air markets that had sprung up around the city to meet the cities commerce needs now that the supply chain had broken down. Invariably, within these markets where citizens traded what few items they had left for what they needed, there were black marketers. Those who people who were resourceful enough to be able supply-controlled items in short supply such as medications, drugs, and clandestine items such as birth certificates, passes and ids. We would make a show of walking around the markets as if Paul were giving me a tour and then not so surreptitiously sneak off with some of the less reputable traders. Our hope was this would peak Soviet interest in a way that could not be ignored.
Granville had explained that ideally, this is the type of operation, would be a slow build. Over a series of days conduct these operations in a way that feigned stealth but was actually designed to tip our hand in a way that would intrigue our Russian observers. The end goal being that they would divert more and more of their assets to keep an eye on us. However, we did not have that kind of time. We needed them to pay attention to us now right now. The way we hoped to do that is in these markets talk to two types of “vendors” who the Soviets were already keeping their eyes on: Smugglers and forgers. We wanted them to believe that we were desperately looking for ways to help someone exit the city and have them pay attention to that.
Our first stop that morning was not far from our hotel, Karlsplatz. It was an open area, mostly cleared of rubble, where people had fashioned a makeshift open-air market. A few vendors had tables and improvised booths but most laid out their wares on the pavement. Even so early in the day it was crowded. It reminded me of those days when we were so desperate to get out of Vienna that any hint that an embassy would offering up Visas would spread at the speed of gossip. I suspect the same principal applied to these ersatz markets. News of fresh vegetables or fruit would or any other hard to get commodity would send people scrambling to get there before supplies ran out. None of that was really surprising however I was shocked by the number of Russian troops milling about, many of them drunk and some having in tow the women who entertained them the night below. When I expressed my astonishment to Paul, he laughed. “Who else would buy some of the shit these people were selling.” To make his point he walked me over to where a middle age woman who despite having spent time trying to make herself presentable looked as if she had been sleeping on the streets. It was clear at one point she had been quite prosperous because despite her unkempt appearance her clothes were well made and must have cost quite a bit of money when they had been purchased. They hung on her like a tent. Her once well-fed body had shrunk from deprivation. The items she had for sales were laid out a blanket was a pathetic collection of various household items including several well used pots and pans, a ceramic mantle clock with a floral design and a crack in the crystal, and a number of well used pipes.
Paul asked her how much she was selling the clock for and with a glance at me responded that she wanted one pack of “Lucky Strikes.” She launched into a well-rehearsed about why the clock was worth so much. It was a family heirloom bought in Switzerland during her Grandparents honeymoon. It was of the finest quality and still kept time perfectly despite the cracked crystal. It would make a wonderful present to someone special. That normally she would not even consider selling it as it meant so much to her family but what was she to do. Her husband had been killed on the Eastern front and now she needed to do what she had to stay alive. I have not had a lot of experience with antiques. The furniture we had in Vienna and Danbury may have been second hand, but it was not the type you passed from generation. No doubt when Mama and Papa got rid of their furniture it would go to the dust heap. Even so, I knew the clock was worth at least $100 back in the states. And, to see her a middle-aged woman, reduced to selling what little she had just for the privilege of eating touched me. It made me recall the days before the war when Mama had to sell many of her little treasures just so I would be able to eat.
I surprised her when I responded to her in German. “ Es ist eine schöne Uhr Mutter, aber es ist nichts für mich. Aber bitte nehmen Sie diese Zigarettenschachtel als mein Geschenk an Sie”. (It is a beautiful clcok mother but it is not for me. But please take this pack of cigarettes as my gift to you) and then handed her a pack of Camels I had in my pocket. She looked as she were about to cry and to save her embarrassment we walked away.
As we walked away, I could see Paul shaking his head “You do know that same woman would have spit on you and forced your mother to lick the bottom of her shoe six years ago.”
“Then why did you give her the cigarettes?”
“I don’t know. She reminded me of Mama. Selling anything she could to put a little money on the table. She is a victim.”
“You always were the compassionate one” he said with only a touch of irony in his voice. “And I don’t think living in the US helped cure you of it. Here, at least for the last six years ago we could not afford to be compassionate. It got you killed or worse…”
I really did not want to pursue this line of conversation with him as I feared it might bring up old grievances and hurts. Instead, I changed the subject. “There are a lot of Russian soldiers here. Is that normal?”
“There are always lots of Soviet troops here always looking to cause a little trouble. Steal when they can but there are more than usual today. Rumor has it that they just got paid yesterday and are painting the town “red.” Paul laughed. “No pun intended.”
Just then a Soviet corporal came up to Paul and I. He was wearing his envelope cap like a beanie on top of his head, his tunic was unbuttoned to his chest and his vodka-soaked breath could have been used as an offensive weapon. He had one arm around one of his less intoxicated comrades and another around a drunk Austrian girl of about 16 who wore too much make up. He stopped just inches from me and said in heavily accented English “Hey Joe. Let me buy your watch” and then holding up his bare left wrist adding “I need watch.”
I replied, “I have no watches for sale today, comrade” and attempted to walk by him and his friends. But with amazing agility for someone as clearly drunk as him he maneuvered himself in front of me and grabbing my wrist exposing the Wyler Incaflex that Max had given me.
“Sorry buddy that is not for sale.”
Freeing my wrist, I tried again to push past. But Ivan was not taking no for an answer and stepping in front of me again pulled out a wad of cash. “I got money. I can pay.” He grabbed for my wrist, as if to pull the watch off. Using one of the disabling moves they teach you in basic hand to hand where you grab your opponents thumb and use it to peel back the hand flip the wrist into the follow me hold, I pushed him away. But again, he did not move as if he had been drinking. He tried to counter the move and with surprising agility. That is when Cookie, who had been walking several yards behind Paul and me, got involved.
Stepping between me and the drunk Russian he said “Comrade what do you want with a shit American watch like that. I know where they have Bulova’s and Longines. I think I even saw a Rolex. “ And put his arm firmly around the drunk corporal’s arm led him and his companions away.
I turned to Paul and said “I don’t think that guy was drunk.”
My friend smiled back at me and said, “Smart boy.”
“At least we know they are paying attention. Might as well give them something to really think about. Where do your friends hide themselves here?”
“Follow me.” And he proceeded to lead me through the market towards Karlskirche. When we got to the steps of the church Paul asked me to hold tight and continued on to the steps of the church. There he approached a well dressed middle age man who sported a Van Dyke and a black beret that he wore more like a hat than cocked to one side military style. The man greeted Paul with a big bear hug and they proceeded to have an animated conversation almost as if they were having a disagreement. At one point, Paul held up a single finger and mouthed “hold on” whereupon both of them disappeared inside the church.
After about 15 minutes I got antsy and was just about to go charging into the church after them when they emerged. They were smiling and laughing like one of them had just told a very funny joke. Paul motioned to me to join them and from the church smiling and laughing. Paul motioned to me and I climbed the stairs and joined them. He said “This is my friend” indicating the man with whom he had entered the church “Augustine, he is someone who helps us out when we need a little printing done” he said with a wry grin. “Augustine, this is my boyhood friend Sam who, as you can see managed to miss all the fun, we have been having the last few years. But don’t hold that against him.”
We exchanged handshakes. And Paul continued “Since the Russians arrived in April, Tobias has become very well acquainted with our Russian friends. They seem to feel that his “printing” business includes generating paperwork that is not strictly legal and have detained him on multiple occasions. But they never arrest him not only because they have never found any proof of his guilt but because from time to time he lets them know when certain Nazi’s are looking for papers that would allow them to assume more desirable identities.”
“He tells me that the Russians keep him under surveillance most of the time. This doesn’t both him too much because of course he is not up to anything that would be of interest of them” I looked over at Tobias. His face was a picture of innocence or as much as one a man sporting a Van Dyke can be and winked at me. “He is fairly sure that the Russians will contact him after our meeting which is why we are making such a big show of standing here on the steps so they cannot help but notice our meeting. He will tell them that you and are old friends and that I was just introducing him to you as we had happened to be in the area.” Paul paused for dramatic effect. “After the Soviets question him, he will then pretend to make an effort to lose their surveillance and when they are sufficiently satisfied that Augustine believes that he has lost them he will make contact with one of his “friends.” An obvious exchange of money will occur along with a passing of a thick envelope. This man will then make his way to Hertha’s place in the Labau where we will be waiting.”
“What will be in the envelope?” I asked.
Paul laughed “Nothing. Just some blank sheets of paper. That way if he is detained his hands are completely clean. He can claim he was just doing a favor for a friend and has no idea what the meaning of the blank sheets of paper. And the Russian will have no reason to hold him.”
“Meanwhile they will be spending our time watching us and not watching other things.”
Realizing that no one does a favor of this size for nothing I said “Tobias I genuinely appreciate your help. How can we thank you for your assistance?”
“No thanks are necessary. A friend of Paul’s is a friend of mine. You might say that this just helps us balance the books a little.” Then catching the bulge in my top right jacket pocket said “But could you spare one of those American cigarettes? We have had nothing but ersatz cigarettes and Russian Belomorkanals. Both taste like shit and almost make you want to give up smoking.”
I wanted to give him the whole pack but while I had a carton back in my room this was the last pack, I had on me and I was painfully aware that this was not our last stop today. Instead, I took the pack out of my pocket and shook one loose for him and said “Take two.”
We left Augustine on the steps. Meanwhile Paul and I made our way through the market towards the Opera House. Paul said, “I didn’t want to talk about this back there but our friend Tobias’s printing business got a request from your friend Pichler.”
“He is not my friend.”
“You know what I mean. He was looking for new papers. Swiss and visas that would allow him to enter Argentina. But Augustine has an exceptionally low opinion of former Nazi’s, so he turned him down. But there are other places he can go those papers so my advice to Granville is to act quickly.”
I didn’t know how to respond to that. I would of course tell the Colonel about Pichler’s search for new papers. That was my duty. But I was profoundly disturbed by the idea of helping a former Nazi find a place in the United States. We had fled Vienna because of them. Our family had been murdered by them. They had killed untold millions and suddenly we are supposed to forget all that because they may help us with the Japanese and the Russians. All is forgiven because now you can help us. While I understood it intellectually it tore at my emotions and ripped at what I thought were my adopted American sense of values.
So, I said nothing. I just nodded my head and asked, “Where to next?”
Over the course of the next 6 hours Paul, Cookie and myself went to blackmarket sites in Leopoldstadt, Margaretten, Dobling Penzing and even our old stomping grounds Ottakring where the blackmarket had set up in a South East corner of Yppenpark not far from where Paul’s mother’s shop used to be. In each, place, Paul seemed to know someone on whom he could rely. Each of his friends agreed to a similar ploy as Tobias and on the same terms. They all seemed to be trying to balance the books with Paul. Which made me wonder what exactly my friend had been up to in the last few years where he had accumulated all of these favors and made a mental note to ask one day.
Someone knocked at the door of Aunt Hertha’s cabin. This was a bit of a surprise since we had positioned ourselves around the kitchen table so each of us could use the adjacent windows to monitor outside activities and we had seen nothing. Paul held a finger to his lips while Cookie and I both unholstered our pistols and plastered ourselves against the walls as not to be seen from the outside. Paul crept quietly to the door and putting his ear to it hoping that he could get a hint from what was going on outside the door. There was another knock door but this time it was accompanied by the squeaky voice of a young girl. “Herr Gross, it is Greta. Your mother sent me with a message.” Paul smiled and waving his hands he signaled us to put away our weapons. When we had he opened the door to a young girl of about eight or nine with two long blonde plaits running down her back wearing a wrinkled dark blue dress that was several sizes too big for her.
Paul gestured for Greta to enter and when he did, he poked his head outside and gave a quick looksee as to whether there was anyone watching the cabin. As he closed the door, he shook his head slightly indicating to Cookie and I that it appeared that she was alone. H greeted our guest “Bertha, did you come all this way by yourself? Aren’t you a brave girl.”
She blessed my friend with a look only a child who has grown up during war and occupation can give a condescending adult. A mixture of contempt over the perceived insult of age and incredulity that a child of conflict would be worried about walking a few miles. She did not respond to Paul’s question. Instead, she reached underneath her dress and pulled out a small envelope and said “Your mother said to bring this to you immediately.” And then pointing to me said “And she said you would give me a chocolate bar.” That froze me. I did have a stash of chocolate bars. I had snagged them at the PX before Cookie and I had set out for Vienna. But they were back in the room. Cookie saw the panicked look on my face and reached into inside breast pocket and pulled out a Hershey bar and handed it to Greta. She lit up. The hard child of war who had seen to much of war and destruction to be a child anymore and for a brief moment her innocence returned in the form of a smile that showed only joy. I knew the look too well because I had once worn it myself. Near the end of our time in Vienna, with all of the restrictions and food rationing for Jews, I had been that hungry child. Where even one square of a chocolate bar or a single piece of a Manner hazelnut Neopolitan wafer would make my day let alone my week. Seeing the innocence and the joy return to the little girl’s face made me want to find something else in my pockets. To help her return to a lost childhood. But I had nothing and knew even if I did the relief would only be temporary. She would never have the blessing of innocent childhood. Just like me.
Paul learning from his mistake said “Greta, be careful leaving here. There may be people who are watching the cabin and I don’t want you to get in any trouble with them.”
She replied with the matter-of-fact way of children. “You mean the Russians? I saw them on the way here. There are a couple of them down the road. They can’t really see the front door of your cabin from where they are. They can only see the path leading up to it. So I walked past your cabin and came around the back.”
“Smart girl. Now hurry home. If you see Momma tell her I will see her a little later.”
When Greta left, we returned to our positions at the table and Paul opened the envelope his mother had sent him. “Good news Sam. Momma has received word from her brother Anton. He is Carinthia. A place called Portschach am Worthersee. I remember before the war he used to go there in May for their annual Brahms festival. Perhaps that is why he is there now. Reading further from the note he added “Apparently, he is staying there with “friends” and has invited her to come and visit if she can get away.”
I turned to Cookie and asked, “Do you know what Zone that is in?”
“Carinthia is in the south, right?”
“Well, if it is in the south.” Cookie said letting his Kentucky accent grow a little larger “Then more than likely it is in the British Zone. Which is fairly good news as they are a mite more friendly to us than are the Russians.”
Paul added, and apparently it is pretty easy to get to “According to Mama’s note the Train to Venice goes directly through there.”
“Well that adds some interesting options.” I said trying to think ahead to when we were going to have to sneak Dr. Pichler out of Vienna, but I kept those thoughts to myself. It is not that I did not trust Paul. If I couldn’t trust him whom could I trust., but it was not clear yet if he would be a part of that operation. I f nothing else had been driven into to me at OCS, it was the need to compartmentalize information. The “need to know doctrine” where only those with the need to know had informed shared with them was the foundation of military operations and it was likely what had allowed D-day to be successful.
I changed the subject. I said teasingly to Paul “When did you become such a Mama’s boy? Do you always tell your mother where you are?” He responded, not the least bit embarrassed. “Naturlich.”
I did not get back to the Hotel Sacher until quite late. Our plan had called for us not leaving the cabin until well after dark. This was part of our plan to have a feint within a feint. We really had nothing to hide from the Russians, but we wanted them to believe that we did. If we left after dark, it would only add to their suspicion. Why are they leaving during the dark unless they had something to hide? It meant we spent a few long hours with little to do but BS and smoke. Ironically, it was the least loquacious among us who did most of the talking: Cookie.
He had been in the war almost since the beginning enlisting in the Army on December 8, 1941. According to him, this was not out of any great patriotic fervor the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor had awakened him but instead represented the opportunity for him to get out of Three Forks, Kentucky. A town, that was so small and so poor that the residents wanted to change the name of the town to one spoon because that was the only utensil most of them owned. The Army gave him a chance to get out but what he had not realized at the time, it would allow him to see himself very differently. The Army saw potential in him that he never saw in himself. After basic they assigned him to the 9th Infantry division and quickly promoted him to Sgt. As a part of Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa, he had been in charge of a squad that had captured a German Colonel. He told a very improbable story about using a bottle of captured bottle of Cognac and a few cigarettes to coerce the Nazi officer to give up the battle plans. This had caught the eye of his unit’s counterintelligence officer, a then Captain Granville, and the two had been a team ever since.
After North Africa they had been in Sicily and then a part of the invasion of the Italian mainland before being sent back to England in preparation for D-Day. There they had been assigned to US Army and General Patton through his dash through France, the Battle of the Bulge until the end of the War found them at the Austrian border. Cookie was extremely tight lipped about his war activities only saying that he had Granville had some “interesting” times together and that they had a few “scrapes” where disaster had been averted by seconds. This was of course a disappointment to Paul and me. Despite the fact that I was an officer in the US Army and Paul a hardened member of the Underground, we were still both teenagers eager to hear the exploits of an experienced soldier who had seen significant action.
As tight lipped as he might have been about his military activities, he was more than happy to share with us his exploits off the battlefield. He had over the course of his 4 years of service become a connoisseur of whore houses across North Africa and Europe. He told us, that as much as the Army tried to keep the troops away from the ladies of “ill repute” they quickly realized that it was like ask asking water not to run downhill. Of course the army did not give up without a fight. There were films on venereal diseases, lectures by “experienced” soldiers on keeping “your gun clean.” They even put posters up where men were billeted that had WPA images of a sailor, soldier and Marine that said “Men who know, say no to prostitutes: The spreaders of syphilis and gonorrhea.” None of it worked. As Cookie put it “Men who can’t fuck, won’t fight. In the end the Army turned a blind eye and he became a connoisseur, of sorts, on the brothels of North Africa and Europe.
Cookie also said, with a totally straight face, that this was also part of his job description as a counterintelligence officer to visit brothels. After all, for millennia spies had used “compromised women” to gain enemy secrets and as a consequence he needed to avail himself of their services to assess the enemy threat. He looked indignant when Paul and I broke into laughter when he told us this.
He told us what had surprised him the most was the sheer number of brothels everywhere he went. Back home in Three Forks, you had to go all the way to Danville if you were looking to pay for love and then it was a “seasoned” woman who hung around the back doors of bars. In Tunisia, it was a regulated industry with the government licensing establishments. The Vichy government had even given them the title of “fonctionnaires” or civil servants. He said that ordinariness of the houses took some of the fun out of it but the Arab customs of making guests feel as if they were visiting royalty more than compensated for it.
Naples, he said, was one large whorehouse. And it was needed. Italy, especially after the Italian surrender and the Germans took over the fight had become a horror show and troops come to Naples for R&R took full advantage of what the city had to offer. Here, because of a quirky law prostitutes could only work out of private homes which made you feel like mother, father brother and sister were looking on as you completed the transaction. However, the Italian women were comely and passionate. If that had a fault it was that it seemed harbored the idea that the GI’s who were fucking them would come back and marry them at the end of the war. Cookie said he didn’t realize at the time, but it was just a trick to get more money out American GI’s whose puritanical upbringing made them feel badly about visiting prostitutes.
When, in the months leading up to D-Day, he had been stationed in England, he said he had been forced to go to brothels. I had asked “What he meant by being forced.” He explained that British women were just not “his cup of tea.” They were attractive enough but that their accent made them seem a little snooty for his taste and were just a little mechanical in their ministrations to him. If that was not bad enough, often his forays into these houses of ill repute were interrupted by the Luftwaffe and the baby blitz that was happening at the time. He said that nothing killed passion quite so completely as an air raid siren and the sounds of exploding ordinance.
He said that he was most disappointed by the French houses. Both Paul and I questioned him on this. We had grown up believing that the French were the epitome of sexual being. They were always portrayed in films and in novels as being sensual and passionate. Didn’t we call an open mouth kiss, a “French Kiss?” He said, that he had thought the same but by the time he had reached France in late June of 1944 many of the brothels had been turned out by the citizenry. Many of the prostitutes were accused of collaborating with the German’s dragged into the streets, stripped, had their head shaved and then daubed with tar and feathers. The working girls were still reeling from their mistreatment and it seemed to take the “steam” out of them. They put little or no effort in their work.
This was an education to me. I am embarrassed to admit how little experience I had with women or lovemaking. I had gone on dates in high school but they were pretty much chaste affairs Danbury being a relatively small town where a girls “reputation” could be easily tarnished. In college, despite being in a fraternity, TEP, I did not date very much. I did not have the time. If I wasn’t in class or studying, I was working trying to earn the money to pay for my tuition and expenses. There was one girl. A flaming red head named Gabrielle from Skaneateles, New York who had her hooks out for me. Just before I left Syracuse in August she had taken me on a picnic and there after a lot of fumbling and probably a little too much eagerness I had lost my virginity. It was not what I expected. Not that I did not enjoy it. I did. But I was so caught up in “I am losing my virginity” that the whole experience seemed as if it was happening to somebody else. It left me eager to have more experiences, but the Army had kept me too busy for the last 9 months for next times.
By the time Cookie had finished giving us his ”Baedecker Guide” to whore houses in Allied Territory it was sufficiently dark for us to leave. After agreeing to meet at Stephansdom the next morning we made our exits separately. Cookie leaving first, to make sure that the coast was clear, followed by me fifteen minutes later and then Paul. It was a little creeping through the woods at night, but I was aided by a clear sky and a mostly full moon. About a mile down the road from the cabin I found Cookie. He had retrieved the Jeep and together we headed back to the Hotel Sacher.
I discovered the word “ablutions” shortly after I had been placed in 2nd grade as a 14-year-old and decided that the quickest way to learn English was to read the dictionary. Perhaps it was because I was just learning the language, imagine standing at the base of Everest and looking up, but it seemed that their were so many words in English. Many of them meaning the same thing and the word had struck me as a wonderful way of describing the act of cleaning up before bed. Almost like a religious act. I had used it ever since.
I was thinking about the word ablutions was made for moments like this standing in the hot shower in my hotel room at the Sacher. I was washing the sins away from my day. Well not exactly sins but I never had imagined myself a spy trying to deceive my enemies into believing something that did not exist. It was far more like the crappy “penny dreadfuls” that Paul and I used to read as kids that life I had imagined for myself as an Army officer. Fort Sill seemed like it was months if not years ago. A whole other lifetime. Yet it had been less than a week since I had been calculating “base angles” and learning how to make “sticky bombs.” Since the day, those officers had told me that I was wanted to help with the search for the Crown of St. Stephan I had been on the bounce. I had traveled over 6,000 miles by plane and Jeep; been reintroduced the city of my childhood albeit horribly altered; mourned the death and destruction of most of my family; discovered my best friend whom I though dead for years was alive, well, and living a life underground; been arrested by the NKVD and engaged in counter terrorism operations.
There was more to wash off than the dirt of the day. If I was to sleep that night I would have to let the heat of the water soak into me enough that the events of the last few days to fade. I spent a long time in the shower but when I finally turned off the faucets and emerged from the shower the only thought I had was of the bed that was waiting for me.
My last thoughts that I had before falling asleep that night were of my grandmother and visits to her home in Farafeld. I would run the few hundred meters from the train platform to her home and in anticipation the hug that awaited me there. She smelled of strudel and cinnamon from the treat she had baked for me and her hugs were like getting a vacation from the world. Nothing could harm me in her arms. I thought about the handkerchiefs in which she would place my lunch when she would send me out to play during the day. How she always managed to find a piece of a peppermint candy for my dessert. I thought about the horsehair mattress that I slept on while I was there. Somehow it managed be hard and comfortable at the same time and how the roughness of the blanket that covered me was somehow reassuring. As were the lullabies she would sing to me as she stroked my hair until I fell asleep.
I thought of the last time I saw her. We were abandoning her for our new life in America but she was urging us to go. To make a good life. Our wellbeing, my wellbeing being more important than her own.
I thought about how horrible her last days must have been. Old and infirm. Unable to protect herself. Carried away to some faraway place in a cattle car only to find fear and death with no one to comfort her.
Despite all my army training. The hardness I had developed over the years. My journey had caught up with me and I wept. Then, in the midst of my tears, I heard my grandmother’s familiar voice singing me the lullaby she would sing to me all those years ago in Farafeld.
Schlaf, schlaf, schlaf, mein liebes Kindlein, schlaf!
Die Englein tun schön musizieren,
vor dem Kripplein jubilieren.
Schlaf, schlaf, schlaf, mein liebes Kindlein, schlaf
Sleep, sleep, sleep, He lies in slumber deep.
While angel hosts from heav’n come winging,
Sweetest songs of joy are singing.
Sleep, sleep, sleep, He lies in slumber deep