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The Long Road Home. Chapter 10.
By
AnnaMayZing

The Long Road Home. Chapter 10.

Tags: ww2, history, ss

“This not joke, Larry. This is life or death, your life or death! If Mahler think you Jew...”

For Maria and Katarina, trying to keep the American airman away from the fanatical SS Leutnant is becoming more difficult with every day that passes. As the day for the prisoner's transportation approaches, Mahler wants his moment of glory...

Rome. November 21st, 1943

 

“Maria, I'm troubled.”

The two sisters were sitting by the window in their room, watching the rivulets of rainwater cascading down the other side of the glass. Every now and then, a gust of wind would divert the flow, creating new tracks.

Without taking her eyes from the fascinating scene, Maria asked why.

“It has been a week now. Larry is doing very well. He can bear his weight on his legs and I think that soon, he will be able to walk unaided save for a stick.”

For the first time, Maria turned her attention from the window and looked at her sister.

“But that's good, isn't it?” she asked.

Katarina sighed.

“Yes, it is good but you know what Mahler said, when he is fit to walk he wants to interrogate him.”

“Yes, I remember,” her sister nodded as she recalled the conversation.

“Maria, if Mahler discovers that Larry is a Jew, what do you think will happen?”

There was no immediate response. Maria sat quietly and dropped her gaze.

“Listen,” she said eventually. “I have been thinking about that. As you know, we have been promised another week before Larry is transported.”

Katarina frowned.

“Yes, I know but how is that helpful?”

“Well, I have an idea. Tomorrow I have a day off so I thought I would go into Rome for a few hours.”

Her sister looked down at the floor between her feet.

“Oh, yes. Good Idea. Take your mind off things for a while.”

Maria was shocked. Katarina had never spoken like that to her before.

“Katarina...!”

Katarina suddenly looked up, puzzled but when she saw the look on her sister's face, her jaw dropped and then she laughed gently.

“Oh, Maria, no. I didn't mean it like that. I'm so sorry. I really just meant that you deserve a break, that's all.”

Maria was relieved and breathed easily once more.

Suddenly, she put a finger to her lips and walked quickly to the door. Opening it carefully, she put her head out into the narrow corridor and looked up and down. It was empty.

Closing the door as quietly as she could, she returned quickly and, pulling a chair close to her sister, sat down. She leaned forward and spoke quietly as though the room were full of people wanting to hear every word she said.

“I will find Giuseppe,” she said quietly.

Katarina was baffled.

“Yes, all right, that would be nice...” she said slowly, somewhat unsure of why that would be of interest to her.

Maria pursed her lips with frustration.

“Don't you see? Giuseppe hates the Nazis, right?” Katarina nodded, still not sure where all this was leading. “He will know people.”

There was a brief silence whilst Maria let her words sink in.

“Don't you see what I am saying, 'trina? He will know people...”

Katarina frowned even harder.

“Yes... you just said so, but...” Her eyes opened wide. “Ohhh... you mean... people.”

“Yes! Do you see now?”

“Well, yes, I...” Katarina frowned again and turned up her nose, “Well... no, actually. Not really.”

Maria sighed.

“Look, if Mahler finds out that Larry is a Jew, Heaven knows what he'll do with him. We need to get him out of here before that happens.”

“Oh goodness, yes. You think that Giuseppe can help?”

Now it was Maria's turn to shrug her shoulders.

“I don't know but I think I can trust him enough to find out, don't you?”

Katarina nodded with excitement.

“Yes! Yes, I do!”

 

The rain didn't let up and both the young women were kept busy with the casualties who arrived from the fighting in the south.

Around midday, Katarina met Maria for lunch and as they sat, quietly discussing their patients, a grey uniformed soldier approached them.

“Matron Kaufmann?” he asked.

Maria looked up at him.

“I am Matron Kaufmann,” she replied.

The soldier handed her a large envelope.

“Travel documents for the prisoner, Ma'am.”

As she took the envelope, the soldier turned on his heel and left.

She quickly unwound the thread which held the flap closed from the fibre button and pulled out the various sheets of paper.

Katarina moved around the table to sit beside her sister.

“What does it say?”

Maria sifted through the various documents until she found the travel order.

“Oh!” she exclaimed.

“What?” Katarina craned her neck to see what had troubled Maria. “Oh, I see. The twenty-second.”

“Yes, but that is not all it says here, look.”

Maria laid all the papers on the table in front of them. Katarina frowned.

“That is a lot of paperwork for one person, Maria.”

Her sister agreed.

“Yes. I think they are going to evacuate the camp. There are travel orders for all the patients who are deemed to be fit for travel by then.”

She picked out one of the sheets.

“See here? There are no names, just a general order.”

Katarina thought for a moment.

“So what about us? Are we to go too?”

Maria sifted through the remaining documents.

“No... I don't see our names here but Ilsa is to go back to Germany.”

“She is going home?” Katarina asked.

Maria shook her head.

“No. It seems that she is going to join a group who are being posted to... I don't know how it's pronounced... look.”

She rotated the page so that Katarina could see it more clearly.

“Guernsey!” she exclaimed. “I have heard of Guernsey. It is one of the English Islands in the channel! Well, that will be different for her.”

Maria was a little confused.

“I haven't heard of it,” she said, “How can she go there if it is English?”

Her sister chuckled.

“You have head about the Channel Islands and how the English gave them up without a fight, I know you have.”

“Oh, I see.” The confusion disappeared from Maria's face. “I didn't know the names of the Islands.”

Katarina studied the buff coloured pages more carefully.

“According to these papers, she is going to work in an underground hospital there. Well, at least she will be safe.”

“Yes, I suppose so,” Maria smiled, looking down at her watch. “We can look at these tonight. Are you going to help Larry again?”

Katarina nodded.

“Yes, he is doing well. He's able to walk a little with support but he is finding it very difficult with only one arm. The effort really drains him and he cannot yet take all his weight for long.”

She paused for a moment, thinking.

“I am quite worried about him, Maria. Mahler is a dangerous man but even if he doesn't harm him, how is Larry going to survive in a prisoner of war camp?”

 

The camp was becoming overcrowded now and neither Katarina nor Maria were able to pay as much attention to the American airman as they wanted. Days passed quickly but Katarina was at least able to ensure that Larry was given all the help and exercise that he needed by the orderlies.

One particularly wet morning in the middle of November, Katarina ran through the freezing rain to the hut where Larry was. She pulled her cloak up over her head as she splashed through the muddy puddles between the huts.

Once inside, the warmth from the wood-burning stove at the end of the room was welcome and she took off her cloak and gave it a shake before hanging it in the orderly room.

Suddenly, the door crashed open and three, grey uniformed soldiers stamped into the hut. They totally ignored Katarina and marched directly to the end of the ward to the bed with the screens around it.

Astounded, she marched behind them.

“Hey!” she shouted. “What do you think you are doing?”

Without looking at her, the one leading replied,

“We've come for the prisoner, Sister. Orders from Leutnant Mahler.”

“Stand still, all of you!” she shouted firmly.

The three soldiers were so surprised at being given such a direct command that they did just that. They stopped dead and turned to face her.

“That's better!” she said, somewhat quieter but still with the same steely determination. “Since when has Leutnant Mahler had jurisdiction in my hospital?” she asked.

For the first time, the soldier noticed Katarina's armband and snapped to attention, banging his heels together.

“I'm sorry, Ma'am. I thought...”

“No, Soldat! You didn't think at all. Now, I will ask you again. Since when did the orders of a Leutnant override those of a Hauptmann?”

The soldier looked worried.

“But Matron, he is an SS officer...”

Katarina didn't let him finish.

“Get out of my hospital, Soldat! Go back to Leutnant Mahler and tell him that if he wants anything from me then he comes and asks. Do I make myself clear?”

“B...but, Matron.”

“DO I MAKE MYSELF CLEAR?” she shouted loudly and angrily.

The soldier nodded.

“Yes, Ma'am, very clear but I really would advise you...”

“You will advise me of nothing, Soldat! Take your men and leave. Return only when I have received the correct request from your superior!”

Not wanting to be shouted at any longer than was necessary, the soldier signalled the two others and they left immediately.

 

As soon as they were out of sight, Katarina ran back to her sister without a single thought for the heavy rain.

“Katarina, what's wrong?”

Maria grabbed a towel from the cupboard and handed it to her.

“Mahler sent some heavies to collect Larry!” she answered breathlessly.

“What!” Maria exclaimed. “Then we must move quickly. You go back to Larry and I will call the CMO.”

Without another word, Katarina ran back and straight to Larry's bedside.

He had been sleeping but such was the urgency of Katarina's arrival he opened his eyes immediately.

“Hey, Sister, what's cookin'?”

She had heard him use the phrase before so ignored it. Instead, she leaned close to him. He put his arm around her and pulled her closer still.

“There is not time for silliness,” she scolded him. “Mahler won't wait any longer. I expect him to be here at any moment.”

Larry frowned.

“So what? I can't tell him anything I don't know about, can I?”

“No, but he is SS. He will believe nothing that you say until you say to him what he wants to hear.”

Larry opened his mouth but Katarina placed her finger against his lips.

“Listen. You must tell him not that you are Jew. 'H' for High Church is, yes?”

Larry smiled.

“Sure, Honey. Whatever you say.”

Katarina grabbed his wrist with exasperation.

“This not joke, Larry. This is life or death, your life or death! If Mahler think you Jew...”

Her words trailed off to an uneasy silence. She looked into his eyes.

“You never go home,” she whispered gently.

The smile disappeared from his face.

“You're serious, aren't you?”

Katarina nodded. “You are in big danger. I cannot keep you against orders.”

“What does he expect of me? I am just a flier. I don't know anything. You have to tell him.” The fear in his eyes was plain to see as they darted from one to the other of hers.

“I not Know, Larry. He is... how you say... Fanatisch.”

“A fanatic, yes, I could see that.”

 

As they spoke in hushed tones, the screens parted and Maria stepped through, pulling them together again behind her.

“He says there is nothing he can do. The transport is arranged for tomorrow and all he will say is that Mahler doesn't delay. Other than that, he can do whatever he wants.”

Larry listened but he couldn't follow the conversation. He had learned so little German.

“What?” he asked when Maria stopped.

“No, not to worry,” Katarina told him but with little conviction. She turned back to Maria.

“So we just stand aside whilst Mahler's heavies come and drag him away?”

Maria shook her head.

“No, but we can try to ensure that he is not abused. Other than that...” she shrugged her shoulders. For a moment, the two weary nurses stood facing each other until Katarina let out a deep sigh.

“I think he should be dressed ready. We can't let them take him as he is.

 

For the next few minutes, they set about getting him out of bed and dressing him in the tattered uniform in which they had found him although some of the damage had been repaired.

It wasn't an easy task but Larry helped as much as he could.

The stump of his right arm was still very sensitive and painful to even the gentlest of pressure but the flesh had healed well and the only dressing required was purely to prevent anything chafing on the damaged end.

Very carefully, Katarina fed the torn and bloodied sleeve of his shirt over the white bandage. Although the shirt had been cleaned, it had not been possible to remove the bloodstains entirely.

She buttoned the front and then, as gently as she could, she folded the dangling, empty sleeve upwards and pinned it.

Finally, they helped him into his flying jacket. The right sleeve had been so damaged in the crash that they had cut away the torn sleeve altogether.

 

The effort of getting dressed had been so much that the young man was exhausted by the time they were finished and he sat back in the chair beside the bed.

“We have our work now,” Katarina told him as Maria opened the screens. “We will be watching.”

As Maria stepped through the gap, Larry grabbed Katarina's wrist with his left hand and held her tightly.

He looked up at her, his eyes moist.

“Whatever they do with me,” he began, “You have to know that you are my angel. I know, now that not all Germans are the enemy.”

Katarina choked back a tear as she looked at him and then, suddenly, she leaned forward and pressed her lips tightly against his.

They remained so for a moment until she pulled herself quickly away and almost ran through the screens.

Maria pulled the screens together behind her and followed her sister out of the ward and into the storeroom where she found her sobbing.

Immediately she threw her arms around her,

“Katarina, what is it? What's wrong?”

“I can't bear it, Maria. Mahler will hurt him, I know he will. I have seen what the SS do to people and he is no fit state to be interrogated. Mahler will find out he is Jewish and that will be that. He'll kill him... or have him killed, one or the other.”

Maria gripped her sister's shoulders.

“He won't find out, 'trina. Larry is an American soldier. He is not a spy and Mahler has no reason to think otherwise. Tomorrow, he will go to the prison camp, far away from Mahler and the SS.”

Katarina nodded and, taking a handkerchief from the pocket of her dress, wiped her eyes and blew her nose.

“What would I do without you, Maria?” she said.

Maria smiled.

“Sisters,” she said and hugged Katarina.

 

For the next few hours, they tended to their other patients and tried to remain calm, waiting for the soldiers to return until, as expected, three soldiers marched noisily into the hut. They were not the ones who had been earlier but wore the same insignia.

The leading one didn't speak but crashed his heels together and thrust an order into Maria's hand. She took it and read it carefully. This time, there was nothing she could do to prevent them from taking the airman. The paperwork was in order and signed at the bottom, R. Mahler. Lt. SS.

 

She sighed and nodded, then led them to the area at the end of the hut.

She was surprised at how carefully two of the soldiers lifted Larry to his feet and the way that the one to the left placed Larry's arm around his shoulders and supported him as they walked slowly towards the door.

At that moment, Katarina appeared. She didn't speak but just watched. Larry looked at her and their eyes met briefly. Katarina smiled, trying to encourage him but then, they were through the door and heading for the waiting ambulance.

The young women waited helplessly in the doorway as the soldiers lifted the airman into the back of the vehicle and slammed the door closed.

With a grinding of gears, the ambulance drove away towards the gates of the compound. As they turned onto the road, maria thought for a moment that the driver had waved to her but no, it must have been a trick of the light, she thought.

 

Katarina sighed but remained silent. There was nothing more that could be done and the two of them returned to their duties.

 

Some twenty minutes passed before, suddenly, the door crashed open again! This time it was Mahler accompanied by the three soldiers who had been there that morning and he didn't look at all happy.

He stormed straight up to the two Nurses and thrust out his hand. In it, he held a stamped and signed order.

“This is in order, Matron!” he hissed. “You have wasted enough of my time and I advise you not to waste any more!”

Maria looked down at the order and slowly took it from him. Puzzled, she examined it carefully. It looked exactly the same as the one that the previous soldier had given her.

“Did you hear me, Matron?” Mahler insisted.

Maria looked at him.

“Leutnant, your men have already taken him. I don't understand why you are here.”

The SS man looked down the room and saw the empty bed at the end with the screens folded back against the wall.

His face seemed to change to a deep crimson. He turned to the man beside him.

“Have you been here already?” he asked him, eyes narrowed.

The soldier shook his head.

“Not since this morning, Sir,” he replied.

“Not these three,” Maria told him. “Three different men but from the same unit. They wore the same insignia.”

“And you let them take the prisoner without my authority?” Mahler was almost apoplectic with rage.

Leutnant Mahler,” Maria said firmly but gently, emphasising his rank. “I will overlook your outburst on this occasion but I did not release the patient without your authority. The soldiers had an order for his removal signed by you.”

From her apron pocket, she produced the original order that the previous soldier had given her. Mahler snatched it and looked carefully at its detail.

“I did not sign this...” he hissed. “This is a forgery!”

Maria frowned.

“It is exactly the same as the one you just gave me, how can it be a forgery? Isn't that your signature?”

Holding the two orders side by side, Mahler had to admit that there was very little to differentiate between them.

“If I find even the slightest shred of evidence that you are involved in this, I will have you shot!”

“Herr Leutnant,” Maria replied nervously. “With all the threats that you have issued to me and my colleagues, do you really think that I would disobey a seemingly legitimate order? If I had then you probably would have had me shot. The safety of that prisoner is your responsibility and yours alone.”

Mahler pursed his lips and his eyes narrowed as he tried to work out whether she was telling the truth. Finally, he turned on his heels and shouted angrily to his men,

“Find the American!”

 

 

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