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HomeDrama StoriesKindred Spirits, Distant Hearts. Chapter 20
Kindred Spirits, Distant Hearts. Chapter 20

Kindred Spirits, Distant Hearts. Chapter 20

“I was wondering if you would like to have dinner with me on the twenty-fourth?"

Athens. December 24th, 1941


Life in Athens continued as normal once the furor of the attempted assassination of the SS officer had died down.

News had reached Katarina that the SS had left no stone unturned in the search for the perpetrators and families had been arrested and taken away to be interrogated with many men being shot along the way.


About a week later, she was walking between wards during her rounds when she bumped into the surgeon who had taken over from her when she brought Obersturmfuhrer Holz into the hospital.

When he saw her, he stopped to speak.

“Ah, Matron Langsdorf!” he greeted her. “I have been hoping to bump into you.”

Katarina smiled back.

“Good morning, Doctor,” she replied brightly as she returned his greeting. “What can I do for you?”

“Oh, nothing for me Matron. I just wanted to bring you up to date with the patient you brought in the other day.”

Katarina thanked him.

“Please forgive me, Herr Doktor. I would love to hear what you have to say but I am just in the middle of my morning rounds. Would you mind very much if we catch up later?”

“Oh yes, of course, I'm sorry. I've been in theatre all night. I didn't realise the time.”

“You do look rather tired,” she conceded. “Why don't you get some sleep and maybe we can get together this afternoon. Dinner in the canteen, perhaps?”

To the tired surgeon this seemed the ideal solution, and so it was agreed. Katarina continued on her ward rounds and the surgeon headed for bed.


The day passed quickly, the wards remaining busy and the staff working flat out to maintain the level of care that was expected of them.

Katarina herself found that she had less and less to do with her work and, as a result, was able to work with her charges far more.

To her it was wonderful. She was always happiest when working as a nurse rather than an administrator.


At the end of the day, once her shift was over, she headed directly to the officer's mess where she had arranged to meet the surgeon.  A place where, unusually for her, she would dine but since the surgeon she was meeting was an officer and held a rank slightly higher than she did, for once she would forego the pleasure of dining with her colleagues.

Apart from anything else, Katarina would never get used to being waited on whilst she ate. She didn't see herself as a member of the upper echelons of society. Even though her father was a diplomat, he and her mother had raised her somewhat more austerely. They were not descended from any high born family or royal house, and so preferred the life that ordinary citizens enjoyed. They had certain privileges, that much was unavoidable, but Siegfried and Magda Langsdorf always felt that since they had grown up amongst the citizens, then that is where they belonged.

As a result of that upbringing, all people were the same as far as she was concerned regardless of race, nationality or breeding. A sick person would receive the same attention from her regardless of whom he or she might be.


When she entered the room, she paused for a moment but before she had a chance to find a place to sit a smartly uniformed waiter approached her.

“Good evening, Ma'am. Would you be Matron Langsdorf?”

Katarina was startled for a moment.

“Erm, yes, I am,” she replied guardedly. “Are you expecting me?”

“Yes, Ma'am. Oberstabsarzt Ritter asked me to look out for you and escort you to his table. If you please, Ma'am,”

As he spoke, he gestured her to follow him into the mess-room and then guided her towards a small table close to the far wall.

The surgeon saw her as they approached and got to his feet, placing the file he was holding on to the table in front of him.

“Ah, Matron Langsdorf. Good evening,” he greeted her as the waiter pulled out the chair for her to sit on.

“Good evening, Major Ritter,” she smiled.

Once seated, the waiter offered them both a menu and Katarina felt as though she were a child again at one of the diplomatic functions she had attended with her father.

Having chosen a meal and then been offered, and refused wine Katarina came directly to the reason she was there.

“So, Herr Doktor. You said this morning that you were hoping to catch me.”

“Forgive me, Matron, but we do not need to be so formal here. My name is Bernhardt should you prefer it.”

Katarina paused and looked at him. He reminded her of a younger version of her friend and mentor at the Charité, Martin Kruger. He had the same careworn but friendly appearance.

Oberstabsarzt Bernhardt Ritter was actually some fifteen years younger than Doctor Kruger. At thirty-eight he was every inch the experienced surgeon. A few centimetres taller than Katarina, about one hundred and eighty-five centimetres he was quite thin and gangling. He didn't look anything like Martin though who was considerably shorter and had grey, almost white hair unlike Major Ritter who's jet black hair was equally untamed.

She smiled at the thought of him and then a cloud seemed to pass over her as she wondered what fate had befallen him after she had left.


She was jolted back to reality as the surgeon spoke, his voice seemingly concerned.

“Oh, sorry. I was just thinking of something.”

He waited patiently whilst she gathered her thoughts.

“All right,” she said at length and again smiled. “Katarina.”

“A pretty name, Katarina.”

“Thank you, Bernhardt,” she answered him simply.

At that moment the waiter reappeared and placed a bowl of soup before each of them before retiring.

“I wanted to bring you up to date with the patient you brought to me a few days ago, Obersturmfuhrer Holz.”

Katarina said nothing but waited for the surgeon to continue.

“You will be pleased to know, no doubt that he has made splendid progress thus far and tomorrow he will be returned to Germany to complete his recovery.”

“That's good.”

Katarina's reply was somewhat less than enthusiastic, and she realised immediately.

“I mean, that is good, of course, but...”

She stopped herself from going on, fully aware that she didn't know much about this man she was sharing dinner with. For all, she knew he could be as fanatical as the SS officer she had saved.

The doctor stopped eating and looked directly at her.

“It's all right,” he said quietly. “I understand how you feel. I am no great fan of he SS either. I too could have let him die, but that is not why we are in this profession. It is not for us to judge the whys and wherefores or to decide whether a man deserves to live or die.”

Katarina sighed.

“I know,” she whispered. “I could have turned my back on him, but then, no, I couldn't. As you say, our job is to preserve life. However, we feel. I really couldn't have walked away.”

“Katarina. I know we have not spoken much before, but I have heard a great deal about you. I know you would never refuse to help anyone.”

“No,” she smiled. “I never have.”


For the next few minutes, they sat silently and finished their soup.

Eventually, the Surgeon placed his spoon in the empty bowl and dabbed his mouth with his napkin.

“So, Katarina. It will be some time before our patient will be fit to return to duty, if ever. Apart from the missing arm, he had several severe fractures to his legs, shrapnel wounds across his head and torso, a fractured skull coupled with a bleed in the Parietal cavity causing intense pressure on his brain. The fact that you brought him here so quickly probably prevented serious brain damage.”

“That is one thing I had not noticed,” Katarina answered with a wry smile. “He had suffered so much damage that I really couldn't have done anything more.”

The surgeon laughed gently.

“What you did do is incredible,” he said. “He wouldn't have stood a chance if you hadn't been there. The damage to his ribcage was enough to kill him if you hadn't released the air building inside his thorax. I had to do more work on his ribcage than if I had been carrying out open heart surgery! By rights, that man should not be alive, and he has you, and only you to thank for it.”

“Oh, and I suppose you did nothing then?” she chuckled.

Bernhardt Ritter smiled.

“Hmm... maybe I did do a little bit...”


The waiter appeared again and removed the empty dishes returning seconds later with their chosen meals.

Katarina didn't eat much of it. There was nothing wrong with the food; she just wasn't in the mood for such dining. She picked at it a little, ate some vegetables, but she just wasn't that hungry.

It didn't go unnoticed by her companion.

“Don't you like it?” he asked.

“Yes, it's nice but, well, all this...” she indicated the room. “It just isn't me. I'm not an officer, only by accident. I'm a nurse, an ordinary person. I eat with my nurses...”

The doctor placed his fork onto his plate and clasped his hand under his chin.

“Well, that explains why I haven't seen you in here. I'm sorry, I thought it would be a good place to talk.”

Katarina was horrified as she realised how she must have sounded.

“Oh gosh, no, I'm sorry! That sounded awful! Before the war, my father took my mother and me to dinner at embassies, but really we are ordinary folk. As a child it was exciting, but I just prefer to be me.”

Bernhardt grinned.

“Don't worry,” he said. “I do understand. How long have you been a nurse then?”

“Eight years,” she replied proudly. “Ever since I finished school.”

My goodness, only eight years?”

Katarina suddenly felt deflated but before she could speak the surgeon continued.

“In just eight years you have become a Matron and Hauptmann? That is incredible! It took me twenty years to reach Oberstabsarzt.”

The blood rushed to her face making it feel as though it were on fire.

I think circumstances have had much to do with it, Bernhardt.”

“Maybe so but your superiors must have had great faith in you, all the same.”

For once she was at a loss for a response, and all she could do was smile sweetly and lower her eyes in embarrassment.

“What about you then?” she asked. “What brought you to this profession?”

“Oh, you could say I was born into it. My father was a doctor in Quedlinburg. Do you know it?”

“I have heard of it,” she replied after a moments thought. “I think I have seen it in the Nazi newsreels perhaps?”

Seeing the sadness appear on his face she quickly qualified her words.

“I'm sorry, I didn't mean anything untoward. I just meant that was why I had heard of it, nothing more.”

“No, it's all right,” Bernhardt replied with a sad smile. “It is true. The Nazis have used it consistently in propaganda because it is such a beautiful town. It suits their nationalistic ideals.”

After a moments pause, he went on.

“It is only a small town, but my family has lived there for centuries. I followed my father into the profession as he had his father before him. When the last war started, I was twenty-one and barely qualified when I was drafted into the army. I honed my skills behind the trenches at Paschendale, Ypres and such like. I saw horrors that no man should ever see. I put men back together who should have been dead and yet had somehow managed to cling onto life. I thought, well, hoped that after four years of sheer massacre it couldn't possibly happen again and yet...” he removed his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose between finger and thumb. “...and yet, here we are again only worse.”

Katarina sat silently, letting him speak until he returned his spectacles and looked up.

“Listen to me,” he chuckled. “I'm sure you don't want to hear all that.”

“I don't mind,” she said. “I don't have such experiences. I am, after all only two years older than you were then and here I am, just the same. If it helps you to let out those thoughts, then let them out. I am happy if I can ease your mind in even just a small way.”

Again, the surgeon looked at her with a look of mild amusement.

“You really are amazing. Such a mature head on young shoulders.”

Katarina couldn't respond. She felt her face redden again.

“I suppose we are what we are,” she said eventually.


They finished their meal passing just general chit-chat. The surgeon told her all about his hometown and how its history and traditional buildings had brought so much unwanted attention from the Nazi propaganda machine and Katarina told him about her home in Berlin. As it turned out, there was little she could say about the city itself that he didn't already know. As a medical officer, he had been there many times.


Katarina had enjoyed the evening, and they remained to chat long after their meal was over but all too soon it was time to leave as Bernhardt had to be back in theatre.

Before he left though, he stood and accompanied her to the door where he stopped.

“You know, Christmas is only a few days away. Do you have any plans?”

“None at all,” she replied. “What plans could I have here?”

“I was wondering if you would like to have dinner with me on the twenty-fourth? Like a tiny celebration perhaps?”

The idea sounded nice, but something troubled her.

“That would be good,” she said slowly.

“I sense a 'but,'” Bernhardt replied.

“I thought I would have dinner with my nurses. Many of them haven't been away from their families before.”

“Oh yes, I see,” he replied. “All right but may I see you before hand? Just as friends, of course.”

Katarina smiled inwardly. She had enjoyed his company, but she certainly had no romantic thoughts towards him.

“Yes. That will be nice and thank you for telling me about Holz. I am glad he survived.”


As the next few days passed and Christmas drew near, Katarina began to feel uneasy. She had no idea why nothing had changed, and she had been as busy as ever, but something was troubling her.

It was as though she was afraid of something, something she couldn't understand. She did her best to ignore it, it was, after all an irrational fear but no matter how hard she worked this nagging feeling wouldn't leave her.

It had become so bad that when she met Bernhardt for dinner a few days later, he had commented that she was not her usual self and asked if there was anything wrong.

“I don't know, Bernhardt,” she told him. “Tomorrow is Christmas Eve. This time last year I was working at a hospital in France doing much the same as I am here, so I am sure it is not that which is troubling me. Deep inside I feel afraid, really afraid and yet I don't know why.”

The surgeon ordered coffee and leaned forwards.

“So what else could it be? Not Holz, surely? He will be out of action for months, and besides, you have no quarrel with him.”

“No, not him. I have met such men before, been threatened by them even but no, they don't trouble me. I don't know what it is, but I just can't stop it. I keep telling myself it is irrational and there is nothing to worry about, but it comes back and stronger each time. Something is wrong, Bernhardt but what?”

The surgeon was concerned, and it showed.

“Let me examine you, check your heart. Maybe there is a medical reason for it.”

“No, Bernhardt, it isn't that, I know it isn't.”

“All right but try to sleep tonight and tomorrow we will celebrate Christmas, take your mind off it. I have an idea that you might like.”

Katarina looked at him.

“What kind of idea?” she asked.

Bernhardt tapped the side of his nose with his forefinger.

“You, Young lady will just have to wait and see.”


That night, Katarina couldn't sleep. She lay in her bed staring up at the whitewashed ceiling, and when she closed her eyes, she would sleep for only minutes before they would open again.

The feeling was so strong now that she could hardly breathe and so she arose from her bed and stood by the window, looking out towards the distant sea.

She thought about her sister and wondered what she was doing at that moment. Was she working or sleeping?

When the sun finally rose Katarina was already dressed and on her way to her office. She didn't have anything important to take care of, but at least there was something there that would help occupy her mind.


The day seemed to pass slowly, but she tried to bring a little touch of celebration to anyone she spoke to. She would greet everyone with 'Frohe Weihnachten' and a broad smile. Such was her effort that the only ones who knew of her fears were herself and Bernhardt.

However, the feelings that were worrying her began to subside a little as the day wore on and she began to relax a little. Perhaps it was just tiredness after all.

Just as she was about to begin her final ward rounds of the day, Bernhardt suddenly appeared as if from nowhere.

“You do pick your moments, don't you?” she chided him. “I am about to begin my final checks before the staff change.”

“Yes, I know,” he chuckled. “I needed to catch you before you went. I have been busy with arrangements today.”

“Arrangements?” Katarina asked, somewhat bemused. “What arrangements?”

I have arranged Christmas dinner in the canteen for all the nurses. You can dine with them, as you wanted but the medical officers will also be present... in a purely festive capacity of course. Is that all right?”

He suddenly felt unsure about what he had done and hoped that Katarina would not be angry, but he had no need to worry.

“What a wonderful idea,” she enthused, placing her hand gently upon his arm. “I shall inform the girls as I go around.”


They were about to go their separate ways until later when a clatter of heavy army boots echoed along the corridor. Seconds later a young, grey uniformed soldier skidded to a halt beside them.

He was clutching a message form and held it out breathlessly with one hand whilst hastily saluting with the other.

“Ma'am, you have to come to the CMO's office immediately please, there is an emergency!”

“Do you need me too?” the surgeon enquired.

“No Sir, Just Matron Langsdorf.”

“Well, what is the emergency, man?”

“Apparently there has been a setback over in Africa. The Allies have broken out and pushed the Afrika Korps back towards Benghazi. A convoy of ambulances has been scattered and either been taken by the enemy or been lost somewhere in the dessert, and they need more nurses and supplies over there urgently.”

Katarina's heart missed a beat. That was it. That was the dread she had been feeling. Maria!






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