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Kindred Spirits, Distant Hearts. Chapter 31
By
AnnaMayZing

Kindred Spirits, Distant Hearts. Chapter 31

Tags: ww2, tripoli, fear.
She could feel her consciousness ebbing away...

Tripoli. October 23rd 1942

 

Maria waited patiently on the ward for her sister and Rania to return. Having no idea whatsoever about where the little girl lived she was not concerned about the time passing. Instead she assisted Anneliese and Hanna and as they worked they chatted about what had passed since their time after leaving Benghazi. Since they had returned from their leave back home they had been working with Katarina and so didn't get to see a great deal of Maria.

“I never asked you how your leave was,” Maria said as they relaxed for a few minutes before the next round of checks were due.

Hanna's face fell and she sighed audibly.

“It was good thank you, Matron,” she said, sadly, “But....”

“But?” Maria asked, sensing that Hanna was not entirely happy.

“I live in Cologne,” the young woman continued.

“Yes, I know,” Maria smiled. “I don't know it myself but I have heard it is a lovely city, especially the Cathedral.”

Hanna looked at the floor for a moment.

“It was. I received a letter in June, from my parents. The British bombed Cologne at the end of May.”

Maria was mortified.

“Are they all right?” she asked in little more than a whisper. “They weren't hurt were they?”

“They are fine. They went into the shelter and stayed there all night. It seems the raid went on for hours and they said there must have been a thousand aeroplanes dropping bombs continuously. I know that is a bit of an exaggeration but when the all clear sounded they emerged to find little more than rubble. The city was in ruins and everywhere was burning. They said they had never seen anything like it, Matron. The beautiful Cathedral, our beautiful cathedral, was the only thing that seemed to have survived intact but it hadn't. They said that the towers were still standing but the main part was badly damaged and still burning.”

Maria was aghast. She listened intently as Hanna continued.

“Our apartment was gone as well. The whole building and all those around it just a heap of burning rubble.”

“Hanna, what on earth are you doing here? You could have gone back home.”

Hanna smiled.

“I know,” she agreed, “But what use would that have been? My Uncle, Mama's brother and his family, live in Günne in the Möhne valley. It is beautiful there, just below the Möhnesee Reservoir. I visited them before the war. One night I walked along the dam when the moon was full. You should see it, Matron, the moonlight glinting off the still water, shimmering silver. It was just breathtaking.”

For a moment, Hanna's eyes glazed over, her mind taking her back to that night which seemed so long ago to her now. She took a deep breath.

“Anyway, Mama and Papa have gone to live there with them. They will be safe there, away from the city but they don't have a lot of room for all of us to stay. My brothers are away in the army and I would just be an extra mouth to feed and to find room for. No, it is better that I am here and not an additional burden on them. They have assured me that all is well.”

Maria nodded and she was about to agree when a strong feeling of dread suddenly came over her.

“Matron? What is it?” Anneliese asked. “Is something wrong?”

“I... I... I don't know... I just feel...” She paused and took a deep breath and then hissed, “Katarina!”

She looked at the clock on the wall and realised that some time had passed since she left.

“Something is wrong!” she said abruptly. “I have to find her. You'll have to manage on your own for a short while!”

Without further ado she ran from the ward and headed towards the hospital entrance.

 

*

 

Katarina couldn't breathe. Her assailant's knuckles were pressing against her throat as he dragged her to her feet holding nothing but the collar of her dress. She grabbed his wrists and tried to break free but she didn't have the strength to pull them away.

She began to feel light headed and faint and with one last effort she tugged at his wrists with all her strength but it wasn't enough and she could feel her consciousness ebbing away.

Suddenly, with her dead weight and the grip of his big hands, something had to give and the collar button broke off with a distinct tearing sound. Free from the pressure of his knuckles, Katarina drew in a deep breath, flooding her oxygen starved lungs with air and the rancid smell of her attacker's breath.

Rania was screaming as loud as her own little lungs would allow, so shrill and piercing that the man who was holding her put his hand over her mouth to stifle her.

With all the strength she could muster, she bit down as hard as she could.

Because her mouth had been open, his finger was between her teeth and the strength of her bite was such that she almost severed that finger at the knuckle.

Her captor yelled out loud and instinctively released his grip on her momentarily but it was enough. In that instant she dropped to the floor, grabbed the nearest thing she could see and stabbed it with all her strength into the back of Katarina's captor's knee. It wasn't much but the surprise and pain was enough to unbalance him and Katarina pushed him as hard as she could. The sudden movement caused him to topple backwards, directly into the third assailant who could not get out of the way quickly enough and fell against the edge of the table, knocking it over and sending all its contents crashing to the floor.

In the confusion, Rania grabbed Katarina's hand and pulled her through the door and out into the street.

Together, they ran as hard as they could, back towards the hospital but, as they approached the corner of the building they ran straight into another group of men who had just come round it, almost knocking one of them to the ground.

“Steady now, Matron!” The man was one of the guards from the hospital. He looked at her dishevelled appearance and frowned. “What's going on?”

Another, more familiar but breathless voice then asked,

“Katarina, what happened to you?”

Maria had run to the guardroom, quickly explained to the duty officer and he had sent three men to help her find her sister and the little girl.

Katarina pointed back in the direction she had come.

“Three men...” she gasped. “We were in the house... They attacked us. They wanted to take Rania away and... and...”

Maria looked at her dishevelled hair and torn dress,

“Are you hurt?”

Katarina shook her head, “No, I'm fine. Just a little scared and shaken up.”

Maria hugged her and Rania and as they comforted each other the soldiers suddenly shouted and raised their rifles.

“Halt! Bewegen sie nicht!”

The three Libyans who had just exited the house suddenly froze and turned to face them.

“Nicht schießen, nicht schießen!” they repeated over and again, probably the only German they knew and had probably had to ask not to be shot at other times.

One of the guards turned to the nurses.

“You go back and get some coffee or something. We'll deal with these three.”

They didn't have to be told twice and for once, Katarina and Maria found themselves not worrying too much about what would happen to the three men.

“Wait! I didn't get any clothes for Rania!”

“Don't worry about that,” Maria responded to her sister's sudden outburst. “I will wash what she has and it will be dry by tomorrow.”

 

Together, the three walked slowly back to the hospital and to the ward where Anneliese and Hanna were busy with their duties. It was Annaliese who first saw them.

“My goodness!” she exclaimed upon seeing Katarina's dishevelled hair and torn dress. “What happened to you? Where is your cap?”

Katarina sighed.

“It's a long story. I didn't get Rania any clothes either. We were attacked in the house.”

“What!” Hanna's eyes opened wide with astonishment. “Are you hurt?”

Katarina smiled.

“No, I've been through worse,” she smiled. “I am just a little shaken and disappointed that I didn't get the clothes.”

Maria looked unhappy as she said,

“It's my fault, Katarina, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have asked you to go.”

Katarina laughed then, aloud.

“Maria! Don't you blame yourself. I could have said no and you know very well that if the roles had been reversed you would have gone too.”

There was no hesitation but a shrug of agreement.

“I suppose so.”

“You know so, Maria,” Katarina affirmed before a pause as she thought about her appearance. “Would you stay just a while longer whilst I go and change. I can't spend the rest of my shift looking like...”

She stopped suddenly as her fingers touched the ragged fabric at her throat and her face turned so pale it almost glowed.

“My brooch!” she gasped, “I've lost my brooch! I have to go back! It must have come off when that disgusting man took hold of my collar!”

Maria's thoughts flashed back to the British warship and the day the surgeon tried to take the brooch from her. She remembered how upset she had been, thinking that she was going to lose it.

“You can't go back there tonight, 'trina, it's not safe. When you are tidied up I will go down to the guardroom and ask if anyone can go and find it for you, all right?”

Rania tugged at Katarina's dress, trying to get her attention but she was so upset that she didn't notice at first.

“No, I have to go now! I can't lose it, Maria, I can't!”

Rania tugged again.

“Stop it, Rania!” she said, a little more abruptly than she really intended. “I have to think.”

Rania didn't stop but became even more persistent in her bid to get Katarina's attention.

Finally, with an exasperated sigh, Katarina looked down at the little girl who was staring up at her, dark brown eyes open wide.

“Alright! Alright! What do you want?” she asked sharply.

Rania raised her arm and opened her outstretched hand.

“My brooch!” Katarina gasped as she dropped to her knees in front of the child. “Where did you find it?”

Rania didn't answer but just stood, with her arm out and a broad smile on her face.

Gently, Katarina lifted the brooch from her tiny hand and noticed the red indentations around her palm where the edges of the hard metal disk had been digging into the soft flesh because she had been gripping it so tightly. Then she noticed something else. The pin was not clipped down but was open and pointing directly outwards. Moreover, there was dried blood on it.

Suddenly, everything became clear and she took the little girl's hand and softly kissed her reddened palm.

In the dim light of her house, Rania had seen Katarina's brooch fly from her collar and so she had bitten down hard on her own captive's finger. In the ensuing furore, she had grabbed the brooch from where it lay on the floor and jabbed it as hard as she possibly could into the back of Katarina's assailant's knee. Although not causing any great damage, the pin had entered some three centimetres and had caused a sudden and considerable pain.

“You did that?” Katarina asked her, recreating the stabbing motion with the brooch in her own hand and the pin sticking out between her second and third fingers.

The little girl grinned widely and nodded. Katarina pulled her close and hugged her tightly.

 

After Katarina had changed her clothes and returned to the ward, looking more like the efficient nursing officer that she was, Maria and Rania left her to her duties. As they walked along the corridor back towards Maria's room they were approached by two unpleasant looking soldiers. Maria recognised their insignia instantly, Feldgendarmerie! Military Police!

“Matron Langsdorf! Come with us please.”

Maria shook her head.

“No. I'm sorry, I am not Matron Langsdorf. You have made a mistake.”

The brutish looking Feldwebel looked down at the child and back to Maria.

“No mistake, Matron. Come with us please.”

Maria bent down to speak to Rania but before she could, the other soldier roughly grabbed the child's arm and dragged her away.

“Hey! That's enough! What do you think you are doing?” she yelled but the Feldwebel then grabbed her arm and pulled her along.

At that moment, the door to a nearby ward opened and a nurse looked out, wondering what the comotion was all about.

Maria shouted to her.

“Fetch Oberstabsarzt Ritter! Quickly! I don't care if he is asleep or whatever he is doing, get him to go to the guardroom!”

“Yes, Matron!” the girl said and ran down the corridor as fast as she could.

The Feldwebel glared at her and tugged her arm again, none to gently.

“Yes, all right!” she hissed at him. “And tell him to go easy with the child!” She indicated the other policeman.

 

*

 

Katarina was pouring a cup of freshly made coffee when the door to the ward burst open. The young nurse who had burst in was out of breath and called across to anyone who would listen.

“Matron Langsdorf! Where is she?”

Both Anneliese and Hanna both swung round in surprise and Katarina answered from behind the door.

“I'm here, Ilsa. Whatever is the matter?”

“Its Matron Kaufmann. She's been taken away!”

Katarina put down her cup and faced Ilsa.

“All right, Ilsa. Calm down now. What do you mean by 'taken away'?”

“Two, Field Policemen came and took her... and the child.”

“What!” Katarina's jaw dropped. “But why?”

“I don't know but she told me to get Oberstabsarzt Ritter.”

“And did you?”

The young nurse looked terrified.

“No, Matron. I can't find him. I came for you instead.”

“You did the right thing, Ilsa. Go back to your ward, I'll deal with this.”

The nurse turned and as she did, Katarina stopped her.

“Ilsa, thank you.”

“You're welcome, Matron. I just hope that everything is all right.”

Katarina put her hand on Ilsa's shoulder.

“I am sure it is just a misunderstanding,” she said calmly but inside her heart was pounding like a drum.

As soon as Ilsa was out of ear shot she called Anneliese and Hanna to her.

“I think this may have something to do with those men who attacked me at Rania's house. I am going to find the Chief Medical Officer and then we'll go to the guardroom. Can you manage on your own while I'm gone? I don't know how long I will be.”

“Yes, Matron, go on, now, before anything bad happens!”

Katarina didn't need to be told twice and she ran through the door knowing just where to look for her senior officer.

 

*

 

Oberstabsarzt Bernhardt Ritter was taking a well earned rest in the Officers Quarters after a long and arduous day in the operating theatre. He leaned back in the armchair and lifted the steaming coffee cup to his lips.

At least, he thought, as he sipped the hot, mediocre coffee, he could now get some quality sleep. Although it had been a long and busy day, he had finally managed to clear the backlog of surgery patients for the first time in weeks.

He placed the now empty cup back onto its matching saucer and began to rise but, as he did so he was approached by an orderly.

“Excuse me sir, but Matron Langsdorf would like to speak with you.”

The surgeon looked over towards the door and saw Katarina waiting impatiently.

“Send her over,” he replied but before the orderly could relay the message she was already through the door and almost running towards him.

She looked at the orderly as she approached and the surgeon waved him away.

“Sir, we need your help,” she blurted out as soon as the Libyan was out of earshot.

“We?” he queried, “Who is 'we'?”

“It's Maria, Sir. She has been arrested by the field police!”

“What? Why the hell would they arrest her? What has she done?”

“She hasn't done anything, Sir,” Katarina insisted. “Will you come to the Guardroom with me please? I will explain on the way.”

 

The Guardroom was situated on the far side of the hospital, adjacent to the main entrance and on the way, Katarina slipped her Wehrmacht Hauptmann rank insignia onto her upper arm, the first time she had felt the need to use it since she arrived in Tripoli.

As they walked, albeit quickly, Katarina filled him in with the events of the last hours. The surgeon was already aware of Rania but not about her mother's death and it subsequent repercussions.

For effect and to ensure his authority was not underestimated, Oberstabsarzt Ritter had donned his jacket and cap and looked every inch the high ranking officer that he was.

 

As they approached the guardroom, Katarina went ahead. Inside there was no sign of her sister and the only person visible was a Gefreiter, probably some ten years older than herself, leaning back in his chair with his feet up on the desk in front of him, hands clasped behind his head. He looked up as the young nurse walked up to the counter,

“Yes?” he said, disinterestedly.

“Where is the nurse and child who were brought here a short time ago?”

“What's it to you?” the field policeman asked as he turned back to face the desk.

“What is your name, Gefreiter?” Katarina asked gently.

“Who wants to know,” the young man sneered, “You?”

“Hauptmann Matron Katarina Langsdorf, wants to know, Corporal. As do I!”

The male voice from behind Katarina was so menacing that the police corporal immediately fell from his chair and jumped smartly to attention and saluted with a sharp clack of his heels.

“Gefreiter Hans Müller” he reported sharply. “I'm sorry, Sir, I didn't see you come in!”

“So that is your excuse for your disrespect of my Hauptmann, is it, Corporal?” Major Ritter asked.

“No, Sir. No... I... I didn't realise. I...”

“Quiet! Get the officer in charge immediately. I want to know what is going on here!”

Without further ado, the young man almost tripped over his own feet in his hurry to carry out the senior medical officers command.

 

*

 

Maria and Rania sat in a small room at the back of the guardroom, each on a wooden chair on one side of a small table. On the other sat a tall but thin Field Policeman who wore the insignia of an Untersturmführer, the lowest officer rank in the Wehrmacht.

“So, Matron...” he looked down at the report on the table in front of him. “...Langsdorf. This is a very serious allegation that has been levelled against you.” He looked up at her. “What do you have to say?”

“What I have to say, Untersturmführer, is that I am not Matron Langsdorf! I am Hauptmann Matron Maria Kaufmann!” She put her hand into her dress pocket to retrieve her rank armband but it was not there. She remembered then that it was back in her room. “I have no idea what you are talking about. I suggest that you call Oberstabsarzt Ritter before you make a big mistake.”

The Police Lieutenant leaned forwards menacingly against the table and looked Maria directly in the eye.

“It is you, Matron Langsdorf, who has made a big mistake when you kidnapped this girl from her family. Stealing a child is an offence which carries the death sentence. I suggest that you, Matron, think about that.”

 

 

 

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