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Kindred Spirits, Distant hearts. Chapter 10.

She jumped and cried out in surprise as she felt a hand grip her shoulder.

Berlin. May 27th, 1941

 

Since returning to the Charité, Katarina had immersed herself totally in trying to run her ward as efficiently as she always had but things were very different now. Medical supplies were becoming scarce and interference from the authorities was increasing daily.

It seemed to her that there was no room for the mentally ill or permanently disabled in the ideal Nazi world and even though she protested strongly whenever the Brown Shirts came onto her ward throwing their weight around, there was nothing she could do to prevent it.

Although she had been back for less than a month, she already had to take charge of more than one ward, and she found herself working almost round the clock dealing with situations that her few barely trained nurses were struggling to cope with.

 

Today had started as did most other days with her moving from ward to ward, bed to bed, checking records, making sure that her nurses had what they needed and helping out where she could, even mopping floors if there was no-one available to do it.

Around lunchtime, though they heard that there had been a huge setback for the German Navy.

Their biggest and most powerful warship, the Bismarck had been sunk in the Atlantic with the loss of over two thousand lives.

Katarina was shocked, just four days ago the radio and newspapers had been cheering the sinking of the British battle cruiser, Hood during a battle in the Denmark Straight way up in the north between Greenland and Iceland. She couldn't understand why the death of over one thousand four hundred men could possibly be something to celebrate. Even if they were the so-called 'enemy' and now, thousands of German sailors were also gone.

Having been on a warship during an attack, she could easily imagine the suffering and fear that those poor, unfortunate souls had endured before being cast into their watery grave.

This news served only to make her more determined than ever to save lives, no matter whose, since it seemed to her that the world had gone insane.

As she listened to the report she stood as still as a statue, memories of the days that she and Maria had spent drifting alone in a tiny raft, wondering whether they would live or die and the weeks aboard HMS Lakhota flooding through her thoughts. She could feel every explosion and hear the tearing of steel and the whistling and clattering of shrapnel as it ricocheted around the superstructure and she could see every casualty as though she were there herself.

“Matron?”

She jumped and cried out in surprise as she felt a hand grip her shoulder.

“I'm sorry, Matron. I didn't mean to startle you. Are you all right?”

Katarina turned to face the young, concerned nurse who had disturbed her.

“Oh, oh yes, sorry. I was thinking of those poor souls who...” her words trailed off, not wanting to think any more of it. “What can I do for you?”

“The patient in bed seven,” the young woman continued. “The soldier with the amputated arm.”

Katarina remembered immediately.

“Ah yes, Soldat Bauer. What about him?”

“He is ready to leave, and we need you to sign the paperwork, please... are you sure you are all right?”

Katarina took a breath, smiled and nodded.

“Yes,” she answered gently. “I am fine.”

 

Whenever she had a moment to think, she wondered what Maria was doing.

She had received several letters in the three weeks that had passed and written just as many but it wasn't the same as being with her. The times they had shared together, the fun times and the hard times were etched deeply into her memory and sometimes, when she slept, she dreamed of the days they had been together in France.

 

Late into the afternoon, Doctor Kruger sent a message for her to meet him in his office and as soon as she had finished helping one of her young nurses to change the dressings of a patient with a seriously infected wound she went directly to see what he had to say.

She knocked on the frosted glass of his office door and was surprised to hear a rather terse, 'Komm!'

Opening the door and slowly peering inside she saw the somewhat worried expression upon her mentors face.

“Martin? Is something wrong?” she asked as she quietly closed the door behind her.”

He didn't look up as he answered her question.

“No... yes... maybe. I don't know. Please, sit down.”

He indicated the chair on the other side of his desk and removed his half-frame glasses, pinching the bridge of his nose.

“You have to leave,” he said into his hand.

“I don't understand,” she replied. “You asked for me to come to you.”

He looked up at her, at last.

“No, I mean the Charité, Berlin. You have to go, now.”

“Martin, what is going on? I haven't seen you like this before.”

“Matron! Don't ask questions! The less you know the safer it is for you. I have received your documents from the DRK headquarters and I have signed you off as fit to resume your duties. Now please, get out of here.”

He pushed a grey folder urgently towards her which she proceeded to open.

“For heaven‘s sake, read it at home. Just get out of here now!”

Katarina stared hard at him and saw the fear deep within him.

“I will not move an inch until you tell me what is going on!”

“Katarina, please. Your stubbornness will be your undoing!”

When she didn't move, he sighed and appeared to diminish considerably.

“Oscar has been arrested by the Gestapo, and it will only be a matter of time before they come for me and then they will assume that you are connected somehow so, please get out of here, now.”

She stared at him incredulously, unable to believe her own ears.

“But I haven't done anything, and neither have you... Have you?”

Doctor Kruger sat back in his chair, exasperated.

“It doesn't matter to the Gestapo, Katarina, you know that. Now please go. Get the hell out of here while you still can. Your father can't protect you indefinitely.”

Katarina got slowly to her feet. She knew he was right. She had spent her whole working life at odds with the authorities, and they would like nothing more than to find something to arrest her for.

For a moment they hugged and then she lifted the grey folder from his desk.

“Perhaps, one day we will meet again in better circumstances,” she whispered.

“Perhaps,” he agreed. “If you believe in miracles.”

As she placed her hand upon the door handle, she paused,

“Katarina.”

Hearing his voice for perhaps the last time, she turned back to face him.

“Good luck and go straight home. Don't go back to the wards!”

For a moment she just looked at him, a deep sadness preventing any further discourse and then, opening the door she left him alone to whatever fate he was expecting.

 

His last words ringing in her ears, she walked slowly down the corridor. She couldn't avoid her primary ward since she had to pass it to get to the hospital entrance and it couldn't do any harm just to say goodbye.

As she approached, she heard a commotion from inside. Soldiers from the SS were dragging patients from their beds and out through the doors.

It was not uncommon, and normally she would make some sort of protest, but something was different this time. Doctor Kruger's final words echoed loud in her head.

“Don't go back to the ward!”

Quickly, she turned away and retraced her steps past his office towards an exit at the rear of the hospital.

She turned a corner and almost bumped into two large SS soldiers accompanying a smaller man dressed in civilian clothes. She sidestepped sharply so as not to delay them and they passed with barely a glance at her to turn the corner from whence she had come.

Something was seriously wrong. She had not seen so many soldiers at the same time within the hospital.

Keeping close against the wall, Katarina peered around the corner and watched as the civilian banged on Doctor Kruger's door. He waited barely more than a second or two before rattling the handle. She was surprised that it was locked and as she watched he nodded towards one of the soldiers who stepped back and suddenly slammed his foot against the edge of the door below the handle.

She was startled as the door gave way amidst a shattering of glass and splintering of wood and the three men disappeared inside the room.

Moments later Martin Kruger fell through the door as though propelled by a great force, slammed into the white wall of the corridor and collapsed into a heap on the floor.

Immediately he was joined by the civilian.

“By the time I finish with you, old man you will tell me everything!”

He nodded again to the soldiers who grabbed the hapless doctor by the collar of his jacket and dragged him to his feet

“I have nothing to tell you!” he shouted, spitting blood into the face of the vile little man who, pulled his handkerchief slowly from his pocket and smiled as the butt of the soldiers' weapons smashed into the doctor's face and the side of his head simultaneously, knocking him senseless.

“Oh, I think you have...”

The words were spoken quietly but with such menace that the very sound of them sent a shiver right through Katarina's body and seemed to freeze her to the core.

She couldn't watch any longer and fled along the corridor and out into the cool air, tears streaming down her face. Now she understood his urgency but wondered what on earth he had done to exact such violence from those thugs.

 

The journey home seemed to take an age, and when she reached the door of her apartment, she stopped and looked at the new door on the Metzler's old home, remembering the day they were killed.

The one thing she couldn't understand, no matter how hard she tried was why the Nazis were so harsh with their own people. Doctor Kruger, Herr Metzler, like so many others had done nothing to anyone and yet...

She shook her head and sighed as she placed her key in the lock and turned the door handle to enter the safety of her own home.

 

“You are home early, sweetheart.”

The comment from her father was more like a question than a statement, and she felt that there was no point in putting off the inevitable.

“Doctor Kruger was arrested today by the Gestapo,” she answered without any hint of emotion in her voice.

Her mother gasped, but her father didn't seem at all surprised as she sat at the table and placed the grey folder in front of her.

“No one is safe now, Katarina,” Siegfried said sadly. “Good people are being arrested all over the city.”

“But why, Papa? Why can't they leave us alone?”

“Because that is how they keep their power, My Love. They want people to be afraid of standing against them so that they can do as they please without resistance.”

After a brief silence, Siegfried nodded towards the folder she had placed on the table in front of her.

“What is that?”

For the first time, she thought about what it might contain.

“Martin signed me off as fit for duty before he was arrested. He said my documents had arrived from headquarters. I expect that these are they.”

“You haven't read them yet?” her mother asked.

Katarina shrugged her shoulders.

“No, not yet. He said to wait until I got home. I think he knew that the Gestapo were on their way.”

They sat motionless, staring at the grey folder with the eagle and swastika on the front.

Finally, she took a deep breath and slowly opened the cover.

Inside were various official-looking documents. The first was her certificate signed by Doctor Kruger and beneath were various other papers indicating her authority to resume her full duties.

She turned each page and then stopped suddenly, a page half turned.

Her mother frowned.

“Katarina? What is it?”

“I have to leave again, Mama.”

This revelation was met with a resigned silence. All three knew that it was better for her to be away from Berlin, at least until the dust settled on this whole sorry affair.

It was her father who asked the inevitable question.

“Where are they sending you this time?”

Katarina scanned the documentation to get the full picture before answering and, as she read the instructions her forehead wrinkled with confusion.

Eventually, it was her mother who broke the silence.

“What is it, Sweetheart? Is something wrong?”

“I'm not sure, Mama. It says here that I am to travel immediately to Trieste in Italy and report to the Senior Medical Officer on a ship called the Aquilea.

Suddenly, her father sat up, eyes wide.

“I know of that ship!” he exclaimed. “Martin must have really thought about you if going to that ship was his intention!”

Katarina stared at him.

“I don't understand, Papa. Is it a good thing that I have to go somewhere by ship... again?”

She emphasised the last word as if she didn't consider going to sea such a great idea.

Siegfried chuckled.

“You will not be going somewhere by ship, Sweetheart. The ship will be your destination.”

“Oh, Papa,” Katarina sighed. “Please don't play games. I am in no mood for riddles.”

“I am not playing tricks, Katarina. Lazarettschiff Aquilea is an Italian hospital ship. Together with Lazarettschiff Gradisca, she operates in the Mediterranean. She is a large hospital ship.”

Katarina still didn't understand.

“So how is that a good thing for me?”

“Don't you see, Liebchen? Doctor Kruger has found a way to keep you well away from the Gestapo and the SS and, at the same time put you into the same theatre of war as your sister. He probably couldn't send you back to your original destination because that post is probably now filled but this way you are fairly safe and still have the chance to find Maria!”

Katarina was stunned.

“You mean that even though he knew the Gestapo were coming for him, he still thought about me?”

“It would seem that way, yes,” her father agreed.

“Papa, can't you help him?”

Siegfried lowered his head.

“I'm sorry, Katarina. I have no authority over the Gestapo. No-one has. If I start making enquiries about someone in their custody then it will give them an excuse to investigate me. If they then find out that I am not one of the higher ranking officials in the Foreign Office it will be me who will receive an invitation to Prinz Albrecht Strasse.”

“I understand, Papa,” she answered sadly, only too aware that he was referring to the Gestapo and SS headquarters.

“So when do you leave?” he asked.

“First thing in the morning, Papa. I am to fly to Munich first, there is a flight scheduled for eleven, and then I have two days before the next flight to Trieste.”

“Munich...” Siegfried whispered almost silently. “Do you have orders for your time there?”

Katarina leafed through the papers.

“No, Papa. It doesn't say anything. Just that accommodation is arranged at the airport and the time of the next flight to Trieste.”

“Will you visit your mother and father whilst you are there?” Magda asked as though afraid of the answer.

Katarina faced her and smiled.

“Mama, I told you. You are my mother and Papa is my father.”

Magda relaxed a little.

“So, will you?” she persisted.

“Would it upset you if I did?” Katarina asked.

“I would not be entirely truthful if I said it did not but I would never expect you to stay away from them. In truth, I would be more worried than upset. We love you as our own daughter, Liebchen but we would never try to stop you getting to know Anna and Herman.”

“Mama, you have no need to worry.”

She took her mother's hand.

“Even though they brought me into this world, it was you and Papa who nurtured me and protected me. You are my true parents.”

Siegfried took her other hand.

“We trust you, Katarina, and would do whatever it takes to protect you so if you want to see them then do so with our blessing.”

 

The last few hours of the fading day were spent sorting through the things that Katarina needed to pack for her new posting. She needed no clothes, just her uniforms, and underwear.

In a little drawer in the stand next to her bed, she kept her grandmother's watch and the Red Cross Medal she had received before she and Maria had left France.

She stood still, looking down at the two boxes sitting side by side in the tiny drawer.

She reached in and took out the watch, now clean and bright after being restored by a watchmaker who was known to her father. She put it on the top of the stand ready to wear in the morning.

Without a second thought, she also took out the medal box and placed it in her luggage with her uniform, tucking it carefully within the layers of fabric to protect it during the long journey.

It didn't occur to her that the last time she left home, she had left it behind, which was why it hadn't been lost when she was shipwrecked but something was different now. Something deep inside her was guiding her without her being aware of it and this time, the medal was going with her.

 

When she had finally finished the light had faded, and she went through to the living room where her mother was sitting alone with her knitting.

“Where is Papa?” Katarina asked.

Without looking up, her mother replied.

“He had to go out, but he said he wouldn't be long.”

“Would you like some coffee, Mama?”

“No thank you, Sweetheart, but you have some if you wish.”

“I don't really, thank you, Mama.” she said and walked around to the side of her mother's chair where she crouched beside her.

“You will be all right, won't you? While I am away?”

Magda nodded, but the click-clicking of her needles continued unabated.

“This is my destiny, Mama. My whole life I have tried to take care of sick and injured people. This is just another way that I can do it.”

The needles stopped, and Magda allowed her hands to relax into her lap.

“I know, My Love. I also know that whatever becomes of us, all of us, you will have given many people a better chance of life. There are not many about whom I can say that.”

Just then they heard the front door open and then close gently.

Siegfried appeared in the doorway still wearing his hat and coat.

“Well, that's settled then.”

“What is, Papa?” she asked curiously.

“Your transport for the morning.”

“To the airport?”

“Yes. I have been to see Willi. Remember him? I couldn't telephone because our line is being tapped, so I went over to his flat. I think Martin was right to send you away. I was followed at first but gave him the slip.”

Katarina was astonished.

“Followed! By the Gestapo?”

Her father shrugged and nodded.

“Yes, they have been watching us ever since that business with the Metzlers. I don't know what they think they will find out.”

Katarina opened her mouth to speak, but her father raised his hand to stop her.

“Don't worry, Liebchen. It is a fact of life these days. Willi will be here at nine tomorrow and will take you to Templehof. I will go with you.”

“Papa...” she began, but again she was silenced.

“It is done now so no more questions.”

And so it was. Everything was now ready and tomorrow would begin the next chapter of her young life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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