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The Nurses. Chapter 11

An unwelcome visit brings trouble to Katarina.

Berlin Monday 3rd June 1940

 

 

Katarina was in her room, going through the items she was planning to take with her.

 

In truth, there was not very much she could take. Her uniforms would take up most of the space and, as it was essentially a military attachment, she would require little in the way of personal clothing, mainly underwear really.

 

Looking at the clothes hanging neatly in her wardrobe she sighed, wondering when she would get to wear them again because once she left the apartment for the train or flight, whichever her father had arranged, she would be Senior Nurse and Matron Langsdorf, twenty-four hours per day, seven days per week.

 

Suddenly, she heard a commotion in the hallway outside the apartment.

 

Men were shouting, and a woman screamed incessantly. She heard doors slamming and, as she got near to her own front door, she could hear the sounds of scuffling.

 

On opening the door, she was appalled at the scene that was revealed to her.

 

The landing was full of SS soldiers in their black uniforms.

 

The door to the apartment opposite was smashed and hanging off its hinges, it's occupant, Frau Metzler, was outside, screaming at the soldiers.

 

"What has he done?" she screamed, "He has done nothing! Leave him alone."

 

At that moment, a man roughly in his late fifties with greying hair was propelled through the doorway and into the hallway. He crashed into the wall beside Katarina and slid to the floor, leaving a smear of blood on the painted wall as he went.

 

She immediately went to his aid and saw that he was her neighbour.

 

"Herr Metzler!" she exclaimed, "What is happening? Why are they doing this?"

 

"Katarina, Stay away! This is not your business." He whispered the words urgently as if afraid he would be overheard.

 

"But Herr Metzler, Your face..."

 

She put out a hand to better see his injuries. What she saw horrified her. It was physically no worse than anything she had seen before, one eye was swollen and closed, and blood was streaming from his nose and mouth where he had been punched so hard that one of his teeth had been knocked clean out, and the ones either side had penetrated right through his lip. His jaw was broken.

 

Although this was not new to her, she had never seen someone so close to her in such a state. All the others had been strangers, patients and even Jews on the street.

 

Herr Metzler was none of these, he was a neighbour, a friend.

 

Katarina had known the Metzlers all her life, and she had never seen either of them so much as a frown. They were kind, quiet people with no children of their own and treated her almost as though she was their own daughter.

 

As she spoke a stern looking man in a raincoat and black fedora hat appeared in the doorway.

 

"Leave him!" the Gestapo agent barked. "Who are you?"

 

Before Katarina had time to answer Herr Metzler spoke with pain.

 

"She is a neighbour, a nurse, leave her alone she has nothing to do with this."

 

He cried out in agony as the jack-booted foot of one of the SS soldiers connected hard with his ribs. The cracking as several broke was loud enough to make Katarina wince.

 

"Open your mouth again and I will have it closed permanently! Understand?"

 

The Gestapo man spoke with such venom that Herr Metzler just nodded and tried not to groan in pain. He spat out some bright red, frothy blood and Katarina wiped his mouth.

 

The Gestapo bully barked again at her, and she was hauled to her feet by an enormous SS thug who grabbed the back of her dress and dragged her upright in one powerful movement.

 

At that moment, Frau Metzler lunged forward to grab him, trying to stop him hurting the young nurse but she herself was thrown back through the doorway, with tremendous force, by another of the SS men.

 

"I told you to leave him! Now, tell me your name or you will be following him to Spandau prison!"

 

"Her name is Katarina Langsdorf, and she is my daughter,"

 

The man's words were spoken quietly but with such menace that the Gestapo agent suddenly stopped in his tracks and spun round to face Siegfried Langsdorf.

 

For a moment there was silence.

 

"Lay one finger on her and you will be spending time in Spandau yourself."

 

The secret policeman's eyes narrowed as he tried to work out who this man was and whether he really could do what he threatened.

 

Siegfried looked steadily at the soldier that was still holding Katarina, who, in turn, looked to the Gestapo for guidance.

 

Still unsure as to who he was dealing with, the agent nodded once quickly to the soldier who slowly released his captive, allowing her to drop once again to her knees and tend to the injured Herr Metzler who was struggling to breathe now and more bright red blood was frothing around his lips and trickling down his chin.

 

"That is better." Siegfried stretched up and took a deep breath. "Now, what is going on here? Why are you arresting my neighbour?"

 

The Gestapo man drew himself up.

 

"He is a traitor! He has been harbouring Jews!"

 

Siegfried turned his attention to his neighbour and asked him with a firm, matter of fact manner.

 

"Is this correct, Herr Metzler? Have you been hiding Jews?"

 

The man on the floor moved his head slightly, side to side with great difficulty by rolling it against the wall upon which he was leaning and coughed up more blood.

 

"Papa," Katarina interrupted, "His lung is punctured, I need to get him to the hospital quickly."

 

Siegfried nodded to his daughter and turned again to the bully.

 

"You have evidence of this? Proof?"

 

The man shook his head.

 

"No," he replied. "But we have an informer. A witness who saw him taking a Jew into his apartment and who was not seen to leave."

 

"And this 'visitor', did your informant know him?"

 

The Gestapo agent did not reply.

 

“I asked you a question!” Siegfried barked, “Did your informant know this visitor?”

 

Gestapo visibly jumped at the sudden change of tone.

 

“No, Herr Langsdorf, she did not!” the answer given sharply and clearly.

 

Siegfried then turned to the prone figure of Herr Metzler, who's breath was becoming shallow and rasping.

 

"So, Herr Metzler. Did you have such a visitor?" The man on the floor nodded his head as much as he could.

 

"My brother... from Potsdam," he coughed up more blood before continuing. "He left last night."

 

"And is he a Jew, Herr Metzler... are you, therefore, a Jew?"

 

"You know I am not, Herr Langsdorf, and you have known me many years."

 

Katarina suddenly looked up, as if something had struck her, and looked at the man in the raincoat. She frowned.

 

"I know you don't I?" she said directly to him.

 

"I don't think so." he replied certain that he would have remembered if she had been one of his cases.

 

Katarina turned to her father.

 

"I saw him. Saturday. He and the other one were coming out of Frau Muller's apartment. He almost pushed me aside in his hurry. They had been shouting at her, and when she came to the door she appeared very distressed!"

 

Siegfried looked at the man with anger in his eyes.

 

"Is this so?"

 

"Yes. It is our duty to hunt down treachery by whatever means."

 

"And is it also your duty to frighten people so much that they will betray an innocent man?!"

 

Again, no reply was forthcoming.

 

Siegfried turned to the soldier who had manhandled his daughter.

 

"Get that man to the hospital immediately. I shall telephone them in a few minutes. If you don't get him there alive, I will make sure you get to see plenty of action in France! And you..." This time to the Gestapo, "If I see you in this building again you had better have a damn sight better reason than the word of a frightened old woman!"

 

The man looked at him with suspicion but didn't speak. Nor did he move.

 

Siegfried looked back at him without blinking then spoke through clenched teeth.

 

"Either, you are deaf, " he hissed, "or you are very stupid. Maybe you would care to explain your actions to Herr Himmler in person."

 

That seemed to make up his mind, and he turned, slapped his associates arm with the back of his hand, and the two of them slunk away.

 

The two black uniformed SS guards began to lift Herr Metzler to his feet his face contorted with pain and blood flecking at his lips.

 

"Any more damage to him and Obergruppenfuhrer Heydrich will hear of it!"

 

They stood and watched as the two Gestapo slunk angrily away followed by the SS guards, two of whom were carrying Herr Metzler none too carefully between them.

 

Only when they were sure the thugs had left, hearing the engines of the Gestapo car and the SS lorry start up and then disappear into the general traffic, did they feel able to speak.

 

"Papa?" Katarina touched her father's arm. "Why would Frau Muller say such a thing?"

 

Siegfried thought for a moment.

 

"I don't know." he said eventually, "but I will find out."

 

Still holding his arm, she looked proudly at him.

 

"Why was that Gestapo man afraid of you? Do you really have such power?"

 

Siegfried gripped his daughter's shoulders.

 

"No, my darling, I do not but he did not know that."

 

"Have you put yourself in danger then?" she looked at him, suddenly afraid.

 

He squeezed his daughter's shoulders gently and smiled.

 

"No. I haven't. I am sure that Herr Metzler did not hide any Jews but even if he did, they have no proof. The Gestapo will try to find out who I am, and they will find I am a diplomat. They will not find, though, that I am only a minor one and have not even met Herr Himmler, even less so, Herr Heydrich, but they will see that I possibly could, and that will be enough for them."

 

Katarina sighed and put her arms around her father.

 

"I am sorry to say, my love," he said softly, "but I think your leaving Berlin may actually be a blessing."

 

Together they went into the Metzler's apartment. It was a mess. There were splashes of blood everywhere, furniture was broken, and ornaments smashed.

 

Frau Metzler was lying on the floor amidst the remains of a shattered cabinet where she had fallen when the SS soldier had thrown her back inside.

 

Katarina knelt beside her.

 

“Frau Metzler.” she said gently, taking the woman's hand, “It is me, Katarina.”

 

There was no reply, Frau Metzler didn't even look at her.

 

Moving her hand back and forth in front of her open eyes produced no recognition whatsoever, so the young nurse checked for a pulse... nothing.

 

She looked up at her father, tears beginning to form in her eyes and shook her head.

 

Between the two of them, they lifted the lifeless form away from the wall, and Katarina examined her.

 

“Oh, Papa!” she said tearfully after a few moments, “Her neck is broken.”

 

“She must have hit the shelf of the cabinet as it collapsed.” her father replied.

 

Katarina closed her neighbours eyes and covered her body with a table cloth then turned to her father, threw her arms around him and sobbed heartily on his shoulder.

 

Siegfried held her tightly, a tear rolled from his own eye. To see his daughter so upset was more than he could bear.

 

After a minute He stepped gently back.

 

“Come.” he said to her, “We will secure the door, and I will find someone to take care of her.

 

There wasn't a lot could be done with the shattered door but between them, they managed to push the remains into place to at least afford a little privacy and protect the scene from prying eyes.

 

“I am going down to see Frau Muller.” her father said as they stood before the door to their apartment. “I won't be long.”

 

“I will come too, Papa. I need to know why she did this!”

 

“No, Katarina, please. I must do this alone and anyway, your Mother should be home soon and it is better that one of us is here when she arrives.”

 

Katarina sighed, but she knew her father was right. It wouldn't be fair for her mother to see the damaged door across the hallway and then worry because no-one was home.

 

“All right, Papa.” she said, simply, “But please be careful.”

 

She turned and went back inside, leaving her father to whatever he needed to do.

 

It wasn't more than thirty minutes later that the front door opened, and Katarina called out from the kitchen.

 

“In here Papa.”

 

Magda's faced appeared in the doorway.

 

“Katarina, what on earth has been going on here and why did you assume I was your father?”

 

Katarina jumped to her feet.

 

“Mama! Come, sit down... here.” She pulled a chair out from the table. “Something terrible has happened while you were shopping.”

 

Magda placed her shopping bag upon the table and obeyed her daughter's instruction to sit.

 

“I saw blood on the landing, and the Metzler's door is broken, Katarina, tell me, please, what has happened here?”

 

Katarina told her all about the afternoon's events, and her mother sat with her hand to her mouth in shock.

 

“But why?” she said, when Katarina had finished, “The Metzlers never hurt anybody.”

 

“Papa has gone to see Frau Muller, which is why I thought that you were him coming back.”

 

“I am sorry, Katarina, I don't understand.” her mother looked puzzled, “What has Frau Muller got to do with this?

 

“I saw the Gestapo at her apartment on Saturday. We think she may have told them that the Metzlers were harbouring a Jew.”

 

“No..., that cannot be so. The only visitor they ever have is Herr Metzler's brother, from Potsdam. He was here yesterday. I saw him.”

 

“I know, Mama, that is what he told them but they did not believe him.”

 

Katarina took her mother's hands and held them tightly.

 

“There is something I have not yet told you, Frau Metzler is dead.”

 

Magda's eyes stared into those of her daughter then began to fill. She moved her head slowly, side to side.

 

“No, no, no.” she wailed and began to cry.

 

Katarina leaned forwards and took her mother's head in her arms and guided her to her shoulder, comforting her as she rocked back and forth.

 

By the time Seigfried returned home, his wife had recovered from the initial shock, and she and Katarina were at the table with cups of strong coffee. He went over and put his arm gently around Magda's shoulder. She looked up at him with sad, reddened eyes.

 

“She told you then.” he said.

 

Magda nodded.

 

“Yes.” she replied, “I just don't understand it. That poor couple never hurt anyone.”

 

He sat beside her as their daughter placed a fresh cup in front of him.

 

“I have spoken to Frau Muller.” He began to answer the question before Katarina had time to ask it. “She says that the Gestapo threatened her son who is with the Luftwaffe. He is not a pilot but a technician, and they told her that he would be transferred to the Wehrmacht and sent to the front if she didn't tell them what they needed to know. They said that someone in the building was hiding Jews, and they wanted to know who and that it was her duty as the concierge to find out.”

 

“And she told them it was the Metzlers?” Katarina interrupted, unable to contain her anger.

 

“No, not exactly.” Seigfried continued, “She told them about their visitor whom she did not know so they accepted that as evidence as her description of him fitted that type of appearance, dark hair and eyes.”

 

“But, Seigfreid, They are the same characteristics that I have, and I am not Jewish!” Magda protested, “And Adolf Hitler! No-one accuses him of being a Jew!”

 

Seigfreid smiled,

 

“No, my love, no-one would dare but I am afraid that these are the times we live in. Everyone is afraid.”

 

“Do the Gestapo have the power to do that to her son?” Katarina queried, “Surely that would be a military matter.”

 

“I really don't know, my love.” her father answered truthfully, “But the thing is that they work on fear. Frau Muller believed it and that is all they needed to get her to denounce the Metzlers.”

 

There was a moments silence whilst all three collected their thoughts. Finally, Magda spoke what Katarina was thinking.

 

“What will happen now, Siegfried? Will she stay? She cannot be trusted and she will be hated for what she did.”

 

“I don't know.” her husband answered slowly. “I gave her the choice. The Gestapo will be watching her now, and us I expect. I told her that she should tell me whenever they wanted information from her. She agreed but she is frightened. Of both them and of the residents here.”

 

As they pondered the situation they were interrupted my a muffled bang.

 

They looked at each other and, suddenly, Siegfried jumped to his feet and ran from the apartment. The two women followed close behind.

 

At the bottom of the stairs, Katarina's father banged loudly on Frau Muller's door. There was no reply. He knocked even harder but still, nothing.

 

Placing his hand on the brass doorknob he turned it slowly. The door was not locked and it swung silently open.

 

“Wait here.” he said to his wife and daughter and walked slowly into the empty hallway.

 

The apartment was arranged in the same way as their own but on the opposite side and, as he reached the kitchen door he stopped and looked inside, letting out a sigh as he did so.

 

Magda, who had not heeded his request, screamed and clapped her hand to her mouth for there, slumped across the table, was Frau Muller. Blood was splashed everywhere. On the table, up the nearby wall and all over the floor. Her lifeless hand still gripped the Luger pistol that had belonged to her long dead husband when he returned from the trenches in nineteen-eighteen and which, in her desperation, she had placed against her temple and squeezed the trigger.

 

Siegfried turned to his daughter.

 

“Take your mother home, Sweetheart. I think I may be a while.”

 

Katarina put her arms around her sobbing mother and guided her away from the grisly scene and back up to their own apartment.

 

It was sometime later when Siegfried returned. He went straight to the kitchen where Katarina joined him

 

“I kept some coffee on the stove, Papa. I thought you might be glad of it.”

 

He turned and smiled. It was just like her. Always thinking of others.

 

“Yes, I could do with a strong cup, thank you.” he said, kissing her gently on the cheek and his smile broadened as she produced a bottle of Brandy from behind her back and tipped a little into the steaming black liquid.

 

Her father sat at the table and lifted the cup to his lips, taking a big mouthful. He swallowed and immediately coughed then smiled again.

 

“And that.” he said. With a wry smile, “Is a strong cup!”

 

 

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