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The Nurses. Chapter 23

Tags: ss, gestapo,

“Geheime Staatspolizei,” he snarled, his eyes still holding her...

Amiens. December 24th, 1940

Katarina prepared herself for another long night.

She had slept most of the day as it was the second night shift of the week and she had been exhausted after the first one.

As had become usual, she had dinner with her friend.

Meeting and befriending Maria had made life so much bearable for her and, she hoped, for Maria too.

She worried for Maria sometimes. Being in charge of a ward with only Frenchmen was taking it's toll on her she could tell, and she could only hope that having herself to turn to helped keep her strong.

Having only German soldiers to look after gave Katarina a whole set of different problems.

Some were badly wounded, but others were quite minor and only necessitated a short stay, but it was those who caused the most problems, and she was constantly having to threaten them with discipline if they didn't keep their hands off her girls.

Having a rank equivalent to an officer, she didn't have to defend herself too much, but the nurses were constantly being harassed although, in one or two cases she wasn't sure that any offence was taken, but she did have to maintain discipline.

Now, however, it was time to get to the ward.

On her way she passed the office of Senior Matron Eberhardt, just as she came out.

“Good evening, Matron Langsdorf,” the older nurse said with a smile.

“Good evening, Matron,” Katarina replied. “Merry Christmas.”

“Ah, yes, Christmas,” Matron Eberhrdt replied, absentmindedly then looked sideways at Katarina. “Do you have a minute?”

“Oh, well, I am supposed to be taking over the ward, but I can spare a moment.”

Katarina followed her commander back into her office.

“I just have a little decision to make, and you can help me with it, I think.”

“I will try,” Katarina answered her, “If I can. What is the problem?”

Matron Eberhardt paused, as if unsure and then,

“I have authority to send one of my Matrons for a week's leave back home, but I don't know who to give it to.”

“Ah, I see how that is indeed difficult,” Katarina agreed, “Do you have anyone in mind?”

“Yes, well. That is where the problem lies. I have two in mind who both deserve a break, but I can only allow one of them to go.”

“So you want me to help you choose. Who are the two?”

Matron Eberhardt smiled gently.

“Do you know, only you would have to ask that.”

Katarina was puzzled.

“Why?” she asked, “I don't know who you have in mind... Oh, you mean I am one of the two?”

She flushed deeply with embarrassment.

“Of course. The other being Matron Kaufmann.”

“Well, that's easy then!” Katarina laughed, “Give it to Maria!”

The Senior Nurse frowned but was not surprised by Katarina's answer.

“You don't want it?” she asked.

“Oh yes, Matron, of course, I do, but Maria has so much more to put up with than I do. I don't know how she copes sometimes. Please, let her have it.”

the Matron Eberhardt looked steadily at Katarina and then smiled.

“I had a feeling that is what you would say. I only wish I had two passes.”

“I am sure my turn will come sometime,” Katarina smiled, “Now, if you will excuse me I must get to the ward so Ailise can get away.”

Minutes later she arrived at Ward Three.

“Sorry, I kept you, Ailise but I bumped into Matron Eberhardt.”

“No trouble I hope,” her friend frowned.

“Oh no, everything is fine. So, is it here too?”

“Yes, pretty much as you left it this morning. Two discharges and an admission but otherwise, just as it was.”

“That's good.”

Katarina stopped for a moment and cocked an ear.

“I've just realised something,” she said, frowning, “It's so quiet.”

“What do you mean?” Ailise replied, “It sounds the same to me.”

“No aeroplanes! There are usually hundreds of bombers flying over by now.”

Ailise listened intently for a minute.

“Oh yes,” she said slowly, “Now you mention it, it is quiet. You don't think they have stopped because of Christmas do you?”

Katarina laughed out loud.

“You think our leaders care about Christmas? I don't. No, it is probably just something different, perhaps a different route or time maybe to throw the English off their guard perhaps.”

Ailise snorted quietly,

“Perhaps. Well Goodnight, Katarina. I hope it stays quiet for you.”

And so it did... for the first two hours.

As the evening wore on, Katarina sat at her desk and sipped at her coffee, catching up on paperwork and doing a little filing.

Suddenly, the telephone on her desk jangled loudly, and she quickly lifted the receiver and held it to her ear.

“Ward Three,” she said automatically and listened as the person at the other end spoke urgently.

“Yes, that is fine. We shall be ready,” she said and replaced the handset back into its cradle then stood up.

“Karin, Beatrice,” she called softly, waving at them to come to her desk.

“We have three admissions arriving shortly,” she told them as they approached. “All are serious bullet wounds.”

“That's all right, Matron, we have three beds adjacent to each other,” Karin stated, “That should make it a little easier.”

Some thirty minutes later the doors crashed open as the first patient was wheeled onto the ward flanked by two SS soldiers.

Katarina pointed to the first beds nearest to her desk.

“Any of those three,” she said, “And for heaven's sake, keep the noise down, I do have other patients, you know!”

Shortly after the other two arrived along with another SS soldier. Each of them took their places alongside the three wounded men, watching everything that Katarina and her nurses did.

Eventually, Katarina had had enough and went up to one of the soldiers.

“Do you really have to be here?” she asked.

The SS thug remained silent, not looking at her or even acknowledging that he had heard her.

She tutted and shook her head, returning to the business of looking after her patients.

The telephone rang again and, again, Katarina listened then replaced the handset.

“Two more,” she told her colleagues.

“What on earth is going on?” Karin frowned, “We will be run off our feet at this rate!”

Katarina smiled.

“Just as well we have no more beds then. Those are the last two.”

Just as the three before, these next two were also accompanied by heavily armed SS guards and Katarina was becoming a little concerned, especially as none of them would speak to her.

They didn't hinder the nurses in their work but, nevertheless, they were unnerving by their very presence.

The five patients were all SS soldiers, according to their papers and all had various wounds.

Two had shrapnel wounds to their abdomens, one had a severe upper thigh wound where a bullet had passed through, shattering his femur on the way, one had been hit in the chest by two bullets, puncturing a lung and one had been hit in the neck.

Katarina was surprised that the latter had survived even thus far. She surmised that he had been lucky enough to have been tended to immediately by a colleague who knew how to stem the bleeding as his pulmonary artery had been severed but even so, it was still touch and go whether he would make it through the night.

Katarina would do her damnedest to try and get him through, as she would with any patient who was in her care.

Around midnight, the doors opened, and two men entered the ward.

Katarina knew immediately who they were, Gestapo, but she wasn't about to allow them to wander about unchecked on her territory!

Before they had the chance to go any further into her ward, she stopped them.

“Can I help you?” she asked, her manner stern.

The older of the two men held her stare, his eyes steady and unblinking and reached into his jacket pocket.

He brought out a folded card and opened it in one practised movement, holding it in front of her face.

“Geheime Staatspolizei,” he snarled, his eyes still holding her.

“I am...” Katarina began but was cut off before she had a chance to give her name.

“I know who you are, Matron Katarina Langsdorf,” he said quietly but his words were menacing, and Katarina's heart froze as he continued.

“Your father is Siegfried Langsdorf, a member of the diplomatic service in Berlin... a good party member, no doubt and with some very influential contacts.”

For a moment, it seemed as though time itself had stopped and the only sound Katarina could hear was the thudding of her own heart.

She took a deep breath and drew herself up.

“Then you would be wise to remember it,” her words quiet but firm. She hoped they were as menacing to him as his were to her but, somehow, she doubted it.

The Gestapo man placed his identity card back into his pocket, still holding her gaze.

“I wish to speak to the men who were brought in here tonight.”

“Well, I'm sorry, Herr...?”

He didn't reply, so she went on.

“Those men are in a very bad way. They are not fit to be interviewed yet.”

The Gestapo agent looked past her and saw that she was not, in fact, being obstructive.

“Then we will wait.”

He looked around and saw some chairs by the wall and, without further discourse, the two of them went and sat, waiting patiently like spiders in their webs.

Katarina breathed out, but she was afraid now that she had been a little stupid in using her father's name against the Gestapo in the past. It would seem that they had checked up on both her and her father. She could not tell whether they were treading carefully now because of his position or were watching him and waiting for a chance to arrest him.

She decided she would be a little more careful in future.

“Matron!”

Karin called across to her, and she turned and went over to the bed beside which she was standing.

“He's coming round,” her young nurse said.

Katarina glanced surreptitiously over to the two Gestapo agents. They were watching every move.

“Where am I?” the young soldier asked slowly.

“You are in the hospital,” Karin told him gently, “How do you feel?”

“I've been better,” he replied, “How long have I been here?”

Not long, a couple of hours,” she replied.

“They surprised us...”

“Who surprised you?” Katarina asked.

“I don't know; there was an explosion, a grenade I think, and gunfire. It came from nowhere. We didn't get a chance to shoot back...”

The soldier coughed, blood speckling his lips, and groaned with pain.

“Ssh now,” Katarina whispered, glancing again at the two policemen who were on the verge of coming over, she thought, judging by the way they were sitting upright. They seemed to be straining to hear what she was saying.

“You need to rest. You have a severe chest wound and talking won't help you heal.”

The young Nazi nodded slightly and closed his eyes.

Katarina turned to Karin,

Don't let those two anywhere near him. If they upset him, he may not make it.”

Karin nodded agreement, her face grim and Katarina left her so she could check on her other patients.

Still the two Policemen watched her, like two hounds waiting to pounce.

When she returned to her desk, the taller of the two came over to her.

“What did he say?” he asked her abruptly.

“Not much,” she replied without looking up from her paperwork. “He said that they were attacked but didn't know who by as he never saw anyone.”

“And that's it?” the man frowned.

“Pretty much,” she answered. “Other than saying he thought there were a grenade and gunshots.”

Gestapo twitched his head towards his colleague who rose and headed toward the young soldier.

Katarina immediately jumped to her feet and blocked the other man's passage.”Don't you dare disturb him!” she hissed loudly. “You will kill him!”

The agent glanced toward his boss, who again flicked his head, then returned to his seat.

The night wore on and time passed slowly for Katarina. Having those two watching her every move was quite unnerving, and barely a word was passed between her and her nurses other than for the business of looking after their patients.

The sun had risen when the door opened, and an SS soldier entered the ward. For a moment, he looked around and then spotted the two Gestapo men.

Without a word to Katarina he went over to them and whispered to the senior of the two who nodded as he listened and then left as quickly as he had arrived.

The two Policemen got to their feet and followed him out.

Katarina was relieved to see the back of them but what she was unaware of was that they had been informed that someone who had knowledge of the ambush was there in the hospital... in ward Seven!

They burst through the door into Ward Seven and looked for the Matron. One of the nurses approached them.

“Geheime |Staatspolizei!” he hissed at her, “Where is Pierre Durand?”

“I'm sorry,” Madeleine said, standing in front of him, “The Matron is not here at the moment. If you would care to wait, I am sure she will not be long.”

“You would do well to be a little less obstructive if you know what is good for you!” the Policeman hissed, “Which is he?”

Madeleine sighed. There was nothing she could do that would make any difference, so she tilted her head towards the bed where Renatte was standing.

Having heard his name being mentioned, not understanding a word of German did not stop Pierre Durand from knowing that he was in trouble. He was fully aware that these two men dressed in suits were from the Gestapo. Most people taken by them were either tortured, killed or just never seen again.

He looked desperately around, looking for a way out, an open window perhaps or a way past them to the door but there was none and as the two thugs approached he pressed himself against the head of the bed.

The two men said nothing as they checked his notes and then looked at him.

“Raus!” the taller one barked and Pierre froze. He knew what they wanted, but he was paralysed with fear.

They didn't speak again but roughly dragged the Frenchman from the bed and headed for the door.

At that moment, Maria returned.

“What is going on here?” she demanded.

The two Policemen looked at each other, puzzled and then the taller turned to her and hissed,

“Geheime Staatspolizei!”

Was she stupid? He wondered, considering the time they had spent on her own ward tonight.

The next question puzzled him even more.

“Your identification please.”

His eyes narrowed. Was this stupid young woman playing games with them?

He reached into his pocket and opened his identity card for her to see. Either this young woman was exceptionally brave, regardless of who her father might be, or she was exceedingly stupid... although, as he thought about it, her voice did sound different...

There was no time to dwell on it though as they had a prisoner to interrogate, so the two of them pushed her to one side and left the ward, dragging the unfortunate Pierre Durand between them.

Back in Ward Three, Katarina was keeping busy with her patients.

Several minutes after the Gestapo had left the SS soldier appeared again and gestured to the other soldiers who immediately left having not uttered a single word throughout the hours they had been there.

She wondered momentarily what had happened. She could only assume that the SS soldiers had been ambushed somehow. She had heard that the French had begun fighting back, but she couldn't understand how a few civilians could possibly stand up to the might of the German army, especially one as ruthless as the SS.

Her thoughts were cut short when she heard Karin call her again, and she quickly went to the bedside of the young soldier who had woken earlier.

He looked pale now, and his breathing was laboured, rasping and shallow.

Katarina checked his pulse, and as she held his wrist, she felt a slight movement as the young soldiers fingers curled weakly about her own.

She looked at his face as he tried to speak but although his lips were moving, no sound was forthcoming.

She bent forwards and held her ear close to his mouth, but all she heard was the exhalation of his final breath as his body relaxed into death.

Katarina sighed and gently brushed her hand over his eyes to close the now lifeless lids.

She didn't dwell, never did. What would be the point? She had a job to do, and especially in war, thinking too much about every wasted life would have made her job intolerable. So she pulled the bed sheet up over his face and took his notes to her desk where she entered the time and date of his passing and then telephoned the mortuary to come and remove his corpse.

When Ailise arrived to relieve her, she couldn't have been more pleased. The long night had been particularly exhausting, and she was looking forwards to a bite to eat and then a good sleep so when she saw Maria coming out of Matron Eberhardt's office she was so pleased that she trotted up behind her and greeted her with a cheery,

“Gruss Gott, Maria, Merry Christmas!”

Maria swung around and immediately smiled happily when she saw who it was.

They walked together, arm in arm.

“She told you then?” Katarina asked her friend.

“Who?” Maria asked, “And told me what?”

“Your leave, silly. Matron Eberhardt told me about it last night before I relieved Ailise.”

Maria stared at her.

“You have leave too?” she said.

“No,” Katarina grinned broadly, “She only had one pass, and she wasn't sure which of us to give it to. I convinced her that you deserved it more.”

“Oh, I see,” Maria's face softened. “I refused it.”

Katarina was about to ask why but Maria explained to her about Renatte and how she feared she was about to have a breakdown and how she insisted on giving her the pass.

“I am sorry,” she ended, “Matron Eberhardt didn't tell you could have had it. If I had known, I would have insisted that she gave it to you.”

Katarina put her arm around Maria's waist and squeezed her tightly.

“Don't you dare apologise,” she said quietly, “You know I would have done the same, and besides, we will still have each others company for the rest of Christmas!”

Maria smiled.

“Yes,” she agreed, “Almost like family!”

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