“Wir haben, was wir vom Spion brauchen. Bringen Sie sie sofort herein.”
The phone rang as I stepped into my black heels and attached my faux pearl clip-on earrings. Hugo put his watch on and picked up the receiver; the muted voices on the other end spoke German.
After putting the receiver back in the cradle, Hugo didn’t turn around but just said, “Lotte, we need to stop by the office before dinner.”
“OK, but let’s be quick. I am starving.” Hugo did not realize that I could hear the Reich officer speaking on the other end of the line, and my German is impeccable. The translation was, “We have what we need from the spy. Bring her in immediately.”
I watched Hugo finish his tie and clasp, then slip easily into his gray and red uniform jacket. Moments ago, he held me in his arms, naked in bed, and told me he loved me. We talked of marriage and children and a house in the country when the war was over. Now, what could I do? Was Hugo an ally or an enemy? The wrong answer meant my life.
Hugo knew how I felt about Warsaw and suggested we walk the short distance to the Third Reich Headquarters. I loved to imagine the music, art, and culture of pre-war times here. But was this stroll a parting gift? Or was it a stall tactic while he thought of our escape plan? Either way, I am sure he was not surprised when I began my lovers’ lament for the city.
“Don’t you agree this is a beautiful city, Hugo? You must look beyond the red banners with the swastika and the barricades and the destruction, and… that,” we stopped to look at a random piece of luggage likely left in the street by a Jew forced into a truck and taken to a camp. “But soon, when the war is over, she can return to her former glory, don’t you think?”
I never heard Hugo’s reply to my question. I only saw that his demeanor tightened slightly, and tension built in his face with each ascending step up to the Third Reich Headquarters. Neither one of us had formulated a plan.
As we entered Headquarters, a vortex of angry energy picked me off my feet and threw me into a dark, cold room. Twenty-four minutes after the phone rang in Hugo’s apartment, I was handcuffed to a table.
A mid-ranking official in the Third Reich spat at me in rough German verbiage that the Reich had gathered proof that I was a spy for the Allies. And that there was no hope for me except to cooperate, and maybe they would spare me some torture.
Again, the rush of hands and metal blurred when officers lifted me from this chair and nearly threw me down the stairs into a second cell. A high-ranking lapel pin and hair the color of Grandma’s lemon meringue caught my eye for only a second.
Was that Hugo? Why hadn’t he been arrested? Was he a part of my arrest?
The brutish men shoved me into a chair, my right arm stretched out and cuffed in a chain attached to the wall, and then the same was done to the left. The ogres shuffled out of the cell, the last one sliding the metal door closed with a decided thud. The finality of the thud, like someone closing the book on my life in the deepest crypts of the earth, and the only souls around to sing the dirge of my end, were the chattering rats awaiting their feast.
Seconds later, the door slid open less than a meter, and a figure slipped into the darkness of my cell. I caught the scent of the fresh soap that we washed each other with mere hours ago, in stark contrast to the stench of sweat, vomit and other bodily fluids which made up the cacophony of smells in this small space. Hugo stepped into the light, so close I could feel his breath on my face.
“Hugo, what are you doing here? You will be arrested,” I pleaded with him to go.
“Lotte, was any part of us real? I must know. How could you do this to me? I loved you.” His voice was like the painful cry of a wolf.
“I am sorry, Hugo, and yes, everything between us was real. I love you,” I implored, needing him to believe me like I needed air. If he believed me, he could help me. “Hugo, I want everything we discussed, marriage, kids, a house. But we have to get out of here.”
He took my face in his hands and kissed me. Slow and sorrowful at first, I could feel the pain seeping up from his soul. The vine-like angst wrapped around and around us until I could hardly breathe.
As I pulled back to catch my breath, Hugo pushed the kiss further. His pain became an impious passion. His lips pressed harder on mine with a bit of desperation. Then he bit my lip and pushed me away. He whispered in my ear, “You will regret this.”
My first heart-wrenching realization about Hugo tonight is that my lover was my enemy.
I broke every rule in the handbook on this mission.
As a result, I was caught.
And I was on my own.
There would be no rescue.
There was no question I used Hugo to gain valuable information and passed it back to the U.S. and Canadian governments. But I also fell in love with Hugo and chose to ignore the consequences of being discovered. I was going to die alone in Poland, and no one would know until I missed a check-in next week.
I had failed to account for this consequence, for the pain of this lover’s infidelity. My torture began tonight with his betrayal, long before anyone touched me. The metaphoric knife stabbed me in the back as I realized that Hugo had known my secret, but I had not known his. And he had been giving me false information all along.
Within seconds, several uniformed men walked into the room as if they had been watching, just waiting for Hugo to finish. “Heil Hitler,” they saluted, and, less surprisingly, Hugo joined the men with no reprisal. The men whispered in harsh tongues, but I could not make out the words.
Hugo walked just to the edge of the light, not even coming close enough for me to take refuge in his scent this time. There was no love or passion in his eyes this time. His eyes were dead; a stranger used me as I used him, and now we were done with each other.
I noticed a folder in his hand and a chill ran down my spine.
My second realization seeped into my conscious mind; my lover was now my interrogator.
“How did you first decide to target me?”
I looked him straight in the eye and recited the song lyrics I had memorized just for this purpose.
Hugo asked again, and I sang a little louder. This went on for about thirty minutes. Finally, Hugo flew to me in rage, breathing fire into my ear, and whispered, “If you don’t answer my questions, it gets worse for you.”
I looked him in the eye, undeterred, “Heaven, I’m in Heaven. And my heart beats so that I can hardly speak…”
My third and final realization of the night developed slowly and then exploded through my body like the bombs destroying all other things good and evil in this war; my lover would be my executioner.
I knew my fate, and I knew Hugo would be the one to deliver the shot after hours of torturous interrogation. But I wouldn’t feel a thing. In my mind, I was not in that dank cell. I was dancing in a field of pink gerbera daisies, in a white cotton dress, with Fred Astaire as he sang,
“…And I seem to find the happiness I seek when we’re out together dancing cheek to cheek.”
Two days later, wearied citizens scuffled through the sodden streets of Warsaw to get their meager family rations for the day with umbrellas high and heads low. Between the pounding rain and the splashing cars, they never heard the three loud shots that rang out at precisely 3:25 p.m. underneath the Third Reich Headquarters. They never smelled the smoke rolling off Hugo’s gun barrel and never saw him exiting the office building humming a popular Fred Astaire song.