First book in the Alpine Adventure series
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D L Knuth
Hitler's Anschluss is a welcome sight for thousands of Austrians who long for the peaceful merger between Austria and Germany. Yet for David Harris, a Chicago reporter, this particular assignment is anything but peaceful. Within minutes of arriving in Salzburg David encounters Brigitta Reinhardt, a starving Jewish widow who is attempting to flee from the Gestapo's clutches. After hiding underneath the Salzach River, Brigitta is caught and awaits her worst fears.
David learns first hand the regime's violence and brutality when he tries to defend a young woman from an overbearing SS officer and winds up in the Gestapo prison. Little does he know the woman he defends is Anna Von Braun, the daughter of the high-ranking Nazi family,who invites him to live in their home.
Unlike her father and brother who are dedicated to the Nazi regime, Anna Von Braum has her own misgivings about Hitler's promises. Is the horrible nightmare she keeps having be the source of her doubts and could it be the key to Brigitta's fate? Against her father's edict, Anna and David secretly uncover the truth that her father is so deeply involved in.
Late August 1938
The enormous black train chugged toward the waiting Salzburg station. Sounds of squeals descended from the cab as the brakes ground against the steel tracks. David Harris jolted out of his seat as it slowed from an already slow pace to an abrupt halt. His knapsack, which was sitting on his lap, fell to the floor with a thud.
David Harris waited while the train moved again and proceeded into the station. The mountains were beautiful in the distance. Regardless of the fact that it was in the middle of summer, the American reporter noticed the snow-white caps on the mountaintops. It was a wonder to behold! Down in the village, lay brown and white houses dotting the patchy green meadows. It was a fairy tale magic lying before him. Never in his entire life had he seen anything so beautiful… so serene, and yet if he focused on this scene entirely, he could easily forget the real reason he was there. This was no fairy tale and Adolf Hitler was no Prince Charming. In fact… from what David had read from his own research Hitler couldn’t even be considered a man. A monster was more like it. He had an agenda for power and no one was going to get in his way.
The last month had proven that. It wasn’t a coincidence that in 1934 Adolf Hitler had murdered Chancellor Dollfuss right there in the Chancellery after the Austrian refused to sign a treaty for the union with Germany. Nor was it a coincidence two years later that Hitler in anger tore up the treaty after he had already recognized Austria as an independent country. Furthermore, it was not a coincidence that Hitler invited the new Chancellor, Kurt von Schuschnigg to Berchtesgaden only to demand concessions from Austria. In the end, Hitler ordered Schuschnigg’s resignation and then advanced his troops to the border.
David had to admit it was all a coup. A false plan to thwart the real reason: his thirst for power. As a result of all his scheming and manipulating Hitler got what he wanted. The Anschluss, a term Hitler used to “restore order” within the German Reich was formed. It was only the beginning.
However, that was not the reason his editor, Bob Couchman, had sent him. From his editor’s point of view David Harris had gone to Salzburg, Austria only, to cover the peaceful merger that the citizens had already dreamed about. A merger that was well accepted among the people. In Bob Couchman’s eyes it was just a formality. Nothing to get excited about. He would do the story and then be back in Chicago within a couple of weeks. David thought about their conversation.
“I want you to cover Hitler’s merger with Austria for me,” Bob had requested several days ago in his cluttered office. David was sitting across from him.
“You mean The Anschluss?”
“Yes.” Bob had stood up from his leather chair and handed him a manila folder that was bulging with useful information. David took it without saying anything. “All the information is in here.”
David opened it, browsing the content for several minutes. There were several photographs, including an 8x10 picture of Adolf Hitler riding through the streets of Vienna. Under the picture was written: March 13, 1938. Picking up the photo he studied it intently. The citizens looked full of adulation as though this was Christmas and their birthday all rolled up into one day. David placed the picture on the desk.
Bob sat back in his chair. “As you can see the Austrian people want this merger. They consider themselves Germans.” Bob stopped talking when he saw the frown that appeared on David’s fair face. Before he could express his concerns, Bob went on with his explanation. “Don’t worry David. I promise you everything is peaceful.”
“What happens if they close the borders?”
“They won’t.” Bob picked up the picture and placed it in the folder. “We have inside contacts that say American reporters are safe.”
“But that can change,” David argued. “At any moment these Germans can change their minds. I could get stuck. We both know that.”
Bob whistled lowly. “You worry too much. Anyway… what can happen to you? You’re an American. No one will bother you.” Bob glared at him. “Discussion closed.”
However, the discussion had bothered David. It wasn’t so much what Bob had said; it was what he had forgotten to say that made the young reporter squirm. From experience Bob Couchman was a man that liked to cut corners. He didn’t care who got hurt as long as he got his story before any other newspaper did. Several times before David had seen reporters hurry into a piece without getting all the facts and in the end they got burned. David wanted to make sure he wasn’t one of those causalities, but regardless of how much David had argued, he was still given the assignment.
The train suddenly moved forward, crawling several more inches toward the station. At this rate we will take forever getting there, David thought impatiently. The last thing he wanted to do was wait.
Quickly he glanced at the frail woman that was sitting across from him. Dressed in a plain brown jumper and dingy white blouse she looked like a vagabond roaming the streets rather than a citizen on the train. The faded blue sweater she wore was two sizes too big, and her flat brown shoes were scuffed and worn. She probably had owned the pair forever, or more likely she wore somebody else’s shoes.
In her lap lay a filthy handkerchief. She carefully opened it and pulled out a thick piece of moldy bread and a hunk of greenish cheese. David watched in horror as this young woman ate this disgusting meal with such relish. She ate it slowly, obviously trying to make it last. After each bite she licked her grimy fingers. David noticed that her face was drawn and pale as though she hadn’t eaten anything for several days.
But, David thought, if she hadn’t eaten in days and was near starving how in the world could she possibly afford a train ticket? It was one of the greatest mysteries to David, understanding the mind of a desperate woman. Certainly by looking at her she would rather not eat than to stay behind, but why? Were things so bad that she felt compelled to forsake everything and flee? It was one of the many questions that David was certainly going to answer.
Abruptly, the woman’s innocent brown eyes looked into David’s as though she was waiting for something miraculous to happen. Feeling uncomfortable, David glanced downward and shuttered at the scrawny arms that protruded from the sleeves. He turned to the window and tried to keep the bile that began to rise to his throat. He had never seen anyone look so undernourished before. As a reporter he had seen pictures of people from third world countries that were starving, but that was different. He wasn’t in the same compartment with them. Their hollow eyes weren’t piercing into his very soul.
Finally, the train made its final stretch into the station. A look of fear crossed the woman’s pale face as she wadded up the filthy handkerchief and stuffed it in her sweater pocket. She grabbed her bag and clutched it to her heart.
Commotion could be heard throughout the train compartments. Luggage thudded to the floor as passengers were getting ready to go. People talked among themselves. David, on the other hand, sat in his seat, stretching his long legs. He had no reason to hurry. After all… he was an American citizen with a reporter’s pass.
“Everybody off!” shouted the Gestapo policemen. The Nazi secret police, dressed in black uniforms, patrolled the aisle, throwing open compartments and shoving passengers out. It didn’t matter if the passengers were ready; all of them tumbled out like dirty laundry. Passengers screamed as they slammed against the wall and fell on top of one another. Mothers protected their children from unwarranted violence. Suitcases were hurled out of the rooms and thrown against the walls, opening them in midair. Shirts and pants went everywhere. Gold and jewelry that had been stashed in secret compartments rolled down the narrow corridor.
In all the confusion David stubbornly refused to get rattled. He was an American reporter and citizen, and there was no way he would move. It didn’t matter how rough these men were going to get. If they did try to forcefully move him, he would let the American Embassy know. It would be their problem, not his. However, without any warning their steel compartment door opened and a short Gestapo policeman stood in the entranceway. He stared at David who sat unmoved.
“Out now!” he ordered. He started to grab David’s camera bag but David intercepted. “Careful with that,” he said, taking the bag away from the officer. “I am an American reporter and this is my camera bag. If it gets damaged you’ll have to pay for it.”
“Is that so?” The short policeman walked closer to David. “Well…” the man said smugly. “You are not in America anymore.” He grabbed David by his collar and yanked him on his feet. His black camera bag toppled to the floor, and in one quick movement, the Gestapo police kicked the bag out of the door with such force that it ricocheted off the far wall. David’s heart sank when he heard a distinctive crack from the inside the bag. Quite possibly the camera was in pieces. That was the least of his worries, he thought as the policeman lifted him off his feet and hurled him through the open door. His body crashed against the wall like a rag doll, knocking the wind out of him. Change clattered on the floor.
David sat in a heap on the floor, stunned as to what to do next. Trying to clear his head he glanced inside the compartment. The woman was gone. That was no surprise to him. His files reported that for the most part Jewish citizens were deathly afraid of their stalkers. Next, he glared at the man who just threw him out. The fat policeman just laughed at his predicament and went on with his task as though nothing had happened. Without breaking his stride the policeman began jabbing David with the butt of his rifle. David tried to get to his feet.
“Hurry up!” yelled the Gestapo as he impatiently jabbed him again, hoping that would make him go faster.
With a rifle butt in his back and hot breath on his neck he walked down the hallway. David stumbled over the few train steps until he fell into the lobby.
The lobby was the epitome of Nazism. Gestapo policemen were everywhere. German officers strutted around the lobby while the civilians kept their sad eyes gazing at the ground. They shuffled along, clinging to what little belongings they had. Men pulled their bulging overcoats close to their bodies, hoping to hide their five layers of shirts and sweaters. Desperate women clutched their bags, which were stuffed with raggedy clothes and mementos, close to their chests. Children hid behind their parents’ legs.
Citizens moved in fear, terrified they would be singled out. David knew how they felt. As he hesitantly moved through the crowd, David felt as though he was being watched. It wasn’t a person, but a feeling, an ambience. The room was filled with this dreaded fear that only the enemy could control. Directing his eyes slightly upward the young American noticed a black and red Nazi flag hanging from one corner of the ceiling. It was enormous, covering much of the wall. Its black crooked legs formed into a cross and looked eerie against the red backdrop.
That was the feeling, David thought. This deformed cross seemed to be watching his every move. It made David shiver inside and he crossed his arms as though that would protect him.
The other concrete walls were covered with propaganda posters depicting the annexation of Austria to Germany. Not one of them showed the real story David had witnessed on the train: malnutrition, filth, and brutality. These posters were all a lie. Nothing could stop him from telling the world the truth about Hitler and his regime. If he ever got out of this jam he promised himself that he would write the story. Not the story that his editor had desired, but the true one with details and photos. If he could manage it, the Americans would know the horrendous truth.
He moved across the crowded lobby. Scores of terrified travelers separated into two lines: men and women. Panicky sobs were heard throughout the lobby. It seemed the length of the two lines grew with each passing minute. Citizens of several nationalities and races waited in the lines to be checked in by the men of the Third Reich.
The Gestapo policeman guided him toward the ever-growing men’s line. Once David took his rightful place in line the Gestapo left him. For the first time he realized that he was standing among a mass of people and yet feeling all alone. No one, not even the American Embassy could help him now.
David stood at attention, looking directly in front of him. A large, hairy, Italian man blocked his view of the check-in table, or for that matter, everything else. It didn’t really matter. He would somehow get out of this mess just like he got out of other predicaments. He was famous for escaping trouble without getting singed. This time would be no different.
As the line moved forward David noticed a wide table positioned close to the wall where every kind of luggage was searched. Three ominous looking SS officers stood close to the wall, lugers at the ready. Their menacing stares and impeccable uniforms dared anyone to challenge their authority. Frowns adorned their faces. A heavyset policeman stood behind the table and carelessly rummaged through the items that were in the suitcases. The line moved slowly forward. David couldn’t help but hear the pleas as the people came face to face with the Gestapo policeman. They watched in horror as rough hands rifled through their personal belongings. Courtesy was not the name of the game. Items were thrown carelessly all over the table. Valuable items were set aside for the Reich’s use or were slipped into the policeman’s pockets. Once their belongings were checked, the Nazi doctors led them away to a small room. David tried not to listen to the sobs and wails as those people were strip searched in front of their family members.
The sight shocked him. David had never seen people being treated so rudely. With a new determination he vowed that the whole truth would be told.
“Open your bag!” said a Nazi officer.
David looked up and realized he was standing in front of the table. “Me?” asked David.
The officer nodded. “Ja!”
Without saying a word David opened his worn out satchel and stepped aside. The officer dumped the contents on the table and rummaged through them, throwing clothes all over the table. David watched helplessly as the guard carelessly dropped his toiletry bag on the cluttered table. Without permission, the policeman opened the bag and began removing the items: a toothbrush and paste, a hairbrush, shampoo, a steel razor, and a half bottle of shaving cream. He scrutinized each item as though he were looking for some sort of weapon. The aftershave lotion held a particular interest to him. He carefully unscrewed the small top as though it were made of dynamite. Then, the officer poured a generous supply on his beefy hand and leaned over the table in order to cover David’s face with it. A hideous laugh escaped the officer’s lips.
David didn’t flinch. Instead he smiled as though it was a refreshing experience. If this overbearing Nazi SS officer had nothing better to do than play silly childish games, then why should he complain? He had nowhere important to go except maybe the American Embassy. So let him have his fun.
Within seconds the officer grew tired of the game and turned his attention to the black case that stood in the middle of the table. “What’s in there?” he asked, pointing to the black bag. He shook it only to hear a sickening clang.
David heart sank. It was indeed broken, but there was no time to address the problem. This well dressed, clean-shaven officer already looked perturbed. It must not have been a good day.
Again, the officer asked with much agitation. “What’s in the bag?”
“A camera and gear,” David proudly announced. “I’m a reporter.”
“Sure you are,” sneered the officer. “Show me some identification!”
David handed him his passport and press card. The officer stared at the picture of the medium height man of twenty-four. His brown cropped hair and brown eyes made the officer frown.
“I am an American!”
After a few minutes of looking at the cards, the officer grunted disgustedly. “You may go!”
David began stuffing his clothes into the bag. As he turned to go, the officer stopped him. “Oh… and welcome to the New Austria!”