Episode Nine- Suspended Animation
7th June 1944, 6.00 A.M.,
The Resistance Safe House, Sarceaux, France
James woke up with a start. He had just had a nightmare- one that involved him being killed by Nazis in the middle of nowhere. His back ached from having slept in the same, uncomfortable position he had been tied to the chair in. He tried to open his mouth and groan but was stopped by the tape still stuck to his mouth.
His eyes, adjusting to the slightly brighter light in the room, fell on Klaus- who was staring right back at him. Julienne was sleeping on the ground, curled up in a ball to protect herself from the cold. Decisively, Klaus got up and walked to James, who only looked up with dislike at the man in front of him. Without warning and in one motion, Klaus swiftly pulled off the tape.
It was the second time someone had rudely taken off the tape from his mouth and he didn’t like it one bit. In fact, it stung his skin worse than it did the first time around. He involuntarily let out a wince.
“I know how that feels.” Klaus said, his back turned to James as he walked back to his chair.
“Really?” James asked, sarcastically.
Klaus shrugged his shoulders and muttered, “Eh. Well.”
For some time, they stayed silent. James watched Klaus pick up something from the table- an object that looked like a paperweight. In the dim light, all he could make out was that it was triangular with some kind of design.
“You brought it with you from home?” James asked. He normally wouldn’t make conversation with the enemy but given the bombshell that the Gestapo dropped on them the previous night, he figured it was only a matter of time before they realised that he was the only one who could get them out of this mess alive. And he wanted to help them get to that realisation as fast as possible.
“How did you know?” Klaus said, sitting down in the chair opposite James.
“It wasn’t hard to deduce.” James said.
“It was a gift,” Klaus said, “from my parents. It was for having gotten into medicine.”
“They must have been proud.”
“Yes,” Klaus paused as he looked at the paperweight intently, “yes they were. It says here ‘Für unseren kleinen arzt.’”
“For our little doctor.” James sighed, translating in English.
“For our little doctor.” Klaus repeated, his voice turning into a whisper.
They again relapsed into silence. For a brief moment, James genuinely felt sorry for Klaus. Somehow, he felt one with the German. After all, they were both young men thrust into a strange world where instead of helping one another, they had to kill- all in the name of ideals and institutions.
“Do you believe in what you’re fighting for, Corporal James?”
James thought about it for a little while before he answered, “I think I do.”
“What are you fighting for, Corporal James?” Klaus enquired, his voice betraying his curiousness. Or was it sarcasm? James couldn’t tell.
“Freedom. I think that’s the simplest answer.”
“And are you willing to die for that freedom, Corporal?”
“If it came to that, yes.” James answered, rhetorically.
“You’re lying.” He said, conclusively, “Corporal, you say you will die for freedom. But remember that at the end of the day, it’s essentially your freedom that you will die for. You don’t give a shit about the French.”
“That’s not true.” James protested.
“But it is. Tell me, Corporal, why did America enter the war?”
“Like I said, we wanted to give the French their freedom.”
“No, Corporal, you didn’t. If you were so damn concerned about the French, where were you when we hit them in 1940? You were still debating in your Congresses and your Senates about whether there were too many movies in Hollywood.”
He paused for a bit before continuing in a low voice, “The only time you decided to act was when Japan hit Pearl Harbour. You decided to act when it was your freedom that was under question.”
James wanted to argue against the logic but the words seemed to evade him- partly because what he said made sense.
“We all act,” Klaus said reflectively, looking at the paperweight in his hand, “only when we or someone we love is threatened. There’s nothing else to it- no morality, no right, no wrong, nothing.”
“Is that why you fought for Hitler? Because he was being threatened?” James figured there weren’t going to be too many conversations between himself and Klaus and if he needed to drive him the point that he was their only hope for survival, he needed to do it fast.
“Do you fight for Eisenhower?” Klaus shot back at James.
James stayed silent, sensing the question was only being asked to make a point.
“You don’t,” Klaus said, “you fight for the United States of America. You fight for that flag on the sleeve, Corporal. You don’t fight for Eisenhower or Patton or anybody else!”
“So you fought for Germany?”
“I did. I believed in the Fatherland. And to be completely honest, I believed in Adolf Hitler. I’m not going to lie and I am not ashamed of having done that.”
Klaus paused as Julienne turned to sleep straight. He looked at her for about a minute more as he made sure she was not awake. Satisfied that she was still fast asleep, he continued, “I was born in 1915. So my earliest memories are not of the First World War. My earliest memories are of the Republic.”
“The Weimar Republic?” James asked, even though he knew it was the one Klaus was referring too. It would have been a shame if he didn’t know that as a history student. But he did this mainly to show Klaus that he was listening.
“That’s what they called it, yes. And growing up in the Republic was hard. We found living life very difficult. Consider our war rations- I don’t know how generous the US Army is but I’m guessing that there isn’t much difference between the Wehrmacht and you people when it comes to food. The amount of food in a standard ration for soldiers is what we got for an entire week. Oftentimes, it was less.”
“So, here we were struggling to make ends meet and there Hitler was, promising a better future. Of course, it was a radically better future so no one really gave him any importance. But by the time 1933 came around, Germany needed him more than he needed Germany. The Depression had killed any hopes of a better future. Survival became a miracle for the common German. And in the midst of all this, were the Jews, who were somehow keeping it together during this time.”
“So all that Hitler said about Jews started to make sense. In our minds, we needed an answer for what was going on and Hitler was our answer. So we voted for him in thirty three and when he rebuilt Germany from scratch and made it a power in Europe once again- at par with England, Russia and France- we only felt it right that we fight to defend it against powers who didn’t want us to be this way. Moreover, Hitler said that service to the Fatherland and all that it stands for is the highest honour of all and that soldiers and their families will be rewarded and taken care of by the Reich. As a young man, that appealed to me. The idea of security for the simple task of serving your country- especially saving lives as a doctor- was ideal for me.”
James couldn’t say he understood everything that Klaus said or that he even sympathised with anything. Without any emotion, he asked, “Why are you telling me all this now?”
“Because, Corporal,” Klaus said, his voice was an eerie, volatile and unlikely combination of certainty and doubt at the same time, “I don’t know if I am fighting for the same country anymore.”
11.50 A.M, 7th June 1944
The Resistance Safe House, Sarceaux, France.
It had been two and a half hours since Julienne had woken up from her sleep but she didn’t feel calm. She was fidgeting her feet and seated with her back to the wall. Klaus seemed busy in his thoughts- playing with a paperweight of some sort as he did and James was still seated on the chair with his eyes closed and pretty much every other part of his body tied up.
“Okay, I can’t stay silent anymore.” Julienne said, with emphasis on ‘anymore’.
When neither James nor Klaus responded, she felt compelled to go on. “We can’t just sit here all day.”
“We don’t have much of a choice.” Klaus said broodingly.
“What do you mean?”
“Well,” Klaus said, “considering that the Gestapo all over the country is going to be looking for us, I think it’s best if we lay low for a while- at least for the next few days.”
“I agree.” James said, still not opening his eyes.
“Why the hell is he talking?” she enquired, pointing at James.
“Seeing that all three of us aren’t exactly going to be on the guest list of a Nazi dinner party, I figured he could help us. It’s in all of our best interests that we work on this together.”
Julienne eyed him suspiciously, but understood the logic behind James being included in the discussion. After a long pause, during which she looked at him without so much as a blink, she managed to say, “Alright. So what now?”
“Like the Red Baron here said,” James said, “we can’t go anywhere.”
“But we can’t stay here too long either.” Julienne countered.
“So what now?”
All of them went back to consult their own brains about what course of action was best for the three of them. About two minutes later, Julienne snapped her fingers decisively.
“I know what we should do.”
“And what is that?”
“Okay, before I get to that, here’s the situation now. As of now, we are well hidden in the middle of nowhere. It’ll take a while for the police to triangulate us to this town. It may be not be too long but we might have about two or three days on our hands. Correct?”
Klaus and James nodded simultaneously. James even went on to think that matters such as police operations in France were best left to a woman who had lived there all her life.
“Okay, let’s keep two days at worst. Today is the seventh- which means we have to leave this place by the ninth of July.”
“Where do we go?” Klaus asked.
“Anywhere but Paris.” James said.
“I disagree.” Julienne said firmly.
“I’m sorry, Julienne but I have to agree with the American. Paris is not an option.” Klaus said.
“No other city is an option.” Julienne reiterated.
“Are you mad?” James had now opened his eyes and was looking at her, neck turned at nearly right angles to his torso, “Paris is the Gestapo’s breeding ground. There is no way I waited this long to hand myself over to them in a gift bag.”
“Paris is the only option!” Julienne had raised her voice slightly- enough to try and make a point but still quiet enough to prevent any unneeded neighbourly observations.
“Alright. Convince me.” Klaus demanded.
“In front of us, we have a few options. We could go back to St. Lȏ or anywhere else in the Normandy area. The drawback is obvious. With the war going on, the place is mayhem. None of us has any clue which place is American and which is German. And in any case, we can’t get out of the German lines alive- not with the American walking with us and the Gestapo order on us. So, Normandy is out.”
“We can try to go to Spain from here but that’s a risk. It’s a long journey and it’ll take days before we even cross the Pyrenees to get inside Spain. And again, there’s the risk of getting caught because we are staying longer and longer in France.”
“Obviously, we can’t go further east. We can’t go inside Germany or anywhere close to Germany. Neither can we get to any Nazi country like Belgium or Holland. Security will be heightened since the Allies landed.”
“That leaves only Paris. It’s not the best option. But it’s our only one.” She concluded.
“I’m not convinced about Spain. It’s a complicated route, sure. But if we can avoid major cities like Marseilles, Toulouse, Lyons and Bordeaux, we may actually be able to make it into Spain and move on from there.” Klaus said.
“Like I said,” Julienne was getting irritated, “the longer we stay in France, the more the chances are we get caught. Plus, they will be expecting us to go there. They will be expecting us to change course and try and get to Madrid, Bilbao or Barcelona. The one place they will never suspect us to go to is Paris, especially since they’ve already announced our names on the radio and told everybody we’re going to Paris. If I was them, I would do that to have them change direction and head to the only other ‘safe’ option- Spain. People often fail to look where it’s most obvious.”
“I hate to say this,” James cut in, “but I have to agree with her. Paris is our best bet.”
Julienne seemed to look vindicated when James supported her. Klaus thought a little more about Spain in addition to what she had said. While it was true that the journey to Spain would be long, arduous and there was a distinct possibility that they would be caught, he thought if they could just about manage to get into Spain, they would be able to survive. Given that the tidings of the war were changing in favour of the Allies, Klaus thought that Spain’s new ruler- General Franco- was smart enough to know that while it was the Nazis that got him to power in 1936, they would not be the ones to keep him there. This meant that Spain was a possible safe haven for any Americans trapped inside Nazi France and any “enemies of the state”- as he and Julienne were now labelled.
“You know what? I’m still not convinced about Paris being better than Spain. But right now, we have to lay low for a couple of days. Let’s all just think about what we can do and then we can decide. We have about forty eight hours- give or take a few- to do that.”
3.30 P.M., 7th June 1944
The Resistance Safe House, Sarceaux, France.
The sound of gunfire and shells raining down in the distance was all they heard. It didn’t seem to be getting any closer but at least it wasn’t going away. For James, that was a good sign. It meant the invasion was at least progressing- albeit slowly, he imagined. He was still tied up to the chair he was in but at least he was able to move his neck laterally. He saw Julienne seated by another chair which she had pulled up near the window. Her eyes were open and with the help of a thin streak of sunlight, James could see that they were bloodshot. He looked around for Klaus but the German was nowhere to be found.
“Where’s he?” James asked, startling Julienne in the process.
“He’s,” she cleared her throat, “he’s sleeping in the other room.”
“The bedroom?” He asked, referring to the mini-slaughterhouse.
“No. The kitchen.”
“Why were you crying?”
“I wasn’t.” She said curtly and turned to face the window.
“Listen, it’s okay to cry.” James tried to console her- he wasn’t really sure why.
“I said I wasn’t crying.” She replied firmly.
“I saw…” James started
“You didn’t see anything! I said I wasn’t crying!” she got up from her chair and shouted at James.
“Only trying to help.” James muttered under his breath.
Julienne looked at him for a few seconds, breathing heavily before shaking her head in disbelief at what a pest James was and sitting down again. He wasn’t wrong though. She was crying. She just didn’t feel like talking about it to anyone- at least not now. Maybe later, she thought, when I’ve had more time to process it.
Despite her outburst at him, James continued to scrutinise Julienne. She had a pretty face, he had to admit. It was not the kind that would turn heads if she walked down a crowded street but she was pretty in her own way. Her red, strained eyes contrasted sharply with her pale, whitish complexion and yet seemed in harmony with it. She was in deep thought about something. James assumed it was about whatever it was that made her cry.
Suddenly, without any warning, she got up and started pacing the room feverishly. James looked at her with intrigue but she paid no heed to him.
“Okay listen,” she told James as she continued walking from the front door to somewhere behind James, “Paris is, in my opinion, the best option and of course, he isn’t convinced it is. He wants to go to Spain.”
“Stating the obvious but I assume you have a point. So, go on.” James said, still irritated from her earlier outburst.
She glared at him for a few moments before continuing, “We’re not qualified to be talking about it from here.”
“What do you mean ‘we’re not qualified’?” James asked
“We’re sitting here, assuming things- like how dangerous it might be to try and go to Madrid or how the Germans would never look for us in Paris. And there’s nothing more dangerous these days than assumptions. One wrong move and the next thing we know, we’re lined up, on our knees in front of a firing squad. I don’t know about you, Américain, but I would like to avoid that.”
“So you’re saying we need an outside source to confirm what’s going on?” James asked, hoping he was catching the drift of what she was saying.
“Exactly!” she exclaimed, “We need someone on the outside to tell us what’s going on, when we can make a break for it from here and if we’re making a break for it, where we’re going to be going.”
James stayed silent but he could see the logic in what she was saying.
“We don’t,” she continued, “have many friends on the outside. The Germans think we’re traitors and they’ve got their police trying to find us. For them, it is a matter of high importance because it looks like one of their own has switched sides. It’s not one of the Ostlegionen people who’s switched sides.”
“I’m sorry,” James interrupted, “Ostlegionen? East Legions? What is that?”
“It’s the troops who fight for the Nazis but are from elsewhere in the East, like Russians or Poles or Slavs or something.”
“Alright.” James said.
“So, like I was saying, this is a big deal to the Nazis. This means that it is also a big deal to another group of people who could serve as our eyes on the outside.”
“Are you saying…” James began as the idea she was trying to get across dawned on him
“Oui, Américain,” Julienne said in a low voice, bending down so that her face was parallel to and less than three inches away from his face, “I am saying what you think I am saying. We’re going to use to Resistance to help us escape.”