Episode Ten- Survival
8.00 P.M., 7th July 1944,
The Resistance Safe House, Sarceaux, France.
“I thought that was a given.” That was all Klaus could muster when Julienne finished telling him about her idea of using the Resistance to help them.
Slightly taken aback, Julienne responded by asking a question. “What?”
“I thought it was a given that we were using the Resistance.” Klaus said, matter-of-factly.
He paused for a second or two and then realised that they needed more explanation. “Whether we get to Spain or to Paris- which is ideally the question we should be discussing- we have to use the Resistance to go across the country and stay in various places. We can’t do it alone.”
“So you already knew that?” James asked.
“Yeah. Didn’t you?” Klaus asked back, a tad surprised. He thought that at least the soldier among the two would have worked this out earlier.
Julienne turned her back to the two men and faced the window. Now that all of them agreed that the Resistance was the only way they were going to survive, the only question remained as to what to do next.
“Where we go after this,” she began, her back still turned to the soldiers, “we can only decide based on what information we get from the Resistance on how big the manhunt for the three of us is.”
“You still have any contacts?” Klaus asked.
“In Sarceaux, no. However, I do know one or two people in Paris and one person near Toulouse. I’m discounting most others because they aren’t high up in the Resistance. I’m not saying that these two or three people are top brass but I do know that they have enough influence in the organisation in those cities to maybe figure out what’s going on.”
“Can you contact them from here?” James asked. Normally, such a question would have been a slight to Julienne’s ability as a spy but it was a valid doubt in these circumstances. The three of them were stuck in a small town in the middle of France, with no telephones in the house and any exposure into the open looking for a telephone would probably mean immediate capture and death.
“It’s difficult from this house, per se. I need about a day- maybe more- to figure out who is working for the Resistance here and use them to get to where we need.”
“We don’t have more than a day.” Klaus said, wearily. He recognised the problem that Julienne had as a legitimate one. He just didn’t know of any solution to it.
“I know,” she said, “I’ll do something tomorrow.”
“We can’t really do anything until she comes back.” James said to Klaus, “So I am going to go get some sleep.”
Seeing no reason to stop him or keep him awake, Klaus let the man go. When he saw the fairly tall figure walk with a sense of authority towards the kitchen despite his hands tied to his back, the German gave out a chuckle- inaudible to the others, of course. To him, it seemed like the lines of ally and enemy had been juxtaposed and blurred beyond recognition. Julienne also decided to get a period of rest before her big day- slumping down limply on the chair nearby and closing her eyes.
1.30 A.M., 8th July 1944,
The Resistance Safe House, Sarceaux, France.
Julienne couldn’t sleep. She tried as best as she could but for some reason, sleep evaded her better than she was evading the police. And she was evading them pretty well as of now. She tossed and turned, exhaled loudly, inhaled deeply, and counted from one to hundred and then back but nothing seemed to lull her mind into a temporary coma.
“You look disturbed.” Klaus commented.
Julienne didn’t open her eyes initially, for fear that whatever drowsiness she had may actually vanish the moment she exposed her corneas to light. Then again, she had tried for about five hours without success. What harm could a few more minutes do?
“I just can’t sleep.” She replied.
“No shit, Sherlock.” He said sarcastically.
She allowed herself to smile. Her facial muscles ached. It had been a while since she had smiled even a little bit.
“What’s bothering you?” Klaus asked.
For a few seconds, she contemplated. She knew what was bothering her, even if it wasn’t the first and foremost thing on her mind. Earlier in the day, she had been curt with James when he tried to ask her what was on her mind. She wondered if she should do the same with Klaus.
“It’s just the two of us and we’re all on the same side here- whatever the hell that side is.” He tried to reassure her of the security of her information were it to be shared.
“Yeah I know.” She said.
“So what is it?”
“It’s Rudy.” She said, simultaneously feeling like an invisible anchor had been lifted from the depths of her heart, allowing a sorrowful ship to start moving slowly away toward the distant horizon, away from prying human eyes.
“My husband. He works for the Abwehr.” She explained, realising that she hadn’t told Klaus about Rudolf.
“Ah yes. Belgium, right?” he said, vaguely recalling something being spoken about him.
“Yeah. He’s in Antwerp. Or at least, he was until a few days ago.” She said, without emotion.
“What happened to him since?” Klaus asked.
“I don’t know. I haven’t spoken to him since we started running.”
Both Klaus and Julienne knew what could have happened to Rudolf. The Reich did not take kindly to traitors- or their immediate family.
“Obviously,” she continued, “he would have been arrested by now.”
“Any chance he knew about it beforehand and managed to escape?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think so, though.” She said, in a low voice.
They stayed silent for some time. The reality of war was hitting them now. It was all well and good until they were fighting for the Reich. One misunderstanding with the Gestapo and the tables were turned in an instant. Misinformation was rampant in the Reich- especially since the beginning of the war- and it had its effect.
“You have any family in Germany?” she asked.
Klaus looked at the paperweight on the table. He couldn’t make out any of the finer details given the darkness the room was enveloped in, but he did make out the silhouette.
“Yeah.” He said, quietly.
A moment of understanding transpired between the Frenchwoman and the German soldier before the former whispered, “I’m sorry.”
“So what do you reckon will happen to all of them- Rudy, your family?” she asked, after a few seconds.
“They’ll probably be killed. Firing squad- most probably.” He said, without feeling. That was the soldier in him speaking. The son in him wanted to scream his lungs out and go on a shooting spree through the Reichstag until he had justice- or at least until he could explain himself.
Different people deal with grief in different ways, Julienne thought to herself when she heard Klaus say what he did the way he did. She couldn’t understand how he could be so calm. Then again, he was a soldier. Maybe he was trained to deal with situations like this. It didn’t make complete sense to her but that was the best explanation that she could muster at this point.
“I envy the Américain.” Julienne declared.
“The American?” Klaus asked, just to confirm. His knowledge of French was next to zero. Apart from a Bonjour here and a Monsieur there, he didn’t know anything in that language.
“Why is that?”
“At least he’s still fighting for his country.”
Klaus sighed. Technically, that was true.
“He’s got an identity,” she went on, “a cause, something that he is still willing to fight for. Look at us. You served your country- saved God knows how many lives and here you are, persecuted by the very nation you serve.”
Klaus stayed silent and let her go on.
“As for me, I don’t even know what I am anymore. On the one hand, I justify my actions by telling myself reasons which make sense in a contorted, sick and emotional way. On the other hand, I feel like a weakling for having let my sense of duty to the nation be overpowered by my own personal desire to survive- like somehow, I was more important to me than my country and the millions of people living in it.”
“Have you ever heard of this story about a mama monkey, her kids and the water tank?” Klaus asked.
“No. Why?” She asked, her curiosity piqued by the seemingly unrelated question.
“It’s a story they would tell kids in Hitler Youth. I had gone for a medical fitness lecture session as a guest speaker in Dusseldorf back in thirty eight. I reached the place a little early so I had time to sit at the back of this large, imposing auditorium and listen to the speaker before me- a psychologist.”
“He was speaking about how the enemy- the British, the Czechs and so on- react when they are faced with increasing danger. By thirty eight, everybody knew Europe was heading towards war. We just didn’t know when it would begin. So talks like this were commonplace. It served to educate the younger generations of Aryans about how people across the world were and how we had to deal with them. We’d tell them about the Russians, the Japanese, the Italians, the Spaniards, and pretty much anybody else we could think of.”
“So, anyway,” Klaus said, realising that he was moving away from the point, “this man started telling the story of a monkey and her three kids being taken and put in an empty aquarium. The aquarium’s door closes and slowly, they start filling the tank up with water.”
“Initially, the monkey and the kids are at no great danger- so they play about as usual. Then, when the mama monkey realises that the water is rising beyond a certain level, she starts to get alarmed. She gathers her kids together and they are huddled together out of fear. As the water keeps rising, the mama monkey tries to stay afloat and keep the kids afloat. And for a while, it works. But with the rising water level, she faces a losing battle.”
“But then,” he said, leaning forward and gesticulating a little more than usual to make his point, “there comes a tipping point.”
“A tipping point?” she asked.
“A tipping point.” He repeated.
“And what is that?”
“When the water gets beyond a certain level, the mother cannot protect her kids anymore. To the mother, at that moment in time, she is the most important person and her life is more important to her than anything else. So, she leaves her kids to the hands of fate and starts thrashing wildly to try and escape the aquarium. The kids die in front of her eyes but she doesn’t care. She just wants to live again.”
“The psychologist said that such was the mentality of the enemy and that Aryans fought not for themselves, but for Hitler and for their comrades. And that’s what made us great. Of course, that was before the war.”
Klaus quietened himself for a brief second before concluding, “The reason I told you this, Julienne, is because when you are pushed to the brink, all you care about is yourself. You could be German, French, British, American, Negro, or whatever else you want to be. There is always a tipping point. That is the point where primal survival instincts take over. So you were not wrong, Julienne. You were just surviving any which way you can- which war forces us all to do. And that is what we are doing right now- surviving any which way we can.”
“You say you envy the American because he is still fighting for something- a value higher than his. I disagree. He isn’t fighting and trying to stay alive with us because he believes in something higher than himself. He might try to fool himself with that pathetic excuse of a propaganda line but deep down; even he knows it’s not true. He’s just staying alive to stay alive. That’s it.”
Julienne didn’t know what to say. Klaus was making a lot of sense. She also got the sense that being in the actual line of fire had changed Klaus from what he was. Of course, she had no idea what he was before the war but it wasn’t the man in front of her. As she looked at him, she could make out wrinkles on his face in the dim light that shone on his face- wrinkles that she didn’t particularly notice before. It seemed as though each crease and line on his face had a story to tell. She just didn’t know what they were at this point in time.
“You should get some sleep,” Klaus said, getting up, “I’ll check on James.”
As he walked away, she turned and looked outside the window through a small opening in the curtains. The moon shone brightly in the night sky- unaware of the turmoil taking place two hundred and fifty thousand miles beneath it. The moon is a strange thing, she thought. It changed it’s persona every night, depending on what time of the month it was and how it’s relationship with the sun was at that point in time. She could empathise with that. I am like the moon, she thought wryly, smiling within herself. In its own way, it seemed romantic.
7.00 A.M., 8th July 1944
The Resistance Safe House, Sarceaux, France.
“What time did she go to sleep?” James asked, looking at the tender figure of Julienne Beaurechard sleeping on the chair.
“Two, I think.” Klaus replied, joining James in looking at her.
They stayed silent for a few seconds as they stared at her, lost in their own thoughts. Finally snapping out of it, James walked to the window and looked outside through the same narrow opening which let in a sliver of sunlight.
“Get your head out of there.” Klaus commanded.
Turning back to face the German, James looked at him questioningly.
“I don’t want to take chances.”
James shrugged. Guess it makes sense, he thought. “So what’s the plan?” he asked.
Klaus was too exhausted to answer it in detail. “It’s still the same as last night.”
“You know,” James said, “you can let me walk outside.”
“Look, I’m really sleepy and if you’re here to talk bullshit and test my patience, now isn’t the time.”
“You can send me outside with her.” James said.
“You want to go with her today?”
Klaus looked at him with an expression that seemed to say “I want more than just a yes.”
“Alright,” James cleared his throat, “I’m American. So I won’t be beaten up here. And she’s French so she will fit right in. She has a gun so I am basically at her mercy. I can’t run anywhere- not with Nazis everywhere. And having an American by her side only adds to her case’s legitimacy when she meets the Resistance. And we both can, in turn, vouch for you.”
“First of all, this town is not Paris and I’m not stupid. There are Nazis but there’s enough time and space for you to make a run for it. And if you do, she can’t keep with you, meaning she has to try and shoot you. Now, I don’t know about you but if I was a Frenchman watching this, I wouldn’t take too kindly to a Frenchwoman shooting an American.”
“And finally,” Klaus went on, “showing you with her to the Resistance leaves you with very few cards in our hands. And right now, we need to keep our cards close to our chest. So you’re not going anywhere, Corporal James. You will shut your trap and sit here with me while she does the hard work.”
It was worth a try. James thought. Next time he wanted to try to escape without them knowing, he knew he would have to come up with a better plan.