Before he fully realized the diabolical cruelties of the National Socialist German Worker’s Party, Konrad Wengler had committed atrocities against his own people, the Jews, out of fear of both his faith and his heritage. But after he witnesses firsthand the concentration camps, the corruption, the inhuman malevolence of the Nazi war machine and the propaganda aimed at annihilating an entire race, he knows he must find a way to turn the tide and become the savior his people desperately need.
Konrad Wengler is captured and sent from one Soviet prison camp to another. Even hearing the war has come to an end makes no difference until he’s arrested as a Nazi Party member. In jail, Konrad refuses to defend himself for things he’s guilty of and should be punished for. Will his be an eye-for-an-eye life sentence, or leniency in regard of the good he tried to do once he learned the truth?
Genre: Historical: Holocaust Word Count: 153, 405
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SS-Unterscharführer Konrad Wengler
I still have nightmares, but they do not trouble me as much as they used to.
It is not that the content has changed–I still see myself in the role of murderer–but my mind acts more swiftly when I awake to restore reality. I sweat, I cry out, my limbs jerk, and tears come to my eyes, but within moments of my eyes opening, the memories recede. I only wish that they would go away, leave me entirely, but I do not think that will happen until the day I die. What will happen then, I cannot say. If there is a god, a just god, then how can he look upon me with anything less than disgust and condemnation?
I am a killer–a killer in the name of a regime that has brought untold misery upon the people residing in its lands. I could plead that I am just a soldier obeying orders, but how can any order that involves killing women and children be legitimate? It is my duty as a member of common humanity to disobey such an order, yet for a long time I followed those orders, and that obedience has stained my soul indelibly.
My wife Ilse has stuck by me through everything, and she is probably the only reason I am alive today. I say wife, though I have not yet taken that step–for her safety. You see, I am a Jew–on my mother’s side at least–and being a Jew, or being married to a Jew, can be a fatal affliction in a Germany ruled by the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei. I have a Blood Certificate, signed by the Führer himself, which enables me to live and work in Germany. If that were not burden enough, I am also Schutzstaffel, or SS, and a junior officer in the Totenkopf Division of the Waffen-SS. How I got there is a long story, and all that is important is that I am here and cannot change the past. I must find a future that I can live with, and that will enable my wife Ilse, my daughter Wilhelmina, and my son Gregor to live in peace. Increasingly, as the months and years slip past, that future is becoming harder to grasp.
Germany is slipping further into the abyss and me with it.
I have been on leave with my family in Gruttenau, recuperating from my wounds and the stress of combat, and tomorrow I must return to my unit. I play with my children, little Wilhelmina with her rag dolls and baby Gregor whose sole aim in life seems to be to stand up and grasp things that could lead to harm–the tablecloth, the hot stove, the letter-opener on my desk. He needs constant watching, but I am glad to do it for I will not be here much longer. Ilse busies herself with the housework, but we talk. Our topics cover material we have covered before, and I am sure she must be tired of such discussions, but she is indefatigable in my support and I am grateful to her. She is my anchor in life, though neither of us is nautically minded–perhaps I should say she is my brake, preventing my tortured mind from spinning off the road of life into disaster.
“I thought we agreed you would focus on bringing Falk to justice, Konrad,” Ilse says as she prepares vegetables for our evening meal. “You can do nothing about what has occurred or the people you have harmed. Do what you can and it will be enough.”
“I know,” I reply. I have said it before but my mind keeps cycling back to the impossibility of my task. “The Hauptabschnittsleiter is beyond my reach. My only hope of charging him with the murder of Otto Balzer was to find Artur Witt, the shooter. He died in Stalingrad, and his confession with him.”
“He may not be dead. Maybe he was captured.”
“That is as good as dead. How am I ever going to find him in Russia?”
“After the war then. How much longer can this war possibly last? The papers and the radio keep talking about the great victories our army has had over the enemy.”
This is dangerous ground, and I hesitate to speak of it, even to Ilse. The children are too young to understand our words, but still I am loath to voice defeatist talk in front of them. Stories abound of children turning in their parents for traitorous remarks, and even if my children would not deliberately betray us, an injudicious word in the hearing of others could still spell disaster.
“The war is not going as well as we are told,” I say in a low voice.
Ilse stops peeling the potatoes and looks at me. “You know this for a fact?”
I shrug and, despite the knowledge that we are alone with only our small children for company, look around as if my archenemy Hauptabschnittsleiter Falk is standing in the doorway.
“I have been on the Eastern Front and, though our army fights fiercely, we are pushed back by ever-increasing Soviet forces.”
“They say that is only a temporary setback.”
“This war is bleeding Germany of its young men and its resources. Men are afraid to speak out, but our cities are being destroyed by the British and Americans.”
“There is nothing of this in the papers or on the radio.”
“Of course not, yet it happens. I have seen it for myself, in Berlin. Goering once claimed that no enemy plane would ever drop its bombs on German soil, but now they do so every night and often in the daytime too.” I shake my head. “The war is going badly.”
“I had no idea.”
Ilse resumes her vegetable preparation and for a time nothing more is said. She finishes her task and brews a pot of dried raspberry-leaf tea that we take outside to enjoy in the weak winter sunshine. We sit on a bench at the side of the house overlooking the bedraggled garden that now bears only winter cabbages and onions. Protected from the chill breeze, we enjoy each other’s company in silence. Both of us know I am returning to duty the next day, and we feel the need to make the most of our few remaining hours together. Gregor is sleeping now inside, and Wilhelmina is bundled up against the cold between us on the bench.
“I should have married you while I had the chance,” I tell Ilse.
“We are effectively married; just not registered,” she replies. “An actual marriage would only draw unwelcome attention from the authorities.”
She means that my Jewishness would once more come to the forefront of people’s notice, and the scrutiny of the Party might make our lives more difficult. I would suffer this gladly if it were not that she would suffer more–a good German woman giving herself to a Jew would be more than many of our neighbours could stomach. They know it anyway, but as long as the arrangement is unofficial, they can pretend to ignore the fact.
“Maybe after the war,” she murmurs. “When all this business dies down.”
“If Germany wins, then it will never go away; if our enemies are victorious, then who knows what will happen. You are too young to remember what life was like after Germany lost the Great War.”
Ilse is silent for a time, hugging Wilhelmina in her arms. “Is there a future for us, Konrad?” she asks quietly.
“We must believe there is,” is all I can reply.
“What will you do now?”
“What do you mean?”
“If you cannot bring Falk to justice, then what will you do?”
The fear is there between us, though unspoken, that without a purpose in my life I will be overcome by my guilt and remorse, spiralling down to depression and suicide.
I shake my head. “My duty,” I say.
She looks enquiringly at me, so I explain. “I am a Jew, a Mischling, but I am also a German. The Nationalsozialistische have taken over the Fatherland, but I still owe my allegiance to the country of my birth. I am a soldier, so I will fight for Germany.”
Ilse frowns. “You are also Schutzstaffel and a member of…of that Party.”
“I know. I cannot renounce that without bringing down catastrophe on me and my family, so I must work within the limits of my situation. In my heart, I have renounced these things, but I still belong to the Totenkopf Division of the Waffen-SS.”
“Could you transfer to an ordinary Wehrmacht unit?”
I grimace and look away. Clouds cast shadows that race across the wet winter fields and forests of Gruttenau, and I feel that I too am being blown toward my fate by the same chill breezes.
“It doesn’t work like that, my love. I have no choice in the matter.” I shake my head again. “I am in Totenkopf until they transfer me elsewhere or until…” I do not finish because my death is the only other reason. To cover up, I hurry on. “It does not matter because Wehrmacht or Waffen-SS, we are fighting for the same thing; the survival of Germany.”
“Not victory?” Ilse asks.
“If fate smiles upon us, but I think the most we can hope for is a negotiated peace. If we put up a fierce enough resistance, our enemies might decide to negotiate instead of risk further deaths.”
The sun slips behind the clouds and what little heat there is in the day goes with it. From inside, Gregor cries in his cot and Ilse rises to go to him. She hesitates and looks at me.
“Will it be enough for you?” she asks. “Knowing you cannot bring Falk to justice?”
“It will have to be. I am a German above all else and I will fight for my country. What greater service can I perform?”