TUESDAY, JUNE 13, 1944
STANDARTENFUHRER HANS VOGEL entered cell 51. His black uniform was spotless and sat on his shoulders the way it would a man comfortable with physical exertion. The SS insignia on his collar faintly reflected the light from the bare bulb hanging from the ceiling. It was the only illumination in the cell, which reeked of urine and the familiar coppery scent of blood.
The naked prisoner sat in a steel chair, straddling the drain in the middle of the room. His wrists were bound to the arms of the chair, his ankles held fast to its legs. Leather straps held his chest rigid. One eye was swollen and purple. His lips were shredded, and his body was peppered with bruises. A sergeant wearing a Wehrmacht uniform was standing behind the chair awaiting Vogel’s arrival. There were no windows in the gray stone dungeon, and the air was cold.
“Sergeant, what have you learned so far?” he asked in French so that the prisoner would understand as well.
“Nothing, Colonel. He’s as dumb as a rock.”
Hans approached the prisoner and looked him over carefully. Although he had been severely beaten, Hans noticed that his fingers were not yet broken. They were small, slender, and almost feminine.
“May I have a chair, please, Sergeant?”
“Of, course, Colonel,” and he rushed to place a chair in front of the prisoner, eager to please.
Hans sat down and flipped through the prisoner’s dossier. “So, Monsieur St-Onge, I see you were caught attempting to break into a German armory.”
The prisoner made no reply.
“Your silence will not change the outcome. We must shoot you as a saboteur, of course, but between now and then, well… that is up to you.”
The prisoner’s one open eye stared back at him without emotion. His left hand moved in the leather cuff, a slight tremor in the index finger as if pointing to something far off that only he could see.
“All of that unpleasantness can be easily avoided, of course, with the slightest degree of cooperation on your part. There were four of you involved. I’ll only ask for the name of one of them. That’s not so much to ask; is it?”
The prisoner’s open eye closed, cowering behind the lid, unable to meet Vogel’s cold stare. Hans suddenly stood up. “What is your name, Sergeant?”
“Hamm, Colonel, Sergeant Fritz Hamm.”
“Continue your questioning, Sergeant Hamm. I will observe.”
Sergeant Hamm nodded, expecting the order. He drew a baton from his belt and stood before the prisoner. “Give me a name.” When no reply was forthcoming, he swung the baton down upon the prisoner’s left shoulder, breaking the collarbone. The prisoner cried out in pain but offered no response, his head falling forward, grimacing in agony.
Speaking in German, Vogel interrupted. “I suspect that you have received little training in interrogation technique.”
“I have received none, Standartenfuhrer.”
“Let me offer some advice and instruction. I would suggest that you first blindfold the prisoner. Please do so now.”
Sergeant Hamm tied a cloth over the prisoner’s eyes and stood back against the wall. Vogel asked for his baton and walked around the prisoner. Reverting to French, he said, “Monsieur St-Onge will decide for himself how much pain he wishes to endure. The decision to stop is entirely his.”
He swung the baton down upon the right knee of the prisoner, who cried out involuntarily. He then lightly tapped the stick against the side of the prisoner’s neck and caressed his cheek with it. “You see, Sergeant, the prisoner does not know where or when the next blow will land. Blindfolded, he cannot prepare himself.” He swung the baton down on the prisoner’s knuckles and continued to walk around him.
“Do you understand, Sergeant?” he said, resting the baton upon the prisoner’s head. “Add suspense and surprise to the pain and your effectiveness is compounded.” He delivered one more slash across the prisoner’s right shin, an exceedingly painful blow.
“Here is your baton, Sergeant. Report to me when he gives us a name.”
“Yes, Colonel. Thank you for the instruction.”
Addressing the prisoner, Vogel added, “Good luck to you, Monsieur St-Onge. May your suffering be short-lived.”
He left the room and closed the door behind him. There were ten cells in this basement, but only four were occupied. They had been full yesterday.
VOGEL CLIMBED THE basement stairs and returned to his office on the first floor. It was a much larger room than the office space to which he was accustomed. The Chateau they occupied had once been luxurious, and all the main rooms were spacious.
He sat behind a massive wooden desk and paused to appreciate its craftsmanship. He traced the intricate carving along its edge with his finger and noticed the tarnished brass knob of the right top drawer. A black telephone rested on the desktop to his left. A stacked metal tray on his right held dossiers and other paperwork.
Fleur-de-lis patterned wallpaper adorned the walls, marred only by the lingering rectangular ghosts of former French dignitaries. The picture of Adolph Hitler, hanging between two tall windows at Vogel’s back, was now the only portrait surveying the room.
Hans reached for the stack of dossiers and removed a thick file from the top, its cover worn with use. He checked the log, and he was pleased that the handwritten notes were clear and legible. The Gestapo had identified Monsieur Rene Deslaurier as the likely ringleader of the local French Resistance cell responsible for a bridge demolition two weeks prior, but they had failed to locate him. The most recent entry on the dossier was dated Friday, June 9, 1944, three days after the Allied landing, and three days before Vogel’s arrival yesterday in Amiens.
Vogel reflected on the timing of the sabotage. In hindsight, that operation was a blatant attempt by the French Resistance to disrupt the flow of reinforcements to the coast of Normandy. Many in Army Command believed that had the Panzers been unleashed as soon as the Allied invasion began, that the invaders could have been contained on the beachhead, and driven back into the sea. To what degree the actions of the saboteurs would have hampered the armored reinforcement was moot now, as the High Command had refused to release the armor, entirely convinced that the Allies would land at Calais instead, believing that the Normandy landing was only a ruse to draw the German forces away from Calais. The High Command in Berlin had been wrong.
Not for the first time, Hans wondered what it would feel like to drive a tank into battle. He would have volunteered for armor if given a choice, but instead found himself trained as an SS Intelligence Officer. He supposed his facility with languages influenced their decision for such an assignment, and in some ways, he felt the role suited him, but in other ways, he knew it did not.
He scanned the Deslaurier dossier. The reports indicated that the subject lived here in Amiens with his wife and child. Madame Deslaurier had been questioned and released. Their apartment was under constant surveillance, but there was no report of contact with the suspect.
Vogel picked up his telephone and ordered his adjutant to come in. Corporal Keppler immediately entered and stood at ease a respectable distance from the front of Vogel’s desk.
“Is Madame Deslaurier still under surveillance?”
“She is, Colonel. I have this evening’s report on my desk. There’s been no suspicious activity.”
Vogel thought for a minute, then said, “Have Madame Deslaurier picked up in the morning. I want to speak to her myself. But I want her treated with respect and politeness, Corporal.”
“Yes, sir, I’ll be explicit when I write the order. What about the child, Colonel?”
Vogel looked at the dossier again. “She is only four years old. It would not be safe for her to be left at home by herself. Bring her along, and have some sweet treats to give her when they arrive.”
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 14
WHEN VOGEL ARRIVED at the Chateau the next morning, he was informed by Corporal Keppler that Madame Deslaurier and her daughter were waiting for him in the sitting room.
“Good,” Vogel said. “Let them wait a few hours. When Major Hoffmeyer arrives, send him to my office.”
“He is here already, sir, I can send him in now.”
Vogel spent the next few hours bringing Hoffmeyer up to speed and detailing his assignments. After concluding their business, he dismissed Hoffmeyer and instructed Corporal Keppler to bring Madame Deslaurier and the child to his office.
As they entered, Vogel rose from the chair and walked around his desk to greet them.
“Please, Madame, have a seat here,” as he led her to a seating area on the left side of the spacious room.
“What is your daughter’s name, Madame? She is lovely.”
“Marie,” she said, in a soft, hesitant voice.
Vogel smiled and sat on a light blue stuffed chair opposite the matching couch. Madame Deslaurier sat on the couch, clutching her daughter, looking down at the small ornate coffee table between them as though it held some mysterious lure. She wore a blue peasant dress with a maroon shawl covering her shoulders. Marie sat on her lap in a cute brown skirt and white blouse. Vogel liked the little hat that she wore canted to one side. Very French, he thought. Marie looked directly at him. He saw no fear in her eyes, but recognized her curiosity and concern, sensing her mother’s anxiety.
“Thank you, Madame, for accepting my invitation,” he said.
She looked up sharply and said, “Invitation? Is that what it was?”
Vogel looked surprised and asked, “What? Were you or Marie mistreated? Did my messenger misbehave?”
He watched her, waiting for an answer until finally, she said, “No. We weren’t.”
He introduced himself adding, “… and your name is Genevieve, I believe. That was my mother’s name. She was half-French. Everyone called her Genna. May I call you ‘Genna’ in her memory, Madame Deslaurier?”
“If you want.”
“I have a chocolate treat for Marie, and here’s one for yourself, as well.” He opened a small box that he carried with him and produced two German chocolate bars, handing them both to Genevieve. She could see that the box was almost full of chocolate.
Now that she was looking at him, he said, “I invited you here, ‘Genna’…,” Hans paused and smiled sheepishly, “out of concern for you and your daughter. We know all about your husband’s activities with the Resistance, and I’m sure you know that the Gestapo has been looking for him for some time. I’ve recently arrived in Amiens, and I’m specifically tasked with locating him. Do you know where he is?”
“No, Colonel, I do not,” she replied, “He has been gone for over three weeks, since before the invasion. I don’t even know if he is dead or alive.”
“Either you have had no word from him, or you are better at the game than we are, is that not so?”
Genna looked down, avoiding his eyes, and shifted Marie’s position on her lap. She said, “I am just a housewife. I’m sure your men are all competent professionals.”
“Would you like a cup of coffee, and perhaps a glass of water for Marie? I’ll have some brought in if you like.”
“Thank you. We are both thirsty.”
He went to his desk, picked up the telephone, and ordered Corporal Keppler to bring coffee and water. After the corporal delivered them and left the room, Hans offered another chocolate to Marie, who smiled and took it gratefully.
“The problem, Genna,” Vogel continued, “is that the Gestapo suspects that you know the whereabouts of your husband, and they are anxious to bring you in for questioning. Their methods, I’m afraid, are quite severe, and they will go to great lengths to determine with surety that you are not withholding valuable information.”
As he anticipated, Vogel watched the color rise on her face. He stood up and returned to his desk, picked up the phone, and asked Corporal Keppler to come in.
“Corporal, please stay here with Marie. Share some chocolate with her if you like.”
Returning his attention to Genevieve, he began walking towards the door and said, “Come with me, please. I want to show you something.”
When he reached the door, he stopped and looked back, waiting patiently for Genna to join him. Her reluctance was palpable, but he stared at her until she complied. As they walked out of the room, Genevieve looked back at Marie, who seemed relaxed and unconcerned, laughing at something the young Corporal Keppler said to her.
Vogel said quietly, “Do not be concerned, Genna, we will be right back. I promise. No harm will come to you or Marie while you are with me today.”
He knew she wanted to believe him, but could not ignore the terror he inspired clutching her heart. If she didn’t return, who would be there for Marie?
Vogel gently took her elbow and guided her through the door toward the staircase. He felt her body stiffen when she realized that they were going to the basement, but he smiled reassuringly, and she accompanied him down the stairs, knowing she had no choice.
When they reached cell 51, he stopped and opened the door. Scharfuhrer Hamm was sitting in a chair by the wall but jumped to attention when he saw Vogel.
“Standartenfuhrer,” he said in German, “the prisoner has given us a name, and I have waited here for you as ordered.”
“Excellent, Sergeant. See that Monsieur St-Onge is given medical attention while we verify his information.”
Genevieve saw Monsieur St-Onge strapped to a chair in the middle of the room. He was barely conscious, his body broken, dried blood caked around the circular drain in the floor. She recoiled in horror.
Turning to Genevieve, Vogel said in French, “This is Sergeant Hamm. He assists the Gestapo with questioning when required. Prisoners always cooperate at some point, Genna.”
He watched her stare at St-Onge and shudder. Then she looked at Sergeant Hamm, whose face remained impassive.
“Shall we go back upstairs?” he asked.
When they were reseated in his office, Hans could see Genevieve still shaking, both arms wrapped around Marie, clutching the child to her chest. He retrieved a bottle of Schnapps from his desk and poured a small glass for her and one for himself.
“Here,” he said, “This will help some.”
She took the glass and looked at him, unsure. He sipped his drink first, and then she did the same.
“I’m going to send you and Marie home, Genna, but I must warn you that the well-being of innocent civilians isn’t high on the Gestapo’s list of priorities.”
She looked at him directly now. “But what can I do? I don’t know where he is…”
“I understand, Genna,” Vogel told her, “but the Gestapo will not. They will rip your husband’s location right out of your heart if you know it, and if you don’t have what they want, they will tear you up anyway.”
Genevieve looked at Marie and held her even more closely.
Hans reached out and gently pushed some stray hair out of Marie’s face saying, “She is so beautiful, Genna.”
Vogel poured her more Schnapps, which she drank down immediately. “You have a few days to find out where your husband is before the Gestapo takes the matter out of my hands. If you tell me, I will be able to protect you and Marie. Isn’t that what Rene would want you to do?”
With that, he rose and picked up the telephone. “Corporal,” he ordered, “Bring Madame Deslaurier and her daughter home. And please escort them yourself to ensure their safety.”
Turning back, he said, “Good luck, Genna. If you learn anything useful, hang something red in your window overlooking the street, and my men will escort you back to me. That is the only way I know I can help you.”
He walked them to the door, smiled reassuringly, and closed it behind them.
This excerpt is reprinted with the permission of YELLOW FLOWER PRODUCTIONS. Copyright © 2019 by Dave Lincoln. All Rights Reserved.
About David Lincoln: “I started writing in August 2016. Vogel is my first publication, and it’s the kind of story that wrote itself. I just took notes. I’ve found that all of my stories flow effortlessly onto the page, springing from a source of joy and creativity I cannot explain. I won’t bother trying to figure it out. I’m content to keep writing and sharing.
My wife, Suzanne, and I live in Rhode Island. Thank you, my darling, for your unwavering support and encouragement. We have five children and eight grandchildren – so far.”
You can buy Vogel here. You can reach David at Yellow Flower Productions. This is his first feature on The Fictional Café.