Chapter One, 9 September 1937
Sie können alles erreichen, wenn Sie bereit sind, den Ehre anderen zu geben.
(You can accomplish anything, if you are willing to give others the credit.)
Morning twilight was yielding to a breaking dawn that colored Zeppelin Field pink when Juliette and Peter arrived at the National Socialist Party rally, scheduled to begin at ten. It was going to play to a full house and they wanted good seats—but thousands of rabid party members had already swarmed into the stadium, and the only seats Juliette and Peter could find were high in the stands. As consolation, they had an excellent view of the arena.
When it peeked over the trees the sun was already warm, and the day, at least the weather, promised to be perfect. It was Thursday, 9 September 1937. Peter and Juliette sat on their folded coats and placed their bags filled with the day’s supply of food and drink on the boards between their feet. To kill time, they quietly sang, practicing for La Traviata, the next opera on their schedule.
They performed in the Nürnberg theatre, the cultural heart of the city. Peter was the company’s leading lyric tenor, and Juliette their lyric soprano. They sang together in all of the romantic opera productions, and it was natural for them to fall in love in real life. This season it was Puccini’s La Bohème, and Verdi’s La Traviata. Their love scenes came naturally, and their deep bond connected them to their audience, making them the darlings of the city.
The stands around them soon filled, and people around them talked, but their clear, resonant voices pierced the chatter and they didn’t notice when the chatter stopped. They soon arrived at the first act duet and began working on it together. As they sang ever more enthusiastically, silence spread from row to row. Their captive audience avoided looking at them for fear that they would embarrass them, and they would stop. Most looked at their feet or pretended to find something interesting in the cloudless sky.
When they had finished the duet, they embraced...the audience clapped and laughed as Juliette kissed Peter passionately.
Juliette pulled Peter’s arm close. “Why are we here, Peter?” She wanted him to reconsider his passion for a dictator she believed had taken Germany away from fair and reasonable people and given it to hoodlums. Though a Belgian citizen, Juliette had an interest in German politics, and understood the intricacies of them far better than the average German—certainly better than Peter did. In truth, it was only her love for him that had brought her here.
Peter considered the question while looking down at his hands. Finally, he lifted his head. “As I've told you, I want to be a part of the new labour movement. The National Socialists are committed to a classless society, and I believe that is a good thing.”
Juliette looked straight ahead, beyond the stadium surrounded on three sides by groomed German forests. She didn’t want to argue against Peter’s enthusiasm for the rights of the working class, but her nature would not permit her to remain quiet.
“Your goals are admirable, but I don't understand how you can ignore the excesses of the Nazis!” Frustrated, she turned to look at him. He raised his gaze to meet hers and she saw the hurt in his eyes; however, committed to her mission, she forged ahead. “Your own mother has lost her citizenship, you are a second-class citizen in your own country, and you still believe that Hitler has good intentions?” She immediately regretted making her argument so personal.
Peter closed his eyes, breathed audibly and said, “Juliette, the Nürnberg Laws are temporary. Hitler only instituted the law to pacify anti-Jewish factions in his party. Jews will be citizens again....”
“No!” Juliette interrupted. “How can you say that? The SA and SS persecute the Jews under Hitler’s direction...they arrest them, beat them, use any excuse to steal from them! Even now, he is looking for an answer to the 'Jewish question'—a question he invented—and the answer he seeks is not one your mother and her parents would agree with!”
Juliette looked at Peter, defiance hardening her face. She had become more passionate than she had intended, but she didn’t regret it.
“Why don’t we have a snack?” His voice broke, he swallowed, gently cleared his throat, began again. “I packed enough for the whole day, and you can take your pick.” He opened his pack, and she saw that it was indeed full of food, as well as beer and juice.
Juliette wasn’t ready to quit the subject, but she loved Peter, and the look on his face told her not to go further. She pawed through the food, quickly finding his black bread and cheese. She turned up her nose, opened her much smaller pack and pulled out a croissant with an apple-jelly filling. Making a show of biting into it in front of him, she smiled sweetly as she pulled the delicate pastry apart. He lifted a piece of black bread coated with butter in a salute to her ravaged croissant, ceremoniously slapped a generous piece of Gouda cheese on it, and took a huge bite, grinning as he bit.
Peter forced a laugh, spoke with his mouth full, spraying crumbs on her. “You’re going to get fat, and I’m going to get strong,”
“Will you still love me when I’m fat, darling?”
He said quickly, “I will always love you, fat or thin; but what about you—will you still love me if I join the National Socialist Party?”
Peter instantly knew what he had done, and the shock on his face told Juliette not to respond as her reflex demanded. She fought back the urge to scream at him, bit her lip and turned to the forest scenery bordering the field, viciously took another bite of her croissant. Turning to Peter, she swallowed most of the bite without chewing and put all the force she had behind her words. “Yes, I do love you, as I know you love me; but if you join the Nazis, I will leave you and never speak to you again!” She fought to control her anger. “I came here hoping that if you could see what a propaganda machine this all is, you would convert to reason. National Socialism is evil, and, if you join those animals, I will have nothing more to do with you!
“Meanwhile, my darling, if you want to have a good day, I suggest you not say another word about the National Socialist Party!” Her voice had risen, and the sarcasm was sharper than she had intended...she noticed that people near them were awkwardly avoiding her gaze.
Peter hung his head, and the black bread in his hand fell on the planks between his feet. He attempted to pick it up, but it had broken in pieces.
He spoke softly as he leaned over and fiddled with the crumbs. “I promise you that I will never join the Nazi Party!” He straightened but kept the sound level for her ears only. “But I do agree with their philosophy of all work being equally valuable, and that is why I’m here...and if you want to leave now, I’m ready to go with you.” He looked at her with a mixture of fear and longing, and it saved him. “I do love you, and I will never do anything that will make you leave me.”
He lowered his head again and Juliette hugged him with her free arm, pushing her croissant under his face so that he had to lift his head or have her push it into his mouth. “Here, my love; try some real food.” Her affection returned with the softness in her voice.
At precisely ten o’clock, a stirring fanfare began, played by dozens of trumpets and a 100-piece orchestra. A ripple of applause rolled through the seats as men with shovels on their shoulders marched onto the perfectly cut grass on the eastern side of the field. Cheers from 70,000 throats greeted the Führer, who stood in an open car, his upper torso and head above the windscreen. He approached from the west, his head high and his back straight, gripping the windscreen’s frame with his left hand and waving to the crowd with his right. The car crossed in front of the main grandstand to park beside the route the throng of marching workers would take. The mass of bare-chested men moved forward, approached from Hitler’s left as he saluted them, his arm straight out in front of him. They carried shovels as one would carry a rifle, over their shoulders—a pair of white shorts their only clothing. As they passed the Führer’s car, they raised their right arms to return his salute. Hitler held his arm straight out until every man had passed.
Juliette and Peter stood with the throng, clapped along with the beat as 45,000 men marched past, eighteen rows together, a flowing river of bare-chested men. Juliette caught Peter watching her, his broad smile showing his pleasure to see her enjoying the spectacle.
“Are you impressed yet?” he laughed, believing he was winning.
“The sight of forty-five thousand bare-chested men always impresses me!” she shouted back. “Now, if I pick out two or three, can you get me their names and addresses?” She laughed at him as he shook his head in feigned jealousy.
“Those are the RAD, the Reich Labour Service, and they only work with shovels.”
The men marched past in four groups. When the fourth group cleared the intersection, the first had circled the field and entered again, thirty-six men wide. Hitler left his car, and, to a deafening roar of approval, mounted the steps to the speakers’ platform.
“He certainly knows how to make an entrance,” Juliette yelled in Peter’s ear.
“Yes, he does...and wait until you hear him speak!” When Peter smiled down at her, his eyes glowed.
The shovel-carrying men smoothly formed organized groups on the green field in front of the grandstand, standing at attention in front of the Führer. A shouted command resounded in the open theatre and 45,000 shovels slammed down between their owners’ bare feet, all striking the ground at the same instant, the impact reverberating above the closing chords of the orchestra. The stadium was suddenly silent. There was not a sound until a loud voice commanded the men to raise their “weapons,” and the shovels whipped through an intricate routine designed to resemble a rifle drill.
Glinting in the sun, the shovels whirled around the men’s heads, twirled like batons, and then flew back to the ground between the men's feet with a tremendous single clap and a guttural roar from 45,000 working-men’s throats.
Hundreds of banners and swastikas ringed the field, and the cheering crowd waving thousands of flags turned the spectacle into a mass of colour and movement.
“OK, I am impressed with their choreographer,” Juliette shouted. “We could use him in the theatre.” Peter clapped and cheered, and she added, “I am more impressed that not one man dropped his shovel or stabbed himself in the foot!”
“Yes, I did notice that!” Peter nodded vigorously. “Can anyone do anything forty-five thousand times without screwing up at least once?” He clapped with renewed energy as the routine ended.
Juliette laughed at Peter, smiled impishly. “It is coordination, my love—some men have it, and some men do not. How is yours?”
Peter grinned like a little boy, and his face turned red. Juliette suspected that he had not yet made love to a woman, but she didn’t want him to know that.
Reich Labour Leader Hierl then stepped to the microphone at the front of the stage and said to Hitler, his amplified voice echoing back from the wall of trees surrounding the field, “Mein Führer, forty-five thousand men of the Reich Labour Service have come to this event for you!”
The Führer shook hands with him, took his place at the microphone and shouted, “Heil, working men!”
The men answered with one tremendous voice, “Heil, mein Führer!”
A rousing fanfare from the orchestra signalled flag carriers to wave them in unison, and 45,000 voices sang to the Führer. A speaker then stepped to the microphone and asked:
“Is anyone too good...” and the shovel army responded, “…to work for Germany?”
“Is anyone too simple…” the men shouted, “…to work for Germany?”
“Everyone has the right—everyone has the duty…” the men shouted again, “…to work for Germany!”
The dialogue continued until the men’s fervor for work, the fatherland, and above all the Führer, spread through the crowd. The final phrase from the leader was, “The Führer wants to give the world peace!” and the men responded, “We will follow wherever he leads!”
The men’s chorus then sang a song of proud work to create a better future for Germany and the world. When they finished, the speaker shouted, “Your shovels become weapons for the battle against those who have no faith in their country or their Führer. We march into the future, true to Hitler’s commands. We are the shock-troops of faith, and with our hoes, shovels, and spades we will again make Germany strong!”
The thrust shifted to fallen comrades—those who died in combat for the fatherland and those who died on the job, working for their country. The men sang of their willingness to work at any job on the road to power and freedom for Germany, the greatest country in the world, and the movement climaxed with another mighty fanfare.
The crowd stood for the entire program, shouting, waving flags, and working themselves into the fervor planned by the Nazi organizers. The Führer removed his hat and stood, his face turned toward the sun, reflecting the light. Finally, he bowed his head in submission to the people. He waited a perfect moment, and then gestured with both hands for them to sit down. It was time for him to speak, but, as he always did, he took long minutes to prepare himself.
Juliette declined the piece of bread that a grinning Peter offered, but when he opened a bottle of beer, she took the bottle from him. He smiled at her again and opened another for himself.
“He hasn’t spoken yet, and the crowd already loves him,” Peter couldn’t restrain his excitement. “Wait until you hear him!”
Juliette looked away and then back to Peter; she could not share his enthusiasm—she wanted him to see what she saw. “I understand how work is important, and it is a good thing to instill that in the people, but this is much more than that. I’m not arguing against the principle here, but when I put this in the context of the power that Hitler has transferred to himself, I am frightened.” Juliette spoke quietly so that their neighbours wouldn’t overhear, acutely aware of the subdued crowd waiting for Hitler. She looked at the Führer just as he raised his head from what appeared to be prayer.
Peter opened his mouth, but before he could respond, the Führer stepped to the microphone and began his speech. Hitler addressed the men before him, but the words echoed through the miracle of radio across the country, and beyond, into history.
Hitler used the occasion to congratulate the National Socialist movement on their progress toward a better-educated people... “fully employed, except for those too lazy to work.” He shouted, “The National Socialist movement has led Germany out of the abyss created by the disgraceful Versailles Treaty and, above all, out of a worldwide depression engineered by Jewish banks. The inner nature of the German people is changing to create a better sense of community and the birth of a new people is the result.
“The new Reich Labour Service will obligate every young boy and many girls to six months of manual labour after graduating from school. We will unify the idea of labour, and everyone will value work equally, no matter the occupation. The proudest accomplishment of the National Socialist party is the founding of the Reich Labour Service; it will unite the working man and guarantee him honourable work for the common good of the German people. The theme of this party congress is labour. By working tirelessly to create the Reich Labour Service, you have shown us how working men can change a country, and your number one worker is your leader, Party Comrade Hierl.” Hitler waved his hand in the leader’s direction and his men cheered.
He waited until the cheer began to wane, and then went on. “Within the space of a few short years your movement has become an integral part of the great German people, a part we cannot now do without. You belong to the German people, as much as the Wehrmacht does, and you are as essential to us.
“It gives us comfort to know that long into the future, generation after generation of working men will shoulder their weapons—the tools of their trade—in the interest of eternal peace, and the service of our German community. You have renewed the greatness and eternal strength of your country, and you are responsible for making Germany great again, and your country will never again take you for granted.”
The applause went on and on, and Peter and Juliette clapped with the crowd until finally it became too much for Juliette and she began to watch the people around her. When she turned back to Peter, the fanatical worship she saw in his eyes stunned her. His expression quickly changed, and he leaned down to speak to her.
“What’s wrong? I told you he was an incredible speaker!” While talking to her he swept his eyes back to Hitler, who tirelessly waved to his fanatical admirers.
Juliette looked up, smiled a cheerless smile, waited for Peter to look at her again. He finally lowered his eyes and leaned over so she could speak into his ear.
“Yes, he has mesmerized the people. He is a master at making people feel good. He never says ‘I’ or ‘me’, and he says ‘you’ and ‘your’ more than he says ‘we’ and ‘us’, and nothing is more empowering than the enthusiasm of others. But don’t you see what he wants to do with this power? He is systematically organizing a mob, and they could destroy what is good in Germany. The French Revolution had the same lofty goals, but in the end, it was at the expense of the educated and artistic communities. Hitler has declared war on truth, reason, and intelligence, and this pandering to the working man and nationalist fervor is nothing more than manipulation for purposes he has not yet chosen to reveal.”
Peter straightened and looked across the field. When the crowd sat, Juliette retrieved another croissant and a bottle of milk from her bag. Peter slowly dug out another beer and a piece of bread and cheese. He slapped the small slice of cheese on the black-grain bread and bit a piece off, sliding the cheese ahead, carefully portioning it to last for the entire slice of bread. Juliette waited, but Peter said nothing.
While Hitler and his guests watched, the SA, or Brownshirts, represented by thousands of marching troops, filed past the reviewing stand, waved flags, and sang their anthems for the Führer while the orchestra played. Hitler stiffly returned their salutes so often that Juliette was amazed his arm didn’t tire.
Finally, during a short break in the colourful parade, Peter spoke to Juliette.
“I love you too much to fight about this. I do understand what you are saying, but I will keep my reasons for disagreeing to myself.” He touched her arm affectionately. “Can we just watch for a while?”
Juliette nodded and looked down. When she looked up at him again, he was still staring at her. She relented. “That sounds like a good idea.”
The Hitler Youth filed past in eight rows, four rows opposing one another so that they zippered together in front of the grandstands, their flags touching as they met, singing their “Fahnenlied,” the “flag song” of the Hitler Youth.
Thousands of young girls, members of the BDM, Bund Deutscher Mädel, the League of German Girls, danced for the Führer in flowing white dresses. Hitler left the reviewing stand to drive amongst the performing youths in his Mercedes motorcar, stopped to wave, sometimes to single out a young man or girl, get out of his car and shake their hand. Either he was the best actor in the world, or he treasured these young people. Nonetheless, Juliette had to resist the urge to vomit.
She suffered through the remainder of the rally, then happily followed Peter as he navigated through the crowds out to the streets. They walked slowly home, arm in arm, exhausted, but happy to be in each other’s company. Juliette squeezed his arm and put her head on his shoulder.
“What do you think of Hitler now?” From the tone in his voice, his political position hadn’t changed.
Juliette removed her head from his shoulder. “I’m impressed with how he has manipulated the people, which is any politician’s job, but now that I've experienced his charisma, he frightens me more.” She looked up at his face and waited for Peter to speak, allowed him to steer her on the brick sidewalk. They walked slowly, almost aimlessly, the conversation becoming more important to them than the journey.
Peter took a long breath…he didn’t want to go where she was leading him. “Why would you be frightened of him? What about three years ago? Didn't he arrest the leaders of the SA and execute those guilty of treason? And when the Brownshirts rampaged through Munich, beating and murdering Jews, he rounded them up and executed them, including Röhm, the head of the SA in Munich! He put the SA under the Army's control so we could have peace and order, and now we can walk home knowing no one will bother us.”
Juliette waited for Peter to go on, but he didn’t, and she replied carefully, “Another way to think of the ‘Night of the Long Knives’ is that Hitler and his band of thugs officially murdered eighty-five people, though the truth is probably much higher. He arrested thousands, yes, but not all were members of the SA. He also murdered two top generals in the Wehrmacht who likely were not guilty of anything.” She held up two emphatic fingers. “None of these people had the benefit of a trial, and none had the opportunity to defend themselves.” She let go of his arm and spread her hands hopelessly. “Hitler simply passed a law that he could murder anyone, if he thought they were plotting against the government, and he clarified it to specifically include any action against the Führer. And since he passed a law forbidding other political parties to exist, he is now a total dictator—he can legally murder anyone who opposes him!” She looked up at Peter, stopped walking and took both his hands in hers. She pleaded, “Don’t you understand what this means?”
Peter looked away.
He began cautiously. “Yes, I do understand the power Hitler has taken,” he conceded, and she let his hands go. He waved at the sky, lit by the searchlights ringing the field they had left, aimed upward and inward to form ‘Speer’s Cathedral’ at 20,000 feet above the street. “But I also see how he has organized the people to work toward a common goal of peace and prosperity. He has thrown out Versailles, and there's work for everyone!”
Juliette started to speak, but Peter was on a roll. “Five years ago, people were starving, businesses were going bankrupt and there was no money to modernize our industries. At M.A.N., where my father works, everything was outdated and, Juliette, they were developing a direct-injection diesel engine that would revolutionize the industry...” he paused, but Juliette knew he wasn’t done yet… “and M.A.N. would have joined the thousands of companies declaring bankruptcy had it not been for Hitler’s initiatives.” Peter waved his arm in a circle. “Before Hitler, they had fired thousands of workers, and now those workers are back—and they can’t fill the orders coming in. If Hitler is what it takes to achieve a decent wage for hardworking people like my father, then I am prepared to accept that!”
Juliette put her finger against Peter’s chest, too involved now to let Peter have the last word.
“You know Hitler won’t stop here! He has made no secret of the hatred he is spreading for anyone non-Aryan...have you suddenly forgotten that you're one-half Jewish?” she put her hands on her hips. “You are officially a Mischling; that's not going to change. If I were Aryan we could not be married, and if we had sexual relations the Gestapo would arrest us!” She was shouting now. “Peter, he will use the people he has inflamed with his passion to destroy you, your mother, and your grandparents. He's mad! He wants a 'pure' race of Germans to control the country and who knows where he'll stop?” She waved her hands in frustration and turned away.
He waited until she turned back to him before beginning softly.
“I don’t dispute Hitler’s power, but he will not attack the people who run businesses in Germany. Without Jewish money and expertise, the German economy would disintegrate in a year, and everything Hitler has accomplished would come crashing down. As for my Mischling status, the law permits me to have sexual relations with an Aryan. I would need to have one more Jewish grandparent before my classification would not permit it.”
Juliette replied quickly, and reflexively. She regretted her words as she said them.
“All right, if you want to have sexual relations with some blonde Aryan girl, you go right ahead—it’s for sure you won’t be having any sexual relations with this nice non-Aryan Belgian girl!”
The fire in her tone had an immediate effect: Peter blanched.
Juliette felt tears welling up in her eyes, but she couldn’t stop now. She turned on her heel and picked up a driven pace, her face reddening and the tears multiplying as she walked.
Peter skipped ahead to catch her.
“I don’t want any girl but you!” he was suddenly desperate. “I want you to marry me and have children with me!”
She stopped and faced him, a frightening fire in her heart and tears in her eyes. “I won’t marry you because you can’t see the truth—I love you, but I hate what you believe in. Even if you are not a Nazi, you might as well be if you believe they are right. Right now, you represent all that I hate in this country, and you can go to Hell with your fascist idol!”
Juliette could see her words cutting through Peter’s soul. Her acidic cynicism stopped any further conversation, and Peter accompanied her to the steps of her apartment, waited while she opened the door. She barely heard a sob as he stood with his head down and his eyes closed.
Juliette fought off the urge to put her arms around him, slammed the heavy oak door behind her and hurried upstairs. She ran to the window to look through the crack between the drapes in her living room, watched Peter walk the two blocks to his apartment in the light of Albert Speer’s Cathedral. She began to shake; tears became a stream as he stopped in the open doorway to look upward at the cone of light over the city. Juliette had never felt so sad in her short life, and she couldn’t imagine ever being happy again.
She woke an hour later, slumped uncomfortably in the wide-winged upholstered chair that sat under the window. The noise of stamping feet and a military marching band crashed into her consciousness, and she remembered the rally, and the scheduled parade. She turned in the chair, wiggled to her knees, and tentatively pushed the heavy drapes apart.
Dozens of torches approached, bobbing to the rhythm of a military march played by a band leading twelve lines of men in three tightly grouped rows. The men were in full battle dress, carrying rifles on their shoulders, packs on their backs, and marching in the familiar ‘goose step.’ The torchlight reflected from their young faces, and Juliette watched in horror as row after row passed under her window and continued down the street. She looked at Peter’s doorway to see if she could find him in the crowd. Some gave the men a ‘Heil Hitler’ salute, others waved flags, and every window that she could see was open, filled with cheering people. She couldn’t find Peter.
An uncontrollable shiver surprised her, and she quickly closed the drapes, but the tramp, tramp, tramp of Wehrmacht boots was endless. She went to bed fully clothed, pulled the Federbett over her head—and still, the sound seeped into her. Even after the marching stopped and the band died away, she couldn’t shake a feeling of dread. Finally, when the pre-dawn light filtered into her room, she slept. When she wakened three hours later, her cheeks were wet, and her stomach heaved; before she could reach the bathroom, she threw up on the floor.