Excerpt from WOLF: A NOVEL by Herbert J. Stern and Alan A. Winter
Berlin, February 28, 1933
“I am to meet Bernhard Weiss at this address.”
“He doesn’t live here,” said Lucie. Lucie Fuld-Traumann was a stout, married woman in her fifties. The whites of her eyes became more visible as her gaze traveled from my black high boots to the red swastika armband to the shoulder epaulets and finally to the SS lightning bolts on my collar. Her lips trembled in fear. Her gnarled hands twisted a blue-and-white dishtowel into knots.
“Damn it, woman, we don’t have a moment to waste. Where is your brother?” I brushed past her and slammed the door before removing my peaked cap. “You don’t want your neighbors gossiping that an Obergruppenführer was seen standing in your entranceway. Now get Bernhard.”
Lucie stood her ground. “I told you, Bernhard is not here.”
The house was compact: crystal chandelier above our heads, living area with an upright piano to the left, kitchen straight ahead, and the dining room to my right. The dinner table had been set for three. I knew that Lucie and her husband, Alfred, who must have been cowering in an upstairs room, did not have children. After Bernhard Weiss, deputy police commissioner of Berlin, had been removed from office some months earlier, he sent his wife and daughter to Prague while he sought refuge in his sister’s house . . . hiding from the very police he once commanded.
I turned back to Lucie. “Didn’t he tell you to expect Friedrich Richard?” I showed her my identification card. “I’m Friedrich.” Lucie remained frozen in place, unsure of what to do.
Time was of the essence. “You must trust me. We have a window of opportunity to get Bernhard to safety and join his family in Prague. It’s a seven-hour drive through the back roads to the Czech border. If we leave now, we can stay ahead of the men who have been dispatched to arrest him. Now take me to him. Immediately.” I glared down at her. “You brother’s life is in your hands.”
Without further denial, Lucie guided me to the basement door. It was dark. At the bottom, she pushed a button and a small light buzzed to life, casting macabre shadows on the damp walls. She called her brother’s name.
Then I bellowed, “It’s me. Friedrich. We need to go . . . now.”
Clothes rustled from an unlit corner. A soot-smeared Bern- hard Weiss emerged from behind the coal stack. He coughed into a handkerchief before he could speak.
“I knew you would come,” he said without preamble. We clasped hands.
“Goebbels has ordered your immediate arrest. We don’t have much time.”
Weiss nodded and pushed passed me. Upstairs, he grabbed a packed bag stashed for the day he needed a quick getaway, snatched a pistol from a side table that he shoved into the back of his pants, hugged his sister, promised he would see her again, and left his beloved Berlin . . . without realizing he might never return.
When we found the address on Kaprova Street, in Prague’s Jewish Quarter of Josefov, Bernhard said, “Don’t stop. We’ll get out a few blocks from here. No need to connect this car to my family’s address.”
We parked on a street with many stores. As I came around the car to join him, Bernhard motioned me to the other side of the street. “We make an odd couple. People will remember us if asked. Walk over there.” He made a valid point. I was more than a head taller than him. I walked at a different pace than him, turning corners a few seconds after he did. After a number of blocks, he looked both ways before entering an aged apartment house. I counted to twenty and then followed through the front door.
“Here.” I looked up. Weiss leaned over the railing and pointed to the stairs. There was an open door to the left of the landing. I found Bernhard hugging and kissing his wife and daughter in the salon. After he introduced me, I followed him into a smaller room.
“Close the door.” There was a small table with two wooden chairs arranged below medallion macramé lace curtains.
Before he said anything, I blurted, “I can’t go back. Not after what we just did.”
“Friedrich, no one but us knows what happened today.” His steel-gray eyes were piercing as he added, “There were no witnesses.”
“I’m not talking about just today, Bernhard. I’m talking about what is in store for your people in the days and years ahead. The Nazis are fanatical in their racial theories.”
“That is all the more reason why you have to go back.”
“I don’t know if I can return to Berlin and look at Hitler or those around him in the eye anymore.”
“No one is closer to the Führer than you. You’re the only one in a position to do something. You must return.”
I pushed up from the small table and paced like a caged animal. “If I try to stop them I’ll be killed.”
“No one expects you to march into a room and wipe out everyone. But there will be opportune times when you may be able to affect change. You’re Hitler’s favorite. There is no one in a better position to speak sense to him. That’s your destiny. To make that possible.” He raised his right hand. “God help me, I didn’t want to, but I had to execute that poor guard.”
I went to the window, lifted the edge of the curtain, and gazed out at the city I thought might be my new home. When I dressed in my uniform before fetching Bernhard, I believed it would have been the last time I would wear it. That’s why I stuffed my pockets with Reichsmarks, took my precious photograph that I had carried since the war, and left everything else, intending never to return.
Bernhard cleared his throat.I turned from the curtain and faced him.
“There’s one more thing you must do, Friedrich. You need to keep an account.”
“An account of what?”
“You were there at the beginning. When the Nazis weren’t even the Nazis. When they were an aimless group of puny men who met in a tavern to swill beer and discuss politics. No one knows the history of how this happened better than you. Write it down. Don’t leave out anything. Then, when this madness is over, share it with the world.”
“To what end?”
“To make certain no one forgets.”
I thought about the magnitude of what he asked. “There has been so much. I would not know where to begin.”
Weiss gave his small smile. “Ah, yes. Begin at the beginning.”
Excerpted with permission from WOLF: A Novel by Herbert J. Stern and Alan A. Winter. Published by Skyhorse Publishing. Copyright (c) 2020. All rights reserved. Available at: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Indiebound.