A matter of life and … what’s worse than death? – Episode 25

For a story that was conceived during those long boring hours flying in a steel cocoon, striving to keep away the thoughts that the plane and everyone in it could just simply disappear as planes have in the past, it has come a long way.

Whilst I have always had a fascination with what happened during the second world war, not the battles or fighting, but in the more obscure events that took place, I decided to pen my own little sidebar to what was a long and bitter war.

And, so, it continues…

Rolf Mayer had always had a dream to travel to other planets, and when he heard that the government was putting together a team of scientists with the express intention of building rockets, he gathered up his few belongings and traveled to Pennemunde to join the group being led by Werner von Braun.

At first, he had been turned away, but a chance meeting with von Braun changed his fortune.  

But, when Adolf Hitler came to power, it seemed that quest to reach the other planets became a quest to build a military weapon that would devastate an enemy city.  He had expressed his opposition to the project, but that was silenced when some Nazi party officials came from Berlin to give those scientists with reservations an ‘attitude readjustment’.

From then on all of the scientists knew when their allegiances lay and that there would be no time for traveling to the stars, even though, secretly, he drew on the experience and knowledge of the rockets they were building and testing to design his own rocket.  One day.

Then, as if only weeks had passed, the war had been declared, and the scientists had to work harder on creating a weapon which, in its first instance became known as the V1 flying bomb.  V, of course, stood for vengeance.

Later, when the enemy had bombed Pennemunde out of existence they moved to Nordhausen.  This place was different, underground where it could not be bombed, but there was something rather sinister about it.  Slave labor, prisoners from a local concentration camp were forced to work there, and the souls that he saw were not fit for work, or for anything else.

At Nordhausen, they worked on the V2 rockets, rockets in the true sense of the word, and it was abhorrent to him that they should be used for wholesale murder rather than their true purpose.  A promotion to Haupsturnfuhere in the SS and making him responsible for the horrific crimes being committed against humanity was the last straw.

He had enough information to create his own rocket based on the success of the V2, and it was time to leave, get away from this place before it killed him too.  There was only one problem, the real SS was watching, everyone and everything.  They trusted no-one, not even their own fellow officers.

Mayer was one of the scientists lucky enough to get a billet to the town nearby.  It was quiet enough, but he believed everyone living there knew what was going on, and worse, they knew about the concentration camp and the evil that went on inside.  Worse still, he knew everyone was watching everyone else, and reporting back to the SS anything out of the ordinary, including newcomers.

One such man came into the town, dressed as Obersturnfurer with one other SS officer in a car.  Everyone knew how impossible it was to get fuel, or if you had a car, a permit to use it except for essential services, or if it was requisitioned.

They were SS, so no one questioned why they were there.  But that didn’t mean that whispers of their presence didn’t filter around the town.  Just the very mention of the SS gave most people cold shivers.

Mayer heard about the two mysterious visitors when he arrived downstairs where he was lodging.  

“They were asking about the people staying here and wanted to see their papers.  I think they’re looking for someone, someone from the factory.”

“Nonsense.  They’re probably here to see some of their friends up at the camp.”

With that, he dismissed the visitors from his mind and went up to his room.  He unlocked the door and went in.  A moment later he realized his room had been thoroughly searched, and the mess left as a warning.  Had someone told the SS of his discontent.  He hadn’t said as much, but attitude and body language would have told a different story.

Then the door closed behind him with a bang, and the moment a hand touched his shoulder he jumped in fright.

There’s been a man behind the door.

“I suggest you do not speak or do anything that might bring attention to us.  Am I clear?”

Mayer nodded.

“Good.”

Another man, dressed in the uniform of a SS Standartenfuhrer, stepped out of the shadows in front of him holding a folder, the folder that contained his drawings and specifications for a more advanced V2 rocket,

Condemning evidence of him being a traitor to the Reich unless he could put a different spin on it.  He waited to see what the Standartenfuher had to say.

“This is damning evidence of your traitorous behavior.  We received information that you were stealing secrets from the Reich?  For whom, Mayer?  The British or the Americans?”

“I did not steal anything.  I work on the plans here in my spare time, away from that place.”  He realized the moment he said it, it might not be the best idea to be critical of anything, because it was always taken as a criticism of the Reich itself.

“Are you displeased with your working environment.  No one else has raised such issues.”

“No, no,” he added hastily, “it was not what I meant.  It’s just difficult to think clearly on problems when we’re under so much pressure.”

The Standartenfuhrer shook his head.  “Enough Mayer.  You are coming with us to explain yourself.”

“You need to clear this….”

“We don’t need anyone’s permission, Mayer.  We walk out of here, into the car, and not a word to anyone.  Any trouble I will not hesitate to shoot you.  Understand?”

Mayer nodded.

This wasn’t good.  Arrested by the SS.  There could be only one outcome.  It wouldn’t matter what he said, it would be the cells and then the firing squad.  He’d heard the rumors.

The other SS officer went first, the Mayer, then the Standartenfuhrer, down the stairs and past the owner of the boarding house.  The Standartenfuhrer stopped, and said, “This man’s papers, now.”

The owner stepped back into a room and came out a minute later and handed the Standartenfuhrer the document.

“No one is to be told what happened here.  Not unless you want us to come back and arrest your family.”

“Yes sir,” the owner said, very scared.

The proceeded to the car, got in, Mayer in the back with the Standartenfuhrer, and they drove off.  Only two people saw the whole event, and because it was by the SS, they were not going to tell anyone.

“Where are we going?” Mayer asked.

“Headquarters.  You will be wise to sit, be quiet and say nothing under any circumstances.”

Headquarters was in Berlin, at least that’s where he went to be made an officer of the SS, as a Hauptsturmfuhrer to give him the necessary authority to take charge of certain aspects of the production process of the V2 rockets.

And that included work on improving the guidance system.

But, he noticed they were not going north, but south.

© Charles Heath 2020

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