Geistesstörung

Copyright © 2004 by Jay Braiman

 

 

[DISCLAIMER: This story is a satirical account of events which took place at a New York City high school during the 2002-03 academic year, involving teachers and administrators. Its setting, context and associated nomenclature are used herein for satiric purposes only, and are not intended to accurately reflect, support, express approval of or advocate any aspects of the actual history, ideology, policies or practices of Nazi Germany or its military forces.]

 

 

The wheels kissed the runway ever so gently as Luftwaffe Hauptmann Jorgen Kraus guided his Messerschmitt BF-109 out of the bright June sky and onto the firm terrain of the Fatherland. Though Kraus, an expert pilot by anyone’s measure, loved nothing more than flying, this trip seemed almost unnecessary; he had just completed a training session with his first-year fighter squadron and had a combat operations exercise scheduled with his second-year squadron in less than two hours. This meeting with Reichsführer Blässlich should be only a formality, but the timing seemed a bit inconvenient given Kraus’ heavy responsibility and rigorous training schedule.

For six years he had served as a Luftwaffe officer, achieving the rank of Hauptmann at the age of twenty-six, then guiding other young German pilots in their desire to learn to fly the latest, most modern military aircraft in both combat and non-combat operations, and working with Messerschmitt engineers to improve the performance, airworthiness, flight time, armaments and controls of the BF-109 series aircraft. He knew more about military aircraft and aerial combat than anyone else in his Division. As an instructor, Kraus was certainly demanding, as all Third Reich officers were expected to be, holding his young pilots to the highest of standards and constantly pressing them to improve their skills, and while some of his subordinates may have resented his seemingly relentless criticism, they ultimately appreciated the maxims by which he conducted both combat and non-combat flight training: If you already think you are a great pilot, you will never become one; if you aspire only to be a competent pilot, you will never become one. His superiors occasionally questioned his methods, but the results were clear: his pilots had been successful in every major military operation they had undertaken.

Still, as he steered the Messerschmitt along the Frankfurt airfield, he found himself somewhat nervous about this meeting with the Reichsführer. The officers’ transfer orders were coming in shortly from Berlin, and Kraus still was not certain of whether or not he would be transferred to another Division, or possibly to a foreign air base. Reichsführer Blässlich had spent the entire year assuring Kraus that he would not be transferred, that he valued Kraus’ services and admired his skills, and that he would advocate on Kraus’ behalf even if other officers opposed him which, as far as the Luftwaffe Hauptmann knew, none did. The Reichsführer had not only praised Kraus for his abilities as a pilot and as an officer, but seemed to admire him for his versatility; he could not only fly, repair and maintain both Messerschmitt and Fokker aircraft and command aerial combat missions with unusual skill, he had a deep knowledge of aviation and military history, was a former champion chess player, had competed for a place on the German Olympic track team, and played two musical instruments. In their first few months serving together, Blässlich often expressed his admiration, appreciation, even personal affection, for Hauptmann Kraus.

In recent months, however, Rudolf Blässlich had become something of a puzzlement to Kraus. When he first met the Reichsführer upon his appointment, he seemed congenial, open-minded and fair; when Blässlich gave his first speech of the new year, Kraus was astonished at how closely his own ideas and philosophies on military training and operations matched those of the new Supreme Commander. They spoke often, sharing ideas and espousing mutual respect and understanding; it seemed to be the beginning of a potentially rewarding long-term working relationship for both of them.

Yet Blässlich was a former SS officer and knew very little, if anything, about the Luftwaffe; in fact it became clear fairly quickly to Kraus and the other Luftwaffe officers that not only had Blässlich never flown before, he knew nothing about aviation and was completely and entirely ignorant of the regulations and standards which the Reichsmarschal had established for Luftwaffe officers and pilots. Making matters worse, Blässlich had the bizarre notion that SS practices and standards could and should be applied to Luftwaffe operations, an idea which he called "Geisteswissenschaft." He insisted that all Luftwaffe officers in the Division employ SS methods, follow the SS training regimen, and defer to SS officers on all matters, to the complete and absolute exclusion of any and all other concerns, including those vital but unique to the air force.

Blässlich had no real, specific, practical suggestions as to how Geisteswissenschaft might be accomplished. In fact, whenever he discussed it with the Luftwaffe he made the same vague, esoteric suggestion over and over again: something about relating high-altitude combat maneuvers to the Gestapo’s dossier of suspected French spy Jacques Defarge, as if high-altitude combat was the only flight technique he had ever heard of or read about. Though he did attempt to provide some general guidelines for the Luftwaffe officers to work with, any suggestions they made within those guildelines were soundly and persistently rejected by the Reichsführer, as simply “not Geisteswissenschaft,” with little or no elaboration. He never even attempted to explain why it was so vitally important to train Luftwaffe pilots like SS agents instead of aviators. It seemed as if the Reichsführer wanted to eliminate the Luftwaffe entirely and replace it with an extension of the SS, yet no one but he understood how or why.

As a result of Blässlich’s ill-defined and ill-conceived policy, several Luftwaffe officers had already left the Frankfurt Division or requested transfers to other bases. They felt they were being unfairly and irrationally restrained, particularly since no such restrictions had been placed on the Division’s SS officers, nor on the Wermacht or Kriegsmarine. They grew increasingly frustrated at having their ideas summarily rejected even when they attempted to meet the general guidelines they had been given, especially when no specific guidelines had been established. More importantly, they felt their pilots would suffer from this as well, losing out on vital aspects of flight training and aeronautics in order to cover SS and Gestapo operations, which they did not need to learn in order to meet the Reichsmarschal’s standards for pilots. They saw no reason, other than the Reichsführer's own SS background and complete lack of knowledge of aviation, why it was so important to make the Luftwaffe completely subordinate to the SS in this fashion and strip the air force of its relevance. Blässlich assured them, however, that at the end of the year’s training schedule he would meet with the Luftwaffe to re-evaluate and re-assess the viability of this forced marriage between vastly different military applications.

Despite the difficulty, inconsistency and inequity of the policy, Kraus felt that it was something he could live with and had no desire to leave Frankfurt, vowing to work with Blässlich and the SS to make it work. Yet as the year progressed, he began to notice strange and unpredictable patterns in the Reichsführer’s behavior. Although Kraus was trying his best to follow the guidelines he had been given, both in meetings with SS officers and in actual training practice, Blässlich never seemed to be satisfied with his efforts, even going so far as to suspect him of deliberately ignoring and resisting the requirement of integrating SS operations into Luftwaffe training. Blässlich seemed convinced that Kraus was not following the SS regimen and was purposefully using methods and training materials that were “not Geisteswissenschaft,” and no amount of explaining on Kraus’ part could convince him that those methods and materials were, in fact, SS-related. To Kraus, Blässlich’s thinking seemed not only hasty and stubbornly single-minded, but inductive, needlessly conservative, absurdly exclusionary, and perhaps even a bit neurotic since he seemed to take the matter quite personally. His beliefs had essentially no basis in fact, and his lack of knowledge and understanding of aviation were becoming increasingly obvious. Were his perceptions simply mistaken, or was he inventing them to conceal his own ignorance?

Kraus did not develop serious reservations about Blässlich, though, until a troubling event occurred at Christmastime. One of the other Luftwaffe officers, Hauptmann Ludwig Steigel, had elicited and collected contributions from the officers on the Frankfurt base, in order to purchase a Christmas gift for the Reichsführer; to “show our support and appreciation for him,” as Steigel put it. The entire Division contributed; all, that is, except for two specific individuals: SS Sturmbannführer, Frau Greta von Freudenschrei, and Wermacht Major, Frau Inge Roeder. The two female officers had neither been asked for contributions nor even informed about the gift, and were certainly not pleased with having been excluded, particularly Frau von Freudenschrei, who was not only the Division Officer-Advocate but was rumored to have a close, personal relationship with a high government official. These gave her considerably greater influence at the Frankfurt base than an SS Sturmbannführer with only three years of military experience might be expected to have. Her relationship with the Reichsführer had therefore been strained, and she demanded an investigation.

A brief inquiry revealed the ugly and disturbing truth: that Blässlich himself had secretly coerced Steigel into collecting the funds to buy the gift, and had ordered him to specifically and deliberately exclude Frau von Freudenschrei, and her friend Frau Roeder, in order to show her that he, not she, had the support and loyalty of the officers at Frankfurt. All of the military officers in the Division, including SS, Luftwaffe, Wermacht and Kriegsmarine, were greatly disturbed and upset that the Reichsführer would not only clandestinely arrange to use their money toward a gift for himself, coercing an impressionable officer into helping him by providing the necessary false pretense, but do so for the express purpose of dividing and polarizing the Division officers, creating an atmosphere of innuendo and backstabbing which was certainly not in the interests of the Reich or the Fatherland. As Officer-Advocate, Sturmbannführer Frau von Freudenschrei called a meeting of all of the Division officers to discuss Blässlich’s treachery, before which the Reichsführer approached every officer he could find at Division Headquarters and demanded they declare their loyalty to him before attending this meeting.

If the Christmas incident caused Kraus to question Blässlich’s honesty and integrity, subsequent events prompted grave concerns about his overall mental health. For one, the Reichsführer developed a bizarre and irrational obsession with Kraus’ display of the swastika during training sessions. Though it was standard accepted procedure to display the stark red and white flag with the black twisted cross at all military functions, it was not an absolute requirement and the government’s rules were flexible as to how and where the swastika could be hung. Besides, it was only a formality and had no real impact on the efficacy of flight training, and by any measure Kraus’ squadron was performing well and learning a great deal. Blässlich, however, seemed to feel that proper display of the swastika was absolutely essential; so important, in fact, that effective training and combat readiness could not and would not be achieved without it.

The fact was that Kraus always displayed the swastika at official functions, in the hangar, on the airfield, at ceremonies, demonstrations, propaganda events, and elsewhere, but it was sometimes hung horizontally rather than vertically, sometimes north-to-south rather than east-to-west, sometimes hung on a staff rather than on the wall or from the ceiling, sometimes featured an outlined swastika rather than a solid one, sometimes had gold trim, and the Hauptmann did not feel the need to have the inscription “Deutschland Über Alles” displayed adjacent to the flag. Still, the symbol of the Third Reich was always prominently displayed and clearly visible whenever and wherever the Division’s Luftwaffe pilots convened. Yet Blässlich, for reasons Kraus could not understand, continued to insist to Kraus that he was not properly displaying the swastika, ignoring the success of his pilots and again interpreting this perceived infraction as deliberate defiance on Kraus’ part.

On one particular occasion, knowing Blässlich might be stopping by the hangar, Kraus made certain to hang the flag, a five-by-seven foot, freshly-laundered, embroidered swastika, acquired directly from Berlin, in the precise center of the hangar, vertically-oriented, east-to-west, exactly twenty feet above the floor, secured to a beam with four evenly-spaced copper tacks. Inexplicably, having seen this, Blässlich angrily reprimanded Kraus for his continued failure to properly display the swastika and berated him for his wanton defiance, but either could not or would not explain what Kraus had done wrong. All he said was, “You know the proper way to display the swastika, Herr Kraus, and that is not the proper way!”

“Why?” Kraus asked. “Because the words ‘Deutschland Über Alles’ were not inscribed above it?”

“No, that is not the reason,” Blässlich insisted. “The swastika must be hung prominently from the ceiling, centered, vertically, east-to-west. It must be a solid swastika, preferably a clean one, and should be acquired from Headquarters in Berlin. You know this, and I know this. The Führer has demanded that all swastikas be hung this way.” He then repeated emphatically, “It is not because you didn’t have the ‘Deutschland Über Alles’ inscription. Your display of the swastika was improper, and disrespectful to me, to the Führer, the Reich, and the Fatherland.”

Kraus could not fathom how or why, given that all these stated conditions had been met, the Reichsführer would still think the display was improper, let alone take it as a deliberate gesture of insubordination since Kraus had clearly aimed to display the flag correctly; he therefore saw no point in arguing about it. Days later, Kraus displayed the exact same swastika in the exact same place in the exact same manner, but with the phrase “Deutschland Über Alles” inscribed in large, prominent gold Teutonic lettering on a varnished mahogany plaque attached to the beam from which the flag had been hung. Passing by him on the airfield after his squadron returned from a combat exercise, Blässlich pulled Kraus aside and enthusiastically praised him for properly displaying the swastika.

Though the Reichsführer’s irrational and inexplicable behavior continued to perturb him, Kraus hoped this strange incident would nonetheless end the unfounded and absurd accusations, but unfortunately the Reichsführer continued to lose his grip on reality. Blässlich accused Kraus of all sorts of infractions which had absolutely no basis in fact: not allowing his pilots enough solo flight time; spending all his training time on non-combat flight and none on combat; using unsound flying and aerial combat techniques (judgment notwithstanding his lack of aviation knowledge); and, of course, deliberately ignoring the SS training guidelines of Geisteswissenschaft which he and the other Luftwaffe officers were compelled to follow. None of this was true, but rather than ask Kraus what he was doing and why, let alone trouble himself to discover the truth, Blässlich simply went on believing that Kraus was either doing what was forbidden or neglecting what was required. The Reichsführer seemed to be literally manufacturing his own reality, making things up as he went along, then convincing himself that those imagined perceptions were real and making actual command decisions based on that conviction.

In true Gestapo fashion befitting his SS background, Blässlich compelled Kraus to sign a confidential, unofficial written declaration in which he was to agree to eight separate provisions, each one specifying something which he had been ordered to do to “correct” the infractions of which Blässlich suspected him. Though the document clearly implied otherwise, the Hauptmann had, in fact, already done each and every thing specified on the declaration, and had every intention of continuing to do so; that being the case, he agreed to sign it rather than contest it. The Reichsführer assured Kraus that the document was not official and would be kept strictly confidential. The promise of confidentiality, however, proved to be a hollow one; fellow Luftwaffe Hauptmann Karl Liebkind had recently told Kraus that the Reichsführer had mentioned it to him in conversation. Apparently Blässlich, seeking incriminating information, had asked Liebkind if Kraus had performed some of the actions on the list, then told Liebkind specifically about the declaration and that he believed Kraus had violated it. Liebkind, who did not trust Blässlich, said nothing, but told Kraus that he believed the Reichsführer was spying on him, eavesdropping on his conversations and possibly placing Gestapo moles in his fighter squadron.

Armed with this knowledge, Kraus sought out Frau von Freudenschrei, who as Officer-Advocate might be in a position to address the Reichsführer’s apparent mental instability, not to mention his inexplicable, unjustifiable, vindictive acts. Hauptmann Steigel had warned Kraus against trusting Frau von Freudenschrei, because she was, after all, SS, had helped develop and advocate Geisteswissenchaft, and had considerable influence given her intimate relationship with a high government official, but Kraus felt he had no choice. Something had to be done about Blässlich’s burgeoning psychosis, and the Officer-Advocate was the one to turn to if issues arose between Division officers and the Reichsführer. The two had a brief meeting outside Headquarters, where Kraus told her flat-out, “Greta, I have reason to believe that Reichsführer Blässlich intends to lie and corrupt the transfer process, in order to sabotage my appointment to this Division.”

“How do you know this?” Frau von Freudenschrei asked.

“Another Luftwaffe officer told me so; that the Reichsführer said as much to him. That is all I can tell you.”

The Sturmbannführer replied that she was unaware of any such intention on Blässlich’s part, but assured Kraus that she would make certain that the Reichsführer did not over-step his authority, and ensure to the best of her ability that the transfer process would not be corrupted. She did not, however, indicate her own position nor express support for Kraus’. Though he still had reservations, he accepted the Officer-Advocate’s statements; it was, after all, her job in that capacity to protect his interests and those of the other officers.

Given all that he knew, and the likelihood that Blässlich’s lies could seriously jeopardize his military career, he felt he should at least find out all that he could to gain a fuller understanding of just what he was up against. The SS dossiers of various Luftwaffe officer candidates had recently arrived at Headquarters, and were posted publicly where everyone could see them; Kraus decided to take a look at them, just to find out who they were and whether or not they were better-qualified than he. Since the dossiers were posted publicly in a conspicuous location, and he could not use the information for anything other than his own curiosity, and certainly not to the detriment of the candidates, he saw no harm in examining the dossiers. Even having done so, he felt, he hadn’t really learned anything meaningful; it turned out to be a waste of time.

As the end of the year approached, despite all Kraus had learned and seen, Blässlich continued to assure him that he would not be transferred out of Frankfurt. Only a week earlier, the Reichsführer had expressed his support to Kraus directly, so as he parked his aircraft under the hangar’s roof, with the swastika carefully and precisely hung overhead beneath the artfully-engraved inscription, he was not exceedingly concerned.

The Messerschmitt’s engine coughed to a stop, then Kraus removed his helmet and goggles and climbed down to the hangar floor. Most of his squadron had already landed and secured their planes; all were performing their standard post-flight checks. Kraus, who preferred to check out his own plane, nonetheless summoned one of his pilots to do it for him, so as not to be late for the meeting.

The Reichsführer’s office was located adjacent to the hanger, in a building that also contained the SS Center of Operations. Kraus entered the room and saluted crisply. “Sieg Heil, mein Reichsführer.”

“Come in, Herr Kraus,” said Blässlich, seated at a round conference table. The Reichsführer was somewhat sinister-looking, almost deformed, with an oddly angular egg-shaped skull, disproportionately large facial features, and a conspicuous lump protruding from the back of his neck, giving him a somewhat stooped appearance when he stood. His thinning hair was dyed a somewhat unsightly reddish-brown color, and there were thick, dark blotches of dye clearly visible on his scalp. His frame was gaunt and somewhat awkward, like someone who had once been overweight or obese and had later become emaciated. That physical ugliness, coupled with Blässlich's apparent mental incapacity, made Kraus very uncomfortable; he found it very difficult to be in his presence, which perhaps the Reichsführer intended. “I assume you know what this is about.”

“I suppose so,” Kraus replied.

“You have been offered a transfer; Reichsmarschal Heinemann wants you to join him at Friedrichshafen. I strongly recommend that you accept.”

That figures, thought Kraus bitterly, without saying anything out loud. Just last week, you assured me that I would not be transferred; you’ve been telling me all year that you wanted me here. Now, suddenly, you want me to accept a transfer. You've been lying to me all along.

“I do not think that your performance here will be acceptable,” Blässlich continued. “You have not lived up to the agreement you signed.”

“Yes I have,” said Kraus, somewhat feebly, still astonished by the Reichsführer’s reversal and craven hypocrisy as yet another of his empty promises fell to dust. “I have done absolutely everything you ordered me to do. I have done absolutely everything on that list!

“Well, I’m only telling you what I heard. I walked past your training session three days ago; you were lecturing your squadron about the zeppelin flights of the last Great War. That is all you do; you do nothing but lecture and you spend all your time discussing irrelevant subject matter.”

You cannot be serious, thought Kraus. Yes, it was true, he had briefly discussed the zeppelin raids of 1914-18 three days earlier, but only as an introduction to modern combat tactics; how could the Reichsführer take this single insignificant bit of information, gleaned through momentary eavesdropping, to mean that this was all Kraus ever did with his pilots? Did he not see the planes flying over the airfield each day? Did he not hear the roar of their engines or the rat-tat-tat of their armaments? Was he completely blind to what was occurring on his own base?

“You agreed that you would provide flight time for your pilots, but you did not.”

This was not true. “What on earth are you talking about?” Kraus inquired, incredulous and growing increasingly agitated.

“You agreed to follow Geisteswissenschaft and integrate SS operations into your Luftwaffe training, and you did not.”

This was not true.

“You spent a whole week on aileron hydraulics and aerodynamics, which is of no concern to the SS.”

This was not true. He had covered those topics, but as a component of aeronautical engineering, an essential Luftwaffe concern, and certainly not for a solid week. Of course it didn't matter that Kraus and his men were in the Luftwaffe, not the SS. In Blässlich's world, there was no Luftwaffe. There would be no Luftwaffe. There was only Geisteswissenschaft, which meant there would be only the SS. Anything else was of absolutely no value.

One by one the accusations came, carefully constructed lies grown from only the most minute fragments of truth, twisted and distorted beyond recognition to suit the Reichsführer’s delusional, self-serving argument. Kraus tried to protest, explaining to Blässlich exactly what he had done to illustrate that he had, in fact, lived up to the agreement, but to no avail. He might as well have been speaking a foreign language. The Reichsführer had gone completely over the edge; his false, self-manufactured reality had completely overtaken his mind and he was both unable and unwilling to listen to reason. He was clearly, seriously mentally ill; his absurd ramblings seemed almost demented. Kraus’ shock and agitation slowly turned to anger, as he felt powerless to stop the injustice that was about to be done.

“And in addition,” Blässlich continued, “your pilots strongly dislike you. They and their families have complained to me on many occasions.”

“I don’t believe that,” said Kraus flatly. He had heard this accusation before and had proven it to be a lie. No pilot’s family had ever complained to him directly; he knew for a fact that, out of hundreds of pilots and their families, exactly two had expressed concerns to Blässlich many months earlier, and more than that, Kraus knew who they were, that one of them was mistaken and the other had lied. In fact, another soldier's family had warned both Kraus and Blässlich that this person would lie, but the Reichsführer believed every word. Both Blässlich and Kraus knew that soldiers occasionally resented their officers, but this had never been considered cause for a forced transfer. How could the military establish authority and discipline if soldiers knew they could get a challenging officer transferred by simply telling the Reichsführer they didn't like him? Regardless, the Reichsführer’s belief and insistence that such resentment was widespread and virulent was utterly false.

“Well, it is true.”

“Tell me who,” Kraus insisted. “Give me names.”

“I cannot give you names,” Blässlich replied.

“Give me one name!

The Reichsführer simply repeated, “I cannot give you names.”

“Then you are lying!” By now, Kraus was too angry to fear any reprisal for calling the Reichsführer a liar to his face. He had no doubt that Blässlich actually believed what he was saying, but it was a product of his own delusions. Kraus had never in his life encountered anyone who was able to manufacture a false reality so thorough and vivid that he believed in it unequivocally.

For his part, Blässlich did not appear to take umbrage with being called a liar by Kraus. He shrugged off the issue and said, “Well, in any case, you did not live up to your agreement. I kept it confidential, I didn’t discuss it with anyone…”

“That’s not true and you know it,” Kraus snapped, interrupting the Reichsführer for the first time.

“Well…” Blässlich shrugged.

“Well what? You admit that you are a liar?”

Blässlich did not take the bait. “The bottom line is, if you do not accept the transfer to Friedrichshafen and remain here at Frankfurt, you will not be permitted to employ your own ideas. You will conduct your training and operations in precisely the way I tell you to, every day, without exception. I am having a Geisteswissenschaft training regimen written for the Luftwaffe, incorporating SS regulations and procedures, which I intend to strictly enforce. As Reichsführer, I am entitled to enforce any training regimen I wish, and this will be strictly enforced; all Luftwaffe officers will follow it to the letter, with no discussion, no debate and no variation; any other ideas will not be tolerated.” Blässlich did not explain how, when, or why he had reversed his earlier promise to meet and discuss Geisteswissenchaft with the Luftwaffe. Clearly, as with all of his promises, he had never actually intended to do so. “I will see to it that either you do absolutely everything exactly the way I order you to do it, without exception, or I will have you stripped of your rank and sent to a concentration camp in Poland or Czechoslovakia somewhere, and you will never fly an airplane again. I have had experienced officers sent to Auschwitz before. It is your choice.”

Kraus sat silently. The Reichsführer had just made a specific, explicit and overt threat, and a grave one at that. Kraus had never been threatened like that in his life, let alone his military career. It was now clear to Kraus that sitting across from him was a sick, twisted, uncommonly evil man; a liar, a hypocrite, a true psychopath; a man with no conscience, no integrity, no soul. He found it hard to believe this was the same man who had expressed his unqualified support, professional admiration and even personal affection for him as recently as one week ago, and he shuddered at the thought of what Blässlich might be capable of. The man must have been an exceptional liar and con artist to achieve the position of Reichsführer, and now that he had achieved it there was nothing to stand in his way. Whether intoxicated by the power he wielded or blinded by his own psychosis, or some tragic combination of both, he would have his way with an entire military division, and no one could stop him. He was quite simply the most despicable man whom Kraus had ever had the misfortune to meet.

“You are not the kind of Luftwaffe Hauptmann I want here,” Blässlich continued. “So either accept this transfer, accept my conditions, or I will have you in Auschwitz within a year. That is the end of the conversation.” At that, the Reichsführer stood up and left, leaving Kraus to ponder his options in the face of such incomprehensible evil.

Still stunned and bewildered by this unprecedented turn of events, Kraus immediately sought out Sturmbannführer Frau von Freudenschrei, who as Officer-Advocate was the only one who could help him now. They sat together in the Officers’ Mess, where Kraus told her everything that had transpired. Kraus hoped there was something she could do; Frau von Freudenschrei, however, seemed strangely unmoved.

“Are you saying he’s lying?” she inquired, in a tone of voice that suggested she had already been aware of the Reichsführer's accusations against Hauptmann Kraus.

Kraus clenched his fists in frustration. “He’s not lying,” he said forcefully, “he’s deluded! None of what he said to me is true, but he honestly believes it! He’s lost his mind, he has absolutely no sense of reality!”

Frau von Freudenschrei did not seem to accept what Kraus was saying. Her manner struck him as unusually cold and dispassionate given the circumstances. “Well, I’m sure there must be some truth to it. He can’t have made it all up.”

Kraus wasn’t sure what she was getting at; did she just not believe that the Reichsführer could be so mistaken, or did she think…

“How can he treat me this way?” he asked angrily, invoking the Sturmbannführer’s role as Officer-Advocate. “How can he do this?”

“Well,” she said, “let’s just look at your own actions, Hauptmann.”

Something was wrong.

“You have to consider what you have done.”

Something was definitely wrong.

“You did look at the dossiers.”

Kraus felt his heart begin to sink. “The dossiers?”

“Yes. You should not have done that.”

“The dossiers? They were posted in a public place! In Headquarters, for all to see!”

“Well, why did you look at them? What were you thinking?”

“I was thinking that the Reichsführer intended to lie in order to sabotage me, and I didn’t want to let that happen. And now he has done just that, hasn’t he? The dossiers were not secured, they were not locked away, they were not even classified or labeled secret; they were right out in the open, in a public location. And besides, I couldn’t have used that information in any meaningful way even if I wanted to. No one was harmed by it, and it obviously didn’t help me. I don’t know why this is so important.”

Frau von Freudenschrei sat back and shrugged. “Well, you can file a complaint against Reichsführer Blässlich if you wish. But your own actions will be revealed at the hearing. We have a witness who will testify that you looked at the dossiers, and we will use that against you.”

It only took a moment for Kraus to realize what was happening. He silently berated himself for not having realized it before. We have a witness… We will use that against you… Sturmbannführer Frau Greta von Freudenschrei was Officer-Advocate, but underneath and perhaps before that she was, after all, SS. Kraus looked the handsome blonde woman dead in the eye as if seeing her for the first time. My God, he thought, you are a part of this. You are complicit. YOU ARE ON HIS SIDE.

Finished, resigned to the outcome, Kraus stood up. “I believe I understand,” he said. “Thank you for your time, mein Frau.” At that, he turned and left the room. As awfully as he felt, as outraged as he was at the monumental wrong that had just been perpetrated, he blamed himself. There must have been something he could have done, he thought, at some point, to salvage the situation. How it had gotten so out of control and reached this horrible catharsis he could not understand. He regretted examining the dossiers, even though he still didn’t agree that it was an egregious wrong, but more than that he knew he had failed; failed to give the Reichsführer a correct and accurate impression of his work, failed to recognize the flaws in Blässlich’s thinking in time to prevent his spiral into psychotic delusion, failed to recognize Frau von Freudenschrei’s duplicity, and most importantly, failed to appreciate the magnitude of the evil and corruption with which he had been confronted, and by which, for now, he had been subdued.

The June sky outside remained bright and full of promise. Stepping into the hangar for the final time, Hauptmann Jorgen Kraus took one last look at his second-year pilots, young men whom he had trained and nurtured all year. It brought tears to his eyes to have to leave them behind; he would miss them terribly, but he did not envy them the quagmire in which they resided and which he, perhaps, would be fortunate to escape. Embarrassed and not wanting them to see, he quickly donned his goggles and helmet and climbed into the cockpit of the Messerschmitt BF-109, starting the engine and pausing for a moment to hear its roar echo throughout the hangar. Before releasing the brake to taxi out to the runway, he looked up one more time at his carefully-hung swastika with its ornate gold Teutonic inscription, and half-grinned at the irony that this was what had started it all. He shook his head and thought to himself, All this over a ridiculous, meaningless three-word phrase. As the plane approached the runway he looked forward, straight forward, and kept his eyes fixed on the view ahead as he and his Messerschmitt pierced the German sky toward Friedrichshafen.

*