Another Midsummer Night’s Dream — Part Four
Another Midsummer Night’s Dream
PART FOUR: Wherever It Leads
“I know the SS are dangerous men, who do evil things. But I am not afraid. I sit and wait quietly. I pray. I even fall asleep Finally one of the men is shaking me, and shouts that I am to follow him to see Ubercommandant Schmidt.
“We go into a large office. Ubercommandant Schmidt is sitting behind a large dark mahogany desk, with the SS insignia on his uniform lapels. On the desk there is only a telephone, a lamp, and a single folder. The officer who brought me in clicks his heels, gives the Nazi salute, and leaves.
“Schmidt does not look up at me. He puts on a pair of spectacles, opens the folder and looks at a sheet of paper. Herr Berger,’ he says, you wrote this?’
“I can see it is my letter. I answer, ‘Ja, mein Herr.’ Yes, sir.
“‘So you do not believe in war,’ he says.
“‘Nein, mein Herr’ I say. No, sir.
“‘And you are willing to die for your belief,’ he asks calmly, ‘just as a soldier is willing to die in battle?’”
“‘I want to obey God,’ I answer.
“Now Schmidt begins to smile. ‘But.’ he said, ‘God many times commanded his people, the Israelites, to slay their enemies, nicht wahr?’ Isn’t it so?’”
“This question surprises me, but it has come up before, when I studied the Bible. ‘Mein Herr,’ I say, ‘that happened under the old covenant. When Jesus came, he put an end to that. And I want to be a Friend of Jesus, and to follow him.’
“Schmidt nods, as if we were in a classroom and I had given the right answer to a professor’s question. Still he is smiling. The smile is beginning to make me nervous. It feels like he is playing a game with me. He takes another sheet from the folder, and asks another question.
“‘Did you also read in your Bible, Herr Berger, the Letter of Paul to the Romans, which says that the magistrate is ordained of God as a terror to evildoers, and that he does not bear the sword in vain?’
“‘Yes, mein herr,’ I answer. ‘I have read it.’
“‘I thought so.’ He stood up. He was about an inch taller than me. ‘Well, Herr Berger, where the Reichsarmy service law is concerned, I am the magistrate.’”
He handed me the sheet of paper. It is a Reichsarmy enlistment form. There is a line at the bottom where I am to sign. I hand it back to him.
“‘Very well,’ he says. ‘Your defiance is to be dealt with by me. And you know, I presume, that the penalty for such a refusal as yours is death by firing squad.’
“I realized that my knees were trembling slightly. So now perhaps it was my moment to face this penalty. Suddenly I wanted to see my parents and my sisters again, at least to say goodbye. But they also knew what was involved when I wrote the letter.
“‘Ja, Herr ubercommandant,’ I say. Yes, I know.
Now the smile left his face. ‘Are you ready to reconsider your decision?’ He asked it calmly, but there was no mistaking the seriousness in his voice.
“‘Nein, mein Herr,’ I say, and my voice is trembling too now. ‘No. I must follow my conscience, wherever it leads.’ It is very strange; I am trembling, but I am not afraid.
“He sits down again. ‘Very well, Herr Berger. But it is my duty to inform you that we have no intention of shooting you.’ He lifted another sheet from the folder. ‘I have examined your record at the hochschule. It is very superior in all the fields of science you have studied. The Reich cannot afford to lose your abilities.’
“He dropped the sheet, and tapped it with his finger. ‘No, Berger, the fatherland is at war. We need the mind and the strength of every able man for her defense. And as the officer charged with obtaining your service, I have been given wide discretion by the Fuhrer to command it.’
“Now he reached into a drawer of the desk and pulled out a leatherbound notebook. He turned several pages, then spread it on the desktop. He drew a fountain pen from a pocket and began to write on the page.
“‘When you speak of the willingness of the soldier to die in battle,’ he said, ‘didn’t you also consider that this is only half of the soldier’s task?’ He glanced up at me. ‘The other part of a soldier’s duty is not to die, but to kill.’
“I watched the pen moving. ‘No, Herr Berger,’ he repeated, still looking down at the notebook, we have no intention of shooting you.’
“Then he put the pen carefully to one side and stared up at me. ‘Instead,’ he said slowly, we will shoot your family. I shall begin with your sisters.’ He picked up the pen. ‘Their names are, I believe, Helga and Hilda, ja?’
“I did not believe what I was hearing. ‘And then,’ Schmidt said, still writing, ‘next I will shoot your parents. Who shall it be first, Berger — your Mother? You get to choose– tell me.’
Hans got up as he told me this, and turned away, toward the bars. He turned back a moment later, rubbing his eyes with pale knuckles. “That,” he said, “was when I fainted.”
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