The streets on the way back into central Berlin seemed unnaturally quiet and when March reached Werderscher Markt he discovered the reason. A large noticeboard in the foyer announced there would be a government statement at four-thirty. Personnel were to assemble in the staff canteen. Attendance: compulsory. He was just in time.
They had developed a new theory at the Propaganda Ministry, that the best time to make big announcements was at the end of the working day. News was thus received communally, in a comradely spirit: there was no opportunity for private scepticism or defeatism. Also, the broadcasts were always timed so that the workers went home slightly early — at four-fifty, say, rather than five -fostering a sense of contentment, subliminally associating the regime with good feelings. That was how it was these days. The snow-white Propaganda palace on Wilhelm Strasse employed more psychologists than journalists.
The Werderscher Markt staff were filing into the canteen: officers and clerks and typists and drivers, shoulder to shoulder in a living embodiment of the National Socialist ideal. The four television screens, one in each corner, were showing a map of the Reich with a swastika superimposed, accompanied by selections from Beethoven. Occasionally, a male announcer would break in excitedly: “People of Germany, prepare yourselves for an important statement!” In the old days, on the radio, you got only the music. Progress again.
How many of these events could March remember? They stretched away behind him, islands in time. In ’38, he had been called out of his classroom to hear that German troops were entering Vienna and that Austria had returned to the Fatherland. The headmaster, who had been gassed in the First War, had wept on the stage of the little gymnasium, watched by a gaggle of uncomprehending boys.
In ’39, he had been at home with his mother in Hamburg. A Friday morning, 11 o’clock, the Fuhrer’s speech relayed live from the Reichstag: “I am from now on just the first soldier of the German Reich. I have once more put on that uniform that was most sacred and dear to me. I will not take it off until victory is secured, or I will not survive the outcome.” A thunder of applause. This time his mother had wept — a hum of misery as her body rocked backwards and forwards. March, seventeen, had looked away in shame, sought out the photograph of his father -splendid in the uniform of the Imperial German Navy -and he had thought: Thank God. War at last. Maybe now I will be able to live up to what you wanted.
He had been at sea for the next few broadcasts. Victory over Russia in the spring of ’43 — a triumph for the Fuhrer’s strategic genius! The Wehrmacht summer offensive of the year before had cut Moscow off from the Caucasus, separating the Red armies from the Baku oilfields. Stalin’s war machine had simply ground to a halt for want of fuel.
Peace with the British in ’44 — a triumph for the Fuhrer’s counter-intelligence genius! March remembered how all U-boats had been recalled to their bases on the Atlantic coast to be equipped with a new cipher system: the treacherous British, they were told, had been reading the Fatherland’s codes. Picking off merchant shipping had been easy after that. England was starved into submission. Churchill and his gang of war-mongers had fled to Canada.
Peace with the Americans in ’46 — a triumph for the Fuhrer’s scientific genius! When America defeated Japan by detonating an atomic bomb, the Fuhrer had sent a V-3 rocket to explode in the skies over New York to prove he could retaliate in kind if struck. After that, the war had dwindled to a series of bloody guerilla conflicts at the fringes of the new German Empire. A nuclear stalemate which the diplomats called the Cold War.
But still the broadcasts had gone on. When Goering had died in ’51, there had been a whole day of solemn music before the announcement was made. Himmler had received similar treatment when he was killed in an aircraft explosion in ’62. Deaths, victories, wars, exhortations for sacrifice and revenge, the dull struggle with the Reds on the Urals front with its unpronounceable battlefields and offensives — Oktyabr’skoye, Polunochnoye, Alapayevsk…
March looked at the faces around him. Forced humour, resignation, apprehension. People with brothers and sons and husbands in the East. They kept glancing at the screens.
“People of Germany, prepare yourselves for an important statement!”
What was coming now?
The canteen was almost full. March was pressed up against a pillar. He could see Max Jaeger a few metres away, joking with a bosomy secretary from VA(1), the legal department. Max spotted him over her shoulder and gave him a grin. There was a roll of drums. The room was still. A newsreader said: “We are now going live to the Foreign Ministry in Berlin.”
A bronze relief glittered in the television lights. A Nazi eagle, clutching the globe, shot rays of illumination, like a child’s drawing of a sunrise. Before it, with his thick black eyebrows and shaded jowls, stood the Foreign Ministry spokesman, Drexler. March suppressed a laugh: you would have thought that, in the whole of Germany, Goebbels could have found one spokesman who did not look like a convicted criminal.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I have a brief statement for you from the Reich Ministry for Foreign Affairs.” He was addressing an audience of journalists, who were off-camera. He put on a pair of glasses and began to read.
“In accordance with the long-standing and well-documented desire of the Fuhrer and People of the Greater German Reich to live in peace and security with the countries of the world, and following extensive consultations with our allies in the European Community, the Reich Ministry for Foreign Affairs, on behalf of the Fuhrer, has today issued an invitation to the President of the United States of America to visit the Greater German Reich for personal discussions aimed at promoting greater understanding between our two peoples. This invitation has been accepted. We understand that the American administration has indicated this morning that Herr Kennedy intends to meet the Fuhrer in Berlin in September. Heil Hitler! Long live Germany!”
The picture faded to black and another drum roll signalled the start of the national anthem. The men and women in the canteen began to sing. March pictured them at that moment all over Germany — in shipyards and steelworks and offices and schools — the hard voices and the high merged together in one great bellow of acclamation rising to the heavens.
Deutschland, Deutschland uber Alles!
Uber Alles in der Welt!
His own lips moved in conformity with the rest, but no sound emerged.
“More fucking work for us,” said Jaeger. They were back in their office. He had his feet on the desk and was puffing at a cigar. “If you think the Fuhrertag is a security nightmare -forget it. Can you imagine what it will be like with Kennedy in town as well?”
March smiled. “I think, Max, you are missing the historic dimension of the occasion.”
“Screw the historic dimension of the occasion. I’m thinking about my sleep. The bombs are already going off like fire crackers. Look at this.”
Jaeger swung his legs off the desk and rummaged through a pile of folders. “While you were playing around by the Havel, some of us were having to do some work.”
He picked up an envelope and tipped out the contents. It was a PPD file. Personal Possessions of the Deceased. From a mound of papers he pulled out two passports and handed them to March. One belonged to an SS officer, Paul Hahn; the other to a young woman, Magda Voss.
Jaeger said: “Pretty thing, isn’t she? They’d just married. Were leaving the reception in Spandau. On their way to their honeymoon. He’s driving. They turn into Nawener Strasse, A lorry pulls out in front of them. Guy jumps out the back with a gun. Our man panics. Goes into reverse. Wham! Up the kerb, straight into a lamp-post. While he’s trying to get back into first gear — bang! — shot in the head. End of groom. Little Magda gets out of the car, tries to make a run for it. Bang! End of bride. End of honeymoon. End of every fucking thing. Except it isn’t, because the families are still back at the reception toasting the newly-weds and nobody bothers to tell them what’s happened for another two hours.”
Jaeger blew his nose on a grimy handkerchief. March looked again at the girl’s passport. She was pretty: blonde and dark-eyed; now dead in the gutter at twenty-four.
“Who did it?” He handed the passports back.
Jaeger counted off on his fingers. “Poles. Latvians. Estonians. Ukrainians. Czechs. Croats. Caucasians.
Georgians. Reds. Anarchists. Who knows? Nowadays it could be anybody. The poor idiot stuck up an open invitation to the reception on his barracks noticeboard. The Gestapo reckon a cleaner, a cook, someone like that, saw it and passed on the word. Most of these barracks ancillaries are foreigners. They were all taken away this afternoon, poor bastards.”
He put the passports and identity cards back into the envelope and tossed it into a desk drawer.
“How did it go with you?”
“Have a chocolate.” March handed the box to Jaeger, who opened it. The tinny music filled the office.
“What do you know about it?”
“What? The Merry Widow? The Fuhrer’s favourite operetta. My mother was mad about it.”
“So was mine.”
Every German mother was mad about it. The Merry Widow by Franz Lehar. First performed in Vienna in 1905: as sugary as one of the city’s cream cakes. Lehar had died in 1948, and Hitler had sent a personal representative to his funeral.
“What else is there to say?” Jaeger took a chocolate in one of his great paws and popped it into his mouth. “Who are these from? A secret admirer?”
“I took them from Buhler’s mailbox.” March bit into a chocolate and winced at the sickly taste of liquid cherry. “Consider: you have no friends, yet someone sends you an expensive box of chocolates from Switzerland. With no message. A box that plays the Fuhrer’s favourite tune. Who would do that?” He swallowed the other half of the chocolate. “A poisoner, perhaps?”
“Oh Christ!” Jaeger spat the contents of his mouth into his hand, pulled* out his handkerchief and began wiping the brown smears of saliva from his fingers and lips. “Sometimes I have my doubts about your sanity.”
“I am systematically destroying state evidence” said March. He forced himself to eat another chocolate. “No, worse than that: I am consuming state evidence, thereby committing a double offence. Tampering with justice while enriching myself.”
Take some leave, man. I’m serious. You need a rest. My advice is to go down and dump those fucking chocolates in the trash as fast as possible. Then come home and have supper with me and Hannelore. You look as if you haven’t had a decent meal in weeks. The Gestapo have taken the file. The autopsy report is going straight to Prinz-Albrecht Strasse. It’s over. Done. Forget it.”
“Listen, Max.” March told him about Jost’s confession, about how Jost had seen Globus with the body. He pulled out Buhler’s diary. “These names written here. Who are Stuckart and Luther?”
“I don’t know.” Jaeger’s face was suddenly drawn and hard. “What’s more, I don’t want to know.”
A steep flight of stone steps led down to the semi-darkness. At the bottom, March hesitated, the chocolates in his hand. A doorway to the left led out to the cobbled centre courtyard, where the rubbish was collected from large, rusty bins. To the right, a dimly lit passage led to the Registry.
He tucked the chocolates under his arm and turned right.
The Kripo Registry was housed in what had once been a warren of rooms next to the boilerhouse. The closeness of the boilers and the web of hot water pipes criss-crossing the ceiling kept the place permanently hot. There was a reassuring smell of warm dust and dry paper, and in the poor light, between the pillars, the wire racks of files and reports seemed to stretch to infinity.
The Registrar, a fat woman in a greasy tunic who had once been a wardress at the prison in Plotzensee, demanded his ID. He handed it to her, as he had done more than once a week for the past ten years. She looked at it, as she always did, as if she had never seen it before, then at his face, then back, then returned it, and gave an upward tilt of her chin, something between an acknowledgement and a sneer. She wagged her finger. “And no smoking,” she said, for the five-hundredth time.
From the shelf of reference books next to her desk he selected Wer Ist’s?, the German Who’s Who — a red-bound directory a thousand pages thick. He also took down the smaller, Party publication, Guide to the Personalities of the NSDAP, which included passport-sized photographs of each entrant. This was the book Halder had used to identify Buhler that morning. He lugged both volumes across to a table, and switched on the reading light. In the distance the boilers hummed. The Registry was deserted.
Of the two books, March preferred the Party’s Guide. This had been published more or less annually since the mid-1930s. Often, during the dark, quiet afternoons of the winter, he had come down to the warmth to browse through old editions. It intrigued him to trace how the faces had changed. The early volumes were dominated by the grizzled ex-Freikorps red-baiters, men with necks wider than their foreheads. They stared into the camera, scrubbed and ill at ease, like nineteenth-century farmhands in their Sunday best. But by the 1950s, the beer-hall brawlers had given way to the smooth technocrats of the Speer type — well-groomed university men with bland smiles and hard eyes.
There was one Luther. Christian name: Martin. Now here, comrades, is an historic name to play with. But this Luther looked nothing like his famous namesake. He was pudding-faced with black hair and thick horn-rimmed glasses. March took out his notebook.
Born: 16 December 1895, Berlin. Served in the German Army transport division, 1914-18. Profession: furniture remover. Joined the NSDAP and the SA on 1 March 1933. Sat on the Berlin City Council for the Dahlem district. Entered the Foreign Office, 1936. Head of Abteilung Deutschland — the “German Division” — of the Foreign Office until retirement in 1955. Promoted to Under State Secretary, July 1941.
The details were sparse, but clear enough for March to guess his type. Chippy and aggressive, a rough-and-tumble street politician. And an opportunist. Like thousands of others, Luther had rushed to join the Party a few weeks after Hitler had come to power.
He flicked through the pages to Stuckart, Wilhelm, Doctor of Law. The photograph was a professional studio portrait, the face cast in a film star’s brooding half-shadow. A vain man, and a curious mixture: curly grey hair, intense eyes, straight jawline — yet a flabby, almost voluptuous mouth. He took more notes.
Born 16 November 1902, Wiesbaden. Studied law and economics at Munich and Frankfurt-am-Main universities. Graduated Magna Cum Laude, June 1928. Joined the Party in Munich in 1922. Various SA and SS positions. Mayor of Stettin, 1933. State Secretary, Ministry of the Interior, 1935-53. Publication: A Commentary on the German Racial Laws (1936). Promoted honorary SS-Obergruppenfuhrer, 1944. Returned to private legal practice, 1953.
Here was a character quite different from Luther. An intellectual; an alter Kampfer, like Buhler; a high-flyer. To be Mayor of Stettin, a port city of nearly 300,000, at the age of thirty-one… Suddenly, March realised he had read all this before, very recently. But where? He could not remember. He closed his eyes. Come on.
Wer Ist’s added nothing new, except that Stuckart was unmarried whereas Luther was on his third wife. He found a clean double-page in his notebook and drew three columns; headed them Buhler, Luther and Stuckart; and began making lists of dates. Compiling a chronology was a favourite tool of his, a method of finding a pattern in what seemed otherwise to be a fog of random facts.
They had all been born in roughly the same period. Buhler was sixty-four; Luther, sixty-eight; Stuckart, sixty-one. They had all become civil servants in the 1930s -Buhler in 1939, Luther in 1936, Stuckart in 1935. They had all held roughly .similar ranks — Buhler and Stuckart had been state secretaries; Luther, an under state secretary. They had all retired in the 1950s — Buhler in 1951, Luther in 1955, Stuckart in 1953. They must all have known one another. They had all met at 10 am the previous Friday. Where was the pattern?
March tilted back in his chair and stared up at the tangle of pipes chasing one another like snakes across the ceiling.
And then he remembered.
He pitched himself forward, on to his feet.
Next to the entrance were loosely bound volumes of the Berliner Tageblatt, the Volkischer Beobachter and the SS paper, Das Schwarzes Korps. He wrenched back the pages of the Tageblatt, back to yesterday’s issue, back to the obituaries. There it was. He had seen it last night.
Party Comrade Wilhelm Stuckart, formerly State Secretary of the Ministry of the Interior, who died suddenly of heart failure on Sunday, 13 April, will be remembered as a dedicated servant of the National Socialist cause…
The ground seemed to shift beneath his feet. He was aware of the Registrar staring at him. “Are you ill, Herr Sturmbannfuhrer?”
“No. I’m fine. Do me a favour, will you?” He picked up a file requisition slip and wrote out Stuckart’s full name and date of birth. “Will you see if there’s a file on this person?”
She looked at the slip and held out a hand. “ID.”
He gave her his identity card. She licked her pencil and entered the twelve digits of March’s service number on to the requisition form. By this means a record was kept of which Kripo investigator had requested which file, and at what time. His interest would be there for the Gestapo to see, a full eight hours after he had been ordered off the Buhler case. Further evidence of his lack of National Socialist discipline. It could not be helped.
The Registrar had pulled out a long wooden drawer of index cards and was marching her square-tipped fingers along the tops of them. “Stroop,” she murmured. “Strunck. Struss. Stulpnagel…”
March said: “You’ve gone past it.”
She grunted and pulled out a slip of pink paper. “ ‘Stuckart, Wilhelm.’ ” She looked at him. “There is a file. It’s out.”
“Who has it?”
“See for yourself.”
March leaned forwards. Stuckart’s file was with Sturm-bannfuhrer Fiebes of Kripo Department VB3. The sexual crimes division.
The whisky and the dry air had given him a thirst. In the corridor outside the Registry was a water-cooler. He poured himself a drink and considered what to do.
What would a sensible man have done? That was easy. A sensible man would have done what Max Jaeger did every day. He would have put on his hat and coat and gone home to his wife and children. But for March that was not an option. The empty apartment in Ansbacher Strasse, the quarrelling neighbours and yesterday’s newspaper, these held no attractions for him. He had narrowed his life to such a point, the only thing left was his work. If he betrayed that, what else was there?
And there was something else, the instinct that propelled him out of bed every morning into each unwelcoming day, and that was the desire to know. In police work, there was always another junction to reach, another corner to peer around. Who were the Weiss family, and what had happened to them? Whose was the body in the lake? What linked the deaths of Buhler and Stuckart? It kept him going, his blessing or his curse, this compulsion to know. And so, in the end, there was no choice.
He tossed the paper cup into the waste bin, and went upstairs.