When the sun shone the Party called it “Fuhrer weather”. They had no name for rain. Nevertheless, it had been decreed, drizzle or not, that this afternoon was to be the start of the three-day holiday. And so, with dogged National Socialist determination, the people set about their celebrations.
March was in a taxi heading south through Wedding. This was workers” Berlin, a communist stronghold of the 1920s. The factory whistles, in a festive gesture, had sounded an hour earlier than usual. Now the streets were dense with damp revellers. The Blockwarts had been active. From every second or third building, a banner hung -mostly swastikas, but also the occasional slogan, strung between the iron balconies of the fortress-tenements. WORKERS OF BERLIN SALUTE THE FUHRER ON HIS 75TH BIRTHDAY! LONG LIVE THE GLORIOUS NATIONAL SOCIALIST REVOLUTION! LONG LIVE OUR GUIDE AND FIRST COMRADE ADOLF HITLER! The back streets were in a delirium of colour, throbbing to the oohm-pah! of the local SA bands. And this was only Friday. March wondered what the Wedding authorities had planned for the day itself.
During the night, on the corner of Wolff Strasse, some rebellious spirit had added a piece of graffiti, in white paint: ANYONE FOUND NOT ENJOYING THEMSELVES WILL BE SHOT.
A couple of anxious-looking brownshirts were trying to clean it off.
March took the taxi as far as Fritz-Todt Platz. His Volkswagen was still outside Stuckart’s apartment, where he had parked it the night before last. He looked up at the fourth floor. Someone had drawn all the curtains.
At Werderscher Markt, he stowed his suitcase in his office and rang the Duty Officer. Martin Luther had not been located.
Krause said: “Between you and me, March, Globus is driving us all fucking mad. In here every half-hour, ranting and raving that someone will go to a KZ unless he gets results.”
“The Herr Obergruppenfuhrer is a very dedicated officer.”
“Oh, he is, he is.” Krause’s voice was suddenly panicky. “I didn’t mean to suggest—”
March hung up. That would give whoever was listening to his calls something to think about.
He lugged the typewriter across to his desk and inserted a single sheet of paper. He lit a cigarette.
To: Artur Nebe, SS-Oberstgruppenfuhrer, Reich Kriminalpolizei
FROM: X. March, SS-Sturmbannfuhrer 17.4.64
1. I have the honour to inform you that at 10.00 this morning I attended the premises of Zaugg Cie, Bankiers, Bahnhof Strasse, Zurich.
2. The numbered account, whose existence we discussed yesterday, was opened by Foreign Ministry Under State Secretary Martin Luther on 8.7.42. Four keys were issued.
3. The box was subsequently opened on three occasions: 17.12.42, 9.8.43, 13.4.64.
4. On inspection by myself, the box was found to contain
March leaned back in his seat and blew a pair of neat smoke rings towards the ceiling. The thought of that painting in the hands of Nebe — dumped into his collection of bombastic, syrupy Schmutzlers and Kirchners — was repugnant, even sacrilegious. Better to leave her at peace in the darkness. He let his fingers rest on the typewriter keys for a moment, then tapped: nothing.
He wound the paper out of the typewriter, signed it, and sealed it in an envelope. He called Nebe’s office and was ordered to bring it up at once, personally. He hung up and stared out the window at the brickwork view.
He stood and checked along the bookshelves until he found the Berlin area telephone directory. He took it down and looked up a number, which he dialled from the office next door, so as not to be overheard.
A man’s voice answered: “Reichsarchiv.”
Ten minutes later his boots were sinking into the soft mire of Artur Nebe’s office carpet.
“Do you believe in coincidences, March?”
“No,” said Nebe. “Good. Neither do I.” He put down his magnifying glass and pushed away March’s report. “I don’t believe two retired public servants of the same age and rank just happen to choose to commit suicide rather than be exposed as corrupt. My God” — he gave a harsh little laugh -’if every government official in Berlin took that approach, the streets would be piled high with the dead. Nor do they just happen to be murdered in the week an American president announces he will grace us with a visit.”
He pushed back his chair and hobbled across to a small bookcase lined with the sacred texts of National Socialism: Mein Kampf, Rosenberg’s Mythus der XX. Jahrhunderts, Goebbels’s Tagebucher… He pressed a switch and the front of the bookcase swung open to reveal a cocktail cabinet. The tomes, March saw now, were merely the spines of books, pasted on to the wood.
Nebe helped himself to a large vodka and returned to his desk. March continued to stand before him, neither fully at attention nor fully at ease.
“Globus works for Heydrich,” said Nebe. "That’s simple. Globus wouldn’t wipe his own arse unless Heydrich told him it was time to do it.”
March said nothing.
“And Heydrich works for the Fuhrer most of the time, and all of the time he works for himself…”
Nebe held the heavy tumbler to his lips. His lizard’s tongue darted into the vodka, playing with it. He was silent for a while. Then he said: “Do you know why we’re greasing up to the Americans, March?”
“Because we’re in the shit. Here is something you won’t read in the little Doctor’s newspapers. Twenty million settlers in the East by 1960, that was Himmler’s plan. Ninety million by the end of the century. Fine. Well, we shipped them out all right. Trouble is, half of them want to come back. Consider that cosmic piece of irony, March: living space that no one wants to live in. Terrorism” — he gestured with his glass, the ice clinked — “I don’t need to tell an officer of the Kripo how serious terrorism has become. The Americans supply money, weapons, training. They’ve kept the Reds going for twenty years. As for us: the young don’t want to fight and the old don’t want to work.”
He shook his grey head at such follies, fished an ice cube out of his drink and sucked it noisily.
“Heydrich’s mad for this American deal. He’d kill to keep it sweet. Is that what’s happening here, March? Buhler, Stuckart, Luther — were they a threat to it somehow?”
Nebe’s eyes searched his face. March stared straight ahead.
“You’re an irony yourself, March, in a way. Did you ever consider that?”
“ ‘No, sir.’ ” Nebe mimicked him. “Well consider it now. We set out to breed a generation of supermen to rule an empire, yes? We trained them to apply hard logic -pitilessly, even cruelly. Remember what the Fuhrer once said? "My greatest gift to the Germans is that I have taught them to think clearly." And what happens? A few of you -perhaps the best of you — begin to turn this pitiless clear thinking on to us. I tell you, I’m glad I’m an old man. I fear the future.” He was quiet for a minute, lost in his own thoughts.
At length, disappointed, the old man picked up the magnifying glass. “Corruption it is, then.” He read through March’s report once more, then tore it up and dropped it into his waste bin.
Clio, the Muse of History, guarded the Reichsarchiv: an Amazonian nude designed by Adolf Ziegler, the “Reich Master of the Pubic Hair”. She frowned across the Avenue of Victory towards the Soldiers” Hall, where a long queue of tourists waited to file past Frederick the Great’s bones. Pigeons perched on the slopes of her immense bosom, like mountaineers on the face of a glacier. Behind her, a sign had been carved above the entrance to the archive, gold leaf inlaid on polished granite. A quotation from the Fuhrer: FOR ANY NATION, THE RIGHT HISTORY IS WORTH 100 DIVISIONS.
Rudolf Halder led March inside, and up to the third floor. He pushed at the double-doors and stood aside to let him walk through. A corridor with stone walls and a stone floor seemed to stretch for ever.
“Impressive, yes?” In his place of work, Halder spoke in the tone of a professional historian, conveying pride and sarcasm simultaneously. “We call the style mock-Teutonic. This, you will not be surprised to hear, is the largest archive building in the world. Above us: two floors of administration. On this floor: researchers” offices and reading rooms. Beneath us: six floors of documents. You are treading, my friend, on the history of the Fatherland. For my part, I tend Clio’s lamp in here.”
It was a monkish cell: small, windowless, the walls made of blocks of granite. Papers were stacked in piles half a metre high on the table; they spilled over on to the floor. Books were everywhere — several hundred of them — each sprouting a thicket of markers: multi-coloured bits of paper, tram tickets, pieces of cigarette carton, spent matches.
“The historian’s mission. To bring out of chaos — more chaos.” Halder lifted a stack of old army signals off the solitary chair, knocked the dust off it, and gestured to March to sit.
“I need your help, Rudi — again.”
Halder perched on the edge of his desk. “I don’t hear from you for months, then suddenly it’s twice in a week. I presume this also has to do with the Buhler business? I saw the obituary.”
March nodded. “I should say now that you are talking to a pariah. You may be endangering yourself merely by meeting me.”
“That only makes it sound more fascinating.” Halder put his long fingers together and cracked the joints. “Go on.”
“This is a real challenge for you.” March paused, took a breath. Three men: Buhler, Wilhelm Stuckart and Martin Luther. The first two dead; the last, a fugitive. All three senior civil servants, as you know. In the summer of 1942, they opened a bank account in Zurich. At first I assumed they put away a hoard of money or art treasures -as you suspected, Buhler was up to his armpits in corruption — but now I think it is more likely to have been documents.”
“What sort of documents?”
“You’ve got one problem straight away. You’re talking about three different ministries — Foreign, Interior and General Government, which isn’t really a ministry at all. That’s tons of documents. I mean it, Zavi, literally-tons.”
“Do you have their records here?”
“Foreign and Interior, yes. General Government is in Krakau.”
“Do you have access to them?”
“Officially — no. Unofficially…’He wobbled a bony hand.’…Perhaps, if I’m lucky. But, Zavi, it would take a lifetime simply to look through them. What are you suggesting we do?”
There must be some clue in there. Perhaps there are papers missing.”
“But this is an impossible task.”
“I told you it was a challenge.”
“And how soon does this "clue" need to be discovered?”.
“I need to find it tonight.”
Halder made an explosive sound, of mingled incredulity, anger, scorn. March said quietly: “Rudi, in three days” time, they’re threatening to put me in front of an SS Honour Court. You know what that means. I have to find it now.”
Halder looked at him for a moment, unwilling to believe what he was hearing, then turned away, muttering: “Let me think.”
March said: "Can I have a cigarette?”
“In the corridor. Not in here — this stuff is irreplaceable.”
As March smoked he could hear Halder, in his office, pacing up and down. He looked at his watch. Six o’clock. The long corridor was deserted. Most of the staff must have gone home, to begin the holiday weekend. March tried a couple of office doors, but both were locked. The third was open. He picked up the telephone, listened to the tone, and dialled nine. The tone changed: an outside line. He rang Charlie’s number. She answered at once.
“It’s me. Are you all right?”
She said: “I’m fine. I’ve discovered something- just a tiny thing.”
“Don’t tell me over an open line. I’ll talk to you later.” He tried to think of something else to say, but she had replaced the receiver.
Now Halder was on the telephone, his cheerful voice echoing down the flagstone corridor. “Eberhard? Good evening to you… Indeed, no rest for some of us. A quick question, if I may. The Interior Ministry series… Oh, they have been? Good. On an office basis? … I see. Excellent. And all that is done?…”
March leaned against the wall with his eyes closed, trying not to think of the ocean of paper beneath his feet. Come on, Rudi. Come on.
He heard a bell tinkle as Halder hung up. A few seconds later Rudi appeared in the corridor, pulling on his jacket. A bunch of pen-tops jutted from his breast pocket. “One small piece of luck. According to my colleague, the Interior Ministry files at least have been catalogued.” He set off down the passage at a rapid pace. March strode beside him.
“What does that mean?”
“It means there should be a central index, showing us which papers actually crossed Stuckart’s desk, and when.” He hammered at the buttons beside the elevator. Nothing happened. “Looks as if they’ve turned this thing off for the night. We’ll have to walk.”
As they clattered down the wide spiral staircase, Halder shouted: “You appreciate this is completely against the rules? I’m cleared for Military, Eastern Front, not Administration, Internal. If we’re stopped, you’ll have to spin Security some yarn about Polizei business — something that’ll take them a couple of hours to check. As for me, I’m just a poor sucker, doing you a favour, right?”
1 appreciate it. How much further?”
“All the way to the bottom.” Halder was shaking his head. “An Honour Court! Dear God, Zavi, what’s happened to you?”
Sixty metres beneath the ground the air circulated cool and dry, the lights were dimmed, to protect the archives. “They say this place was built to withstand a direct hit from an American missile,” said Halder.
“What’s behind there?”
March pointed to a steel door, covered with warning signs: “ATTENTION! NO ADMITTANCE TO UNAUTHORISED PERSONS!” “ENTRY FORBIDDEN!” “PASSES MUST BE SHOWN”.
“ "The right history is worth a hundred divisions", remember? That’s the place where the wrong history goes. Shit. Look out.”
Halder pulled March into a doorway. A security guard was coming towards them, bent like a miner in an underground shaft, pushing a metal cart. March thought he was certain to see them, but he went straight past, grunting with effort. He stopped at the metal barrier and unlocked it. There was a glimpse of a furnace, a roar of flame, before the door clanged shut behind him.
As they walked, Halder explained the procedure. The archive worked on warehouse principles. Requisitions for files came down to a central handling area on each floor. Here, in ledgers a metre high and twenty centimetres thick, was kept the main index. Entered next to each file was a stack number. The stacks themselves were in fire-proof storerooms leading off from the handling area. The secret, said Halder, was to know your way round the index. He paraded in front of the crimson leather spines, tapping each with his finger until he found the one he wanted, then lugged it over to the floor manager’s desk.
March had once been below-decks on the aircraft carrier, Grossadmiral Raeder. The depths of the Reichsarchiv reminded him of that: low ceilings strung with lights, the sense of something vast pressing down from above. Next to the desk: a photocopier — a rare sight in Germany, where their distribution was strictly controlled, to stop subversives producing illegal literature. A dozen empty carts were drawn up by the lift-shaft. He could see fifty metres in either direction. The place was deserted.
Halder gave a cry of triumph. “State Secretary: Office Files, 1939 to 1950. Oh Christ: four hundred boxes. What years do you want to look at?”
“The Swiss bank account was opened in July ’42, so let’s say the first seven months of that year.”
Halder turned the page, talking to himself. “Yes. I see what they’ve done. They’ve arranged the papers in four series: office correspondence, minutes and memoranda, statutes and decrees, ministry personnel…”
“What I’m looking for is something that connects Stuckart with Buhler and Luther.”
“In that case, we’d better start with office correspondence. That should give us a feel for what was going on at the time.” Halder was scribbling notes. “D/15/M/28-34. Okay. Here we go.”
Storeroom D was twenty metres down on the left. Stack fifteen, section M was in the dead centre of the room. Halder said: “Only six boxes, thank God. You take January to April, I’ll do May to August.”
The boxes were made of cardboard, each the size of a large desk drawer. There was no table, so they sat on the floor. With his back pressed against the metal shelving, March opened the first box, pulled out a handful of papers, and began to read.
You need a little luck in this life.
The first document was a letter dated 2 January, from the under state secretary at the Air Ministry, regarding the distribution of gas masks to the Reichsluftschutzbund, the Air Raid Protection organisation. The second, dated 4 January, was from the Office of the Four-Year Plan and concerned the alleged unauthorised use of gasoline by senior government officials.
The third was from Reinhard Heydrich.
March saw the signature first — an angular, spidery scrawl. Then his eyes travelled to the letterhead — the Reich Main Security Office, Berlin SW 11, Prinz-Albrecht Strasse 8 — then to the date: 6 January 1942. And only then to the text:
This is to confirm that the inter-agency discussion followed by luncheon originally scheduled for 9 December 1941 has now been postponed to 20 January 1942 in the office of the International Criminal Police Commission, Berlin, Am grossen Wannsee, Nr. 56/58.
March leafed through the other letters in the box: carbon flimsies and creamy originals; imposing letterheads -Reichschancellery, Economics Ministry, Organisation-Todt; invitations to luncheons and meetings; pleas, demands, circulars. But there was nothing else from Heydrich.
March passed the letter to Halder. “What do you make of this?”
Halder frowned. “Unusual, I would say, for the Main Security Office to convene a meeting of government agencies.”
“Can we find out what they discussed?”
“Should be able to. We can cross-reference it to the minutes and memoranda series. Let’s see: 20 January…”
Halder looked at his notes, pulled himself to his feet and walked along the stack. He dragged out another box, returned with it and sat, cross-legged. March watched him flick through the contents. Suddenly, he stopped. He said slowly: “My God…”
“What is it?”
Halder handed him a single sheet of paper, on which was typed: “In the interests of state security, the minutes of the inter-agency meeting of 20 January 1942 have been removed at the request of the Reichsfuhrer-SS.”
Halder said:’Look at the date.”
March looked. It was 6 April 1964. The minutes had been extracted by Heydrich eleven days earlier.
“Can he do that — legally, I mean?”
“The Gestapo can weed out whatever it wants on the grounds of security. They usually transfer the papers to the vaults in Prinz-Albrecht Strasse.”
There was a noise in the corridor outside. Halder held up a warning finger. Both men were silent, motionless, as the guard clattered past, wheeling the empty cart back from the furnace room. They listened as the sounds faded towards the other end of the building.
March whispered: “Now what do we do?”
Halder scratched his head. “An inter-agency meeting at the level of state-secretary…”
March saw what he was thinking. “Buhler and Luther would have been invited, as well?”
“It would seem logical. At that rank, they get fussy about protocol. You wouldn’t have a state secretary from one ministry attending, and only a junior civil servant from another. What time is it?”
They’re an hour ahead in Krakau.” Halder chewed his lip for a moment, then reached a decision. He stood. “I’ll telephone my friend who works at the archives in the General Government and ask if the SS have been sniffing around there in the past couple of weeks. If they haven’t, maybe I can persuade him to go in tomorrow and see if the minutes are still in Buhler’s papers.”
“Couldn’t we just check here, in the Foreign Ministry archives? In Luther’s papers?”
“No. Too vast. It could take us weeks. This is the best way, believe me.”
“Be careful what you say to him, Rudi.”
“Don’t worry. I’m aware of the dangers.” Halder paused at the door. “And no smoking while I’m gone, for Christ’s sake. This is the most inflammable building in the Reich.”
True enough, thought March. He waited until Halder had gone and then began walking up and down between the stacks of boxes. He wanted a cigarette, badly. His hands were trembling. He thrust them into his pockets.
What a monument to German bureaucracy this place was. Herr A, wishing to do something, asked permission of Doctor B. Doctor B covered himself by referring it upwards to Ministerialdirektor C. Ministerialdirektor C shuffled it to Reichsminister D, who said he would leave it to the judgement of Herr A, who naturally went back to Doctor B… The alliances and rivalries, traps and intrigues of three decades of Party rule wove in and out of these metal stacks; ten thousand webs, spun from paper threads, suspended in the cool air.
Halder was back within ten minutes. “The SS were in Krakau two weeks ago all right.” He was rubbing his hands uneasily. “Their memory is still vivid. A distinguished visitor. Obergruppenfuhrer Globocnik himself.”
“Everywhere I turn,” said March. “Globocnik!”
“He flew in on a Gestapo jet from Berlin, with special authorisation from Heydrich, personally signed. He gave them all the shits, apparently. Shouting and swearing. Knew exactly what he was looking for: one file removed. He was out of there by lunchtime.”
Globus, Heydrich, Nebe. March put his hand to his head. It was dizzying. “So here it ends?”
“Here it ends. Unless you think there might be something else in Stuckart’s papers.”
March looked down at the boxes. The contents seemed to him as dead as dust; dead men’s bones. The thought of sifting through them any more was repugnant to him. He needed to breathe some fresh air. “Forget it, Rudi. Thanks.”
Halder stooped to pick up Heydrich’s note. “Interesting that the conference was postponed, from December the ninth to January the twentieth.”
“What’s the significance of that?”
Halder gave him a pitying look. “Were you really so completely cooped-up in that fucking tin can we had to live in? Did the outside world never penetrate? On December the seventh, 1941, you blockhead, the forces of His Imperial Majesty, Emperor Hirohito of Japan, attacked the US Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor. On December the eleventh, Germany declared war on the United States. Good reasons to postpone a conference, wouldn’t you say?” Halder was grinning, but slowly the grin faded, to be replaced by a more thoughtful expression. “I wonder…”
He tapped the paper. There must have been an original invitation, before this one.”
“It depends. Sometimes our friends from the Gestapo are not quite as efficient at weeding out embarrassing details as they like to think, especially if they’re in a hurry…”
March was already standing in front of the stack of boxes, glancing up and down, his depression lifted. “Which one? Where do we start?7
Tor a conference at that level, Heydrich would have had to have given the participants at least two weeks” notice.” Halder looked at his notes. That would mean Stuckart’s office correspondence file for November 1941. Let me see. That should be box twenty-six, I think.”
He joined March in front of the shelves and counted off the boxes until he found the one he wanted. He pulled it down, cradled it. “Don’t snatch, Zavi. All in good time. History teaches us patience.”
He knelt, placed the box in front of him, opened it, pulled out an armful of papers. He glanced at each in turn, placing them in a pile to his left. “Invitation to a reception given by the Italian ambassador: boring. Conference organised by Walther Darre at the Agriculture Ministry: very boring…”
He went on like that for perhaps two minutes, with March standing, watching, nervously grinding his fist into his palm. Then suddenly Halder froze. “Oh shit.” He read it through again and looked up, “Invitation from Heydrich. Not boring at all, I’m afraid. Not boring at all.”