The Last Battle
The Nazis in the Quarter and in the factory tried to cozy up to them. They had known it was going to end this way, and they had never done anything to anybody etc etc.
“We’ll see,” Animal said. “Maybe we won’t do anything to you, either.”
“Careful,” Stash said, “you need to keep quiet. At the first chance, we’ll haul the weapons out of the underground passage.”
They waited and waited. They ran the carousel, and listened to the fire of machine guns and the blasts of bombs. One plane, bent on silencing the antiaircraft artillery at the train station, came around and blasted away for a couple of hours nonstop.
Then suddenly there was silence. They went outside into the factory yard. Spring was bursting forth everywhere, the twitter of the titmouse, the smell of earth. It was like summer: blue sky, without airplanes.
They took off their jackets and shirts, and lay in the sun. The men told jokes. The women and girls were talkative.
“Weather for screwing, not shooting,” thought Phantom, as they carried the weapons out of the underground passageway, up the ramp, and into the factory, carefully and quietly.
There were two bazookas, three carbines, a chest of ammunition, hand grenades, and the MG 42. Stash distributed these to Piotr and Stepan and Lena and Nina and all the other Russians.
It was midday. Most of them were lounging around, or lying in the grass at the Russian barracks.
Suddenly the air was filled with howling. Everyone looked up, astounded. There was nothing above them but blue sky. But the attack came anyway. They all rushed back into the bunker.
It was American artillery, coming from the mountains to the south.
Stash said, “We need to hang white flags from the houses now.”
And they ran out, and hauled bedsheets from their storage chests, and hung them out the windows. Phantom and his mother were hurrying, wanting to get right back to the bunker.
They were just upstairs at the Pottmanns’ when they heard cries and shots from an MP. An open Mercedes was cruising slowly down the street, carrying four SS officers. They were shooting through the windows from which the white sheets flew.
They threw themselves flat. A shot hit the lamp. Another shattered the glass to the wardrobe.
Then they heard the voice of the SS man, over the megaphone: 'Get those white rags down from there. One more minute is all you have. Traitors will be shot immediately.'
Phantom crawled over to the window, and saw directly underneath him the open car with the SS goons. He had the 765 Walther already in his hand. He aimed, but his mother struck his arm and threw him back to the floor. “Are you crazy?” she said. “Come on, let’s get that sheet back in here.”
And from their lying-down position they pulled the sheet back into the room. 'So', the SS goon’s megaphone boomed again, 'back into the bunker, right now. On the double.'
They ran downstairs, past the Mercedes. The SS officers fired into the air behind them, and they laughed and laughed.
The white sheets had disappeared everywhere. The Mercedes drove slowly back up towards the Hill.
Phantom’s stomach ached with rage. He made a plan. He would take the hand grenades back to the house, Animal would distract them with a white sheet from across the street, and when the Mercedes came back, he, Sparks, ThinMan and Sugar would be waiting at the Spormanns’ windows, and would throw the grenades into the open car.
But Stash said, “No, we aren’t going to send the children out, the way the Fascists do. We can do it all by ourselves. But you can help if you want.”
They dragged the MG 42 from behind the canister building into one of the offices. They pushed a desk to the window. They opened the window. They placed the MG in position on top of the desk. Stash, Lena from Minsk, Phantom and Animal were there.
Animal sat down on a plump couch and smoked a cigar. He had found it in a drawer. “They have it nice here,” he said.
Piotr and Erna Trietsch, Stepan and two other Russians crouched on the other side, in the office area for the keg division. They had bazookas and hand grenades. Anna Spormann and Herta Ronsdorf went to the top floor of the building and hung out two enormous white sheets, made from tablecloths and bedsheets sewn end-to-end. Two Russians with carbines were there with them, as well as ThinMan, Sparks, and Sugar.
The artillery had spent all their ammunition, so now grenades were exploding all over. An MG was firing from somewhere up on the Hill. They heard the rumble of a tank. Then silence again.
And then Gertrude Rosenkranz marched through the factory gate, her carbine slung over her shoulder. Then came Chahlie, supporting Anna Kusnevski, with Clemens and Jean behind them. Jean was playing his violin furiously.
Stash covered his eyes with his hands, and repeated several times, very loudly: 'Nyet.'
“We held them at the viaduct,” Gertrude Rosenkranz called. “The Pole here is in labor! Quick!”
That night a little girl came into the world.
The next morning, the draftees returned. “Nothing far and wide,” said Ewald Stumpe. “The rest of the Wehrmacht and all their buddies have fled, and the Americans have pulled past the town, headed east, with tanks and cannons.”
He stood in the middle of the factory yard, his head held high, his nose patch facing into the warm wind. He asked, “Do you notice that? Don’t you smell it? How very odd. The one set is gone and the others aren’t here yet. An opening. An opening for us to move into.”
He, Makevka, and the short Mr. Pottmann left again, headed for City Hall.
Stumpe came back that evening, looking for blankets, so they could overnight there. “The short Mr. Pottmann is in the mayor’s office,” he explained. “There are just a few people there. Alex Schulte has come over too. The Fascists have all gone, and not a single one of the other townsfolk is stirring.”
The next day the Wehrmacht’s larder was plundered by some people from the Hill area. Bernard Schlueter came to fetch Stash and Piotr, to stop the plundering.
Pierre the Frenchman and a couple of others held watch for the shops in town. Lena from Minsk and the other Russians from the factory were caring for the forced laborers and the prisoners of war, as they streamed out of their prison barracks and into the streets.
Phantom Spormann, Animal Ronsdorf, ThinMan Niehus, Sparks Krach and Sugar Trietsch were all sitting on Merrick’s wall, listening in the stillness, searching the sky. Nothing. Then Animal said, “I can’t stand it one more minute, this waiting. Why don’t we just head out?”
“Have a nice trip,” ThinMan said.
And they didn’t pay any more attention to Animal, who jumped off the wall and headed out.
Then they heard the race of a motor, and down the street came Dr. Strathmann’s DKW Cabriolet. Animal Ronsdorf was sitting in the driver’s seat. He pulled up in front of Merrick’s wall, cigarette hanging from his mouth, left arm hanging over the door of the car, right hand draped on the steering wheel. “It still has gas in it,” Animal said. “Who wants to take a ride with Uncle?”
And so they drove through the Hill area, up to the overhang over Land St., and then into the mountains. The wind blew in their ears. Pussy willows and the first green things were out everywhere. There were birds overhead. They sang:
Into the morning’s
rays, we partners in the fight,
And then suddenly there in the ditch they saw a sailor, carrying a guitar. Animal pulled to a stop. The sailor climbed in.
He had been on the road for weeks, headed south from Kiel, through all lines, friend and foe. “Nothing can happen to you,” he said, “if you’re carrying a guitar.” And they drove back into town, and the sailor played his guitar. He sang a song that they all liked right away. Phantom was even able to play along. They drove through the Quarter, past windows full of people looking out and laughing, and they sang:
On the sixth,
at just past midnight,
A boat heads
out in secret flight,
See the parachutists,
floating from the planes,