Escaping in a limousine from Innsbruck to Zürich, Doctor Andrzej Zaleski studied the pink dawn as it crept over the Swiss Alps. He breathed deeply in gratitude. At last: They had lived to see a new day.
His gaze returned to the woman he had loved over half his life. He expected her to begin weeping at any moment, but Amalia was staring dry-eyed out the window. Her mahogany-colored hair was concealed under a knitted ski cap, her long, graceful limbs invisible under heavy ski clothes and the ski jacket she had worn for their aborted escape over the Austrian mountains.
Nineteen years ago, he had lost her through gross stupidity. Every day since, he had ached with that loss.
Now, by the early light, he could see that the landscape they were traversing was suitable for their grim purposes. “You should stop somewhere along here, I believe,” he said to Max, their erstwhile chauffeur and longtime friend. “It would be awkward if we were to be observed.”
Max grunted his agreement and turned off, bumping their automobile across a farmer’s field, sticking to the hedge boundary for added protection from prying eyes. He reached a large fir.
“This will be as good a marker as any,” he said.
Andrzej helped Amalia to alight. Her two sons, eighteen-year-old Rudi and sixteen-year-old Christian, followed. As his mother shivered in the bone-aching cold, her youngest son drew a plaid wool blanket around her shoulders and, with one arm, held her against his side. Rudi joined Andrzej and Max as they opened the trunk.
Six hours had passed since the brutal death of Rudolf, Baron von Schoenenburg, and what was left of him looked like a frozen gray effigy of himself. His chest, torn open by SS bullets, was still gory with blood that seemed scarcely dry. Andrzej, once again assaulted by the sight, hastily pulled off his overcoat and spread it over the baron’s body before he, Rudi, and Max lifted him out.
Rudolf, Amalia’s husband and Rudi and Chris’s father, late Cabinet Minister to Austria’s Chancellor, was tragically and incomprehensibly dead, leaving their entire party in shock and grief. Carrying him to a spot of ground beneath the towering fir, Andrzej set the body down with unusual reverence. During the Great War, he had buried many a friend, but never in the presence of his grieving family.
He and Max proceeded to dig a grave with picks and a shovel they had found in the stolen SS limousine’s trunk. Fortunately, the spring thaw had begun. Amalia stood by shivering, and Andrzej felt her sorrow in every part of him. Though her marriage had begun as one of convenience, she had loved Rudolf more than Andrzej had ever realized.
When the time came for them to lay the baron to rest, she raised her voice over her tears, saying, “I’m sorry, Rudolf. I’m sorry you had to die. We’re only leaving you here until Hitler himself is underground. When your home is free again, we’ll return to take you back to the Schloss, where you should have been free to live out your life.”
Throwing a handful of earth over the wounds on his chest, she murmured, “Aufwiedersehen, Liebchen.”
Rudi, the new Baron von Schoenenburg, followed suit, saying, “I’ll fight your battle, Father.”
Christian, holding his head rigid as he looked at the horizon, tossed his handful of earth blindly and said, “We’ll put the bully underground, Father.”
Andrzej knew that despite the family’s despair, their resolution was real. Amalia’s sons would follow her lead in this. For the third time in her life, she had lost everything, but he had no doubt she would recover. He only hoped that as time passed, she would allow him to help her.
When they finally arrived in Zürich later in the day, Amalia found the early spring weather blustery and bitter. She preceded Andrzej, Rudi, Max, and Christian into the wood-paneled, gleaming lobby of the Hotel Metropole. While the men saw to booking their rooms under suitable aliases, she was drawn to the fire burning in a massive grate. Sitting in an overstuffed leather chair by the hearth, Amalia stretched her hands out toward the warmth. In what seemed like another life, this was where she was to have met her husband following their escapes.
Through her numbness, she was aware of Turkish carpets in jeweled tones covering marble floors and well-polished brass fittings and lamps shining all about her. She might be a million miles from that cold and bloody deathscape on the mountain above Innsbruck, but she couldn’t seem to get warm.
It was midday, and savory smells issued from the adjacent dining room. She remembered Rudolf saying she would enjoy the Swiss fondue. Now, it seemed days since she had eaten a proper meal.
Giving up on the prospect of ever feeling warm again, she rose and followed the delicious fragrance across the lobby to a set of wood and glass doors. Through them, she watched oblivious men and women dressed in woolens, eating and conversing as though it were any normal day.
Images of Hitler’s fist crashing down upon her beloved Vienna and Rudolf’s violent death were foreign thoughts, foreign events. They would never happen here. Switzerland was too careful, too neutral.
Suddenly, she wanted to smash the glass doors, the cozy picture. She wanted to hear the glass shatter, see the stunned faces of the diners, watch them cower from the glass fragments as they flew—beautiful but deadly.
“Don’t be angry at them, darling,” Andrzej said as he came up behind her. “If it weren’t for Swiss impartiality, we wouldn’t have this refuge.”
“How did you know I was angry?” She turned her back on the diners.
He smiled and took one of her hands. “Your fists are clenched.”
Rudi joined them. “I think it is time we had our luncheon,” he said in an odd, flat voice.
Andrzej dropped her hand.
“The doctor was keeping me from smashing the glass,” she said.
Her son’s eyebrows rose.
Amalia continued, “The shock is wearing off. I am becoming angry.”
“Would you really have smashed the glass?” Rudi asked, opening the door.
“It was a close thing,” she said as they moved into the dining room and sat around a table.
Through her numbness, she felt the comforting warmth of Andrzej’s presence snaking through her, bringing her much-needed solace. She bit down on her tongue. His green eyes were watching her across the table with the same tenderness he had shown long ago at the deaths of her beloved uncle and her mother.
She knew it didn’t look right, traveling with her former fiancé, but even if she wanted to, she couldn’t possibly leave him behind. Andrzej’s help was needed for the vital mission to England. With Rudolf’s death, Andrzej alone was her partner in this. Though a second son, he had been born into the Polish aristocracy and was at home in the type of society they would need to mingle with in London. She badly needed his English language skill. She spoke only French and German.
There was so much to discuss and plan, though her heart was barely functioning, it was so heavy.
Rudi asked Max, his father’s occasional bodyguard and sometime butler, and Dr. Zaleski—whose relationship to his father and mother he didn’t quite understand—to meet him and Chris in their rooms after luncheon. They needed to discuss their future plans. He was aware his father had confided in them. He also knew his father would have told his mother every detail of their plans, as well, but she needed rest and solitude for her grieving just now. He settled her in her own suite under a pile of feather quilts with a warm cup of chocolate at her side. Her eyelids were finally drooping.
The suite he and his brother shared was spacious, with an adequate sitting room for their conference. A welcoming fire burned in the grate. Rudi ordered hot spiced Glüwein for everyone and they settled around a walnut table.
He opened the discussion. “Herr Doktor, I have not thanked you.”
“For what, Baron?”
“First of all, for rescuing my mother from the Gestapo in Salzburg. And secondly, for trying to save my father last night when you stepped forward on that mountain, claiming to be him.”
“I am more sorry than I can say that the ruse didn’t work.”
“Why would you do such a thing?” Chris asked. “You didn’t know Father well.”
Zaleski took out his pipe and filled it from his tobacco pouch. As he was tamping it down, he said wearily, “You are wrong. I knew your father very well. But that is part of a long story I may tell you another day.”
Rudi shifted uncomfortably in his chair, thinking of the doctor holding his mother’s hand outside the dining room.
“Were you privy to my father’s plans?” he asked.
“Yes,” the doctor said. “The night I arrived from Warsaw, he and I and Max discussed what we would do in the event of an Anschluss. I know that he had his funds wired here. I followed his example. After a suitable interval while we must deceive the SS as to our intentions, we are to proceed to England.”
Max handed the young baron a paperback book. Rudi looked at it. Mein Kampf, by Adolf Hitler.
“It is time for you to read this book, Baron,” Max told him. “Hitler wrote out his entire strategy while he was in jail in the 1920s. His next target is Czechoslovakia.”
Max opened his small, worn silver case and removed a cigarette. “Your father believed the world to be at a crossroads. If the Western democracies do not stop Hitler now, the cost to stop him later could be millions of lives.”
Rudi’s eyes narrowed. “War, then. Just what Mutti has always been afraid of.”
“And what your father had been working to avoid. Your father met Hitler, remember,” Max said. “The man is not completely mad, as many seem to think. He cannot be dismissed as such.”
Max looked even more war-weary than usual, his eyes locked on the table, his battered visage quiet with the weight of his thoughts. Rudi watched as he hesitated, drawing on his cigarette. Finally, he raised his eyes. “Your father had firsthand knowledge that Hitler’s aggression will never stop with Austria.”
Rudi felt dread clamp his heart and understanding dawned. “That is why the SS were ordered to kill him.”
“Yes, not just because he was an enemy. And that is why we are still in danger now.”
Rudi leaned forward on his elbows toward Max. “Tell me about this evidence.”
Dr. Zaleski warned, “The secret could cost you your life.”
“It may be assumed that I know anyway,” Rudi said.
Chris added, “We must know.”
“Your mother will not be happy with me,” Max said.
“She will get over it,” said Rudi.
Max tapped his cigarette on the edge of the ashtray. “The Western democracies are being led to believe that Hitler only wants to consolidate the German-speaking peoples. Do you remember when I drove your father and Chancellor von Schusschnigg to Berchtesgaden to meet Hitler?”
“Yes,” Chris said before Rudi could reply. “I remember worrying that he might not come back.”
“If they had realized at the time what he heard, he might not have been allowed out of the fortress,” Max said. “You see, he overheard von Ribbentrop, an intimate of Hitler’s, speaking to Goering, the Reichsmarshal of the Air Force. Von Ribbentrop is an irresponsible braggart. He was denigrating the West for being weak and naïve, for believing Hitler’s promises and for not foreseeing his ‘inspired’ goal of a German conquest of Europe.”
Rudi’s palms grew damp and his heart sped up. “Do they know he overheard?”
“I think they must have deduced it somehow,” Zaleski said. “Nothing else explains why they didn’t want him to leave the country. If it were just that he was anti-Fascist or anti-Hitler, one would think they would have been content to see your father flee.”
“But he was only one man,” Christian protested. “What did they think he could do?”
Max drew on his cigarette and for a moment, there was silence. After exhaling, he said, “The same thing your mother and Zaleski are going to do now. Go to Churchill and tell him he is right. Offer to help him convince the rest of the government before they allow Czechoslovakia and the rest of Europe to go the way of Austria.”
“Churchill?” echoed Rudi and Chris together.
Zaleski said, “Winston Churchill. A prominent Member of Parliament who is not currently serving in the government but seems to have taken Hitler’s measure. He is a ‘voice crying in the wilderness,’ much as your father was. People are dismissing him as a warmonger.”
Rudi frowned. “What makes you think he would listen to us? Father, perhaps, but we have no credentials.”
The doctor said, “You do not know this, but I fought beside the English in the Great War for Polish freedom. I learned the language and made friends.” He drew on his pipe and for a moment said nothing. “Too many of them were killed, but the few who survived serve in the government.”
The skin between Zaleski’s eyes puckered in a frown. “They have been keeping me informed. Britain and France are weary to the bone of war. But my friends are just prescient enough to believe that the present blindness is going to lead to another one. They back Churchill. They can vouch for us.
“We must be very discreet,” Max said, his voice stern. “I am certain the SS will follow us here. We must fool them. They must be made to think we intend to remain in Switzerland. Meanwhile, through my socialist contacts, I will arrange a secret passage to England. This is what your father would want.”
Zaleski spoke up quietly, “Hitler’s propaganda machine is busy burying the true facts of the Anschluss. No doubt the Swiss papers will be full of his justifications.”
Placing his pipe carefully in an ashtray, he said, “Rudi and Chris, no one must know who you are. Switzerland is neutral, but Hitler has a long reach.”
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