It took us nearly a month to walk to Berlin. With the little ones it wasn't possible to walk all that far each day. They weren't too keen on walking in the dark either. It was still early spring, so the nights were long and the days short. I pushed them along as hard as I could, but… little legs have only so many kilometres a day in them… they did their best.
David and particularly young Martin turned out to be expert foragers. Martin was an expert in mushrooms. Gramma had taught them well. In her little cottage in the trees the wild food of the forest was an important resource. Water was the only real problem we had. We could buy sausage, and occasional SS posts provided food for "the boss's chess partner", but water you either had or you didn't and if you had it… it didn't last long. Water is too heavy to carry much of.
It was water that proved to be our downfall.
We had stopped at an SS post and had been fed. The Lieutenant was friendly but one of the officious ones. When he saw the "refer to the office of…" in my papers he did exactly that. He spoke to my friend SS-Obergruppenfuhrer Wolff for a few minutes… standing at rigid attention. Then… "He wants to speak to you… He says to trust your judgement… who on earth are you?" I grinned… "The SS-Reichsfuhrer's chess partner on wet afternoons." I took the handset from his nerveless fingers. I think that he had never spoken to anyone higher than an Oberst before, and now in one afternoon an Obergruppenfuhrer… and me! Life was sometimes quite fun!
"Uncle Karl!" I said… he was not an uncle of course but it was an informal politeness we had agreed when I was little.
"Uncle Karl, yes it's Hansi… we should be with you next week I think… no, I don't think we need a lorry. I see them shot up at the roadside. Anyway the little ones are still getting over the bombing, the walk is doing us all good. It's a chance to Wandervogel and find ourselves again… Yes, thank you, the SS men have been very kind, we are fed and everyone is well…. Yes, I'll give you back to the Lieutenant."
The Lieutenant was still standing at attention and there was a lot of "Yes… of course… certainly." Then he replaced the handset in its cradle and sat down, with a bump.
"That's the strangest conversation I have ever had… how old are you?"
"Who on earth are you though? You have a passbook endorsed by the Gauleiter Hamburg and protected by an Obergruppenfuhrer… why?"
"My Uncle Felix is SS-Reichsfuhrer Himmler's personal physician… and I really am his chess partner." I smiled.
"Well, he says to trust your judgement and see you on your way with anything you need… and without any help that you do not want! He was quite clear about that."
It was the fun I had been having that distracted me, and we forgot to fill the water bottles. We didn't realise until late afternoon. It was still quite early in the year. It was getting dark, time to eat. We had plenty of food, but no water to wash it down.
I always went myself if it was an SS post, but if it was a convent or a cottage I allowed Solo to go to ask to refill our bottles. He would take David with him. Jan I kept by me… my lieutenant I said… but actually he was the most Jewish looking of the boys. Martin I couldn't quite trust to not say something silly.
So, we were sitting at the side of the road eating bread and cheese that the SS had provided and berries that Martin had gathered. We were waiting for Solo to return with water. He and David had gone to a building that had the high walls and solid gate that I took to be a convent of some sort.
Suddenly, David came tearing back down the road…
"The nuns, the fucking nuns have got Solo! They've captured Solo!"
It turned out that we were mistaken, it wasn't a convent… It was an orphanage.
The nuns had allowed Solo in to fill his bottle. They had discovered that he was wandering alone, had declared him an orphan… and had locked him up! David was frantic, and I soon found out why, and then I was too…
"If the bastard nuns bath him they'll see his cock, and he'll be on the first train to a camp!" David was right.
We had a huge problem… We needed to get Solo released quickly and without attracting police attention. I didn't have time to involve Uncle Felix and it was too risky to involve the office of the Reichsfuhrer-SS. The SS post we had left was too far away… by the time I got help Solo's circumcised cock might have moved things beyond recall. I had his papers, he didn't, if they beat him and he confessed his race then everything would be lost.
I thought for a moment, straightened my uniform and told the others to stay out of sight. I marched off up the road to see what bluff could achieve. I rapped loudly and firmly on the gate. The small trap-window snapped open, and an unsympathetic nun said "Well! What do you want… You are too old to need our help!"
"You just took my brother in, and I need him back. We are on our way to Berlin and you are holding us up!"
"What a silly idea… Berlin… there's a battle going on in Berlin!"
"I'm taking them to the office of the Reichsfuhrer-SS, we are under his protection. My uncle is his doctor."
"Do I look like I report to the Reichsfuhrer-SS? Go away and stop making a nuisance of yourself!"
The trap-window snapped shut again.
When I hammered on the window again she was even less accommodating than before…
"I told you to go-away, we are looking after your brother for you… The reverend-father is processing him into a dormitory as we speak. What more could you want. Go away!"
Before she could close the window on me I said…
"I asked you nicely… if you don't return him to me I will have to return with a detachment of SS."
This time she burst out laughing… "You? A detachment of SS… Don't make me laugh!"
When the trap snapped shut no amount of hammering on the door produced an answer.
Meanwhile it was getting dark and presumably Solo's bath-time was approaching.
We held a council-of-war. We agreed that we needed to break in, find him and break out again. We approached quietly and walked right round the perimeter wall. The walls were high, basically un-climbable. They had once had barbed wire, but that had rusted and all that was left were the brackets sticking out at the top. If we could reach a bracket then a bit of gymnastics would get us onto the wall and hopefully there would be a less than neck-breaking way to descend inside.
But… how to reach the bracket?
We tried jumping. Then we tried jumping with someone making a stirrup with their hands. Then I leaned against the wall and David climbed my back. That got us about two thirds of what we needed. I was about to admit defeat and was seriously considering the SS post a mile back… when Martin piped up with…
"Hansi… If you and David lean against the wall, and Jan stands on your shoulders… I can climb up Jan and I'll easily reach the bracket."
He was right, if it worked it would work, and if it didn't he would break his neck… I said so. His answer was to do three handsprings down the road and then walk back to me on his hands. I laughed… it really was a very convincing argument!
"What will you do if you get in?" I asked.
"Whatever you would have done!" He said.
"And that would have been?" I really wasn't keen on losing two of them to the nuns.
"Well… the best thing would be to go to the latrine around the back and open the door that the men use to remove the… stuff." Martin said.
I was astonished… His tiny mind had worked all that out while I stood and panicked. I had seen the latrine door, but as it was tight shut it hadn't occurred to me that it might only have a bolt on the inside. He was correct, the waste men were unlikely to carry keys.
So that's what we did.
David and I braced ourselves, Jan climbed up with some difficulty and Martin? Well, Martin scampered up as if climbing a tree… Of course, at Gramma's cottage their only entertainment was climbing trees… I really hadn't been thinking. All this time… wiping his nose, holding his hand and trailing along behind this wisp of an eight year old I had completely under-estimated what a gallant little soldier he was.
When he reached the top Martin swung onto the wall, stood up and looked round. In the gloom I saw him point towards the corner, and he scampered along the top. He pantomimed eating an apple and I realised he meant that there was an apple-tree. Then he disappeared.
His gymnastics in the road and then up on the wall had reminded me painfully of Waldi… the beauty of his movement… the joy of his one-handed handstand. The memory made me angry. People and the war kept taking from me. Now they had Solo… I hadn't been able to save Waldi… but nothing was going to stop me retrieving Solo.
We raced round to the latrine door. After a few minutes we heard a squeaking and scraping as he struggled with the bolt. The door swung open and his grin greeted us… "Would you care to enter?"
Would I care to enter? I grabbed his face and gave him the biggest of kisses. He looked so proud of himself, I would have cried for him… if there had been time.
We crept round the building, reconnoitring the way we were taught in the Hitler Youth. I was the only one with any military experience or training. I wasn't sure how useful the others would be in a fight, so I told them to wait outside. There was a warm cheery part to the building. My natural cynicism told me that was where the nuns and priest would be enjoying their evening meal. The main part of the building was gloomy with candles flickering in bedrooms that had no curtains. That was where I entered… where I believed the children were kept.
The door was unlocked… what was there to steal after all. I could hear some noise upstairs… some shouting and cries from a boy. Fearing that might be Solo reluctant to say his prayers… the only prayers he knew were in Hebrew… I hurried that way.
A boy of about twelve came out of a door and stopped me… "Are you his friend, the new boy?" He asked.
"Good!" He said. "Be very careful, the reverend father is a vicious sod… he likes to hurt people. He's dirty too!"
"He hurts people?" I asked. Silently he turned and dropped the shirt off his shoulders.
His back was a mass of scars, deep welts that criss-crossed one another… "Some of it doesn't show… it's inside!" He said, and then sobbed.
"You mean he…?"
"Yes most nights, when he is drunk… He comes looking for one of us. Please do something… tell someone!"
I patted his bare shoulder and hurried on… the noise was getting louder. I came to a large bathroom, its door standing open. I could see Solo's clothes and shoes all over the floor. I stood in the doorway for a moment.
There was a huge bald man, dressed in black. He had his back to me. In front of him, backed up against the bath was Solo. He had been crying and his shoulders were covered in fresh welts, presumably from the stick in the priest's right hand. It was raised for another blow. Solo was holding his under-pants up with one hand and had the other raised to ward off the blow.
"Get those pants off!!" The priest shouted. Between his shouting and Solo's screams neither of them had heard me arrive.
Clearly I wasn't going to win in a fight with the priest. He was huge.
Thinking of Waldi rather than myself, I ran in. I grabbed the priest's collar with one hand, bracing my elbow against his shoulder to prevent him turning.
My Jugend knife entered his cassock… just above his leather belt. It angled upwards through kidneys, aorta and into his heart… exactly as our instructors had taught us. Just the one thrust… he crumpled with just a grunt, onto his knees and then forward crushing Solo against the bath. I was left standing with the blood-stained knife in my hand. I bent and carefully wiped it on his blackness.
Solo had pushed himself free and was standing shivering in just his under-pants.
"He was going to…"
"Yes, I know," I said. "and so does God. At this moment they both have a lot to answer for!"
Time might be running out so I threw Solo's clothes and shoes to him and urged him to get a move on.
"Bath-time is over… time to get dressed!" I said calmly. I had just killed a man, my first. It would not be the last.
"Did you tell them…?" I asked.
"No, no… we didn't get that far. One of the other boys told me what he would want me to do for him… so I was more scared of that than anything. No, I didn't tell him."
"Good!" I said. "That makes it easier… Let's get out of here."
As we reached the foot of the stairs we met the nun from the gate.
"What are you doing here? Where is the reverend father?" She asked.
"I'm here to keep a promise, to look after my brother. The reverend father is busy making his confession."
She tried to stand in our way, but I drew my knife again, and asked her…
"Reverend Mother, is it your turn to make your confession too?"
She went white and backed away. We left, and ran back to the latrine.
Out in the lane there was great excitement… Martin was the hero of the day. When Solo heard that his rescue was largely down to the littlest of his brothers he gave him a huge hug and a big kiss. Then he looked at him seriously and said…
"He packs a bigger punch than he looks like he would. I shall call him Tirpitz… our pocket-battleship."
Once back on the road we were left with a few problems. I knew how badly the orphans were being treated and I had promised to do something about it… Well, the boy had asked and I had patted him in reply… I think that counted as a promise.
The other thing was that the priest's dead body was in the bathroom and a bunch of outraged nuns were about to find it. If we became fugitives then life would be doubly difficult. The authorities were going to get involved. I just needed for it to be the right authorities.
I gathered the boys once more. I wasn't certain that what I was about to do was the wisest move, but if it worked then everything would be solved in one throw of the dice. I hid the boys and headed back to the SS post and the friendly and impressionable lieutenant.
"What, back already?" He said when he saw me.
"Yes… you recall that the Obergruppenfuhrer said that you should trust my judgement?"
"Yes… What have you done? What do you need me to do?"
"My brother Solo got caught by some nuns and added to their orphanage. He was being attacked by their priest. One of the orphans told me that the priest rapes them. I've rescued Solo… and the priest… It's the priest that is half my problem, the nuns are the other half… and the orphans are the rest of my problem."
"You have a lot of problems!" He said. "How can the SS help? How many men do I need?"
"Six should be sufficient… but we need to get there quickly… before they can contact the police or their bishop."
Minutes later an SS lorry stopped in front of the orphanage, with a lieutenant, six men and their fifteen year old commander. I rapped at the gate. The small window opened and the angry nun appeared.
"Open up! I promised you an SS detachment and I'm here to deliver!"
She led us indoors. The nuns were milling about. Then there was a scream from upstairs.
"I think the reverend father has finished confession." I said dryly.
A nun appeared in the doorway… "The reverend father is…" She started. "A lot better man now than he used to be!" I finished for her.
"Lead the way!" Said a grinning lieutenant.
I led the way, followed by a group of nuns and all but one of the soldiers. He was left to guard the nuns, to make sure that the situation remained contained. As we reached the top of the stairs the boy I had spoken to appeared.
"You came back! I didn't expect you to come back!" A large group of boys swarmed out around him.
"Quiet!" I shouted as my party halted. "Boys, turn round and take your nightshirts off." There was a gasp from the soldiers when they saw the damage to the boys' backs and buttocks. These were battle-hardened fighters. The lieutenant hit the reverend mother. Her nose poured blood and she spat out a tooth!
"Stop, please stop… we are better than them!" I shouted. Then I said, more calmly…
"Boys, the nuns were having dinner, I doubt that you have eaten well, so go on down, there should be enough to go round… the nuns won't be needing it. This has become a fast day for them. That led to a scramble of scantily clad bodies and peace descended on the corridor.
I led the way to the bathroom. The priest was still as dead as before.
"We need to bury him." I said.
"Should I fetch a priest to perform a funeral?" A nun asked anxiously.
"No!" I said. "No funeral… Christians need funerals. This… this was not a Christian."
"We shall bury him in the vegetable garden… next season he can start to earn his way… there should be a spectacular crop of tomatoes. Remember us when you enjoy them. Make sure that the boys get their share… they have earned it."
The reverend mother had started to recover her wits… if not her wisdom.
"I will fetch some boys to move him." She said.
"No! You will not! The boys have seen enough awfulness at his hands. You will move him… you and what pass for nuns in this hell-hole… you will move him. You reverend mother will dig his grave and when you fall exhausted your deputy will take over… Hopefully the youngest nuns will be spared a hand in clearing up this mess."
So that was what we did. There were no prayers… he had no soul.
As we finished dawn was breaking and I had one, maybe two more problems before we were finished.
Could I trust the nuns? No! I didn't think so either.
"Lieutenant… your men are billeted in the village? Would you all be more comfortable here?"
"An excellent idea, we can make sure that the wounded youngsters are treated and fed… but will there be room?"
"I think so." I said. "There are far more nuns here than are needed to look after the boys. Get rid of the parasites, starting with her…" I pointed at the reverend mother.
She spat back. "Wait till the authorities hear!"
"Reverend mother, we are the authorities. Berlin will inform the local police that this matter has been dealt with."
This time it was the Lieutenant that had replied. He was clearly enjoying the novelty of his role as saint and saviour.
"Of course, you may elect to confess your part in this abuse of helpless children and we shall all come to see you hang!" He added thoughtfully.
So, there was not much more to be done. I exchanged hugs with the boy I had met. He thanked me again for having come back. We told them it was Tirpitz they should thank. They carried Martin on their shoulders to breakfast.
We left after breakfast, by the front door and the front gate. I was glad we would not be leaving by the latrine again… this seemed rather more dignified.
It had been barely twelve hours, and I was still shocked by what I had done. The boys in the orphanage were smiling. They all insisted on shaking hands with us. They lined up at the gate to pat me on the back as we left. I felt good about myself. I didn't feel guilty about the priest, nor did I feel proud. I simply felt a satisfaction that I had been able to do what needed to be done… in very bad times.
I spoke quietly to the lieutenant, asking him to ensure that the boys were safe and looked after… to ensure that he and his successors kept the older nuns away. Then I asked him to call Berlin and give Uncle Karl a brief account… to be as vague as possible but to ensure that the local police kept their noses out of the matter. He said that he could fix the local police himself, but that he would indeed tell Berlin that the SS-Reichsfuhrer's chess partner must be quite an opponent!
For the last few days as we approached through the outskirts of the city we could hear the bombing and the heavy guns. We assumed they were Russians. The Americans and English had been silent behind us all the way. I would have preferred guns behind us to guns in front, but if we were to kill Russians and if I was to hand the boys over to Uncle Felix, then we had to go towards the battle, towards the guns.
I had been preparing for this moment for fifteen years
The deaths of so many people; my family, Waldi, Rolfe, Gramma… even Jan's mother, had left me a little unmoved by the prospect of my own death, but not those of my brothers… I was determined to keep my word to them, and especially keep my promise to Gramma… Her grandsons were going to live… to tell the story of how she had risked her life to save them.
As we got closer, our journey was made more difficult by the flood of refugees travelling in the opposite direction. We were almost the only people heading towards the city.
The Russians were attempting to encircle the city. That was what we were told at SS positions where we stopped to eat… My papers were still working their miracle, and at each I was careful to start by asking them to contact the Reichsfuhrer-SS's office to say we were getting closer. That way they were told to help us, rather than press-gang us into the Volksturm, the kids and granddads that were now Berlin's last line of defence.
We were told that the Americans were holding back in the West. They appeared to be allowing the Russians the honour or the risk of the Battle for Berlin.
We made our final entry to the city centre in the broadest of daylight. There were a lot of very nervous soldiers out there, particularly the old men of the Volksturm and the boys of the Jugend. Not everyone holding a gun was a battle hardened SS man. It was best to walk down the middle of the road with our hands visible… I was really nervous. I had come this far to kill Russians. I did not want to be killed by a boy or old man.
At each roadblock I explained that we were headed for the Chancellery and each time I was told I was crazy. Once or twice we were ordered to stay, and each time I used the "refer to the office of Reichsfuhrer-SS" to threaten them into allowing us to proceed.
At the final barricade I had a considerable shock. When once again I told my tale to the SS soldier, he looked surprised and then shouted to a group of men smoking at his rear…
"Hey, it's incredible…they've arrived… tell the Oberst. He can tell The Reichsfuhrer's office… Hansi and his brothers have arrived for the party!"
The SS-Oberst seemed delighted when I showed him my pass-book. I always assumed SS colonels were a dour lot, intent on killing. This one was genuinely pleased, father-like in his pleasure at our safe arrival…
"Hansi Kersten… at last!"
"The Reichsfuhrer's secretary has been asking me to keep an eye out for you. The last message I received said you were only ten kilometres from Berlin. Herr Brandt was convinced that you would make it. He was right… congratulations… well done!"
It was hard to believe that an SS-Oberst could have been watching for me… my secretary friend was an absolute angel!
"Now, he said… have you come to fight Russians or to find safety?"
"Not to fight Russians my Colonel. We've come to kill Russians!
"To just fight them would be a waste of effort… It's killing Russians that matters!"
I must have sounded irrational at that moment. He looked puzzled by my outburst.
"Herr Oberst… The enemy have killed Mama and Papa… destroyed my home, they have killed my friends Waldi and Rolf… they have made scheiss of my life!"
"Now, it's my turn… I shall kill as many as I can… after that… who knows…"
"But… I would like to see safety for my brothers! Especially the little ones."
Fortunately, just in time, I had remembered to leave my brothers out of the list of dead!
The colonel smiled…
"Well there are certainly plenty of Russians to kill! I wish you luck."
"There's a field-kitchen. Take your brothers and see them fed. Choose a cellar to sleep in, and hide the little one there. Then come back to me. I have just the weapon for you three…"
When we returned he greeted us with a wolfish grin, and a pile of ammunition…
"The Panzerfaust… It's light enough for a boy to use. You point it, fire and if you aimed right a Russian tank crew will have died! Choose a place, a distant corner is best. Once you have the range right, you will get almost every Russian tank as it appears."
"Do it well, and each round will kill at least four Russians for you!
"Is that enough Russians?"
I heard Jan say "Fucking Cossacks!" and thought that perhaps it was a good moment to take him to kill Russians!
At this stage the front was still a kilometre from the Chancellery. Occasionally I received messages from my friend the secretary. He said that Uncle Felix and Herr Himmler had left Berlin to negotiate with Swedish diplomats in the north of the country. The Fuhrer was unhappy about it… he was not in any mood to negotiate. Either help would arrive in the form of various Army Groups believed to be out there somewhere… the fog of war was pretty impenetrable by this stage… or it would not! The Fuhrer did not see much opportunity for negotiation… just to fight to the end.
His last message said that as Himmler did not seem to be returning and as the Russians were now so near… and as there was nothing left for him to do for me… he was joining a small party that was planning to escape to the west that night. I wished him good luck and said I hoped to see him again when it was all over. It seemed the correct thing to say, but I entrusted the details of the reunion to God. There would be quite a queue waiting at the Pearly Gates, we should be able to find one another!
The fighting was exhilarating… but very tiring… a lot of running and diving behind walls… point the Panzerfaust and shoot! Point and shoot!
We did that for a week as the encirclement tightened. Solo was brilliant, he was always at my shoulder with another round primed ready to fire. Jan ran back and forth fetching ammunition and food. Water was the real problem!
I lost count but we got a couple of tanks most days, and a few field guns too. The field guns were good because we saw the Russian crew fall. The tanks just brewed to a quick fireball. It was seeing Russians fall that mattered. I was trying to kill a complete crew for every member of my family and my friends who had died.
I don't think I was quite sane during that week!
By the end of the week we were within sight of the Chancellery. Our faces to the Russians, we were almost the last line between them and the Fuhrer. That was when things suddenly got really terrifying, and it wasn't the Russians who scared me.
An SS colonel that I didn't recognise suddenly appeared escorting a small group of soldiers in a mix of uniforms. With him came a detachment of SS, from the Fuhrer's personal division. They grabbed the four of us and we were hustled away towards the Reich Chancellery. In a small square we stopped. There was a group of old men and boys at one side and a group of soldiers huddled against a building on the other.
Out came a group of men in smart clean uniforms.
The colonel said "Our Fuhrer rewards the brave, and also repays those who fail him".
He signalled and the SS turned towards the huddled group of soldiers… and opened fire with their automatic weapons. The noise was deafening but lasted just a moment. All that was left was a pitiful heap of bodies. "Cowards!" said the colonel.
Turning to us, the group of old men and boys, he shouted…
"Right, now for you lot, I want a nice tidy line… try to look like soldiers!"
Jan and David were crying. Solo had gone white. I have no idea what I looked like. If it was our turn then that was that, nothing to do about it, better at the hands of our SS than the Russians.
But… I was angry! We had fought for weeks, we had held each street for as long as we could… what the hell had we done to deserve this?
That was what I demanded of the colonel.
"Why the shooting? We have done our best! The Fuhrer should be proud of us!"
He laughed. He was genuinely amused! I was not!
"Of course he is proud, my little heroes. That's why you're here… now form a nice straight line and you will see just how proud he is of you!"
I gave up! The four of us held hands and stood in a line against the wall. Old men and boys joined us.
The men in smarter clothes came towards us and I suddenly realised who they were.
Two of them at least I recognised… Doctor Goebbels and … the Fuhrer! He was witnessing the executions personally! My knees were threatening to fail and there was a quiet sobbing from beside me.
Life turned itself completely on its head!
"Stand up straight… the Fuhrer wishes to speak to you personally!"
He was old, desperately old, tired and sick, but the eyes still blazed. The eyes that had so captivated me at Berchtesgaden in happier times were still able to still my fears.
He looked at me with a piercing gaze. How could he examine someone like this if he had come to see them die?
Forgetting my fear and knowing he was the only one who could stop the inevitable…
I blurted out…
"My Fuhrer… These are my brothers. I brought them to Berlin with me. I beg you… spare them. Kill me… but let them live my Fuhrer… please!"
"Spare them? That is out of my hands… only my missing Army Group can do that… if they get here."
"But… my boy… that isn't why we are here. We're here to speak of happier things!"
I was completely lost. I had no idea what was happening.
The Fuhrer turned to a man and held out his hand. A small box appeared.
Taking it and opening it, the Fuhrer took out… a medal!
"Cowards get their just reward… and so do heroes." He placed the ribbon round my neck. The medal, made for a grown man hung down to my stomach.
The Iron Cross Second Class!!
"But… don't I know you my boy? We have met before?"
"Jawohl mein Fuhrer! I'm the nephew of Doctor Kersten and these are my brothers."
"Ah, Dr Kersten, the physician. At least you are here at my side, defending the Fatherland. Your uncle is safe in Sweden!"
"Yes my Fuhrer, but he has been such a help to us. He has contacted SS units along the way to help and feed us as we journeyed to be here… and now we are here!"
"And the battle?"
"It goes well my Fuhrer, we have plenty of ammunition and the Russians become more cautious as they advance towards your SS bodyguard units. If the Army Groups hurry we shall hold the Russians for just long enough. My brothers… We have killed nearly ten Russian tanks and some field guns… everyone is holding the line."
I wasn't boasting… I wanted him to know that he was not alone… He looked so lonely.
He smiled and patted me gently on the cheek. Then his eyes lit up and he turned to a senior SS colonel at his side and said.
"Oberst. This child is braver and more loyal than many a Sturmbannfuhrer…"
"I have decided. A field-commission!"
"I salute you… SS-Sturmbannfuhrer Kersten, the youngest and bravest of my bodyguard!"
As much as a fifteen year old Hitler Youth could, I crashed to attention and cried…
"Sieg Heil, mein Fuhrer!".
He once again patted my cheek and moved on to Solo, David and Jan as they told him when he asked. They were incredibly calm and brave, I was so proud of them.
He patted each and congratulated them on having come so far to be at his side.
He called our SS colonel to his side and spoke quietly to him. The colonel looked sharply at my little group… and then smiled at us, turned back to his Fuhrer and gave a straight-arm salute.
The Fuhrer returned to our little parade and moved on to talk to the old men.
Finally, he turned, looked at the heap of dead with disgust, bathed us once more in his wan but still magic smile, gathered up his staff and returned the way he had come.
I felt good, unbelievably good. My Fuhrer had promoted me to SS-Sturmbannfuhrer in his personal bodyguard and had not executed us. We lived, I was a hero, and…
There was still hope.
I started laughing… There we were, a reluctant hero and his Iron Cross, now a member of the SS… standing with his fake brothers… four Jewish children that he had helped to cheat the best efforts of the SS to kill them. Here we were, looked after and fed by the SS elite, Hitler's personal bodyguard… five boys with not a foreskin between them!
My own colonel suddenly appeared with a hastily made out pass-book. It was made out to SS Sturmbannfuhrer Hans Felix Kersten.
"Here, this will keep you and your brothers fed. Come to my command-post tomorrow. I may have a task for you. Keep your brothers close to you for the next few days. That is a direct order from the Fuhrer. I'm told that he has left a task for you."
Then he said quietly so that only I could hear
"Remember… Lose the passbook if you look like being taken by the Russians. Don't have it on you if they take you. It would most certainly get you killed."
Then he too patted my cheek, smiled wistfully gave a straight-arm salute, said "Sturmbannfuhrer !" and walked away
It was the proudest moment of my life.
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