Christmas with Eugen in Teufel
Galiena started the journey back to the family wing through the lower floors of the house, and passed the entrance to the library wing with its indoor swimming pool. A swim about now suited her quite well, and she altered course to go in that direction. This area was part of Göring’s new spa, and just completed this summer. Saunas, steam rooms, and the pool were all on the ground level. The large pool was on the edge of the building, floor to ceiling windows, and glassed French doors to the outside allowed the swimmers to see out to the world. There were also a series of hotter and hotter soaking pools.
Emil followed her somewhat reluctantly into the cavernous room, illuminated only by the outside lights through the window, and the lights in the pool. Galiena stripped off her beaded robe, laying it carefully on a white wicker chair. Normally she might have removed her chemise, she and Emmy came to the baths au natural all the time, but there were enough guests in residence to deter her. She dropped a large towel at the steps at the shallow end, then walked to the end of the deep end of the pool; diving in, still wearing her chemise. It was short enough not to impede her movement. Emil settled down at the edge of the pool gnawing viciously on his bone as Galiena swam back and forth. When the bone was picked clean, he got up and circled the pool, looking at it with some suspicion. Emil sat beside it, touching the surface of the water with a paw. The water didn’t seem to bother him, and he amused himself by splashing her ferociously. The lion had dauntless energy when it came to his play, and nearly drowned her under a deluge of spray. Galiena tried to get him to jump in, but that seemed too much, even for him. After he had bored himself with that game, he moved to sit like the sphinx along the side, resting the tip of his tail on the surface of the water.
Galiena swam back and forth, eventually diving under the surface of the water. Idalie would hate her for destroying the set in her hair, but what did it matter, really? That’s what Marcel irons were for! She dove to the bottom of the pool until her lungs ached, then back up to the surface. When she broke through the water, shaking her long hair like a water sprite, she saw that there was sooty red glow standing in the doorway to the outside. A sooty red glow like a burning cinder at the shoulder level of a man.
Was this it? The moment that she had lived in fear of for the last four months? Had he come? Galiena felt a spear of horror in her heart, for the figure was completely backlit where he was standing, and she had no idea who it was. The person was also wearing a great coat which served to make him even more indistinct. The only thing she did know was the person certainly was not her uncle, for he wasn’t round enough, yet he seemed so huge in the doorway. Galiena glanced at her furry companion, who was licking his paw, apparently unconcerned. Now that was rare! Emil wasn’t fond of strange men.
“Don’t fret, Madame,” Eugen rasped as he stepped further into the room, wiping his feet on the mat as he did so.
Galiena raised a hand to her chest. “Dear lord, Eugen! You startled me!” She gasped. Startled? No! Terrified her! She had been seconds from screaming the house down!
He lifted his cigar to his lips. “My apologies,” His voice seemed especially guttural. “I have been watching you, and when you went under the water and didn’t come back up, I worried that you were in distress.”
Galiena blinked. “You were watching me?” The notion of him watching her through the windows made her violated. Why was he watching her? What gave him the right to play the voyeur? A self righteous anger blossomed in her chest at what she considered to be an invasion of her privacy.
“Not too hard, but I was outside and I saw you. Don’t be afraid.” The smell of his cigar was pleasant and familiar; Galiena liked that brand herself. “I wasn’t spying, just concerned. Glad to see you aren’t drowning. I don’t swim very well.”
Galiena tilted her hair back and dipped it into the water, pulling it out of her eyes. “It must be almost four in the morning, Eugen! What are you doing outside?” She demanded of him, trying to rationalize what the man was doing prowling about the grounds at this time of night. Had she seriously misjudged Eugen?
He opened his greatcoat; taking it off, to reveal his dress uniform, and the scarf she had given him. “It’s Christmas Eve,” Eugen said simply, sitting down.
Galiena swam over to the side of the pool near to him, primarily so he couldn’t see her nearly naked body. Her silk chemise had turned all but transparent in the water. She wasn’t too nervous anymore. Emil was here, after all. “It is Christmas eve. Christmas day, really,” She corrected him.
The eyes looked at her, dark green, almost like a cat, very similar to Emil’s, in some ways. Not in colour, but in expression. There was something very primeval about Eugen. “Have you ever seen a miracle, your Serene Highness?” He puffed on his cigar.
The Pfalzgräfin shook her head, mystified by his question. “No. I don’t think I have.”
“I saw a miracle once. I saw what peace looks like. I celebrate that miracle every Christmas Eve, the night I saw it. I remember,” The words were spoken quietly, even reverently.
Eugen shifted in his chair. “Do you know much about the war?” He sucked on his cigar contemplatively as he studied her.
“In 1914, on Christmas Eve, the guns stilled. We were sitting in our trenches, in the frozen mud; our trenches were very poor in ‘14. We didn’t think we would need them for very long, so we just dug in and lived like moles. We had been hammering away at the English all day, but that night the guns stopped. We started to sing Silent Night, for we Frontschwein were feeling pretty sorry for ourselves: cold, hungry, away from home, at the very front trenches on Christmas Eve. Then across the way we heard the English singing the same song, but in their language. We sang together. Stupidly, we poked our heads over the edge. Normally that was a permanent ticket to heaven,” Eugen had never spoken so many words to her before; his face very far away.
Galiena rested her chin on her arms at the side of the pool entranced; all fear gone. Emil padded over and sat by her head; she liked having him so close with Eugen here. It wasn’t that she didn’t trust Eugen, but she certainly didn’t know him very well. “What did you see?”
“The English were poking their heads over, staring back at us. We sang, and then they sang, and the next thing we knew, we were crawling out of the mud, and they were crawling out of the mud, and we met in the middle of no man’s land. We traded our chocolate for their tea and our schnapps for their rum. We sang and we danced and clapped each other on the backs like comrades. How much we smoked! Englishman and German had Christmas together like civilized men. We cavorted all night and it lasted all the way until the New Year. That was a miracle. No man died in that week on our line.” Eugen told his story slowly, as if in a trance. “That was what peace looks like. Not like what you see now. This isn’t peace.”
Galiena shook her head, lost in Eugen’s tale. “I can’t even imagine,” She said uselessly.
Eugen hefted the cigar. “I am not to have these. I lived through a gas attack that killed all my friends. They died around me. The doctors say it was only my size which saved me. My lungs are bigger because I am bigger, and so I could take more of the gas, or so they said. That’s why I sound like a monster; the gas burnt out my throat.” Eugen savoured the tobacco, his bitter words made milder by his tone of voice, but Galiena realised that Eugen must be bothered by the way he sounded. “Every Christmas eve since the war, I stay up all night, look up at the stars in the sky, smoking coffin nails, which is what the English called their cigarettes; we Lakenpatschers found that very droll, and I remember all those friends that died, and died for nothing.” He gestured out the window. “They are up there with the stars.”
He spoke with such simplicity, it brought tears to her eyes. This strange giant of a man who had been through so much; this giant who treated her so gently. She watched as he got up and stood with his back to her, facing the windows. With him turned away, she swam to the other end of the pool, getting out to dry her chemise as best as she could, before slipping her robe on. She padded over to where he was standing and stood beside him. “Oh Eugen,” Galiena said with very sincere feeling. “I’m sorry.”
Eugen turned and looked down at her. “No need to apologize, Pfalzgräfin. They made their sacrifice gladly. You are what we fought for.” He reached out as if to touch her, but snatched his had back self consciously. “For Germany. We loved Germany. Those of us who lived; we still do. That is why we fight so hard now to protect our Fatherland. Those treaties in Paris after the war, they nearly destroyed us.”
She touched his arm, cupping his swastika armband as she did so. “Is that why you are in the SS, Eugen?”
Eugen nodded. “The communists and the unions stabbed us in the back, during 1918 when we could have won the war. We were almost at the gates of Paris, but the communists and their strikes broke the will of the Kaiser. They stabbed us in the back,” He repeated with terrible bitterness and anger. “Adolf Hitler promised to stab them in the back, and he has. I have been with him almost since the beginning, for I joined the party in 1921, so I could keep fighting.” He tapped a red ribbon and medal on his right pocket. “This is the Blood Order. I was at Munich in 1923, with Herr Himmler on the barricade with Ernst Rohm. Not near where Göring was, though,” He puffed on his cigar. “As far as I am concerned, the Great War isn’t over. It will never be over until we take back what was ours. When I can look up into those stars and know that my friends’ sacrifices weren’t for nothing.”
“So you keep your vigil every Christmas Eve?” Galiena asked, her complete awe at this simple man’s devotion humbling.
“Every Christmas Eve,” Eugen nodded.
“Does Hagen join you?”
Eugen shook his head to the negative. “Hagen didn’t come to the trenches until 1917. He was just a pup, but already a great man. I had been wounded, sent home and then recalled when I met him. He never saw a Christmas truce; never saw that miracle. Those only happened in the first two years; the officers put a stop to it, real quick. All Hagen saw on the Western Front was death and normally he just drinks on Christmas Eve. This is the first one in years that he hasn’t been on the floor in a stupor by midnight. I pick him up, pour him into bed, and watch the night alone. Tonight he is sleeping like a baby, mostly sober.” There was gratitude in Eugen’s eyes as he stared at her. That, too, was humbling. Who was she to change these men’s lives?
“May I join you?” Galiena requested of him. “I don’t believe I shall sleep tonight either.” Feeling safe from the creature in his presence, she allowed herself to think about her own history of Christmas Eves. She hadn’t spent one without her Grandfather in years and the thought of him tormented her. They would have spent the evening in the library, her head on his knee while he told her tales of Christmases past, including cherished stories of her father. After, they would dance in the ballroom to a group of musicians from the ballroom until he couldn’t dance anymore. Then his hand would reach out to her, his rings winking in the candlelight, and he would escort her to his study where the tree would be waiting. The Pfalzgraf would shower her with gifts and they would sing songs together until he entreated her to play on the harpsichord, while he sat in his favourite leather chair watching her.
Yes. His office! His office where he stole her virginity on the Hereke Turkish carpet and left her half a human being. His office where he brutalized her over and over until her mind broke and her body gave into him to make the pain stop. His office where he told her that they were married and she was his forever! No! She wouldn’t give into the past! Not tonight! She had to stay focussed on the present, on Eugen and his own tale of Christmases past. Tonight, Eugen was her guardian angel.
The large face turned down to her. “You may mark the night with me if you wish,” Eugen reached into his pocket and brought out a cigar. “Would you like one?”
Galiena was quite surprised to see it was the same brand cousin Dickey smoked. Obviously Eugen Freisler didn’t stint for his vigil. “Thank you.”
He pulled out a cigar clip. “You don’t actually smoke these things, do you?” he nudged her with his shoulder, a motion of masculine comradeship.
“I have,” Galiena laughed. “It’s terribly unladylike, I know, but I love them.” He clipped the cigar for her, and then held a lighter to as she lit it. “Don’t think badly of me for doing it.”
Eugen frowned at her. “Why would I? You want to sit with an old soldier and talk about a bunch of men who died about the time you were born then you deserve a cigar. Hell! You may have a cigar around me anytime you please.”
Galiena puffed on the Churchill length cigar as he held the lighter on the end. “These are very fine, Eugen.”
“Only the best coffin nails for my friends. I’m smoking for thousands tonight.” He gazed out the window. “The stars are brighter here in the forest than in Berlin; perhaps we are closer to God out here. It was rare to see stars over the front because there was so much smoke in the air; it was like being under clouds the whole time. I missed the stars.”
“So how did you meet Hagen? You are so loyal to him,” Galiena asked quietly.
Eugen rolled his eyes, but there was an indescribably joy on his face. “You remember when Hagen told you about that boy on the fire step? The one who had his head blown off? I was the Gefreiter who yanked Hagen back before the same thing happened to him. I cursed him soundly for being a fool, and then he sort of followed me around for the first two weeks. I was a bit of a legend in the trench. I already had both Iron crosses; all sorts of other tin on my chest, I had been invalided out and recalled. Yet it wasn’t for being smart, my recall, because I’m not. I was a good killer,” Eugen paused, studying Galiena. “That’s what I am. Some men will tell you that they are good fighters. That is incorrect. War is about killing. It’s nothing personal, and I’ve never hated a man I killed; but you should never dress it up as anything other than what it is. I am a very good killer. Maybe one of the best there is,” Eugen paused again with another self-satisfied nod. “I hope that doesn’t shock you. I taught Hagen how to kill, and he wasn’t bad at it, but he has smarts. One night, oh six months after we met, we were over the wire with a squad, and we came across a pillbox; a cement covered gun emplacement. One of ours. We built the best pillboxes. The British had taken it over and were using it to snipe at us. We had been in and out over no man’s land for days looking for the right one. Our Leutnant was done by the Tommies at the very beginning, and I was left in charge. I knew two orders; charge, and faster. So as I was about to say charge, and this kid, he wasn’t green anymore, two months made a veteran in those days, but this kid says to me, he will go around one side, make a diversion to get the English to come out and let us sneak in from the other side. I’m sitting there, my ass in the mud, thinking this kid wants a heaven shot because he can’t take it anymore, so I tell him we will give it a try. Trying to get yourself killed on purpose was very common too. Anyway I figure we can always do my charge and faster when the kid is dead. He grabs the body of the Leutnant, and slips off into a shell hole. As he goes, he says I will know when to attack. I move the rest of the squad around, and watch the entrance. Half an hour or so passes. Nothing happens. All of a sudden a shell explodes and I see the kid heave the body of the Leutnant into the opening of the pillbox. Skinny kid like that heaving a body! A dead man seems to weigh ten times more than a live one. Don’t know how he did it.” The disbelief etched his way across the man’s face.
“He threw the body into the pillbox?” Galiena questioned, worried she was getting the military equivalent of a fish story. She had heard them before.
“Yes. Then he throws in another one. Another German, this one a little deader. You have to understand, there were a lot of bodies in no man’s land, for we didn’t have burying amnesties very often. So anyway, suddenly we hear shooting inside the pillbox, and a rifle comes out. Kid tosses in another body. This one was really old. Kid spent the thirty minutes hunting around for bodies, dragging them back to his hiding place. So the English send out a bunch of men; six or so. They must have been very confused once they saw that the people coming through the door were long done. The kid fires off a bunch of shots with his rifle and dives back into his hole. The Brits came charging out after him, and I figured it was time for me to charge. We cleaned out that nest, and I realised that this kid was clever. He could make plans. He understood strategy. We took the pillbox with only our Leutnant as a casualty, left a few men there and headed back to our trench. We make our report to the
Hauptman, and the Hauptman knows me,” Eugen deadpanned to her. “He knows I am just a big ox, but the kid gives me all the credit for the manoeuvre. The kid goes away, and the Hauptman asks me if I really came up with the idea. I laughed at him, and told him it was the kid. So afterwards I go up to the kid and ask him why he lied to the Hauptman. He just says, ‘you’re my CO, and I was pretty sure you were going to think of something similar. You taught me how to survive, Herr Obergefreiter. I just wanted to return the favour.’ Simple as that. He assumed I would have come up with the same plan as him! Like I was as smart as he was!”
“So what did the Hauptman do?” Curiosity drove Galiena on, and she found herself sitting at his feet, her hands crossed over his knee. Eugen was a peasant, and yet he was the noblest man she had ever met. She could picture him at King Arthur’s table, Sir Gawain perhaps! Galiena had met Grafs, Kaisers, Kings, Dukes and knights by the score, but no man exemplified the ancient ideals of the Nobility than this man. She felt a burning shame at her suspicions earlier that he might hurt her. Eugen would never hurt her.
Eugen continued, his huge hand resting on her head, absently running his fingers through her drying hair. “The Hauptman promoted him. I wasn’t going to take credit for the kid’s plan. Soon he outranked me, just as it should be. But the big change came when I got a letter from my mother. I couldn’t read it. I hid the fact I was illiterate for years. I would just take out the letter and look at it, happy knowing my mother had written it to me. So the kid, well, now he’s not a kid, he’s a Gefreiter too, looks over one day and asks me if it’s a good letter. We were in the reserve trenches, having a break. I told him it was a fine letter. So he asks me what’s the news. I just made something up, my usual tactic in those days. I rambled on about the family farm in Bavaria, and how many cows had been born and that sort of rot. Then very quietly this kid looks up and asks if I would like him to tell me what it says. Doesn’t make me feel stupid; doesn’t tell the mess like some clowns would do, just real quietly. So I gave it to him, and he read it to me. He had been watching me for two weeks with the letter, but he realised from watching me, my eyes never moved back and forth when I looked at it. The kid realised on his own that I was completely illiterate. I couldn’t read the orders I was given, I made up everything up as best I could, or asked enough questions of the CO, so I would know what the orders on the papers were. Hagen Kohl didn’t tell anyone, but he did teach me how to read. He treated me like a man and an equal. I think I knew from the time at the pillbox I wasn’t his equal. He was a town boy; a rich boy. I was just a Bavarian dirt farmer’s son; a peasant. Everyone else treated me like a big ox, someone better than the average cannon fodder by virtue of experience, but not a human being. Hagen Kohl always treated me like a man.” Eugen drew on his cigar and swirled the smoke around his mouth, blowing out in a perfect ring. “So that’s the story. I don’t think I’ve ever told it before. I have been his man ever since. Soon he outranked me, and I was his Gefreiter,” Eugen’s eyes were fixed on the tiled deck.
“Yes. I have always been his man. According to a gypsy, I was born to be his man.”
“He told me you saved his life.” Galiena tilted her head to look up at him, and rested her chin on her hands. Eugen loomed above her, relaxed in his chair, so unlike her Grandfather, yet just as compelling. His face, strangely unlined, could have been that of a much younger man; but with his pristinely white hair, the illusion was flawed. Eugen was both child and geriatric at the same time. He transcended age.
The great man shrugged. “That was nothing. Nothing at all. He pushed a different Hauptman out of the way of a grenade and took most of the impact himself. So I dug him out of the dirt and grabbed him. He was just skin and bones. I picked him up and tossed him over my shoulder. It was almost a mile, but it meant nothing to me. I had promised myself this one would live, even if it killed me to save him. I made sure the doctors would operate; threatened to bayonet the man if he didn’t. Doc was a good old Jew and knew his business. He saved Hagen and didn’t report me for threatening a superior officer. Threatening a superior officer was a shooting offence, you know.”
Galiena tried to picture it in her mind, a young Eugen carrying a bleeding boy Hagen through a landscape of mud and explosions. She had seen the movie All Quiet on the Western Front, sitting comfortably in her cousin’s private screening room in England; a movie banned here in Germany. The words of the prologue flashed into her mind. ‘This story is neither an accusation nor a confession, and least of all an adventure, for death is not an adventure to those who stand face to face with it. It will try simply to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped its shells, were destroyed by the war…’ The words of the movie were empty, when faced with the reality of Eugen Freisler. “Did you leave the trenches when Hagen did?”
“No. Not at all. I was there to the bitter end. He was invalided in the summer of 1918. I wasn’t mustered out until we marched back to Germany in 1919. Mustered out in the spring. I was back in Munich by that time, but I had received a letter from him before the end of the war, so I knew he made it. After I was discharged, I went home to visit my family; I grew up in a little place called Linden near Munich, but they were starving, and couldn’t feed me. The farm was not doing well at all. Perhaps they could have used my back, but there wasn’t the vittles to spare for my belly before the crops came in; I didn’t have any money to contribute, so I left. I packed up my rucksack, and I walked from Linden to Augsburg, where Hagen lived. I had no where else to go so I thought I would check up on him. I did odd jobs for food along the way, but there wasn’t much; no one had a thing to spare. When I got to Augsburg I was so hungry,” He laughed mirthlessly in his reverie. “It’s funny what you remember. I cut the tops off my boots and chewed them along my way to ease the hunger. I remember thinking that the war was better because even in the darkest days in the trenches, I had food to eat.”
Galiena felt such pain in her heart for this man. “You ate the tops of your boots?” She repeated. “My God, Eugen!” Who was she to be miserable when this man had been so hungry he had eaten his boots? What was what she went through by compared to this brave soul?
Eugen’s face took on a strange cast. “They were English boots and saved my life during the war and then they gave me the strength to go on after. Best bit of plunder I ever found! When I got to Augsburg, Hagen had just buried his parents and was half dead with the influenza himself. The servants had all fled the sickness, so I nursed him. Then he insisted I stay with him as his guest! His guest! I had never seen inside a house like that before. A big house in the city with servants and everything, and there I was, his guest. I offered to work for him for the food, but he didn’t seem to care. To me, Hagen was rich beyond imagining,” Eugen sighed as he tried to convey his friend’s despair. “He was so low when his parents died. The last straw, so to speak. I think he would have done himself if I hadn’t been there. He would sit for hours in his parents; study and just stare at the walls. So one day I went in and asked him what he was going to do next. He said his mother wanted him to study; so I told him to go study. He shipped off to Heidelberg, and told me to come with him; that he would pay for me to go to school too. Me at a university!” Eugen smirked, but Galiena ached at the mocking the man directed towards himself. “So instead he hired me to be the live-in guard at his big house while he was away. They were lawless times to be sure, but to pay me to do that was a needless gesture. It probably kept me from starving though. I wasn’t so well myself; too many years in the trenches with too little food, and my gas injuries! But not only that, he told me I could hire anyone I wanted to help me, and let out rooms to anyone I knew who might need them. He gave me a big sack of money for ‘incidentals’ and said I didn’t have to give him an accounting of it, or give any back. Whatever I didn’t need for the house was my pay. I was able to help so many friends by bivouacking them in Hagen’s basement; sometimes there were whole truppes down there, wrapped up in their blankets. Especially when the inflation came. Anytime I had rent money for him from my friends he wouldn’t take it, so me and the people staying there worked to restore the old house. We would paint or garden or do repairs to earn our way.” Eugen’s chest swelled out with pride, his eyes shining. “We were starving but we didn’t want charity. We had are pride. But you know, those days weren’t so bad. The comradeship we felt in our troubles! Hagen’s kindness saved us all from the streets, myself included. I still have a room there,” Eugen mused softly. “But it isn’t in the basement. I thought it should be in the basement, but Hagen told me that I was family, and would sleep where the family slept.”
Galiena sat quietly as his fingers trailed through her now dry hair. He stroked her as she would stroke Emil; carefully and softly, not letting his fingers pull in the knots. It was a soothing feeling, lulling her to a calmness she hadn’t felt in months. “Are you still in contact with the men from those days?” After his monologue, Galiena felt as if she had known the man forever.
“Oh yes.” Eugen tasted his cigar again. “There are a number of us old Frontschwein who work for Hagen in the SS who lived in his house while he was away at school. He doesn’t know it, of course, but one of his top men, Obersturmführer Kappler, benefited from that seemingly endless generosity. You must understand, Pfalzgräfin! There was no work! No money! There were so many of us who had no other way than to be soldiers. We didn’t know anymore than that. We had no skills. We couldn’t afford fancy schooling and the government didn’t know what to do with us, we certainly weren’t popular after the Treaties of Paris, so they ignored us and pretended the problem wasn’t there. I knew how to farm, and how to kill. I joined the party after hearing the Fuhrer speak about our generation, because he knew what we went through. He fought and starved with us. He knew about the inflation and the rats and the Hunger. I was lucky. I wasn’t living in the gutters like so many; I had a beautiful house to live in and food to eat. When Kappler came to me for help, I didn’t think he was going to make it. He was so wasted away from the Hunger and sick with the flu. I nursed him through, and he rallied. I would make bread and soak in water until it was a mash, then hold him up so I could pour it down his throat. Just to get something in him. More often than not it came up, but enough stayed in, and he was always a little man, so maybe he didn’t need much,” Eugen’s hand stilled at her forehead, warm and dry. “I pray you never know what hunger is, Galiena”
She was startled by his use of her Christian name after his previous refusals. “I’ve never been hungry. I can’t even comprehend being hungry.” In the world she lived in, the peasants went hungry; the nobility
never starving so long as there was someone able to work enough to feed them.
“That’s the way it should be. No one should experience that. So I joined the party, and would leave someone; usually Kappler, until he got a job in Heidelberg as a policeman, to watch the house in my stead while I was on party business. Because I worked for Hagen it left me fairly free to help the party. After the putsch failed I went to ground there and kept my nose clean until the party reformed, which wasn’t too long. Hagen came back for a bit when he finished school, in ’28 or so. I went and watched him get his fancy doctor robes. I remember asking him if he had the knowledge to cure the sick now that he was a doctor. I didn’t know there was any other kind. Still he looked sad. He said to me, ‘No, Eugen. I can’t cure anyone. I can explain to a man about the incredible lightness of being, but in this day and age, there is no such thing. I know less than when I started university.’ Then he went for his big wander to England and America. He wanted me to go with him, but I didn’t because of the party. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I had, but I didn’t want to go on his charity. No! Not at all. Instead I joined the SS, and when Hagen came back in 1930 I introduced him to the Reichsführer. Best thing I ever did for they liked each other immediately. Hagen entered as an officer, and as soon as he could, he requested me to help him. With everything he had done for me, he still needed me. He still needs me now, and I will be there for as long as he needs me! I owe him debts I can never repay. For myself and all the men he allowed me to help because he was a generous man. So many do. Kappler would die for him in an instant.
“My sister, Brigitte Lustig, Rottenführer Lustig’s mother, is his housekeeper at the Augsburg house now. Thilo pretty much grew up there. Gita’s rich husband from Munich died during the war, and when the inflation came, she lost everything. The bankers took her house, and her jewellery and when she wrote me, she was living in a one room flat in the slums.” Eugen’s hand stilled. “I went to her immediately, taking Hagen’s parents’ old car. She was all beaten up from a man,” The ruined voice nearly disappeared. “A man who tried to force her to be his mistress.” The fingers curled into her hair painfully. “In the end, he was very repentant for his transgressions.” Galiena suspected the man was far more than merely repentant from Eugen’s voice. “I bundled them into the car and deposited them in the house. My comrades helped raise the boy, and they nursed Gita with their antics until she was all right again. It’s funny. Kappler has always had a shine for Gita, and in all these years, has never had the courage to express it. He’s probably afraid that Lustig would pound him to schnitzel if he did. As I said, Kappler is a little man. The stories I could tell you about life in the Villa in Augsburg.”
“I didn’t realise,” Galiena said weakly. It was all so foreign to her. While this man was eating his boots, she was in a boarding school in Switzerland with plenty of food to eat, and sturdy shoes on her feet. Why had her family not been so affected by those terrible years? Deep down she knew the answer. The Pfalzgraf would never let it happen. She knew from her family in England that during the war, her Grandfather profiteered from his English wool mills, making uniforms for the British, while in Germany he made parts which he sold to Krupp armaments to make rail guns. It made her feel dirty. Honest people had suffered, and in the end, the Steinberg Gessellschaft only grew more powerful. How funny that while so many were punished for the war; like Krupp and Skoda, the von Steinberg Gessellschaft weren’t levied with war reparations, and were able to endure Germany’s dark years. Yes. The von Steinbergs were like roaches. They persevered no matter what the odds, and no matter what the cost. Galiena wondered if her father knew that his father was supplying the enemy which was killing his men? While on a business level, she applauded her Grandfather’s foresight, on every human level she spurned it.
Eugen coughed, a wet, tearing sound. He thumped on his chest roughly with a fist. “Damn lungs! Damn coffin nails! I shouldn’t be smoking. Won’t be able to drill tomorrow because of it. Yes. Hagen is a good man. There is no better.” Eugen brought her back from the castle at Riesa and the wealth contained there.
“Thank you for telling me all of this, Eugen,” Galiena whispered. “It helps me to understand.”
Eugen’s hand resumed its journey through her tresses, cupping her skull as it moved. “Please don’t take this the wrong way, but you can never understand, Galiena. There is no understanding for people who didn’t live it, and live through it. The Great War killed us all. Some of us just haven’t realised it yet.”