Read an Excerpt
His Enemy, His Friend
By John R. Tunis
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1967 Lucy R. Tunis
All rights reserved.
The black-haired sergeant, in the gray-green uniform of the army of Adolf Hitler's Third Reich, sat smoking his pipe on the stone steps of the house. Beside him was a boy of eight or nine in a faded polo shirt, a ragged pair of dark blue shorts, and sneakers so frayed that both his big toes stuck out of them.
The sergeant and the boy were discussing a subject that each considered important and their serious faces reflected this.
"Was that the time, Feldwebel Hans, when you scored the only goal for Hamburg against Stuttgart?" asked the boy.
"Noooo ..." responded the young soldier. "No, as I remember now," he went on in excellent French, "that was the year...."
"I know, I know. Don't tell me," the boy cried, excitement in his voice. "I have an account in my scrapbook. Can I show you my scrapbook sometime, Feldwebel Hans? I can? I know; it was the year Hamburg was tied by the Racing Club of Paris, thanks to Bonvallet's lastminute goal. Am I right?"
"Right! Only actually I didn't play in that particular match. A bad knee. And bad luck, too. It was the spring before the war and that knee kept me out of service for thirteen months. Psst ... come here ... here...."
He snapped his fingers and held out one hand. A dog was coming toward them, a white and black, short-haired distant relative of a fox terrier. He was a kind of Grande Rue dog, an animal born in the street, heaven knows where and when, a dog of most uncertain heritage. He approached with caution as the big man took the square pipe from his mouth and leaned forward encouragingly.
The dog edged nearer. One glance told you it was a long while since anyone had stroked him, given him a good meal, said a kind word to him. The sergeant reached out and kneaded the back of the animal's neck. Immediately the dog responded by coming in closer. Then he sat on his haunches, seemingly content, for once befriended.
Finally the German rose, knocked his pipe on the stone steps, and stretched. "Yes, of course you can show me your scrapbook. I'd be interested. Bring it along anytime in the afternoon. Well, we must get the morning report from the blockhouse. It hasn't come yet and the Herr Hauptmann will be annoyed."
Together they walked down the Grande Rue, the main and only street of the village of Nogent-Plage, the tawny-haired boy in the ragged shorts and the tall Feldwebel. The dog walked between them, his tail wagging.
Since it was a lovely morning in early June, the street was full of people. It seemed as though everyone they met greeted the sergeant. Old ladies in black carrying half-empty shopping bags, housewives with long loaves of grayish bread under their arms, children, especially the boys who invariably appeared when the Feldwebel was around, all wished him good day, addressing him as Colonel and speaking in German.
"Guten Tag, Herr Oberst. Guten Tag...."
Although he had told them all a hundred times that he was not an Oberst, a colonel, but a Feldwebel, a sergeant, and a supply sergeant at that, he responded to their words with an old-fashioned courtesy, speaking in French as a rule, touching one finger to the brim of his stained forage cap in a most unsoldierly gesture, and wishing them good day in return.
"Eh ... bon jour, Madame Dupont. Bon jour."
The old lady in the faded black dress bobbed and ducked her head. "Guten Tag, Herr Oberst. Guten Tag...."
There it was once again! How often he had spelled it out for them, sometimes severely.
"Nein, nein, bitte. Ich bin ein Feldwebel, ein Unteroffizier, nicht ein Oberst...."
The people of the village simply smiled and went on addressing him as Herr Oberst.
At first he felt this was intentional. After all, with these tricky French one could never tell. Perhaps it was their cynical way of sneering at the fact that the son of a baron, from an old army family, should be merely a sergeant. Occasionally at night when he could not sleep due to the roar of the guns along the coast spattering antiaircraft fire into the heavens, he wondered whether the French were stubborn, stupid, or insolent. As time went on, however, he realized that to the people in Nogent-Plage he represented authority. For them he was a person to whom they could protest, appeal, with whom they could discuss their grievances. It was the Feldwebel who listened to their objections to what they felt were unfair regulations of the German High Command along the coast.
Occasionally these regulations were changed. More often they were just ignored by the sergeant and his superiors. It was easier that way. Hence he accepted the greetings of the villagers, and although the military rank they conferred upon him amused his men and not infrequently annoyed his commanding officer, there was little anyone could do with the stubborn French.
The only person who did not call him Herr Oberst was the boy in the ragged blue shorts. He felt immediately that the sergeant disliked this and always addressed him as Feldwebel Hans. Perhaps this was how the big German first noticed him. It drew them together; their passion for football cemented the bond.
That day, the fourteen hundredth and fifth day of the occupation of the village of Nogent-Plage by the Germans, a day that was to explode in such violence and change forever the lives of the boy, the Feldwebel, and everyone in town, began in calm and quiet. During the long months of the occupation, people in the village had passed and repassed the same troops for days without end. Often even their first names were known to the townsfolk—harsh sounding Teutonic names such as Helmut, Gottfried, and Gerhardt. Over the years, many regiments had visited this hamlet by the sea, the men sunning themselves along the waterfront, or playing football under the direction of the Feldwebel on the hard, sandy beach below the cliff. Never was anyone else accorded recognition by the villagers. In fact, they often made fun of the other Germans, not infrequently to their faces. Of all the soldiers, only the Feldwebel Hans was a friend.
He was a friend above all to the boys of the village, because he was a former football player, and especially to young Jean-Paul Varin. Wherever the sergeant went the boy attached himself, following from place to place, often with his pal, René Le Gallec, slightly older and also a fervent of football. When the German sergeant played or coached his men, the two boys could not take their eyes off him. The younger, especially, watched with a furious intentness. Unconsciously even his body moved, swung, stopped short, riposted as the big German athlete's did. In vain his mother rang the bell for dinner. You spoke to him and he did not hear. The boy watched, listened to the football talk, played and practiced, went so far as to learn German so that he would fully understand the soldiers talking. Football was his life, his passion, his existence. And the Feldwebel Hans was his god.CHAPTER 2
Not only Jean-Paul Varin but all the good people of Nogent-Plage had definite feelings about the Feldwebel Hans. If one had to be occupied by the Germans, the villagers all agreed, it was better that he should be in town.
"Why, the Herr Oberst is the son of a baron, if his brother is killed in the Luftwaffe he too will be a baron. Ah, say what you like, monsieur, blood does tell. He's part of that old Schleswig-Holstein aristocracy. You know what those people are like."
"How true, madame, how true! Besides, he is a man of the world, not merely an ace of the football. He plays the cello and appreciates the good wine of Bordeaux—and the Normandy cider too, yes indeed. Well, his mother was French, you know, from Sedan. To my way of thinking, he might just as well have been French. Yes, I agree...."
"Eh bien, his mother was a De Mezière from Sedan. For me he is no militarist, but really a civilized type. He loves the children in town and they love him. Why, monsieur, he is their hero. That Varin boy follows him everywhere. You know the Herr Oberst was the great defensive back for Bayern of Munich. Once before the war he played for Germany, at the age of nineteen, too!"
"Yes indeed, the boys and girls love him. If I call my René, and he doesn't answer, I know he is watching the Herr Oberst coaching football."
"To be sure," interjected a fat woman. "I, for one, shan't forget either when the partisans burned the bridge at Verville and that Hauptmann tried to take my husband off to Germany, last year. Ah, no, I told the Herr Oberst. Look, my husband was beside me in bed that awful night. He believed me. He even convinced the High Command. He has connections, you know."
Now the villagers were all talking at once.
"Ah, yes, only he could have done it. Why not? A supply sergeant, perhaps, but he understands and respects French culture and French civilization. Naturally, his mother was French. But yet after all, he is German...."
"Yes, monsieur, most of these barbarians know neither France nor the French. Well, this man is no stony-faced Prussian such as some we've had stationed in this town since 1940."
"Indeed, madame, I recall when the town had to be evacuated, remember, at the time of the big raid on Dieppe. The Herr Oberst interceded for us with the Kommandant at Caen, you recall? Those who really lived here were permitted to stay. Oh, I am entirely in accord with you. We are truly fortunate to have him here in Nogent-Plage. Truly...."
"Fortunate to have him," that was how the villagers felt about the Feldwebel Hans Joachim Wolfgang von und zu Kleinschrodt, to give him his full name. And he was the one German soldier who seemed to be permanently stationed at Nogent-Plage, which after a while became a rest camp for troops from the Russian front. Usually a regiment or a battalion stayed only a few weeks or a month in this village on the Normandy coast. Then one wet, foggy morning the siren would blow. That piercing noise meant the end of peace and repose for those Germans. From work, from relaxation, from the football game on the beach coached by the Feldwebel, they hustled back to their billets, fear in every heart. Early on in the war when Hitler's forces were winning from Crete to Norway and each month a different nation was gobbled up by the Greater Reich, the troops had left for the East singing and cheering.
Then the war was a glorious romp. But two winters in the snow outside Moscow changed this. Now they hardly spoke as they packed and made ready to depart. Sullenly they collected the regimental baggage, silently loaded the transport wagons. When the short, sharp whistle of the Ober-Feldwebel rang out, they would line up along the Grande Rue dismally waiting inspection and the command to move off.
"Achtung! Right face! Forward ... hup ... hup...."
So, off in columns of four down the coastal road to entrain for the East. Nowadays the villagers of Nogent-Plage made an event of this. They lined the streets, watching not without pleasure the grim faces of the soldiers, making sardonic remarks the Germans could not understand.
"Hein! They don't seem quite so happy to say good-by, do they?"
"Would you, my friend, with the Russian bear breathing down your neck?"
"Ah, but remember, they used to have nothing but motorized equipment. And all that new English matériel captured at Dunkerque. Remember, madame? That has worn out now. Look at those poor old horses. And the wagons falling apart...."
No, the war was no longer glorious for the Germans. Troops of different regiments came and went, only the Herr Oberst remained. It was a corps decision to leave him at Nogent-Plage. He was valuable there because he had a quality few of his countrymen possessed. The villagers hated the occupying forces with a fierce Norman hatred, looking and longing for only one thing—the Allied invasion and freedom from German domination. The Herr Oberst knew this quite as well as anyone. Yet, thanks largely to him, order prevailed in the village. There were no shootings, no terrorist attacks, no raids as in other towns along the coast. So far as the Germans could tell, the villagers never tried to signal planes or ships. Never had a Gauleiter been summoned from Berlin to restore order. In fact, the High Command at Caen had such a good opinion of Nogent-Plage that it considered awarding the town a medal for its correct attitude toward German troops.
Certainly nobody ever called the Feldwebel a keen soldier. He obeyed orders and did his duty. That was all. In private life he was a von und zu Kleinschrodt, younger son of an ancient Baltic military family famous in the history of his country. His father had been a Colonel of Uhlans in the First World War. Brought up in the army tradition, he had, perhaps, had too much of it. Not only did the big, seemingly awkward young man look out of place in uniform beside his brisk, competent, Heil Hitlering comrades, but the way he saluted, even his reports, left much to be desired. Many a commanding officer at Nogent-Plage had tried to reform him and given up the attempt. Because of his family and his connections he was no laughing stock—in fact, quite the reverse. Yet he was not entirely in favor with the High Command at Caen.
What attracted the people of Nogent-Plage to the Feldwebel was not merely his fame as an athlete, but his agreeable manner, so different from that of many of the Germans. Also there was his love of music. As he was an indifferent soldier, he was an indifferent musician and played the cello, to tell the truth, rather badly. However, he enjoyed playing with Georges Varin, the local schoolmaster and father of young Jean-Paul. Monsieur Varin was an equally bad violinist, but often, when the priest came to accompany them of an evening on the sadly inadequate piano, the three sat immersed in Bach and Beethoven until long after curfew. As a consequence, on those nights, the padre was forced to stay with the schoolmaster until morning.
In the single café in town, the Bleu Marin, the German soldiers, playing the harmonica and singing as they drank their beer, were ignored by the French natives. But whenever the tiny bell on the door tinkled ever so slightly and the Herr Oberst entered, the fishermen at their belote game glanced up and nodded pleasantly. When the curfew sounded they picked up their cards, avoided the gaze of the harmonica players, and left, bidding the Feldwebel good night on the way out.
"Guten Nacht, Herr Oberst," they said to him.
"Eh ... bon soir, bon soir, messieurs," he replied.CHAPTER 3
Nogent-Plage was like a sheltered spot in a storm. Yet during four long years, though the villagers were never in danger, they heard sounds all day and night that brought the war inside them. One was the endless clack-clack, clack-clack of hobnailed boots on concrete. You heard it in daylight, late at night after curfew, early in the black hours before dawn when the patrols stomped down the Grande Rue. You heard it and soon hated it more than anything else, because it brought the presence of German troops into your home and your heart.
Another familiar sound was the thromb-thromb of the motorized fishing vessels, indistinctly heard, indistinctly seen through the fog which so often covered the coast. Nogent-Plage was a fishing village, and the Germans permitted certain selected fishermen to go out three kilometers—no more—on Mondays and Thursdays. People in town could tell the day of the week by this sound. Naturally, when the vessels returned to the shingled beach below the cliff, a platoon of Germans was waiting to requisition (meaning grab off) their share of the catch. This share was anything up to sixty or seventy-five percent.
If you stood at a certain point on the cliff outside the village, or if you watched from a second-story window of Madame Dupont's house, you could make out the coastal road winding into the distance like a long black ribbon. To use it a Frenchman had to have a special permit, or Ausweiss, from the German High Command in Caen.
The road, Route Nationale Number 40, twisted and turned, dipped and rose, as it followed the coast. From Nogent-Plage you could see it stretching for miles, empty of traffic save for a few German army trucks. To travel upon it was, as the French said, "to make the gymnastique." Indeed, it resembled an obstacle course, what with the sand from the dunes that had blown over it in places and the holes that had not been filled in since the start of the war four years before.
Excerpted from His Enemy, His Friend by John R. Tunis. Copyright © 1967 Lucy R. Tunis. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.