Long Journey to Destiny

Long Journey to Destiny

by Mike Johnson

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Hitler's first conquests - Austria, the Sudeten region of Czechoslovakia, the demilitarized Rhineland - were bloodless. His first bloody strike east crushed Poland. To the west? On May 10, 1940, the Wehrmacht strikes The Netherlands which Hitler expects will capitulate within a day or two. He is mistaken. Grebbe Line defenders exhibit legendary Dutch stubbornness,…  See more details below


Hitler's first conquests - Austria, the Sudeten region of Czechoslovakia, the demilitarized Rhineland - were bloodless. His first bloody strike east crushed Poland. To the west? On May 10, 1940, the Wehrmacht strikes The Netherlands which Hitler expects will capitulate within a day or two. He is mistaken. Grebbe Line defenders exhibit legendary Dutch stubbornness, Hitler's airborne troops drop onto Rotterdam and The Hague - and meet fierce opposition, and outnumbered and outgunned Dutch troops change - unknowingly at the time - the course of WWII and world history. A stout-hearted queen and a Carmelite priest stand up to Nazism, and resistance fighters' cunning and courage prove lethal for some of history's lesser-known bad guys. Two girls emigrate from Romanian farms to Paris and then Amsterdam and make life-altering choices. A young American employee of a global steamship company finds himself swept into this maelstrom. This history-rich saga provides perspectives little known to Americans.

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Long Journey To Destiny

By Mike Johnson


Copyright © 2012 Mike Johnson
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4685-4660-6

Chapter One

"They have Jews."

"Who doesn't?"

"More than one hundred forty thousand," Paul Joseph Goebbels said calmly, confident of his statistics.

"We can rid them of that contamination," Adolf Hitler said with deceptive casualness. He was smoothing his hair repetitively, as though primping for a portrait-painting session.

"So you think well of the Dutch," said Goebbels, son of peasants who had risen to become Hitler's propaganda chief.

"Except for their Jews," replied Hitler, "they are Aryan. I see them becoming partners in our Reich, part of a Greater Germany."

"The Dutch are a stubborn lot," said Hermann Goering, head of Hitler's expanding Luftwaffe and then directing the overall buildup of Germany's war industry. "They are likely to resist an invasion."

"They were neutral in the First World War," Goebbels observed. "They would likely prefer to stay that way."

"We might not be able to grant them that option," Hitler replied thoughtfully, forefinger and thumb massaging his narrow mustache. "We might not be able to afford to, not if it is incompatible with our strategy. We want the Dutch on our side. They must be. Their location on the North Sea and English Channel and their ports, especially Rotterdam, demand they be our allies. The situation must be managed smartly." Hitler paused briefly. "Their queen ... how long has Wilhelmina been on the throne?"

"Since 1890," Goebbels answered, "when she was just ten years old. And she has a reputation for being strong-willed."

Hitler's lips pursed and he sighed. "She could be difficult to deal with."

"She has not spoken kindly about our party or our movement," observed Goebbels.

"We would need to defeat the Dutch quickly," said Goering, a highly decorated German pilot in the First World War who clothed himself with ornately decorated uniforms and relished lavish entertainment and expensive art. "Our air power could do that."

"Not alone," said Hitler, lips tightened, head shaking slightly. "We would have to commit ground forces. Your Luftwaffe could create terror and inflict heavy damage. But to actually defeat the Dutch – or any determined army – we would need overwhelming ground forces – armor, artillery, infantry." Another pause, then Hitler smiled indulgently. "You will remember I was a foot soldier in The Great War."

"Of course," Goering replied with genuine respect, one warrior to another, "and decorated with an iron cross." Goering projected a jovial personality but acted ruthlessly against opponents and rivals.

Hitler had convened this meeting in his Reich Chancellery office. Hitler's chief architect Albert Speer had designed the massive, ornate building on Vosstrasse as the Reich's seat of government and a tribute to Hitler's self-described greatness. Hitler's office was immense and intended to awe and intimidate visitors. It measured approximately 75 feet long and 40 feet wide. The ceiling and doors were high enough to shrink a visitor's self-confidence. The walls themselves were covered with a brownish marble that visitors vaguely sensed could crush them if Hitler so much as wished it. Surprisingly his guest chairs were smartly upholstered and comfortable with arms.

At the far end of his office and far from his desk were arranged a light blue sofa flanked by matching blue chairs and facing three beige chairs. Behind the guest chairs stood a fireplace with unexpectedly modest dimensions.

The large open space between Hitler's desk and the sofa and chairs served the fuhrer well when he felt a need to pace. It also could unnerve some visitors who felt exposed and vulnerable traversing from one end to the other.

"But we are getting ahead of ourselves," Hitler said, semi-smiling. "Talk of invasion at this point is premature, in particular talk of any detailed planning. Our chief purpose today is when and how to announce my renunciation of the Treaty of Versailles. As you well know, it is unfairly punitive and locked our people in poverty."

The meeting was taking place on March 15, 1935, and Hitler was referring to the treaty that had brought closure to Great – or First World – War hostilities. The treaty had been signed on June 28, 1919, in the Hall of Mirrors at the lavishly ornate Palace of Versailles, west of Paris. Representatives from 32 Allied nations had participated in crafting the treaty. But only three – the so-called Big Three – United States President Woodrow Wilson, Britain's Prime Minister David Lloyd George and France's President Georges Clemenceau – had actually controlled negotiations. In the end, the United States Senate had refused to ratify the treaty, and the U.S. then signed its own treaty with Germany in 1921.

"Our people detest the treaty," Goebbels observed accurately.

"And rightly so," said Hitler, rising from his desk chair. "There was no good-faith negotiating. The treaty is a dictate. It was forced on us."

He was right. The Allies felt, with justification, that Germany not only deserved punishment for its wanton aggression but required strong deterrents from launching still another war against European neighbors keenly aware of Germany's legendary war-like tendencies. As a result the treaty stripped Germany of its western province of Alsace and gave it and the previously German-controlled portion of Lorraine to France. It also cleaved a slice of eastern Germany that gave Poland a corridor to the Baltic Sea. In addition, the treaty carved out other German-held territory that became provinces of Denmark, Belgium, Czechoslovakia and Lithuania. Most vexing of all to Hitler, the treaty virtually eviscerated Germany's military, reducing its army to 100,000 men and forbidding it from including tanks or an air force. Germany's navy was permitted only six capital ships and no submarines. To further assure Germany's good behavior, its western Rhineland region was to be demilitarized entirely and occupied by French and Belgian forces for up to 15 years. Lastly, the treaty imposed stiff – some believed disastrously punitive – reparations on Germany and its crippled economy and created the League of Nations as a global watchdog.

"Tomorrow," Hitler said, standing behind his desk chair, hands on hips, dark eyes peering resolutely past his senior staff, "I will publicly renounce the treaty's disarmament clauses, and I will announce the existence of our Luftwaffe. I will also announce that we will be resuming compulsory military service."

"Do you think it wise to speak so boldly and so soon?" quietly asked Rudolf Hess, Hitler's secretary and deputy. Hess was alluding to the fact that fewer than two years had passed since Hitler had taken full control of Germany's government.

"I understand your concern." Hitler re-seated himself. "But if there is one thing I am supremely confident about it is the desire of the Allies – especially France and Britain – to avoid committing themselves to another war. Certainly not now and not anytime soon. As for the United States, President Wilson took a major political risk by involving America in The Great War. I simply cannot see the Jew-loving President Roosevelt taking America to war again in Europe. With the economic great depression, he has much to worry about at home. No, gentlemen," he said, eyes moving from Goebbels to Goering and Hess, "tomorrow is precisely the right time to inform our people that the Treaty of Versailles henceforth is without practical effect." Hitler breathed deeply before continuing. "Remember this day. Remember this meeting. We are creating history. Our people will cheer my announcement, and they will be forever grateful."

Chapter Two

Father Titus Brandsma wasn't feeling grateful. On March 17, 1935, in his office at Catholic University (now Radboud University) in Nijmegen, The Netherlands, he was leaning back in his desk chair, reading a newspaper article trumpeted by the headline:

Hitler Denounces Treaty of Versailles; German leader reveals formation of air force

The 54-year-old Carmelite priest detested Adolf Hitler's dogma, in particular its virulent anti-Semitism. To Father Brandsma, the word Catholic literally meant universal and embracing.

He finished the article and nearly slammed the newspaper down on his desk. Hitler has a special talent for angering me, he reflected. Father Brandsma stood, breathed deeply and exited his office. Outside he went walking briskly across campus, his black cassock swishing at his ankles. His right hand tugged at his tight, white Roman collar. I need to walk off my abhorrence of Hitler before it consumes me. Hitler's mind, the priest continued thinking, is clearly a repository of evil. I am no intellectual giant, but I can easily foresee Hitler imposing his hatred of all so-called non-Aryans throughout Germany and beyond its borders. The man's ambition is limitless and naked. If ever I should meet Hitler, he told himself, I would look into his eyes for signs of a soul. I am not confident that I would see one.

Father Brandsma was born in the Dutch town of Bolsward on February 23, 1881, and was ordained in 1905 when he took the religious name Titus. Any name, he had smiled inwardly, would be an improvement on my given name – Anno Sjoerd Brandsma. Even for us Dutch that is a mouthful.

Physically unimposing, his hair was thick and combed straight back. His forehead was high, eyes kind and smile warm. His intellect, though, self-doubt notwithstanding, was in fact inspiring, and it led him to a range of pursuits. In 1909 in Rome he had earned a doctorate in philosophy. Subsequently he had taught in various schools in his native Netherlands. He also worked as a journalist, a job that gave him a bully pulpit from which to voice his disdain for Nazi doctrine and to press his case for stronger freedom of the press. It wasn't long before his writings were brought to the attention of Hitler and his senior leaders.

Still, it wasn't Father Brandsma's journalistic achievements or scholarly work as a professor that most earned him widespread respect and affection. Instead it was his nearly constant availability to any and all who sought his thinking and counsel. Students didn't hesitate to approach him, and he was patient with their questions and comments. The wise professor, he reminded himself, can and should learn from his students. As iron-minded as he was in his beliefs, Father Brandsma was a kindly, sympathetic man whose persona was magnetic.

Chapter Three

"Bliss, are you keen to go to the Red Barn today? Saddle up a pair of horses?"

On that Saturday in 1935, Meredith Forbes was directing her questions to Joshua Bliss. Fewer than three years earlier, given their vastly different upbringings, neither would have imagined being together on that sun- splashed morning.

"Well, let's see. I've had breakfast, and I could stand some time away from the books."

"Great!" Meredith smiled exultantly. "It's a perfect day for riding."

As a young girl Meredith Forbes had never sat a horse. Born in 1915, she was a Manhattanite. Blond with sparkling blue eyes, her five feet four inches carried 108 pounds. She was the youngest of three daughters of New York banker Russell Forbes and his wife Victoria, who when not mothering their girls, helped raise funds for area charities. Meredith's older sisters were Clarisse and Christine, born in 1910 and 1913, respectively.

The family lived in a handsome brownstone on East 72nd street, only a block removed from Fifth Avenue and Central Park. The girls' world orbited around the park where they learned to ice skate on the frozen surfaces of the reservoir and the lake, Fifth Avenue stores, museums and Rockefeller Center's Radio City Music Hall with its magnificent productions and 6,000 seats. More than once Russell had treated the entire family, including two sons-in-law, to dinner in the Rainbow Room on the 65th floor of the RCA Building –widely regarded as the gem of the 14 art deco buildings comprising Rockefeller Center.

Had the youthful mind and eyes of Meredith been apprised of a Joshua Bliss, she might well have imagined him born on a distant planet. In actuality he was born and raised on a farm on Funk Road, just a couple miles west of Shelby, Ohio. Sandy haired, he stood six feet tall, and his 185 pounds had been sculpted and hardened by daily farm labor. Also born in 1915, he was the younger brother of Paul who was four years older. There was just one remarkable aspect of Joshua's appearance; by age 19 his hair had begun thinning.

The boys' parents, Noah and Goldie, plowed, planted, harvested and prospered on 300 acres. Their house, barn and grain silos all were white washed and proudly maintained. In addition to growing wheat and corn, they kept chickens to provide fresh eggs, pigs for pork and bacon and a single extravagance – a pair of riding horses for Paul and Joshua. The horses, which the brothers had named Beau and Duke, were both brown geldings and products of undistinguished bloodlines. But they were sturdy, dependable mounts and much loved by the brothers Bliss, both of whom became skilled horsemen.

Meredith and Joshua had connected in a way decidedly unlikely for the early 1930s when few Americans traveled long distances. Many roads remained unpaved, buses were cramped and broke down frequently, and airline service was nascent and regarded as dangerous and even foolhardy. Only trains moved smoothly and reliably.

Clarisse and Christine had shown no interest in higher education, and Russell and Victoria had not urged them to pursue formal studies beyond high school. Marrying well and bearing babies were their highest priorities. Clarisse already was married to George Morgan. Christine was engaged to Donald Halston. Meredith, to her parents' surprise, had acquired a strong spirit of adventure and exploration.

"Father. Mother. I want to go to college," she had told them one night at dinner in the autumn of her senior high school year. The table was covered by exquisite linen and set with fine china and silver. Dress was typically formal.

Christine wasn't surprised. Meredith had confided in her. Knowing what was coming, Christine knew she would have to conceal her enjoyment over the coming conversation.

"That's wonderful, dear," replied Victoria. "I know that some of your girlfriends are going to college. And there are some most reputable choices available to you. Isn't that right, Russell?"

"Quite right, dear," he said, not at all sure where this conversation was heading, but mindful that Meredith often thought differently from his wife and two older daughters.

"You see, Meredith, your father and I agree. Vassar, Wellesley, Barnard and Marymount right here in Manhattan. Any of them would give you a marvelous college education."

Meredith's eyes closed and her chin rose in contemplation. Then her eyes opened flintily and she spoke. "Stanford."

Victoria's eyes widened in shock. Her mouth opened to reply, then closed and opened again. "Stanford," she spluttered. "Why, why, isn't that in California?" "Yes, Mother," Meredith said evenly. "In Palo Alto, near San Francisco."

Victoria shuddered. Russell smiled inwardly, amused by this unexpected mother-daughter dialogue. He shot a glance at Christine and thought he detected foreknowledge and sisterly support.

"Stanford," Victoria said again, her dismay obvious, "isn't that a new school?"

"Newer than eastern schools," Meredith said.

"And isn't it, uh ...?"

"Yes," Meredith interjected helpfully, "it's co-educational. Has been from the beginning."

"Oh my," preceded a long pause. "Well, dear, we have indulged you often, more often than your sisters. But I am afraid Stanford – California – is entirely out of the question. My God, it's at the other end of the continent. No, I am afraid it's entirely unacceptable. Don't you agree?" she said, turning toward Russell.

Meredith's face swiveled toward her father. Her eyes were silently pleading.

Russell smiled. "Well, dear, I think it might be wise to let Meredith choose."

Victoria's eyes widened again. She was distressed – both by Meredith's thinking and Russell's disagreement with her. Victoria was strong-minded but consistently deferred to her husband's judgment on all matters of significance. Not always willingly and certainly not in this matter. She swallowed her defeat and looked down at her dinner plate.

Russell smiled again, first to his wife and then each daughter, and the deal was done.

On the Bliss farm, Joshua had encountered no resistance. Stanford hadn't even been his idea. To him, as high schooler, Stanford had been nothing more than college football scores. His grades – he had ranked first in his 1933 Shelby High School class – and athletic ability – he had been named an All-Ohio halfback by Associated Press – had led a Stanford assistant football coach to the family farm.


Excerpted from Long Journey To Destiny by Mike Johnson Copyright © 2012 by Mike Johnson. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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