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HIS HEART POUNDING, HE WATCHED from his hiding place as
the car raced along the country road, its headlights blazing.
He jerked back as if struck in the face as the car squealed to
a halt, then turned sharply and sent the merciless beam of its
searchlight gliding slowly and deliberately back and forth
across the fields. Trees flared in unnatural brightness, as if
awakened to terrifying life by some magic spell. Bushes
were drenched by the harsh, maniacal light before slipping
back into darkness; then the beam was stopped short by the
wall that hid him. He could almost feel the light damming up
against it. Then it flowed across the crumbling top; he shut
his eyes, blinded, struck by savage pain as the corrosive
beam stabbed at his eyes through a crevice in the wall.
He heard the steady idling of the motor and men's voices;
he listened intently as the searchlight was extinguished and
the heavy weight of darkness fell over him again. Rising from
the cold, damp meadow, he risked raising his head above the
wall. The car was standing on the road with its searchlight
stowed. He saw the silhouettes of two men, their faces
seemingly turned toward him; surely they must sense that he
was there ... surely. His eyes bored deeply into the flat
darkness, as if forcing it to reveal their faces. He had to
know if Germat was there. Germat! His heart skipped a
beat. If so, he was lost. Germat was the most cunning
bloodhound in the entire zone, a vicious
man-eater gifted with nearly supernatural instincts. The men's
voices appeared almost apathetic, a steady murmur.
All at once he heard noises to the left and right in the dark field,
like someone creeping, dragging his feet, and the unbearable yet
unavoidable sucking sound of a boot being pulled from mud that
has closed around it. My God ... he had just realized his head
must be visible above the wall, like a black oval against the
darkened blue of the heavens, even at this distance. He ducked
down, panting in brutish fear, and in the next split second, as he
tried to bring the dizzying whirl of his thoughts and emotions
under control, a bullet whizzed over the wall from the direction of
the road, the signal that the hunt was officially on. Had he missed
the gunshot in his first moment of panic?
Suddenly he felt totally weightless, strangely light, as if the
ice-cold hatred in his heart had crystallized the chaos of fear and
peril. He thought quickly yet carefully; now the veil lifted and he
saw through their tactics: They had already outflanked him. He
heard the sounds of several men to either side, and behind him as
well. They probably had a chain of sentries all the way to the road,
where Germat waited, directing the hunt with his devilish intellect.
It was hopeless. He would be shot a dozen times if he made the
slightest move in the darkness. They knew where he was, while he
had no idea where they had stationed themselves; he could only
head straight into the heart of the trap. Then suddenly he thought
of a plan, laughably simple, dazzlingly bold. Hate gave him
courage, a savage living hatred that served as well as love. He no
longer felt cold, or hungry, or afraid. A deadly enemy stood before
him; he had to attack with the strength of an ox and the boldness of genius.
He heard the circle close behind him, heard two of the beaters meet
behind the orchard wall and establish contact with a few soft
words. Then he prayed, a short quick prayer, like a flame flaring up
and extinguishing, and he almost felt like smiling, yes, smiling in the
darkness, surrounded by hunters, yet almost sure of victory. He
raised his hands high above the wall and cried out: "Don't shoot,
Germat, I give up!" He heard the startled cries of the men around
him, sprang quickly over the wall, and ran toward the road, smiling
as he yelled: "Call off your dogs!"
The road was scarcely more than a hundred yards away and he
ran quickly, before the troops could recover from their surprise, until
he made out the tall figure of Germat through the darkness, standing
in his black uniform, blacker than the blue of night. Still holding his
hands over his head, he leaped across the ditch. Then, in the glow
of the headlights, he had a clear view of Germat's hard, coldly
handsome face, his mouth opening to speak with a satisfied smile.
Gathering his whole body--his only weapon--he threw himself
savagely against Germat with all the crazed fury of his hatred. He felt
the impact with a thrill of pleasure, raced around the car, and heard
the driver jump out with a yell, just as he had planned; then he
lowered himself softly and carefully to the ground and crept slowly,
silently, under the car. The low-lying gas tank left just enough space
for him to see Germat: He lay two steps away from him on the cold,
hard asphalt of the road. It took every ounce of will to suppress the
deep, terrible sobbing rising within him. His entire body trembled.
He broke out in a nervous sweat as the smell of gas and oil made his
empty stomach lurch with nausea.
Almost as a diversion, to break the terrible tension, he looked
toward Germat. He lay groaning and cursing on the road, his face
twisted in bestial anger. Blood flowed onto the gray, cold, dully
gleaming asphalt from a wound on the back of his head. The driver
fumbled over him helplessly, managed to lift his head and place a
seat cushion beneath it, as the cries of the troops rang out from the
Germat was now standing. Strickmann had bandaged him and
handed him a few pills, which he washed down with brandy; he was
leaning against the car. His boots, those elegant soft boots, which
poor Gunderland had to polish each morning, stood directly before
Joseph's eyes. For an instant he was seized by an insane desire to
grab them and jerk backwards, toppling Germat flat on his face
again. Yes, he might have risked his life to send that devil flying a
second time, but what he heard now occupied his entire attention.
Germat cut off the curses and empty threats of the guards in a cold
voice and said irritably: "You should have stopped yapping and
got right after the bastard ... then we'd have him by now. All right,
shine a light over here, Jupp ..."; evidently he'd taken out a map.
The men's feet gathered around his beautiful boots. "We're
here--at the Breckdorf exit, there's the border; if he wants to cross
it, he has to go back down the road we're on now. Damn, my head
hurts! If we ever get hold of that swine ... We've got to catch him, I
tell you ... that filthy dog." He groaned, stamped his feet, and
continued: "All right, Berg and Strickmann, patrol the stretch from
here to Eiershagen ... right here, look.... Grosskamp and
Strichninski, you cover the stretch between Brickheim and
Gordelen. I'll drive back to camp and send reinforcements. Set them
up so the entire sector is closed all the way to the border. Okay,
you know what to do.... Damn it, pay some attention to the map." He
seemed to be holding his head again, groaning and cursing. "Get
going," he said. "I'll wait till you've taken your positions. Butler, get
the car turned around...."
Joseph didn't realize the danger he was in until the engine
suddenly revved up and the entire car began to vibrate. He broke
out in a cold sweat, a deathly fear. His heart skipped a beat, and
with the final ounce of strength in his weakened hands he clutched
the rods beneath the car, then lifted his feet and wedged them
somewhere between a metal pipe and the car's undercarriage, barely
holding on. The car went into reverse to turn around, backed up to
the ditch, the tires spun, and his grip slipped as the car lurched.
Head down, his legs clamped fast, he dangled helplessly under the
car as the tires continued to spin; he held back a scream welling up
within him. Almost fainting from weakness, agitation, and terror, he
grabbed on tight again, but could no longer suppress the tears.
They streamed heavy and hot down his cheeks; he was blinded by
Somewhere in his subconscious he registered the tilt of the car
as Germat jumped onto the running board, but the tears kept
flowing, as if the infinite pain of his lost state had broken through
the shell of his will and was now pouring into the silence of the
He couldn't remember releasing his hands and feet. He felt the
wheels race past his head like a final breath of horrible danger; then
he found himself battered, dirty, tired and hungry, wet with tears,
on the hard, bare road.
In that terrible solitude he almost wished himself back in the
company of the hangman's lackeys, caught up in the insane
tension of the chase.
The darkness had thickened; a mantle of night lay silent and
heavy over the earth. To muffle his footsteps, Joseph left the road,
treading on the soft soil of the fields, following the roadway
toward Breckdorf. If he could only sit somewhere for just an hour
or so, in a house with other people, eat something, clean up, warm
himself; my God, just to see a few people other than those he'd
been with behind barbed-wire for months, in the hangman's
clutches. Just one hour, then he could slip past the sentries before
reinforcements arrived and reach the border before dawn, and
then ... then perhaps freedom....
Holding to the road, his senses tuned to the night, he reached
the village, but it must have been late, for there wasn't a light
anywhere. The black blocks of the houses rose dimly against the
sky, the outline of the trees. He passed a farmyard sunk deep in
silence, so close to the hedge that he brushed against the thorns.
Then with startling suddenness the huge, uncanny silhouette of a
church rose before him, a marvelously peaceful square, surrounded
by tall trees, and a house in which a light still burned. He
approached it slowly and cautiously; just don't start the dogs
barking.... Germat's men would be on him like wolves.
His head ached terribly, a piercing pain, like a merciless finger
probing his tormented brain. His face was scratched, he was filthy,
soaked to the skin, and tired, so tired it took an effort to lift his foot
at every step. Finally he was leaning against the dark door, feeling
for the bell. It sounded bright and shrill
within the hall, startling him. He heard a soft, rapid tread, the light
clicked on and seeped under the door. My God, what if he'd
dropped in on a hero of the Party by accident? But terror no longer
held sway over his exhausted mind, and a sudden wave of nausea
seemed to turn his stomach inside our. Dear God, just some rest,
rest and a little bread ...
He tumbled through the open door and gathered enough
strength to whisper to the dark figure: "Quick ... quick ... shut the
Blinded by the light, overwhelmed by misery, he stood sobbing,
pitiful and dirty, leaning against the wall, squinting painfully at the
startled chaplain. Music, a fragment of some fading, melancholy
melody, reached his ears, and it seemed as if the whole of
mankind's dark longing for paradise were concentrated in that one
brief phrase of music, sweet and heavy, clouded with sorrow. It
struck him like a death blow; he fell as if shot.
When he opened his eyes again, he first saw only books. He stared
at an entire wall of them, their bright titles gleaming softly in the
dull glow of a desk lamp. He felt the warmth of a stove at his back;
he was sitting in a large, soft armchair, with comfortable cushions,
to his right a large, flat desk of dark-stained wood. A friendly man's
voice asked: "Well?" and as he turned around with a start, he was
looking into the narrow, pale face of the chaplain, bending over
him. The first thing he noticed was the marvelous fragrance of good
tobacco and good soap, mingled with the pleasant neutral odor of the
confession box. Large, intelligent gray eyes peered at him from the white
planes of the face, veiled by a cool reserve, regarding him with almost
impersonal curiosity. Then came the second question: "What
But Joseph was staring at the carpet, lost in dreams, a
magnificent, clean, warm, yellow carpet, beautiful, tasteful etchings
on the wall. A dream of domesticity and warmth, beauty and
security, enveloped the room. The contrast with the sties they
lived in at camp was so shocking that tears came to his eyes again.
My God, this armchair, soft and human, actually made to sit on!
The chaplain's pale face glanced nervously toward the desk, where
a few books lay open and various papers were strewn about.
"Well?" he asked again, but banished the impatient look from his
face at once, as if he were ashamed. Joseph turned slowly to face
"Do you have something I could eat? I should wash up, too,
and then ... and then ..." He stood up quickly and gestured
helplessly at himself. "They're after me.... I have to be gone in half
an hour.... My God, I'm dreaming...." He tightened his hands
impatiently into fists and stood trembling.
The chaplain spread his hands at once and said regretfully:
"My housekeeper's--" but then interrupted himself, motioned for
the pitiful figure to follow him, and stepped out into the hall.
Joseph slipped after him.
"You're from the camp?" he asked on the way to the kitchen.
Joseph mumbled hoarsely: "Yes." The kitchen was so sparkling
clean it looked as if no one had ever cooked there. It seemed meant
only for show; everything gleamed in the glow of the
glass lamp, not a speck of dust to be seen, not a dish in sight. The
cupboards were closed, and the stove was obviously ice cold. The
chaplain tugged awkwardly at a cupboard. "For heaven's sake," he
said, shaking his head, "she always takes the key with her...." But
Joseph had grabbed the poker from the tidy coal box and said
tersely, with a strange, almost coldly cynical set to his lips: "If
you'll permit me ..." The chaplain turned, startled and concerned,
but Joseph pushed him aside, wedged the poker between the doors
of the cupboard, and forced it open with a jerk. He regarded the
splendors with almost predatory eyes, sighing.
Indignation mixed with a slight disdain showed on the chaplain's
face. He watched, clutching his hands nervously behind his back,
as the man wolfed down thick slices of bread covered with butter
and sausage. The ragged, filthy figure in greasy denim was a
bizarre sight, with tousled, dirty hair and ravenous hunger in his
large, gray, oddly gleaming eyes. The only sound in the stillness
was his noisy chewing and at times a strange snuffling, as if the
man had a cold and no handkerchief. The chaplain couldn't take his
eyes off him, but the visitor no longer seemed to notice him.
It seemed as if time had stopped, and that the world consisted
only of this kitchen in which he sat trembling beside a vagabond
who ate and ate.
Joseph held the loaf of bread in his left hand and the knife in his
right, seeming to hesitate; but then he dropped the knife on the
table, shoved the bread aside, and stood up. "You could at least
have offered me something to drink; you've never eaten a dozen
slices like that," he said in genuine irritation, then went over to the
sink, fished the soap from a niche in the wall with
annoying self-confidence, and began washing his face, puffing
noisily. He found the hand towels under a clean cloth behind the
oven, as if he knew the layout of the house forward and backward.
"Clean underwear, now that would be just fine ... and my feet
washed ..." he mumbled through the hand towel, drying his face
and head roughly, almost relishing it. He hung up the towel and
was about to ask for a comb when he looked the chaplain full in the
face for the first time. "My God," he said softly, with childlike
amazement. "You're not angry with me, are you?"
"No," laughed the chaplain with an annoyed snort. "You're the
most charming fellow I've ever met!" He stood waiting by the door.
Shaking his head, Joseph walked past him into the hall, heading for
the study. He was still shaking his head as he sat down again in
The chaplain had turned off the outside lights, relocked the
doors, and returned quickly, as if he were afraid to leave the man
alone. His face was masked with a strange severity like that of a
"I'll need to ask you for a couple of other things," Joseph said,
speaking in an almost businesslike tone. "First a comb; you know
how it is, a person feels so unfinished somehow, when he's washed
up but hasn't combed his hair ... thanks." He took the black comb
and combed his hair contentedly. "And a cigar, if you have one ...
and, I'm sorry, a sip of wine ... then I think I'll make it across the
border easily. I'm feeling stronger now and I'm not afraid anymore."
The chaplain wordlessly handed him a cigar, along with a box of
matches. "Now I know why the hangman's men, even though
they're stupid, can still lord it over us in camp--because we're
always hungry and dirty."
He puffed deeply, regarding the cigar and his fingernails in turn.
Then he said softly: "Excuse me," and cleaned his nails with a
broken matchstick. "There, now I almost feel good ... almost." He
gazed intently into the chaplain's eyes, and a trace of sympathy
appeared on his face. "I really don't know what you're so annoyed
about." The chaplain rose with a jerk, as if a fire had started under
him; he paced agitatedly in front of the bookcases, his face an odd
mixture of fear, sorrow, indignation, and uncertainty.
"In fact," Joseph continued, when he received no answer, "I'm
the one who could be offended, since you're not offering me any
wine. And viewed objectively, I am a rather charming fellow."
The chaplain paused abruptly before him and stammered: "Are
you ... are you ... a criminal?"
Joseph's eyes narrowed and hardened; he looked at him
searchingly. "Of course, I committed a crime against the state, and I
think you're about to as well." He glanced at the scattered pages of
the manuscript covering the desk. "That is, if you truly represent
the ideas that your uniform stands for."
"You let me worry about that." The chaplain laughed,
apparently trying to salvage a little humor from the situation.
Joseph asked again about wine, but the chaplain merely smiled
uncertainly, then paled in fear and nearly cried aloud as Joseph
stepped up to him, cowering defensively as Joseph seized him by
the top button of his soutane. "All right," he said softly, very
softly, "I'll get you some wine."
But Joseph threw his cigar angrily down on the desk and
released his hold. "Oh"--he waved him off wearily--"if you only
understood what wine it is I want from you. What good do all
these treasures do you?" He gestured roughly at the books.
"You've learned as little from them as your confreres fifty years ago
learned from the fulsome pandects we find so contemptible
today...." He struck the bookcase dully with his fist. Then he
hesitated as he saw the chaplain's tortured face, but his words
gushed like a spring released by a drill. "You soak in your
certainties like a man in a bathtub of lukewarm water, indecisive,
hardly daring to get out and dry off. But you forget that the water is
turning cold according to inexorable laws, as cold as reality." His
voice had lost its accusatory tone and was almost imploring. He
released his gaze from the shocked face of the chaplain and ran his
eyes over the book titles. "Here," he said sadly. "You wanted to
know my crime." And he threw the slim brochure onto the desk:
"There it is ... and now, good-bye." He took a deep breath and
looked around the room a final time, then knelt and said softly:
"Bless me, Father, I have a dangerous road ahead." The priest
folded his hands and made the sign of the cross over him, and as
he tried to hold him back with a helpless smile, Joseph said quietly:
"No, forgive me.... I have to go now, my life is at stake." And before
he left the house, he made the sign of cross over the figure in black.
It was now totally dark outside, as if the night had rolled itself into a
tight ball. The village seemed to cower in darkness, like a flock in a
gloomy cave, swallowed by brute silence. It seemed as if loneliness braced
itself icily against Joseph as he wended his way cautiously through the dark
alleys to the open fields. As if in final farewell, the bells of the church
rang in consolation through the night. Four times they sounded from the tower,
bright and almost joyful, then twice, dark and heavy, as if God's hammer were
falling through all eternity.
In the silent gloom the tones were like a reminder to hold fast to
Soon he could distinguish the ground's surface and larger
obstacles, hedges and bushes and ditches. He could go only by
sixth sense, instinctively following the street, which angled away
toward the country road. He felt almost nothing, his heart heavy
with silence, the infinite silence of one who suffers, for whom there
is no answer under the heavens, no answer but God's promise,
spanning the earth, wherever any person suffers for the sake of the
cross. He was so far, so far from all hate and all bitterness, that
prayers formed in him like pure, steady flames rising from the
garden of faith, hope, and love, innocent and beautiful as flowers.
He crossed a wooded area, feeling his way cautiously from tree
to tree to keep from stumbling in the darkness. Emerging into the
open, he saw lights. To the right, ghostly and distant, rose tall
structures, illuminated by yellow light, steel-ribbed skeletons.
Behind them glowed the red jaws of the blast furnaces, like the
gullet of the underworld. My God, those must be the factories at
Gordelen! The border lay just beyond them. It couldn't be more
than a half hour away. The field fell away before him and was
bordered by a line of trees, their silhouette outlined against the
distant light, and he saw how the trees ran on ahead, far across the
dark, level fields, toward the factory. It
must be a road. Everything beyond it lay in darkness; a thick forest
seemed to extend into the distance, perhaps even beyond the
Nothing could be heard but the strange, distant, grinding
murmur from the blast furnaces and pits.
The field before him appeared smooth, a treeless meadow
without bushes. He headed to the left, but there was no cover that
would allow him to reach the road. He hesitated, saw with
increasing clarity the motionless line of trees on the dark base of
the road, like an endless row of teeth. Fear overwhelmed him again,
tugging violently and mockingly at the cloak of his
self-composure. He seemed to see the monstrous grin of a bestial
mouth stretched across the face of the night. He pushed off from
the tree, almost violently, and began to run. The steep meadow
seemed to swallow him; he hadn't realized how abruptly it would
Suddenly, the heavens seemed to split in two, and the dazzling
beam of a searchlight shot out in front of him, as if he had brought
it to life. He fell to the ground as if struck by lightning, landing
painfully on his chin. His face pressed deep into the bitter, cool
damp of the earth while the searchlight sailed back and forth over
him like a huge yellow whip. With his face in the soil he failed to
hear the sentry's challenge, then a burst of fire raced like an
apocalyptic gurgle across the earth in front of him, the bullets
thudding into the ground. He lay there, nailed fast by the
murderous light, like a target set on the meadow's slope. And
before the next series of shots ripped through him he screamed,
screamed so loudly in his forsakenness that the heavens would
surely collapse. He raised his head
again and screamed, blinded by the light, before a final burst from
the snarling muzzle extinguished his cries.
All was still as his tormentors surrounded him, shining their
flashlights on his torn body, which resembled the earth so closely
that it might have been the earth itself that bled. "Yes ... that's
him," said an indifferent voice.