Purim 5703/1943 in another timeline: Excerpt from Operation Flash, Episode 1

Happy Purim to my fellow Jews! May the day be filled with joy despite the worldwide anxiety about the COVID-2019 epidemic.

It hasn’t always been a joyous occasion: during the Shoah, henchmen of the modern Haman “marked” the holiday in their own cynical way. As we learn from Wikipedia:

Nazi attacks against Jews were often coordinated with Jewish festivals. On Purim 1942, ten Jews were hanged in Zduńska Wola to “avenge” the hanging of Haman’s ten sons.[92] In a similar incident in 1943, the Nazis shot ten Jews from the Piotrkówghetto.[93] On Purim eve that same year, over 100 Jewish doctors and their families were shot by the Nazis in Częstochowa. The following day, Jewish doctors were taken from Radom and shot nearby in Szydłowiec.[93] In an apparent connection made by Hitler between his Nazi regime and the role of Haman, Hitler stated in a speech made on January 30, 1944, that if the Nazis were defeated, the Jews could celebrate “a second Purim”.[93] Indeed, Julius Streicher was heard to sarcastically remark “Purimfest 1946” as he ascended the scaffold after Nuremberg.[94]

[In fact, said occasion was on a different Jewish holiday, namely Hoshana Rabba

I am about to start pre-publication editing of Episode 3 of my World War Two alternate history series, “Operation Flash”. The premise of this series, of course, is that the March 21, 1943 suicide bombing attempt on Hitler and his main underlings had succeeded. (Colonel Rudolf Freiherr von Gersdorff would only have needed to use a different detonator.)
As I was writing Episode 1, I suddenly thought: “Hmm, let me check what day March 21, 1943 was on the Jewish calendar”. Sure enough, 14 Adar 5703 would have been the mother of all Purims in that timeline. So I could not resist splicing in a chapter about this, which also gave me a chance to touch on some other issues. Below I am reproducing this chapter.

Happy Purim!


***

Operation Flash — Episode 1 — Chapter 6

Berlin-Wedding
Germany
March 21, 1943

For the whole world, my name was Johann Schulze. I must never mention my old name, Joachim Israel Steinberg.

My father had been a well-known doctor. When the law forbidding Jewish doctors to treat non-Jewish patients came out, we tried to make ends meet. I somehow got a job at the Siemens-Halske electrical factory.

For one reason or another, some of my coworkers took a liking to me. So when the transports to the East started, we were distributed across a few families. Fortunately, I don’t look very Jewish, so I can “submarine”, as we call it. There are a number of us fellow “U-boats” hiding in plain sight in the city — right in the heart of the Third Reich. We are always on the lookout for Gestapo agents — and for traitors of our own, who for money or a temporary reprieve for their families ferret out fellow Jews for the Gestapo.

If anyone asked, I was originally from Lübeck, but our house had been destroyed in the major RAF raid, and my maternal uncle, Christoph Baumann, had taken me in. Some people would shake their heads in sympathy — “to flee bombardments to Berlin is like fleeing the rain into the gutter”. I would say I was “hoping to join the Wehrmacht soon”, or perhaps “wanted to join the Luftwaffe to help defend the Reich against the terror bombers”, but meanwhile was working at a factory essential for the war.

My sisters had an easier time submarining elsewhere, and actually worked in various jobs. Unlike me, they did not carry the sign of the Covenant, of course—if arrested and made to strip, I’d be done for.

***

We’d had a simple meal, mostly bread and a watery soup made of potatoes. This was one reason each family had only taken in one of us: unless we could somehow get registered under a false name and get ration cards issued, each hidden person was an additional mouth to feed with the same number of ration cards.

Occasionally I would take the risk and work an odd job as a day laborer, and with the money Mrs. Baumann could buy some food on the black market. She would also quietly sell family curios and jewelry, one item at a time, if needed. It wasn’t impossible to survive that way, as Mr. Baumann and his eldest son Peter had increased rations as “essential war workers”. Peter had lost a foot stepping on a mine during the France campaign and had been invalided out of the army.

The large radio, built at the same factory they worked, was one luxury we did have.

***

“I don’t get it. Are they drunk on the job?”

“Why?” I walked in from the other room, where I’d been reading.

“In the middle of the news overview, the radio suddenly went to a Franz Léhar tune.

“And then, after about a minute, it went back to the newsreader.”

Suddenly we heard him pause, clear his throat, and speak, with a jittery voice.

***

“We interrupt this program for a special announcement.”

“Proclamation Number One of the Reichsnotregierung!”

We looked at each other. Emergency Reich Government?!

The Führer—”, he paused, “The Führer, Adolf Hitler, is dead!

What?! We were dumbstruck. The newsreader continued.

“He was killed in a bomb attack together with the Deputy Führer, Reich Marshal Hermann Goering; with the Head of the Wehrmacht High Command, Field Marshal Keitel; with the Führer’s Chief Adjutant, Gen. Rudolf Schmundt; and many others.

“A conscience-less clique of party and SS leaders who are strangers to the front have attempted to stab the struggling soldiers in the back and to grab power for self-serving purposes.

“Therefore we, the Emergency Reich Government, have assumed executive power. In order to maintain law and order, the ERG has declared a state of martial law and delegated responsibility to the Supreme Command of the Wehrmacht.

“1. The following are subordinated to the ERG and the Army:”

We listened in disbelief as a long list of Nazi Party institutions were declared either subordinate to the government or outlawed.

“…Effective immediately, the Waffen SS is to be integrated into the Wehrmacht. Any resistance to this order will be regarded as mutiny and punished as such.

“3. The Allgemeine SS and its associated organizations are declared illegal…”

None of us could believe our ears. Would this long nightmare at last be over?!

“…Any resistance to the military authorities is to be ruthlessly suppressed. The Fatherland is in its hour of greatest peril.

“The German soldier is faced with an historic task. It will depend on his energy and behavior whether or not Germany will be saved.

“Signed:

Ludwig Beck, Reichsverweser.

Dr. Carl Goerdeler, Chancellor.

Field Marshal Erwin von Witzleben, Commander in Chief of the Wehrmacht.”

* * *

Shock and elation filled the room; it was difficult to know if it all could be contained. The Baumanns had been Social Democrats during the Weimar Era. Mr. Baumann had been a member of the Reichsbanner Black-Red-Gold and later, when that merged with two other groups, of the Iron Front — which had fought both the SA brownshirts and the Communist “Red Front”. Somehow, he had escaped persecution after the Nazi takeover.

Meanwhile, “Siegfried’s Death” by Wagner had started playing from the radio.

“Now this senseless war will end,” Mrs. Baumann murmured, “and the troops will come home.”

“That won’t be easy,” Mr. Baumann replied. “The remaining Nazis won’t give up without a fight.”

“Perhaps Johann can come out of hiding,” daughter Ruth spoke up. For some reason, Ruth is a very popular girl’s name among Germans—even those who begrudge us the whites in our eyes, as we say here. This does not include our Ruth, mind you.

“Again, make haste slowly. And don’t go cheering too hard outside. You never know.”

I could speak only one word.

Purimfest. Purimfest.

“Come again?” Peter asked.

“Today would have been the holiday of Purim.”

“Yes?”

“It’s where we read the book of Esther, about how an evil man named Haman tried to kill all the Jews in Persia and they were saved.”

“I remember this book from Bible School,” Mrs. Baumann added. “Esther and her uncle Mordechai stopped him.”

“And Haman was hanged from the gallows he had prepared for Mordechai.”

I had lost my faith some years ago. But this was surely a most remarkable coincidence.

Valkyrie Day post: Operation Flash, Ep. 2 update

Today, July 20, 2019, marks the 75th anniversary of Operation Valkyrie, the last assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler (y”sh).

The original “Operation Valkyrie” was a contingency plan of the Ersatzheer (idiomatically: reserve army, home army) for suppressing internal unrest in such events as an uprising by the millions of coerced foreign workers in Germany, or in the event the Führer was dead or incapacitated. During 1943, the plan was substantially rewritten in secret by several staff officers involved with the Resistance to exclude participation of the SS and other NSDAP-affiliated organizations, to facilitate a quick takeover of the country following a successful assassination. Most of the rewriting was the work of Maj.-Gen. Henning von Tresckow, chief staff officer of Army Group Center and in many ways the mastermind of the conspiracy, as well as of a gravely wounded general staff officer sent home from North Africa for convalescence and reassigned to the General Army Office on Bendlerstrasse: Col. (GS) Claus Schenk, Count von Stauffenberg. It was this fascinating man (I cannot do justice to Peter Hoffmann’s biography by selective quoting) who would eventually carry out the doomed attempt.

Operation Flash, Episode 1, describes an alternate timeline in which a previous plot, Rudolf von Gersdorff’s attempted suicide bombing at the Berlin Arsenal on March 21, 1943 had succeeded. (The one other departure from actual timeline I allowed myself is that the Valkyrie rewrite had been completed earlier than actually happened in our timeline.) Then the conspirators — despite extensive preparations for and political discussions about “the day after Hitler”, in both timelines — discover that killing the Führer and the Reichsführer-SS was actually the easy part.

Normally, Episode 2 would have been released today, but life and day job got in the way. I have just received the annotated rough draft from my editor, and am now aiming for a mid-August release.

Let me end this post on a musical note. Beethoven wrote this composition as incidental music for Goethe’s play Egmont, about the Flemish count who stood up against a different tyrant and paid with his life for it. His name is still remember in the Lowlands to this day as a fighter for freedom of religion and a martyr for (what ultimately became) Dutch independence.

Valkyrie Day post: “The Tenth Righteous Man”

Sixty-four years ago to this day, a German general staff officer named Claus Schenk, Count von Stauffenberg led an attempt to assassinate the Führer (y”sh) and effect regime change. His attempt was the last of many, and failed through a minor coincidence. The former Bendler Street in downtown Berlin, where once the plotters worked, is today known as Stauffenberg Street: a memorial to the German anti-nazi resistance stands there now. The biography by McGill U. historian Peter Hoffmann makes for fascinating reading.

Many had tried and failed before Stauffenberg: three came within a hairbreadth of succeeding, as he himself would.

The “lone wolf” carpenter and master clockmaker Georg Elser managed to install a powerful time bomb behind the speaker’s rostrum at the hall where his target was scheduled to give an annual memorial speech for the ‘old comrades’ who fell in the attempted 1923 “Beer Hall Putsch”. (Elser had gone to work at a quarry so he could gradually purloin the required dynamite.) Only a last-minute  schedule change because of predicted foul weather thwarted the attempt: the bomb went off twelve minutes after the speaker had left, and killed at least a dozen people.

Later, two general staff officers succeeded in smuggling a time bomb aboard the Führer’s personal plane, disguised as a gift of liqueur from one general staff officer to his colleague in Berlin. The detonator failed, presumably because of the cold weather: the plotters were able to extricate their own bomb and go undetected.

The third, the attempted suicide bombing by Col. Rudolf Freiherr [=Baron] von Gersdorff, was unique in that, if it had succeeded, it would have been a ‘decapitation strike’ against nearly the entire apex of the Nazi state. I wrote a fictionalized version of this incredible tale as the first story in this anthology:

(the entire story appears in the preview). It is a classic illustration of the adage that history can be stranger than fiction. In brief: an exhibit of captured Soviet armaments had been organized in Berlin (at the building that today houses the German Historica Museum). As an additional morale booster, the grand opening was to be attended not just by the Führer himself but by Goering, Navy commander Adm. Doenitz, and SS-chief Himmler. Gersdorff (the intelligence officer of Army Group Center) managed to get himself assigned as the senior guide to the exhibition, and carried two captured British time bombs in his pocket. He set off the fuses and started guiding the VIPs on their tour, expecting the fuses to go off, killing his guests and himself. However, whether from boredom or through a long-standing habit of throwing wild-cards into his schedule and movements, Hitler left the exhibit after a few minutes. Gersdorff was quite willing to die but not to throw away his life for nothing, and thus excused himself to a bathroom where he managed to defuse his two bombs just in time. Unbetrayed by his comrades even under the vilest tortures, Gersdorff survived the war and lived to tell the tale, and to become the founder of Germany’s largest volunteer ambulance service.

[He had actually] offered his services to the Bundeswehrafter the war, but was blackballed as a ‘traitor’, being as he had sworn personal allegiance to the man-monster he had tried to murder. By our lights, he had merely tried to defend ‘against all enemies, foreign and domestic’.

[…]Gersdorff was no plaster saint: he loved the good life, particularly horseback riding, and appears to have taken the trappings of his aristocratic background for granted. On the other hand, noblesse obligewas clearly no mere phrase for him, but an ideal for which he was prepared to pay the ultimate price.

He was not merely a nobleman in title. More importantly, he was a man noble in spirit.