Based on hundreds of newly-discovered documents in archives the world over – now … THE HITLER FILE Israel Sarid Roth is the only son of two survivors of the Holocaust. When his boss at the Genocide Monitoring Group sends him to Israel on a routine assignment, he finds himself at the deadly center of a nightmare.
What is on the floppy disk he picked up in Jerusalem?
Who is Frankenberg, the investigative journalist and how did he track down the fearsome former Chief of the Nazi Gestapo, Heinrich Mueller, long thought dead?
Why did Himmler, the leader of the SS, release Frankenberg’s father from the death camp Auschwitz?
What was in Hitler’s personal file, kept by the Nazi Party’s own intelligence service, the SD?
Who blackmailed Hitler and what was the dark secret in his past?
Why was the Holocaust, the mass extermination of Europe’s Jews, set in motion only so late in World War II?
Why did the Nazi SS work hand-in-glove with Zionist organizations in Palestine and throughout occupied Europe, even as the Holocaust was taking place?
Who assassinated the prominent Zionist leader Chaim Arlosoroff in 1934 and why?
Time is running out. To survive, Roth must find the answers to these questions and remain one step ahead of Nazis, old and new, as well as the Israeli Mossad.
There is only one rule: TRUST NO ONE.
Dedicated to Lidija, my wife and life.
Facts and Speculations All the historical events and personalities mentioned in this book are true and factual.
The only exceptions are:
Leo Frankenberg the investigative journalist and his grandfather, the Auschwitz inmate, Ernst Frankenberg, are fictional characters.
Heinrich Mueller. Though his body was never found, he probably died in the bunker in besieged Berlin or not far from it in May 1945. But, read on and judge for yourselves.
All the speculations in this book are just that: speculations.
The author visited all the locations mentioned in this tome and met many of the protagonists that populate this work of fiction.
In a way, therefore, this is a roman-a-clef.
Still, names and circumstances were altered to protect the identity of those involved.
“We are in,” – he almost whispered – “the files merged.”
Enraptured, we gazed at the screen as the text document unwound itself, page by flickering page.
I leaned forward:
“It’s an interview … It’s the transcript of an interview …”
Dan nodded, mouth open, hand frozen in mid-twitch. His voice was hoarse:
“It’s an interview with Gestapo Mueller.”
“Interview with Mueller?” – I had hoped for more – “He must have given many of them in his career.”
“Not posthumously, he didn’t. Not 16 years after he died in Berlin.”
Prologue “Pol und Jude”
Political and a Jew.
It’s around 4 o’clock in the morning. I am not sure of the date. The days all look the same, so do the seasons. The barking, snarling, phlegm-permeated roar of the block’s senior prisoner. Beatings, curses, the fading reverberations of the wake-up gong.
I tear myself from my lice-infested dream. My clothes are still rain-drenched and crawling with the brown, hardy bugs. My skin is festering and spewing pus. My broken, dirt-encrusted nails leave bloody trails where I furiously burrow into the florid rash. I sleep in my tattered clogs – it saves some precious time and makes them hard to steal.
I jump down from the wooden bunk and make up my “bed” – a rotting clump of straw or wood shavings wrapped in paper which here pass for a mattress, a blanket rendered translucent by overuse. My narrow plank is shared with others. We move like automata, eyes downcast, skeletal hands shuttle with frenzy, folding the decomposing covers at precise, military angles. Failure to do so means flogging, or worse.
Fending off the rats that constantly attack us, we rush to the latrines. The silent, desperate scrimmage for the covered manholes into which we hastily relieve ourselves, half standing, half crouching, clothes dipped in excrement, no air, just the pervasive stench of aging urine.
A river of human flotsam, its moldy delta the elongated metal sinks. We push and shove to wash at least the moldering tips of our fingers, the parched corners of the mouth, the backside of a desiccated, weather-furrowed neck, rarely the sweat-cemented armpits, never the swollen feet or groin. Hundreds of us and so few water taps and such a feverish hush.
Don’t be among the last. Don’t miss the nebulous liquid that passes here for coffee, our only nourishment until the dinner break. In line, cup extended, I greedily measure the putrid slush and gulp it hurriedly, half-running to the roll call. The orchestra is playing a cheerful march in the distance. The sounds waft around us, disembodied, nightmarish, like some discordant smoke.
The green stripe painted on a piece of cloth attached to the right pants leg of the eclectic attire of the prisoner in front of me identifies him as a common criminal. Not good company. Additionally, I am the last in the row of ten, not an auspicious place. They count us every morning when we depart, assigned to work details, and every evening, when some of us return, carrying the dead and murdered on our shoulders. The first and last positions in every row attract attention. Attention here means pain and, often, death.
This morning’s roll call is mercifully brief, the foul mist and drizzle driving even the guards lethargic. Numbers are assigned to tasks and teams.
From the corner of my eye, I see the block senior and two high-ranking officers, black tunics, iron crosses, skulls and bones, mirror-shiny boots. I am not allowed to look at them. I remove my cap forthwith. I can sense them examining the two pieces of cloth sewn to the left side of my shirt – a yellow square and a red triangle perched beneath it.
“Pol und Jude.” – says one of them. The voice of his younger but evidently senior colleague instructs: “Ask him.”
“Name?” – barks the other. I recoil. I have to think back to answer him. I haven’t used my name since I arrived, since having crossed the wrought iron gates of this inhospitable planet.
I tell him my name, haltingly.
“He is the one” – the first, older officer opines.
Someone pushes me from behind with the tip of a wooden club: “You heard it, move!”
Move where? The other prisoners file away, putting distance between their emaciated selves and me, who am about to die. Smothered between four guards, I am half walking, half carried from the square, through the barracks, across the rail tracks, on the ramp, and to the “Sauna”, the registration office, a vast expanse, littered with chairs and discarded personal belongings.
It is the usual mayhem this time of dawn: hundreds of new inmates, baffled, terrified, clinging to obsolete vestiges of their former lives. Some of them are ordered to climb on a rotating chair, are photographed en face, half profile, right profile, the lever is released, the chair bolts, they fall, the administrative personnel roar in unrestrained and venomous laughter.
Everyone is ordered to strip naked (“handkerchiefs and belts allowed!”), issued a number, tattooed, given new clothes, pushed into the showers, scalding hot or ice cold water, out of the showers, shivering, out the door, beaten, clubbed, cursed, into the barracks, whispered horror gossip, resented by his overcrowded blockmates, threatened, shoved, pushed, pulled …
One of the guards motions; “Undress!” and when I am slow to respond, he mockingly taps me on the head with his baton. Frozen naked I am placed under a rusty showerhead. The icy emanation takes my belabored breath away. Seconds later, I am handed an oversized, perspiration-drenched, dandruff-flaked shabby business suit. I put it on.
The guards, ominous grins on their immaculately shaven faces, escort me back to the registration desk. A prisoner hands them a form bearing my number and photos of my previous incarnation. One of the guards signs and marks the date in a bulky book.
Next we exit the block and I am marched away from the camp, along the now-deserted railway ramp, through the electrified fences, the warning signs, the watchtower, the car barriers. There, on the muddy road, like an apparition, lurks a black Mercedes, no license plates, a white-gloved chauffeur holding the door wide open, snapped to attention.
My attendants blindfold me. A few minutes pass and then they address someone as “doctor”. They roll up my sleeve and I feel the painful prick of a syringe needle in my right arm. As I crumble, the last thing I see is the crooked sign that says: “Auschwitz II – Birkenau”. And then there’s darkness.
Chapter the First The Frankenberg Bequest Delivering me into this world was an act of defiance as is my name: Israel Sarid Roth. From early on, I was told that “Sarid” means “remnant” in Hebrew and this is what my parents were: survivors, ashen residues of that great conflagration, the Holocaust.
After the War, they met as two near-skeletons in a DP camp - that’s a Displaced Persons facility, often only marginally better than a concentration camp. They clung to each other in a hurried act of marriage and fourteen years later – the time it took them to regain some trust in life, not least by making a small fortune in the specialty publishing industry - they made me.
My mother slid the plate of broiled vegetables across the Formica-top table:
“Finish it!” – she demanded, almost ferociously – “You never know when you will eat next.”
My father pleaded with sad, rheumatic eyes and I nibbled half-heartedly at the multicolored mash.
It was almost time.
In Israel, the Holocaust Memorial Day opens with a wailing siren, followed by two minutes of contemplative, silent observation. One year, my mother traveled all the way to Jerusalem and, standing on the grounds of Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum, she taped the piercing sound and the ensuing silence.
She played it every year since then on the appointed date and this year was no exception. As the sound faded, I rose up and exited this funereal abode, mumbling barely audible goodbyes.
The air outside was fresh with life.
I was 46 years old but didn’t have much to show for it, except a string of failed relationships. More out of angst than out of need, I worked three days a week in the musty acquisitions department of the Genocide Monitoring Group (GMG), a non-government organization as well-funded and as morbid as my family.
There was a note on my creaking, plain-wood desk at the office: “urgent to see the manager Bauer”, Ashok, my Hindu assistant, scribbled. Bauer is my irascible boss. It sounded bad.
“Sit down” – droned Bauer, straightening an errant bow tie and, then, without a pause – “You’ve heard of Leo Frankenberg?”
I haven’t. And there was nowhere to sit in Bauer’s windowless and airless cubicle. The only thing that passed for a chair was bent shapeless by an avalanche of cardboard folders and reams of folded printouts. I crouched, resting my back on a polyglot tower of hardbacks.
“Neither have I,” – he confessed cheerfully – “until recently, that is. He is … was … supposed to have been a veteran and venerable investigative journalist. In other words, a bore and a loser …”
Ever since he was criticized by the media for his high-handed ways at the GMG, Bauer detested journalists, investigative or otherwise.
“Was? He died?”
Bauer gave me a cryogenic look: “Of course he died! Why else would we be dissecting him here and now? For pleasure?”
Bauer was well-known for his rhetorical questions. I learned to avoid them.
Instead, I asked:
“It’s a bequest, then?”
Bauer beamed at me:
“Now you are talking. Bequest it is. The poor schmuck left us his notes, would you believe it? Luckily, they come with a handsome and” – he wagged a sausagy finger – “may I add, much-needed trust fund …”
He rummaged among the tottering Everest of paper on his desk and withdrew what looked to me like a legal form.
“A sum of, never mind you how much, to defray all costs related to the cataloging, preservation, and publication of said works.”
I waited patiently. Perseverance paid with Bauer.
“I want you to travel to Israel tonight. Take an inventory of the bequest, a rough record, that sort of thing.”
“It’s that urgent?” – I protested mildly.
It didn’t register.
“On the one hand, it’s probably a load of worthless junk” – mused Bauer – “On the other hand, we sure could use the money.” He weighed his own arguments. I got up. When Bauer started to debate with himself, the meeting was over.
Only when I reached the incongruous carved oak door, did he come up for air:
“Breaking and entering is frowned upon in Israel. You may wish to take the key to his apartment with you.”
He had a point.
I have never been to Israel before. At the surprisingly shabby Ben-Gurion airport, the first thing that grabs you is the inordinate ubiquity of uniforms. They are everywhere: police, army, and a half dozen security agencies. Both men and women similarly attired, monolithically unsmiling, robotically efficient. It gave me the chills.
Add to that the largest concentration of yarmulkes and streimels this side of Brooklyn and a litany of sweaty, unkempt, bejeweled Levantine men and you can see why I wasn’t too impressed.
And the decibels! Israel’s typical noise level must be illegal in most civilized locales. People are very animated and amiable but there is something neurotic about it all, some pent-up aggression that is almost palpable.
Matters didn’t improve in the queue to the idling taxis and my mood was hardly elevated when the driver refused to turn on the meter. “I will make you a special price” – he bawled in broken English. He kept his word.
I climbed the winding stairs to the top floor of a Jerusalem stone encased apartment block and faced a gaunt door whose erstwhile greenish paint was peeling exuberantly all over the mud-caked floor. The key fitted in but then refused to budge in either direction.
Talk about inauspicious.
That evening, safely ensconced in a faded leather armchair, I started taking stock of the cataract of paper that constituted Frankenberg’s life. It wasn’t much to behold and it was sad. One’s life’s work is another person’s trash.
But there was a lot of it and it kept me busy for almost three days. And, then, as I was getting ready to up and go, I saw it. A black floppy disk of the kind that has been out of favor and out of use for years. It was labeled 3/3.
Frankenberg had an antique computer with a floppy drive and I tuned it on and inserted the diskette. It contained a strange file that wouldn’t open no matter what I tried.
This was the first time in days that I felt curious about something. Frankenberg was a humdrum sort of fellow, not the kind that does well in his chosen line of work. The interviews he conducted were insipid, his writing was lethargic, his incredible naivety galling. I wanted to grab him by the shoulders and shake him good and proper. But under the circumstances that would probably have been against the law.
This obsolete piece of magnetic media was different. Frankenberg evidently did not want it read or why would he encode it? Did he encrypt it or was the data merely corrupt? Maybe the file could be opened by one of those ancient word-processing applications still in use only by my mother? The file extension, 003, was something I never came across before.
I was out of my depth here but I knew that this was right up Dan’s alley and that’s where I was heading next. On an impulse I would live to bitterly regret, I omitted to include the dismal object in the inventory. I shoved it into the inner pocket of my crumpled jacket and took the next flight home.
In the three days of my absence, Bauer was transformed. It wasn’t owing to grief brought on by our separation. Bauer was excited, that much was obvious. But there was something else. Had I not known the man, I would have said that he was frightened.
He thumped the list with a clenched fist:
“Are you absolutely, one hundred and ten percent sure that everything is here?”
I shrugged. This was the third time in as many minutes that he had asked.
“There was nothing else? It’s a big apartment, you may have missed something?”
“I don’t know what, dammit! Had I known what I wouldn’t be asking you now, would I?”
Alert: rhetorical question. Mum’s the word.
“OK, OK” – he panted – “Listen, I want you on the next flight to that narcissist’s flat. I want you to buy a fine toothed comb before you leave. And then I want you to apply it as you go over the place again and again, until you find it!”
“Go, go! Don’t waste my time!” – Bauer was clearly pointing at the door. He really meant it. I spend five decades of my life avoiding the Holy Land and then, within a week, I am visiting it twice.
As I didn’t rise from my chair yet, this was an easy one to comply with.
“Listen, I have a better idea. Personally - and I mean you, as ‘in person’ - go there and pack the whole thing up. Don’t leave a dust mote behind. Pack the dog food, too. I want the whole garbage dump on my doorstep, special delivery.”
“You mean …”
“I mean courier, Federal Express or whatever we are using.”
“It will cost a fortune! Plus, I don’t think FedEx or UPS do these kinds of shipments.”
“Find someone who does. You go with the goods door to door. Don’t show your face here, unless accompanied by Frankenberg’s junk.”
I lost my patience.
“Bauer,” – I muttered ominously – “you mind filling me in? What’s the rush? What’s going on here? Anything I should know?”
“Nothing. I am eager to lay my hands of the trust fund, that’s all. The sooner the better. Can’t do that until the notes and everything else are actually in our warehouse.”
I don’t mind being lied to. But I hate being taken for a fool. For the first time, I felt real good for having absconded with the disk.
Back at Frankenberg’s apartment, I had no problems with the key this time. The door was ajar. Actually, it was off its torn hinges. Someone went through the premises with a malfunctioning giant vacuum cleaner. The house was a mess, paper everywhere, the innards of the computer and its disemboweled printer strewn randomly across the carpet. Even the old men’s suits were not spared. Pillows, shelves, book bindings, and folders littered the floor.
Jerusalem is the strangest place. The scene of much mayhem throughout three millennia of tortured history, it still exudes an air of ethereal tranquility, a calming effect that I would have called “spiritual” had I been so inclined. Between wailing walls and golden domes, this metropolis played host to King David and to Jesus, to King Solomon and to countless wannabe Roman emperors. It is one of the cradles of civilization and you can feel it among its winding alleys, stone facades, quaint bazaars (“Kasbahs”), and barren hills.
So, this ransacked private space was incongruent. This is what I told Bauer when I returned, empty-handed:
“There was little to salvage. I think they were equipped with the same fine toothed comb you had recommended.”
Bauer glowered at me, speechless for a change.
I half expected it, but it was still a shock, the mutilated privacy of my shredded clothes, my trampled suits, my family photos, and my stolen laptop. Nothing else was missing but my apartment was in chaos. Whoever did it was thorough and brought to cruel light many things I had conveniently forgotten I possessed. I stared around in disbelief and budding outrage and then I crumbled on the knife-torn pillowcases on my bed and slept.
I woke up even more exhausted. Whatever had to be done will have to wait another day. I couldn’t stay here. I had to get away and put some thinking distance between me and this bizarre affair.
I assembled a random sample of attire, stuffed it into a battered suitcase, and headed towards the office. Better to spend the night with Eddy, the watchman than alone with the ghosts of my past and a potentially revenant burglar.
One of the reasons I took the job with the GMG was that their headquarters was right across the street. This proximity came handy with a workaholic boss like Bauer. Two blocks, the traffic lights and there I was, entering the nondescript cottage and waving a fatigued hello at Eddy.
“Mr. Roth,” – he commented soberly – “You don’t look too good”.
“I don’t feel too good.” – I obliged him – “It’s been a long day.”
“And now it’s going to be a long night.” – Eddy gave me his mock-Latino wink – “They are waiting for you.”
I felt a tad disoriented.
“Waiting for me …” – I repeated densely.
“Upstairs.” – Eddy was nothing if not patient – “All three of’em.”
“Eddy,” – I said slowly, trying to convey the gravity of the occasion – “who are these people? I came here by sheer chance. We wouldn’t be talking now had someone not broken and entered my apartment. So, you see” – I patronized him – “I don’t have an appointment with anyone or any three people.”
Eddy was on his feet, gun drawn, long before I ended my speech. He pressed a button under his counter at the reception. “The cops” – he mouthed as he moved stealthily down the corridor motioning me not to follow him which, of course, I did, too terrified to remain all by myself in the deserted lobby.
We climbed the muffled stairs slowly. My office was at the end of a semi-elliptical hallway, so we couldn’t see it from where we were standing. But we could definitely hear the voices, one commanding, the other two obliging.
“We are blocking their escape route.” – whispered Eddy – “You stay here and I will go and see what’s it all about.”
“Suppose we change places.” – I counter-susurrated – “You stay here and I will go and see what’s it all about.”
Eddy hesitated and then: “Suit yourself. It’s your office.”
I tiptoed towards the open door that marked my niche, knocked, and entered.
I remember little else, except the sound of a distant shot and the blurred image of two very surprised men, huddled around my filing cabinet. I woke up hours later in what looked like the emergency ward of a down-at-heel hospital, head bandaged.
The first thing I saw was Eddy, all bruised and livid. Next to him was a swarthy and burly cop who eyed me dispassionately.
“Can you answer a few questions for us, Mr. Roth?”
Clearly, empathy was not his strong suit. I groaned a “yes”.
“Did you see any of the three burglars? Can you identify them if I show you an album?”
“What burglars? I saw the silhouettes of two men in my office. They were going over the contents of my desk. They were not happy to see me, I guess.” – trying to sit up was a bad idea.
“Come now, Roth,” – growled the lawman – “don’t give us the runaround. We have been to your apartment, Mr. de Piccioto and I.” – It took a minute to register that Mr. de Piccioto was Eddy.
“Someone broke into my apartment, too” – I said obtusely.
The cop sighed. Eddy sighed. So, I joined them and sighed, too.
“Listen, mister” – the officer tried another tack – “They will be back, you know. Whatever it is they are looking for, they couldn’t find it in your apartment and you rudely interrupted them at your office. But these are pros and they are not going to go away. “
“I haven’t seen anyone, officer. I must have been hit on the head or something.” – I winced. Eddy nodded in confirmation:
“One of them was watching the door. Mr. Roth didn’t have a chance. Then they came bursting down the hallway. I fired at them but they were all over me before I could get a good aim.”
The cop waved a hirsute hand to stem the verbal avalanche.
“OK, forget the burglars, just tell me what they were after.”
“I have no idea” – I lied and not too well. Even Eddy eyed me with sudden suspicion and unease.
“You’ll have only yourself to blame next time you meet with this delightful crew.” – snorted the officer – “In a dark alley late at night perhaps?”
I had it with his fear-mongering.
“I don’t go out at night.” – I retorted angrily – “And, now, gentlemen, if you have no official business here, I would ask you to leave my room. My head feels like a foundry in heat.”
I saw that the simile was lost on them.
“Throbbing and on fire.” – I translated.
That did the trick.