The Siege of Calais

Alain Bontemps    |    Alan’s Extra Room    |    The Rorschach Painting    |    Goodtime Voice-O-Matic    |    The Siege of Calais    |    I Owe My Life to Alan Goodtime    |    The Alton Arsenal    |    The Death of Alan Goodtime    (other stories in the arc)

 

My grandfather was a Nazi. It wasn’t something he hid, though he did make it abundantly clear that he defected once he realized his patriotism was leading to nothing but wholesale slaughter. He was a pacifist the entire time I had the privilege to know him which, unfortunately, wasn’t long. Though he was one of what I considered the “bad guys” when I was younger, I listened with rapt attention to his tales of adventure during his time with the German 6th Army from the first few years of the war. He told some twice, three times, but I didn’t care; they were better than any cartoon. That’s why, when I found an old, leatherbound diary – the tanned hide permanently scarred with the mark of the Third Reich despite an obvious attempt to remove it – with entries relating to a story I had never heard, I was surprised.

As I started to read the entries of that event more deeply, I figured out why he never told anyone about this particular event. It was strange; odd to the point where I questioned if it even happened or if Opa was anthropomorphizing his own negativity about remaining in the Wehrmacht. The following is my translation of his original entries in full. I’ve made no changes, save for the occasional editorial comment necessary for clarity.

We took Calais yesterday. Unlike most of the city-to-city fighting in which we’ve been the proverbial battering ram against the castle gate, the Luftwaffe took the first run of the Calais offensive. We were tasked with holding the rapidly diminishing line at Nieuwpoort. So few of our number were needed there that half the 6th Army was held in reserve a town back to stay fresh. A siege with the Heer would have been more decisive and could have eliminated the French government in one clean sweep, but it also would have been a far more protracted battle. A protracted battle that may have given France’s allies time to mount a counter-offensive and meet us on two fronts. A long march through the mire for France – as happened in the Great War – was not in line with the Wehrmacht’s blitzkrieg strategy. Quick attack, quick victory, minimal loss of life. That was the goal. Luftwaffe bombardment might allow the French government to escape to Britain, but the lands of Gaul would belong to the Reich. Eventually the governments in exile – Norway, Denmark, and potentially France would come to see that the Reich was not an enemy to be fought, but a new world order with which they must fall in line.

I write all this as though I’m still a doe-eyed believer but, in truth, I’ve begun to have doubts. I’m not one of the softer crowd, casting aside my beerhouse bravado at the first sign of blood; I still believe loss of life is justified to bring peace and intelligent guidance to the world. I’m just not sure the Reich will be the source of such benevolence. Our march into Poland, what should have been a joyous celebration as the first Germanic expansion since the Anschluss, was marred by the heinous crimes of the Totenkopf Division. I suppose that’s what happens when you give mouth-breathing subhumans automatic rifles and the authority to conduct their own brand of warfare. (Translator’s note: The Totenkopf Division refers to the 3rd SS Panzer Division, which was primarily made up of concentration camp guards. The 3rd SS was convicted of multiple war crimes after WW2 and was widely known as one of the most bloodthirsty units in the entire war.) As of now, I retain hope that the camps and atrocities like that of the Totenkopf Division are merely imperfections in the metal of war. Perhaps those imperfections will be burned out of the Reich in this first expansion and, when the steely edge of our territory begins to slow and be honed into a defined boundaries, cooler heads will prevail. If they do not, I’m not sure I’ll be able to give my allegiance to the Reich.

Enough philosophy, however. I have been thinking more deeply about such problems since the arrival of our new supply officer. Word around my unit has it that he was attached to the Totenkopf Division through most of the Polish campaign. It is unusual for a Heer officer to work with an SS division, though he apparently filled a gap made by an errant artillery round. I’ve also heard he’s quite adept at procuring rare and unusual items. I have a suspicion that he may be an Abwehr agent profiting on the side from his assigned missions. (Translator’s note: The Abwehr was the German equivalent of the modern CIA. While the Abwehr typically conducted their own missions separate from those of the Wehrmacht, Abwehr agents were notorious for conducting their own side missions.) Regardless, I had made it a point to avoid such a person but the events of the previous night have changed my position.

Spotter planes heading to Calais sighted a small column of French and British troops moving southeast out of Nieuwpoort. What appeared at first to be a flanking maneuver to take out our front line became confusing; they continued on past our line toward our operating bases. Assuming this was an effort to shift our focus to a ground war further away from Calais and give the French leadership more time to plan, my unit and two others were called to meet the advance halfway. We dug in to the hills surrounding a small hamlet the enemy would pass through. Our opening salvos, fired from behind cover into an unsuspecting enemy, were effective. Half the enemy’s number were lost before they even had a chance to return fire. The second half, however, proved far more difficult. Perhaps knowing we had no artillery support, they entered the buildings and took pot shots at us during our advance. We divided into two man groups and began clearing the town. Götl and I entered a small, two floor family home and switched to our sidearms for increased maneuverability. Götl was hit as soon as we crossed the threshold, the enemy firing from a prone position at the top stair landing. I took the shooter out and checked Götl; he was unconscious and rapidly bleeding out from a hole near his clavicle. There was no saving him.

I noticed a small something in the corner of my vision. Actually, we say we “notice” these things but, in all honesty, it’s more a feeling than a true perception. I sensed a change in my left periphery. Glancing over, I could make out the distinct barrel of an Enfield rifle just barely jutting out from behind a doorway. I took aim with my pistol – only four rounds left – and fired into the plaster where I guessed the soldier to be. I watched the barrel, expecting it to drop. After a tense moment, I realized it wouldn’t. I had missed. The soldier peeked around the corner and ducked back. Then, he emerged and propped his Enfield against the wall. He drew a long knife from his belt, what the Yanks called Bowie knives, and strode toward me with a baleful smirk. He must have seen that the slide on my Walther was locked back, indicating a spent clip. I reached to my belt for a second clip, but he was on me before I could load it. I dropped the gun and raised my arms to fend him off.

With a pop, his face exploded in front of me, showering me with blood and flecks of skin with hair tufting off of them. I looked to the open front door where Götl and I had entered. Schwartzkopf stood there, Mauser in hand, asking me if I was alright. I was, save for a cut on my palm. I loaded my pistol and gathered myself, told Schwartzkopf to alert the medic that Götl was dead. I inspected the wall I had fired into before I left the house, trying to ignore the sporadic gunfire coming from the mills and other houses in the town, curious to see where my gambit had failed in case I needed to try it again. I was surprised; my aim was true, but the small caliber bullets of my Walther had not been forceful enough to penetrate two layers of plaster and lathing. One of the bullets was partially protruding from the wall. If it had been travelling faster, it would have hit the British troop square in the chest.

When we returned to base, I decided I needed a larger caliber sidearm. Now I find myself in the position of needing to talk to our new spook of a supply officer.

*

Schwartzkopf, a few of my other men, and I visited the supply office today. Leutnant Vergnugen had set up his depot in an abandoned bank in Diksmuide, across the street from the former hotel where the reserve 6th Army was stationed. Vergnugen’s operation was far different than any supply office I had ever seen. Where most supply officers could get you contraband if you asked the right questions, greased the right palms, and were content to wait a month for a noncommissioned officer to deliver your order, Vergnugen had shelves of non-military issue goods, everything from fresh loaves of bread to American rifles to a variety of tobaccos and stimulants. As I wondered how he hadn’t been shut down and sent to prison – or one of the Polish camps – the word “Abwehr” came to my mind again. Perhaps the 6th Army brass simply didn’t have the authority to send him packing. If that was true, however, what business did he have here? He should have been with the 4th Army or the 1st Panzer that was more directly involved in the assault at Calais and Dunkerque. Something didn’t feel right. I put it out of my mind and resolved to find my larger caliber sidearm and leave Vergnugen’s lair as swiftly as possible.

“Good day, Herr Leutnant,” Vergnugen called to me from halfway down a rack of goods, flashing me the standard military salute – complete with the outdated flourish of a Prussian heel click – instead of the new and, frankly, silly SS salute. I softened to him slightly as I returned it. Maybe he was just an opportunistic pragmatist. “What can I help you gentlemen find?” he asked all of us as a whole.

“I’m in the market for a large bore side arm and I think my men were hoping to just look around.”

“Of course, of course. Right this way.” Vergnugen beckoned me to the back wall, walking at a spry pace. He seemed to brim with energy, but his hair – slightly shaggier than the regulation crew cut – was white. His skin was smooth, almost unusually smooth, as though he had no hair follicles on his face. The skin of a young boy on an adult man’s face, with an elderly man’s hair.

“I’ve got all types. Rare collectibles to standard 1911s. And, let’s see, you said large bore. The Colt is .45 caliber; should be large enough for you. I only have a single clip for it, though, that’ll make reloading a chore. This Smith and Wesson is nice,” he gestured to a black revolver on the counter. “Accurate, easy to maintain, no clip, plenty of stopping power. Same with the British Webley here, but I’ve only got .38 rounds for it.”

I shook my head at his stock of foreign weapons. “I’m not looking for a souvenir. I need something I can get ammo for to use in the field. I just need a regulation pistol of a larger caliber. Maybe a Mauser?”

“Mausers I have, but they’re all smaller caliber. This, though,” he said, lifting the Smith and Wesson and hefting it in his left hand, “is what you want. I’ve got boxes upon boxes of ammo for it. More than you’ll use in this campaign. If you run out, come see me and I’ll either get you more or set you up with something homemade.”

I took the large pistol from him, enjoying the weight. I flicked out the barrel guard, and ran the revolving cylinder down my arm, squinting to look through each chamber. I felt like a cowboy from one of those American pulp westerns. Billy the Kid. Wilhelm der Kind. I smiled slightly. Vergnugen noticed and the corners of his own mouth twitched upwards.

“You like it, no?”

I had to admit I did. “How much?”

“Tell you what; take it out on your next assignment no charge. If you like it, come back to me and we’ll discuss a price.”

I chuckled cynically. Vergnugen was a true businessman; he wanted me to fall in love with the exciting pistol so he could charge more than it was worth. He would find out that I was not an easy target for such games, though. I agreed.

My men had found a small, ornate wooden box with reinforced metal corners, each etched with a rose-like embellishment. Schwartzkopf was holding the item gingerly on two open palms while Kottering inspected the lid and the powdery residue within. It struck me then how young they were, how full of wonder about the world. Young men who can be awed by such simplicity should not be made to kill.

“That,” Vergnugen called loudly, getting the attention of the bewildered group with a start and cutting into my depressing thoughts, “is a snuff box. Any of you boys use snuff?”

They shook their heads.

“I didn’t think so. Too bad. A lost practice. And a somewhat faster delivery system than the cigarettes I’m sure you all smoke. Ah, well, a bygone practice for a bygone age.

“This particular box was a communal snuff box available to all high ranking officers of the allied British and Prussian forces during the Napoleonic Wars. Wellesley and von Blucher were both avid snuff users and the smell inside the box has a distinct Middle Eastern tang to it. Definitely the box of true leaders. True soldiers. Like yourselves.”

Vergnugen left the small group and walked back to his desk. “I have some similar Mediterranean tobacco here. It’s not imprinted with a company logo or transit information, but a nfayhi brother of mine brought it back two weeks ago.” He turned to make eye contact with me. “Same place I got these,” he said, popping a green nut into his mouth.

“What is it?” I asked.

“Pistachio nut. Absolutely delicious, but very difficult to find outside of Libya.”

“Libya is British territory. Unless something has changed while we’ve been in France”

Vergnugen laughed. “No; no changes. One of my contacts is in MI6. He’s not a traitor. Nor am I. We simply realize war is temporary. We’re planning for the future, using this free trip abroad to solidify contacts we can exploit when Europe rebuilds after all this destruction.”

“There has been very little destruction. Our blitzkriegs seem to be working quite well at preserving life and infrastructure.”

“That won’t last,” Vergnugen said. Then, quickly, he added, “It can’t. The Scandinavian governments in exile are all in Britain. If the French leadership escapes the current siege, they’ll be heading across the Channel, too. All that resistance in one country. It won’t be easy.”

“Don’t let a Party official hear you talk like that,” I advised him while tucking the pistol and a few boxes of ammunition into my pockets. “They think God is on our side.”

Vergnugen packed the box full of snuff and exchanged a few notes with my men. “Have you seen God out there among the dying? The Party is full of shit. We’re in control of our own destiny.”

*

The following evening, we were tasked with searching a nearby hamlet for French and British troops and report on any citizens that might be acting as part of a supply chain or passing messages to the forces in Nieuwpoort, Calais, and Dunkerque. It was a rare feeling for me to itch to go into battle – I didn’t even understand the term until that day – but my calves were tingling to run toward the enemy, my index finger almost physically aching to pull on the cool metal of a trigger. I had taken my new pistol out behind a farm in Diksmuide to tug off a few rounds and dial in the sights. I loved it. The kick felt sturdy in my hand, solid pressure moving down my forearm like a massage. I wanted to fire it again. I needed to.

My men seemed to pick up on my mood. Schwartzkopf was bouncing slightly on the balls of his feet as he was want to do when kribbelig. Translator’s note: There is no English equivalent of “kribbelig”, but it roughly equates to “antsy”. Kottering and Helm were uncharacteristically silent, the lack of their constant banter and soft snickers left only the sound of our boots tromping the dirt path and crunching the odd, errant leaf.

Finally, the small village rose up from behind a hill. We checked our firearms, making sure they were cocked and loaded. Checked our bootlaces, our helmets.

“Helm, with me. Schwartzkopf, take Kottering and clear the structure to our right. We’ll leapfrog like that through the town in as close to a grid as we can.” I looked back at Gefreiter Apitz, who stood in front of five fresh soldats who probably weren’t yet shaving their faces. “Apitz, your group will watch the perimeter. Keeping anyone from sneaking into a cleared structure or coming at our backs.” Apitz gave a curt nod, miffed at being left out of the action. His men, however, looked like I had personally answered their prayers.

We moved swiftly from house to house, bakery to farm. Some citizens were kind, others were standoffish and rude. I couldn’t blame them. If someone barged into my home in Stuttgart and demanded to search my wardrobes for enemies and undesirables, I would be pissed to say the least. If I understood the attitude, why did my palm yen to have the smooth wooden grip of the pistol in it? Why did my shoulders spasm with impatience at the prospect of asserting my dominance over these sad country folk?

We found a small home near the east side of town seemingly empty, though Helm noted three bowls of muesli on the shoddy wooden dining table. I put a pinky in one. The milk was still cold. I nodded to Helm and gestured at the closed bedroom door. The look he gave me in return was not that of a man following orders, but the look of a wolf being handed a steak.

Helm kicked in the door with a fierce strength I hadn’t known him to possess and there, shielding themselves from a hail of splinters, was a young woman with her two children. My eyes narrowed; what were they hiding? Was her husband a French infantryman, secreted somewhere in the house with his sights trained on our greyish green uniforms?

I pulled my pistol, the grip filling my hand like an organ that had been missing. The hammer of the gun seemed to pull my thumb back with it rather than vice versa. I could feel sweat at the tip of my index finger threaten to let the digit slip from the trigger guard to the trigger. I wanted to do it, wanted to shoot the woman. I wanted to feel the recoil of the gun coupled with the sight of exploding flesh.

“Who are you hiding?” I shouted.

The woman stammered out an answer in a language I couldn’t understand.

“Zigeunerinnen!” Helm whispered hoarsely. He looked at me hungrily and scrabbled his hands across his belt until he found the bayonet for his rifle. He attached it hastily, sloppily, then pointed it toward the child nearest him.

Translator’s note: “Zigeunerinnen” is an offensive German slang term for Roma, also popularly known as gypsies. The Roma were persecuted by the Nazis with a fervor nearly equal to that of the Jews.

“We should put them down right here, Herr Leutnant!” Helm begged.

I stared into the dark features of the woman, her eyes wide with fear. Standing orders were to round up all Zigeuner in the Reich and send them to a work camp. The camps were brutal; most prisoners died of starvation or exposure before they ever began their assigned tasks. It was probably more human to put a bullet in the trio now than send them to their imminent and painful deaths. I placed my finger on the trigger, opened my mouth to command Helm to shoot.

“Please. Please don’t do this.”

The woman’s plea in broken German stayed my hand for a moment. It humanized her.

“I can tell this isn’t you. You have the look of a kind man. Your eyes are not those of a murderer.”

She was right; I was no killer. Somehow I had been caught up in the moment. Struck with a bout of bloodlust. Even while I thought these things, my pistol remained pointed at the woman’s forehead.

“Helm,” I said, my voice a hollow creak, “let them go.”

“They’re trash, Herr Leutnant! It is our duty to the Reich to cleanse this house!”

“It is your duty to follow my orders, Helm!” I swung my outstretched arm in his direction, the barrel of the pistol now centered between his green eyes.

“You’re a traitor, Sir.”

“And you’ll be dead if you don’t drop that fucking rifle this instant.”

Helm lowered the rifle, but swung the bayonet in my direction. I thrust my free hand out and gripped the wood of the Mauser tightly, pulling it toward the floor. Helm lost his balance and fell toward me. I brought my own gun down, trained on Helm’s light brown hair.

“Don’t!” the Roma woman shouted, gripping my shoulder tightly.

I looked back at her, then to Helm. My Helm, who I loved like a younger brother. I pulled the trigger but left my thumb on the hammer, easing it to its home. I tossed the gun in the air and caught it by the barrel, then swung it like a billy club at Helm’s face. I lost hold of the weapon and let it fall to the floor. Helm went down, the skin around his cheek rapidly swelling.

As soon as the revolver was out of my hand, I felt as though I had climbed above the fog line of a mountain. I felt relieved to be myself again, though it pained me to know I had almost taken a life outside of armed and consensual combat. Four lives, actually.

“Thank you,” the woman said.

I turned. “I’m sorry. I don’t know where my head was. There should never have been a question of your survival. Are you alright?”

She nodded. “Yes. We are fine. I could tell you weren’t acting of your own accord. Your man, however… he is. And he is not. Something has altered him permanently.”

I stared at her for a moment, her dark hair clung to her forehead in dirty strands, stuck there by sweat though the night was cool. Refugees. I considered giving her a few bank notes and telling her to run east away from the fighting until she could find someone to take her north to England or Sweden right then, but I couldn’t. Refugees didn’t act like this. Like her. Refugees are scared, huddled shells of themselves. I’ve seen plenty. Refugees don’t hold normal conversations, much less tell me fantastical tales about not being in control of myself.

“What do you mean?” I asked. “I didn’t feel ‘in control’ but I mean it figuratively. I mean my emotions had usurped control from rationality. But that’s not what you mean.”

“No, though usurp is exactly the correct word. Someone forced your emotions so that they would occlude your reason. Any blutrausch you felt was not your own.”

I found that hard to believe. “And him?” I gestured to Helm, still unconscious on the floor.

“His brain has been damaged in a specific way to make him more violent. Damage here,” she touched her forehead, “and the hippocampe.”

“I’m with this man every day. I’ve never seen any sign of injury.”

“It doesn’t need to be outwardly inflicted. Chemicals can have the same effect. Especially when taken into the sinus cavity.”

I thought of the snuff box. Vergnugen’s fucking snuff box. Had he poisoned my men? I needed to leave this house, to check on Schwartzkopf and Kottering.

I handed the woman money and gave her advice on evading Apitz’s patrol and escaping France, then asked one last question that would nag me unless I knew the answer. “You seem to have medical knowledge not common to other Roma I’ve met.”

“I’ve always been a Roma, but I have not always lived as one. Thank you for your help. You will have a long life. I’ll watch over you.”

With that, the woman and her children left the house through a side door. I stood alone in the house with Helm wondering if she could be right about the snuff box. Blasts of gunfire erupted from a house nearby. I ran outside, fearing the woman and her children had been gunned down by someone under my command.

I followed the sound to a larger residence, the windows of which had been boarded up. The owners had probably left town to avoid the fighting coming their way. I could hear a muffled thumping emanating from somewhere deep in the house. I followed it.

The thumping grew louder as I neared a large bedchamber. I turned the corner to see Kottering standing over the corpses of three young male Roma, his Mauser rifle held at rest in front of his chest, pant legs red with blood. He looked like an SS recruitment poster. Schwartzkopf looked up at me, the wet thumping sound finally ceasing. As he stood to attention, I saw that the source of the sound were his fists pummeling the face of a fourth Roma youth laying halfway on the bed. The boy’s face looked like a Seville orange that had been stepped on, the red flesh thrusting out from the sienna rind. Bubbles formed in the mess that had been the boy’s mouth and nose, indicating that he was still breathing.

“Stand down!” I shouted. “Out of this house, now!”

Schwartzkopf’s lips curled away from his top teeth in a feral grimace. “You’re not going soft, are you, Herr Leutnant?”

“You’ll see how soft I’ve gone when I discipline you for insubordination. Out of the house. Now!”

Once Kottering and Schwartzkopf had left, I walked to the Roma boy and dug two fingers into the side of his neck, pressing his artery against his trachea. The pulse was slow and weakened noticeably as I held my fingers to his throat. I reached for my pistol, remembering I had left it on the floor of the house with Helm. I walked briskly outside, pulled Kottering’s Luger from his belt while staring him down, and returned.

I cocked the pistol gently, quietly, then held it behind my back as I knelt in front of the boy. I shifted the gun around, taking care to keep it out of his peripheral vision, to place the end of the barrel a few millimeters from his temple.

I took the boy’s hand and squeezed it in my own. “You’re not alone,” I said in bad French. “Your pain will stop soon.”

I pulled the trigger.

*

Morale was low when we were all finally back in Diksmuide. Time in a cell and latrine duty did not go over well with Schwartzkopf, Kottering, and Helm, each of whom used to treat me like a wise older brother. The Roma woman was right; they had changed.

I was walking toward the temporary mess, looking forward to some time where I could focus on a meal and not contemplate how to deal with my men when I heard my name called from across the street. Vergnugen waved to me amiably, though his face didn’t match his gesture. I concealed my own anger.

“Heard you’re letting your duties slip, Herr Leutnant. Ziguener are enemies of the Reich. They’re one of the reasons our people were starving a mere decade ago.”

I pressed on his shoulder, moving him into toward the side of the street. I spoke quietly so no one would overhear us. This was the type of thing I could be sent to a camp for, if not outright executed for treason.

“That’s bullshit and you know it, Vergnugen. Who told you about that? Helm?”

“No. Your golden boy, Schwartzkopf.”

I knew he had changed, but I didn’t expect Schwartzkopf to betray my trust. It hurt.

“I see. What do you care, anyway? Aren’t you a pragmatist?”

“I was,” Vergnugen said, “until you fucked up your mission. I wanted that Zigeunerin bitch dead.”

“And you drugged my men to make it happen?”

I expected Vergnugen to either show confusion or surprise at that statement. The former would lead me to believe the Roma woman had no idea what she was talking about, the latter would suggest she did. Instead, Vergnugen’s face only descended further into pure hatred.

“She told you.”

“She told me you sold my men snuff laced with something to make them far more aggressive. She told me you ruined the lives of honest men by turning them into perpetual monsters. She told-“

“Perpetual monsters! Don’t kid yourself, Nussbaum. The 6th Army is doomed. Your men will be nothing more than frozen corpses on Soviet streets in two years. The Red Army will probably burn their bodies for warmth. It doesn’t matter what I’ve done to your precious boys.”

“You admit it, then?” I asked.

“Of course. I admit it; I gave your soldiers a substance that turns them into blood thirsty simpletons. The Zigeunerin didn’t tell you everything, though. There’s a little opium mixed in to make its use habitual. I’m the only man in the 6th Army – Hell, the only man in the fucking Wehrmacht – who can get more for them. They’ll do anything I tell them to. They would wipe the Roma from the face of France in search of that witch you let escape. I would order them to do it, but I suspect she’s not wasted time getting away from me.”

“You can expect a court martial soon enough, then, Herr Leutnant. I have a meeting with Generalfeldmarschall Reichenau this afternoon. I think he’ll find your warehouse of contraband and your habit of trading across enemy lines very interesting.”

Vergnugen cocked his head. “More interesting than you giving money to a Zigeunerin and telling her how to avoid our troops? Reichenau is a very ardent Nazi, Nussbaum. Besides, it’s not ‘Herr Leutnant’ anymore. You didn’t notice?” He tapped his epaulet. “Do you think Reichenau will take your word over his newest Oberleutnant?”

Vergnugen pulled a cigarette out of his breast pocket and lit it. He offered one to me. I tried to slap it out of his hand, but he was too quick in pulling back.

“If you make this bad for me, I can make it worse for you. Contraband might get me jail time, but you’ll be labeled a Zigeuner lover. I’ll be out of my cell by the time you’re stepping out of the camp train. Best for you to transfer somewhere else. Live and let live. For now.”

That was the last entry for that time period. The next entry, separated by a few blank pages, told of my grandfather’s transfer to Army Group C under the command of Albert Kesselring. That particular force was stationed in Germany after the conquest of France, where my grandfather made contact with German Resistance. In North Africa, he worked as a double agent, passing information about troop movements to Vichy French agents and sabotaging German supply depots until he was smuggled across lines to work with the British at El Alamein.

It is interesting to note that the 6th Army did move to the Eastern front and participate in the Battle of Stalingrad where they were completely wiped out. It is likely that Helm, Kottering, and Schwartzkopf were all still serving in the same unit at that time, though my grandfather makes no mention of them. As I read back through entries preceding those I’ve transcribed here, I noticed several names and events were crossed out. Most were unreadable, though I could make out “Schwartzkopf” in one hastily scribbled through section. It seems my grandfather censored the other portions of his diary, perhaps choosing to block memories of good times with some of his men. Apitz, who – as far as I can tell – was unaffected by Vergnugen’s snuff, is featured in some of the earlier entries.

 

Alain Bontemps    |    Alan’s Extra Room    |    The Rorschach Painting    |    Goodtime Voice-O-Matic    |    The Siege of Calais    |    I Owe My Life to Alan Goodtime    |    The Alton Arsenal    |    The Death of Alan Goodtime    (other stories in the arc)

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