Will the love of his life forgive his duplicity and accept him as an American?
The German Army of World War II rips Karl Von Steuben from his family and privileged life, forcing him to conceal his American sympathies and Jewish heritage. Stripped of every tie to his home country, he determines to escape. As he crawls to the Siegfried Line, only he knows the hiding place of gold ingots melted from the jewelry of death camp prisoners. Wounded after assuming the identity of a fallen American soldier, Karl briefly deceives even himself. Discharged and shipped to America, he discovers God’s unmerited favor in a beautiful Atlanta nurse. But he must return to Germany or relinquish his family fortune and rear children under the name of another man. Will Grace forgive his duplicity and accept him as an American?
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Copyright 2014 © Lee Carver
Karl struck out for yet another green grocer or meat market. So the cook was correct about all the nearby ones. There used to be a fresh market a kilometer away. Probably down Kugelstrasse. He turned right and picked up his pace.
Shopkeepers told him the way, begrudging more than volunteering information. Queuing on the cobblestone sidewalk, he realized how much his awareness of Germany’s condition had changed this morning. Instead of the deference he had come to expect, citizens who didn’t want to share the food remaining in the city growled at him. His family’s money and profession mattered little to those who had no money, no provisions, and certainly no investments.
The roar of two German Army trucks startled Karl from his thoughts. They pulled in front of the store, bracing the customers right and left. Soldiers waved their Mauser 98 rifles and dismounted from the cabs and canvas-covered backs before the tires stopped rolling.
There goes the food. He stepped out of line, the urgency to escape spiking his heart rate. These men were dangerous.
“Halt! Get back here. Where do you think you’re going?”
A soldier with several stripes on his uniform grabbed Karl’s shoulder and shoved him toward the end of one of the trucks.
“Show me your Ausweispapier.”
Karl handed over his ID paper. The fellow glanced once and slammed it on the clipboard of the other soldier. That man copied the details then pushed Karl against the truck.
Stumbling, he braced on the high floor and found men staring out from benches along the inside walls. The reality of forced conscription stabbed his lungs. They would take him away without a word to his family and send him off to die in a war against his mother’s people and his father’s politics.
“Wait. I have a deferment. Von Steuben Investments manages Reichland funds—”
The kick half-missed its target as Karl turned to explain, to beg, whatever necessary to return home with or without food. His rear end throbbed with pain.
The soldier’s laugh broke from a crack in hell. “Yeah, and my son’s a lawyer but he’s serving. Get in. Now.”
An arm jerked him upward off the street, yanking his shoulder joint hard. Dangling, he scrambled for a foothold, scraping his shins on a metal edge, until he fell into the truck on his stomach at the boots of another soldier. His rifle barrel motioned for Karl to sit with the others. Its bore, aimed at his head, killed any idea of escape.
A man, fifty or sixty years old, climbed up at gunpoint.
“That’s all. Let’s go.” The soldiers with the uniform stripes swung into the truck as it lurched.
Shadowed occupants around Karl had to be too young, too old, or too sickly to fight, while his own prime condition made him a sure target. But nabbing him off the street was wrong, just plain wrong.
The older man stared out the back with haunted eyes, his mouth open as if in a silent scream. He slapped a hand over his heart, showing a thin wedding band. A family man. With him gone, they might not have food either.
A boy too young to shave sobbed, tears and slobber running down his face.
Karl held back the sting in his eyes, blinking hard.
I. Will. Not. Cry.
He gripped the bare wooden bench as the streets of Munich passed beyond the truck’s open back. Bumping over the rough cobblestones, his bruised rear took further beating. Three times the truck stopped to nab more men and boys. Three times his heart pounded with the challenge to make a dash for it, but the guard assumed a strong stance with his Mauser assault rifle at the ready and a dare in his eye.
Would they tell his family? Could his father find out where they took him and appeal his abduction? Most of all, he hurt for Mother, who would wring her hands and walk the floor crying. He had thought himself impervious to conscription.
Hours later, the captive recruits passed through a security checkpoint and into a barebones camp. Was this a prison camp?
Had they found out about Mother?