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Extract from March Battalion

This sample from March Battalion was typed up by Steve Bruce, so thanks to him for taking the time to do that.

It's the classic Katz and Schröder episode.

Extract from March Battalion © 1959 Sven Hassel


     Five o'clock was striking. Exactly twenty minutes had passed since Lindenberg had been marched from his cell. By eleven o'clock that morning Hauptfeldwebel Dorn had tied up the whole affair and was able to dismiss it from his mind. The relevant papers had been filled in, all the necessary forms completed. The total cost of the operation he had calculated at 1,290-05 marks. Major Divalordy's rubber stamp had been used wherever a signature was required, and the whole lot had been sealed in an official envelope and put out for posting. That was that. The matter was over and done with, and a good morning's work. The Hauptfeldwebel was able to relax.
     Dorn lolled back in his chair, his feet on the table, one of the Major's cigars between his fingers. He opened one of his desk drawers and fumbled furtively beneath the 'Volkischer Beobachter' for pornography, then settled down with a contented sigh to study the more lewd of the pictures through a magnifying glass.
     The middle of the day was Dom's best time. Everyone else was fully occupied, going about his work, and no one came to disturb him. Those who dared intrude too often upon his privacy were soon made aware of Dorn's displeasure, and none but the most stupid or the most zealous ever came to him with prison business during the middle hours of the day. The telephone was an exception: it did, occasionally, trouble him by ringing, and annoying though it was it could hardly be ignored. It rang now, barely ten minutes after Dorn had lit his cigar and settled down to enjoy his well-earned rest. He answered irritably.
     'Dorn here. Who's speaking?'
     It was a feldwebel, wanting to know what he should do with Lindenberg's belongings.
     'What sort of belongings? Anything interesting?'
     'Not really, sir. Only a load of sloppy old letters and other bits of tat.'
     'Send it all to the court martial,' said Dorn, studying one of his pornographic photographs through the magnifying glass and feeling a pleasant sensation run through his body. 'They might find it useful for wiping their arses on ... Oh, and feldwebel-' His voice took on a more stringent note - 'while I've got you on the phone, perhaps you'd like to be reminded of the fact that I am an extremely busy man and do not care to be disturbed on account of trivialities. Use your initiative, feldwebel. I shan't tell you again.'
     'Very well, sir.'
     Dorn replaced the receiver and returned to his cigar and his photographs. Five minutes later, there was a second interruption. A sharp rap at the door and two men entered, without waiting for an invitation. They were dressed like twins. Each wore a soft felt hat, with the brim turned well down, brown shoes that squeaked as they walked, and long leather coats buttoned to the neck. Their faces were different, but their eyes were the same: light grey in colour, cold and menacing in expression. Dorn looked across at them, insolently, without removing his feet from the table. At the same time he felt regiments of cold wet feet marching up and down his spine, and involuntarily he shivered.
     'To what do I owe this interruption?' he demanded.
     'Difficult to say, really.' The taller of the two men turned to his companion. 'To what do you suppose he owes this interruption?'
     'It could be we want to have a few words with him, perhaps?'
     'What is this?' said Dorn. 'Who are you?'
     'Katz and Schroder.' It sounded like a music hall comedy team. 'Katz and Schroder - come to pay you a visit. That's who we are.'
     The taller man, who appeared to be Katz, smiled smoothly at Dorn.
     'Aren't you going to offer us a drink, Hauptfeldwebel?'
     Dorn regarded the two men with astonishment. There was something about them that made him feel definitely uneasy,. but he was determined not to capitulate. His conscience, after all, was clear. Whoever they were, whoever had sent them, he had nothing to fear. Nevertheless, they did make him feel uneasy. He slowly removed his feet from the desk and slid the pornography back into its hiding place.
     'I'm sorry, gentlemen. I have only water to offer you. You can always get beer from the canteen, of course.'
     'Of course,' agreed Schroder, with a smile. 'That is as it should be. You're doing quite well so far ... But while I think of it, Hauptfeldwebel: no more feet on the table, eh? It is, after all, the property of the Fuhrer.'
     'What do you want here?' asked Dorn, cautiously. 'This is a military establishment. Nothing to do with civilians.'
     The two civilians exchanged delighted smiles and said nothing. Dorn stood up and leaned towards them, hands on the desk.
     'If you don't intend explaining yourselves I shall be forced to call the guard and have you removed. This is my office and I am a busy man. I strongly resent your manner, and your behaviour. You have absolutely no right to come bursting in here without permission. Either state your case or get out.'
     Dorn had delivered his threat. There was nothing else he could do. He stood back to await results.
     'Bravo,' murmured Schroder, vaguely.
     He sniffed the air and turned to Katz.
     'He may not be able to offer us a drink,' he said, 'but by the smell of things the man smokes a good cigar. And by the laws of hospitality,' he told Dorn, 'I think you should at least hand round the box.'
     It was almost as if Dorn had never spoken. It was a direct insult and he was left with no alternative. Tight-lipped, he reached out a hand and pressed the bell for the guard. Katz laughed in his face.
     'One guard won't be nearly enough ... we'll need at least three! Three strong and stupid men. The stronger and stupider they are, the better ... And we shall also require a table, a typewriter, three chairs and two lamps with 500 watt bulbs. Do you have all that? Because it's your job, Hauptfeldwebel, to supply it.'
     Dorn gaped at the man. 'What on earth are you talking about? What have you come here for?'
     'Really,' said Schroder, smothering a yawn, 'if he only had the strength to match his stupidity-'
     He was interrupted by the arrival of the guard, marched up to the office by a sergeant.
     'Here's your guard,' said Schroder, without turning round. 'What do you want him for?'
     Dorn swallowed a few times, then shot out a finger.
     'Get out, you idiots! Can't you see I have company?'
     The guard opened his eyes wide and the sergeant was heard to mutter the word 'alarm'. The sight of the two cretinous, staring faces was too much for Dorn.
     'Get out!' he screamed. 'How many times do I have to repeat an order before you decide to obey it?'
     The guard and the sergeant hastily saluted and left the room. Dorn mopped his brow with the back of his hand and wondered whether he would have more authority standing up or sitting down. He decided, for the moment, to remain standing, but his arms presented a problem. They dangled at his side and were a nuisance. He put them behind his back and felt like a school-boy; then he clasped them in front and felt like a priest; then he let them fall limply of their own accord and they hung down to his knees, with his hands like ton weights at the end of each wrist, and embarrassed him. He was aware, all the time, of Katz and Schroder watching him and smiling at his discomfiture.
     'Are you ready?' asked Schroder, softly.
     'Ready for what?' Dorn turned on his questioner with a last attempt at keeping control of the situation. 'I don't know where you two gentlemen have come from, but I suggest you go back there immediately. You can have no possible business with me. In fact, you annoy me.'
     'Did you hear that?' said Schroder. 'Can he really be so stupid as not to know where we come from?'
     'It is possible,' said Katz. 'A lot of these people are extremely slow-witted.'
     'I am at the end of my patience!' snapped Dorn. 'Either you leave my office immediately or I shall call Colonel Vogel - and that, I can promise you, will have most unpleasant consequences!'
     'For Colonel Vogel.' Schroder nodded. 'Not for us. However, if he knew we were here I'm sure he would have enough sense to keep out of our way.'
     Katz walked round the desk and sat himself down in Dorn's chair. He put his feet up on Dorn's desk. He opened a drawer and rummaged idly inside it. Then he undid the top button of his coat and leaned back, very much at ease. Dorn felt powerless to protest. Watching Katz, he had noticed a menacing bulge beneath his left arm, which could mean only one thing: the man was carrying a revolver. He glanced at Schroder and saw the same tell-tale signs. The sweat poured in great torrents down his back.
     'Are you from the Gestapo?' Dorn asked the question in spite of himself, even though he already knew the answer.
     The two men promptly fell about with laughter, as if Dorn had made the biggest joke of all time.
     'He's quick,' spluttered Schroder. 'By Dachau, he's quick! You live on those sharp wits of yours, friend, and they should keep you going a good long time.'
     'That is,' amended Katz, 'if he dies a natural death...'
     'Of course.'
     'And now --' Shroder looked across at Dorn, trembling on the other side of the desk ' let's get down to business. Katz and I are from the R.S.H.A. 4-2A and we should like to have a few words with you about the things that are going on inside this prison.'
     'Things? What -- "things"?'
     'The assassination.' Schroder spat vehemently on the floor and ground it in with his foot.
     He is not a gentleman, thought Dorn, helplessly. He is not a gentleman or he would not spit on my floor.
     'Where is he?' demanded Katz, suddenly.
     Dorn forced himself to look away from the appalling Spectacle of Schobder grinding his spittle into the carpet.
     'Where is who?'
     Katz snapped his fingers. 'The Madman of Torgau ... the lunatic ... the assassin. Where is he?'
     Dorn stared dumbly from one man to another.
     'All right' said Katz, patiently. 'If the question's too complicated for you, don't bother to answer. Just get the man sent up here.'
     'You want to speak to him?'
     'That was the general idea.' Katz gave Dorn a kind smile that had no humor, no understanding behind it. 'Not that we don't find your company intensely stimulating. But unfortunately we can't spend all day in pursuit of pleasure. I know that you, as an avowedly very busy man, will appreciate our point of view. So just get the prisoner sent up here and let us be done with it!'
     Dorn swallowed, hard. His intenstines suddenly underwent a violent spasm and he felt sick.
     'It's not - not possible -'
     'What is not possible?' asked Katz, pleasantly.
     'The criminal - he was sent before the firing squad this morning.' Dorn lifted a helpless hand. 'Dead and buried. The whole affair's closed.'
     Schroder walked softly across the floor towards Dorn.
     'Is this your idea of a joke?'
     'Certainly not,' said Dorn. 'The man has been executed,'
     Schroder exchanged glances with Katz and breathed heavily through his nose.
     'In that case, my very busy friend, I have to tell you that you have personally sabotaged an inquiry into a crime committed against the State and at the same time infringed paragraph 1019 of the Criminal Code. I take it you know what that means?'
     Dorn's sweat glands redoubled their efforts. He felt cold and wet and sick.
     'I can't possibly be held responsible. I don't give the orders round here, I simply prepared the papers.'
     'Precisely. You prepared the papers.' Schroder whipped out a hand and seized Dorn by the collar of his tunic. 'I'm warning you, unless you can produce the murderer you're liable to find yourself facing a firing squad before very long. You prepared the papers, you took down the statements, you sifted the evidence, you did all the work - so you produce the murderer! Any murderer will do, but we've got to have one. Is that clear?'
     Dorn's lips opened and closed silently, like the fronds of a sea anemone. His brain was in a state of terror and confusion. Visions of the firing squad, of the Russian front, danced like spots before his eyes. And it was all the fault of that wretched Gustav Duhrer! Nothing but trouble when he was alive - nothing but trouble now that he was dead. What irony to reflect that he himself had requested that the man be posted to his section!
     Dorn suddenly drew himself up straight. If this was the end, then very well, it was the end. But they should see how a good Hauptfeldwebel conducted himself! Enough of this lenience towards his inferiors. And towards his superiors, come to that. For too long he had shouldered more than his fair share of the burden. From now on he would be hard, hard as the steel from the Krupp works.      Schroder released his hold on Dorn's tunic and waved a finger in his face.
     'I'm telling you for the last time: either produce a murderer, or you can count yourself as a dead man.'
     Silence. Dorn stood stiffly, his arms rigid at his side, hard as the steel from the Krupp works. Katz suddenly came to life.
     'Sit down.' He nodded curtly towards a stool in the centre of the room. 'Consider yourself under arrest.'
     Even steel from the Krupp works might have wavered be-neath the blow. Dom's heart missed a beat then went wildly on its way, sending the blood pounding in his ears. No more peaceful days idled away with the Major's cigars and a book of titillating photographs. Instead he saw himself scrubbing floors, slopping about in the filth of prison latrines, shut up in a cell at Glatz like a common criminal. Or even - and this was the worst horror of all - even committed to Torgau itself, where all the prisoners knew him as a Hauptfeldwebel and where the humiliation would be unbearable.
     Katz seated himself at the typewriter and inserted a sheet of paper.
     'Name? Age? Religion?'
     He made out a lengthy report under four main headings: sabotage, illegal conduct, neglect of duties, falsification of documents. When it was finished to his satisfaction he handed Dorn a pen and told him to sign it. Through force of habit, Dorn added the word 'Hauptfeldwebel' after his signature. Katz snatched the pen from him and scored through it.
     'You can forget that. You're no longer a Hauptfeldwebel. You're under arrest, you're a person of no importance whatsoever.'      At this humiliating moment the door opened and an officer entered. In stature he was insignificant; in presence be was the largest man in the room. A colonel, wearing the pale grey uniform of the assault corps, decorated with two silver death's heads. Round his waist was a broad leather belt and a holster containing a black P-38 revolver. On such a small man, the revolver seemed to take on the proportions of a machine-gun. The colonel's left sleeve was ernpty; round his neck hung the Croix de Chevalier. He advanced magnificently into the room, sure of himself and of his authority. Dorn jumped at once to attention.
     'Hauptfeldwebel Joa-' He stopped, abruptly, and corrected himself. 'Joachim Dorn, under arrest, sir.'
     Not a flicker passed across the Colonel's face. He stood rigid, his eyes coldly regarding the two Gestapo men. Katz and Schroder had instinctively come to their feet. Already they seemed less certain of their superiority. Dorn was hardly able to keep his kneecaps from leaping up and down. He braced his legs and found himself shivering. He was always ill at ease in the Colonel's presence. The silence continued, prolonged itself unbearably. It was the Colonel himself who broke it.
     'These men-' He glanced distastefully at Katz and Schroder -'they belong to the Secret Police, I presume?'
     'Yes, sir,' confirmed Katz, with an uneasy frown. He disliked the expression "Secret police". 'S.S. Stabscharfuhrer Katz, accompanied by S.S. Oberscharfuhrer Schroder as assistant. We have been sent here to make a report on the incident that took place yesterday in the 2nd section of this prison, when a certain Gustav Duhrer was murdered by one of your prisoners.'
     'I take it you have now gathered sufficient information to allow you to make your report?'
     The Colonel's question was in fact more in the nature of a statement. His tone was polite, but menacing.
     'With regard to Haupfeldwebel Dorn - may I ask if you consider him to be in any way implicated in the murder?'
     'No, sir. Not in the murder itself sir.'
     'Oh?' The Colonel arched an eyebrow. His nostrils quivered slightly, like those of a dog who suddenly finds itself on the right scent. 'May I therefore further inquire what business you two gentlemen have to conduct in this particular office?'
     He pulled a gold watch from his pocket, checked the time with that shown by the clock on the wall.
     'If my information is correct - which I have no reason to doubt - you passed the guardhouse at 9.37. It is now 17.14. You have been inside the prison for seven hours and thirty-seven minutes, yet not until this moment do I have the pleasure of meeting you - and even now it is I who have had to come to you, which hardly seems to me to be a very satisfactory state of affairs.'
     Katz opened his mouth to speak, then changed his mind. The Colonel gently arched a second eyebrow.
     'Possibly you were not informed that it was I, and not the 2nd Section, who caused you to be sent here?'
     'Oh, yes, sir,' said Schroder, with unwise enthusiasm. 'We were told that you wanted an outside inquiry to be conducted into the affair.'
     'Indeed?' The Colonel permitted himself a frostbitten smile. 'In that case, I really am at a loss to understand how it is that you failed to present yourselves to me on your arrival here?'
     Katz was spared the embarrassing task of finding a suitable reply to this question. The door opened and Major Divalordy thrust his beaming person upon the scene.
     'Good morning, good morning!' he began, in his usual cheersome fashion. 'And how are we this f - -'
     His speech stopped short. His smile faded. He looked at Dorn, at the Colonel, at the two Gestapo agents. A series of nervous tics twitched his eyebrows and mouth convulsively. He had suddenly become the focal point of attention. From the silence that fell, it was obvious that he had burst in in the middle of something important, and feeling the need to express himself the Major began babbling a stream of inanities. Everyone stood gravely listening, until at length his voice faded awkwardly away in the middle of a sentence. Again, there was that nasty silence.
     'Nothing special to report, sir,' concluded the Major, timidly.
     'Really?' The Colonel's eyebrows went up again, both together this time. 'In the midst of all this excitement, you have nothing special to report? I see.'
     The Major shuffled his feet uncomfortably. He murmured something about the 'unfortunate incident that had occurred yesterday'.      'More than unfortunate,' interrupted the Colonel. 'I should say catastrophic, rather. The consequences of that "unfortunate incident", Major Divalordy, are likely to be extremely disagreeable.'
     'Indeed yes, Sir.' The Major nodded, heartily. 'Extremely disagreeable... just what I was thinking myself, sir -- extremely disagreeable.'
     'Not so much for me---' said the Colonel.
     'No, sir?'
     'No, Major. Not so much for me, as for you.'
     Major Divalordy gulped down a mouthful of air. He felt bubbles of hot sweat bursting out all over him. The Colonel calmly screwed a monocle into his eye and briskly held out his hand for the papers that Katz was still clutching. Katz silently passed them to him and joined the rest of the room in standing stiffly to attention.
     The Colonel ran his eye swiftly down the first page, then tossed the bundle of papers contemptuously on to the desk. He removed his monocle and studied first Katz, then Schroder.
     'You have deliberately disobeyed my orders. You were told to report to the Kommandantur - to me, personally. Instead of so doing, you seem to have taken it upon yourselves to play at private detectives in the 2nd Section and to sit in judgment upon one of my hauptfeldwebels.'
     Katz and Schroder said nothing. They stared fixedly ahead at a photograph of Adolf Hider, as if seeking courage and inspiration.
     'Very well,' said the Colonel. 'I take your silence to mean that you accept the charge. In a few moments you will be called in to see my adjutant. He has himself conducted an inquiry into the matter and has certain documents for which he requires your signature. You are expected back at Berlin this evening. From there, you will be transferred to another section - somewhere on the eastern front I believe. I wish you well of it, gentlemen.'
     The heroes of the Gestapo were dismissed. The Colonel turned his back on them and they left the room without a word. It was for Dorn now, to take his turn on the rack.
     'You've been a hauptfeldwebel for some considerable time now,' began the Colonel, deceptively gentle. 'I've been keeping my eye on you, Dorn, and it has seemed to me that of recent months you've been finding your duties rather - well, taxing, shall we say? Rather irksome? You're a good soldier, I know that. I sense in you an eagerness to be done with office work, to come personally to grips with the enemies of the Fuhrer ... Am I right Dorn?'
     Dorn nodded his agreement. What else, after all, could he do?
     'Your talents are wasted in paper work,' continued the Colonel, lyrically. 'A man with your gifts, a man with your zeal, your burning loyalty and devotion to the Fatherland, should sooner be engaged on active duties. Out with the men, fighting hard at the front. You've been very patient all these years, Dorn. It has not gone unnoticed. Now it is time to be rewarded: now your chance has come.' The Colonel's voice took on a brisker tone. 'Your papers have already been transferred. Be ready to leave within the hour. Bon voyage and good luck.'
     Stunned and horrified, Dorn saluted and crept from the room. Nothing had ever been further from his thoughts or his desires than a personal confrontation with the enemies of the Fuhrer - unless they should be safely behind bars, as at Torgau. His blood boiled in helpless anger against the Colonel. All those years of devoted service, and this was his reward! Sent to the front line, to die like a common soldier! If the Fuhrer only knew how his most loyal of servants were being treated ...!
     The door closed behind Dom, and Major Divalordy was left, still sweating, alone with the Colonel. He gave an ingratiating smile, but the Colonel did not return it.
     'Well, Major, this is a most unsatisfactory turn of events ... Who, I wonder, had the absurd notion of placing you in charge of this section? You are evidently quite unfit for the task. You have allowed yourself to be led by the nose by a mere feldwebel, and I will not tolerate such a state of affairs. One is either an officer or a plain soldier. Which do you consider yourself to be?'
     Major Divalordy swallowed convulsively.
     'An officer, sir.'
     He had attempted a gallant cry: it left his lips as a faint bleat.
     'An officer? I wonder?'
     The Colonel considered the matter a moment.
     'I'm interested in you, Major. I should like to give you a chance to prove yourself, and for this reason I have personally gone to no small amount of trouble on your behalf. You will be glad to hear that I have found a post for you in an engineering regiment. You should see plenty of action and have plenty of scope to show the stuff you're made of. I myself have grave doubts that you are officer material: I shall be only too happy if you prove me wrong.'
     To the Major's horror, Colonel Vogel pulled out a Request for Transfer form and threw it on to the desk.
     'I knew you would be anxious not to waste time, so I have already made all the necessary arrangements. You have only to sign this form and give it to my adjutant and I think you will find there should be no delay in effecting the transfer... To you also, Major Divalordy, I say bon voyage and good luck.'
     The Colonel left the room, and Major Divalordy remained standing in position for many minutes, wildly contemplating suicide. He died of dysentery in 1948, in a prisoner of war camp at Tobolsk.

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