The Second World War: PART 3 - Otto Krause - Berlin (1944) #2
By J. A. Stapleton
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On the afternoon of March twenty-sixth, the Hotel Adlon at number seventy-seven on the Unter den Linden, with its somewhat beige exterior and flat copper roof, became the scene of an abhorrent crime.
It was a very long and very glamorous hotel, boasting a splendid view of the Brandenburg Gate. It was traditionally glamorous but striking compared to the other nondescript structures in its district. The Adlon dated back to Kaiser Wilhelm II but now with Germany looking only to her future, and not the past, it was forgotten. Also, the neo-Baroque Adlon sat on one of the most expensive and safest streets in all of Berlin. This was because it was seven hundred yards east of the Platz der Republik and, if you’ve ever been there, this is indeed where the Reichstag is. When the Chancellor was in office, that was the safest street in the country, but on that drab Prussian day, the Adlon gained the title for a couple of hours.
At three o’clock precisely the fifty men who made up the Nazi High Command marched into a fifth-floor boardroom. Their leader was already seated. No greetings were exchanged. They filed around its long table, twelve sat, the rest stood. Nobody smoked or drank. They stood to attention as their leader crossed his legs, interloped his long fingers and sat back in his chair.
Adolf Hitler completed his inspection of the faces around him. As he’d anticipated, the only pair of eyes to stray from his gaze belonged to Hermann Göring. Typed leaves of paper scattered the table. The number seventy-six was written on them all. It was the greatest number the German Army had ever incurred and now, with rumors of an Allied invasion stirring across the Channel, it was up to the High Command to maintain order in Europe.
They were in the library conference room of the Adlon. Its north and east walls were lined with book shelves with first and second editions arranged neatly in alphabetical order. They complemented the soft color palette of the room and ceiling above. Nobody had looked. Painted in soft pinks, watery browns, were cherubs and Roman gods. The Fuhrer sat beneath mighty Jupiter at the head of the table.
Eyes fixed on the back of the Fuhrer’s head, leaning against the windowpane, was a Gestapo man. In his trousers’ pocket, his index finger slid along the cool metal surface of his case of Russian cigarettes.
Otto Krause was born to a German father and an Austrian mother in the city of Darmstadt. He was a lean and tense for a man in his early forties. He was hatchet-faced, with the look of a man who had killed and was eager to do so again. He had rather cold grey-blue eyes and a ‘cruel mouth’ according to his mistress – she was right. As the Fuhrer went from disappointment to anger, Krause’s mouth formed a cruel sneer.
Hitler’s right hand connected with the table with a bang, echoing like a gunshot in the vast room, startling each of them.
‘Seventy-six!’ he cried. ‘Seventy-fucking-six. From right under the nose of the ruddy Luftwaffe.’
He gave them a provoking look. The slob in charge, Reichsminister Göring, shifted in his chair uncomfortable at the one-hundred-and-two eyes on him.
‘You’re slipping… We need to be quick, we need to be ruthless, we need to show strength. No compassion. Life never forgives weakness. Survival of the fittest I say. Only the strongest of the strong can be victorious, successful even. And that’s what we need to be these coming days. It’s the only way to deal with them.’
‘Mein Fuhrer,’ somebody said. ‘Geneva…’
Hitler turned his head, the sentence fell silent and it sang in the full room. Krause noticed that the Fuhrer’s left hand was tracing small, erratic circles in the air above him while he pondered the thought.
‘Drawn up by a load of Jew bankers no less.’
The hand stopped and tapped the table manically, his temper creeping back into his voice.
‘Fifty,’ he said. ‘No less and that’s an order.’
With his bottom, he pushed his seat out and was on his feet. The other Nazis leapt to theirs and raised their right arms in salute. The Fuhrer turned on his heel and left the room, accompanied by two guards with Otto Krause following. A moment later, the rest of the High Command returned to their seats, fired up cigarettes and unrolled charts for the Lower Silesia area of Germany, not altogether far from the Polish border. General Arthur Nebe took Hitler’s place at the table, not daring to sit though. Krause closed the door behind with the men’s piercing gaze upon him.
The Unter den Linden was icily silent with guard posts at either side of it. Krause, slipping on a pair of tight leather gloves, followed the three men through the golden doors from the lobby. At that moment, a four-door 1940 Mercedes-Benz limousine screeched to a halt in front of them. One of the soldiers held open the door for Adolf Hitler who raised his right leg to climb in before:
The Supreme Leader stopped, glancing back over his shoulder. ‘Kraus?’ he simply said.
‘The two Rogers were on that list sir.’
‘I’d like to volunteer myself for the task,’
Hitler smirked, stepping away from the vehicle, and closed the gap between him and this arse-kissing Gestapo officer. The driver shut the door. Krause was caught unawares and stiffened, spine ruler straight, the rest of him at attention too.
‘But are you up to it?’
‘I believe so,’ Krause said.
‘Then they’re yours.’
Hitler raised his hand and his driver held the door open once again. He collapsed into the back seat.
‘Don’t fail me Krause,’ he said.
And with that the 770 Mercedes shot off and took the corner on Pariser Platz in fourth. Otto was left well alone. He lit a cigarette, inhaling a deep lungful of the strong Russian admixture and, after a moment, let it out with a long reflective hiss.
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