The man and woman stood in the darkness of a Prague hotel room, holding each other tightly in a lover’s embrace. Cheek to cheek, they whispered words not meant for others to hear.
“Are you certain of this information?” the man asked as his lips brushed the woman’s ear.
“Unfortunately,” she replied. Before saying anything else, she allowed a soft moan to escape her lips. “We lost two good agents smuggling the microfilm out of Poland.”
The man tensed. “There are… pictures? Where?”
“Sewn into my garter,” she told him. “Slide your hand up my right leg.”
He did as he was told, letting his hand caress her outer thigh until he felt the lace-covered elastic band. Guiding the woman backward to the bed, he lay her down and slid the garter down her leg.
With a smile, the woman held out her arms and wordlessly invited the man to join her on the bed. As he did, she put her arms around him and whispered in his ear. “You know we have to make this look convincing.”
Before he could respond, she climbed out of bed and unzipped her skirt. As it fell to the floor, she began to unbutton her blouse.
Seeing the woman standing before him in only her black lace undergarments and a pair of black nylons, the man truly regretted what he had to do next. He let himself admire her a moment longer, then said, “I… I can’t do this. I’m married.” His German was perfect.
The woman slapped his face, a bit harder than she intended, and ran crying into the bathroom.
The man sat on the edge of the bed with his head down. He put the garter on the bed and stood up. He took his jacket from the back of a chair and turned toward the door. He paused as if thinking, then turned around and tossed his jacket on the bed. Kneeling down, he picked up her clothes and placed them neatly on the bed.
Picking his jacket back up, he walked to the door. As he turned the knob, he glanced back at the bathroom door. Maybe one day, he thought, when my people are safe, we’ll meet again.
The man was gone when the woman came out of the bathroom. She picked up her clothes, careful not to reveal the small slip of paper she knew to be concealed in one of the folds, and returned to the bathroom. As she closed the door behind her, she leaned against it and bowed her head. Maybe one day, she thought.
Several blocks away, a small man in black, round-framed spectacles and a gray wool uniform of the SS had just made the biggest mistake of his life.
One of the many cameras the Nazis had hidden throughout the city had indeed been focused on the drama in the hotel room. When the couple had entered, the sight of the attractive blonde woman immediately drew his attention to that particular monitor.
The Nazi voyeur watched as they closed the door behind them and began to embrace. Tiny microphones picked up the muffles of their whispers, and while he couldn’t understand what was being said, he didn’t bother to adjust the volume. Instead, he let his own dirty little mind fill in their conversation.
With lecherous glee, he watched as the man slid his hand beneath her skirt and guide her to the bed. As the man’s hand re-emerged holding the garter, his comments were crude. When the woman — obviously Aryan, the small man had surmised because of her beauty — began to undress, nothing else in the world seemed to exist. And then, when the man surrendered to the weakness of being faithful to his wife, the voyeur spat a stream of obscenities at the screen.
His mistake? He wasted too much time watching the players in the drama and paid too little attention to the props. Had he watched the man’s jacket being tossed, he might have noticed that it landed on the garter. Had he kept his attention focused on the jacket, he might have noticed that when it was picked up, the garter was gone. And had he thought about it, he might have realized that wasn’t the souvenir a man faithful to his wife would keep and consquentially alerted his SS superiors.
The small man’s mistake not only cost him a promotion, it was about to cost his Nazi cohorts in a big way.
An aging rabbi kissed the hem of his prayer shawl and thought about the irony of his current situation. The last time his people had been so desperate that they cried out to God for a deliverer, they were slave labor for the Egyptians. Now here he was, hidden in a pyramid at Giza by his Egyptian allies, praying for another one.
Or maybe it wasn’t so ironic, he thought. Did not the prophet Isaiah himself speak of a day when God would bless Egypt, Assyria, and Israel as one?
The rabbi turned at the mention of his name. “Why do you wander these dusty passageways? Surely you cannot be finding solace in the place of the dead.”
Benjamin gave his friend a sad smile. “Hakizimana, my dear friend. I have found no solace for over forty years. The voices of over three million of my people have continually cried out to me from beyond the grave.”
“Then my heart is filled with sorrow and regret at the burden I must place upon your heart,” the Egyptian said.
The rabbi looked into the younger man’s eyes, then took him by the arm. “It is about to happen again, isn’t it?”
Hakizimana felt a tear roll down his cheek. “Yes,” was all he could say.
The anguish appeared to have been carved into Benjamin’s face as he looked at the pictures spread out on the table. Everyone present knew that while his eyes were staring at the photographs, his heart was seeing only the past.
As a young man, Benjamin was forced to endure the hellish squalor that was the Warsaw Ghetto. Yet the horrors he faced there on a daily basis were paradise compared to his next destination.
Near the end of July, 1942, the SS was preparing to begin the deportation of the Polish Jews to the Belzec extermination camp. On the twenty-sixth of that month, they attempted to cross the bridge over the River San, the only route into the Jewish ghetto, only to find it blocked. Under orders from Major Max Liedtke, the local military commander, the sergeant major in charge of the bridge threatened to open fire. Wisely, the SS withdrew.
Later that afternoon, Oberleutenant Albert Battel — the adjutant to Major Liedtke and the man behind the blocking of the bridge — along with an army detachment entered the cordoned-off area of the ghetto with trucks. When they emerged from the ghetto, they brought with them nearly one hundred Jews and their families. With the exception of Benjamin and his seven-year-old nephew Eli, who were off trying to find food in another part of the slum, what few members of his family who still survived were among them. Two days later, Benjamin and his nephew were resettled.
Like cattle, the inhabitants of the ghetto were rounded up and herded aboard train cars. So tightly packed in were the people that there was no room to sit down. The trip alone claimed the lives of dozens.
When the train finally lurched to a stop after what seemed an eternity, Benjamin learned that it was not Belzec but Treblinka that had become their final destination.
As the people were unloaded, the SS divided them into three groups: men, women, and women with children. Eli was taken from Benjamin and placed in the third group.
The third group was led away, and the soldiers turned their attention to the dividing of the two remaining groups between old and young. Once this division was complete, the older men and women were sent along in the wake of the children. The remaining men and women were led away to barracks.
Fifteen minutes after the train’s arrival, the station was clear, and nearly half of the children were dead.
Upon reaching the men’s barracks, Benjamin and several other young men were given the gruesome task of removing the bodies from the gas chamber and disposing of them. Benjamin was sent to the crematorium, where he saw Eli one final time.
Although it didn’t seem like it then, the old rabbi realized that God had had His hand on him. He had been spared both the physical cruelty of the guards and the sickness and disease that ravaged his fellow Jews.
“It was March, I think, of ’45,” Benjamin said aloud, “when the Blackhawks came.”
The Egyptians and Israelis who were gathered in the chamber exchanged glances but said nothing. Each one had come to respect and even admire the rabbi, so they listened.
“It was both a frightening and a glorious day,” the man continued. “We heard the roar of their Grummans moments before we saw them. As they passed overhead, they dropped their bombs. The barracks were untouched, but everything else took heavy damage. Most of the Nazis perished, and the prisoners overpowered those that didn’t.”
Benjamin looked up and his friends. “It wasn’t as heroic as you might think,” he told them. “We were fortunate that those who lived were not as heavily armed as they should have been.”
“I had heard that most of the concentration camps felt the wrath of the Blackhawks,” an older Egyptian said.
The rabbi nodded. “I was told that one of the pilots, a Pole, lost family who were relocated from the ghetto to one of the camps. I guess they felt it was time to retaliate.”
Benjamin picked up one of the pictures and looked at the image of new furnaces being built underground. “We swore we would not let it happen again, but it appears we have failed.”
He lay the photograph down and wept.