These are the first two chapters from the fifth and final volume of the Family Saga which began with Kalvarianhof: The Perilous Journey. The novel will be available late 2023.
An Unexpected Visitor
Sixteen-year-old Karl Levi wrestled the steamer truck into one of the four spacious bedrooms in what had recently been the apartment of Markus Mathais and family. He was alone. The rest of his family had gone back to the Levi farm, Kalvarianhof, for another load of their belongings. He and his family were in the process of exchanging residences between the Mathais and Levi families.
The arrangement had been made to hide the Jewish Levi family from the Nazis, while at the same time saving the Levi estate, Kalvarianhof, by having Colonel Mathais of the German army live there with his family. The two families have been close friends for generations.
The apartment door was open to the second-floor hallway, as Karl continued arranging move-in trunks and boxes.
“Hello, hello, neighbor!” came an enthusiastic voice from the hall, as a Hitler Youth teenager, in uniform, stepped into the apartment.
Karl, without looking up, answered. “Ja, ja, hello to you.” He turned toward the speaker and nearly stumbled when he saw the swastikas on the uniform. He quickly regained his composure. “My name is Karl, Karl…Obermaier. My family is just moving in as you can see.” He tried hiding his nervousness by picking up a box.
“Ja, welcome to the building,” the neighbor boy said enthusiastically. “My name is Anton Bruner. I live just down the hall.” Anton hesitated a moment. “Don’t I know you? You look familiar.”
“I don’t think so, we’re from out of town,” Karl said rapidly. “Nice meeting you, but I’ve got lots to do, so back to work for me.”
He turned away from Anton, only for Anton to press forward. “I’m sure I saw you someplace. You’re in the Hitler Youth, right? What group?”
Karl thought quickly. The real Obermaiers were from Potsdam. “Potsdam,” he stammered. “We’re from Potsdam.”
“Oh, I’d like to see your uniform badges some time. I’ve got three achievement awards,” Anton said proudly. “You got any brothers?”
Karl almost answered, ‘Yes, Isaac in England’, but caught himself. “No, just me and my sisters.” He glanced at Anton. “I really must get back to work. Maybe I’ll see you later.”
“Ja, later.” The young Nazi turned to leave. Nearing the apartment door, Anton whirled around and stepped toward Karl. “I know where I saw you! You were with that kid, Ulrich, whose dad is in the army, at that farm in the forest. We were playing capture the flag. You didn’t play, but you were there, I remember!” he said, pursuing Karl deeper into the apartment. “I’m sure it was you. Don’t you remember?”
“No, because it can’t have been me you saw, it must have been somebody else. We all make mistakes like that,” Karl said with a forced chuckle.
Anton stared as Karl began unpacking the streamer truck trying to act nonchalant. Anton’s eyes narrowed as he pressed his memory to recall the encounter last summer. His eyes lighted up menacingly as he spotted a label on the steamer truck. Solomon Levi, Kalvarianhof, it read. “I know why you won’t admit we met. You’re the son of that Jew who owned the farm!” he shouted. He reached out and grabbed Karl’s arm. “What are you doing moving into the Mathais apartment? I’m reporting you to the Gestapo! We don’t want any Jews living in…”
Just as he wheeled around to go Karl swung a ski boot, smacking Anton on the back of the head. It hurt, but only caused the young Nazi to curse and bring his fists flaying down onto Karl. They grappled, rolling onto the floor, struggling for advantage, knocking a table lamp with its cord onto the two fighters. “You Jews, we…we’ll get rid of all of you!” he spat. Anton grabbed hold of the lamp cord and in a quick series of moves, managed to get a loop around Karl’s neck ignoring Karl’s frantic blows. He pulled on the two ends as tight as he could. Karl couldn’t breathe. He desperately tried to get his fingers under the strangling cord. Back and forth they rolled, banging into boxes and furniture in a death struggle.
Karl’s hand hit the latch of the streamer truck. Grabbing it, and with all his might, he pulled the upright truck crashing down onto Anton. One of the triangular brass corners crashed into Anton, gouged a deep bloody crease in the Nazi youth’s forehead. Blood spurted out and Anton’s grip on the cord slipped away as his body went limp.
Karl lay there, semi-delirious, gasping for breath. He struggled to loosen the cord, to sit up next to the still body. In a state of shock, he stared at Anton for a long time. He shook him, felt his chest, listened for any sign of breathing. He checked again and again. Nothing. No movement, no signs of life!
“My God, he must be dead!” Karl reached over and shook him violently. “I killed him! What am I going to do!” He said out loud, sitting there in shock, as if in an altered state, like a dream with a horrible inescapable ending.
A thump from the hallway and the sound of voices alerted Karl to the approach of people. Karl, getting to his feet by leaning on the trunk, had a clear view, across the body and through the rooms to the open door. A man passed by in the hallway without looking in. Before the rest of the family passed by, he scrambled toward the apartment door, pushing it closed just in time. He turned and slid down the door, staring back at Anton’s lifeless body.
My parents will be here soon! What am I going to tell them? How could this happen? I killed him! This is a disaster. What if Anton’s parents come looking for him…They will come looking for him! Karl was sweating, his hands shaking as he frantically looked around. I’ve got to hide the body…in my bedroom? They won’t look in there for a while…or on the balcony…no, no, too easy to see him from the street.
Karl looked straight ahead and saw the answer right in front of him. He got up, lunged to the trunk, opened the lid, grabbed everything in it and put them on the bed.
Looking down on the dead boy before him, he said aloud in a shivering voice “I’m sorry, I’m really sorry, Anton, but you started it.” Tears ran down his face as he stared at the corpse. “I never wanted this to happen.” Taking a deep breath he stooped down, got Anton under his shoulders, and lifted and rolled him into the truck. Blood was on the hardwood floor. He took one of his undershirts and wiped and wiped till it was gone.
He sat down on the bed staring at the truck, at his bloody hands, thinking what to do. I’ll call home, tell them to wait there, that I’ve got bad news. I’ll leave the trunk here and go back to the farm. I’ll tell Mama and Papa what happened when I get there. …I don’t want to tell them, but they’ll know what to do.
Meanwhile at Kalvarianhof, Katherina, wife of Solomon Levi, was upstairs still packing for the ongoing move. Her husband Levi was busy downstairs. “It’s so hard to decide what to take and what to put in the attic or the undercroft.” She sat, despondent, on a chair in her bedroom as Lotti, Markus’s wife, looked on, folding clothes.
“Well, Kathi, you don’t have to decide everything now, your things will be here whenever you want them.”
The telephone rang and Kathi reached for the nightstand phone. Just as she picked up, Levi, downstairs, picked up the hallway phone. “Hello, Mathias residence,” they both said, forcing themselves to say that instead of “Levi residence”.
“Papa, Mama, it’s me, I’m coming home. Don’t come here. I’ll explain when I get there.”
“What?” Levi said, hearing the stress in his son’s voice. “What’s wrong?”
“Yes, what’s wrong, Karl?” Kathi added, also sensing trouble.
“Please, not now Mama,” Karl spoke through tears. “I’ll explain when I get home.” They both hear a click ending the call.
Lotti had heard their half of the short conversation. “Trouble?”
“Karl didn’t say, just that he’s coming home and will tell us then,” Kathi said.
Both women hurried down the stairs just as Levi was heading up. “You heard? What could be the problem?” Levi said almost to himself.
“He’s really scared, by the sound of his voice,” Kathi said. “Have we already been…”
Levi cut her off. “Let’s not speculate. He’ll be here soon.”
Thirty minutes later, Charlotte and Mary Mathais found the three adults sitting together in the kitchen alcove. They stopped abruptly, looking at them. “You look serious. What’s the matter?” Charlotte asked.
“Mary dear, why don’t you go read in your new room. I want to talk with Charlotte for a moment,” said Lotti.
“I want to hear too, I’m fourteen!” Mary exclaimed.
Charlotte looked between her mother and sister. “Mama, she is fourteen.”
Kathi glanced at her friend, who nodded. “Very well, come sit by me, Mary.”
“So, what is it? What’s going on?” Charlotte wondered with increased concern.
“We’ll know as soon as Karl gets here,” Lotti replied. “Something happened at the apartment.”
Kathi turned her head at the sound of the farm truck braking hard on the gravel drive behind the manor house. Karl burst through the kitchen door disheveled, his shirt out and torn, with dried blood on his hands, forehead, and nose. Everyone gathered around him.
Mary, wide-eyed, said, “What happened to you, Karl?!”
“Come, sit down,” Kathi insisted, taking his trembling hand. He slid onto the bench in the kitchen alcove as the others scooted over. “Now Karl, tell us what happened? Are you alright?” Kathi asked, touching his forehead. “What happened?”
Karl shook his head back and forth as if to cast the day’s evil events out of his mind. “I just killed somebody, that’s what happened…Anton, his name was Anton.”
Stunned gasps emerged from everyone at the table. “What, who, why, where?” came the questions from around the table.
Levi reached across the table to put his hand on Karl’s slumped shoulder. The others quieted down and looked at Karl. “Now son, you’re safe here. Tell us what happened? Are you sure about what happened? How…where…did something happen at the apartment?”
Karl looked up. “We’re in big trouble, Papa,” he began, licking his lips. “I was in the apartment, unpacking the steamer trunk, when I heard a voice…” He explained everything that had come to pass. His listeners sat, stunned as the story turned to violence. Charlotte and Mary teared up as Karl pointed to where he’d been hit.
“It was a good thing I got to the door before those people passed by,” he concluded. “If they’d looked in, they would surely have seen Anton.”
Silence permeated the kitchen alcove with everyone lost in their own thoughts for a moment. Finally, Kathi asked, “Did you lock the apartment door?” Karl looked up, stared at Kathi, and shook his head no. “So, anyone entering the apartment will see the body?!”
“No, no. They won’t. I…I put him in the streamer truck and wiped up the bloody floor.”
Again, everyone stared in disbelieving silence.
“What? He’s in the streamer trunk?” a flummoxed Levi asked.
“Ja, papa, I put him in the trunk.” Karl wiped a tear, taking a deep drink of his beer with both his shaking hands.
The entire family slumped back after hearing the unbelievable story. For the moment at least, it was understood that there was little chance of discovery. Kathi looked at her husband and finally said,
“We must get that trunk out of there. The neighbors will be looking for their son soon if they aren’t already.”
“Ja, of course,” Levi replied.
“I’ll get Willie to help. Best you call Markus, Lotti, tell him what’s happened.” As everyone was getting up, Karl spoke up as well.
“I’m going too.” There were protests but finally he prevailed.
The apartment hallway was quiet. With Kathi and Lotti as lookouts, the trunk was loaded onto the farm truck but not before Karl removed the Hitler Youth badge and lederhosen from Anton’s body.
“What are you doing?” Levi asked, dumbfounded.
“I’ll need these later, for part of my cover as a Hitler Youth.”
Levi and Willie looked at each other in consternation. “Ja, right, let me help you,” Levi finally said.
On the drive home, everyone sat lost in their own thoughts. Levi broke the silence. “We’ll leave the trunk on the truck for now. We’ll take care of it later.”
Colonel Markus Mathais, Lotti’s husband, in from the local airfield where he serves as the commander of the local military district, was waiting for them when they returned. He gave Karl a reassuring hug in greeting. Hilda, the Levi’s longtime cook, privy to all the family business, had prepared sandwiches for everyone.
Kathi asked Hilda, “Where is Ulrich?”
“Gone with friends. Marching, I think at the gymnasium.”
“Good. We don’t have to worry about him hearing this,” Kathi said.
“Our immediate task is to decide how to dispose of the body,” Levi began.
Kathi interrupted him. “Levi dear, yes, he attacked our son, but he was Karl’s age. He was someone’s son. We must recognize that.”
“Of course, you’re right, but tried to kill Karl! He would have had us killed! Even if he was a young, misguided boy, the Hitler Youth are a threat to all of us.” He looked around the table, at family and friends who ate slowly and would not meet his eyes, and deflated. “This won’t be the last time these haters and killers threaten us, we have to deal with Anton’s body.”
Willie, the farm manager, suggested they bury the body in the forest. Someone else thought we could just leave it somewhere it would be found so the parents at least could have him back.
Finally, Karl suggested, “We could put him in the Issar River, it runs close to the apartment, just blocks away. He will surely be found, and the water will wash away anything that could conceivably link him to…us.”
Charlotte asked, slightly embarrassed, “But what about the lederhosen you took? Surely whoever finds the body will wonder why he is not wearing any…bottoms.”
“I thought about that. Maybe we should take off one of his shoes and a sock. It would look like the turbulent water pulled them off. What do you think?” He looked around the table for any further thoughts.
Markus finally spoke. “Why take him back to Munich? Why not just bury the boy in the forest, where no one will find him.”
Lotti raised her hand. “If they find Anton, it will bring closure for the family. Surely, we want that…and it will stop the hunt. Otherwise, the search will go on and on. The police will question everyone and that could endanger you. I think it’s best for them to find the boy.”
After more discussion, it was decided to return to Munich with Anton’s body. The next night, they waited by the river, in the farm truck with Anton’s body still in the truck. They waited till the river mist came up. With three lookouts on the bridge, they quickly brought the trunk to the ground and without any trouble the body was slipped into the river by the Issar Stanwehr bridge. It floated with the current, rolled over and passed into the mist. It was done.
Unnoticed by the Kalvarianhof group, three drunks sat at the river’s edge, down from the dump site, watching what looked like a body float by.