Habsburg Honor and Nazi Loyalty
This is the first of three completed novels in which fictional Vienna Police Inspector KARL MARBACH is a central character. The story takes place in mid April of 1938, one month after the Anschluss, the Nazi annexation of Austria. Although born into a poor family, the police inspector identifies with the deposed Royal House of Habsburg. In his work and in his life, the police inspector prides himself on being guided by reason, not emotion. His lover is Volkstheater actress CONSTANZE TANDLER. He is concerned that her emotional hatred of Nazism is putting her in danger.
Ref. No. 130105ad
Length 95,140 words
From The Book
HABSBURG HONOR AND NAZI LOYALTY
On Monday, March 14, 1938, Adolf Hitler triumphantly entered Vienna standing upright in a roofless car. His right hand was stretched upward in salute while the vehicle was driven down the Ringstrasse, the great boulevard circling the inner city. Crowds on the sidewalks shouted with enthusiasm.
Out with Jews!
When Hitler’s car left the scene, Vienna police stood back and people numbering in the hundreds penetrated the areas of Vienna where Jews were most likely to be found. Viennese faces famous all over the world for their geniality were contorted masks of hate. The plundering continued all night.
A few weeks later, on Palm Sunday, April 10, 1938, a day beginning the Holy Week leading to Easter, an election was held. On that day, the vote was virtually unanimous. It was officially recorded that 99.73 percent of the voters approved the Anschluss, the incorporation of Austria into the Greater Reich. Nazi officials closely monitored activity at the voting booths, but foreign observers close to the scene concluded that even with a totally fair vote Adolf Hitler and National Socialism would have overwhelmingly won the election.
On Thursday, April 14, 1938, late in the afternoon, Police Inspector Karl Marbach opened a door on the second floor of the Vienna police headquarters building. In one hand he held his green Tyrolean hat. Using the other hand, he tucked his truncheon—a ten inch wooden club—into a snug place at the back of his trousers. Carrying the truncheon was bothersome. Most Vienna police inspectors avoided lugging one around. They preferred to pull out a pistol when it was necessary to quiet things down. But Marbach had long ago learned that he could quiet things down by gesturing with the truncheon. Of course, sometimes he had to do some hitting, but any weapon—truncheon or pistol—that is pulled out will sometimes have to be put to use.
Marbach nodded at the watch commander, a bulky man standing behind a high-paneled wooden desk. Positioned behind the desk like a bartender behind a bar, the watch commander was using thick, stubby fingers to get relief from the tight collar of his uniform.
Marbach glanced at the watch commander’s collar. On that collar was a button with Sig-Runes, two silver runic characters, twin lightning flashes—the double S of the SS. Like the watch commander and others in Kriminalpolitzei (Kripo), Marbach had one of the SS buttons on the collar of his coat, and, like everyone in Kripo, around his waist was an SS belt buckle containing the words “My Honor is Loyalty.” He didn’t like those words. Although he had been born into a family that sometimes knew grinding poverty, his father had taught him to identify with the values, discipline and demands of the royal House of Habsburg. The Habsburg honor he had been taught by his father required that honor should never be diminished to the level of blind obedience. He knew that the Nazi words “My Honor is Loyalty” diminished honor to the level of blind obedience.
He was resolved to remain faithful to his Habsburg honor. He had managed to hold onto his Habsburg honor when the Habsburg empire came to an end twenty years ago and he was confident he would be able to continue holding onto his Habsburg honor while living and working in Adolf Hitler’s Greater Reich.
Marbach opened the time sheet with Kripo on the cover, turned the page over, and searched for the place to sign out. A new requirement introduced by National Socialism a couple of weeks ago required police inspectors and police detectives, not just the lower ranks in Kripo, to record the hour and minute when each work day began and ended. This applied even to out-of-town work days. It was one more reason for him to be wary of National Socialism.
The watch commander addressed Marbach with conventional formality. “Herr Police Inspector, it is good to see you. I didn’t expect you to be back until tomorrow from straightening out that administrative problem in Switzerland.” The watch commander paused. “Ach, is it reasonable for me to have to keep my collar buttoned at all times?” The watch commander had one serious criticism of the current state of affairs. The new National Socialist requirement that Kripo headquarters staff had to keep their shirt collars buttoned was an onerous burden for a man with an oversized neck.
Marbach pulled the Kripo time sheet closer. He was ready to record his hours of work for today and for the two days he had spent taking care of some Kripo business that had to be performed in Switzerland. All he needed was a pencil. There was supposed to be a pencil tied to a string attached to the time sheet, but for some reason the pencil was missing. He wondered if the explanation for the missing pencil was that the watch commander wanted him to go on a case. Watch commanders were responsible for sending police sergeants and Kripo personnel of lower rank on cases, but they had no authority over police detectives, let alone police inspectors. Watch commanders could, however, request police inspectors and police detectives to agree to go on cases. The watch commanders had a big incentive to occasionally make those requests. Unless most of the cases under each watch commander’s jurisdiction were promptly closed, meaning an arrest or a dismissal, the watch commander ended up with a poor evaluation record. Since the nineteenth century, the requests sometimes made by watch commanders had been called “ensnarement” by everyone in Kripo. Police inspectors and police detectives had long ago agreed among themselves that the best thing to do when a watch commander tried to “ensnare” them was to be on guard unless the case was of professional interest or, at the least, genuinely interesting, and, of course, providing that the pitch was being made on a day and at a time when it wouldn’t be personally inconvenient to take on the case.
For Marbach it would be personally inconvenient to go on an extra case today. He had important plans for tonight and if he agreed to go on a case this late in the day those plans might be seriously jeopardized.
The watch commander stared at Marbach for a few moments, then gazed off into the distance. “I believe that we of Kripo have deep bonds of comradeship.”
Marbach believed the bonds of Kripo comradeship were deep, but he also believed that sometimes one is entitled to put their own needs first. Anyone who never puts their own needs first is not showing loyalty, they are just conveying that their own needs have no importance.
“I don’t see a pencil,” he said, allowing his voice to express a small note of irritation.
The watch commander leaned forward. “I know you must be worn out getting back from Switzerland, and then doing your job here today, but a call just came in from Garlic Island.”
Those words confirmed to Marbach that this was, indeed, an attempt at “ensnarement,” but he didn’t immediately call a halt to things. He was curious about what might have happened in Leopoldstadt, the ghetto area of Vienna, the place called “Garlic Island” by those who, like the watch commander, were expressive with their prejudice against Jews.
Marbach believed that the worst was over for Jews. He found encouragement for that belief in Vienna Mayor Hermann Neubacher’s recent public statement that anti-Jewish activity that had recently been highly active in Vienna was “only a temporary thing.” Those words affirming that the recent anti-Jewish activity was “only a temporary thing” were being widely repeated, even printed on posters pasted on lamp posts, billboards and walls. Marbach liked thinking that things were going to get better for Jews. He had found confirmation for that earlier today when he saw in a prominent drinking establishment some Vienna citizens, swastikas prominent on their lapels, sitting contentedly at a table with two people he knew to be Jews.
Anxious to get signed out on the time sheet, Marbach asked, “Where is the pencil?”
“The pencil?” The watch commander’s heavy eyebrows arched upward.
“Yes. Please. The pencil.”
“Oh? You want a pencil? . . . Here.”
Marbach accepted a pencil brought out of a coat pocket by the watch commander, then, after taking a deep breath, applied himself to filling out the hours and minutes when his police work had begun and ended in recent days. The only thing he was required to do was account for the minimum required work time. There was no incentive for him to include the extra hours and minutes he had actually worked. There was no overtime pay for police inspectors or police detectives, like there was for those of lower rank in Kripo.
Finally, the frustrating chore with the time sheet finished, Marbach set down the pencil and asked, “What is going on in Leopoldstadt?” He wanted very much to avoid getting ensnared on this day of all days, but he was curious about what might have happened in the Jewish ghetto.
The watch commander shook his jowly cheeks while handing Marbach a Kripo Flash Sheet, the official police description of a matter needing Kripo attention.
Marbach started reading the Flash Sheet containing a description of the incident in Leopoldstadt and immediately saw that this was, indeed, an interesting case. Ordinarily, he would be glad to get “ensnared” for such an interesting case, but not today. If things worked out as he hoped, he wouldn’t be going home to see his wife and daughter, he would be spending tonight with Constanze Tandler . . . marvelous Constanze, the Italian actress, who had come to Vienna a month ago to star in a play at the Vienna Volkstheater, and had become Marbach’s lover. During his married life he’d had many lovers, but he had always felt that could be reconciled with his Habsburg honor. His Habsburg honor permitted unfaithfulness to his wife as long as proper protocol was observed. Proper protocol meant not doing anything that might publicly embarrass his wife.
Marbach concentrated his attention on the Flash Sheet. The case was a 71, a murder case. The number 71 derived from the number of the streetcar that stopped at the main cemetery near the outskirts of Vienna: the 71 streetcar. The Flash Sheet provided fascinating details for this particular 71. For one thing, it recorded that a Jewish prostitute had been killed in the Hotel Capricorno, identified on the Flash Sheet as a Jewish brothel. Jewish brothels had been ordered closed after the Anschluss, but that order was being imperfectly enforced. Marbach smiled seeing the Hotel Capricorno identified as a Jewish brothel. He knew it wasn’t a Jewish brothel, that it had never been a Jewish brothel. Doing his police work, he had learned the Hotel Capricorno was a brothel owned by Gentiles and that the prostitutes there were Gentiles hired to pretend to be Jews. The arrangement was not unique. Several other Vienna brothels operated the same way, even now after the Anschluss. The explanation given for the long-time commercial success of the Hotel Capricorno and other so-called Jewish brothels was that many Gentiles, for their own reasons, liked having sex with prostitutes they believed were Jewish. Some said this made Gentiles feel less guilty. Others said it made things more exciting for Gentiles. Marbach believed that a fully correct answer included both of those explanations.
He stared speculatively at the pencil in his hand. He ought to agree to take on this case. If he worked on this case that might keep someone in Kripo from getting into a mess. Any Kripo police officer who didn’t know the situation at the Hotel Capricorno could make trouble for himself by accepting at face value the story of a Jewish prostitute involved with Gentile clients. A false arrest might be made, and that could mean a lot of trouble, perhaps disaster, for the police officer making the arrest.
Marbach examined the situation. He knew that what he felt obligated to do wouldn’t be easy, quick or certain.
The watch commander, not an unobservant man, took advantage of Marbach’s hesitation. Continuing to use conventional formality, he said, “Herr Police Inspector, you read it for yourself. It is all contained on the Flash Sheet. A Yid whore was killed. A worthless creature. That is unimportant. Read more of what is on the flash sheet. Three young army officers are involved and you know what happened to Police Sergeant Schramm when he mishandled a case involving a Yid and an army officer.”
Marbach wasn’t surprised the watch commander wasn’t knowledgeable about the way the brothel at the Hotel Capricorno used to operate and probably still operated. He knew a couple of Kripo police officers close to the scene who were just as ignorant as the watch commander.
The watch commander made a low groaning sound.
Marbach knew he was getting more and more entangled, but he continued to listen while the watch commander talked.
“For this case today I had no choice other than to send the only Kripo man available to me. This could be worse than what happened to Police Sergeant Schramm.” The watch commander lifted his hands in helpless supplication. “Such a small error Police Sergeant Schramm made and look where he ended up.”
“I know about Schramm. Who did you send on this case?”
The watch commander seemed not to hear. He began talking in detail about the error made by Police Sergeant Schramm two weeks ago. Marbach listened even though he already knew everything there was to know about the fate of Police Sergeant Schramm. A week after the Anschluss, Schramm had found an army major and the major’s Jewish mistress sharing a flat together. Schramm made an arrest, but it hadn’t taken long for all charges to be dropped against the major, and for the Jewish mistress to be allowed to flee the country, while Schramm, a 14-year police veteran, was being held on an unspecified charge in the local jail. The message was clear to everyone in Kripo: although the law titled Protection of German Blood and German Honor was going to be enforced, it was hazardous to proceed too aggressively when privileged people were involved, privileged people like the army major arrested by Schramm.
The watch commander made a shrugging motion. “Willie Holder was the only one I had available to send over to the Hotel Capricorno.” The jowly face swung from side to side. “You know Willie. He is only a Kripo police assistant. Not regular police, just a police assistant. He won’t be regular police for another two months. He’s a fine young man. Everyone likes Willie. But . . . well, he’s young and inexperienced.”
Marbach heaved a sigh.
The watch commander pursed his lips. “I told Willie to be careful, but the lad is so inexperienced . . . and army officers are involved.” The watch commander’s porcine eyes entreated. “We wouldn’t want to see Willie sharing a cell with Police Sergeant Schramm, would we?”
Marbach didn’t find Willie Holder to be particularly likable, but that was unimportant. What was important was the obligation owed to anyone who was Vienna Kripo, even Police Assistant Willie Holder. Marbach sized things up. Very clearly the watch commander had been cunning with this “ensnarement.” Maybe the watch commander didn’t know about Gentile prostitutes in so-called Jewish brothels, but he was clever with “ensnarement.” He had taken his time, got the whole thing out in the open: there was a dead prostitute , some army officers were involved in whatever had happened, and, regardless of his deficiencies, Police Assistant Willie Holder was Kripo. If there had been a blurting out of what was going on, followed by a plea to keep Willie Holder from getting into trouble, there would have been a quick refusal to get involved in anything that might interfere with what was planned for tonight with Constanze. But the watch commander had been clever. The “ensnarement” was total and complete.
There were things Marbach knew he needed to think about. He and Constanze had agreed that during the few days he expected to be out of Vienna she would be providing some of the extra room in her flat as an accommodation for an actress friend visiting from Italy. Constanze’s flat was modest: a living room, a bedroom, a kitchen, and a bath. It wasn’t a large flat.
Marbach silently cursed himself for not having contacted Constanze earlier in the day to announce his unexpected return, one day early, from Switzerland. If he had called her on the telephone she’d have been able to make other arrangements for her Italian actress friend, but he hadn’t telephoned. He had thought it would be better to play a surprise by suddenly encountering her in one of the places he could usually expect to find her on an afternoon in the city. There were some personal problems between them, not serious but troublesome, and he had thought springing a little surprise might help mend things. But unexpected police business came up early in the afternoon and it hadn’t been possible to go out, find Constanze in one of the places she liked to frequent, and surprise her.
Marbach was convinced that the major reason he and Constanze had personal problems was because Constanze, for all her intelligence, was too emotional, not rational like she ought to be. Case in point: she didn’t merely deplore National Socialism like he did, in the manner of a rational person. Instead, she allowed herself to be carried away by deep, emotionally-based hatred for Adolf Hitler and National Socialism. And that irrational hatred was dangerous. It was putting her in jeopardy. A few days after the Anschluss, there had been a public incident in front of the Volkstheater that could have spelled disaster. She had expressed loud anger upon seeing a poster announcing that the Volkstheater was “Jew Free,” that Jews would no longer be performing for the Vienna Volkstheater.
Fortunately, he had been with her, and had been able to spirit her away before too much attention was attracted. He had managed to get her back to her flat, but then, within the safety of the flat, when they started talking about the incident, she had lost control emotionally, threatened to leave, go outside, and make a very public scene against Hitler and National Socialism. It had been necessary for him to use physical strength to keep her in the flat. She did a lot of kicking, but he knew ways to restrain people without hurting them. She also did a lot of shouting. Some of her words were cruel. Again and again, she had called him “Nazi policeman!”
Again and again, those awful words “Nazi policeman!”
She had struggled long and desperately. The conflict between them hadn’t ended until she finally collapsed into exhausted sleep. Hours later, when she finally woke up, all of her fury was gone, but in its place was melancholy, a tenacious melancholy.
Even three weeks after the public incident in front of the Volkstheater, Constanze was still afflicted by melancholy. It was getting better, but a lot still remained. Hopefully, she would become more like her old self when she was told about the good deed accomplished because of the trip to Switzerland. Calling the trip “official police business” had just been an excuse. There had been some genuine police business Marbach had been able to find to do in Switzerland, but the real reason he had arranged the trip was to enable him to take one of Constanze’s friends to safety, a man who, after the Anschluss, had become homeless and hunted in the city where his role as a political leader had once brought him respect even from those who professed dislike for Jews. As things had worked out, Constanze’s Jewish friend was now safe in Switzerland.
Getting Constanze’s friend to safety in Switzerland was a good deed that Marbach was glad he was going to be able to share with her. He didn’t like sharing with her most of the things he did as a police officer. Even before the Anschluss, he had avoided sharing with Constanze the things he did as a police officer. He wasn’t ashamed of what he did as a police officer, quite to the contrary. Police work for him, even now under the Anschluss, was something he took pride in doing. But he didn’t like talking about police work with Constanze or with anyone who had no firsthand experience, no way of understanding what the work was all about. It was the same way with the things he had done as a young mountain soldier during the war of twenty years ago, the deeds that had won him fame and medals. For what he did at Monte Ortigara, he had received the Maria Theresa Medal, the highest honor the Austro-Hungarian Empire awarded to a soldier. But, like it was with his police work, he avoided talking about the Ortigara with Constanze. He could talk about the Ortigara freely and easily when he was with people who had backgrounds or experience that made it possible for them to understand, people who wouldn’t say foolish things, or ask nonsense questions. Whether with police work or for mountain fighting, he believed there are some things you can share with a stranger that you can’t share with a friend or a lover when the stranger has background and experience that the friend or lover doesn’t have.
Marbach told himself that soon, hopefully tonight, there was going to be a sharing of the good deed accomplished by getting a very fine gentleman to safety in Switzerland. It was the sort of deed that could be shared with Constanze. It was something she didn’t need special background and experience to understand. He would enjoy her endless questions about the doing of the deed. He very much wanted the sharing of the deed to take place alone tonight with Constanze in her flat. The two of them alone. No visiting Italian actress. But at this time of the day, it was impossible to contact Constanze, even by telephone, to let her know he was back from Switzerland, and suggest that she find another place for her friend to stay tonight. At this hour, late in the afternoon, she would be keeping herself isolated from everyone. This was her time of emotional preparation before going on the stage tonight. But if some way wasn’t found to get word to her before she went on the stage, the actress from Italy was going to be sharing the flat tonight.
The watch commander made a quick movement with his bulky body, stared at the clock, and murmured, “The play begins at seven o’clock.”
Marbach bristled. The watch commander was making an intrusive observation by deliberately talking about what time Constanze’s play began. Things concerning Constanze were not for discussion with this watch commander . . . or any watch commander.
Oblivious to the distress caused by his intrusive observation, the watch commander began talking about the current sorry state of theater in Vienna.
Stifling irritation, Marbach listened. The watch commander was simply saying what everyone was saying: all the theaters in Vienna were providing poor plays this season. As he babbled on, the watch commander made his comments specific to the Volkstheater. “I must say A Serious Guy is a horrible title for a play. I took my wife to see it on Saturday. We are both big fans of Constanze Tandler. Everyone loves Constanze Tandler, of course. But even with her sparkling performance . . . well, I have to say it: the play is an awful piece of fluff.”
Marbach said nothing in reply. A Serious Guy was, indeed, a miserable play. Everyone knew the play was awful and no one was quicker to affirm that than Constanze. She could be roused in an instant to a fury of expressive curses about the play, the ridiculous title, and the mediocre playwright whom she always referred to as “the alleged playwright Herr Dohm.” For her it was always “the alleged playwright Herr Dohm.”
Marbach knew that Constanze regarded the theater as a sacred place, like a church. Many times since the play began two weeks ago, he had heard her strongly assert that no sacred place should have inflicted on it an awful play like the one by “the alleged playwright Herr Dohm.” And Viennese theatergoers seemed to be of the same mind. They had quickly rendered their judgment about A Serious Guy. Attendance at the Volkstheater dwindled the day after the opening, even as the ticket prices dropped, first by one-quarter, and then, at the beginning of the second week, by one half. It was a certainty that very soon A Serious Guy would close.
Yes, Marbach told himself, it was a poor play, but doing the play had helped with one thing. The sheer hard work and the need to master an incredible amount of memorization had seemed to help roll back a lot of Constanze’s melancholy.
There was something else that Marbach figured had helped to relieve some of Constanze’s melancholy: Romani jazz. Bubili Mirga, Marbach’s Romani friend from boyhood days, was now also Constanze’s friend, and the two of them shared enjoyment of gramophone record platters containing Romani jazz.
Like other Romani, Bubili hated the word “gypsy,” a word used by Gentiles. Bubili took pride in being Romani. He was highly intelligent, and, although he didn’t have much formal education, he could hold his own with most of the intellectuals who sometimes engaged him in conversation in cafés and coffeehouses.
Early in the afternoons, beginning a couple of weeks ago, Bubili had begun bringing Romani jazz gramophone records to Constanze’s flat. And sometimes, when it was possible for Marbach to get away from police work, the three of them listened while the gramophone played Romani jazz. Marbach had trouble understanding the music, but he found it a joy to watch the two of them, Constanze and Bubili, the way they reacted to the Romani jazz music, the way Constanze moved her head and shoulders, and the way Bubili closed his eyes and tapped the floor with his feet.
An especially enjoyable thing for Marbach was how any expression of perplexity on his part about any piece of Romani jazz being played ignited exasperated scorn from the two of them, scorn that was directed at the one they called “the clown.” Marbach enjoyed playing the clown. He enjoyed seeing his lover and his friend rise to high spirits while shouting disparagement at him for being a clown. He fully accepted that some sort of deficiency on his part prevented him from fully appreciating the musical sounds that captivated them, but as hard as he tried, he couldn’t identify what they called “the hypnotic rhythmic pulse.” It wasn’t at all like the music he loved, the music of Strauss, Mozart . . . Beethoven.
Marbach knew his life was good, that no man could ask for more than to have a lover like Constanze, and a friend like Bubili, but he decided that right now it was time for him to think about immediate things. The watch commander’s prattle was becoming hard to ignore.
Marbach interrupted the prattle. “I’d like to use your telephone.”
“Of course, Herr Police Inspector.” The telephone was shoved across the top of the bench. The watch commander was going to hear what was said, but that couldn’t be helped. There wasn’t time to spare.
Marbach put through a call to the Alpen Café and with no preliminaries asked to speak to Bubili. He waited until the familiar voice came on the line.
With no request to know who was calling, Bubili asked, “What do you want?” That was the only way Bubili ever answered a telephone call, regardless of who might be calling.
Like Bubili, Marbach spoke with no preliminaries. Most of his conversations with friends and colleagues made use of conventional Viennese preliminaries, but not when he talked with Bubili.
“Do you know if Constanze will be providing a place in her flat tonight for that Italian actress friend of hers?”
“Constanze is often unpredictable, but I predict it will be safe for the brave police inspector to pay her a call tonight after she finishes her performance.”
“Have you talked with her since we got back?”
Bubili’s voice dropped to a low pitch. “No. You very specifically asked me to avoid doing anything that might cause her to find out that you are back. You didn’t want to spoil your chance to personally surprise her with the early return. But I happened to encounter the marvelous Anna taking a walk over by the Opera House. She promised to not tell Constanze that you and I have returned, but she did tell me that Constanze’s Italian guest acquired a Viennese lover last night. Anna and I discussed the implications of this development, and she assured me that Constanze’s flat will not be crowded tonight.”
Marbach appreciated hearing that good news. “I have to go on a case, old friend. I don’t know how long it will take, but I will probably be late, maybe very late. Please get a message passed to Constanze saying I’ll be at her flat tonight whenever I can get free.”
“That is easily done,” Bubili said. For a moment there was silence. Then Bubili asked, “Anything else?”
Immediately, Bubili disconnected. As usual Bubili provided no Viennese salutation.
Marbach hung up the telephone.
“Do you need an automobile?” the watch commander asked.
“No, I’ll take the streetcar,” Marbach said while placing his Tyrolean hat on his head. Of course he would take a streetcar. Within the city he seldom used a police car, and he didn’t own an automobile of his own. To get around on police business, and for his own purposes, he relied on streetcars and taxicabs.
“It is the Hotel Capricorno,” the watch commander said, making an unnecessary observation.
“Yes, the Hotel Capricorno,” Marbach said, nodding agreeably, and delivering a polite farewell as he went on his way. He moved at a quick pace. There was police work to be done in the ghetto.
Marbach caught a streetcar. After a short ride, he transferred to a second streetcar and remained on board until it came to a stop in Leopoldstadt, the Jewish ghetto. He got off the streetcar, reached behind, secured his truncheon, and looked around. There was a policeman in a flapping green cape and shining helmet pacing outside a building identified by a tattered sign as the Hotel Capricorno.
The policeman saw Marbach, stepped forward, identified himself, and delivered a precise hand salute, not the Heil Hitler salute of recently required protocol. In reply, without hesitation, Marbach identified himself and returned the hand salute, using the tips of his fingers to touch the front brim of his green Tyrolean hat.
After that, the two men entered the Hotel Capricorno and walked up a wooden stairway. It was a narrow stairway, but they walked side-by-side, and, although they had never before exchanged more than perfunctory greetings, they talked in detail about the different mountain soldier units each had served in during the war of twenty years ago. In response to a question asked by the policeman, Marbach talked about the Ortigara, talked in specific detail about the deed for which he had been awarded the Maria Theresa Medal. He provided the important particulars because he knew the policeman with a background in mountain fighting wouldn’t say foolish things and wouldn’t ask nonsense questions.
When they got to the fifth floor landing, they walked a few steps toward a room with an open door. Voices were coming from inside the room with the open door.
Marbach halted, turned half-around, faced the policeman, and thrust forward his hand. “Thank you for this good talk we have had.”
The policeman grasped the extended hand, and said,. “I have learned more than I have told.” After that, the policeman turned around, and headed back to duty on the street. His shoes lumbered heavily going down the wooden stairs.
Marbach stood still for a moment, then took several steps, and walked through the open door. He came to a halt a few paces inside the room. Police Assistant Willie Holder, in civilian clothes, was talking to a uniformed police corporal. Willie had a puffy face, was softly muscled, of average height.
Ignoring Willie and the uniformed policeman, Marbach performed what for him was a required ritual. Waving a hand to assure he wouldn’t be interrupted, he surveyed the entirety of the room, studied the walls, the ceiling, and the floor. He took mental note of what was present in the room and what was absent. There was a bed. No chairs, no dressing table, just a bed. And no other furniture in the room except a floor lamp. There were several pictures on the walls and a small window with a drawn curtain. On the bed was an army officer’s tunic.
There was something else in the room. Lying on the floor, close to the bed, was the body of a very young woman.
Marbach pulled a notebook from his suit pocket, marked the date, the exact time, and began sketching, first, an outline of the room, then, with rough proportionality, what was inside the room. The final thing he sketched was the position of the body. When finished with the sketching, he returned the notebook to his pocket, stood rigidly still, and stared down at the body lying on the floor, face upward, eyes closed. Garish red lipstick dominated the pale face. She was wearing the signature garb—revealing and lewd—of a prostitute. Her body was sprawled on the floor with the rag doll looseness of the dead.
Marbach stood still for a moment, then once again waved his hand to assure he wouldn’t be interrupted, and started moving around while doing another survey of the room. System-atically, he sought out small details. He checked one thing, then another, but was cautious where he stepped and what he touched. He halted beside the bed, carefully picked up the officer’s tunic from the bed, emptied the pockets, and found papers bearing a name: Lieutenant Paul Neumayer. According to the papers, the lieutenant was assigned to the 45th Aufklarung Abteilung of the Wehrmacht, a Third Reich unit recently posted to Vienna.
Where the lieutenant was posted wasn’t important. The important thing was his name. Lieutenant Paul Neumayer wasn’t just any young officer. He was the son of Colonel Count Neumayer. The colonel count was high-level SS in Vienna, among the half dozen most powerful people in National Socialist Vienna.
Marbach quietly tossed Lieutenant Neumayer’s tunic to Willie, stood very still, and, one final time, scrutinized the entirety of the room. When ready, he pulled out his notebook, made one final notation, returned the notebook to his pocket, glanced at Willie, and, with an upward movement of his arm, delivered the Heil Hitler salute, the signal for talk to begin.
“Heil Hitler!” Willie proclaimed, making a vigorous upward thrust of his arm. There was a proudly beaming smile on the face most people found likable. Willie’s voice dropped to an artificially low octave. “The Yid whore was dead when I got here about an hour ago. There were some army officers here, three of them. The Yid whore was killed by the army officers. They had no sex with her. Before they left they provided full information: how they can be contacted, and so forth. The officers were, of course, justified in killing the whore when they found out she was a Yid.”
Willie hadn’t tried to keep the officers from leaving. That didn’t surprise Marbach. This was, after all, National Socialist Vienna. Marbach watched while Willie opened and closed his mouth, but spoke no more words. Willie’s eyes conveyed anxiety.
With a hand gesture, Marbach signaled for Willie to say more.
Willie’s eyes opened wide. “No crime was committed here, just the death of a Yid whore.”
Marbach wondered which word was more cruel—Yid or whore. Then he thought about the Flash Sheet back at police headquarters. On that Flash Sheet there had been no names of the army officers. Would he have gotten ensnared, agreed to take this case, if he had known that the son of Colonel Count Neumayer was involved? The answer was “No.”
Marbach stepped away from Willie, went to where the victim was lying, and looked down at her. He fished in his pocket and brought out a packet of Reemtsma, an inferior brand of cigarettes. He had given up smoking years ago, but a foul-tasting cigarette would make it easier to get an unpleasant job done.
Marbach placed the Reemtsma cigarette in his mouth, fussed inside his pocket, and pulled out a small box of wooden matches. When his attempt to ignite a wooden match with his thumbnail yielded only a failed popping sound, he walked over and scrapped the match on the wall. The match flared and fizzled before burning brightly. He lit the Reemtsma, inhaled, and proceeded with the unpleasant business.
Kneeling down, Marbach touched the young face with the ends of his fingers. The face was warm. That was surprising. She looked like she had been dead long enough to have a face that would be cool to the touch. He put his hand on the neck. He frowned, then moved the head around to study slight bluish marks around the left eye and the left side of the face. She had taken a beating, but the wounds didn’t look bad enough to have caused death. Was it possible she had some sort of head injury?
But when Marbach moved his fingers through her hair he found nothing. He was still frowning as he slowly stood up. He pulled the Reemtsma from his mouth, tossed it onto the floor, stamped it out, and stared down at the victim. Shaking his head, he again knelt down and carefully examined the skin on the face, then the neck and, finally, the bare arms. Taking out his handkerchief, he began gently wiping the cheap red lipstick from the closed mouth. When he finished the lips looked almost fresh. He lifted one of her hands. The fingernails were free of polish. That was unusual for a prostitute. But there was something more important. The nails looked very fresh, yet she looked like she had been dead long enough for the nails to have begun to pale.
Uncomfortable in the kneeling position, afflicted by an ache in his knees, Marbach fussed with the box of wooden matches, withdrew one match, placed it between his teeth, and gently used the fingers of one hand to open the victim’s eye. He saw that the eyeball had not yet begun to flatten. Ignoring the discomfort in his knees, he scratched the wooden match across a patch of floor. When he brought the flame close to the opened eye the pupil fluttered. This young woman was alive.
Marbach tossed the match away, and gently placed the young head back onto the floor. He was checking for a pulse beat when he heard a gurgling sound, followed by the sudden presence of a foul smell. Urine and bowl discharge was taking place. The young woman had been alive when he had held her head in his hands. It was only in the past few moments that she had died. It didn’t look like a beating had killed this young woman. If the beating didn’t kill her was this a poison case? Yes, it did look like a poison case.
Getting to his feet, Marbach stared downward, determined not to miss anything that might be important. Frowning, he stared at the young face. Even with all the heavy makeup and the bruises on her face she looked more like a sleeping child than like a corpse. As he continued staring, he found himself thinking she looked familiar. Did he know her from somewhere? If so, where?
After a long moment, Marbach knelt back down again, and checked the pockets of the clothes for what he might find. But he found nothing. He used his handkerchief to wipe some of the makeup from the lifeless face. She may have never been a beauty, but beneath the outrageous makeup and the cheap lipstick was the attractiveness of someone very young.
Marbach made his decision. Regardless of who the victim was, for himself, just for himself, he would ask for police laboratory tests. He was determined to find out what had happened here and why it had happened. If he learned anything that couldn’t be disclosed, his sense of honor would permit him to live with that. He wasn’t going to commit an act of futile martyrdom, but one way or the other he intended to find out what had happened. That was the only way there could be peace with his sense of honor. To not try to learn what had happened here would be the wrong thing to do even if he would probably have to keep secret everything he learned in a case that involved the son of Colonel Count Neumayer.
Marbach had one troubling thought. Before the Anschluss, he had regarded Willie as a hired dog. But right now wasn’t he also a hired dog? Beginning at this moment, wasn’t he as much a hired dog as Willie? Is it possible for a hired dog to hold onto Habsburg honor? He didn’t like the answer he felt obligated to give himself.
Deeply troubled, Marbach left the room. He went downstairs to the hotel manager’s office.
There was no one in the office. No one was in charge of the brothel. Marbach wondered about that. Of course, whoever was in charge might have fled, but that didn’t seem likely. Owners of brothels make it clear to the ones they put in charge that they must never do anything that might result in loss of a license, which would be the likely consequence if no one was around to answer questions when there was official police business on the premises.
But finding no one in charge of the brothel was something that could be dealt with later. Right now there was something much more important to do. Marbach picked up the telephone, connected with an operator, and asked to have a call placed to Commander Stephan Kaas, Chief of Vienna Kripo.
Commander Kaas, a Berliner, had arrived in Vienna on the first day of the Anschluss. Marbach’s opinion was that the new Kripo chief was good at his job. In addition, he had found Commander Kaas to be more civil and friendly than most of the other SS who had come to Vienna because of the Anschluss.
Marbach knew that some in Kripo made humor about how much alike he and Commander Kaas looked: same size, tall and husky, similar facial features, about the same age, early forties. He had dark brown hair and the commander had slightly reddish hair, but they looked enough alike to pass for brothers. He wondered if Commander Kaas had heard any of the humor about how much alike they looked.
Holding the telephone earpiece close to his head, Marbach learned from a police secretary that Commander Kaas had left his office for the day. Speaking into the telephone mouthpiece, he informed the police secretary that the commander had to be contacted, that a matter of urgency had arisen requiring the commander’s immediate attention.
Upon receiving assurance that the commander would be quickly contacted and given his telephone number, Marbach hung up the telephone and waited.
Approximately ten minutes later, the telephone rang. It was Commander Kaas.
After greeting protocols were completed, Marbach explained that he was in Leopoldstadt, in a hotel that had long functioned as a brothel. He told the commander that the place presented itself as a Jewish brothel, but the owner and the prostitutes were all Aryans. Then he went directly to the purpose of the call. “There is a dead woman here. It looks like she was a prostitute. I don’t know if she is a Jew. I don’t rule anything out. Three army officers are involved in whatever happened. I am not sure what did happen. The important thing is that one of the officers is the son of Colonel Count Neumayer.”
Commander Kaas delivered instructions quickly, crisply, with clarity: “I will be taking over. I will see the colonel count.”
There was nothing more to be said. Commander Kaas rang off.
About The Author
I got my Ph.D from Cornell University. I am a long-time member of the American Society of Criminology, and for many years I have taught and trained police, FBI, and Secret Service in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. I am a bookaholic who has taken up writing. I am unpublished.
Copyright 2013 – 2014, Tom Joyce
This post was written by Tom Joyce