Going Home

hobnails

This is a thought experiment from a while ago, a fan-fic short based in John Birmingham’s World War 2.X universe. I thought to put this out into the wild in anticipation of upcoming books in his Axis of Time series.

There is no more fraught moment for a returning soldier then the exact moment that you set foot over the door.

What awaits inside?

One such scenario follows.

Going Home

July 1944

Jurgen Langsfeld was caught in the old routine, endless marching under the merciless sky. He had been walking back through the wreckage of war for a month, trying to get to his home outside of Krefeld. He still couldn’t believe that the war was over, that the Fuhrer was dead.

But it was. If nothing else, the endless convoys of Amis and Brits headed into the wrecked home of National-Socialism were convincing evidence that the end had come. The huge, green painted snorting Studebakers and Dodges that rode past him seemed to pay him no mind, even if the soldiers in the back sometimes did.

Sometimes they would yell something at him; most commonly they would throw half-eaten ration cans at him and laugh. He and his fellow travelers would fight over what remained in the cans; there was precious little food to be had on this journey home.

When Berlin had disappeared in nuclear fire and the war ended, Jurgen had been laying in a Catholic hospital in Ghent with shrapnel in his legs. Upon word that the Germans had surrendered unconditionally, the Belgian nuns had shown him the door, fully healed up or not. He found the manner in which he had been discharged to be distinctly irregular, shabby.

What he had encountered upon staggering into the city had been even worse. He and others like him were set upon by packs of youths or those that styled themselves as resistance fighters. He snorted at the memory. He bet that most of those “resistance fighters” had only found their courage at the end, facing disorganized bands of German soldiers headed towards the Heimat, or ones such as he, wounded and apparently disarmed.

He had not been so silly as to walk through now-hostile territory without a weapon, even though the Allies made it perfectly clear that de-mobilized German soldiers caught with arms were subject to summary execution. He had taken a P-38 pistol and a box of bullets from an Ordnungspolizei sergeant who didn’t need them anymore, and he had carefully hidden the pistol in his tunic.

Jurgen looked pretty harmless in his dusty, filthy and borrowed Wehrmacht uniform. Like all the others, he was just another soldier looking to get home. From day to day, he would spy a group headed eastward and he would join them. When sunset drew near, he would hunt up a place of refuge for the evening, preferably a forested locale somewhat near a farm or other promising-looking homesteads.

When the night came, he would go scrounging, pistol in hand. A particularly fond memory was of the night that he had found potatoes and a goose. He had gotten both of the treats without so much as a shot being fired, and he had feasted on cooked potato and meat for several days thereafter. A low point had come when he came up dry on food for several days, not even the garbage heaps of the allied soldiers had turned up much. Eventually he had to waste a precious bullet on a muskrat, and because of the sound he had to move several kilometers on a dead-empty stomach before he could safely butcher the animal.

He always tried to sleep alone and hidden. Jurgen was under no illusions about the likelihood of being robbed by his fellow ex-soldiers; he really didn’t want to wake up with his shelter-half or his bread-bag gone.

No, he thought, just because a fellow was German, it certainly didn’t mean you could trust him. There were many times he thought he would rather trust one of the Belgian farm ladies he encountered than his own fellow travellers. Even though those women had a habit of staring right through him when he tried to ask them for water, or perhaps a bit of straw to cushion his accursed hob-nailed boots.

Jurgen snorted. Funny, too, how the civilians had suddenly forgotten how to speak schoolhouse German. When he had marched through here years ago, a number of people had given the “German Salute,” and more than a few were quite willing to sell or trade for goodies.

Not anymore. He shook his head as he reached his last couple of miles in Belgium. His was a broken army, moving in disorganized fits back to where they had came from, and the people he left behind were mighty happy about that.

He had a suspicion that there may be Allied checkpoints as he neared Germany, so he moved off of the main road and headed cross-country with his compass, another cherished possession. He ran up against a minefield, and he cursed his bad luck. For a long while, he followed the minefield north, and he eventually found what he was looking for.

Some Allied unit had breached the minefield in the not-too-distant past, scattered bits of their junk was everywhere, along with remnants of Germany’s defenders. Jurgen could have cared less about the corpses slowly turning into dirt. He had seen too many of them to notice, really. He spotted an aging tank track and followed it towards home. The heavy track made him pretty confident that he wouldn’t dance in the air while making his way through the mines.

On the other side of the obstacles and wire, he scored big. The Amis or Brits had camped in a pine forest there; they had thrown their trash all around. He sneered, his preconceptions about Allied habits rose to the surface. But he spotted something and he wanted to kiss the missing soldiers, they had left behind half of a crate of C-rations.

Wunderbar, he thought, as he filled his bread-bag to the top with such delicacies as “Fruit Cake” and “Ham and Lima Beans.” He walked on for a short time, and then he found himself another hidey-hole for the evening.

For a change, his belly was full and he had reached Germany.

During his trek the next day, he was disabused of his delight upon reaching his homeland. In town after town the inhabitants treated him little differently from the Belgians. They couldn’t pretend not to speak German, of course, but they bid him no more comfort than the tight-wad farmers on the other side of the border.

As he headed north, his bread-bag got lighter and the kilometers seemed to stretch on forever. When it rained, he got soaked. When the sun came out, he baked. The collar on his wool jacket chafed; his feet felt like blocks of iron clumsily sewn to his legs.

He saw strange sights. Some towns and cities were ruined, flattened. Then he would come to the next town, and everything would be unmolested. But a constant theme was the unending stream of humanity, of people going somewhere, anywhere. Jurgen met all of Europe on the roads of Western Germany, and everyone had a tale.

Sometimes, as he would stop and fill his canteen by a village well, he would stop and listen. There was a Dutchman, who had escaped Holland by a hair’s breath. Apparently he was some kind of functionary in the Dutch Nazi Party, the NSB. Jurgen thought he was an arschloch, or asshole. There was an emaciated woman who had come from a labor camp; she was headed back to France. When no-one could see, Jurgen gave her one of his precious Fruit Cakes.

And from time to time, he would see the Allies. He did his best to steer clear of them when they had a checkpoint set up, but he couldn’t avoid them while they were driving around. That was alright, though. They seemed reluctant to stop and give yet another random, seemingly harmless German ex-soldier the time of day. At times he would see an obviously German woman in one of their jeeps or trucks, sometimes those women seemed to be having the time of their lives.

Bitches, he would think. Traitors.

And finally he reached his old village outside of Krefeld. He almost wanted to cry when he saw the characteristic church steeple in the distance. As he got closer, he walked past Farmer Ulm’s place and eventually he reached Kirchenstrasse. He turned left, towards his home.

Jurgen could see no battle damage, very little seemed to have changed since he was last at home. He hadn’t heard from his mother or sister in months, but he reasoned that it was no surprise, with all the irregularities since the war ended.

He laughed a little; he was overjoyed to walk this street again, to see the sights he thought were closed to him forever. A neighbor walked by, it was the elderly Mr. Dornhauser.

“Hello, Mr. Dornhauser!”

The man looked at Jurgen as if he had seen a ghost, then he hurried on his way.

Jurgen was non-plussed. Mr. Dornhauser had always been friendly. Then he saw his house and froze. The front door had been damaged and crudely patched up. Weeds were growing in the front-garden. He was shocked. His mother would have never allowed that. Then his eye alighted on a placard on the front door.

He read.

Attention passersby. This house has been declared property of the state. A People’s Court has found the inhabitants of this dwelling guilty of defeatism and treason. Under severest penalty of the law, entrance forbidden.

 Gauleiter Krebs, Krefeld

Jurgen was shocked to his core; the notice had been placed on the door two days before the war ended. He was shocked again, whatever his mother or sister had done would have surely affected him, as well. The Nazis believed in guilt by association, as he well knew. Only the end of the war had saved him, he was certain. He had to find out what happened to his family, he banged on the neighbor’s door, the Strohmeiers.

After a bit, he detected movement in the lace curtain in the window by the door. When it was clear that Jurgen wasn’t going away, the door opened.

Jurgen was greeted at the door by Alise; she had been a good neighbor. He remembered her well throughout his childhood. Now she stood in the doorway with her arms crossed, she did not ask him in.

This was not the reception that he had envisioned.

“What do you want, SS man?”

Her formal language and the mention of the organization he had once belonged to took Jürgen aback.

“Frau Strohmeier, where is my family? What’s happened?”

Her mouth tightened. “You can read, can’t you?”

“Where are they? The Nazis are gone; the war is over.” He repeated himself.

“Where are they?”

For the first time, he saw something in her eyes other than cold hostility. He saw sadness.

“I have hard news. Your mother and sister were hung by the Rathaus.”

Jurgen felt as if someone injected ice water into his spine, at the same time he felt as if he were punched hard in the gut. And then he felt fury. Cold, raw fury. He had never known an emotion like this, not even in the blast furnace of combat, never.

He spoke mildly. “Tell me, who has done this?”

Alise must not have liked what she saw in his face. She began to back away. Jurgen reached out and grabbed her by the wrist, pulled back, and slammed her against the wall. He put his face bare centimeters from hers.

His voice was still mild. “I’ll ask again, once, nicely. Who has done this?”

She stammered. “Th, Th, The SS. Gauleiter Krebs gave the order, the local police and the judge passed the sentence. But the SS killed her.”

Jurgen released her. She ran inside and slammed the door. He knew he would have to get out of here fast; the police would be here soon.

But then he had a thought. The police had arrested his sister and mother. Maybe he didn’t want to leave so soon, after all. As far as he saw it, they were as guilty of killing his family as the other bastards. The SS.

As he walked around the corner, he pulled his trusty Walther out of his tunic. He checked the loaded chamber indicator above the hammer and worked the safety.

The police first, he thought. Then the judge. After the judge, he would seek out the Gauleiter. Then what he really wanted was the unit number and the names of the assholes who had put the ropes around his sister and mother’s necks.

Scharfuhrer Jurgen Langsfeld, late of the 2nd Waffen SS Division “Das Reich,” prepared to take on what was left of the organization he had once been proud to serve. The SS, after all, were most effective killers.

Jurgen was perfectly happy to find them and feed them their lessons.

It occurred to me, readers, that you might want to see other fan-pics I’ve written in the Axis of Time universe. So here are some links.

The End of the Circle

Writing Sample No. 3

Writing Sample No. 2

Writing Preview!

 

 

 

 

 

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