Meine Gott, but it was hot in here. Claus looked around with contempt at the close-shut quarters; at the overweight, pasty, middle-aged men, sweating profusely in their heavy woollen uniforms. Good quality wool, he noticed. No, there’d be no skimping here. Not like out in the real world’s sturm und drang, where young men, boys really, were lucky in possessing a pair of boots or even socks that hadn’t come from a dead man’s feet.
He surreptitiously brushed a fly away from his high forehead, not wanting it near his eye. He only had one, after all, and it was precious as a result. They were everywhere in here, these horrible, dirty, inglorious little bastards. It was as though they could smell the rot which had set in with those smashing windows and fires six years ago; that night of crystal-cracked horror which had served to convince him that ahead lay only madness.
Flicking another one off his battledress, he tried to look both attentive and calm; no mean feat in an atmosphere of almost electric resentment, tension, and swelling anger, most of it seemingly emanating from the shortish man seated at the desk towards the end of the room.
It was quite odd, he reflected, staring at his nails, smiling absently and nodding pleasantly at that absolute bastard, Borgmann, to think that within a few hours, he would quite possibly be dead, and those same flies would be buzzing around his corpse.
Buzz, buzz, buzz.
That was alright. As long as he wasn’t alone in the maggot-blooming darkness, he didn’t care if the Lord of the Flies himself sang a song over his corpse. Wagner, perhaps.
It would be more than appropriate, after all.
He realised the little man had stopped working, and was staring. Oh God. Was he staring at him? He began to sweat himself, like those fat oafs. Just a little. Stay calm, he thought. He studiously ignored von Haeften who was looking nervous as hell.
Ich muss beschaulich sein für eine etwas länger.
I must be quiet for a little longer.
He realised the stare was not directed at him, and relaxed, the infinitesimal tensions not showing to the outside world. In fact, that crawler von Below (as he was referred to amongst the real soldiers and their friends) was wondering, from the other side of the long table, a little bitterly, what on earth that damned one-eyed, one-handed cold fish Claus was looking so calm about.
It wasn’t as if he was exactly a favourite, after all.
The stare got more fixed. People started to shift in their places uncomfortably.
The little man stood up – not that it made much difference, Claus thought, uncharitably, but not without warrant. He watched as the master of the Wolf’s Lair marched down the room, as much as one could march in a space only a little larger than the concrete shoebox they thankfully had been spared, and stopped in front of Jodl, who to his credit didn’t flinch.
“Is there a problem, my Leader?” he said quietly, with the steel-covered tone he’d learned long ago at cadet school. You didn’t survive as long as Jodl without staying as inflexible as his own Iron Cross.
“Is there a problem, you ask. My goodness, you must think I am an idiot, Herr General. Or perhaps I must think you are an idiot, for asking this question! Yes, that must be more to the point, I think!”
The voice was rapidly rising, taking on the faint tone of hysteria known to drive thousands of buxom blonde schoolgirls into flaxen waves of giddiness, clasping hands to bosom as their Dolfi spoketh the word as delivereth by Goebbels.
Claus snapped back to attention. What on earth was the lunatic going on about? Then he went cold. Oh. Oh, no. He can’t have found out.
He attempted to look mildly interested, whilst underneath his mind raced, frantically. He flicked another fly away from his face, and as he did, he saw a pointing finger thrust belligerently towards him, and he knew the hour of his death was upon him.
“There is the problem! It is in front of all our eyes! Traitors! Traitors in our midst!”
Jodl, managing to sound both respectful and dismissive at the same time (quite a feat, really), replied –
“I fail to see what you are talking about, Herr Oberbefehlshaber. I see no traitor, unless you accuse poor von Stauffenberg of planning to assassinate you, or some such unlikely foolishness!”
Claus was almost certain his bowels were about to give way, and in doing so set off the bomb planted right near Jodl’s chair. He forced himself to stare back at Jodl, and twist his mouth, wryly, as a good Prussian would. Just a little show of humorous understanding. A little, only.
Hitler wheeled on Jodl. “And now you make fun of a loyal officer, as well as your Führer! I tell you, Herr General, I lose my patience quickly!”
He wheeled around.
“I am talking of these bloody flies! They are haunting me, night and day. Like little deaths, they are, around my head, in my ears… bzzz, bzzz, bzzz.”
“I rather think that buzzing is bees, mein Führer,” put in Heini ‘Deathwish’ Brandt, unhelpfully.
“You do not help, Oberst Brandt!” barked Hitler, his hair falling over his face, moustache and left eye twitching uncontrollably. “You do not help at all!”
“This situation is beyond even my legendary endurance. My personal astronomer told me of my death; that it would come on swift wings. That it would be an unseen quickening. A buzzing of sorts, he said. These flies” – and here he paused to glare triumphantly at Brandt – “are a buzzing, ‘of sorts’!
“I will not risk being lost to my people and my country! I will not be lost to the Reich!”
Adolf Hitler, Führer und Reichskanzier, leaned forward, pounding his fists on the table, his voice rising ever higher.
“Wo ist die verdammte fliegenklappe? Finden Sie es! Schnell! Oder was passiert als nächstes – es ist nicht lustig! Nein! Nicht einmal für mich!”**
To a man, the table winced and rose, frantically trying to find the damned fly-swatter. Hitler of course thought the winces were because of his pronunciations of future doom if it wasn’t found, and smiled with satisfaction, even as he brushed flies from his hair, not understanding he was only partly right; they were down to pronunciation, true – to his horrible, horrible, nasal Austrian mangling of their beautiful Hochdeutsch.
Claus, whilst trying to find the bloody fly-swatter, was mindlessly trying to remember how long he had before the bomb went off, and whether he was going to make it out of there alive. He looked under the table on the pretence of trying to find that stupid fly-flapper, as that god-awful Austrian dialect had it, and stopped dead.
The bomb was no longer armed. He could see the briefcase – and the fuse, hanging out at the corner. He almost vomited on the spot. Wild notions of drawing his service revolver went through his head, but of course it was in the anteroom. Nobody was allowed personal arms near Hitler. Not even Himmler, the fat pig.
Then, he saw the fly-swatter.
And fury at his Führer rose in his blood.
“Mein Führer, I have the fly-flapper – I mean, the fly-swatter!” he announced, as portentously as he could, marching over to the little corporal and throwing his arm up in a terrifyingly pointy Nazi salute, which almost took Hitler’s eye out as it, and the swatter, met with his approval.
“Danke, Herr Colonel Stauffenberg! Thankfully one of my senior staff” – and here he glared at Brandt, who had the intelligence to look palely ill with regard to his continuing existence, if not his inability to grasp the fly-swatter’s significance – “understood my concerns!”
“Mein Führer! You have – oh, this is very worrying!”
“What???” Hitler almost screamed.
“You have a fly – a fly laying eggs on the back of your head, mein Führer! Oh, it is dreadful! What can this mean?” said von Stauffenberg, hamming it up.
“Swat it!!!” shrilled Hitler. “Swat the devil’s instrument!”
“I have your permission to swat your head, my leader? You are certain?” – and Jodl looked up sharply, hearing something, perhaps, underneath Claus’s tone.
“Just do it, man! For the love of your country!”
“For the love of my country”, repeated Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, on the twentieth of July, 1944, high in the Masurian Woods, with the wolves howling loudly around him and louder inside his head.
Thwack. Thwack. Thwack.
And as the yelling and crying started, and the flies buzzed unheeded in the mess of Hitler’s scalp, he sat down, calmly placed the bloody fly-swatter on the table, and awkwardly pulled a handkerchief out to wipe his one good hand, as General Alfred Jodl, now nominally the Supreme Commander of the German Armed Forces, held his hand up to stop anyone arresting him, and himself started to quietly draft Germany’s unconditional surrender to the Allied High Command.
Loose Translation: **“Where is the damn fly-swatter? Find it! Quick! Or what happens next – it’s not funny! No! Not even for me!”
A note, for those less (or perhaps as) interested in weird war shit than myself:
The twentieth of July, 1944, was of course the culmination of ‘Operation Valkyrie’, an intensely complex plan intended to ultimately assassinate Adolf Hitler and bring about an end to the Nazi Party, the influence of the SS, and Germany’s war.
Spearheaded by Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, his adjutant Werner von Haeften, and a larger group of high-ranking ‘real’ military officers, including Henning von Tresckow, Hans Oster, Ludwig Beck, and Freidrich Olbricht, appalled at Hitler’s destruction of their beloved country, it resulted in von Stauffenberg taking a British-made bomb in a briefcase to the Wolfsschanze, or Wolf’s Lair, where Hitler was holding a series of top-secret military conferences with his highest ranking commanders.
The bomb went off, seriously injuring two, injuring 18 more, and killing two. Heinz ‘Deathwish’ Brandt, mentioned above, was one of those killed. General Alfred Jodl, who did, of course, sign Germany’s unconditional surrender after Hitler’s suicide in 1945, and was subsequently charged with conspiracy to commit crimes against peace, planning, initiating and waging wars of aggression, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, at the Nuremberg Trials in 1946, and executed in Munich, was slightly injured.
So was Adolf Hitler.
Von Stauffenberg, von Haeften, and several of the other major conspirators were summarily rounded up by an incandescently angry Hitler, and executed in a hail of bullets the same night.
Beck committed suicide before they got to him; von Tresckow took his own life in shame at failing whilst seeing active duty on the Eastern Front.
Hitler declared an internal war on all who might have been party to plots against him, stating his intent to have them “hanged like cattle”.
More than 7,000 people were arrested, and 4,980 executed.
Over a third were proven to have nothing to do with Valkyrie, plots against the Reich, or any kind of attempt on Hitler’s life.