To die out here has nothing to do with protecting the Fatherland, nor with destroying its enemies. To die out here, to live out here means nothing, it is just a cold, white hell that gets handed back and forth between the armies.
That’s how the first page of the diary starts, written in the clear, concise handwriting of a man who not only went to school, but probably several before he ended up as Hitler Germany’s eyes and ears in the Finnish-Russian wars in the early days of the second World War. I am slowly translating his reports page by page, a cumbersome activity with my barely working command of this equally crude and elegant language. Where it falls short in times of peace it seems to excel during wartime, like an extra buffer against the emotions that can make a soldier consider turning his back towards the front lines or hold up his hands when the enemy advances. Even this man, clearly exposed to and understanding of the senseless slaughter around him just feels the need to write a passing thought into his worn notebook, then it’s back to doing his job.
I got into possession of this book and several others in possibly the weirdest way I have ever acquired anything. A friend, on business trip to Siberia for some kind of inexplicable reason had an hour to pass and decided to visit an old book store despite neither having the time nor dedication to read a single book front to cover since the days when teachers forced him to. Regardless of that he stumbled over an old cardboard box labeled something in a language he hardly understands full of historic documents. He recalled my passion for anything relating to the war, gave me a call via his satellite phone and without really knowing what was in them I told him to buy it all and ship it home. If that sounds like a massive investment made on a whim I should probably add that shipping the box was more expensive than acquiring it in the first place.
So now I’m sitting on a box full of documents that I should probably hand over to historians, but I have a good feeling they would probably disregard them considering their unknown origin. For them a source only counts as real when it has undergone thermal-infrared-proton-analysis, for me it becomes valid the moment it was clearly written on time-appropriate paper and I can cross-reference events mentioned within. And let me tell you, I’m a couple pages into the translation now and nothing in here has made me consider a fake – I just wish I could. If you read along you will understand.
The Finnish war only played a side-role in the grand scheme of things, it was really a great study for anyone to probe the Russian war apparatus. To summarize the debacle: The Russians won, but embarrassed themselves in the process by taking forever and a day to win over a country of four million total inhabitants.
This guy – some Franz Schubert – was along for the ride, really not at all involved and only getting a superficial view of the conflict, but enough to report back what the Fuhrer wanted to hear – that the Russians were large in numbers, but in disarray and weakened by Stalin’s effort to kill anyone half-way good at their jobs. He also stayed alive during his time there, allowing him to come back to the mainland and he even got a promotion – a choice even of a handful of different positions.
I find myself in the rare position, he writes, to pick my own poison. I have proved myself on the front-line, only to be given the choice of joining one of several administrations. My hope was to serve the Fatherland, but instead they want me to push papers around, relay calls and stack folders full of paperwork no one will need if the war effort remains successful.
I am sure that for his time and place Herr Schubert was an unnoticed talent, fit for a much higher position than the one offered to him, but also probably destined to a dead-end position. Reading further I am somewhat surprised he ended up in about the only position in which he could matter, probably as much as he was. To make things short again: He joined up as the assistant to an architect who, among other projects, ended up working with some Jaques Stosskopf on the construction of the Keroman u-boat bunkers. If you were inclinced to read up on the history of the place and the man you would find he was executed in ’44 for collaborating with the resistance, but until then the man had built a u-boat complex so tough that it still stands today despite efforts to detonate it.
If you walk past this Bollwerk – such an eloquent word to describe a hunk of concrete – you have no choice but to be awed by its huge Stahlbeton walls. We face repeated bombing raids, yet we do not even send out repair crews after most of them.
It goes on like this for a while, it seems like he lost interest in his diary for a while as just a few pages seemingly cover several years. The entries only pick up again right after this Stosskopf guy must have been found out and executed.
Times are changing around here now, he writes a little cryptically and I can not tell if that’s good or bad change in his opinion. But then he continues a couple days later in a much different tone. He seems to have been promoted, although I can not really tell to which.
For a while I was sure they didn’t trust me, that they thought I was too close to Jaques. I guess I can consider myself lucky to be alive, let alone suddenly finding myself in a position to change things for the better.
A couple more days and his entries start showing signs of a man struggling under new and unfamiliar responsibilities. His entries read more like he is complaining to his wife in letters home, talking about the struggle to acquire building materials but something in there makes no sense. I read up on the timeline and Jaques was arrested in February, all work on the new Keroman IV complex ceased in April, but his complaints reach much further beyond that. One of them clearly references events from September ’44.
As time progressed into ’45 and the end of the Reich became more and more apparent his reports become frantic, as if he was suddenly switching from telling a story to relieving his conscience.
I do not think we will finish construction in time.
We received a new shipment today, but I don’t think it will suffice.
Then suddenly it seems that this particular problem was either fixed or simply stood back behind his new one.
The train arrived today, but we are not ready. Block one through ten are nearing completion, but not the rest and even those barely meet minimum standards. But they don’t listen, their time is running out and they have to concentrate everything in Lorient before it’s too late.
I wish people would write these things so that others can understand them. There was no train line up top, so he must be talking about something underground. It also doesn’t sound as if this has something to do with submarines, they aren’t exactly known for being shipped by train. After that ominous delivery arrived his writing deteriorated quickly.
The noises make me mad. Every time I go down there. I don’t know how the guards deal with that, but they seem as if they have been doing this for years. Sometimes I think the look in their eyes isn’t even human anymore.
The Americans are near. I still haven’t received new orders on what we are supposed to do.
We can’t let them get in, they can never see this. No one should. No one should have made these things.
We locked the door, brought everyone inside who knows of Keroman V. Only one person on the outside to seal the entrance and I have given orders to execute him for treason so we can only hope that will get solved soon.
V? They didn’t even complete IV. I looked, but there is no room for a pen to run out of ink, the V follows directly after the N. And what the fuck kind of way is that to deal with a problem?
Still no orders. The men become restless down here, and who can fault them? I don’t think we have many other options. The scientist says he can’t continue his work under these conditions, they need at least another year before they are ready.
The Führer is dead. We have to do it before they can find us. I told the men to load up the boats, at least we have space for everyone and the cages. I don’t think I could get the men to leave anyone behind. The last thing the Reich needs is a mutiny in here.
I still have no clue what they were keeping in there, but it’s in cages and makes noises. Also it seems like there were submarines in there after all.
We are doing it. The boats are loaded, I can hear the water rising outside. It’s so slow, but we can’t go faster before everything is filled up or the pressure will crush us. I can not believe that the survival of the Reich now depends on us and a Plan B or C. We can only hope to make the journey, I’m not sure we can make it with only a handful of people who’ve been on a u-boat before.
We are almost there according to Josef. I heard many things about the Taiga, we should be safe there.
And then there’s the last entry, hastily scribbled down with the end trailing off.
Someone is out there, a ship found us. We are going to the surface, it’s the only option. If we can hold them up long enough the Schnitter can continue. The Fatherland has to continue, our people’s time will come again when the time is right. It’s lucky the scientists are on there, we aren’t so important anymore. My part is almost done, I will hand this book to Josef now and make sure these bastards never get a chance to look at our cargo. If someone reads this let it be known that Franz Schubert did his duty to the very end.
After that comes a blank page, then the writings continue in crudely written Cyrillic letters. If anyone wants me to translate that second part as well let me know, but I must warn you I read Russian even slower than German.