by Stanley McFarland
“Honor speaks honor, Colonel,” he said to me in his thick Prussian accent. “A man carry hate in heart? I do not judge such a man. Hate is weakness. But do he what is right? Do he acts justly wit man he hates? Do he shows compassion? This is what measure man – not hate he carries.”
“They are murdering the Jews,” I told him. “They are gathering them in camps and killing them.”
“I have heard men say this,” said the Prussian. “I have heard others who say is not true. This is what I do not know. Who is right?”
“If what I tell you is true, Hauptmann…”
“That if I do not know, Colonel. I serve Germany. It is my country.”
Many of the guards spoke some English. Some used it to spy. Some used it to extort Red Cross items from the prisoners. Hauptmann Gerber used it to speak of honor and truth. He was my enemy, but I could not hate him. Just as he did not hate me for being a Jew – a fact he discovered, but had apparently not reported to his superiors.
And so we played this game, the Hauptmann and I; he pretending he didn’t know that my name was Cohen and not Card as it said on my tags; I pretending that I didn’t know that he knew. We discussed ethics and duty like two gentlemen at a coffee shop in peacetime.
The escape was well planned. I trailed the last group through B break. Lieutenant Dulais had used his Louisiana knife skills to advantage killing guards that crossed his path. Hauptmann Gerber lay in the mud. Was the mud darker around him? His uniform was slashed at the belly. His eyes opened as I approached.
“Live, Hauptmann Gerber,” I whispered. “I would not have a man like you die.”
“Neither I, you, Colonel Cohen,” he replied.