“Line them up!” His commanding officer barked out orders even as he climbed out of the wreckage that had been his newly issued Kübelwagen. His eyes bulged out. The fields flanking the frozen dirt road could have caught fire from the fury in them.
Henrik kept his rifle trained on the four men, while Gerhardt prodded them into a line on the road with the barrel of his.
Blue coat, black coat, grey wool suit, and dark thin plaid overcoat. Had his father sewn them? He had the black one. Henrik could remember his father, grey haired bending over the sewing machine in his tailor shop while he kept the seams tight and sturdy. His customers would always get their money’s worth. That had been in 1937. Before the war.
The first truck in the caravan screeched to a stop next to the four prisoners and the driver leaned out his window. He spit at the nearest man and swore at them all. “Stupid Dutch!” He screamed. “You deserve to die!”
Soldiers spilled out of the back of the transport and scrambled to drag those who hadn’t survived the land mines out of the wreckage- at least, what was left.
Col. Schmidt strode down the road and glared at the captives. “Do you know the punishment for this?” He flailed his arm towards the wreckage. “Eh? Do you know what happens to men like you?” His voice dropped, making the word “you” hardly above a whisper.
The black coat’s face drooped down, his double chin resting on the knotted scarf around his neck. Henrik stared at him. Hugo de Vries, the middle aged farmer with the booming voice and a reputation for fighting as long as the canals that divided Amsterdam, wouldn’t even raise his eyes to look at the German commander about to pass sentence on him or the truck driver cursing him and his countryman. It didn’t feel real.
The young man in the grey suit to Hugo’s right wasn’t much better.
Of the four only the two on the ends of the line looked straight back at the Germans who had captured them. Henrik recognized them both. Herr Vogel the schoolmaster in blue and Isaak Dekker the Jewish bookseller who had married Henrik’s cousin in plaid. The yellow star of David was missing from Isaak’s coat. It probably had never been sewn on. Margret would have thrown it back in the official’s face before she ever put it on her husband’s clothes.
“Do you know what you’ve done?” Col. Schmidt started screaming again. He strode up and down the line glaring at them. He stopped in front of Herr Vogel. “What do think you’re fighting for?” His bristling face was barely five inches from the schoolmaster’s own.
Herr Vogel never flinched. “For Her Majesty Queen Wilhelmina and the freedom of Holland.”
He hadn’t finished as the handle of Col. Schmidt’s Luger pistol slammed against his face with a crack. Herr Vogel’s jaw tightened but his gaze did not waver, even as blood started to spill out of the gash on his face and stream down his neck, staining his coat collar.
Col. Schmidt returned the Luger to its sheath and turned to the other three. Hugo’s gaze darted back to the ground but Isaak’s grew more intense.
Henrik’s stomach twisted again. Look down you fool! Even that silent piece of advice would be useless. The punishment for members of the resistance was death. And ten fold if you had killed a prime specimen of the Aryan army in the process.
Col. Schmidt sauntered in front of Isaak, a slanted, sickening grin breaking across his face. “And you? Do you fight for your dethroned Queen?”
Isaak didn’t reply at once. He stood there, eyeing Col. Schmidt carefully. “I am fighting for the freedom and survival of my people, Herr Colonel.”
Col. Schmidt’s smile thinned. “Survival? You are citizens of the Third Reich. You should be helping your countrymen survive by working to build arms and planes. You should be out on the work farms.” He folded his leather gloved hands together. “Jansen. Kaufmann. March these men back to head quarters and lock them up. I want to interrogate them.” He side-glanced at Isaak and Herr Vogel as he turned and started to order his men about cleaning up the road.