The cafe downstairs was playing Dietrich again. "Lilli Marlene" for the third time this morning and it was still before ten. Glad for the distraction, Devlin Judge slid his chair from his desk and stepped onto the balcony of his fifth floor office. The music was clearer now. Dietrich's dusky voice bounced off the cobblestones and wandered through the canyon of apartments and office buildings, mingling with the cling-clang of bicycle bells and hot sweet scent of freshly baked croissants.
Humming nervously, Judge let his eyes wander the rooftops of Paris. A bold sun splashed the landscape of ocher tile and verdigris, its lustrous rays erasing a lifetime of soot and grime. The Arc de Triomphe stood guard at the end of the block. Through the fine morning haze, the towering limestone plains looked close enough to touch. If he rose on his toes, he could catch the crown of the Eiffel Tower. Normally, the sights made his heart jump. Today, he found the view mundane. His work, too, refused his attention. Since arriving three hours earlier, he'd been unable to concentrate on anything except the butterflies that had taken firm, unremitting possession of his gut.
Today was the day. He didn't need a damn thing to make his heart race faster than it already was.
Ordering himself back to his desk, he pulled on his reading glasses, tugged at his cuffs, and with a resigned sigh, picked up the leather bound diary he'd been struggling with all morning. The faded blue script spoke of a dinner in August of 1942 given by Adolf Hitler at Wolfschanze, his battlefield headquarters in East Prussia. Hitler had ranted at length about the chronic shortage of labor in the country's largest factories and had ordered shipments of foreign workers to the Fatherland increased.Sklavenarbeit was the word he employed. Slave labor. The information would be useful tomorrow when Judge sat face to face with the diarist himself, and listened to the fat man's confident denials. In open court, it would prove damning.
The prospect made Judge smile for the first time that morning.
Selecting a bookmark from a neat stack two inches deep, he inscribed a number at its head and inserted it into the diary. He sighed. Number 1,216, and still nearly three years of the war to go. Copying the numerals to his legal pad, he transcribed the pertinent details in the painstaking print he'd developed over five years as an attorney. Neatness brought clarity, and clarity, order, he reminded himself. There was no room for confusion in a proper legal argument. That went for the simplest case of larceny. It counted double for the most important trial in the tenure of civilized mankind.
Devlin Parnell Judge had not come to Europe simply as an attorney, but as a member of the International Military Tribunal, the august legal body established by the Allied powers – Russia, Britain, France and the United States – to try the leaders of the Third Reich for war crimes. The acts were so heinous, so original in their barbarity that they warranted a new and unique classification: crimes against humanity.
Judge had been assigned to the interrogations division. They were the hard-eyed boys, charged with drawing incriminating statements from the accused so that their silver-tongued colleagues could make mincemeat of them on the stand. It wasn't the first team, but he was happy all the same. Every lawyer in Manhattan, including those who worked alongside him at the US Attorney's office, wanted in. The war crimes trials would make front-page news and the men who stood before the bar would be as famous as Ruth or DiMaggio. Though he'd lobbied hard for the spot, Judge's motivations had little to do with career advancement. Nor were they shaped by any altruistic bent. Only as a member of the International Military Tribunal could he uncover the details of what had happened to his brother, Francis Xavier, an ordained Jesuit priest and army chaplain killed in Belgium seven months before. More importantly, only as a member of the IMT could he have the power to make those responsible pay.
Today was the day.
The phone rang and Judge pounced on it.
But it was only a driver from motor transport confirming his pickup tomorrow morning. Was six o'clock alright? They needed an hour to Orly and an hour on top of that for the flight to Mondorf-les-Bains. The major would be at the "Ashcan" by nine o'clock sharp. Judge said he'd be ready and hung up the phone.
The "Ashcan" was slang for the Palace Hotel in Luxembourg, a fading five star princess pressed into service as a maximum security prison. Inside its peeling stucco walls resided fifty of the highest-ranking Nazis in captivity. Speer, Donitz, Keitel: the shamelessBonzen of the National Socialist Worker's Party. And, of course, Hermann Wilheim Goering, Hitler's jovial prince, and the man with whose interrogation Judge had been charged.
He continued reading, the historical significance of his work granting him a resolve he couldn't otherwise muster. Ten minutes later, he decided further progress was futile. Off came the glasses, down went the diary. He simply couldn't concentrate. Better not to work at all, than to risk bad product. Rising from his desk, he closed the balcony doors behind him. The music was no longer a distraction, just a nuisance. Germany's most famous expatriate singing the English lyrics to Hitler's favorite tune. Why did the song make him so homesick?
Pacing the perimeter of his cramped office, Judge plucked a dozen law books from their scattered resting places and returned them to the shelves. He was not a tall man, but the beam of his shoulders and the girth of his neck conspired to ensure he was never ignored. This strength was also apparent in his back, which was broad and well-muscled, the product of a youth hustling barrels of Canadian whiskey at the local speakeasy. His hands, too, were thick and compact, at odds with his well-manicured nails and the wedding band he still wore only to pretty them.
He had a gambler's sly face with flashing brown eyes and a smile that promised trouble. His black hair was cut short and parted with a razor slash. And this guileful mien set on a fighter's frame lent him a smouldering ambiguity. At El Morocco, he was made to wait even with a reservation in hand. At the Cotton Club, he was immediately shown the best table in the house. But Judge had no problem reconciling his physical contradictions, for in them he read his own secret history. He was the neighborhood rascal masquerading as the law. The reformed sinner who prayed louder than the rest, not so that God might better hear him, but to drum out his own undying doubts.
Having finished replacing the heavy legal tomes, he scanned the office for anything else out of place. The bookshelves were packed to full, spines arranged by height. A dozen legal pads rose high on a credenza. As usual his desk was immaculate. A chipped porcelain mug stuffed with a bouquet of sharpened pencils decorated one corner, an army-issue day calendar the other, its officious red script declaring the date to be Monday, 9 July. Tucked behind a green-visored table lamp stood two small photographs – his sole concession to lending his office of six weeks a touch of home.
One showed a tall, portly man with wavy dark hair sporting the bold pin-stripes of the Fordham Rams, his insouciant smile and practiced slouch betrayed by the serious grip with which he held the bat to his shoulder. Judge picked up the frame and wiped away a day's accumulation of dust, then returned it to its place. His brother, Francis, hadn't been much of a ball player. He was a klutz with a glove and slow as an ox. But give him a fastball and he'd knock it out of the park. Anything else, forget it. He'd go down swinging in four pitches. The words "full count" were nowhere in his lexicon.
The second photo was smaller, worn and creased from a thousand days in Judge's wallet. A smiling four year old greeted the camera, dark hair parted and combed like his father's, eyes opened wide with excitement as if life were something he couldn't get enough of. Judge dusted the photo, too, returning his boy's smile with equal parts longing and pride.
He'd brought a few other reminders of home with him to Europe – a sterling fob watch given to him by his old boss, Thomas Dewey, back when Dewey was just a special prosecutor and not yet governor of New York State; a small ornately sculpted crucifix that had belonged to his brother and a photo of his parents, deceased these ten years – but these he stored in his drawer. An attorney's eyes were best kept on his work, he'd been taught, and personal mementos were little more than crutches for the unfocused mind.
Satisfied that his office was in presentable shape, he contemplated returning to his desk. Eyeing the low backed chair, he took an unconscious step backward, as if it were electrified. Even on good days, he wasn't a patient man. Today, he was downright skittish. A hand fell to his wrist and he began turning his watch round and round. He couldn't remember when he'd acquired the habit, only that it was a long time ago. What was waiting but a genteel form of torture?
The latest batch of documents had arrived yesterday at noon. Forty-seven filing cabinets stuffed with three thousand pounds of official government correspondence, property of the Reich Main Security Office at Prinz Albrechtstrasse 8, Berlin – headquarters of the "SS", orSchutzstaffel – Hitler's private black guard. Judge's spies upstairs in "C amp;C" cataloguing and collating – told him these were the papers he'd been waiting for: movement orders, casualty lists, after-action reports chronicling the daily battlefield history of the SS's elite divisions. Somewhere inside was word of who had killed his brother. It was just a question of finding it.
Today was the day.
A sharp knock at the door interrupted his vacillating. A short, rumpled officer with thinning gray hair and wire-rimmed spectacles entered the office. His uniform was similar to Judge's. Dark olive jacket, khaki shirt and tie with light slacks to match. "Pink and greens," in the military vernacular. Like Judge, he was an attorney and carried the insignia of the Judge Advocate General's Corps on his lapel.
"I think you'd better come with me," said Colonel Bob Storey, chief of the IMT's Document Control Division. "We might have found our pot of gold."
"What is it? Do you have a name?"
"Just come along. You'll have plenty of time to ask questions later."
Judge grabbed his coat and dashed out of the office. The hallways of 7 rue de Presbourg bustled with civilian and military personnel. Not a day passed without a mother lode of documents being discovered somewhere in Germany. Last week, 485 tons of diplomatic papers were found in a cave in the Harz Mountains. The week before, the archives of the Luftwaffe Central Command turned up in a salt mine in Obersalzberg, Austria. Anything dealing remotely with activities that might be construed as war crimes was sent here. Given the scope of the Nazis' atrocities and their propensity for documenting their every act, that made for a hell of a lot of paper.
Judge followed Storey at a close distance, the two marking a brisk pace. He was troubled by his older colleague's ambivalence. If they'd found a pot of gold, why wasn't he more excited? After all, Bob Storey had been his partner in this thing from day one – his cheerleader, his unofficial commanding officer, and more recently, Judge believed, his friend.
He approached Storey his very first day on the job, asking his help with a personal matter. His older brother, Francis Xavier, had been killed last December at Malmedy, he explained. Might Storey keep an eye out for any documents that might shed light on the facts surrounding the incident? It was a tale every American knew well, emblazoned on the country's collective memory by headlines of fire and vitriol: "CAPTURED GIs MASSACRED IN MALMEDY", "100 SOLDIERS SHOT IN COLD BLOOD", and, perhaps, most eloquently, "MURDER!" Storey agreed immediately.
These were the details: on the morning of Sunday, 17 December 1944, a column of American troops, primarily members of B Battery of the 285thField Artillery Observation Battalion, found themselves driving south on a two-lane country road in eastern Belgium. The day was sunny, the temperature above zero. Little snow covered the ground. The men traveled in a convoy of thirty vehicles – jeeps, weapons carriers, heavy trucks, and two ambulances reaching the village of Malmedy at 12:15 hours. The area was safely under American control. Route markers had passed through earlier in the day and several other units had followed the same path without incident an hour before. But as B Battery passed through Malmedy, word came that German patrols had been spotted a few miles to the southwest. (Though the massive German counter-offensive that came to be known as the "Battle of the Bulge" had been launched the day before, no fighting had been reported in this particular sector.)
B Battery continued as planned. A few miles outside of Malmedy, after passing through the Baugnez Crossroads, an intersection of five country roads, the convoy suddenly came under direct fire from a column of German tanks less than half a mile away. At least five vehicles were hit and their occupants killed or wounded. The rest halted immediately, many seeking protection in a gully next to the road. The rapidly approaching German tanks kept up their fire, both with machine gun and cannon. Two minutes later, a Panther tank plowed B Battery's lead Jeep off the road. In the face of a vastly superior force, the American soldiers – among them, Father Francis Xavier Judge, S.J. – surrendered.
The German column was, in fact, the lead element of Kampfgruppe Peiper, or Taskforce Peiper, a fast attack force of a hundred and fifteen tanks, a hundred self propelled guns, and 4,500 men charged with breaking through American lines and dashing to the Meuse river. While the main element of theKampfgruppe continued past the Baugnez Crossroads, a detachment was left behind to deal with their prisoners. One hundred and thirteen GIs were herded into the surrounding fields and disarmed. A few minutes later, the Germans opened fire on the unsuspecting prisoners. After the shooting ceased, two German soldiers walked through the field shooting the wounded Americans. Amazingly, of the one hundred and thirteen Americans assembled in the field south of Malmedy, forty escaped by playing dead and fleeing into the surrounding woods as opportunity permitted.
That much Judge knew. He'd compiled the information from the existing record: interviews with the massacre's survivors, statements of captured German troops who'd fought as part of the task force, as well as descriptions of battlefield actions given by officers who had been nearby at the time. Yet seven months after the act, he was unable to identify the officer who had given the order to fire.
Judge closed the door to Storey's office, refusing the offer of a seat. "So, what have you got?"
Storey drew a manila file from his drawer and slid it across his desk. "Good news and bad news, I'm afraid."
"How's that?" Judge spun the file around so that it faced him right side up. A pink routing slip was attached to the cover. He read to whom the file belonged and shook his head. His efforts had narrowed the list of suspects to three men, and if he didn't know them personally, he was intimately familiar with their records. "He was my longshot. The guy was an Olympian, for crying out loud. You'd think he'd know something about fair play. What clinched it?"
"Go ahead. Read. But, Devlin, I'm warning you, it's tough going."
Judge paused before opening the cover, offering a prayer for his departed brother. Inside was a single document, two pages in length, immaculately typed on SS field stationery. It was an "after-action" report filed by one Lieutenant Werner Ploschke. Judge ventured a halting look at Storey, then took a deep breath and read.
At 13:02 hours on 17 December 1944, a convoy of American Jeeps and trucks was spotted passing through the junction ofN-23 and N-32, proceeding south on the Ligneuville-St Vith road near the town of Malmedy. Lieutenant Werner Sternebeck engaged the enemy immediately. Two Panther tanks fired six rounds each from their main guns. Four American vehicles were destroyed. Five others were damaged while taking evasive maneuvers. Sternebeck drove his tank to the head of the American column and fired his machine gun over the heads of the Americans to gain their immediate surrender. Kampfgruppe commander, Major Jochen Peiper, ordered all gasoline siphoned from the ruined cars and those vehicles in working condition confiscated. Hereafter, he continued his advance with the main element of the attack group and left the area.
Major Erich Seyss, now in command, ordered all American soldiers into the adjoining field where they were disarmed and searched for items of intelligence value. Forty-six pairs of winter boots and eighty heavy jackets were remanded to field quartermaster Sergeant Steiner. Seyss then ordered Panthers 107, 111, 83 and 254 and Tigers 54 and 58 brought alongside the field. All guns were trained on the prisoners. At 14:05 hours, he commanded gunners and rear guard infantry to fire on the Americans. The shooting lasted exactly ten minutes. Two thousand two hundred and forty-four rounds were expended. Afterwards, Seyss entered the field along with Sergeant Richard Biedermann and administered the coup de grace as necessary.
Judge put down the paper. There it was, then. Everything he'd searched for. Everything he needed to secure a conviction. Seyss was already in an American lockup somewhere. As an SS officer, he'd been subject to automatic arrest when he was captured. It was just a matter of time then, until he was brought to trial. But if Judge had been expecting a few pangs of gratification, he was disappointed. No surge of adrenaline warmed his neck. No flush of victory colored his cheeks. All he had was a name, some papers, and the knowledge that in a year or so, somewhere in Germany, the floor would fall from a gallows and Seyss would die. The law had never felt so sterile.
"I suppose this will nail it," he said, trying hard to add a cheerful lilt to his voice. "We won't even need to bring in any of our eyewitnesses. Seyss's comrades signed his death warrant. It'll be the hangman for sure."
Storey nodded curtly. "There are some pictures, too."
Judge grimaced involuntarily and the corrosive drip in his belly started all over again. "Oh? Whose are they?"
"German. They're rough, so don't feel you have to look. I thought it my responsibility to inform you. Naturally, they'll form part of the prosecutorial record."
"Good news and bad news," he'd said.
Storey handed him a sheaf of photographs an inch thick. 8 x 10s. Judge mumbled "thanks", then began shuffling through them. He could feel his heart beating faster, his throat tightening involuntarily. It was a classic flight response. The way he felt in court when his lead witness impeached his testimony on cross. The first few showed sixty or seventy GIs scattered across a plowed-over field. Some of the soldiers were stripped down to their skivvies, others fully clothed. All of them were dead. The photographer abandoned landscapes for portraits. Judge stared at the faces of a dozen murdered GIs. One still arrested his eye.
An American soldier lay naked from the waist up in the snow, a string of perfect holes diagonally traversing his torso from right to left. One arm was outstretched, as if waving goodbye. A crater crusted the open palm. Quite a shot. The face was frozen in surprise and terror, mouth ajar, eyes opened their widest. Still, he was easy to recognize. The thick black hair, the cleft chin, the inquiring nose – a snooper's nose, Judge had called it – the scar above the eyebrow, and of course, the eyes, wide and accusing. Even in death Francis Xavier Judge was taking his younger brother's measure.
Seyss ordered all machine gunners to open fire on the prisoners, two thousand two hundred and forty-four rounds were expended.
Judge stood perfectly still, the text of the after-action report echoing in his head. Silently, he yelled to Francis to run, to fall to the ground. He saw his brother raising his hands in the air, could hear the prayer issuing from his lips:Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. He witnessed the look of worry turn to fear, then horror, as the first shots cracked the winter cold.Damn you, Francis. Hit the deck!
He flipped to the next photograph and his frustration flamed to anger.
The picture showed an SS officer wearing a camouflage uniform standing in the field, jackboot planted firmly in the lee of a GIs back. One hand was fastened round a lock of hair, lifting the head, the other bringing a pistol to the nape of the doomed soldier's neck. The officer had blond hair and his face was streaked with dirt. An Iron Cross hung from his neck. Another was pinned to his breast. A hero. Four silver diamonds on his collar patch indicated his rank as major. Another man stood behind him, laughing.
Seyss entered the field along with SS Sergeant Richard Biedermann and administered the coup de grace as necessary.
Judge dropped the pictures onto the desk, turning away from Storey and closing his eyes. He'd thought his tireless digging had inured him to the loss of his brother, that his intimate knowledge of the manner and circumstances of Frankie's death had somehow deadened the wound. He was wrong. The German's recounting of the massacre – so factual, so cold, sotrivial – coupled with the frank photographs, ripped open his hurt and christened his pain anew.
"You all right?" asked Storey.
Judge tried to answer, but didn't dare speak. His throat was suddenly un-navigable, his legs growing weaker by the second. Somehow he managed a grim nod.
Storey patted him on the arm. "Like I said, there's some bad news, too."
Judge shot Storey a withering glance, ignorant of the tear rolling down his cheek. What could be worse than seeing a photo of your only brother, the last member of your family, slaughtered in a desolate field in a foreign land?
"It's Seyss," said Storey. "He's escaped."