The Polish Officer | Chapter 3 of 6 - Part: 1 of 52

Author: Alan Furst | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 5322 Views | Add a Review

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Oberschützen Kohler and Stentz, the two privates first-class on

guard duty, stood and watched the Polish women, dark figures in the morning fog, as they picked through the mounds of garbage. This

guard duty was permanent, and they did it every morning. They

didn’t like it, but they knew nobody cared about that, so they didn’t, either.

At the age of nineteen, though, it was a sad lesson. These women,

fated to spend this early hour picking through the garbage of a German garrison in order to have something to eat—could they be so different from their own mothers and grandmothers? Kohler and Stentz

were not barbarians, they were Wehrmacht riflemen, not so different from generations of infantry, Swedish or Prussian or Corsican or

Austrian—the list was just too long—who had stood guard at camps

on these Polish rivers back into the time of the Roman legions.

Kohler looked around, made sure there were no officers in the

vicinity, then he tapped Stentz on the shoulder. Stentz whistled a certain clever way, and the crone showed up a few moments later like she always did. Her face, all seamed and gullied beneath wisps of thin, white hair, never stopped nodding, thank you, Excellency, thank you, Excellency, as she moved to the edge of the barbed wire. She reached out trembling hands and took the crusts of bread that Stentz got from a friend in the camp kitchen. These vanished into her clothing, kept separate from whatever was in the burlap sack she carried over her shoulder. She mumbled something—she had no teeth and was hard to

understand, but it was certainly thankful. It wished God’s mercy on Furs_0375758275_3p_02_r1.qxd 8/30/01 9:31 AM Page 75

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them. Heaven had seen, she was certain, this kindness to an old


Later that morning she walked to the edge of her village to meet the man who bought rags. For him too she thanked God, because these

were not very good rags, they were used, worn-out rags with very little rubbing and cleaning left in them. Still, he paid. She had gasoline-soaked rags from the motor pool, damp, foul rags that had been used to clean the kitchens, brown rags the soldiers used to polish their boots, a few shreds of yellow rag they used to shine brass with, and some of the oily little patches they used to clean their rifles.

The rag man bought everything, as he always did, and counted out

a few coppers into her hand—just as he would for all the other old ladies who came to see him throughout the morning. Only a few coppers, but if you had enough of them they bought something. Every-

body was in business now, she thought, it was always that way when the armies came. Too bad about the nice boys who gave her the bread.

They would die, pretty soon, nice or not. Sad, she thought, how they never learned what waited for them in Poland.

7 March 1940, Budapest. The offices of Schlegel and Son, stock and commodity exchange brokers based in Zurich. Mr. Teleky, the brisk

young transfer clerk, took the morning prices off the teletype just before noon and wrote them in chalk on a blackboard hung from the

oak paneling in the customers’ room. Behind a wooden railing a few old men sat and smoked, bored and desultory. War was bad for the

brokerage business, as far as Mr. Teleky could see. People put their money into gold coins and buried them in the basement—nobody believed in the futures market when nobody believed in the future.

Still, you acted as though everything would come out for the best—

where would you go in the morning if you didn’t go to work? Mr.


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Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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