Saturday, December 5, 2009

Chapter 5: Easter 1921

Easter 1921

St. Elizabeth’s Church in Mauerstrasse

Reinhard Heydrich knocks at the priory next to the Church. “Good morning, Reinhard. Thank you for coming so early.” Father Strauss opens the door. It is still dark outside.

“You said it was important, Father,” replies Reinhard.


Father Strauss leads the way. Reinhard follows closely behind. An east wind chills their bones. Father Strauss shivers. Heydrich does not react. They reach the church. Father Strauss walks through the sacristy rather than through the entrance of St. Elizabeth’s. Heydrich casts an eye on the huge bronze doors, firmly shut. No words are exchanged. Father Strauss is hunched over, his cassock threadbare, his hands gnarled and swollen. His leather shoes worn out.

Heydrich gasps.

Inside the church, every available pew has a human being sleeping on it. Overhead, ropes have been strung across in order to hang diapers and other clothes. Bundles of clothes, sacks of cabbages and fruits are littering the priceless marble floor. The smell of sweat, urine and feces sears Heydrich’s lungs. He covers his mouth for a few seconds.

Father Strauss explains, “They’re homeless German refugees from Poland, France and Czechoslovakia, driven out by the Treaty of Versailles.” As if reading Heydrich’s mind, Father Strauss adds, “No. Not all are Catholics. To us they’re simply human beings.”

“Father, I helped you with the Mass three days ago…”

“The people arrived that same night. They have nowhere else to go.”

Heydrich walks an obstacle course down the aisle of St. Elizabeth’s, looking coolly to his left and then to his right. Father Strauss now follows him. Heydrich takes out a small notepad and begins jotting down things and details. He turns to Father Strauss. “Few old men, even fewer young men. Mostly women and children.” Without waiting to be asked, Heydrich plunges in. “The first thing to do is a proper head count, divide the people into ages, pool their food together, organize proper sanitation, remove the… clotheslines, hang everything outside the church.

“I see, the wet clothes only increase the dampness inside the church. Several people already have racking coughs,” agree Father Strauss.

“Then we have to look into the possibility of temporary housing for these people. Other churches, schools, orphanages, families might take them in,” says Heydrich.

“The Church has already authorized funds for all that. What do we do right now, Reinhard? We are overwhelmed. In a few days we are going to celebrate Easter Sunday. Your father is directing Handel’s Messiah.”

“To begin with, the women could organize cleaning brigades in the church. All the schools are closed for Lenten holidays. They have more toilets and sanitary facilities, as well as mess kitchens. My boys in the Schutzund Trutzbund League can oversee that,” Heydrich comments.

“One of the elderly men used to be on the city council of Prague. Another one was the leading lawyer in Lodz. One has a fine baritone voice and speaks French and Russian,” Father Strauss tells Heydrich.

“I’ll ask my parents if we could take in the political leader from Prague, maybe all three of them.”

“Thank you, Reinhard. I knew I could count on your organizational abilities,” says Father Strauss.

“Is there is a scientist among the lot, Father?”

“I’m not sure; the men would have said so.”

“What about the women?” asks Heydrich swiftly.

Father Strauss looks puzzled. “The women?” he repeats.

“Marie Curie received the Nobel twice, one for chemistry and another in physics. Yes, women,” stresses Heydrich.

“Look at these poor, harassed, traumatized women,” Father Strauss points out sadly.

Heydrich is greatly adamant. “Appearances can be deceiving. Would anyone take me for a musician or a biochemist?”

Father Strauss smiles. “I’m convinced me, I’ll make discreet inquiries.”

Heydrich smiles back. “I’m attending a rally with my brigade in an hour. In the meantime, the women should use diluted vinegar to wash the marble tiles. It’s cheaper and a better disinfectant than alcohol.”

Father Strauss throws back his head and laughs. “Well, listen to the chemist.”

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