Halle, Germany after WWI
Heydrich and his Merker Frei Corps walk down a deserted, rundown street. He is leading his group. “Follow me,” he says. “Don’t hug the walls. Anyone can grab, stab or strangle you. Avoid walking in the middle of the street. We can be shot at. Step off the pavement and walk next to it. As I lead you forward, you, Hinkel and Strasser, walk backwards facing those parts we have just passed, in case of snipers.” Strasser does as he is told, but he takes out a lighter to light a cigarette dangling from his mouth. “No smoking,” Heydrich says categorically.
The smell of something cooking coming from an alleyway leads Heydrich to investigate. Some paces ahead, a one armed man, several men in crutches, in wooden legs, one man only with torso and arms pushing himself on a crude cart are around a fire of sorts, roasting a couple of huge black rats.
“Greetings, soldiers,” he says respectfully. “Is there anything we can do?”
There is unalloyed hostility all around him. Heydrich quickly says, “We haven’t come to take you away or steal your … some strong instinct makes Heydrich avoid the word food … what passes for a meal in these disastrous times.”
A soldier on crutches, still wearing the tattered uniform of the German Army, comes forward. “Merker Frei Corps? How about some decent cigarettes?”
Heydrich opens the flap of his shirt and walks over to the man. He gives him the whole pack.
“What about you?” he asks, tearing the paper open.
“I rarely smoke. I have it for soldiers like you.”
“Danke. Come into our parlor anytime. We’re always at home,” says the soldier with the crutches, in a sardonic grin.
One of the members of Heydrich’s unit asks tactlessly, without thinking things through, “What battles were you in?”
There is another hostile silence.
“He didn’t mean it like that,” Heydrich tries to explain.
The legless man on the wooden cart replies in a full, rich voice, “Hell. We were all in hell.” He spits on the ground.
Heydrich remains silent. He gathers his men, salutes the handicapped war veterans. “We’ll build a new Germany, with more principles, power and wealth.”
As he walks away, the soldier in the cart shouts, “Hey! What’s your name?”
Heydrich freezes. What to do or say? “These men come from hell. They are still in hell,” he tells his men softly. Heydrich turns around and says casually, “The name is Heydrich. Reinhard Heydrich.”
. . .
In City Hall. The Mayor and General Merker are handing out commendations and citations. Reinhard Heydrich has received the most. “You are hereby promoted to the German Offensive and Defensive League of the German People (Deutschvol Kischen Schutz und Trutzbund). His brother Heinz, sister Maria, mother Elizabeth and father Bruno are radiant with pride.
“As usual, Reinie gets the most medals,” comments his mother.
“They’re not medals, Mutti; they’re commendations,” daughter Maria corrects her.
“They are honors just the same.” Reinhard, accepting the medals, thinks back on the legless soldiers he saw earlier that week and wonders why they give him awards, and let the legless soldiers go hungry. At least Heydrich’s family is eating thanks to him.