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Филип Керр «Prague fatale»

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Prague Fatale

Philip Kerr




















Prague Fatale

Philip Kerr


Monday-Tuesday 8-9 June 1942

It was a fine warm day when, together with SS-Obergruppenfuhrer Reinhard Tristan Eugen Heydrich, the Reichsprotector of Bohemia and Moravia, I arrived back from Prague at Berlin’s Anhalter Station. We were both wearing SD uniform but, unlike the General, I was a man with a spring in my step, a tune in my head, and a smile in my heart. I was glad to be home in the city of my birth. I was looking forward to a quiet evening with a good bottle of Mackenstedter and some Kemals I had liberated from Heydrich’s personal supply at his office in Hradschin Castle. But I wasn’t in the least worried he might discover this petty theft. I wasn’t worried about anything very much. I was everything that Heydrich was not. I was alive.

The Berlin newspapers gave out that the unfortunate Reichsprotector had been assassinated by a team of terrorists who had parachuted into Bohemia from England. It was a little more complicated than this, only I wasn’t about to say as much. Not yet. Not for a long time. Maybe not ever.

It’s difficult to say what happened to Heydrich’s soul, assuming he ever had one. I expect Dante Alighieri could have pointed me in the approximate direction if ever I felt inclined to go and search for it, somewhere in the Underworld. On the other hand I’ve a pretty good idea of what happened to his body.

Everyone enjoys a good funeral and the Nazis were certainly no exception, giving Heydrich the best send-off that any psychopathically murderous criminal could have hoped for. The whole event was mounted on such a grand scale you would have thought some satrap in the Persian Empire had died after winning a great battle; and it seemed that everything had been laid on except the ritual sacrifice of a few hundred slaves – although, as things turned out for a small Czech mining village called Lidice, I was wrong about that.

From Anhalter Station Heydrich was carried to the Conference Hall of Gestapo headquarters, where six honour guards wearing black dress uniforms watched over his lying-in-state. For a lot of Berliners it was a chance to sing ‘Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead!’ while sneaking a wary tiptoes look inside the Prinz Albrecht Palace. On a par with other semi-hazardous activities like climbing to the top of the old radio tower in Charlottenburg or driving on the bank at the Avus Speedway, it was nice to be able to say that you’d done it.

On the radio that night the Leader eulogized the dead Heydrich, describing him as ‘the man with the iron heart’, which I assume he meant to be a compliment.

. Then again, it’s possible that our own wicked wizard of Oz might simply have confused the Tin Man with the Cowardly Lion.

The next day, wearing civilian clothes and feeling altogether more human, I joined thousands of other Berliners outside the New Reich Chancellery and tried to look suitably gloomy as the whole ant’s nest of Hitler’s myrmidons came bursting out of the Mosaic Hall to follow the gleaming gun carriage as it bore Heydrich’s flag-draped coffin east along Voss Strasse and then north up Wilhelmstrasse toward the General’s final resting place in the Invaliden Cemetery, alongside some real German heroes like von Scharnhorst, Ernst Udet and Manfred von Richthofen.

There was no doubting Heydrich’s bravery: his impetuous part-time active service with the Luftwaffe while most of the top brass stayed safe in their wolf’s redoubts and their furlined bunkers was the most obvious example of this courage. I suppose Hegel might just have recognized Heydrich’s heroism as the incarnation of the spirit of our despotic times. But for my money heroes need to have a working relationship with the gods, not the Titan forces of darkness and disorder. Especially in Germany. So I wasn’t in the least bit sorry to see him dead. Because of Heydrich, I was an officer in the SD. And pressed into the tarnished silver cap badge that was the loathsome symbol of my long acquaintance with Heydrich were the hallmarks of hatred, fear and, after my return from Minsk, guilt, too.

That was nine months ago. Mostly I try not to think about it but, as another famous German lunatic once observed, it’s hard to look over the edge of the abyss without the abyss looking back into you.


September 1941

The thought of suicide is a real comfort to me: sometimes it’s the only way I can get through a sleepless night.

On such a night – and there were plenty of them – I used to dismantle my Walther automatic pistol and meticulously oil the metal jigsaw of pieces. I’d seen too many misfires for the want of a well-oiled gun, and too many suicides gone badly wrong because a bullet entered a man’s skull at an acute angle. I would even unload the tiny staircase that was the single-stack magazine and polish each bullet, lining them up in a rank like neat little brass soldiers before selecting the cleanest and the brightest and the keenest to please to sit on top of the rest. I wanted only the best of them to blast a hole in the wall of the prison cell that was my thick skull, and then bore a tunnel through the grey coils of despond that were my brain.

All of this might explain why so many suicides go wrongly reported to the cops. ‘“He was just cleaning his gun and it went off,” said the dead man’s wife.’

Of course guns go off all the time and sometimes they even kill the person holding them; but first you have to put the cold barrel against your head – the back of the head is best – and pull the damned trigger.

Once or twice I even laid a couple of folded bath towels under the pillow on my bed and lay down with the firm intent of actually going through with it. There’s a lot of blood that leaks out of a head with even a small hole in it. I would lie there and stare at the suicide note that was written on my best paper – bought in Paris – and placed carefully on the mantelpiece, addressed to no one in particular.

No one in particular and I had a pretty close relationship in the late summer of 1941.

After a while, sometimes I would go to sleep. But the dreams I had were unsuitable for anyone under the age of twenty-one. Probably they were unsuitable for Conrad Veidt or Max Schreck ...

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