December 6, 1944
“Mr. Dulles, this is just in from Washington!”
Although early in the morning, Allen Dulles, chief of the United States Office of
Strategic Services, was already buried in paperwork when his aide burst into his office.
“What is it, Jenkins?” Dulles said, hardly looking up from his desk.
“Sir, excuse me, but I think this is important,” Jenkins said as he handed his boss a single piece of paper. “Really important!”
“Calm down, Jenkins. It’s barely six a.m.” Dulles said.
As head of the government’s covert intelligence arm in Switzerland, Dulles had pretty much seen it all, and was amused by his aide’s wide eyes and loud voice.
“I know the time, sir, but I think you need to see this right away,” Jenkins said, handing Dulles a memo. “It’s from General Donovan.”
“Oh, I see,” Dulles said, amused. He leaned back in his chair, and looked at a picture of the general on a wall. “You know how the boss got the nickname ‘Wild Bill’?
“Uh, not really, sir.” Jenkins said. “But, sir, I think you should really look—.”
“He earned the Medal of Honor for service in World War I.”
“Very impressive. But, sir, I think you need to read this now.”
“Okay, okay, Jenkins,” Dulles sighed. He put his steel-rimmed glasses on. “Now let’s see what so damn important this early in the morning.” He slowly unfolded the memo.
OFFICE OF THE DIRECTOR
OFFICE OF STRATEGIC SERVICES
5 December 1944
TOP SECRET TOP SECRET
BURN AFTER READING
MEMORANDUM FOR: Allan Dulles, Bern
SUBJECT: Operation Phoenix
- Hitler may escape Germany
- Prepare to capture and bring to American control.
- Liquidate if necessary.
By order of————————
William J. Donovan, Director
- HARRY HOPKINS, WH
- SECRETARY OF WAR STIMSON
- GENERAL GEORGE C. MARSHALL
- GENERAL DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER
“My God, you’re right; I did need to see this!” Dulles jumped to his feet.
“Bring me that waste basket.” Dulles said, pointing to a can in a corner of his office.
“Yes, sir!” Jenkins picked up the wastebasket and took it to Dulles.
Dulles reread the memo, shaking his head. “So, it’s true.” He removed a book of matches from his desk, ignited the paper, and threw it in the can.
The memo confirmed reports Dulles recently received from his own agents, along with captured German documents, about a new SS program dubbed ‘Operation Phoenix,’ designed to help top Nazis flee Germany.
He removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes.
“If that bastard finds a safe haven, Jenkins, the damn war will never end.”
“No sir, it will be very bad.”
“That’s an understatement,” said Dulles.
“I-uh, think you’ve got your hands full now, sir.”
Dulles nodded, sat down heavily, and waived his zealous aide out of his office.
Jenkins is certainly right about that.
The OSS chief knew that this mission would be unlike any other he had faced. He could devise the best plans in the world, but it was clear that he needed a very special person to handle this critical assignment. He brushed his hand through his gray hair.
Damn, I wish I were back on Wall Street. Those crooks were a lot easier to beat.
He would first try his own people, who were specially trained for this type of job, but he wasn’t sure they would have the necessary firepower to succeed.
Dulles knew he would need to find someone particularly brave, with the ability to lead a combat team into the very heart of Germany, most likely into Berlin, where he could grab Hitler and get out again before anyone could stop him.
Who can I find that will be both willing and able—and crazy enough to try?
December 7, 1944
Outside Belleville, Belgium
Lieutenant Mike Brennan of the U.S. Army Rangers was driving through a devastated Germany in an open truck during the coldest Belgium winter in more than a hundred years. The 24-year-old Brennan could not remember the last time he was warm or felt anything other than miserable and exhausted. Being from southern Arizona didn’t make it any easier. The swirling snow sandblasted the soldiers of Easy Company as they neared the city of Belleville, where they were to rendezvous with the rest of their Second Battalion. As platoon leader, Brennan could have been riding in the warm cab beside the driver, but instead he had offered that comfort to one of his wounded men.
“Sir, it’s cold as hell out here.” Said one of his privates. “Are we gonna get there soon?”
“I sure as hell hope so, Collins. What I wouldn’t give for a hot shower.”
“Yes sir, and a good Irish coffee, with lots of booze in it.”
Brennan’s battalion had been assigned to spearhead an attack on a German position, designated as Hill 400, that overlooked two dams the Army wanted to capture before the enemy could blow them up and flood the entire front. As they drove through destroyed villages, and the quiet, almost lifeless countryside, he noted the endless stream of wrecked tanks, armored cars and other vehicles by the side of the road. The Germans had thrown in everything to try to stem the tidal wave of American troops streaming toward their Fatherland.
“Damn, sir,” said Collins. “Our guys been knocking the hell out of the Krauts.”
“That’s for sure. But there’s a lot more where they came from.”
Brennan saw ruined homes and buildings, many still smoking from recent bombing, cattle and other farm animals lying dead and bloated in the fields, and whole swaths of burned-out evergreen forests, totally denuded by artillery fire. Dead snipers hung from the trees.
How the hell did I get to this hellhole?
But he knew the answer; he had volunteered. After college in Atlanta, he couldn’t find a decent job anywhere. And he didn’t want to go back to Arizona. His mother was long dead, his father was in prison, and his sister was in California, where she had been institutionalized for mental problems. He needed to be thereWhen he last visited her, she was thin and wan, like all the life had gone out of her. Brennan greatly regretted that he couldn’t stay to help her.
By nature, he wasn’t really a fighter. He joined the Rangers to prove that he was a better man than his father, George, who in his usual drunken stupor, often told his son that he was a loser and would never amount to anything.
After what seemed an eternity, his body almost frozen, Brennan’s truck reached the battalion. He first found a place for his men to bed down, ensured they had enough to eat, and walked to the half-destroyed stables that served as headquarters for Captain Collins, his company commander.
“Well, Brennan, glad you made it. I know it was a lousy trip. The company lost a couple of trucks to enemy fire. One of them was hit with a Panzerfauste rocket fired by a crazy young fanatic of the Hitler Youth. We lost ten guys.” He grinned at Brennan. “But that kid will never grow any older.”
Brennan nodded. “Sorry for our men, sir. We had a little trouble ourselves, nothing too serious. But I can’t say I’m glad to be here.”
The captain laughed. “None of us are, Brennan. It’s a lousy deal. We have to attack that damn hill and capture it as soon as possible. The general is pushing the division to take it by tomorrow, or the next day at the latest. The Nazis are heavily entrenched up there, and have machine gun nests and bunkers everywhere. That’s why they want us Rangers here. ‘Rangers lead the way,’ and all that stuff. All we have is our artillery. The Air Force is grounded by the stinking weather.” He pointed to a map on a desk. “Now here’s what I want you to do.”
After receiving his orders, Brennan made his way back to his platoon.
Great. All we have to do is climb a damn hill under murderous fire.
He washed his face as best he could, noted the heavy beard on his angular face, and ran a broken comb through his dirty black hair. Then he warmed up a can of C-Rations over a small fire and wolfed it down.
“Tomorrow will be hell.”
He didn’t worry about himself as much as he did his men, who had been fighting constantly since D-Day. Exhausted, he wrapped himself in his sleeping bag, and promptly passed out.
December 5, 1944
The Gestapo was after Miriam Pascal’s family.
They’d been hiding for weeks in her father Samuel’s tailor shop, trying to evade the roundup of Jews in their little mixed French-German village, near the German border. The traitorous French Vichy government was only too happy to help.
“We’ve been lucky so far, Samuel.” Said her mother, Ida. “But, what if—”
“Momma, it will be all right. We’ve got to get some more food; the children are hungry and we don’t have much left. They’re losing too much weight and they don’t look well.”
Miriam knew he was right. She was always tired, and her little sisters, Rachel and Sarah, and brother Joseph lay in their beds much of the day.
“I’ve got to go outside, and look for something to eat.” He said. “I thought the Gestapo would forget about us. But the radio is saying the Germans are still deporting all Jews to their detention camp at Drancy.”
“I’ll go, said Miriam. “I can move faster than you, father, with your bad leg.”
“No! I won’t allow it.” Said her mother. “You’re just a girl.”
Miriam shook her head. “Momma, I’m nineteen years old, I can take care of myself.”
“B-but, Miriam. I won’t let you—.”
“I’m afraid she’s right, Ida.” Said Samuel. “If she gets in trouble she can run a lot faster than I can.”
“I’ll wait until nighttime, Momma.” Miriam said, putting her arm around her mother. “No one will see me then. Don’t worry.”
A few hours later, Miriam slipped out of the shop, and went looking for supplies. But the darkness didn’t help. A few minutes later, she heard the oily voice of her neighbor, Dieter Schiller, a portly married man, who had often come on to her.
“Why little Miriam,” he said. “My pretty blonde fraulein. Out so late? I thought you were gone, along with all the other sniveling Jews.”
She kept walking, praying that the man would leave her alone, but he began to follow her.
“Don’t walk away, my little Jewess, or I’ll tell the Gestapo!”
Miriam spun around. “Why would you do that, Dieter? I’ve always been friendly to you?”
Schiller smiled. “That’s just it, my dear. I wanted more than your friendship, I wanted you!”
He grabbed her, but she twisted free and ran. “Go ahead, you Jewish bitch! I know where you must be hiding. You’ll see; I’ll kill all you Pascals tonight.”
Miriam raced back to her family.
“Poppa! We’ve got to get out of here now. Dieter Schiller saw me. He says he’s going to the Gestapo!”
They started packing, but soon heard the sound of cars pulling up to the shop.
Miriam saw Gestapo agents in their long black-leather coats coming up to the door.
“They’re here!” She said. “And they’ve got the police with them.”
“Get to the basement. Now!” Samuel said.
The family ran to the basement. Miriam slammed the door and bolted it shut just as the men broke into the shop.
“The coal hatch!” said her mother. “Go through there, children. Quick! To the alley!”
Samuel yanked it open.
“Go, run now! Get away now. Momma and I will follow you!”
The children screamed.
“We can’t leave you Papa.” Said Miriam. “You must—.”
The basement door began to shatter.
“Ida,” Samuel said. Take the children while you still can. Now!
The door burst open, and Gestapo men pounded down the stairs. Miriam grabbed her brother and pushed him out of the hatch. She turned back for her sisters, but the agents had grabbed them. She just managed to escape, as the coal opening was too small for the beefy men.’
As they ran, she could hear their mother begging the men to leave her family alone. Miriam and her brother scurried down the alley to another building.
“Quick, Joseph.” She said. “Up the fire escape.”
They climbed up to the roof. One of the agents came into the alley, but turned around and left. She and Joseph peeked over the edge of the roof, watching as the Gestapo kicked and shoved their family into police cars.
Her father cried out to one of the policemen accompanying them.
“Pierre, Pierre! You’re my friend. We were comrades in the war together! Please stop them! Please!”
But the man did nothing. Then an agent struck Rachel, who was struggling from his grasp. She shrieked as Sarah tried to help, but the man hit Sarah across the face.
Miriam’s mother lunged at the German, yanked his hair, and punched him. “Leave my children alone, you coward!”
Another agent then pulled his pistol. “Schwinehundt!” He said, and shot Ida in the head.
Samuel and the girls screamed. They were pushed into the cars, and driven away into the night. Miriam and Joseph saw their mother lying dead and bloody in the gutter. No one in the neighborhood came out to help. The street was silent.
Joseph started to wail, but Miriam clasped her hand over his mouth. “Hush, Joseph,” she whispered. “Someone may hear you and take us away too.”
The stunned pair lay on the roof. Joseph cried softly, but Miriam just stared at the cold night sky. Instead of incredible sadness, she felt an icy cold rage surge through her.
Joseph looked at her, tears streaming down his red cheeks. “Why are you not crying, Miriam? Our family is gone…and Momma is dead.”
Miriam paused, clenching her fist. “Someday I will cry, Joseph, I will cry oceans of tears for our family. But first, I promise you, I will avenge them.”
For days the children ran from their village, trying to get as far away as they could from the Gestapo. They hid during the day, and scrounged for food at night. They were afraid to ask for help for fear of being betrayed, so they searched for scraps in garbage cans. But, late one afternoon, they were starving and dug out some rotten vegetables from a farmer’s field.
“Ugh, I can’t eat this stuff, Miriam,” Joseph said, “it’s all spoiled.”
Miriam bit off a piece of moldy cabbage. “I know, but it’s all we have. We can’t ask anyone for food, we don’t know what they’ll do to us.” She handed her brother a chunk of the cabbage. “You’ve got to eat it, Joseph, we’ve got to keep going, and we have to eat whatever we can find.”
Exhausted, they fell asleep in the nearby woods. The next morning, they were captured. The farmer had seen them and reported his discovery to the Germans for a few French francs. They were forced onto a train and sent to the Buchenwald concentration camp.
The ride was terrible. There was no food, no water, little air, and no sanitary facilities except for an open bucket in a corner. They were packed in overcrowded boxcars, eighty to ninety people in a space slated for either forty soldiers or eight horses. Miriam and Joseph were crammed into a corner of the car. Every so often, the train would stop and the soldiers would toss the dead outside. Many people did not survive.
Joseph was crying. “I’m scared, Miriam, and so hungry. What are they going to do with us?”
Miriam hugged him close. “It will be all right, Joseph.” She lied.
But at the camp, families screamed in fear as husbands and wives were forced apart, their children taken from them. Miriam and Joseph were separated. The last she saw of Joseph, he was being dragged away by an SS man.
“Miriam!” He said. Save me! Save me!”
She would never forget her brother’s cries for help. Then an SS major looked her up and down, licked his lips—and smiled.
“Ah, a pretty little Jewess.”
As he approached her, Miriam went cold, and she felt the evil in him. She knew what he wanted; he was a man and a beast. She understood that was coming would change her forever.
I don’t care. I will never give in. Whatever happens to me, I will get my revenge.