Christian Short Stories
A 'Last Supper'
By Web Ruble
Web Ruble writes: "I am now a retired newspaper reporter of some 40 years. I served in American military intelligence in Germany not too long after the end of WW II. And because I was free to visit with some of the local survivors of the war, I learned tales of their disillusionment, anguish, and shame."
Standing on a knoll just outside of town near some 20-mm to 40-mm anti-aircraft batteries, Helmut Schmidt, a captain in the Reichs Armee, saw what he expected to see, except it was perhaps worse.
Stuttgart was all ruins. Like most other German cities, Stuttgart in mid-November 1944 had been bombed by the allies almost into oblivion.
What’s more, the allies were moving steadily across France and within a few weeks would be entering Germany with an attitude. The latest news was that the U.S. XV Corps had penetrated German defenses in the Vosges just beyond the French frontier. Despite severe pastings by allied bombs, Stuttgart in Germany’s southwestern quadrant, nevertheless, seemed to be holding out against the air raids reasonably well . . .at least better than Frankfurt and Wiesbaden.
Life went on as it always had – sort of. The army, the SS, and the Gestapo encouraged daily life to continue in Stuttgart as if peril were not imminent. Nothing, they said, was really different from what it had been. Just a pesky enemy that made life inconvenient.
However, Capt. Schmidt wasn’t fooled in the least. A disastrous end was near, he knew. He wasn’t buying the Nazi propaganda and wishful thinking.
It made him angry. Perhaps the angriest he had ever been. The war -- especially the way it was being fought -- was obscene and unnecessary. Before the war, Germans had been going back to work. Things could have been worked out . . . especially before Germany had re-armed the Rhineland. He was angry at National Socialist authorities when Germany started the whole terrible conflagration five years ago by invading poor old Poland.
He had not gloried in subsequent German victories. They made him wince. Moreover, he had heard stories on how bad his fellow Germans had behaved in conquered countries, and lately he had heard some horrible rumors about camps . . . swine pits of misery that the authorities used to warehouse and perhaps let die undesirables, like Jews, gypsies, homosexuals and expressed malcontents.
All the Gestapo and the SS had succeeded in doing with all of this maltreatment was anger inner-camp resistance, and occupied countries’ guerillas plus cement resolve of the on-coming Allies.
Long ago he had given up even thinking about negotiating an armistice to stop the carnage and save Germany from total destruction. There is no way the Allies would go for such a thing. After all, Germany scrapped WW I’s armistice of 1918. Now the Allies were furious for having to fight the same country in another world war after only 21 years.
Helmut felt Germany could expect no mercy this time from the invading Allies, who would not call it quits until the Third Reich was totally destroyed and perhaps along with it heretofore wonderful German culture, or what was left of it. The war no doubt was lost three years ago when Gen. Paulus surrendered Germany’s Sixth Army at Stalingrad. Moreover, Germany’s salvation had vanished last July when the assassination plot against Hitler had failed. The country’s doom was sealed.
Moreover, even though he had avoided being in the SS, his personal treatment wouldn’t be very good either, probably -- even when he tried to explain that he and been against Nazi Germany right from the start.
Why are you in Germany’s army then? They were certain to ask.
For that he still would have no real answer except to say that he had seen possibility of three squares and a flop and escape from severe unemployment -- and perhaps starving to death because of it -- in the world wide depression of the 1930s.
Then the victorious powers most certainly would ask, “but the record shows you were a student at Erlangen University . . .it appears you left your studies to pursue a military career instead of an engineering one. What do you have to say about that?”
He would offer that his studies were not going well and that friends were urging him to follow the fuehrer. It was either succeed and issue from Erlangen as an engineer or follow his friends down a false Glory Road.
Yattita Yattita and all of that. Forget it. It would be no use. He and all German officers -- more than enlisted men -- would become sorry captives. Probably marked for forced labor. That was one thing. But to have Germany occupied by foreigners who would savage the country would be too much to bare. He was exhausted after years of war, and quite frankly, he told himself, there was little rest to look forward to. Let alone salvation.
There was but one hope -- God.
He had to ask himself -- what would Jesus do?
But why should Jesus listen after all the terrible things that Germany -- and Helmut had been a part of it -- had put on the world?
Yet, it was still his soul’s only hope.
Who could advise him? Perhaps Herr Krueger. Except he doubted Helmut would be able to find his old school master. Krueger certainly wouldn’t still be hiding underground near Waibligen where he had last seen him two years ago.
Yet Helmut was desperate. He must try to find him. He had 60 hours before he was to report to his unit near Bad Kreuznach which would soon depart for a fanatical stand at the French front.
In his desperate search for Krueger, he would start where he last saw him. Even though Krueger probably wouldn’t be there, Helmut had to start somewhere.
He took a local out to Waibligen. No one hardly noticed the crisp, uniformed officer get off at the suburban station. He wrapped his handsome, warm overcoat about him, thinking it is certain to get smudged and dirty while he searched for this mole man. But he had to risk it.
He walked past several bombed-out buildings. And there it was -- what was left of it. He looked at what had been a cellar below a bombed building, and saw that it had been reduced to a pile of stone, wood and scorched splinters. Surely, he thought, Herr Krueger must be gone from this collapsed hideaway. Although, Helmut realized it would have been difficult for Krueger because he had to stay out of sight for fear of being arrested by the increasingly alert and active Gestapo. Arrest would certainly mean being sent to one of those horrible camps and possibly executed as a traitor.
Krueger, you see, has been a Nazi resistor since the Brown Shirts thugged around here years ago. How Krueger kept alive -- food, drink, clothing and heat – he didn’t know. But Helmut suspected Krueger had some helpers on the outside – possibly in the local village – who peripherally had taken care of him, visiting him and bringing him stuff when they could.
Helmut stood there, wondering – could the old school master, now about 70 years old, still be there? He glanced around and saw no one. He also judged that it was far enough from anything that Helmut could call out Krueger’s name safely.
He did so several times: “Krueger, Krueger are you there? Please talk to me. I must talk to you. I desperately need your advice. Oh please talk to me. You knew me well in school. I’m Helmut Schmidt. I’m sure you remember me. I was one of your favorite math students. Remember last year – or was it the year before -- I snuck over here for a visit.”.
He tried pleading again.
Helmut tried three more times.
Finally, he turned to go. As he was taking his first scrambling steps up a slippery slope that approached the disintegrated cellar, he heard what he thought was a weak voice.
He turned a moment. Had he truly heard that? Or was his mind playing tricks?
Helmut called out again.
Beginning to think he had been hallucinating, Helmut turned slowly to go when some bricks and debris began to move a little.
Wide eyed, he waited.
After several starts and stops, a cadaverous old man in dirty bandages and tatters, finally emerged. Helmut just stared at him. Could it be Herr Kruger? Not only did this old man not look like him, but he didn’t even resemble him.
The bent-over bundle or rags with a makeshift cane finally said in a croaky voice, “Well . . ?”
Helmut continued to stare. Then he said, “I’m looking for Herr Dortmund Krueger who once lived in this bombed-out building. . .”
“Ja? Him? He all but died a year and a half ago. This building took a direct hit. He was hurt and could stay no longer. I’m an alcoholic and moved into these ruins shortly after he left. I lived in over there in Tilmandorf and visited him occasionally . . .”
“Where did he go? Was he hurt severely? Is there any chance he could still be alive? He was my old school teacher whom I loved dearly. Is there any chance you might know where he might be? He is one of the few I can trust. I must find him soon. The end is coming. Not only did he predict it but I need his advice on how to handle it.”
“Well . . .I . . .er, uh, lied. I am he.”
Helmut just stared. Could this decrepit, burlap-like bundle be truly him?
“Yes, I remember you Helmut. (Severe coughing). You were one of my most-promising students . . .one of my favorites.”
Tears came to Helmut’s eyes. Realizing this shabby, barely alive relic was Herr Krueger, Helmut’s eyes began to blur with tears.
“Himmel, you do look awful . . the war has been extremely hard on you. It is has been so terrible for all of us. But you look awful. So much worse than I imagined. I must go get you some warm clothes. And when was the last time you ate anything?”
“Clothes? Don’t bother. These rags are now a part of me and I have found a way to keep from freezing. But the man from the village who used to bring me food, hasn’t been here for a week. He wasn’t well, either. We are all almost starving, you see. I imagine he died. If you could bring me some bread . . .”
“Absolutely,” said Helmut. “Give me an hour or so, and I’ll come back with food. Uuuueh, what staples do you need? Certainly vegetables? Fruits? Maybe some warm soup? Whatever is necessary. What are you totally out of?”
“Everything. Gahhh! I haven’t eaten anything in two days. However, (severe coughing) a bread crust would do.”
“I’ll get you more than just bread,. And I’ll do it right away. . .stay here. Don’t go anywhere.”
“Where the hell would I go? I can hardly move. Were I by some miracle to make it to the village surely those Gestapo goons would see me and no doubt they’d strip me bare, whip me while I was freezing, and I’d be miserable fodder for their ridicule cannon. And then they’d shoot me and toss my remains with utter disgust. Although, what the heck . . . I’m almost at the point now where I don’t care. I lost any sense of dignity a long time ago.”
Helmut paused. His stomach churned. Grief overwhelmed him. All that pride that he and a few other young bucks felt a few years ago when they scrapped decency and marched off to . . . a coming crack of doom.
“Screw this uniform. Screw Germany. How could good Germans let this happen? And to think that I’ve been a party to all of it . . .” he mumbled, crying.
He gave Krueger a wave and scrambled up the slope toward the village.
It was two hours before he returned with a small bag. In it was a large loaf of bread, as scruffy-looking small bottle of something, and some tea bags. But no meat, fruits or vegetables.
“Things are far worse than I thought,” Helmut said. “The village is almost completely out of food. All I could find is this loaf of bread and this wine.”
“What are you talking about? This is wonderful. I haven’t seen something this good in a long time. God bless you.”
Krueger seized the bread and tore off a piece and popped intro his mouth. He began chewing ravenously and then thoughtfully.
“Surely, there wasn’t anything in the stores to buy,” Dortmund Krueger said. “You probably had to steal this . . .don’t be offended . . .it’s all right. It’s been the only way that some of us older folk have been able to survive for the last year or so. I know how it is . . .believe me.”
“Shush...don’t talk. Just break bread with me.”
So Helmut Schmidt sat down opposite Krueger and reluctantly plucked a piece of bread. Finally he cleared his throat and said, “As Christ said to his disciples, ‘This is my body broken for you. Take. Eat. And every time you do this, think of me.’"
Krueger began sobbing quietly.
Helmut then took two rusty cups that were lying nearby, poured each of them a cup of wine, and said, “Likewise Christ took the cup and said, “This is my blood shed for you...each time you drink of it, remember me.”
(© 2011 Web Ruble – All rights reserved. Written material may not be duplicated without permission.)
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