No Going Back
Arrested by the Gestapo for carrying a gun, Marta has to think fast. With a mixture of courage, cunning and sheer good luck, she faces down her interrogators and protects her beloved fiancé. But at what cost to her?
Nothing in her privileged background prepares her for the horrors of Ravensbruck concentration camp in Germany. Close friendships and an unshakeable belief help her survive. As the war ends, she has to pull together the fragments of her shattered life. What does the future hold and will she ever see her fiancé again?
Blending imagination with historical fact and the memories of an exceptional woman, No Going Back is a tale as gripping as it is moving and offers a unique insight into one of modern Europe’s darkest periods.
My mother, Marta Paciorkowska, was born in September 1919 and died in October 2003.
After the war ended, most concentration camp survivors didn’t want to talk about their experiences. My mother was different, but family and friends rebuffed her attempts to tell her story: everybody had suffered and they didn’t want to take on board another tale of woe.
I was lucky that we were very close and slowly, bit by bit, she revealed her experiences to me. It wasn’t a straightforward process: sometimes she seemed eager to talk and then stopped after a few sentences; at other times, she rebuffed my questions outright.
I persevered and made notes of whatever she told me. On one occasion, she wrote me a letter detailing her first arrest and her later interrogation.
Aside from the wartime experiences, she was happy to talk about her family and the stranger than fiction episodes in their lives. I wanted to preserve those for posterity and they were one reason I self-published: I wasn’t sure an editor would have the patience for them.
You can imagine how touched I was, after her death, to find her carefully prepared portfolio of information. It was here that I discovered they had sent her to a sub-camp of Ravensbruck called Finow. I’d always assumed she’d been at the main camp because she always talked about Ravensbruck, never Finow.
This was an important detail because the main camp was liberated by the Soviets and my mother’s future would have looked very different.
Her story was an extraordinary one and I always knew I had to write it.
Reckoning - Awaiting Publication
In the chaos of Hitler’s last days and beyond, nobody is what they seem.
Reluctant Gestapo officer, Heinz Bauer, returns home to his beloved family only to find his wife a stranger and his life falling apart.
The peace and tranquillity of the Bavarian Alps mock him with new terrors and different victims. His confidence shattered, he struggles to understand his place in the world and is easy prey to its new fanatics.
In this charged atmosphere, deceptions abound. Is Bauer prepared to face his demons? Without the support of his wife will he survive at all?
This engrossing tale examines man’s vulnerability in his search for meaning in a post-war world.
This is a stand-alone sequel to No Going Back, although it helps if you’ve read the first book first. (Well, you would expect me to say that, wouldn’t you?)
The territory of the Second World War is fairly well trodden, but I was interested in exploring the aftermath when the Allies were trying to bring order out of chaos.
I took the fictional character of Heinz Bauer from No Going Back and followed him back to the family home in Bavaria. Along the way we encounter vigilantes, people questioning their loyalties, Nazis scared of Nazi hunters, the Allies as friend and foe, chaos in the heart and in the landscape.
I first created Bauer, the reluctant Gestapo officer, to explain why my mother – unlike so many others – wasn’t tortured for information after they arrested her for carrying a gun. She had no idea why she was so lucky and put it down to divine intervention. I preferred to create a sympathetic interrogator who started out as a career detective before the Nazi terror machine caught up with him.
Bauer’s priority was to protect his beloved family and so he carried out enough of the regime’s bidding to avoid suspicion falling on him while trying to help its victims. Then he returned home to a different terror and different victims.
Someone was after him. Clever. Relentless. Heinz Bauer had already doubled back, but the pursuer was on his heels. He cursed under his breath. Sweat streamed down his back. This wasn’t his territory. He longed for streets; crowds; a reflection in a shop window; the chance to glance in a parked car’s mirror; a passer-by forced into the road. He needed clues to mean something, instead of this endless green and constant rustle of pines.
A sharp crack to his right veered him to the left, and he stopped, head bowed. The oldest trick in the book and he had fallen for it. He turned with exaggerated care, expecting to see a gun staring him in the face.
Bauer’s arm moved in automated response. He stopped.
‘Hitler is dead, my friend.’
‘The man is dead; the movement lives.’
Bauer nodded, mesmerized by eyes glistening with conviction. Was this beanpole mad? He would have to watch his step.
‘Gestapo. Not the same calibre as SS, but good enough.’ Chin upturned; eyes narrowed in imagined triumph.
‘How did you know?’
‘Everyone knows. It’s tattooed on our souls. This—he pointed to the jagged double S on his underarm—this is just a symbol.’
Bauer nodded again.
‘And the plan?’
‘I shall be in touch. First, we need to find out the numbers. Who’s left. Who’s unbroken. Then we plan. Heil Hitler.’
‘Wait, I have questions.’
Too late; the man headed off. He leaned against a rough trunk as his stalker disappeared into the trees. A few seconds later, there was no trace of him. You had to admire skill like that, even if the man stood for everything Bauer hated. So why this strange feeling of relief that radiated through him like a hot shower after a winter’s drenching? Perhaps he wanted to be caught; to stop running; come out of hiding; receive orders and obey them.
He stumbled back down to the farm. Would this hell never end? This wasn’t what he wanted. Why hadn’t he told him as much? What on earth possessed him to ask about a plan? The war was over, wasn’t it? Why couldn’t he live in peace with his family?
Anger bubbled up inside him, a witch’s cauldron of missed opportunities, guilt and fear. Just when he thought he was getting his head above the stinking soup, someone, something, pushed him down under again.
Head bowed, shoulders slumped, he passed by the hay barn. Wanda was there, watching him, always watching him. Did she see him meet his SS stalker? Had she engineered it herself? But how? No, he was being ridiculous.
He sat down on the bench outside the kitchen door and removed his boots before stepping inside. His wife was kneading dough; the brown mass spread and came together in a soothing dance across the floured table.
‘We need to talk, Henni.’
‘Not now, Heinz.’
This was what their marriage had descended to: a litany of not now, later, can’t you see I’m busy. Yet theirs had been a good marriage for so many years. She had always deferred to him, but he had never abused his position as head of the family. He listened; he took on board her views and comments so that the decisions seemed made together; at least to him they did.
Now, she was in charge; had been since the day of the row, which threatened to blast them all apart.
He slumped in the comfortable armchair belonging to his father-in-law, Gunter, and closed his eyes.
The slow shuffle of slippered feet across the stone floor intruded on his thoughts.
‘Gunter?’ A bony hand reached for his.
‘No, Lottie, it’s me, Heinz. Gunter is still out tending to the cows.’ His voice was tender as he smiled at his children’s grandmother, their beloved Oma. Was Henni paying any attention? No, she was still busy kneading and didn’t look up.
Lottie’s mind was disintegrating; her periods of lucidity were rare, and she no longer functioned at the centre of the home. So his wife had taken over the shopping, cooking, cleaning and farm accounts.
‘Would you like to sit down?’
She shook her head and wandered off.
‘Can you keep an eye on her? I’m about to start cooking and I don’t want her near the range.’
It was all he was good for these days, baby-sitting her mother when he wasn’t working in the fields.
‘Lottie? Come and play cards with me.’
Heinz set up a small card table next to his chair and started shuffling a pack of cards. Lottie’s eyes lit up with pleasure. She wasn’t capable of playing rummy anymore, always her favourite game, but seemed to find shuffling and laying out the cards for a game of patience absorbing.
Heinz would talk to her the entire time, explaining his thought processes as he reached for the cards. He never finished a game because she would pick up random cards and examine them or hold them to her chest and refuse to give them back.
‘That’s why it’s called patience, Lottie.’ Her opaque eyes looked into his. What did she see? What did she understand about her condition? Or the world outside their farm? She giggled and shook her finger at him.
He didn’t contradict her. As long as she sat beside him, he was doing his job and free to contemplate his bizarre meeting in the forest.
The movement lives, his pursuer had said. What did he mean? How could there be any movement with Hitler dead? He was the maniac who had led them into this mess. Without him, there was nothing, surely? Germany had surrendered unconditionally on May 7th. The Allies had divided the country, and he knew he was lucky to be in the American zone; they were all lucky, especially his wife and daughters.
The ten of clubs morphed into a photograph of murdered children. He shook his head to rid himself of the image. He remembered all too clearly the cold mist-laden October evening he had heard about Nemmersdorf, a village in East Prussia taken by Soviet troops before the Wehrmacht beat them back.
Henni had already returned to her family’s farm in Bavaria, together with their three children, leaving him in Krakow. It was a Friday, and he had finished work early. He was on his way home, wondering whether to reheat some leftover stew or dine out. Managing on his own wasn’t a problem, but he missed his family and bought a newspaper to occupy his thoughts as he ate alone. What he read killed his appetite.
Under the headline “The Raving of Soviet Beasts” sat the photograph of murdered children and a gut-wrenching report of plunder and destruction, murder and rape. The Volkischer Beobachter was the main Nazi newspaper, so it did not surprise him to read its dire warnings that this fate awaited every German who did not fight to the bitter end. Goebbels never missed an opportunity to swamp the people with propaganda; even so, he knew the Bolshevik Beast was no mythical creature.
When he returned to work, Nemmersdorf was on everyone’s lips. His secretary, Brigitta, was subdued, and he noticed all the women whispering together at every opportunity. He had every sympathy for them. The Soviets had been in Poland since the early days of the war; if the Allies won the war, as seemed likely, it would be the Bolshevik hoards who overran Krakow.
‘They say they crucified some of the villagers.’
‘Now, Brigitta, it doesn’t do to believe everything you read in the papers. The essential truth is there, of course, but some of our journalists can get carried away in their fervour for the Fatherland and our beloved Fuehrer.’
Did that strike the right tone? Comfort mixed with loyalty? Never forget to demonstrate loyalty to the Fuehrer. They could still send him to the Eastern front, after all.
She was chewing her bottom lip; her eyes unfocused and large with horror.
‘Where is home?’
‘Home?’ She looked at him, taken aback by the question.
‘I mean, where are your folks? Where do you come from?’
‘And is all well with your family there?’
‘Yes, yes, thank you.’
‘That’s good, Brigitta. You know if things get difficult here, I can always arrange for you to visit them.’
Her eyes welled up; her lips moved towards a smile.
‘Thank you, Inspector Bauer.’
‘No need. However, I would be very grateful for a coffee.’
‘Of course. It’s on its way.’
He wondered where she was now. He didn’t suppose he would ever find out.
The door swung open, and the kitchen filled with the joyous chatter of his six-year-old son, Tomas.
‘Papa, Papa, I milked Brunhilda today, didn’t I, Opa?’
Tomas clambered onto his father’s lap and started playing with the buttons on his shirt, stretching his hand out to touch two at once.
‘You did, my boy. You did very well.’
Gunter nodded at Heinz, but his eyes darted this way and that, and he strode off to wash his hands.
At the sink he rubbed his daughter’s back; she turned and placed her head against his shoulder for a moment. A tender scene which no longer encompassed him, it seemed. What the hell had happened to him? Had he developed a nasty smell? Was he no longer a member of this family?
‘Papa, you’re not listening.’
‘You’re right, little man. My thoughts distracted me. Now tell me all about Brunhilda. Did she kick you?’
‘No, Papa.’ The outraged voice made Heinz smile, and he ruffled his son’s hair.
‘Well, she kicked me when I tried to milk her.’
‘Did she? Did you tickle her? She doesn’t like being tickled. You have to use firm hands and a firm stroke, and she likes it best when you sing to her.’
‘Does she? Nobody told me that. So, what did you sing to her?’
‘I made up a song. Do you want to hear it?’
‘Yes, please, that would be wonderful.’
‘It goes: Brunhilda, Brunhilda, we call all cows that are brown Brunhilda. Brun, Brun, Brun, Brun, Hilda, Hilda, Hilda, Hilda.’
‘And she likes that song?’
‘Yes, she does.’
‘I shall have to remember that if I ever have to milk her again.’
‘Don’t worry, Papa, I can always help you.’
‘Thank you, Tomas. Now, I think you may need to wash your hands ready for supper.’
Heinz lifted his son down onto the floor. Wanda was laying the table. As usual, she had come inside unnoticed. Her ability to glide into place whenever Henni needed her gave him the creeps. She was like a ghost moving through walls.
Lottie had fallen asleep, her mouth drooling, a bubbly thread of saliva down between the hairs on her chin. He reached for the card that had slipped out of her hand and strayed into the folds of her housecoat. She moaned, woke up with a start, and screamed at him repeatedly.
It was a pathetic sound, like the screech of a wounded bird. The gaping hole, the shaking body, the eyes narrowing with every scream rooted him to the spot. When he didn’t react, she started flailing his chest with her puny arms.
Gunter rushed forward, enfolded her in his embrace and rocked her back and forth, whispering to her until she calmed down and lay sobbing; eventually her clenched fists softened, and the outburst was over.
Heinz gathered up the cards, fumbling and dropping them before he shoved them into a wooden box, carved and painted with the four suits. He busied himself putting the box away, unable to look anybody in the face. He should have reacted like Gunter. Instead, he was jealous; yes, actually jealous of the attention Lottie had attracted.
Would his demented cry have attracted their sympathy? Or would they have just ignored him like they did now? He was behaving like a child, but knowing that didn’t seem to make any difference. Drowning in self-pity. How could he be so pathetic?
The screaming had fetched his two daughters, Monika and Carola, downstairs, and now they held each of Lottie’s hands and guided her to the table.
Eight of them sat around the oak trestle table made by Gunter’s grandfather from a storm damaged tree: Gunter at the head of the table; the children on a bench down one side together with Wanda; his wife and Lottie facing them and Heinz at the far end, opposite Gunter.
They tucked into steaming bowls of thick green soup. Tiny fragments of bacon fat glistened on the surface, teasing their nostrils with the promise of meat. He dreamt of bacon: the fat turned to crisp; perhaps they all did. Not that they lacked meat; rabbit stew featured regularly, as did breaded rabbit cutlets. Monotonous, yes, but wholesome, nutritious food that filled their bellies and let his children thrive.
‘There’s bread and cheese to follow, but the next loaf will be our last for a while,’ said Henni. ‘I’ve used up our stores of flour and I haven’t seen any for sale for months now.’
‘You’ve done well, Henni. We’ll manage fine without, but I’ll put the word out in case any of our neighbours can help. I remember Hans saying he was going to experiment with Spring wheat. It’s worth asking him.’
Henni smiled at her father. Heinz winced; he should have been the one to praise his wife and appreciate her efforts. Even when they had lived in Berlin, she had been a brilliant housekeeper, but here in the countryside she knew and loved there was no end to her talents. By the end of Autumn, she had filled the larder with jars of vegetables, some salted, some pickled; dried mushrooms hung from hooks like misshapen necklaces; jars of honey, some with waxy combs, promised tastes of summer richness; there were sweet smelling apples in the attic; pumpkins and squashes sat on shelves in the hay barn, hidden from a casual glance by mounds of loose hay; root vegetables nestled in damp sand in clamps under the lean-to.
Now that Spring was upon them, the garden would yield fresh delights supplemented by her careful foraging for nettles and wild garlic. It had amazed him on their walks in Berlin, when they still talked, how she would pick weeds in the park to supplement their own diet. She’d teased him about being a townie.
‘How on earth would you survive without me?’
‘I wouldn’t want to.’
He missed their easy-going, loving relationship more than he could bear.
Perhaps his forest stalker could help? Heinz imagined himself negotiating a sack of flour for his co-operation in whatever plan was being concocted and returning home triumphant, the family provider of old. Life had been so much simpler when he worked for money.
There was always plenty to do around the farm and when he wasn’t hiding from foes, real or imaginary, he knew he pulled his weight. He wasn’t as keen as his son on milking the cows, but he had mechanical skills and plenty of muscle power. The farm would have been far less productive without him.
‘Mama, may we get down from the table?’
She used to make them wait until Wanda had finished eating, but she was so slow and the children so frustrated by the interminable wait that Henni had relented months ago; if the other adults had finished, they could go and play.
The men moved across to their chairs by the fireplace.
‘A glass of Schnapps, Heinz?’
Gunter reached for the bottle and a couple of glasses stored on the shelves above a small writing desk.
‘That must have been a shock for you today,’ he said, pouring out a generous measure. ‘Down it in one and I’ll fill you up again.’
Heinz didn’t argue and closed his eyes as the warmth spread through his chest. Wait. How did he know? Gunter had been busy with the cows and would never have left Tomas on his own to follow him into the forest. He said nothing and waited.
Gunter refilled both their glasses and sighed.
‘When the doctor warned us to expect episodes like that one, I must admit I didn’t believe him,’ he said.
‘Lottie has always been so gentle. She brought up four boys in addition to Henni, and she never had to smack them or even raise her voice to them. Bringing up boys can cause a real tussle of wills. I’ve seen it in other families, but Lottie just had a way about her. Beats me what the secret is. I used to get annoyed with them and would have to walk away and leave Lottie to it. And now this. I think at some level she recognises her brain is going and she must feel so frustrated by it. I’m sorry, Heinz.’
‘You have nothing to apologise for. It was a shock because it was so unexpected, but she didn’t hurt me or anything. And now I’ll be more prepared for it, if it happens again.’
They sat, sipping their drinks. Heinz longed to share his forest encounter with his father-in-law. Some instinct stopped him. He was certain Gunter would not approve of any resurgence of National Socialism. He also knew that information was power, and he needed to hold on to any vestige in this strange world.
The photograph of Gunter’s youngest son, Albrecht, dressed in his SS uniform was nowhere to be seen now. But then you would expect that. No point flagging up his existence to any visiting Allied soldiers.
Heinz had never liked the man; bumptious prig sprang to mind. He had been an early recruit to the National Socialist Party and eager to do his bit to make Germany glorious again. That included a determination to recruit his new brother-in-law and lecture him on the Fuehrer’s wisdom and his particular insight into world affairs, which seemed to involve blaming the Jews for everything. He was also tall, well built, with the Aryan ideal of blue eyes and fair hair. But where others admired a Nazi pin-up boy, Heinz saw only an icy stare, a cruel mouth and a humourless expression. He wasn’t surprised when Albrecht joined the SS, Hitler’s elite forces. He’ll go far, he had thought, and by 1940, still in his twenties, he was already a Lieutenant-Colonel based in Krakow, the capital of the General Government zone of occupation in Poland.
And yet, without Albrecht, he would now be a Russian prisoner of war. Or dead.