It was the Easter season, 1944, on the Eastern Front. Germany was already defeated, but didn't realize it. The invasion of Normandy was coming...North Africa and Italy had already been lost. The Soviets were out-producing Germany in all the key elements of war - soldiers, ammunition, tanks. It was also receiving war material from America's vast industries. Its soldiers rode in trucks manufactured in Michigan and its pilots flew planes built in California. The Germans were outnumbered, outfought, out of time, out of money and out of luck. The gods of war had gone over to the other side more than a year ago...and now mocked the Teutonic warriors on every step of their retreat back to the Homeland.
But of delusions, they still had plenty. And their central planners decided that they could collect 'racially correct' orphans from Soviet territory still under Wehrmacht control and send them back to Germany. These children were to be raised to become the overseers of this new territory Germany had conquered.
Dieter Markmann was a lieutenant in the German army, stationed near Shlobine on the Dniepr river. He had heard about the program of sending children back to Germany. He had not believed it was true. Instead, it must have been one of those dark rumors that circulate in wartime. Besides, it was obvious to him as it was to all those who had served for any length of time on the Eastern Front that these conquered lands would not remain conquered for very long. Every month that passed Germany grew weaker; she could not replace her losses neither in men nor in material. But the Soviet Union grew stronger. In this Easter season, the roads were drying out. Troops were massing for a huge attack. The Germans might resist...for a while. But not for long.
A local woman came into his office. She spoke Russian. She was dressed as any peasant woman would be - simply, rudely. She had blond hair. Markmann noticed that she would have been pretty had she been dressed and coifed like a lady in Berlin. But there was no point in noticing such things.
"I have to talk to you," she began. And then, the words kept coming. A torrent of them. Without pause. But with tears.
"They are going to take my only son, Tomas. They are going to take him to Berlin. Please, he's all I have left. My husband is dead. My other two children are dead. Tomas is all I have. And he's not strong. He won't survive...can't you help me?"
Markmann realized that the rumor was true. The 'racially correct' son, Tomas, had fallen into the Nazi's net.
"I'd like to," he replied. "But I am a German Officer, not a social welfare agent. I follow orders. And if I were to undermine an order from the Fuhrer, I would be shot. I'm sorry..."
The woman sobbed. She rose. She turned and walked to the door.
When she had left, Lieutenant Markmann went to the window. He pushed aside the lace curtain that had been put there by the former occupants. He saw the woman cross the street. There, in an alley, beside another house that had also been turned into a German officers' barracks, was a boy of 11 or 12. Blond. He was tall, but thin. Markmann liked his looks.
'Shame. This war has taken so many young men to early graves,' he said to himself. 'It will surely take me too.'
He returned to his desk. He studied his papers. But his mind stayed on the woman...and her son. He had already spent two years on the Eastern Front. Most of the men who marched with him to Smolensk and then all the way to the suburbs of Moscow were now dead. He had been lucky so far. He had been wounded twice. One bullet took off a finger. A second time, a piece of shrapnel lodged itself in his leg. Neither wound was fatal...though the second might have been, if a medic had not acted promptly to stop the bleeding. Most likely, in the big push that the Russians were planning, his luck would give out.
Markmann stood up quickly. He crossed the room, opened the door, and looked down the street. He walked quickly in the direction the woman had taken...and then spotted them on a cross-street.
"Come..." he motioned to them, looking in both directions. "Bring the boy to the office at 4pm."
"But I'm supposed to bring him to the town square at 3pm," she protested.
"Then bring him to me instead."
He walked back to the office and waited. In a couple of hours, the boy arrived with a small bag. He was prepared for a long trip.
"Here, stay in here..." he pointed to a closet. The boy got in.
For two days, the boy stayed in the closet. The SS troops charged with the round-up left. Then, the boy was reunited with his mother.
Markmann waited for the Soviet's attack. When it came, in the summer of '44, it rolled over all the German's firepower. Markmann was taken prisoner.
Like all prisoners, he was interrogated.
"Are you Lieutenant Markmann?," the Soviet officer demanded. "Well, you're a lucky man. There's a woman in Shlobine who says you saved her son. You'll live to see your country."
Markmann was lucky. Of all the Germans taken prisoner by the Soviets, half died in their Siberian prison camps. Markmann survived.
Bill Bonner is the President & Founder of Agora Inc, an international publisher of financial and special interest books and newsletters.