Rudolf’s mood slid further into gloom as he watched the sunset. It was the close of yet another day so far from his beloved homeland. Feeling wretched, he searched for someone he knew among the men milling about the compound’s dirt yard, finally seeing another U-893 crewman. Wolfgang Gertzner stood by the barbed wire fence, a cloud of cigarette smoke swirling about his dark blond head. Rudolf walked to him and offered Wolfgang a bite off the partially eaten chocolate bar. In turn, Wolfgang gave Rudolf a few puffs of his Camel, another popular brand among the Germans. The two men stood silently, looking at the Arizona sky as it flung its dying light into unimaginable colors, turning the strange hills nearby into ghostly formations.
“Any news?” Rudolf asked.
“Whatever news there is… it is bad!” Wolfgang said.
Wolfgang, a thin, wiry man who had worked in the control room on U-893, was well-known around camp for his sticky fingers, taking anything the gum-chewing Americans forgot to lock up. It was Wolfgang who stole a radio receiver from the camp supply room, an easy enough task since his assigned duty was to resupply and clean bathrooms in the hospital compound. Wolfgang turned the receiver over to one of the German officers who, in turn, secretly rigged it to pick up short-wave broadcasts from the Third Reich. The news from Germany was a welcome respite for the prisoners wary of American propaganda about Allied victories.
Rudolf’s voice sounded dull, sullen. “Is it true what the American newspapers say…that the Russians have captured Bucharest and they are on the march toward Germany?”
“I think it is true,” Wolfgang said, his answer a low growl. “Although, my gut tells me our officers are probably not giving us the full story either.”
“Mein Gott!” Rudolf sucked in his breath. “For Germany to be defeated by the Russians would be far worse than being beaten by the Brits and Americans. Those filthy communists will kill as many of us as possible!”
Rudolf stopped speaking for a moment and then glanced sideways at Wolfgang before voicing his thoughts. “You know, I have often wondered why Americans with our German blood have not risen up to help us in our fight.”
Wolfgang looked askance at Rudolf. “Why would they do that Rudi? They are weak now; they have lived in America too long. The races mix easily here; they are nothing but mongrels. The only ones they don’t mix with are the niggers.”
Rudolf laughed; what Wolfgang said was true. After the capture of U-893, the Americans interrogated the crew of the U-boat at Fort Hunt, a secret center located on the Potomac River near Washington, D.C. After several weeks, when the Americans were satisfied there was no more information to be had, the crew climbed aboard a south-bound train to Camp Blanding where they stewed in Florida’s humidity. Weeks turned to months, and then the War Department moved them again by train to desolate Arizona. On those train trips, aside from seeing the vast American landscape with its bountiful farms and peaceful, untouched cities, they also viewed filthy shanties slung along the railroad tracks where only black people lived, and they talked among themselves about the appalling conditions. No one in Germany lived like that before the war, not even the Jews.
Rudolf looked up at the darkening sky. He loathed Camp Papago Park, not only because he was a prisoner of war. It was more than that, so much more. The camp was incredibly bleak for Rudolf’s German soul. His vision was accustomed to the green of his native land that stretched as far as the eye could see—pastures heavy with wheat, rapeseed, rye or barley, and forests laced with wide flowing rivers. Rudolf psyche ached desperately for home, for his beautiful Bremen located on the picturesque Weser River. Here, in the middle of the Arizona desert, he felt as if he inhabited an alien world, particularly with those scarred, ugly hills that sat adjacent to the camp. The arid landscape of sand, cactus, and stark rubble-strewn peaks made him irritable. The only comfort Rudolf could summon was that he was imprisoned with his own countrymen in this strange land.
He stuffed the candy wrapper in his pocket and headed for his barrack. He needed sleep to take away his feeling of utter despair.
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