A string of deaths drags Dix Connor and his art expert wife into a suspense-filled game of cat & mouse with a clandestine organization dating back to WWII.
It was one of the greatest crimes of the century…. Grand museums and families lost countless valuables and works of art to Nazi lootings in what has been called “the rape of Europa.” Parker’s story begins just outside the Bavarian salt mines as the American and Russian armies are closing in. Amid the chaos, SS officers scramble to hide ill-gotten treasures that will finance the “Fourth Reich.” Only a precious journal detailing an inventory of treasure caches around the Tirol holds a clue.
Forty plus years later, the hunt for Europe’s lost art falls to a husband and wife team who become entangled in this web of stolen treasures. Dix and Maria Connor face down a secret and deadly network trafficking in Titians, Bruegels and remnants of Peter the Great’s magnificent Amber Room. From northeast Italy to Brussels, these amateur detectives risk everything to right the wrongs of history. Crisscross Europe’s past and present in this thinking man’s action novel.
The lust for loot crosses paths with history’s ghosts in this high-octane thriller.
Targeted Age Group:: 16 +
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
During my army career my family and I lived in Italy for five years and traveled extensively during my off duty time. We spent many hours visiting museums, castles, cathedrals, churches and historical sites in Europe. I was captivated with the history. The Nazi lootings of treasures became the catalyst for “Treasures of the Fourth Reich.” I read a lot of history about Nazi thefts. After reading the story which took place at the salt mines on Nazi stashes, it occurred to me how it could have played out. So, I took a “what if” approach to history. I was sent to Panama before the invasion and, while there, I met a fascinating art dealer. She formed the basis for my character Maria in that story. I accepted the challenge from my wife and wrote “Treasures of the Fourth Reich.”
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
While in Panama I met a fascinating art dealer. She formed the basis for my character Maria in that story. My characters and their environments are based on real places, people and events. Most of the characters are fictitious. Some are real such as General Kaltenbrunner. I draw from all the people I have met over the years and come up with a profile that works for the book I am writing.
Alt Aussee, Austria
September 12, 1944
He is a bad one, the waitress thought as she placed the cup and saucer in front of him, the same as she had done many times over the past few months. The aroma of strong coffee wafted through the morning air. Unlike the other officers, this one was charming and always had time for a kind word—but she sensed evil.
From his vantage point, the staunch and attractive SS major watched the posting of guards to the mine of Alt Aussee. He observed more than the formation of the troops. He studied Dr. Pochmuller, director of the mines, as he checked the train, made notes in his journal and wiped his brow. He surveyed the small train, laden with crates of gold, jewels, paintings, tapestries and other treasures, as it disappeared into the entrance of the salt mine. The train was en route to one of the main chambers that lay more than a mile inside the mountain.
He raised the cup to his lips and scrutinized the soldiers and workers that moved about, treating the cargo as if it were mere chunks of salt.
The magnificent pines swayed in the gentle breeze that found its way through Bavarian Alps. The air was fresh and clean in the high mountains southeast of Salzburg. It was a tranquil place isolated from the fighting and horrors of war. It was easy to see why this area in the Salzkammergut was a fashionable summer resort.
Mein Führer, you’re mad! You’ve cost us the war and our country, the major thought as he lit a cigarette. It is amazing how the soldiers disregard the magnitude of the treasure that arrives each day and is carried into the mountain by the train. Maybe it’s this place―it’s safe duty. Maybe they don’t want to risk being sent to the front… or maybe they just don’t care anymore. Anyway—that’s good.
Major Ulrich V. Fabian of the elite Grossdeutschland Regiment was special assistant to the SS Intelligence Chief, General Ernst Kaltenbrunner, and in charge of security. But his duty went beyond Alt Aussee. He also escorted treasures to the mine and established hideouts for high-ranking Nazis in South Tirol. Realizing the war would end soon, Fabian was already well into the execution of his plan for postwar retirement. He found himself in a unique situation. The once powerful Third Reich was crumbling into disorder and survival of the elite had become its focus. He knew he would probably end up in prison or shot for war crimes once the war was over. Fabian did not plan on being captured by the Allies, nor did he plan on being shot by the failing Third Reich as a traitor. Disappearing in Europe is what he intended to do. At the right time and under the right circumstances, Fabian would make his final move.
Breakfast finished, he set out on his morning rounds. His first stop was his usual visit to Dr. Pochmuller.
“This is insanity, it’s a mad house,” Pochmuller protested as he wiped his brow and scribbled in his journal. “There is too much for us to handle. We are overwhelmed, Major!”
“You’re doing fine, Herr Doktor. Perhaps I can get a few more soldiers to help you.”
“Just tell your general this must slow down.”
“I’ll pass on your concerns, Herr Doktor,” Fabian said as he mechanically returned the salute of a passing soldier. He had no intention of mentioning the Doctor’s concerns at his ten o’clock meeting with General Kaltenbrunner.
As the two walked, Fabian positioned himself so he could eye Pochmuller’s notes. He memorized more of the detailed diagram of the chambers within the mine on the left side of the journal. Pochmuller had outlined one chamber labeled König Josef, indicating the work site where the treasures were currently being deposited. Each chamber in the vast network of the mine had been named after royalty and famous people from Germanic history. The current work site honored Franz Josef, the Hapsburg monarch who ruled the Austro-Hungarian Empire for half a century. The 1914 assassination of his nephew, and heir to the throne, led Europe into World War I. Just as Franz Josef’s chief ally had been Kaiser Wilhelm II in the so-called Second Reich, twenty years later the rump Austrian state entered into political union with Hitler’s Germany at the beginning of the Third Reich.
“Major,” Pochmuller said as he checked off an item in his journal, “a load of gold will be ready for delivery this afternoon. Remember, be discreet.”
“I know, Herr Doktor. How much gold this time?”
“About four million reichsmarks.”
Fabian nodded without speaking as he watched a truck enter the work area and stop beside the tracks to unload its treasures. Two soldiers got out of the truck and entered the small guard house as casually as if they were delivering a load of corn.
“I must be on my way, Herr Doktor.”
Doctor Pochmuller raised his right arm to signal a good-bye, without looking up from his journal.
Major Fabian entered the building near the entrance to the mine that contained the offices of General Kaltenbrunner and Doctor Pochmuller. Fabian knew that Pochmuller usually returned from the mine between 11:00 and 11:15. He kept up with the general’s schedule through the Second Secretary, Fräulein Griselda von Englehoven.
Griselda was a small Bavarian woman with plain features and short, wavy brown hair. For the past two months, she had dated Major Fabian and was now helplessly in love with him. Through her friendship with General Kaltenbrunner’s mistress, Griselda kept well informed and often provided privileged information to the major.
Fabian arrived early for his ten o’clock appointment with the general. He approached Griselda’s desk and, with a small flourish, laid a chocolate bar with hazelnuts in front of her.
“Danke schön, Major!” She removed her glasses and struggled to contain her feelings for him. “Would you like some?”
“Nein,” he replied, taking a seat near her. “Is it all arranged?”
Her eyes instinctively searched the empty room to ensure no one was present, then replied softly, “Ja, you leave for Königsberg in three weeks.”
“Good. I’m to deliver more gold for the Fourth Reich this afternoon to the Nazi safe houses in the mountains. The director said it would be about four million reichsmarks. Watch for the paperwork.”
“Ulrich, I’m worried. Shouldn’t we leave as soon as possible? I’ve heard rumors we’re losing in the east and south.”
“Nein! It is not time. If we don’t follow the plan, we will be shot! We must be patient.”
“All right,” she whispered, grasping his arm. “I’ll take care of the paperwork, but be careful…. I love you.”
“I must see the general now.”
Major Fabian, with Griselda’s help, had gained the complete trust and confidence of General Kaltenbrunner. The chaos brought on by the Allies’ advance from Italy and France, along with the Russians’ success in pushing the Germans out of Russia occupied most of the general’s time. He also struggled with the Führer’s orders. Consequently, Major Fabian operated with semi-autonomy.
After greeting Fabian with a cursory salute and summoning for coffee to be brought, the general retrieved from his desk a black leather folder embossed with a black on white swastika. As he stepped from behind his desk, he pulled the ribbon and released the knot. The corporal entered the room with a tray and the general returned to his large, leather chair.
“Put it on the table, Corporal. That will be all.”
“Jawohl,” the corporal replied. He set two cups on the walnut table that separated the two officers, then left the room, closing the door behind him.
“Major Fabian,” the general began, “the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg wants the Amber Room of Tsarskoe Selo brought here to the salt mine for safe keeping. It will be on display at the Prussian Fine Arts Museum in Königsberg until the end of the month. You are to take a detail of men and bring it back here.”
“The Amber Room, Herr General?”
“Ja, the Amber Room was a magnificent room in the Summer Palace of Peter the Great, consisting entirely of carved amber panels. After we captured the palace, the room was dismantled and sent to the museum. It’s worth at least twenty million reichsmarks.”
“I’ll pick my best men, Herr General,” Fabian replied earnestly, pleased at being entrusted with such a mission. He took a long sip of his coffee and returned it to the table.
“Of course, the shipment has been arranged in utmost secrecy. You will have full authority. Your orders will be signed by the Führer himself and will arrive by courier at the end of the week. You will depart in three weeks.”
“I will start making preparations right away, Herr General.”
“One more thing. The doktor doesn’t know about it yet. I will tell him when he returns this morning. Do you have any questions?”
“Nein, Herr General.”
“That will be all, Major.”
The two stood. The major clicked the heels of his shiny black boots as he raised his arm to salute. The general returned the salute, then slid the papers back into the leather folder.
Königsberg, East Prussia
The train pulled away from the Königsberg station promptly at 16:15 on October 7, 1944, laden with a shipment of gold bullion and every type of art imaginable—paintings, engravings, sculpture, tapestries, porcelain, crystal, and furniture. The crowning glory of the shipment, however, was the Amber Room, packed in twenty-seven massive crates.
Major Fabian sat in the cabin of his first-class sleeper car, sipping a fine Bordeaux as the train steadily wound its way to Salzburg. He retrieved a cigarette from the silver case in his shirt pocket and meditatively lit the cigarette, drawing the smoke deep into his lungs. He felt his muscles begin to relax as he slowly released the smoke. Fabian took another sip of wine, opened his leather-bound journal embossed with a gilt Reich Adler—the national eagle clutching a swastika—and began to write.
The scream of the train’s whistle punctuated the hypnotic clattering of the train. Satisfied that he had recorded the day’s events, Major Fabian returned his journal to his briefcase and placed it by the head of his berth. He tucked his Mauser HSc 7.65mm into the opening of the briefcase, leaving the wooden pistol grip exposed. Fabian thought back two years earlier to when he had been given the sleek Mauser by Reich Marshal Goering to replace his standard issue Walther P38 9mm automatic. He had been assigned to Einsatzgruppe D in the southern Ukraine, whose function was to eliminate “undesirables” such as gypsies, Jews and Jewish sympathizers.
In a rural village outside Kherson, Ukraine, Fabian found a little Jewish girl in a vacant house that his unit had cleared of all Jews the day before. He entered the house of the once affluent family to see what was left behind. The house was quiet and cold. As he cautiously proceeded into the living room, looking over the paintings on the wall and overturned furniture, he heard a noise from the kitchen.
There he discovered, crouched in a corner, a girl of six or eight years old with a dirty face. She had hidden from the soldiers of the Einsatzgruppe when they came to the house and took her parents away. He knew he should have shot her or taken her to the collection point, but the girl’s eyes reminded him of his twin sister, who had died when she was about the same age as the frightened girl. The thought of his sister prevented him from either shooting the girl or taking her in.
Instead, he holstered his pistol. Then he retrieved all the money he had in his pockets and laid it on the table. He stepped back into the living room and lifted a painting from the wall before he left the house.
During a subsequent operation he was wounded and, because he had not been medically cleared to return to combat duty, he was given a special assignment to Reich Marshal Hermann Goering. The temporary assignment was to escort trainloads of treasures back to Germany, much like the current shipment. Impressed with Fabian’s performance of his duties, Goering had rewarded Fabian with the Mauser HSc, telling him it was more fitting for an SS officer than the larger issue 9mm. Moreover, it wouldn’t hurt his wrist. Fabian reciprocated by giving Goering a painting he had removed from one of the houses in the Ukraine. Not long after he completed his temporary assignment escorting the treasure trains, Goering had Fabian transferred to his current position at Alt Aussee.
As the train rattled along, Fabian removed his boots and trousers, then emptied the remaining contents of the wine bottle into his glass. He lit another cigarette and leaned back on the bed, mentally rehearsing the next day’s sequence of events. When he finished the last of the wine, he extinguished the glowing ember, switched off the light, and returned to the comfort of his bed.
The treasure-laden train jerked to a stop in the Salzburg station where it was greeted by a convoy of military trucks. Major Fabian supervised the transfer of the precious cargo onto the vehicles for the remainder of the trip to Alt Aussee. As usual, he meticulously recorded the entire trip in his journal, detailing the route that led the convoy east through the countryside. Everything proceeded according to plan, except for one unusual stop at a mine near Hallstatt on the west bank of a small lake southwest of Bad Aussee, which Fabian dutifully recorded in his journal later that night. One million reichsmarks of gold bullion was unloaded at this mine in accordance with the written orders of General Kaltenbrunner, orders that Griselda had carefully forged on the general’s official stationery just days before. When the gold was in place, Fabian’s sergeant signed the orders verifying that they were carried out.
The next morning Major Fabian sat in his usual place for breakfast. The hustle and bustle at the mine was unaffected by the light mist that hung in the morning air. Fabian watched the posting of the guards, then studied Dr. Pochmuller as he walked briskly up and down the length of the small train, dutifully making notes in his journal. Fabian surveyed the procession burdened with another load of treasure as it slowly vanished into the entrance of the salt mine.
Gute! Fabian thought. Everything is normal. The doktor seems his usual self, the soldiers too—nothing is out of the ordinary. He finished his breakfast, and started out on his morning rounds with his customary visit to Dr. Pochmuller.
“Morgen, Herr Doktor,” Fabian said as he approached the director.
“Morgen, Major. A late night for you, ja?
“Ja, it was quite late.”
Fabian positioned himself where he could see the director’s notes. He pretended to study the actions of three men working in front of him, but his eyes furtively scrutinized the exposed pages of the director’s journal.
Gute! They’re still working in the König Josef chamber, Fabian thought to himself.
“How are the soldiers doing that I sent you?”
“They’re clumsy! They are costing me time,” Pochmuller protested.
“Patience, Herr Doktor. You must teach them.”
“Ja, you teach dogs….” Pochmuller grunted, then stopped without finishing.
“I must be on my way, Herr Doktor.”
Doctor Pochmuller raised his right arm and briefly looked up from his journal without speaking.
It began to rain as Major Fabian entered Griselda’s office. She stood in front of an open window watching the rain drop from the pines, not seeing him. The sedative rhythm of the raindrops on the roof filled the spacious room. Fabian quietly surveyed the room and observed that the general’s door was closed and Griselda was alone.
“Morgen, Fräulein von Englehoven.”
Startled, Griselda jerked around. “Morgen, Major.” She removed her glasses, stepped in his direction, and kissed him, long and passionately. “I’m glad you’re back. I missed you.”
“I guess you did.”
“It was late when you finished last night, ja?”
“Ja, it took longer than I anticipated to finish the shipment. It was already late when I got back to Hallstatt to move the gold and almost four this morning by the time I finished.”
“You poor dear.” Griselda squeezed his arm. “I’m going to fix you a nice meal tonight, rouladen and knödel.”
“Gute, you know me well! Here are the forms for the shipment. Make the change we agreed upon—one million reichsmarks of gold bullion less than the original forms show. Bring the copies home with you tonight and we’ll burn them.”
“You missed me, ja?”
“Ja. Is the general in?”
“No, General Kaltenbrunner left three days ago to meet General Karl Wolff—he just relocated his headquarters to Verona. The Allies are pushing north of Florence.”
“It must be getting pretty bad if the commander of all SS operations in Italy pulls his headquarters back to the north.”
“I’m worried. The news from the Eastern Front is very bad, too. Let’s go now! We have enough to live comfortably for the rest of our lives.”
“Nein! The time is not right. We need more.”
“How much do we have now?”
“By my calculations about three, maybe four million reichsmarks in gold, some jewels, and several paintings,” he replied.
“That’s enough! We need to get out of here.”
“Not yet. I want a copy of all the locations of the Fourth Reich caches. Get it for me today. Locate all of the copies but don’t remove them yet. We’ll destroy them later.”
“I…I don’t know.”
“You must do it!”
“It’s very dangerous.”
“You can do it, my dear.” Fabian kissed her lightly on the lips, then smiled as he looked into her eyes. “I’ll see you tonight.”
Major Fabian poured more wine into Griselda’s glass as she cleared the dinner table, then refilled his own. Griselda placed the dishes in the sink, then stepped to where Fabian sat, his back toward her. She slid her hands slowly down his chest and hugged him as he sat motionless. Slipping free the first three buttons on his shirt, she inserted her right hand, lightly stroked his chest from side to side, and inhaled his masculine scent. Her heart raced.
“Why are you so quiet?” Griselda whispered. “Did you miss me?”
Fabian grasped her arm. “Ja! I’m just a little tired. A good meal, some wine and peaceful surroundings.… I was just relaxing.”
Griselda released him and turned toward the cabinet where she took a piece of paper from a large envelope hidden beneath several books. She hesitated, then turned and stepped to the table.
“Here is a copy of all the locations of the Nazi hideouts.”
“Gute! You’ve done well, Griselda.” He looked into her eyes and smiled as he took the paper.
Griselda’s heart pounded at the sounds of his words followed by his wide smile. She turned and walked into the bedroom.
Unaware that she had left, Fabian memorized the locations. He laid the paper aside and lit a cigarette from the candle that still burned on the table. Lifting his glass again, he caught the light as it sparkled in the wine, and filled his mouth once more. He smiled as his eyes fell on Griselda as she walked from the bedroom in her robe.
Her bare legs parted the robe with each step, exposing her legs to mid-thigh. The robe, tied at the waist, exposed her breasts as she approached him. She leaned over and kissed him softly, tasting the wine on his lips. His lips parted and she received his exploring tongue. As his hand moved gently from her knee to her thigh, her heart pounded and she gasped for air.
Fabian stood and led her by the hand into the bedroom, stopping by the bed to kiss her gently. He slipped her robe free and brought his hand up, lightly touching her breast before guiding her onto the bed. As she watched, Fabian slowly unbuckled his holster and draped it over the bed post, then removed all of his clothes.
Griselda’s body surged at the sight of his nude form—illuminated by the moonlight bursting from behind a cloud. Her body tensed with passion and she felt her nipples tighten as his hand found her inner thigh. His touch was teasing and searching; his mouth covered her with sensuous kisses. Her hands explored his firm muscles. She craved him. Her body quivered beneath his touch. He penetrated her, and her body responded with equal force to each of his moves. She felt his body stiffen as he arched his back and she felt his warmth. Her body convulsed and she exploded in ecstasy. The euphoria overpowered her. She hugged him and sank beneath him.
“I love you,” she whispered.
Fabian raised his head, kissed her lips, then rolled onto his back.
I do love you, Griselda thought. I love you so much.
She turned onto her side and tenderly placed her arm on his chest. Without speaking, Fabian got out of the bed, put on a robe, and walked to the next room. He picked up his journal and sat at the table, taking a cigarette out of the silver case and lighting it. He looked at the paper with the locations of the Fourth Reich treasure caches, then began making notes in his journal.
Griselda pulled the sheet across her body as she lay watching him. She wanted to hear his declaration of love which had not come. She was hurt and fought against her feelings of being used. She tried to convince herself that the man she loved did indeed love her. He is tired, she thought. And the war doesn’t allow him to express his feelings. She lay relaxed but felt somewhat cheated in her long awaited bliss.
Alt Aussee, Austria
April 8, 1945
Fabian marched into the office building. He hesitated as Griselda turned and placed a box stuffed with files onto a table next to her desk. Paper littered the floor and overflowed from three boxes set against the wall beneath the window. A private entered the room, picked up an overflowing wastebasket, and carried it out of the room. Fabian and Griselda made eye contact, but did not speak. She signaled to him that the general was in his office. Fabian acknowledged her signal with a nod, then knocked on the general’s open door.
“Major Fabian, come in. Close the door,” the general said as he remained seated at his desk.
“You wanted to see me, Herr General?” Fabian asked as he approached the desk.
“Ja, Fabian, the Russians are outside Vienna. There isn’t much time left. I want you to gather all the trucks you can and load them with art from the mine and distribute it to the Fourth Reich’s hideouts around the Tirol.”
“Jawohl! Herr General, there are only a few trucks available on short notice. Many are out on detail.”
“Get what trucks you can. This may be the last delivery. The Führer will not consider surrender. He has gone mad. In two days, on the tenth, special bombs will arrive and we are to make preparations to blow up the mine.”
“Blow up the mine, Herr General?”
“Ja, blow it up. Bormann is sending his assistant, von Hummel, on the thirteenth to meet with Doktor Pochmuller and me to discuss disabling the mine.”
This was just the kind of news Major Fabian had hoped for. He could at last set into motion the final stage of the plan he had worked on for months. Fabian knew exactly where the treasures he wanted were located in the mine. With the Allies closing in and the Russians outside of Vienna, he would have to act soon. If he made even the slightest miscalculation, he would become a prisoner of war and never again see the treasure he had amassed for his post-war survival. If he were found out, he would be shot for treason.
“Jawohl, Herr General! I’ll do my best.”
“Major, keep this information secret. Also, be careful. There are reports that the Austrian Resistance is active in the area.”
“Jawohl!” The major clicked the heels of his black boots as he raised his arm to salute. This is playing right into my hands, the major thought, struggling to hide his excitement. I think I’ll just add the Amber Room to my collection, too. Why not? I hauled it here from Königsberg. Why should I allow the Russians to take it back?
The general returned the salute and watched Fabian leave his office.
“Griselda, it is time for the final phase of the plan,” Fabian whispered. “I’ll start making the preparations.”
“I’m frightened. Let’s go now! We can easily disappear in all of this chaos. We have plenty to live on.”
“Nein! Not yet. I’ll tell you when. The final preparations must be made. When the time is right we’ll fake our deaths and disappear. Now is the most critical time.”
“But it’s getting dangerous. I’m afraid the Russians are going to take us prisoner. The rumors about the Russians are horrible. I’m frightened! I can’t—”
“Shut up, Griselda!” Fabian said, grabbing her arm and gritting his teeth. “Calm down. You’re going to get us shot, damn it. Do what I told you! We are not going to be taken by the Russians, or Americans either, for that matter.”
Griselda’s eyes shot to the private who entered the office to pick up more boxes. Fabian released her arm and backed away, trying to restore his impassive facade. The private glanced at the two and walked directly to the boxes.
“Auf wiedersehen, Fräulein von Englehoven,” Fabian said, looking at Griselda but intending for the private to hear.
“Auf wiedersehen, Major Fabian,” she replied.
By April 27 the phone lines to Berlin were no longer working and chaos reigned at the mine. The miners were angry that their sole source of livelihood was about to be destroyed in order to keep the treasures from falling into the hands of either the Americans or Russians. Fabian’s preparations were complete. He waited for the right moment, which came late in the evening of May 1.
A gentle breeze blew into the room that night, carrying with it the fresh scent of the Bavarian forest. Griselda turned over and pulled the sheet across her exposed shoulder. The disorder at the mine and latest war news frightened her, but she felt safe next to Fabian as she snuggled closer to him. The soft light of the moon illuminated his muscular bare chest as he slept. The phone rang, startling her and waking Fabian. He lifted the receiver on the second ring.
“Ja. Major Fabian,” he said as he sat up.
“Major Fabian, this is General Kaltenbrunner.”
“Jawohl!” Fabian responded, becoming fully awake.
“The Führer is dead!”
“What did you say?”
“The Führer is dead. He killed himself yesterday and things are going to hell! Come to my office first thing in the morning. You are to escort and protect Hermann Stuppack, cultural assistant to Baldur von Schirach, the Nazi governor of Vienna. The Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna put their things in the Lauffen mine at Bad Ischl. They don’t want their treasures found with Hitler’s. They want them scattered around the Tirol.”
“Jawohl, Herr General.”
The phone went dead with his words and Fabian slowly returned the receiver to its cradle.
“Get dressed,” Fabian commanded.
“What is it? What happened?”
“Hitler is dead. We must move quickly. There are some things we must do tonight. I am to meet the general tomorrow for one last job.”
Griselda was relieved that they were finally about to leave, yet frightened of the uncertain future. The news meant that the war would surely end soon and she would escape with the man she loved. Her emotions prevented her from responding.
In a little over an hour Fabian led Griselda along the path he had marked, occasionally parting low-hanging branches. The bright moon provided enough light for their journey in the dark woods. They walked along in silence for several minutes, then suddenly he stopped.
“This is it,” he said as he turned and released her hand.
“Where are we?”
“This is what we have talked about. Our treasure. It is time I showed it to you.”
“I don’t see anything,” she said as she looked around the darkness.
Fabian removed several large tree limbs from a pile of small boulders, then moved the boulders aside to reveal an opening. He flicked on the flashlight to expose the entrance, then shined the light into the cave.
“Here it is. Watch your head,” he said, motioning her to enter.
Fabian gave her the light as she passed in front of him. He hesitated and looked at the sky behind him. Flashes of light burst in the distance. That will be the Americans, he thought. The 3rd Army commanded by General Patton.
Griselda entered the cave and stopped. The flashlight illuminated a stack of gold bars, which reflected the light in all directions and made the dark cave shimmer with yellow light. After several seconds, she went deeper into the cave. Several boxes and paintings were stacked against the walls. She approached one of the boxes.
“Go ahead, open it,” Fabian said from behind her as he lit a lantern.
Griselda was speechless; the sight of the treasures overwhelmed her. She smiled at Fabian, then knelt in front of the box. Gently, she lifted the lid and shined the light inside. A spectrum of colors burst out as the light hit the jewels. She reached in and scooped up the contents, then allowed them to trickle between her fingers. She did this over and over, like a child in a toy box.
“They’re beautiful!” she exclaimed, beaming at him. “We’re rich! I can’t believe it. We can finally get away from here.” She turned and plunged both hands into the box again. “I love you,” she said.
Griselda was thrilled at what she now had—a handsome man she was in love with and a fortune to live on for the rest of her life. She imagined them walking together, hand in hand. She saw them in bed together, savoring feelings she had never felt before.
Major Fabian stood behind her, coldly observing her joy. He slowly grasped the smooth wooden grip of his Mauser automatic and eased it from under the flap of his holster. He raised his arm and aimed the small pistol. He hesitated, then squeezed the trigger. The gun twitched in his hand with a mild recoil. The flash of the exploding shell momentarily overpowered the beam of the flashlight. The sharp crack echoed throughout the cave, followed by the tinkling sound of the ejected empty cartridge case bouncing off the stone floor. Finally, silence.
As if in slow motion, a small opening appeared behind her right ear. A piece of her skull and a stream of blood parted her hair on the left side of her head between her ear and eye. The red liquid sprayed outward, splattering droplets on the wall beside her. Griselda’s body slumped to the ground, a pool of blood forming as her heart struggled with its last spark of life.
The confines of the cave captured the thick, heavy odor of burnt gun powder and blood. The revolting stench and the sight of the body he had made love to just hours before repulsed him.
The last time Fabian was seen was at the Lauffen Mine on May 3, 1945. At gunpoint, he had ordered the trucks to be loaded with several crates of gold bullion, one hundred eighty-four paintings, and forty-nine tapestries. The tapestries were from the renowned collection of the Kunsthistorisches Museum. The paintings included all the great Breugels at the mine, as well as numerous Rembrandts, Velázquezes, Titians, and Dürers. He led the convoy onto the road under constant Allied shelling and disappeared.
On May 8, 1945, Lieutenant General Patton’s 3rd Army reached Alt Aussee and soldiers of the 8th U.S. Infantry secured the mine. The entrance had been blasted shut.
At the same time the American forces were pushing deep into Germany from the south, the Russians were advancing on Berlin from the east. Word reached Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) that the Russians were looting Germany in their march toward Berlin. U.S. Army Captain Robert Hamilton from the Art Looting Investigation Unit (ALIU) of the OSS’s Counterintelligence Branch was sent to Berlin to investigate the reports. In Berlin, Captain Hamilton discovered the Soviets were indeed seizing the opportunity to reclaim treasures they felt were rightfully theirs. In addition, the Soviets were helping themselves to other Nazi treasures for their state museum. A steady stream of treasures—under the guise of “repatriated and compensatory restitution”—headed for the top-secret archives in Russia.
When the mine at Alt Aussee was inspected, it contained the greatest concentration of Nazi loot accumulated during the war. No record of Fabian’s take or its next destination was found. A week later, a charred body was recovered nearby and identified as that of Major Ulrich Volker Fabian of the elite Grossdeutschland Regiment and special assistant to SS Intelligence Chief, General Ernst Kaltenbrunner.
About the Author:
Patrick accepted the challenge from his wife and wrote “Treasures of the Fourth Reich.” He and his family lived in Italy for five years of his Army career and traveled extensively during his off duty time. Many hours were spent visiting museums, castles, cathedrals, churches and historical sites in Europe. The history of the Nazi lootings became the catalyst for his first novel. He met a fascinating art dealer in Panama just prior to the invasion and who helped form the basis for his character Maria in that story.
After retiring from the Army, Patrick worked in the defense industry for fifteen years. While pursuing his writing, he developed the concept of “War Merchant,” which is taken from his corporate experience and coupled with his military background. After retiring a second time, War Merchant came to life.
Patrick, now settled in Texas, enjoys writing and is well into his next suspense filled novel.
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