OPENING his eyes, Rudolph Niemann had a fleeting, I terrifying sensation of not knowing where he was. So he did what he did every morning when this occurred. Without moving his head he looked about the chamber for the things that were familiar to him: the dusty web of beams supporting the roof, his uniform hanging crisply on the wall and his boots aligned below, dutifully awaiting his reoccupation. Then the warm-smelling steam of the shower would find his nose, and, reoriented, he would arise.

But the shower was not running this morning, and so he remained slightly unconvinced as he swung his feet to the floor. The planks were familiarly cold, and his feet landed precisely where they would avoid nailheads. For months he had fought against the nails that rose mysteriously out of the floor: with the heels of his boots, with small rocks, with a hammer. Dents around the nails testified to the diligence of his efforts, but the nails still rose up. Some time ago he had simply learned where not to step.

Without reflection Niemann arose and went about his morning business in order to arrive for breakfast promptly at seven-thirty. In that half hour he would clean and shave himself, polish his boots, his insignia, and the beak of his cap, and don his uniform. Just before stepping out to cross the compound to the mess hall, he checked the straightness of his cap and tunic in his little mirror. As a final test he clicked his heels, feeling the snap run hollowly through his body like the ring of crystal. Everything, he knew, was in Ordnung; he did not like surprises.

Stepping out of his chamber, Niemann was astonished to see prisoners wandering around the compound. Somehow they seemed different. They lifted their heads and looked him straight in the eye. They did not approach him. but neither did they shrink away; instead they stood like pillars of rags before him. They were not afraid, and though none of them threatened or could threaten him. he felt a shiver run through him.

The time had come to put pettiness aside, to behave like a physician, to try saving the lives of people he had helped to put at great risk

In a strange sense, then, he was relieved when he heard, in English, the words “Hold it” from behind. He did not turn around, because the words were said in the way that a man with a gun in hand would say them. But he saw, for the first time ever, several inmates smile. Bony cheeks rose to nearly swallow sunken eyes; difficult smiles exercised remnants of muscles that had not been used in years. Now Niemann began to be afraid.

BE as uncooperative as possible. Name and rank only. Volunteer nothing. Niemann reminded himself of his duties as a prisoner. So when the American major asked tonelessly, “Who are you?" Niemann answered “Lieutenant Rudolph Niemann,”and only when he saw the major smile did he know he had been tricked into admitting that he spoke English. But he was determined to give away nothing more; he would not be the one to break silence among the Gruppe that ran the camp. No SS man would ever help the enemy; he knew that.

Niemann was confined to his quarters for the day. under guard. All his texts had been confiscated, and he found little to do. He did not like to let his mind wander, and he refused to speak with his guards, so he watched the compound through his window.

He saw the inmates wandering around, through the open gate and then back again. They wandered in and out of his fellow officers’ chambers and the enlisted men’s barracks. They wandered right up to his window and looked in at him, as at an animal in a zoo.

He saw the American soldiers and officers wandering too. They seemed not to be relieved by the absence of fighting here at Tottheim. All day long he watched them cry like babies, or recoil when approached by inmates who could barely walk. He saw them walk around looking at the ground, as if, unable to walk away, they were satisfied just to walk— they did not want to stand in any one place long enough to be a part of it. How could they be winning the war? he wondered. But as the day wore on, he felt a strange desire to be outside with them.

Niemann was surprised when, late in the evening, he was apparently the first German called to the Kommandant’s office.

Niemann had prepared himself for the interrogation. He realized that the major must know that he was the camp doctor, that he was not only a party member but also a member of the SS. He might know from the confiscated books, assuming he had translated their titles, that Niemann specialized in eugenics, although his formal training was as an internist. No cooperation. Name and rank. Volunteer nothing. Unity in separation.

“Good evening, Doctor,” the major said as he settled into the Kommandant’s burgundy-leather swivel chair behind the elaborately carved desk that an inmate and his brother had actually carried to the camp. “Won’t you please sit down?”

“No, thank you. I prefer to stand.” Niemann looked straight ahead, maintaining a rigid German posture. He was surprised at how much of the office he could observe without moving his eyes. He noted the precarious ash on the major’s cigar, concerned that it might fall on the Kommandant’s desk.

“Suit yourself,”the major said. “Tell me, why are you here?”

Niemann was a bit perplexed by the question. A trick, he decided. “Because you sent for me.”

The major smiled. “No, I mean, how come you’re the only one here?”

“I don’t understand. The only what?”

“The only German! How come you didn’t scram with the rest of them?” the major asked.

Niemann looked at the major with genuine puzzlement. He caught himself. This must be a trick; this American was trying to bluff him, crudely. But he wondered, where was everyone else? And why had he heard no fighting?

“Well,”the major said, lifting his brow, “they won’t get far. Ain’t no place to go.”The major had Niemann’s wallet on the desk in front of him. and was looking through the papers. He came up with Niemann’s party card. “Well, well, look at this. 1936.”He looked menacingly up at Niemann. “There’s a special place in my heart for party members.”

Just then Niemann realized that the major had no personnel file, nothing about Niemann except his wallet and personal-identification booklet. He recalled suddenly that none of the other quarters or barracks had been guarded as his had. He could not help searching for an answer, or a question. “You mean, I . . . ? Der Kommandant, die Gruppe . . . ?“

“Everyone! All your buddies! This place was a ghost town when we got here. Hell, we—”

“They all left? I—”

“We never would have known you were here if you hadn’t walked out of your room this morning like a lost puppy!”

Niemann fell into the chair on his right. The feeling came again: not knowing where, or now who, or why—not knowing anything except that he was the prisoner of this chuckling American major. Devastating, but not really a surprise. He had never been more than something tacked on to the officer corps of the camp; he was never gathered in at meals for the telling of a joke, never invited to play soccer or to go out carousing in town. He was never taken into confidence by anyone, never done favors. He had learned to ignore the slights, the lack of rapport, even the tasteless whispered rumors about him. He had decided that his honor lay in being a loyal party member, a hard worker, a necessary part of the camp structure, and, he had assumed, something worth saving.

The major allowed Niemann no time to recover from the scald of betrayal. “What were your duties here, Doctor?”

Niemann had no strength to question the question. He responded as if for the comfort of hearing himself speak. “I saw to the staff and prisoners.”

The major swiveled around, unfurling his arm toward the large window looking upon the main compound. Niemann’s eyes followed the gesture. “Well, I don’t see any staff. And the inmates don’t look too good,”He swiveled back around and leaned on the desk in one motion, causing the ash finally to snap off his cigar and fall, shattering silently on the desk. Looking Niemann square in his wounded eyes, he said, “You’re not a very good doctor, are you?”

THE major stood up and slowly walked to the book case on Niemann’s left. “Doctor, I and my men have been lighting together since Sicily. We’ve seen things we never thought we would.” He paused to gather his thoughts, “But we could never have imagined the things we’ve seen here. I . . . I’m not even sure what to do here. I’d like to pack up my men and send them on to Berlin—I bet they wish I would, just to get them the hell out of this place. But we’re here, and we can’t leave just because there aren’t any Germans to shoot at.”He paused for a long, hard look at Niemann.

“You know, you’re lucky that you weren’t shot dead when you walked out of your quarters, because a lot of my men might have done that . . . I might have, after seeing what you’ve done to these people. Maybe I should, I don’t know.”The major was getting visibly agitated, and Niemann felt compelled to defend himself while he could.

“Major, I am merely a doctor. I did what I was told to do—you know what that is like. In the name of justice, I—”

“Justice! Bullshit!" The major exploded, and then settled to a seething calm. “We have a saying back home, Doc: ‘Be careful what you ask for. because you just might get it.’ Furshtayst?

“But, tell you what, Doctor: I’ll make you a bargain. A lot of very sick people are out there, and you know exactly what’s wrong with ‘em. I know they’re not all going to survive: a lot of ‘em. from what I can tell, would rather just die. But the deal is this: you get those people healthy enough to be transported out of here to refugee camps—so that they can walk, and don’t get sick when you give ‘em something to eat—and I won’t let them or my men kill you. It’s as simple as that.”

Niemann said nothing.

The major looked at him, took his silence for agreement, and continued. “One of the inmates is a doctor. He has agreed to work with you. Whatever you need, you tell Lieutenant McDonough, who’s outside. The Red Cross is assembling refugee centers in France, and my job is to get these people there; I’m making it yours to see that they’re able to survive the trip. Good night, Doctor.

NIEMANN did not wake up at seven o’clock the following morning. He had not gotten to sleep until three. The betrayal, his own stupidity, a Jewish doctor, the frightening prisoners, grown men crying, the tenuousness of his own life—all these things danced around in his mind, so that he tossed and turned, threw his covers sweatily off and then, shivering, drew them on again. When he woke up suddenly at 8:38 A.M., it was from a nightmare. All he could remember was being snatched up by an eagle whose talons dug into his flesh, and just when he felt he was about to die, when he could no longer feel the wounds, the talons were pulled out, causing the wounds to burn again as he plummeted.

He awoke compressed into his mattress, and shot up from his pillow. His eyes groped for his uniform, which hung askew, different somehow. After a moment he realized that all the insignia and identification patches had been removed, except for the twiny caducei on his collar.

He went about his business, trying to regiment himself as before, but his boots seemed a little duller, and his hat well, without the insignia, Niemann thought, his hat would look ridiculous. So he left it.

Outside, the guard said that the major would like a word with Niemann, and he escorted the doctor across the compound. An inmate sat in the office, an older man. He was quite tall, which exaggerated his emaciation. He did not acknowledge Niemann’s entrance, remaining immersed in what Niemann recognized as one of his own medical texts. A suit of clothes from somewhere hung on him as though on a hanger. The shirt collar drooped around his scant neck, and the cuffs ran down over his withered hands. After a moment he snapped the book shut, tossed it weakly on the desk, and looked up at the major and then at Niemann. His eyes were deep-set and dark brown, full and knowing. They aroused in Niemann a vague feeling of awe; these eyes seemed already to know Niemann. Niemann had seen the man before, certainly. The man had been in the camp for at least a year, which now struck Niemann as odd; so few survived even six months.

The men regarded each other icily as the major spoke. “Dr. Niemann, this is Dr. Berlinger. He’ll be assisting you.” The major directed a forceful glance at Niemann. “I suggest that you follow his advice. He knows most of your patients.”The major rose from his chair and went to the door, opening it. “Why don’t you take him to your office and get started. We haven’t much time to waste. Good day, gentlemen.”

The two men rose, and Berlinger, moving easily, was the first through the door. Niemann stood back for a moment in outrage, until the major gestured for him to hurry.

Despite his obviously poor health, Berlinger crossed the compound in large, graceful, but unhurried strides, forcing Niemann to walk briskly if he was to arrive, as he felt he should, before the Jew.

“I will enter first,” Niemann said.

Berlinger looked down at Niemann for a moment, and in a deep voice that gave weight to whatever words it spoke, said in perfect Hochdeutsch, “Dr. Niemann, we have no time for pettiness anymore. Your uniform admits only that you are a physician. It is time to behave as one. We will have a difficult enough task trying to save the lives of these people whom you have worked to kill.”

Niemann shrank back, deflated.

Berlinger entered the compact office, going immediately to the medicine cabinet behind the desk. He examined several of the bottles and shook his head. Then he sat down in the chair that had been Niemann’s for four years, pulled from his pocket a dozen torn and odd-sized scraps of paper, and began to arrange them.

“What on earth are these?” Niemann asked.

Berlinger looked up. “A list of your patients by name and condition. I—”

“What? These ridiculous scraps?” Niemann picked one up with scorn.

“Then please be good enough to show me yours,” Berlinger responded. Niemann tried to hide in his disdain.

“I know,” Berlinger continued, unimpressed, “that the Kommandant felt it unnecessary to waste paper on Jews; I used what I could find.” He tossed a pencil stub, whittled down to the metal eraser jacket, onto the desk. Picking out several of the scraps, he continued. “These are patients in need of immediate care: one hundred and thirty-seven cases of bacillary dysentery or colitis, approximately thirty-three of pneumonia. The warmer weather has obviously eased the latter, but will aggravate the former. In addition, all twelve hundred and thirteen inmates, including myself, are severely malnourished, and one hundred and ninety are effectively starved. Many have individual ailments, ranging from heart trouble to skin rashes. Nearly all are suffering from some level of psychological distress, How do you suggest we proceed?”

Niemann was dumbstruck. The numbers were astonishing: 137 cases of dysentery or colitis; pneumonia; nearly 200 at the point of starvation; over a thousand malnourished. He wanted to ask how such a thing could have occurred, but stopped himself.

He sat down in front of the desk he had sat behind for so long, the numbers rattling hugely in his head.

He thought about prescribing ointment for the Kommandant’s warts and brandy for a junior officer’s anxiety; the bustle of flu season among the guards. He had not diagnosed one case of pneumonia or checked a case of dysentery.

His chin fell to his chest, and he saw his legs, his hands. They seemed somehow not to belong to him; they were not, could not be, his. If he could have climbed out of his body right then, he would gladly have done so. The major was right: he was not a very good doctor.

wHEN finally he raised his head. Niemann found Berlinger gazing at a framed photograph hanging on the wall over the desk. It was of a pair of identical-twin adolescent boys and, beside them, two men. One of the men was a younger Rudolph Niemann, grinning hugely and standing slightly behind and in the shadow of the other man. who, even in the photograph, seemed in total possession of himself and the others as well.

Niemann looked at it too—his proudest moment: selected by Josef Mengele, the other man in the photograph, to assist in that great doctor’s genetic research. He looked at his young self; the grin had always struck him as strange, unnaturally large (he could not remember making it), and he always wondered if others noticed.

Berlinger studied the photo closely for some time, noticing the grin, but much more, perhaps.

“What happened to them?” Berlinger asked.

“To whom?”

“The boys. They are the Dimont twins, no?”

“Did you know of them?” Niemann asked, looking across the desk, longing for some common ground, even for this Jew’s approval.

Berlinger nodded downward, finally placing his forehead in his big, bony hand. “I made the tragic mistake of introducing them to your friend there, and I expect they are dead now.” Even closed, his eyes betrayed his anguish.

Niemann asked, with the unsure hope of revelation. “Jakob Berlinger?” Berlinger rocked his head affirmatively, eyes still closed. More than a decade of nurtured contempt melted away as Niemann stood, leaned over the desk, and with the first strength in his voice since before his capture, said, “Sir, I am deeply honored.”

Berlinger did nothing to acknowledge him. After a pregnant moment Niemann continued, “Herr Doctor, I have read all of your texts, studied them. Examination of Heredity in the Treatment of Blood Disorders inspired me in my advanced studies!”

Berlinger slowly raised his head and looked sullenly at the wall. He gave a bitter, abridged laugh. “You cannot imagine . . . how deeply I wish I had never thought to write it.”He traced his bony brow with a thumb and forefinger. “How foolish I was not to have imagined that science could be so misused, that theories—really nothing more than postulations and questions—could be amputated from the facts that bore them and given a life of their own by politics and emotion. I am ashamed to say that it marked the death of medicine.” Again his brow sank into his hands. His eyes clenched tightly to force back the tears that he was too dehydrated to produce. Silently his face turned red.

At last Berlinger raised his head. “The major is right. We don’t have much time. We must . . . have a plan.” The last words seemed to mark some sudden relief.

“Yes, a plan,” Niemann said. “Inmates . . . people are sick, are . . . dying. Dysentery. Pneumonia. Malnourished. These, these must be checked, they will spread . . .” He suddenly realized upon how many tenuous lives his own depended, and on how few deaths. He examined himself in the photo on the wall. What had he to smile about?

THE plan was first to examine all the chronics individually, one at a time, and then to have a look at the others in small groups. Niemann noticed how thoroughly at ease patients were with Berlinger, how calmly they put themselves in his hands, and how those hands knew just where to touch, when to offer support, how much pressure to apply. No one choked when Berlinger depressed his tongue, or flinched when he probed the tender area above the genitals.

Niemann’s patients were reluctant to have him touch them, and he recoiled at first, performing his examinations of the Jews distantly, as though poking at them with a stick. Niemann knew that the average weight for an inmate was some two-thirds that of a healthy person of the same proportions. And he knew that, on average, the fat and muscle content of inmates’ bodies was less than half what it should be. He was well informed as to how the Jewish constitution faltered under the rigors of the camps; he had read much on the subject, seen it with his own eyes. But the first time he took a pulse, he was struck, even sickened, as he held the wrist—as broad as a mop handle, morbidly fluted with tendons, bones, and veins draped in colorless, tissue-paper-like skin—in his own pink, nourished hand. He was repeatedly mortified by the subtle details of emaciation: the pointiness of the bones, the shriveled gums, the thin, loose hair. His inmates had perfected an extreme economy of movement. If asked to lift an arm, they would allow him to do it for them and then let it fall, utterly limp. Niemann came to wonder what it was that kept these people alive at all; but alive they were, and people.

A woman he was examining seemed, at twenty-six kilograms, to be hardly alive. Berlinger had described to Niemann how many had for some time simply resigned themselves to death, and were confused, even angry, that they were now to live. He struggled to understand this as he carried the woman into the room. After placing her listless body on the examination table, he listened for her faint heartheat. He had nearly gotten through the examination, without so much as a word or resistant motion from her, when he lifted her ragged shawl to inspect her genitals. Out of nowhere came a sharp blow to his temple. Niemann staggered back and saw the woman suddenly alive. Berlinger rushed to her side as she exclaimed in Yiddish, at the top of her brittle lungs, “The Hund has no respect for a lady!" Niemann watched as Berlinger completed the examination, saw how he spoke to the woman with a firm kindness, and asked her permission to examine her privates. When Berlinger helped her up, Niemann moved close to assist, and, having the patient turned back over to him, walked her out. Asking her forgiveness as he guided her toward the aide who would take her back, he tried to relax but not weaken his supportive embrace, to make his hands and arms firm but tender, shaping his strength and lending it to her weakness. As he carefully handed her over to the aide, she said, “Danke.” Niemann feigned a small cough to conceal an exuberant gasp, as a tingle rippled up through his body, moistening his eyes and forcing a smile.

DAYS and nights and weeks became a single blur to Niemann, who did what he was told—by Berlinger, by the major, by patients. Initially many refused his care, but Berlinger would soothe and humor them in Yiddish, and little by little they bared their bodies and answered Niemann’s German questions. Their language was close to German, Niemann thought—German with a melody. It was a sad language; or perhaps it was the circumstances. When, at around eleven o’clock one night, exhausted, Niemann asked, “Does this hurt?” in Yiddish, he was even more surprised than his patient. Berlinger and his patient looked up, and everyone— Niemann, too—shared a momentary smile.

The doctors worked hard to get ahead of the situation, and each day it seemed to deteriorate slightly less. Many people were actually relatively well, their bodies responding eagerly to nourishment, but only when that fact was authorized by a doctor did life seem to gain the upper hand. But each day people died, and Niemann constantly saw the pain of this fact in his colleague’s face.

At Berlinger’s suggestion, the major organized a sanitation squad among the inmates. Women laundered, repaired, and distributed clothes found stored in a barn. Men buried offal that had festered for months, dug new latrines, and turned over all the soil in the camp to sow the rampant bacteria back into the spring earth for forgiveness. No one complained, though some refused. From what Niemann had considered human detritus sprang candlemakers, fine cooks, divas, carpenters, card sharks; there was talk, gossip, banter—life as he had never known it in the camp before. Tentatively, some people called Niemann “Doctor.”

By the end of two weeks or so, most of the inmates were healthier. Solids were staying down; color was returning to cheeks and strength to voices. Some of the chronic cases seemed to be in remission. People were restless, less exhausted. But Berlinger, conspicuously, didn’t seem to improve. If anything, he seemed to have lost weight, and the look of pain still flashed over his face.

“Herr Doctor, you must rest,” Niemann implored. “Things have improved, yes, but we still have much to do. You must eat and rest! We need for you to be well.”

“Rudolph, you must do something for me tomorrow,” Berlinger said late that night. “In town is a man, a German, a chemist. He makes for me a special formula. Before, one of the guards would take a bribe. . . But now, with the Americans . . .You must go and get it. It’s a small vial, nothing.”

Niemann was confused, and not at all sure that he wanted to do anything to anger the Americans. “How could I go, Herr Doctor? I am a prisoner. They—”

“You must, Rudolph,” Berlinger said. “You—”

“They would not trust me,” Niemann said. “Why should they? They think I will escape, and—”

“Are you going to escape, Rudolph? Do you think about escaping? Do you ? Do you think you can?” The older man’s eyes did not push for any answer beyond silence. “No, I didn’t think so. Your place is here—more so than it has ever been. The major will let you go, and you will return.”

Niemann looked at the older man. Yes, he decided, he would go if they would let him; he would do this. “Yes.”

“You will need a small amount of money,” Berlinger added. “I have none left from the sale of my wife’s wedding ring.”

“I have money! An account in town! Tell me how much, and—”

“Not much. Forty marks or so,”Berlinger said. Just then his lace tightened, and he clenched his bony list.

“What, Herr Doctor? What is it?" Niemann pleaded.

“You must go to town in the morning, see Herr Schmidt,” Berlinger said, and he got up and left.

THE major said. “You remember one thing. Doctor: I’m a man of my word, and I get very upset when people disappoint me. You’ll be escorted by Corporal Simon here, who, aside from being good company, happens to be the battalion riflery champ. Don’t give him a target. I’ll see both of you back here at fourteen hundred hours.”

The two men did not speak on the two-kilometer walk. The air smelled strangely sweet, reminding Niemann of something; he breathed deep, trying to inflate his memory, but it remained slippery, unreachable. When they arrived in town, Niemann felt as if he had been away much longer than two weeks, almost as if he had never really been there at all. Americans were everywhere. Niemann found the chemist.

“He is a great man, you know,” the chemist said, after Niemann mentioned Berlinger’s name, “but a Jew! Who would think that a Jew . . . ?”

“How much?”

“Forty marks,” the chemist answered indignantly.

“I must go draw the money,” Niemann said. “Go ahead and prepare the prescription.”

As Niemann headed out the door, the chemist gave a little laugh and said, “I’ll wait until I see the money.”

Outside, Corporal Simon was nowhere to be found. After waiting for a couple of minutes, Niemann set off for the bank.

Walking the two blocks, in a town he had called his for four years now, he thought for an instant that he saw someone he recognized, but the man turned a corner without looking at Niemann.

He was not sure what to expect when he saw a pair of American soldiers in front of the bank.

“Where’re you going, pal?" one of the soldiers asked as he moved to block Niemann.

“I’m . . . just going to do some business,”the frightened Niemann replied.

“Uh-uh. Not here you’re not,” the other soldier said, pointing at a sign on the door that read CLOSED BY ORDER OF AMERICAN OCCUPATION FORCE COMMANDER. SECTOR H-16. Niemann stumbled back, his mind reeling in confusion and fear. His money? How would he get Berlinger’s medicine?

NIEMANN shrank into the café seat, desperate for something familiar. Normally at midday the place was alive with the sounds of eating and drinking: clinking tableware, scraping chairs, the roar of just-concluded jokes, perhaps an accordion. The aroma of hearty German stew would stir the appetite as one entered. But now the café was somber. Townspeople ate meagerly and spoke in hushed, bitter tones. In one corner was a small crowd of American soldiers. Their brash American words and loud American laughter filled the room. Niemann found a small table, apart from either group.

“Just tea,”Niemann said to the waiter, who seemed to have asked, though they both knew that coffee hadn’t been available for months. Niemann didn’t know what to do. With no money, he could buy no formula. With no formula for Berlinger, who knew what would happen? The doctor might denounce him to the major. Perhaps it was an American trick, or Jewish—or both. Yes, now that the inmates seemed to be getting better . . .

“Niemann. Wie geht’s?” said a familiar voice from behind Niemann’s chair. He turned around to see who had spoken.

“Schlussel! What are you Niemann was shocked to see his former comrade, now dressed in a plain brown suit that was small on the burly guard.

“Shhh!" Schlussel warned, sitting down at the table. “Americans are all over the place.”

“What are you doing here?” Niemann demanded. “What happened?”

“Most of the Gruppe is hiding in a little house at the edge of town. We got out just in time, barely got all the flies. As we were running, two of the dogs got out and attacked us. Our own dogs! Can you believe it?" Schlussel looked incredulously at Niemann, who watched him speak but had not heard a word.

“Why didn’t . . . ,” Niemann began weakly.

“Most of us made it okay,” Schlussel continued, “but the Kommandant. . . one of them nearly took his leg off. He’s in terrible shape, Niemann. We have no medicine—maybe he has gangrene. The smell is terrible.”

“What about me? Why didn’t you wake me?”

“We tried, Niemann. But they were coming too fast! You must understand!” Schlussel’s whisper became sharp-edged with duty. Then, placing his hand on Niemann’s shoulder, he changed his tone. “But look, we’ve all made it, brother! You must help the Kommandant. He’s been asking for you; he needs you. We are going to Switzerland. You, too!”

WALKING out with Schlussel, Niemann could not find the spring sweetness in the air. The odor of death—the thickness it caused, making everything about life heavier—became discernible as Niemann climbed to the cottage hayloft at the edge of town. He damned his pounding heart for causing him to inhale more than he wanted. And there he saw the men who had disappeared from his life. He remembered how hurt he had felt when he found them gone. Now this hurt more.

“Niemann! I don’t believe it!” the Kommandant gushed. “Ah, my boy, it’s good to see you. We worried so that night. But I knew you would not let us down!” The stench was awful.

“You will come with us to Switzerland, yes!" the Kommandant said while Niemann probed the wound. “These Americans are barbarians. Some talk of the SS going on trial for war crimes. War crimes! Can you imagine such rubbish? They declare war on us, and we are accused of war crimes!”

“I’m going to have to cut,” Niemann said, after examining the Kommandant. For the first time ever he looked the man straight in the eyes, feeling suddenly bold. “I’m going to have to get some things. In the meantime, someone here must boil some bandages. Find a very sharp knife, and a saw. Boil them, too, as well as you are able.” He could almost taste the sweat forming on the Kommandant’s brow. “And get him good and drunk. I need some money for the chemist.”Nobody moved, and so, looking him straight in the eyes again, Niemann took the Kommandant’s wallet out of his jacket pocket and removed forty marks.

JESUS, am I glad to see you!” Corporal Simon said upon seeing Niemann reapproach the chemist’s. “I thought you had hightailed on me.”

“When I stepped out of the shop, I didn’t find you,”Niemann said. “I went for a cup of tea.”

“Yeah, well . . . next time, you just stay put till I find you,” the relieved corporal said. “We’ll just keep this mum, between you and me—kapisch?”

Niemann nodded and entered the chemist’s. A few minutes later, with the small bottle in his pocket, he and the corporal started back to the camp.

They did not speak for most of the journey, and Niemann thought about how easily he could have escaped, could have simply melted into the town, hidden with the Gruppe in the barn. He could have performed some sort of crude operation on the Kommandant and been a hero, finally received the slaps on the back that he’d always hoped for. And then he could have escaped to Switzerland with his comrades.

Pfennig for your thoughts,” Simon interrupted, cheerfully bored.


“It’s an expression—you know, kind of a conversation starter.”

“Oh, yes. Well, I was just sort of thinking, wondering, hypothetically.” Niemann paused, and decided to continue. “What is more important to a man, loyalty or moral duty?”

Simon grunted amusedly. “Loyalty’s for saps, Doc. You put your life on the line for a guy because you know when the time comes, he’ll do it for you. That’s your duty to you. Loyalty’s just a ten-cent word for looking out for number one.”

Niemann didn’t respond. The two approached the gates of the camp. Before entering headquarters to check back in, Simon put his finger to his lips and winked at Niemann. “Remember, Doc, mum’s the word.”

“Yes! Yes, mum’s the word,” Niemann replied.

DID you get it?” Berlinger asked, as Niemann entered the office. Berlinger had been writing something, and now hastily stuffed it into his pocket. Niemann sat down but did not respond. He looked up at the photograph of the twins and Mengele and himself. He thought about what Berlinger had said two weeks before: that the spry young boys in the picture were probably dead. Mengele, whom Niemann knew to be extraordinarily cunning, was undoubtedly alive; but the other man, grinning absurdly in the shadow—Niemann himself—where was he now?

“Rudolph. Did you get it?” Berlinger repeated anxiously. Niemann nodded, and felt for the vial in his pocket, not removing it.

“I want to know. . . I want to know why. . . As a physician, I demand to know what this is for.” Niemann said, the relief of having spoken the words immediately drowned by his apprehension of the answer. But before Berlinger could answer, Niemann added gently, “I can help you.”

Berlinger looked down at his hands. “It’s not what you think. Please don’t. . .”

“No, Doctor! I just risked my life for you! I know that may seem no more than ironic, after what you have been through. But I could easily have . . . I risked my life for you.”

Berlinger brought his clasped hands to his lips and stared blankly at Niemann’s chest, thinking. A wave of pain swept visibly over him, and when it appeared to recede, he raised his eyes—the eyes that seemed to understand so much about the world—and said, “I am in the terminal stages of stomach cancer.”

Neither man spoke or moved. They just sat and stared at each other until Niemann became aware of his hand, sweating inside his pocket, clutching the small vial with all his strength. He pulled it out and went to the cabinet, where he chose the newest needle and assembled it in a syringe.

“How much?”

“Five cc,” Berlinger replied. Niemann carefully drew the proper amount of liquid into the syringe, balanced it on the desk, and wet a small swab with alcohol.

“Where do you prefer, Herr Doctor?” he asked.

“The basilic vein should be fine, either arm.”

Niemann unbuttoned Berlinger’s cuff and rolled his shirtsleeve up the long, shriveled arm. He tied a length of bandage snugly around the upper arm, pressed tenderly around the hollow elbow pocket and found the vein, smoothly stroked the place with the alcohol swab, and injected the preparation. He had done this procedure thousands of times before, but for the first time he felt assured in his actions. The needle pierced the skin without the slight spring of resistance and subtle pop that indicated misapplication. He was doing it right; he had, for once, the touch that all the medical knowledge in the world could not teach.

“Thank you, Doctor,” Berlinger said, as relief washed over his face.

As he cleaned the apparatus, Niemann spoke tentatively. “Surely we can do something. I can operate, excise the malignancy—at least give you some time.”

“No, Rudolph, there is nothing to do.”

Niemann sat for a moment, knowing what he wanted to say but not how to say it. He looked at the photograph on the wall.

“There were operations. . . I participated in some of them,” Niemann said, at once repulsed by what he had done and hopeful. “We removed organs, replaced them . . .” He felt sick to his stomach but forced himself to continue. “Eventually the patients died, mostly from infection. But with the new drugs, penicillin, we may be able to make it work.”

“No, Rudolph,” Berlinger said, his eyes meeting Niemann’s. “I am not interested in living any longer than I must. Nothing is left for me.” For the first time Niemann understood that for all their vast knowledge, their deep understanding, these eyes contained no hope. “My work has been thoroughly perverted, my family destroyed.”

“But you must teach us again, make us understand— ”

“I cannot teach them to unlearn, Rudolph. I watched them relish killing my son, and I myself no longer understand.”

Niemann wanted to say something to convince him. But he could not. He took the old doctor’s trembling hands and held them in his own.

“We must get back to work,” Berlinger said. “No time.” Niemann did as he was told.

Berlinger betrayed none of his sadness to the patients, and out of respect and professionalism, neither did Niemann. The rest of the day was spent examining small groups, individual chronics, a man who had, in his fervor, worked too hard that day and collapsed. Niemann was grateful that people no longer recoiled from him as they had in the first several days. Some began to ask him questions, as though they considered him their doctor. One woman told him what beautiful hair she had once had, and wondered if she would ever get it back. He nearly told her he did not know, but caught himself and assured her she would; her face lit up at the thought. Throughout the afternoon he thought of Schlussel and the Gruppe and the Kommandant. watting for Niemann to return. Looking out the window, he tried to picture the camp as it had been only a few weeks earlier, with captains and lieutenants strutting about pridefully. But he could not.

Niemann accepted that they had been forever cut away from him. He thought again about the Kommandant lying there, slowly but surely dying, and considered that perhaps higher justice was taking its turn. Then he thought about Berlinger’s condition, and wondered at the justice in that. He had once been convinced that he had joined the party for justice; that in struggling to establish a practice after leaving medical school, he had been justified in denouncing the old Jewish doctor in his home town; and that justice had prevailed when the old doctor’s patients had turned to Niemann. He puzzled over how easily he had dispensed a commodity of which he now realized he had no grasp.

Justice was no longer, indeed had never truly been. Niemann’s to mete out. The best he could do was to nurture it in his way, as a physician. He could not condemn the Kommandant to death, or Berlinger to life.

THE major, not looking up, asked, “Yes, Doctor, what can I do for you?”

“May I sit down?” Niemann asked. Still without looking up, the major gestured at the chair.

“I saw a man in town yesterday,” Niemann said, “who needs my help very badly. I would like—”

“Who is it? What does he want?”

“He has a medical ailment,” Niemann answered vaguely. “He is a shopkeeper from the town. I attended him once, and he feels I know his ailment, and so would like—“

“—you to go and have another look at him, hmm?” the major said, interested enough now to look at Niemann. “Where does he live?”

“In a small farmhouse at the edge of town,” Niemann answered. “I could go with several of your men, though he may want them to wait outside. But you have my word—”

“—that you’ll fix him up and come back here, right?” “Well, yes, exactly. Two or three hours, at most,” Niemann said.

“And after that will you have to attend to him again?” the major asked.

“No, he is planning to leave the area with his family. As soon as he is recovered.” Niemann felt that the major was going to consent.

“His name wouldn’t happen to be Colonel Pfluger, would it?”

Niemann stared.

The major stood up and walked around the desk, behind Niemann.

“See, I only look stupid, Doc—it works pretty well,” the major said, in a jovial tone that terrified Niemann. “Corporal Simon didn’t lose you yesterday, but your friends found you . . .”

“They are not my friends! I was only. . .”

“I know, you were only going to operate on the colonel.”

“But it’s the truth! Look, I came back,” Niemann pleaded, his heart pounding. The major came up close behind Niemann and put his hand on Niemann’s shoulder. Niemann broke into a cold sweat. His throat tightened.

“You know, Doc,” the major continued, in the tone that seemed to Niemann the American’s ultimate sarcasm, “I believe you. Simon told me about your little conversation on the way back. I don’t think you’re stupid enough to cross me.”

Niemann turned around, incredulous. “You believe me?”

“If a man has earned the benefit of the doubt, I give it to him,” the major said. “Like I said, I only look stupid.”

“What about the colonel’s leg?”

“Chopped above the knee, at a field hospital.”

“Do they know about me?” Niemann asked.

“Don’t see why they would,” the major replied matter-offactly. “A pacification unit took them. Intelligence just told them where to go. Why, you want to visit them now? I can’t allow—”

“No! No,” Niemann replied. “Not at all.”

NIEMANN stayed up late that night with Berlinger in their office. On Berlinger’s insistence they had kept detailed records regarding each of the patients, and had scientifically tracked the primary infectious and nutritional ailments—records that Berlinger felt might be useful in the future. The two were up later than usual, collating and arranging the information in files. Niemann felt this night was different.

“Are we finished, Doctor?” he asked Berlinger.

“The major asked if he could start transporting tomorrow,” Berlinger said, not looking up from his work. “I feel they can travel; the care will be better in France. Unless you have objections?”

“No. No objections,” Niemann said nervously. “It is time for them to move on. To start anew.” For the first time in weeks he fretted for himself. “I have tried as best I could.”

“Yes, you have.” Berlinger lifted his pencil and looked up at the younger man. “I am deeply grateful. So are they.”

“Thank you. But what about the major? I am still his prisoner. Does he think that I. . .?” Niemann asked, trying to evade the grip of fear.

“I don’t see how he could not,” Berlinger responded, with an assurance that soothed Niemann but could not convince him. He tried to think of something else.

“How old was your son?”

Berlinger sat back in his chair and drew a deep breath. “Josef was about your age. He would be thirty-four.”

“Was he also a physician?”

“Yes. I was very proud of him,” Berlinger said, staring at nothing. “I wanted to practice with him, but he wanted to try on his own, to get out of my shadow.”

“A shadow to some is a beacon to others.”

Berlinger looked up at Niemann, and a faint smile curled his lips. “Yes, I suppose it is.” The two men sat looking at each other for a few more moments. Then Berlinger arose and said, “Good night, Doctor.” As he passed by Niemann, he stopped and put his bony hand on Niemann’s shoulder. “I will make sure he knows.”

Niemann raised his hand across his chest, placing it tenderly atop the old man’s. After a moment Berlinger withdrew his and left, leaving Niemann to sit by himself. As Niemann rose to leave, he came level with the photograph on the wall, and drew close to it. The boys were dead, and cunning Mengele just as certainly alive. He looked closely at the other man, screaming through clenched teeth, and decided to let that Rudolph Niemann disappear into the shadows. He removed the picture from its frame, tore it into pieces, and burned them in a dish.

Niemann was anxious but exhausted, and fell asleep quickly that night. He dreamed he was in a courtroom, bound by chains. Facing him were six gaunt pairs of identical twins. The clothes fell off each pair in turn to reveal identical gruesome scars coursing and stretching over their bodies; then each pair pointed in tandem at Niemann. Niemann saw Mengele in the back of the courtroom, free, in disguise. He struggled against his chains to point to Mengele, and some people looked where he was pointing, but Mengele had vanished.

Niemann awoke. Outside were dozens of trucks, and people swarming around them, hugging, laughing, crying, even dancing. Niemann stepped outside, looking for Berlinger. He was surprised not to see him with the others; he wondered where he was, if he felt all right. Niemann started toward his office. But halfway across the compound a soldier stopped him.

“The major would like a word with you.”

“Where is Dr. Berlinger?”

“The major wants to see you now,” the soldier replied.

In the office the major was standing beside the window, looking out at the activity in the compound. “It’s really quite something, what you and the doctor have done here. I’d like to thank you.”

“Have you seen Dr. Berlinger?” Niemann inquired anxiously. “Is he to leave with the others?”

The major paused before answering. “No, Dr. Berlinger has—already left.”

“What do you mean? Without telling me?” Niemann was puzzled by the look on the major’s face; he read the sadness, yet continued weakly, half hoping against what he half knew. “Without saying good-bye?” Niemann sat down.

“He injected himself with a fatal dose of morphine late last night.” The major turned to Niemann. “Do you know why he would do that, Doctor?”

Niemann tried to choke back tears. “I wanted to save him,” he said, sobbing. “But he couldn’t be cured.” And then he chose not to fight the tears, and let them come. The major was silent as the doctor cried tears of sorrow, of loneliness, and of shame.

From outside, the yelling, laughter, and crying reached in to Niemann, and lent him the strength to regain his composure. He lifted his head again to face the major.

“He left this for you.” The major pulled an envelope out of his drawer, tossed it onto the desk in front of Niemann, and sat down expectantly.

Niemann opened it and carefully removed the contents: some documents and a passport belonging to Josef Berlinger.

He flipped through the passport and found that the picture had been removed but the identifying description—blue eyes, dark hair, six feet, age thirty-four—seemed roughly to fit Niemann himself. With it were several wartime identification papers, all for Josef Berlinger, stamped “Jude.”

Niemann looked up at the major and placed the documents on his desk. The major slowly picked up each document, studied it, and then folded it. After examining them all, he took the passport, studied each page, and set it on the desk with the documents. The two men sat silently, focusing on Berlinger’s legacy.

At last the major pulled Niemann’s wallet and identification out of the desk, opening to the page with Niemann’s photograph. Looking up at Niemann, he said. “It’s a very good likeness.” After regarding it for a moment, he carefully tore out the picture and inserted it into the younger Berlinger’s passport. Then he gathered up the documents and slid them back into the envelope with the passport. Arising from behind the desk, he circled it and stood before Niemann. After a moment he tucked the envelope into Niemann’s breast pocket.