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Illingworth House: Chance Child - Part One: 80 - Questioned By The Gestapo

...John regarded the man with contempt. He was small and podgy and hid behind heavy-framed glasses. They accentuated his empty, deadpan face and made his pale eyes paler. When he opened the door and saw him standing there, John was reminded at once of Harry Clemence. The likeness was uncanny. Though he used some cheap deodorant, he still reeked of body odour...

John faces a string of questions from a Gestapo officer.

John Waddington-Feather continues his gripping tale.

As opposition to Hitler grew, the curfew in Prague was extended. The Nazi army of occupation tightened its grip on the city and all cafes, theatres and cinemas were closed. Public meetings were forbidden and anyone caught on the streets was shot. Radio stations and newspapers were closed or manned by Hitler's stooges to spew out his propaganda.

The anticipated arrival of the Gestapo at John's apartment happened two days after he had rescued the Jewish child. A Gestapo officer, in plain clothes, called on him and introduced himself simply as Herr Schleicher. His identity card carried no military rank either and he explained he was in charge of all Jewish affairs in the city. In particular, he said quite blandly, he was concerned for their well being once they had been taken into custody. No harm would befall them, but he had to check them out. He was most concerned about the Jewish problem and had specialised in overseeing them for some time in Germany and elsewhere.

He understood John had been questioned by one of his men two days before, when they were rounding up the Jews at the railway station trying to leave the city. He wanted to know more about the girl whom a Jewish woman had given John. They had held her for further questioning and what she said didn't agree with what John had told his officer. She was not a nanny. She was the wife of a prominent business man. Schleicher wanted to know where the girl was and why John had said her mother was the girl's nanny. He was sure the English officer would co-operate.

John regarded the man with contempt. He was small and podgy and hid behind heavy-framed glasses. They accentuated his empty, deadpan face and made his pale eyes paler. When he opened the door and saw him standing there, John was reminded at once of Harry Clemence. The likeness was uncanny. Though he used some cheap deodorant, he still reeked of body odour.

Before he let him in, John glanced down the corridor. There were German guards standing at both ends. The German was extra-polite and explained he had permission from the British Ambassador to contact him. Might he come in and speak about the girl John had taken? It would not take more than a few minutes and he would be so grateful. He merely wanted to confirm that all was as it should be, because of the discrepancy he had just mentioned.

John said the officer at the station must have misunderstood him. His German was not all that good. The woman was a friend who had been walking out his daughter when she had been arrested. Herr Schleicher nodded and made a note in the book he carried. Then he smiled a thin smile. It seemed Flight Lieutenant Illingworth had said the girl was his daughter, but the clerk at the embassy said John was unmarried, was that true? Divorced, John answered, and the smile left the German's face.

He said he didn't want to cause any friction between the British Embassy and the German forces in Prague so soon after their arrival. Relations between Britain and Germany had been very cordial, very cordial indeed. Herr Chamberlain had seen to that. John asked if that were all and said pointedly that he was busy, but the German strolled arrogantly round the room.

'You have a very nice apartment here," he said. "May I ask where is your.. .your daughter right now?"

"You may, but I shan't tell you," said John. Mercifully she was with the couple next door. "You're aware, of course, I have diplomatic immunity and could order you out of here."

The little man frowned but continued glancing impudently round the room. His eyes missed nothing. There was a photograph of Helen on the mantelpiece and several of their son, which Mary Gibson sent him regularly. Schleicher strolled over and picked one up examining it closely.

"That's my wife-to-be, and I'll thank you to put it back," barked John.

The German replaced the photo slowly, so deliberately John wanted to snatch it from him. The man seemed to contaminate all he touched and his very presence fouled the room.

"So," said Schleicher turning to face him again, "she is your wife-to-be,
lieutenant. You're a lucky man. She is very beautiful.. .but is she not here with you in Prague?"

"No. She's in England with my son. He's.. .he's at school there and she returned with him at the beginning of term. She's stayed on because her mother is ill. But why I'm telling you all this I don't know," he said, his mind racing.

"And your daughter? She remained here? You said she was with your nanny. Is that not so?" The way he said 'nanny' told John he knew everything. God only knew what they had done to Eva Horovitz to get the truth out of her.

"Yes. Mary remained with me - and her nanny," he said slowly, stalling for time. "Why wasn't I informed you were going to arrest Frau Horovitz? My daughter might have been injured. Your soldiers were behaving like savages!" John's blood was up and he found his self-control going.

The other gave his thin-lipped smile and adjusted his spectacles. John lit a cigarette to steady himself, keeping his free hand in his pocket to stop him using it on the swaggering little bastard before him; but he knew if he made one false move, Miriam was done for.

"Our soldiers' behaviour is a matter of opinion, Lieutenant Illingworth," said Schleicher. "We Germans lack your English sense of fair play. We don't play cricket, so we achieve our objectives as we see fit." Then he switched tack. "Mary? So you call your daughter Mary? A nice name. Frau Horovitz had a daughter called Miriam but we cannot trace her."

John shrugged his shoulders. "There must be many Jews you cannot trace.. .who cannot be traced," he said.

Schleicher wouldn't be drawn. "I don't see any pictures of your daughter here, lieutenant. Where is she?"

"Look here, Schleicher, I've had enough. Where my family is, is no concern of yours. You arrest her nanny, put my child's life in danger, then come here asking impertinent questions..."

"We did not arrest Frau Horovitz," Schleicher shouted. "We took her into protective custody. Jews are not popular here, you know. Terrible things happened to them in my country before we took them into protective custody. We don't want the same to happen here."

Then he launched into a long tirade, as if something he had been bottling up and rehearsing was suddenly released. He poured out his hatred for the Jews, saying that once Europe had been cleansed of them they would be re-habilitated well away. The Germans had it all planned out and he couldn't understand why others were so hostile. They were saving western civilisation.

"You British are so ill-informed," he went on. "So gullible. You'll believe anything the Jews tell you. But who'd have thought a rich woman like Frau Horovitz would have acted as your nanny? Yet the Jews will do anything for money - especially the wives. You pay her well, lieutenant, for taking the place of your wife?"

"I think you've been here long enough, Herr Schleicher," said John, barely able to contain himself. He looked at his watch and strode to the door to open it. "I've another engagement shortly. Good-day."

The other reddened and said, "But I haven't done. Frau Horovitz has told us many things, but said nothing about being your nanny. Now, please, where is her daughter? I must know. It's urgent. My records must be kept up-to-date and I have to account for everyone I take into custody. You must tell me where her daughter is."

"I must tell you nothing," barked John. "I object strongly to your insinuations and you do not dictate to His Majesty's embassy officers. May I remind you I have diplomatic status? Now please go!"

Schleicher reddened more, but clicked his heels and bowed slightly. "Of course," he said icily. "But your immunity will not last long, Lieutenant Illingworth. You have my word on that, and be sure we will find the girl and return her to her mother!"

John stood by the door and let him pass, but as soon as he had gone, he locked it. Then he returned to the mantelpiece thinking hard and looking wistfully at Helen's picture and their son. He was about the same age as Miriam and he swore he would get Miriam out safely if it was the last thing he did.


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