Helena Schrader's Historical Fiction

My biographical novel of Balian d'Ibelin in three parts is complete, but the saga continues. Follow me to Cyprus, where Lusignans and Ibelins struggle to put down a rebellion and establish a durable state. Watch for excerpts and updates here.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Hitler's Demons -- An Introduction to Alexandra

The following is an excerpt from Chapter 12 of Hitler's Demons:

Albrecht v. Rantzow was a tall, distinguished-looking man with greying side-burns and a cultivated English appearance. Colleagues jokingly claimed that he could easily be mistaken for Chamberlain himself -- something that he only pretended to dislike.  He kissed his wife, gave his stepdaughter his cheek, and then asked the ladies if they wished to join him in an aperitif. Alix and her mother asked for sherry, while he poured himself a cognac.

"Did you have a nice day, dear?" his wife asked.


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"As good as can be expected," he answered, with a suddenly sour twist to his lips, turning at the waist to give a reproving look to Alix. She surmised he had learned about the impending invasion of the Soviet Union and no doubt blamed "the Generals" (and so Alix) for it. He turned politely back to his wife, "And you, Louisa?"

"I'm afraid Grete brought home some very disappointing grades," Frau von Rantzow broke the news to him gently.

Albrecht v. Rantzow's face clouded over at once. "What's the matter with the girl? There's nothing wrong with her intelligence. Why doesn't she apply herself more? She's just plain lazy!"

Alix did not consider this a fair judgment of Grete and would have liked to speak up on her behalf, but she knew her "interference" would not be appreciated. She had been nearly twelve when her mother remarried in 1925. To this day politeness and distance, rather than warmth and sympathy dominated their relationship. In any case, Alix's mother was quick to defend her younger daughter. "Now, Albrecht! That's not fair. She's just having a hard time adjusting after the five years in Paris."

"We've been back two years now. Plenty of time for her to settle in," Herr v. Rantzow insisted sternly.

"Naja, and would  you really like it if she had adapted as well as Rudi?" his wife asked softly, but with a raised eyebrow.

Albrecht v. Rantzow was instantly silenced. There was nothing he wanted less than to have another Nazi in the house. After a moment of awkward silence, he asked, "Just where is Rudi?"

"Tonight's his soccer night."

Herr v. Rantzow looked at his watch. "It's already 7 o'clock. He should be home by now. He knows we eat punctually."

"It's some sort of special match. Against another Jungvolk troop, I think. He did warn me he might be late."

"Warn you? Since when do little boys warn their mothers? This is absolutely appalling. I won't tolerate it!" After the bad news about Grete, this was too much, and Herr v. Rantzow lost his temper. "It is bad enough that he's gone twice a week at the damn Jungvolk meetings. I will not tolerate him missing dinner a third night in the week. From now on, he'll be home on time on Fridays, or he will not be allowed to play football at all!"

"But, Albrecht -- " Frau v. Rantzow fell silent as Helga appeared in the doorway.

"Dinner is ready, Frau v. Rantzow."

"Thank you, Helga. You may go ahead and start serving. We'll be right out."

Alix went quickly to the downstairs toilet to wash her hands before joining the others on the terrace. As she joined them, she found Grete already energetically defending herself. "But, Papa, you were the one who said the Jews didn't cause the inflation. Don't you remember? I asked you how it was the Jews could make the inflation without hurting themselves since they used the same money as we do, and you siad it was all rubbish about them causing the inflation!"

Herr v. Rantzow looked somewhat embarrassed, while his wife wore the same I-told-you-so look she had used on Alix earlier.

"Grete," her father said sternly, "you are old enough to know that you don't repeat everything you hear at home in school. From now on, in school you repeat exactly what your teachers tell you and forget anything you've heard from your older sister or myself."

"But, Papa, if it isn't true--"

"Don't whine at me like that!"

Grete didn't risk any more defiance, but she clearly felt she was being unfairly handled. She pushed her hands between her knees and sat with hunched shoulders, pouting at her plate.

Alix, who had taken her place at the table, remarked in what she hoped was a casual tone as she removed her napkin from the silver ring, "Don't you think it's asking a lot of a child to expect her on the one hand to be honest and on the other to give answers she knows are false to her teachers?"

"Alix!" Her mother warned, anxious to avoid any confrontation between her eldest daughter and her second husband.

Herr v. Rantzow took the remark surprisingly calmly. "The girl has to learn how to get along in the real world. I'm afraid that the sooner she learns that survival requires a certain amount of hypocrisy, the better. Hypocrisy and apparent conformity with public opinion have become necessary nowadays."

Alix felt her temper rise. Although she didn't want to fight with her stepfather, she just couldn't let this remark stand unchallenged. "Adapt instead of resist, you mean?" she asked acidly.

Her stepfather leveled his steel-grey eyes at her and said firmly: "That is exactly what I mean. There is absolutely nothing to be gained by dramatic gestures of defiance. Least of all from a child. I realize, of course, that at your age, your actions are governed by idealism and emotion, but I can assure you, you will outgrow both. In the meantime, I expect you to scrupulously avoid misleading your impressionable younger sister. Now that is the end of the matter."

"May I ask a question?" Alexandra asked, in a tone that clearly reflected her resentment at being talked down to in this fashion.

Frau v. Rantzow sighed; Herr v. Rantzow waited with raised eyebrows.

"Agreeing with you that it is wrong to incite school-age children to futile gestures of defiance, I would nevertheless be curious to know at what point -- if any -- you consider the refusal to adapt an advisable course for an adult?"

"At that point where one can effect meaningful change and not merely endanger or disadvantage oneself and one's family."

"One more question, if I may?"

Herr v. Rantzow nodded.

"Was it then your conviction that you could not oppose the Regime in any worthwhile manner -- not even at the Embassy in Paris -- that induced you to become a member of the Nazi Civil Servant's Association?"

"Precisely -- and the fact that if I had not joined, my career in the Foreign Ministry would have been terminated. I do, after all, have a family to support.  Your preference for heroics is a mark of your immaturity and irresponsibility. The head of a family cannot afford either. Is that clear?"

"Perfectly," Alexandra assured him, but he remained acutely aware of her disapproval.

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