Festung Breslau

Marek Krajewski
Festung Breslau
  • W.A.B.
    Warszawa 2006
    288 pages
    ISBN 83-7414-210-3

Will Marek Krajewski manage to create an equally intriguing, full-bodied character as the criminal counsel Eberhard Mock, who – apart from the city of Breslau – plays the main hero of his criminal tetralogy? It's hard to say. One thing is certain however: after reading Festung Breslau, which concludes this series of novels, many readers will yearn for Mock's return. The action of Krajewski's new book is played out in the spring of 1945, when the Soviet armies are besieging the criminal counsellor's hometown, now transformed into a fortress. Mock is by now 62 and more and more feeling his age, tormented by the scars on his marred face, but still remaining witty and elegant. And even though his world is falling apart literally under his very eyes, he is doing his best to ensure that justice triumphs. His latest investigation begins when he finds an injured, brutally raped young girl who dies in his arms. During the tangled investigation, hindered by the war waging around him, Mock has to determine who is the oppressor and who the victim, who is the tool and who the hand that guides it - whether it’s the aristocratic and antifascist religious crank being held in a camp or the cruel SS man, commander of that camp. Obviously the criminal counsel will not rest until he has found and unmasked the guilty parties, though this will cost him dearly. Again he will have to descend into ever-greater depths of hellish evil, magnified by the confusion of war. Festung Breslau, like the three previous books in the series, is a perfectly constructed novel, in which even the smallest elements of the crime puzzle lock together with precision. Krajewski has also been successful in his thumbnail descriptions showing the agony of the city, destroyed both by its defenders and aggressors. It really is a shame this will be our last meeting with criminal counsel Eberhard Mock.

- Robert Ostaszewski

Breslau, Thursday March 15th, 1945, ten a.m.

The woman would have been light for the Mock brothers if they had been twenty years younger. But since however they were at an age Martin Luther would have considered senile, she weighed them down considerably. Her transportation was facilitated only slightly by the provisional stretchers they had hastily prepared from drapes found hanging in the other room. They tied these at their ends in powerful knots, which they now clasped with some difficulty to their shoulders, using both hands. They couldn’t suspend this yoke from anything, no pole or stick, the apartment containing nothing except lace curtains, heavier drapes, and wallpaper. It had been stripped even of its toilet bowl.
Franz went first, with his brother following and between them the blood-soaked body of the woman swung as if in a cradle. Eberhard noticed that a second drop of blood was seeping through the material. The silk tie from Amelung tied tightly above the woman's wrist, which was supposed to prevent her bleeding, was clearly inadequate. When they reached the steps to the cellar, Eberhard laid the body at the door and with a slight hiss drew air deep into lungs perforated by almost fifty years of tobacco smoke. Continuing to whistle and pant, he moved back up and ignored the nervous whispers of his brother, who did not comprehend why Eberhard would be returning. When he arrived back on the ground floor of the tenement, he lightly pushed the glazed swing doors leading to the main entrance. Both wings swung open. Through the gap that appeared for increasingly shorter intervals, he saw only a gate open onto the street and an artistic mosaic, laid in the style of classical Roman villas, representing a dog straining at a lead with the inscription Cave canem. He entered the vestibule and carefully checked the list of residents, repeating under his breath one of the surnames he found there.
Suddenly he heard the mellifluous tones of Russian being spoken and the trampling of boots on the pavement. He flung himself down onto cold floor-tiles just as a Russian patrol appeared at the gate. Eberhard, praying for Franz to be mercifully silent, felt some oily gunk on his cheek. He shut his eyes and tried to force his every muscle to feign rigor mortis. The Russian soldiers passed the tenement gate and marched on into the distance. Eberhard rose from the puddle of oil and with horror saw a dark, greasy mark had stained his jacket and striped poplin shirt.
He silently passed through the swing doors and stopped suddenly. The door of one of the apartments on the ground floor had been caught by the draft and opened. Mock approached the door and for a moment inspected the hall, cluttered with chairs and tablecloths pulled from a wardrobe whose doors hung wide open. A Singer sewing machine stood in the middle of the hall. Closing the apartment door, he noted a brass plate with the inscription "Tailoring services. Alfred Uber” and went down the cellar steps. Franz stood bent over the woman and with increasing insistence was asking her one question:
- What do you know about my son Erwin Mock? Tell me everything, you damned whore!
Eberhard leaned over his brother and saw with horror that Franz had her cheeks in the vice-like grip of his gnarled fingers. The woman was still quite young. But nothing more than blood and saliva was escaping her injured lips, squeezed by Franz into a narrow pucker. Eberhard took a step forward from the wall and kicked him from above, his steel tipped heel striking his brother in the middle of his railwayman's cap. Franz rolled down several steps and hit his head on the wall. A stream of blood flowed from under the broken peak of his cap. Eberhard approached his brother, raised him from his knees and in his ear whispered a few words in a tone as sweet as if he were murmuring incantations of love:
This woman was raped by Russians and had a broken bottle rammed into her mouth. Don’t call her a whore, or I'll kill you. Are you coming with me or not, you filthy pig?
- I'm coming – Franz whispered and took hold of his knot on the cradle. Breslau, Thursday March 15th 1945, eleven a.m. Until they arrived at Lieutenant Lehnert's post, they encountered no orderlies, despite having called them up on the radio from corporal Hellmig's guard post. Eberhard drove the motorcycle very slowly and kept scanning their route. Franz sat behind him and the girl lay curled up in the sidecar, wrapped in a railwayman's coat that stank of oil and grease.
In the underground city, the glow of dirty yellow street lamps and acetylene burners flickered on the walls. In their light, Eberhard saw shivers running over the girl's face. He stepped on the gas and, wondering how far he was rubbing the toe off his elegant Italian shoe, kicked the motorcycle into third gear. Paying no attention to the right-hand driving rule that was the only road traffic regulation still in force in underground Breslau, he drove down Sadowastrasse towards Lieutenant Lehnert's post, where he had seen orderlies an hour earlier. Now the place was deserted but for a single guard.
Eberhard brought the motorcycle to a halt, sending up clouds of dust from under its wheels.
- Call a doctor! – he shouted at the guard. – That's an order! – he screamed, seeing the man's uncoordinated movements.
The brothers lifted the girl out of the sidecar and laid her on her back, covering her pudenda with the curtain. The tourniquet they had made with a tie was sticky with blood. The girl groaned and raised her eyelids. She stared a moment at Eberhard. Another shiver ran beneath her delicate, paper-thin skin. Her pupils expanded violently. Her lungs heaved, pumping bubbles of blood to her lips. An ever-thinner stream of blood circulated in her veins. Red blotches had begun to appear on her body. Her sphincter relaxed. The girl's uninjured hand tried to squeeze Eberhard's elbow. All he felt was a light touch – like a caress. The bubbles of blood popped on her rough, dry lips and her heart stopped. He bent over the girl. A tear flowed from his bulging eye. As the girl died, Captain Eberhard Mock for the first time that day ceased to think about all the damage to his wardrobe.

Translated by Richard Biały