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American Creative Nonfiction African American

IGNORANCE IS BLISS


“And these rockets, Intelligence reports claim, are capable of flying from Peenemunde to London before exploding”


“Amazing. Go on”.


Admiral George Holtz, from the Joint Intelligence Objectives Agency, making his report on his weekly visit to the White House, continued as instructed by the 32nd President of the United States.


“Well, sir, you can only begin to imagine the destruction that would be caused should these reports prove to be accurate”.


“Yes, yes, yes, but who is responsible for inventing these marvels?”


“The man in charge of the underground construction site is one, Wernher von Braun, an Aerospace Engineer, supported, of course, by a vast team consisting of engineers, technicians and scientists”.


Franklin D Roosevelt, sat behind his desk in the Oval Office, considering this information before asking.


“What do we know about this man?”


“Nazi, obviously. But, also, a member of the SS. Has been personally promoted several times by Heinrich Himmler, himself, and currently holds the rank of Major. We have one picture of von Braun in full SS uniform standing with Himmler. The facility uses slave labour and there are reports of daily floggings and..uh..hangings, designed to push the prisoners to their absolute limits. Not a very pleasant person by all accounts”.


“Yes, but a genius, nonetheless. Tell me about the rockets”.


“They are called V-2 and are, basically, guided ballistic missiles that travel at supersonic speed. They cross the Karman Line into space en route...”


“Enough, George, we want this man”.


“When you say, want, Mr. President, you mean to punish...?"


“Good God, no, man. We want him; to establish our own rocket program. We need this man’s genius and all of his support team. We’ll need to destroy their war records of course, lose that incriminating photo etc. You know what needs to be done”.


“Mr. President, that would be close to 2,000 men and von Braun is, surely, a war criminal?”


“Oh, fiddlesticks to that. Organise it, George. As soon as this goddamn war is over, I want those men here. Imagine, George, our own rocket program. You have brightened my day. Oh, and better warn London. Go through Halifax at the embassy”.


The President turned to his private secretary who had been taking notes throughout.


“Missy, I’m not feeling so good. Cancel the rest of my appointments. I’m going home to New York”.


“You only have the Polish diplomat at 2pm”.


“Have him come to New York, if he’s willing. I’ll see him tomorrow, at Hyde Park. If he insists on seeing somebody, today, George, here, will take care of it”.


The following evening, at his family home of Hyde Park, the 110 acre estate in New York, the President was feeling much better. Hyde Park always had a recuperative effect on this man, afflicted by paralysis of his legs after contracting Polio twenty years previously, a disability that he hid from the American public, not wanting them to see their President in anything other than robust health, especially at this perilous time of war. His aborted appointment with the Polish diplomat, Jan Karski, had been rearranged for a late hour in the evening after Roosevelt had exercised and received therapy on his legs. The young man was shown into the library of this stately home to find the President seated in an armchair by the fireplace, a rug over his legs.


“Mr. President, thank you for seeing me”.


‘Not at all, not at all. Excuse me for not getting up. I hope you don’t mind a fire in the middle of summer but I’m finding the weather unseasonably cool. I do apologise for dragging you all the way here but I’m afraid I had urgent business to attend to; the war, you know”.


“Of course, I understand, Mr. President . Admiral Holtz was very polite and it gives me the opportunity to see your beautiful home”.


“Thank you. Now, young man, your Prime Minister, Wladyslaw Sikorski, has asked me to see you. He advises that you have something extremely important to say concerning the situation in Poland. But, first, tell me a little about yourself. You seem awfully young to be a diplomat”.


“Hah, thank you, Mr. President. I am 28 years old but, after the last few years, I feel considerably older. Tell you about myself? Well, naturally, I was in the army and fought the German invasion but, after our defeat, I tried to escape via Hungary but was captured by the Russians and put in a prison camp. I managed to disguise my rank of second lieutenant and passed myself off as a private, born in Lodz. As Lodz had been incorporated into the Third Reich, I was considered German, an ally of Russia, and transferred by train to Germany. As you are no doubt aware, I thus avoided being part of the Katyn massacre of Polish officers”.


“Indeed. A lucky escape. And then?”


“I managed to escape from the train and I made my way back to Warsaw and joined the resistance...”


“Good for you. But your diplomacy career. When did that start?”


“I trained before the war and was seconded overseas to several different embassies including Romania, England and Switzerland”.


“I see. So what happened in Warsaw?”


“I was used as a courier, Mr. President. I undertook missions delivering top secret missives to our government in exile, first Paris, then London. On one such mission, I was captured by the Gestapo and tortured...”


“Good God!”


“Yes, it was brutal. I was injured so badly that I had to be transferred to hospital but I escaped en route and returned to Warsaw although my injuries meant that I was incapacitated for several weeks”.


“Young man, your story is absolutely enthralling. I’d go so far as to say that you are a genuine hero. I congratulate you on your fortitude. But what is it that your prime minister feels so important to talk to me about?”


“Mr. President, I was asked to report personally to London on the situation regarding the treatment of the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto. I was smuggled in on two occasions. Sir, the memories of what I saw will stay with me for the duration of my life. Fear, stench, dead lying in the streets, men dying before my very eyes, twenty people sleeping in one room. Mr. President, I cannot express, Sir, how awful the conditions are. And, then, the transports. Men, women, children, selected, forced to stand for hours before being herded onto cattle trucks; cattle trucks, Mr. President”.


“Yes, yes. Most degrading. But, of course, they were, at least, getting out of the terrible conditions of the ghetto that you have just described...”


Impassioned, Karski, alarmed at the naivety of the American President, hurried on with his story.


“But to go where, Mr. President? I determined to find out”.


Somewhat appeasingly, dreading where this tale may be leading, Roosevelt patronised the courier.


‘I’m sure you did. You are a very resourceful young man...”


“I followed the trains. They were taken to a transit camp, destined for Belzec!”.


“Belzec, I’ve think I've heard of that”.


“It’s a death camp, Mr. President. People, humans, men, women and children, sir, put to death in horrific fashion”.


“You surely don’t know that for certain, Mr. Karski. You are just surmising...”


“No! I witnessed it with my own eyes. I disguised myself in the uniform of a Ukrainian guard and bribed two other Ukrainians to smuggle me in. I saw what no man should have to see. These Nazis are exterminating Jews”.


“You mean to tell me that the nation of Germany is actually wholesale murdering these people?”


“Yes! And not just Jews, sir. Gypsies, the mentally retarded. I cannot overemphasise the evil that I have witnessed”.


“Who else have you spoken to about this?”


“Last December, a Polish government representative addressed the United Nations on this very subject but nothing has yet been done. I, myself, visited England and attempted to speak with Prime Minister Churchill but was told that he was too busy. I was, instead, passed over to, one, Anthony Eden, of the Foreign Office. He listened to me but did not quite believe my narrative”.


“Well, it is a lot to take in all at once. You must understand that, Mr. Karski. To our more... uh..civilised ears, it is rather unbelievable to think that another nation, such as Germany, would partake in such wholesale, random slaughter of innocent people. Young man, I thank you for bringing this to my notice. I assure you that I will give it my undivided attention and I commend you on your tremendous fighting spirit and courage. The world will need more people like yourself in the months to come. Forgive me for not standing but my butler will show you out”.


Jan Karski shook the President’s hand, convinced that, finally, he had found the one man who would do something to ease his burden and put a stop to the atrocities taking place in his homeland. As he was shown from the library, he turned and spoke his final words:


“All hope, Mr. President, has been placed in the hands of Franklin D Roosevelt”.


The President continued sitting by the fireside ruminating, going over everything he had heard tonight. His butler wheeled in a trolley on which a black phone sat.


“Admiral Holtz for you, Mr. President”.


“Hello, George. Yes. Yes. No, I listened to everything he had to say. Yes, I agree, a very brave young man and I told him so. What? His story? No, too far fetched to be believable, I’m afraid. We have too many other issues that take precedence. I think, like most young men, he is prone to exaggeration. Now, about this rocket chap, von Braun...”

August 07, 2023 01:43

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2 comments

Lyle Closs
20:19 Aug 17, 2023

Sad but all too true I'm afraid. Well told Charles.

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Mary Bendickson
03:23 Aug 07, 2023

Sad history.

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