The Einsatzgruppen agents had taken control of the local police station and were rounding up citizens in the town square. After hours of processing, the men were separated from the women and children and taken to a nearby gymnasium. The women and children, frightened, hungry and exhausted, were herded into an enclosed parking area awaiting further instructions.
Carl and Gunter trudged up to the front desk, where the senior officer stood and gave them the Nazi salute.
“We’re here to take possession of the female and underage detainees,” Gunter informed him.
“I don’t understand,” the officer was bemused. “You’ve already sent them back here. Why would you want them up front again?”
“We believe that if we place these people at the front of our convoy as human shields, the insurgents would think twice before they try and attack our soldiers,” Gunter explained.
“Excellent idea!” the officer said admiringly. “Maybe that’ll keep these frogs out of the way so we can kick the limeys and the Yanks off the beach!”
Carl and Gunter entered the enclosure and confronted the terrified civilians. Children hid in fright behind their mothers’ skirts at the sight of Gunter’s SS uniform.
“You know, you might avoid going around like it’s Seleenwoche (*All Souls’ Week, or Halloween Week),” Carl taunted him.
“What’s she saying?” Gunter squinted as a slim young woman spoke French with Carl, glancing furtively towards Gunter.
“She says that the word has spread across the region about the men in black, that they kill all the men and take the women and children away to labor camps. I assured her that you were just a clerk who doesn’t know his ass from his elbow.”
“Nice, Carl,” Gunter looked away.
“Okay, let’s go,” Carl led him back towards the main building. “Looks like we’ll need about three or four trucks.”
“Where on earth do you think we’ll take them?” Gunter hissed furtively, eyes darting around for eavesdroppers.
“Anywhere but a labor camp or an execution pit,” Carl snapped. “I’m doing you a favor. It’s bad luck to kill women and children, not to mention the possibility that the Allies could win and charge you for a war crime.”
“You’re just brimming with optimism, aren’t you?”
“I’m a realist, and I just came back from Russia. It’s not looking good for the home team.”
At length Gunter was on the phone with the local Gestapo HQ, and three trucks arrived in order to transport the civilians to a military interrogation center for debriefing. Gunter and Carl commandeered two of the trucks, dismissing the drivers in doing so. Upon returning to the compound, they recruited an able-bodied matron as a driver in relieving the third Gestapo man. She was instructed by Carl to follow the lead truck, with the other following behind her. She was also warned of the consequences should she attempt to deviate from their course. The civilians boarded the trucks and were delighted to find the baskets of bread and milk that were loaded at Carl’s request.
“Where to?” Gunter called over.
“Follow me,” Carl climbed into the cab of the lead truck.
They drove for a short distance until arriving at the village of Sussac, about eight kilometers southeast of Limoges. The trucks rumbled into town and idled in the town square until a group of officials from the mayor’s office arrived to inquire.
“These people have been evacuated from Limoges by police and military personnel,” Carl announced as he hopped down from the truck. “They will need temporary lodging for a couple of days until the emergency is under control. We urge you not to attempt to contact their next of kin until the situation returns to normal. They have been evacuated without notice and their disappearance may be regarded with suspicion by law enforcement officials.”
“Are you…SS?” the mayor glanced over at Gunter by the rear truck.
“He’s full time, I work weekends,” Carl replied. “We’ll take two of the trucks, see if you can service the other one, we’ll send someone for it in a couple of days.”
“Certainly, monsieur,” the mayor beamed happily as Carl and Gunter reentered their trucks and proceeded back to Limoges, the women and children cheering and waving as they drove away.
Shortly after the trucks disappeared from view, two figures emerged from the shadows and came to where the mayor and his entourage stood. Commander Staunton of SOE was accompanied by Violette Szabo, who had recently joined his unit. They had been frustrated by the ineptitude of the local FFI forces and were doing the best to coordinate attacks on nearby railways and telephone lines that were days behind schedule.
“Talk about a stroke of luck,” Staunton was relieved as they watched the women and children led away to a nearby church. “Thank God that not all the Nazis are murdering devils.”
“I think we will have exhausted their patience by tomorrow,” Violette replied as they walked with the mayor back to the town hall. “Let’s hope that F Section gets our logistics sorted out so we can equip our reinforcements properly.”
“Blackburn and Geronimo should be here in the morning,” Staunton assured her. “I’m pretty sure that those cash cows will have these farmers lined up with their stools and buckets in short order.”