Dangerous Territory

BY : Rhov
Category: +. to F > Attack on Titan /Shingeki No Kyojin
Dragon prints: 2485
Disclaimer: I do not own “Shingeki no Kyojin” and do not make money from this fanfic.

Chapter 33

Promotions Well Earned

 

Fog clung to the ground and wove between city buildings and narrow alleys as Eren heard church bells that woke him up. He had taken a long time to fall asleep last night, with the last of the Pervitin still keeping him alert and on edge well past midnight.

And horny. He had to admit, he spent plenty of time in the bathroom fantasizing about a man sleeping somewhere right above him.

As soon as he began to stretch in bed, he knew right away, the Pervitin was out of his system, and without it the full pain of the shot that ripped a gash in his leg hit him.

Scheiße! Mein Bein tut weh.” Shit! My leg hurts.

He removed his pajamas, limped to were he had left his medical kit in the bathroom, and carefully unwrapped the bandage. It was oozing again, and the bandage had been stained with blood mixed with antibiotic cream. Eren carefully cleaned the wound. He should probably go into the hospital here in Metz and have it properly inspected, just to make sure it would heal before he needed to fight, but part of him was worried that if the wound was enough to take him off duty and sent back to Germany, Levi would be left to sneak out of Metz alone. So he put medication on, wrapped a fresh bandage around it, and tested the leg out. Still, it hurt almost too much to put pressure on.

How in the world had he walked and rode 244 km in three days? Truly, that drug was powerful and dangerous.

Eren hobbled back over to his bed, glad to see there was a phone. He picked it up, and an operator cheerfully greeted him. He told her to put him through to his platoon’s barracks, looking at a piece of paper on the table where he had jotted down the extension, and to his surprise Jean answered.

“Jean, good morning. Wake up Floch and send him to my hotel with the car. Oh, he’s up? Good. Get the rest of the men ready for an inspection. Hauptmann Woermann has called for an assembly of the platoon. We’re to meet at Oberleutnant Dietrich’s barracks at 0800, so have them ready. I’m heading over there soon.”

He hung up and thought how nice it was to have telephones again, rather than a small village with only one phone for the whole town.

Eren washed up, shaved, combed out his hair, and had begun to dress in his uniform when he heard a scratching noise coming from the ceiling. He glanced up.

“Levi, is that you?”

The door in the ceiling lifted, and the Jew peeked out. “Is it safe to come down? That sandwich went through me and I seriously need to shit.”

Eren glanced at the door and bit his lip. Floch was supposed to be coming soon. “Can you hold it for ten minutes?”

“Not really. It’s going to come out wet and messy.”

He sighed in frustration, but then he heard talking in the hallway. “Okay, I can wait for my man out there. Give me one minute.”

Levi sighed, “This is why I need a shit bucket.” As he watched Eren adjusting his uniform, including an Iron Cross pin he did not often wear, he noticed just how much Eren was limping. “How’s the leg?”

“Hurting a lot. All that walking was a bad idea.”

“I tried to warn you,” Levi grumbled. He frowned as he saw Eren’s face draw up in pain. “Go see a doctor.”

“If it’s bad, they may send me back to Germany.”

“If it’s bad, I don’t want you losing your fucking leg. Promise me, some time today, you’ll have a proper doctor check out your leg.”

Eren sighed in frustration. “Fine.”

“Good. Now get the hell out or your ceiling is going to stink of liquid shit.”

Eren grabbed his cap, but he realized the Heeres eagle was still missing. He definitely needed that to be replaced before an inspection. He tipped his head to Levi in farewell but got back only a sneer, silently telling him he had better hurry or there would be a serious problem. So Eren stepped out and locked the hotel room door behind him.

The voices he had heard were Samuel and Daz. The two made perfect decoys, and he walked up to them, smiling and chatting. They noticed right away, he was limping, and he went into a tale about scouting on their dangerous journey through enemy territory, meeting Americans, talking to them in order to get the location of their troops, explaining he knew English, and then when they realized he was German, the wild ride back to the company that led to him getting shot in the leg.

“You scouted ahead alone, through enemy territory?” Daz cried out, grimacing at the very thought of it.

Samuel also looked impressed. “They better give you a medal for that.”

Eren looked down at the leg. “A silver Wound Badge, at the very least. This is my third injury.”

They heard feet running up the stairs, and Floch arrived on the floor. “Ah! Lieutenant, I came as soon as I could. Kirschstein said there was an inspection, and I noticed yesterday, your cap needs to be fixed.”

Daz’s eyes focused on the Schirmmütze. “He’s right. Your eagle is missing.”

Eren pulled off the cap and looked at it. “Yeah, I noticed two days ago. I was wearing civilian clothes when I was scouting, so maybe it went missing around that time. Let’s hurry, and maybe we can still get breakfast before the assembly.”

He began to go down the stairs, but his leg really began to draw up, with the muscle tightening to protect the wounded area. By the time they were on the second floor, he was limping hard and grasping the handrail with each step. Floch waited, watching his slow progress with a worrying face.

“Sir, if I may make a suggestion, how about I drive you to the hospital. I will take your cap and get you a new pin while you get your leg checked, and I will find something for you to eat on our ride to the barracks.”

He nodded, feeling sweat on his brow from the pain. “Sounds like a solid battle plan.”

They finally reached the ground level and Eren struggled not to limp too much as he passed by men ranked higher than him. Floch now rushed ahead to get the truck started, and once Eren was securely in his seat, he rushed off in the direction of the military hospital.

Eren hated doctors. Not in the way some people say they hate doctors, but on a deep, visceral level, he distrusted and despised every single one. So while his leg wound was inspected, he tried to look anywhere but at the man in front of him, sitting on a bed with his trousers dropped so the wound could be irrigated. It had a slight infection, though nothing too dangerous. Mostly, it was the damage of walking when he should have been resting with his leg elevated.

“I won’t say you were lucky,” the doctor said, putting on stronger medicinal creams and wrapping the leg again, “but a few millimeters more, and you’d be walking with a permanent limp. It would have definitely gotten you a ticket home. As it is, we don’t even have to send you to Mercy.”

“Mercy?”

“The big military hospital, a little south of Metz, although I hear they’re planning to evacuate it before the Americans arrive.”

Running away! He hated that everything Germany had built in France was being abandoned or overrun. So many lives lost to take France, all being wiped out in the tsunami of Allied forces, some of them from overseas with no business in the European power struggle.

Floch returned with his hat, now with the pin on, and some bread and cheese Eren could eat on the road. The hospital gave him a cane to use, a bottle of pills for the pain, and strict instructions to minimize his walking for a week, preferably staying in his room so he could avoid the stairs. Eren hated the idea of being stuck indoors, although more time in his room meant more time with Levi.

Finally, they went back to the truck, and Floch drove Eren to the barracks with not much time to spare. Eren focused on eating what he could. He saluted the guards at the entry point and nodded as enlisted men saluted him along his whole trip to where the company had already lined up in ranks and at attention.

Floch pulled up close so Eren would not have to walk much. He stepped out, using the cane as he limped. Jean came right up to him and saluted.

Heil Hitler.”

Eren half-heartedly returned the salute. Jean looked down at how he struggled to walk.

“I didn’t think it was that bad.”

“Nor did I, until the Pervitin wore off and I actually felt it. I’m off combat for a week and ordered to restrict my walking. I’ll have to rely on you more.”

“You know I’m up for the job.”

“I definitely know,” Eren said with a smile. “At least there’s no serious muscle damage, so with any luck I’ll be up and marching before the Americans arrive.”

“Take it easy,” Jean warned with serious concern. “Germany needs its officers.”

Eren looked at the lined-up men who seemed to be bright-eyed and energetic. “I’m surprised they aren’t groaning and puking with hangovers.”

Jean sighed as he looked at the group. “To be honest, it was a rough night. Every single one of them got violently sick. After that … well, the Pervitin is still in the systems of most of these men, especially the ones who have never taken it before, so they bounced right back as hyper as ever. They’ll start to crash later today. That’s when things will get ugly. I recommend you not be around. You remember what happened in Anzio.”

Eren hummed in grim memory. Their platoon had been ordered to take Pervitin for a boost of energy during a particularly rough push against the Allies, only for one of his men, Johann, to turn violently paranoid, insisting Eren had more pills and demanding them. When Johann pulled his gun on Eren, screaming to give him more pills, Jean had acted swiftly, shooting the soldier in the head without hesitation. By the grim disgust in his face, Eren guessed that Jean had seen that behavior before.

Kitz Woermann came up to Eren, and with a salute Jean fell back within the ranks with their platoon. “Your wound ended up being serious, and yet you persisted for two days. That’s the sort of strength and determination Germany needs. Don’t let a little injury stop you from serving.”

“I don’t plan to, captain.”

Eren took his place up front with Ian and Gunther as the captain addressed the company.

“It was a long walk to Metz,” Kitz began, “but we made it. Do you know why?” His sunken eyes gazed around at them all. “Because Germans are strong,” he screamed. “We are resilient. As the Führer said in Mein Kampf, ‘Obstacles do not exist to be surrendered to, but only to be broken.’ We do not quiver like a flower when we face the enemy. We crush them! Hitler said, ‘The whole of nature is a continuous struggle between strength and weakness, an eternal victory of the strong over the weak.’ You should thrive on the struggles we face, prove yourself strong over the Jew-loving horde heading our way.”

His zeal pulled back, and he suddenly looked disgusted.

“Yet not all who left are with us now. Somewhere along the road, Pohl, Schwarz, and Müller vanished. I don’t believe in spirits that snatch away bad little boys, and I don’t like to think that they were cowards who ran away. If anyone here,” he snapped, “saw what happened to those three men, speak up now. Anything you may know could help ease the thoughts of their loved ones back in the Fatherland.”

The men shifted around, and a few looked to one another. Finally, Floch cleared his throat and spoke up. “The last time I saw Pohl and Schwarz was in that Luxembourg castle town, just after we exchanged the horses. They, um…” He cringed, knowing he was tattling on comrades.

“Speak the truth, Forster.”

“Yes, captain. They shot a deacon, and then they took a young girl into the church … against her will.”

Kitz chuckled softly. “Having their way with a girl in a church? Blasphemous.” He did not sound disgusted, only amused. “Did you see anything else?”

Briefly, Floch’s eyes flicked to Eren, and for a second, the young lieutenant felt his heart stop. Floch must have seen him enter the church just minutes after Pohl and Schwarz.

“No, captain,” Floch replied. “I didn’t stick around to listen in on them.”

The men in the company snickered softly.

“So,” Kitz concluded, “they took a little girl into a church to defile her under the eyes of God, and they never came back out. I don’t know what idea is more terrifying: that God smote them Himself, or that the girl did.” He stewed in disgust. “Pohl. It means his family was from Poland, and as we all know, the Poles are mostly Jews. Weak, tainted bloodlines. And Schwarz. I never trust a man named Schwarz, because it means his ancestors were not Aryans. A Pollack and a black-haired half-breed.”

“Captain,” Ian quickly protested, “both Pohl and Schwarz had an Ahnenpaß, they were pure—”

“If they could not even hold down a little girl, how could they ever hold back the Allies?” Kitz sneered at Ian, daring him to continue trying to protect his men.

“Captain,” Eren blurted in, hoping to keep the peace. “We don’t know if they were actually killed. They may have kept having their way with her and simply got left behind.”

Kitz snorted with a wry smile. “Perhaps they’re still filling her belly with German seed. Fine. Missing In Action. I don’t like losing men on my watch, but it’s better than thinking they may have been bested by the weaker sex. Now, the third to go missing was one of your own men, Milieus Müller.”

“Yes, sir. The last I saw him was in that same town. Like Pohl and Schwarz, he was coercing a woman into a building.”

Kitz shouted out to the company, “Did anyone see Müller after Bourglinster?” He waited, but no one spoke up. “We should go back to that town, rape every last woman there, and then burn it to the ground. Very well, he will be reported as Missing In Action as well, and if those three show up in Metz late, I will have them hanged.”

Eren was glad that issue had been cleared up so easily. He glanced into the crowd and saw Floch staring at him. The young soldier awkwardly looked away as soon as their eyes met.

Kitz’s bulging eyes turned toward a sleek Großer Mercedes that was just pulling up. “Ah, now on to something we can all celebrate over. Company! Attention!”

Eren stiffened but turned his gaze to the side as the elegant Mercedes came to a stop and a highly decorated officer stepped out. His eyes widened in shock. It was none of other than General der Panzertruppe Otto von Knobelsdorff, commander of the 1st Army, the man in charge of not just the military force in Metz, but all of France and Belgium.

Kitz saluted. “General, I’m glad you could spare the time. I know you just arrived in Metz.”

“A long and dreadfully boring journey, but I’m eager to get back into battle with good men who bring honor and glory to Germany.”

Eren saw the man had a small mustache in the same style as Hitler, but whereas the Führer’s eyes burned with passion, this man looked like he felt more at home giving candies to his nieces and nephews. His blue eyes drooped slightly, with crow’s feet creasing the corners. He had a gentle smile that seemed to be his face’s natural setting. He turned this smile to the company.

“All of you did well, pushing to Metz in record time, stabbing straight through the heart of the enemy, after partisans tried their hardest to ensnare you all. Many of you went above and beyond the call of duty. To acknowledge those men, your captain requested accommodations and promotions, and I granted approval of each and every one.”

Kitz barked out, “The following men, come forward: Floch Forster, Armin Arlelt, Darius Baer-Walbrunn, Luke Cis, Dieter Ness, Jean Kirschstein, and Eren Jäger.”

The men stepped briskly up to the front, standing in a straight line. As Eren limped on his cane, his eyes caught Armin, who looked stunned. Eren gave him an encouraging nod. If anyone deserved a medal, it was Armin. As for himself, obviously he was going to get a Wound Badge.

General Knobelsdorff faced the men, lined up in order of rank, first Floch who was a simple soldat, then Armin who was an Obergefreiter, then Luke and Dieter who both held the rank of Stabsgefreiter, followed by Darius and Jean who were both ranked Unteroffizier, and finally Eren, the only officer called forth.

Knobelsdorff stepped up to the end of the lineup. “You must be Floch Forster.”

Heil Hitler!” Floch shouted out of instinct, his face trembling.

Knobelsdorff chuckled at his enthusiasm. “Upon arriving in Metz, you have been given a great honor, to be your commanding officer’s driver, his adjutant. Your platoon sergeant gave you that honor because, not only did you pass your military driving tests, but he said you showed great potential, zeal, and dedication. It would not do to escort your officer around as a mere Soldat; therefore, you are promoted to the rank of Gefreiter.”

Knobelsdorff motioned over to his assistant, who had a thick briefcase. Inside were shoulderboards with white trim for the infantry and various medals and certificates. Knobelsdorff unbuttoned the shoulderboards that were on Floch’s uniform, and the young man looked like he was struggling not to cry in gratitude as the General put on the new shoulderboards.

“Congratulations, Gefreiter Forster.”

“Yes, General! Thank you!”

Knobelsdorff stepped down the row. “Armin Arlelt, your captain wrote a glowing review praising your work during this moment of crisis. If it were not for your mastery of communications to discover the partisans who had been diverting messages from Berlin, and your swift mind to come up with a safe path through enemy territory, it is no exaggeration to say we might have lost your whole company and never even knew what became of you. For your commitment, you mastery of duties and skills, and for showing such initiative, I hereby promote you to Stabsgefreiter.”

Like Floch, Armin could barely hold back his emotions. His lips trembled as Knobelsdorff buttoned on the new shoulderboards.

“A promotion, though, is not enough. You single-handedly saved your company. Over a hundred men owe their lives to you.”

At a flip of his hand, his assistant handed him a parchment. The General opened the piece of paper and read aloud.

Im Namen des Führers und Obersten Befehlshaber der Wehrmacht verleihe ich dem Stabsgefreiter Armin Arlelt das Eiserne Kreuz 2. Klass.” On behalf of the Fuhrer and Supreme Commander of the Wehrmacht, I am awarding Corporal Armin Arlelt the Iron Cross 2nd Class.

Armin made a gasp, but managed not to cry out in shock. Then the General pulled out a small box, and inside was a black and silver cross with a red, white, and black ribbon, which he pinned to the second button hole of Armin’s tunic.

“Remember,” he said softly to Armin, “when you get your new uniform, sew the ribbon onto the second button hole. Wear it always with pride.”

“Yes, Herr General,” he said, and Armin shook his hand.

While the next three received Wound Badges for getting shot when they met the American platoon, Eren allowed himself to feel proud of Armin. He recalled, Kitz had said that if Armin got them through the journey to Metz safely, he would put him in for a promotion. Also honoring him with the Iron Cross showed that, for how demanding, unpredictable, and sadistic Kitz could be, the captain really did honor duty and loyalty.

That was the National Socialist way. Good deeds got rewarded, no matter what your class or rank. All were expected to excel, and all would be honored when they did.

Eren’s attention was drawn back to the ceremony as Knobelsdorff came up to Jean.

“Jean Kirschstein, there are two honors that were delayed while you were in your last post. First, in recognition of your four years of dedicated service to the Führer, I present you with the four-year-long service medal.” Knobelsdorff pinned the blue ribbon with a silver medallion of the Heer eagle with the words Treue Dienste in der Wehrmacht, Faithful Service in the Wehrmacht. Jean puffed his chest out proudly. “Ah, but you’ll need to take that medal off soon, I think.”

Jean was instantly crestfallen, and Eren could see in his face, if he was not in front of the whole company and facing the highest ranking German in France, Jean would have begun to curse in rage.

“To rise to Unteroffizier in such a short period of time shows a great deal about your character and initiative. Your last promotion was two years ago, after the Dieppe Raid. I’ve read about your heroism, taking over your platoon when your lieutenant was slain, and fifty confirmed kills, despite being shot twice.”

Eren held back a chuckle. So much for Jean’s claim of killing three hundred.

“You also proved yourself in Anzio, not only in combat, but by saving the life of your commanding officer from a rogue soldier. At that time, your lieutenant put in a recommendation, but it was delayed, and you were never rewarded.” Knobelsdorff waved to his attendant, who brought forth a set of clothes folded into a neat pile, and resting on top was an officer’s peaked cap. “For valiant service to the Führer and acts of bravery, loyalty, and skillful leadership, I grant to you your commission. From today forth, you shall serve as an officer of the Wehrmacht, Leutnant Jean Kirschstein.”

Jean struggled to hold in his emotions, but when he shook Knobelsdorff’s hand, his voice cracked slightly. “Thank you, Herr General.”

“Thank you for your service to our country.” Knobelsdorff then stepped over to Eren. “Ah, the daring lieutenant! What I read about you in Captain Woermann’s report is the sort of thing our ancestors used to write epics about. First, most obviously, we must address,” and he waved down to the cane, “your leg. Are you okay to stand?”

Eren assured, “I feel fine, General, thanks to the amazing medical staff here in Metz.”

“I would rather not push the talents of their healing, so I’ll try to be brief, but there is so much to say about what you did for your men. Your records show that, prior to this, you were wounded twice in Italy.”

Eren nodded, recalling that he had been hit with shrapnel twice during his three months in Anzio. Once was a bomb dropped by a British plane that sent debris his way, including a metal spike that sliced his arm before impaling the man just behind him. The man died in slow agony, nothing could be done for him, but Armin got Eren off the front lines and to a medical tent, using his disinfectant right away on the wound.

The second time, a grenade, had been far worse. The men within five meters of the grenade had not survived, ripped into mere pieces. A dozen men lost limbs. He had been away from the kill-zone, but even then, he had been struck with a large fragment of metal that lodged in his back. He had required surgery to remove it, and he was told it left a nasty scar on his back. He was lucky that day. If he had been just a centimeter over, that piece of shrapnel would have hit his spine, and he would have been paralyzed. If the grenade had landed a few meters closer, the metal would have torn through his chest and ripped apart his lung.

General Knobelsdorff continued, “This being your third wound, I bestow upon you the Silver Wound Badge.”

He took a pin and affixed it to Eren’s uniform tunic, in the lower corner of his pocket. Although Eren already had a black badge with a sword-crossed helmet, this one gleamed argent in the sunlight.

Knobelsdorff then addressed the company, and Eren figured that was the end of the ceremony. “On a celebration like this, I am reminded of something the Führer said in a speech two years ago this month, in the Sportpalast Berlin. He said, there are no more privileges by birth, wealth, education, or family origin. What we respect is a leader, and the only criterion of a leader, he said, is the brave, valiant, loyal, daring, determined fighter. Only he is fit to be leader of his people. That is the way of National Socialism. We bow to no king, and we reward duty even from the most humble vocation. In the past, some officers believed they lorded above their men. They acted like kings and dukes, treating the enlisted men as servants, even killing them without cause. Sadly, there are still some in our military, especially men who served in the last war, who continue to feel this way.”

Eren gulped, thinking about how Kitz had shot Marlo Freudenberg. Even if his claim was true that Marlo was planning to break out the Jewish women, he should have been arrested, interrogated, and punished appropriately, not just murdered.

Knobelsdorff’s piercing blue eyes gazed at Eren. “It is heartwarming to see that the younger officers, those who have grown up with National Socialism, know better. You not only listened to your Obergefreiter’s findings, you brought it to the attention of your captain, and you defended your Obergefreiter when others thought a man of his low rank should not be in a meeting of such importance.”

Eren briefly saw Kitz Woermann scowl. He had scoffed about a “mere Obergefreiter” like Armin being in the meeting to plan the route to Metz, while Eren, Ian, and Gunther requested that Armin be there, since they could see that he had a brilliant mind, even though he was a low-ranked enlisted man. Eren guessed it must have been Ian, as the second-highest ranked person in the company, who added his own report of what happened and mentioned Kitz’s behavior.

“You then bravely scouted ahead of your company through enemy territory. When you came across Americans, you did not flee to save yourself. You valiantly rode right up to the enemy, using flawless English and brilliant deception to convince them to tell you precisely where their troops were location. Your captain said, you came close enough for them to tell the time on your watch. That takes guts!”

Eren could not help but realize, it was Levi who did all the talking, convincing the Americans he was a shepherd, not with flawless English, but just enough bad English to annoy the Americans into helping him. However, in the last horse stables, Kitz had caught up to him while Eren was changing back into uniform, asked him precisely what happened with the Americans, and Eren left out that Levi did all the talking. He said only that he was of invaluable help in tricking the Americans.

“Then, when the daring charade was up, you rode hard to warn your company, saving them from an ambush, and getting a bullet to the leg. Such a wound would make a weak man cry that he cannot go farther, but not you. You kept scouting ahead, because you knew, with your skills in English, you were the best person to trick the enemy. I heard that you rode your horse until it died, and then kept on walking.”

Technically, the bullet only grazed him, his limp was due to overusing it, he did not have much choice in continuing to scout ahead since if Levi lost his usefulness, Kitz would shoot him, and he rode his horse to death only because he was too doped up on Pervitin to realize he needed to go slower.

“Only a brave, valiant, loyal, daring, determined fighter is fit to be a leader. You embrace each of these qualities. Your name Jäger serves you well. You more than prove that you are the sort of man Germany needs to lead us into our Thousand Year Reich. Therefore, it is my great honor to promote you to Oberleutnant and award you with the Iron Cross 1st Class.”

Eren barely managed to keep his mouth from dropping in shock. A Wound Badge, he expected. A medal was generous but he supposed, given the way he told Kitz the story, of course he thought Eren was braver than he really way. A promotion, though! Eren honestly thought, given his mixed heritage, he would never raise in the ranks as an officer. He was lucky to even be given the rank of lieutenant.

Knobelsdorff removed Eren’s shoulderboards and replaced them with ones that had a gold pip that marked his new rank. Eren already had the Iron Cross 2nd Class, so this cross was pinned onto his breast pocket. To make a place for it, Knobelsdorff shifted his Infantry Assault badge down to the corner of the pocket, with the black and silver cross taking the spot of honor. He also pinned a ribbon bar onto his shirt.

Eren kept still, face stern, as he received these honors. Then the General stepped back, his blue eyes wrinkling up in a smile, and he shook Eren’s hand.

“Germany needs more fine men like you.”

“Thank you, Herr General.”

He then stepped forward to address the whole company. “All of you made an arduous journey, answering the call to hold Metz at all cost. The Westwall shall never be breached, but it is not prepared for a full invasion. We draw the line here!” he shouted, pointing to the cobbled road under his feet. “With men like you, we shall not give in to the Allied horde. Dedicate your hearts to the comrades standing beside you. They shall carry you through to the end of this war. I will leave you with inspiring words from the Führer: ‘The German people has become strong again in spirit, strong in will, strong in endurance, strong to bear all sacrifices.’ It is through strength like yours that Germany shall prevail.” He raised his arm up. “Heil Hitler!

All of the men returned the salute, shouting enthusiastically, “Heil Hitler!

General Knobelsdorff turned to Kitz Woermann, shaking his hand, then the hands of Ian and Gunther, who looked starstruck to get to personally greet a general. Then he returned to Eren, this time clasping him on the shoulder with a warm, paternal smile.

“You are the future of this world.” Then, for a brief moment, those paternal eyes looked regretful and sad, his brow tensed, and the pale lips twisted with words he had to hold back. “I wish the best for you.”

He marched back to the Mercedes and drove away, leaving Eren with an uncomfortable feeling of foreboding that marred the excitement.

“Company, dismissed!”

Kitz’s shout jolted him, and before Eren could really think about the General’s whispered words, Jean had him in a headlock, Armin was bouncing in front of him, Floch had wrapped his arms around Eren, looking ready to cry, and the rest of the platoon came up to congratulate him. He was jostled out of darker thoughts, smiling and laughing as his men got rambunctious enough to almost knock his cap off. Jean tried on his new officer’s cap with its silver cords, asking everyone how it looked on him.

Oberleutnant!” Kitz came up and shook his hand. The men stepped back, instead surrounding Jean and celebrating his promotion.

“Captain, thank you so much for honoring my men.”

“Doling out praise when it is warranted is the duty of a commanding officer. I’m especially proud of you, Jäger. When you first rode into my company, fresh-faced, just a few months out of officer training school, only one battle under your belt, I knew I would have to be tough on you, and you definitely shook my faith at times. Yet over and over again, you proved that, though you are young and idealistic, you know that there are harsh realities in this world. You’ve grown, and you proved yourself to be the sort of man German needs as its future leaders, especially helping to kill the Jews. That was when I knew,” he said, and Kitz tapped the gold pip on Eren’s shoulderboard, “you were ready for that honor.”

Eren kept his face neutral, but he felt an icy knife stab into his chest and twist. His promotion came at the cost of a human life.

“Ah! I almost forgot this.” He handed back the watch with a swastika on the face, which Eren had taken off and given to him after his encounter with the Americans. Eren put the watch back on his wrist. “Tell me,” Kitz said quietly, and his eyes narrowed. “What happened to that Jewish translator?”

Fearful of enraging his captain, Eren managed to smile. “I shot him right after forcing him to carry my bags up to my new place. I thought about your suggestion to hang him, but as fun as that would be, I wanted to hurry and go drinking with my men. I figured, there will be plenty more Jews to kill in the future.” He thought about what Floch had said. “He was useful and stupidly loyal to the end, but after all, a rat is still a rat.”

Kitz barked out a laugh and slapped Eren’s back. “That reminds me of one of Hitler’s lines in Mein Kampf. ‘The fox remains always a fox, the goose remains a goose, and the tiger will retain the character of a tiger.’”

“Very true! Captain, sometimes I think you have Mein Kampf memorized.”

“My mind is too old for that, but I have read it at least once a year since he took power. So tell me, what is your favorite quote from the Führer?

“Oh! Well, it’s not one of his more popular ones,” Eren admitted. “Still, it struck a chord with me, perhaps because he said it the same month I was accepted into officer training school. It was New Year’s Day, he was addressing the Wehrmacht, and Hitler ended his speech saying, ‘It is our hope that the blood that is spilled in this war will be the last in Europe for generations.’ After I heard that on the radio, I thought about it for days. It crossed my mind every day when I was on the front lines, killing Allies and losing many good men. If this war can end all wars in Europe for generations, then what we do here is necessary to save millions of future lives. To end war! A Thousand Year Reich of peace and prosperity for Germany! It would be nice,” Eren said wistfully, “to be old and gray and see little boys who think War is a playground game, who will never be sent to another country to kill, or watch a man be blown to pieces by a grenade, or know of a family who lost their home to a bomb. If Germany can become that sort of country, if we can save generations from this horror, then that future is worth fighting for!”

“The end justifies the means,” Kitz intoned solemnly. “I’m glad you didn’t pick one of the more trite and trendy quotes. It shows you listen, and you recognize the Führer’s genius. See,” he said, patting Eren on the shoulder, “you keep proving yourself an asset to Germany and to Hitler.”

Heil Hitler,” Eren said with a beaming smile. After Woermann left to go congratulate Jean, Eren’s smile sank, and his eyes stared out hollowly.

He felt empty. All the horrors in that village and been a test of his capacity as a leader, and he privately realized … he had failed. He had whipped Levi only because the Jew demanded that he do it to save him from Kitz’s wrath. He had stood by and watched Levi being raped because rushing forward to save him would have led to them both being shot. He had killed an innocent man because it was the only way to save Levi. And now, he had lied to his captain about Levi, trapping him with a new dilemma.

Floch knew Levi was hiding in the attic!

He would have to lie to Floch, and then he would have to be careful that nobody found Levi. If just one person recognized him, his lie would come unraveled, and Kitz would know he had hidden the Jew.

And that … was treason.

Armin slipped up beside Eren, seeing the distant gaze he often got when he was trying to bury emotions. He had been gazing on in awe at the General through most of the ceremony, amazed to see one of the top-ranked military geniuses of the Reich right here, and to have had the honor of shaking his hand. So while he could not hear whatever Knobelsdorff had said, he caught the look of grief.

Armin thought he knew why the General, who had been in Metz for less than twenty-four hours as part of his new post as commander of the 1st Army, would look at young, uprising officers with that depth of regret.

He knew what was in store for the future of Metz.

“Eren?”

He snapped out of far-off thoughts and flashed a warm smile to Armin. “Congratulations. You more than deserved this.”

He looked down at the black medal. “I think the Iron Cross is a bit much. I didn’t do anything brave.”

“You did something smart, and intelligence is just as important as fearlessness. It was your radio, your technical skills, and your plan that got us here safely.”

He looked embarrassed by the praise. “By the way, I overheard … Did you really shoot that Jew?”

Eren saw pity in Armin’s face, and his hands twisted with concern. Eren knew he should say yes, he should not get any of these men involved, but Armin’s heart was too good. Instead, Eren silently mouthed the word “no,” while out loud he said, “Of course I shot him. Don’t tell me you pity Jews now.”

Armin sighed in relief. “Of course not. I just thought it would be nice to have a servant around a little bit longer.”

Thomas came up to the two and scoffed, “Why wish for that when none of you bastards ever offered to help me cook or clean?”

Eren laughed. “Ja, ja, Mutti Thomas.” Yes, yes, Mommy Thomas.

Franz teased him, “You’re going to be bored without a kitchen.”

Connie added in, “You brought all those spices for nothing.”

“Not nothing,” Thomas cried out. “Have you seen the barracks’ mess hall? Empty! Bland spices: salt and pepper. Pah! At least now we can have some sage and rosemary in our meat.”

Eren jostled Thomas. “You get to be Mommy to an entire barracks.”

“I’m just trying to keep everyone fed,” he grumbled.

“We should go drinking!” Connie shouted.

Eren laughed. “First, our new officer needs a new living space.” He walked up to Jean, glad to see he got this commission after many years of service. “You’ll be set up in the hotel with me. There’s space next to Daz. A warning: he snores.”

“Your own room!” Franz shouted. “So lucky.”

Connie chuckled slyly, “He can wank off without trying to keep it under the sheets and quiet.”

They laughed, and Jean glared at them.

“Come on, horse-face!” Eren said, and he yanked Jean with him. “Floch, get the car running. We’ll pack up your stuff and move you over. Armin, you come with us too, and we’ll all drive over to get our new uniforms.”

Eren sat in the front of the truck, with Jean and Armin behind, and they drove just a little over to the barracks. There, Eren waited, letting his leg rest, while Armin and Floch helped Jean to pack up so he could move out of the barracks for enlisted men and into the officer’s hotel. By the time they were done, the rest had meandered back over to the barracks, and Connie told them which pub they were going to visit to celebrate with the whole company.

Then Floch drove them to go get new uniforms. For Armin, this was just a new chevron patch on the arm, although he requested new boots while he was there—he had been wearing those boots for nine months. For Jean, it was a whole new set of not only service uniform, but dress uniform. Eren picked up his new Oberleutnant uniform for combat, but his service uniform looked exactly the same as what he was currently wearing, just the new shoulderboards, so he was not as excited as the other two. Floch more than made up for it in being excited on his behalf.

Then they drove out to get a little food. Eren insisted he had not had enough for breakfast and wanted a little something before he took more pain medication for his leg, and Armin wanted to eat before going out to drink with the platoon. With muffins wrapped up in bags so they could eat on the way, they drove to the officer’s hotel.

“Can we wait a little bit before heading out to celebrate?” Jean asked. “I want to write home to my mother.”

Armin perked up. “Oh! Good idea. I should write back home.”

Floch chuckled as he drove them. “My parents are going to be so proud. My big brother has already made Stabsgefreiter, and they can’t stop talking about how fast he’s raised through the ranks.”

“Sometimes, it’s not good to rise too fast,” Eren cautioned. “Rise too fast and you lack the needed experience. You three deserve it, though.” He looked down at the paper-wrapped uniform sitting on his lap. “I don’t feel like I do.”

“Of course you do!” Armin said loyally.

Floch assured him. “You’re parents will be proud.”

Armin and Jean glanced to one another, and Floch sensed the suddenly quietness in the car.

“Oh,” he muttered. “I’m sorry. Did they die in the war?”

Eren shook his head. “It was before the war.”

“Well, you have someone to write home to, right? Someone who misses you and would be proud of you?”

“Not really,” Eren admitted. “I have no siblings, no cousins, and Captain Hannes, the man who raised me, died in Russia.”

“You have no family at all?” Floch asked in shock.

“Floch,” Jean warned sternly.

Eren managed to struggle up a smile. “I’m happy enough to celebrate with my men. You’re my new family.”

Floch blurted out, “Can I be your brother?”

Eren laughed and decided, “Sure, you’re my baby brother.”

“Ehhh! I don’t want to be a baby brother.”

The others laughed, moving past the awkwardness.

They reached the hotel, and in the swanky entryway, Eren saw the group of lieutenants sitting on couches.

Daz grimaced as he drank wine right out of a bottle. “It’s a disgusting drink, but it’s better than water.”

Griez had a bottle of his own, which he poured into a glass with a bit more refinement. “The key is to find the wine you actually like. They can be dry, sweet, fruity, acidic…”

Oliver’s chuckle was deep and resonating. “Listen to you, sounding like a native.”

Griez shrugged. “Two years here, I mean, that’s longer than I lived in Berlin as a baby, yet everyone considers me a Berliner. I’m starting to like wine more than beer now.”

Phil teased, “That should be treason.” The others laughed.

Holger noticed Eren limping up. “Whoa! Are you okay, Jäger?”

He smiled at the men. “I guess I forgot to mention last night that I had been shot in the leg on the road to Metz.”

Wim’s eyes were on his breast pocket. “Iron Cross First Class. That’s new.”

“Hey!” Daz yelled, checking out the uniform a bit more. “Oberleutnant? Did you just get a promotion?”

“Ah, yeah,” he said awkwardly. “General Knobelsdorff attended a promotion ceremony for my company.”

“The new general?” the men all shouted in astonishment.

“Is he as fierce as they say?”

“The man is one of the great military geniuses of our time!”

“I heard he battled all the way to the gates of Moscow, and the only reason Operation Barbarossa failed is he came down sick and had to be replaced.”

“When I’m promoted, I hope a General of the Branch is present.”

“You really are lucky.”

Eren smiled to himself, already feeling a sense of camaraderie with these men. “He looked like a kind father, smiled like an old friend, and spoke like a warrior.”

“So lucky!” Holger sighed in admiration.

Eren turned to the other three waiting. “Men, this is going to be the newest member of our floor. Jean Kirschtein just got promoted.”

Griez broke into a laugh. “Oh, I remember that! Still in my enlisted uniform but with an officer’s cap. You must have worked hard, soldier. I also went from an NCO to an officer the hard way.”

“Hard way?” Daz cried out. “You’ve been sitting around Metz for years. Nothing hard about that.”

“Hey! I was sent to Normandy briefly, but I returned back to Metz. I got my commission in battle after some new, fresh-out-of-academy lieutenant screwed up and got himself killed.”

Jean admitted, “That’s how I rose to Unteroffizier.”

“Right?” Griez cried out. “We did it the hard way. The rest of these virgins had the right connections to get into the right schools.”

“Virgins?” Daz cried out.

Wim muttered, “I have two children.”

Griez rolled his eyes. “You know what I mean.”

Holger shouted out, “Get in your new uniforms. We’ll celebrate.”

Eren said, “Sorry, our platoon already went to find a place to go drink.”

“That’s fine,” Holger said with a shrug. “We’re Nazis. We’re not above drinking with the enlisted men. We’re all equal here.”

Eren told them where the party would be, but they offered to wait until Eren was ready, since he walked slower. Floch, Armin, and Jean made trips up and down the stairs, carrying Jean’s supplies, while Eren took his time hobbling up the stairs. His leg really was starting to throb.

“This is shit,” he grumbled.

He finally made it up and needed a moment to rub out his leg. Floch came up, looking worried. “Are you going to rest, sir?”

“Some medicine and I’ll be fine. How about you go to Jean’s room, help him settle in, and write a letter home? I’m going to change the bandage on my leg. Don’t take off without me.”

“Not a chance, sir!” Floch said, and he bolted over to Jean’s room.

Eren went into his room and locked the door behind him. He took his cap off, placed his cane aside, and set the new uniform on the bed. He went into the bathroom, looked in the mirror, and touched the new shoulderboard with its golden pyramid that showed he was no longer the very bottom of the ladder for officers.

He had no one to write home to, but there was one person he could tell.

He pulled the chair up under the attic door gave a soft scratch. He waited, then lightly scratched the door again. A moment later, he heard a scratch back.

“Levi?” he called up softly.

He opened the hatch and peeked out. “What are you doing back?”

“I brought food.” He fetched the bag with a muffin and handed it up. “I have news.”

“Germany surrendered?”

Eren scowled. “No. I got a promotion.”

He caught the glint of a gold pip. “Is that why you have that gaudy thing on your shoulder?”

Eren pouted at the insult, but he was still excited to tell Levi. “I also received the Eisernes Kreuz, und der Verwundetenabzeichen.”

“You lost me,” Levi mumbled.

“Oh. Um … Iron Cross, and … wound … patch? Badge?”

“For getting shot in the leg,” Levi realized.

“I never thought I would be promoted.”

Levi recalled what Eren had told him before: “My mother was a mischling. Because of her, I am suspected. Because of her, I could not join the SS like my other classmates. I was lucky even to become an officer, although I will probably never raise higher than this.” Despite working against a xenophobic culture, Eren proved himself.

“Don’t let it get to your head.”

Eren pouted. “I can’t really brag about it. There’s no one back home to write to, no one to feel proud of me. Just my men, but that’s not the same.” He glanced at Levi. He had hoped Levi would feel proud of him, but that was ridiculous. He was an enemy soldier. Why would Levi feel proud of him getting recognition? He shook his head to dismiss the thought. “How are you feeling? How’s your stomach?”

Levi sputtered in frustration. “I shit out everything I ate last night. I don’t know if it was the sandwich, the beer, or…” His voice faded off. He had mourned most of the night, offering what few prayers he knew and making up others. That was not good on the stomach either. “I have no idea if I’m going to shit his food out too,” he said, looking down at the bag Eren gave him.

“If you need more food, there should be ration bars in my bag, and maybe a few meals you can heat up. If you find my Esbit, you can keep that. It’ll help to warm you up. I’ll just say mine got lost in the move to Metz.”

“How much can you claim was lost?”

Eren shrugged. “Everything but my uniform and gun. Why?”

“If I see something that I think could be useful, I want to keep it.”

Eren saw a determined look in Levi’s eyes. He knew how to survive, even if that meant pillaging and stealing what he needed. “Sure, and if I really need it, I’ll let you know. Otherwise, feel free.”

“Good. One more thing. That shirt you were wearing on the road, can I have it?”

Eren raised an eyebrow. “It’s surely too big for you.”

“Yeah, but I’ve been wearing the same damn shirt since April, and I haven’t had many chances to wash it. It reeks, it’s stained with blood, and it reminds me of all the shit I went through. I could use a replacement, but I doubt you can buy something in my size without raising a few alarms.”

He had to admit, buying a shirt that would fit someone as small as Levi would make people notice, and especially during these times, the last thing he wanted was to draw attention to himself.

“It’s yours then. Pillage through my stuff while I’m gone.”

Then they heard Jean’s voice. “Jäger, sind Sie bereit zu gehen?” Are you ready to go?

Ich komme gleich raus.” I’ll be out soon. Then he whispered, “Oh, Jean got promoted to lieutenant, so he’ll be on this floor.”

“Jean, the horse-faced one? Does he know I’m here?”

“No. Actually,” he admitted awkwardly, “I had to tell the captain that I killed you.”

Levi snorted in wry amusement. “Good. If they think I’m gone, they won’t come looking.”

“Well, Armin knows, but he’s promised to help find a way to get you out of here.”

“Fine, but don’t tell anyone else, and stay the hell out of trouble this time, takhshet.”

Eren smiled to hear a little bit of genuine concern in the gruff farewell. He stepped down off the chair and picked up his cap. Levi began to pull down the attic door, but he paused.

“Oy, Eren,” he whispered.

Eren paused and looked up at the face peeking out from the attic, lit up from the sunshine coming through his window. Slowly, struggling, a smile rose onto Levi’s face.

“I’m proud of you.”

Eren’s mouth dropped, and instantly he felt his cheeks growing warm. He dropped his cap, rushed back forward, used his good leg to climb up onto the chair, and standing on just one leg while balancing by grabbing the edges of the attic, he pressed his face forward to give Levi a kiss. Rather than turning away like last night or slamming the attic door shut on him, Levi’s fingers cradled the back of Eren’s neck, threaded through his soft hair, and pulled his face closer. He leaned down out of the ceiling while Eren stretched his head up, their lips locked in a rush of passion.

They forgot the world around them for a few seconds. Then slowly, reluctantly, their lips parted with a pop. Eren was glad to see that tiny smile still on Levi’s face. Something had changed with him, something that allowed him to smile like this. Maybe he just needed to open up a little about his wife’s death, so he could start to open his heart to more emotions.

Levi’s fingers combed through Eren’s hair. His eyes searched his face, like he was truly seeing Eren for the very first time. His mouth began to open to say more, but they heard Floch shouting out to Jean in the hallway. That forced them both to pull back, realizing the dangerous situation they were in.

“I’ll see you tonight,” whispered Eren.

Levi nodded. He had no idea what more he could say, and now he felt slightly embarrassed for saying even that much. He silently pulled back up into the shadows. Eren saw in his eyes all the pride—and the worries—Levi felt for him. As the attic door slowly closed, their eyes lingered, not wanting to look away, until at last the door shut with a soft click.

Eren let out a sigh. He knew his face was red, and feeling his cheeks, they were burning. Maybe he could blame it on excitement.

He pulled his officer’s cap on, grabbed his cane, and left the room. Jean, Armin, and Floch were waiting, all of them excited to celebrate.

Up in the attic, Levi sat by the window, nibbling the muffin Eren had brought him as he gazed down through the tiny window. He saw Eren leave with his men and a bunch of other lieutenants he had noticed coming and going out of the building. Eren hobbled on his cane, and his face flinched as he forced his knee to bend up into the passenger seat.

Levi’s eyes stayed on the lieutenant—would it now be 1st lieutenant?—until the truck pulled away and drove down the street. There in the dark, Levi allowed himself to smile more.

“Well, Petra, he’s growing up on me. He’s brave, stupid,” he said in amusement, “and I want to protect that idiotic smile of his.” He looked down at the muffin. Eren did not have to climb all the steps up to his room. He could have had his soldiers drop his new uniform off for him, but obviously he came to share his enthusiasm and give Levi some food. “How weird is it, that I want to see him smile more?”

He set the muffin aside and crawled across the floor, being as silent as possible. He listened down into the rooms below, pressing his ear to the floor, but there were no sounds from any of them. It had looked like they all piled into the truck with Eren, but he wanted to be sure. He went back to the door that opened to Eren’s room, creaked it open, and slid down the rope ladder. He was silent as he sneaked around and grabbed Eren’s duffel bag, taking the whole thing up into the attic to minimize his time down in that room. Then he closed the door again.

He rummaged through by the light of the small window, pulling out the small metal stove, some fuel tabs, a box of matches, and any food Eren had on him. He also pulled out the sky blue shirt Eren had worn on the journey to Metz.

He paused and lifted the shirt to his nose. It still smelled like Eren, and the calming scent brought a smile to Levi’s face. He remembered in the bedroom of the Reeves house, how he had undone Eren’s buttons and slowly pushed this shirt off. He could still recall the look of euphoria on Eren’s face and his soft gasps of pleasure as Levi slid his fingers over his chest and arms. If only they had been alone and he could have done more than merely help him out of some wet clothes…

Levi jolted out of the memories, shook his head, and tried to focus again. He found rope that could be useful and extra socks. He could definitely use those. There was a compass and binoculars, which would be useful once he had to leave, but he did not want to be burdened with hiding too much stuff yet. Buried at the bottom of the bag were the beaten up shoes and yellow leather jacket Eren had worn. He pulled out the shoes. Definitely too big, but perhaps he could stuff the toes. Although they were old and beaten up, they were marginally an improvement over the shoes he had now. Then he flipped out the jacket and gave it a shake. The leather was starting to smell, since it had been wet when Eren shoved it away into his bag. Levi figured, if he aired it out for a day, that should prevent mildew, and he could definitely use a jacket as the weather got colder.

He tried it on. It was huge on him, hanging off his shoulders, but it was warm. He pulled the coat tightly around him and closed his eyes, inhaling Eren’s scent and thinking about the warmth of his arms. Those arms had held him so many times over the months, from helping him to walk out of the latrine where he had been viciously attacked with a mop handle, to holding him as he mentally shattered after being raped, to gentle hugs, warm kisses, tender words, and soft eyes that gazed upon him with adoration.

Again, Levi jolted and shook out his head.

“Shit,” he hissed.

He took the jacket off, trying to scowl and think like a survivalist. He searched around for a place to hang it up so it could completely dry, but he paused again, bringing the coat up to revel in Eren’s scent one last time. Then he spread the jacket out over the back of an old chair. Still, he found himself caressing the leather.

“What is wrong with me?” he whispered. He turned back to the gear, trying to focus and not think about what the next few days would be like, living here with Eren, no one knowing he was here. Alone. Together.

# # #

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Thanks to Vulpecula for this lovely scene from Chapter 7 of Eren and Levi sharing some soup and a cup of muckefuck. https://vulpecula-art.tumblr.com/post/639960478673731584/

After Vulpecula asked me about the uniform details, I realized, not only had I never fully described Eren’s uniform, including all of his medals and badges that were in my notes but never made it into the text … I was actually inconsistent with which color the uniform was, despite having photos of uniforms clogging up my story’s folder. This is because the Nazis used many different uniforms depending on branch, unit, location, even the time of year. The most common color, feldgrau (field-gray), varied depending on which factory made the uniform, so they appeared to be anywhere from olive green to cadet gray. I also was not fully aware of just how many medals the Nazis handed out. They loved ceremony and awards! - https://i.imgur.com/tLcmUlq.jpg

Pohl and Schwarz – I made these two up. Their names are real German surnames that mean “from Poland” and “black-haired.” Of course, a racist like Kitz thinks the origin of their surnames proves they are weak.

Otto von Knobelsdorff – General der Panzertruppe (literally “General of the Armored Corps,” a four-star general) has been called “one of Germany’s most outstanding armor leaders.” He joined the military as an officer cadet in 1905, where he was noted as being a head smaller than his fellow cadets, but filled with drive, enthusiasm, friendliness, and a great sense of humor. He fought in World War I, skyrocketing through the ranks. When World War II broke out, he led an infantry regiment into Poland, then was given command of the 19th Infantry Division, leading it through the Battle of France. His infantry was converted to tanks, turned into a Panzer Division, and sent to Russia as part of Operation Barbarossa. He fought all the way to the outskirts of Moscow, proving to be a competent leader (even though Germany’s attack on Russia was ultimately a disaster). It was his competence and successes that got him awarded the German Cross in gold for “repeated acts of bravery and military leadership,” and the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross, the highest military award in Nazi Germany. He led many Army Corps and Panzer Corps, constantly proving himself to be a superb leader on both the Western and Eastern Fronts. He was known for his daring, aggressive instincts, and that was why he was sent to Metz to face off with an American also known for his brash aggression: General George S. Patton. On September 6, 1944, Knobelsdorff was placed in charge of the 1st Army, and he arrived in Metz on September 10th. (This chapter takes place on September 11th; I actually made the mistake of name-dropping Knobelsdorff back in Chapter 22, but Knobelsdorff would have still be en route to France, so that was rewritten.) While Knobelsdorff’s greatest skill was knowing when to make tactical retreats in order to preserve his troops and thus hold back invaders for a longer time—a challenging leadership skill to learn—Hitler insanely demanded there be NO retreat in Metz. Knobelsdorff was to hold the city at all costs. He battled Patton for two months, but to be fair, Patton simply did not have the same combat experience as Knobelsdorff, who managed to force Patton into his one and only retreat, with heavy American casualties, and caught Patton in a lengthy battle, giving the rest of the Western Front time to pull back to the Westwall and rebuild the defenses. After months of holding back the Allies, Hitler suddenly ordered Knobelsdorff to transfer some of the tanks in France to prepare for the Ardennes Offensive (AKA “The Battle of the Bulge”). Knobelsdorff saw the folly in the entire plan, and he resisted Hitler’s order. For that defiance, he was removed from his post. He was never given another command. He was taken as a POW, but released a few years after the war. After the war, he wrote military books and lived to be 80 years old, probably still telling jokes and being a friendly, enthusiastic grandfather.

Großer Mercedes – Established in 1926, Mercedes-Benz continues to be one of the largest car manufacturers in the world. They were the automobile of preference for many of society’s elite in the early 20th century: the Rothschilds, Rockefellers, Astors, all billionaires in their own countries. The 770 model, called “Großer Mercedes,” was used by high-ranking Nazi officials. Hitler owned seven Großer Mercedes cars, some for parades where he could stand up and salute the troops, some for traveling between Berlin and his mountain retreat in the Berghof. They were heavily modified with bulletproof glass and steel armor plating. During World War II, Mercedes-Benz compelled 46,000 people into forced labor in their factories. In 1988, the company paid reparations to the families of those forced laborers.

Shoulderboards – There were a few ways to mark a soldier’s rank, and it depended on the branch. SS had collar badges with dots or leaves. Many combat uniforms had chevrons on the sleeve since you might not be able to see the collar or the soldier may be in a thick jacket against the Russian winter. Some, including the Heer (Army) used sleeve marks as well as shoulderboards. These buttoned in place through loops in the uniform tunic. Which branch you belonged to in particular was marked by the coloring on the outside. Infantry, like Eren’s group, had a white rim (see above). Gold pips (actually zinc made to look gold, so authentic WWII shoulderboards appear to be silver after 80 years of oxidation) marked higher ranks, with the straps going from plain, to corded, to braided as a soldier rose from enlisted, to a commissioned officer, to Major or higher. Ciphers (pins) marked a soldier’s unit number or job (like paratrooper, anti-tank, medical, veterinarian, etc.)

Infantry Assault Badge – An infantryman would receive this if they saw more than three days of combat on the front lines. Eren and his platoon were in Anzio for months, so all of the ones who were there (Jean, Armin, Connie, Thomas, NOT Franz or Floch, they’re new guys) would have this badge pinned onto their tunic pocket.

Wound Badge (Verwundetenabzeichen) – given to people who were wounded, including frostbite. Black Wound Badges mean 1-2 injuries, a silver badge (like what Eren got) means three wounds.

Service Award (Dienstauszeichnung) – given to members of the Wehrmacht to honor 4, 12, 18, 25, and 40 years of service. It was not just the medal, but a pin for the ribbon bar to be worn above the pocket. Ribbon bars are still used in the military to simplify things for casual days while still allowing a soldier to show the honors they have received. It was a cornflower blue ribbon with a silver eagle for 4 and 12 years of service, a gold eagle for 18 and 25 years, and an oak leaf wreath below the gold eagle for 40 years.

The Iron Cross (Eisernes Kreuz) – First created in 1813, the symbol goes back to the Teutonic Knights. Hitler changed the Iron Cross slightly, adding a swastika … because of course he would! There were two classes of Iron Cross, after which a soldier got “Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross.” The Iron Cross 2nd Class would be awarded and pinned on the second button hole of the tunic, where it was worn for the first day. Afterward, the cross was pinned to the center of the collar, and the accompanying ribbon was sewn into the second button hole, so he could display that he won the award without having to always wear a medal that might be lost in combat. The Iron Cross 1st Class came without a ribbon (since the soldier already had one) and was pinned to the breast pocket. It came with a ribbon bar of black, white, and red with the cross in the middle.

Promotions – I spent a week scouring the internet in three different languages, trying to find any details about Nazi promotion ceremonies. Besides a few photos, there were no details about how this was done. So, I’m making it up. If one day someone with a PhD in History of the Wehrmacht under Nazi Germany actually knows the details, I would love to chat! Nazis thrived on ceremonial formalities, so hopefully that came across.

Stabsgefreiter – Corporal or Lance Corporal, also Quartermaster, NATO rank OR-4. Normally, it takes three years to reach that rank, but during war, a soldier can reach it quicker. (Example: my father made Corporal in 13 months because he served in combat. After his mandatory two years, he was offered the rank of Sergeant if he agreed to a second tour of duty. He declined … or rather, in his words, “Respectfully, sir, fuck no!”)

Oberleutnant – 1st lieutenant, just below captain. Congrats to Eren for being promoted, despite Kitz being a total jerk who tested him sadistically over and over again. Eren’s promotion was more one of merit. Normally, it could take 48 months to be promoted to oberleutnant. He did it in nine. (Because he’s a bad-ass!)

Enlisted to Non-Commission to Officer – Being accepted into officer training school is tough, physical prowess is not enough, one needs leadership training that can take years, and in some countries, you’re required to have a university degree before you can even apply. In Eren’s case, he was in Napola, a military school, and so he was able to get in. While training, he would have served in combat as an officer trainee, under the scrutiny of another officer, to see if he could lead a platoon. This could take two years, and was fiercely competitive. Another option is to simply rise through the ranks and earn your commission. Now, in peace time, this can take 8-12 years. Even the rank Jean had as an Unterofficer would normally take eight years. He reached it in four (because he’s a bad-ass) because the easy way to rise in the ranks is wartime field commissions. Basically, someone dies, now you take their place. In Jean’s case, his officer died in Dieppe which catapulted him to Unterofficer (sergeant) so he could take the lead over his platoon. Presumably, he applied for a commission while in Paris, put in work while resting there after Anzio, and has now made it up into the officer’s league.

Westwall – This has been name-dropped a couple times before. This was a defensive line on Germany’s western border, made up of 18,000 bunkers, tunnels, and tank traps. In English, it’s known as the Siegfried Line. It stretched from the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, France, all the way to the border with Switzerland, more than 630 km (390 mi). We’ll see the Westwall mentioned many times in the upcoming chapters, so remember what it is.

Speech at the Sportpalast Berlin – The Sportpalast Berlin was a sports and concert arena, and the site of many Nazi speeches. After the roof was destroyed in the war, it was rebuilt and hosted concerts, including The Beach Boys, Jimi Hendrix, and Pink Floyd. It stopped turning a profit in the 1970s and was demolished. Through the 1930s and 40s, Hitler and other Nazi leaders gave many speeches there. Knobelsdorff paraphrases Hitler from his speech on September 30, 1942: “There are no more privileges by birth certificate, none by former positions in life, none by so-called origin, none by so-called education in former times. There is only one criterion: the criterion of the brave, valiant, loyal man, the determined fighter, the daring man who is fit to be a leader of his people.” By the way, criterion is the singular of “criteria.” Many English speakers—myself included—often use criteria in a singular, but technically that is wrong.

Hitler’s New Year’s Address to the Wehrmacht – On January 1, 1942, Hitler addressed the troops on the Eastern Front (the West was control by that point). He ended the speech with this: “Germany will not and cannot be dragged into a new war for its existence or nonexistence by the same criminals every twenty-five years! Europe cannot and will not tear itself to pieces forever, just so that a bunch of Anglo American and Jewish conspirators can find satisfaction for their business machinations in the dissatisfaction of the people. It is our hope that the blood that is spilled in this war will be the last in Europe for generations. May the Lord help us with this in the coming year!”


THE PROBLEM OF FAKE QUOTES

It is seriously hard to find REAL quotes the internet. Websites like Brainyquote, AZQuotes, and Goodreads are huge spreaders of fake quotes, or they’re misattributed (right words, wrong person). As they spread, they gain legitimacy. Soon they’re on t-shirts, coffee cups, you can even get it tattooed on you. Politicians see the quotes online and start to use them in sessions, thinking they must be real, because who would dare make up a fake quote by a famous person. With repetition, the line between what is historical and what is internet hoax blurs.

Did Thomas Jefferson really say “All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent”? (No.) Did Albert Einstein really say “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”? (No.) Did Marie Antoinette really say “Let them eat cake”? (No, Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote that a noblewoman said it, but he didn’t say who.) Did Winnie the Pooh really say “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard”? (No, that’s a misquote from the 1975 movie, The Other Side of the Mountain.)

When it comes to quotes by Adolf Hitler, the internet is absolutely seething with misquotes, misattributed quotes, and flat-out false quotes. Some of these came out in books immediately after the war, when the Allied nations wanted to paint Hitler as a madman out to crush liberties (especially America, we make shit up all the time about our enemies, to this day). They invented quotes for these books to emphasize the threat to democracy. These history books then enjoyed generations of exposure, people assuming “it’s in a book so it must be true,” before historians began to question, “When did Hitler say that? Did he REALLY say that? Where are the citations? Where is the proof? Why does this quote contradict his actual beliefs?” We now know, many Nazi quotes are pure fabrication.

Examples are:

  • “What luck for rulers, that men do not think.” – Over 2 million websites have used this quote, but there is no evidence that Hitler actually said it.

  • “To conquer a nation, first disarm its citizens.” – American pro-gun groups insist that this is a Hitler quote that applies to “radical socialist liberals.” However, Hitler never said this. He actually abolished the Weimar Republic’s gun restriction laws, allowing average German citizens (though not Jews) to buy guns. Besides, how do you disarm the citizens of a nation you have not yet conquered? The quote makes no logical sense.

  • “Truth is the greatest enemy of the state.” – Sometimes attributed to Hitler, sometimes to Goebbels. Neither man ever said this. Far from it, they believed other nations were lying to their people (they were, to be fair) and the German media thrived on finding every instance of Roosevelt or Churchill lying and exposing the truth.

  • “It is not truth that matters, but victory.” – Again, not the sort of thing Hitler supported, and there is no evidence that either Hitler or Goebbels said this.

  • “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” – One of the most famous Nazi quotes, attributed to either Hitler or Goebbels, and again, there is no record of either saying this. There actually is a section of Mein Kampf that goes into a “big lie.” Hitler said “the broad masses of a nation … more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters.” However, his claim was that it was the Jews making that big lie, and Britain and America were perpetuating the lie through lügenpresse, “lying press,” AKA “fake news.” Hitler’s beliefs were not that one should lie, because lies can be proven to be false, but truth resonates with morality and puts the hearts of the masses at ease. (Of course, that leads to selective truths, which are worse than lying, but that’s another matter.)

Finding real quotes from Hitler was tough. I hate to say it, but the only websites I could find with actual transcripts of his speeches and passages from interviews that were published at the time period … were on Neo-Nazi websites. (Yeah, I end up on those many times while researching for this story.) I made sure the quotes in this chapter ARE REAL, but I will not link to fascist websites.

It’s honestly rather sad: the Allies wanted to paint Hitler in a worse light than reality already made him, so they invented quotes, yet if anything, those actions proved Hitler was right about one thing: the masses easily fall victim to a big lie.



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