As I sit here, in a wicker chair on my brother-in-law's front porch, in the warmth of the May sun, I am trying to remember clearly the events of the past few days, though (on some level) I am really trying hard to forget them. I remember the first time I saw the huge luxury-liner that we were about to board for our trip to America and the first time I saw Franz, in his neatly pressed, blue officer's uniform, leading us toward the embarkation stairs.
Tears come to my eyes as I again realize that the world, nor I, will ever see either of them again.
My husband Leonard and myself had been on the voyage as guests of the shipping line. Leonard had ghost-written the memoirs of the company's operations director Ernst Lehmann and his days as a ship's captain and the many adventures he'd had aboard his ships and back during the Great War, flying over England.
We were both writers, my husband and I, but Leonard was still allowed to write whereas I was on the enemies list of our country's current government and a persona non grata. I had been a journalist for the Dresdener Anzeiger but my press card had been withdrawn by the authorities after I had written several articles that they deemed unflattering to the Reich.
Still that didn't keep those authorities from letting us leave the country. We were connected with Captain Lehmann and therefore shown safely in the light of his world celebrity.
Our crossing was a dreary one from the very beginning. It seems as though the storm clouds and rain followed us clear across the Atlantic.
It was dark and rainy, for early May, as we approached the ship which was as long as the Titanic and towered over us as high as a four story building. The outer hull reflected the gloom of the night but the lights within it sparkled at us warmly from the windows as we were greeted by the ship's officers at the bottom of the gangway stairs.
Franz was (to me) so handsome as he touched the shiny brim of his officer's cap, in a casual salute, and enquired of our names.
"Mr. and Mrs. Adell," my husband told him.
"Welcome aboard," he said to us, as he glanced down at his clipboard and the passenger list and made a check mark by our names.
"Thank you," my husband replied, though Franz's gaze and smile seemed to stay fixed on me as Leonard spoke.
Franz took my hand and helped me step to the gangway stairs and watched as I ascended from the cool darkness up to the warmth and light of "B" deck with my husband.
A steward came and told us that our cabin was down the hall on this deck and that our luggage was already in our room. He told Leonard that a cocktail or beer could be obtained down the hall at the smoking room and bar and then he bade us to follow him up to "A" deck where my husband pointed out, at the top of the stairs, the bronze bust of the former president for whom this ship was named. It was warmer on this deck and we could see that the dining area's tables were neatly set with crisp, white linens and fresh-cut flowers and a buffet supper had been laid out for us passengers.
Leonard gathered a plate of beautiful-looking finger sandwiches for he and I and, knowing that I was still chilled, asked the steward to bring us some tea and found a small table by the large, closed window so we could watch our departure from there.
It was bright and warm in the dining room but, in stark contrast, the wind outside lashed the rain against the large window and we couldn't see anything but darkness coming from outboard the ship.
The steward brought an ornate tray containing a silver teapot, milk, sugar and bone china cups in white with blue and gold trim. He used white-gloved hands to set the tray and silver spoons on our table before placing the cups and saucers before us and pouring our piping hot tea.
The tea warmed me and the delicious sandwich filled me as we peered out the closed window for any sign of the docking area. That's when we were told, by another passenger, that the ship had left land already and was heading out to sea. We were so surprised because we hadn't felt any motion and had felt very little vibration and now had to strain our ears to detect any sound of the great liner's engines.
Leonard arose to go back to the buffet table for some of the cold Rhine salmon that he had spotted there and I glanced out at the darkness beyond the window before I heard a sound beside me and looked up to see Franz, that handsome officer, smiling down at me.
"Did you enjoy the departure?" he asked me.
"I'm afraid my husband and I missed it," I told him, wishing (for some reason) that I hadn't mentioned my husband to him.
"We hear that a lot," Franz explained, "because this ship sails very smoothly indeed."
"Yes," I agreed. "I can hardly believe we're underway." Then I asked him, "What do you do on the ship?"
"Radio officer," he said and saluted down at me with a suave grin on his face.
"Oh, yes Ma'am," he told me. "There are always messages being sent out by the passengers and officers. Not only that, our radios assist in navigation when we are out at sea. Traffic, from our radio room, never stops. There are four of us working in six hour shifts; Chief officer Willy Speck, Herbert Dowe, Egon Schweikart and myself."
"I'll have to send a radiogram when you're on duty."
"There's a writing room on the other side of the ship," Franz informed me. "You just put your message in the box or hand it to a steward and it gets to me in the radio room to be sent out by radio-telegram."
"That is so interesting," I said, my smile on his.
"If you'd like," he told me, "I'll take you on a tour of the radio room and the whole ship for that matter."
"That would be lovely," I replied, smiling up and batting my eyes at him like a foolish schoolgirl.
"Enjoy the rest of your evening," he said as he saluted me again and walked away toward the stairs to B deck and I watched the gallant sway of his stature as he went.
Sitting alone now, with my thoughts and my tea, I felt a tingling warmth throughout me that, I knew, was caused by the dashing, young officer. Feelings that I hadn't felt in years.
Trude, I scolded myself, what's the matter with you? You're a grown, married woman and Leonard is a good, intelligent, husband and a great provider. Why are you letting this handsome young man turn your level head like this?
I had no idea but I loved the attention that he gave to me. Attention that my monotonous husband hardly favored me with anymore. He was far too busy either working, writing or kowtowing to the authorities in order to keep his career.
When Leonard returned, he hungrily ate his cold salmon and his sandwiches while he looked at the copy of the passenger list which he had picked up from the buffet table.
"I see we have some Air Force officers traveling with us," he said. "Colonel Erdmann, Lieutenant Hienkelbien and Major Hans Hugo Witt are aboard. I hear the voyage is a reward for their meritorious service to the nation."
"Doing what?" I enquired of him. "Dropping bombs on defenseless Spanish civilians in Guernica?"
My husband quickly looked around to make sure that I wasn't overheard by anyone. "Don't say things like that," Leonard scolded me in low, controlled anger. "You know better."
I scoffed at the look of annoyance on his face. "What else can they do to me, Leonard darling? They've already forbid me from making a living."
Leonard now leaned forward in his chair and spoke so that only I could hear him. "Surely you realize that I hate the current regime every bit as much as you do. I just comprehend, as do so many people in our country these days, that you have to go along to get along."
"That's right, Leonard my dear," I replied patronizingly. "That's what the lambs are thinking when they are being led to the slaughter."
"Shhh," he hissed in irritation. "Keep your voice down, Gertrude."
I shrugged and settled in my chair, holding my saucer as I took another sip of the warm tea. "Who else, of the Who's Who, is on the passenger list?"
Leonard sat back and spoke as his eyes scanned the sheet of paper before him. "Birger Brink, the news correspondent from Sweden, is with us, as is Ernst Otto Anders who is co-owner of the Teekanne Tea Company. Nelson Morris, of Chicago, who is heir to the Armour Meat Packing fortune is aboard. Ah, this should interest you, my darling," he pointed down to a name on the list as he told me, "Philip Mangone the New York fashion designer is on the ship with us."
"No movie stars?" I asked, aware that Douglas Fairbanks had traveled on this ship last year, as had Max Schmeling the German world heavyweight boxing champion.
"Sorry to disappoint, my dear," he said, "but Joseph Spah, the American stage acrobat, is aboard." Leonard nodded his head toward the far wall which was decorated with hand painted illustrations by the German artist Otto Arpke, "He's over there."
Looking over, I shrugged, adding, "Never heard of him."
"He goes by the stage name Ben Dova. We saw him at the Wintergarten in Berlin, remember? You reviewed that show for the Anzeiger."
"Yes," I said, the recognition coming to me now. "He played the drunken man in the top hat and tail-coat who was trying to light a cigarette while swinging from a lamppost." I now laughed at the memory. "He was very funny."
"Yes, dear. He was, indeed."
.... There is more of this story ...