Almighty

The pair of them quickly moved across the courtyard and into the annex as Alda used the soldier’s keys to open the large door. She quickly told Fabienne of their plan, urging her to leave now. At the truck, Fabienne, Alda, Nikolous, Sandra and Eva hid themselves between the bags of ash. Tobias started the engine and drove slowly at first towards the gate. As they got nearer, the soldiers on guard duty started gesturing to slow down, but Tobias did the opposite and accelerated, knocking the soldiers flying as they broke through the gates. Immediately shots rained down on the truck as Tobias tried to dodge them and roared away from the castle. A short distance down the road, they passed a German military car, carrying Heilbroner, with Jürgen at the wheel.

Heilbroner shouted to Jürgen to turn and follow the truck. They gave chase, roaring through the beautiful green hills and peaceful scenery. As they passed through the nearby town, Heilbroner commanded the soldiers guarding the outskirts, to join in the chase. Fabienne and Alda had climbed over the back and joined Tobias in the cab.

“What are we going to do, Tobias?” said Fabienne. “We can’t keep this up, they’re gaining on us!”

Alda held Fabienne’s hand.

“We have to do something,” she said to him. But he just responded with a worried look.

They managed to pass through Alkoven, which was mainly made up of forest and farmyards. Battling their way through wasn’t easy but they were hoping to put some distance between them and the troops and find somewhere to hide. More shots rang out, and Heilbroner appeared almost on a level with Fabienne’s window, shouting out to them:

“All we want is the children, just pull over and I will set you free.”

Luckily by the time they reached the farmland, vehicles appeared from the opposite direction forcing Heilbroner’s car to pull over. This gave Tobias a chance to get further ahead.

After nearly an hour of driving, they arrived at Gmunden, a town in upper Austria beside Lake Traunsee, on the Traun River and surrounded by high mountains. Gmunden was also famous for its grand town hall and the Villa Toscana, built for the duchess of Tuscany. By 1941, the Germans had taken over the town and even created an SS run maternity home, to ensure racial purity with Nazi racial theories.

Gmuden was also famous in Austria for its trams and this gave Tobias an idea. As Heilbroner and his men got closer to the back of the truck, Tobias floored the accelerator. They were suddenly racing through the crowded streets of an old fashioned, sleepy town that wasn’t used to car chases and people on the street looked terrified. Alda and Fabienne clutched each other and in the back of the truck, the children screamed for their lives.

“It’s alright,” shouted Tobias. “I’ll get us away from them.”

He could see a tram crossing his path up ahead, so he sped up even more and closed his eyes as they just made it through, before the tram stopped, leaving Heilbroner and Jürgen screeching to a halt and having to wait on the other side as the tram unloaded and loaded its passengers.

Heilbroner ordered one of the guards of Gmuden to go on ahead, on a motorcycle, after the tram moved on, and catch the truck up.

“When you locate them,” he told the soldier. “I only want you to follow them. Take this radio and keep in touch. We won’t be far behind. If they try to run, arrest them. That truck can’t go on forever. Do not kill them, I want that pleasure for myself.”

Tobias continued at speed and drove out of Gmuden towards the city of Salzburg, some fifty miles away. They passed through the beautiful Austrian countryside, praying they had escaped, unaware that a German soldier was following on a motorbike.

Salzburg lies on the border of Austria and Germany. It’s divided by the Salzach River, with spectacular views of the Eastern Alps. It was another city heavily armed and controlled by German soldiers and at all the entrance points, guards stopped every vehicle, checking the drivers’ and passengers’ ID. Tobias shouted to the children at the back of the vehicle to hold onto each other, as it was going to become very bumpy. He sped up again crashing through the barriers and past the guards continuing his way into the city. The soldiers picked themselves off the ground and immediately opened fire, screaming to the soldiers up ahead to stop them. Tobias dodged his way through a hail of bullets raining down on them.

Fabienne, Alda and the children screamed throughout the whole ordeal, as Tobias turned a sharp corner, and the next minute they felt they were on a giant roller coaster. The noise of gunfire was deafening, followed by the tremendous bang of a tyre exploding, thanks to shots from a sniper above them on the rooftops. Tobias fought to keep all wheels on the ground, but it was no good, the truck was too heavy and with the speed they were travelling, he lost control. The truck skidded then crashed and rolled terrifyingly, finally coming to a screeching halt on its side, in the middle of the street. Tobias, Fabienne, Alda and the children scrambled from the vehicle and ran as fast as they could to escape, as armed soldiers raced through the streets to get to them.

Meanwhile Heilbroner’s motorbike officer, who had witnessed the crash, tried desperately to contact his Commanding Officer.

“Come in, sir. Can you hear me? Officer Heilbroner, I am in the city of Salzburg. The targets have lost their vehicle and are on foot. How far away are you?”

“We are ten minutes away,” Heilbroner radioed back. “Keep them in your sights.”

“Understood, sir. They won’t get away.”

Tobias, who had a gash to his head from the crash, grabbed Alda’s hand.

“Quickly!” he called to the others. “They are gaining on us.”

Five German soldiers pursued on foot, as the soldier on the motorbike revved his engine and roared towards the group. As they turned a corner, they could hear the motorbike getting closer, so they dived into a nearby clothes shop. By the time the motorbike and the foot soldiers arrived in the street, the group had vanished. The soldiers continued running down the street and out of sight as the motorbike soldier began circling the small streets in a rage, trying to find them.

Heilbroner and Jürgen entered Salzburg and waited at the main checkpoint.

Once again, Heilbroner spoke curtly into the radio.

“Have you caught them? Meet us at the entrance, now.”

The soldier did as he was told and went to meet Heilbroner. Jürgen stayed at the wheel of the vehicle, while Heilbroner paced angrily up and down outside.

“Where are they, soldier?” he barked, as the man dismounted from the motorbike.

“I am sorry sir, I lost them in one of the shopping streets. I don’t know what happened. They turned a corner and just vanished. The soldiers are searching, door to door, but so far, we haven’t found them. I am sorry sir I have let you down, but I promise we will find them.”

Heilbroner turned away calmly, drew his pistol and with one movement, shot the soldier in the middle of the forehead.

“You are right,” he said to the motionless body on the road. “You have let me down.” Then climbed back into the car and ordered Jürgen to drive to the shopping streets and join the troops searching the homes and shops.

When Tobias and the others had crashed their way into the clothes shop, they had momentarily terrified the elderly owner, who was sitting in his back office. He leapt to his feet, when he heard the commotion and went to see what had happened. Tobias, Alda and Fabienne, clutching Nikolaus, Sandra and Eva close to them, stood in the middle of the shop. When Alda saw him, she sank to her knees, and clasped her hands together as if in prayer.

“Please sir, please help us. The soldiers are after us. Please don’t let them find us.”

“Get out! Get out of my shop!” the man shouted.

Suddenly Tobias produced a pistol from his jacket and aimed it at him.

“You will help us old man, and you will do it now,” said Tobias in the calmest tone he could manage.

Alda couldn’t believe he had a gun.

“Where did you get that from?” she said slapping his arm.

“It doesn’t matter,” he said. “All that matters is that we get out of here alive.”

“Please,” said the man trembling at the sight of the gun. “Just leave me alone. Take my car, here’s the key. It’s in the back yard. Just leave me alone.”

“I’m so sorry,” said Fabienne. “We don’t mean you any harm.”

She ordered all of them to grab some items of clothing from the shop, just enough to disguise themselves. Alda changed her dress. Tobias threw on a duffel coat and flat cap. Fabienne covered her dress with an anorak and then quickly chose some different items for the children, scarves and even hats to change their appearance. Tobias took the key from the old man and thanked him. Then they ran to the back door and out into a small courtyard, where they found an old green car.

“Let’s go,” said Tobias. “Alda in the front with me. Fabienne and the children lie down in the back and hopefully no one will recognize us.” He opened the gates and drove out onto the street. All was quiet. They made their way back into the city centre. Soldiers watched from the tops of buildings, but they were not challenged. Tobias and Alda’s hearts were beating in unison, as they slowly progressed through the streets of Salzburg. Tobias turned back onto the main street, past the clothes shop, and continued, trying not to cause any suspicion.

Heilbroner by now was leading a convoy of military vehicles through the city. The sight of so many German troops was not something the locals enjoyed. Their beautiful city, surrounded by mountains and looked down on by the magnificent and historic festung, Hohensalzburg Castle, was now in the hands of a foreign power.

As they turned into the main street, they passed a small, green car.

“Turn the car, Jürgen!” ordered Heilbroner. “Quickly! That was the girl, Alda. Turn round and go after them!”

Jürgen sped up and caught up with the car, leaving the rest of the military convoy behind. He started to ram the green car, forcing Tobias to swerve onto the other side of the road, almost crashing each time.

Suddenly Jürgen stepped on the brake and came to a halt. Allowing Tobias to go ahead.

“What are you doing, Jürgen?” said Heilbroner, instantly holding his pistol to Jürgen’s chest. “If you don’t catch up with them, I shall l be using this on you.”

“I am sorry, sir I don’t know what I was doing. I must have pressed the wrong pedal. I will catch them up sir don’t worry.”

Heilbroner sat back in his seat.

“If we don’t catch those children, Jürgen, Hoffman will have our lives for sure.”

Tobias had managed to open a gap between them and Heilbroner, whom by now had been re-joined by the convoy. They sped down the streets until they arrived at the train station, and he shouted for them all to get out and run. As Fabienne ran, she fell to the ground, crying out in pain and holding her ankle. Tobias tried to pick her up, but she pushed him away.

“Go!” she shouted at them. “Leave me. The soldiers will be here any minute. I will just hold you up.”

“No, Fabienne!” said Alda, as she and Nikolaus stood over her, with tears rolling down their faces.

“We can’t leave you. They haven’t reached us yet,” said Tobias pulling Fabienne to her feet. They tried to move her across the ground, but they could hear the convoy approaching and they were struggling. Fabienne pulled herself away from Tobias and sat down on the ground.

“Alda, take the children or you will all be caught. Leave me” said Fabienne.

“Let Tobias help you, Fabienne, please!” cried Alda.

“Alda, I promised Madelene I would do anything for them and this is my sacrifice. Go now, or it will be too late.”

Alda burst into tears again as Tobias took command of the situation. He gathered up the children and started to move them away from Fabienne, as she lay on the ground. But they couldn’t help it. They broke free of Tobias’s clutches and ran back to hug her. Fabienne looked over her shoulder as they clung to her and saw the soldiers arriving.

“Go now, save yourselves.” She said. “I will be fine.”

They all kissed Fabienne and then ran to the large double doors leading to the station, pushed on them hard and vanished into the building. Then they ran as hard as they could down the stairs to the platforms. The soldiers had almost reached Fabienne, when she managed to crawl to the green car, and into the driving seat. She started the engine, lay down across the seats, pushed the pedal with her one remaining good foot and drove towards the entrance, blocking the doors.

The convoy came to a stop and German soldiers poured from the vehicles, positioning themselves around the car, with guns drawn. Heilbroner and Jürgen joined the soldiers.

“Keep an eye on her,” ordered Heilbroner. “Jürgen, come with me and bring six others. We’re going to get the rest of them. This time they will not escape. The Colonel has issued the order to bring them all back, or the punishment will land on all of us.”

They struggled over the car, blocking the entrance and swarmed into the station. A steam train, pulling cargo wagons was just moving away from the platform, as Tobias glimpsed Heilbroner and his men arrive at the top of the stairs.

As he spotted the group on the platform, Heilbroner shouts: “Guards! Stop them,” at a group of guards nearby, who hadn't been aware of the chase and went after them.

“Jump in the train, quick!” said Tobias, as the cargo train began to draw away. He grabbed Nikolaus, Sandra and Eva, one after the other and threw them over the metal doorway into a wagon. Shots started ringing out around them, as Alda jumped from the platform and joined them in the wagon, where they lay surrounded by boxes of coffee. Tobias ran as fast as he could, until there was almost no platform left, then he leapt at the door of the wagon, only to feel the grip of a guard’s hand on his sleeve and he was dragged back onto the platform. The train pulled away from the station and Alda could only look back in horror, as Tobias sprawled on the ground, surrounded by German soldiers. She began to cry and cuddle the children as the train gathered speed and they left Salzburg behind.

The soldiers dragged Tobias out of the station and joined the group guarding Fabienne in the car.

Suddenly another, more imposing German vehicle appeared and out stepped Hoffman, Heilbroner’s superior officer.

“Heil Hitler!” said Heilbroner immediately, which was reciprocated by a furious-looking Hoffman. “Sir,” continued Heilbroner, nervously. “I didn’t expect to see you here.”

Hoffman barely looked at Heilbroner, before snapping his orders to the troops.

“Take this traitor away,” he said pointing at Tobias. “And dispose of him.” Then he turned back to Heilbroner and Jürgen. “And you, you can take the woman to my camp, Koniec in Poland. I warn all of you, I have been watching your actions for some time. Do not fail to obey my orders.”

“Sir,” said Heilbroner. “Shouldn’t we just throw these two in jail and go after the children? They are the ones we want. These two will just slow us down.

“Silence, Heilbroner, you have failed me. You should have made sure those bastards died at Krimzen and instead you let them go. They will be far away by now and we will find it hard to catch them. We only have these traitors to punish for their crimes. The girl should have been killed a long time ago at Krimzen but for some reason is still alive.” He gave Heilbroner a scornful look. “And the man is the ultimate traitor who will be killed instantly. I would kill the rest of his family but they have vanished, meaning he must have planned the whole escape. Get them out of here, that is an order.”

The soldiers gathered Tobias up off the ground and threw him in the back of one of the military vehicles. Jürgen jumped to it and got Fabienne out of the car. He led her away to another of the vehicles, and when out of sight of the colonel, he whispered to her.

“Fabienne, I didn’t betray you. I love you.”

She turned to face him, ready to strike out, but when she saw the tears in his eyes, she knew he was telling the truth.

“Please climb in the back Fabienne, or we will both be shot. Please, no more trouble.”

Heilbroner stepped into the car with them.

“I will be following you,” shouted Hoffman. “So keep to the track to Koniec.”

Heilbroner nodded and gave him another Heil Hitler salute. Jürgen started the engine and they began the long journey to Koniec. As they drove on, Fabienne’s mind was racing. She wanted to believe Jürgen. But if he hadn’t betrayed them all at the old farmhouse, how were they found? Something else that had occurred to her and puzzled her the most, was why did Heilbroner appear to be trying to protect her?