They were amazed, utterly, by what they saw and heard on the train. For months, in the barracks near Brandenburg and then in the awful, cigar-tube world of the Unterseeboot, they had seen no life outside the arrogant, frightened, crying, farting, sweating, swearing world of fighting men and boys. Now, on the train, they were overwhelmed by these remarkable not-soldiers, these Americans: a mongoloid wearing ropes of the most expensive jewelry around her bobbing neck and thick wrists, an old Jew eating a pickle with a knife and fork, two lady twins, both dressed in men’s pants and green army jackets. And the words! Someone behind them defending, angrily and loudly, William Jennings Bryan and the Gold Standard, another person enthusiastically recounting the antics of a radio comedian named Fred Allen, someone else talking about Irish neutrality. It all sounded like music to the ears of the seamen.
Looking southeast from their seats on the left side of the train to Manhattan, the sun outside the train window was now bleached and blanketed, invisible in the kind of shapeless white sky found near the sea and nowhere else. Berger overheard the very strangest conversation. Two unseen gentlemen were exchanging movie star gossip. Even though he had spent the last few years in an army barracks and a concentration camp, Berger could still tell that the words he was hearing were probably fictional and likely libelous. According to these gentleman, Lana Turner and Rita Hayworth liked to pet their pussies, Lash LaRue had the runs all the time, Alan Ladd liked to flash his pecker at schoolgirls, and Bing Crosby has made better pictures than The Emperor Waltz but it was still a good picture. Somehow, these crude, nonsensical croaks of conversation made Berger incredibly happy.
Facing southeast as the seamen climbed off the train, the sun streamed through the great arched windows of the temple-like station, beautiful beams of light radiating from an unseen sky.
Berger knew at this moment that he wanted to forget the mission and the fury of the Reich and live amongst these gorgeous sparks of language, the long legs of movie stars, and the short legs of shoe-shiners and shop girl commuters.
This wasAmerica, he could start a new life inManhattan, or maybe alight inTexaslike Old Shatterhand, or go toHollywoodand meet Lana Turner. Or perhaps he would just get back on the train and return to Amagansett. The sun would burn off the haze, maybe he could get a job at the pawn shop, and Berger would pass his days thumbing through brittle encyclopedia volumes with busted binding and in the evening stare at the stars, remembering the words of the Professor, the poetry of the gypsies, the songs of the underdogs, the beauty of Canis Minor.
Ernst Burger and the other members of Operation Pastorius, a German plan to set up terrorist cells in theUnited States, were arrested shortly after their arrival inNew York Cityin June of 1942. All the saboteurs who had come ashore in Amagansett that morning were sentenced to death. Burger’s sentence was commuted to life in prison, and he was pardoned in 1948 and deported toGermany, where he was greeted as a traitor.
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