“Why was he there if not to spy on us?”

“Who knows? Maybe he’s a peeping Tom.”


“And gets his thrills peeking at guards?”

“Stranger things have happened.”


I opened one eye cautiously. Something was very odd about the conversation, I knew, but I could not quite manage to dope out what it was. I scanned my surroundings. I seemed to be in a basement, rather dark, with one light bulb hanging from a cord in the middle of the room. There were four young men in civilian clothing talking beneath the light bulb. They had dark complexions and glossy black hair.

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“The question, Ari, is what is to be done with him.”

“We can leave him here.”

“And have a man standing guard over him constantly? That won’t do.”

“Of course not. I did not propose it.”

“Just leave him here, then?”

“Tied properly, hands and feet bound-”

“And return from time to time to feed him, perhaps?”

“It is only humane.”

“I suggest we kill him.”

“You, Zvi, have rather an appetite for killing, do you not? Just last month-”

“That is not true!”


“Certainly not. One must not kill for the sake of killing. Neither may one avoid killing when it is the most expedient course available. You know that, and-”

“But we do not know who this man is!”

“Does it matter? He is dangerous.”

“How do you know he is dangerous?”

“Does one wait until a snake bites before assuming that snakes are capable of biting? The man is a hazard to us.”

“Not here. Not tied like this.”

The argument continued. It would not be accurate to say that I lost interest in it. I was the man they were discussing. In tones of pure reason they were earnestly debating whether or not to kill me. No one is sufficiently blasé to be bored by such a discussion. But there was something about the discussion, something important, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

“Why not talk to him?”

“And believe his lies? Pointless.”

“He might be a valuable captive. We could barter him.”

“For the other? Not a chance.”

“For our freedom, if we’re caught.”

“Why should we be caught? I suggest we put the matter to a vote.”

“And I am frankly surprised, after the results of the last nationwide elections, that you still show any faith in the democratic process.”

“There is a difference between democracy in microcosm and in macrocosm. Still…”

Oh, of course. I must have been addled by the blow on the head, I thought. I was listening to everything they said, and understanding everything they said, and able to know that there was something about it all that was important, and yet I missed the most obvious thing of all. I didn’t miss it exactly. I bypassed it.

They were all speaking Hebrew.

When you speak enough languages, and know them thoroughly, fluently, it is not necessary to stop and think just what it is you are speaking or listening to. You do not translate it mentally. You hear it and understand it and reply in kind.

Still, I really ought to have known at once that they were speaking Hebrew. I was in Prague. I could expect to hear Czech, or Slovak, or perhaps German. Not Hebrew. So the blow on the head must have had a rather extreme effect.

I opened my eyes. “He is awake,” one of them said.

“Wide, awake,” I said in Hebrew. “But my head hurts. What fool struck me?”

“He speaks Hebrew!”

“Of course I do. Where are we? What is this place?”

They gathered round me. “It may be a trick,” one said. “I do not understand this.”

“Will one of you please untie me?”

One moved closer, drew a knife. “We have made a mistake,” he told me. “We took you for a government agent. I will cut you loose.”

“Be careful, Ari!”

“Of what?”

“It may be a trick.”

“You’re a fool. The man speaks Hebrew.”

“Hell! Eichmann spoke Hebrew.”

“This man is a Jew.”

“And do you suddenly trust all Jews, Ari? Do you think they have no Jewish agents? And no agents who speak our tongue?”

Ari put his knife away.

I sighed. Softly I said, “In the name of the All-present who brought Israel out of the house of bondage in Egypt, I swear not to rest until the Nation is resurrected as a free and sovereign State within its historic boundaries, from Dan to Beersheba on both sides of the Jordan. To obey blindly my superior officers; not to reveal anything entrusted to me, neither under threats nor bodily torture; and that I shall bear my sufferings in silence. If I forget thee, oh Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its cunning…”

I went through to the end of the oath. I watched their faces, first suspicious, then open in disbelief, then slack.

It had been a guess, and their faces said it was a good one. They were Israelis, of course. Their conversation, what I’d caught of it, didn’t sound like that of government agents. They sounded more like a special breed – mavericks, terrorists.

Just before the Second World War a group of radicals split the Jewish army, the Haganah, to form the more militant Irgun. And later, after that war and another one, extremists split the Irgun in turn, refused to accept the partition of Palestine, and called for the expansion of Israel ’s boundaries to the traditional proportions – from Dan to Beersheba on both sides of the Jordan. The group had dwindled in size over the years. Its members had been called many things, from the only true patriots and the spiritual descendants of the Maccabees to fanatics and Jewish fascists.

Their official name was the Stern Gang. I had been given their oath six years ago in a two-room walk-up apartment on Attorney Street in a Puerto Rican neighborhood on the Lower East Side. I had repeated the words with one hand on a Bible and the other on a gun. Over the years I’d had little contact with the organization. Once I sheltered a Sternist fund raiser who had come to New York without a passport. On several occasions I sent money to an address in Tel Aviv. Now and then a bulletin came in the mail – a report of a successful punitive expedition against a Syrian or Jordanian border post, a lament over the results of a Knesset election, a protest over the continued existence of various war criminals. The Stern Gang was not the most active organization which could count me as a member, but it had long been one of my favorites.

Zvi said, “Your name?”

“Evan Michael Tanner.”



“The oath you just repeated…”

I told him where I had received it, and when, and from whom. The name was one they recognized. They devised a few more verbal tests and I passed them. The one called Ari took out his knife again and cut me loose, and I got to my feet and rubbed the circulation back into my hands.

“What can we get you, brother?”

“An aspirin would help.”

“An aspirin – oh, your head. I’m afraid we have no aspirin. Haim, do you have aspirin?”

“No, I don’t. Would sinus pills help?”

I touched the spot on my head. It was not badly swollen, but still ached. “I don’t think so.”

“I’m sorry we had to hit you.”

“It’s all right.” I glanced around. “Where are we, anyway?”

“A block from the castle. The house is empty. We have blocked off the basement windows so the light cannot be seen.”

“Are there more of you?”

“Just we four. And you? Did you come alone?”


“From whom did you receive your orders?”

“I did not come under orders. It was my own idea.”

“To get the Butcher of Slovakia?”


“What made you come?”

“I had family,” I said, “in Bratislava. Kotacek shipped them west. To Belsen.” I thought for a moment, looking for the right phrases. “I hoped to kill him myself, if I could. Or to see him hanged, at the least.”

“A great undertaking for one man.”

“Perhaps. And you? You came to take him to Israel for trial?”

Zvi’s eyes flashed. “We know better, thank you. Those fools in Tel Aviv would only succeed in making a hero out of him. They very nearly achieved that with Eichmann, you know. By the time he dangled from the rope half the world had summoned up pity for the devil. Kotacek will die in Prague.”

“He will have a trial,” Haim said.

“But I suspect he will be found guilty,” said the fourth, whose name I had not yet caught. “With we four as the jury-”

“We five,” Haim said.

“We five. With we five to judge him, it is to be expected that he will be found guilty. We have brought a rope.”


“With which we will hang him. And then we will return to Israel, and it will be announced that the Stern Gang has tried and executed the Butcher of Slovakia. Of course we will deny it officially, but the world knows what to believe.”

“How did you plan to get to him?”

They looked at each other, then at me. “That is a difficult question,” Ari said. “Gershon here” – now I knew all their names – “thinks it can be done by force. Storm the castle, shoot the guards, grab Kotacek and get off with him.”

“The guards are slow,” Gershon said. “It would take them ten minutes to draw their revolvers. By that time-”

“We stand a better chance at the trial,” Ari insisted.

“They would not allow us in the courtroom.”

“But there is certain to be a way. He will be conducted from his cell to the courtroom and back again at the end of the day. We would seize him en route. And think of the dramatic effect!”

“But it would be too difficult.”

“And storming the castle would be easy?”

I said, “There’s another way.”

They looked at me.

“It would involve another person, a girl. She is not a member of our organization.”

“Who is she?”

“Actually, she is not even Jewish.”


“As a matter of fact,” I said, “she is German.”

“And you would use her in our plans? You must be mad.” This from Zvi.

“She could be very useful. I had planned to use her myself in this manner, but it might be very difficult – the plan calls for more than two. With six of us it would work very neatly.”

“And not with five?”

“With five, yes. Without the girl, no. She is essential.”

“You trust her?”


“Why should a German girl help us?”

“She has deep sympathies for the Jewish people,” I said. “She saw Anne Frank and was deeply moved. The spirit of the Jewish race has probed the depths of her being and touched far within her.” That last, I thought, was at least true. “Believe me, she will help us.”

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