No snow fell on the streets of Berlin that clear winter's night. Wilmersdorf, a district built to that distinctly Parisian style of the early empire; here they made that final stand. Two companies of Freicorps rifle guardsmen advanced on the hotel my father's volunteer unit held, out-manned ten-to-one. Fact. Tactile, comforting to recite. Two maxims stationed in the lobby, each manned by four Spartakusbund riflemen. Cold comfort. Fifteen Freicorps casualties recorded, with six fatalities. Colder still. Here the facts end, save one; twenty-seven insurgent casualties, all fatalities. Yet, the truth will out.
Weiss readies her rifle — sights aligned steady, aimed into the darkness of the boulevard. After the power failed, they had set up a half-dozen carbide lanterns in the lobby. Cruel shadows these cast, dancing out over the machine-gun emplacements into the night. "Tell me how they cut the lights, again?" she asks.
"Hit the breaker on the district transformer." He — my father — prone beside her, replies quietly.
She shakes her head. "Feels like Berlin herself is against us." she says, gripping her weapon tighter — the old lacquered wood comforting in its familiarity.
False silence in the thunder of storms distant and discorporate. He thinks of me, one last time.
"Tin man, tin man!" I shout under the roar of a departing train. Those ever inquisitive eyes of mine — the eyes of a girl of six — had caught a glimpse of a disfigured veteran, his lacerated face held together with tin and suture. I point and shout, "Tin man, tin man!" The soldier turns for a moment, and looks to me with ... sadness, understanding, contempt? I could not know, for these emotions will never again cross his face — his expression forever locked in that frigid stare of the reconstructive mask.
"The war took his face, my dear," father replies softly, "but you needn't worry your pretty little head, his heart is as real as yours or mine."
I frown. "Did it take hearts too, daddy?"
A pause, then with a soft sigh he replies. "Yes. I watched the war take the heart of many men, but..." I watch his guard drop as he says this, the sadness he kept so well hidden from me leaking through one final time. He never finished that sentence of his, but in a strange way I know him better now than I ever did as a child...
"-but sorrier still are the men who tore out their own to survive, to go without a heart in a heartless world."
I was left with more questions, I open my mouth to let them out but he quickly shushes me, and kneeling down to look me in the eye — he says his last goodbye.
"Spielmann's not coming back is he?" asks Weiss. "Must be near an hour now that he went to check our stores." She sighs, glancing below at the stoic faces of the men of the Spartakusbund. "Fuck, man — I can hardly blame the coward. He has a family, right? Two daughters and that son he won't shut up about..." She's thinking out loud, in fear and guilt. "...my poor Elena, an orphan. She's never going to forgive me for this, is she?" Almost recoiling in fear, she uses every ounce of resolve to keep her hands on her rifle. Yet she had steel in her heart, a resolve even the utter brutality of the Freicorps could not break — she would not yield.
My father listens in silence, and seeing her fear turn to conviction he smiles. "I've spent enough time with that child to know forgiveness isn't her virtue," he replies calmly, "but I don't for a moment think it'll be you whom she blames."
"I do this for her," she replies, eyes downcast. "Someday she will understand."
"I was never a convicted man," he tells Weiss. "My ideals are hard fought; every step forward — each tore a scar. In the Namib, I fled in drink from the horrors I had committed. As I had from the academy to the field, I drifted from the infantry into the world of espionage. When my loyalties were tested in Alsace, I didn't even have the backbone to turn. Then the war had the grace to cripple me; and here I am. I'm done running, leave that to the men who can."
"And your daughter?" asks Weiss, before pausing to reflect. She shakes her head, "Ester's too young. Only time will tell whether she will see in our sacrifice the future we tried to build for her — or the future that died with us."
It's too painful to reply, even for him. And with that, Spielmann returns with two strips of 8mm. Without a word, he rushes down to hand out the ammunition. Out of cover for a split second, he stands to return up the stairs. A short crack in the distance, and the back of his skull explodes in a cloud of blood and bone. A beat. A fraction of a moment, then with the sickeningly low thud of oxygen consumed by flame, twin streams of fire envelop the foremost machine-gunners.
Hand in hand, Lydia Weiss and Ernst Eisner make their last stand.