SS-Sturmmann Erich Haase confidential transcript, 12 November 1943. 7:20 PM, Rome - Turin Line, Dining Car.
Esser recognizes the half-caste heiress Valeria Sindoni seating herself two tables up and approaches. I can hear their conversation quite well over the noise of the train.
ESSER (In Italian.)
(Offering his hand.)
Quite an unexpected pleasure to see you at this hour, Valeria.
(Rejecting his offer.)
Am I obliged to let you speak? You've known me long enough to realize that this charade of pleasantries is insulting, and I've known you long enough to see full well what you plan to do in Turin.
(With a small smile.)
Then we can speak frankly, like we used to.
(Serious again in remembrance.)
Everything is already in motion, Speer and the economic ministry... what they demand, they get.
And they demand my factories be stripped down and shipped off to the Ruhr? Rebuilt under British bomb sights, to produce panzers that will barely last a week on the Eastern Front? That is criminal, against every legislature of international law there is.
Not if Mussolini signs off on it; and he will—the time when he had any bargaining power is long past.
After everything I did for him, the bastard-
-has a gun to his head. Look, I...
Esser glances over at me. I pretend to be engrossed in a German football magazine.
(Sitting down, without objection from Sindoni. Almost whispering now, but I've been trained to comprehend quieter speech.)
I think you should begin making plans for the future. You are seen as a collaborator. I cannot stop this plunder, but I promise you that after all this is over I will do all I can to see you painted a victim, not an oppressor.
(With the slightest of smiles.)
I'm too far gone for hope of that salvation. When the partisans come for me, I shall look them in the eye and let them judge me as they will, sentence me as they will and execute me as they will. But I will not repent. Everything I did, I did for Italy.
Ever the follower of the party line, Valeria. But we both know with whom your true loyalty lies—she's looking right at me with those beautiful dark-brown eyes of hers. She is you, yet not you, she's that mask you wear to fight for what's yours.
A mask you have never worn a day in your life, yet you are the victor here. You've taken everything I have without lifting a finger. Max—you know the things I've done to win my inheritance, the lies I've told and the men I've armed... then you know the new order the partisans promise will never embrace me. That night in '20 sealed my fate in their eyes.
(With a sigh)
I can never be the judge of that. But for what it's worth, I will never condemn you, you did what I never could—with quiet honor. You were injust, but from this a new kind of justice was born. One day they will understand and respect what you have made for yourself.
And may God give me strength to see that day.