“The Trial of Herman Schmitt (Part 4)”
17 February 2006
Portnoy stands in the lobby of the court adjusting his tie and brushing down his hair with his hand one last time getting ready for the big show. Finally, lifting his head to diminish his double chin and pulling himself up as tall has he can be, he walks out the double doors of the courthouse onto the steps of the old hotel and to the waiting crowd of newspaper reporters. “Time to make some news and friends back in Israeli,” he thinks.
Outside the old hotel close to 100 news reporters from all over the globe have assembled to scratch out any piece of news related to the Schmitt trial and when they see Portnoy, they become like a pack of hungry wild dogs that has just found a weak prey.
Portnoy is prepared for this and raises his hands over his head and motioning them to back off and settle down and then he approaches the microphone stand that he has arranged to have set up and speaks in a bold, clear voice, “I am Uri Portnoy speaking for the prosecution in the trial of Herman Schmitt. I will have some opening remarks and then take a few questions.” The reporters all crowd in close to hear and the cameras all flash as Portnoy begins to get the type of media exposure he has only dreamed of back in Israel.
“Today is a new day for the people of the world and especially my Jewish brothers and sisters as today we bring to trial a man who was via his mind and talents responsible for the death of thousands, if not millions in Nazi concentration camps. As one of the 3-member team prosecuting Herman Schmitt for crimes against humanity, I am comfortable in saying that we have a strong case against Mr. Schmitt and are confident that the court will find him guilty. I cannot speak for the other members of the prosecution but as for myself, I would like to see the court hand down a death sentence to Mr. Schmitt. Now, some in the media and else where have said that no engineer or scientist has never been prosecuted for crimes against humanity and that the responsibility of a government and its actions using technology developed by engineers and scientists should not trickle down to those very engineers and scientist to which I respond, we are trying Mr. Schmitt for this one specific case and not all the engineering and scientific community. It is not my concern what stand the court might or might not take in regards to other engineers who are involved in the design and development of technology who’s express purpose is human death. Mr. Schmitt is a unique case and will be presented as such. The deaths of millions of Jews in German concentration camps can not, must not go unrevenged. Yes, various Nazi government officials have already been tried and convicted of crimes against humanity but this does not mean that all those involved in such crimes have been brought to justice. I have proud to be on the prosecution team and will promise my Jewish countrymen to not sleep until Mr. Schmitt is convicted and sentenced to death.”
“Mr. Portnoy!” “Mr. Portnoy!” comes a dozen or more voices from the crowd of reports almost as Portnoy takes in his first breath after his opening remarks.
“Yes, you in the front,” Portnoy says, pointing towards a TV camera more than the reporter beside it. “Israeli National News Service,” the reporter says in an almost screaming voice so he can be heard over the continuing yells for Portnoy’s attention. “Can you tell me please how long you expect the trial to last and what evidence do you have that Mr. Schmitt is guilty of what he has been charged with?
Portnoy, steps back away from the microphone for a second to let a semi silence take over the scene with everyone waiting for his next words. “He is good,” he thinks and steps back up to the microphone, again erect, head up.
“As to evidence, the prosecution has more than we need to convince the court that Mr. Schmitt knowingly and willingly designed and supervised the installation of the gas dispensing equipment at all German concentration camps having such facilities. For example because the Germans were so thorough in their record keeping, we have actual design documents for the equipment signed at the bottom by Mr. Schmitt. We also have eyewitness accounts of Mr. Schmitt being at the camps supervising installation, yes, we have plenty of evidence. As for how long the trial will last, I really cannot say but would imagine no more than 1 week or 2 at the most. This matter should be settled up quickly or that is the prosecutions view.”
Again, at his anticipated spoken word, the gathered reporters explode into a yelling, hand waving, mob. Again, Portnoy goes to a TV camera only this time, there is a tall pretty blonde beside the cameraman holding the microphone. “Mr. Portnoy, I am from the San Francisco Dispatch and would like to know what you think about Mr. Schmitt having an American defense team? Isn’t it odd that with Israel and the United States being such close allies that the American’s should be involved in defending Mr. Schmitt?”
Again, Portnoy steps back from the microphone only this time, he looks out over the heads in the crowd to the courtyard square beyond and even beyond that to the small shops lining the street, which passes by the court. For a moment, Portnoy wonders what exactly to say. He has thought of this question in advance and even had an answer for it already defined and practiced but now, for some reason, he is not comfortable with it. Maybe it is the fact that the reporter is a blonde woman or that he is now speaking to the United States and does not want to make too many enemies there as he might need some political support from fellow Jews in the US one day.
Almost simultaneously, the telephones in the rooms of Metzman and Shapiro ring and a voice that neither recognizes tells them to turn on their television sets. “Oh, my God,” Metzman says out loud once he flicks the channels and finds Portnoy speaking the reporters. “What the hell is he doing? I am lead counsel and I did not say he could speak to reporters. Not a bad idea but he should have asked.”
Shapiro watches and listens as Portnoy goes on and on, responding to some reporter’s question from the look of it. “Damn! Did not want to fight this in the media but now that Portnoy has spoken, we have no choice but to present our side,” he thinks as he watches Portnoy strain his head in some odd way. “Shit! Shit! Shit! Wanted to keep the whole thing low key but that is shot now. Fellows paying the bills are not going to like it but can’t be helped. Well, can’t be me and sure can’t be Jones, so has to be Hines,” and with that, Shapiro calls the Hines’s room and tells her what is going on and tomorrow at this time, he expects her to be out front speaking to those very same reporters telling them why Herman is not guilty of anything. Jones does not argue but when she hangs up the phone, wishes she had never gotten involved. Immediately, Shapiro picks up another breakfast roll off the cart that is always in his room and begins eating it. In an hour, he will call the US again to see if his staff there has made any progress on learning more about Herman. So far, he has gained nothing new about Herman from Herman’s sons, the US group, Herman himself, and even the German investigator he hired. With the trial set to begin in only 2 days, he hates to think he is going to be blind sided but does not know what else to do.
Herman is sitting in his chair by the window, looking out
on the city, unaware of what is being said about him on the front steps below
when there is a knock on the door and then in comes Jones carrying a clothes
bag. “Good morning Herman,” Jones says, pulling the clothes bag of his shoulder
and placing it across Herman’s living room table. “A new suit for you Herman,
compliments of Mr. Shapiro. Want to look your best for court. Think you will
find it very tasteful and to your liking. So how are you Herman?”
Herman is tired and just wants to be back home in the day room in his old comfortable chair asleep. Even could stand old Ms. Gretchen and her loud voice now, even would love to hear it again after so long and this place what has happened to his 2 sons. “Henrick such a momma’s boy. Told his mother but she would not listen. Too easy on the boy all the time.”
“I am fine, Mr. Jones and thank Mr. Shapiro for the suit. I will try it on later and I am sure it will be fine. It has been many years since I had a new suit and as you know, my 2 sons have not brought me any of my own clothes from Germany.”
“And how are you 2 sons taking all this Herman? Jones asks, glancing around Herman’s room with must be at least twice as large as his own room.
“Oh, that Adolph, he is the strong one and always has been but Henrick, I just do not know. So weak of spirit he is. Hard to accept as a son of mine. Really do not want to see Henrick again as all he does is weep. Not a strong German like he should be.”
At 2am, Hines gets out of bed and dresses to return to her own room. Again, she has failed to get any sort of information out of Braun but hey, the sex was good and she is happy. As she finishes dressing, she quietly heads to the hotel room door when she notices Braun’s briefcase by a small table, lamp, and chair. Looking back at Braun to be sure he is really a sleep and not faking it, she lifts the briefcase off the floor, opens the door and heads to her room, her heart pounding the whole time. If she gets caught with the briefcase, going to be her ass but been her ass for almost a week now and really could use something special at the media conference in the morning.
Once back in her own room, Hines kicks off her shoes and opens the briefcase. “Careful now,” she thinks, “Need to put everything I get out exactly as it was when I opened the case,” and reaches into the case to withdraw a good one-inch stack of neatly typed legal size paper.
Slowly she scans each page looking for anything she does not know about Herman or the charges against Herman but cannot find anything. Moving in her chair to get a more comfortable position, she notices her bedside clock reads 3am. “Got to get this back,” she thinks, not wanting to get caught with it. Has not gone through it all but can not risk more tonight. Maybe she will get another chance tomorrow night.
Out in the hallway, up to where Braun’s room is, let herself in quietly and place the briefcase back on the floor exactly where she found it and then back out the door, again, heart pounding through the whole procedure.
Once back in her room again, Hines undresses and gets into bed and in her head goes over what she will say to the media in the morning. She could have prepared something on paper but practicing a speech in her mind is comfortable to her and let the flow of words be more of an actual flow when she is actually standing before an audience. “She will do ok,” she thinks but sure wish she could have found something in Braun’s papers. “What could they have on Herman?”
Adolph can hear Henrick is crying in the shower again and is beside himself. All day, everyday, since they got to The Hague, Adolph has had to calm and console his brother. Henrick’s wife leaving him has really pushed Henrick over the edge and Adolph is worried about him. “What if Henrick makes a scene in the courtroom? What if Henrick starts crying openly?” Adolph is worried about his father and the trial and really does not need the baggage of a lunatic brother but what is he to do? He cannot send him back to German. Where would he go? Back to his old empty house, no job and soon to be no money? No, that would be worse than staying here with Adolph.
Adolph goes to the small dresser in the hotel room he shares with his brother and opens up a bottle of whiskey, pours himself a large glass full and proceeds to drink it all down without removing the glass from his lips. “Early for this,” he thinks as the last of the whiskey burns its way down his throat, “but God I need it this morning.”
Adolph would like to go see his father one more time before the trial starts but he dare not take Henrick and Henrick cannot stay alone in his current condition. “Take him and leave him in the lobby,” Adolph thinks, looking towards the whiskey bottle.
Henrick has stopped crying now and has gotten out of the shower and is standing in the bathroom drying him self off. “Adolph, do you think we could go see father today? I know he did not mean what he said the other day about us, well, me, not coming back to see him. Oh, I just know a visit from us would cheer him up. What do you think? Think we could go there after breakfast?”
Adolph hears his brother and sits down on the unmade bed. “Yes, Henrick, let’s go to see father today. Some pancakes perhaps for breakfast and maybe an egg and then we will go see father. Do you have any money Henrick; I am getting low. Could get some at the bank down the street but with not working and me paying for the room, well, you know.”
Henrick drops his head. He knew this was coming but not this soon. His wallet is empty and so too his bank account. He understands why his wife too all their money out of the account but now, here he is with no money and feels terrible taking money from Adolph day after day. “No, Adolph, I am out of money, I am sorry. I have been meaning to tell you but my wife, she took all the money we had in the bank. I have nothing Adolph. I am sorry.” And with that, Henrick begins to softly cry into the towel he has been using to dry himself off. Adolph hears him crying again and heads for the whiskey.
It was late morning by the time Adolph and Henrick finally reached the court and pulling up to the steps of the old hotel could not imagine what all the reports and cameras were there for. Stepping out of the taxi, a cry went out from the crowd of reports, “Schmitt’s sons!” and with that, Adolph and Henrick were immediately pressed back tight against the taxi and microphones shoved into their faces and a absolute rumble of questions started coming at them. “And how do you feel about your Jew killing father?” “Do you think he should be executed for what he did?” “How can you 2 live with yourselves having such a father?” On and on it went with no chance for either Adolph or Henrick to speak, respond but this was not about question and answer, this was all drama for the cameras, those folks around the globe waiting for anything that smells of scandal.
Adolph, at first, was totally overwhelmed and it took him at least 30 seconds to get his bearings and grab Henrick and start pulling him through the crowd and towards the doors to the court. Push and shoving, Adolph slowly made his way through the mob and he is sure he was hit by a fist on the face at least twice. Finally, he reaches the front door and opening it, quickly moves inside, Henrick in tow. Turning to see if Henrick is all right, he finds Henrick has a wide-eyed look of some sort of lunatic and his mouth is moving like he is speaking but no words are coming out. Adolph grabs Henrick by both his arms and begins shaking him, trying to bring him back to the court lobby reality and after a while, Henrick does stop mouthing words and his eyes return to normal. Adolph thinks to himself that he is just not sure he can do this: Henrick, the trial and now the reporters. A blinding light and then he realizes that all those reporters outside probably are going to broadcast he and Henrick’s pictures all over the world and that his wife and children really are going to catch it now. He must call his wife as soon as he can and prepare her for what is probably coming. At least he did not say anything to the reporters but his picture and that of Henrick’s, the sons of the Nazi monster, will be enough itself!
Herman gets up from his widow chair and picks up the suit Jones has brought him. He meant to try it on yesterday but just could not muster the strength. Even though his room is nice and the food good, he has had enough of all this and wants to be back home.
Taking the suit out of the bag, he takes off his shoes, pants, and shirt, puts on the pants of the suit, and finds them too long and too big around the waist. “What?” he thinks, “why didn’t Shapiro ask me for my measurements? This is ridiculous.” And it only gets worse when he tries on the dress shirt and finds the arms are way too long and the collar way to large for him. The jacket is not much better and it feels like it must be 2 sizes too large for him. “No, this will not do. I thank Mr. Shapiro for the suit, but he must get another one or have this one fitted. I will look pathetic wearing this suit.” The very idea Shapiro had in mind when he ordered the suit.