Authors Note: The following is based on a completely true event, the only successful assassination of a top ranking Nazi Officer during the Second World War. Names, dates, times and places are all faithful to the actual events that took place as much as possible.
Obviously, nobody can really know what was going through the minds of the individuals at any given point in time, so the pieces of conversation mentioned in this are a complete figment of my imagination!
For the first time in several hours, the crypt was silent. The four men inside took a moment to glance at each other across the room, all of them wondering the same thing;
Why weren't they coming in to finish them off once and for all?
They had been fighting since the early hours of the morning, and were the last of their group still alive. The others had succumbed to the bullets of their enemy as they initially tried to gain entry into the church. For the rest of them, it was a forlorn hope, and they had known from the moment that they were discovered that there would be no escape. All they could do was to hold out for as long as possible.
One man, Hruby, who was stood on the right and facing the door leading to the street, took a moment to check how much ammunition he had left, and saw his partner, Gabchik, doing the same.
"How many?" he whispered in the stillness of the crypt.
"Just two rounds. You?"
"Three. We wont be able to hold them off again."
"No, I'm surprised that we've lasted this long," said Gabchik after a moments contemplation. "Maybe this is all just a big misunderstanding or something! Perhaps they just wanted to have a chat!"
"Perhaps," came a reply from Valcik, one of the men at the other side of the room, facing the second entrance to the crypt, which led into the church. "Do you think if we said we were sorry it might be enough to satisfy them?"
This last was said with the trace of a bitter smile on his face. The four of them were in a desperate position, and they all knew it. Humour was the only thing keeping them going, although more bullets would have been nice as well.
Better weapons would have been nice too. After all, you can't really be expected to win a fire-fight when you are outnumbered 100-1 and you only have a pistol with you. Still, they had lasted this long, which had somewhat surprised all of them.
Their last hope of escape had died when their shovel had broken. They had been trying to dig their way through the wall of the crypt and into the passing sewer system, but with no shovel the digging had been brought to a halt. Even that had been a slim chance, as it would have meant digging through over thirty feet of cement.
They had managed almost a third of that distance before the shovel broke, and although they had tried to continue with the largest part of the stricken tool, it had been to no avail.
Now all they could do was wait for the final assault to begin, and hope to make their last few bullets count.
"What do you think they'll do to us if they take us alive?" asked Gabchik suddenly, his voice breaking slightly for the first time.
"Torture first, try to get us to betray as many of the people who helped us as possible. Then maybe a show trial, then they'll kill us." This statement came from Bublik, the fourth member of the group, who was also facing the church entrance.
"It seems like a lot of effort to go to then, trying to take us alive just so they can kill us later. I think they must be a little bit touched in the head!" said Valcik
The humour was back, and even if it was a little forced, the whole group appreciated it.
"The way I see it," began Gabchik, "is that they are expending a hell of a lot of effort in trying to take us alive, even though they must surely be really pissed off at us by now. I figure there's only one thing we can do, short of escaping, which isn't really an option anyway, that could piss them off even more….."
He trailed off at that point, hoping his colleagues would pick up on his intention. He was a brave man, all of them were brave men, but he didn't think he was brave enough to actually voice what he was thinking at that point.
While he was thinking it, then it was just that. A thought, an idea. It didn't really mean anything, or have any substance while it was just a thought. But if it was out in the open, then it would mean something. It would be something that they would all have to consider, to think about. It would go from being an idea, to being an option.
And Gabchik wasn't sure at that moment if it was something that he really wanted as an option or not.
"Well, at least we did what we came for," said Hruby suddenly. "It wasn't a completely wasted journey."
The four men were looking at each other now with haunted eyes. They all knew what Gabchik had been alluding to. But the rest of them, just like him, were not quite ready to bring such a thought out into the open yet.
"I heard that these were supposed to be the most fearsome soldiers in the world," exclaimed Gabchik, trying to deflect attention away from his earlier statement. "Seem more like fearful to me. They have us outnumbered, outgunned, and surrounded, and what do they do? Use smoke and water to try to force us out! Why don't they just attack and get it over with?"
This prolonged pause in the battle was unsettling to all of them, as they knew they would not be able to withstand the next attack, regardless of which direction it came from. Their attackers must be aware of this too, they felt. And yet they were choosing to sit there and do nothing.
They were ready for the end, had been ready for months. Ever since they had first volunteered, they had known that it would probably end like this. Maybe not exactly like this, as none of them had probably envisioned this exact scenario, but something similar certainly.
Coming behind enemy lines was always a huge risk, and one that they had each taken on happily, wanting to do something, anything, to defend their country.
"It's time to finish this once and for all," stated Bublik, the groups unofficial leader.
The other three men all looked at him, first in puzzlement, and then in comprehension. Expressions grim, they nodded acceptance of his unspoken request, and then looked at each other, as if looking to see if there was one of them, any of them, who was not willing to do what was now required of them.
Because this wasn't really about them, and never had been. It was about the others, the ones still out there. They could carry on, continue the fight that would hopefully be won one day. But it wasn't their fight any longer, and all they could do now was to try to protect those still out there.
Which meant not being taken alive.
Four sets of eyes looked down at the ground in quiet contemplation, and one of them muttered a brief prayer.
As they heard the jackboots start up again, signaling the start of another, final attack by the enemy outside, four guns rose up in unison. Both doors opened simultaneously, and the sound of the doors being wrenched open was drowned out by the noise of four small caliber pistols firing at the same time.
The first soldiers through the doors advanced slowly, waiting to be mown down by the men waiting inside. But the expected bullets didn't come their way.
As the soldiers reached the floor of the crypt, the reason for those last four gunshots became clear. The crypt, as had been intended when it was initially built, contained nothing but dead bodies.