A Man and a Woman in a Train Station

By Tom Joyce

Vienna West Train Station. Monday, August 25, 1947.

An officious young Viennese man, a minor clerk in the burn center at the Vienna General Hospital, stood with awkward stiffness. When he spoke it was in English, but he included the conventional Viennese words used to address a woman doctor. “I wish you a good three-day visit to Paris, Frau Doktor Marbach.”

Pamela Marbach was a doctor in the British Burn Center in the Vienna General Hospital, but she was also a major in the British army, and since she was wearing her major’s uniform, the young clerk might have addressed her as “Frau Major Marbach.” Sitting beside Pamela Marbach on a wooden bench in the West Train Station of Vienna was her husband, Vienna Police Inspector Karl Marbach.

Dr. Pamela Marbach came to Vienna with the Royal British Medical Corps in mid-1945, shortly after the end of the war in Europe. She was in Vienna for only a few days when she met and quickly fell in love with the police inspector. They were married less than one month after they met.

Now, two years later, Dr. Marbach was still with the Royal British Medical Corps in Vienna. Many people assumed she was British, but she wasn’t. She was an American who joined the Royal British Medical Corps in early 1942 after her first husband, the good man to whom she had been married for almost twenty years,was killed while serving on Bataan. His death left her consumed by a need to get into the war and serve the best way she could—which meant serving as a doctor. But back in 1942 the U.S. military wasn’t giving commissions to women doctors. So like a few other American women doctors, she joined up with the British and got a commission with the Royal British Medical Corps. She ended up practicing her profession on the battlefields of North Africa, Italy, France, and finally Germany. For what she did on battlefields she was awarded a DSO, the combat medal valued more highly than any British combat medal except the Victoria Cross.

Pamela Marbach knew she would always grieve for the husband killed in the Pacific. She could dissolve into tears when she spent even a few moments thinking about that good man. She wondered if she was unique; after all this time, painfully aware of herself as a widow while totally and completely in love with the man who, for the past two years, had been her husband, her lover…her everything.

At this moment in the West Train Station, the young clerk was continuing to stand with awkward stiffness.

“Thank you,” Pamela Marbach said. She didn’t address the clerk by name. She was embarrassed that she couldn’t recall the name. It was bad manners to not know his name. It was especially bad manners to not know his name in Vienna.

The officious young clerk made a slight bowing motion and, with an awkward walking style, went on his way.

“His name is Julius Moreau,” Police Inspector Karl Marbach said in the English he usually spoke when alone with his wife. “If you couldn’t remember his name, you could always have addressed him as ‘Herr Clerk.’” Karl Marbach followed those words with a chuckling sound.

Pamela Marbach was used to being teased by her husband. “Oh, pooh,” she said.

“Oh, Pammy,” Karl Marbach said in reply.

Pammy liked hearing the various Viennese inflections Karl used whenever he pronounced her name. There was one set of inflections when he called her “Pammy,” and a slightly different set of inflections when he called her “Dr. Pammy.”

Pammy loved Karl. Usually she called him “Karl,” but sometimes, when she felt it served her purpose, she called him “Herr Police Inspector.” It served her purposes to do that when he addressed her as “Frau Doktor Marbach.”

“Tell me, Pammy,” Karl said, “that young clerk mentioned Captain Burke. You have never introduced me to Captain Burke. I hear he is most handsome. Who is this handsome Captain Burke who is asking you to join him in Paris?”

Pammy put mock petulance into her voice. “Oh, don’t be cute! Captain Burke is an idiot and he’s at least a dozen years younger than me.”

Pammy was in her mid-forties. She fretted about the dark circles under her eyes, and she had always felt her cheeks were too round. Most certainly she had lost the freshness of youth, but odd as it seemed to her, in recent years—during the war and now afterward—she was finding that men seemed much more likely to convey appreciation for her as a woman than had been the case when she was younger. She liked the feeling of being appreciated by men—didn’t take advantage, but liked it.

Pammy cast an appreciative glance at Karl. She knew he was faithful to her. She knew for certain he was faithful to her because at the beginning of their love life, he had told her he would always be faithful, and although he sometimes spoofed her, he never lied to her. No lies, no falsehoods, not even any fibs. He never lied about anything. Not to her, not to anybody as far as she could tell. There were many things he avoided talking to her about. She didn’t like his way of avoiding talking with her about certain things, but she found it remarkable that he never lied to her. On small things, day-to-day trivia, she might lie to him, but he never lied to her. Sometimes she would tell a lie to keep him from thinking she needed something, or so he wouldn’t plan for them to go somewhere she didn’t want to go. Occasionally, she would do some fibbing to avoid talking about something she didn’t want to talk about. But not the police inspector, not him. He didn’t lie and didn’t even fib. If there wasn’t a spoof going on, he told the absolute truth or kept silent. She might tell him he looked good when he returned from one of his police cases exhausted, unshaved, messy, but he never said she looked good when she showed up after a day or two of intense hospital work, feeling worn out and knowing she looked awful.

Pammy stared at Karl. He was reading the English language magazine he had purchased for her to read on the train trip to Paris. She wanted him to put the magazine away and pay attention to her. She wanted this time between them, before her departure to Paris, to be intimate. Recently, she had become aware of a barrier growing up between them. They’d been having a lot of arguments recently. All of the arguments were connected with her son’s upcoming wedding in the United States.

Pammy regarded it as unfair of Karl to be obtuse about how important it was for her to attend the wedding. Of course there would be a lot of expense, and even with two incomes, finances were a problem for them in 1947 Vienna. And of course Karl would have to stay behind in Austria while she was gone for a week. But why was he so disinclined to talk with her about her need to go to the wedding?

Pammy held a newspaper in her trembling hands. Her hands were trembling because she was feeling anger. She grasped the newspaper fiercely, held it up close to her face. The news in the newspaper—as always these days—was bad. A darkening cloud was spreading a shadow over Europe. In recent weeks there had been Communists killing priests in Yugoslavia, and a death sentence for the anti-Communist leader Nikola Petkov in Bulgaria. In Hungary things were bad. Red threats had forced Dezso Sulyok, leader of the Liberty party, to flee. And closer to home, back last spring there had been food riots in Vienna that for a while had threatened to result in a Communist overthrow of the government.

Europe was facing the prospect of a famine. That famine, if it came, might change everything forever. Combine Communism with a famine, and the forecast was forbiddingly dark.

Pammy put aside the newspaper. Yes, terrible things were happening, but she couldn’t do anything about the terrible things. She couldn’t even do much about her own personal problems. She stole a glance at Karl. At the very least there was one piece of business they might talk about before she left on this trip.

She kept her voice firm so there would be no mistaking how important this was to her. Leo Lechner was one of her patients. “Karl, I had another long talk with Leo Lechner. I know you don’t like him, but this is important to me. I want you to see Leo. It would mean a lot to me if you would go and see him.”

The reply was delivered firmly and directly. “I knew Leo Lechner when he and I were police officers together before the war. I had no use for him then, and I have no use for him now.”

“Was Leo Lechner a monster?” Pammy bristled irritably as she continued. “Did he do something awful to you?”

“To me, Leo never did anything.”

“Then…?”

“Leo was like all the other young Nazis. The only difference was that he was more energetic than most.”

Pammy was silent for a moment. How could she explain? Words seemed futile. She was a Jew—proud of being a Jew. And she hated Nazism with a fury she was sure Karl couldn’t possibly imagine, but Leo—the mutilated former Nazi—had managed to touch her with the sincerity of his repentance.

“People change,” Pammy said, keeping her voice level and firm. “Leo has been through a lot. I like him. I think maybe you would too, if you got to know him again.”

“I hear Leo was badly burned.”

Pammy spoke her reply abrasively. “I work in the burn center.”

“If it’s important to you, I will see any of your patients, even a miserable rat like Leo Lechner.”

“Leo is no rat. If he was when you knew him, he has changed. It can happen… People can change.”

“Why is it that you and I never bicker? Do you ever wonder about that?”

Pammy delivered a gasping sound. “What do you mean we never bicker? That’s what we’re doing right now.”

“Oh…”

“And this bickering could turn into a fight. Have you forgotten all those dishes I broke yesterday? You’re lucky I didn’t break some of them over your head!”

“I have never been able to understand your incredible proclivity for breaking glassware.”

Pammy felt her temper flare, but in the next moment the soft, gentle voice of Karl wiped her anger away.

“Pammy…Pammy. You were right picking fights with me recently, and you were right about deciding to go to America to be at your son’s wedding. That is two months from now. Things are fixed. I will be going with you.”

For a moment, Pammy had trouble taking a breath. Karl was saying he would be going with her to her son’s wedding. It was difficult for her to keep her voice under control. “You’ll go with me? But that would cost a fortune. And you’re an Austrian citizen. With no passport. How…”

Aware that they were in the very public West Train Station, Pammy resisted the impulse to shout. Instead of shouting, she bolted into an upright sitting position, and spoke in a clear, direct manner. “If you didn’t mind me going, if you…if you were working on a way to come with me, why did we have to have all those fights?” A peculiar rage threatened to ignite within her, but when she looked at Karl’s face all of the fury drained out of her.

Pammy stared at Karl while he said, “You needed to get angry about something. You were getting too wound up with your work. I have my sources at the hospital. They tell me you keep things bottled up. And with me, even when you shout a bit, you always seem to back away rather than keep coming on. Your son is the only thing I’ve ever seen you willing to really fight with me about. A woman with all of your determination needs to know she can get angry when she is in the right, or even if she just thinks she is in the right. Besides, I needed time to see what could be worked out.”

Pammy clutched Karl’s arm, but she immediately resolved to not let him get away with feeling smug and superior. “I think I’ll have to check this out with your nephew, the priest. I’m not sure you are allowed to go to a Jewish religious service, a Jewish wedding.”

Karl delivered a contrived exclamation of surprise. “You never said your son is going to be married at a Jewish ceremony. Imagine that? I suppose they’ll be breaking glass. Is it from  going to Jewish ceremonies that you got your disregard for glassware?”

“You’re a beast!” After that exclamation, Pammy took a moment before saying, “I may let you accompany me to the States, but I’m not sure I’ll let you come to my son’s wedding.” She laughed in the deliberately expressive way she knew Karl liked to hear her laugh, and she snuggled her head tight against his chest. She didn’t care if they were in a public place. At this moment she liked snuggling up close.

“You always laugh in E-flat,” Karl said to Pammy. Two years ago, on the first day they met, he had told her that laughter in E-flat was his favorite female sound.

While Pammy laughed more of her carefully pitched E-flat laughter, she heard Karl say, “I understand there are marvelous mountains in America. Maybe I’ll climb one of your American mountains.”

Pammy stopped laughing. “You are much too large a man to be a mountaineer. I have climbed with you. I have seen how you climb and I have seen how the good mountaineers climb. The best of them are compact, not big characters like you.”

“Compact?”

“Yes, like the great French climber, Henri Sampeyre.”

Karl examined that remark for a moment. When he spoke he identified the Frenchman by the first name. “Henri will be in Vienna next week. I have told him he is invited to dinner.”

Yes! Oh, yes.”

“That Frenchman certainly has a way of impressing women.”

“He is a lovely, lovely man.” Pammy made a cooing sound, then said, “Oh…be still, my heart.”

“Compared to Henri, am I too large or too ugly?”

“Mostly too large.”

“Mostly?”

Pammy didn’t want to talk any more about Henri Sampeyre. Not after learning Karl would be going with her to her son’s wedding. She felt like she was filled with words, words that demanded an outlet. But she couldn’t speak. She found herself thinking about the time, three months ago, when her 22-year-old son, Sammy, and his bride-to-be, the young woman named Jennifer, had come to Vienna. Sammy, who would always be bound to his father who had died on Bataan at the beginning of the war, was initially wary of Vienna Police Inspector Karl Marbach. But early on the day Sammy and Jennifer showed up in Vienna, before wariness had a chance to get entrenched, Karl took Sammy out “to see the town.” Just the two of them together. Pammy and the bride-to-be were not included. Late in the afternoon when Karl and Sammy came back, they were laughing and joking together. One thing was obvious: They’d had a lot to drink.

Some glassware was broken because of that inebriated return. Pammy tossed dish after dish from the kitchen cabinet onto the floor, but to no effect. Sammy smiled sheepishly, kissed his bride-to-be, and trundled off to his solitary bed in his private bedroom.

After that, Karl attempted to clean up the broken glass, but he cut his hand, and the bride-to-be became his attentive nurse. The blood from the wound could barely be seen on the handkerchief feverishly administered by the moon-faced young woman named Jennifer. The final outrage for Pammy came when her rugged police inspector husband croaked that he was beginning to feel a little faint. There had been nothing for her to do but retire for the night. So she stalked off to their room. A few minutes later, when Karl was still downstairs, she went to the bedroom door and hollered for him until he came to bed.

That was three months ago. Now, sitting in the Vienna West Train Station, Pammy thought about the days that had followed that first encounter with Jennifer. The plain and simple fact of the matter was that she didn’t have a high opinion of the young woman. She told Karl that the young bride-to-be was too girlish to be getting married to Sammy.

But things had quickly changed. And it was all Karl’s doing. He arranged a mountain climbing adventure. Before the climb, he spent two days teaching Sammy and Jennifer how to do mountain climbing.

Then came the climb. A climb up the Dolomite Alps. The four of them used a cable car to get to a starting place where they began a five-hour climb high upward, fighting snow and ice. It was a grand climb! Even though the weather turned bad, they kept going until they were only a dozen meters down from the top.

It was then that Karl, leading the climb, signaled for Jennifer to come forward. He whispered something to her and shoved her upward.

On her own, Jennifer made her way the rest of the way to the top. When she got to the top, she jumped with happiness and hollered for the stragglers to “catch up.”

All of the climbing, especially the final part of the climb, had left Pammy filled with joy. It had been especially grand for her to hear the wonderful young woman call for her and the others to “catch up.”

Pammy had returned from the climb with a profound love for the woman who was going to be Sammy’s wife—not someone who was too girlish, but a wonderful young woman who was ready to be a wife.

Now, in the West Train Station, Pammy felt good knowing that a way had been found for Karl to accompany her to the wedding in America. But how had he done it? It seemed impos-sible. There was the cost…and a passport for him. How had he done it? It was like a miracle.

Pammy knew Karl well enough to be certain that whatever he had worked out, she wasn’t going to learn the details in the short time left before her train would be leaving. She told herself that it was just like Karl to wait until a few minutes before the departure of her train for the Paris trip before springing this marvelous surprise. She would be a bundle of excitement until she got back from Paris. She knew Karl must have planned it that way. Yes, most definitely, that was just like him.

Giddy in her happiness, Pammy stared intently around. Many times she had been in the West Train Station. For the past year, at least once every month or two, she’d had to go to Paris or some other city. She focused her attention on Karl. Right now, right at this moment, while pretending to be oblivious to what was going on around him, he was monitoring things in the train station. She wanted to say, Pay attention to me! She wanted to demand that Karl tell her in a quick, simple way how he had arranged the trip to America.

But something was happening.

Pammy knew it in an instant. Karl’s face that could conceal so much stopped concealing anything. He came erect and stared far back toward the rear of the train station; his entire body became tense.

At first, Pammy couldn’t tell what it was that had captured Karl’s attention. All she could see was the bustling crowd. Countless people wandering around the train station. But continuing to follow Karl’s line of sight, she saw that he was focused on two men greeting each other. She couldn’t tell which of the two men had been the one to arrive and which was doing the welcoming. After a moment an American soldier with a camera came over and took a picture of the two men. These days the Americans and Russians were taking pictures of all the people arriving in Vienna by train. The British were more selective. They photographed only the ones who might be Jewish. The French made their presence known, but seldom did any photographing at all.

Pammy stared hopelessly as Karl got to his feet and said, “Something important is going on here. I have to run.”

“Important? What?”

“There are two people here who practice the profession of burglary.”

“Burglars?”

“I have to run.”

“Burglars…? What about me?”

“I have to run. I have to follow those two men. See where they go.”

And while Pammy watched helplessly, Karl went off on one of his police chases. For a moment she was angry, but she couldn’t hold onto the anger. It evaporated. For her, all that mattered was that in this crazy mixed-up world Karl was going to be with her at Sammy’s wedding to the marvelous young woman named Jennifer.

 

——————–

My name is Thomas D. Joyce.  After graduating from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, I was employed by the State of Ohio at various places, including the Juvenile Diagnostic Center in Columbus, Ohio and the Ohio State Penitentiary.  During military service I worked with persons seeking denazification. I had a lot of contact with individuals who had the worst sort of Nazi records. It had a powerful impact on me.


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