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Sunflower of the Third Reich, A Novel

PROLOGUE

Heinz Stettner sat on the train from Berlin to his hometown, a day’s travel, if everything went well. He leaned forward and watched the countryside go by hurriedly, plain houses alongside the railroad tracks rushing past him, and then hills, gently sloping, marked like a chess board with fields in brightly hued squares. At the foot of slopes, villages nestled around alabaster churches, their spired steeples reaching for the sky. For an instant, patches of forest and pines that grew close to the railroad tracks obstructed the view. Then, streams and rivulets snaked through lushly green lands until they united. Without stopping, the train raced through small towns past waving children with knapsacks on their backs walking home from school.

Later, Heinz passed endless flat country of farmlands stretching from one horizon to the other with piles of clouds above, white against the azure sky; in the distance, he spotted cheerful farmhouses and people working in the fields. It seemed there would be enough food for all of Germany, but Heinz knew better. It all went to the Front to feed the hundreds of thousands of soldiers.

The monotonous countryside made his eyes tire, and he was about to doze off, when a different sound overriding the thumping rhythm of the train caught his attention. What he heard was a deep humming noise, gaining in power as if it were closing in. An upward glance through the window confirmed his suspicion when, through a break in the clouds, he counted at least twenty advancing aircraft, their roar intensifying by the second.

The noise did not go unnoticed by the other passengers, and the shrill voice in the next compartment was the starting signal of the confusion that followed.

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