The apartment house at Adalbertstrasse 68 was one of the few in the
fashionable district of Schwabing yet to be overrun by Munich's
noisy and growing professional elite. Wedged between two red brick
buildings that exuded prewar charm, No. 68 seemed rather like an
ugly younger stepsister. Her façade was a cracked beige
stucco, her form squat and graceless. As a result her suitors were
a tenuous community of students, artists, anarchists, and
unrepentant punk rockers, all presided over by an authoritarian
caretaker named Frau Ratzinger, who, it was rumored, had been
living in the original apartment house at No. 68 when it was
leveled by an Allied bomb. Neighborhood activists derided the
building as an eyesore in need of gentrification. Defenders said it
exemplified the very sort of Bohemian arrogance that had once made
Schwabing the Montmartre of Germany, the Schwabing of Hesse and
Mann and Lenin. And Adolf Hitler, the professor working in the
second-floor window might have been tempted to add, but few in the
old neighborhood liked to be reminded of the fact that the young
Austrian outcast had once found inspiration in these quiet
tree-lined streets too.
To his students and colleagues, he was Herr Doktorprofessor Stern.
To friends in the neighborhood he was just Benjamin; to the
occasional visitor from home, he was Binyamin. In an anonymous
stone-and-glass office complex in the north of Tel Aviv, where a
file of his youthful exploits still resided despite his pleas to
have it burned, he would always be known as Beni, youngest of Ari
Shamron's wayward sons. Officially, Benjamin Stern remained a
member of the faculty at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, though for
the past four years he had served as visiting professor of European
studies at Munich's prestigious Ludwig-Maximilian University. It
had become something of a permanent loan, which was fine with
Professor Stern. In an odd twist of historical fate, life was more
pleasant for a Jew these days in Germany than in Jerusalem or Tel
The fact that his mother had survived the horrors of the Riga
ghetto gave Professor Stern a certain dubious standing among the
other tenants of No. 68. He was a curiosity. He was their
conscience. They railed at him about the plight of the
Palestinians. They gently asked him questions they dared not put to
their parents and grandparents. He was their guidance counselor and
trusted sage. They came to him for advice on their studies. They
poured out their heart to him when they'd been dumped by a lover.
They raided his fridge when they were hungry and pillaged his
wallet when they were broke. Most importantly, he served as tenant
spokesman in all disputes involving the dreaded Frau Ratzinger.
Professor Stern was the only one in the building who did not fear
her. They seemed to have a special relationship. A kinship. "It's
Stockholm Syndrome," claimed Alex, a psychology student who lived
on the top floor. "Prisoner and camp guard. Master and servant."
But it was more than that. The professor and the old woman seemed
to speak the same language.
The previous year, when his book on the Wannsee Conference had
become an international bestseller, Professor Stern had flirted
with the idea of moving to a more stylish building, perhaps one
with proper security and a view of the English Gardens. A place
where the other tenants didn't treat his flat as if it were an
annex to their own. This had incited panic among the others. One
evening they came to him en masse and petitioned him to stay.
Promises were made. They would not steal his food, nor would they
ask for loans when there was no hope of repayment. They would be
more respectful of his need for quiet. They would come to him for
advice only when it was absolutely necessary. The professor
acquiesced, but within a month his flat was once again the de facto
common room of Adalbertstrasse 68. Secretly, he was glad they were
back. The rebellious children of No. 68 were the only family
Benjamin Stern had left.
The clatter of a passing streetcar broke his concentration. He
looked up in time to see it disappear behind the canopy of a
chestnut tree, then glanced at his watch. Eleven-thirty. He'd been
at it since five that morning. He removed his glasses and spent a
long moment rubbing his eyes. What was it Orwell had said about
writing a book? "A horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout
of some painful illness." Sometimes, Benjamin Stern felt as though
this book might be fatal.
The red light on his telephone answering machine was blinking. He
made a habit of muting the ringers to avoid unwanted interruptions.
Hesitantly, like a bomb handler deciding which wire to cut, he
reached out and pressed the button. The little speaker emitted a
blast of heavy metal music, followed by a warlike yelp.
some good news, Herr Doktorprofessor. By the end of the day, there
will be one less filthy Jew on the planet! Wiedersehen, Herr
te absolvo a peccatis tuis, in nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus
The professor looked into his killer's eyes. "But I'm a Jew," he
"It doesn't matter," the assassin said.
Then he placed the Stechkin against the side of Benjamin Stern's
head and fired one last shot.
Excerpted from THE CONFESSOR © Copyright 2003 by Daniel
Silva. Reprinted with permission by G.P. Putnam's Sons, a member of
Penguin Group (USA) Inc. All rights reserved.