Authors: Daniel Silva
In July 1935
, two and a half years after electorally seizing control of Germany, Adolf Hitler formally declared Munich “the Capital of
the Movement.” The city's ties to National Socialism were undeniable. The Nazi Party was formed in Munich in the turbulent
years after Germany's defeat in World War I. And it was in Munich, in the autumn of 1923, that Hitler led the abortive Beer
Hall Putsch that resulted in his brief incarceration at Landsberg Prison. There he penned the first volume of
, the rambling manifesto in which he described Jews as germs that needed to be exterminated. During his first year as chancellor,
the year in which he transformed Germany into a totalitarian dictatorship, the book sold more than a million copies.
Throughout the fifteen cataclysmic years of the Nazi era,
Hitler traveled to Munich frequently. He maintained a large, art-filled apartment at Prinzregentenplatz 16 and commissioned the construction of a personal office building overlooking the KÃ¶nigsplatz. Known as the FÃ¼hrerbau it contained living quarters for Hitler and his deputy, Rudolf Hess, and a cavernous central hall with twin stone staircases that led to a conference room. British prime minister Neville Chamberlain signed the Munich Agreement in the FÃ¼hrerbau on September 30, 1938. Upon his return to London, he predicted the accord would deliver “peace in our time.” A year later the Wehrmacht invaded Poland, plunging the world into war and setting in motion the chain of events that would lead to the destruction of Europe's Jews.
Much of central Munich was leveled by a pair of devastating Allied bombing raids in April 1944, but somehow the FÃ¼hrerbau
survived. Immediately after the war, the Allies used it as a storage facility for looted art. It was now the home of a respected
school of music and theater, where pianists, cellists, violinists, and actors perfected their craft in rooms where murderers
once walked. Bicycles lined the building's leaden facade, and at the foot of the main steps stood two bored-looking Munich
police officers. Neither paid any heed to the man of medium height and build who paused to review a schedule of upcoming public
He continued past the Alte Pinakothek, Munich's world-class art museum, and then turned left onto the Hessstrasse. It was ten minutes before he caught his first glimpse of the modern tower rising above the Olympic Park. The old Olympic Village lay to the north, not far from the headquarters of BMW and a highly profitable German conglomerate known as the Wolf
Group. He found the Connollystrasse and followed it to the squat three-story apartment house at number 31.
The building had long ago been converted into student housing, but in early September 1972 it had been inhabited by members
of Israel's Olympic team. At 4:30 a.m. on September 5, eight Palestinian terrorists dressed in tracksuits scaled an undefended
fence. Carrying duffel bags filled with Kalashnikov rifles, Tokarev semiautomatic pistols, and Soviet-made hand grenades,
they used a stolen key to unlock the door of apartment 1. Two Israelis, wrestling coach Moshe Weinberg and weight lifter Yossef
Romano, were murdered during the first moments of the siege. Nine others were taken hostage.
For the remainder of that day, as a global television audience watched in horror, German authorities negotiated with two heavily
disguised terroristsâone known as Issa, the other Tonyâwhile across the street the Games continued. Finally, at ten p.m.,
the hostages were flown by helicopter to FÃ¼rstenfeldbruck Air Base, where German police had put in place an ill-conceived
rescue operation. It ended with the death of all nine Israelis.
Within hours of the massacre, Israeli prime minister Golda Meir ordered a legendary Office agent named Ari Shamron to “send
forth the boys.” The operation was code-named Wrath of God, a phrase chosen by Shamron to give his undertaking the patina
of divine sanction. One of the boys was a gifted young painter from the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design named Gabriel Allon.
Another was Eli Lavon, a promising biblical archaeologist. In the Hebrew-based lexicon of the team, Lavon was an
, a tracker. Gabriel was an
, an assassin. For three years they stalked their prey across Western Europe and
the Middle East, killing at night and in broad daylight, living in fear that at any moment they might be arrested by local authorities and charged as murderers. In all, twelve men died at their hands. Gabriel personally killed six of the terrorists with a .22-caliber Beretta pistol. Whenever possible, he shot his victims eleven times, one for each Jew murdered at Munich. When finally he returned to Israel, his temples were gray. Lavon was left with numerous stress disorders, including a notoriously fickle stomach that troubled him to this day.
He crept up on Gabriel without a sound and joined him in front of Connollystrasse 31.
“I wouldn't do that again if I were you, Eli. You're lucky I didn't shoot you.”
“I tried to make a bit of noise.”
“Try harder next time.”
Lavon looked up toward the balcony of apartment 1. “Come here often?”
“Actually, it's been a while.”
“A hundred years,” said Gabriel distantly.
“I come here every time I'm in Munich. And I always think the same thing.”
“What's that, Eli?”
“Our Olympic team should never have been assigned to this building. It was too isolated. We expressed our concerns to the
Germans a few weeks before the Games began, but they assured us our athletes would be safe. Unfortunately, they neglected
to tell us that German intelligence had already received a tip from a Palestinian informant that the Israeli team had been
“It must have slipped their minds.”
“Why didn't they warn us? Why didn't they take steps to protect our athletes?”
“You tell me.”
“They didn't tell us,” said Lavon, “because they didn't want anything to spoil their postwar coming-out party, least of all
a threat against the descendants of the same people they had tried to exterminate just thirty years before. Remember, the
German intelligence and security services were founded by men like Reinhard Gehlen. Men who had worked for Hitler and the
Nazis. Men of the right who hated communism and Jews in equal measure. It's no wonder they were attracted to someone like
Andreas Estermann.” He turned to Gabriel. “Did you happen to notice the last job he held before his retirement?”
“Head of Department Two, the counterextremism division.”
“So why is he spending so much time on the phone with the likes of Axel BrÃ¼nner? And why does he have the private cell number
of every far-right leader in Europe?” Lavon paused. “And why did he turn off his phone for three hours in Bonn the other night?”
“Maybe he has a girlfriend there.”
“Estermann? He's a choirboy.”
“A doctrinaire choirboy.”
Lavon lifted his gaze once more toward the facade of the building. A light was burning in the window of apartment 1. “Do you
ever imagine how differently our lives would have turned out if it hadn't happened?”
“No,” answered Lavon. “
of it. Two thousand years of hatred. We'd be as numerous as all the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore, just as God promised Abraham. I'd be
living in a grand apartment in the First District of Vienna, a leader in my field, a man of distinction. I'd spend my afternoons sipping coffee and eating strudel at CafÃ© Sacher, and my evenings listening to Mozart and Haydn. Occasionally, I'd visit an art gallery and see works by a famous Berlin painter named Gabriel Frankel, the son of Irene Frankel, the grandson of Viktor Frankel, perhaps the greatest German painter of the twentieth century. Who knows? Perhaps I might even be wealthy enough to purchase one or two of his works.”
“I'm afraid life doesn't work that way, Eli.”
“I suppose not. But would it be too much to ask for them to stop hating us? Why is anti-Semitism on the rise again in Europe?
Why is it not safe to be a Jew in this country? Why has the shame of the Holocaust worn off? Why won't it ever end?”
“Nine words,” said Gabriel.
A silence fell between them. It was Lavon who broke it.
“Where do you suppose it is?”
“The Gospel of Pilate?”
“Up a chimney.”
“How appropriate.” Lavon's tone was uncharacteristically bitter. He started to light a cigarette but stopped himself. “It
goes without saying that the Nazis were the ones who annihilated the Jews of Europe. But they could not have carried out the
Final Solution unless Christianity had first plowed the soil. Hitler's willing executioners had been conditioned by centuries
of Church teachings about the evils of the Jews. Austrian Catholics made up a disproportionate share of the death camp officers,
and the survival rates for Jews were far lower in Catholic countries.”
“But thousands of Catholics risked their lives to protect us.”
“Indeed, they did. They chose to act on their own initiative rather than wait for encouragement from their pope. As a result,
they saved their Church from the moral abyss.” Lavon's eyes searched the old Olympic Village. “We should be getting back to
the safe house. It will be dark soon.”
“It already is,” said Gabriel.
Lavon finally lit his cigarette. “Why do you suppose he switched off his phone for three hours the other night?”
“I don't know,” answered Gabriel. “But I intend to ask him.”
“Maybe you should ask him about the Gospel of Pilate, too.”
“Don't worry, Eli. I will.”
When Gabriel and Lavon returned to the safe house, the members of the snatch team were gathered in the sitting room, dressed
for an evening out at a trendy cafÃ© in the Beethovenplatz. There was no outward sign of nerves other than the incessant tapping
of Mikhail's forefinger against the arm of his chair. He was listening intently to the voice of Andreas Estermann, who was
addressing the members of his senior staff about the need to increase security at all Wolf Group facilities, especially the
chemical plants. It seemed Estermann had received a warning from an old contact at the BfV, a warning the team had overheard.
The system, apparently, was blinking red.
By five fifteen it was blinking red inside the safe house as well. The members of the snatch team took their leave in the same manner they had arrivedâintermittently, alone or in pairs, so
as not to attract attention from the neighbors. By 5:45 they all had reached their fail-safe points.
Their quarry left Wolf Group headquarters seventeen minutes later. Gabriel watched his progress on an open laptop computer,
a blinking blue light on a map of central Munich, courtesy of the compromised phone. It had already told Gabriel nearly everything
he needed to know to prevent the Order of St. Helena from stealing the conclave. Still, there were one or two matters Andreas
Estermann needed to clear up. If he had any sense, he would offer no resistance. Gabriel was in a dangerously bad mood. They
were in Munich, after all. The Capital of the Movement. The city where murderers once walked.
Just north of
Munich's central train station, the traffic came to an abrupt halt. It was another police checkpoint. There were several around
the city, mainly near transportation hubs and in squares and markets where large numbers of pedestrians congregated. The entire
country was on edge, bracing itself for the next attack. Even the BfV, Andreas Estermann's old service, was convinced another
bombing was inevitable. Estermann was of a similar mind. Indeed, he had reason to believe the next attack would occur as early
as tomorrow morning, probably in Cologne. If successful, the physical destruction and death toll would tear at the very soul
of the country, touch an ancient nerve. It would be Germany's 9/11. Nothing would ever be the same.
Estermann checked the time on his iPhone, then swore
softly. Immediately, he pleaded with God for forgiveness. The strictures of the Order forbade all forms of profanity, not just those involving the Lord's name. Estermann did not smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol, and regular fasting and exercise helped to keep down his weight, despite a weakness for traditional German cooking. His wife, Johanna, was a member of the Order, too. So were their six children. The size of their family was unusual in modern Germany, where birth rates had fallen below replacement level.
Estermann again checked the time.
6:04Â .Â .Â .
He dialed Christoph Bittel's number but received no answer. Then he dashed off a text message, explaining that he had left
the office later than planned and was now stuck in traffic. Bittel replied instantly. It seemed he was running behind schedule
as well, which was not like him. Bittel was usually as punctual as a Swiss timepiece.
At last, the traffic inched forward. Estermann saw the reason for the delay. The police were searching a delivery van outside
the entrance of the station. The passengers, two young men, Arabs or Turks, lay spread-eagled on the pavement. Estermann took
no small amount of pleasure in their predicament. When he was a boy growing up in Munich, he rarely saw a foreigner, especially
one with brown or black skin. That changed in the 1980s, when the floodgates opened. Twelve million immigrants now resided
in Germany, fifteen percent of the population. The overwhelming majority were Muslims. Unless present trends were reversed,
native Germans would soon be a minority in their own land.
Estermann turned onto the Goethestrasse, a quiet street lined with elegant old apartment houses, and eased into an empty space along the curb at ten minutes past six. He lost
three additional minutes purchasing a chit from the automatic dispenser and another two walking the rest of the way to CafÃ© Adagio. It was a dimly lit room with a few tables arranged around a platform where, later that evening, a trio of American jazz musicians would perform. Estermann did not care for jazz. Nor did he much like the clientele of CafÃ© Adagio. At a darkened table in the corner, two womenâat least Estermann thought they were womenâwere kissing. A couple of tables away sat two men. One had a hard, pitted face. The other was thin as a reed. They looked like Eastern Europeans, maybe Jews. At least they weren't queers. Estermann hated queers even more than he hated Jews and Muslims.
Bittel was nowhere to be seen. Estermann sat down at a table as far from the other patrons as possible. At length, a tattooed
girl with purple hair wandered over. She looked at Estermann for a moment as though waiting for him to utter the secret password.
The waitress withdrew. Estermann checked his phone. Where the hell was Bittel? And why in God's name had he chosen a place
like CafÃ© Adagio?
Andreas Estermann's discomfort was so transparent that Gabriel waited ten additional minutes before informing the German that, owing to a work emergency, Christoph Bittel would not be able to meet for a drink as planned. Estermann's face, viewed through the camera lens of his compromised phone, twisted into a grimace. He sent a curt response, tossed a five-euro banknote onto the table, and stormed into the street.
Fuming, he pounded along the pavements of the Goethestrasse to his car, where his rising anger boiled over.
A man was sitting on the hood, his boots resting on the bumper, a girl between his legs. His pale skin was luminous in the
lamplight. The girl was very dark, like an Arab. Her hands were resting on the man's thighs. Her mouth was on his.
Estermann would have only limited memory of what happened next. There was an exchange of words, followed by an exchange of
blows. Estermann threw a single wild punch but was on the receiving end of several compact, carefully delivered elbows and
Incapacitated, he crumpled to the pavement. From somewhere a van materialized. Estermann was hurled into the back like war
dead. He felt a sharp pain in his neck, and instantly his vision began to swim. The last thing he remembered before losing
consciousness was the face of the woman. She was an Arab, he was sure of it. Estermann hated Arabs. Almost as much as he hated