The hospital train announced its arrival beneath the smoky vault of the Lehrter Bahnhof with a shriek that set nerves jangling. A column of ambulances was waiting on the platform and to an accompaniment of whistles, the slamming of doors and the barking of the military marshals, the wounded began to step from the train, grey and solemn after many hours in close carriages. Patient faces – the resignation of the helpless – tired faces, some dazed, some distorted by pain, stained and bandaged like the procession at the last trumpet. After four months of war, they were still worthy of comment and the polite applause of civil servants and businessmen on their way to offices in Berlin’s government district. Mothers with young children hurried by.
Dr Anton Dilger was used to the suffering of others. He had met a dozen or more hospital trains from the Front. He’d restrained men demented with pain and some had died under his knife. All of these tasks he’d conducted with the necessary professional detachment. But on this freezing December day, Dr Dilger was a spectator, standing among a group of the curious on the platform opposite, gawking with the rest. He was a young man of thirty, clever but restless, inclined more by disposition to action than to thought. To watch, unable to lift a finger, was an exquisite torment and yet the feeling held him there.