Monday, April 21, 2014

Stella by Peter Wyden 1992

 "From Kristallnacht to the Wannsee Conference to the crematoria of Auschwitz, there is hardly a note of sorrow that Wyden does not sound or a scene of terror that he does not paint in telling Stella's grotesque story."  Jonathan Kirsch in a review in the Los Angeles Times, 11/25/92

Peter Wyden (1923-1998), who later regretted changing his last name from Weidenrich, was a German-born Jewish journalist who emigrated from Berlin, Germany with his parents to the US in 1937.  Because of restrictions against Jewish students, he attended the Jewish Goldschmidt School in Berlin with other Jewish Berliners whose parents either hadn’t planned to emigrate, thinking that the Hitler would get his comeuppance soon, or who were trying to emigrate. Luckily, Wyden's father had a life insurance policy whose surrender value could be paid out in dollars and, because his mother was insistent, they had started getting their documents in 1935.

One fellow student at the Goldschmidt School who became notorious during the war was Stella Goldschlag, a stunning vivacious blonde, the only child of doting parents. She became one of a number of greifers, Jewish catchers for the Gestapo, hunting down and turning in “U-Boats” – the term for Jews who were in hiding. She was the most notorious greifer, nicknamed the Blonde Poison.  After the war she was tried, served her time, and then retreated to the anonymity of a location outside of Berlin. Although Wyden had escaped from Germany before the war and hadn’t personally suffered from Stella’s behavior, he remembered her well, and many years later he tracked her down and interviewed her extensively, the last time in 1991.

This informative and thoughtful book takes a close look at Berlin before and during the war, setting the scene that made Stella’s treachery possible and tracing her behavior. He wants to learn all about Stella and her activities. He conducts research in English and in his native German which includes reading trial testimony, interviewing survivors and experts, and eventually interviewing Stella. He is pre-occupied with what it means to be a collaborator and what would drive someone who is Jewish to collaborate with the Nazis. He is willing to give Stella the benefit of the doubt, positing a number of rationales for her behavior. The most important one he cites is that the Nazis manipulate Stella by telling her that if she works for them they won’t deport her parents. But this only explains how Stella falls into being a greifer. Eventually her parents are deported – she refuses for the longest time to accept that they are dead – and continues her work as a greifer right through to the end of the war. You could make an argument that through the rest of the war she is protecting herself.

In fact, many of the survivors the author interviews seem far less willing to condemn Stella than the writer is. Through his discussions and reading, he demonstrates that there are many versions and potential versions of collaborating and that collaborating with the enemy is difficult to define in many cases. Were Jewish doctors collaborators who worked at the clinics in camps and ghettos and who helped decide who was too sick to recover and should be put on the next transport? What about members of the Jewish councils who were often forced to make up the deportation lists?  And what about the Jewish kapos whose job it was to enforce the rules and to keep order in the  camps and ghettos?  What about the Jews who were assigned to work in munitions factories helping the war effort? How do we make distinctions that exonerate some but condemn others?

Wyden’s book is very provocative and thoughtful about these extremely stressful life or death situations. Aside from discussing collaborators, he brings up many morally ambiguous examples of Jews just trying to stay alive. Some were able to bribe officials to get themselves out of the country, or to get their names off of deportation lists, or to get jobs that would protect them from immediate deportation. There were members of the Jewish councils who crossed names off of lists because people they knew came to plead with them and they then had to send others in their places. Some managed to get food or contraband from secret sources.

Over and over, the survivors Wyden interviewed were not willing to say that Stella should have been shot. And they reminded Wyden that because he was able to get out, he hadn’t been tested.

This book includes photos, a List of Interviewees, a Note on Sources, a Select Bibliography, and an Index.

Click here to read a posted review on this blog of Cioma Schonhaus's  memoir The Forger:

To access a cite that has contemporary photos and eye-witness accounts of what happened in Berlin during World War II, click here.
To read an article about the moral dilemmas faced by Jewish doctors in camps and ghettos, click here.

Maximilian Weidenrich
Erich Weidenreich – son of Maximilian; married Helen (Leni) Silberstein (Stein)
     Peter Wyden – son of Erich and Helen
         Ronald Wyden – son of Peter
Franz Weidenreich – son of Maximillian
Max Brahn – uncle ?
     Richard Weidenreich – son of Maximilian; married to Marie
         Siegfried and Walter Weidenreich – sons of Richard and Marie

Rafael Zernick
     Carl Silberstein – son-in-law of Rafael`
         Helen Silberstein – daughter of Carl

    Ursula Finke – distant cousin
    Hans Finke – brother of Ursula

Friends and Acquaintances
Gunther Abrahamson
Zvi Abrahamson
Leo Baeck
Siegfried Baruch
Herbert Baum
Lili Baumann (Hart)
Renate Baumann
Gad Beck
Margot Beck – twin sister of Gad
Isaak Behar
Heinz Behrend
Jancsi Bekessy (Hans Habe)
Monika Berzel
Bruno Bettelheim
Bruno Blau
Michael Blumenthal
Anneliese-Ora Borinski
Natan and Ursula Celnik
Elie A. Cohen
Kurt Cohn
Ernst and Erwin Cramer
Marion Dann (Weiner)
Ruth Danziger
Inge Deutschkron
Moritz Dobrin
Georg Eichelhardt
Gerd Ehrlich
Marion Ehrlich – daughter of Gerd
Marion Ehrlich – sister of Gerd
Wolfgang Edelstein
Cordelia Edvardson
Leopold Adolphus Ellenburg – cousin of Gerhard Goldschlag
Sophie Erdberg
Sigfreid Falk
Hans Faust
Jutta Feig
Eva Fischer
Eva Fogelman
Ernst Fontheim
Max Frankel
Felix Frankfurter
Sigmund Freud
 Anna Freud
Edith Friedmann
Bella Fromm
Peter Froelich (Gay)
Hans Galinski
Szloma and Julia Gejdenson
Sam Gejdenson – son of Szloma and Julia
Margot Goerke
Gerhard and Toni Goldschlag
Stella Goldschlag – daughter of Gerhard and Toni – married to Manfred Kubler
 Yvonne Meissl – daughter of Stella
Ernst and Lenore Goldschmidt
 Rudi Goldschmidt – son of Ernst and Lenore
Bruno Goldstein
Ernst and Herta Goldstein
Heinz Guenhaus (Harold Greene)
Inge Grun
Regina Guterman
Jacob Gutfeld
Manfred Guttmann
Moritz and Hildegard Henschel
Eugene Herman-Friede
Abel J. Herzberg
Eric Homburger (Erikson)
Flora Hogman
Hans Holstein
Heinz Holstein – brother of Hans
Chaim Horn
Eva Isaac-Krieger
Gertrud Isaakson
Rolf Isaakson – son of Gertrud; second husband of Stella Goldschlag
Inge Jacoby (Reitz)
Carl Joseph
Rolf Joseph
Gerda Kachel
Joza Karas
Iwan Katz
Heinz (Henry) Kissinger
Frieda de Klein
Ted Koppel
Philipp Kozower
Edith Kramer-Freund
Hans Krasas
Kurt and Nanette Kubler
Manfred Kubler  - son of Kurt and Nanette; first husband of Stella Goldschlag
Edith Latte (Wendt)
Primo Levi
Margot Levy
Kurt Lewin
Gerda Lewinnek
Elly Lewkowitz
Inge Lewkowitz
Robert Jay Lifton
Margot Lincyzk
Karl Loesten
Hans Oskar DeWitt Loewenstein
Richard Lowenherz
Gerhard Lowenthal
Inge Lustig
Walter Lustig
Heinz (Heino) Meissl
Heinz Meyer
Martha Mosse
Benjamin Murmelstein
Dr. Herschel (Heinrich) von Neumann
Ida Nocke
Georg and Lotte Nomberg
 Fredi Nomberg (Yair Noam) – son of George and Lotte
Harry Nomberg – son of Georg and Lotte; married to Beatrice
 Sharon Nomberg – daughter of Georg and Lotte
Max and Ruth Nussbaum
Alex Page
Joachim Prinz
Paul Regensburger
Ismar Reich
Max Reschke
Ilse Rewald
Guther Rischowsky
Martin Roman
Chaim Rumkowski
Gunther Ruschin
Alice Safirstein
Markus Safirstein
Bella Savran
Maximillian Samuel
Marion Sauerbrunn (House)
Harry Schwarzer
Klaus Scheurenberg
Klaus Scheye
Harry Schnapp
Cioma Schonhaus (in this book called by the pseudonym Guenther Rogoff)
Salomon Schott
Julius Siegel
 Karola Ruth Siegel Westheimer
Hans Sonntag
Walter Storozum
Lieselotte Streszak
Wolfgang Szepansky
Gerry Waldston
Lore Weinberg (Shelley)
Elie Wiesel
Simon Wiesenthal
Rudoph Wolf and Hertha Eichelhardt Wolf
Francis Wolff
Beila Wollstein
Abrahm Zajdmann
Esther Zajdmann (Seidman) – daughter of Abraham
Moritz Zajdmann (Seidman) – son of Abraham
Edith Ziegler
Robert Zeiler

Mislowicz, Upper Silesia
Edenkoben, Germany
Coberg, Germany
Berlin, Germany
Goldschmidt School, Berlin
Wilmersdorf district, Berlin
Levetzowstrasse Synagogue, Berlin
Augsburg, Germany
Frankfurt, Germany
Theresienstadt, Czechoslovakia


  1. Alert for a Correct. Who ever is in charge or hold this Blog please correct the spelling of my mother's name under "Friends or Acquaintances". Her name is Regina (Rifka) Guterman. Not Guterman with two *n*. One only in Guterman. I ask this to be done out of respect to my mother Regina (Rifka) Guterman. Thank you.