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Stella: One Woman's True Tale of Evil, Betrayal, and Survival in Hitler's Germany

jan peczkis|Monday, May 7, 2012

This work introduces the reader to Jewish life in pre-Nazi and Nazi Germany. Out of about 500,000 Jews in Germany, 173,000 lived in Berlin. All of the major Berlin department stores were Jewish-owned, as was most of the principal newspaper publishers. The powerful Warburg Jewish banking family lived in Hamburg. Most Jews, however, were shopkeepers. (p. 21).

  Nazi prejudices against Jews were not the only ones. German Jews looked down upon Berlin's 40,000 OSTJUDEN (included Polish Jews) for their backwardness, and saw anti-Semitism as a deserved response to them. (p. 22).

Hitler's 1939 promise to exterminate Europe's Jews in the event of war was generally dismissed as campaign oratory. (pp. 124-125). After the Nazis conducted severe wartime persecution of Jews, many of them became "U-boats"--illegally subsisting Jews. (p. 14). Although Nazi rule had begun in 1933, and WWII in 1939, German Jews were not required to wear the Star until September 1941. (p. 17).

Stella Goldschlag/Kuebler was, for a time, subject to torture, and also served as a forced laborer. This Jewish woman was later recruited by the Gestapo. Wyden suggests that, "Stella's computerlike memory for names, dates, addresses, and other useful minutiae became an instant Gestapo assert...News of Stella's treachery spread rapidly, at least among those U-boats who hadn't, for safety reasons, cut themselves off from all Jewish contacts." (pp. 154-155). At times, Jewish collaborators were recruited by the Gestapo without earlier torture, or pressure of any kind. (p. 162).

There were several classes of Jews serving the Nazis. Among those outside the camps, the GREIFER or HAESCHER was, in effect, a policeman--a "grabber" of Jews. Wyden adds: "Jewish collaborators were ranked according to a loose hierarchy. In addition to ORDNER (order keepers) and JUPO (Jewish police), there were FAHNDER (scouts) and SPITZEL (stool pigeons)." (p. 141). The Polish-speaking reader will recognize the lattermost word in Polonized form--szpicel.

Stella Goldschlag/Kuebler often acted by befriending Jews seeking help from the Nazis, and then called the Gestapo to arrest them. At other times, she went beyond being simply an informer--she actually took part in the arrest and used a pistol. (p. 14). Stella often operated with several other named Jewish Nazi collaborators, including Rolf Isaaksohn, with whom she worked to extort jewelry from fugitive Jews. (p. 242).

Soon Stella developed a fearsome reputation, earning epithets such as "the blond ghost" and "the blond poison". The few Auschwitz survivors later testified that Stella Kuebler's name had come up, again and again, in discussions at Auschwitz about how the prisoners had ended up there. (p. 252).

Ironic to the customary focus on Polish denouncers and blackmailers (szmalcowniki), in Holocaust literature, the collaborators described in this book were Jews themselves. A German Jewish Gestapo agent, Neuwek, claimed to have personally extorted money from 511 fugitive Jews, who he called "customers." (pp. 194-195). [Readers interested in Jewish denouncers of fellow Jews, in German-occupied Poland, should read the Peczkis review of The Cap: The Price of a Life].

There is no doubt about the fact that Stella worked for the Gestapo. (p. 190). One night alone, Stella betrayed 62 Jews. (p. 156). Wyden asks: "How many? No one could specify, because nearly all her potential accusers were silenced in the extermination camps, but she was evidently responsible for the death of several dozen Jews, more likely several hundred, and one police guess ran to 2,300! And these were not serial murders of the conventional kind, violence rooted in passion or irrationality or greed for financial gain." (p. 17). Stella escaped justice for her Nazi collaboration (and, decades later, committed suicide.)

Though extreme, Stella's actions are a reminder of the fact that a small number of "rotten apples", of any nationality, sufficed to cause great harm to the survivorship of fugitive Jews. Thus, the apparent number of Jew-betraying German informers, in nations such as Nazi-occupied Poland, should not be exaggerated.

Interestingly, Erich Moeller, whose boss was Heinrich Himmler, had earlier received Stella and promised her Aryan status after Nazi Germany's victory. (p. 308). If so, it not only reminds us of the fact that the Nazis deliberately spared some Jews by re-labeling them Aryans, but that they did so permanently and sincerely, and not as some kind of temporary wartime expedient (as to mollify Germany's Jews).
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