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The Book of the Week is “Stella, One Woman’s True Tale of Evil, Betrayal, and Survival in Hitler’s Germany” by Peter Wyde, published in 1992.
Stella Goldschlag was born in the early 1930’s. She grew up in the wealthy, arrogant, snobbish, German Jewish social set. That set owned the major department stores and garment makers in Berlin, published the major newspapers, and dominated the theater-critic scene. Stella’s father supervised the making of globally distributed newsreels in the Berlin office of the Paris-based Gaumont; until it didn’t, when the Nazis took it over in the second half of the 1930’s.
In autumn 1935, new restrictions on the Jews meant Stella was forced to attend a high school for Jews only. The book’s author was in her class. The school was run by a Jewish teacher whose aspiration was to prepare the students to study abroad. She taught them the English language.
A set of untoward circumstances converged in bringing about the Holocaust. The nation of Germany was experiencing economic devastation from the Great Depression and from the crushing debt load of the reparations it was supposed to pay for its activities stemming from WWI. Its traditionally jingoistic people were stung and angry from losing that war. Germany’s lack of strong leadership at the top allowed a genocidal maniac bent on world domination, to come to power.
Amid the economic, political and social chaos, the number of bitter and ostracized German males coming of age from dysfunctional households, reached critical mass. Those males were easily brainwashed into believing they could enjoy a “glorious career in the service of the master race.” Or, as the 1960’s “Chicago Seven” member Jerry Rubin commented, a Nazi was a “love-starved, father-seeking fairy who had to compensate for hurried toilet training.”
The Nazis employed social contagion techniques to scapegoat the Jews– a minority ethnic group that had a history of allowing themselves to be oppressed and victimized. Other groups who were perceived as having weak genes, were also targeted for torture and elimination. In that time and place, most Germans caved in to the societal pressure, fear and force.
As is well known, as time went on, Hitler ranted and raved on the radio, placing more and more extreme punishments on the Jews. Initially, the Jewish veterans of WWI who had risked their lives for the Kaiser’s Army were left alone, but eventually, even they were spat upon and killed.
One technique the Nazis used in pursuing their goal of eliminating the Jews, was to divide and conquer– sow hostility among them. After the Anschluss began in March 1938, Adolf Eichmann recruited Jewish medical doctor Richard Lowenherz to exhaustively plan the logistics of how the Jews were to be persecuted and deported to concentration camps. In places other than Vienna, Nazis drafted Jewish rebellious youths (who expected to escape their oppressors’ abuses) to help control their fellow religionists. Those who sold out were deported anyway, but perhaps a little later on.
In Geneva, Switzerland in mid-July 1938, a conference similar to that of Davos (the annual economic forum in Switzerland, where the super-wealthy of the world go to see and be seen) took place. But instead of discussing getting richer, the representatives from industrialized nations paid lip service to tens of Jewish organizations imploring that their hosts take in Jewish refugees from Germany.
This Evian Conference was about economics, though. Everyone was still suffering the effects of the Great Depression, so they couldn’t afford to take in refugees. In their defense, at that time, they weren’t privy to Hitler’s true plans to loot the Jews of their wealth, commit atrocities and genocide, and take over the world. Most people still naively saw him as a clown.
In the early 1940’s, Stella’s family was told by the American consulate in Germany that they might get a visa to the United States two years hence (even though they had an American relative who was selflessly spending a vast amount of time and effort to help them), as more than fifty thousand refugees were ahead of them in line. “The racket in fake promises kept growing. More and more frustrated travelers forked over more and more cash for nonexistent documents whose sellers then disappeared.”
The author (who obviously lived to tell his and Stella’s stories) wrote that he learned English by reading the New York Times, which cost three cents per day. In the U.S. Army stationed at Fort Dix in New Jersey, he was assigned to a propaganda-distribution unit consisting of mostly Jewish refugees. In 1942, he and his cohorts weren’t aware of the scale of the Nazis’ war crimes. In late 1942, even when the BBC told the world about the gas chambers, they didn’t want to believe it.
Read the book to learn all the details of how Stella became a tattletale against her fellow Jews (Hint: she was a brilliant actress– a drama queen, who could turn her charm or hostility on and off at will), what became of her, and biographical info on the huge cast of characters with whom the author and she came into contact.