Tuesday, June 9, 2009


Equipped with easel, flute and precision gun
Paul Verhaeghen


Sometime in March or April 1943, Stella Goldschlag stood at her window in the Sammellager – the former Jewish nursing home in the Grosse Hamburgerstrasse. It was the early evening of a gorgeous spring day, and heaven knows those are rare in Berlin. From her window, she had a good view of the Jewish cemetery – right underneath was the tomb of Moses Mendelssohn, the great scholar and philosopher from the time of Frederick. Mendelssohn had been a big proponent of the integration of Jews and Germans; he had done the first Hebrew-to-German translation of the Torah, as a service to the gentiles. On an open space in that venerable cemetery with its picturesquely sunken monuments, Stella noted much laughter and merriment. A few of the guards had taken off their uniform jackets; they were playing soccer. Four jackets marked the goalposts. The ball they were using must be flat, Stella thought, it refuses to bounce. Then she looked more closely. The object that the guards kicked back and forth was not a soccer ball. It was a human skull.

Stella had a secret of her own. Stella was a Greifer, a catcher: each day she went into town and made her living pointing out fellow Jews to the Gestapo. For every person she brought in, the Gestapo paid her 20 Reichsmark. More importantly, for every person she brought in she could point out a prisoner – a friend, a family member – and that person would be spared. Except that they wouldn't. When Stella found out, she decided to keep up her gruesome business, if just to save her own life and that of her fellow-catcher boyfriend.

The very first person Stella denounced was her husband.

These stories add up. Because they are true – in many senses of the word. Because the world is not the same without them. These stories tell us who we are. Terror, torture, wanton executions – this is what humans do. Sure, we love. Sure, we paint and write and dance and sing. But this cavalcade of horror is not an aberration. We are built to play. And players like their toys. Need their toys. All you need to do is convince yourself that this human being is not at all like you, and he becomes your toy.

Holding another life in your hand is the ultimate possession. You carve a person's flesh. His mind, his identity, his future, his fate, rests in your hand, and yours alone. You can twist his very soul until it breaks and – oh yes – you will. For he is – wholly – yours, and how could you resist?


Our biggest fear is this : that we live for the same reason Jamadi, the nameless Soviet prisioner, Stella's victims, Mengele's little gypsy friend, and some 3000 Manhattan office workers died.

For no reason at all."

My point is, as long as there's one who cares enough to remember and tell our story, there is a reason. Hope.

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