A legal battle breaks out over the legacy of a notorious Nazi collaborator
Berlin Letter: Stella Goldschlag dreamed of film stardom, but betrayed her fellow Jews
Auschwitz Concentration Camp in Poland: Stella Goldschlag aka ‘Blonde Poison’ prowled the streets of Berlin hunting down Jews for 300 reichmarks a head. Photograph: AP
In Nazi Berlin’s underground Jewish community, Stella Goldschlag was feared as “Blonde Poison”.
Leave your hideaway to buy food or attend a funeral, and her appearance at your side meant certain doom.
In 1943 the woman with fair hair and blue eyes entered a Faustian pact with the Gestapo secret police. They were under pressure to meet Hitler’s demand that the Third Reich capital be “Jew-free”. She prowled the streets, in particular the Kurfürstendamm boulevard, hunting down Jews – so-called “U-Boats” – for 300 Reichsmarks a head and, so she thought, the promise of safety for her own – Jewish – family.
When Nazis broke their word and deported her parents and husband to Theresienstadt and then Auschwitz, where they were murdered, Goldschlag remained in Berlin until the war’s end.
“By then I was already in the trap and couldn’t get out,” a tearful Goldschlag told a friend in 1944.
Her “Jew-snatcher” efforts led to at least 300, possibly up to 2,000, Jews being deported and murdered.
A novel based loosely on her life – Stella, by Takis Würger – was published last month by Hanser press. It attracted largely negative reviews – one called it “Holocaust kitsch” – but has since stormed the bestseller charts.
Now a lawyer has served the publisher with legal notice to halt sales, claiming it infringes its client’s so-called “personal rights”.
All Germans enjoy so-called “personal rights” which entitle them to protection of their good name in public. Three years before Goldschlag died in 1994, she signed an agreement transferring rights to her story and other “personal rights” to a writer-journalist friend. His unnamed heirs say that on his death in 2014, they inherited this agreement and ordered their lawyer to warn Hanser that “Mrs Goldschlag . . . was very particular that her biography is presented responsibly”.
Before her death, the letter added, Goldschlag insisted her “behaviour as a ‘snatcher’ can never be told without what went before”.
In their letter to Hanser, lawyers claim the novel lifts Goldschlag’s story out of context.
Goldschlag was born in 1922 in Berlin. Her mother was a concert singer and her father was a composer and journalist who tried – and failed – to get his family out of Germany as Nazis stepped up their murderous campaign against European Jews.
Winning Jews’ confidence, she would pass on their hiding places to the Gestapo
In 1942 Goldschlag was 20 and dreamed of being a film star. Instead she was a slave labourer in a Berlin munitions factory. She disappeared underground, convinced her “Aryan” appearance would save her, but she and her family were rounded up in 1943. After a failed escape attempt, she agreed to collaborate with the Nazis.
Winning Jews’ confidence, she would pass on their hiding places to the Gestapo; sometimes she held people at gunpoint until the secret police arrived.
After the war she claimed to be a victim of Nazi persecution but was herself denounced, arrested and imprisoned after reportedly comparing the Soviet secret police to the Gestapo.
She served 10 years in a labour camp, losing custody of her daughter, and a second conviction followed in 1957, but she served no time. On her release she moved to West Germany, converted to Christianity and became a notorious anti-Semite.
In 1994, by then on her fifth marriage and calling herself Ingrid Gärtner, she threw herself from her apartment balcony.
Since 2016 a musical about her life has played in repertory at Berlin’s popular Neuköllner Oper, imagining her as star of the movie she dreamed of making – and the price she was willing to pay for success. It has been showered with awards and praised as a “virtuoso, pointed, able and timely” show. The theatre says it is “amazed” to have received a cease-and-desist letter from the same lawyer. Rather than be intimidated, the Neuköllner Oper is planning extra performances.
Hanser is standing by its latest bestseller. Its lawyer told German radio, citing a hypothetical case, that a son could sue to preserve his dead mother’s good name. But this case – with personal rights transferred to a third party, and claimed by heirs – “is hardly legally possible”.
It’s unclear how the case will end but, in a final twist, the dead woman’s estranged daughter may yet be dragged into proceedings. According to reports, she trained as a nurse and moved to Israel.
Goldschlag may not have become a film star in her lifetime but, in death, she has secured the fame – or infamy – she sought. And in Berlin, the “Blonde Poison” is once again the talk of the town.