Stella Goldschlag

Stella: The Story of Stella Goldschlag

by Diana Tovar

December 6, 2005
[link 6/14/13]

for Prof. Marcuse's lecture course
Interdisciplinary Perspectives on the Holocaust

UC Santa Barbara, Fall 2005
(course homepage, web projects index page,
Jewish Survival project main page)

About the
Page Author
Jewish Survival Project Main Page
Hist 33d Web Projects Index Page

Book Summary (back to top)

Stella, by Peter Wyden is an eloquent yet straightforward documentation about the life of Stella Goldschlag, who was responsible for turning over countless Jews to the Gestapo and their ultimate death. The biographic novel begins with a short introductory chapter that sets the tone for the book in two manners, how people were in awe of Stella and the level of betrayal that she was capable of reaching. Wyden also states his curiosity for Jews who would betray Jews and the reasons behind it as an explanation as to why he chose to investigate his fellow childhood classmate whom he dubs as the "traitor of the Goldschmidt School" (19).

Stella was raised in the west end of Berlin under her parents’ care where they treated her like a princess, buying her new dresses and generally overprotecting her. Like most Jews who lived in Berlin at the time, she was a result of Jewish assimilation into gentile life and culture (20). She attended Goldschmidt, where Wyden met her, a school for Jewish children founded once the Nazis removed all non-Aryan children from public schools. Her family was well off but not as affluent as other successful Jewish families because although her mother was a successful singer her father was a failed musician. Since Stella’s looks resembled those of an Aryan, Stella became quite popular in school, especially with the boys. She was referred to as the "school’s Marilyn Monroe: tall, slim, leggy, cool, with her light blue eyes, teeth out of a toothpaste ad, and pale satin skin … a masterpiece, untouchable" (15). Growing up in the post-WWI turmoil left Stella, along with her family and other German Jews, trying to prove her loyalty to Germany in an effort to counteract anti-Semitism (30). November 10, 1938 is when it all began for Stella. She was sent home early from school only to find out that her father was in hiding because Jewish males were being rounded up (67). Crystal Night was the turning point for the Goldschlags in realizing that there was no escaping Hitler, and they later came to terms with WWII as well (73).

Early in the war Stella attended an art school called Feige and Strassburger, where she studied fashion drawing and posed as a nude model for about two years, which kept her out of forced factory labor (80). Unlike Wyden’s family, who was more affluent then hers, Stella’s family was not able to escape Berlin because their lack of connections and money (81). Starting September 16, 1941 Jews were not allowed to be seen in public without wearing a yellow Star of David patch, although eventually Stella stopped wearing the star except at work. That October, Stella and her boyfriend Manfred Kübler got married. Although she hated to admit it, Stella was Jewish and because of this she was forced to work in a factory as an "armament Jew". While working at the factory she witnessed numerous Jews being taken away to labor/concentration camps (103).

On February 27, 1943 there was a round up of Jews at the factory where Stella and her mother worked, they both were able to sneak into a makeshift shelter where they hid momentarily and later went out a back door that was being guarded by the Gestapo. Essentially they were able to escape because they had blonde hair, and many Nazis believed that "Jews could not be blonde" (110). Stella’s husband was taken away to Auschwitz and was never heard of again. Back in Berlin Stella became part of the 18,300 "U-boats," Jews who were illegally living in hiding in Berlin, ironically the same people she would betray (130).

The first event that eventually led Stella down the path of becoming a catcher was when Guenther Rogoff, a longtime admirer of Stella, forged a police identification card for her (139). On July 2, 1943 Stella was arrested in a café where she was waiting for Rolf. She was turned in by an acquaintance who was a "catcher," a Jew who turned in other Jews. Stella had become a prime target for the Gestapo when they searched her papers and recognized Rogoff’s handiwork; they figured that they would beat his whereabouts out of her (142). Stella met Rolf Issaksohn, her future second husband and partner in crime in late spring of 1943 and became very close with him; Rolf was later arrested in October. Stella was beaten profusely by the Gestapo with the intention of breaking her so she would turn her friend in, but she honestly did not know where Rogoff was. The treatment Stella received in Burgstrasse, where she was being held, had stripped her of the sense of self she had prior to being tortured, which was her beauty (144). Stella managed to escape Burgstrasse after complaining of a toothache; she was arrested 12 hours later along with her parents.

She escaped for a second time but later turned herself in because she felt guilty because her parents were being shipped off to Auschwitz. Instead of being deported, Stella was offered her first job as a "catcher" which was to seek out Guenther Rogoff. However, since she had no actual information she was accused of faking and sent back to jail. An SS deputy, Felix Lachmuth, became aware of Stella’s Aryan like looks and intelligence and slowly recruited her as a "catcher" offering her some benefits and guaranteed safety for her parents (153). News about Stella’s treachery began to spread rapidly once she began betraying her acquaintance U-boats, even her photo began to circulate in the U-boat community (155). Stella had been able to get Rolf Issaksohn recruited as another "catcher"; the pair became notorious (142, 155).

Stella had to make her "Nazi loyalty" concrete and in doing this she turned over countless Jews. The Nazis referred to her as the "blonde poison" (192). After about 7 months as a catcher, Stella was informed that her parents could not be held back from deportation any longer; both her parents and Rolf convinced her to stay in Berlin. Afterwards Stella continued her services as a catcher, attending crowded places and events as well as funerals of mixed marriages where the Aryan spouse died and the immunity for the non-Aryan would be dissolved. Rolf played a major role in pushing her to continue her job as a "catcher". Fearful of the arrival of the Allies, Stella began to grow uneasy and unmotivated; Rolf had grown tired and had shifted his sexual interests. Stella, recognizing this, began to look for "emotional anchorage, sex, and protection from worldly danger" in other men (199).

With the end of the war approaching Stella was made aware that the punishment for her crimes as a catcher was execution at the end of war (209). Stella discovered she was pregnant in February 1945 by one of her lovers at the time, Heino. Heino wanted nothing to do with Stella and did not believe the child was his. After the war ended, Stella went into hiding in the woods and heather of Brandenburg waiting for her prince, Heino, to come rescue her. In October her daughter, Yvonne Meissl, was born. Yvonne was seized by the Liebenwalde police and was taken to a hospital where she was handed off to nurse Alice Safristein. Eventually Stella was arrested by the Soviets and sentenced to ten years of hard labor at several work camps. In total she had three trials and was sentenced to ten years in each but only served one of the 3 sentences. Yvonne is extremely resentful of her mother and was quoted by Wyden saying, "I am Yvonne, who had better not have been born" (13).

Analysis: How Stella came to be an infamous catcher (back to top)

There is a thin line distinguishing altruism and self-interest when it comes to extreme measures to protect one’s family and extreme measures to protect oneself. In Peter Wyden’s biographic novel Stella, Stella Goldschlag’s story is portrayed as "one woman’s true tale of evil, betrayal, and survival in Hitler’s Germany" (Wyden, cover). Stella Goldschlag worked for the Nazi’s as a "catcher", which means, that she was a Jew who sought out other Jews in hiding and turned them over to the Gestapo. A general characteristic of history and personal accounts is that they can be analyzed in different viewpoint and Stella’s story is no different. Stella Goldschlag became a notorious "catcher" because she was confused as to her identity, had her self esteem beaten down, she was tortured, she wanted to protect her family and she was weak willed.

Stella Goldschlag had a normal childhood that consisted of pretty dresses and overprotective parents who wanted to provide the best for their princess whom they lovingly nicknamed Pünktchen, meaning "little dot" (Wyden, 20). Like most Jewish people who lived in Berlin at the time, Stella became one of the 173,000 (out of 500,000) Jews who had assimilated "into the fabric of gentile life in the Reich capital" (Wyden, 21). When people become assimilated into different cultures they may fall into identity crisises where they are caught between what they actually feel and what they should feel. Some assimilated German Jews demonstrated the same loyalty to Germany as did "Aryan" Germans. For example, Gerhard Goldschlag, Stella’s father fought during WW1 in the same army as the Germans. Stella fell victim to an identity crisis because she could not understand why she had to be "publicly exposed, identified as a Jew, when she didn’t look or feel Jewish" (Wyden, 98). Since her physical features were reminiscent of an Aryan, with her blue eyes and blonde hair, she was often mistaken for an Aryan, and to be Aryan was to be German and Stella was German. It is understandable that Stella felt she had no strong ties to her Jewish heritage because of all the anti-Semitic acts that occurred around her such as Crystal Night and the mass deportation of Jews to concentration camps. Having to face discrimination can make a person feel ashamed of who he or she is. Another aspect that may have influence Stella’s identity crisis was her place in society. Many assimilated Jews considered themselves to be Jewish elite because they were successful and resented being compared to the Jewish refugees from the East (Deak, 32). Although the Goldschlag family was not the most affluent they had more privileged circumstances then East European Jews. A victim of her identity crisis, Stella played the role of an Aryan by removing the Star of David from her clothes and was able to live illegally in hiding until she was turned over by a "catcher".

A major part of Stella’s self esteem revolved around the fact that her beauty had endowed her with a certain power over males (Wyden, 145). When this had no affect over the Gestapo and they mercilessly beat her for information regarding Rogoff she felt powerless. Although this may seem shallow, it is important to keep in mind that her looks were important to Stella and they are what she capitalized on. Wyden compared her to Marilyn Monroe and describes her as "a masterpiece, untouchable, a fantasy for a prepubescent boy…" (Wyden, 15). If all her life she has been told she was beautiful and she had always gotten what she wanted because of it, it must have been hard to be stripped of it. Stella also depended on her looks when she attended Feige and Strassburger where she posed as a nude model. After having the exalted image of herself beaten down, the Gestapo physically tortured her for information.

The practice of torturing prisoners for information during wartime is not unusual regardless of how inhumane it is. The idea of beating a defenseless man is difficult to imagine, picture how much worse it is when a woman getting beaten. The worst part of it all is that Stella was an innocent victim because she was telling the truth about not knowing the whereabouts of Rogoff. Stella was tortured mercilessly, "They kicked both of [her] shins to the breaking point and kept beating the same spot on [her] spine. [She] was bleeding from [her] mouth, ears, and nose and couldn’t eat for days… Three times they took the safety off a pistol and put it against [her] temple. Totally shattered, [she] lay unconscious on the floor" (Wyden, 144). Not satisfied with themselves, the Gestapo then kicked her with their boots while she lay on the floor. After being beaten and tortured and stripped of her self esteem Stella had no choice but to give up on her life and just try to save her family.

Stella ultimately became a "catcher" in order to protect her parents from deportation to the concentration camps. If a person is trying to protect his or her family from harms way they are capable of many things. In Stella’s case it was either her family or her acquaintances and it is understandable that she made the choice of turning over other Jews to the Gestapo rather than her family. How many of us would be able to send our family and ourselves off to imminent death without doing everything in our power to stop it? Stella’s loyalty to her family is strongly supported by the fact that after being a "catcher" for 7 months when her parents had no other option to be deported she was willing to go with them (Wyden, 176). It was her parents and Rolf who convinced her to stay in Berlin, "[y]ou’ll stay, and we’re happy about that… We go gladly in your stead and we’re not afraid" (Wyden, 176). Wyden suggests different reasons as to why her parents would have convinced Stella to stay in Berlin since they were aware of the large numbers of "illegal Jews" their daughter was turning over. Could her parents have been in denial that she was limiting her services to tracking down Rogoff? Did they forgive her? Perhaps convincing her to stay was their last attempt to protect the little princess they had raised and fought so hard to protect (Wyden,177). However once her parents were deported, "Stella saw herself released from her obligations to her family" (Wyden,176). Although she was free of the responsibility of her family and could stop being a "catcher", she had a new affliction. The ultimate decision for herself was to continue being a traitor to her race or to get sent to a concentration camp and possibly die, "She was blooded. The choice was unequivocal, as Dobberke had made plain: it was either his work or his train" (Wyden,198). Her weak will and her desire to survive ultimately fueled Stella’s ultimate decision to continue being a "catcher".

As a "catcher" Stella had it easy and she did not want to cause problems for herself. Once her parents were deported, the decision to continue being a "catcher" was purely for selfish reasons. After all there were benefits for "catchers" such as they were not confined to a camp, they did not have to wear the Jewish star, they were decently fed and paid, they carried Gestapo identification cards to certify their authority, their names came off the deportation lists and they received 200 marks bonus per head (Wyden, 141). Giving up these benefits added to her unwillingness to quit being a "catcher" which is a result of being weak minded. After being tortured and forced into being traitor and having her family taken away from Stella fell into a depression. Another reason why she couldn’t fight the true evil of what she was doing was the fact that she was still in love with Rolf, "Sullen, severely depressed, abandoned, she fell… under the thralldom of Rolf, her sole surviving attachment… Rolf, in turn, though he needed Stella as his partner, his Jew bait… And so he told her that if she didn’t stick to the ["catcher"] work with convincing fervor, Dobberke would wonder about her loyalty to the Gestapo" (Wyden,190). Rolf played off of her inferior state of mind because he knew how vulnerable she was.

People are products of their surroundings and unfortunately the surroundings Stella found herself in were not favorable. She was a victim of cruel injustices such as discrimination, torture and having to live in a genocidal and war torn country. Stella Goldschlag was left no choice but to become a "catcher" in order to protect herself and her family. One can almost justify her being a "catcher" to save her family, but when she did it to save herself it became pure evil. It is remarkable to see how far one person is willing to go in order to survive.

References (back to top)

  • Bilderdienst, Ullstein. "Blonde Poison (Image)." 1943: Death and Resistance. 2002. The Holocaust Chronicle. 22 Nov. 2005
    An image of Stella Goldschlag in a courtroom during one of her trials.
  • Deak, Istvan. Essays on Hitler's Europe. Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 2001. (24, 32-34) <available on google print>
    A anthology of essays on the holocaust. A scholarly book that describes different aspects of the holocaust. This book, also in print, was accessed by google print, which allows certain books to be accessed via internet. The portion I used dealt with Jewish assimilation in mainstream culture and the resentment towards being compared to east European Jews. It also shortly described Stella’s life as a catcher and Jews in hiding.
  • Wyden, Peter. Stella: One Woman's True Tale of Evil, Betrayal, and Survival in Hitler's Germany. Anchor Book Ed. New York: Doubleday, 1993.
    A biography written by Peter Wyden regarding Stella Goldschlag’s life as a "catcher" during the holocaust. Peter Wyden first met Stella in school in Berlin and developed a crush on her because of her beauty. After the war ended Wyden returned to Germany and found out what Stella had done in order to save herself from death. Stella helped the Nazis catch Jews that were in hiding in exchange for her own safety. Intrigued by the idea of "catchers" he set out to discover the true story behind it.

added 6/14/2013 (from Doug Deitch, Feb. 2011 email):

  • A director with a script and location shots is trying to get funding for a film about Stella.
    See: She has a long discussion about why no one seems to be interested in funding such a film.

About the Author (back to top)

Diana Tovar
I am currently a second year sociology major, considering an emphasis on education or psychology. My project consisted of analyzing and reviewing one book that would allow me to portray the life of a Jewish person during the holocaust and their survival strategy. Peter Wyden’s biography is a straightforward documentation of Stella Goldschlag’s life as a "catcher". A "catcher" worked for the Nazis and turned over Jews they found in hiding. This book portrayed Stella Goldschlag both as a victim and a perpetrator. This topic interested me because I firmly believe that there are two sides of a story and I enjoy playing the devil's advocate.

prepared for web by Harold Marcuse on12/6/05; last updated: 12/15/05, 6/14/13
back to top, to Hist 33d homepage, 33d projects index page;
to Prof. Marcuse's Courses page; H. Marcuse homepage