Takis Würger: "Stella" – Why did she do that?

adminJanuary 10, 2019

Takis Würger in conversation with Frank Meyer

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The Jewish woman Stella Goldschlag betrayed other Jews to the Nazis in Berlin. (Carl Hanser Verlag / Imago / Archives)

"Greifer" was given the name to Jews who have betrayed other Jews to the Gestapo. Stella Goldschlag was also involved in the deaths of hundreds of people this way. Journalist Takis Würger has made a novel out of her story.

Frank Meyer: "The Club" – with this short story, "mirrored" the journalist Takis Würger two years ago in the literary world. The book was a huge success. 90,000 copies have been sold to date. And tomorrow his second novel, "Stella" will be published. And on this book there are high expectations. In any case, the famous Hanser publisher has put the book in front of his program. And Takis Würger himself is now here in our studio. Mr Würger, parts of this story are true, you read it right at the beginning of your new novel. They tell the story in the book or tell the story of Stella Goldschlag. This is a woman who really existed, as a so-called grab such as a Jewish grabber in Berlin, has betrayed other Jews to the Gestapo. How did you come across this story?

Strangler: Drinking beer, honest. I sat in Berlin with a friend on the sidewalk, and we talked about how in the musical "Cabaret" terror and beauty are close together. And my friend Andreas told me, it's like in Stella Goldschlag's life. And then he let him tell me the story, as far as he knew, then googled on and asked him that night, is there a novel about this woman? And he didn't know it, and we also googled it. Then it turned out that there was no, and then I took this historic ore and then said a fictional story.

"Non-fiction book by Peter Wyden was a wonderful source"

Meyer: There is no novel, but there was another book about Stella Goldschlag by a German-American journalist, Peter Wyden. In 1992, he published it. And when he was a young Peter living in Berlin, Peter Wyden, he himself knew Stella Goldschlag. What role did it play for your book that this second book already existed?

Journalist and author Takis Würger on the blue couch in Frankfurt's book fair 14.10.2017 in Frankfurt am Main (picture alliance / dpa / Jan Haas)Our guest: The author and journalist Takis Würger. (picture alliance / dpa / Jan Haas)

Strangler: This nonfiction book by Peter Wyden was a wonderful source, as inspiration for my novel. This non-fiction book has also provided points that I could associate with my research. Because, although I wrote a fictitious book, wrote a novel, I have tried to be inspired by the true Stella Goldschlag, and for example, the court has noted that the lie of Landesarchiv Berlin, through me, worked through. I would not have come to it if I had not read this non-fiction book.

"Questions We Don't Have Answers to"

Meyer: These were court records from a Soviet military court. Since then, Stella Goldschlag was charged after the war, sentenced in 1946 to ten years in prison. They now tell the book from a special perspective. Her narrator is a young man from Switzerland who comes to Berlin in January 1942 as a stranger, as an outsider. He lives there in a fancy hotel, you can imagine the Hotel Adlon, about the price range. He only has a lot of money, he can go anytime. Well, he is a guest of this Berlin in the year 1942, who now looks at the distress and dangers and temptations of the people from the outside. Why did you take such a distant story for the story?

Strangler: Just because I write a novel, I would have a perspective that is not so close to Stella Goldschlag, as if I had written a non-fiction book or as if I had written a novel from its perspective. Because the life of the historic Stella Goldschlag and also Stella in my novel raises questions that we have no answer to. And also questions that I as an author would like to answer. But I wanted or want the readers of my novel to give themselves these answers.

It would have been difficult if I had chosen Stella's perspective, because then, to explain her actions, one had to go much further into the head. And then I had the perspective of a man who falls in love with this woman and on the one hand has trouble understanding what Stella does and why she behaves that way, and secondly, does not know how to deal with his love for this woman .

"She was very musical"

Meyer: And how he sees her, how he experiences her, which is amazing to him, is also great for us reading how this Jewish Stella Goldschlag lives in Berlin in 1942, just in the middle of the war. She sings, for example, in a jazz club, she takes extensive drugs, she goes to festivals, where senior SS officers are present. How close is the real Stella Goldschlag?

Strangler: What you just said is not at all near the real Stella Goldschlag. It has jumped from my imagination. About the real Stella Goldschlag we can say that she was very musical. She read Remarque, she played in a secret jazz band – jazz was banned under the Nazis. And what most of the Jewish Berliners who stayed hidden among the other Germans in Nazi times had been in common that they were very brave and that they often interfered with the rest of the population because it was at least remarkable, just like doing as they were part of the Nazi band. And I read it when I read about the grapples, as they were called, and about the submarines, when these submerged Jewish Berliners were called. And then I thought, how would it look like a fictional character in a novel, and I developed this very outgoing, extravagant and beauty-redeeming character.

"There are two perspectives on Stella in the novel"

Meyer: And when it comes to their victims, the Jews who betrayed her, and because of her – apparently hundreds of cases – it's in the files. The victims only learn through the files you cite in short, very fact-sober, bureaucratic comments. Otherwise, don't talk about the victims of Stella Goldschlag. Why did you give it up?

Strangler: Initially, there are two perspectives on Stella in this short story. When the almost unbearable naive perspective of this enamored narrator Friedrich, who always raves about her and who falls for her, completely. And then the legal documents cited in a cold police language that gives a completely different view of Stella. And there's little about Stella, you don't go down there. But at least I think their coldness is well illustrated. Once through this language, and secondly through their actions. And I always find it beautiful in books, when I'm a reader in front of the actors, a little. That's why I chose these two perspectives on Stella.

"Anti-Semitism, which was common in the population"

Meyer: One already reads from what she does when the narrator Frederick doesn't even know it or doesn't even realize what her other side really is. I'd like to ask you another character in the novel, an SS officer called the App. He introduces you here as a very decadent figure – so I want to say – listening to forbidden music because his most special cheese comes straight from France. His activity for the SS, he does as a hobby, apparently happens in some way. What role does this decadent SS play in your view of the novel?

Strangler: Tristan is called. He is in this triad Friedrich-Stella-Tristan saw the friend and really the cool. And I wanted to have a character in this book that you really like, who loves beauty, who loves good food, can dance, is well dressed, is fun, loves kids, loves animals, doesn't take everything seriously, doesn't participate in much of it Nazi ideology. So love France and love jazz and with absolute security anti-Semitic. Because today, when I think back to Shoah and to the Nazi regime, an aspect I cannot explain, this is, of course, anti-Semitism, which was common in the population.

It was believed that Jewish Germans are different from other Germans. Jewish Europeans differ from other Europeans. And Tristan is such a seducer in the book. I noticed at a time when I gave this short story a very early test reader when my manuscript was still raw. And she said, yes, Tristan is very bad, but with that one would like to spend an evening. And that was how I thought it would be, and hoped it would work that way.

"Made it so she liked it"

Meyer: Now it's the big question that keeps you from reading all the time, which also frustrates Friedrich, for example, when he understands what Stella does. Why does she do this? Why does she reveal other people? In the beginning, it is a motivation if you want to. She tries to get the parents released who are arrested. She gets extorted. If she betrays other Jews, her parents can be released from prison again, she is promised. But she also goes on when her parents were released. As you said earlier, you won't answer. Well, you have no answer to that, or have you – what did you think about it?

Strangler: In fact, I think that's one of the many secrets Stella Goldschlag took in the grave, both the historic Stella Goldschlag and the woman in my novel. There are signs of the historic Stella Goldschlag why she did it. And at one point in the black robe jacket with the revolver in the holster she was hunting people and it seemed like she would have liked her to have been drunk in the power.

In my novel, this is something different, because the collaboration with the Gestapo Stella makes it possible to live a life that otherwise would not be possible. And in my novel I created a sign in Stella that has a crazy hunger for life, especially in the times when life is threatened. At one point she says to Friedrich: "I just want to live," and I think that's her motivation, and she puts everything else under the microscope. Just morals, even the question of whether she has to decide on life and death.

Meyer: Stella from the short story by Takis Würger. In the Hanser publisher, the book will be shown tomorrow with 220 pages, 22 euros is the price.

Statements from our interlocutors reflect their own views. Deutschlandfunk Culture does not accept the statements of its interlocutors in interviews and discussions.

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