Phyllis Zimbler Miller
Phyllis Zimbler Miller
Writer of Nonfiction Holocaust Material to End Antisemitism

Can We Judge What Individuals Did to Survive in the Holocaust?

Book cover photo from Amazon.

I am reading Peter Wyden’s book STELLA: ONE WOMAN’S TRUE TALE OF EVIL, BETRAYAL, AND SURVIVAL IN HITLER’S GERMANY about his Berlin Jewish childhood classmate who later worked for the Gestapo to catch Jews in hiding in Berlin during WWII.

When I told my husband about the book, he mentioned that Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits talks in his book FAITH AFTER THE HOLOCAUST about not judging what Jews did in order to try to survive.

In the 1970s, while working as an editor and reporter at the Jewish Exponent newspaper in Philadelphia, I published a firsthand account of a Jewish woman who had survived in Berlin during the war. I also went to lunch with her, where she described in more detail sitting in cafes all day and sleeping in ruins.

Yet it was not until August 2016 reading the panels of the outside exhibit of the Typography of Terror museum in Berlin that I learned about the “rat catchers” – Jews who hunted other Jews – so that Berlin could be Judenrein (free of Jews).

The Typography of Terror museum website states:

From 1933 to 1945, the most important centers of National Socialist terror were located on the site of the “Topography of Terror,” next to the Martin-Gropius-Bau and not far from Potsdamer Platz: the Secret State Police Office with its own “house prison,” the Reichsführung-SS, the security service (SD) of the SS and during the Second World War also the Reich Security Main Office.

As Wyden writes of his former classmate, before she became a “rat catcher” she herself was pointed out to the Gestapo by another Jew, then tortured horribly for information she did not have.

Film director Jo Baier recommended the book STELLA to me. He is the director of the German film NOT ALL WERE MURDERERS (available for viewing on The film is based on childhood memories in Michael Degen’s biography NICHT ALLE WAREN MÖRDER: EINE KINDHEIT IN BERLIN.

Imdbpro plot summary of the film NOT ALL WERE MURDERERS:

Based on the childhood memories of actor Michael Degen, the movie deals with the everyday struggle to survive as a Jewish boy in Nazi Germany. As his father had died in 1940 after being released from the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, Michael and his mother fear to be deported themselves. They manage to live in Berlin with false names and faked papers, hidden by several, often broken, people.

As an actor Michael Degen had a role in the film THE LAST SUPPER, which I highly recommend.

Imdbpro plot summary of the film THE LAST SUPPER:

On the day Hitler assumes power, an affluent German-Jewish family comes together for dinner. Most of them-like many Germans at the time-do not take the Nazis seriously. When Leah announces her plans to emigrate to Palestine, her family talks her down. But when Michael indicates he’s actually an admirer of the National Socialist Movement, the family is on the brink of being torn apart. A deeply personal and intimate chamber play.

Baier emailed me about the book STELLA when he recommended it to me:

A shocking story of a very good-looking Jewish girl (“the Marilyn Monroe of our school”) who was forced by torture to betray Jewish people to the Nazis in Berlin. Michael Degen, who wrote the book of NOT ALL WERE MURDERERS, met her once together with his mother [during WWII]. They were in terror seeing her. But Stella only said “Out of my eyes!” and let them go. [To me] she was a very pitiful creature with no choice at all. She killed herself in 1994 by jumping out of the window of her flat in Berlin.

The Jews pointed out to the Gestapo by Stella and sent “East” to their deaths would probably not agree with Baier that she had no choice. But then, how can we judge?

About the Author
Phyllis Zimbler Miller is a Los-Angeles based writer who is the co-author of the Jewish holiday book SEASONS FOR CELEBRATION, the founder of the nonfiction Holocaust theater project and the co-host of the NEVER AGAIN IS NOW podcast about antisemitism --
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