On April 21, 1945, as Nazi Germany was about to collapse thanks to the rapidly advancing Allied armies of Russia, the U.S. and Britain to Berlin that would conclude with Germany’s surrender and the end of the European theatre of World War II more than two weeks later, a secret meeting was taking place in Germany that would have been regarded as virtually impossible a year before, let alone weeks before it took place.
The main players in that secret meeting were Heinrich Himmler, the much feared head of the SS and Gestapo, and at the time also held the post of Nazi Germany’s Minister of the Interior; Norbert Masur, a German Jewish businessman who resided in Sweden; and Felix Kersten, who was Himmler’s therapist and arranged the secret meeting between the two.
The objective of the meeting was simple, yet quite unheard of. Himmler, who at the time was in Hitler’s bad graces due to his failures as a military leader and was on the verge of losing his other posts within the Nazi hierarchy, was willing to allow the release of all Jewish prisoners (all of them female) from Ravensbruck, a concentration camp in Germany that during the final months of the war, was transformed into a death camp, and was murdering prisoners at a rapid rate every day. Himmler hoped that if an agreement could be reached to release these prisoners from Ravensbruck before he was dismissed by Hitler and the camp was liberated by the Allies, he would be able to save face for himself in the event that he would be captured by Allied soldiers.
In essence, this was a true “deal with the devil”.
Of the number of female Jewish prisoners who were confined at Ravensbruck (many of whom were working as slave labourers at the Krupp munitions factory) and doubled as bargaining chips to this secret negotiation, one of them was Malka (Molly) Goldman, who also survived the Lodz Ghetto and Auschwitz before she arrived at Ravensbruck. Her son Stanley, who is a lawyer and professor of law at Loyola Law School in L.A., during a visit to Israel saw a pamphlet with a photo that could have included his mother as she was being released from the camp. This sparked his curiosity, as he wanted to know more about the events that lead to his mother’s eventual release from this piece of hell on Earth, and how she became an unwitting participant in this bit of hidden history of the Holocaust.
After eight years of thorough, diligent research and writing, Stanley Goldman finally tells us how this secret meeting between Himmler and Masur in April of 1945 not only led to his mother’s early release from the jaws of death of the Nazi war machine, but also how it contributed to the fall of Hitler and Nazi Germany a few short weeks later, in his book Left to the Mercy of a Rude Stream.
In a recent phone interview, Mr. Goldman said that he got the title for his book from a line in William Shakespeare’s play “Henry VIII”, which was uttered by Cromwell, one of the play’s characters.
“In the play, Cromwell admits that when he was young, he didn’t understand the true circumstances of the stream of history, until it was too late to change his ways,” he said. “But choosing that line for the book’s title also had a dual purpose: the tell the story of my mother’s wartime plight as a single person whose was pushed by the currents of history, and how I, like Cromwell, foolishly ignored the true circumstances of history until it was too late to do so.”
Although it wasn’t his intention to make part of the focus of the book about Ravensbruck, Goldman felt that during the course of his eight years of research and writing (which he also delved into the testimonials that were stored in the archives of Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum located in Jerusalem), he felt he couldn’t ignore the terrible history of that camp, which had the notoriety of being the only Nazi death camp within German territory.
“I learned all sorts of things, including the fact that there wasn’t much at all written about Ravensbruck, which I discovered was a disturbing kind of hell,” he said. “It was the largest women’s prison, in which 80% of its population wasn’t Jewish. Also, so many of its guards were women, and their behaviour towards the prisoners were worst than that of the male guards. In fact, 21 of Ravensbruck’s female guards were brought to trial after the war for crimes against humanity.”
As well, Goldman felt a personal sense of obligation and responsibility in writing this book, especially owing to the fact that there is growing apathy amongst the public today when it comes to the Holocaust.
“It reminds me of the line from the 1950s TV series ‘Naked City’, which says that there are eight million stories in the naked city. The Holocaust has six million stories; everybody has a story to tell about it,” he said. “The more I learned about it, I knew somebody had to write this story, because these days, there is a certain amount of distance between today’s generation and the Holocaust, and people have no particular interest in talking about things that happened before I was born. The tides of history carry us all with it. It ebbs and flows and things do come back, like anti-Semitism.”
“I believe that every Holocaust survivor should write a book, because it’s important to discover each survivor’s experience and the place it holds within the historical context of that massive tragedy,’ he added.
Left to the Mercy of a Rude Stream certainly succeeds in telling a Holocaust survivor’s story within that enormous historical context, especially when that context is narrowed into the many hidden histories that are always being unearthed, especially the secret negotiations that were initiated by Himmler, his motivations behind them, the role of the Krupp armaments empire in the Holocaust, and some of the lesser known members of Himmler’s inner circle who were just as – or even more – evil than their much feared leader. Stan Goldman tells us through the story of his mother’s harrowing survival that there are still millions of more stories about the Holocaust, and there should be a never ending quest to bring out these stories for future generations to become more aware of such an unspeakable tragedy, and continually end the ignorance so that it could never happen again.