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A Close Call

By Fritz Gluckstein

Spring 1944. I had just left the apartment house where, in the attic, we were storing some of our furniture and other belongings. We had rented the storage space when we had to move from our own apartment to one we had to share with another family. I was carrying a shopping bag containing some books and a few household items and was walking along, lost in thought, when someone stepped in front of me and asked me to stop. I looked up and realized immediately that I was facing a Gestapo officer. One usually could recognize members of the Gestapo, not so much by their clothing but more by the way they carried themselves.

The officer showed me his oval-shaped, copper-colored badge, insisted that I look at both sides of it, and asked for my identity card. I knew why he had stopped me; he was curious why a young man like me was not in uniform. I thus handed him my exclusion certificates from the Reichsarbeitsdienst (Labor Service) and the Armed Forces. The Labor Service certificate listed the reason for my exclusion: Geltungsjude (“counted Jew”). A Geltungsjude—anyone who had one non-Jewish parent and was raised as a Jew—was subject to all laws, decrees, and regulations pertaining to Jews, including the wearing of the yellow star. I was not wearing the star since it would have been unwise to let people in the apartment house know that Jews had a storage space in the attic.

The officer looked into my shopping bag and then studied the certificates. He surely was aware that I was required to wear the star. I remembered that only a few days before, a high school classmate had been caught without a star and had wound up in the pre-deportation facility. Aside from some uneasiness, I felt no fear, let alone panic. I had an almost extracorporeal experience; I was standing next to myself, observing what was happening, wondering what the officer would do next. He scrutinized me for a long time, deliberating, I was sure, whether my “German” or “Jewish” blood was predominant. At last, he returned the certificates, turned around, and without a word walked away.

©2005, Fritz Gluckstein. The text, images, and audio and video clips on this website are available for limited non-commercial, educational, and personal use only, or for fair use as defined in the United States copyright laws.