Marianne entered a large rectangular room with a Persian carpet covering nearly the whole floor. On the fresh white walls hung gold-framed pictures of Hitler and Himmler. A huge desk, which stretched nearly the width of the room, faced her at the far end. The only windows were behind the desk, so that the man sitting in front of them became an ominous silhouette.
To one side, under the picture of Himmler, a sour-looking secretary sat at a smaller, utilitarian desk, with sharpened pencils lined up next to her steno pad, and a typewriter pushed to one side. Apparently, she was to record the interrogation.
Marianne walked the seemingly eternal distance from the door to the chair placed at a slight angle before the large desk. At a gesture from the Inspector, she sat.
From close up, Marianne could make out the Inspector’s features: a handsome man in his mid-forties with short salt-and-pepper hair over a square, tanned face.
“Resident in Berlin-Kreuzberg?”
“I presume the date and place of birth on your ID are correct.”
“Are you still enrolled at the university?”
“School of Medicine?”
“Medical drawing is my actual field of specialty.”
“Um hum. You aren’t a member of the Nationalsozialistische Studentenbund.” (National Socialist Student League)
“I don’t have time. I’ve had a lot of trouble with my studies.”
“Girls don’t have the brains to study—much less medicine. You could do more good for your country by getting pregnant and giving the Führer a child every year.”
As this was not a question, Marianne chose not to respond.
The inspector returned to the questioning. “If you have no time for the Studentenbund, how is it you have time for the Church?”
“Man does not live by bread alone.”
“Why the Confessing Church?”
“I’m a devout Christian.”
“That did not answer my question. Why the Confessing Church? Why not the German Church? Aren’t you a patriotic German?” For the first time, the inspector’s tone was aggressive and hostile.
“Of course, I’m a patriotic German.”
“Then, why don’t you belong to the German Church?”
Marianne shrugged, but she swallowed at the same time. Her face betrayed that her pretence of nonchalance was sheer bluff. “I prefer the pastors of the Confessing Church.”
With a sneer, the inspector retorted, “Because they are all pacifists and Jew-lovers?”
“How many of the parishioners of your church are Jews?”
“None of them. All parishioners are Christians, or they wouldn’t be in church at all.”
“Jews will do anything to save their own fat skins. Hypocrisy and blasphemy are nothing to them.”
Marianne forced herself to appear indifferent, to sit calmly. Regardless of what this man said, regardless of how crude or odious he became, she had to retain the appearance of indifference. The Inspector knew from experience that she had steeled herself against his provocation. He changed tack at once.
“How did you know Kiev had fallen on the night of Oct. 6 when it wasn’t announced in the Wehrmacht Report until Oct. 10th?”
“I didn’t know. I was upset and I got confused. The reports had talked about fighting near Kiev.”
“Have Smolensk and Kremenchug fallen?”
“Yes, they have! It was announced in the Wehrmacht Report on the 19th of this month!”
“I don’t know Soviet geography very well.”
“What does that have to do with it? Don’t you listen to the Wehrmacht Reports?”
“Yes, but it just doesn’t mean that much to me.”
“WHAT?” The man roared and half-leaped out of his chair in apparent rage. Marianne gasped in surprise and pulled back in her chair. “What?” he repeated in outrage. “The news of our glorious Fighting Forces and their courageous struggle to protect you ‘doesn’t mean very much’ to you?”
“I only meant that the various Russian names don’t mean much to me.”
The interrogation continued for the next two hours. The inspector’s tone ranged from bored to furious, from contemptuous to patronizing, and through it all, Marianne didn’t know if she were behaving correctly or not. She wasn’t sure if her stupid slip about Kiev during the air raid was the core or the periphery of the interrogation. If it were the core it was bad enough; it could cost her and her parents their heads. But the questions kept coming back to the Confessing Church, too, and Marianne began to fear that something about her activities had been discovered.
“Where did you get to know so many Jews?”
“I don’t know any Jews.”
“No?” the inspector mocked surprise. “Then how is it that you sent off 23 packages to Jews in the Riga and Warsaw ghettos in the last 4 months?”
Marianne opened her mouth, but no answer came out. Trapped! If she didn’t know the people she had sent the packages to, where did she have the names and addresses?
“Well?” the man barked louder.
Marianne swallowed. “I knew one family …”
“These packages weren’t to one family! What do you think we are? Idiots?” He slapped his hand on the desktop. “Stop lying and start cooperating, or your life is going to get much more unpleasant!”
“I’m not lying. You didn’t let me finish. I knew one family and they sent me the names of their friends.”
“And you spent your money and time collecting things for Jews you didn’t even know?!”
Marianne felt her throat cramp. The packages came from all sorts of well-meaning Christians who wanted to do their little bit to help the Jews but were too timid to send the packages themselves. They had brought her extra food, soap, detergent, toothpaste and aspirin—all the desperately needed necessities of daily life that the Jews could not obtain in their overcrowded ghettos. If Marianne admitted that, she would betray all those well-meaning people. But if she said she had sent it all on her own, they would know she was lying, because she could never have obtained so many rationed goods in four weeks—unless she was dealing on the black market. But how could they know what was in the packages? “Yes,” Marianne managed to croak out. “Yes, I did,” she admitted, adding daringly, “It’s not illegal.”
“Why are you so interested in the Jews? What kind of a pervert are you?” the inspector retorted. “How does a good German girl get so corrupted by this filth? This racial pestilence! Did some Jew rape you, perhaps? Turn you into his whore?”
Marianne blushed so violently that the inspector backed off, apparently embarrassed by his own crudity. “Go wait in the hall!” he ordered with a wave of his hand.
Marianne virtually ran out of the room. She could hardly believe her good luck. Sitting opposite the disinterested receptionist, however, her euphoria faded. She hadn’t really escaped the question about her interest in the Jews. He would ask it again. And she didn’t have an answer. Her stomach growled aloud. The receptionist cast her a disgusted look.
“I was brought here just before I sat down to lunch,” Marianne explained.
“What’s that to me?” the woman responded sourly.
“Please, may I be allowed to get something to eat?”
“No,” the woman told her brusquely and turned her attention back to the novel she was reading.
Marianne forced herself to concentrate again on the question about the packages and her interest in the Jews, but the door to Inspector Zielinski’s office opened, and the secretary who had taken the notes called Marianne back into the office. When Marianne was seated before the Inspector’s desk again, he pushed a typed transcript of her interrogation at her and told her to sign it.
“May I read it first?”
“Of course.” He leaned back in his chair.
Marianne read carefully. She searched for some thread that revealed what they knew about her—and she tried to memorize her own answers so that she would not contradict herself in the future. When she reached the end, she found that the last set of questions had been deleted. She signed the transcript.
The inspector pushed a button on his desk, and the two men who had arrested her reappeared. The inspector nodded his head in their direction and Marianne obediently went to them. They gestured her out of the room, past the receptionist and out into the hall. “But I don’t have my ID back,” she protested.
The stocky man with close-cropped hair laughed outright. The man with the melancholy Hitler mustache looked at her pityingly. The former gripped her by the arm again and directed her into the elevator. As it sank back down the center of the stairwell, her brief hope of release faded.
Outside, the car waited. Again, she was hustled inside, again flanked by her silent escort in the back seat. When the car turned left from the Anhalter Bahnhof in the direction of the Prinz-Albrecht-Strasse, a terror so powerful gripped Marianne that she stiffened, and both her companions turned to stare at her. Neither of them laughed this time, and the one with the mustache really seemed to pity her. But they did not stop at the Prinz-Albrecht-Strasse with its notorious cellars. Instead, they drove on to the women’s prison in the Lehrter Strasse. The two police officials brought her to the reception area and turned her over to the female warden.
Marianne could grasp this situation even less than her arrest. Ever since she had started her illegal work, she had accepted the possibility of being picked up by the Gestapo. She had half-imagined interrogations—and imagined them to be much worse than what she had just experienced. She had imagined windowless rooms with bright lights directed at her. She had imagined being tied to a chair while men in boots with riding crops prowled around her, shouting questions at her. She had imagined being slapped and spit at. But she had never imagined herself as a criminal.
But here she was confronted by hardened, professional prison wardens who looked at her as if she were a thief, a murderer, or a prostitute. She was ordered to strip. Hesitantly she removed her clothing down to her underwear, but this was not enough. “All the way,” one of the women told her coldly.
Marianne removed her underwear and stood stark naked in the cold room, her feet cringing on the dirty, cement floor and her arms crossed helplessly across her nubile breasts.
“Deaf or just dumb? I told you to bend over.”
Marianne bent over, never imagining what would happen next. One of the wardens went behind her and with her cold, callused hands pulled Marianne’s buttocks apart. She slipped a gnarled finger inside her vagina and felt around inside, apparently looking for something. The unexpectedness of this humiliating probe made Marianne gag in revulsion. Not even in the RAD had she undergone such degradation!
The inspection of her body complete, the woman moved away. Marianne stood upright again but was so ashamed she could not meet the eyes of the wardens. She was handed rough but clean prison garments and told to put these on. She was allowed her own underwear. After she had dressed in the striped prison clothes, she was ordered to sign a chit listing all the belongings that she had brought with her. These were sealed in an envelope. “Any questions?”
“What are the charges?”
The woman behind the desk shrugged.
“Do I have a right to make a telephone call?”
“Don’t make me laugh.”
“Can I write a letter? At least send for a toothbrush and comb?”
“I’ll have to check.”
“May I have something to eat? I haven’t eaten since breakfast.”
“You’ll get the regular evening meal.”
With the formalities over, Marianne was led out of the office, up two flights of metal stairs, and along an iron balcony lined with cells—numbers and barred windows. She was halted before the door numbered 548. The guard opened the door with her key and held it open for Marianne. She went in. The door clanged behind her. The key turned in the lock.
Inside the cell was a fold-down desk, a stool, an iron-framed, fold-down rope bed without a mattress or blankets, a wash basin and an open, seatless toilet. Over her head was a barred window with filthy glass and one broken pane that let in the bitter November air. Over the wash basin was posted a list of regulations (according to paragraph so-and-so of such-and-such law, the inmate was forbidden from and required to …) Marianne sank onto the stool and stared around herself in disbelief. It couldn’t be true.
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