Jewish Refugees Underground

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Also called “U-Boote or submarines”, Jewish refugees who had gone “underground” were usually filled with great fear, as Max Krakauer’s narrative about a suitcase at Stuttgart Central Train Station reveals.

Upon arriving in Stuttgart from Berlin in early August of 1943, the married Krakauer couple had gotten caught in a check of identity papers at the central train station without having any. They told the detectives that their identity papers were inadvertently in a suitcase that had not yet arrived. They then feared getting caught in a check again when they picked up the suitcase.

Max Krakauer, alias Ackermann, described the incident thusly in his memoir:

Our stopover in Denkendorf, which should have gone without any hitch, did not go off entirely without problems. What seriously worried us was our luggage. It still had to be at Stuttgart Central Train Station.

The police had recorded our personal information– every memory of this sent a new shiver down our spines – in those dreadful hours there. Thus, even though everything was fake, the number of our baggage claim ticket might even be in their files. Should our information really prove to be false when they checked with Berlin, then we would once again have to expect to be arrested when we tried to pick up the luggage. That was the snare with which they could catch us.

For days, we did not muster the courage to ask about it but of course we did not have any clothing or underwear otherwise. In the long run, this situation was untenable. And we though a great deal about how we could get to the suitcases without placing ourselves in danger.

After discussing it anew, Pastor Stöffler declared himself willing to take care of the matter for us together with a colleague. If our fears proved to be justified, however, and the two were detained, then our helpers, together with their families and probably the entire Confessing Church, would be in danger of experiencing fatal problems. So we insisted that they refrain from doing this and resolved to take care of the problem ourselves instead.

We figured that it would have to work with a porter’s assistance. We intended to observe from a distance whether he might be stopped at the baggage claim. Should we notice the least suspicious thing, we intended to abandon the luggage and get out of there rather than expose ourselves to new problems.

The plan seemed good but was unfortunately foiled since Stuttgart Central Train Station no longer had a porter at that time. We thus had no other choice than to take the risk upon ourselves. We went to the baggage claim counter together, handed the ticket over and closely observed the agent’s expressions and movements. Nothing happened. He disappeared with it indifferently, he returned with the suitcases indifferently and handed them over to us. Apparently, no one had made any inquiries in Berlin, and we once again started speculating what might have prompted the detective’s curious generosity. At any rate, our fears had been groundless and we elatedly transported our possessions, all of our last belongings, to Köngen in order to ride to Wendlingen ourselves.

Despite this success, we did not abandon our accustomed caution. As usual, I kept a keen lookout for suspicious figures on the platform. I noticed a man who looked like he might have been a detective. He also spent an unduly long time before the train and we decided not to take it. Apparently, our suspicion was correct, for the man leaped onto the already moving train at just the last moment and, as the cars passed by, we just saw how some of the travelers were reaching into their breast pockets, evidently to retrieve their identity papers.

So we took the streetcar once again to return home, which, although more roundabout, was also much safer, though. People in our situation could not be cautious enough anyway; our adversaries were named Himmler and Gestapo. We certainly would have been a welcome catch for them (Krakauer, Lichter, 87).

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