Porat, Dan The Boy: A Holocaust Story

ISBN 13: 9780809030712

The Boy: A Holocaust Story

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9780809030712: The Boy: A Holocaust Story
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A cobblestone road. A sunny day. A soldier. A gun. A child, arms high in the air. A moment captured on film. But what is the history behind arguably the most recognizable photograph of the Holocaust? In The Boy: A Holocaust Story, the historian Dan Porat unpacks this split second that was immortalized on film and unravels the stories of the individuals—both Jews and Nazis—associated with it.

The Boy presents the stories of three Nazi criminals, ranging in status from SS sergeant to low-ranking SS officer to SS general. It is also the story of two Jewish victims, a teenage girl and a young boy, who encounter these Nazis in Warsaw in the spring of 1943. The book is remarkable in its scope, picking up the lives of these participants in the years preceding World War I and following them to their deaths. One of the Nazis managed to stay at large for twenty-two years. One of the survivors lived long enough to lose a son in the Yom Kippur War. Nearly sixty photographs dispersed throughout help narrate these five lives. And, in keeping with the emotional immediacy of those photographs, Porat has deliberately used a narrative style that, drawing upon extensive research, experience, and oral interviews, places the reader in the middle of unfolding events.



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About the Author:



Dan Porat is on the faculty of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and teaches courses on the representation of the Holocaust. He is the author of numerous academic publications.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

THE BOY  Chapter 1 Rising to Power

On a fall afternoon in 1913, eighteen-year-old Josef Stroop stood on the eighty-foot-high observation deck of the Hermann Monument in the Teutoburg Forest gazing up at the larger-than-life sculpture of the first-century leader of Germanic tribes, who, according to legend, had defeated the Romans in a decisive battle. Bright turquoise from the oxidation of the copper sheath, Hermann stood with his chest puffed out, a winged metal helmet covering his head and high leather boots adorning his feet. His fully extended right arm firmly gripped the hilt of a twenty-foot-long sword, the sharp blade pointing high into the blue sky.

A breeze rustled the green treetops in the thick forest. Stroop, enjoying the light wind ruffling his thick dark blond hair, stared into the distance. From this panoramic height he was able to make out a sprinkling of dots on the horizon’s green hills. Those were the buildings of his hometown, Detmold—a town of fifteen thousand residents, the capital of the independent principality of Lippe.

As the sun descended, Stroop entered a small opening directly beneath the statue’s feet. As on each of his frequent visits, he found it difficult to leave this inspiring shrine to the hero of Germany’s glorious past. But it was late and he had to depart. His hand on the rail, he walked down the dark spiral staircase, careful not to stumble. Emerging at the foot of the monument, he soon was walking in the shade cast by the tall trees on either side of the forest trail that led to Detmold. It was an hour’s walk, and before he reached home owls hooted overhead.

At dusk, Stroop passed the first houses on the outskirts of Detmold and then reached Neustadt Street. Across the canal that ran along Neustadt Street, over the high walls, he could see the red roof tiles of the royal family’s massive summer palace. A bit farther on, he could see the tops of the beech, walnut, and cedar trees, part of royal gardens accessible only to members of the royal family. He had heard of their large, oval pools with fountains and water cascades, but as an ordinary citizen he had, of course, never seen them.

Stroop followed the canal, its banks covered with shrubs, as it veered left onto Wallgraben Street. Across the strip of dark water towered St. Bonifatius Church. With his devout Catholic mother, Käthe Stroop, and his brothers, Conrad Jr. and Ferdinand, he passed through the church’s wide arched doors each and every Sunday. And on each and every weekday in the adjacent brown brick building, he had attended the parish school. In 1909, at the age of fourteen, after completing eight years of schooling, he, like most of his friends, had to quit school and find work.

Looking at the school’s shut door, he recalled his old aspiration to become a teacher. It was not that he had been a remarkable student possessed by intellectual zeal, or that he held a fondness for children. No, it was the thought of long straight rows of students looking up at him that inspired him. Dressed in a suit, he would tap a foot-long springy wooden cane on his fist as he marched back and forth before the blackboard, dozens of small eyes following his every move. As had been the case in his day, any student whose gaze wandered would be rewarded with a lash on the palm. Naughtiness would result in a more thorough caning. But Stroop’s parents had vetoed this aspiration; they couldn’t afford tuition for continuing his education.

After church, his father, dressed in his carefully ironed police uniform, took him to stand by the canal and watch the parade of the uniformed and sword-bearing honor guard pass to the music of local marching bands. Following them would roll a horse-drawn carriage carrying the royal family, citizens bowing as they passed by. Then Stroop’s father, a former coachman to the royal family, would solemnly remind his son that he must obey the prince.

It was dark when Stroop entered his parents’ modest two-story home at 7 Mühlen Street, which his father rented from the municipality of Detmold for reduced rent. The father, now a policeman, oversaw a nearby municipal shelter for the homeless and unemployed. He was frequently called out at night to break up a brawl or resolve a dispute.

Like his father, Stroop was now employed by the local government. He worked in the Land Registry, located in the government building on Kaiser-Wilhelm-Platz, as an apprentice in the tax collector’s office. For the past four years he had sat for hours glued to his wooden chair alongside a few other low-ranking clerks, laboriously registering in his stiff calligraphic handwriting the land tax on a farm sale, or hitting the typewriter keys to fill out a building license.

In the summer of 1914, with the clouds of war hovering over Europe, nineteen-year-old Stroop took a leave of absence from his job and volunteered for the 55th Prussian Infantry Regiment. The lanky six-foot-tall Stroop fit perfectly into the gray military uniform with its shiny buttons. Following a short ceremony under fluttering flags on Detmold’s train station platform, Stroop and his comrades, with long guns resting over their shoulders and spiked silver helmets on their heads, boarded a train. Over the sound of a brass band, crying crowds bid farewell to husbands, fathers, and sons destined for the Rhine River.

Within weeks, Stroop’s regiment was battling French forces. And near La Bassée, on October 22, a French bullet struck him in the shoulder. This injury took Stroop away from the battlefield, away from his comrades, and away from his service to the fatherland. He traveled back to Detmold to recuperate, where he impatiently awaited his return to the front. Finally, after a few months he was employed in the 256th Reserve Infantry Regiment (RIR) and fought along the eastern front in Poland, Lithuania, White Russia, Galicia, Romania, and Hungary. Bullets and shells hit comrades to the left and right of him, and Stroop suffered light wounds in battles in Hungary and Romania. Not once, however, did he request to be sent back home. Military service agreed with him.

The army recognized Stroop’s dedication, ability, and courage. His superiors awarded him three medals: the Lippische Principality Cross for Loyal Service, the Lippische Military Merit Medal with crossed swords, and the Iron Cross Second Class. And Stroop was promoted to vice sergeant, which gave him power to oversee other soldiers. He dreamed of higher ranks, but given his family’s modest social status and his limited education, this was an impossibility.

The signing of the armistice on November 11, 1918, ending the Great War caught Stroop and his fellow soldiers occupying Hungarian soil. To them it was self-evident that Germany had not been defeated, and they could not fathom the reason for what seemed an unwarranted, even shameful, surrender. In late December, after a farewell ceremony in Hungary and a speech from the revered German general August von Mackensen about the need to restore national unity at home, the units of the 256th RIR meekly boarded a train. On Christmas Eve, after four years on the battlefield, Stroop stepped out onto Detmold’s almost empty train station platform. Only a few family members were there to greet the returning soldiers. No local dignitaries awaited them, no admiring schoolchildren, no town band, not a flag or banner.

Days after Christmas, he returned to his tedious job at the Land Registry. While stationed in Bucharest, Stroop had taken a four-month topography course. He presented his new credentials to his superiors at the registry and requested a promotion. They rebuffed his requests time and again. In the small and poor principality rendered poorer by the war, he could anticipate staying in his current post for the rest of his life.

Frustrated, Stroop took to wandering the corridors during office hours. These outings led him down to the ground floor, where he chatted with the young women at the telephone switchboard. Upstairs, the supervisor noticed Stroop’s empty chair. He called him into his office and reproached him for going missing during working hours. Still, Stroop continued to roam. One day, the cleaner’s son spotted him with a woman from a local Jewish boardinghouse in the bicycle storage room. He reported the incident to the supervisor, who again called Stroop in. He emphatically denied improper behavior. And any time he had spent in the bicycle storage room during regular work hours, he claimed, he had made up by working late. The supervisor remained unconvinced. A letter on November 23, 1920, warned Stroop:

You have not only acted contrary to proper conduct, which prohibits you from this kind of intimacy with young foreign women in the office building, but you have also harmed your service duties.... We therefore see ourselves obliged to reprimand you for the events in question and at the same time draw your attention to the fact that the repetition of similar offenses against the service order or justified complaints concerning your service behavior will cause your dismissal from the Land Registry office.

On April 1, 1921, fifteen-year-old Franz Konrad and his handicapped father, Florian, climbed up a narrow road in the small village of Aschbach near Mariazell in the Austrian Alps. The six-and-a-half-foot-tall blue-eyed and light-haired Franz had long dreamed of becoming a musician playing in one of Vienna’s coffee-houses or concert halls. This dream had unraveled, however, when his father, a coal miner, had lost his left arm and the sight in one eye in a work accident. The small pension that supported the Konrad family of several brothers and sisters dictated this move, from their hometown of Liezen to Aschbach, where Franz would serve as an apprentice to a merchant and learn the profession of tradesman.

For the first two years of his apprenticeship, the shop owner, Josef Niederauer, taught Konrad nothing about commerce. Konrad pulled weeds out of the merchant’s garden, plowed vegetable rows, and washed Niederauer’s new car. Only in the third year did Niederauer allow Konrad to assist him with clients in the shop. After work, Konrad took night classes at a local professional school, where he learned about pricing, tax payments, and financial forms, all in preparation for the certifying exam as a commercial assistant. Despite his limited experience, he passed the exam.

On his little time off, Konrad traveled to a nearby city to sing in a men’s choir, play in a chess club, and learn Esperanto, a language recently invented with the aim of allowing people everywhere to communicate in a common tongue. Once when he attended an open-air concert, two British women, who spotted on his shirt a green-and-white Esperanto badge, befriended him, going so far as to invite him to join them on a trip to Budapest. But Konrad had to turn the offer down; he could not take time off from work.

After three years of apprenticeship, Niederauer refused to hire Konrad as a permanent employee. Konrad’s family faced an immediate financial crisis. Fortunately, within five months, in October 1924, Konrad found a job as a salesman in a food and spice wholesale business in Rottenmann. Two and a half years later, he quit this position and took a job as a substitute salesman in a local cooperative food chain. He rotated among the chain’s twelve branches, replacing absent workers. Shortly thereafter, the cooperative’s board offered him a permanent position as the head of the warehouse. Working for the cooperative required that he join the left-wing Social Democratic Workers’ Party (SDAP) and its trade union, where he served as the local party’s treasurer.

At the end of a tedious workday at the Land Registry, Stroop frequented the Hermann Monument in search of solace. Here, beneath Hermann’s sword inscribed with the words “Germany’s unity, my strength—my strength, Germany’s might,” he joined other World War I veterans reminiscing about the comradeship and bravery of war. They lamented Germany’s disgraceful defeat, encapsulated in the humiliating Versailles Treaty, sang patriotic songs, and, to the sound of drums, marched with blazing torches held aloft.

The veterans gossiped, commiserated, and held strongly to the opinion that German unity was under threat. Alien forces on the home front had betrayed the fatherland. Otherwise, how could one explain the German army’s defeat in the war? Backstabbing by liberals, Socialists, Communists, and Jews explained it. Under Hermann’s extended sword and the light and shadow of torches, the veterans swore an oath of true loyalty to the German nation and pledged themselves to protect it from the forces threatening to destroy it from within. In 1926, the charismatic leader of the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (NSDAP, or the Nazi Party), Adolf Hitler, visited the Hermann Monument and in the guest book wrote: “I believe in the people, and in the power of the person, and in the necessity of fighting.”

One weekend when he was not at the monument, Stroop strolled down Paulinen Street and ran into Max, a childhood friend who like Stroop was wounded in the war and was now a decorated veteran. But Stroop did not greet Max; he snubbed him. Max was Jewish. And Jews, Marxists, intellectuals, scientists, artists, and journalists, Stroop knew, were all enemies of the German nation. From his like-minded comrades, Stroop concealed that as a child he had played after school with Jewish friends, the children of neighborhood families Herzfeld and Examus.

His comrades in the 256th RIR Veterans Association chose Stroop as editor of the veterans’ news bulletin, a position that, despite his nonofficer rank, put him in close contact with some of the regiment’s officers. On November 20, 1927, at the regiment’s memorial ceremony, Stroop delivered the keynote address in honor of Germany’s fallen soldiers. Standing by the monument in the regiment’s courtyard, Stroop spoke to the crowd of veterans, bereaved parents, widows, and orphans. The fallen, he lamented, fought and suffered,

hour by hour, day and night, in pain and sorrow, and suddenly, they were torn from your side, because they gave the highest sacrifice for their fatherland, because they found the glory of dying in battle. All over German lands, where memorials for these heroes were built, today come together war veterans to show they have not forgotten their dead comrades. Likewise, we turn up by the memorial of our regiment’s comrades, who as members of the 256 gave their lives for the beloved fatherland. The stone in front of us marks 1,255 dead!...Loyalty, as it was in the field, must keep us survivors united! The spirit of 1914, which especially in the first postwar years lay dormant, is slowly gaining momentum. We must allow it again to completely ignite us! We must believe in the future of our fatherland! With this belief our comrades stayed behind in foreign lands, and when we hold on to this belief then the death of our comrades is not in vain!

With soldiers standing at attention, Stroop marched to the monument, saluted, and placed a wreath before it.

At 7:30 p.m. on October 9, 1931, the Austrian police arrived at the home of twenty-five-year-old Franz Konrad in Liezen, where he now lived with his wife, Agnes, and their newborn son, Franz Josef. The cooperative store had reported that 900 schillings were missing from the store safe. The policemen arrested Konrad as a suspect.

Konrad denied the accusations. A coworker who wanted his managerial job at the cooperative was the culprit. He provided an alibi. On the eve of the theft, the local Social Democratic Party heads had asked him to help in an operation to retrieve weap...

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