From the man who led the evacuation of USS Arizona to the fighter pilot who took to the skies in his pajamas, learn the stories of eight of the many servicemen who distinguished themselves on one of the darkest days in American military history.
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This is a story I wrote this July and one of the better ones that I have written. I hope that you will enjoy. I like writing about WWII and the Holocaust. I focus mainly on, what I call, the heroes of the Holocaust. These people would be men and women who saved a life in some way, big or not. Raoul Wallenberg and Oskar Schindler are two men who are famous for saving lives in a big way. Miep Gies, the woman who hid Anne Frank, is a female who hid two families. However, I want to point out an example of someone who saved a life in a small way. In the biography, The Nazi Officer’s Wife by Edith Hahn Beer, she tells about a man who was dressed like a Nazi official. She was told to tell him of her dilemma and she did. He gave her instructions that basically saved her life. This man saved a life in a small way. Yet, his identity is unknown and will never be fully honored for his incredible actions.
This story is about a saver of a life.
The Fire of Fear and Anticipation
In 1944, Hitler’s war machine rampaged all of Europe devouring everything within sight, whether it be the innocent enemy or themselves. Caught in the belly of the machine was a young Jewish girl, age sixteen, who likes to call herself Greta Pfeiffer after her hero who was the star of When the Wind Calls, her favorite book. Her real name was Helene Else and she lived in the fiery heart of the war machine also known as Nazi Germany. Let me tell you her story of amazing redemption and survival.
“Open up! Open up! Gestapo!” an intolerable force shouted. The shouts broke through the darkness making dawn come faster.
“Was ist dies? Was ist dies? Yosef! Erwachen! Yosef!” a brown haired woman in a white bathrobe yelled at her husband. Panic was slowly rising in her throat and she fought the urge to curse Yahweh for their terrible luck.
“Darotka stop choking me! What is all this commotion?” Yosef yelled at his panicking wife.
“Herr Steinfield, open the door. Herr Steinfield, offen die tür.”
As quickly as he woke, Herr Steinfeld met the Gestapo who were banging on his door.
“You have caused probable damage to my door. I can barely afford to support my wife and her needs. What makes you think I can afford to repair the damage that you’ve done to my door? What do you have to say to me in my wrath?” Herr Steinfeld quickly stated as he fumbled with the cloth straps that fastened his robe.
“Herr Steinfield, our apologies. We have reason to believe that you may be hiding a Jewish family in your home. May we examine your house?”
“Why, of course. I don’t want any of that filth in my home. Please do come in. Please don’t mind the mess. My wife is quite expensive and she wants everything her eyes see.” Herr Steinfield explains.
“Well, the Germans are the best. We deserve everything while those maggots don’t even deserve to live,” Frau Darotka said to defend herself.
“Ja, yes, Frau Darotka.”
The leader of this particular Gestapo ring prodded an antique German leather couch. To his surprise or disgust (it was hard to tell), nothing squirmed in response. He repeated this process throughout the entire German house with its two stories of furnishings. They even went out back but they found nothing.
“Well it seems that you have no Jews hiding in your home. Guten nacht, Herr und Frau Steinfield.”
After the Gestapo left, Herr Steinfield counted to ten in his head with Frau Steinfield counting simultaneously. Once they hit eleven, the both rushed upstairs to their attic that did not exist to the Nazis.
“Gott, are you ok? Everyone all right?” Herr Steinfield whispered to the door of his attic.
“Danke, danke schön, Herr und Frau Steinfield. I can’t express how much this all means to me,” a raspy voice answered back.
“Nein, nein, there was nothing else to do. How is Helene?”
“She is better. I have been giving her the medicine you have given me and it has been helping.”
“How much better is she?”
“She is still unconscious.”
“From hunger and fatigue?”
“Herr Else, why don’t you bring her and come down to the guest bedroom?”
“Nein, Herr Steinfield, I don’t want to jeopardize your safety anymore than I already have. You have done so much for me that I not know how to pay you back and I don’t think that my actions will best match what you have done for me.”
“I do not want you to pay me back. And you WILL come to the guest bedroom for the sake of your daughter. Verstehen sie?”
“Ja, Herr Steinfield.”
“Darotka, attend to Helene. Herr Else, come with me.”
It was a miracle that Helene was nursed back to consciousness by dawn.
“A fire has started,” she murmured when she first woke up.
“What do you mean, mein tochter?” Darotka asked her gently.
“Would you mind explaining it’s symbolic meaning?”
“It means that an emotional fire of fear and anticipation spread across Europe. Fear is in the hearts of all the persecuted Jews, Gypsies, and everyone who is declared a national hazard to the ‘perfect superhuman’ German race. Anticipation is felt in the hearts of the persecuted, the Axis, and the Allies alike. The persecuted anticipate the end of their suffering. The Axis anticipate their victory over European nations. The Allies anticipate victory over the Axis powers.”
“Yes but that has happened months ago! Thirty-three to be exact.”
“I just said a fire has started, not when it started.”
“…She will be safe. Nein, Herr Else. Don’t give me that face. We both know that this house is the safest for the both of you despite the present changes,” exclaimed Herr Steinfield as he entered the room as Herr Else trailed quietly behind.
“What present changes?” Helene asked curiously.
“Well… how do I put this? The NSDAP has ordered … me to battle.”
“The army, Herr Steinfield?”
“Yes. Now calm child, everything will be alright. The war will end soon.”
“That is what you hope. Not what you know will happen.”
“You are too smart, young one.”
“See, Frau Steinfield? Fire!”
“A whirlwind of fire spreading across Europe in the form of Hitler’s nasty war machines. Each speck fighting for their egocentric leader. Each speck, dying for him. A fire of passion for the Führer lingers in their hearts.”
“Yes, that is true, but why should a young girl like you be thinking of such sad thoughts?”
“I have all the time in this world to think until the Führer comes and kills me and only then I will not be able to think anymore.”
“Well, God will save you from the Führer.”
“Yes, I suppose. One person from my family must survive and so must one of you. Do whatever you can to survive these lengthy years of oppression in the fires of the monsters belly. I want to honor you one day when Germany falls for trying to save my life.”
January 27, 1975 – International Holocaust Remembrance Day
Dignity Speech – Helene Else (47 years old)
“Today we are gathered here at the Avenue of the Righteous to honor two Gentiles who saved a Jew’s life. The Jewish community is a big family. We laugh together. We weep together. And we expect each other to save one another. But we owe it to the Gentiles for the air we breathe today. Many Gentiles have saved us. Raoul Wallenberg. Oskar Schindler. Herr and Frau Steinfield. To name a few.”
“In 1944, Herr and Frau Steinfield harbored my father and I from the Nazis who were looking for us. They deliberately lied to them and faked their beliefs for the sake of our lives. Even after Herr Steinfield was sent to battle the Russians on the Eastern Front, Frau Steinfield daily put her life at risk for our lives. So I say this and I will not regret these words: Herr Yosef Steinfield und Frau Darotka Steinfield, I honor you by giving you the Righteous Among Nations medal. During the 1940s era, your actions have proved that you are worthy of this medal. I thank you from the from the bottom of my heart for what you have done for me and my father. From Heaven, my father says ‘Danke für alles!’ L’chaim to Herr und Frau Steinfield!”
The original K.G.B. chief’s diaries, long hidden, state outright for the first time that Mr. Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat and war hero, was executed in a Moscow prison.