Strassel: Good evening, Albert.
Wachter: [Finding his voice] Uh, good evening, Heinrich.
Strassel: We meet again, old friend.
Wachter: Yes. How…how did you know that Genia lived here?
Strassel: Genia? That’s odd. She told me her name was Alice—Alice Schulz.
Wachter: Alice Schulz? [Wachter glances at Lusia, who nods her head.]
Strassel: She is well-trained, that little one. Like a little parrot—“My name is Alice Schulz and I am 8 years old. Please let me go home!” But I soon learned the truth.
Lusia: You hurt her!
Strassel: Madame! We do not hurt children. We are a civilized people.
Lusia: Genia! Why did you tell on us?
Strassel: Oh, but she did not tell on you. [Strassel takes yellow ball from Genia.] Thank you, liebchen. This told me.
Wachter: I believe I see how…when we met this morning…
Strassel: Yes, Albert my friend. We met and you with a yellow ball. You tried to conceal it; I couldn’t think why. Then when little lost Alice—Genia rather—was found by my troops and clutching that same yellow ball as if her life depended on it, I put two and two together and came up with Albert Wachter.
Wachter: [Trying to urge Strassel toward the door.] Well, thank you, Heinrich, for bringing her back. Believe me, we really appreciate it.
Strassel: Not so fast, Albert. We’re not through talking. You haven’t introduced me to the ladies.
Wachter: Your pardon. Commandant Strassel: May I present Lusia, Genia’s mother. Lusia, this is Heinrich Strassel, Commander of the Waffen SS.
Strassel: [Looks at Lusia with contempt, but makes no acknowledgement.] And this lady?
Wachter: Mrs., Winkelman, my housekeeper.
Strassel: [Bows, clicks heels] Madam! I am honored.
Wachter: You can go, Mrs. Winkelman. [She exits to the kitchen.]
Strassel: [Tossing ball up and down] Yellow, like the badge of the Jews. I wasn’t sure about Alice—I mean Genia. But… [holds up doll] Genia’s doll is named Rivke—Hebrew for Rebecca. And now that I’ve seen Genia’s mother… [in barking voice] You are Jewish!
Lusia: I am.
Strassel: And so is Genia. We Schutstaffeln have well-trained noses for sniffing out Jews. So, Albert my old friend, you are harboring Jews. That is a criminal offense! I could hang you for that.
Strassel: Oh, yes. Right outside this house from a lamp post, as an example to others. Genia, go with your mother to another room. Herr Wachter and I must have a talk—a private talk.
Wachter nods to Lusia who begins to hurry Genia offstage. She stops as Strassel calls to her.
Strassel: Genia! Haven’t you forgotten something?
Genia: [Stops, hesitatingly returns.] What…?
Strassel: You’ve forgotten Rivke! [Peeks doll playfully over his arm.] She will cry if you leave her. Here you are.
Genia takes doll as Strassel pats her head. She curtseys. Lusia takes Genia’s arm and hurries her offstage, but leaving the door slightly ajar. All other inner doors are also slightly ajar.
Strassel: [Beaming] Ah, I wish I had a daughter like that, so polite and well-behaved. Not Jewish, of course.
Wachter: With such a daughter, you would be blessed beyond measure.
Strassel: Well, Albert. What have you to say for yourself? [Wachter shrugs, at loss for words.] Ah, I recall that, as a boy, you would bring a menagerie of animals home to your parents—whom I remember with great affection. Hurt animals…stray animals—a veritable zoo.
Wachter: I …I don’t know what to say.
Strassel: No need to say a word. You have merely started another menagerie. Animals are lacking here in the city, so you bring home two Jews—Genia and her mother.
Wachter: Yes I did! But not for that reason.
Strassel: Albert, Albert, these are not animals, they’re undermenschen, subhuman, worse than animals. They are Jews! And as I told you before, sheltering Jews is a capital offence. Really, I could hang you for it.
Wachter: Hang? For sheltering a pretty little girl and her mother from death? In the old days, we called that chivalry.
Strassel: [Laughing] Just like the Albert Wachter of old—impractical, and ignoring the reality for the ideal.
Wachter: And I remember a different Heinrich Strassel, a gentle, kindlier Heinrich Strassel.
Strassel: Enough! Why do I waste my time with you? One word from me and you will be on your way to Auschwitz within the hour, or would you rather hang? [Reconsidering] No, Albert. You are a friend, and we go back a long way. Let us talk. Let us see if I can pound some sense into that head of yours.
Wachter: Yes, let us talk. Perhaps I can pound some sense into yours.
Strassel: [With a great pealing laugh.] Splendid! Just like the Albert Wachter I used to know. We’ll talk. [Sits] And let’s be informal. [Removes death head’s cap.] Perhaps a stein of beer, jah?
Wachter: Jah. [Exits to kitchen. Leaves door open.]
Strassel: [Raises voice to talk with Wachter in the kitchen] Ah, Albert, it is good to relax and talk with an old friend. I have severe responsibilities these days, not at all like the old times in school. [Wachter returns with two steins.] Danke! Prosit. I walked here alone, carrying Genia. I get so tired of being escorted by a dozen troops in a motorcade. Mrs. Winkelman…has she been with you long?
Wachter: Many years.
Strassel: A good Aryan woman, Mrs. Winkelman. A pillar of her race.
Wachter: I agree. A pillar of her race.
[Author’s note: Mrs. Winkelman is actually Jewish. So much for Strassel’s “nose for smelling out Jews.”]
Strassel: You are to be complimented on your servants, if not your guests.
Wachter: [Warily] Thank you.
Strassel: [Drinks] Sehr gut. (Sighs] Leiber Gott! You can’t imagine the load I carry these days. Uh, this chair I sit in…it was your father’s, was it not?
Wachter: It was.
Strassel: I remember the day I dared to sit in “his chair”—when he was not there, of course. I think of your father with great affection. He was stern, yet caring.
Wachter: He still lives, but now in an old people’s home and quite happy with his memories of a better time.
Strassel: He must be very old…at least 90.
Strassel: Wonderful. Wonderful. How times have changed, Albert. I think those old days were the best times in our lives. Don’t you agree?
Wachter: I do.
Strassel: Now I have the glory, the pomp, the respect… [His voice falters as he displays a feeling of weakness, even of fear.] I’d trade it all for a month, a week, even a day of those old days when were boys. What has become of us, Albert? What has become of those boys? Ach! I’m talking like a fool. What’s got into me?
Wachter: You are talking like the Heinrich Strassel I used to know. [Wachter seizes on what he believes a moment of weakness in Strassel.] Heinrich, a moment ago, you called Genia “liebchen.”
Strassel: Yes, I did. She is a little dear.
Wachter: And well raised, wouldn’t you say?
Strassel: Agreed. A most polite and charming little girl.
Wachter: Is she doing any harm in staying here with me?
Strassel: Harm? [Pauses for a moment of thought] Yes. Harm. Indirect harm.
Wachter: But why shouldn’t Genia and her mother stay? I know what will happen to them if you force them to leave.
Strassel: You know…what do you know?
Wachter: I know…I know about Auschwitz.
Strassel: Auschwitz! What goes on there is not to be known to the general public. How do you know?
Wachter: Just that I know.
Strassel: I could find out how you know! We have ways…. Oh, forget that. In answer to your question “are they doing any harm, I said “indirectly.”
Wachter: How, indirectly?
Strassel: There is no harm in those two Jews now, but that lovely child Genia is a cultural time bomb who in a few years will be spawning undermenschen. And her equally lovely mother, with her fertile womb, is biology of treasons.
Wachter: How can you say that? How can you believe that?
Strassel: Because, as Jews, Genia and her mother are corrupters of the human race.
Wachter: Save that propaganda for the mob, Heinrich. As a reasonable human being, how can you believe such nonsense?
Strassel: [Bristles, then laughs heartily.] Albert, you haven’t changed a bit. You still love an argument. We were a fine pair of debaters, you and me. I remember we won prizes in school. Let’s go back to those old times and have a debate—a contest of logic, you and I.
Wachter: Agreed! And what shall the subject be?
Strassel: How about… the rights of the Master Race versus…versus what?
Wachter: Versus the Rights of Humanity.
Strassel: Hmm…yes! That will work. My proposition will be that the Master Race has certain rights, and yes! …those rights are compatible with the Rights of Humanity, rights which are set forth in…now, let’s see…
Wachter: Don’t give your argument away.
Strassel: No, I mustn’t do that else I fall into the trap of the wily debater, Albert Wachter. [Laughs] Wunderbar! I have a subject dear to my heart! [Rises, clasps Wachter’s hands] Dear Albert!
Wachter: There must be a prize for the winner.
Strassel: A prize? Yes, of course. If you win the debate, I shall leave, and leave alone, and not return. If you lose, then Genia and Lusia must go with me. Agreed?
Wachter: Do I have a choice?
Strassel: Not really. If I did my duty, I would ship those Jews to Auschwitz and have you hanged, all within the hour. But I put aside duty for friendship’s sake—their lives in the balance against my eloquence in defense of the doctrines of the Fuhrer.
Wachter: That is not much of a choice. Yet, I agree.
Strassel: Oh, come now; what I offer is fair. Notice I said “a contest of logic.”
Wachter: If there is to be contest of logic, there must be no fulminating about “Jewish-Capitalistic Bolshevism,” and the like, because it is meaningless…it will carry no weight with me.
Strassel: [Hearty laugh] Fulminating—hah! I love that word. But I agree. And for my part, another ground rule: no Judeo-Christian claptrap. No blather of Jesus or God or the rest of that tribe of Abraham.
Wachter: You leave me little basis for debate.
Strassel: I am being fair, Albert. Anything you say concerning religion will have no weight with me as I don’t believe that dreck for a moment. Another ground rule: Let us not stand around making speeches, you and I; let us feel free to break in one another with questions and comments. Agreed?
Wachter: Agreed. But who’s to be the judge of this contest?
Strassel: Come, we are both fair men. It will be obvious to both who is the winner.
Wachter: And if it is obvious that I am the winner…?
Strassel: I will leave, and you will see me no more. Then you may have your Jews, Albert, though little good they will do you. Come now, like old times. I argue first, and then you follow.
Wachter: All right. You first!
And so the two will begin their debate. There is so much at stake—the lives of Genia of the yellow ball and her mother Lusia. The odds against Wachter are formidable. Armed might and the perverse logic of Hitler’s mind are on the side of Commandant Strassel, and only reason and common humanity on the side of Wachter. …only reason and common humanity? That may be enough.
In the last Interim, Interim Five, we wished you a Happy Hanukkah. Now Christmas is coming, and very soon, so let’s celebrate Christmas and the New Year, and meet again on January 7, 2013.