British director Robert Chevara on Blonde Poison, a play based on the amazing true story of Stella Goldschlag, the Jewish bombshell who operated as a Gestapo agent in Nazi Berlin.
How did you come across the Goldschlag story?
The playwright Gail Louw sent it to me. While reading it, I became obsessed with the idea: “What would I have done in that circumstance?” I think that’s the question we can ask the audience.
How close is the play to Peter Wyden’s first-hand biography, Stella?
Very close. But Wyden’s book was very subjective. He was a former schoolmate who’d escaped Nazi Germany and as a boy he had been madly in love with Stella. She was the Marilyn of the school! So, with Gail’s play, it was great to have a Jewish woman’s point of view. It’s extraordinarily nuanced and presents a complex, multi-layered view of both Stella’s circumstances and the times.
She was a very successful “Greifer” (catcher) helping the Gestapo arrest countless fellow underground Jews. How did she do it?
As a former pupil of the Jewish Goldschmidt School she knew a lot of potential targets in Berlin. She used her cover as an “U-boat” (underground Jew) and met fellow Jews in hiding, promising them food coupons or “a way to escape”. She’d arrange to meet them, then bring the Gestapo in. The amount of people she actually helped catch ranges from the hundreds to the thousands. There’s a lot of hotly contested information about Stella out there.
She was lured into collaboration through torture and the promise her parents would be spared. But how do you explain that she carried on, even after the Nazis actually murdered her family?
I don’t know whether anyone can explain it. After her parents (and later, her first husband, Manfred Kübler) were murdered in a camp, she carried on – more ferociously so. But then, she’d been tortured and isolated and could have suffered psychological damage like a form of post-traumatic stress disorder or Stockholm Syndrome… who knows? She was a beautiful blue-eyed blonde, and she was obsessed with the idea of looking and passing as Aryan. She’d sang with a jazz band before the War and craved a career where she wasn’t identified as Jewish.
The play has been produced across the world, including the UK, USA, South Africa and New Zealand, but never in Germany. Was there any resistance to putting this play on in Berlin?
It’s interesting because a few theaters we approached said: “We’re not sure about the material, we would have to think about it.” That was really the long no. So, Dulcie Smart [who stars as Stella] and I decided to produce it ourselves. We also heard: “Why do you want to show a bad Jew during this time of antisemitism?” But it’s not about the monster in her, it’s about the monsters who created her.
Blonde Poison, Sep 21-Oct 3 | Brotfabrik, Prenzlauer Berg