We’re back with Part 2 of our episode on Lilly Wust and Felice Schragenheim. When we last left off Lilly – a proud Nazi and wife of a German soldier, had just met Felice – who was an undercover Jew and a Resistance Fighter against Hitler’s evil regime. It was the height of World War 2 in 1942 and Germany was winning.
Thousands of Jews had fled the country before the mass deportations to death camps began. It was in the middle of the chaos that Lilly and Felice met at a lunch arranged with Lilly’s maid Ulla. Felice had gone on a dare to see if Lilly could really “smell a Jew” as she had claimed to Ulla. But the young mother was far too smitten with the attractive woman across the table from her. She couldn’t shake her desire to see Felice again and waited in anticipation for an opportunity to arise.
A few weeks later Lilly saw Felice picking Ulla up from work. She invited the young woman to dinner. In time she invited Felice and Ulla to bring more of the friends over for dinner parties. Thus began a very unique situation as Lilly, an ardent Hitler supporter who’s own husband now fought for the German Army, regularly hosted members of the Jewish underground in her home. It was late 1942 when Felice entered the picture and Lilly’s husband was often able to return home from his position in Berlin.
Felice flirts with Lilly
Typically he was stationed 14 days on-site and 14 days off on leave. And when he was home he also enjoyed the company of Lilly’s new friends. In fact, it was one evening as he sat in the parlor with Ulla and a few other resistance fighters that Felice went into the kitchen to help Lilly. Felice had not been very coy in her open flirtations with Lilly. She regularly brought the young mother flowers and complimented her at every turn.
And perhaps Lilly’s acceptance of Felice’s flirting is what prompted the brazen woman to take Lilly in her arms and attempt to kiss her. The timid wife quickly pushed Felice away and told her “Let’s just be friends”. To which Felice conceded and apologized. But as her friends all later recounted, Felice was very shrewd. She knew when someone wanted her and she knew how to play the game. She was also reckless enough to continue pursuing such a dangerous target. But taking a step back, Felice respectfully kept her distance while still making her intentions known. Every single day she called Lilly and the two women would talk endlessly on the phone. When Felice was away on “work” – though she never told Lilly that the work was for the Underground – she would write to her muse. One postcard read as such:
Dear and Most Gracious Madam,
I admit I am the most laziest of letter writers but I mean to replace my daily telephone calls with these postcards. Though the whispered nothings of phone calls don’t translate too well onto paper. But I’ll make up for that later. So, what’s new? Air raid warnings? Trouble with Ulla? Various love entanglements? I want to know all about it. So I may send you my address tomorrow. Will you answer? I hope so…and I hope for much else besides. ‘Til then, my friendliest regards,
Yet Felice never did send her address. She couldn’t afford the risk and at the same time she couldn’t bring herself to walk away from Lilly. On March 18, 1943 Lilly went into the hospital for an operation. She was still in the hospital three days later when Felice returned from one of her missions and went to see her.
Lilly Wust falls in love with Felice Schragenheim
Upon entering the room Felice once again took Lilly in her arms and this time Lilly says “I didn’t resist”. They shared their first kiss and professed their love for one another. Felice visited every day and stayed with Lilly as much as possible until her release on April 2nd. That evening the two women had a secret wedding ceremony. Felice’s vows read:
I will always love you. I will never leave you. I will do everything to make you happy. As far as circumstances permit I will take care of you and the children. I will not prevent you looking after me. I won’t look at pretty girls anymore except to prove that you are prettier. I will very rarely come home late. I will try to grind my teeth quietly at night. I will always love you. –
They each pressed an imprint of their lips with lipstick on the back of their marriage contract. Lilly and Felice then spent their first night together. Decades later Lilly would recall the evening:
“I was very shy at first. It was all new for me. Not for her of course. The second night I wanted to love too. At one stroke I was a different person. I felt free.”
Since Lilly’s husband had been permanently stationed on the Hungarian border, Felice moved in as a caretaker. She could pass this off as Lilly was still recovering from surgery. Ulla and some of the others in the underground suspected a romance, though Felice never admitted such. This draws on the burden of intersecting identities. As a Jew, Felice was not safe to tell her lover about her race. As a lesbian, Felice was not safe to tell her friends about her orientation. Intersectionality, a theory comprised by Dr. Kimberle Crenshaw, is defined as:
the complex, cumulative way in which the effects of multiple forms of discrimination (such as racism, sexism, and classism) combine, overlap, or intersect especially in the experiences of marginalized individuals or groups.
As quoted, the theory specifically addresses those who are already in an oppressed state. They struggle with finding relief and resources because discrimination within their own worlds can cancel out their access to help. Or makes it twice as hard for them to find aid on the outside.
In addition to the fear of being outed, Felice was also robbed of the comfort of sharing one’s full life and history with another person. She couldn’t tell Lilly about the pain she felt when she watched her Grandmother board a train to the death camps. She couldn’t talk about her sister Irene or even mention that she had a sister at all. Felice never had the chance to tell her friends about her amazing love story or to cry about how it may end when the war was over. Still as she walked the narrow and dangerous tightrope of her life, Felice did manage to find happiness.
Felice tells Lilly that she is a Jew
As the war progressed and things in Germany deteriorated, the two women explored the depths of love they had never known. But with the mounting uncertainty and danger in everyday life, Lilly became frustrated with Felice’s disappearances for work. She knew that her wife wasn’t being honest, but she couldn’t understand why. So one night Lilly confronted Felice and demanded to know the truth. Felice dodged the question and tried to change the subject as always until Lilly gave her an ultimatum; tell the truth or get out of the house.
So Felice broke down and told Lilly that she was a Jew. As she recalled the story years later, Lilly remembers how everything suddenly fell into place. Her beautiful Felice finally made sense. The odd disappearances, constant alertness, the walls she had built up to keep others out. And Lilly realized the pain of her own hatred. That every time she threw an anti-semetic remark or heiled Hitler she thrust a dagger into her own lovers heart. She saw how her prejudiced thinking had allowed her to other Jews as less than and to believe that she was somehow inherently better than them.
Lilly realized that all the times she turned a blind eye to the pain of those around her, she was turning a blind eye to her own Felice’s suffering. And sure we can point out how others who never supported Hitler were more righteous. That is not a point to be debated. However, how many of us have changed our own racist, prejudiced, and bigoted beliefs because love opened our eyes?
Lilly took Felice into her arms and said “I will love you even more now”, and she did. Felice told Lilly about the underground and how many of her friends were Jews. Initially, the Resistance Fighters were angry with Felice. They saw Lilly as a Nazi and naturally worried that Felice had jeopardized everything.
But in time it became obvious that Lilly’s only concern was keeping Felice safe. She began to accompany her on all Felice’s missions. Though the fighter rarely gave Lilly the details in order to protect her. Nevertheless, it was exciting as the women went all around Germany passing along secret messages and papers and getting Jewish fugitives to safety. Once, Felice even took Lilly to the restaurant directly across from Hitler’s headquarters in downtown Berlin. A Jew and her lesbian lover sat amid dozens of S.S. officers eating dinner and downing beers.
Lilly divorces Günther Wust
When they were home things were much less exciting though still dangerous. Daily bombings leveled the cities as the Aryan people finally began to feel the full affects of the war. Lilly had filed for divorce from her husband and it came through in October of 1943. Shortly thereafter he would go missing in action and was never heard from again. Lilly and Felice raised the two youngest boys at home. The older boys were away at boarding school for most of this time. Yet all the children loved Felice and would call her Auntie Felice.
The youngest recalls how during a certain air raid he fell while running for shelter. He felt Felice scoop him into her arms and carry him to safety. The children may not have quite realized their mother’s relationship with her housemate, but they knew Felice loved them just as deeply as their own mother. Together, the two brides talked of how they would raise the youngest children together once the war was over.
When 1944 rolled around, the tide for Germany officially began to turn against the Nazis. Hilter’s army suffered grave defeats and one might think the S.S. would turn its full attention to winning the war and saving their country. Instead, the hunt for hidden Jews continued and now it expanded all across Europe. Everywhere the Nazis laid their boots they rounded up Jews and sent them to the death camps. They also sent many LGBTQ people along with Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Roma (also known as travelers or the slur – gypsy. A slur we did not clarify in our Pink Triangle episode and for that, we apologize).
By now several million people had been murdered in the thousands of camps and facilities around Europe. The Jewish Resistance was also dwindling in Germany. Things were becoming simply too dangerous and this was in part due to a traitor amongst their midst.
Stella Kubler, Blonde Poison
Stella Kubler, born Stella Goldschlag, was a blonde-haired blue-eyed Aryan looking Jew. She was relatively pretty and incredibly fashionable. After mass deportations of Jews began in Berlin in 1942, Stella went underground. Yet in 1943 the Goldschlag family was arrested by the Gestapo and threatened with deportation. According to Stella, she was tortured and forced to betray her heritage. Yet records show she was paid 300 ReichMarks for every Jew she brought to the Gestapo.
To put that in perspective, the average factory worker earned 180 RM a month and a Volkswagen cost 900 RM. So her story is that she was on her way to the camps and then the Gestapo not only released her but also blackmailed her by giving her a salary to work for them. It certainly doesn’t sound like your typical blackmail story.
In reality, it is most likely that Stella gave the Gestapo an offer they couldn’t resist. She was beautiful and she looked Aryan which allowed them to go easier on her. And in return, she had deep connections with the Jewish underground. The Nazi’s called Stella ‘blonde poison’ and that she was. In all the accounts of how many Jews she was able to catch ranges from 600 to 3,000. She was wealthy and popular among the S.S. guards and she was ruthless in her pursuit of fellow Jews.
We see this type of self-hating individual in every group of marginalized people. The kind of person who tries so hard to fit in with the very people who hate them. Despite Stella’s devotion to the Nazi party they still deported her parents and husband to the concentration camps where they all died. Stella simply remarried to another ‘Catcher’ (the term used for Jews who lured other Jews to the Gestapo’s claws).
In all, Stella would continue to self hate until the day she died. She renounced Judaism after the war and became an open anti-Semite. Finally taking her own life in 1994 after being ostracized by people on every side.
Yet in 1944 Stella was at the height of her game and it was precisely because she began sniffing around Felice’s friends that many in the Resistance fled Germany. They begged Felice to come with them and she made plans to escape. But at the final moment, she chose to stay.
It could have been a desire to continue the fight, it could have been the pain of leaving Lilly behind. It was most likely a combination of both reasons. And to be fair, the Resistance did think that if any Jew was safe it must be the woman living with the wife of a Nazi soldier. Since details of the divorce were not public and officials still believe Lilly to be married. Whether it was prudent of foolish, Felice stayed. The lovers knew the war couldn’t go on forever and they just needed to hold on a bit longer.
Felice is taken to a concentration camp
In late August the two women went out for a day at the lake. It was beautiful and clear and wonderful to unwind and forget about the war for a while. They picnicked, took pictures, enjoyed one another intimately, and then biked home. Upon entering the house Felice and Lilly were met by Gestapo officers who promptly arrested Resistance Fighter.
They grilled Lilly on what she knew about the Underground but Lilly never told them a thing. Most likely the Gestapo found it hard to believe she knew Felice was a Jew and they never suspected the two were involved. But Lilly was crushed as were the children who cried and cried for days. With a broken heart, she wrote in her diary:
Dear God, protect the girl I love above all else! Oh Felice my heart stops with pain. I no longer want to live.
Lilly visited Felice while she was in detainment for two weeks. She then followed her lover to the weigh camp, the notorious Theresienstadt. There Lilly begged to able to see Felice but was denied. On September 4, 1944, Felice Schragenheim was sent to Auschwitz. Lilly would never see her wife again.
For the next two years, Lilly Wust worked tirelessly to find Felice. Along the way she provided aid to other Jewish women in the Underground. She gave assistance whenever she could and she housed 3 women in her attic. Even with increased scrutiny from the Gestapo Lilly drew from Felice’s courage. In 1946 she read a news account of the bodies of 700 dead women found near Mecklenburg. This was a result of the death marches ordered near the end of the war.
Once it became apparent that the Allied forces were going to eventually push the Nazi’s back, Hitler commanded that all the Jews in the camps be murdered. Gassing was increased to 6,000 people a day before abruptly being stopped by Joseph Goebbles. Then thousands of prisoners were sent on death marches from one camp to another. Along the way, many would die of exhaustion or would be shot because they couldn’t keep up with the group. Historians believe Felice died in a New Year’s Eve march on December 31, 1944.
Lilly Wust faces reality
When Lilly saw the article about the 700 dead women, she finally accepted that Felice may never return. Though she stated until her death that she never quite gave up hope. For the next 62 years Lilly Wust would grieve the death of Felice Schragenheim. She settled down raising her boys and working to support her family. In 1981 she was awarded the Federal Service cross by Germany for her aid to Jewish fugitives during the war. A much different medal than her first one from Hitler.
She was also declared Righteous Among the Nations by the Yad Vashem in August of 1985. Almost 41 years exactly since her Felice was taken from her. The following decade Lilly sold her love story to Australian journalist Erica Fisher who wrote the best-selling novel Aimee and Jaguar: A Love Story, Berlin 1943. Fisher used Lilly and Felice’s pet names for the title. The book was later adapted into a popular award-winning German film, and even earned an Oscar nomination in 1999.
Nearly 60 years later when giving an interview for a documentary about their love story Lilly said:
“I’m grateful today that it was the way it was. Because we two really lived. And Felice, who so loved life, could live a bit longer. How wonderful. And as part of my family. Because that’s how you want to bring up children. And I had children. We wanted to bring them up together and spend our whole lives together. But those 18 months were a gift I’ve never forgotten. In my unhappiness, I was happy. And thankful to this day.”
And it would seem that Felice felt the same. As she wrote to her sister Irene shortly before her arrest.
In her I have someone who belongs completely to me. And will stand by me always.
On March 31, 2006, Lilly Wust died at 92 from complications of old age. On her tombstone was added and Memorium for Felice who never had a grave. Until her final breath, Lilly would work to keep her wife’s memory alive. It is because of her that we know the incredible bravery of Felice Schragenheim.
If you would like to know more about their story then your recommended resources are the documentary A Love Story Berlin 1942 available on YouTube and in our links below. Or the book Aimee and Jaguar: A Love Story, Berlin 1943 by Erica Fischer. We do want to point out that the book reads more like a novel and thus takes some liberties but the basic facts are correct.
- YouTube – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DySvcj3wZU4
- Lilly – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lilly_Wust
- Felice – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Felice_Schragenheim
- Washington Post – https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/lifestyle/style/2000/10/01/women-with-nein-lives/fca80ba4-6e83-4a29-92cd-0e43fbb73ad1/
- Observer – https://observer.com/2000/08/an-85yearold-nazi-bride-remembers-her-jewish-lover/
- Stella Kubler – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stella_K%C3%BCbler
- Aimee and Jaguar; A Love Story, Berlin 1943 by Erica Fischer
- German control – https://www.holocaust.cz/en/history/final-solution/general-2/the-persecution-of-german-jews-after-the-nazi-seizure-of-power/
- Holocaust Encyclopedia – https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/antisemitic-legislation-1933-1939
- German Salaris – https://forum.axishistory.com/viewtopic.php?t=60006
- Stella Kubler – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stella_K%C3%BCbler