It is tempting to say that for every Adolf Eichmann there was a Hans Calmeyer, but that sentiment, however worthwhile, obscures the fact that for every decent person such as Calmeyer there were hundreds, if not thousands of Eichmanns. Perhaps they did not all despise the Jews to the point of murdering them; perhaps they did not all consider themselves dutiful citizens who simply followed orders and did the bidding of the Nazis. Perhaps.
Still, this cynicism should not obscure the good deeds that are nonetheless performed, often at great personal risk, by Germans who refuses to follow orders and did not do the bidding of the Nazis.
“Shedding Our Stars” tells the story of one such German, whose independent acts of defiance in wartime Holland saved some 3,700 Jews. The unlikely savior is a young lawyer, Hans Calmeyer, who is appointed to his duties by the Reichskommissar, a despicable antisemite named Arthur Seyss-Inquart. As the senior Nazi official in Holland, Seyss-Inquart institutes a reign of terror that would see Dutch civilians subjected to forced labor and the vast majority of Dutch Jews deported and murdered.
No one expects an anonymous bureaucrat like Calmeyer to show any personal initiative, let alone sympathy for Jews, but that is what happened. Calmeyer’s job is to adjudicate “doubtful cases” of identity so that Jews could be stripped of their civil rights, forced to wear a Star of David, be banned from public accommodation, and, in the end, be rounded up and transported to concentration camps in eastern Europe.
Doubtful or dubious cases come up frequently because of the wording of the edicts, which define as a Jew anyone who has at least one Jewish grandparent. Their status can also be “irrefutably” defined by membership in a Jewish religious congregation.
“Shedding Our Stars” is told by a woman named Hannelore Klein, born in Frankfurt in 1927, who moves with her parents to Amsterdam a decade later. Her family had known Otto and Edith Frank in Germany, and the Klein family soon meet their daughters, Margot and Anne, as well. After the German Army invades Holland, in 1940, life quickly becomes excruciating for Jews. The Franks go into hiding in 1942; Hannelore herself becomes involved in hiding a teenage boy named Rudi Nussbaum.
Two years after the war ends the young folks marry and move to the United States. Rudi earns a PhD in physics at Portland State University, and Laureen (as Hannelore now calls herself) earns a PhD in linguistics. Rudi teaches at Reed College, Laureen at Portland State.
As for Seyss-Inquart, he is arrested on May 7th, 1945, at the Elbe Bridge in Hamburg by two members of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. One of his captors is Norman Miller (born Norbert Mueller), a German Jew from Nuremberg who had escaped to Britain at the age of 15 on a Kindertransport just before the war and returns to Germany as part of the British occupation forces. (Miller’s entire family is killed at the Jungfernhof Camp in Riga, Latvia, three years earlier). Seyss-Inquart stands trial later that year before the International War Tribunal in Nuremberg, which convicts him of war crimes. He is hanged in Nuremberg Prison on October 16th, 1946.