Author Turns Mother’s Daring Trip To Nazi Germany Into Fiction

IU Professor Emeritus Harry M. Geduld tells how he turned a his mother's frightening real-life experience into a short story by mixing fact and invention.

In his capacity as chairman of the Indiana University Bloomington’s Department of Comparative Literature and founder of IU’s Film Studies Program, Harry Geduld taught courses and wrote books about filmmakers and playwrights. Now, in his retirement, he’s become a storyteller and playwright himself—having written two collections of short stories and several plays.

Geduld writes his short stories in the vein of W. Somerset Maugham, Guy de Maupassant, and O. Henry.

“I have to say I’m a great addict of the sort of O. Henry type of story which has the cute ending,” he says.

There’s an O. Henry-type twist at the end of Geduld’s story “Mrs. Goldberg Goes Back.” The story is based on a harrowing and heroic experience incident in the life of Geduld’s mother, Anne.

About six weeks before World War II broke out in Europe, Anne traveled from her home in London to Berlin with the goal of obtaining exit visas for her relatives.

Being a Jew in Nazi Germany in 1939 was dangerous, and family members had tried to talk her out of making the trip.

“I remember my grandmother—my mother’s mother—saying to my mother, ‘Don’t go there,’” Geduld says. “‘You will never come back. You will go there, and we will never see you again. You’ll leave behind your husband and your only child and that will be it.’ But my mother said, ‘Somebody has to go there and do this. I speak a bit of German. I’ll go there, and I’ll do whatever I can to rescue relatives.’”

To write “Mrs. Goldberg Goes Back,” Geduld imagined dialog and other details of his mother’s trip, because she rarely spoke about her trip.

“I never knew the whole story because she was very reluctant to talk about it. She apparently had some very scary experiences in Berlin in 1939.”

Geduld’s mother went to the German authorities for the exit visas and endured what Geduld calls, “some terrible experiences,” including being constantly insulted.

“She went to the Gestapo and the SS or wherever the German authorities were, and with some terrible experiences—being constantly insulted and so on—she managed to secure exit visas for my grandmother, her husband, and three young cousins.”

All the relatives that she got the visas for came to England and survived the war.

Settling the Score—Fictionally

The humiliation Anne received by the German authorities, and by border guards when she tried to leave the country, left her with animosity towards Germans that lasted till her death in 1997. But in the climax of “Mrs. Goldberg Goes Back,” Anne’s fictional counterpart settles the score.

The story takes place in Berlin a few years after the war has ended. Mrs. Goldberg, character based on Geduld’s mother, is sitting alone in a hotel room when a German thief breaks in and demands her valuables.

The presence of the thief causes her to flash back to an episode of her 1939 rescue trip when she tried to leave Germany at that country’s border with The Netherlands, when border guard ripped open her coat in a vain search for valuables. As the thief threatens her and brandishes a dagger, the two incidents come together in her mind. She feigns being disabled, and when the thief comes near her, she shoves him out of an open window, fourteen floors up.

“It never really happened,” says Geduld. “But I have to say, that if my mother had the opportunity, she certainly would’ve taken it out on the border guard. She was a very, very tough cookie. I was always very proud to have a mother like that. I’m somebody with incredible guts, really incredible guts.”

“Mrs. Goldberg Goes Back” appears in Harry Geduld’s collection of thirty short stories on Jewish themes called The Purim Spiel and Other Stories. His other story collection, Dogspeare, contains thirty-four tales that range from the whimsical, the satirical, and the fantastic, and it includes an autobiographical story based on Geduld’s visit to communist Poland.

Adam Schwartz

WFIU Arts and Culture Producer, Editor "Directions in Sound"

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