27/05/2018 Sunday

Love and Betrayal in WWII: The true story of a doomed love affair

Claudia and Hilarius Haussler next to the monument they built in memory of murdered Pole, Stefan Duda. Thomas Muggenthaler

An extraordinary tale of doomed love between a WWII Polish prisoner and a pretty, young German girl has emerged out of a small village in southern Germany.

Following Nazi Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939, Stefan Duda was arrested in 1940 in his hometown of Kielce and sent, along with 3 million other Poles, to work as forced labour in Germany.  

He was sent to a farm in the village of Gallenbach, 67 km north of Munich where he began working for a family called Maierhofer. During the day he toiled in their fields but in the evenings he started spending time at their home where he quickly gained their sympathy with his charismatic charm and willingness to help them with simple chores. 

Jakob IrI, 95, who used to live near the farmer and who remembers Stefan, told the First News: "Stefan was a very handsome and kind young man.

Jacob Irl, 95, who remembers Stefan Duda and his execution
(Photo by Thomas Muggenthaler)

"He was very diligent and hard-working, we used to meet Stefan and his brother Stanisław almost every Sunday, just to play cards and talk… I can even remember his brother offered to cut my hair, so I didn’t have to go to a hairdresser. It was real fun with them – nice men."

As well as winning over the family and locals, Stefan also began to win the affection of their beautiful daughter Anna. Soon after, a romance blossomed between the two which the Maierhofer family kept secret for fear of Nazi retributions. According to Nazi ideology, intimate relationships between Germans and races it deemed ‘inferior’, such as Slavs, was dealt with severely.  

But the relationship did not stay secret long. The village Mayor had a crush on Anna and when he found out about the relationship he denounced Stefan to the Gestapo. 

On 10th of October 1941, around 10 am Gestapo and SS officers arrived in Gallenbach with gallows from the nearby Dachau concentration camp. 

Stefan Duda was made to stand on his own coffin, which was just a show as it later turned out that he wasn’t buried properly but either sent to a crematorium in a concentration camp or a Bavarian clinic for scientific experiments. 

Jacob IrI told The First News: "We were horrified. The SS gathered all the Poles from the surrounding villages for Stefan‘s execution and forced them to watch it. After the SS-officers made sure the Pole was dead, they went for drinks in Claudia’s grandmother’s Inn.”

Claudia Häussler grew up in the village where her grandmother owned the local Inn frequented by Gestapo and SS officers.

Still living in the same Inn which she inherited, Claudia remembers her grandmother telling fragmented stories about the fated couple. 

She told the First News: “My grandmother used to talk about the war and sometimes she would keep telling me that something horrible happened here once… A Pole was hanged. But she never wanted to say more. She once mentioned that one night the SS and Gestapo men who came here to the Inn had a huge party, feasting and drinking and then left without paying. She said this happened just after they executed the Pole.” 

Intrigued by the story, Claudia and her husband Hilarius, began looking into it. At first they were met with silence and hostility as no one wanted to talk about it. 

But slowly they began to piece the story together, discovering that many of the locals had secretly been happy about the execution as they feared their daughters would also be seduced by Stefan, thus putting their own lives in danger. 

They also discovered that Anna Maierhofer was first sent to a local prison and then to the Ravensbruck concentration camp from where she returned exhausted and psychically broken. She gave birth to a mentally ill child and - stigmatized by the community - moved from her village. 

Until her death she was unwilling to discuss her tragic relationship with the Pole.

The Gestapo and officers who ordered Stefan’s execution, Oswald Schäfer and Richard Lebküchner of Munich Gestapo headquarters, were found innocent by a post-war German court, as were those who carried out the hanging. 

Post-war document showing Duda's date of birth and date of execution by hanging.
(Photo by Thomas Muggenthaler)

No relatives of Stefan Duda have been found and his brother Stanislaw lost his life in unexplained circumstances in 1947. His body was found in the Danube River. 

Disgusted with their findings and the reluctance of the local community to openly confront their dark history, Claudia and Hilarius decided to commemorate Stefan with a monument, the stone for which he bought from Kielce, Stefan’s hometown. 

Hilarius told The First News: "A local teacher wanted to tell the story of Duda in the 1980’s, but they made him keep his mouth shut and such things happen, to some extent, still today. But, during the unveiling of the monument (2016) a lady from the neighborhood whispered in to my ear – ‘finally we can talk about it, finally it saw the light of day."