Christian Short Stories

Stolz’s Step
By Web Ruble

Web writes: "When I was with military intelligence in Europe in the 1950s I heard almost unbelievable Christian stories like this one."

It couldn’t be.

I thought he had died or escaped with the rest of “the monsters.” But there he was. I’m certain ‘twas him! Kelner Stolz, until recently a concentration camp vice commander who was known for his use and love of torture.

Nobody else had that Goebbels evil ghoulish look, or the look that I had come to identify with Satan himself.

Let’s see. I was sitting just indoors in one of those sidewalk-indoor cafes in Trier, Germany, having a late morning coffee with a delicious Berliner (cream puff). I had paused there before going down to what we called “the exchange” to see whether I could find a part-time position with the constabulary government of the occupying Americans.

It was March 1947. World War II in Europe had been over for 22 months.

During the first part of the war. I (Bertrand Savel, an English-speaking Belgian) had been a news correspondent working for the America-centered International News Service. In the latter days of Nazi Germany, however, I apparently was considered a serious threat. Perhaps they were convinced I was spying instead of witnessing the war and trying to get out news features. (Censors had stopped my news activity a year earlier).

I understood the Germans were desperate, as the war obviously was lost. Allied aircraft had been overhead constantly. And they’d unload their unused bombs on Trier and Frankfurt often on their way back from raids somewhere in the German interior.

By some quirk, the 3-4 buildings along this street had not been obliterated by the daily bombing. And this café -- der Ransberger Keller -- went back into business soon after Germany surrendered in May 1945.

Nearly all foreigners were rounded up in December 1944 when the Germans launched their desperate last-gasp offensive in the Ardennes (followed days later by the showdown Battle of the Bulge). Most of us were sent to Concentration Camps, mainly Buchenwald.

For some reason I never learned, I was transferred to another smaller camp nearby. Brutality by the prison guards -- many old men and young boys had been replaced by women -- was particularly severe there. I survived because I arrived so late, and the Nazis could not execute us fast enough to avoid being caught by the hard-driving Allied forces.

Normally I weigh about 180 pounds. However, I was down to less than 120, when the camp was liberated by the Brits. Doctors immediately sent me and several other skeletons to a hospital and after a few weeks to a nearby recovery hostelry.

At the time of my morning coffee at Trier I had just completed a few weeks outside the hostelry, trying to regain my health, and searching for employment.

I had come to Trier because ‘twas near my native Belgium and the Americans, with whom I hoped to find work, and the French were stationed in the area.

I was savoring that Berliner puff, when I got my visual shock. Surprised by Stolz’s sudden appearance, I momentarily was motionless. The reason I was so surprised was that there had been lots of rumors that a lot of the high Nazis like Stolz had escaped in the war’s chaotic latter days to Argentina, Brazil or Uruguay.

But here he was. Right in front of me. I quickly gathered myself to try to rush and tackle him and hold him for the police. The new German police, you see, were looking diligently for ex-Nazis who had brought eternal shame on their country, life and times.

As I rose to dash out, he saw me -- there was a look of terrifying shock on his sagging joweled, double-chinned, pale face – and he bolted. Even with a cane and a thick overcoat, he vanished.

In my quick glimpse, Stolz had looked old and sick. But I didn’t care. He was a murderer and a torturer, and I wanted to get my vengeful hands on him.

Like I said, however, he just vanished.

Stunned I had to sit down on a park bench to ponder things. Despite un-seasonally warm sunshine, I began to tremble almost violently. Memories returned and I shed some tears.

After a while, a white-haired elderly woman approached. She apparently had been watching me. She asked if I was all right, and was wondering why I was shaking so. I told her a little about what I had just seen. She smiled and pointed to a side street and said something about a cellar.

I turned to say, thanks. But she wasn’t there. Huh? How could she vanish that quickly?

However, I decided not to waste time. I meandered the side street (‘twas more like an alley) and after a few minutes I found the cellar door. Though still weak, I somehow managed to barge through it.

It was dim -- almost totally dark -- inside. It looked to be an abandoned wine cellar. I searched for a human form but of course found none. Reluctantly I turned to leave and then I heard a muffled noise from a far recess to my left.

I went there and searched closely. After several long seconds, I saw two human forms. One was a very old man on a mattress on the floor and braced against the stone wall. He was trembling. The other human shape turned out to be an angelic-looking young woman, standing next to him and looking vaguely like the white-haired older one I had just encountered in the park.

After a gee-whiz-wow discussion, the woman asked me how I got there in that cellar. I told her about following directions from that woman in the park. She smiled and said, “She must have been someone special, because that’s a men’s park. Women don’t go there. We have our own.”

Waxing more incredulous by the minute -- growing confusion also was sapping my vengefulness -- I told the woman who I sought and why. “I don’t want any honors or monetary award from the police,” I said. “I just want to get my hands on the man who tortured and murdered my family and so many others. Maybe turn him over to police.”

“Why now?” the woman asked. “You can’t bring back the dead. You can’t ease the pain of those who died in torture. Yes, he once was Stolz, the man you’re looking for. But he is no longer that monstrous personality. He is a new man. Re-born a Christian. He also is very ill, feeble. Dying. He has only a short time to live. Why turn him in? Let him live his last days in peace. What harm would that do? He soon will have to face God, anyway.”

Huh? I was dumbfounded.

“Yes, Stolz is Christian,” she continued. “And he’s more than sorrowful. He is truly repentant and begs God’s forgiveness. He reads the Bible daily in here by candlelight. One evening a week -- on Wednesdays usually – he and several other former Nazis gather right here for Bible study and prayer. He leads the group. He seldom goes out. That’s why he is so pasty faced.

“I am Anna, his ex-daughter-in-law. I drag him out of here at least twice a week for a walk (he needs the exercise to stay alive) and maybe something to eat in one of those cafes. The rest of the time he stays hidden here. He is terrified that police or Jews or others will discover him and he will be tried and executed for war crimes before he has made his peace with God.

“I bring him meals here daily and dispose of the garbage. I provide him a portable toilet and take care of that, too. Sometimes I bring him religious publications. Please try to find it in your heart to let this visit just slide by . . .”

I was dumbfounded on two counts: 1) How I was able to find Keller Stolz so easily. (I must have had divine help). And 2) This strange Christian request from Anna, his daughter in law.

Stammering, I said, “Wh-wh-what’s in this for you? Why are y-y-you caring for him? Don’t you have family? There’s a big reward you could get for his capture. Anna, he needs to face humanity. After all, he must be punished severely.”

She was wringing her hands while shaking her head. For the first time I saw something around her neck - a sizeable wooden cross.

“Punishment cannot correct things,” she said. “He will face God soon enough. And being as I am a new-born Christian myself, I have become a sort of missionary. He is what’s left of my family. And he is my mission: to ease his transition from this life to the next. . . .

“I beg of you…oh, please…let this pass.”

I hesitated. I was incredulous. I didn’t know what to say. He extended his hand. I did nothing, but just stared. I finally edged over and tentatively shook his hand. Electricity buzzed through my body. I had to search my heart. I slowly backed up and stood there. Finally I turned and left.

Keller and Anna watched me go without saying anything more. Apparently they had faith that I would let it pass.

It was more faith than I had, actually. I wrestled with her request for days and nights. Finally, after weeks, I made a half- hearted decision to forget the whole business. Then after a few days more, it became a crisp resolve _ I would let it go. Oh, it was hard.

When I made the decision I was trembling. So I said a prayer. Immediately afterward, a warm current coursed through me. I felt good all over.

You see, God had spoken.

(© 2011 Web Ruble – All rights reserved. Written material may not be duplicated without permission.)

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