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Portrait of Claudia Erdheim
by Nina Werzhbinskaja-Rabinowich

Vilma Steindling

Sample Text

Vilma’s alias is Annette Schmidt. She is part of a group of young women that includes Friedl Weizenbaum, Rosl Funk, Irma Schwager, Liesl Barta, Maria Weißgerber and Trude Blaukopf. Their job is to ‘pick up’ German soldiers on the street – though the women always work in pairs and usually speak to two soldiers at once. They act as though they are simply going for a walk, yet always tend to stroll near barracks or on lively boulevards. They likewise frequent the Métro, where there are always plenty of German soldiers. It’s easy to start a conversation, especially if the soldiers are new to Paris. The young women speak German on the street and in the Métro so that they are presumed to be German. This often leads to their receiving elbows and shoulders from the French who assume the ‘girls’ are brides of German soldiers. In order to garner attention, one will loudly complain of a horrible tooth ache, for example. It’s easy to start a conversation. There are always soldiers who are willing to talk. Franz Marek suggests the women let the soldiers tell them about their lives first: how they are doing in France, the mood in the barracks and what other soldiers are saying. The women jokingly call this work ‘walking the streets’ or ‘being on the pull’. They want to give that impression after all. Most of them are young, no more than 25 or 27 years old. The women translate for the soldiers in shops or market stalls and eventually the conversation moves to politics, the war, fascism and National Socialism. The women try to convince the soldiers that the war is senseless, incite them to go against the Nazi regime and desert or, if the opportunity presents itself, to switch to the other side. ‘It was the best day for us when we heard on Radio Moscow that an Austrian solider and a ‘western soldier’ had crossed over the Russian front. It was proof that our work wasn’t futile.’ ‘The women’s political activity met the soldiers’ needs for human contact and their need for a bit of free time with good-looking women in civilian environments such as cafés.’ The women would often travel to villages up to 50 kilometres away to ‘pick up’ soldiers there, in order to make sure they couldn’t be pursued or run into the men on the streets of Paris. There were barracks in Versailles, where many soldiers from the Eastern Front were transferred before being sent back. The area thus served as a relatively safe place to make contact.