The Reluctant Spy
Droste Verlag, 2009, ISBN 3770013336
Two women, three generations. A family table, home to many conversations. A microphone. ‘Albert’ worked for Hitler's dreaded Gestapo. Sixty years later, his widow Margarete breaks her silence about his espionage. Shortly before the end of her life, she tells their shared story, beginning with their emigration to France in 1935, and how they became embroiled in the Gestapo. What really happened during that summer in Paris of 1940 ? ...
Extract from ‘The Reluctant Spy’
She was fifteen when she met Gustav Regitz. He had noticed her long before; she was tall and cheerful, slim with the same thick, black hair that her brothers had. With a turn of his head, he managed to attract her attention with a witty comment.
Born in 1913, Gustav Adolf Regitz was clever, lanky and short-sighted. Unlike Margarete, he came from a Protestant family, where there was little room for politics. A sense of humour, a snappy punchline and a helping hand were part of his families everyday life. His mother was a woman of understanding and common sense, and her children benefited from both.
On their first date, Margarete and Gustav strolled out together. They wrote poems and letters and organized a messenger, a postillon d’amour, who conveyed their scribbled messages to and fro. Occasionally he annoyed her when he corrected her grammar, but soon they would be reconciled and steal away to the parents’ loft to read Heine’s A Winter Tale aloud. When he wrote her German essay for her, he perceived the teacher to be of limited intelligence, because she returned it marked satisfactory instead of excellent.
Two years later, when Gustav found Margarete crying over a washboard, he promised, ‘I’ll get you out of here’. She wasn’t even seventeen when they decided in early October 1932 to elope to France. They wanted to go to the Riviera, but got as far as Brienne, famed as the town where Napoleon once attended the military academy. They travelled by night and slept by day in hay barns. Once, as they sat on a hay stack, the scent of hay in their noses, he said ‘for every assumption there is a conclusion and an illusion.’
‘I can only do fractions’, she replied. ‘And interest calculations’.
But they were sought and found, and brought back home on a horse drawn coach. For both families, the relief to have the young people home safely was enormous. When she saw her daughter, Margarete’s mother pursed her lips tightly, but decided to forego the punishment. The elopement itself was grave enough and Margarete would have to deal with the consequences herself. She was considered a fallen woman and her former friends rejected her. The school authorities took action. Margarete Schallmo and Gustav Regitz were both expelled. Regitz had been a smart and ambitious student, and his expulsion, three months before he was to sit his final exams, meant that any chance of an administrative career was gone. Despite all that, his mother refused to punish him, preferring to look on the episode with a sense of humour. On the first of October 1933, she baked a cake. ‘Who is that for?’ asked Margarete when she was invited for coffee. With a twinkle in her eye, Anna Regitz answered ‘for you of course. Today is your anniversary!’
The Gestapo would later take a keen interest in this early border crossing into France. Regitz, who was being interrogated because of his political activities with the Socialist Party, found himself in the delicate situation of having to justify an innocent escapade. Six years later, in the Gestapo Headquarters in Berlin, the simple truth must have sounded implausible and Regitz looked for an escape. He tried to impress his opponent with his early amorous adventures. He put on his ‘Don Juan’ face, and succeeded. The case was put down to youthful folly.
From October 1.-10. in 1932 I undertook a pleasure trip to France. I wish to stress its harmless and private nature, and I crossed the border legally with my identity card and a French visa.
Regitz was able to explain, that by using his school fees, which his mother had entrusted to him, they were able to afford the journey.
Our expences amounted to 250 french francs of which I carried 225 frcs. The remaining 25 frcs. came from my fiancée. I was subsequently expelled from school.
His interrogators believed him; they had more pressing issues to discuss with their future spy, Gustav Regitz.