Charolette Elisabeth “Lilly” Wust (1913–2006)
Elisabeth “Lilly” Wust was the wife of a Nazi officer and mother of four boys who lived in Berlin from her birth on November 1, 1913 until her death on March 31, 2006. She was the model German wife and mother during World War II, but she also had her secrets. Neither her nor her husband Günther Wust was loyal in the marriage, and Lilly was deeply unsatisfied. Lilly probably would have stayed married and raised her children as she felt she was supposed to, but she met and fell in love with a woman. This woman, Felice Schragenheim, was not only a lesbian, but unbeknownst to Lilly, she was also Jewish and had been in hiding under the name Felice Schrader and worked at a Nazi newspaper.
Lilly and Felice’s story would probably have been forgotten in a sea of tragic Holocaust stories, if not for a book written about their lives called Aimée & Jaguar, A Love Story, Berlin 1943 by Erica Fischer in 1994. Five years later in 1999, the film Aimée & Jaguar was released, based on the book and directed by German director Max Färberböck.
The film is a dramatic adaptation of the book, but this is how many people initially came across Lilly and Felice’s story.
Lilly met Felice through Lilly’s domestic helper Inge Wolf, who was performing her mandatory year of domestic service helping Lilly with her four children while Günther was away at war. Lilly lived on the fifth floor at Friedrichshaller Straße 23.
Lilly lived on the fifth floor at Friedrichshaller Straße 23. The building stills stands as it did during WWII.
Felice had been staying with different friends while in hiding and was also part of an underground network to procure identification documents for Jews to leave the country. The women met for the first time at Café Berlin, next to the Ufa-Palast Movie Theater at the Bahnhof Zoologischer Garten (Zoo Train Station). Café Berlin no longer exists in this location, but the book details their first meeting from Lilly’s recollection.
Felice gave Lilly an apple at this meeting and flirted with her, and from that point on, Lilly never had eyes for anyone else. Some of their love letters back and forth are stored in the permanent collection at the Jewish Museum. They were donated along with four of Lilly’s personal journals after her death.
By May 2, 1943, an estimated 5000 “U-Boats,” Jews that had gone underground, were still in Berlin with about 150 being rounded up monthly and “relocated” to Auschwitz or Theresienstadt. Felice moved in with Lilly on May 2, 1943, and the next day, Lilly requested a divorce from Günther. Günther was eventually killed on the front lines, and Lilly and Felice lived together raising the children for a little over a year until the Gestapo found and captured Felice in the summer of 1944. Felice was taken to Theresienstadt labor camp. Lilly visited Felice at the camp and was thrown out by the angry camp leader.
Felice was then moved to Gross-Rosen concentration camp and presumably died on a death march to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Felice’s “official” date of death is December 31, 1944, but the exact location and date of her death are unknown. Her body was likely buried along the side of the road in a mass grave during this march. The Todesmarsch, or Deathmarch, was similar to the one we learned about at Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp.
The Gestapo interrogated Lilly after she visited Theresienstadt Camp. The only thing that saved her from going to a camp herself was her status as a Nazi mother. She had been awarded the Ehrenkreuz der Deutschen Mutter (Bronze Cross of the German Mother) for producing four healthy blonde haired, blue-eyed boys to “prosper the Aryan race.”
This was an example of how lesbianism could be overlooked as long as the woman was still contributing to her “duty” as a mother. Gay men were not as lucky in this regard and were sent to work camps more frequently since they were not useful to the Third Reich.
In 1981, Lilly was awarded a much different award, the German Federal Service Cross for assisting Jews during the war. She maintained until her death that she did not know what the Nazis were doing to the Jewish people in the camps. Given the close proximity of the concentration camps to the villages, literally right across the street as in the example of Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp, this is a bit hard to believe, and Lilly was harassed as a Nazi sympathizer and anti-Semite. The fact remains that even though she did not lose her life, she was a victim of the Holocaust in that she lost the person most important to her. Later in life she converted with her youngest son to Judeism.
Arguably, Lilly caused or at least sped up Felice’s death by visiting her at the camp, but she insisted that she could not stay away out of love. Felice in turn also had several opportunities to leave Berlin, but she ultimately chose to stay out of her love for Lilly. These decisions during that time period ended in Felice’s death and Lilly’s long life without her. Lilly died March 31, 2006 and was buried at Dorfkirche Giesensdorf, Ostpreußendamm 64 in Berlin. A dedication to Felice is engraved on her headstone.
If Lilly and Felice had been living in present day Berlin, life would have been much different. They would have able to enjoy their relationship publically with a certain degree of legal protections and in a completely different, more accepting social environment. While some anti-semitism may still exist, it is no longer socially acceptable to be vocal about it.
Today’s Berlin is much more diverse and probably because of the city’s history, outspoken attitudes against the “ism’s” like those shown in this graffiti are found everywhere.
In conclusion, during the time that Lily was alive she was the model example of Nazi motherhood, until she fell in love with a Jewish woman, the epitome of everything she was fundamentally supposed to be against. Lilly was not a Nazi, and love trumped everything that she was allegedly loyal to. She was a vessel for change and lesson in tolerance, even though no one had really heard her story until the 1990's. The book and movie based on her life are part of a cumulative collection of material promoting acceptance of differences and loving eachother, the things that are truly important in life.
Their story is one small drop in the bucket toward a greater good for all of us, especially those struggling with religious persecution or intolerance toward homosexuality. The people who suffered under National Socialism due to their sexual orientation are remembered in a memorial near the Brandenburger Tor.
We all have to share this world. Wouldn’t it be for the best if we could celebrate diversity instead of people feeling like everything is “us” against “them?” This is especially relevant today with all of the religious turmoil and terrorism that we are currently facing. The group that is “them” changes over time and location, but it is always the same story. Hate breeds fear and more hate. Let’s learn from the mistakes of WWII and use stories like the one above as a message of hope to make things better and to make sure that what happened then never happens again.