Name: Wolfram Engel
Date of birth: 1910
Place of birth: Germany
Year I created him: 2006
Role: Secondary character
Wolfram was sent to the camps for violating Paragraph 175, the anti-gay legislation Germany had from 1871 to 1994. In 1935, the scope of the law was extended and made male homosexuality a felony punishable by five years’ imprisonment. Up to 63,000 men were convicted and imprisoned under Nazi rule. About 40%, or 10,000, of men with the pink triangle survived the camps. Wolfram is one of them.
For some reason, I’ve always pictured Wolfram as looking a bit like silent screen sheik and fellow Pittsburgher Thomas Meighan, only with somewhat thicker and wavier hair. He has dark green eyes.
We first meet him in September 1944, as a friend of sweet, naïve French girl Marie Sternglass. When Marie returns to France in late 1945, Wolfram resumes the protective, fatherly role in her life. At her wedding, Wolfram walks her up to the chupah. He also goes with her when she returns to the Parisian bridal salon where she and Aranka bought their dresses, convinced there’s been a horrible mistake because the employees gave them the dresses they’d admired most but couldn’t afford (along with complementary jewelry). Wolfram doesn’t want anyone thinking his sweet little Marie is a thief. Of course, the salon ladies felt sympathy for these young teenage girls and gave them their dream dresses, even though they couldn’t afford them.
Wolfram later finds his soulmate, a man who’s (if I remember correctly) six years his junior, and they get married and eventually immigrate to the United States and move to San Francisco. In a yet unwritten storyline, Marie, her best friends, and their husbands are going to finally make aliyah, which makes Kálmán (now Shimron) extremely happy. When Wolfram nears the end of his days, he too moves to Israel to be near his surrogate daughter, and is going to die with Marie holding his hand.
Here are some of the Wolfram scenes I’ve written to date. I haven’t yet gotten past December 1945 with Eszter and her group of friends, so all future storylines with them, including the two visits to the Parisian bridal salon, are memorized in my head.
Two days later Marie’s friend Wolfram maneuvered his way to their barracks as some of the other women were hanging laundry up. Once behind the sheets he looked both ways and crept into the indoor working area, where Malchen was washing a bunch of silk stockings belonging to the female SS officers.
“My friend Marie sent me a message saying a young new friend of hers was in need of a pair of shoes, so I stole a pair of shoes belonging to one of the little brats touring the factory where I work. One of the bosses had brought his three children, and one of them is just about your age. He decided to take them swimming, and they began taking their shoes off before they went into their father’s office to finish changing. Now here they are.” Wolfram pulled a pair of shoes out from under the burlap bag sitting in the wheelbarrow he was pushing. “Don’t ask how I manage to pull off so much smuggling.”
“You must be a political prisoner. It looks like you’ve been in for a very long time, since your triangle has faded from red to pink.”
“That’s the color it’s supposed to be. I hate the Nazis, but I’m not a political prisoner. Pink triangles are for homosexuals.”
“Is that a religion?”
“I was confused too at first,” Marie told her. “It means dear Wolfram likes men instead of women. He says he’s felt this way his entire life, having as little control over it as we did over having been born Jewish. Isn’t it bestial that the Nazis have to do these horrible things to us on the basis of things that weren’t our fault? I’m not saying I’m ashamed of who I am, but how is having a different religion or preferring to be with your own sex that threatening to other people? We spent our entire lives minding our own business.”
“As you can see, I’ve only just arrived myself. After the liberation, I decided I didn’t want anything to do with Germany anymore, so I gave up my citizenship and moved here for the time being. I’ve been living in Lyon, but decided to see if there might be some more job opportunities in the capital.”
“What, are you jealous of me?” Wolfram asked. “Do you have eyes for Marie yourself or something? Why is your first reaction to think we’re sweethearts instead of friends?”
“Oh, I don’t know.” Artur hoped Marie didn’t suspect anything.
“As beautiful as Marie is, I’m far too old for her, like she said, and besides, I only like other men, not women. That’s why I was thrown in the camps.”
“Other men?” Aranka asked. “Such a thing exists?”
“Didn’t you see any men wearing pink triangles while you were there? That’s another reason I left Germany, because they didn’t repeal Paragraph 175 even after the Nazis were no more. I think I’ll find more freedom to be myself in France, though of course ultimately I’d like to move to the United States.”
“But why?” Klaudia asked. “Why wouldn’t you like women like a normal man?”
“I’ve just always felt this way. There’s no reason. It’s as uncontrollable as having blue eyes, being left-handed, having red hair, or being born into a Catholic family. We can’t help the way we are.”
“Please don’t hate Wolfram,” Marie pleaded. “He did so much for us, and doesn’t need to be hated and persecuted twice just because he was born a homosexual.”
Wolfram looked hard at Artur as the group began moving out of the depot, waiting till Marie was out of earshot. “I might prefer other men to women, but I’m not stupid. I know what certain body language and expressions mean when a man is interested in a woman. You have a crush on Marie, don’t you?”
“Is it that obvious?” he whispered. “All this time she’s believed I’m just a good friend who looks out for her.”
“What’s been stopping you from telling her? Afraid she doesn’t feel the same way?”
“She’s just too pure, too innocent, too sweet, to be sullied by such things. It seems wrong to even touch her, in more than a friendly way. And she’s barely fifteen years old. I’m seventeen. It doesn’t seem right.”
“What won’t seem right, young man, is when you see her walking with some other fellow someday, someone who took her away from you because you hesitated and made excuses too long. You have my permission, in lieu of her father’s, to ask her to be yours.”
“No, I can’t do that. I’ve made my peace with never being more than friends with her.”
“Then prepare to be heartbroken for real when she ends up marrying some other guy, someone who isn’t afraid to ask her out.”
“Nothing about the war made any sense. I might as well be the only one left in my family too, since my own parents and other relatives were Nazis. The boyfriend I was caught with was tortured to death before I was sent to Poland, so I arrived all alone. I had to leave that bastard country as soon as possible after I recovered, since I knew that if the authorities found I were alive, they’d reimprison me.”
“After all you’d been through, you would’ve been put back in prison by the new German authorities?” Marie asked in horror. “But you’re not a criminal. You didn’t wear a black or a green triangle in addition to the pink one.”
“I told you yesterday, they never repealed Paragraph 175, the statute I was imprisoned under. My sentence wasn’t yet up as of late June, when I left Germany behind. You saw how badly I was treated, worse than other categories of prisoners. Most of the men who wore pink triangles weren’t as lucky as I was.”
Marie put her arms around his shoulders. “No one should’ve mistreated my angel. Now that you’re in France, no one will ever harm you again or treat you like a criminal because God saw fit to make you different from most others.”
“If only your attitude were shared by more people, and people in power, I never would’ve been put through that. I wonder if your parents would’ve allowed you to even associate with me.”
“I don’t care if my own parents might’ve thought you were a criminal or diseased or a menace to society. You took care of me when I needed it. I don’t understand why so many people are afraid of your kind.”
“I told you, people hate and fear what’s different,” Eszter said. “Are you really still so naïve after everything you’ve been through?”
“I hope she stays just as sweet as she is.” Wolfram ruffled her hair. “At least her ordeal didn’t turn her into a bitter, grumpy, unpleasant person like your friend Kálmán.”
“You’d really do that for me?” She jumped up and threw her arms around him. “I knew Caterina would’ve walked me down the aisle in place of my mother, but I had no idea you’d want to stand up in place of my father!”
“Of course I would. I’d do anything for my sweet little Marie.” He set her back down. “I’ll even see the two of you off to the train station. And you know what, when you and Artur decide to have children, since they won’t have any natural grandparents, I’ll be their grandfather too. No child deserves to grow up without even one grandparent.”