GERMANY: Baroness Beheaded

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There was scarcely a word in the papers. No one would mention it by telephone or letter, yet everywhere that Germans met last week, behind locked doors where no servants could hear, they talked of nothing else. What had happened to the beautiful Baroness von Berg? Would she be beheaded? Had she already been executed? Was Baron Sosnowski in jail? Had he been sent back to Poland?

For a year details of the story have been leaking out (TIME, Nov. 19). Baron George ("Yurek") Sosnowski is an extremely handsome young Pole who served gallantly in the Austrian Army, loves women, excitement. Deeply infatuated with him was the beautiful Baroness Benita von Berg, a blonde whose first husband was Richard von Falkenhayn, son of the late great General von Falkenhayn. Berlin society knew that it was to escape the influence of Polish Baron Sosnowski that beauteous, divorced Benita married stolid Baron von Berg. Curiously, all four remained friendly, all went to the same parties. Sosnowski's parties were enough to set Berlin gossips hissing like snakes. People not invited insisted that there were buckets of champagne, sexual orgies.

About a year ago the mother of a Frau von Natzmer, well-born German girl serving as a secretary in the Ministry of Defense, went to the Ministry to complain that her daughter was being made to work too late at night. The official whose secretary she was knew that she had done very little overtime work. He reported the matter to Nazidom's secret police.

Last February Baron Sosnowski gave another party, officially for his latest protegee, a dancer. Berlin's half-world knew what to expect. With glittering eyes they hurried to his apartment. This time a whole cordon of secret police were waiting at the door. Many times had the Baron Sosnowski been suspected of espionage. No charge ever stuck. He blamed his luck on a curious signet ring that he always wore. Several weeks before this last party he lost his ring pulling the Baroness von Berg's puppy from a canal.

All the guests, over 50, were rushed to jail, many of them kept there for days without a chance to change the evening clothes that they had come in. Then the weeding out started. One of the first to be released was Baroness von Berg's first husband, von Falkenhayn. He turned out to be a member of the secret police himself.

As iron Nazi secrecy clamped down, the Sosnowski case became a lurid legend, strictly censored in the German Press, totally baffling to correspondents until they were able to tell the U. S. Embassy that languishing in jail and possibly about to be beheaded for "treason" was an inoffensive young U. S. music student, Miss Isobel Lillian Steele. Diplomatic pressure forced Germany to disgorge Miss Steele (TIME, Jan. 7), even the secret police finally admitting that she was guilty of nothing. But the music student had been innocently acquainted with Baroness von Berg, proceeded to spill all sorts of Sosnowski facts, and is now hard at work in a Manhattan hotel dashing off Sosnowskiana for tabloids and writing a book.

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