Excerpted from Homage to a Broken Man, a new biography by Peter Mommsen. Buy the book or read it online at www.HeinrichArnold.com.

One evening at the end of July 1947, Heiner took the children outside their house for a talk. He led them to the picnic table, saying it was a good night for stargazing. Sitting side by side, they stared up at the Southern Cross and the Milky Way sweeping vast and speckled from horizon to horizon.

Heiner said nothing. He just pointed at the stars. Then, as they watched, they saw a shooting star. "God might send us a baby soon," he told the children. "Maybe that was the little soul coming down." They were silent, staring, transfixed with awe. Up there among the stars was their Opa, Eberhard. So was Tata, and Emmy Maria, whose birthday they celebrated every year. Would the baby come down to them from up there?

Heiner's thoughts were in the hospital, where he had taken Annemarie that morning. "Hospital" was perhaps too grandiose a name for it. A two-story structure built of air-dried bricks, it had room for a dozen beds, a few exam rooms, a surgery, a pharmacy, and a lab. Nearby stood a shed with a fireplace where instruments were sterilized in boiling water.

It was a primitive setup, but well-staffed and well-run, and Heiner knew that Annemarie was in good hands. Phyllis, the midwife, had delivered their last three babies, and today she had welcomed Annemarie with such warmth and cheer. And Annemarie herself had left the house confident and happy. "I can't wait," Heiner thought.

Annemarie, in the meantime, was trying to sleep. All day the labor pangs had come and gone-as they would all the night, and all the next day as well. "I began to feel discouraged," she wrote in her diary. "When would this little being within me come into the world?"

On the evening of the second day, a new series of contractions began, more painful than the first and lasting without any real break for the next twenty hours.

"I had strong labor pangs throughout-so strong that we were sure from hour to hour that the baby would be born. Heiner was up all night; I could not be without him. In the morning I felt exhausted. Phyllis had given me something to hasten matters, but it had been of no use.

"Ruth came, and I begged her to bring the child to birth by artificial means. On examination, she found that the child was not in the right position-that was why I had not given birth."

For Heiner, it was becoming a waking nightmare. During her first five births, Annemarie had always been brave. But now, as her labor stretched on, she became desperate. Never had he seen her in such a state. She begged; she pleaded; she wept for help. When he had gone to the doctors to ask them to do something-anything-they had told him it was best to let nature take its course. He trusted their judgment but could not bear to see Annemarie suffer. Love for her, and a sense of responsibility-as the baby's father, he had caused all this-swept over him, wave after wave.

Annemarie wrote in her diary: "After that came the most agonizing hours, for while the pangs grew increasingly stronger and more frequent, I now knew that they would do nothing. All that pain, as if wasted. Finally, the doctors decided to deliver the baby under general anesthesia, with the help of forceps. But first they had to sterilize the instruments by boiling them for twenty minutes. The wait seemed like an eternity.

"When at last everything was ready, they put the ether mask on me and told me to breathe deeply and quietly. I could still feel the beginning of the next labor pang as I sank deeper and deeper into unconsciousness. My one thought was that now I could escape the pains. Then I knew no more."Now Heiner was standing at her head, gripping her hand. The doctors-Cyril and Ruth-were working to get the baby out with forceps. They tried for what seemed like hours, and then suddenly grew alarmed. Annemarie was turning bluish. She had stopped breathing.

They broke off the operation at once and yanked the ether-soaked wad from her nose so that she would wake up. Cyril examined her. "Her heart has given way!"

Seconds ticked by. Then Annemarie started breathing again, and coming out of the ether. Relief ran around the room. But Cyril was still anxious. "I can't help her with the birth anymore. It's too late."

As soon as Annemarie woke up, sharp pains wracked her, and she pleaded for help. Heiner turned to Cyril. "Can't you do a Caesarean?"

Cyril shook his head. "Her heart won't stand the anesthetic. There's too big a risk of losing her."

Then came the moment Heiner would never forget: Cyril asked him to step outside. "The only way to save Annemarie is to abort the baby," he said bluntly. "If we don't, both will surely die."

Heiner looked at him dumbfounded, and fled outside into the banana plantation behind the hospital. It was pitch dark and drizzling.

He had never felt so lonely, although the delivery room was full of people eager to help. An abortion? It was out of the question, especially now. How could he ever let their baby be dismembered? The very idea was evil; it sickened him. "But Cyril says Annemarie is dying," he thought.