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Hitler and Family Sense
Can you describe your feelings or the feelings of your family on the first day that Hitler became chancellor?
It's very difficult to say because we were different. We were not Germans. We were Belgians in Germany; we were already foreigners, and my mother spoke very bad French—very bad German, I mean, she spoke, we mostly spoke French at home. My mother had red fingernails; the Germans had never seen such a thing. I remember that in the streetcar my mother was always very elegant and perfumed and people would get up and say, "It smells here," but that was anti-foreign. They were very resistant to French elegance, and so actually I said goodbye with great pleasure when we left Germany. I really didn't enjoy it too much and I didn't like it and I remember until today that I never liked it very much. We were Belgians and enjoyed a certain kind of home life that we had, and the Germans didn't have it. The country was a cold country, and Belgium is a very warm country; people are very friendly. Germans aren't friendly by nature, and so—I can not say that all Germans were bad or—I made some German friends. I have one friend that I brought to America after the war; I went to look for him and brought him to America and he built the Verrazano Bridge in New York. He was an engineer.
Did your relationships change with the friends you had made before Hitler came to power and after?
I wasn't there afterward.
I guess that's true.
But this friend for instance was of a French mother and a German father and he, after, he was no Nazi that I knew, and he asked me, he said, "after all, you came to help me. I'm German, why would you do that?" I said, "I only knew one good German and that was you. By taking you out, there were no good Germans left as far as I'm concerned." I brought him to America and he lived again in the same house with me, and my children knew him and my wife and...
This was a friend from school?
Yes. Until today, he lives now in Zurich and we write to each other and he sends me presents on my birthday and I became a U.S. citizen. He has a bank account in my bank. I really helped him a lot, and yet he was a German, but I felt that I wanted to purposely do that in order to show the Germans that we don't have that kind of nature that we would be as nasty as they were. But he was not guilty in any way so there was no reason why I shouldn't have done it, but that is actually to illustrate not everybody feels that way about the Germans. I don't like them, we don't go there for our vacations, but there was a moment right after the war that they started to travel and I would meet them in Italy and I was very tough. I closed the elevator door right in front of their noses in the hotel purposely. I made loud remarks against Germans that they should know that they're not liked. I did the best I could after the war to take my revenge in those ways, but I remember that they were, from the boat that we left in Capri, a German woman was throwing flowers and I said, "Imagine, now you're throwing flowers, they used to throw bombs here!" She almost fainted from what I—I had funny stories like that.
You want to hear a funny story? Himmler was the worst of all the German anti-Semites. He had a cousin by the name of Edith von Kohler. She was a journalist, and she went to Bucharest as a representative of Ribbentrop and lived in a hotel Athenee Palace and my uncle said to me, "You know, Mrs. Von Kohler is here. Let's ask her if it's all right for you to go over, when you want to go to America whether you should travel through Germany. I went with my uncle to see her in the hotel and she said, "By all means you should not travel through Germany. Who knows what they can do. Don't travel through Germany."
She was aware that you were Jewish or no?
I presume that she assumed that my uncle was Jewish, and she knew him. Now, I came here and got older, went into the army, and as you know I was interrogator. One nice day Mrs. Von Kohler was brought in as a prisoner. I knew all her story; a book had been written about the intrigues that she made. She tried to introduce Romanian officials to German officials and make friendships and she had an affair with the king and all kinds of little things. She was called back into Germany because she embarrassed the Germans with her behavior. Now, I knew all that and I knew that she had been the mistress of a man who had a mustache and he was a client of ours. I had to go and cash in money for a pair of earrings that he bought from us, and he paid at three o'clock in the morning in his stable. My uncle said, "Well, you're young, you can go and cash in at this time," So I got up in the middle of the night and I went there. The man had a nervous tic; he always pulled on his mustache. When she was brought in as a prisoner and she was assigned to me, but she didn't recognize me, and since my name was not the same anymore, there was no way that she could know that it was me. I interrogated her about her relations with the, personal relations with Himmler and Hitler and she told us a lot of small details about their Christmases together and things like that.
At one moment I looked through her diary, and I said, "From three to five there is always an M, what is this?" She says, "Oh that's a friend of mine." Now I knew that stood for Malaxa, that was the man that she had an affair with. I said, "Is he maybe?" and I went like this, and the poor woman fainted. But she was only a prisoner of war for a few days because there was really nothing she had done that we could hold against her and I let her go. These are the funniest stories. This woman couldn't imagine how an American knows her whole life history.
She told you about Christmas with Hitler?
They celebrated with Hitler and Himmler and Christmas with a tree.
Can you tell us what she told you?
They had a Christmas tree, and gifts around it. They all would imitate how Hitler ate, Goering too, when we had him as a prisoner, he claimed that Hitler was a "carpet eater." He had a disease, a type of epilepsy where when they would get in a crisis, they would bite into the carpet. That's a symptom of the disease. She told that he ate with his hands, she imitated him. Goering showed us like he thought the whole thing was a big joke. Goering started to tell us about Hitler, mocking him and making fun of him. They were human beings like we were. I will show you the bad taste of his apartment; I took a whole series of pictures that were printed postcards that they had, and they are in this album that I have of Hitler's ugly interiors.