The Nazi and Me; What Makes America GREAT
The Nazi and Me; What Makes America Great
For background, my father was an Italian Jewish Holocaust refugee. He was on the last train out of Italy before war was declared in Europe in September of 1939. Six months later he was on the last train out of Paris before the Nazis took the city and he boarded the last ship out of Free France. In Italy, his family owned the largest woman’s high fashion design firm in Torino, the fourth largest city in Italy. Their net worth in today’s dollars would be about $100 million. They landed in New York with $15,000; but six million other Jews never made it through the war.
My best friend is a German. I call him the Nazi. It’s a disparaging term, I know, but he considers it an endearing term. But then again A) he’s a close friend and B) my father was a Holocaust refugee. We have a great relationship. I always ask him what’s black and brown and looks great on a German. I tell everyone to ask him. They do. He likes the attention. I also ask him what’s green and slimy, slithers across Europe and kills people. He likes that joke too. In case you don’t know, that which is black and brown and looks great on a German is a Doberman. The green and slimy response is Snotsies.
Unlike me, the Nazi is blessed. He is amazingly lucky when it comes to his unique personal experiences. Me, only one experience in my life has been worth retelling. One day, as I was looking out my kitchen window, I saw a UFO. It appeared to be hovering over the game reserve out my back window. It was long and slender like a cigar and had lights which appeared to be in Cyrillic lettering. Summoning my wife, I pointed out he UFO. Her response? “That’s not a UFO. You’re looking at the reflection of the microwave clock in the breakfast nook window.” So much for my magic moment.
But for the Nazi, the moments kept coming. His father was a Nazi general who had been captured on the Russian front. Even if he had returned, the Germany he left would not have been the Germany he would have discovered after the war. The Nazi’s earliest memories were scrounging for food in garbage cans and sleeping in bombed out building basements. His mother assumed her husband to be dead so she married an American colonel. When the colonel transferred to Alaska, she and the Nazi came with him.
When the Nazi arrived stateside there were no programs to teach foreigners English. Foreign students learned English on the street before they ever got to school. But the Nazi arrived when he was 15. He didn’t have the chance to learn English on the street, so he was put in a first-grade class. When he had learned everything a first grader would learn, he was moved to the second grade. Then the third, fourth and fifth grade. He made high school the next year but until then he was always the oldest, tallest, smartest student in class.
Oddly, he speaks with a Southern twang. When I first met the Nazi, I asked him why. He said he didn’t know. Later I learned he had picked up his pattern of speaking by watching Elvis Presley movies. The Nazi had the Elvis “Thank you, thank you, thank you very much” down so well I could swear I heard the King at the end of a concert every time the Nazi thanked a waitress.
The Nazi and I get along very well. When he travels he finds postcards of Israel or something Jewish and sends them to me. Once I came out of my apartment and walked into a large Israeli flag he had surreptitiously hung the previous night. I respond in kind. Once I bought a Weimar ten gazillion Mark note from the 1920s and told him not to spend in all at once. And whenever there is a World War II movie playing, I call him and tell him to watch the movie “because the Germans are losing.” If I can’t reach him, the next time I see him I tell him, “I like watching the Germans lose so much I watched the movie twice. And the Germans lost both times!”
What infuriates me most about the Nazi is his uncanny ability to attract unique life experiences. On the first hour of the first day of his first real job, he was assigned to keep tabs on the progress of construction of the Anchorage airport. He and a partner were to fly around the construction site and log in the progress on a map. The two climbed into an airplane and took off. The silver bird headed for the sky and suddenly stopped. It was out of gas. “We just fell out of the sky,” the Nazi told me. “One moment we were headed up and the next we simply slipped out of the sky. The plane tipped and slid toward the earth.”
“You crashed?” I asked him.
“Sort of. We landed in the only tree that had not been cut down yet. So, we had to crawl out of the plane and climb down the tree.”
Ah, the joy of a unique life experience!
Then there was the time Nazi got married in Hawaii.
Except we don’t live in Hawaii.
The Nazi and I live in snow country. Which is why he decided to get married in Hawaii. So, he and his wife-to-be took off for the land of leis and I got a call at 3 a.m.
“Steve! You awake?”
What do you say to a good friend who calls at 3 a.m., even if he is a German?
“Yeah. You married yet?”
“No. I left the Alaska marriage certificate at my house. I need you to get it for me and put it on a plane to Hawaii.”
“Sure. Where is it?”
“In my desk drawer. In the office.”
So, at 3:30 a.m. I went to the Nazi’s house, found the spare key, got inside and the marriage certificate was not in his desk drawer. Or on the desk. Or near the desk. Or next to the bed. Or in the dresser, any drawer. I finally found it in a pile of papers on the kitchen table. I pulled out my cell phone and gave the Nazi a call.
“Great!” he said. “Now, go down to the airport and stand next to the line of people getting on the plane for Hawaii and give it to someone you know. I’ll get it from them on this end.”
Then he hangs up. HANGS UP!
So down I went to the airport. In those days, you could walk right up to the boarding gate so there I was, dressed in parka and boots, at 5 a.m., watching drunks dressed in shorts and T-shirts headed toward an island paradise. I was NOT happy. Unfortunately, I did not see anyone I knew. Rather, fortunately I did not see anyone I knew because, if I had, I might have been very, very rude. I did manage to convince the boarding agent to talk a pilot into taking the certificate with him so Nazi could get married.
The saga of the Nazi’s wedding is not yet over!
At that time, the Nazi was working as a financial deal maker. He would put together joint ventures of $10 to $20 million for short term investments. On the side, he bought and sold futures. For those who are not financially comfortable — including me — a future is a financial instrument where you buy something that does not yet exist. In the Nazi’s case, it was potatoes. He would buy potato futures which meant he was buying a portion of the potato crop this year even though the potatoes he was buying had yet to be planted. The point of buying a future is to tie up a product until it is time for the harvest and then sell when the price is high.
But you have to sell the future otherwise you end up with the product.
The Nazi was in love.
He forgot to sell the future.
He and his bride got back from Hawaii and there, lined up on the curb in front of their home, were two truck containers of potatoes. Ten or 15 tons of potatoes. He hadn’t sold his futures so he was stuck with the product.
America is God’s gift to the world. Only in America can the son of an Italian, Jewish Holocaust refugee have, as his best friend, the son of a Nazi Army General. We are a land of immigrants, refugees, expatriates and “wretched refuse” whose children and descendants created skyscrapers, airplanes, telephones, software and movies. We lead the world in innovation because no one in America cares if your father was a Nazi general or an Italian Jewish Holocaust refugee. Neither do the I or the Nazi. My friend, the Nazi! So, if you want to keep America great, next time you see your ethnic friend, ask him/her what’s black and brown and looks great on a [then fill in the ethnic background.] Every day you do not laugh is a wasted day.
Oh, and did I tell you the Nazi sold Bibles door to door in New York City to get through college? Or he started a forest fire by accident while examining a landing strip? Or he was snookered into catching a frozen salmon which lured a brown bear onto the bridge where he was standing?
[The Nazi’s father was General Joseph Scheffbauer. Steve Levi’s father’s story is an eBook, MEMOIRS OF AN ITALIAN, JEWISH HOLOCUAST REFUGEE. Steve Levi has 80 books in print or on Kindle. His latest is BEATING THE BANKS AT THEIR OWN GAME, how four senior-citizens ‘beat the banks at their own game.’ The book is available from www.authormasterminds.com/steve-levi .]