You have one, don’t you? I mean, how hard is it to choose? OK, this is about misperception and how you don’t know who you think you know.
People in your life will mislead you or you can do it to yourself. The bad guys are all around us and some of them look like good people. Our social media doesn’t help as it perpetuates ignorance through jingoism.
You’ve got all those Hollywood stereotypes, like Colonel Klink or Sergeant Shultz on “Hogan’s Heroes” or maybe you like the film versions of famous Nazis. Hitler is so easy to caricature, that funny little Chaplin-like mustache and all the goose-stepping armies.
Unfortunately, in real life, Nazis can almost appear to be human. They have families, jobs, companies, and, as in my case, you might work for one.
No, I didn’t know that I was working for a Nazi. It took almost 30 years to find out. Still, it was an experience I’ll never forget, mainly due to the discipline demanded by my former employer. He didn’t take no shit, want to talk, or hang-out after work. Group therapy involved riding moto-cross.
I was a young, impressionable lad, living in a foreign country. Belgium is a lovely little place that most Americans now know for its beer. In the late 1960s it was known for NATO, the Common Market (later to evolve into the European Union), and great moto-cross riders.
After school was out, summer of my junior year, 1970, I went to work for one of the local BMW dealers. Which was beneficial in that I apprenticed at a usable trade, made a few dollars ($5 USD per week), and tried to learn French and Flemish, since English wasn’t spoken at the shop. When working in a foreign language you have to pay close attention, otherwise the boss is liable to do something that could injure you, inadvertently, of course. I found this out when the maestro scorched me with hot slag while cutting the rusted muffler off a BMW sedan with a welding torch. Ya, ve vil make you tough, heh?
Of course, I wanted to know how the maestro came to work on BMWs.
There was some small talk, very little, during our afternoon tea and biscuits (cookies to Americans). The other apprentice helped with the translation, when I couldn’t decipher the conversation. It turned out that he had been a Luftwaffe mechanic during World War II, working on Focke-Wulff Fw 190 fighter aircraft powered by 41liter BMW radial engines. I didn’t question how that happened to him.
After all, Vietnam was on, American youth were being drafted into the military. Something I knew about first hand, as I was a military brat, attending a DOD high school, run by an Army colonel. I figured that when the German Wehrmacht invaded Belgium, he got drafted into service. I really don’t know how he came to join the Luftwaffe.
He was all business, even down to his relaxation. On the weekends, a huge, 500cc Rickman Metisse moto-cross bike was wheeled out and taken to a gravel pit behind NATO. Christian, the Belgian apprentice, had a Husqvarna 250 to ride. That left his retired, 1953 DKW 125 street bike, converted to run in the dirt. I bought it, a $50 dollar deal. There went my summer earnings, all in one shot.
We would take the bikes out to the pit and ride them on Sunday. A great experience for a kid like me. The maestro had been the Belgian moto-cross champion in the mid-50s, so he was no slouch on the bike. I learned a lot about riding from him. Tips and tricks that would later save my life more than once while riding on the street. Like when I had to go off-road into a ditch to avoid an asshole coming at me head-on, shaking his fist at me.
All things pass, the summer ended, back to school. I rode some more during the winter, but after I graduated my parents went back to the USA. The US Army hired me for a clerk in 1971, so I didn’t work at the BMW shop that year. The DKW went into storage, something about not being able to take it back to the USA with our personal goods.
Twenty-five years went by. My father went to Europe on a business trip. He stopped in at the old BMW shop. It was closed but the maestro was still there, living above the shop with his wife. He wanted to know when I was going to get my old DKW. He had saved it for me all of those years. The old man told me about it when he got back to the USA.
It was another couple of years before I returned to Europe. My life was good, I was working as a technical writer, making decent money. Before the writing job, I had worked for a BMW dealer in Ohio. They gave me a good deal on ordering a new BMW M3 in 1998. 45 years old and I had never owned a new car, so I special ordered this one.
I flew to Munich, picked up the BMW at the factory. Drove the hell out of it for two weeks, smoking the Autobahn to Vienna, then back to Germany and over to the Netherlands. Where my employer had the prospects of a new contract. I then cruised down to Brussels, the old high school, and the BMW garage.
The street had changed, shops were gone, exteriors upgraded, new row houses built. I found the garage, parked the car and went upstairs to the apartment. Knocked on the door.
A woman answered it. She was older, but not the wife. I asked her about the maestro with my fractured French. She immediately began ranting at me, screaming about “…that Nazi!” I was shocked, blown back by her tirade.
She was his daughter. I had never heard about her. It was obvious that she hated her father and didn’t want to discuss him. I asked about my motorcycle. She screamed some more about, “I have nothing to do with him. It’s not here, I don’t know anything, go away!”
I shook my head. All these years. I never had any idea that the man who taught me how to work on BMWs, ride motorcycles, and generally be disciplined in my work was a Nazi. I mean, he was a Belgian. I thought they all hated the Nazis.
You never know, someone you know could be one. I found out the hard way.
The only question I have is; was the daughter telling the truth?
Time to look into some World War II records.