Tutti’s Promise contains a scene in which a concentration camp guard lets my grandfather smuggle vegetables out of a root cellar to his wife and children. This really happened and my mother remembers it well. She has told me that my grandfather even said that he would have testified for leniency for this particular guard if he had ever had the chance. What my mother never knew, however, was why this Nazi had helped her father. What was his motivation? I had to fabricate it for the novel.
A few weeks ago, over a cup of tea at the Hotel Frambach in Wickrath, I found out the back story and had to rewrite the chapter. While visiting Germany with my mother we met up with one of her old friends. They reminisced and told many old stories while we sipped tea at a little restaurant in the small village where my grandmother had grown up.
This is what my mother’s friend told us:
My grandfather was an international businessman. He traded in metals his entire professional life, and this meant many business trips throughout the world. In the 1930s, when he lived in Cologne, Germany, one of his frequent destinations was Berlin, where he stayed in one of the best hotels — The Bristol.
Being proper and knowing that a little something extra gets you good service, he would always tip the staff well, especially one particular head waiter. My assumption is that those gratuities prompted the maître d’ to seat him at a good table and offer him a free appetizer or drink once in a while.
But those tips got him more than good service at the best hotel in Berlin. They may have saved his life — it gave his family life-sustaining nourishment when they were starving! My mother’s friend told us that the Nazi who guarded the root cellar was none other than the head waiter from the Hotel Bristol!
Be nice to people on your way up because you’ll meet them on your way down.
— Wilson Mizner.
*At the time of this posting the postcard can be found for sale at ebay.