Robert Haydon Jones and Matthew Levine

Point of No Return
Matthew Levine
Response

The Good Nazi
By Robert Haydon Jones
Inspiration

The Weekapaug Inn is gone now. It stood on the shore of a secluded cove near Westerly, Rhode Island. Hardly anyone in the crowds that thronged the public beaches on the Atlantic less than a mile away was aware the Weekapaug existed.  I wish I knew a current place I could use to give you for reference but I don’t.

A lot of quiet Old Money from New England and Europe takes summers in this area. From the time it became an inn back 120 years or so in the “Gay Nineties,” the Weekapaug served as a sort of overflow alternative for the families and friends of these fortunate residents. Most of the guests at the inn were Ivy League graduates. Most of the staff at the Weekapaug were current Ivy League students – often the children and grandchildren of guests.

The room rate was expensive (American Plan only) but the guest rooms were spare and plain. They reminded me of rooms I had at prep school. The Public Rooms were large and comfortable but subdued – like the Common Rooms one encounters at Ivy League residential halls.

The dining room was very attractive – quite airy with a panoramic view of the sea and the heather. The food was superb – so good that nearby residents always claimed any tables not assigned to guests.

Guests at the inn were given passes to a small, idyllic, beach on the Atlantic side ringed by beautiful mansions that were called “summer cottages” by their owners. On the bay side, the Weekapaug provided a few small sailboats for guests and also maintained a “day camp” for the smaller children with an elegant double-swing set and a fancy jungle gym.

The signature “sport” at the Weekapaug was Lawn Bowling – conducted on the rolling front lawn of the Inn, replete with boulders and rocky patches. On the second Saturday in July, the Inn held a Lawn Bowling tournament that attracted gentlemen bowlers from far and wide. Winners & Runners Up had their names inscribed on an ornate, mahogany Tournament Champions scroll, which was prominently displayed in the lobby.  It dated to 1889.

I entered the Lawn Bowling tournament on a dare from the daughter of the owner of the Inn back in the 60’s when I first stayed at the Weekapaug while on leave from the Marines.

During the subsequent 25 years or so, I yearned to have my name lettered on the Tournament Champions scroll along with the champions of yore with names like Belmont, Jerome, Haughton, Carnegie and Vanderbilt. It was a silly sort of obsession.  I was not very good at Lawn Bowling.

And, I was, in fact, definitely not the sort who belonged in competitions like this. When at long last, after a series of lucky breaks for me, and foolish plays and bad fortune for my opponents, I finally won the tournament – prevailing in the final match over a perennial winner, a famous professor at Harvard – I overheard a guest talking on the phone about my victory.

“It’s a big upset,” he said, “This fellow is a regular guest but not part of our crowd – he’s quite rough around the edges.”

I know the remark shouldn’t have hurt me, but it pierced me through. I immediately recalled overhearing an old grad at my prep school making much the same sort of “rough around the edges” remark about me 30 years back after I had scored three touchdowns against our archrival at the Alumni Homecoming Weekend game.

And the fact is that I had been allowed to stay at this very prestigious prep school at a much-reduced rate after my father filed for bankruptcy. The reason? I had been named an All State football and baseball player – the only double All State student the school had ever had.

Anyway, the bastard’s “rough edge” remark knocked me for a loop – so, just when I should have been happy with the prospect of seeing my name lettered on the Tournament Champions scroll for all to see – I was sad. I think it is fair to say I felt sorry for myself.

I had been sober for a few years. I wasn’t drinking or drugging but I was still plagued with the “isms.” So, when Anne, my wife, and I went back to our room to change for dinner, I picked a fight. I can’t recall what the fight was about – but it was a real doozy.  A couple of times we stopped yelling at each other because we realized we were yelling at each other – and the walls were thin.

We stopped fighting only because we were hungry. At dinner, we focused on ordering and then we gave the delicious food our full attention. After desert, we headed out on through the lobby to the Game Lounge. Somehow, we had come to an unspoken agreement that we would wile away the time at cards rather than return to our room, the scene of our toxic argument.

We played cribbage. The games were close – back and forth – spiced with the ongoing banter that goes along with serious cribbage. Before long, both of us were having fun. Our hot argument had run out of steam. Frankly, I forgot to stay mad.

What’s more, as we had passed through the lobby, I had seen my name freshly lettered on the Tournament Champions scroll.  I was very happy to be a Weekapaug Lawn Bowling Champion and very, very happy Anne had opted to be with me  – even if I was a bit rough around the edges.

We had just finished a thrilling game where Anne had pegged out during play leaving me with a useless first count just two pegs from victory – when I realized that an elderly guest seated a couple of tables over was watching us. He was smiling.

At first, I thought he was intrigued with our cribbage game. I smiled back at him and shuffled the cards for a new game. After the first hand, I looked back at him; he was still smiling and nodding his head affirmatively.

He was well in his 80’s; he had a shock of snow-white hair, a deeply tanned, chiseled face and a lithe, wiry, body. He was sitting with two little girls about seven and eight and a beautiful, dark haired, very Semitic looking woman in her mid 40’s. She was wearing a designer evening dress.

Grandfather, daughter, two granddaughters. Probably from Europe; probably as rich as Croesus. Jewish guests were not unheard of at the Weekapaug – but they were definitely a rarity. In any event, our man appeared to be completely at ease.

After a few minutes, the woman and the girls kissed and hugged him good night and departed. It was time for bed. As they left, he got up and came over to our table. “My name is Joel. Do you mind if I watch you play your game for a while?’’ he asked in a heavily accented voice. “It is such a pleasure for me to see people who love each other as you two do.”

Well, what could we say? In the end, we stopped playing cribbage, and I called the waiter over and ordered coffee. Anne had a cognac; Joel had schnapps. He asked for our story and I gave him the standard summary. Second marriage 17 years in, seven children, three each from the previous – plus our one. This was only our second time away from that child, who was seven and disabled.

He said he was sad for us about the disabled child – but glad for the child and for us that we still so loved each other. He repeated that it was a pleasure for him to see people love each other as we did.

I asked him if he was from Europe – and he said he was – in a matter of speaking.  I asked him if he had been involved in World War 11 – and he said he had been quite involved in World War 11.

I asked him to tell us more and he hesitated. “You might not want to hear my story,” he said. “It is a disturbing story.”

I told him I was a former Marine and a writer by trade. I told him Anne and I were pretty tough – that we could handle disturbing stories.

He smiled indulgently at us, drained his schnapps and told his story straight out.

He had just turned 14 when the Nazi’s stormed his little village near Karatov.  They burned every house, raped every woman and girl and then shot everyone except the men and boys they judged fit enough to be slave laborers. Joel stood on his tiptoes to look big. The Nazi’s murdered almost all of the children. “The Nazis killed more than two million children,” he said.

He was years in the slave labor camps. After his first six months, his 5,000-man camp was ordered to assemble. An SS Major roughly divided them into two halves. Joel was in the left half. They were marched to a freight train and taken to another slave camp.  As their train pulled out, they watched the Nazi’s open up with machine guns and liquidate the others.

He took part in a mass escape of more than a thousand from a camp in Poland. They were re-captured the next day. They were marched back into the camp and ordered to stand in ranks. Then every third man was shot in the head.

He was sent from camp to camp until finally in 1944 he was working three stories underground in a V2 rocket factory in France. He was 19-years-old and emaciated. Each day he awoke after six hours in a wooden sleeping tier. He was issued a piece of horsemeat about the size of a 50-cent piece. That was his ration for the day.

He stepped out of the tier over the bodies of those who had died during the night.  His job was to machine part of the guidance system for the V2. He had to have 15 of his parts pass inspection each shift or he would be considered a saboteur and executed.

Every time he went down the passage to his workstation, he passed by several “saboteurs” whose output had not measured up in inspection. They had been impaled on meat hooks through their rectums. Their agonized screams reverberated through the underground factory for hours.

So, he worked feverishly to do 20 parts each shift. The extra five parts over his quota of 15 was his safety factor. It was hard to concentrate. The screaming was incessant.  Every shift, men were dying all around him of starvation and disease.

When he arrived at his workstation for his shift, he would open the drawer that held his tools. Under the tools, wrapped in cheesecloth, was a big sandwich that his Nazi civilian foreman had smuggled in.  Joel was sure the sandwiches had saved his life.

“I don’t know why he did it,” Joel said. “He never said anything about it to me.  Every day he risked his life to sneak in a sandwich for me. If they had caught him, they would have hung him on a meat hook.”

I told him it was an amazing story. Did he know what had happened to the foreman?

He didn’t know. All the Nazi guards and civilian workers had run away the day before American troops had liberated Joel and the other slave workers.

“I really do owe him my life,” Joel said. “But, of course, this good Nazi has greatly complicated my life even to this day.”

I was surprised. I asked him how the good Nazi had complicated his life.

He made direct eye contact with me and said, “He made it impossible for me to hate them all.”

It was late and we walked out of the lounge to our rooms. I told him I would never forget his story. He told us that he would always treasure the way Anne and I loved each other.

We never saw Joel or his family again. In the morning, when I inquired for him at the front desk they told me he and his family had checked out after early breakfast.

When I asked if they had a forwarding address, they said it was confidential.  I didn’t press – there was a lot going on. The Lobby was swarming with State Police, paramedics and plain-clothes detectives.

An elderly guest, Carl Schmidt, a retired industrialist from Dusseldorf, had hung himself from the double swing at the children’s “camp” on the bay some time during the night. There was no note. The wife said he was in a good mood after dinner and had told her he was walking over to the bay to meet an old friend.

 

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15 Comments

  1. daniel rees shulman
    Posted March 6, 2012 at 5:21 am | #

    Very slick; great ending I never saw coming, with beautifully atmospheric setting and buildup.

  2. Barry Schwartz
    Posted March 6, 2012 at 6:37 am | #

    Like most of youyr writings, I’d like to read the next chapter…

    Instead, I can only wonder…

  3. C. Egan
    Posted March 7, 2012 at 10:25 am | #

    Once again, you sucker-punch me!! Great stuff!!

  4. Ed Lambertson
    Posted March 8, 2012 at 8:58 am | #

    A wistful nostalgic story of pain, misery and a little love……….then Bang!! Nicely done.

  5. John H. Tucker
    Posted March 9, 2012 at 3:47 pm | #

    Rich in detail at every turn — from the double swing to the fancy jungle gym to the Cognac and Schnapps — paving the way nicely to the wonderful, horrible ending.

  6. Charles DeFanti
    Posted March 10, 2012 at 2:28 pm | #

    Mere moments between the banal (a marital spat) to the questioning of what it means to be human. Don’t know how you threaded that needle, Jones, but you did. Wow.

  7. Dave Monroe
    Posted March 11, 2012 at 4:32 pm | #

    A moving story, terrific title. Even in the most inhumane circumstances, an act of touching, humane kindness, saving a man’s life, and maybe his heart and humanity. Nice painting, too.

  8. Jack Orth
    Posted March 13, 2012 at 3:30 am | #

    Robert Jones just reeled in a new fan! His writing is like a “walk off” homerun over the Green Monster at Fenway Park in the 11’th inning—-WOW!

  9. Patty Potter Ewald
    Posted March 14, 2012 at 5:53 pm | #

    RHJ, One of your best. Your craft shines here. This had that subtle rhythm of the fine story writer you are, along with the intensity of the soldier’s dead on minimalist “observer”. The mix of these is terrific. Well done.

  10. Larry
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 9:24 am | #

    Wow. Some lawn bowling, some cribbage, and a meat hook. Really tight, well done.

  11. Posted April 3, 2012 at 12:16 pm | #

    Pure blooded anglo saxons anti semites clubs for wasps only summer camp for the privileged concentration camps for those nasty jews and meathooks. Do we ever get the point?

  12. seanbeaudoin
    Posted April 16, 2012 at 7:16 pm | #

    Great line: “A couple of times we stopped yelling at each other because we realized we were yelling at each other.” Followed up by another great line: “We stopped fighting only because we were hungry.”

  13. Posted July 14, 2012 at 9:14 am | #

    Jonsey – You maybe rough around the edges, but what a warm heart! Came through in all the wonderful prose of your story. Left me wanting more!

  14. paul zalon
    Posted July 14, 2012 at 11:39 am | #

    Lean, mean and thoroughly original. RHJ paints atmosphere and facts with the least amount of words possible. Never know where he’s going and always willing to follow him there. So much with so little- Mies van der Rohe of the VERY short story (but not really with a minimalist’s sensibility- way too much emotional detail for Mies.)

    I can’t honestly say that I know who Carl is at the end- and I like that I don’t.

    Beautiful painting by Mr Levine

  15. Danny Ashley
    Posted January 17, 2013 at 7:37 am | #

    I read “the Good Nazi” while I was at the Weekapaug Inn, albeit now newly restored.The story captures the Inn’s atmosphere perfectly and
    the ending is memorable. I see Christolph Waltz playing the Good Nazi.

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