Chapter 4 The Leopoldstadt
DescriptionThis is an excerpt from a lengthy chapter (verbosity, a bad habit of mine!). Otto Weschler, father of Hannah (the orphan girl who went on to live with the Okker brothers and their uncle in London during the war), a Jewish architect and teacher of some esteem, had recently had an affair with Gerda, a gentile student who finds herself pregnant. The couple had feared that her family, Nazi supporters, would find out about their affair. This scene presents the girl's uncle, a wealthy Nazi member visiting Otto's parents' chocolate shop in Vienna on the advice of his niece, seeking a gift for the Chancellor whom had invited him to a party.
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I reached home a short time later. There was a small crowd of onlookers surrounding a magnificent huge dark coloured motor car. On closer look, I recognized the rare sight of a Bugatti Royal limousine. A tall erect chauffeur, crisply uniformed, was standing in the front of my parent's chocolate shop. He immediately blocked my entrance and advised me that the shop was open exclusively for a special distinguished customer. I told him I was the owner's son and politely introduced myself. He eyed me with a protector's studied suspicion, but cautiously opened the door and asked my father if he was expecting a gentleman by the name of Otto Weschler. Father leaned over the counter, inspected me through the window, and waved at the chauffeur to usher me in. Inside the shop an elderly gentleman, elegantly dressed in a dark morning coat with a matching waistcoat and dark striped trousers turned towards me. He displayed a thick white military style moustache on his narrow, flushed face. In one hand was a zylinder hut, the formal black top hat, as it was often called; in the other was an exquisite looking walking cane with what appeared to be a polished jade sculpture of a stylized German eagle holding a swastika on a circular base. A thick Double Albert gold chain formed a loop from his waistcoat pocket, hiding what I only assumed was a very expensive pocket watch. His shoes were impressive: shimmering patent leather of the finest quality. Father introduced the gentleman as Herr Siegfried Menkel, the family heir of the famous Munich based brewing conglomerate. He conceded my presence with a slight formal bow and a guarded smile. I complemented him on the impressive automobile quietly idling outside. "Yes, indeed! Chancellor Dollfuss was kind enough to have his chauffeur pick me up at the Grand Hotel. He's driving me to a dinner party the Chancellor is having tonight at the Ballhausplatz. It most certainly is a magnificent machine--purrs like a kitten! I've been told only a handful have been built. As you can imagine it comes with quite an opulent price tag!" He coughed slightly and placed his cane against the shop's main counter. "I must confess gentlemen, that I am here on recommendation from my dear wife's niece. He looked at me with a cold scrutiny like an overprotective father, who for the first time was surveying his daughter's romantic interest. I'm glad I have a chance to meet with you in person, Herr Weschler! My niece, Gerda tells me she had the good fortune of interning with you this past summer. She speaks highly of you!" I felt my heart palpitate, the blood surge to my face. Father looked up at me with a guarded smile. "You must be talking about Fraulein Shulte", I replied, nervously. I wondered how much more the old man knew about Gerda and me. I began giving him a brief account of how we first met and the professional relationship we pursued with the summer internship and her exemplary technical abilities. I didn't mention the living arrangement, although father was certainly aware that I had a tenant. "Your niece will make a splendid architect!" I praised. Menkel bowed slightly. "My wife had asked for me to give through your parents, a message of her most genuine gratitude for mentoring Gerda, but now I am delighted that I could give you her appreciation in person!" Father smiled proudly. "Herr Menkel, my son Otto has been to Munich on business several times in the past." "Yes", I acknowledged. "It's a beautiful city. As an architect, I am fascinated with the city's variety of architectural styles: the neo-classical, baroque and rococo, as well as Neo gothic." The old man revealed a slight frown. "Of course you are right on that account but I am most interested in the new architecture being designed with the encouragement of our Fuhrer. Have you heard of Albert Speer?" "No", I lied, not wanting in any way to acknowledge the Nazi bastard. "Well, you certainly will very soon! He's the Fuhrer's personal architect--the designer of the Zeppelinfeld, the spectacular parade grounds in Nuremberg. Where did you study?" he inquired. "I went to The Applied Arts School here in Vienna. Josef Frank was one of my teachers--he was a wonderful mentor and an exceptionally gifted architect!" "Oh yes, Josef Frank!" the old man sighed. "I have heard that he's living in Sweden now. A great shame that he abandoned the country that gave him the opportunity to prove himself--indeed an action taken with much ungratefulness! I was aware that it would be best if I tread carefully. The old man with his wealth, must certainly have a lot of powerful friends in the Nazi Party. But my anger continued to percolate. "I believe Herr Menkel, of course with my greatest respect, that Herr Frank left Austria because of the increasing persecution on his person!" I was careful not to mention the word "Jew." He looked up at me, his face bent slightly down, eyes fixed on me with a frigid steady glare. "I beg to differ young man! Frank and an increasing number of his kind in all areas of professional persuasion are leaving for strictly pecuniary reasons: a covetous quest to satisfy an insatiable greed, something not an uncommon for their people!" Father, noticing a spiralling surge towards a possible uncomfortable scene, promptly interrupted our conversation. "So, Herr Menkel would you like a wiener melange? We're known for making the best in Vienna! Frau Weschler has imported a new blend of coffee beans from Kenya--our dear customers have taken on a real fondness for the brew!" Menkel's anger receded slightly. "Perhaps another time Herr Weschler. I don't want to be tardy for the Chancellor's party." "Then allow me to wrap your gifts for you." Father placed the four gift boxes, each filled with a variety of the his shop's specialties: truffles with nuts, caramel, ganache and nougat centres, caramels, fudges, and liqueur filled chocolates. For the Chancellor, father prepared two boxes of Mozartkugel, a small round confection made of dark chocolate, marzipan, pistachio nuts, and nougat, named after the famous composer. "I have a lovely royal purple wrap for the Chancellor's gift." "Yes, that would be quite appropriate," the old gentleman replied. "I think gold would be nice for the other two boxes," father added, and suggested a yellow bow for the Chancellor and red ones for the gold boxes. Herr Menkel, looking pleased, readily endorsed father's suggestions. The boxes were placed in a large ornate paper bag with hemp fibre handles, provided for special purchases. The chauffeur, dutifully at the ready, quickly took the bag and awaited at the door with a rigid countenance. After hastily paying for the gifts, Herr Menkel thanked my father. "A pleasure meeting you both" he said with an overly affected grin. He brusquely turned towards the exit. The chauffeur opened the door with a reserved formality, preparing to escort his charge into the Bugatti's luxurious interior. But rather than immediately leaving, the elderly heir stopped and placed his hat on his snowy pate then looked upwards towards the wooden door frame at the cylinder-shaped mezuzah. It was adorned with a gold coloured hamza hand, the traditional symbolized eye on its palm. With naked vexation, he ripped the mezuzah from its moorings and shouted "judenschwein!" He then threw the religious ornament on the floor and spit on it. After a brief silence I attempted to digest what I just witnessed, trying to analyze Menkel's behaviour. Why on earth did Gerda suggest that her uncle visit the shop? Was it an honest charitable act? Was it a vindictive effort to upset me? Or was the bastard lying about it, the virulent Jew hater simply giving me due notice to keep my hands off his niece. If so, how did he find out about us? Did Gerda tell him? Did someone else, maybe her boyfriend say something? But how would he know? Menkel abruptly left he shop. His chauffeur slammed the door with such force that it shattered the glass panels. The sound of a revving engine pierced through the windowless door. Father stood motionless, leaning against the shop's counter, shaking, trying to absorb the preceding events. He began to sob. "This is how they treat us? My older boys fought alongside the Germans in the last war--your brother Alex died in the trenches trying to defend the Axis!" I watched as he walked lifelessly towards the damaged door, holding a white towel. He bent down and vigorously wiped down the mezuzah and gingerly replaced it back to its original spot. He glanced upstairs. "Thank God the wireless is on loud. Your mother and Hannah don't need to witness this!"