Id just completed my first week as President of the
Salzburg Country Club Board of Directors in the Austrian city of the same name.
As two members of our maintenance staff carved the moniker Fritz
Bauer into the doors gold nameplate, I didnt grin with pride,
but trembled with fear. Id just made an unpopular decision that left me
convinced my tenure would be the shortest of any President, past or future.
You like it Herr President Bauer? asked Hans, a
twenty-something with tattoos of the Salzburg State crest on his guns.
My name was now etched in stone. At least Id have one
enjoyable, lasting, fond memory. I stepped back and gazed at the image for
several seconds, before whipping out my Samsung Galaxy to capture a photo. If
nothing else, my grandchildren would have visual proof that I wasnt
Ja, I replied.
Good luck, shouted Manfred, the bulky, balding
forty-seven year-old Superintendent of Grounds.
Thank you, I replied in a quiet, polite tone, but
yearned to scream out Im gonna need it.
I made The Sign Of The Cross, plodded down the hall to the
conference room, occupied head position at the mahogany table, unzipped my
briefcase and slid out a yellow folder with the words POTENTIAL NEW MEMBERS
LIST written in red ink.
A half-hour later, the board members filed in. The only good
thing about my first official meeting as President was that it occurred during
recruitment weekend. Neither the agenda, nor my speech would be long, as those
assembled would be in a big hurry to party and mingle with whom each nominated
to join our prestigious institution. As I arose, my legs quaked with such
severity, I needed to grasp the edge of the table with my hands to maintain
posture. Eighteen eyes fixated on me. My pulse increased in strength and
velocity to where I could see it jumping up and down through my shirt.
I thank all of you for your confidence, I began, as
I ingested a huge gulp of water. Thiss a very important weekend so
I wont waste any more time. Lets have a great weekend and bring
more people into the SCC family. Meetings adjourned.
Despite the dismissal, no one budged. Eight people kept their
heads down. The only one who didnt was the Boards Vice President,
Freidel Lanzerhausen, the heavyset daughter of a former Salzburg State
Premiere, who sweated with the slightest movement. Our eyes met.
Ja Frau Vice President, I said, with a heavy dose of
sarcasm, after I cleared my throat and refilled a crystal goblet with ice
Brunhilda, as several people referred to her,
straightened a grey stocking that matched her suit and winced while inching her
rotund derriere upwards.
My underarms were already soaked in sweat. She leered.
Uh, Herr Scherzer and Id like to speak with you in
private, she demanded.
Okay, I responded, stressing the O and pausing
before the kay. Would the rest of you be kind enough to excuse us?
The other seven members stood in unison and exited in a single
file line. Lanzerhausen strutted, as she trailed the four men and three women
and shut the door behind them. Treasurer Wolf Scherzer remained seated. The
bearded, fifty-four-year-old child of Austrian aristocracy seldom spoke, but
was respected for being a staunch supporter of the Clubs traditions and
You neednt say another word, I said. I
know what, or shall I say who, thiss about.
Id nominated Martin Schiff, the grandson of the late
Abraham Schiff, founder of Schiff Imports, one of one Austrias biggest
companies, for membership.
Scherzer arose at a measured speed. I pounded my hand against
the back side of an adjacent chair. He raised his hands up and down.
I wont calm down, I screamed. Dont
give me your bullshit about history and traditions. You dont want him
because hes Jewish and I refuse to adhere to and will reverse the Third
Reich mentality thats been pervasive in this place for far too
I stormed towards the other side of the room. Scherzer returned
to his seat. Lanzerhausen rotated her chair and faced me.
Its not that hes Jewish, she said.
Its that hes who he is.
I stomped back towards her, snared a seat and we sat almost face
to face. Lanzerhausen smirked and poured herself a glass of water.
Whats that supposed to mean? I inquired.
She placed her left hand on my right knee.
Therere other Jewish families Id rather see be
the first, she said. Why not the Frankels? Or even the Friedmans?
Theyre different from him, theyre less
I leaped up and chucked a ball point pen across the table.
Proud of their Jewish heritage, I interrupted.
Boisterous, she countered, in a sharp, sarcastic
Scherzer glanced upwards and slowly raised his hand in an
obvious plea for permission to interject.
Go ahead, I said. Make your point.
The history and traditions are what make this Club
special, he said, as he stood erect. And I agree with Freidel.
Its not about being Jewish, my objection lies in the manner by which he
I marched towards the door and flung it open.
Discussions over, I snapped. My
Scherzer and Lanzerhausen moped past me and towards the door.
You know were right, Lanzerhausen said.
Theres something youre not telling us. I mean, youve
never even met this guy.
She and I entered the hall.
I didnt ask you to explain who you nominated for
membership or why, I said, in a snarky tone. Please extend me the
She was right. I did have my reasons, but didnt feel it
was anyone elses concern. The three of us made our way towards the main
bar for the welcome reception. Guests were adorned in suits and dresses, with
the exception of a muscular man in a short sleeve shirt and ripped dungarees,
who sat by himself at a barstool.
Whos that? I asked Lanzerhausen, as we entered
Your nominee, she retorted. Should take a
gander at what his shirt says.
Whatre you talking about? I asked.
Youll see, she responded. It could
ignite that Third Reich mentality you go on about.
Okay, Schiff didnt obey the dress code. In most members,
such behavior would be frowned upon, but for him Id be willing to make an
exception. As I drew nearer, I noticed Star of David tattoos ran the length of
both his arms, which were large enough to make Arnold Schwarzeneggers
Herr Schiff, I said.
He neither answered nor turned around.
Herr Schiff, I repeated, a bit louder.
Still, he didnt respond. I rested my south end on the
stool next to him and extended my hand.
Herr Schiff, I said, yet again. Fritz Bauer,
Yeah, I know, he snapped back, as he offered a limp
Schiff was in his early forties, had an unshaven face and
thinning brown, greyish hair. Seconds later, he whirled around, placed his
hands behind his head, faced the revelers and giggled. His shirt had a yellow
Jewish Star over the word Jude, which covered an inscription:
They Missed One. A number of passersby, which included Scherzer and
Lanzerhausen scowled and glowered as they marched past. Perspiration built up,
my heart thwacked and queasiness set in.
Interesting choice of shirts, I responded, not being
able to ignore what I was witnessing, but in as polite a voice as possible.
Schiff gestured to the bartender and was soon replenished with
another Becks draft.
Was the only clean thing in the drawer, he
responded, in a conversational tone, but his smirk conveyed the sarcasm of that
May I suggest a bottle of wine, I said, in a
deliberate attempt to both change and forget about the subject.
Schiff downed the beer with one gulp and slammed the glass onto
the bars countertop.
Dont waste your breath, he snarled.
I jumped up and retreated a few strides.
I beg your pardon, I responded.
Im not interested in joining your pretentious club
okay, he said. Im here for the free food and booze. Its
about time you people did something for us other than use our skin to make wax
I bit down on my tongue so hard it drew blood and gripped the
bars countertop like it was a life raft and I was near drowning. That was
the only way to prevent myself from tossing him out by his balls. For both our
sakes, it was a good thing he exited the bar area a few seconds later.
If the fact that my initial encounter with Schiff bombed like a
B-Movie wasnt enough to be uptight about, I returned to my office and
found a note that read Meet us in conference room at one
oclock, signed by Scherzer and Lanzerhausen. I glanced at my watch,
which said twelve forty-three. En route to the rematch, I doubled back to the
bar, ordered Vodka on the rocks and downed it in one shot. The Stolis did
nothing to quell a pair of twitching legs and trembling hands. I lumbered to
the conference room and entered at ten to one. Lanzerhausen and Scherzer were
already there. She gaited around the carpeting and glared at me the second I
marched through the door.
Hes got to go and now, she bellowed, before my
south end hit a soft, green seat on the tables left side, closest to the
door. I dont care what you say, we cant have someone
wholl purposely embarrass us like that.
Scherzer didnt flinch and kept his head bowed the entire
And, she screamed, louder than the previous moment.
She removed an envelope from her a Louis Vuitton case and flung
it at me.
Thanks, I said. I appreciate the congratulatory card
on being named President.
My attempt at sarcastic humor went unnoticed and did little to
break the tension.
Its a letter signed by all of us, she rambled
on. Really, its an ultimatum. Either you recant or Im calling
an emergency meeting where well be forced to reconsider your Presidency
and, if need be, have you removed.
I wasnt surprised, yet frustrated and moreover infuriated.
Lanzerhausen came at me again. This time, however, I pounced up and confronted
Frau Vice President, I said, in a very forceful and
direct tone. I need and want to speak to the Treasurer alone.
Anything you want to say, youll express to both of
us, she retorted, with a heavy dose of arrogance and sarcasm.
I pounded my hand against the desk.
Freidel, I screeched. Get your ass out of here
now. Im still President until Im not. Ergo, Im your boss.
Dont argue, just obey.
She surrendered into a chair. Scherzer gaped. To be honest,
Id only remembered using such a booming, intimidating voice twenty years
earlier when I scolded my daughter for taking my Mercedes on a joyride. She
eyed Scherzer. He nodded.
It was time to reveal my ulterior motives, but Id only
feel comfortable doing so in front of Scherzer, who was also my friend.
Excuse me, she said. But Im warning
She pointed at me.
Duly noted, I replied, as I followed her to the door
and shut it the second she landed in the hallway.
I exhaled with force and ran both my hands through a head of
grey hair. Scherzer poured two glasses of water and handed me one.
I know she can be abrasive, he said. But, come
on. She does have a point.
Out of nowhere, my eyes welled.
Sorry, he said, as he fidgeted with his tie. I
know thiss a sensitive subject, but
I reached into my right pants pocket and yanked out a pack of
Marlboros. I was trying to quit at the time, but needed a calming agent and
didnt wish to trudge back to the bar.
Youre fine, I interrupted, as I popped a butt
in my mouth. You mind?
Not at all, he replied.
I ignited the cig with a Red Bull Salzburg lighter, inhaled a
drag and expelled a ring of smoke.
His grandfather saved our familys business, I
Tears now poured down my face like lava from an erupting
A few years after the depression, I continued.
I was so locked in, I didnt remember either finishing the
first butt or lighting a second, which I held between the first two fingers on
my right hand.
We were about to be homeless, I said. Abraham
Schiff lent Papa just enough to stay afloat.
Scherzer stood up and paced.
You dont have to say any more, he said.
Yes I do, I interrupted. Because we
havent gotten to the bad parts yet.
Scherzer reoccupied his seat.
Right after the Anschluss business flourished,
whichs where we initially built up our wealth. Well, you could probably
imagine what happened to Abraham and his family.
I placed my head on the table and wailed.
They were deported and Abraham died in Auschwitz, I
Shit, Scherzer said.
I lifted my head up.
Theres more, I said.
He sunk to the ground.
Could I have one of those Marlboros first? he asked.
I smiled, arose and handed him one.
Luckily, Schiffs son survived and they got their
business back, I said. However, Papa never forgave himself for not
doing more to help Abraham and, in August of 1954, shot himself in the head
with a rifle and left a suicide note conveying those words.
Scherzer gasped and dry heaved. We stared at each other for a
full two minutes.
Now you know, I said. But I want to be the one
to tell Schiff. Okay?
No worries, he said. I understand.
Thanks, I said. And, just so you know.
Ill persist until I succeed or fail. If you wish to make a change, fine.
Thiss bigger than the Club and especially me.
He extended his hand and we completed the formality.
My apologies for questioning your motives he said.
I hope you can persuade him to join us.
Thatll be even harder than what I just did, I
responded. However, I have to try. For Abraham and Papa.
I didnt hesitate. After taking a few minutes to refocus, I
searched for my man, first in the bar and then by the aquatic center.
Lanzerhausen must have seen how my eyes bounced up, down, left and right as I
ambled around the poolside. She eyed me, as I approached. My heart pounded. I
prayed shed have the decency not to initiate round three in front of so
many prospective members. She ascended. I clenched my fists.
Hes in the fitness center, she said.
Thank you, I replied, as I changed direction and
sped inside and down the expansive first floor hallway leading to that
Within thirty seconds, I entered and witnessed Schiff doing
squats. He glimpsed up and paused, but continued his reps soon thereafter.
Mind if I hang out here a while? I asked.
Schiff stepped towards a bench housing a barbell that harnessed
at least two hundred pounds of weight.
Its your club, he answered, a minute or so
He laid down and began a set of twenty reps, which he completed
in under a minute and a half without offering the slightest grunt or grimace.
Impressive, I said. I couldnt bench a
A slight smile came to his face. I seized the opening.
Mind if I speak with you? I asked, but in a voice
suggesting it was more of a plea.
He leaned forward, bent over and added two twenty-five pound
weights to each side of the barbell.
Only if you spot me, he said.
Schiff laid down again, flexed his hands several times and
expelled a huge burst of air, before placing them on the bar. I positioned my
palms on each side of the barbell and waited for him to begin the set.
Please dont drop it, I said. Ive
already admitted to being weak.
This time, he giggled for a second. I gambled further.
You know, I began. I had a special reason for
He tossed the barbell up and down with the ease an experienced
Italian chef might display when flinging pizza dough.
Which is? he wondered. Im not that
special a guy.
My pulse let up. We were actually having a conversation. I got
Your grandfather was, I responded.
Big mistake. The nanosecond those words left my lips, I watched
with terrible apprehension and utter astonishment, as he chucked the barbell
across the room and glared. I grew more soused in sweat then he was. Nausea and
lightheadedness reigned. As he continued to stare, I almost hoped Id
faint, thinking an unconscious state would spare me the beating I feared was
about to happen.
Dont you ever mention his name, Schiff
shouted, as he bounced around the room like a decapitated chicken on speed.
You people killed him.
The few other guests present were exercising on elliptical
machines. Upon hearing and witnessing his outburst, they shut down and exited
with haste. I smacked my lips together several times and hissed like boiling
water. I resented when Jewish people referred to present-day Austrians as you
people. Though I understood his feelings, I was determined to convey mine.
Dont you refer to me that way, I stated, in an
authoritative tone. Ill not tolerate those kind of insults.
He retired to the bench and sat up, but with his back towards
me. I felt as if Id connected with a Muhammed Ali uppercut. I had to try
and keep him on the ropes.
Your invitations more about Abraham than you,
I continued on.
Not sure I understand, he replied.
Wouldnt expect you to, I said.
He grabbed a small, white towel out of his Adidas duffel bag and
wiped perspiration from his forehead. I afforded myself a brief respite, moved
to the vending machine and retrieved a bottle of Evian. The truce lasted less
than a minute.
What the fuck do you know about anything? he
muttered, in a soft tone he assumed I wouldnt hear.
Id had it with his belligerence
A lot, I shouted. Your grandfather saved our
family business before the war.
He rotated around.
And you expressed your appreciation how, he
snickered. Thats right. By ensuring he got a good seat on the
cattle train to Poland.
I knew this was a sensitive subject for him, but just as
difficult for me. I tried, but couldnt hold back my emotions. Before I
knew it, I was crying. Schiff rolled his eyes, returned to the supine position
and entered into another set of lifts.
I guess thiss the part where you say your family did
all they could, he said, as he executed each exercise at a faster pace.
No, I said. They knew they didnt.
He offered a yeah sure type of laugh.
My father felt so bad, he blew his brains out in
54, I said, no longer crying and in a calm voice. He even
left a suicide note saying he couldnt bear living because of the guilt he
carried. I still have it. You could read it if you want.
The next sound I heard was the thud of weight crashing to the
floor again. Schiff stood up, but remained silent. I noticed his eyes were
glassy. Out of nowhere, he barreled towards the exit.
Wait, I said.
He pulled up just as he entered the hall, but wouldnt turn
As you know, tomorrows the new members
breakfast ceremony, I said. Id be deeply honored if
youd join our Club to honor the memories of your grandfather and my
father. Please consider it.
A ten second pause ensued, before he bolted off.
At home that night I sat on the terrace outside the master
bedroom, drinking shots of whiskey.
Dont do this, said my wife Brigitte. You
did all you could.
I loaded my glass again and belted whatever shot number it was.
Id lost count after ten, which occurred before the daylight expired.
Brigitte twirled her blonde hair, then placed one hand on my right shoulder and
commandeered the bottle with the other.
Your father and Abraham would be proud of you, she
said. Youve done more to rectify things than so many others.
Dont let your health and sanity hinge on what he decides to do.
Tears streaked down my face. She ran her fingers through my
hair. A few minutes later, I nodded off.
The digital clock read six-eleven when I emerged from the
stupor. My stomach gurgled at a volume louder than the bell at Salzburg
Cathedral. The only good thing about my state of nervousness was it made me
forget how hung over I still remained. I slogged into a brown suit and auto
piloted my BMW convertible to the Club by eight oclock. The ceremony
wasnt set to begin until nine, but I needed to give a couple of Beyer the
opportunity to kill the throbbing headache produced by the consumption of
almost a full bottle of Jack Daniels. I dropped my head on the desk and closed
my eyes. At eight thirty, a gentle knock came to the door.
Its open, I said.
Seconds later, I glanced up to find Lanzerhausen standing in the
doorway. Her face displayed a typical scowl.
You can come in, I said.
She wouldnt budge. I muttered in silent prayer. Given the
condition I was in, Id surrender before doing battle.
Ill be brief, she said. While I
dont agree with your choice, I respect it and wont offer any
further objection. Wolf told us.
Thank you, I said, as she nodded, waved and faded
into the hall.
At a quarter to nine, I plodded towards the lounge. Our wait
staff set out a buffet of semmel, muesli, boiled eggs, smoked bacon, cut
sausage and more pastries than a mathematician could count. Our new members
filed in. Schiff wasnt among them. I patiently waited by the rooms
entrance like a pet waiting for its owner to return home. At eight fifty-seven,
I felt a sharp tap on my shoulder. It was Scherzer.
Its almost time, he said. We better get
I moped back inside. Scherzer tailed.
And Fritz, he said.
I spun around and faced him.
Im sorry, he said. I know you wanted
Resigned to the circumstances, I still had to perform my duties
and welcome our new members. As I approached the lectern, I noticed I blushed
after seeing my reflection in a glass frame. The Presidents nominee is
the first new inductee introduced. Though a minor sidebar, I was very
embarrassed for having failed to bring in someone new. It was a minute past
nine. I tapped the microphone. The reverberation got the attention of the fifty
or so persons present, who scattered to their seats.
Good morning to our esteemed Board and our new
members, I began. I want to officially welcome you to the Salzburg
Country Club family. Im not one to delay a celebration, so I say,
lets get to it.
Lanzerhausen approached and handed me a folder that read
CONFIRMED NEW MEMBERS. I peeked inside and scanned the list of names. I
wasnt surprised Martin Schiff wasnt among them. However, I felt
compelled to at least acknowledge him.
Before we begin, I said. Id like to
mention someone who decided not to join us. His names Martin Schiff of
the famous family of the same
When I glanced downward at my prepared oration, I heard what
sounded like a door being kicked open, followed by quiet chatter. When I raised
my head, I thought my still active hangover brought on a vision upon watching
Schiff strut towards me. He was clean shaven and decked out in an Armani suit.
He halted a few feet to the left of the lectern. We stared at each for several
seconds. Dead silence reigned, as all eyes transfixed on the scene.
Youre incorrect Herr President, he declared.
I couldnt move. He offered his hand. My hand felt heavy as
I lifted it. I turned off the microphone, fearing a confrontation or verbal
assault. After hesitating for a moment, I reciprocated and we completed the
formality. Wolf rose and offered polite applause. Soon, the rest of the crowd
followed suit. I turned back to Schiff.
Well? I asked.
Dont expect us to go yachting together, he
said. This isnt for you, them or anyone else, but my grandfather
and your father.
I felt the tears come again, but held back.
Thats okay, I replied. I hate yachting.
Im just glad youre here.
I turned the microphone back on.
Ladies and gentlemen, I proclaimed. Please
welcome Martin Schiff to our family.