Q&A: The Silent Legend
An Interview with Alfons Mayer, the globe-travelling tobacco buyer for General Cigar Co.
From the Print Edition:
Morgan Freeman, Mar/Apr 2005
(continued from page 1)
Q: What did you do?
A: I never finished my last grade of high school, because all schools were closed in Holland. I was picked up one time by the Germans in a train. Got out of it, don't ask me how. It was a football game in the Olympic Stadium in Holland. The Germans closed all the doors and picked up everybody from 15 and up and picked me up and then I got out. I walked home. And then it was recommended—through a friend that had a buddy from the Gestapo—she advised me to get out of Amsterdam as soon as possible because they were going to take young people to work in the factories in Germany. I took my bicycle—it was eight, nine o'clock—and I knew exactly the farm where I wanted to go, which was owned by [Willem] Schermerhorn, who became prime minister after the war. I worked for him the last two years of the war. And my duty was to teach American pilots how to eat. You see, I don't tell these stories to everyone, because I hate to talk about it. But we had to train them how to eat, how to dress and how to shut up. And that's the way we brought them to Belgium.
Q: Why were you teaching American soldiers how to eat?
A: The Americans eat with a fork only. They cut the pancakes with a fork, they cut the eggs with a fork, they never go fork and knife. So they would go for breakfast at six or seven o'clock, and two Gestapo people stand in front of them. They would pick them up and send them to prison camp. We would teach them. They would come one by one into the house, and we would give them lessons. I'm half-Jew, my father's Jewish.
Q: Was that why you were in danger from the Germans?
A: No. I never had a star. My name was very Jewish, but I'm blond and blue eyes.
Q: So the entire country was controlled by the Germans?
A: They controlled the cities, but they didn't dare go into the polders [the part of the Netherlands reclaimed from the water, and crisscrossed by dykes]. The Germans couldn't get on these dykes. The war started [in the Netherlands] on the fifth of May, 1940. I got away the end of 1942 to the polders. I was there until 1945 on the tenth of May, when the war was over [in Europe]. Then Willem Schermerhorn became the prime minister, immediately, and he called me and he said, "Go to Antwerp to the Argentinean consulate and get your papers." I was the first one out, with 12 other people, to Buenos Aires. Twenty-one days on that boat, I'll never forget it. Everybody was sick, and I had to milk cows.
Q: You had to milk cows on the boat?
A: Yes—that was the first export from Holland. Cows. I went to Buenos Aires to see my father [who had left the Netherlands prior to the invasion] and stay there.
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