Potatoes Did Not Interest The Gestapo

by Paul Kuttner

During my summer vacations in the 1930’s I often visited my grandmother in Hamburg and was lucky enough to get a job in the local grocery store owned by Reinhold and Irma Bruhn. As the photo shows I helped carrying groceries to local customers in the mornings and in the afternoons assisted in selling fruit and vegetables in the store. Since I never got any pay for this voluntary job the Bruhns were only too happy to have me as their helpmate. Often I even went to the market at 5:00 in the morning with the Bruhns’ horsecoachman Boettcher. (I did get some tips, though.)

Everything went without a hitch until Boettcher somehow got wind of the fact that I was not “Aryan” and one afternoon while I was removing some rotten tomatoes from the window display, Reinhold Bruhn suddenly grabbed me and pulled me into the dark and dank potato storage room, telling me to lie flat on my tummy while he emptied sacks of potatoes over my body until I was completely covered. He promised to tell me the reason for this strange behavior later, but under no circumstances was I supposed to move until he gave me the green light. Seconds later I heard the all-too familiar voice of Boettcher and those of two other men. Only later I was told that they were members of the local Gestapo and well-known to Reinhold Bruhn.

A minute later I heard them open the door to the bitterly cold potato-storage room, and the two Gestapo officers demanded of Reinhold where the damn Jewboy “Judenbengel” Paul Kuttner was. Reinhold swore that he had no idea and that he had not seen me in quite some time. I could sense a flashlight flit over the mound of potatoes under which I lay buried, and one of the Gestapo officers removed some of the potatoes and threatened the Bruhns that if that Jewboy Kuttner (I was 15 at the time in 1938) was seen on the Bruhn’s premises they themselves would end up in a concentration camp and their store would be closed. Seconds later they departed and it was the last time I could ever help the Bruhns. Six months later I arrived with a Kindertransport in England. I never saw Reinhold again; he died in the early 1980s. Boettcher was killed in an Allied air raid on Hamburg during the war.