by Paul Kuttner
Almost exactly four years after I had my involuntary encounter with Hitler, I had a strange experience with the then-Reich Luftfahrtsminister Hermann Goring.
In 1937, my father, Dr. Paul Kuttner Sr. of Kurfurstendamm 72, Berlin, had a stroke which incapacitated him totally, laming his entire right side. One of his best friends, Professor Gorbandt, an Aryan and the head surgeon of the Augsburg Sanatorium in Berlin, insisted that he be a patient in his hospital until he was halfway self-ambulatory again. I visited him in the hospital after school almost every day that summer, becoming quite familiar with the nurses and doctors.
Feeling that he would get preferential treatment in this non-Jewish establishment, my father insisted on wearing his Iron Cross First Class (which he had won as a German regimental doctor in Belgium in World War I) on his pajamas. Being 14 years old, I felt terribly embarrassed by this ridiculous spectacle. One day, when visiting my father, I noticed a huge crowd in front of the hospital. After worming my way through the enthusiastic mob, I asked the elevator operator, who always took me to the fourth floor where my father had his private room, why there were so many people on the street. Before he had a chance to answer, hordes of people behind me started shouting “Heil! Heil!” I turned around and to my astonishment saw Goring in civvies – actually a dark green hunting outfit – smilingly enter the hospital with an SS aide by his side.
The two stepped into the waiting elevator where I was speaking to the operator, and we four were on our way up. Halfway up, fate would have it that the elevator got stuck between floors. The operator broke into a sweat and furiously manipulated the old-fashioned crank. The elevator would not budge. The SS bodyguard also became a bit unhinged, not knowing how to react since there were no visible enemies around. Being young, I started to giggle at this odd stroke of fate. Goring turned around, becoming aware of my presence.
He asked me why I was here and I told him I was visiting my father. He informed me he was visiting his sick cousin and for a minute or so we exchanged harmless pleasantries while his aide and the elevator operator were cursing each other. Suddenly the elevator gave a deep sigh; it started to move again, and as we got off the fourth floor, Goring steered me by the shoulders ahead of him onto the corridor on which 20-30 nurses and doctors had gathered, giving the Nazi salute, facing each other.
Like a newly-wed couple we walked under this “roof” of saluting medics until I reached my father’s room. Goring’s cousin rested in the room next door. I told my father breathlessly what had happened and suddenly, after half an hour or so, Goring stood in the open doorway to my father’s room. He knocked and entered the room, telling my shocked father what a good son he had. It was only then that he noticed the Iron Cross my father was wearing on his pajamas. Goring broke into a grin, telling my father that this was one piece of apparel he had never thought of wearing with a medal. He shook my father’s hand, wished him a speedy recovery, and instead of saying “Heil Hitler”, my father said “Auf Wiedersehen”.
Goring smiled, also said “Auf Wiedersehen,” shook my hand and departed. About six years later, my father died in the Theresienstadt concentration camp in Czechoslovakia.