Ingrid died the other day. She was 78 years old. Her heart just gave out. With her death, an odd bit of history died as well, but we should nevertheless not forget so that we can guard against anything like it repeating ever again. I met her over half a century ago. She had just married my cousin and my parents helped them immigrate to the USA. They came from Austria and lived with us for a couple of months until they found their bearings in the new country. I did not get to know her very well at that time. As an 18-year-old teenager I was dazzled by her beauty. She was a very pretty woman, in her mid-twenties at the time, blond, blue eyed and seemed to have an innocent little girl quality to her demeanor. But that was not exactly the true picture of Ingrid, about which I learned much later.
Her life started out in the new Germany just when Hitler became Chancellor. He had a sinister connection to Ingrid’s procreation. Racial purity was the buzz word of the 1930’s, especially the Arian race, the super race that was genetically superior to all others, or so was the theory. Great rallies were organized to showcase this philosophy, staged by Joseph Goebbels, the propaganda minister, and filmed by Leni Riefenstahl, a famous film director, actress, and personal friend of the Führer. The 1936 Olympics were held in Berlin to dazzle Germans and the world.
Few people know that the great Persian Empire was renamed on Hitler’s request. His theory was that in prehistoric times Germanic tribes had migrated towards India and a few Arians straggled behind to populate what eventually became the Persian Empire. Hitler prevailed on the dynastic Pahlavi family to rename Persia to what he felt should be its rightful name, Iran, standing for Indo Arian. You may notice that people who have immigrated to the US from Iran do not like to be called Iranian, but rather want to be called by their previous, much more glorious name, Persians. There are several layers of bad taste left to being called an Iranian, not just Hitler, but also the Ayatollah Khomeini and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to name just a few.
To further purify the race Hitler not only set up the concentration camps that exterminated millions of what he called “useless bread gobblers” (negative eugenics which eliminate bad genes) but also promoted positive eugenics (which multiply good genes) by creating stud farms that mated good genetic German stock to further the blond, blue eyed race. Ingrid’s father, whom she never met, was an SS officer chosen to be the sperm donor to many a German girl, including one who was Ingrid’s mother. That military (stud) service certainly beat fighting on the Russian front or being a guard at Treblinka or Auschwitz.
Ingrid grew up in Leoben, a medium sized jewel of an Austrian city, famous for brewing Gösser beer. She had a musical bent and studied opera. She became a mezzo-soprano. The lower octave sounds she could produce were startling coming from this slender petite “little girl”. She met Sergei, my cousin who was studying metal and mining engineering in that town. Sergei was the hapless product of a very wealthy man, Polka Dowhanczuk. He owned oil wells in Ploesti, the Romanian Texas, huge beef ranches that supplied meat to England, and also imported goods to Romania. He was my mother’s brother. When the Soviet army defeated and invaded Romania in the early phases of World War II, he was summarily executed by the Soviet army when they invaded Bucharest, the town where Polka lived. His crime? Being rich! His family witnessed his being dragged out into the street and shot in the head. Sergei and his mother took that as a not so subtle hint to get out of Romania. They escaped from the Russians and wound up in Germany and like most young men of that age was conscripted into the Hitler Youth, something you did not dare refuse. He spent much of his time growing up with my parents in the small alpine village where my father was the town doctor. His mother who lived in nearby Linz, Germany (now Austria) wanted to shield him as much as possible from the involvement in the Nazi political and military mandates for teens and young men that would become inevitable if he stayed in Linz, something that he was able to avoid by living with us. After the war he continued to stay with our family in the idyllic alpine village, as the bombed out city of Linz was no place for a teenage boy or for anybody else for that matter. The irony of the whole situation was that my father and mother were both hiding their own Semitic ancestry. There is this old Jewish joke of a young man who is asked if he is Jewish, he denies it, the questioner repeats the question, “Are you sure you’re not Jewish?” after repeated badgering he admits that he is indeed Jewish. The relentless interrogator answers with, “That’s funny because you don’t look Jewish.” Well my father did look Jewish. How he was able to hide that fact was close to miraculous.
Sergei was like the older brother I never had. In the spring we would hike around the mountains looking for the all elusive Edelweiss flower which always grew on the other side of the cliff we didn’t climb, and in the Summer we would build model airplanes from plywood, glue, and very light giftwrapping paper and fly them from the second story balcony of the spectacular hunting lodge nestled in the foothills of the Alps where we lived, as that villa, named for Granduke Priller the aristocrat who built it, was made available to the town doctor. In Fall with school starting he helped with homework. In the winter he taught me how to ski, something he knew a lot about. Later he was good enough to train with the Austrian Olympic ski team.
As much as Sergei was a giver and helper, Ingrid was a taker and user of people. She married for convenience and to get to the USA. She was not a very good wife or mother. When the opportunity came for a job in the Opera business she left her husband and two children in a lurch and went back to Europe. She had a few bit parts at the Linzer Opera, mostly in Wagner Operas, as her voice was uniquely qualified to be one of the Valkyries in The Ring of the Nibelung, incidentally one of Hitler’s favorite operas. But she never made it into the big times and came back to the US crushed and defeated. She drowned her sorrows in Tennis, but very soon ran off with her Tennis Coach to play, but not tennis. Again her family was left to their own devices. Sergei became increasingly despondent and started to have strange ideas. Being a metal engineer he was fascinated by Uri Geller, whose claim to fame was bending spoons with his mind. Sergei spent an inordinate amount of time trying to bend spoons. Sergei had a very good job with NASA, building rockets and such. But when he started with the spoon bending stuff they fired him. As spoon bending was not all that lucrative, he found a new way to make a living, selling pyramids to place under your bed to capture the special “pyramid powers” the little polyhedrons supposedly emitted (well it worked for the Egyptians). That too did not pay off and he finally became a kind of stable boy caring for a rich lady’s horses. He died broke, sick, and not thinking very clearly any more. His last wish was to have his ashes strewn on the ski slopes in the Austrian Alps where he spent happier times. Believe me it is not easy to get human ashes through the TSA.
What is the moral of this story? First, don’t get involved with any human breeding programs. They clearly over-promise and under-deliver. Race horse and dog breeding has been much more successful. Second, Wagner Operas can be long and boring. And finally be skeptical of people who claim to know who the superior race is and people that claim they can bend spoons with their mind.