I finally get Peter Bauer on the phone.
Not his real name.
Peter’s on a soundstage in Queens, directing the new CW series about hot male models.
In a random coincidence that illustrates the miniscule acreage of Hollywood and supports my use of pseudonyms, Peter works every livelong day with Casper Fleming, the delightful man I told you about who introduced me to this whole re-naturalization concept in the first place.
I ask Peter to tell Casper I say “hi.” Within five seconds it’s clear we have about seventy people in common and I could easily waste my entire chat on a pointless game of Hollywood Squares. So I nip the schmooze in the bud and get down to it.
I ask Peter how much paperwork he scrounged in order to present his case for re-naturalization to the German consulate. Peter describes to me in generous detail the imperious consulate official who gives him the stink-eye when he doesn’t produce his deceased father’s Nazi-era passport with yellow star as proof.
In this moment, Peter realizes he’s not going to be welcomed home with open arms smelling cleanly of ‘4711’ cologne. No, he’s going to have to argue his case and not let the bureaucrat’s disdain get the better of him.
Peter presents his father’s draft registry certificate from 1939. Mr. Bauer had fled Germany in 1936 for London, and Peter has in his possession the London consulate-issued draft paperwork. But the bureaucrat, whom it is easy to picture looking quite exactly like a 40-something Rolfe from The Sound of Music, but with the sunburn under his eyes he gets whenever he does his ironing in the nude on his Westwood balcony, says that the draft certificate is not proof that Mr. Bauer was a victim of persecution, per se.
Peter points out to Rolfe that the middle name typed on his father’s draft certificate is “Israel.” This was not the middle name given to Mr. Bauer by his parents, but rather a labeling tactic of the Third Reich, helpful in identifying Jewish men.
It is very easy to picture Rolfe looking long and blankly at Peter, then darting his eyes down to the draft certificate, then returning his gaze to Peter. “This is never going to happen for you,” Peter reports the little lederhosened shit as saying. Apparently, while this London-issue draft certificate demonstrates that Mr. Bauer was not in Germany during the war, it doesn’t necessarily indicate that he had been persecuted.
I wonder if Rolfe is actually deeply ambivalent about the elder Mr. Bauer having sided with the British.
Peter wonders what the fuck is with this guy.
Peter speaks fluent German, he has a philosophy degree from a German university, and he considers trying to go to the mat with Bicycle McWhistlestein. But then he decides against it. Still. You’d think the Federal Republic would be thrilled to have Peter as a prodigal son. He’s a talented guy and could direct the shit out of Tatort.
But then Peter remembers. His grandmother spent the war in Tunisia. After the war she filed for and received reparations. The Federal Republic would have to acknowledge that anybody receiving post-war reparations would qualify as a victim of persecution. Wouldn’t they? You think the German Feds would pay out otherwise?
The blonde bureaucrat squints at Peter, then lets out a curt sigh. “Okay,” Peter remembers him saying. “You have a shot. But it will take a year.”
Two brisk months later, Peter Bauer gets his greenlight from the Federal Republic. All he needs to do is sign on the dotted line, get stamped in the right spots, and he’s a German citizen. Armed with a fresh load of contemporary paperwork, he strolls back into our local German consulate. Rolfe is still there. And apparently he’s warmed up considerably. Now I’m picturing Rolfe leaning dangerously far back in his desk chair, wearing a track suit and a gold chain and grinning around the wet stub of a cigar, for some reason. “Peetah, you crazy bastard,” he barks warmly. “Velcome home.”
Thank you, Peter Bauer, for answering my question. My dead German father’s measly Berlin birth certificate and my grandparents’ Berlin marriage certificate are going to make Rolfe chuckle. I need serious vintage bureaucratic back-up. And I’d better get my stammer in control.
I ask my mother to dig up what she can. The Hirsches were big-time industrialists whose factory towns still stand, and there’s a display about their contribution in one of the Jewish museums outside of Berlin. My mother and her siblings also received reparations. Should anybody care for a receipt of my pedigree.
I call my brother David, whom I haven’t seen in something like four years. David lives in San Francisco, and he is sitting on a cache of our father’s archival paperwork. And he has a scanner.
David is going to help me. Also, I think we’re probably going to party and go hiking. Possibly simultaneously.
Perhaps it’s slightly disgusting that when I belabor the torments of my childhood I describe David as my half-brother, and need to hit home that our connection is theoretical and fraught. But when he can help me get my EU passport all of a sudden he’s my “brother” and Henry, who two days ago could not be seen in the same room with the word “Dad,” is suddenly “our father.”
Perhaps in this way I am more like my good buddy Rolfe than I’d like to think.
On Monday, I leave for San Francisco.