Berlin, Germany – 1930 – winter, seven years later
Adhering to Dempsey’s father’s advice to live within the Jewish community of Berlin became ever more difficult. Of course, many people had no trouble following this counsel for their ambitions were focused upon services allocated to the Jews: merchants, bankers, lawyers, etc. Upon completion of Realschule, an intermediate secondary school, sixteen-year-old Dempsey had one of two choices: attend a Berufskolleg, a trade school, or find an apprenticeship.
The day after graduation ceremonies, Dempsey donned his new work overalls, and slung his sack of carefully selected spanners and sockets he bought for this momentous occasion, and set out to find himself a job as an auto mechanic. He had kept abreast of automobile advances since childhood, and like his hobby of boxing, he and his friends helped service roadside repairs. Now he couldn’t wait to make his contribution to the world’s greatest car industry.
When he returned home that evening, and every evening for the next two weeks, his silence, built upon suppressed rage, echoed his dejection as if blasted from loudspeakers through the three cramped rooms of his family apartment. Even his brother, Hirsch, several years his junior, knew enough to stay clear of him. Dempsey’s years of schooling, his high marks, and his natural mechanical ability, coupled with an obsessive desire to learn, meant nothing to those who controlled the auto industry. Initially greeted with smiles and enthusiastic handshakes, upon hearing his true name, the smiles faded and the offered hands grew limp. Though it was never mentioned outright, Josef Mühling knew why he was being rejected time after time.
The application interview at the last garage he applied at began the same as all the others: handshakes and smiles. This time, Dempsey introduced himself as Dempsey Schmidt. The interview ended when he was hired and told to report for duty the following day. Of course, he could do no such thing, as his papers would be scrutinized, and that would culminate with probable jail time for fraud.
His father came into the room he shared with this brother and sat on the bed next to Dempsey. As was his way, father didn’t look at him, but at some far off place, maybe the past or the future.
“If I had told you not to bother, you would have been angry with me as well as them. With many aspects of life, as you’re finding out, a person has to experience on their own to know the truth of it.”
Dempsey’s eyes climbed from his shoes to peer at the side of his father’s face. He saw the care and humiliation in the folds of his cheeks, the creases in his brow. He understood the veracity of what his father shared with him.
“Thank you, Father.” Dempsey didn’t need to say more, for that cemented a bond between father and son that had been waning over the years.
When Dempsey had resumed staring at his shoes, his father spoke again. “I know you have no interest in the store fixture business, and I understand that, I do.”
Herr Mühling paused. Dempsey wasn’t sure if it was for effect, or out of reluctance to continue. But he did continue.
“My partner, Mendel Haufling, has a friend in the garment trade. It’s not the auto industry, certainly, but still, a very respectable vocation. He said they could use an ambitious boy like yourself.”
For the first time in any conversation they ever had, father turned to face his son. Dempsey’s eyes spontaneously rose up. Father uttered words Dempsey never thought would leave his lips.
“The pay is scheiße, shit, but there are plenty of goyim girls for you to ogle.”
Their slow smiles played to one another. Though the gloom that had shrouded the tiny apartment didn’t dissipate in its entirety, it was replaced with a tethered excitement of something unexpected: a future Dempsey had never remotely considered.