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Runaway Nazis on Caribbean Yachts

Narendra tells of his encounters with ex-pat Germans with dubious pasts and even less savoury presents.

It has often been asserted that Paraguay is the last haven for that repugnant breed of Germans whose political inclinations and ignominious conduct during World War Two compelled them, in later years, to move abroad.

I can confirm, however, that there still exists a number of such Aryan individuals who, unable to afford the air fare to Asuncion, stopped off instead in the islands of the Eastern Caribbean, confident that a barefoot subsistence in anonymity amongst the palms would be quite as agreeable as a life of indulgence in a villa somewhere in the South American jungle.

My attention to the existence of these runaway Nazis was first attracted on my arrival in St Lucia some time early in 1983. I had sailed into the protected lagoon at Rodney Bay and dropped anchor about twenty yards from a mustard-coloured sloop called ILAHEE. Early the following morning, I was aroused from my rum-induced torpor by a bewildering cacophony of sound pervading the dawn calm of the lagoon.

I rubbed my eyes, climbed off my bunk and stuck my head out of the main hatchway. From the direction of my neighbour’s vessel wafted the familiar strains of Wagner, interspersed with the shrill screams of an importunate woman. Somewhat surprised to be awoken by Wagner in this sleepy Caribbean anchorage, I climbed into the cockpit for a better view of the source of my unsolicited morning call.

To the melodramatic accompaniment of a full Wagnerian orchestra, I heard the woman scream:

“NO! Wolfgang! NO!” followed by a gruff, guttural voice which roared:

“You BLOTTY BITCH!”, and then what sounded like a cane being vigorously applied to the lady’s buttocks. Shaking my head, and aware that people are able to derive their pleasures from an extraordinary diversity of bizarre activities, I returned to my bunk.

Later in the day, I encountered the perpetrators of the morning’s disturbance, the chastened lady and the gentleman with the whip hand, so to speak. The woman was pygmy-like, standing well under five feet in height. She was as black as coal, with a plump face and large, round eyes and a full mouth with a paucity of teeth. The enormity of her bust was nothing short of alarming and I was fearful that at any moment she might topple over, the unfortunate victim of her asymmetrical anatomy.

Her name was Patsy and she informed me with an engaging smile that she was Wolfgang’s “crew”. She claimed to have “attended on him” (in a variety of capacities, I imagined) for some years, and, though St Lucian, she prided herself on her ability to speak a unique brand of pidgin-German which, unbeknown to her, was unintelligible to all except her master.

The latter, Wolfgang, was the very antithesis of his diminutive servant. He was in the sixties, a tall, burly man with a fat belly and a very shiny bald head. His eyebrows were grey and bushy, and his eyes small and mean, set close together beneath his heavily-lined forehead. His nose was aquiline, his face long and sallow, and he wore a neat, grey beard, cut short and square in the style of a military officer, though I learned later that he had served in the War as a non-commissioned foot soldier.

An irate scowl seemed to be permanently etched on his knitted features, and you felt that, with a black hat, a broomstick and some gender modification, he would have made a convincing witch. He had enormous, spade-like hands and the lengths of his arms were exaggerated by his lumbering gait and slight stoop, lending him a faintly ape-like appearance when seen from a distance.

Wolfgang earned a living by chartering out his small yacht to tourists who wanted to visit nearby islands. The local bars and hotels displayed florid posters urging prospective clients to “Sail with Wolfgang” and even exhibiting photographs of the little vessel and of the Captain with a rare and unconvincing smile on his face.

His rates were inexpensive and presumably this would atone for the discomfort that his guests would encounter for the yacht was just 31 feet long and hardly designed for passenger service. Nevertheless, Wolfgang appeared to make sufficient money to support himself and Patsy. A couple of times a week I would see ILAHEE slip out of the harbour, the dwarf-like Patsy struggling on the foredeck with anchors, whilst the glowering Wolfgang barked out orders in German and steered a course for the open sea.

A day or two later, the yacht would return to St Lucia, Patsy black and beaming at the bow, Wolfgang bronzed and grimacing at the helm, their guests a light shade of green and timorously huddled together on the upper deck, thankful, one should imagine, to be back in harbour at last.

Having plied the islands for a number of years, Wolfgang was convinced that the hiring out of his yacht was his exclusive prerogative. He alleged, falsely, that he had a work permit and that the right to solicit business from the neighbouring hotels was his alone. Understandably, this led to disagreements, sometimes violent, with a number of other yachtsmen who earned their living in the same manner as Wolfgang. By an odd coincidence, the majority of Wolfgang’s antagonists were compatriots of his.

The most redoubtable of these was one Egon who, being both independently wealthy and a former Wehrmacht Officer, generally held himself aloof from altercations with the “other ranks”. Egon had been in the islands for even longer than Wolfgang and, by furnishing local officials with certain pecuniary advantages, had been able to obtain a permit which entitled him to charter his yacht within St Lucian waters. His vessel was a trimaran called LA MAUNY after the firm of Martiniquan rum distillers with whom he had connections, and he lived aboard with his sole intimate, a shiny, black, Mexican Hairless dog nick-named “Wetsuit”.

Egon must have been in the seventies and had a shock of white hair which was usually obscured by a red woollen cap. The latter seemed somewhat anomalous in the heat of the Caribbean, but possibly it concealed the onset of baldness and certainly it hinted at an avuncularity which was not ever evident from the expression on his face alone. He was tall, lean and wiry, heavily tanned and with a leathery complexion. He had a long face with melancholy eyes and a large nose, and when he occasionally offered you a tight-lipped smile, the crows’ feet at the corners of his eyes suggested a certain benevolence.

But he rarely smiled and the impression was that there was no frivolity in his life. He chartered his yacht each day and dropped anchor each evening, and when his clients had disembarked, he ambled down to an expensive restaurant and dined alone, refreshing himself with a bottle of fine French wine and luxuriously sucking on a Havana cigar after the meal.

Egon was a Prussian, and my German acquaintances told me that he spoke in the lofty tones of a true Prussian aristocrat. His poise was dignified and self-assured, and whenever I saw him ashore, he would be striding off somewhere, his jaw set in grim determination as if he was on some important mission.

He was not a man who engaged in small talk and, as far as I could see, he had no friends. On the few occasions that he did approach me, I sensed that his conversation camouflaged some ulterior motive and I soon discovered that this impression was correct. Like Wolfgang, Egon considered that the franchise on chartering yachts within St Lucian waters was his alone, and, inevitably, a great deal of hostility evolved between the two of them.

And so, Egon would make casual conversation with me in the hope that I, as the manager of a legitimate and established yacht chartering company, would unwittingly furnish him with information that he could use to frustrate his rival. So long as Egon’s business remained brisk and Wolfgang’s modest, there were no problems; but as soon as there were indications that Wolfgang might be enjoying a period of prosperity, or that Egon was enduring a lean month, Egon’s animosity would manifest itself.

He was far too much of an aristocrat to condescend to verbal confrontation with his non-commissioned foe, far less to actually come to blows. Instead, he would surreptitiously confer with some unscrupulous uniformed official and, a day or so later, Wolfgang would be observed cursing loudly and hurling guttural abuse at Patsy, having been politely informed by the Immigration department that his papers were “not in order”. Wolfgang would then have to sail out of St Lucia to another island, obtain a new entry stamp and then sail back before being allowed re-entry to St Lucia.

This long-standing feud between the blustering ranker with the big labourer’s hands, and the lean, aristocratic Prussian with his slick affluence and rapport with corruptible officials, was the source of much amusement amongst the established yacht charter companies. But so long as these two adversaries restricted their conflict to themselves, we were content to play the role of bemused spectators.

From time to time, Wolfgang would creep about the bars and inform newly-arrived yachtsmen that Egon had been an officer in Hitler’s SS and was a dangerous fellow; by coincidence, Wolfgang’s advertising displays would at the same time disappear from the hotels and bars, to be replaced by similar posters proclaiming LA MAUNY as the only fully-licensed day charter yacht in St Lucia.

“Sail with Egon!” the new posters would urge, and there would be a photograph of the benign old man with the crows’ feet and red, woollen cap. And then, once again, Wolfgang would find himself compelled to leave the island on account of some inexplicable irregularity with his passport and, as he cursed with rage, Egon would chuckle and chew on a fat cigar and confirm, with evident pride, that Wolfgang’s claims concerning his past were not entirely inaccurate.

I soon discovered, however, that these antagonists were unanimous in one matter, and this was in their loathing of another of their countrymen by the name of Gunther. The latter was in the mid-sixties but seemed younger. He had close-cropped, white hair and an angry, round face with plump, red cheeks. His forehead was heavily lined, his beady eyes a piercing blue. He wore a smart, grey beard in the Naval style and he appeared to have no neck. It was a strange sight to observe Gunther walking for, actually, he marched, even aboard his yacht, a very large, rust-streaked motor-yacht called ORION TEN.

With his head held high, his shoulders back and his chest sticking out, his straight arms swinging mechanically at the hips, he gave the impression of a clockwork soldier, plucked directly from some military parade ground. It was as if the only method of locomotion he had ever learned had been gleaned from a drill sergeant’s handbook.

The hilarity that you could not help but feel on seeing him strut about in this manner – in a part of the world where anything more formal than an amble seems absurd – was increased considerably by certain other characteristics. To begin with, Gunther’s expression was invariably one of such virulence that you wondered if he was on the verge of assaulting someone.

Secondly, his mode of dress consisted generally of nothing more than a tight-fitting pair of swimming briefs, and he took great delight in showing off his well-muscled torso and appendages.

Clearly, he had not been entirely unsuccessful in his endeavours to impress observers with his fine physique for, when he was 66 years old, he married a 22 year-old German girl called Andrea. This woman was extremely tall, extremely thin, and had long, fair hair, a hooked nose, and shrewd green eyes. Gunther and his new bride one day presented themselves at my office and, whilst Andrea sat silent and demure, her choleric husband informed me (in fact demanded) in clipped tones that I procure clients for his yacht.

Although I harboured reservations about this rather disagreeable fellow, I was not averse to negotiating with him, for his rates were inexpensive and his yacht was spacious and comfortable, and, more importantly, he was willing to pay the commission that my company requested. Furthermore, Gunther was able to produce a sheave of yellowing documents which contained what appeared to be glowing testimonials from previous, highly satisfied clients. I therefore duly found some customers for him, two English couples and a Canadian journalist. The seemingly mute Andrea stocked up with food, the guests arrived, and Gunther strode down the dock, cast off the lines and motored away into the sunset.

A week later, the yacht returned. The trip had been a disaster. The Canadian journalist had flown home after 2 days and later I received a letter from him in which he likened his experience aboard ORION TEN to his military service in the Canadian Forces, with the additional comment that he had found the latter far preferable.

The English clients were more specific.

“We were ordered from our beds at 6.00 a.m. and given a bowl of porridge for breakfast. Lunch consisted of corned beef sandwiches, dinner of a stew of dubious composition. The Captain made Blackbeard look positively benign. And when I cracked an old joke about Germans during the war, he glared at us and never spoke again. In fact he seemed to take extraordinary offence. Is he always like that?”

But they were decent about their ordeal and made light of the experience as only English people seem to be able to in such circumstances.

I decided it would be imprudent to provide Gunther with further business and informed him that his services would no longer be required. He was apoplectic. He insisted that his cuisine was of Cordon Bleu quality, and he refused to believe that his guests had had anything other than an ecstatic experience. Whilst I cowered behind my desk, he roared abuse for some minutes and then, dragging his bride by the arm, stormed out of my office.

Soon after this, he telephoned my secretary and informed her that he intended to kill me and, simultaneously, to commence legal proceedings against our company, claiming loss of earnings. The case was later thrown out of court, and I rarely saw him thereafter though, for some years, I heard that he was still plotting my demise.

Then, one day, Koehler (pronounced “Coiler”) arrived. He was in the fifties and had an unruly mass of long, greying hair that fell about his shoulders. He had bright blue eyes, mischievous and alert, and a thick, drooping moustache. His face was weather-beaten, his skin deeply-lined and tanned. He was of average height and build, with a fat stomach, the result of decades of consuming vast quantities of beer. But, whereas Egon, Wolfgang and Gunther seemed at ease only in the company of their similarly-aged compatriots, Koehler was outgoing and affable and liked nothing better than to while away the hours in some bar, conversing with a fellow yachtsman.

Koehler sailed aboard a rusting 50-foot ketch called PREUSSEN, and he very soon found that there was money to be made from yacht chartering. Soon, he was plying the hotel beaches in search of trade, and he was happy to undercut his rivals by offering one week excursions at absurdly low rates. Of course, very soon he had invited the wrath of the imperious Egon and the bellicose Wolfgang. However, he seemed impervious to Egon’s attempts to render him the focus of the Immigration Department’s curiosity, and equally impervious to Wolfgang’s caustic tongue.

He happily went about his business, and spent every unoccupied moment drinking heavily in a nearby bar. But, on some occasions, his state of intoxication had alarming consequences. One night, from the upper deck of his yacht, anchored in the peaceful lagoon, Koehler fancied that he could see canoes manned by hostile Indians, paddling menacingly in the direction of his vessel. He ran below, grabbed a shotgun and, re-appearing on deck, fired warning shots into the air. Mercifully, no-one was hit for in fact the wild savages of his florid imagination turned out to be four elderly, startled American charter guests taking an evening row across the lagoon after dinner.

On another occasion, Koehler shot a gaping hole in the superstructure of a nearby motor vessel – perhaps, once again, in an attempt to repel hordes of imaginary barbarians. And on yet another occasion, he fired a magnesium distress flare into a cluster of bushes, starting a serious fire which threatened several adjacent houses.

In short, it was soon evident that, despite his genial nature by day, he might be a dangerous fellow to come across late at night when much affected by his excesses.

Before sailing to the Caribbean, Koehler had been a mercenary. He had fought in the Congo and other parts of Africa and he boasted that, although a Berliner by birth, he had never seen the wall that divided East from West. He said he had no desire to return to Germany.

“What for?” he would ask. “I have everything here that I need – my boat, the islands, a little money now and again .. and, of course, the beautiful ladies”.

Now Koehler was indeed fond of the ladies, but his concept of beauty differed considerably to my own for he liked his women to be middle-aged, plump and inordinately ugly. Every week I would see him with his arm about a different woman and every week they seemed to me to be more gruesome than the last. He would call me over and buy me a beer.

“See here!” he would beam, “This is Lucy. Isn’t she so beautiful?” And then he would nuzzle up to the object of his admiration whilst the gargoyle herself would roar with laughter and roll her dark, liquid eyes and say something very vulgar. Then I knew that Koehler would be quiet for a few nights and there would be no sound of gunfire to shatter the night silence of the lagoon.

Koehler delighted in insulting both Egon and Wolfgang behind their backs when he was sober, and to their faces when he was drunk.

“They’re both bloody Nazis!” he would exclaim, and would then add that he had know Egon many years previously when Egon had been in the diamond business in South Africa.

“This is how he made his money,” said Koehler. “And, do you know, he’s an SS man – and proud of it?” But it seemed that the only item of concern to Egon was his dog, Wetsuit, all other matters being of supreme indifference to him.

During my years in the islands, I met a good many other curious Germans. These included “Chicken George”, a middle-aged mechanic so called because he resembled a plucked chicken; and Yorick, a bespectacled young man with the air of an academic, who coolly shot his wife’s lover by firing six rounds into the man’s head, just two bar stools away from me one evening; and Mr Egger, who tried to kill his wife, but was caught; and so many more.

There seemed to be some unaccountable singularity about the Germans which I could never have ascribed to the English who were generally mundane, or to the Italians who shouted and were interested only in ladies’ bottoms, or to the Dutch – affable, cosmopolitan and fond of narcotics.

Many years later, I hear from my friends that Wolfgang has fired Patsy and has himself an even shorter “attendant”; that Koehler is happily cohabiting with a corpulent woman with no teeth; that Gunther continues to offer Cordon Bleu sardines; and that Egon, devastated by Wetsuit’s death, now lives a reclusive existence aboard his yacht.

In retrospect, I can only feel that it was a good thing that Mengele and Eichmann could afford the full fare to Paraguay.

Narendra Sethia

Narendra Sethia is an accomplished sailor who lives in the Caribbean.