Just Say No


Next month, I’ll be giving a talk in Monterey about my Uncle Fred and Aunt Jamie Henderson, who were captured by the German navy in April 1941 on their way to Africa to be medical missionaries. It’s titled “Surviving the Zam Zam.”

In 1993, I interviewed Uncle Fred about his experiences. That was fortunate because he died a year later. In the interview, I thought we had covered everything interesting about his capture, his work as a doctor in a German P.O.W. camp, and his escape to Switzerland from a prison camp in occupied France. So I turned to another question. We had grown up with a story from our parents and I wanted to see if it was true. I thought it had nothing to do with his time in the prison camp. I was wrong.

Here’s the segment from the interview.

DRH: Another story I remember hearing my parents tell, I think. The St. Charles Country Club is near here?

Fred: Yes.

DRH: Yes. You were a golfer and you were thinking of joining but you found out that they woudn’t accept Jews. And you refused to join because they discriminated against Jews. Is that true?

Fred: Yeah.

DRH: Yeah. That’s neat.

Then Uncle Fred paused and looked pensive. As you’ll see, I think the incident reminded him of why he was so opposed to anti-semitism.

Fred: I can remember in the German prison camp we had sick parade every morning and the German doctor [who supervised Uncle Fred] would often say to the people coming up for medical treatment “Sind sie Jude?” “Are you a Jew?” Hitler of course was against the Jews. I had to get the Swiss Protecting Power to get the German doctor to promise that he wouldn’t ask whether they were Jews or not.

DRH: Oh, wow. This was where?

Fred: In the (garbled name) the German prison camp.

DRH: So you actually got the German doctor not to ask that?

Fred: Yeah.

DRH: How did you do that?

Fred: Because the Swiss Protecting Power could get the German doctor to promise that.

DRH: In a prison camp in Germany? [Actually Poland, but that distinction didn’t matter to Hitler.]

Fred: Yeah.

DRH: That’s neat. I didn’t know that. I had no idea. I thought once you were in a prison camp and you were Jewish, that was it. So you just said no. This is not right and I’m going to protest.

Fred: Yeah.

DRH: That’s wonderful. You probably saved some lives.