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Flatbush Flashback

The Glory of the Loew’s Kings

 

"Or if I had 50 cents on me, I might go see a good horror film, like House of Usher—Edgar Allan Poe's premature-burial story...—at one of the rococo, multi-tiered Flatbush Avenue movie palaces, like the Albemarle, the Astor, the Rialto, or the Loew's (pronounced Lowie's) Kings. It was at the Kings, one afternoon in 1962, after sitting through a showing of The Three Stooges in Orbit, that I saw the Jewish Stooges themselves run down the aisles and take to the stage as every kid in the packed house simultaneously let loose with an ear-shattering shriek." —from Bobby in Naziland 

 

The above photo was taken the night of June 4, 2019, in the lobby of the Loew's Kings Theatre, on Flatbush Avenue. My wife and I had gone there to see Bikini Kill, the reunited 90s "riot grrrl" punk band.

 

We sat in the balcony, as we did the first time I took her to the Kings, in May 2015. That night we'd joined some of my old Erasmus classmates (the school is two block away) to hear Crosby, Stills & Nash. Walking down Flatbush Avenue and seeing the name of that iconic trio on the Kings marquee, rather than, say, The Three Stooges in Orbit, was surreal.

 

Opened in 1929, the Kings was a lavish 3,676-seat theater, one of five "Loew's Wonder Theatres," featuring both movies and live stage shows, usually of the vaudeville variety, but they soon switched to movies only. As I recounted in Bobby in Naziland, it was a place where, for 50 cents, I could escape into the worlds of Poe, Godzilla, vampires, and James Bond.

 

The Kings closed in 1977 and for more than three decades stood empty, deteriorating into a state of near-collapse. Finally, in 2010, the New York City Economic Development Corporation stepped in. Along with the Brooklyn Borough President's office, they oversaw a renovation that took four years to complete and ultimately restored the movie palace to its 1929 magnificence, which is evoked in the wall panel and window behind me in the photo. (You can see more photos here.)

 

Like much of the rest of the world, the Kings Theatre is on coronavirus hiatus. Which reminds me that John Prine (who probably appreciated the Three Stooges) was one of the 100,000 casualties. He played the Kings on April 13, 2019. We should have seen him when we had the chance.

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Bobby in Naziland is available on Amazon and all other online booksellers, as well as at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore, where you'll hopefully be able to buy it again someday soon.

 

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“I am not Josef Mengele!”

 

In May 1960, news of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann's capture was flashed around the world. According to the official story, Mossad agents had snatched the Gestapo colonel off a street in Buenos Aires, where he was living under an assumed name, and spirited him back to Israel. There, Eichmann was charged with crimes against humanity, tried, found guilty, and hanged.

 

The most surprising thing I learned while doing background research for Bobby in Naziland was that the official story, which had endured for 40 years, had left out one crucial detail: how, exactly, the Mossad—the Jewish CIA—found Eichmann, the logistics expert responsible for organizing the "Final Solution."

 

That detail came to light in 2000, when the Israeli government quietly declassified the Eichmann file, which contained the story of Lothar Hermann and his teenage daughter, Sylvia.

 

Lothar, a half-Jewish former Dachau inmate, had fled to Argentina in the aftermath of Kristallnacht. There, Sylvia, who was raised Catholic and was unaware of her father's history, began dating Eichmann's son Klaus, who used his real last name, bragged to the Hermanns about his father's being a high-ranking Gestapo officer, and told them that the only mistake the Nazis made was that they'd failed to exterminate all the Jews.

 

Lothar tipped off the German authorities, who relayed the information to the Mossad. Sylvia, acting as a spy for the Mossad, gave them detailed information on Eichmann's whereabouts.

 

Until 2000, the story of Lothar and Sylvia Hermann remained unknown, even to their relatives who lived in Argentina. The 2018 release of Operation Finale, a film about Eichmann's capture, starring Ben Kingsley as Eichmann, brought some attention to the father and daughter, as did a traveling museum exhibition of the same name, co-produced by the Mossad.

 

But neither the film nor the exhibition touched on another disturbing aspect of the story, which I detail in Bobby in Naziland. According to a contemporaneous account in the March 24, 1961 issue of the Argentine newspaper El Imparcial, a year after Eichmann's capture, the Mossad accused Lothar Hermann of being Nazi doctor Josef Mengele, arrested him, held him for 15 days, tortured him, and then released him when an analysis of his fingerprints showed he wasn't Mengele.

 

"No Soy Jose Mengele", nos declaro enfaticamente Lothar Hermann, the El Imparcial banner headline says ("I am not Josef Mengele," Lothar Hermann told us emphatically).

 

A more recent article, in one of the main Argentine newspapers, Clarin, published on November 27, 2011, also says that the Mossad arrested Hermann, accused him of being Mengele, and tortured him.

 

When I was in Buenos Aries, in 2017, I asked Argentine journalist Rolando Gallego if he knew about Lothar Hermann, and if it was true that the Mossad had arrested and tortured him. It was "common knowledge," he said.

 

I also asked former Mossad agent Avner Avraham, who curated the Operation Finale exhibition and was a consultant on the film, about Lothar Hermann's arrest and torture. He denied that it happened. "Why would the Mossad do that?" he said. "It makes no sense."

 

The Mossad would do that, apparently, because they mistook him for Mengele. Therefore, I included the story of Lothar Hermann's arrest and torture in Bobby in Naziland, attributing it to the contemporaneous account in El Imparcial.

 

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Bobby in Naziland is available on Amazon and all other online booksellers, as well as at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore, where you'll hopefully be able to buy it again someday soon.

 

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Summer of ’61

 

Let's return to the Maple Court Cafe, or "Tavern" as I called it in Bobby in Naziland—because that's what everybody called it, except for those who, like my father, called it a "gin mill," which is a pretty good synonym for "dive bar."

 

I blogged about the Maple Court's interior this past August, when I found a postcard from its glory days. Back then it was a quasi-classy joint, with potted plants and palm trees painted on the walls—the kind of establishment that gave away souvenir postcards.

 

The Maple Court was one of the places where Stingo, the narrator of William Styron's Sophie's Choice, hung out with Sophie, in 1947, when he lived in a rooming house in Flatbush. It was also the first bar I ever walked into. A shot from New York City's Municipal Archives, taken from the corner of East 16th Street, shows what the block looked like back in Stingo's day. You can see the Maple Court behind the "Furs" sign.

 

The above photo, courtesy of the Brooklyn Historical Society, was taken in June 1961, when I was eight and one of the set pieces in Bobby in Naziland was taking place: Roger Maris was in the midst of his record-breaking home run streak, hitting number 13 on June 2 and number 27 on June 22. This is how I remember the Maple Court. (The taller buildings on the right are the backs of apartment houses that faced East 17th Street.)

 

The Maple Court sign indicates "dining" and "entertainment" were on tap, but by the summer of 1961, no food was served there and the only entertainment was watching the locals get hammered. The Maple Court was dim, dingy, and uninviting, and it's long gone, the building torn down, replaced by Bobby's Dept. Store. In 1961, I might have found that more intriguing than a dive bar.

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Bobby in Naziland is available on Amazon and all other online booksellers, as well as at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore, where you'll hopefully be able to buy it again someday soon.

 

I invite you to join me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter or my eternally embryonic Instagram.

 

 

 

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The Sawdust-Strewn Aisles of the A&P

 

In the 1950s and 60s, The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company, better known as the A&P, was a chain of grocery stores that were ubiquitous in New York City. There was one in Flatbush, on Church Avenue between East 18th Street and St. Paul's Place. My mother did most of her food shopping there before Waldbaum's opened a block closer to our house.

 

In Bobby in Naziland, I discuss two books about Nazis that influenced my own writing. One was The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, by William Shirer. The other was Sophie's Choice, by William Styron, which was set in postwar Flatbush, with many of the book's locations only a block or two from where I lived.

 

This blog, in part, is a photographic addendum to Bobby in Naziland. My intention has been to add greater detail about any number of people, places, and things that I touched on in the book. In this Season of the Plague, I've found that losing myself in mid-20th-century Flatbush, despite some of the darkness of that time, has been especially pleasurable.

 

This week, I return to the "sawdust-strewn aisles of the A&P," which Styron and I both wrote about. And I wonder if any stores, at least in New York City, still strew sawdust on the floor to absorb moisture. At a time when the very notion of walking into a supermarket can be terrifying, the idea of floors covered in sawdust seems so, to say the least, unsanitary.

 

The above photograph of the A&P on Church Avenue, taken in 1940, is from the New York City Municipal Archives. You can see the other half of the storefront here. (The same car appears in both shots.) Though The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company ceased to exist after filing for bankruptcy, in 2015, the current Google maps shot shows the store that was once the A&P remains a supermarket, though its aisles, I'd imagine, are sawdust free.

 

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Bobby in Naziland is available on Amazon and all other online booksellers, as well as at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore, where you'll hopefully be able to buy it again someday soon.

 

I invite you to join me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter or my eternally embryonic Instagram.

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