Yesterday, January 27th, was Holocaust Remembrance Day.  In case you didn’t learn about the Holocaust in school, here is a brief synopsis.

The Holocaust was a time in recent history when a Demagogue convinced millions of people that they were racially, morally, and religiously superior to Jews, Gypsies, the Disabled, the Slavic people, Communists, Socialists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and homosexuals.  Then, they annihilated over 13 million of these perceived inferiors.

According to Merriam-Webster a Demagogue is:

  1. a leader who makes use of popular prejudices and false claims and promises in order to gain power
  2. a leader championing the cause of the common people in ancient times

In the case of the Holocaust, the demagogue was a man named Adolf Hitler, and the millions of people were called Nazis.

Hans, the European Auto Mechanic

When I was 19, I purchased a sexy, sporty 1980 Volkswagen Rabbit Convertible, for $3000, from an alcoholic woman in Carmel, California.  The fact that she was inebriated every time I spoke with her, really has nothing to do with this story.  I just threw that it in for chuckles.  What is important is that the VW was almost ten years old when I bought it.

As you can imagine, ten year old vehicles require regular maintenance.  I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area shortly after purchasing the VW and quickly learned to hate auto mechanics.  I do not want to disparage the entire auto mechanic industry but my experience with them as a 20 year old single woman in a big city was not good.

 My 1980 VW Rabbit Convertible

My 1980 VW Rabbit Convertible

The only solution I had to avoid city mechanics was to take a day off from work and go “home” whenever my car needed repairs.  Home was a 90 minute drive south to Castroville, California, a small farming town near Fort Ord along the Central Coast.

(Oh, how I loved to drive Hwy 1 with the top down listening to “In Your Eyes”.)

You see, in Castroville, there was a wonderfully cheerful and honest mechanic named Hans, who specialized in European motors.  My friend Samantha, who also drove a VW, just not as sexy as mine, had recommended Hans.  I admired Hans, who was in his 60’s or 70’s at the time.  He always took the time to engage in long, friendly conversations.  He was a very good man.

Hans was also a former Nazi soldier.

3 Lessons from a Nazi Soldier

Hans taught me three very important lessons about business and life.  While not the first I had met, he was the first small business owner I had taken the time to get to know.  Remember, I was just 19 or 20 years old when I met Hans, but I paid attention to his actions!

1.  Talk to Your Clients

Every single time I saw him, Hans stopped to chat.  Always friendly, always smiling.  He treated every single client like family.  He taught his staff (which was really just one other mechanic) to also take the time to engage in friendly conversation with clients.  Every interaction at his shop was just downright pleasant.

2.  Go Above and Beyond

My sexy VW started to literally fall apart by the time I was 21 or 22.  Parts would just fall off.  The car was 11 or 12 years old at this point.  The exterior trim fell off.  The window handle on the driver’s side fell off.  My sexy VW was losing her sex appeal, yet still farfegnugen, fun to drive.

I was working for The North Face by then, and had been modeling Hans’ “always friendly, always smiling” demeanor to successfully manage a 40+ million dollar sales territory, and earn a reputation for being on one of the best support agents in the outdoor industry.

Once, I dropped my VW off with Hans for a week for some major repairs, borrowing my mom’s truck to return to the Bay Area.  When I returned the following week, Hans had replaced my missing window handle at no charge.  When I noticed, I gleefully thanked him.  He responded by telling me he kept extra parts like that on hand for just such instances.

With that small gesture Hans taught me to go above and beyond for my clients.  I put that lesson to work in my own career, as well.

3.  Even Good People Can Fall for Demagoguery

Only once, in the many years I knew him, did Hans speak, very briefly, about his time as a Nazi solider under Hitler.  I will never forget the way his shoulders slumped as he looked down at the ground and said,  “I loved that son of a bitch.”

Hans was a good man.  I have to believe in my heart that he had always been a good man.

The most important lesson I learned from Hans was that even good people can do bad things under the influence of a demagogue.

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2 Comments

  1. Nita Reply

    Hans sounds like a good man. You were lucky to meet him, and even luckier to be smart enough to learn from him. Enjoyed reading your story, and chuckled at the thought of former car owner and her drinking.
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