The Case of the Missing Maybach

Benjamin B. Ferencz

The car assigned to me for official use was a beautiful convertable Maybach limousine, of Rolls Royce caliber, cherished by Hitler’s top henchmen. I mounted a small American flag on each front fender. When I settled down in the plush leather passenger seat, the top of my head was barely visible. When the car suddenly disappeared New Year’s Eve, my beloved Maybach got me into hot water.

An accomplice, Eugene Klein, of the OCCWC staff, was a Hungarian refugee who had served in the U.S. Air Corps and he knew his way around. He managed to get tickets for a gala 1946 New Years Eve celebration that would take place at Berlin’s leading cabaret, the Cafe Wien on the Kurfurstendam. Of course, it was illegal at that time for Americans to be caught frolicking in German bars. However, this night, like Passover, was different from all other nights. We had a distinguished visitor from Nuremberg, Patty Bull, who was writing something about the Nuremberg trials and whose father happened to be Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon. I felt it my patriotic duty to be hospitable. I invited Lt. Col. Bill Wuest to escort our distinguished guest in his staff car and meet us at the cafe. Gene Klein, my wife, and I came along in my impressive Maybach, driven by my German chauffeur, an elderly gent named Barrs, who always wore the black cap from his old uniform. When we all arrived at the raucous cafe, the champagne was waiting on our reserved table.

Of course, I knew that official cars were to be used only for official purposes and German drivers were prohibited from leaving their vehicles unattended. But it was freezing cold outside, and being a man of tender heart, I invited old Barrs to come in to warm himself and have a beer. The elaborate cabaret festivities had hardly begun when Barrs came rushing toward me in a panic. The Maybach was gone! He had parked it carefully on the sidewalk right in front of the entrance, practically resting on the cafe door, and when he went out to check on it, it had disappeared. We were in the British sector, but I suspected that Russian agents had snatched the conspicuous vehicle. Lt. Col. Wuest kept moaning to himself, “My commission is at stake. My commission is at stake.” I told him to drop me off at the nearest British MP station and I would search for my missing Maybach. He was ordered to take all the other guests back home with instructions to forget that they had ever left their hearth that night. He did as he was told. The British MPs raced with me all around the Soviet sector border but my beloved car was nowhere to be found. The MPs expressed regret and took me home.

The next morning I received a phone call from the Military Police in the American sector. My Maybach had been found, and was now located in the MP vehicle compound, but the car was no longer in useable condition. And my driver was in jail. Have a nice day! The Maybach had been found exactly where my driver had left it. It appeared that someone had come from the café, driven the car somewhere, and then returned it. According to the police, the thief’s poor driving skills had stripped the gears. Since the thief had been able to bring the vehicle back to the scene of the crime, my investigative instincts told me that the MPs wrecked it when getting it to the yard. I offered to have the car repaired—which I could have done for a few cartons of cigarettes distributed at the factory in East Germany—but the offer was refused. The car was well known as a gas-guzzler that the motor pool was eager to abandon.

A few days went by before I could obtain the release of my driver by pulling rank and claiming “superior orders” as his defense—without acknowledging that I was the superior who gave the order. It was not too long thereafter when a young Lieutenant appeared at my office and informed me sheepishly that charges had been filed against me. I, of all people, was accused, among other things, of using a military vehicle for an unauthorized purpose, illegally frequenting German premises that were off limits, and causing damage to government property valued at several thousand dollars that I was expected to repay. As required, the Lieutenant asked whether I was familiar with the Articles of War. I said I was. He pulled out a fat folder that seemed crammed with affidavits from MPs, mechanics at the motor pool, witnesses at Cafe Wien, and others. He asked me to sign a statement admitting the facts. I refused, noting that all of the charges were completely unfounded. I reminded him that it was my right under the Articles to remain silent. However, if he would leave his file with me, I would study the charges carefully and give him a detailed written reply. I didn’t say when. He thanked me, handed me his entire folder, and departed.

I studied the documents carefully. What struck me most was the fact that the file had eight copies of everything. From my days as a clerk in the artillery and with the Judge Advocates, I knew that every such file had to have eight copies; no less and no more. The friendly Lieutenant had left his entire case in my hands. I really liked that fellow. Since the file was too thick to fit in the shallow center drawer of my desk, I carefully deposited the entire folder for safekeeping in the spacious wastepaper basket. About ten days went by before I received a call from my Lieutenant friend. I apologized for being too busy trying to get evidence against major war criminals that I just couldn’t be diverted by unjustified trivia. I promised to get to it as soon as I could. Being a very honest man, I still didn’t say when. About two weeks later when the Lieutenant called again, I said I could no longer find the file and I hoped he had received it back in the mail. The poor fellow was beginning to panic. He said he could not possibly duplicate the affidavits of all of the witnesses since many were no longer in Berlin. I expressed my regrets and best wishes. In pursuing criminals, one must be very cautious. I did not learn of the conclusion of the case until a later date, but that’s another story.