People I Knew When They Were Alive: Rudolf A. H. Bergmann

I first met Rudi about 1978 in a support group for an illness from which both of our wives were suffering. Initially our communications surrounded our deteriorating situations and we would often go out for coffee or have lunch. At the time he was about 60 years old. We discovered that we both enjoyed tennis and we played often. Guys at the tennis club I belonged to called him “Pop” or “Granddad” because he was about 5′ 4″ tall and he had a very distinguished handle-bar mustache, and an odd accent. He rode his bicycle every where, including work and he swam every day. He lived to be 91 years old and died in 2009.

At the time that I met him, Rudi was working for Drexel Burnham Lambert as a stock broker. He soon became my broker and as I had just finished my MBA and considered myself to be a stock picker, he and I collaborated on some very interesting, and profitable ideas. On Black Monday in October 1987, I was long OEX puts and had held the position over the weekend anticipating oil problems in the Middle East. When Iranian gunboats attacked American warships in the gulf, the market tanked on Monday morning. I made a ton of money and Rudi was always there to take my call. The market was 2 hours behind on quotes and I had a vague idea of my position’s worth. I trusted Rudi to sell at 3:00 p.m. which he did. I treated him to a fine champagne dinner in celebration of our success.

Rudi was Dutch. A Dutchman he would say and very proud of it. He was very close to Maurits Edersheim, Chairman of DBL who was close to the Royal Familiy of the Netherlands. Rudi managed a lot of Dutch and European money for the firm in their international department.  But there was much more to Rudi than stockbroker-swimmer-bike rider-tennis player.

Rudi graduated from the University of Leyden in 1939. His father was a successful merchant and businessman. Rudi studied the classics and prepared for a career in the Dutch foreign service. He learned Indonesian and trained to serve in the Dutch colony of Indonesia. He remembered the day, May 10, 1940 when the Nazis invaded Holland. He particularly remembered the parachute landings in Rotterdam after the terrible bombing of that city. The country fell in only 6 days as the Dutch army was much too small to hold back the blitzkrieg. And he told me about the first day he had to wear the star and how the noose slowly tightened around Jews by imposition of regulations, laws, and procedures aimed at segregating and persecuting them, eventually collecting and destroying them.

Rudi joined the underground. A bar hangout of those days where plans were formulated was Hoppe. I was in Amsterdam several times and each time Rudi encouraged me to go there and drink to the boys. I haven’t been back since Rudi died but when I do I will drink one to Rudi. He and a pal decided to walk out of Holland and some how get to the Dutch government in exile in New York City so they could join  the Dutch exile army and participate in the invasion of Europe. They embarked on their journey, traveling only at night and got as far as Paris where they were grabbed by collaborators and promptly turned over to the Germans. Now Rudi had false papers and he did not look Jewish so he was sent to the south of France, that is to un-occupied France, free France a stroke of luck, and placed in a labor camp where he spent 9 months. He was sprung from this camp by the Dutch consul from Marseilles who sent him on his way this time with valid  papers. The consul recognized his value from his connections, education and the sense that he would be more valuable to the Dutch government in exile than sitting in a forced labor camp.

Rudi continued his journey, walking and hitch hiking through southern France, over the Pyrenees and into Spain and Portugal. In Lisbon, a mysterious city filled with strangers and danger, he boarded a freighter in the arms trade bound for South America. He knew the ship would re-fuel in Curacao, the Dutch colony in the Caribbean. He planned to jump ship there and get on to a U.S. bound freighter which he did. And so in the fall of 1942 he found himself in Brooklyn and on the subway to the Dutch offices in Rockefeller Center. You can only imagine their surprise when this 24 year old young man showed up on their doorstep. The consul gave him $200 and told him to be back in the office on Monday morning (this being Friday afternoon.) A weekend in New York with $200 in his pocket! I can remember the sheer joy and exultation with which he recounted this weekend. He was sent to Canada to join the Dutch exile army in training for the European invasion. They made him a Lieutenant. But when they found out about his foreign service training and language skills, they changed their mind and instead put him on a troop train bound for San Francisco and into an unpleasantness known as the invasion of Borneo and New Guinea which campaign he participated in. At the end of the war he went into Indonesia and with 5 other guys received Indonesia back from the Japanese and  re-constituted the government. He lived in Indonesia until 1955 and returned to the U.S. to renew his ties to Mr. Edersheim who by that time was at DBL. After the war Rudi found out that he lost most of his family to the Holocaust, including his dear younger sister who was married to a physician. They were grabbed off a train trying to get to Switzerland and perished in one of the camps.

Rudi Bergman was a remarkable man and a hero. The fire in his belly was inextinguishable and he lived every day with the utmost energy and passion, even on those days during his cancer bouts when the treatments were not going so well. He was the only person I ever knew who said “Phooey!” when he strongly disagreed with something. In Dutch I believe it comes out “Pfui!” If I ever said that I thought I couldn’t do something he would chide me with that “Pfui!” Rudi, you were a brave man. I am happy to have known you and I will miss you. See you at Hoppe.

Investing In Education Tax

So now we are about to go over the “fiscal cliff” because the Republicans and Democrats can’t agree on how to penalize the rich. The Dems want to increase tax rates on the wealthy while the GOP want to constrain tax loopholes and deductions to achieve the same revenue goal: about $50 billion. This turns out to be an ATM fee on the total $1.3 trilllion deficit.  But why should we raise taxes on the wealthy while lowering them for the middle and lower income folks in the first place? Generally speaking the well to do tend to be better educated, have more knowledge, skills and abilities. They work very hard. THEY ALSO TEND TO BE THE JOB CREATORS. We live in the land of freedom and opportunity and these folks chose paths that required education, lots of it. By and large that education paid off. This is not to say that folks in the lower income strata did not work as hard as the wealthy folks. It is just that the wealthy ones took on more education, in some cases at great cost, which increased their skills and abilities, and paved the way to upward mobility. Why do we want to transfer their wealth?  Why penalize the wealthy for their education,  knowledge, skills and hard work ? The administration talks a good game about investing in education while at the same time making investing in a education a tax penalty.