Escape from Dachau
by G.A. Cribari
On an unusually warm autumn morning Sari and her father walked along the banks of the Nieman river. It had rained the previous night and the rising sun was lifting the moisture into a thick, knee high fog.
“This is incredible Tato,” said Sari, using the affectionate name she caller her father, Alexei Waldovich. “I wish Nana and Mama could see this.”
Sari and her father continued to walk along the riverbank as the fog swirled around them. They proceeded to walk for about an hour and were now miles away from the small city of Grodno where they lived in what was known as the Pale of Settlement in Central Europe, between Russia, Germany and Lithuania, in the new Poland, recreated at the end of the First World War.
The sky had become thick with clouds and instead of dissipating, the fog became so thick they had to slow their steps, able to see only six feet in front of them. Suddenly, Sari saw a form out of the corner of her eye and then felt a large, heavy body touching her leg as it went by. She let out a very loud squeal and put her arms around her father.
“What was that?” Sari yelled. Her father calmly told her that the wild boar family had also decided to go for a Sunday walk.
Alexi held Sari’s hand firmly and seeing a familiar path down the trail to the left he led her to it. They walked on the trail as it wound up at a large hill which overlooked the river. They reached a ledge near the top of the hill which had a fine sandy face going to the grassy summit. Alexi grabbed a twig from the base of one of the tall pines that covered the hill.
Photograph of the twins (Sari, left and Nana, right facing)
taken by Alexi using a KODAK camera borrowed from Rabbi Tylim 1925
“Sometimes it is important act on your feelings.” Alexi told his daughter. As he gently twisted the twig into the hillside the golden sand darkened with moisture. He gently removed the twig as a small trickle of water dripped from the hole. He next placed the twig in between his hands and as he twisted the twig with a circular motion he inserted it completely into the cliff face. Then he pushed the edges of both hands firmly into the hill and grabbed the twig quickly pulling it out while spinning it in the direction opposite from which it was inserted. Soon, water was spurting out as if a spigot had been turned on. Alexi quickly pulled out four canteens from his backpack and after lining up three on the ground proceeded to fill up a container of the spring water.
While her father gathered his treasure, Sari scanned the riverside. “Look Father! Down there. Deer!” A buck with a large rack and his doe were drinking water from the river as two newborn fawns were wobbling unsteadily on their new legs. Then, as if by magic, firs one and then the other were racing along the shoreline at incredible speed. Soon after the deer had their fill of water, a flock of large, black birds flew in from the opposite shore squawking loudly.
“Are those crows Father?” asked Sari.
“No, those are birds of the great forest. They are ravens.”
The two of them made their way around the side of the hill and down to more level ground. The landscape was thick with spruce trees and the air was sweetly scented by the smell of pine needles that made a soft carpet, making their walk easier. The trunks of the trees were close together and often the branches would intertwine and the father and daughter had to push aside branches to maker their way through. After a short while they did made their way through the cool, dark pine forest and found themselves in front of an acre-wide grassy meadow.
Sari and her sister, Nana, were twins born on February 25, 1922. Their mother, Esther Gabistyn was from Grodno’s Jewish community which made up a little over a third of the population. Her father, although from the Christian population, came down through a fiercely independent family of foresters who made their living from the lumber and fur trades.
After crossing the meadow, Sari and Alexi stood facing a small grove of silver birch, beyond which were gently rolling hills followed with a huge oak forest as far as the eye could see. Many of the trees were huge and ancient.
“Well, we’ve finally reached the old woods!” Alexi said. “This is the entrance to what was long ago part of the Bialowieza Forest, Sari! You’ve never come this far on our walks before. We will only go in a short distance though and come back out. You are only seven, and Esther will yell if I bring you home exhausted!”
Being so far from town gave Sari the courage to ask her father several questions that she was too shy to ask before.
“Why do you hardly ever go to Church on Sunday father?”
“This is my church, Sari.” Her father said. “The building people go to on Sundays is made by men. Here is where I feel the presence of the Lord. The tall oaks are the great arches of his cathedral! His blue sky is its ceiling that he paints with clouds. The creatures great and small, including us, are his parishioners.”
There was a pause. “How did you and Moma get together Tato? You are so different.”
“I was up on a ladder in the Temple repairing a beam damaged in 1906 Pogrom when I heard a voice asking if I was all right. I looked back and a gal with bright eyes and genuine smile was steadying the ladder. She offered me a glass of ice water then said, “With the amount of lifting you’ve been doing today perhaps a glass of wine to relax your muscles?”
At this time Esther’s father came in to see the progress of the renovation project. While Alexi removed the scorched and rotting beam, Alexander Gabistyn and his daughter retreated to the Temple office to count the money donated to the Pioneers to Palestine emigration fund. While Alex counted, Esther recorded the various contributions in the ledger for this, one of many, projects overseen by her father with the approval of the rabbi. As they worked Esther persuaded her father to invite Alexi home with them for dinner.
The Gabistyns and their dinner guest really hit it off. After dinner there was tea and more conversation and after learning that Alexi was an avid chess player Esther’s brother Uri challenged Alexi to a game.
“We dated each other for six months and decided to marry.” Alexi told Sari.
“Did you marry in the church?”
“Both!” said Alexi.
“We married Saturday in the Temple and I smashed a wine glass on the floor with my foot. The next day, Sunday, we repeated our vows in the Christian church. Our marriage was generally well received with only a few older parishioners objecting.”
Sari thanked her father and they journeyed into the great Oak Forest. As they walked along the side of one of the endless, tree-studded knolls, they heard a familiar noise.
“It’s the ravens father!” exclaimed Sari.
“Yes, I think they’ve found something,” said Alexi.
They rounded the bend and looked down on a small clearing in the forest. Before them was a scene of an intense life and death drama. As the ravens screamed incessantly from the oak branches, a pack of wolves were circling and attempting to corner the deer family they had seen by the river. The doe and her children cowered behind the large stag as the wolf pack looked for an opening. Suddenly, the head wolf lunged and jumped at the stag. Before the wolf could bite it was gored, lifted, and thrown towards the back of the pack. Without hesitation the stag motioned for the family to flee through the deep forest. The wolves then rushed the stag en masse. The stag fought fiercely but was outnumbered. Two member of the pack circled the stag from behind and in unison, jaws open, ripped at the hind flesh of the stag. The stag vainly limped toward safety before being downed. The wolves and then the ravens had their fill.
“I know this was difficult for you to see Sari, but it is important to know how the world works.”
“It was sad Father, but at least its family got to escape.”
“It’s time to head home but I have one more thing to show you but please make it our secret and don’t tell anyone,” said her father.
Sari agreed and they headed west for a short distance along the edge of the Oak Forest. They came upon a shallow creek that went into the forest and then followed it into the woods. It was grassy along the creek bed and when the creek turned to the left Alexi put his finger to his mouth and whispered,
“Let’s quietly go up the side of the stream on the right.”
After walking through the bushes they looked down and there they were. Drinking from the creek and grazing on the tall grass were six adult European bison and their young.
“There aren’t a lot of them left,” Alexi said. He explained that during World War One both the Germans and Russians camped on the edge of the forest and hunted them to feed their armies. He asked Sari not to tell anyone because the bison were an important part of the forest and needed protection from hunters if they were to regrow their numbers.
“We’re hours from home and need to start back Sari.”
Sari remembered that her mother was making one of her favorite desserts. “Tato, are there any walnuts in the forest? It would be great to have walnuts mixed into the babka!”
Alexi took a little detour on the way back to the river so that Sari could gather walnuts for the babka. When they finally entered the city almost two hours later, Alexi was thinking of food. The long walk had made him very hungry and his wife had promised him his favorite meal. He loved thinly sliced potatoes, fried with onions and peppers, meatballs brown and well down and Esther’s great matzo balls on the side.
Alexi owned a modest but well built two story home near the center of town. His family had helped him build it and being from a family of foresters and carpenters the labor and materials presented no problem.
After walking half way down the main street they finally came to Warsaw Street and turned left. Home was directly down the short street, the street ending at their home which also housed Alexi’s clothing and furniture shop in the front. Much of the clothing was made by fur trapped by Alexi and sewn by Esther. The furniture was solid and sturdy and made by Alexi.
Sari and her dad entered a side door near the rear of the house. They hung up their coats and hats in a closet in the foyer which connected to a hallway giving access to the kitchen and dining rooms.
The smell of onions and meatballs filled the air as they entered the kitchen. Nana was just taking a tray of candied ginger gelt out of the oven. A large pan of matzo balls was simmering on the stove. Esther rose to her feet and kissed Alexi. She kissed Sari and asked if they enjoyed their walk.
Sari said it was the best walk ever. She mentioned the deer and being startled by the boar. She kept the bison a secret. Sari noticed a large bowl of dough and remembered to give the walnuts in her backpack for the babka to her mom.
As the women finished preparing dinner Alexi went down to the basement to his wine cellar. Besides the vintage bottles he purchased from the wine merchant he also made his own wine from grapes he grew in the garden behind the house. It was a special dinner and he took a bottle of Armenian brandy from the top shelf, walked upstairs and sat down with the family to dine. After dinner he kissed Esther and thanked her for making such a wonderful meal.
Tired from the hike, dinner and brandy Alexi went to his small den at the end of the hall to nap in his comfortable chair. Sari’s uncle Uri had taught her to play chess so she asked Nana to try a practice game. Esther took the plates from the dinner table and was busy cleaning them and pots and pans. The High Holidays were over and it would not be long before the snow came along with the last of the year’s holidays: Hanukkah and Christmas. With the cold weather coming the shop in the front of the house would soon see customers for warm hats and coats. The family went to their bedrooms for a rest.
The year 1929 was coming to a close and soon a new decade would start. Life in the new Poland was relatively good for the Waldovich family. Hanukkah came and Esther’s family, the Gabistyns, joined them. She prepared her usual, a superb dinner featuring apple-studded fritters and vanilla scented apples in golden doughnuts for dessert.
The girls and their cousins amused themselves by playing dreidels. For Christmas Alexi put up a tree which he decorated with his hand carved ornaments. This was a tradition brought by German farmers to the area, the Germans invited by the Czar for their knowledge in agriculture. The holiday provided Alexi with additional income, he sold cut trees to the neighbors as well. Esther’s family and friends enjoyed the Christmas traditions as well. Christmas day was snowing and windy but not one seemed to mind.
Soon it was New Year’s Eve. Many of the townspeople would go to taverns and celebrate with vodka and song. Alexi avoided these parties, preferring to spend the evening at home with his family to quietly reflect on the previous and coming year.
When he wasn’t going on hikes with Nana and Sari he would spend Sundays reading the newspaper. Some of the stories from Germany caused him concern. Political extremists were gaining support and they were gaining seats in the legislature with the support of the population.
Later in the summer Esther and the women came home from services with important news. Rabbi Mordecai Tylim announced that there would be an important talk on Wednesday at the Temple. The speaker, Rabbi Philip Bernstein of Rochester, New York, had visited Germany and was on his way back there after a trip to Romania which greatly disturbed. Alexi was aware of Rochester because Rabbi Tylim graciously loaned him a Kodak camera made there, a camera the rabbi had acquired in Italy. This afforded Alexi the opportunity to take photographs of his family. Rabbi Bernstein reported that the Romanian government was doing nothing to stop violence against Jews in their country.
This was very disturbing but Alexi thought the Germans too intelligent to allow that in their country. He felt his family was safe in Poland.
After the American rabbi’s warning, interest in Pioneer training groups, Zionism and emigration to what they were now calling Israel intensified. Esther’s brother Uri, several cousins and some friends joined a Pioneer group and began saving money for a possible trip to Eretz in Israel-British Palestine.
Some slightly less idealistic but ambitious and adventurous families and individuals were considering the long and arduous journey to the new country of America. Esther’s best friend Fanny Suchowlanski told her she had recently received a letter from America from her nephew Meier. He said he loved New York City where his family lived and coincidentally his birthday was the same day as the country’s founding holiday. He said he and his Italian partner were making good money in retail and importing. He said America was a lot of hard work but well worth it for someone who wanted to leave Europe’s problems behind.
Sari and Nana were evolving into mature young women and the time for their transition into responsible, self-sufficient members of the community had arrived. On New Years Day 1934 their father had a talk with them about these changes.
“As you both should know your birthdays are just about two months away. In your mother’s membership is traced through the mother. When a Jewish girl is twelve years old she has a ritual celebration of the start of her transition into a woman a responsible member of the community.”
He continued, “Your birthdays, February 25th, this year is on a Sunday. According to tradition this coming of age party will be on the following Saturday, March 3, starting at sunset that Friday when three stars are seen in the sky. Also, in the fall after Yom Kippur after the Rosh Hashanah New Year, you are solely responsible for your behavior and any transgressions. I want you to know that these are just technicalities as I am totally happy with you and your behavior.” He finished, “Your mother will discuss this further. I love you both!”
Esther made plans for her daughters Bat Mitzvah. Her relatives assisted in making the elaborate dresses and heirloom jewelry was donated. Most of the Jewish community of Grodno was in attendance and the feast was sumptuous. It was the social event in Grodno of 1934. Many Christians were invited and attended.
Unfortunately this happy event was tempered by very ominous political developments on the international stage. Using democracy to get his foot in the door, Hitler used violence to slam the door shut and seize absolute power in Germany the year before. By coincidence, Hitler’s designated successor and director of the economy and air force enjoyed coming to the area around Grodno to hunt in the Bialowieza Forest.
Because of the Waldovich family’s reputation as stewards and experts of the forest, the regional Polish governor personally chose Alexi to be Goering’s guide during his vacation. Alexi went to the ranger station and waited for the arrival of Goering. Soon a large Mercedes pulled up and the corpulent, flamboyant hunter emerged and came over to Alexi and firmly shook his hand. Alexi had brought gifts for the Reich marshal. A skilled woodcarver, Alexi gave his guest his exquisite carvings of elk, bears and wolves.
Not to be outdone Goering gave his scout a huge, elaborately carved wander Vogel walking cane.
Soon they were trekking in the Nature Preserve and Goering bagged a number of elks and several large stags. He was a friendly, pleasant person and he and Alexi enjoyed each other’s company. When he went home after the hunt Alexi told Esther and the twins that the experience gave him hope that relations with Germany might not be as bad as they were portrayed in the newspapers.
Sadly, relations in Grodno were soon to take a turn for the worse.
It was 1935 and the twins turned 13 in February. That summer in town a teen dance was scheduled at the Grodno Hall. Alexi thought the girls were far too young to go unchaperoned so he asked his cousin Jurie to accompany them. Things went well at first with an ensemble playing a combination of Strauss waltzes, polkas and even some American-style dance tunes.
Then a Jewish boy asked a Christian girl to dance.
Her brother had disagreements with him before and grabbing his arm said, “Stay away from my sister Judenscheisse!”
The Jewish boy pulled a knife and stabbed him repeatedly in the gut. Fights broke out and the injured teen was taken to the hospital. Jurie grabbed Sari and Nana and rushed them back to Warsaw Street.
The doctors at the hospital tried desperately to save the boy’s life but he died the next day. At the funeral tensions were high and some of the male mourners began chugging and passing vodka between themselves. Soon, some were chanting anti-Jewish statements. The boy’s father shouted, “Those bastards murdered my son!” Others started chanting, “Teach them a lesson! Teach them a lesson!”
There were several days of riots, looting and brawls. Not being Jewish, Alexi and his family and shop were unharmed. However it deeply pained the family to witness the episode.
“Why do people hate Jews so much?” Nana asked her father.
“Sometimes people just don’t like people who are different from themselves Nana.”
The next four years were tense in Grodno with periodic incidents. Sometimes the twins’ Jewish classmates would call them the Viking Girls because they had blue eyes. They also endured anti-Semitic slurs from the Christian children. Alexi regularly escorted the girls and Esther around town to insure their safety. In September 1939 the bottom dropped out completely.
Without warning and in total violation of signed peace treaties the maniac Hitler attacked the Waldovich’s beloved country. It took him only a month to take the capital of Warsaw. As a final insult, the Russians then attacked from the east and captured Grodno.
The Russians didn’t treat them too harshly but new rules were enforced. Socialist Political Education meetings became mandatory. The good thing was that the Communists kept the Christians at bay and their harassment toward the Jews was stifled. Both Nana and Sari met boys at the Communist Youth dances and Alexis’ fur hats, boots and gloves were popular with the Soviet soldiers. Even Esther did well selling gelt, rugelach, sufganiyot and pierogis at a kiosk she was allowed to open in town.
This respite from strife also proved transitory. In June 1941 Hitler broke another treaty and attacked Russia without warning. Nazi armies were now rushing towards the city. Soon the sound of artillery could be heard in the distance. The Soviet garrison panicked and retreated to the East.
Next Grodno was being bombed by Stukas, Heinkel and Dornier bombers. Alexi took provisions to the basement, boarded up the doors and windows and took the family to shelter. Because they were on a side street the house missed most of the bombing and shelling. Fortunately the house did not catch fire. It was three in the morning and impossible to sleep with the noise of exploding bombs. Alexi had warned his children of alcohol and rarely went to to town to drink. But he put his arms around us then and said sometimes you have to make exceptions.
Alexi grabbed a bottle of his favorite brandy from the top shelf and opened one for himself and one for us. He got glasses and we all drank. We filled each other’s glasses again to the sound of exploding bombs and the vibrations of the house. Sari drank her brandy and was soon feeling sleepy and warm. Soon they all drifted off to sleep in the basement with a warm wool blanket over them.
They woke in the morning feeling hung over. The bombing had stopped but there were strange sounds outside the house. German soldiers were removing the boards Alexi had nailed across the door. Alexi took a crowbar and knocked the boards away and opened the door.
The soldiers pointed their machine guns at him and ordered him out of the house. “We checked the records at the Temple and talked to the neighbors and we know your wife is Jewish as are your two daughters.”
The commandant had everyone issued new identification cards with those of Esther, Sari and Nana clearly stamped ‘Jude’. Alex’s card indicated his trades. The first thing the Nazis did was to order the citizenry into the town square for a demonstration. They paraded at gunpoint any residents, Jews and non-Jews, who had assisted the Communists or participated in Marxist education programs and lined them up.
They then shot them all and piled them into horse drawn carts and hauled them to the outskirts of town for burial in a mass grave.
For a year from November 1941 to November 1942 the situation in the city was fairly stable. Alexi’s family had to wear white armbands with a blue Star of David on their arms and large yellow Jude patches on the front and back of their clothes. They were not allowed on the sidewalks. The Germans instituted a Forced Labor program for everyone.
A clothing factory was converted for the manufacture of artillery shells and ammunition for machine guns and pistols. Alexi made barrels and large wooden carts for the cavalry. Things changed at the end of 1942 and the beginning of 1943. People, mostly Jews, started being deported by train to what were described as emergency war production factories. Eventually, virtually all of Grodno’s Jews were put on trains for an ’employment suitability interview’ at a place called Kielbasin.
Finally they came to Alexi’s house to escort Esther and her daughters to the train station. These soldiers were different. Serious and mean looking, they were members of the SS. They abruptly grabbed Esther’s arm and said, “You’re coming with us.”
Alexi then held her other arm and said, “You can’t take my family, I’m not Jewish!”
The SS officer said, “We can do anything! Including shooting them all now!”
Alexi lost it and tried to grab the officer’s lapel. After he got shoved backwards Alexi said, “I know Reichmarshal Goering!”
The officer shouted, “I don’t care if you’re the Fuhrer’s cousin! These Judenscheisse are leaving now!” The other SS men then attacked Alexi and beat him severely.
Alexi struggled to his feet, blood running down his face. The commandant said sarcastically, “Go home and have some vodka, Jew-lover. Your women will be just fine with us.”
The soldier marched Alexi’s family down to Main Street where they joined other detainees headed for the train station. The prisoners were put into empty freight and cattle cars for the forty minute ride to Kielbasin.
Whey they disembarked the train they were marched into a barbed wire enclosed parade ground next to some dilapidated buildings. Any younger, able bodied men were separated from the women and children, the infirmed and the elderly. These prisoners were destined for work in a rocket factory which also manufactured jet engines for aircraft.
All the prisoners were photographed and had their identities recorded. After a day at Kielbasin Esther and the girls were herded into a cattle car for another train ride. This train was bound for the extermination camp at Auschwitz.
The car was packed with people and smelled of urine and feces. The Waldovich’s arrived at Auschwitz and were taken to the barracks and ordered to sit at a table. Everyone was given postcards to send home and told to say how nice the ‘factory’ was and how well they were fed and treated.
All the inmates were then sent out to the parade ground and ordered to line up for inspection. Sari could feel the tension in the air as an important visitor was expected. Was Hitler coming? wondered Nana. Soon the official arrived wearing a long leather trench coat and horn rimmed glasses. He slowly went down the line inspecting. When he came to Sari and Nana he raised his eyebrows and said to the camp commandant, “These two with the blue eyes are coming with me to see Dr. Mengele.”
“Certainly!” said the commandant.
On the way to the doctor Heinrich confirmed what he already knew – the girls were twins with a non-Jewish father and a German great grandfather on their mother’s side. Under German Racial Laws this almost made them eligible for Aryanization. The trio entered Dr. Mengele’s office and when the doctor saw his high ranking guest he saluted, clicked his heels, bowed and said, “Hail Hitler, Herr Himmler!” When asked if he needed the twins for his experiments the doctor said that his experiments could be dangerous and these girls weren’t Jewish enough. He told the SS commander that he knew of two doctors at Dachau who could use them in their experiments.
Himmler personally flew the girls in his special Junkers 290 transport plane.
After landing near the camp they were chauffeured to the camp in a Porsche. After completing his business with the commandant, Himmler escorted the twins to the doctors. First he took Nana to see Dr. Sigmund Rasher who was working on improving safety for Luftwaffe pilots. He took Sari to see Dr. Kurt Plotner who was working on advanced interrogation techniques for spies and captured prisoners.
Because they were labeled as special laboratory assistants they would be allowed to wear nurses outfits while in the laboratories and civilian clothes when off duty. Because they were not German citizens or Aryans but ‘Guest Workers’ they had to be locked in at night.
Dr. Plotner had a modest house near the camp’s perimeter and the twins stayed in a guest house above a garage where they were locked in until work the next day.
Sari had the far better assignment although she was to be the actual subject of the experiments. Plotner was somehow more ‘normal’ than Dr. Rasher, who was strange with an oddly curled mustache and unsettling demeanor. His experiments were dangerous and often ended in the death of his subjects.
Sari’s first assignment involved a memorization and hypnotism experiment. Plotner took Sari to the parking lot of the administration building and had her look at all the cars of the camp administrators and civilian employees. He pointed out different makes and had her study the plate numbers and colors. They then walked along the perimeter woods before going back to the office. He then had her sit down and slowly put her into an hypnotic trance. Once in the trance Plotner was amazed that Sari could go back in time and remember every make, plate number and color of car in the parking lot. After the experiment Sari was allowed to go back to her apartment for dinner and rest. When she arrived Nana was sobbing hysterically.
“It was horrible Sari. Dr. Rasher is a monster! They made two Russian prisoners sit in a pool of freezing water for hours and killed them. When the doctor left the room they begged me and the other assistant, Walter Neff, to kill them. We tried to put them to sleep with chloroform but Dr. Rasher caught us and put a Luger to my head and said he’d kill me if he ever caught me doing that again.
The sisters embraced. Nana had to endure these horrors for almost a year, recording the temperatures of the ice water, the oxygen levels when men finally died in pressure chambers mimicking high intensity air flight. It finally ended when Dr. Rascher was arrested for kidnapping children he tried to claim were born to his wife.
Nana’s next experiments involved testing drugs extracted from the world’s most psychoactive plant. The subject, the Peyote Cactus, contains 50 alkaloids of which 12 have drug effects. The first drug she tried was Peyocatin which had very little effect when Dr. Plotner had her ingest it. When he injected it Sari was pacing around the lab and opening all the drawers.
Next he gave her Pellotine orally in a 25 mg dose. It had a sedative effect. When he injected 50 mg however she started to pass out and Plotner had to help her to a couch where she slept for five hours.
The last drug was called Mescaline and it had the most dramatic effect. At first she took a quarter of a gram and she felt a little giddy and warm. The next day Plotner said that this would be the last experiment Sari would have to do as he would have to leave because the war was over.
Sari took a gram and a half of the drug and this time the effects were incredible. She looked at a vase of flowers on his desk and while she was looking the flowers seemed to melt onto the desk and then magically reform. Sari looked at the white walls of the office and they were covered with incredibly beautiful floral patterns that were undulating and morphing shape and color. Explaining they had to leave Plotner took Sari to the camp entrance and the metal gate was twisting and moving. As she looked at the letters Arbeit Macht Frei they were twisting and turning. They began flashing different colors and then in front of her eyes they melted and fell to the ground. The doors swung open revealing a beautiful landscape of flowers and fountains. She had escaped Dachau!
Professor G.A. Cribari is a science fiction writer, cosmologist, sommelier and independent historian. He lives in downtown Rochester.