CHAPTER TWO  BUMBY'S BELT

 

 

The belt and buckle was a gift from his son Jack.   According to Jack Hemingway's autobiography, MISADVENTURES OF A FLY FISHERMAN (pub 1986, Chapters 14-15 p.165-199) liberated prisoners at the POW Hospital in Ludwigsburg choked Hauptman Haas to death. They used a belt with a 'Gott Mit Uns' buckle. They sent the belt and buckle to Jack who was then in Washington. Jack recounts in his autobiography that he gave the belt and Gott Mit Uns buckle to Ernest when he visited Cuba after the war.  

'It (the belt and buckle) had the 'Gott Mit Uns' buckle and was of beautiful leather, and of large size, so I later gave it to Papa.'                              - Jack Hemingway-  

 

Jack Hemingway wrote a second autobiography. A LIFE WORTH LIVING was published shortly after his death in December 2001. The first section relies heavily on excerpts from MISADVENTURES OF A FLY FISHERMAN.  The story of the Gott Mit Uns belt has  been deleted, and there is no mention of Hauptman Haas.  Correspondence with the publisher led me to the conclusion that Jack Hemingway made the decision to delete the segment.

With the able assistance of Frau Ingeborg Grafmüller, my interpreter, researcher, and friend, we began the search for Hauptman Haas.  Not an easy task.  Haas is a common name in Germany and a lot of them were captains in the military during World War Two.  We had no first name, no date of birth.   The German archives are a big bureaucracy with records stored in repositories all over the country.  Many records were destroyed by allied bombing.  Some records were destroyed by the Nazis' themselves as it became apparent Germany was going to lose the war.   


After researching numerous false leads, we  found the war records of the Haas we had been seeking. His forename was Karl.  Hauptman Karl Haas was Commander of the Ludwigsburg Prison Hospital from September 1943 until the war ended in April 1945. He was then imprisoned by American forces until his release in December 1945. German records show that Haas died at the age of 86 in 1979 in Stuttgart which is, of course, a
contradiction of Jack’s statement that the belt was used to strangle Haas to death in 1945.  Furthermore, Haas' son Dieter was alive and willing to talk with us about his father.  

 

  We met with him at his home in the little village of Bodneg.  Herr Haas was surprised that his father had been vilified  by the son of the famous author Hemingway , and even more so by the report of his death by hanging. Dieter Haas was helpful and responsive to our questions, but could tell us little more.  His father had  arrived home a tired and broken man after his release from prison. According to his son, he never mentioned any belt, attempt on his life, etc,  He simply did not talk about the war.

As we sat at his  dining room table looking at his father's scrapbooks, one photo reminded me of a passage from Jack's biography.

'I heard Haas's loud command to enter, then stepped into the office, coming to attention in front of the captain's desk, and reported, saluting and announcing my name and rank.  There was another captain with infantry insignia sitting in the chair next to the captain's desk. Haas asked me calmly what I wanted and- I explained that I was an Oberlieutenant and that at the payday I had only been paid the pay of a Lieutenant and  I had come to insist that I be paid the difference. His face turned beet red and he exploded in a stream of invective which I did not understand but the meaning of which was quite clear and it ended with the familiar 'raus',  which means get out!  I remained at attention as the enraged officer ran out of breath, I ventured in English to the other captain, "After all, you too, Herr Hauptman will surely insist on your rights when you become a prisoner," to which he chortled while Haas roared on. Finally, the security chief seemed to calm down, the pressure lessened by the stream of invective, and he sighed. . . yes, sighed. . . then sputtered, "Ach, you Americans. Such fools."

~

Jack admits in his autobiography that his recollection of what happened during World War II is somewhat hazy.  He was after all seriously wounded and a prisoner of war.   That said, there are numerous inconsistencies in Jack's version of the Gott Mit Uns story.    Hauptman Karl Haas would not have been wearing a Gott Mit Uns belt.  Such belts were worn by enlisted soldiers.  Haas was a senior army officer.   And of course, Hauptman Karl Haas was not strangled to death.  Either Jack's fellow prisoners embellished the story when they sent Jack the belt, or he embellished it when he recounted the story in his autobiography.

I found some answers when I visited the Finca Vigia in Cuba.    There are in fact two Nazi World War II belts and buckles.  Resting atop a bookshelf in Ernest's bedroom is a German officer's belt with a standard double claw buckle.  I am convinced it is Hauptman Haas' belt.  Next to it is a leather enlisted man's belt.  (The Gott Mit Uns buckle is at the JFK library in Boston. )  Ernest's waistline increased considerably as he grew older, and I think it reasonable to assume he used the Gott Mit Uns buckle with other belts when he could no longer fit the original belt around his waist.

Jack did give Haas' belt to his father.  It just was not the Gott Mit Uns belt.  And Ernest did wear the Haas officer belt and buckle from time to time as is clearly shown in a photograph of Ernest sitting in front of a Henry Streeter painting. 

  In Dieter Haas' scrapbook there is a picture of his father in his officer uniform.  It is in an informal setting, a back yard, and I believe it was taken after Haas returned home upon his release from a POW camp.  The one uniform accessory missing is an officer's belt normally worn outside the tunic.

These pictures tell the story.

 

 

There is yet another rather sinister possibility, albeit extremely unlikely.   In the course of searching German, British and American war records for Hauptman Haas, captain of the POW camp where Jack Hemingway was a prisoner,  I came across bits and pieces of information about other Hauptman Haas's in the German military.  Haas is a rather common German surname. One of them, a Luftwaffe officer named Hauptman Joachim Haas, was a POW at Shap Wells POW camp in Cumbria UK.  He died in an ambulance transporting him for emergency treatment at a British Hospital.  He is buried in an unmarked grave in Cumbria and there is no 'cause of death' indicated on his death certificate.  Could it be that the friends who sent Jack the belt took revenge on the wrong Haas?

Certainly , that is very unlikely.   However, despite the fact that Jack was an army officer in the OSS - which today is known as the CIA, and that he made specific reference to an OSS debriefing in London after his release as a POW,  I have been unable to find any paper trail whatsoever.  Both NARA in the USA and British archives tell me 'no such records exist.'   These massive records repositories also advise there are no records on Karl Haas or Joachim Haas or Jack Hemingway.

It is possible that Jack alone knew the truth and took it with him with him to the grave.

 

 

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