Q: At what point in your life did you fully realize that you had been spending time with one of the greatest men of the 20th century?
A: Young people usually don’t grasp things like that till they get older. I was only twenty-two when I was injured during an assault of a fortress at the French-Italian border in 1945. I had a lot of time to reflect—over a year in the hospital. It was during the long period of recovery and rehabilitation that I began to appreciate what a privilege it had been to know, work for and interact with Winston Churchill. Without him, I don’t want to imagine what would have happened to the world.
Q: After the war ended, how did your life change? Were you relieved or did you miss the excitement?
A: I concentrated on first recovering from my injury, then on building a future—on seizing opportunities should they present themselves. In 1946, I was released from the hospital on crutches. I went to visit friends from childhood, Albert and Marie Melchior. Albert offered me the opportunity to become his partner in opening a Buick dealership in the south of France, but I would need to go to the United States to take the requisite course in Detroit. I didn’t finish the course for reasons I won’t explain now, but the trip introduced me to the U.S. This is where I decided to build my new life. Was I relieved or did I miss the excitement? I just wanted to forget about the past. The memories were too painful. I focused on my future.
Q: Growing up in Monaco, did you ever have any interaction with the royal family?
A: My tutor arranged with the tennis instructor at the Palm Beach Club for me to play with an eight-year old girl, two years my senior. Her name was Antoinette. She was the daughter of Prince Pierre of Monaco. Her brother, Prince Rainier was six months younger than I and belonged to the same swimming club. I was not allowed to address either of them because of their royal status. That was the appropriate etiquette my tutor taught me. If either of them said something to me, I was supposed to respond as briefly as possible. Prince Rainier talked to me only one time when we were swimming near the rocks of Palm Beach. We had a short conversation, but I don’t remember what we talked about.
Q: Could you describe your house in Monte Carlo?
A: It was a large 3-story villa. The main entrance was on the first floor which opened to a foyer, living room, library, formal dining room, and kitchen. On the second floor were five bedrooms each with its own bathroom. There was also a massage room and a Turkish steam bath. That’s what I was told but was not allowed to go to the second floor. My room was on the floor beneath the first floor called the rez-de-chaussée, the ground floor. A separate dining room, the laundry room, and a workshop were also located on this floor. My tutor moved in down the hall when I was three.
There was a large garage on the property that housed two limousines and two other cars. Above the garage were rooms for the servants. Next to it was a room that housed the heating system for the estate.
My parents often had guests at the villa, usually entertainers from my father’s clubs. I particularly remember the singer, Yolanda, the famous Josephine Baker, and a local resident and friend of theirs, Princess Rospigliosi.
Q: Favorite things you like to do—or used to like to do.
A: My tutor was a retired Austrian cavalry colonel. He taught me horseback riding. Almost every morning after I put my riding clothes on, we went riding in Mont Agel next to the golf club, high above Monte Carlo. When we returned to the house, I would change clothes and would often have a fencing lesson. Afternoons, my colonel taught me to shoot a rifle at 12 meters, 50 meters, and 100 meters in three positions. Sometimes he took me clay pigeon shooting.
Every year, my colonel and I went to Limone, Italy to ski for three months. We stayed in a village near the Tende pass and skied with the Italian Alpine Ski Troop from the time I was four years old, owing to his friendship with the troop’s commander. Skiing soon became my greatest passion of all.
Q: You became an executive chef in the United States. Will you tell me the difference between a cook, chef and executive chef?
A: Cooks do the cooking. The chef and sous-chefs are in charge of the cooks. The executive chef is in charge of the cooks, sous-chefs and chefs. As executive chef, I created the menus, did the purchasing and was ultimately responsible for everything that was produced in the kitchens. In hotels the size I worked in, there is usually a separate purchasing department, but in this case it was my responsibility.
Q: Favorite things you like to cook—or used to like to cook.
A: I like to create fish, seafood and shellfish dishes. As for meat, I prefer lamb, mutton, veal, stews and casseroles. I like to make a good ratatouille, preparing each vegetable separately in its own spices. I always keep my own chicken stock going. Even to prepare pasta, I don’t use water. I use my own stock.
Q: Favorite places in the world. What is it that you like about them?
A: I adore the mountains: the Italian Alps in the Piemont region, the French and Swiss Alps, the Jura, and the Tyrol. I love mountain lakes. More recently, I’ve enjoyed Lake Tahoe and the Sierra Nevada mountains. What I love is the calm I feel and the beauty of snow-covered mountain tops peaking through white clouds.
Q: Whom do you admire? Whom do you appreciate?
A: I admire my tutor. He gave me an excellent education and developed my character. In four years, he taught me to speak Italian and German and to write German, Italian and French. He taught me how to write in Gothic, which served as a sort of stenography for note-taking at the university.
I admire the Jesuits for the education they provided me. I admire them for their kindness and concern, helping me financially to enter the university at Aix-en-Provence and checking on me to make sure I was doing well. They knew that my father had completely cut me off financially, so they helped me find a job at a restaurant to pay for my studies and lodging.
Most of all, I admire Mr. Churchill for his devotion and tenacity to fight the Nazis alone when no one else was willing to join the effort.
I appreciate the Americans, especially President Roosevelt, for coming to our rescue in Europe.
I appreciate my wife’s devotion and admire her perseverance in translating my recollections and writing this book.
Q: Is there something you would like to say to young people?
A: I want to tell them to not forget what happened, to always be on guard and be watchful for threats to the liberty and freedom of all human beings. Please don’t let the losses and sacrifices of World War II be in vain. It was for them and for future generations that we fought.
Q: Max, if you could go back in time and meet your younger self, what would you say or wish to convey?
A: This is what comes to me:
- Treasure the exceptional education you’ve received from your tutor and the Jesuits.
- The discipline and motivation you have learned will allow you to accomplish anything you want in life.
- Your persistence and creative thinking will help you overcome every obstacle you face.
- Believe in yourself. Be proud of who you are.
- Never doubt you will be victorious.
- Always be honest with yourself.
- Try to make others’ lives better. Don’t be selfish. You’ll be well-compensated by how you feel about yourself.
- Give all of yourself whenever you do something.
- Deep within yourself, make a decision to conquer what is evil and the enemy will be eliminated.
- Don’t marry somebody you don’t love. Look for the love of your life, someone who you are proud to be with. Never settle.
Q: What was the most dangerous mission you went on?
A: The mission that took me from France to Vienna, Austria. In the book, see Chapter 15: Riding the Rails and Chapter 16: The Barber of Vienna.
Q: What did you miss the most when you were not on missions?
A: The thrill of not knowing what I would encounter at the next junction, the enigma of the next turn in the road. The challenge of the next obstacle I would need to overcome. It was the mystery of the unknown I missed.
Q: Do you remember Churchill saying anything particularly funny?
A: He enjoyed joking around in French. He liked to play on words. He had a lot on his plate. I think speaking French relaxed him, put him in another world, another frame of mind.
Q: What was the hardest thing you ever had to do?
A: The south of France had just been liberated by the Americans. A friend of mine was the owner and only employee of his own motorcycle repair shop. An organized group of men approached him and told him that he had to hire one of them as his assistant because they needed jobs. He couldn’t afford to pay an employee, and he told them. They insisted, but he refused. The next day he found his baby crucified to the garage with a bayonet through his body.
When my commander was told of the incident, he sent for me. There was no government yet in place—no judges, no courts, no police. The south had been under Nazi rule for two years. So, applying martial law, he ordered that I execute all eleven men who had murdered this child.
This was the most difficult duty I had to perform as an officer. I still have nightmares about it 66 years later.
Q: Who was the most impressive person you ever met?
A: There are three people, actually: Winston Churchill, General George Patton and Pope Pius XII.
Q: How did you first meet Winston Churchill?
A: When I was three years old, my father hired a live-in tutor for me, a retired colonel of the Austrian cavalry. I lived on a separate floor of my parents’ villa in Monte Carlo, and they moved my colonel in down the hall from me. He took me to so many places, one of which was to my godfather’s home in Cap d’Antibes on the French Riviera. During walks around the neighborhood, my playmates and I would sometimes see an English gentleman sitting before his easel, painting. When he would see us, he would stop what he was doing to talk and would always ask his assistant to bring out cookies. The painter was Winston Churchill. I thought he owned the house but found out much later that it was common for him to stay at friends’ homes when visiting the south of France. He didn’t own a house in France during those years, 1926-1929.
Q: Why do you think the French were defeated so quickly?
A: Historians could answer that question better than I can, but I’ll tell you what I know. My company never even got to confront the enemy. That really made me angry at the time. It didn’t seem possible we could have lost the war when our mettle had not even been tested. From what I heard, a common problem was that the ammunition our troops had was in short supply and often didn’t fit the particular guns that were issued to the soldiers. The problem was widespread: guns with no ammo, ammo but no corresponding guns. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but I heard that our factories were infiltrated by the Fifth Column, German spies, and that errors in production of ammunition were made on purpose. Of course, that could be just an excuse or a fabrication.
It is generally believed that the Germans were better equipped and better organized. That is probably true. I only know from personal experience that my men were well-prepared and totally determined to win but didn’t have the chance to fight.
Q: You often refer to Churchill’s country home. Was that Chartwell?
A: I truly can’t say. I generally didn’t use the main entrance of the houses and never asked nor was ever told the names of the estates. I stayed mostly at one estate but was brought to another a few times. I didn’t ask about the properties or anything else for that matter. That would not have been appropriate. I just did what I was ordered to do and stayed where I was told to stay. I was never introduced to anyone except Mr. Churchill, his secretary, the gardener, the cooks, and Mr. Churchill’s valet or bodyguard. One time I was invited for Christmas (Chapter 21: Christmas with Churchill) but was not introduced to anyone and didn’t speak English anyway.
Q: Were you given a suicide pill to use in case you were captured?
A: Yes. Not long after I arrived in England, I was sent to the British Special Forces training camp. There, I went to a dentist who, through a long process drilled out the interior of one of my upper right molars, cut the nerve and made a cap. I then went into “tongue” training during which I learned to eat without knocking the cap off. There were several adjustments until I could remove the cap at will but not knock it off by accident.
Q: Were you ever wounded? If so, how severe were your wounds and how did they happen?
A: In the spring of 1945, we were attacking a fortress held by Germans, and I was shot in the knee. Gangrene set in, and I stayed in the hospital for over a year.
Q: What cover story did you use with regard to family, friends, and acquaintances? In other words, while leading a double life, who did most people believe you to be, or do for a living?
A: For the most part, I had no contact with people from my former life unless they were helping me in one way or the other with lodging, transportation, or identification papers. I was estranged from my father and didn’t see him until after the war. When I stayed with Mr. Churchill, no one broached the subject as to why I was there. Questions like that were not asked. I didn’t speak English anyway and did not speak of what I did except to Mr. Churchill and his secretary.
Q: Did you ever meet any other spies, working for either side?
A: I might have. I always kept my distance from others. I didn’t ask questions. Most people didn’t.
Q: How many different disguises did you use, if any?
A: When I was parachuted, I was already wearing my disguise, sometimes a 3-piece suit, sometimes the clothes of a gypsy. Every mission had its own disguise.
Q: When violence was required, was it always a matter of self-defense, or did you ever need to act first, where you were not directly threatened?
A: When it was necessary to kill, I did, taking the responsibility to act first.
Q: How big a problem were Nazi collaborators and sympathizers, both French and others?
A: It was an enormous problem. Often, you didn’t know which side people were on. I could not understand the mentality of a French citizen who collaborated with the Germans. I had no sympathy for collaborators.
Q: When did you first learn of the death camps, and were you and others aware of the full extent of the genocide involved?
A: I was sent on a mission to save Jewish children from being sent to Poland. That’s when I first knew of death camps, but not to the full extent until after the war. (See Chapter 17: Saving Thousands of Jewish Children.)
Q: Where were you with Patton and Operation Torch in Morocco? Did you land at Port Lyautey, Fedala or Safi during the 1st 3 days of fighting? Or did you first approach the French at Casablanca, where most of their 50,000 man army was?
A: I was taken to meet him on his ship at sea and continued on to Morocco. I served as liaison between the French and the Americans. Patton decided it was wiser to land at Fedala rather than the populated Casablanca.
Q: What kept you motivated to keep going back into such dangers that most of us can’t even imagine even after you were captured and tortured by the Gestapo?
A: I was young. I never thought about the danger. I lived for my single purpose: to get the Nazis out of Europe.
Q: I’ve heard recordings of Churchill speaking French. How well did he speak the language in conversation?
A: He had a strong English accent, but I understood everything he said.
Q: How did you adjust to life in the “civilized” world after the war?
A: That, you will find in the next book!