Carl Otto Schütt Story

by Christina Schütt, his granddaughter

Carl Otto Schütt

Carl Otto Schütt

“Suche sie ein”… “Choose one” my grandfather’s father answered to his brother. Otto Schutt had been running the family business in Haiti and felt as he got old he needed to “assurer la relève”. He had no children and his brother had three sons. On a trip to Germany he asked his brother if he would accept to send one of his sons to be trained to eventually take over the family business in the Caribbean island of Haiti. He chose the nephew that was named Otto just like him. The year was 1929 and my grandfather accepted immediately his uncle’s proposal. By the beginning of 1930 he sailed on board the Henry Horn into the Cap-Haitian Bay after 5 weeks at sea.

The first member of the family had settled in Haiti in 1839 and they had been going back and forth between Hamburg and Haiti ever since. Our ancestor Peter Gottlieb Buhrow had survived the terrible 1842 earthquake that destroyed Cap-Haitian completely. My grandfather was the fourth generation to settle in Haiti.

There was a small but influential German community there, and the American government did not see it very positively. Wasn’t Haiti in their backyard after all? They had been trying to undermine that influence since the Germans had began establishing in South America in the second half of the nineteenth century. Already during WWI, my grand-father’s uncle had been arrested by the Americans occupying the island at the time and all his properties and assets nationalized.

My grandfather quickly adapted to life in the tropical island, his uncle quickly wrote to his parents “He seems happy, he sings under the shower”. The country was under an American occupation and he befriended the young American soldiers stationed in Haiti as well as a group of young Haitians interested in sports just like he was. And soon he was organizing sports tournaments with his friends.

In 1937, the Schleswig-Holstein that was a school-ship of the German marine visited the port of Cap-Haitian:

“On February 3rd, 1937, right before my trip to Germany, the Schleswig-Holstein stationed in the bay of Cap-Haitian and stayed around fourteen days. He was accompanied by a smaller boat the «Rudolf Albert » that would put targets on the ocean for target practice. Kaptain Krause invited three Germans from town to spend three days on board during a manoeuvre outside of Haitian waters and I was one of them.”

Time passed and the events shaking the old continent seemed so far away, but more and more negative echoes were reaching the airwaves and newspapers were less and less positive about a peaceful conclusion to the events unfolding in Europe.

“Since the beginning of 1939, I was preparing myself to the eventuality of war. As time passed the situation could not seem to be resolved by diplomacy. On September 1st 1939 the Schleswig-Holstein, the ship that had visited Cap-Haitian a few years before attacked Poland at Danzig and forced the surrender of the polish occupation forces. With the invasion of Poland by the German troops, France and England declared war on Germany. 

My uncle had already been through that scenario and gave me all the tips on how to protect the firm’s assets. I did what I had to and waited stoically for the inevitable. I sold as much stock as I could converting all of our assets into cash and gave it all to our Haitian friends without any contract, or paper tracing any of that money, not to leave any traces or to put them in trouble because of their friendship. I gave Body, my horse to T. Paret my friend and military commander of Grande-Rivière du Nord. The dice were thrown and I knew I could not escape from my destiny.”

Crazy rumors were going on around town and my grandfather started discovering that he had enemies. All accusations were investigated by Mr. Pettigrew, American Consul in the North, who my grandfather had always considered as a mentor. When interrogating a pastor that was accusing him of bringing German submarines in Haiti, Mr. Pettigrew asked the latter to describe the submarine, the pastor said it was red and had been seen in Dondon a mountainous village inside the land. Obviously the Pastor had no clue what a submarine was. (I need to verify that story in the book written by Pettigrew)

As Roosevelt was trying to assure American mothers that their sons would not fight in a foreign war, he had started another kind of war against the Axis Nationals of the Americas. In July of 1941, one thousand eight hundred businesses of South America owned by Germans or Italians were put on a black list. This was a shock across all Latin America, people that were so integrated sometimes or others that seemed so untouchable and immensely powerful were suddenly the enemies and vulnerable. The American Government gave its client government no choice. In Haiti in October of that same year, all business licenses granted to Germans and Italians were simply cancelled.

They were interned at the National Fort and those considered dangerous were sent to internment camps in the US. My grandfather first went to Camp Kenedy in Texas and then was transferred to Fort Lincoln in Bismarck, North Dakota.

Carl Otto Schütt right, in front of guard tower.

Carl Otto Schütt right, in front of guard tower.

He asked after that to be sent back to Germany to find his mother, who was Austrian from Tyrol and his small brother and sister. He was then sent to Ellis Island where he befriended a German Jewish prisoner that was also being sent back to Germany. That man was to become a very influential communist leader in the East.

When he got to Germany, life was hard. He tried to organize survival in the post-war Germany for his family and got lots of help with the Care-packages his friends from Haiti sent him.

He then married his older brother’s widow and adopted their son, my father. (His brother’s story is gripping and sad and reflects the complexity of the times in Germany. Hans had joined the SS at a very early stage because he had to be a member of one of the party’s organizations to work in the ministry of economy after graduating from University. When he found out what the Nazis were about he could not go out of the party. He joined the resistance at the same time and wrote anti-Nazi poetry. He became more and more tortured, depressed, tried to commit suicide and after refusing to follow rules was sent to a “Himmelfahrt Kommando” suicide-commando and did not come back.)

Otto came back to Haiti after years of struggle to get the necessary permit to leave Germany and enter Haiti, the land he loved so much. He brought his new wife and baby boy with him and they had 3 other girls. They had to start over, just like his uncle had done before him after WWI. He was a very courageous and determined man.

Two years ago, when my grand-father felt that he was about to leave us soon, he wrote down his memories and asked me to write his story.

He passed away last year and I’m trying to keep my promise to him.