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november-december 2004

The Bittersweet Journey

Two Brothers' Saga of Privilege, Catastrophe, Nazi Humiliation, Suicide and Redemption

They were just a couple of regular guys — two anonymous brothers with a passionate love of the game who were simply going along as their (carpool today/parent-teacher conference tomorrow) lives unfolded.

Then, in a flash, on July 2, 2001, Rich and Chris Andrews’ lives were changed forever. The two received a letter from an obscure bank — the Hoerner Bank in Germany, to be exact — an institution that claimed it specialized in “the search for missing and unknown heirs.” The letter informed the brothers that they had inherited unclaimed real estate worth over $430,000.

The property is located at Schmidgasse 14, in a more-than-fashionable district of Vienna across from City Hall, and the place’s original title holder, it was discovered, was a Dr. Lothar Furth, a first cousin of the Andrewses maternal grandmother. Long ago, before World War II, the imposing six-story, mocha-colored mansion had been a prominent clinic where none other than Sigmund Freud had studied and an Indian maharajah and the painter Gustav Klimt had been treated. The majestic 40,000-square-foot structure is ornamented with white-frosted arched windows, has 120 rooms and was the birthplace of the Andrews brothers’ mother, Elizabeth.

Because the Furths were members of a prominent Jewish family, Sanitorium Furth was seized by the Nazis after the Germans annexed Austria in 1938. This was at a time of rampant anti-Semitism, when Jews were publicly mocked and humiliated. And Dr. Furth and his wife, Susan, were forced to clean the sidewalk in front of Schmidgasse 14 — with their tongues.

A few weeks after the Nazi occupation, the Furths left a poignant “how-could-this-be” suicide note and poisoned themselves inside Schmidgasse 14. “We have had enough,” Furth confided. “It is my fault, but I am just tired. I kiss everyone who loves me.”

Rich and Chris Andrews  
Rich and Chris Andrews never knew
their mother had lived such a privileged life. Nor did they know she was
Jewish, which explained why as a
teen she fled to the U.S. in '39.

Rich and Chris Andrews had no clue that their mother came from such privilege. Nor did they know that she was Jewish, which explained why, as a teen, she’d fled with her parents to Czechoslovakia and, ultimately, the U.S. in ‘39.

“I found out that Jews assimilated,” Rich explained, “and that my grandmother and mother were baptized Catholic to gain acceptance into high society.” But the laws Hitler drafted in ‘35 proclaimed that anyone with a Jew in their family four generations back was Jewish, period. So the Nazis confiscated properties, insurance policies and bank accounts, and claimed them for the Third Reich.

After the war, everything the Nazis seized officially became Austrian property, and Schmidgasse 14 was rented out as office space to the U.S. Government in ‘58, just as Rich and Chris Andrews were being raised 7,000 miles away in leafy Palo Alto. Their mother, Elizabeth, who divorced when her sons were young, had moved her family from the East Coast to California to provide them with a top-notch education. But Elizabeth, a lab technician at Stanford who loved her sons, was battling her own debilitating demons, and her frequent hospitalizations due to schizophrenia meant that , for her kids, relying on food stamps and hitching rides from friends became the norm. As the turbulent ‘60s swirled, Elizabeth lost her job and thus Rich lost his Stanford tuition-waiver. Although he had just made the Cardinal tennis team, the school was no longer an option. So coach Dick Gould and Foothill College coach Tom Chivington agreed that Rich should enroll as a freshman at Foothill in Los Altos Hills, with the idea that if he won the Junior College State Championships, he’d get a full ride at another school for his remaining two years of college.

But just weeks after Rich had enrolled at Foothill in ‘71, 14-year-old Chris came home to discover that their mother had committed suicide. Police then went to Foothill’s practice courts to convey the devastating news to 18-year-old Rich, who immediately went to the Stanford hospital, where his mother’s body lay. There a priest informed the stricken brothers that it was time for them to grow up.

“I took two or three days off and got mad at the world,” said Rich. “Then I went back out and decided to dedicate the Ojai tournament to my mother. I never looked back.”

Elizabeth, 45, had died destitute. So Chris and Rich initially lived with neighbors and immersed themselves in tennis, which helped them to escape the daunting realities that confronted them. Fortunately, Rich twice won Ojai as well as the Junior College State Singles Championship.

Meanwhile, in ‘73, Chris joined his father in New Canaan, Conn., where he finished high school and played No. 1 for the state championship team. Then he returned west to also go to Foothill, where he won the JC State Doubles Championship with his good pal Larry Stefanki, who went on to become a world-class player and coach.

After Foothill, Rich played on scholarship at the University of Washington, then became a successful tennis director at Mission Hills Country Club and at Stockton’s Marina Yacht & Tennis Club. Still, he yearned to fulfill his dream — to play on the ATP Tour.

“Fortunately,” Rich recalled, “the club owners and members [in Stockton] were really behind me. They threw a party that raised enough money to send me to Australia, where I could pick up my first ATP point.” Despite having a coaching job that allowed him to play only a few months a year, he was still able to maintain a world ranking in singles and doubles for five years, which enabled him to enter the Wimbledon and U.S. Open qualifying draws.

Eighteen years ago, thanks to his celebrated reputation, Sacramento’s Spare Time Inc. hired Rich, and since then his academy’s players have won 15 national titles.

Originally viewed as a “poster boy” and “returning prince,” Chris became skeptical, noting that
“the Austrians need to document everything, and in an environment that is emotionally and
politically charged...we’re fighting the system, the culture, the process.”

Meanwhile, Chris got a tennis scholarship to the University of Utah and then managed a club in Aptos. But at 25 he realized he was more of a tech guy than a tennis junkie. A digital publishing pioneer, he helped found start-up companies, was an inventor and created digital productions for the Grammys.

In ‘91, 20 years after Elizabeth’s death, Rich and Chris had (to a degree) come to grips with their feelings about the mother they lost and the problematic childhood they endured by finally placing a headstone on her grave. But they had no hint of the secrets buried with her until they heard from the bank a decade later. They soon realized that they would have to take a bittersweet journey to Vienna.

Sure, Rich and Chris hadn’t traveled together since their college days (they both had long been married and each had two kids), but they soon mustered the strength and finesse of a fine doubles team — at least when it came to discovering and dissecting arcane info. “Rich is the details guy, I’m the issues guy,” Chris reported. “We’ve played doubles a few times and had great wins. Rich really studies the fundamentals. I play more by gut.”

After gaining a better understanding of their case, the duo wanted to publicly honor the memory of their mother and apply direct media pressure on the Austrian government to hold them accountable for the reparations program they had undertaken with the U.S.

In ‘01, the Austrian and U.S. governments, along with Jewish groups, signed a reparations agreement, but the $210 million fund could not be touched because of two class-action lawsuits, one in N.Y. and one in L.A., with about 250 claimants. Although they’ve considered it, Chris and Rich have not become claimants in either of the suits.

“I don’t know which way the decision will go for the Andrews brothers. An arbitration panel composed of Austrian and U.S. representatives will eventually decide their case,” said Austria’s consul general, Peter Launsky-Tieffenthal, who noted that the Andrews case is one of 17,000 on the docket, adding, “Unfortunately, the General Settlement Fund has not yet been able to make payments because of the two class-action suits which have been filed against Austria, and reparations from the fund can only be dispensed once legal peace has been declared by all parties.”

The brothers were initially embraced in Austria as “poster boys,” “long-lost heirs” and “returning princes.”  But their own attitude soon shifted due to the Austrian government’s apparent delays.

“In a sense, history is stonewalling us,” explains Chris. “The Austrians need to document everything, and in an environment that is emotionally and politically charged, and that creates a certain culture. We’re fighting the system, the culture, the process — rather than any particular person. Because what’s okay in that environment is not acceptable to us.”

Elizabeth Redlich  

Further investigation of the brothers’ maternal family tree also revealed that their relatives had opened a match factory in Czechoslovakia (which included, get this, a built-in tennis court) that enjoyed a monopoly throughout the Austro-Hungarian empire. Plus, there were family-owned sugar and chemical plants and a brewery. Besides Schmidgasse 14, the Andrews brothers have filed 25 claims for other family properties, liquidated businesses and insurance policies worth a whopping $23 million.

Would the Andrews brothers have a better chance of reclaiming their properties if there were no political implications relating to the U.S. government’s tenancy at Schmidgasse 14? (A branch of the U.S. Embassy, the International Service Agency, pays a mere $2,500 a month in rent for the property.) “The political implications have no weight whatsoever,” insists Hannah Lessing, the head of Austria’s Holocaust Restitution Fund. “It is the same for all properties: no legal closure, no restitution.”

“I sent letters to the U.S. government,” Chris reported, “telling them that it’s a crime that they’re in Schmidgasse 14, regardless of whether we’re getting the building back, because with one arm they’ve signed the restitution agreement and with the other they’re in the building! It’s the most visible building in Vienna [regarding reparations], and they’re not talking to us. We are U.S. citizens with a complex issue in a foreign country, but they’ve refused to have a meaningful dialogue since the day this started. We keep moving up the food chain, [hoping] to find someone who will.”

A State Department official who insisted on anonymity insisted, “We don’t accept that the U.S. government is operating under bad faith, and the Department of State will abide fully by the arbitration panel’s decision.”

In addition, Chris and Rich are not the only living Furth heirs. 60 Minutes II profiled the brothers last fall and discovered that, unknown to the Andrewses, another branch of the family lived on the East Coast. One relative, Eva Perl, Lothar Furth’s 96-year-old first cousin, was also born at Schmidgasse 14. Another was Alfred Strasser, who recalled how, as an 11-year-old, he listened as the announcer interrupted his radio program to announce that German Nazis were crossing the border.

60 Minutes II brought the two branches of the Furth family together for the first time, where they sat down for a dinner and raised their wine glasses in unison to make a toast: “To the Furths!”

“It’s been an uplifting experience for me in a lot of ways,” says Rich. “I feel proud about learning more about my family. The combination of not knowing and not understanding, and then having a tragedy like that...my mother, when she was 15, had to be completely uprooted from a beautiful, privileged life, and that probably affected her deep-down for the rest of her life in ways that we couldn’t begin to understand.”

“We are driven by principles of truth and fairness — not forms, procedures or man-made roadblocks. Our job is to be clear on where we are going, regardless of
these ongoing chess moves.”

 

Still, to this day there are huge obstacles. Hannah Lessing, head of Austria’s Holocause Restitution Fund, claimed, “We have enabled family members to meet again after 60 years...These are the moments from which we get our strength, so we can listen to the hell they went through 60 years ago. But now the last fund is blocked and they [the victims] are dying and we cannot keep our promise to help them receive their money.”

But it’s not about the money, counters Chris. “My feeling is that if we can shine a little light on a very dark period and place, it’s all about helping other people, on some level. We are driven by principles of truth and fairness — not forms, procedures or man-made roadblocks. Our job is to be clear on where we are going, regardless of these ongoing chess moves.”

Lessing says that Chris and Rich Andrews are the youngest claimants she’s dealt with. “They’re opening Pandora’s box, especially with the sad story of their mother,” Lessing asserts. “So many questions and so many painful memories...we might not be able to resolve everything and ease every pain, but we try.”

This past summer, Rich and Chris took their families on a three-week pilgrimage to Austria, where they stood, awestruck, outside the imperial Schmidgasse house where Lothar and Susan Furth spent their last moments and where their mother was born. They stood at the site where their mother was baptized and meandered through the Prater, Vienna’s main park and the home of the Wiener Park Club. They absorbed the tranquil atmosphere where their grandmother had once sculpted footprints in the satiny red clay and where her photo hangs amidst legends like Lenglen, Tilden and Cochet.

Then, for whatever reason, after seeing his grandmother’s photos, Chris felt compelled to call his ‘ole tennis buddy — his former college doubles partner — Larry Stefanki. The now world-famous coach in turn asked Chris whether he would have played tennis longer if he had known about his family’s royal tennis roots. “I would have,” Chris confided. “I never committed myself fully to tennis, though I loved the game, and I wonder if this would have made a difference. My first reaction is yes. It’s one of those bittersweet thoughts.” This was just one of a myriad of reflections and reminiscences that have marked the two brothers’ oh-so-improbable, journey.

© 2004 INSIDE TENNIS All rights reserved.
All photographs, text and graphics, appearing on the Inside Tennis web site are protected by copyright.
Any republication, retransmission or reproduction or other use is prohibited without express written permission of Inside Tennis.

Elizabeth Redlich
From left to right: Elizabeth Redlich, the mother of Chris and Rich Andrews; at happier times of her childhood before the annexation of Austria; and with her doubles partner.

© 2004 INSIDE TENNIS All rights reserved.
All photographs, text and graphics, appearing on the Inside Tennis web site are protected by copyright.
Any republication, retransmission or reproduction or other use is prohibited without express written permission of Inside Tennis.


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