SYNOPSIS: THE DRAGONTAIL BUTTONHOLE
In early 1938, Willy Kohut, a 26 year-old Jewish merchant opens Anglotex in Prague determined to create a successful store selling luxury British fabrics for men’s suits. He is an accomplished pianist and linguist, married to Sophie, an attractive 23 year old Hungarian woman used to a comfortable life. They have an 18-month old boy, Pavel. Willy focuses on running his business, minimizing the Nazi threat on Czechoslovakia’s borders. Like so many other citizens of Prague, he’s confident that the large Czech army, one of the most modern in Europe can face down the Germans. But, after the Munich crisis when the Sudeten part of Czechoslovakia is handed over to Germany, Willy comes to his senses and prepares to leave the country with his family. He looks for a buyer for Anglotex and—just-in-case—acquires counterfeit Hungarian passports, essential for traveling outside the country. Too late! On March 15th 1939, the Germans occupy Prague. On the very same morning, while Sophie is out shopping, Willy is arrested by an advance Nazi unit. He is suspected of being a British spy in possession of radio transmitter communication codes. He protests his innocence to no avail.
Willy has disappeared and Sophie’s world turns upside down. She takes charge of the store, keeps her home going and tries to find her husband. For four weeks she bravely visits the Abwehr (German Military Intelligence) and Gestapo offices and finally discovers that Willy is holed up in Pankrác prison. Realizing that the document supposedly containing British espionage codes is simply an inventory of fabrics shipped from England, Sophie persuades the German prison commandant that Willy is innocent. Starved, beaten and injured, Willy recovers slowly at home. As he improves and starts planning their escape, another disaster strikes. Under a new law he is called to the bank and forced to sign over his store and contents to an Aryan Czech merchant. Suddenly poor and fearing more danger, the Kohuts pack jewels, bonds, cash and clothes and head for Budapest using the false Hungarian passports.
In Budapest they pay a smuggler to drive them across Germany to Holland. The car journey is full of arguments and complications, and in the middle of Germany the smuggler dumps them, driving off with their valuables. Down to one suitcase, they travel by train and truck through Nazi Germany posing as Hungarians, trying to avoid detection. They finally board a train for France but at the German frontier they are unmasked as Jews and brutally interrogated. In exchange for a sexual favor, the border officer allows the family back on the train. They arrive in Paris with only 500 francs loaned by a French couple who shared their compartment on the train. Although the family is free and safe their future is uncertain. Germany threatens to invade Poland and Willy and Sophie have both changed, Willy wants to get to England and somehow get revenge on the Nazis. Sophie has gained in self-reliance and courage but she feels that she and Willy have grown apart. How they will manage their immediate situation in France is anyone’s guess. [READ FIRST CHAPTER]
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