THURSDAY, MAY 9, 1991, SPORTS
Copyright 1991/THE TIMES MIRROR COMPANY
Gamble Was Worth More Than Money
In the year 1936, in the little North Sea German town of Aurich, hard by Bremen, when a knock came on the door in the middle of the night, every Jewish family knew what it meant. A stormtrooper would be at the door, maybe with a piece of paper and a truncheon in his hand, and a truck with a swastika on it waiting at the door. Ultimate destination: gas chamber.
Hitler had been in power two years and terror was abroad in the land. People were being beaten on the street for their religion. Yellow armbands were being distributed. The sound of breaking glass meant rocks were being thrown through synagogue windows and the worship areas set afire.
So, when the inevitable knock came one midnight on the door of the Gluck family, and Mrs. Gluck threw open the door with pounding heart to see one of Hitler’s burly brownshirts standing there, her worst fears were realized. The family home would be Dachau.
But then she recognized the intruder as an old high school classmate. This wasn’t necessarily reassuring, but this man quickly put his finger to his lips and slid inside the door. He had just come from a Party meeting, he told Henry Gluck’s mother, and he had an urgent recommendation. Why didn’t they get out of there now? Leave everything, if necessary, but go.
They didn’t use the term then, but his message was clear: A Holocaust was in the making. They would get swallowed up in it unless they got out of Germany. He recommended they not delay a day.
For Mrs. Gluck, the path was clear. She had read the signals. Germany was becoming a Hall of Horrors.
But her husband balked. The Glucks had been in Germany for generations, as far back in time as anyone could trace. They were Germans. Why should they have to run from this Austrian paperhanger who wanted to put them out of their ancestral home, and give up their successful wool and leather business. He wouldn’t last. Anyway, where would they go?
Anywhere, Mrs. Gluck insisted. If they didn’t, Hitler would find a place for them. A final place.
Mrs. Gluck, fortunately, prevailed. The Gluck family sold their business at a loss — they were lucky because if they’d waited a year it would have been confiscated — packed their son and daughter and headed to Paris and, ultimately, Philadelphia, where a brother lived.
Little Henry Gluck was nine at the time. Running around in lederhosen and hiking shoes, he was just learning to play soccer and he could not understand why his family wanted to turn into gypsies and head for the horizon. Henry and his young sister thought life was just fine.
“I didn’t know what was happening,” he recalled 50 years later. “I remember my father taking me to a soccer game once, and on the horizon we saw this long line of cars. Then, suddenly, they all disappeared.
‘Where did they all go?’ I asked my father. He laughed. ‘They went underground,’ he explained. ‘They’re building planes for the war there.’ ”
It was a period when Germany was girding for war in defiance of the treaty that banned military buildup. It was ominous for his elders, but the young Gluck remembers thinking it was exciting.
That was more than half a century ago. The boy who escaped Hitler’s clutches is one of the most powerful financial figures in America.
Henry Gluck is chairman and chief executive officer of Caesars World, the gaming conglomerate of Las Vegas, Atlantic City, the Poconos and Lake Tahoe, which does an annual business in the billion-dollar range. The boy who left Nazi Germany one step ahead of Himmler’s goon squads is an entrepreneurial genius who grew up in Philadelphia, attended the Wharton School of Finance and was so successful in the tricky world of merger and conglomerate financing that he was able to retire a millionaire at 43.
Retirement was not all it was cracked up to be. “It’s not so much what happens to you, it’s that it robs your family of an identity. Someone asks, ‘And what does your father do?’ and they have to say, ‘Nothing!’ ” Gluck said.
He returned to the stock exchange wars in 1983 when, as a board member of Caesars World, he saw what should have been a lucrative business slumping into a $21-million loss. The management was suspected of mob ties. It had problems being licensed. Gluck was coaxed out of retirement to give it direction and respectability. His reputation in banking circles was first-rate.
If there are two ways to put your theretofore impeccable reputation at risk, one of them is to run a gambling establishment and the other is to promote prizefights. You are in danger in both instances of finding your picture in the tabloids standing next to Fat Tony Salerno or John Gotti or to find yourself in the Wall Street Journal being chided for doing business with the Don Kings of the world. Henry Gluck ignored the dangers. He took a bigger gamble than anyone at his baccarat tables.
One result was, Caesars was turning a profit of more than $40 million by 1986.
Such gambles are small potatoes compared to growing up in Germany in the 1930s. “They’re all gone now, most of the relatives and friends who stayed when we left,” Gluck acknowledges. “I would be dead if we stayed.”
Instead, he is contemplating an expansion in the Las Vegas Caesars and yet another title fight where, this June, Thomas Hearns and Virgil Hill will meet for the light-heavyweight championship of the world. “Prizefights are perfect promotional vehicles for casinos,” Gluck explains. “We have 75,000 hotel rooms in Vegas, but with the proper fight, they’re all sold out.”
Isn’t he afraid the boxing business will sully his otherwise spotless reputation? Gluck laughs and says: “Coming from where I did and what I got away from, that’s a small worry.”
What of the brownshirt who came to the family home that midnight so long ago and warned them to get away? Henry Gluck grows thoughtful. “I don’t know. My mother (who is still alive) wouldn’t go back. I suspect he died in a snowbank in Russia somewhere.”
It’s a strange success story. The Gluck family is probably the only one in Germany to have a knock on the door in the dead of night, throw open the door to see a stormtrooper standing there — and have it be the best thing that ever happened to them.
Reprinted with the permission of the Los Angeles Times
Jim Murray Memorial Foundation, P.O. Box 60753, Pasadena, CA 91116
What is the Jim Murray Memorial Foundation?
The Jim Murray Memorial Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, established in 1999 to perpetuate the Jim Murray legacy, and his love for and dedication to his extraordinary career in journalism. Since 1999, JMMF has granted 104 $5,000 scholarships to outstanding journalism students. Success of the Jim Murray Memorial Foundation’s efforts depends heavily on the contributions from generous individuals, organizations, corporations, and volunteers who align themselves with the mission and values of the JMMF.
Like us on Facebook, and visit the JMMF website, www.jimmurrayfoundation.org.
A dozen years ago, Linda McCoy-Murray compiled a book of Jim Murray’s columns on female athletes (1961-1998). While the book is idle waiting for an interested publisher, the JMMF thinks this is an appropriate year to get the book on the shelves, i.e., Jim Murray’s 100th birthday, 1919-2019.
Our mission is to empower women of all ages to succeed and prosper — in and out of sports — while entertaining the reader with Jim Murray’s wit and hyperbole. An excellent teaching tool for Women’s Studies.
Proceeds from book sales will benefit the Jim Murray Memorial Foundation, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization providing sports journalism scholarships at universities across the country.