Hiltrud Gaerdes Amsler was a naturalized American citizen. Originally from the North Sea coastal community of Esenshammer Reep, she had moved to Ollen (Oldenburg) at a young age and, later Bremerhaven to pursue employment to support her four younger siblings, including her crippled sister Hedwig.
Hiltrud had faithfully served the Niedermann family of Bremen; this was the famous family that owned the largest and most celebrated cigar company – as well as a bank and other business interests- in Havana, Cuba. The infirm elderly gentleman she cared for was the son of Maria Lucie (geb. Niedermann) Koch; the Niedermann daughter was, by all accounts, a difficult woman, and had married into a wealthy political family with a small fortune of its own. Not surprisingly, Maria’s sons had all gone on to become statesmen or businessmen primarily engaged in the import and export of tobacco products. The youngest son, Albert Koch, had helped run Niedermann import operations in Bremerhaven. Although vital in his youth, he became disabled in his later years, requiring full time assistance in the form of a private nurse. This is how Trudy came into the family fold; recommended highly for her work as a governess, she proved a loyal and loving nurse to the senior Herr Koch, who left her a grubstake in his will, much to her surprise. She and he had discussed traveling the globe; he had done much of it, she none. So it was that she came into a small amount of money to explore the New World. In 1892, she booked passage on The North German Lloyd steamer The Spree.
In 1914, when our story opens, we meet the Amsler family of Eagle Pass, Texas. They are one of several immigrant families who’ve come to do business on the border of Mexico. With three beautiful children, father Karl is a well-respected import/export specialist in the sawmill industry.
Maximilian was a highly accomplished lawyer-turned-diplomat for the Third Reich. He was born to an affluent family in Zittau, a small town on the borders of Germany, Poland and Czechoslovakia. His father was a physician an his mother a school teacher, both his brothers were also physicians. Like most affluent men, he was able to arrange a one-year-only commission n the German army; a year he would subsequently cite as notable only for animal (equine) husbandry. His experiences were so negative that he continued to regard most things military with disdain. To him, and to his family, the military was a repository for less-educated men who could not, or did not want to, take up a proper profession. So it was that he managed to circumvent the usual two year conscription. Upon completion of his Einjaehrige, he was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the reserves, and he went on to law school at the University of Jena.
Ursula A. is a study in elegance. From her perfectly pin-curled mahogony hair, to the tips of her moon manicure in blood red, she is not just stylish: she is style. After an unexpectedly rugged upbringing in Texas, she attended a fine finishing school in Dresden, where she established herself as an outstanding student of geography and languages. One night, after sneaking out with fellow students, she encounters a Polish matron who offers to introduce her to young men in the diplomatic corps. After one lavish party, she can imagine herself nowhere else. This is her chosen milieu. And she learns quickly, as one does, that good looks can buy you almost as much as money. Blessed with fair genetics and exceptional posture training from years of ballet study, Ursula commands the attention of many potential suitors in general, and of one senior ambassador in particular, Maximilian Bruehl. A man of visible bearing and pedigree, Maximilian introduces her to the cushioned surroundings of Third Reich luxury and excess. That is, until Hitler invades Poland.