Gunther Meyberg was born in the Northern German town of Diepholz to Samson and Rose Meyberg in 1935. He is the middle child, with Hans being the eldest, and Ruth, his younger sister. The Third Reich was on the rise in Europe. The Meybergs, being Jewish, were in the crosshairs of Hitler’s Final Solution. Samson knew his family’s safety was in jeopardy as people in their town started disappearing, and anti-Semitism festered. In 1938, it was time to leave Germany forever.
Samson and his family caught the last boat out of Bremen for anywhere. As they departed, a Nazi cruiser was in pursuit and ordered the refugees back to port. The captain refused realizing his passengers’ fate had they gone back. Shots were fired, but for some reason, they withdrew. It was a long voyage to Colombia, South America. Samson’s brother, Karl, fled a year earlier with his family to South Africa to start a new life. The fate of Gunther’s grandparents, aunts, uncles, and the rest of the family was mirrored by six million murdered in the holocaust.
Life in Colombia was not easy. For more than a dozen generations, the Meyberg clan called Germany home, and now the survivors were across the world. In a new land with a colony refugees, learning Spanish was a must, and so was assimilating. Samson was a butcher by trade and carried his skills to the Meybergs’ new home city of Cali, Colombia. He built a large smokehouse in the yard of the family home and began making sausages and salamis. He would sell door to door to give his fellow settlers a taste of home, and introduce natives to this popular European staple. The deli business grew quickly, and more employees were needed. At the age of five, Gunther would take his bicycle with a basket and deliver to the regular customers, before and after school. Samson eventually opened up a commercial location with a deli and small café.
The political scene in Colombia was very unstable. Civil unrest and violence were part of daily life. Samson and Rose wanted better for their children, so when they first arrived in Colombia in 1938, they petitioned to come to America. Rose’s cousin, Lily Heimbach, was the sponsor required for immigration, but there was a 13 year wait. In 1951, the Meybergs arrived in Middletown, New York. Much to the chagrin of Samson and Rose, Hans stayed behind in Colombia. He married a local girl, as his life was already there.
The next stop was Ellis Island!
Just as they had arrived 13 years earlier in Colombia, the Meybergs were again in a strange land with a new language and a new culture. They found themselves in Upstate New York on the Heimbach Dairy Farm in May, 1951. In exchange for room and board, Gunther and Samson worked on the farm, while Rose became the Heimbach’s housekeeper. Long hours on the farm filled the day with physical chores. Milking the cows, bailing the hay, shoveling manure, picking rocks one by one off the fields, delivering breech calves, just to name a few, in the New York summer heat and humidity, started at dawn and ended at dark.
Gunther and Ruth started new schools in the autumn. At the age of 16, Gunther would open the Aamaco Gas Station at 5:00 AM, go to school at 8:00 AM, return to the station at noon, and go to work at the Eagle’s Nest Hotel as a busboy at 5:00 PM. His day usually ended around 10:00 in the evening. This was pretty much the routine until Gunther graduated high school.
The Concord Hotel and Resort was “the vacation spot” on the east coast. Located at Kiamesha Lake in the Catskill Mountains, New York, the Concord was one of the most popular, year-round holiday spots in the world. In the winter there was skiing and ice skating. The summer featured lakeside activities. The world class entertainment at the resort showroom included names like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Elizabeth Taylor, Buddy Hacket, Eddie Fischer, Jerry Lewis. Buster Crabbe even ran the lakeside activities. The Concord Hotel is also where Gunther spent the next 16 years as a waiter for VIP’s, celebrities, as well as the resort owners’ families.
Because the Heimbach Dairy Farm was quite a distance, Gunther opted to live in the workers' quarters of the Concord. One of his three roommates was none other than the late concert promoter Bill Graham. He was then a busboy that had been teamed up with Gunther. Bill Graham's well known fiery personality was in place also as a young man. The kitchen crew and the dining room staff frequently clashed, and sometimes it got physical. Gunther and Bill Graham's friendship was one based on mutual respect as neither was known to back down while defending his rights.
Famous actors, singers, and comediens weren't the only VIP's Gunther met at the Concord. This is where he met his wife Kathy (Katalin Bognar), a refugee of the Hungarian-Russian Revolution of 1956. As a wanted 'Freedom Fighter,' she fled the war-torn capital of Budapest to the Austria border via fields of land mines. Out of a few dozen, roughly half of the group she fled with escaped Hungary alive. Once in Austria, she applied for assylum in the United States. In 1957, like the Meybergs and so many hopeful immigrants, Kathy was greeted by the sight of the Statue of Liberty.
They met working in the dining room at the Concord in the Summer of 1957. And then they were married on April 6, 1959. For the next 10 years, they worked at the hotel while starting a family. Sandy Lynn was born on November 1, 1962; Debbie Ann on March 20, 1964; and Sherry on August 7, 1967. All were born in Middletown, NY and called it home until Gunther moved the family to San Jose, CA in 1969.
Samson would later move out West, but sadly without Rose, as she passed away shortly in the Spring of 1967 due to complications of diabetes. Ruth would also stay in Poughkeepsie, NY with her husband and children for the next fifteen years before following the Meyberg clan.
Once in San Jose, Gunther went to work for his Uncle Karl who immigrated a decade earlier from South Africa. Karl owned Meyberg's Delicatessan and Catering in the Town and Country Village shopping center in San Jose (now Santana Row), and ran it with his wife Cilly and their sons Harold and David. Gunther worked hard an learned alot at Meyberg's before deciding to venture out on his own.
Then it happened! On January 15, 1971, Gunther's Delicatessan and Catering, on the corner of Hamilton and Meridian in San Jose, was opened...
Gunther, Ruth, and Hans Meyberg - Circa 1945 / Gunther circa 1980