An implausible reunion took place here this week.
Hans Fromming, the most successful European harness driver of all time, came to Pompano Park to compete in this weekend's International Driving Championship, and renewed his acquaintance with an old friend, Gerry Eisenstadt, who works as a mutuel clerk here.
The circumstances were considerably different than the first time they met -- on Fromming's doorstep, in 1942, in Germany. For nearly three years after that, the famed harness driver harbored the young Jew from the Nazis.
At the time Germany went to war, Fromming was a hero in a country that was wild about harness racing. He had the sort of stature that Eddie Arcaro had during his heyday in America. But even after the war began, Fromming's career as a trainer and driver was surprisingly unaffected.
"Racing continued almost all through the war," Fromming said. "I think Hitler thought the people had to have it for their morale. Once, the racetrack was bombed out Goebbels insisted that the racing go on, anyway. There was no betting but many people came; what else were they going to do?"
If Fromming's life was ostensibly undisturbed by the rise of the Nazis, Eisenstadt's was wrecked. His parents were arrested and he found himself in constant danger. "Not only was I Jewish, but I was also draft age," he said. "In 1942, I was on the lam. From one day to the next, I never knew where I was going to sleep at night.
"My father had been in harness racing and I'd gone to the track since I was 9 or 10 and I knew Hans Fromming. I knew he helped Jewish people as much as he could. So I went to him."
Fromming remembered the youth showing up at his house and simply announcing, "I'm here. What can I do now?"
In addition to his racing stable, Fromming maintained a farm, where he rested and recycled his animals, and he sent Eisenstadt there, along with other Jews he was protecting. At the farm, Eisenstadt groomed and excercised horses, learning the basics of his future profession. Whenever Fromming thought Eisenstadt was in danger of being detected, he moved him to other horse farms in the area of Berlin.
Eisenstadt was never found out. When the war ended, he went to work overtly for Fromming, and became officially licensed as a trainer and driver. They remained together until 1948, when Eisenstadt came to the United States.
In the subsequent three decades, Fromming established an astonishing record as a driver. He won more than 5,500 trotting races -- more than anyone in history. He won almost all the major races in Europe. Now 69, he estimates that he hs jogged and raced trotters more than a million miles.
Eisenstadt's career in the sport has been considerably less dramatic. He has been a small-time trainer and driver, and finally retired last year to sell tickets at Pompano. Yet despite the divergent paths their lives have taken, he remains close to Fromming, and they see each other whenever the German comes to this country.
"In this country, now, what he did may not seem like much," Eisenstadt said. "But in those days, Germans were afraid to say 'Boo,' and what he did was outrageous. He had so much to lose. What can you say about such a man? How can you repay him?"