Born in Old Europe

I stem from the old European world, a much more gentle and cultivated world – a world that was interrupted in Germany, two years before my birth and in Austria three years after I was born. Old Europe was still structurally intact. The beautiful cities were not yet scarred. The Jewish sections were bustling with activity. Chernovitz and Lemberg still had a Jewish cultural influence, and there was the shtetl. That world would soon be in its last throes.

I am a child of those days. My maternal grandmother had come to Vienna from Chernovitz and grandfather had come from Lemberg. My paternal grandfather had come from Bisenz, now part of the Czech Republic My paternal grandmother from Kittsee, formerly Hungary, now in Burgenland. My maternal grandfather died in 1925. paternal grandfather died in 1935, the year of my birth. My first location was the Leopoldstadt, the second district of Vienna.When I was born, the Jews who would be dispersed were still in their hometowns, as were those who would be deported, never to return again.

Fear and insecurity for Jews was limited to those living in Nazi Germany. Rumblings were occurring in Nazi Germany. Conquest lay in the future. The first three years of my life in the second district of Vienna were idyllic. I remember going to the Prater with parents and aunts and uncles for rides on the carousel. When Austria was annexed to Nazi Germany in 1938, drastic changes occurred, and the mood mutated to fear and apprehension. I felt the change of atmosphere in my very young years. There were no more rides on the carousel in the Prater. The death knell for old Europe and European Jewry rang out. The beginning of the end began for our family and countless others. Our middle-class existence was permanently interrupted. We like other Jews became fair game. The laws that had protected us were abrogated and new laws left us vulnerable to theft, violence and loss of life.

There was indeed some dissent, but generally the brown doctrine fit like a glove and the population pitched in. The prologue occurred in 1938 after my third birthday. My mother and I were in my grandmother’s apartment, which was adjacent to ours in our house in Rueppgasse. I witnessed the ransacking of my ransacking my grandmother’s apartment in Rueppgasse by SA-marauders. I was three at the time. When the doorbell rang, I ran to the door to open it. My mother swept me up as two SA-men in street clothes entered. I still see the expression of horror and disdain on her face.

One of the men, I remember clearly, led the way. He had reddish hair, wore a brown suit and limped. The other was thin, had sparse grey hair and wore a grey suit. They searched the apartment. The brown-suited man pushed my grandmother, who was eighty-three, away from the sideboard in order to ransack it. And indeed it contained her shopping money. That event is as sharp my mind as on the day that it occurred. Of course at the time I was not able to understand specifics, but I sensed that evil had come into my young life. The tone was set.

Now there were treks to offices to apply for visas, and waiting for hours and hours in those dreary places. We remained in “Ostmark” for a year and a half before leaving for England. In 1939 I became an emigré. I had that identity until it changed to remigré in 1963. Let me insert if I’d had the chance in later years, I’d have polished off those SA-criminals without batting an eye. And I’d have gone off whistling. That of course would have been an “ideal” situation that almost never occurs.