Tea for Three
in the Foreign Ministry

On July 26, 1977 I received a call from Dr. Wilfling requesting me to appear at the Foreign Ministry the next day at 4 p.m. I came there at the appointed time.

This episode I call Tea (and cookies) for Three (at the Foreign Ministry).

Dr. Woschnagg greeted me at the door of his office and led me into an adjoining room where I was offered a chair at a rectangular, medium-sized conference table with a wall at my beck. The end of the table at my left was positioned against a wall. Dr. Woschnagg sat down to my right, sandwiching me in. Dr. Wilfling entered, greeted me and took a place at the left end of the table, which was close to the door. I was seated in such a way that the only route to the door was past Woschnagg or under the table. And to let me by, he would have to stand up. Things ware cozy indeed. The hospitality was fantastic; a secretary came in with a silver tray on which there was a silver tea service, a plate of cookies and another object, figuratively speaking. She placed the tray down in front of us and left, closing the door behind her.

After pouring tea, Woschnagg whipped out the current issue of Austria Today, government sponsored PR magazine which contained a note crediting me with the translation of Peter Handke’s story. I told Woschnagg that I already had a copy of the issue. I mentioned that Dr. Kraus had claimed that he had recommended me to the editor. I also mentioned that the assistant editor had told me that she had credited me for the translation and that Smolka had told her to remove my name. (Previously he had told me: “I don’t look to the right, I don’t look to the left.) Woschnagg countered that Smolka had informed him that the omission was an oversight and that Smolka was a man of honor. What could I say to that? Honor was a word that would be bandied about rather loosely that day.

I then asked Woschnagg whether he had received word from Adelaide. He replied in the negative. (Of course you haven’t received a reply to a query that was never made, I thought, but kept that thought to myself.) I whipped my folder out of my briefcase, placed it on the table and opened it to Rosemary Wighten’s letter. I handed it to Woschnagg who read it and wanted to have it photocopied. I told him that I’d let him copy it in exchange for a copy of Dr. Kraus’s report, but he refused to barter. The letter was proof that the Consul had been contacted by Dr. Kraus, I said. Since the Ambassador had written that no messages had been sent via the Embassy, how then could they have gotten to the Consul? Woschnagg answered that the Consul had been acting on his own. I pulled out my list of quotations from the previous letters from Australia. That didn’t seem very likely, I ventured, since the Consul had first been “thrilled” about my invitation but that thrill had been rather short-lived. Next Woschnagg tried to argue that Wighten’’s letter contained misinformation,)

I came back to the Kraus report. I mentioned that I knew it had been written in the summer of 1975. On July 29, 1977 he had asked me to submit work so that he could became familiar with it and “advise” me. I said that if the report were objective, Dr. Woschnagg could read it to me and I wouldn’t be able to use it in any way.

Then Woschnagg let the cat out of the bag. I was to make a written apology to Dr. Kraus.

“What on earth for?” I asked.

“You have unjustly attacked a man of honor in journals in Britain and Austria, and as a man of honor you must apologize,” was the reply.

It was unbelievable. Since we had been sitting there, Dr. Woschnagg had not even been able to make a single point. I had the facts at my fingertips. I had done my homework and Woschnagg hadn’t. I had all the cards but one – power.

“You mean that his secretary calls a news agency and refers to me as a “psychopath,” and I should apologize to him,” I said.

“Frau Bronold is his secretary in the Society.” Woschnagg said. “Frau Lang is his secretary at the Ministry. We are not responsible for what is done at the Society.”

“You mean that if he goes from the Ministry to the Society, which is just around the corner, you are not responsible for what he does there.”

“We are only responsible for what he does here,”” Woschnagg added emphatically.

I then extracted an article by Dr. Kraus from my folder and read. “Now these two activities will supplement each other.” The activities referred to were of course both offices.

Dr. Woschnagg did not comment on this but again repeated his request for an apology, I must admit that I was nonplussed. Woschnagg broke the ensuing silence to state that the Ministry had acted correctly by informing me of my invitation, as they were required to do.

“What!” I said, “Informed me?! I found out from the Australians half a year after the Ministry received my invitation. The Ministry never informed me.”

It was the most cockeyed situation imaginable. Woschnagg was conducting the session, but instead of getting admissions from me, he was giving them himself. Wilfling didn’t open his mouth. He just sat there. But Woschnagg did not call it a day; he continued to ask for the apology. I couldn’t believe it. What did they have up their sleeves? The whole thing struck me as being very uncanny. I did not feel comfortable at all. I had been there for a rather long time and nature was giving me a very insistent message.

The same request was made repeatedly. There was a pleading note in Woschnagg’s voice and an excusatory smile on his handsome face. He went on, even though the facts I had at hand belied his accusation that my contentions were unfounded. It was as if he thought that it was only a matter of time before I fulfilled his wish. He feigned sympathy and praised my work. I was an excellent translator. He hadn’t read my literary work yet, but he had every intention of doing so. He indicated that he knew what was best for me and that doing it would be good for all concerned. I had a real friend who had my interest at heart. All I had to do was follow his advice and sign on the dotted line.

He reminded me of a salesman in a bargain haberdashery shop who “has” to sell his merchandise. In my college days I had gone into such a shop looking for a tuxedo. I wanted black and the salesman had midnight blue. “Tony Martin wears it,” he told me and showed me the label. Indeed, Tony Martin’s signature was on it. I said that I’d consider buying it if the signature were Fred Astair’s, but that I was not a fan of Tony Martin. I remember the salesman to this day. He was short, seedy and red-haired with a pocked face, not handsome like Woschnagg. He begged me to take it as if his very life depended on it.

His hands went to his chest. “Cross my heart and hope to die. You’ll enjoy wearing it. Buy it!”

I didn’t – and I wasn’t going to buy Woschnagg’s bill of goods either.

“If you are man enough, you will make a written apology to Dr. Kraus,” he said.
I stood up and said, “I will not allow myself to be insulted any longer!”

I was wedged between the table and the wall and could hardly stand straight. Woschnagg sat next to me and the only way out was past him. But he did not move to get up. Wilfling got up, but he didn’t. I started to try to edge my way past him. Now I would either push him or he would make way for me. He finally stood up and I managed to brush by him. Willing was in front of the door but did not move to open it. I reached for the handle and opened the door which led to the room where the secretaries sat. I was in a hurry to leave the premises – and I did.

Once in the hall, I made a bee-line for the nearest john. Fortunately I reached it in time. The tea had had its effect.


I was invited to the Foreign Ministry
for tea and cookies
in exchange for my John Hancock.
The tea was lukewarm,
the cookies were stale
and I did not sign on the dotted line.

I was to be discredited
and forever compromised.