My mother sang under the name of Lisa Berling. On November 30, 1924, she gave the first recital to be broadcast live over Austrian Radio. My mother may have looked fragile but she was tough. She was tough in 1938 and the following years. And she was tough before she died. She was terminally ill while the dispute with the Foreign Ministry was at its height. She lay ill at home for a period of nine months. It was the second time around for her. “Don’t give in!” she told me. “You can only win in the long run.” My mother died on September 18, 1979. At her death, nine years later; our visit to the old house came to mind, the house that had seen happy days and days for which words fail. One Sunday in 1970 we had gone up Rueppgasse in the 2nd district or the Leopoldstadt, as it is called. It was also called the Mazzesinsel (Matzo Island). We had had cold beer in the Prater at the Wieselburger Bierinsel (Beer Island). Afterwards we went to the house. There it was, Rueppgasse 16.

Here we were, thirty-one years later. Being there after all that time was like being touched by death. We just stood outside. We didn’t go in. There was an intercom and we would have had to ask one of the parties to open the door. Perhaps it was better not to go up to the second storey, which my grandmother and mother had shared, not to go up those stairs that we had last descended in July of 1939. Others had been forced to descend later with no coming back, my aunt Helena and my uncles Fritz and Heinrich.

Why had I gone there with my mother again? Couldn’t I leave well-enough alone In July of 1939, my parents emigrated with me to England before the juggernaut could crush us. Other members of my family weren’t that lucky. They stayed and were crushed. My grandmother had the good fortune to die of a broken heart before a worse fate could befall herThe first stop was London. During the blitz, I remember whole city blocks in ruins. From there we went to Tunbridge-Wells and then to Scotland. From there we went to New York on the Cameronia, a ship that was later to become a troop ship. My parents became American citizens in 1946. They abjured their Austrian citizenship, and I became an American citizen automatically, without abjuring my Austrian citizenship. Retuning meant returning to the source. The source is not beyond the border.

After I had returned to Austria in 1963, the first thing I heard from a cultural official was that I was not Austrian. And things continued in that vein. Coming to Austria was a dream-come-true, but it turned out to be the kind you want to wake up from. I lived that dream for decades and never woke up. I wanted to have a smooth ride, but I’ve had a very rough one. I admit that, at least partially, it’s my fault. I just can’t keep my mouth shut or my pen capped. Things went awry, and I daydream and think of how they could have been different. I took the wrong fork in the road, and for that, I can only blame myself.