From Redoutensaal Ballroom, two brothers stumbled into Josefs Platz. They were drunk. They were happy. They were happy and drunk. They were drunk and happy after having the time of their lives. From melodies and women to joy and pleasure … joy and pleasure of dancing all night, everything dazzled them. Yes, they had the time of their lives. Again they forgot their troubles, sang until they were hoarse, and yes, they forgot their troubles and drank until they were drunk. So they stumbled into Josefs Platz and into the morning light.
Johann Strauss made their evening. King of the waltz made it, and without Johann Strauss, they wouldn’t have escaped like they had. Through music … music of Johann Strauss, for one night, they escaped the call for one Fuhrer. For one night they forgot Hitler. Then they were reminded.
“Heil Hitler!” A challenge came from a passerby. “Heil Hitler!” It was a bitter morning, a bitterly cold morning and a harsh reminder. It was a bitterly harsh morning when they were challenged with “Heil Hitler!”
Here the brothers were, challenged on a bitterly cold morning with “Heil Hitler!” and Karl couldn’t hold his tongue. “Heil Hitler! Horse shit!” He couldn’t help himself. “Heil Hitler! Horse shit!”
“Damn you Karl,” was Niki’s response.
“Europe is through! Piss on Hitler,” continued Karl. “I say piss on him!”
Karl followed this by mocking Eine Fuhrier through mimicry. He was good at mimicry. Even when he was drunk, he was good at mimicry. And instead of giving a proper “Sieg Heil,” Karl saluted with his right hand. Instead of with his left hand, he touched his forehead twice with his right hand. Then unsatisfied with that, he raised his right arm, cocked his hand back, and twirled a couple of times. Luckily he lost his balance and slipped on a curb.
Niki howled with laughter but then caught himself. Then as he helped his brother up, he warned him. “You shouldn’t. You have to be careful. You need to be careful. Besides think of all the good Hitler is doing.”
Vienna was gay that night but with a hint of agitation … gay and blurry-eyed, the brothers were also agitated. Agitation was in the air because everyone knew that in Vienna lights were about to go out.
“Heil Osterreich! Heil Osterreich! And curse those who support Hitler. Poor Austria.” Karl’s eyes grew moist, as he resisted Niki’s help. “Piss on Hitler! No one likes to see Austrian maidens raped.”
Whereupon Niki directed is brother to follow him home.
Fritz went to his closet looking for a warmer sweater. It was cold and he would have to wear a warmer coat. He had just put on a sweater, one Pauline bought him, but he didn’t like it. It didn’t suit him. This was an example of how his taste and Pauline’s taste rarely coincided. And how long had they been married?
Attracted to his old Service Corps uniform, he tried on a military coat. He found it in the closet where it was gathering dust.
“Come on. It still should fit.”
It didn’t fit. Face it, he had gained too much weight.
Solemnly he hung the coat back up in the closet. It would hang there in his closet forever he supposed. Would he ever be able to wear it again? If there was ever an occasion would he ever? He doubted it. He doubted it would ever fit him again. He turned around and thought of calling Eva: Eva had to be told that she had to do better, but why blame Eva? He knew he was responsible. He knew he needed to watch his weight. Where was Eva? Did she have his breakfast ready?
Then Fritz went to see if he could find Eva and would eat his breakfast alone. He could count on Eva having his breakfast ready. He could count on her. He could count on her having already finished the morning’s shopping. Fritz had grown comfortable with Eva and missed her whenever she wasn’t where he expected her to be. Displeased, cold and sleepy, Fritz buttered his hard roll and enjoyed silence. He usually ate alone. He enjoyed eating in silence.
This morning was no exception: Fritz had a full hour of undisturbed time before his wife walked in on him. Thankful, he used silence to read a newspaper.
Pauline hesitated at the door before she pushed it open. She knew she should knocked.
“Close the door please. I feel a draft.” Fritz didn’t look up from his newspaper. “What is it?”
“What are we going to do about Eva?” she finally asked.
“What are we going to do about Eva? Now that’s strange for me to ask. How long has Eva been with us, and I ask what are we going to do about her. “We” as opposed to “you” … as opposed to what are you going to do about Eva?”
“Well, darling, when it comes to our having to do something about Eva, she’s smart … smart enough to take care of herself.” Was his response. “As you well know, she’s resourceful. But we have to think of the boys and what she means to them.”
“As our world ends, I’m thinking of the boys, Fritz. I’m thinking of all of us.”
“As our world ends. And what does that mean?”
Pauline pointed a finger at him, and said, “You! You of all people know. You know more than the rest of us, or should know. I’m worried Fritz.”
“I know you are, but you worry too much.” Then he changed his tone, as he smiled. “If it’s true that our world is about end, then how about it. If it’s about to end, what does it matter? It’s been too long, my pet.”
“It has? You devil!” teased Pauline. “Well, the Kaiser wore whiskers too; but his were never as fine as yours. Do you keep them in shape for me, or for someone else?”
“Pray tell, what do you mean? These whiskers are yours, and who could take better care of them than you?”
“Mercy, you do understand me.”
“Oh, wicked you.”
“And congenial. At least this morning I am. Come warm me up”
“Perhaps too congenial and sought after.”
“Don’t worry,” cooed Pauline. “I’m a Christian.”
“And it’s a good thing too. It’s a good thing that you’re a Christian. And independent minded.”
“But we’re out of Lysoform.”
“Lysoform?” (A prophylactic)
“There is no Lysoform in Vienna. Oh, darling. What are we going to do?”
“That is bad news. No Lysoform.”
“And when I see so many goodly babies and mothers without their men, I now know. With no Lysoform I know what’s up. I know who’s whose and what’s up. I curse those who send them off. Why do our leaders get off scot-free?”
“He that serves Hitler must do it on Hitler’s terms,” declared Fritz. “That comes with the bargain.”
“Look who’s talking, but it’s no bargain. Come on! Honey, time is short, too short.”
She touched him on the shoulder.
“But we have no Lysoform.”
“Are you made of wood?”
“And what is that suppose to mean? Am I made of wood?”
Pauline grinned. “I’m ready.”
“This is too absurd: this time in the morning and with my wife.”
“Yes my love, with your wife.”
“Then I’d have to shower again and there’s not enough water. There’s never enough hot water. A shortage of coal and not enough water.”
“God, isn’t it dreadful?”
“Yes, and to have our neighbors think that something was wrong. No, not this morning. There’s not enough water.”
“Prick! Prick, that’s what you are. A prick!”
Fritz ignored this. Pauline took the hint and left the room.
Yes, their flat seemed cold, very cold to her. Dark and cold on that January morning. Too little light from the outside. They had to economize. Everyone had to economize. Coal and therefore heat had to be rationed.
“Prick!” She went in for her breakfast and finding her husband’s dishes still on the table, yelled, “Eva!” She surprised herself because she wasn’t in a habit of yelling.
up now and cold, Pauline started clearing the table herself. She wiped crumbs into the palm of her hand. Where was Eva?
Eva never acted like a maid. “She was never well trained,” Pauline thought. “God,” she said to herself.
How Pauline hated their modernized furniture: a big couch, heavy tables, huge beds, and leather easy chairs. Yes, leather easy chairs. Pauline was afraid she was turning into a hateful bitch.
After eating by herself, and exhausted from not getting enough sleep, Pauline sat in one of the easy chairs. Habsburg stuffiness preserved, their flat seemed depressing to her. Even modernized their flat seemed like a relic out of the past.
Pauline would let Eva handle the boys. She had always let Eva handle the boys. It was Eva’s job. They all had jobs. Suppose Niki hit his older brother. Eva would hit Niki’s hand for it. Niki, always Niki. It was a wonder to Pauline how well Eva took care of everything.
Caring for kids was second nature to Eva. She didn’t have kids of her own. Yet it came naturally to her. Care giving became Eva’s life, while marriage hadn’t presented itself to her yet. Eva liked her life the way it was. She liked working for the Hertzels, and always strove to do it better. Mitzvahs, they called it. Her Rabbi explained it best. “Pick up a mitzvah. Or two. Or three. Pick up a mitzvah. Pick up your life. And together we’ll pick up the whole world.” Only now everywhere Eva looked beyond the safe and secure walls around her she saw death.
“Why fuss, and why indeed such a fuss?” Pauline asked. “Who cares as long as she takes good care of our children? It doesn’t matter.” And it didn’t then.
It wasn’t always Niki. Sometimes it was Niki; other times, Karl. When she wanted to be, Eva could be as hard as nails. This suited Fritz. Pauline wasn’t so sure.
“Danka,” Pauline said, not knowing what else to say.
Frau Hertzel’s shrill voice hurt Fritz sometimes. “Bastard!” She had only recently become shrill. “Bastard!” He wouldn’t have heard it, even if instead of thinking it, she had said it.
“Please tell me what’s wrong,” he pleaded.
“Liar!” The word liar got stuck somewhere between her brain and her mouth. “Liar!” Too full of anger to say what she really thought.
“What? Speak to me.”
“No, it’s nothing.” Oh, but it was something. She had had it.
Still they ate evening meals together as a family. Except Eva ate alone. But Eva was probably happy with that arrangement anyway … happier. As a family, they were mostly civil; at least on the surface they were because appearances were important.
Still Fritz felt he lived a charmed life. Charm more than luck was his appeal. For years he dallied. All the years he lived in Vienna he did.
Curious life, really.
“Do you love me?” Pauline would ask him.
“You know I do.” Fritz would coo.
“Then don’t touch me.”
“Don’t be cruel.”
“I’m not cruel.”
“But strangers show more love to each other than we do.”
“They do?” She knew they did.
Often Eva found herself alone with Fritz. He’d stand in the doorway staring at her. She avoided contact, when she could. He then tried to help her, though it was below his station to do so.
“Nice figure,” he’d say or something complimentary. What was she to do? She needed a job.
Eva cooked all meals and cleaned up afterwards. And Eva shopped and cleaned and looked after the boys. Fritz would get in her way, but she never complained or never thought she had a right to.
“What sort of woman are you?” Fritz asked. She told him that she believed in good and evil. She said she was a religious woman and believed in good and evil.
“I’m not religious,” he said. “Speak of the devil,” he continued. Eva knew about the devil. She saw the devil everywhere. “Pauline, did she say when she’d be back?”
“No, God created the devil, sir.”
“You don’t have to tell me. I’ve lived with a she-devil … lived with one long enough to know it.”
Eva never liked to hear Fritz talk that way.
Fritz watched her do her chores and was glad that his wife wasn’t around. Eva, naked Eva. How he undressed her with his eyes. Eva, naked Eva. Gazed at her until she felt uncomfortable.
Yes, there were two forces at work in the world. Yes, two forces … good and evil. And Fritz added a third one: friendliness. And he turned it on when the Mrs. wasn’t around.
Eva became less spiritual, as she viewed her job as an opportunity. She was granted an opportunity to do good but this opportunity turned on her.
Eva needed to see what was going on. Needed to be careful. She wasn’t indispensable. As Pauline spent time out of the home. In a tireless manner, Pauline forgot what was once important to her. She chose other priorities. This gave Fritz more time alone with Eva.
“Frauline?” And he helped her when he could. “Frauline?” He helped with dishes. With dishes, he never enjoyed doing dishes before. “Now that spot on your blouse. Let me help you with it,” he said to Eva.
He promised her a canary and a cockatoo and narrowly escaped insulting her by dubbing her a merry widow. “But I never actually thought that Eva was a widow,” Fritz said one night to Pauline. “But I had great hopes that she was more experienced.”
“Pooh! What nonsense!” replied Pauline. “You’re simply infatuated. Even in her best bib and tucker, Eva is quite innocent. Tell me what you mean by experienced?”
“We both know that we’d have to look long and hard to replace Eva. As for my sins, I’m no worse than anyone else is. Pauline, what do you want from me? There’s nothing that I wouldn’t do for you.”
“Please, Fritz, don’t!”
“Believe me Pauline,” repeated Fritz. “Damn it, why do you place me in this position?”
“Position? What position? And as for Eva, what do we know about her?” asked Pauline. “Why she’s a Jew-slave. And because we let her in our home, we could have hell to pay.”
Then each time Eva greeted him, his life seemed changed. She made him feel like a new man.
“Good evening, sir,” said his Jew-slave. “Why so sad, why so unhappy? Are you worried or upset? Come, sit and relax. Let me remove your shoes.”
Then Fritz let her do what she wanted with his shoes, and afterwards she plopped down by his side on the sofa. Fritz related his own bad luck.
“I’m sorry for you. I feel so, so sorry. You seem so unhappy.”
“What do you know about love?”
“Everything.” Eva would tease him. “I had a fellow once. Since he didn’t remain faithful, he couldn’t expect fidelity from his wife. It’s not unusual. Why do you think men stray? Why they always pick some pretty little thing, who will inevitably break their hearts? Can’t they see it? Can’t they see it’s inevitable? Can’t they see they’ll break their hearts? Don’t feel sorry for me. Give me a little time, and I’ll help you relax.”
When Fritz gave her orders, he generally sounded like a general. “Stay!” ordered the retired soldier. “Miss, you understand me so well. But I wager that you’ve never met anyone like me.”
“No, I haven’t.” Eva’s smile grew bigger, and her admirer’s mood shifted.
“Thank you, thank you!” said Fritz, pleased with himself.
“Why be unhappy, when chances for happiness exists? But I must keep going. I’ve got a very demanding employer, and I hear a couple restless boys.”
Fritz tried to make sense out of what he heard. He knew the reason for his edginess, even though he had a reason for optimism.
The Hertzl household seemed tranquil. Fritz seemed happy and satisfied, and it didn’t bother him when he stopped being honest. Of course he laid blame for his dalliance on an absent wife.
“Now, Gnadige Frau, who is at fault?” asked Fritz. “I can’t help thinking that the problem comes from thinking too much. Just imagine if we could move heaven and earth. If we could imagine it! If we could move heaven and earth. I hope you’ll stay. I think you’re looking for a permanent job.”
“Is that what you’re offering? A permanent job?” asked Eva.
“I’ve seen how well you get along with our boys … how well you take care of them.”
At the same time Fritz slid his finger down the bridge of her nose and smiled.
“God help us.”
“There’s not a chance of Him doing that.” They both laughed.
Limits placed on Karl and Niki came from their parents’ rules. Their parents set rules, rules Eva enforced. There were basic rules like … like they were supposed to be seen and not heard. And they weren’t allowed to crawl around the flat, but once placed in their playpen, they were ignored. Five, six times a week, they got a spanking. A swat on the butt for a minor infraction, a real paddling for being too loud, but otherwise ignored. Being ignored was their greatest punishment. But who could blame Fritz and Pauline when that was how they were raised?
Often the boys were left on their own. Mama and Papa were otherwise preoccupied. Infighting. Game playing. Not a day passed without accusations. Arguments. Infighting. Game playing.
Eva, naked. The boys shouldn’t have seen her naked. The boys shouldn’t have seen it. Fritz held her tight, too tight. The boys saw their father hold their nanny. They shouldn’t have seen that or them necking. So life went on and with as much pretense and folly as ever.
The flat often seemed cold. The flat was often cold. Too cold. And they would keep the windows shut. They kept the windows shut all winter to keep the cold out. A woman with her figure Eva should’ve known her assets. Sometimes she became too comfortable when it didn’t pay to become too comfortable. Didn’t she know what she was doing?
Sometimes Fritz transformed the shabbiness of their flat with flowers. Sometimes he brought flowers home. Sometimes he bought flowers at a market and brought them home. But who were the flowers for? Eva or Pauline? He felt that he had to forgive Pauline. Why would he buy her flowers then? Forgive Pauline? And for what? Coldness, from being half there? But wasn’t he the one who was fiddling with the help? Their fussing became more of a problem. Here again flowers were supposed to help.
Fritz’s voice scared Karl and Niki, though it would shut them up. Barked at his sons. Even during infancy, Fritz barked at them, and they seemed to scream on purpose. And they were supposed to be seen and not heard? And, and, and? Fritz and Pauline didn’t know what to do; so they relied on Eva. They largely left it up to Eva. Fritz required them to call him “sir.” “Yes, sir!” “No, sir! About face!”
Fritz yelled at them. Pauline fed them chocolates. Eva gave them love, but it was never enough. There was never enough love to go around.
Papa, blemishes and all, he insisted that they mind him. Papa, they thought he was someone other than their father. Opa, not Papa. He never got on the floor to play with them. Papa needed to do a better job at home.
Boys, take Eva your dirty diapers. Boys, put your toys away.
“Niki took my candy.”
And they rarely saw their mother. She would disappear during the day and generally wouldn’t return until after they were put to bed at night. Where did she go? Called it her Christian duty. Called it that. Did she ever grow tired of it? Tired of charity work? How many years did she give of herself? Sacrificed to be fulfilled. Christian duty that called for action. Even during the war social workers like her were seen in and around Vienna.
“Pauline, where were you?”
Pauline was never a saint. No matter how hard she tried, she was never one.
Eva on the other hand. Relieved by Eva of burdens of child rearing, Fritz and Pauline counted their blessings. Hail Mary Mother of God, what do you mean she was a Jew? What do you mean Eva was a Jew? How could they tell that she was a Jew? Naked Jew! How about it? How could they be sure that no one saw them? What about Karl and Niki? What about them?
“Please be less rigid with them. Please, please be less rigid with the boys,” Pauline pleaded. Eva was loyal. She was good. She took her job seriously. She tried her best. She deserved applause. Couldn’t expect perfection. Perfection had many faces. Shown restraint. Held captive. On a leash, the boys couldn’t get far. Oh, but they had wonderful toys. Ya, but when did they get to play with them? They had wonderful toys. Still Karl and Niki ran wild whenever they got a chance.
The flat became a prison … the boys’ prison. Only on sunny days did the rooms didn’t seem like a prison. Only on sunny days did the boy escape darkness. Only on sunny days were the boys allowed outside. The hellions would try to get out. They would run around and scream, and try to escape, but there was no one else around to prove that there were cracks in Eva’s armor.
How as toddlers they certainly weren’t angels but ate up the slightest attention. So they didn’t crawl before they walked. And their smiles brought frowns; and their laughs, sharp looks. But did they deserve those spankings? They just acted out more. The fact that the boys never gained the amount of attention that they wanted only made them act out more. However, the more they acted out in one way, the more their father pushed them in another direction. He pushed them, commanded them, and didn’t have patience for them.
Fritz would come home from work only to find his wife was gone again. He then should’ve seen it. And a young maid who worked for them should’ve seen it too. The little children would already be in bed then, and most of Eva’s work would be done. She would have his supper ready for him, warm and ready, and she would be ready. And neighbors below them! And whose business was it anyway? And a couple across the hall, and so forth. And this also went for everyone living then on Stoudgasse.
Pauline had her own key. Fritz would watch her come and go. As a product of the age, the Pauline he knew couldn’t be blamed. She had her own key. To Fritz women were a mystery, and were never understood, and would never be. By nature they were erotic creatures; and in his mind they couldn’t always help themselves.
Eva considered herself lucky to have a job. A peasant girl, from good stock, in an enviable position, Eva also tried to live her faith. A Jewish gal, she knew her place. A Jewish gal, she believed in the existence of a Supreme Being. And that without God where were they? She spent time waiting for explanations. She didn’t consider herself smart enough to come up with explanations. She didn’t consider herself smart enough to come up with explanations on her own, so she waited. She had many questions … many unanswered questions. Not the least of which was why they lost the war. She didn’t understand what happened. She didn’t understand why they lost the war. She wanted to know the truth.
She questioned God directly. She tried to stay on excellent terms with Him. She questioned God as if her existence depended on it. Now she worked in a Christian home, for people who believed in the Trinity. Why? She questioned God about this.
Jews verses Christians. There was an obvious conflict. Jews verses Christians. There was an obvious conflict inside her, you bet. She hadn’t figured it out yet. She hadn’t figured what to do about it or what to do about Fritz. She hadn’t figured it out and was waiting for answers.
Karl and Niki were now influenced most by a Jew. And was there something wrong with it? Could there be something wrong with it when Eva was expected to teach them Christian values? A devout Jew? A devout Jew teaching Christian values. When Karl and Niki preferred to go to Eva instead of their parents, they turned their backs on their mother. They turned their backs on her because their mother frowned and stared at them. She stared because she felt awkward and didn’t know how to handle them. She felt awkward around them while Eva caught them and held them tight, held and cuddled them when their mother wouldn’t. Their shrieks rarely reached their mother’s ears. It was Eva who comforted them. It was Eva. And as best she could, she would lift them out of their playpen to do it.
She knew that she was no substitute for their parents. It was obvious. To her it was obvious. It was obvious to everyone except Fritz and Pauline. Eva appeared when the boys most missed their mother, and she became their mother. Never a substitute, she became their mother. And as for Karl and Niki, basically hellions, they quickly learned that bad behavior was rewarding.
They weren’t allowed to get dirty and were spanked for bedwetting. Karl pushed his younger brother; Niki bit, leaving bite marks on Eva. Unrestrained, he hurt her. Take the painstaking punctiliousness way Nikki planned his attacks; then he stuck. Then without Eva Fritz yanked Niki’s arm off, while Pauline simply glowered.
Up in the middle of the night, Eva’s job called for her to respond to the boys. When Karl and Niki got scared. When they had ear aches. Through all their leg aches. When they cried. When one boy’s crying woke the other, it was Eva who got up. She dressed them, fed them, and saw to their every need. She was the one who taught them do’s and don’ts. And p’s and q’s. She potty trained them. She taught them how to blow their noses. This was Eva and how it went when the boys were little.
“Good morning.” Each morning Eva emerged with the boys when neighbors exchanged greetings with them. Sometimes she responded to them and sometimes she wouldn’t. And sometimes she paid closer attention to her charges than at other times. Karl and Niki always kept her on her toes.
Eva walked around in a proud way. Couldn’t she see what she was doing? Couldn’t she see that she was attracting attention to herself? Ambling along sidewalks with kids in toe, she attracted her share of attention. Smiling, she opened her parasol. Men would often stop and stare.
Sometimes Fritz went with her and would fume with jealousy. Ah, such beauty. Pleasure from attracting attention. Teasing and flirting. And few saw her pissy side. Prissy or pissy? A mask hid it. But she might just get a surprise. Who could be against her?
Karl and Niki wouldn’t notice. Wouldn’t be watching. Rather be playing. Causing her grief. But she just might yet survive spinsterhood.
“Beautiful woman: Olympia.” Don’t be in a hurry Fritz. She would wait. Smiling, ready.
“Antonia, yes Antonia,” thought her randy employer, as he linked Eva with every woman he ever desired.
Something soft. Something round, delicious, desirable, and warm. Transfixed, transported. Dreamland. Lips to kiss, kissy kiss.
You don’t say.
Can I rely on you?
Yes, sir. Sir.
You don’t have to call me sir.
Here was a woman, who in every way could meet his needs. Helpless. Hold her. Hold on. Why hold back? Why? Why not grab her? Why she was what she was? Why? Why did she encourage him? How could she object? Why she worked for him and Frau was out of the home.
Call him Romeo.
The cat was about. Purr!
It would be very, very late. What could be said about it, except that they’d make sure that Niki and Karl were asleep? With a scarf tied over her head and a feather duster in her hand, Eva stationed herself at the door of Fritz’s study. In front of her there was a mock-Grecian couch. Fritz frequently slept there, and there one might expect him to play.
He towered over her and stood a little bit shorter than he naturally was. Fumbled over words, over buttons. Why bother with buttons? Back to why. He wore a scarlet smoking jacket, which intentionally he left unbuttoned.
He stood there stiff and as hard as the floor. His fingers were ready. No coyness lady. His pet. He was ready.
There was no suspense. Why play games? She knew what he wanted, and the boys were asleep. It was way past everyone’s bedtime. The boys were asleep.
The situation was this: they all lived together in Flat 16, on Stoudgasse, a block from trams and shops.
Eva knew this room, with its ornate stuffiness and Louis XVI furniture. In it Fritz found privacy. It was his space, his den and his sanctuary. In it he thought when thinking became necessary. At that moment he wasn’t thinking.
“Come in.” And boundaries were crossed, as he welcomed the intrusion. No need for words; so strong was the allure.
“Caught you!” exclaimed Fritz.
And with that she gave him permission.
And that was how it went until he started talking. “Sensuality of women is a primal spring at which men find renewal.”
“Very good, but not original.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Fritz said. Then with a big grin, a sort of grin that showed he knew what grinning was all about, he asked, “Do you believe in destiny?”
“You can do better than that. First ‘sensuality of women is as primal spring …”
“Forget it.” There was something in his tone, something, that something, something that could mean anything, but they both knew what each other meant when he cooed and gave her something that she would never forget. He gave her a promise … a promise that he’d never break. He promised to keep her safe. “Yes, my sweet Juliette, safe.” And it was more important to her than what followed.
“You’re forgetting that I’m a Jew.”
“I don’t care.”
“You should. You should care.”
“It’s my choice.”
“Are you laughing at me?”
“And from a primal spring and with dirty hands…”
“So you want me to wash my hands?”
“No. But I’m afraid.”
“What is there to be afraid of?”
“That you could fall in love with me.”
“I’ll chance it. I love you.”
“I’m afraid you’ll fall in love with me and then grow tired of me.”
Then, as celebrated Lulu, or a primitive woman she touched him. He played along. But then thought of exposure haunted him. How inconvenient.
He went through motions of passion anyway, as he kissed her lips and tried to make peace with himself. “Away with shame that governed our behavior for almost two thousand years …” such thoughts crept in and made him think about strangling her.
He unlaced her bodice and looked into her eyes expecting a reaction. Suddenly pressure was on, and power she had over him gave her great satisfaction.
Then what got in the way? Morality, virtue, syphilis! Syphilis paralyzed, rose to the brain, led to blindness, dried up natural juices and calcified arteries. And what could’ve been worse? Race defilement!
Forget about it. Instead, nibble her sweet neck.
“Nothing is sadder than limits placed on sex by Christianity. But that’s not a problem for Jewish women.”
Fritz then screamed, “Get away from me!”
Did she go away? No.
He should’ve made it clear that he still loved Pauline. Made everything clear, but most of all made it clear that he didn’t want her to talk.
It had already begun to unravel. The flat was a wreck. But what did he expect? The flat was a wreck. Home was in disarray. His papers scattered all over the floor. Wine stained carpet. And, and…. As for race defilement? Shish! Leave door ajar, less suspicious that way. If only they could breathe. Race defilement. Shish! It wasn’t right. So! Ha! So she was a Jew. What would happen to his career if word got out? Shish! What would happen to him if word got out? It would touch him, touch his family. Life might not be so happy. Shish! What would happen if word got out? What would happen if it ended up in print? Shish! All this went on internally. All this went on inside Fritz, as she kissed him back. Despair, scorn, self-pity, treacheries, sins. Oh, well, since it was too late, he let her kiss him.
Surely, Pauline suspected. Surely, Pauline knew. Suspicion and respect were two words Pauline thought of when she thought of her husband. More questions than answers. Only time would tell.
Fritz won respect of his peers. Respected. Stern. Frightening sometimes. Yes, there were many sides to him. Rigid, precise, and even pedantic.
A chance to attack her character, a chance to resurrect his. Contagion. Watch out. Careful. He went to see La Ronde at the Burgtheater, something from Herr Doctor. Something to be aware of. What was the meaning of the black rose, Herr Doctor? Syphilis! Between desire and syphilis. Between Jews and syphilis. How could he ever be sure? How could he ever be safe? He’d never know until it was too late. Yes, their relationship had its dangers, and he knew it. It had its dangers, and it was what made it exciting.
Then it got to him. He’d rather have her not think. To have women think. Damn distracting! Get with it. Do this. Do that. He preferred women to be obedient, subservient; but here was a different kind of woman. Not a bitch. Not a whore! And just like Fritz loved perversion, Eva did too. What could be more perverted than doing it with a Jew? He could never admit to doing it with a Jew.
But if he could, instead of eating himself up over it, he wished he could undo it.
Remember that photograph and photo taking? Remember taking that picture? That picture was somewhere. Picture of Fritz, Pauline and the boys. Also of Eva, the Jew of the house. The photographer came to the flat.
Exactness. Fritz insisted that they get it right. He insisted on getting that photograph right. Insisted that they stand up straight, have their shoes shined, and their toes out. But Karl and Niki felt uncomfortable. They felt uncomfortable in blue suits and stiff collars and never got it quite right. Never could quite satisfy their father. Rigid they had to be. Someday Fritz would have to destroy that photograph.
What would they finally say about Fritz? How he was exact? How he kept a schedule, ran on time, on time just as trains ran in Austria on time? He tried to run his home the same way.
Fritz demanded respect, while it went further. He demanded more. While there was rebellion. The boys’ unruly nature was so natural. And their father had a right or thought he had a right to determine their future. Made sure that they made something of themselves. Made sure they went to the university and study what he said. But why didn’t they always cotton to him?
Eva found Fritz pacing his study, waiting for a photographer. Recently, he was rude to her; but this time he didn’t show anything that indicated annoyance. With Fritz, however irritated, his first impulse was to rely on ceremony, which was so typical of men of his status. He grinned. In a dark tunic, with a double row of shiny buttons, and white trousers, he meant to impress her. It was very clear that he meant to impress her. It was also very clear that he was very proud of his rank.
But Eva refused to be impressed. Refused to humble herself. It was her Jewish streak, and Fritz would never have allowed it except for what Eva had on him. But ultimately Eva knew her place. And she and Fritz fed off each other. They fed off each other like two sharks taking huge bits. Look at them. Half eaten.
Yet they were as happy as possible. Given the circumstances, they were happy. The whole family. Yes, Eva too. There they were in the same picture, in the same frame. All smiles. Except there was something about it that was unbelievable. Yes, there was something that wasn’t quite right. Some day he would have look for that photograph and destroy it.
Eva hardly recovered from elation associated with her romantic involvement with Fritz, and complications it created, when she began to despise her employers and have doubts about herself. For her self-respect was imperative. For her self-respect was more important than Fritz’s affection. She knew his character, and how he could hurt her. This worried her. But she needed her job. She needed her job and safety it represented. For that reason, and that reason alone, she stayed on.
Her job also gave her a passport to privileges. At the same time, she felt Fritz was using her and took advantage of his position. It bothered her, and indignation gave her courage, though she dreaded confrontation and had every reason to feel alarmed. Her feelings of uncertainty came from knowing that he might not care what other people thought.
Eva’s emotions were so mixed that for some time she couldn’t say anything. Resolved, however, to speak her mind, she eventually reminded him that he had a family.
“Eva is angry. I suspected as much.”
“No. She feels nothing. You’re a stranger to her. Her only interest here is employment. Hopefully, she’ll do a satisfactory job.”
“Eva, you’ve always done a good job. Your main challenge is stay ahead of the boys. I know it’s always been a challenge.”
“Yes, the boys are my problem. Since I’ve come to work for you, it’s been a challenge. They’ve been a challenge. Since I’ve come to work here, I haven’t had a day off.”
“That needs to be remedied. Your beauty would tempt any man. Who could be blamed for such weakness?”
Eva shook her head. She was now afraid that she had gone too far.
“How could I be blamed for worshiping you? How could I be blamed for loving you. Your eyes are magical.”
Saying this, he pulled her to him, hoping perhaps to lure her into submission. With suspicion, the young woman pushed him away. In many ways, she felt tempted; but it pleased her that she for once resisted.
“What we did,” she said, eventually, with determination, “was a mistake. What we’re doing is a mistake.”
“A mistake. It was a mistake. It is a mistake. It’s all I can say. It was a mistake.”
“Beware, Fraulein, beware. Suppose I thought you were serious. But you’re right, we made a mistake.”
“I can’t be dishonest,” replied Eva.
“I despise dishonesty. You, Herr Herzel, have made a dishonest woman of me.” She then recalled his declarations of love. Filled with indignation, she added, “I won’t betray my mistress any longer. I’ll always disavow our affair, as you yourself suggested. I’ll deny it. Or I’ll say you forced yourself on me. You forced me. And as you’ve insinuated, now that you’re finished with me, I should leave. Quit, leave.”
“Don’t leave. I love you.”
“Then sir, tell me how far is far enough? And what about Karl and Niki? They’re innocent. Wasn’t I hired to take care of them, or was I hired to be your personal whore?”
Blood rushed to Fritz’s temples. “These days young women think they have immunity. These days young women think they can do anything … anything without consequences. Where did this come from? And they think they are the torchbearers of today’s wisdom. But there are no guarantees, even in a society like ours. There are no guarantees, Eva. It seems like, Fraulein, like you’ve forgotten your position. You’re the employee, not me.”
“Indeed!” said Eva, “and I should feel fortunate. Who then could blame me for wanting to save myself? Or do you think it because you think my brain is moist?”
“How smart were you Eva?”
“I was smart enough to equip myself with Lysoform, when you didn’t think that far ahead. So now, you’re an accuser.”
“Perhaps we’ve said enough. Perhaps too much.”
Eva grew sad and thoughtful. Here was her enemy, and her own innocence in this situation, regardless of the circumstances, would be hard to prove. She unadvisedly let herself be seduced by her employer. She allowed herself … allowed herself. However, she wouldn’t have erred had she followed her instincts. She slept with an enemy, and she didn’t have anyone to blame but herself.
Should the misuse of a person get in the way of his or her usefulness? Beauties weren’t supposed to have to earn a living. But here she was, facing the prospect of being turned out into a world full of peril.
Fritz read her thoughts.
“Yes,” he said, “I could fire you. You know I could. You know I need to preserve peace around here.”
“Most regrettably peace might not be possible,” said a familiar voice from outside the room.
Pauline’s big mistake was that she didn’t try to get rid of Eva sooner. Before it was too late. Fritz wasn’t going to get rid of Eva. He wasn’t going to get rid of her as long as she made him happy, was he? No, and Pauline knew it. A photograph recorded this. Notice how Eva was in the picture. Notice how she was in it and how she stood to the side.
Eva was startled, and Fritz appeared impatient. “We’re waiting, dear!” he yelled. “For after all it’s suppose to be a family portrait. Pauline, how long do we have to wait?”
Pauline replied, “Fritz, I’ve looked all over, and I can’t find my pearls. Have you seen them? Where are my pearls?”
“No, dear, I haven’t seen your pearls,” said Fritz, “but it reminds me, when it comes to fasteners and hooks, I’m all thumbs. Where are Pauline pearls? Eva, have you seen Pauline pearls? Could the boys have gotten into their mother’s jewelry box?”
Eva stared at him; but prompted by his insinuation, she asked, “Aren’t your boys perfect angels? You won’t find better boys. Their mother knows what kind of boys they are.”
“Eva, your value is not in question. Your influence has been positive.”
Before Eva could add a rejoinder, Pauline, replied, “Yes, it has been. But Fritz, see that you don’t get in her way.”
Fritz glared at his wife. The same voice had annoyed him before, but he had never felt so impotent. He felt impotent and ashamed that he could do no more than limp out of the room.
Each morning Karl and Niki waited for their mother. They often waited impatiently. They knew nothing about her evening activities, as they settled into their morning routine of cocoa and Wurstel. Eva combed their hair as they waited. They didn’t comb their own hair. Sometimes their father appeared, smiling, but his smiles meant less to them than smiles of their mother.
Eva gave them the most warmth. With a few words she gave them warmth and communicated her philosophy of life. However they rebelled and resisted her rules. When it came to taking a bath, they kicked and screamed, but their screams were usually ignored. Ignoring them was a form of discipline. They couldn’t recall a real bath. Eva would bring a large porcelain basin, filled with warm water, into their small kitchen, while Karl and Niki would try to delay the inevitable.
They often got slapped. Again and again, slapped. Again and again their father would hit them and called it character building. And often left handprints. Had he been less calculating Fritz could’ve really hurt them. In some respects slapping came from love and concern.
How Fritz punished his sons wasn’t contrary to Pauline’s ideas. But if it had been, she would never have spoken to him about it. They didn’t talk about such things. They didn’t communicate about such things. They rarely communicated. This was during a period when they watched what they said to each other. Candor would’ve been preferable, but Pauline wouldn’t chance a confrontation.
If this man hadn’t been father of her children, she could’ve been persuaded to leave him. She seemed committed to the idea of marriage, while not to her marriage.
Eva occupied herself by getting Karl and Niki ready for school. It was a routine that rarely changed. They rarely changed their routine. The boys themselves were never happy until their mother made her usual appearance. They made Eva’s life miserable until their mother made an appearance. They weren’t acquainted with the side of their mother that would’ve preferred to stay in bed.
Pauline didn’t expect anyone to understand, including the boys. They were too young … too young to understand. They were mere boys. There was no way to explain why her absences seemed justified to her.
Mornings were usually celebrated with quick hugs. That was how Pauline rewarded her sons’ silence. Silence. Silence wasn’t usual for them. Karl and Niki stood in awe of her and would’ve done anything for her attention. Their feelings for their mother stood in stark contrast with frustrations and conflicts they associated with their father. They were afraid of their father. And now so harsh, in his manner and his tone, he felt no remorse for mistreating his sons.
Meanwhile, Niki suffered terrible nightmares, which came from threats of beatings. He often found himself shaking, as his brother slept soundly. With good reason, Nike felt wary of his ill-tempered father. There were good reasons for why he felt wary of his father, and he soon learned to keep his distance.
Niki felt betrayed and blamed himself for trusting his brother. Certainly he and Karl were close and admired each other. They grew up together, so they were close. Early one evening, an unpleasant confrontation ensued when the older boy snitched on the younger one. Still Niki idolized Karl. Niki always idolized Karl. And as his younger brother became more and more rebellious, Karl often told on him, which just as often resulted in severe punishment.
Niki’s resentment caused him the most problems at school. But had it not been for Karl’s big mouth, Fritz wouldn’t have known anything about it. By nature Fritz was self-possessed and indifferent, so normally he wouldn’t have known or cared. Had Karl kept his mouth shut, Eva would’ve handled the situation and nothing of consequences would’ve happened.
A hasty summons led to a confrontation. “You miserable urchin! I’ll bash your head in yet!” were fighting words. Fritz meant it. Karl looked pleased. Later Karl showed remorse and more compassion than would’ve been imagined. Niki felt lucky to have such a brother, though they had their share of run-ins.
Times were hard. Almost everybody felt it; and as much as anything trouble people were in had to do with who they were. And don’t think Karl and Niki didn’t know what was going on. Their parents couldn’t shelter them and wouldn’t try. Soon unwelcome news got even worse, and there were a formidable number of Nazis already capitalizing on discontent. By this time pleasant Viennese atmosphere was being ruined by political intrigue.
Wide-awake, Niki’s nightmares seemed real. They kept him from sleeping. They worried him and kept him awake, and he never knew whether his father would follow through with his threats or not. He never knew. And there was no place for him to hide … no place for him to go. He only felt safe under the covers, which was an option that he didn’t have in the morning.
Niki would lose his youth too quickly. There was plenty of evidence to show he was losing it. But he was lucky to have a brother like Karl, a big brother like Karl. He felt lucky … most of the time he felt lucky. Karl, an example of a runner who ran down time’s road boldly, was the opposite of Niki (as their lives showed). But they each would’ve given their life for the other and actually shared almost all of their early experiences. Then, as young men, the two brothers went their separate ways. Then, as fate would have it, they went their separate ways. Using their own inner resources, they followed their own impulses … their own paths. As Niki observed, he never could keep up with his brother.
The world that Niki created for himself remained strewed with rumble. He was eventually astonished by this and was horrified by the observation that he was capable of doing almost anything. That’s right, anything including participation in atrocities that were so monstrous that they were utterly unthinkable.
Beatings wounded Niki’s pride more than his hide. He could take it, took it, all of it, whatever his dad dished out. He took all the beatings without giving in. He took whatever his dad dished out and discovered that he could bear pain, and his spirit was never broken.
Meanwhile he couldn’t sleep. Nightmares continued, and he couldn’t sleep, and it wasn’t his fault. He never considered it his fault. And with excuses in mind, he ignored truth and didn’t recognize prejudice. He totally assimilated warped attitudes and ideas … warped attitudes and ideas around him. Then a sick and insane moron lacking the intelligence of a piss ant falsely slandered him!
Niki heard a trolley rumble down the street. Shortly thereafter he heard his mother quietly enter the flat. She unbuttoned her heavy coat, not expecting at that hour to be greeted by anyone. For the most part she was happy about being able to come and go at will.
Pauline considered her affairs her business. By nature she was correct and distant towards almost everyone. Therefore, she didn’t make her family a priority, but no malice was ever intended. Her family wasn’t a priority of hers. Her interests were simply focused elsewhere.
Too frequently she gave an impression that her children didn’t matter to her. With widespread poverty and so many people without food and shelter, she didn’t need an excuse for working all the time. She had an excuse handed to her. But with each sacrifice, her family suffered. She was always filled with good intentions. Her indifference came from an inability to split herself. She could only respond in two ways: giving herself to others and romantic love. She also felt guilty over her behavior during the war.
Without resolution, she accepted the cross she bore. Only occasionally she was caught off guard. Only occasionally she was caught off guard by an unimaginable thing. Occasionally something happened that forced her to be a mother. Those times unfortunately were often filled with emptiness.
One of the most perplexing dilemmas Fritz and Pauline ever faced was how to explain to their sons why they renounced Judaism and became Christians. Their decision involved accepting many contradictions. Implications were equally complex. From an early age Fritz ran into hostility because of religion and race. Therefore, he tried to discard his Jewish identity until he succeeded. What were the circumstances that led to his and his wife’s conversions, designations that became more and more important as anti-Semitism in Vienna grew? In other words, their going over to Rome took a great deal of foresight and initiative. And Fritz’s use of patriotic and political slogans didn’t hurt.
As a bureaucrat, Fritz received a great deal of praise. He was good at his job and was amply rewarded for it. Whenever necessary, he adjusted and showed a capacity for initiative. But not unlike others in his position, he was eventually reduced to a title as inscribed upon a white-enamel shield screwed fast to his office door: a title (along with being a Christian) that couldn’t be over-valued.
For Pauline, however, it was much more difficult. It was more difficult for her because she found little joy in her adopted faith. How else could her sadness be interpreted? She never really wanted to accept Jesus, while she often went to church in search of comfort. What a strange world they lived in. They were two people who openly professed the Christian faith while rarely calling Christ by name.
As baptized Jews, they lived with a great deal of apprehension. In Vienna, as baptized Jews, they lived with a great deal of apprehension. While on the other hand, as model citizens, they had all the advantages in the world. They had to be good people. They were good people … the right kind of people, or acted like they imagined those people would.
As Pauline sat down, a child’s whimper caught her attention. Without hesitation, she opened the bedroom door, where she found a distraught Niki awake. Nothing then separated them as both of them panicked. Part of the time he spoke so softly that he couldn’t be heard; part of the time he yelled with pain; all his words were incoherent, and through it all his brother slept.
Finally Pauline understood him to say something about being teased. By then racial slurs weren’t uncommon; and worse still (and hopefully that was all) his record showed that he beat up a classmate.
Then focus of his rage shifted. He changed, as his mother grabbed him. It changed while his mother held him. His rage shifted as they both complained of injustice. “Oh, my God, you must always deny it. You must deny it. You don’t have the right features. Your outlook must always be Christian. You look like a Christian, so act like one. My God, my God, why can’t they leave us alone? Look in the mirror! You look like a Christian. You’re so young, and so Aryan. Were you circumcised? No! You were baptized! What more could be expected? What choice do we have? How sad! These times are sad. These times make us all cruel. It breaks my heart to see it. Yet you’re so innocent.”
Then, after listening to his mother, Nikki, cried out, “Heil Austria! I say, Heil Osterreich! (Every morning now students greeted their teachers with a resounding ‘Heil Austria.’) Ju-da verr-rrecke! Ju-da verr-rrecke! (‘Per-rish Judah!’)” But was he not saying, “I want to be a child again?” Was he not saying, “I want to be protected … I want to be held and protected from a world I don’t understand?”
Jew! Now hit him…. Harder, harder, harder! Rub his face in the dirt. Then kick him, my God!
Niki refused to believe that he was born a Jew. No, no, no! Gone over to Rome, where else could he find salvation?
Oh God, his face was a bloody mess. Well may the other boy be equally bloody. He saw his brother run home to tell their father, but Niki stayed behind and defended their name.
“Ju-da verr-rrecke!” He was denounced, threatened, and reviled.
Oh, my God! See how fast Karl ran! Oh! He never saw his father so livid. Karl never saw his father so livid. And there were a thousand and one reasons for it.
In his own way Niki tried to explain what happened. He explained until his mother began to tremble. They weren’t Jews. No one could prove they were Jews. Pauline was herself in such a state that she couldn’t help her sons. They needed reassurance, but she wasn’t much help. All she could think about was her own close call. Because of it she shut her sons out. It wasn’t how much Niki did or didn’t know, or that he shrieked and cursed. It wasn’t how much Karl knew. His mother just didn’t want to hear it. It seemed remarkable that their reaction was similar. Ravings of her sons validated her cause for concern.
Early the next morning Pauline searched for Frederick and by noon covered most of his known haunts. As she ran around town, she grew more and more desperate. She knew Frederick would comfort her. Weeks went by and still no Frederick. Her life wasn’t totally in shambles, yet she found herself constantly looking over her shoulders. Uncertainty and fear kept her on edge, and she kept looking over her shoulders. Fear driven, she simply went through motions of living. Her routine hadn’t changed, but she wouldn’t have known it.
There came a point when Pauline settled down and became an obedient wife. But while she seldom spoke and then only sternly, she didn’t trust her husband. There came a point when she didn’t trust most people, but most of her anger, however, was directed at herself. As her anger boiled, it gave her an excuse for suffering and accepting unhappiness. She even thought about murdering her husband. She thought about suicide and murdering her husband. It got where the only way she could validate her self-worth was through her children. Only with them could she enter empty-handed and along the way find laughter.
Every evening the family assembled for dinner. By then Eva ate with them and had achieved greater acceptance. This pleased Fritz, as the children’s nanny jousted for position and power. This struggle was inevitable, as both women shared Fritz’s affection.
On this occasion did any of them use the words please or thank you? Or did Eva call the boys young men anymore? Eva acted as if she were their mother. Eva gained prominence as rivalry between the two women moved through a new phase of awkward co-existence.
Dinner continued for over an hour. By then Wiener Schnitzel was almost gone. It was cold and almost gone. And eating dinner together had turned into punishment. It had turned into punishment for everyone. Though there was no outward expression of it, everyone sitting around the table felt apprehensive, and it felt like punishment.
Suddenly Fritz folded his napkin and looked at his wife. He looked at her with an expression of pity. He sighed and cleared his throat. He cleared his throat, signifying absolute authority. Then when he spoke, he saw his wife react to his words with indifference.
“You’re not eating.” Then after a pause, “you’ll die of hunger.”
Pauline closed her eyes. With her eyes close, she felt her resentment vanish. It vanished because her husband didn’t mean anything to her anymore.
“Don’t worry,” said Eva, “when she gets hungry, she’ll eat. She wants you to worry about her, but it doesn’t become her at all.”
“Don’t let her control you.”
After saying this Eva started clearing plates off the table. Pauline glared at her, and then a faint smile brightened her gloomy face, as “whore” left her lips. Feeble as it was, her smile seemed to indicate that she knew of Fritz’s infidelity. As they excused themselves, they all knew exactly what Pauline’s smile meant. Nothing would change. They continued to share a home, while Karl and Niki matured. And as they matured and understood more of what was going on, the more they expected an eruption.
“Well, everyone should be happy in his or her own way. Whether we like it or not, we’ll all have to go some time. But hopefully not tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow they could read in the Kronen Zeitung about Frau Herzel.”
“Revenge, par excellence; a little revenge.”
“By the third day guest and fish are no longer fresh.”
“I’m out of here!”
“No, Eva no. The boys and I need you.”
“To give up now I don’t think so. We should put the past behind us. The world goes to pieces, but nobly. So my husband thinks he’s Casanova. Enough! Let him sew his oats while he can!”
“Pauline, there’s no need for you to be jealous of me.”
“Who do you think you’re fooling? Fritz and I come together as often as every night; then we proclaim our independence. Try to understand that I don’t reproach you as much as I do myself.”
And with that came a truce. Then they left the table and went their separate ways: Karl and Niki to their room, Eva to wash dishes, Fritz to his study, and Pauline to collect herself before taking off to the shelter. More entrenched than ever, they all were disconcerted, while Eva seemed less so. They all also felt varying degrees of fear and rage. But Pauline left feeling like she had been too emotional. The thought then of ever repeating such a performance exhausted her.
The leader of a posse gathered his gang of boys around him. Wearing tin hats, they looked like they came from a carnival. Jack-booted and spurred, the big bully blocked a sidewalk. He held a piece of asphalt in his hand.
“Heil Osterreich! “Front Heil!” he yelled.
“Ju-da verr-rrecke! Juda ver-rrecke!” exclaimed his followers. “Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil! Red and White and Red unto Death!”
“Run!” yelled young Niki, but there was no place to run.
“We’re not Jews,” shouted his older brother.
“Swine! D’ you hear? Swine! Greasy, oily, grisly swine!”
Beer bottles, rocks, bare knuckles flew.
“We’re finished, crushed, murdered.”
“Yid, yid, yid, yid….”
“No, we’re not!”
“Yes, you are!”
“Who yelled ‘Christian, Christian, your place is on a dunghill’?”
Then Karl faced the bully and held his own. He even laid a hand on the cowboy’s arm, but there was no response. The cowboy had turned into an embarrassing mummy. He couldn’t look at Karl. This standoff then lasted a full minute, or until a future errand boy backed off.
To Karl’s astonishment, the leader of the posse found a limit to his strength and didn’t have enough in him to meet Karl’s challenge. Suddenly Ju-da verr-rrecke became an idle threat. Then this gang dispersed, and threats were placed on hold for another day.
Karl and Niki ran home. Within an hour, dinner was served; and everyone at the table listened to how the two inexperienced boys stood up to a gang of idiots. Karl and Niki half expected their father to box their ears. Instead he felt proud of his sons, proud of their stand, because Nazis were not yet in power. Fritz’s moods were hard to judge.
Parliament voted for its own dissolution, and astute constitutional lawyers declared it legal. As anxiety grew, people looked for answers. Suddenly nothing was true, or nothing was what it seemed.
Fritz became a purveyor of news and information. He brought news home every evening. He’d whisper, “a friend of mine the other day told me….” And “if such were true, then such and such couldn’t be.” And he was among the first to find out secrets, which he could never keep to himself for long. He moved from rumor to rumor, while people who weren’t normally bamboozled hoped he was telling the truth. They soon learned to believe him. They soon learn to put their faith in him.
Was there something wrong? Or were they hiding something? Who? What? Distrust permeated everything. Brother couldn’t trust brother. Actually no one was safe. Complacency, however, still prevailed. It was inevitable that Fritz’s friends became rumormongers.
At first they all wore blinders. They fooled themselves. They wore blinders, fooled themselves and denounced doomsayers for spreading panic. Fritz shocked his friends when he predicted the closure of some banks and how the state would react.
Fritz talked about the bombing of Hak Warehouse, but nothing about a police crackdown that followed. On the other side, a speaker was excited and alarmed, and (as it seemed) ready to believe anything. For a time, however, this man’s friends thought he unnecessarily panicked. But as the number of attacks rose, more of them realized the gravity of the situation. Finally most people saw the danger. As incident after incident corroborated danger, Fritz’s prestige grew, and people along with his friends began to listen to him.
Fritz predicted how government would react to tremendous inflation by devaluing currency. Faith in him then seemed justified. Such was his advice, and so simply laughable were those who clung to old-fashion ideas that his friends couldn’t resist investing his or her reserves and consequently grew richer. At the center of attention, Fritz’s eyes sparkled.
Then overnight Fritz’s face hardened. Government once again stepped in to reduce chaos. It stabilized currency by regulating prices and bridling speculation. With one blow, collapse and bankruptcy!
The Fohn, great east winds, came sweeping in from the plains. “Hurry!” urged Karl. The boys had slept late, while Eva considered sleeping during the day a sin. They then had to hurry. They had to hurry to get to school on time. Missed a tram again, which meant they really had to hurry.
For lunches, Eva fixed bread with something on it: sardine, a piece of sausage, or a slice of cheese. They were lucky to have it. Their meals cost their parents millions.
“Today, a crime” (which he couldn’t name); “tomorrow, I’ll stand before a judge.” Niki heard a summons but at first didn’t respond. But over time, he buttoned his coat, because Vienna then was cold and hungry.
“Not that we’d break a law,” added Karl, hoping that no one heard his reference to crime. Niki joined him in front of their building. Behold! There stood a white-haired, unhappy lady. Her arched eyebrows stopped the two boys in their tracks.
Ran from her, after pausing. Running and with a great burst of energy, the boys laughed and yelled, “I’m guilty, Your Honor!”
Still Karl and Niki knew that it paid to break laws. Who would prosecute them? Why not brag a little? No one cared. So what if they pilfered something; everyone around them was involved in major crime: real criminals and interlopers who systematically swindled without a flicker of an eyelid. The cobbler, the milkman, the landlord, and the tailor, all were tricked and robbed of their livelihood. Many previously honest people turned to crime.
So the two boys weren’t angels. Niki, who looked up to his brother, copied Karl. In a hurry, the boys ran through their neighborhood street market. They were late and knew the consequences for being tardy, just as punctuality signified a functioning state.
Niki grabbed a couple of tomatoes before the vendor could yell at him. To him, taking tomatoes wasn’t stealing. It was little more than something to do.
Slipping out of the grasp of their victim, they ran with great speed out of the market. Then spying a Jew-boy lurking “spider-like” on a street corner, Karl said, “Niki, for once be generous; let the Yid have one of your tomatoes.”
Niki smiled sarcastically. “We got them at a bargain.”
“Never mind cost.”
“There’s a hungry Jew, with his hat in his hand.”
Karl smiled. “But, again, I ask you Niki, will you be generous and give the Jew one of your tomatoes?”
To that Niki gave no answer, but gave a signal to his brother.
“Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil!” yelled Karl, sarcastically.
“Heel and yell ‘Sieg Heil!’ Tell me why I should give you a tomato?”
Karl interceded with a plea for generosity.
“Don’t waste your breath. He won’t admit that he hasn’t eaten anything,” replied Niki.
“Give him one of yours anyway.”
“Not one, when you have two? You’d still have one.”
“One? Only one? Karl, get ready.”
“Niki what on earth are you doing?”
“Detestable Jew, look to your own!” Then with rage, disdain, and hate, Nikki looked at the boy. He expended a great deal of energy taunting him. Niki then cocked his arm and threw a tomato, which was immediately caught by the intended victim.
Suspicion of each other followed. For less than a minute they froze. Karl was filled with horror. It was like he said the last words his brother shouted.
In retrospect, some may blame the whole incident on the Fohn? But, if that had been so, then why did Karl find it difficult to forgive himself?
There were no witnesses. Expectation was that there were some. Karl felt like he was caught and was recognized for who he was.
Once grim Imperial Palace symbolized Habsburg might. Known as the Hofburg, this was where Hitler chose to address a jubilant city. Here a waving throng heard Der Fuhrer announce a “homecoming” of his homeland into the German Reich. People considered it a great speech.
Among spectators, however, there were those who felt shame and sadness. Along with jubilation, there was shame and sadness. These patriots refused to salute the Nazi dictator, though clearly they were in a minority. Resistance, however, seemed futile. It seemed futile to them. It seemed futile to everyone. With a stroke of a pen, and clicking of heels, Fritz saw his country disappear. It made him sad. It made him feel shameful. It frightened him. It frightened him to see an advanced guard of the German Wehrmacht already lined up on both sides of Nussdorferstrasse.
With brand-new party badges, several Austrian Catholic leaders stood behind Hitler. After having met with the German dictator the previous day, Cardinal Innitzer stepped forward and addressed the crowd. After him, Hitler!
Since the early days Hitler’s sermon hadn’t changed. His hoarse voice, and hackneyed poses, mannerisms, flow of oratory, were all the same. Hitler hadn’t change, except the former Austrian didn’t come across as a knight in princely armor.
All of Heldenplatz erupted. Officials behind Hitler clapped. People clapped and shouted.
“Ein Volk, ein Reich!”
“Ju-da verr-rrecke! Ju-da verr-rrecke!” came from most everyone’s mouth.
“This is the end of mankind!” exclaimed Pauline. “My Fuhrer invites treason, while he lashes out at us. God help Austria; God help us all. This is the end of mankind!”
“Piss on him,” mumbled Karl, as his brother stood in awe.
“Our Fuhrer has no sons; that much we know.”
“None that we know of,” replied Eva. “Else he’d parade them in front of us.”
“Why is it he has no sons?”
“Treason! What are we doing? Are we going to do nothing, while friends disappear? Murderer! While friends are murdered.”
“People of Vienna,” spoke the Fuhrer. “First let me thank Ambassador Franz Von Papen ….”
“Let your friends and neighbors speak in favor of Anschluss.”
After this Hitler proceeded to welcome Austria into the German Reich.
“We thank our Fuhrer for creating work for Jews. Work for Jews, at last Jews are working!”
“What a relief,” declared Fritz. “May God long preserve the Third Reich.” Saying this to the amazement of his family, he raised his right hand in the Nazi salute.
Instead Pauline stood defiantly, and gave but slight notice to her husband’s salute. There was pain on her face. And there was sadness in her face, pain and sadness, something Eva saw. Then both women halfheartedly raised their arms and silently protested Anschluss.
“Heel Osterreich,” Pauline whispered. On the other hand she wondered, “Maybe we should give Anschluss a chance. Then have a wonderful Anschluss Austria.” And she repeated Heil Hitler without joy.
When later talking to Pauline about what they witnessed, Eva used a familiar du instead of a formal sie. “Frau,” addressing her employer directly, “did you know that since last night they’ve been taking people away from our neighborhood. They are taking them away without anyone asking about their fate.”
“Fraulein Blankenberg, Hedwig Blankenberg, and Oberleutnat Bernhard Wergenthin, all gone. All Jews. All over Vienna, the same thing.
“Enough! Why do we have to focus on unpleasantness?”
“What more do we need for evidence?”
“Such unpleasantness. But there is still sweeping, cleaning, and dusting to do. Now those things are more important than ever.”
“Dear Frau, when did you last notice Niki and Karl? Or saw how much they’ve grown? Soon you’ll be faced with grandchildren, your own flesh and blood, and not really know your sons.”
“No!” exclaimed Pauline. “To me they’ll always be my babies.”
“You know nothing,” replied Eva, filled with passion, “Over the years you’ve rejected them and brought them nothing but sadness.”
“How dare you!” Then: “It wasn’t what I intended.”
“Nothing excuses absences. Your boys are now practically grown.”
“Truly grown. And thanks to you, two fine boys. Eva, you deserve all the rewards that come with being a good wife and mother. I’ve been neither. I haven’t been a good wife or mother.” These last words were uttered with resignation. Pauline’s eyes were closed, and her face reflected self-torture.
“Oh my, my!” exclaimed Eva, “I never intended to bring you so much unhappiness.”
Eva and Pauline commiserated as much as they could. Eva asked for forgiveness while Pauline wanted to be thought of in a good light. But reality destroyed this possibility. Reality kept them from becoming close.
“Foolish child!” Eva laughed. “Pandora, a prostitute, a social problem. If we could, we’d destroy each other. Prospects of this ever becoming my house are none. And your boys are essentially you. Look at them: aren’t they your spitting image?”
Eva and Pauline then focused on recent photographs of the two young men. Eva got no joy out of sharing this moment with their mother. It didn’t make her happy. There was no way that it would make her happy. Perhaps she expected Pauline to understand her feelings. She and Fritz really had opened Pandora’s box. Eva, however, admired the woman she then hated. There were things that each of them admired about each other.
Pauline wondered if her husband ever really loved her, or had simply fallen under a spell … her spell … the spell of her beauty and couldn’t help himself. There was nothing else to say or think. She only had herself to blame. She had often tried to cross an abyss that existed between she and her husband, but couldn’t.
This family, like most families did in Vienna then, looked for any sort of reassurance. Both women believed that Fritz’s position gave them some protection. They hoped it gave them some protection. What did a war veteran have to fear? What did a clerk of the court have to fear? But nastiness tore away their confidence. Underneath lay, not deeply held political or religious conviction, but all of their weaknesses.
Nothing was harder on the family than to have Karl leave. Though it was a family decision, separation came so suddenly that no one was prepared for it. It was particularly hard on Eva. Ninety per cent of the population of Vienna then sported a swastika, popularly referred to as a safety pin. It wasn’t a good sign, and that more than anything else dashed Eva’s hope.
Everyone knew of horrible things. There was talk, talk of horrible things. Thinking of Reichskristallnacht terrified Eva. That was when Goebbels directed hooligans and vandals to smash windows of Jewish shops. They also reacted to Grynszpan’s murder of Vom Rath by burning down synagogues. Newspapers depicted this rampage as spontaneous, while at the same time nothing was said about rounding up Jews.
Each day Fritz went to work with greater resignation. But he continued to execute his duties. Even before Hitler came along, he said he would sacrifice his life for his country.
One evening Fritz made an unexpected appearance in his boys’ bedroom. He didn’t knock. He never knocked. He didn’t feel he needed to knock. He came into the room to reassure young Karl, as the women of the home wept. It was on that evening that the brothers learned of their father’s plans to send one of them to America. It made sense to send Karl. The family decided it was best to send Karl.
A suitcase, a German passport, and other necessities had already been assembled. Along with this, twenty thousand Reichsmark was presented to Karl. Twenty thousand Reichsmark. To the young man this was an immense sum, and it represented his future. His father had already reserved him a place on the morning train. Karl didn’t understand what the rush was and was sent away without suspecting that his brother would become a Kommandos of an Einsatzgruppen (a police contingent of a killing squad).
As those final hours ticked away, Karl talked about how once he reached America he’d send for all of them. They were all focused on a future. Dreams of Texas awoke in all of them a promise of happier days.
The Herzel’s already knew enough about Hitler to know that there future was uncertain. Nevertheless they remained confident that they would survive … could survive, so sending Karl to America was like investing in an insurance policy. The idea of sending their first born ahead initially came from Fritz. Even that step was distasteful to him, so he postponed moving the whole family. Fritz thought that by looking and behaving like Nazis that he and his family could avoid becoming victims.
While not yet a great admirer of Adolf Hitler, the youngest Herzel by then wore a pin of safety. He soon announced his intentions to his parents. He told them he wanted to become a policeman. Given the circumstances he thought that it would be prudent for him to become a policeman.
His mother still hoped for the best. She saw unemployment drop, as a strong Germany pulled former Austria away from the grip of poverty. With the great magician (Hitler) getting credit, Austria was transformed over night. Meanwhile Pauline still went each night to the Obdachlosenheim. She had difficulty disentangling. However, she soon found new ways of helping, which promised renewed satisfaction.
By working with the Youth Bureau (the Jugendamt), she felt part of a solution. As long as she could see that her work wasn’t a sham, she felt part of a solution and could turn her back on nastiness. She committed herself to the care of children. Though she had neglected her own children, she now committed herself to the care of other people’s children … children who had been removed from bad surroundings. In every way, the Jugendamt watched over these children. But SS Lieutenant Adolf Eichmann, working in the old Rothschild Palace in the third district, had other plans for the Jugendamt. And soon it became clear that Eichmann was in a hurry.
As long as Pauline felt useful, she ignored the bad. At the Jugendamt she became a guardian of many children. In this way she fell into Eichmann’s hands.
In regards to Hermann Goering’s guns or butter austerity drive, Eva often served the family warmed-over food. To prepare them for sacrifices to come, Goering asked people to do without butter.
Anschluss was harsh. Anschluss offered hope; yet it was harsh. And it was especially harsh for people like Eva, people who depended on an employer for protection. “Once a Jew, always a Jew” implied being a Jew whether you liked it or not. Therefore, Eva’s dependency on the family grew after Anschluss.
Fritz tried not to think about losing a son. He tried not to think. A frantic pace kept him from dwelling on thoughts about Karl. That may explain why he worked so hard and gained a reputation from his dedication. Meanwhile, he thought Karl had successfully escaped Germany. He personally made arrangements and felt relieved and thought Karl escaped Germany. At least Karl wouldn’t become cannon fodder.
Murder and music were in juxtaposition in the Nazi world. On Karl’s last evening with his family, they all listened to part of Richard Wagner’s Gotterdammerung. They then turned to parts of the Flying Dutchman and Parsifal. During the soft strains of the Abendmahl motif, the world around them changed. As they listened they forgot what was going on around them. But still Wagner had a connection with what they were trying to forget, while his music offered the family a sense of continuity. Memories of that evening would stay with them for the rest of their lives.
To understand torment that this family faced one only had to look into the accounts of survivors of the Holocaust. Their error came from thinking that they could exist around evil without compromising. This confusion suited authorities, but the act of surviving dragged them into mass murder. And in some ways life became very mechanical. It also undermined their confidence in themselves. A disconnection existed, and time soon distorted facts.
On a raw 30th of October, at six in morning, they all waited together on a station platform. They waited for Karl’s train to leave. “We waited until the last moment.” By we Karl meant his mother, himself, his father, his brother, and Eva. Tears flowed without sobs from Eva and his mother. His dad looked pale and worried, and behind a smile on Niki’s face was a coldness that Karl didn’t recognize. Karl didn’t understand Niki’s coldness. He tried to understand it.
From Sudbahnhoff in Vienna, coming out of a long tunnel into hazy sunlight, Karl’s train was absolutely packed with panicky people. It was unusually full and as usual on time. Young and old, timid and bold, they were all rushing to get out of Austria. “Please don’t cry,” his father said to his mother. His father never liked a display of emotions. His father never liked to see people cry, but at that moment Karl sensed that his father felt like laying aside his studied posture. His father seemed unusually somber, and believe it or not his mother embraced and kissed him. An interminable farewell itself offered an excuse for lingering. All the longing and sadness of the past emerged during the final moments before Karl boarded a train bound for Munich and Berlin.
Karl was among the lucky ones. He was escaping Austria and heading for America. In that sense he was really lucky. He owed his father everything, yet he feared him then. He wouldn’t look his father in the eyes. He was always a little afraid of his father.
Oh, what a lovely Anschluss! Blame it on Anschluss! How could they have avoided tears? Karl’s memories were filled with anguish, and like mighty Danube, bitterness seemed like it would flow forever.
On his twenty-eighth birthday Karl left Vienna. On his twenty-eighth birthday he was placed in a west-bound train. Right then he was only thinking of his future, but he wasn’t thinking about where he was going. He had a destination, but he wasn’t thinking about it. He was thinking about Eva. He was worried about Eva because he didn’t know if there was a place left in the world for a European Jew. At least he had a German passport. Yes, he had a German passport, and it didn’t have a dreaded “J” neatly and carefully stamped in it. Yes, he was an Austrian German. After Anschluss he was a German, and he had a German passport to prove it. Without this precious document, he might’ve ended up in Dachau. He didn’t know it at the time, but he might’ve ended up in Dachau. Instead, as an ordinary German passenger, he crossed Hitler’s Germany without being questioned. With the right passport, he crossed Hitler’s Germany.
With the same attention to details that Karl had grown to expect, his father arranged for his passport and filled his pockets with Reichsmarks. He also booked his ticket. His father worked it out. If he had a ticket to Riga, he knew Lithuanians would let his son go through their country. No special permit was required.
Often Karl tried to recall details of this final morning. On the night before, he remembered that Eva came into his room and asked if she could help him pack. She was the one that helped him pack. She was the one that help him the most. And on the night before he left, it seemed obvious that Eva wanted to be near him. Eva couldn’t keep from crying, which dumbfounded Karl (he was like his father in this way). About thirty minutes after this his mother came into his room, dressed for going out.
Remember this was his last evening in Vienna. This was an evening he would always remember. Anyone who thought his mother would changed her routine for one evening for him didn’t know her. And if she stayed home … stayed for once for him … how would that have affected him? He knew his mother hated good-byes (in that way he was like her). Maybe, just maybe, she didn’t feel ready to accept a possibly that she might never see her oldest son again. None of them then were ready to accept this possibility.
A heavy, wool shawl and high-top boots seemed appropriate for a cold autumn morning. As Hitler poisoned the atmosphere his mother with charm and kindness looked for antidotes. Karl loved her. Karl loved his mother. Karl believed she never intended to neglect her family. God knew how much he missed her; yet missing her was nothing new, to miss his mother as much as he did.
His fondness for his mother came close to blind affection. It was not unlike idolatry. Not seeing much of her made her more fascinating than she otherwise would’ve been. But being on pedestal didn’t keep her from looking down on herself, while Eva took on the role of his mother.
Eva gave herself to the boys. She loved their father. Without disguising her feelings for their father, she often seemed giddy and filled with imaginings of a schoolgirl, a schoolgirl in love. How Eva felt about the boys was obvious. And because of this a collision between she and their mother was inevitable. The two women couldn’t have been more different. Pauline was completely emancipated, while Eva wanted nothing more than to have a family. One considered herself equal to her husband; the other didn’t mind being everyone’s servant.
This differentiation defined this family. This led to disappointment. This led to anger and disappointment and gave an excuse for infidelity. The more Karl learned about what was going on the angrier he became. Distance, however, helped. Distance helped him recognize their frailty and allowed him to feel sympathy.
There were good reasons why Karl felt closer to Eva than to either one of his parents. Eva was always there for him. Eva always helped him, so she always filled a special place in his heart. An example of this was how Eva took in every detail of his packing, while his mother came into his room to simply say goodbye. That was it. Goodbye. Eva was so devoted that she rarely or never took a day off. Eva knew her place and felt comfortable with it.
Karl could imagine what people outside his family thought about his leaving. They had to have asked why he wanted to leave when he could easily capitalized on his family’s position. With changes afoot, there were plenty of opportunities. How could a decision to send Karl out of the country make sense to anyone outside the family? Any personal danger they anticipated seemed exaggerated. Besides Karl felt convinced that any separation from his family would be brief.
Truthfully he relished the idea of being out on his own. He thought he could handle anything.
Hats off to all those who admired his father. Hats off to those who admired his father for his toughness. Yes, some people had good reason to fear him. Karl never knew how much influence his father had. And he never knew exactly what he did.
Still Karl would become afraid of the past, afraid of being associated with unthinkable crimes. But as far as Karl knew, his father was never directly involved. Karl drew from a sense of fairness and truthfully could say that he was a Christian and a Catholic.
When alone, Karl often cried. Karl sometimes found himself crying in bed. Thinking of his family, he felt very sad.
So there he was, on the evening before his departure. Eva came into his room to help him pack. They talked for a long time. And as she left she said that she was very tired. Eva’s last words had something to do with them having to get up early in the morning. Not long after that, if Karl could rely on his memory … memory of sadness … he had to get hold of himself … he remembered Niki coming home. Karl got the idea that his brother ignored a curfew. In such an unreal world he didn’t see how Niki could ignore a curfew … how he could ignore a curfew and not get arrested. Karl was also amazed how his mother could come and go. The clock, then too surely, didn’t ever govern profitable notions of man. None of them knew if or when they would all be together again.
Six a.m. arrived. Ten minutes later Karl kissed his mother goodbye, and began to view his long journey with great expectations and, with each passing mile, thought about his family with greater insight. For an hour and for thirty minutes more he sat unbelievably still. From there until Salzburg he became more and more restless….
Restlessness, perhaps, didn’t quite describe how he felt. Karl was anxious and worried more than he wanted to admit. He was naturally anxious and worried. Still he kept still. Too much was at stake to appear nervous. He knew the stakes. The stakes were high, and he knew it. What time was it? When would he reach Salzburg? When would he reach Munich? Berlin? Many things already could’ve occurred in Berlin or Vienna, many things that could effect his plans. They could’ve already closed borders. Without supposing that he could ever be mistaken for a Jew, but if not a Jew, then he thought, why not an idiot? Do you understand? He had a Jewish name and looked Jewish. No doubt he could explain, “I grew up a Christian.” He wouldn’t have to say more than that.
While he thought this, he pulled his gray hat down over his eyes and tried to disappear into his seat. Each compartment was filled with people uneasy about their futures. Almost everyone wore a swastika. Even he assumed the pose of a Nazi and allowed himself luxury of dozing.
This was it. Doomsayers were right. Hitler had swallowed up his lovely little country. All ramifications of Anschluss, however, were still unclear. Even so they should’ve been more alarmed over how quickly the German Wehrmacht took over Vienna. Why hadn’t the presence of German warriors, tall, young, handsome, smart, and polished, and members of the most powerful military machine of its time, frightened them? Instead all of it so impressed them that they found it difficult to see them as an enemy. Unlike his brother, Karl continued to think that he was somehow immune to Nazism. However, with him running away, this assumption was never really tested.
Karl stopped trying to comprehend the unthinkable. The Gestapo had already snatched many prominent people. Therefore why couldn’t it happen to his family? Thinking of his family, Karl grew even more agitated. He fought an impulse to get off the train. He wanted to get off the train and go back to Vienna. He wanted to be with his family. Then for the first time he understood loneliness, loneliness as it often strikes young people away from home for the first time.
Alone on a crowded train he tried to predict an uncertain future. He was unaware of twists of fate that would betray him, as he looked at the mountains through his window. Sitting there he couldn’t see into the future.
Beautiful alpine valleys failed to impress him, as one fear disappeared only to be followed by another one. He knew it was time for him to emigrate because he didn’t want to become a German.
Karl felt his heart pounding in his head, as nervousness overtook him. These symptoms, whether noticeable or not, didn’t mean he had something to worry about. His papers were legitimate. His father had friends in America. His father had friends in America who would sponsor him. Still he worried and worried. Filled with self-doubt, he knew that he had to get a grip on himself.
It was nearly half past one, and they were close to the Austrian frontier. It was getting to him, so he stood up and went out into the corridor. He trembled. He hoped that this was the only sign of how upset he was. In space between cars, he met a tall German in a dark suit: the Deutsche Grenzkontrolle. Karl tried to walk by him, but he didn’t succeed.
“Your passport please.”
“Heil Hitler!” was Karl’s instantaneous response.
“Your passport, please.”
His manner told Karl that he was searching the train for someone specifically. Karl could barely control his fear, which could’ve made him do something crazy. He fumbled for his passport. After that they didn’t speak. There were people everywhere equally frightened. However, with his growing confusion, Karl thought he stood out.
Karl always thought that he’d be able to come and go from his country easily. He thought he could come and go without hindrance and without any fear. Either his father’s position beguiled him or his feelings of invincibility put it in his head. He assumed that he could go anywhere he wanted. But by then he no longer had confidence, and he was afraid that his face gave him away.
Later he looked at people around him and saw that most of them didn’t dare look at each other. He didn’t have to use German or say anything. His fears seemed contagious, which he thought he could tell by simply looking into other people’s faces. For the most part they looked deathly pale. By the time he returned to his seat, they had crossed one frontier; but the nightmare of his flight from the Wehrmacht was hardly over.
What else were they thinking other than thoughts that were uppermost in their panic-stricken hearts? Were their fears unjustified? To answer this question, all one had to do was look around and see expressions on everyone’s face. From his window, even from vast distances, Karl read proclamations hand-printed on walls: “The Jews death will eliminate Germany’s misery.”
Jews definitely had no friends then. Karl was glad he wasn’t a Jew. He was glad that he was a Christian. He was thankful. Let us remember awful denunciations … denunciation of Jews … denunciations, which came so unexpectedly but seemed so easily justified. If not from his mouth, those awful words clouded Karl’s brain and were not easily forgotten.
Truth hurt. Clarity cut and stung. They all shared the same feelings, which were expressed by graffiti that appeared on walls everywhere. Or a solution to a problem that for all of Karl’s life was talked about and was finally within their grasp. A final solution.
His hands trembled when he thought about what he was taught about Jews. Since the Deutsche Grenzkontrolle approached him, his heart pounded even harder, so hard that he imagined everyone in the compartment felt it. Nobody spoke. In reality only hiss of steam escaping from the standing train broke the silence.
Pounding wouldn’t stop. A sermon took shape in his brain. He asked himself what did Jesus think about Jews of 1938. Would His reply be that they had gone astray? Weren’t they given a chance and then went astray? And hadn’t they rejected Him? Something went awry. That was for sure, which then troubled him more.
There was no doubt in Karl’s mind then that Jews brought much of their trouble on themselves and, that if they could somehow see their error, they still could perhaps be saved. They should’ve accepted Jesus and not ridiculed the cross. If they had done this, there was little doubt in Karl’s mind that there would’ve been more tolerance.
Karl had consistently professed his faith. With knowledge that extended far beyond power of invention, he knew Jesus lived. And every attempt to confuse him or entangle him in heresy failed.
Unable to focus on one thing for long, Karl’s thoughts return to Eva, a woman who was paid only a nominal sum to be a full-time maid. Her real responsibilities extended beyond what was normally expected. And that she was Jewish was not kept a secret. Everyone knew. Then as children when did they first know? Karl had to say that they always knew. And yet she was the same as a mother to them.
Filled with kindness, and with a warm heart, Eva was a good soul. She had wit and promise beyond what normally was expected of a maid. But she also suffered as much as anyone suffered. Karl knew that she suffered because he saw her cry. Then came new laws; and because of them, she suffered more. That was all, suffered.
Eva loved them. And her unselfishness endeared her with them. If they could feel that way, if a desk-murderer could love a Jewish woman, then why then did there have to be so much killing? It was no wonder that the poor woman lived with resignation.
Officially Jews were devilish and cunning. It was said, as a race, they did everyone great harm and this was reason enough to round them up. Jews were at fault so get rid of them so that everyone else could prosper. But everyone who knew Eva and benefited from her kindness knew that the common held assumptions about Jews were false. And Karl was not saying that she qualified for sainthood, for her image was tarnished by her long liaison with his father; however his father certainly was as much at fault as she was. Karl also felt sure that his mother contributed to this situation.
Charm that won Eva a place in their hearts came from the sincerity with which she took care of them. And in this context she was foremost on Karl’s mind.
Not only had Eva adopted them, and expressed it in all that she did for them, she always stated her belief in their goodness. At the same time, she had to have known that it was only a matter of time before she became another victim of injustice. Others, in the language of the times, thought that she was evil and belonged to the devil. They simply viewed her as a Jew, a work-shirker and a threat but not because of any specific defect that they could name.
Eva expected to find good in everyone. Though the gentlest of gentle creatures, she gave herself to a desk-murder. Karl often thought in terms then of different degrees of the wrong done and never suspected his father. That may explain his lack of indignation. Because of this, he grew to feel that he did a great disservice to Eva. He later regretted that he once thought Jews were hardly human and without realizing it somehow made Eva an exception. Goodness she showed him remained incomprehensible and became a source of pain over time.
Karl needed to add that this woman was also proud to be a Jew. Her face looked Jewish (much more Jewish than his). This fact then increased his admiration for her. It increased his admiration for her because of what she was up against.
Karl looked up to his mother like he would look up at a remote star that he couldn’t reach. He admired her like he admired stars in the heavens. She always gave herself without receiving much in return, but in that, perhaps, there was nothing earthshaking. Social work was considered women’s work, practically as well as ideally. Pauline found her identity in her career. For Karl to expect more from her would’ve been unrealistic.
After World War I, need in Vienna staggered the imagination, and there were few people more dedicated than Pauline. As for her having anything left over for her family, when she let them down, they had Eva to lean upon. And Karl didn’t understand how the two women (his mother and Eva) got along at all. That the arrangement somehow worked amazed Karl.
And his father rarely came directly home from work. The places he most frequented were among the most fashionable establishments in Vienna. French wines he ordered were the best. He could and would drink for hours. He liked very old cognac and often sat at the very same tables. Often tables were reserved for him. Yet he didn’t belong anywhere, and everybody knew it. (And what happened to his old circle of friends? Not many of them outlived him, and might not he mourn this?)
In retrospect he and Pauline often talked. She engaged in an illusion by telling him that he should be consoled. Whether one person was put in one place and the other in another one, according to her everything was for the best. Pauline knew what was going on, and why some were sent here and others there. Fritz didn’t have to tell her, for she saw it in his face.
O much maligned much-hated people! About your presumed holiday, perverse trip! From the moment you left you neither found enough food nor enough rest.
“Our Eva!” Karl exclaimed, after waking from a nightmare, “Someone tell me what happened to you. Much loved, you disappeared; and much deceived, you became another victim of Hitler’s madness. That is why I can’t forgive. Then again I have to forgive.”
Karl couldn’t sit still. He couldn’t go through life and not speak up. He’d blame his parents, and yes, his brother. He could never go back. He could never go back to Vienna. He never went back to Vienna. In any case, it wouldn’t have been an easy trip for him.
His brother, Niki. It was nonsense to pretend that the two boys weren’t close, and equally ridiculous to insist that some day they’d be able to talk. Return to Vienna? Vienna, where everybody liked amenities? Coward! Not for a million dollars would he ever go back there. After the murder of so many, one becomes numbed by numbers, while for him, murderers had faces. Coward!
Karl couldn’t get evil out of his mind. He couldn’t escape it. In his mind his Dad stood alone. Yes, all alone and never belonged. He couldn’t help but associate his father with evil. But as far as Karl knew, neither his father nor his brother ever joined the Nazi party. But the truth would’ve broken his heart. He would always tremble. He always trembled when he thought of Niki and his father. O how profoundly! It broke his heart.
If he did go back, would Niki even come to the door? If he did go back to Vienna, would Niki see him? Who would that be at the window? Would Karl recognize him? Then Karl might see the difference between them.
Karl wouldn’t know that Niki neglected himself; and that before he’d ever open the door, he would yell obscenities. Niki wouldn’t want to open the door. Niki would be afraid to open his door. He wouldn’t open his door. He would want to be left alone. And would Karl want to hear what his brother would tell him? “Karl, they looked for you too, to make sure all of us were accounted for, before they took Eva away.”
Niki would talk very little, and when he did, talked slowly, and also ate very little and ate slowly. He rarely talked about what happened.
Karl imagined Eva was detained on some charge, but for what? He couldn’t imagine what. It would be a lie, but they all knew the reason why. His dad was proud, and they were proud of him. And he kept saying, “O, I dare say, one doesn’t want to be considered a Jew-lover. Do not therefore go soft.” But as for Eva?”
“But what was Eva’s crime?” Karl kept asking himself that. What was Eva’s crime? And he couldn’t say he didn’t know what they would say Eva’s crime was.
Niki might tell Karl about how he became a policeman but would say it was difficult to recollect missions of his battalion. After all they were fighting a war. Many atrocities happened then. Atrocities happen during war. Niki would heehaw and wouldn’t want to talk about details? Niki received the Distinguished Service Cross. His brother received the Distinguished Service Cross. That much Karl knew.
Things turned out far differently than any of them intended. For his part, Niki would’ve said that during the Nazi reign he didn’t believe anything was wrong with relocating a few Jews. And besides, he would argue, “Didn’t allied bombs turn Vienna into rubble and in the process killed our women and children?”
If he went back to Vienna, Karl would walk slowly down streets he knew and would note changes. Before Karl thought he might go back … thought he should go back, Niki took his own life. This you might think was a blessing; about this Karl was never sure. They were who they were; and yet with the exception of his mother, Karl felt that he had better not say much.
But of the brothers upon whose shoulders did the catastrophe ultimately rest … he who carried a whip or he who ran away?
How, O how, could Karl have accepted it? Did it help to revive insufferable horrors and images of the worst human degradation of all? Was it the worst human degradation of all? Was it as bad as they said it was? Was there a natural reaction or something reasonable for someone such as him? How could he ever escape such a burden? How could he not shirk it, or take responsibility when he didn’t think he was responsible? For so long, Karl couldn’t talk about the plundering, sacking, and tearing apart that burdened his heart. How could he point fingers at anyone? How could he after … after … so much happened? And needed he carry the weight of history?
“His brother! Niki! Fated to be assailable. A milksop among monsters. An ordinary, spineless person, whose life was inevitably consumed by a cancer. If, indeed, Niki became a Nazi, someone whose good heart succumbed to insanity … insanity that defied all logic. If indeed he became mired in a moral morass that was sweeping through Vienna when Karl left, why? If indeed he became a murderer? Why? Again and again Karl asked why. So hurt, could he be honest? Should he have been honest?
Bright and with perfect features, Niki seemed to have come from a perfect mold. A tad of a dreamer he was, but that wasn’t the root of his problems, or why he and Karl should’ve traded places. What happened to him was incomprehensible. It was incomprehensible to Karl. The very nature of his dreams, even with him filled with anger about Eva and his father, should’ve given Niki reason enough to resist the Nazis. Look at this handsome creature, as he was dressed for a fancy-dress ball and with sudden ecstasy sang phrases from Mozart’s ‘Non so piu cosa son, cosa faccio! Then you might’ve thought that he was a swain or lovesick puppy. For a moment you might’ve thought that his brain was only filled with wanton ideas. Not so! Not so! Niki was a man who was fertile with ideas. But take a closer look. Notice furrows in his forehead. Forget the song and dance side of him polished and admired as the popular image of the Viennese.
“Vienna’s tramps, Vienna sausage, Viennese
Girls, everything is strewn around in
Confusion. The growing coal shortage appears,
And once again Dr. Kortschoner comes parading
Past with song and dance.” Karl Kraus,
Whatever happened to Karl Kraus? He was a Jew, wasn’t he? Whatever happened to Karl Hertzel?
Now a word or two more about Karl Hertzel’s state of mind then.
To his younger brother he sent his love. It was important for him to hold onto memories … hold onto memories he had of Niki, onto good times they had together, good times when they sang together.
“Happy was he who forgets what can not be changed,” he remembered as a line from Strauss’ Die Fledermaus. “Happy was he who forgets what can not be changed.” But Karl couldn’t forget. He couldn’t forget what Niki meant to him. Whatever happened to Niki Hertzel?
Often Karl thought of finding a quiet place, either in Texas or back home in Austria, where he could sort things out. It was hard for him … hard on him … leaving Austria was hard. He didn’t know what to do with his feelings. He didn’t know what to do with shame he felt. He felt shame. He couldn’t help but feel shame. He left Vienna on his twenty-eighth birthday and felt guilty about it. Yet he couldn’t go back.
He thought of one occasion when on his way home from an enjoyable evening at the Cafe Zauner he suddenly found himself surrounded by a Nazi gang. He couldn’t forget how this Nazi gang laughed and shouted “Juda verrecke!” He couldn’t forget how they laughed and shouted at him. It didn’t take a brain to understand their intent, but to him they seemed like caricatures. Caricatures, they didn’t seem real to him. Anyone would’ve recognized them, as they aimed their slurs at him.
Couldn’t they see that he wasn’t a Jew? He remembered blurting out “Heil Hitler! Couldn’t they see that he wasn’t a Jew? He had enough sense to click his heels, give a Nazi salute, and shout, “Heil Hitler!” Thank goodness they responded in the same way, (“Heil Hitler!) but with much more enthusiasm than he did. He could only guess what would’ve happened had he not been quick on his feet.
No one in his family was an observant Jew, which suggested that they were either converted or weren’t Jewish at all. He didn’t remember ever celebrating a Jewish holiday.
Why was he so hard on himself and instead accept his frailty? In spite of his family’s conversion, he was well award of his roots. That meant he was still a dirty Jew. Hooligan! Militant! A dirty Jew!
Karl was as impressed by how he described himself as he was touched by idealism. He liked the sound of words like hooligan and militant, but he wasn’t sure that in the end he could’ve stood up to Nazis. In the end he wasn’t sure he could’ve stood up to Nazis any more than his brother could.
Twenty-two hours, and little sleep, and he had crossed most of a riving Reich, the Polish Corridor and into East Prussia. Danzig had only recently become a German port.
The Lithuania border guard sergeant took his German passport and verified his identity by a photograph. He said nothing, when he handed it back to Karl. The guard then gave a Nazi salute, while Karl tried to keep from looking bewildered. Outwardly controlled, but with his heart beating rapidly, he followed the guard’s salute with his own. His Heil Hitler hurt his ears.
Was his brother a Nazi? Was Niki a Nazi? Karl refused to believe it. Didn’t both boys go with their mother to the Stefansdom? Didn’t she go to the Stefansdom, where she knelled on her knees and prayed? Didn’t Karl go to the Stefansdom where he listened to his mother, as she prayed and said, “Sometimes we have to adjust and leave the rest up to God?” He remembered her saying, “God has a plan, and He doesn’t see as man sees, so we have to leave the rest up to God.” Surely God didn’t want them to be separated. Surely God didn’t want to split Christians and Jews. A portion of heaven belonged to both religions. To His children whom He loved they were called to respect. Karl believed these things thanks to his mother.
Karl didn’t think Hitler would last for long. He didn’t think Hitler would survive. Leaders came and went then. Karl had seen leaders come and go. And Karl thought they would soon see a better world. His mother made him proud, but she had always been outspoken. Only in 1938 her words seemed curious.
If Pauline had spoken up, what would’ve happened to her? What would’ve been the consequences? She loved people and had profound concern for them, but to speak up was viewed as insane. In Karl’s mother’s case, she didn’t want to see anyone hurt. All she wanted was for all of them to survive and to live in a better world. By then she hadn’t given up. By then she hadn’t given up hope.
Why call Niki a killer, but rather a product of German policies, a policy that dictated persecution and mass murder? Karl could never picture Niki as a killer. The series of cataclysmic events that in 1938 brought Anschluss and Hitler to their great city was only a prelude to a massive movement that quickly brought the end of the world. For Karl, it was too personal to leave to historians. Moral lessons, however, deserved full attention of future generations.
No other tragedy matched the massive demonstrations that became all too normal during those years. Beatings, maiming, and killing became routine. It was unparalleled. And who could be a better historian of this period than a participant?
Niki became a policeman in Vienna and belonged to a battalion, which sadly was drafted to mop up Polish stragglers. Niki knew first hand Poland. He sadly became acquainted with places such as Belzec, Bilgoraj, Jozefow, and Ponitowa and knew what happened in those places. Niki was present and participated in activities of his battalion. As far as he was concerned, they did nothing that would’ve been considered abnormal for police. There were only one or two men who had difficulty with their tasks, and they were granted transfers.
Back home family and friends supported their effect. No one they knew thought to question why they killed Jews. But he couldn’t speak for everyone. Even though the majority of them weren’t Nazis, nothing Niki could think of would’ve made them balk. For certain they considered killing a remedy for evil, and no one could’ve changed their minds about it. And their job in Poland seemed so routine that they openly talked about it.
Their lack of horror may baffle most people. It was baffling afterwards, but while it was going on it wasn’t. These men (and women, yes women) never required specific orders. It may seem surprising that there wasn’t any ideological screening, special training, or indoctrination. Still though they regularly shot babies and old people, they were no more affected than any other participant in the war was. By any stretch of the imagination, none of them had a nervous breakdown. Instead they brought zeal to their jobs. As a result, very few Jews escaped.
Congratulations were often justified. They rooted and cheered, so much so that it became incumbent upon their unit commander to issue instructions on how everyone should behave. There were certain ways they were supposed to behave. There were certain ways they were supposed to celebrate. They were expected to maintain certain standards, widely known and measurable standards.
As policemen, they were never isolated individuals. In the middle of a patriotic struggle that broke down inhibition, they were finally doing something about a problem … a Jewish problem. Action and belief soon became synonymous, and, as they hailed Hitler, even timid policemen and policewomen became euphoric.
Their hatred for Jews was based on what they knew and heard about them. They hated Jews because of their rejection of Jesus and thus His teachings. They believed that they were righteous, and Jews were evil. With their hate woven into their Christian beliefs, they took a moral stand. As killers of Jesus, Jews symbolized darkness. By their very existence Jews defiled all that was sacred. Jews were at the center of what was wrong with the world.
People weren’t somehow suddenly transformed into monsters, nor was violence due to rage. Their nature hadn’t changed. Most of them considered themselves basically good. Here was a struggle between good and evil. But those who were mean weren’t softened. Dull men remained dull. Therefore, when it came to taking a stand, public sentiment couldn’t have been clearer. In that regard Niki wasn’t any different from the great majority.
Niki could explain this with great confidence. As for killing Jews, they only came under attack after they lost the war. Whether a Nazi or not, after the war most of them had to flee for their lives.
It was during the summer of 1942 that Niki received an invitation from Sergeant S. to join the Einsatizgruppen. He’d never admit that he volunteered. He never knew why he was recommended for killing operations. And he didn’t have any interest in going to Poland. He forgot what they were told him about the Einsatizgruppen.
All of the destruction of Kristallnacht horrified Niki. He hated to see destruction of so much property. He hated it, hated it, just as his mother hated it. By nature, he was a peace loving man; but he felt differently about the Jewish problem than his brother did. Older than him, Karl had his own views. That they didn’t always agree had nothing to do with how much Karl and Niki respected each other. Karl was sensitive like their mother and hopelessly religious. He became heir apparent to her social conscience. While on the other hand, there was a wild streak in Niki. Niki was more like their father than Karl was. Their father saw how they were different, which may account for why he suggested that Niki become a policeman.
None of them were Nazis. After the war, the Allies detained their father and wrongly branded him a criminal. Only a bureaucrat, blaming him for what happened to Jews always seemed unfair. Look how much their mother also suffered. None of them were untouched.
Karl and Kiki’s father was a rock of integrity. The unparalleled disruption of the times, however, interfered with any objective assessment of his contributions. He entered civil service as a young war hero and remained on the job as winds of war engulfed them all. Through it all, he never wavered and was fondly remembered by many of his colleagues. Nike looked up to his father. He respected him and always looked up to him. Fritz was a loving father, who deserved his sons’ honor and respect. And respect was all Fritz wanted from them.
Letters from Paraguay followed his parents moving there. In them, Fritz acknowledged his mistakes. After a while in Paraguay he and the boys’ mother were able to enjoy a good life. They kept a stable of horses and a house full of servants.
With the support Paraquay’s dictator, they also enjoyed privileges of citizenship. And Fritz showed his appreciation to his new country by generously contributing to Gen. Augusto, while their mother spent her time teaching Indians how to read.
Niki’s commander addressed them, promising an extremely interesting job. He told them that they had special orders from Berlin. To tell the truth, Niki felt anxious and wondered if he’d be up to the task. Niki wasn’t the only one who lost sleep over it. For that reason, they weren’t supposed to have been informed until the very last moment; but once they knew for sure what their commander was referring to, none of them objected.
As an Austrian, Niki was proud of his German heritage. Then came Anschluss, and as a German citizen, he was entitled to special privileges. A policeman of rank and of the elite, he became even more powerful when he accepted an assignment in Poland. But up until then, as a member of the Einsatzgruppen, he served without distinction. For a while, it seemed like his unit was being saved for something big. They were mostly young, and moreover, inexperienced, mostly a unit of leftovers. Take Niki for instance: fresh from directing traffic and giving out tickets in Vienna, he felt confident and had a head full of ideas about honor. Given this, the leap to his becoming an executioner must’ve seemed great. From someone who had led an easy life to a person who regularly killed people in cold blood, often en masse, such a change was a great leap. And such a leap should’ve required a clear evolution, but since it did not, Niki had less of an excuse than most of his comrades.
Unparalleled was the havoc they brought upon Poland. Everyone talked about it. Everyone had his or her own story to tell. But unless they had been somehow directly involved, ordinary observers possessed little insight. Those who failed to understand what actually happened were lucky.
Remember it was an all out war.
Two weeks had then gone by since Fraulein Nauen’s arrival. She was accepted by everyone, and, as Niki hardly needed to say, accepted with favor and respect. She was a breath of fresh air. And her goodness seemed sincere. She seemed sincere. Her compassion, wholesomeness, wholesomeness of her character, as expressed in manners and deportment were evident, so evident that she was always treated with utmost respect. Her personal beauty was so rare that men found themselves chasing after her. They couldn’t help themselves and chased after her with their hats in their hands.
They didn’t meet someone like her everyday: far from it. They didn’t meet someone like her everyday in the killing zone. Here was a decent woman. They didn’t meet many decent women or didn’t have a chance to meet them. Fraulein Nauen was decent to each and every one of them. And with a cheerful disposition, she seemed surprisingly relaxed in the company of men. She was confident and was relaxed around men. Her adventurous life, much of it spent roving from outfit to outfit, spoke of strength more than weakness. And her greatest gift was a gift of listening. But even though she knew how to put people at ease, too often Niki felt awkward and embarrassed around her.
When Fraulein Nauen entered a room, conversation stopped. Not an eye but was directed at her. Those of them who were timid glanced at her sideways. Even the boldest man, confused and suddenly inarticulate, conceded, for a time conceded that she could be his undoing. And the spectacle of so much ogling and awing frustrated them. It didn’t matter whether they were players or an onlookers it frustrated them. Yet certainly there was more to her than beauty. Niki tried in vain to describe her attributes, but nothing set her apart more than mystery … more than beauty, mystery.
Were they all, without exception, awe-struck? No. Niki felt that he for one was an exception. While the rest of the world remained spellbound, Niki thought he retained his objectivity and thought he was an exception. But he never struggled more. Never before had he faced such temptation. Never before was he so awe-struck. How easily the pulse of young men fluctuated. How often they were misunderstood. That was how Niki felt. He felt he was misunderstood. Whether he was actually paying homage to his soul or surrendering was a matter of interpretation.
Fraulein Nauen’s reputation preceded her. By the time Niki laid eyes on her it seemed like he already knew her. As for Alice, the gruesome aspect of their work never phased her.
Regardless how they felt, Fraulein Nauen was always cheerful. She always tried to be cheerful. And nothing showed the falseness of their postwar denials more than how initially she seemed proud of their accomplishments. On the other hand, Niki would never have bragged about it. He would never brag about what he did … what he did in Poland, in Poland during the war, and not that he ever considered the possibility that they might, just might, lose the war.
If he could’ve foreseen the unhappy consequences of Alice’s arrival, he would’ve avoided her. A wealthy German merchant sired her. She came from a good family, but not from the elite. Early on her family won favor from the Nazis and profited from expulsion of Jews. In those days having the right friends often meant the difference between life and death. Death in the business world, in former times, meant no more than the loss of a store, while in the Nazi era it meant much more.
Fraulein Nauen’s confidence came from never having to struggle in her life. The idea that adversity forged character didn’t seem to apply to her. Her parents gave her everything, including the best education at a Privatrealgymnasium. Then while her father wanted her to complete her education, she had other ideas. She didn’t see how she would profit from an education. She also received a liberal dose of proper etiquette, which she rejected whenever it suited her. She was emancipated. She was emancipated by the age of twenty-four.
A camp follower, Fraulein Nauen followed the advancing German army, supposedly as a war corespondent. Alice Nauen had passable writing skills, but so amiable was her nature that she was accepted everywhere. People liked her, or those people that she wanted to be liked by generally did.
As for Niki, she made a fool of him. He would’ve done anything for her. It could’ve been love. He didn’t know much about love, but it could’ve been love. There was a time when he thought he loved her with all his heart. He longed for her embrace. For the longest time, he felt that she was the only woman who could satisfy him.
Alice flirted with half the battalion. Niki dreamed of having her to himself. Niki knew she flirted with everyone, so he didn’t expect much. Still sometimes he showed his jealousy by invoking a rival’s name, and cursed, yelled, and plotted harm. Other times he couldn’t get out of bed. He’d shake all over and retreat into his wild imagination and wouldn’t get out of bed. He believed that she didn’t know the power she had over him. He believed that she didn’t know what she did to men.
Nike turned away from a logical course and the only chance he had. The same as an insect caught in a spider’s web, he didn’t have strength enough to get away. He was caught like an insect in Alice’s web. “Listen, she’s not worth it!” others said. And yes he anticipated catastrophe. Yes, he courted catastrophe. “Lead me not into temptation!” he prayed. (As people knew, he was a Protestant.) “Lead me not into temptation,” became his daily prayer.
Then why did Niki continue to court temptation? Weren’t there enough distractions with the killing? There were never enough distraction to suit him. So to get away from temptation, he volunteered for every mission he could. And perhaps he made too much of this. Sparrows sang from the rooftops, sang of his love, but still there were too many Jews. How often did he sigh but never looked back?
Then came …. as if he needed something else.
From admiration for Eva to pity, from pity to scorn: because of this conflict and progression Niki fell into depression. He fled into the countryside, fled when off duty but otherwise did his best for Fuhrer, Volk, and Fatherland. In good faith, Nike did his job, hoping he would never have to look back. And each time he felt a little more desperate and less like himself. It took a friend to observe: “There goes someone ready to explode.” Something terrible was happening to him. Niki knew something terrible was happening to him.
So that was where matters stood as summer drew to an end. As heat grew more oppressive, high winds and bad pollen made life miserable. Still they celebrated their successes … celebrated their successes in the field. And considering how by accident they were selected, they seemed remarkably at ease with their task. As much as they later hated to admit it, all of them approved of the mission.
Much of the killing was personalized. Women and children weren’t spared, and they often faced their targets one on one. Those of them who found the action distasteful understood that they received their orders from the highest authority. All of them wanted to honor their country. It followed that they weren’t unhappy. Catholics among them still took communion and went to confession. Catholics and Protestants would’ve been equally upset had they failed to do their duty.
As busy as they were, they found time to attend dances, theater, concerts and movies. They enjoyed such events. In spite of everything they enjoyed themselves. On an evening Niki would always remember, the eighteenth of August 1942, all of them, officers and enlistees, were assembled in a large ballroom. And they all wanted to spend as much time as possible on the dance floor. They danced and sang and had a great time. The entertainment was splendid. The music was the finest. They were all enjoying themselves. Cheerfulness was all Niki saw until something changed everything.
How could he have not enjoyed himself when he had Alice Nauen all to himself? Yes, Alice Nauen. More lovely and bewitching than ever, Alice held onto his arm and everybody noticed. Alice had agreed and was agreeable and everybody noticed. This was one of the disadvantages of knowing everyone. Everyone knew Alice Nauen. And all the men wanted to dance with her, so all the men envied Niki.
And all the men knew each other’s secrets, which meant women were scrutinized. And Alice was scrutinized more than the others, and it seemed like she didn’t care and enjoyed winks directed at Niki. She came to the dance, with rouge on her cheeks and with lips layered with lipstick.
In the beginning they all fought over Fraulein Nauen. She enjoyed it and promoted competition by smiling. That evening Niki won the contest.
Waltzes again flowed, twining with unparalleled elegance, and set the mood for the evening. Once again light on their feet, dancers moved in time with music. Everyone seemed happy.
Already couples were forming. Some of them were already intoxicated and were steadying themselves by holding onto arms of their partners. Some couldn’t stand. Some were sitting, resting after too much exertion, when…. O my! What was that? What a fuss!
Everyone heard it. What a noise! And everyone turned towards the doors. Everyone strained to see. But with every passing moment less could be seen, because there were those who got in the way. So much depended on where a person was standing whether or not he or she saw anything.
Fraulein Nauen moved quickly. From where she stood she could see enough to cause her to react. And this was what she saw. This was what caused her to react. In the center of the commotion … the cause of the commotion was a young woman, whose features immediately identified her as a Jew.
And this Jew had an infant in her arms and, without any hope of saving herself, had entered the ballroom. She well knew how she would be treated; yet she entered the ballroom, looking, hoping, praying for mercy … mercy for her baby. Exhausted she was out of breath. Exhausted, yes, but there was defiance in her manner, defiance as she faced her persecutors. And until she reminded them these executioners were trying to forget their vocation.
At first silence gripped the room: silence because most of them didn’t know how to react.
Then a few found it impossible to wait for an explanation, and rushed forward and grabbed the intruder. Their reaction wasn’t brutal. For seasoned personnel, there was only one way to respond to humiliation … humiliation the Jewish woman represented. She forced them to react. She forced them into action. Clearly a Jew didn’t belong there. But what was she after? What did she expect? She couldn’t have been so naive as to expect mercy.
What happened next was talked about for years. Many of the women swore. “Look at the impudent Jew!” shouted one. Some one yelled, “Get out!” Soon a whole chorus yelled, “Get out!” But Fraulein Nauen wasn’t among them.
Alice’s eyes were on fire, and she immediately pushed aside men who held the poor mother of the baby. Her rage caught them off guard. Alice’s rage caught them off guard enough so that they didn’t resist her. Poor Lieutenant Wohlauf got the brunt of Alice’s wrath. Poor Lieutenant Wohlauf … Alice’s blows only shocked him, shocked them all. They were also amazed by an exchange of compassion between Alice and the mother. It was soon clear that the two of them were united in an effort to save the baby. And such a display, one so public, baffled the rest of them.
A great deal of soul searching went on that night, in a place where it would’ve been least expected. A great deal of soul searching, and suspicions quickly arose over Alice’s origin, something that started before that evening. Malicious talk increased after Alice took a Jewish baby from the arms of a Jewish mother. Tongues wagged, but Alice didn’t try to defend herself. Her only concern was the baby. She didn’t care what other people thought. By affectionately holding a Jewish infant, she asked for criticism. So why would a German gentile betray common sense and risk reprisal the way Alice did?
But how could anyone have remained untouched by what they saw? Niki wanted to remain loyal. However Niki knew how irresistible babies were. And it was also a fact that most of them didn’t enjoy killing and especially didn’t enjoy killing babies.
Looking objectively, there was no other alternative but to totally eliminate their misery. That wouldn’t change. The elimination of Jews, old and young, had unfortunately become a necessity. There was no alternative. Jews were the reason Vienna burned. It was the reason why the Opera House, enriched with all of its treasures, went up in flames. Jews were responsible. And though as a concept the men believed in the innocence of children, they still felt like they had to nip the blight in the bud.
They shot on the spot old and young, anyone who was Jewish … all Jewish people. This chore, as well as everything else associated with their mission, stirred in them genuine emotions. They were human; and thus recognized the gravity of their orders. But they knew God was on their side. Yes, they felt that God was on their side. Weren’t the Jews responsible for the death of Jesus?
Though Jews were their natural enemy, Niki personally had known many Jews who were good. Didn’t he love Eva? Wasn’t Eva a Jew? Didn’t Eva raise him? Wasn’t Eva like a mother to him? But according to orders, all Jews, regardless who they were, were to be killed … had to be killed. This they accepted without much difficulty. It wasn’t easy, but they accepted it without much difficulty. And they never considered the slaughter a crime. So they didn’t need prompting. They were following orders. It was war, and they were following orders. And most unquestionably orders had to be obeyed. And initiative was the order of the day, as killing Jews became a regular part of their lives.
And as to how many Jews were killed under the mandate, they had access to weekly and monthly reports. They had access to weekly and monthly reports from all over Europe and knew that they were part of a large-scale operation designed to change the course of history. They entered into competition with other units and felt proud of their standing. Niki took pride in his role. He didn’t feel great, but he felt proud. He knew enough about what was going on to feel proud of his accomplishments. And with all his heart he believed that history would smile on them. In that spirit, he felt they distinguished themselves.
Independent of all this, Niki was a young man filled with ambition. Filled with ambition, he aspired to become somebody, but all of his career ambitions hinged on them winning the war, extermination of Jews, and expansion of their influence to the ends of the earth.
Before the night was out, Fraulein Nauen had not only adopted a Jewish child, but also his Jewish mother. Of course, there were other events that were just as terrible and mysterious. But watching someone Niki cared for go soft was extremely painful. Alice’s motive seemed unintelligible. Apparently it was because of her gender. And with a kind heart, she let her emotions get the better of her. Because of her gender, she forgot her place and abandoned her race. Alice Nauen committed an act of treason. To make a case for this, look how Fraulein Nauen begged them to spare a Jewish mother’s life.
Three hours after Alice took the mother and child into her room everyone was still mulling over what happened. Weren’t those three hours the most agitated that the battalion had ever known? Members of the battalion felt betrayed and soiled. They felt betrayed and soiled because they weren’t used to thinking of themselves as sissies. But this situation threw them for a loop. Had there been a precedent for Fraulein Nauen’s softness chances of knowing what to do would’ve been greater. Had it been the case, they surely would’ve dealt with her directly.
Among ordinary men, who weren’t Nazi supermen, such a test of will shown by Alice’s courage aroused contradictory feelings. But to harbor Jews! A Judenfreund! Among them a Judenfreund! This was something too horrendous for anyone belonging to the Einsatzgruppen to contemplate. Had this act of defiance occurred outside their immediate area, it wouldn’t have been so devastating. And none of them would’ve been directly affected, as it was, they all witnessed Alice’s act of mercy.
Inside, perhaps, they all shared a fear of turning soft. They all shared it, so therefore they had to combat this fear. But, in reality, from day to day, they didn’t know how they would respond. They couldn’t conceive all the possibilities. Understand this, they didn’t hate individual Jews. They might’ve been called bigoted, but they didn’t hate individual Jews, and it didn’t indicate a lack of intelligence.
While it may seem like they were, they weren’t machines or robots. They were all different. True, they weren’t charitable or selective. Yet Niki tried not to be any more brutal than was necessary, but remember there weren’t restraints put on them. They were participating in a war … an all out war.
The Jewish mother and her child would soon become incidental. Once forced into action, nothing mattered more than the executioners’ anger, while no attention was paid to the source of it.
After three hours and since Fraulein Nauen was out of sight, their focus shifted away from her. But calm had not returned. Initial panic may have subsided, but calm had not returned and thoughts of revenge took center stage. Before the war, they simply would’ve nursed their wounds. When, splendid! Someone cried, “Let’s burn the entire village down.”
The night was clear and frosty. The idea of burning a village down naturally suited their mood. “Let it burn, it’ll make a nice little fire. Let us warm our hands.”
Their heads cleared. They suddenly became solemn but agitated. They improvised on the spot. Hurrying outside, they set everything ablaze. But it proceeded too slowly to their liking. “Why, in God’s name, didn’t we stop?” Niki knew the drill. They all knew it, and before long they began to hear screaming.
“It was another Kristallnacht, in a village which had previously been captured; and they didn’t let anyone escape. They didn’t let anyone escape an inferno. Kristallnacht great fun!”
“It was great fun! What other description fit? What was terribly wrong about what we did? If we were wrong, why didn’t Jews fight back?”
“I don’t know. We had orders to round up Jewish men, which we expanded to include women and children. Should I say we were wrong?”
“Yes…. No…. Maybe a little. You can think what you want. It doesn’t matter.”
“We splashed gasoline on all the buildings. People were asleep in their beds, which we knew would be the case. It was late morning before the sun appeared.”
Even in the middle of this Niki found himself thinking about staying warm in Alice’s arms. He couldn’t stop thinking about Alice. He also thought of someone else equally kind. This was his mother. The two women occupied his thoughts even at a time such as this: especially his mother, giving how she spent her life helping other people. He had only recently gained a new appreciation of her. His confusion came from his memory of his mother and how she didn’t pay much attention to him and his brother.
Often during their operations he thought of his mother. The other person in his thoughts surprised him, while Niki didn’t know Alice very well. Apparently Alice performed her act of mercy without much trouble, and this bothered Niki. Hands which reached out and took a Jewish infant were also hands he knew, so he couldn’t be objective. He couldn’t remove the infant from his head. He couldn’t remove the infant from her hands and his head and demonstrate zeal and fidelity their mission demanded. To him this represented a major weakness and created within him more turmoil than he could stand.
One might’ve thought that there was at least one of them who would’ve stood up to Fraulein Nauen. One would’ve thought Lieutenant Wohlauf would’ve stood up to her. What was she to Lieutenant Wohlauf? Why had Lieutenant Wohlauf been like the rest of them? Niki remembered seeing him unzip his pants and pee on two desperate Jews who fell to their knees in front of him. Remembering this, Niki thought that surely a woman who obviously couldn’t help herself wouldn’t have any influence over him. It simply was a case of Alice allowing her emotions to control her actions. This made Niki think of his mother and how neither one of them cared who they hurt with their kindness.
As Niki thought of both women, he sighed with sadness. To him, they seemed similar. Both of them connected with him in the same way. Both were beautiful, somewhat haughty, and through their actions noble. Obviously they were generous and extremely kind. Splashing gasoline on buildings, Niki wondered if he could ever go home again. Would he be able to tell his mother the horrible things he did? Would she listen without making a remark, or would he simply keep it to himself?
Niki was no Judenfreund, but he wondered what his mother would’ve done had she been in Alice’s place. Niki admired them both. As he thought of them both, he pressed his fingers to his lips, sighed because of a taste of gasoline, and threw them both a kiss.
As always, his frenzied state of mind soon passed. Satisfaction, rather than horror, took over. He felt pleased with his work. Some of the others may have had more qualms than he did. Judging from their discussion afterwards, this was probably true.
Poor Lieutenant Wohlauf was one person who never said much, though he was the one who first proposed burning the village down. It was his idea. As their leader, he offered to run down the streets with a torch. He lit the first torch. And his men reassured him that no Jew would escape.
However no other incident divided them so much. Some immediately took Alice’s side. Some, because of weakness, didn’t take sides. Women, in some cases, were stronger than men were. But that didn’t make a difference because there were fewer of them. A woman was no less a woman because she used a rawhide whip. With respect to female brutality, it required more from a woman than of a man. But by and large, most of their women were very much into the spirit of the operation. Yes, many of the women were far more brutal and unrelenting than the men were, and therefore the opposite of their physical nature. But for many of the men, it was nothing more than a task.
And how did other women view Alice’s treason? Alice’s treason surprised many of them. Some complained; but Alice didn’t seem to care what any of them thought.
Before this Alice had taken a reasonable interest in the mission. Before this she paid attention to details and, in open conversation, never leveled criticism. Still she showed a certain amount of coolness toward women who directly participated. Socially Niki also chose to ignore these women. It seemed to him that many of them only joined the unit to settle personal grudges. It seemed like to him that they were settling old scores. Ranks of ideological warriors, as war progressed, were not made up of many idealists. And to those who were directly involved, wanton beatings and killings, blood-bestrewn streets and cleansing conflagration had lost much of its meaning.
A few thousand Jews murdered, and one mother and child missed because of Fraulein Nauen. Who really gave a tinker’s damn? What difference did it make? One mother and one child out of thousands?
Still, in this case, the same question confounded most of them: why? There, again, they were talking about Jews. Though people, mother and infant were deemed by their race as inferior, subhuman, and didn’t deserve any more mercy than other Jews. Again their bias had been around for a very long time and shouldn’t have surprised anyone. In one way this case differed from most others: instead of a partisan hiding a helpless Jew (as some did), this time it was a German citizen. Strong and resolute, Alice openly defied Hitler’s order. They all witnessed it. They all witnessed one woman defy Hitler’s order. They witnessed it with their own eyes and did nothing to stop her. And to them, who suffered the ignominy of having one of our own forget her place, nothing could’ve been more shocking.
With particular horror, they remembered sympathy shown … sympathy shown a Jewish mother and infant. And it was universally thought that they couldn’t forgive what Alice did, but none of them stepped forward. They had all killed babies; but horror of killing just one baby was different from doing it during a massacre. As far as they were concerned, the Jewish woman, who crashed the ball with her infant, shouldn’t have escaped.
As if mocking them, on several occasions Fraulein Nauen brought the baby to a marketplace. And once, while cordoning off a section of a town, almost all of the battalion saw them. Niki didn’t like to dwell on this; but as the operation unfolded, Alice had to have seen what they were doing. They had been given responsibility of mopping up by forcing Jews to assemble. They rounded up people of all ages. It was their responsibility to round them up. Most were not rich. They didn’t have much in common. And Alice walked by them. Niki saw her with the infant walk by them. She saw him, but they didn’t acknowledge each other.
By ten o’clock in the morning, according to procedure, they finished sorting out all able-bodied men, who then were sent to a work camp near Lublin. The others were trucked to woods nearby, where they efficiently shot them.
Back in town Niki went to see Alice. She refused to let him in, until he told her that he missed her. He missed her, and circumstances warranted a smile, which she gave him. Wanting to see him, and satisfied that he intended her no harm, Fraulein Nauen unbolted her door and let him in. They talked, and she said: “You’ve been busy.” Then she excused herself by saying, “I have to check on something. Just make yourself at home.” Having said this, she went upstairs.
Within no time, there came a knock at the door. With Alice upstairs and knowing that she most likely didn’t hear the knocking Niki opened the door. With hindsight, he later admitted that opening the door was a huge mistake.
It was Lieutenant Wohlauf. Dressed in full uniform, Lietenant Wohlauf entered in a brusque manner. He seemed so shocked over Niki being there that he stiffened his neck and raised his eyebrows. Then in a gruff voice, he asked, “Where’s Fraulein Nauen?”
“Yes, nice night.”
Niki went to the stairway and called, “Fraulein Nauen, you have a visitor.” Fraulein Nauen heard him and came right down.
“My if it isn’t Lieutenant Wohlauf! Of all people! Lieutenant Wohlauf! I’m very flattered.”
“You know my name.”
“Of course I do.”
Hearing this charade, Niki felt distressed. He knew it was a charade from the tone of their voices. And from the way the two addressed each other, he knew they weren’t merely acquaintances. Watching them, Niki remembered how they glared at each other when she pushed Lieutenant Wohlauf aside, and how he barely resisted and let her keep the Jewish baby. Niki felt confused and knew it wasn’t right. His confusion registered on his face.
Then before he could say anything came the lieutenant’s smile. He apologized for the intrusion, and as he backed out, mumbled, “I must have my head examined!” to which Alice replied, “nonsense!” With this, Niki’s heart sank. After this, the lieutenant excused himself.
While he recovered, Niki heard the baby cry and footsteps overhead. Alice broke the silence with, “He means nothing to me.” Why couldn’t Niki believe her?
She began to cry. Her words weren’t enough, so she cried. Her denial meant nothing because Niki suspected that the lieutenant was her lover, and that was how he and the lieutenant became enemies.
And along the deadly way, he and Niki often were thrown together, while giving their best for Fuhrer, Volk, and Fatherland. The lieutenant was a man of courage and was blessed with nerves of steel. He, therefore, might’ve felt like he had nothing to fear from Niki.
Often Lieutenant Wohlauf and his men went hunting through the countryside for hidden Jews. To be close to the lieutenant, Niki always volunteered and, whenever he had an opportunity, would go into buildings first. Lieutenant Wohlauf noticed this. Beyond this, as with all of his men, he expected Niki’s loyalty and took for granted his willingness to follow his orders. How they felt about each other wasn’t suppose to get in the way.
While correctly maintaining his distance, Niki stayed as close to the lieutenant as he could. He’d bid his time and wait for the right opportunity.
Killing had more or less become their daily routine. Thankfully, after the first time, it didn’t bother most of them much. And then finally one day Niki and the lieutenant found themselves alone. Wohlauf had a camera.
The camera was new to him. The rest of the patrol went ahead and were singing as they went along, when the lieutenant and Niki came upon a Jewish mother carrying a child. The lieutenant, at the same instant, wanted to take a picture of Niki taking aim at their prey.
His finger automatically pulled the trigger, as the picture was snapped. Nike then yelled, “Why, this is fun!” It was so, indeed, but Niki wasn’t through. No one saw him, or heard the shots, or came to the lieutenant’s aid when Niki turned and shot him. One cry, full of meaning, was the victim’s only response. Then Niki shot him again with the rifle barrel eight inches from his head. A bullet struck the skull with such force that it blew the head off.
What could Niki have said after this except that the killing continued? And what more could he have added except that it didn’t matter whether he lived or not. Be assured of this: that there was no way Niki could’ve protected himself from a determined avenger.
On March 4, 1946 Niki took up a pen and began writing an apology in the form of an open letter. It didn’t make sense for him to do this. It didn’t make sense, and he knew it; yet he felt compelled to incriminate himself. And he always stuck by his story.
Poland. Yes, I was in the Warsaw District of Poland during the war. Yes, I served in a police battalion in the Warsaw District, and I saw … I saw … I hate to admit what I saw in Siedlcem Miedzyrzec, Lomazy and Lukow. (Those are villages I remember.) What I saw was more than I could bear, but I was lucky to avoided most of the difficult tasks. I was lucky because I’m Austrian, so I wasn’t a member of an inner circle … circle of favored comrades, so my duties were normal and unremarkable. I spent most of my time directing traffic and guarding supplies. And when I went on patrol I rode a bicycle.
My father wasn’t closely connected with the Final Solution Project either. My papa, however, did maintain his position throughout the war and was proud of his record and more so as his responsibilities increased. His pride seemed justified. It only later became imprudent for him to simply allude to it.
My dad’s biggest problem was his loyalty … first to Austria and then later to the Third Reich. Yes, he served the Third Reich. Later he would say he regrettably served the Third Reich. And by design his whole life centered on his occupation. My dad remained a clerk of the court until the end of the war. As a clerk of the court, dad made many enemies. He had a soft spot but made many enemies. He foresaw that if we lost the war it would be dangerous for us all because he was a clerk of the court.
Honestly many of our institutions were corrupt. And during the convulsions, they became even more corrupt, and dad saw a need to chart a predictable course for himself. He later offered this as an excuse for crimes he was accused of. This embarrassment, of course, he shared with many people, while many of his friends saw what was happening and advised him to flee Austria. They saw it coming.
My father … Fritz … became a government official before the war. He served with honor then. Only during the war, and for the first time, did he begin to question wisdom of his bosses. He always maintained that he never agreed with the assault on Jews. He had a soft spot for Jews … one particular Jew. In light of a great need for laborers during the war, dad couldn’t see justification for killing them … for killing Jews. But after a while, out of necessity, he accepted (or rather kept his mouth shut) basic tenets of National Socialism. With this capitulation, eventually dad unfortunately accepted the Nazis’ concept of race. This surprised me, though we each were full of surprises, for we all shared guilt.
My mother, whom my father married before the Great War (World War I), converted to Catholicism before Karl and me were born. Mother was a beauty and with all of her charm sought a Knight of the Military Order of Franz-Josef: rather than for someone she loved, she looked for someone with a title. But it didn’t matter in the end that her motives weren’t pure and noble.
Mother’s family traced themselves by fact and fancy back to the Habsburg court. It was easy enough in those days. And it would’ve been a disgrace for her to choose for a husband anyone of lesser rank than she did, but for her this wasn’t an exercise of vanity. My grandfather … her father … was happy and lucky and was also rich and honored. When my grandfather took his seat in the Austrian diet, Franz Josef’s reign had reached its zenith.
My mother had many attributes. She was a wonderful dancer. She loved to dance. To her anything less than true love was transient. She often alluded to having received many licentious proposals that were beneath her dignity … beneath her dignity and station. She joked about it. More than once my father had to defend my mother’s honor. My father knew he couldn’t control her nor avenge her injuries.
Injustice common in Austrian courts elsewhere wouldn’t have been tolerated. My father, therefore, made his share of enemies, but as far as Karl and I knew he never abused his power. To him fairness was a creed; and he paid for it. Yes, he served his country during crucial days of Dollfuss and Schuschnigg, and after Anschluss, under Hitler.
Yes, he got caught in the same snares everyone did. First tricked by SS Lieutenant Adolf Eichmann, my father was soon tricked into sacrificing many of his old friends. Yes, tricked by SS Lieutenant Adolf Eichman. My dad never had a choice, (just as I didn’t have a choice) or he thought he didn’t have one. Dad was humbled, as he put it. He was humbled into cooperating with the Nazis. If he hadn’t done his job charges would’ve been brought against him. If he hadn’t followed orders, he would’ve been thrown into prison. If he hadn’t followed orders, mother would’ve been placed in jeopardy. Dad always maintained that he was only following orders. Already, to a proud man, it was punishment enough that he was reduced to a puppet.
Nuremberg Laws gave courts authority to treat Jews like a herd of cattle. Families could be separated and members sent in different directions. It was all legal. It was legal under German law. It was legal throughout the Third Reich. To assure my mother’s safety, whenever possible my father kept her by his side.
My parents and Eva then lived in the same flat in which Karl and me grew up. With our father’s help, I was assigned to a police battalion. I never volunteered for the Einsatzgruppen. But instead of marching off to Poland,I would’ve preferred to stay in Vienna. I prefer Austria to Poland. Not that I was too young to go. I was over twenty-one. Poland has bad memories for me. Nazis ruined Poland for me. At my age I had considerable experience and knowledge of the world. I often went to parties and nightspots, and sang and had sex. I also belonged to a prominent circle.
I’ve tried to forget killing. I knew of killing in Poland. I saw atrocities. Mostly in Poland I was assigned ordinary duties. I was never involved in killing, though there was a war going on. I never killed a Jew. Why would I kill Jews? Why would I want to kill Jews? I was raised by a Jew. I’m not an evil person, so I curse the direction my life took when I was assigned to Poland. I’m filled with many emotions because of Poland.
I am unfortunately reminded of awful atrocities. Sometimes I can’t sleep because of atrocities I saw. As for a job, we were given a wide range of responsibilities. I can truthfully I wasn’t involved in killing.
But innocent, we were not! I wish that I hadn’t gone to Poland.
During this period a series of indignities began that terminated Niki’s career as a policeman. He claimed that when they came upon bearded Jews, contrary to reports from around Lomazy and Miedzyrzec, none of them whipped them. Niki said that they never forced any of them to wear prayer shawls, or kneel, or chant prayers. According to him Jews had a right to worship in their own way. Just as Christians did, Jews had a right to worship God in their own way.
Niki admitted to some things. He admitted to laughing at Jews … to laughing and seeing other people kill Jews, and said he thought mistakes were made. Boasting shocked him. He didn’t feel that they had much to boast about. He just did his job, and like swine, some Jews were slaughtered. And it wasn’t worth debating. Niki didn’t like to talk about it. Niki never talked about it, and he always found sneering at someone else’s religion reprehensible.
Now their Major laughed at Jews and this in front of civilians. Many of them laughed at Jews, and Niki said he found it reprehensible. It was in this context that Niki kept thinking of Eva.
Eva, as far as Niki knew, was never insulted by anyone in his family. She was a Jew, and Niki was very fond of her, almost too fond of her. He wouldn’t admit he was fond of her though. Niki often wondered what she was thinking as she boarded a train for a short ride to Mauthausen. Mauthousen, Niki felt sure Eva was sent there. As a Jew, Eva couldn’t have stayed in Vienna. Because she was a Jew, she was segregated and had to live in a camp; a part of a system designed to change their society. In a camp she could live and work with her own kind.
Seeing her go must’ve killed Niki’s father. Niki’s father knew what Nazis had in store for Eva (Niki knew too). He knew … he had to have known, but he never mentioned it. He never said anything to Niki about it. Niki heard that his father, driven to madness by having someone snatched from his home, went after the responsible HSSPF leader for the invasion of his home. To save Eva, Niki understood that his father offered a huge bribe, but this officer refused it. “They wouldn’t take his money,” and it didn’t matter that his dad worked for the government. It didn’t matter that he was a clerk of the court. His bribe didn’t get him anything.
This was a clear example of what they had to tolerate. Regardless of their sentiments or ties, everyone was expected to make sacrifices. Under the Nuremberg Laws, there were no exceptions. Under the Nuremberg Laws all Jews were branded criminals and had to be segregated.
Niki said his father deteriorated because of his job. Niki claimed his father suffered too and was lucky to have escaped judgement. Partial truths sufficed. And his mother…
His father died far away from his beloved Vienna. He died in a foreign country. But before he died, he left a will and made sure his enemies didn’t benefit from his estate. As he died, Niki’s mother sat by his bedside, while they both suffered from living in exile. His mother who had always been self-reliant and strong, after his father’s death couldn’t decide. She couldn’t decide what to do. And she wouldn’t write to Niki. Others did. She wanted to come home but knew she couldn’t.
Meanwhile Niki wrote he was pushed to his limit and, as he was pushed to his limit, he isolated himself more and more. He went outside less and less until he never left his flat. Never went out in public. Feelings were all but gone. Was socially dead. He made himself follow a very rigid routine, which required no thought. And he lived alone in Flat 21 Naglergasse. His self-imposed sentence would’ve drove anyone bonkers.
It seemed strange to him that no one else in his family lived in Vienna. Strange. He lived alone, a lonely existence. This was his lot. Strange. He wrote he was all spent. Still young and all spent. So powerless and still young. So young. Barely alive. He no longer cared for people. He hated everything, he wrote.
Nike wrote that he looked at his parents as individuals. How in the end his father reduced his mother to insignificance. And she willingly went into exile with him, Niki wrote. She sacrificed all she had at home to live with his father in exile and in dishonor. Did Niki miss something? “Was she also culpable?” he asked. Could she have been arrested? But where was evidence? Where was evidence against her?
Niki would write that there were always those who were looking for vengeance. And what vengeance! Look at Nuremberg! Heavens! They shouldn’t have had to live through such a thing, he wrote. Because of Nuremberg, there was Nuremberg in the end. Because of Nuremberg, they were subjected to personal attacks! Why blame us for something over which we had no control? Blame Germans! We’re Austrians!
As Christians we believed Jewry played a leading role in the corruption of modern civilization, he admitted. In retrospect, we would’ve preferred to have Jewry die out without bloodshed. They crucified Christ! They were sentenced. Convicted. Dispensed with unlike anything seen before. Niki wrote, nobody wanted to prolong anyone’s agony, but when faced with such numbers what choice did we have? In a day’s time there could’ve been as many as a couple of thousand Jews to round up.
While the killing went on day and night, Niki wrote he spent most of his time drinking. He still maintained he never killed a Jew. “Still there were those who accused us. They said each of us killed his or her share of Jews. We all shared blame. Even our wives, our sisters, and our daughters shared blame. Even our wives and sisters were held accountable. Was it fair?”
Niki wrote he wallowed in dirt. Among the guiltiest because he didn’t try to stop it, he wrote he kneeled and prayed. He asked to be punished and many times shed tears.
Then trials came. Niki wrote he saw villages set on fire. He always maintained that he didn’t directly participate in killings. But when he was told what to do, what choice did he have?
He went to the rallies and got involved, Niki wrote. He finally admitted that he volunteer to go to Poland. In Poland they were given many tasks. In Poland, he did ordinary things like directing traffic. In Poland, they joined a triumphant march.
He wrote he imagined that he saw Eva, as if nothing was changed by war. He described how her eyes lit up for a moment. They whispered. She cautioned him. “I love you as a son!” she told him.
He wrote that he never thought of Eva as being particularly religious. Yet he imagined that she behaved the same as a martyred saint. Sometimes people rose above their natural inclination: the degree to which depended on their faith, he explained. He knew his mother admired her.
A Gestapo officer asked her, “Are you Jewish?”
“Yes” was her simple reply. According to Niki, she gave them nothing more.
They would order Jews to line up, to line up and be counted, separated and counted again, Niki wrote. He claimed that since he was a great friend of Jews that the hunt for Jews was always distasteful to him. He said that he became incensed by the killings. “It was a great obscenity. We were turned into bastards and murderers and Hitler led the way. Propaganda succeeded all too well. I forgot everything Eva taught me. My deeds showed my weakness.”
He wrote he became a coward, and as his weaknesses increased, so did his revulsion. He acknowledged that the killings were a monstrous crime.
He admitted to killing the man who threatened him with public exposure. This man wasn’t a Jew, so he stuck to his story. He didn’t care if they died together, Niki wrote. And soon then he was swept away with a desire for more retribution. Soon he wanted to get even.
Nike wanted to be cleared. He claimed that he was always reluctant to jump to the fore to shoot anyone, while he still maintained his innocence. According to him, during a time when so many people were butchered at Jozefow and Lomazy, he would slip off. He spent most of his time in Poland assigned to guarding installations and buildings and directing traffic, he wrote.
He wrote that Lieutenant Wohlauf, clinging to Fraulein Nauen’s skirts, bereft of morals, took him as a threat. He wrote Lieutenant Wohlauf and Fraulein Nauen deserved each other. According to Niki, the exceptionally beautiful and noble Fraulein Nauen attracted a scoundrel’s attention when she first appeared out of nowhere. Niki wrote he knew what was going on. He wrote they sunk so low that they couldn’t sink any lower. And wrote that there was a tremendous amount of pressure on him to do something about it. One would have to know Lieutenant Wohlauf. Niki admitted that he also was one of the young lady’s admirers.
He imaged that his brother Karl got homesick and often thought of Vienna, Niki wrote, as the war raged on. He lamented that when it ended future generations wouldn’t consider him a hero. Records were kept somewhere that he was sure linked him to killing. People weren’t willing to forgive, he wrote.
Niki had to ask himself did he relish his ruthless side? No, he hated it. To him all life was precious. Niki claimed that he didn’t know what happened to him.
Goodnight, sweet Alice. Good night, gentle Eva. For her kindness she was abused; Niki was afraid that this was true. May you both find warmth in your graves? And noble mother, let outrages you’ve endured not take away from your life’s work. You were an honor to your race. Guten nacht, Children of Israel, may you no longer be an afflicted race.
“Listen, my pet,” said Fritz to his wife, “once and for all, no! No, no! As for this notion, Pauline, forget it and never bring it up again.” When Fritz said no, he meant no. And he usually got his way. “There’s no reason to upset Eva when we don’t have to. When time comes, she’ll go. She’ll know when to go.”
“But why Fritz?” countered Pauline. “Why do we keep putting off the inevitable? Wouldn’t she be happier …”
“No! I keep thinking we can keep her,” said Fritz. “Kind-hearted she is, and ever an optimist. Still, she’s Jewish, and sooner or later her name will end up on a list.”
“And we’ll get in trouble.”
“I know it.”
“Our sons are gone now. I worry about them. So, as things stand, why do we need Eva? Since our sons are gone, why do we need her? Yet part of me asks why do we have to throw Eva to the wolves? She has been loyal. She has been … It’s not just Eva that I worry about.”
“I don’t understand vandals and why they mistreat innocent people. Eva or not Eva, let them take some Jews, even most Jews, but why all Jews?
“We don’t need her.”
“How’s that, Pauline? ‘Heil Hitler!’”
“This hero Hitler, who is he anyway?”
“May God save Austria! Remember he’s Austrian. Hitler was born in Austria.”
For her own sanity, Pauline didn’t want to think about it any longer. She was worried. She was worried about her sons. The bureaucrat, however, couldn’t rest his case. He knew the value of honing his argument.
And when the time finally came….
With a half-smile and in a starched apron, Eva came out of her room. Bounding into the study, she gauged Fritz’s reaction to her sudden appearance. He looked surprised. He seemed irritated. By this time, Pauline couldn’t bear to be in the same room with Eva. Maintaining decorum was a struggle. It had always been a struggle for Pauline. For Fritz and Eva not to acknowledge their mutual affection was equally hard.
Smiling, Eva appeared agitated, and asked, “Is there anything I can do? Was that a yes, or was I anticipating a response?” Eva bit her lip. She loved Fritz. She thought Fritz also loved her. Eva also knew the situation and how any truce between her and Pauline was only temporary. She then had time on her hands because there weren’t many places where Jewish women could go, and she’d had come to the decision to tell her employers that she had decided to leave. “Frau Herzel!” exclaimed Eva with tears in her eyes.
“Yes?” Pauline asked.
Eva never knew what to expect. She never knew what to expect from her mistress because Pauline comforted and badgered her by turns.
“It grieves me to have to tell you…” She paused. Why couldn’t she just blurt it out? Instead she found herself saying, “To my dying day, dear Frau Herzel, I’ll remain thankful for all you’ve done for me.” Eva then explained to her employers that her decision was a hard one and that no objections could stop her. She knew that Fritz knew more about what she faced than he let on. Pauline thought back to when they first hired Eva, when they carefully searched for the right nanny.
Fritz recovered his composure, and said, “You don’t have to. You don’t have to go. You’re family. What do I care about what other people think? When I know you as well as I do, why would I care about it?”
“Don’t!” Eva exclaimed. “If you think Pauline really cares, you’re not as intelligent as I thought. We worked it out a long time ago, but never worked it out very well.”
“O must we hear this now!” cried Pauline. She was almost to the point of becoming hysterical.
“Eva, I’ll do what I can… get you a foreign passport.”
Eva knew Fritz would do his best. As she disappeared back into her room, Eva couldn’t keep her anxiety under control. No matter what Fritz did, her fate depended on Adolf Eichmann, the man in charge of deportation of Jews.
“Believe me, this Eichmann is a fine fellow,” said Judge Musil, as he entered his chambers with Fritz. “See how he and the Fuhrer have found work for Jews.”
“Eichmann is fast becoming a second Himmler.”
“But I want to see for myself what Eichmann is doing. So you think highly of Himmler too?”
“Himmler is the man of the hour. Only a few people oppose him. As we all know, Himmler has brought law and order back to Vienna.”
“Yes, he has made our task easy. The Reichsfuhrer SS at this very hour continues his work.”
“His work…” was all Fritz could say.
“He’s likable. I’ve taken him places. We’ve drunk, eaten, and sung together. I like him. I like Himmler. Remember how we all gathered together to hear him and to welcome the Fuhrer back to Vienna. We were all there with Franz Hueber, the Minister of Justice, Vice-Chancellor Edmund Glaise von Horstenau, State Secretary Wilhelm Keppler and other National Socialists. That was when Himmler spoke on the radio and when he talked about freeing Austria. Remember he concluded with ‘and so will it be: ein Fuhrer, ein Volk, ein Reich! Ein Fuhrer, ein Volk, ein Reich! By then it was too late to wring our hands or complain about it.
“Yes, the opposition was silenced.”
“Yes, there were mobs of people milling about shrieking the name of our new Fuhrer. Of course you know all this.”
“Hasn’t the Reichsfuhrer SS ordered us to be more even-handed?”
Yes, but … but we can’t show mercy. Whenever someone breaks a law, they must be punished. Remember when there’s a conflict of interest, we’ve got to turn those cases over to the Gestapo. (Gestapo. The word Gestapo hit Fritz hard.) As you know, Himmler has promised to reward us for following him. But threaten him with the slightest displeasure and he’ll tear you apart. He’s determined. Himmler is determined. I’ve never seen anyone as determined as he is. He may be as determined as Hitler. No one can stop him from completing the job quickly.”
“Anointed. Himmler chose him. Himmler has chosen one man to be in charge of Jewish emigration. And who should step forward and pass himself off as an expert on Jewish affairs, but Adolf Eichmann. Eichman likes attention but won’t accept criticism. He’s full of talk and sounds like a Zionist. Eichmann tries to impress people with Yiddish and knows Zionist history. And he bragged to Berlin that he had the Palestine agency under control. That’s Eichmann. If it were up to Eichmann, there wouldn’t be any more Jews.”
“Himmler seems happy, but Himmler has never completely endorsed Eichmann. Himmler is waiting for our friend to stumble. Fearful that Eichmann will become too powerful, Himmler may try to trip him. But Eichmann is clever. He has taken charge and wants to see Vienna free of Jews. He’s already registered more than fifty thousand Jews and accomplished more in a few months than we ever thought possible. After fourteen days’ notice, Jews everywhere are being evicted. Still Eichmann is not satisfied. Keeping his word, the Reichsfuhrer SS has given Eichmann the authority he needs.”
“But where does that leave us?”
“Because of our loyalty, we’ve kept our jobs. We don’t have anything to worry about. What more can we ask? There are many people who’d gladly change places with us.”
“Each man for himself, you say?”
“But what about those who may be sympathetic for the wrong people? What are we to do to those? What are we to do? Are we to persuade them to change? Is there still time? I know Konfessionslos can stay. A Konfessionslo, you understand, can be married to an Aryan man.”
“So now we have more restrictions, and from these we make our living. Every restriction is based on a law, and laws must be obeyed. However we can choose to make it easy or difficult for people.”
“What if they offer resistance?”
“They won’t be spared. Along with their families, they can expect to be put on a train. ‘til now, not one of Eichmann’s directives has gone unheeded. Let me tell you, Herr Hertzel, if there’s one man who can fill Himmler’s shoes that man’s none other than our Eichmann.”
Fritz listened to Judge Musil with great interest. Fritz had more than one reason to be concerned. Giving a Nazi salute and barking ‘Heil, Hitler,’ he excused himself. Fritz would continue to make himself into the kind of follower that even the most skeptical jurist wouldn’t question.
Karl imagined Eva sobbing and how others would find themselves without sympathy. When he heard of her fate, Karl felt guilty. Not that he felt sure that if he had stayed in Vienna he could’ve saved Eva. Instead he was afraid that he might’ve turned his back on her too. He imagined betrayal. He wasn’t sure where he would’ve stood. He imagined agony … agony he would’ve faced had he stayed. He imagined agony Eva endured. Karl never forgot her. He never forgot her innocence, or how he imagined how she would have tried to maintain her dignity.
Perhaps the best place for Karl to have started was to remember that Eva thought she would’ve been safe as long as she worked for his family. Her biggest mistake then was to trust people she loved. She trusted people she loved. She trusted Fritz. How did Eva then become overnight worse than cholera, tubercles, or syphilis? As a Jew, she became a demon, or as Wagner proclaimed, “the plastic demon of the decay of humanity!”
The truth was that Eva wouldn’t have hurt anyone, but that never mattered. Here was hatred that Eva had to accept; and at that time it was a problem that called for action.
Remember most nationalists opposed Anschluss. Many of those people turned and became some of Hitler’s most willing executioners, and it didn’t matter whether a person was a Nazi or not: a solution to a problem had to be found. One had to avenge past injuries. One had to avenge past injuries with brutality. One had to exact severe punishment from people like Eva. One had to punish people like Eva … Jews like Eva. One thing, and an important point, was this: they talked but didn’t accept blame, because no one wanted to be directly associated with killing Jews. The openly accused in many cases faced execution. It followed then that anyone directly involved in the genocide therefore would want to promote an acceptable excuse, such as Austrians or Germans never disobeyed orders.
Let Karl, however, not forget that blind obedience didn’t occur in all arenas, so Karl knew his family could have said no … so Karl knew his family could’ve done more to save Eva. His family could’ve quietly gone about their business without drawing attention to Eva; but in his mind they evidently didn’t care enough for her.
The Devil is the father of the Jew
When God created the world,
He invented the races:
The Indians, the Negroes, the Chinese
And also the wicked creature called the Jew
Let Karl consider Eva’s guilt. If she (as millions) were not guilty, how wrong were the rest of them? Was it not enough to recognize that their measures were extreme and brutal?
On the day of her trial, Eva had no support. She had no one to stand up for her. By then no one would help her. With the boys grown, she was no longer needed. That was what Karl’s parents were thinking. She was no longer needed. Or with no one to look after anymore, perhaps Eva voluntarily gave herself up. Karl never knew for sure. And so, for the most part, his parents wouldn’t feel guilty.
But were they guilty of longing for the past, for the golden years of the Habsburg Empire, a return to past glories, a time when gossip and scandal remained at the center of civilization?
When Karl heard of Eva’s deportation (and assumed death), it hurt too much for him to dwell on it. She was pronounced guilty; whether by a judge and jury or not, Karl couldn’t say.
By then Jews had been stripped of their rights. Why hadn’t his father sent Eva to America? Why? Because she was pronounced guilty from the beginning, while her sentence for a time was deferred. But his father could’ve saved Eva; that raised the question why he didn’t. And, as for his mother, all Karl could say about her was that she was human.
So difficult it must’ve been to be so quickly abandoned. Eva must’ve seen horrible things. She must’ve seen the worst of humanity. Without further persecution, it would’ve been enough to frighten her.
But she would see much more. Much, much more would happen to her. Karl could imagine how she was mistreated. Imagined how a nod of a head meant the difference between life and death. And imagined indifference of ordinary people, even people she knew. Then came brutality of German soldiers: brutal beatings, inadequate food, appalling clothing and shelter, and general terror.
Eva would’ve been tormented by starvation and dying. People who weren’t directly affected weren’t disturbed. Karl knew his parents continued to live their lives and evidently showed no compunction, as his mother previously did for the homeless and hungry, to speak out. In the midst of this catastrophe, rumors began to circulate that Eichmann planned to rid Austria of all Jews. It was a return to the mad ideas and demons of the Middle Ages.
Karl’s brother became a member of the police force. Niki would’ve had to conform to a code of conduct. Should Karl have been scornful of this? Karl couldn’t censure him..
They nabbed Eva in front of their building. On the same day, even the same hour, various warrants for various people came across Fritz’s desk. He didn’t pay attention to names, so if he had seen Eva’s name he wouldn’t have recognized it?
And it was because Eva left the flat and for that severe punishment … for that the severest punishment. Hatred seemed contagious. Hatred seemed like it was everywhere. Hatred (hatred immeasurable, unimaginable, and unchangeable) burned in hearts of too many people. And too many people lay blame for their troubles on Jews. They needed someone to blame so they blamed Jews. Who indeed had to accept personal responsibility when they had Jews to blame? They needed scapegoats. Jews were handy scapegoats. And this would be true for a lethal interval until after the war. And no one knew it, but the worst was yet to come.
Do you know what really hurt Pauline? What really hurt Pauline was to see how neighbors acted. It really hurt her to see neighbors bestow congratulations on others and themselves. Finally something was getting done. Finally something was being done about Jews. And they thought that the severest measures were indeed moral and justifiable. They thought the severest measures were necessary, moral, and justifiable. And that was just the beginning.
Weakness was offered as an excuse. Pauline never accepted this excuse, though she never totally disagreed that in general Jews were a problem. She saw how Jews in general were a problem, and no outrage would’ve changed those feelings. Outrage should’ve come from a strong sense of right and wrong. For someone who knew right from wrong, Pauline should’ve felt outrage. And for so much she could’ve been pardoned had Pauline paid attention to what she taught her sons. Correct that! What Eva taught her sons. And in light of this, Karl kept coming back to a single question: where was his mother when they carted Eva off?
Karl became angry that Eva’s status wasn’t reported to him. Remember how on his last night at home Eva came into his room to help him pack. Looking back he remembered her shaking. He remembered her shaking as she watched him pack. Still she seemed totally focused on him, and he never thought of her as a Jew. Yet she always said that she knew her place, which Karl accepted without much thought. He even sometimes spoke to her in a rough manner. It wouldn’t been unusual if he hadn’t spoken to her in a rough manner. But she never corrected him. To be truthful, regardless how much truth hurt, Karl was bought up to think that indeed there was an immutable hierarchy of races and that his family belonged somewhere near the top.
But had she, instead of remaining passive, insisted on more respect, Karl would’ve perhaps grown up with a different set of values. So affection for him, affection and guidance, affection and guidance she gave all of them, and in return she wanted nothing more than acceptance. Only they couldn’t fully give her that. And rejection to which she reconciled herself was not only terrible, but as Karl later acknowledged, also turned out to be extremely brutal.
Truth was, given who they were, they couldn’t have been totally displeased over what happened to Eva. Karl never felt that he had as much revulsion and outrage over the cleansing of Vienna as he should’ve had, and every civilized person should’ve. He felt that he should’ve been the first against it and then condemned it more vigorously than he did. He always felt he could’ve done more. He always felt guilty. He always felt he should’ve stayed in Vienna and done more.
Karl imagined Eva’s condition quickly deteriorated. He couldn’t exactly remember when it became apparent to him that he’d never see her again. He would blame himself. He blamed himself for senseless beatings she received. He blamed himself for her death. The alarming thing was that indiscretions … the slightest indiscretion often led to death. Death seemed arbitrary, while putting people to death was systematic.
Because with all his heart and soul he was at the time for the cause: Karl remembered this being his standby response to hard questions about his beliefs. In order not to draw attention to himself he tried to remain calm and unemotional. There was always a distinct possibility that without warning that they might want to kill him too. In the camp (yes, a concentration camp) that was the rule rather than the exception: frequent beatings were understood to be part of the game.
Punishment designed to terrorize and to debilitate gave Eva’s captors reason to celebrate. A few more hours were probably all she had left. She wouldn’t suffer much more. What! To know that she had all her hair cut off. Half naked and barefooted…. Having fallen ill and hurt from exposure and beatings.
As Jews they were awakened at every hour. As Jews they were beaten. They were beaten, tortured, and attacked by dogs. They were meant to suffer! As Jews, they were meant to suffer! Karl, however, and many other Austrians (even those in camps) had to believe that they weren’t doing this. It was Germans. Understand? Germans! Not Austrians! The perpetrators were all Germans!
How could anyone forget the magnitude of suffering? Or daily torturing that took place? Karl remembered deaths that were revealed each morning. It was difficult to explain why these deaths were ever seen as morally laudable.
Fatal consequences of starvation, exhaustion, deprivation and disease were in accordance with the Fuhrer’s wishes. Of course afterwards it became easier to allege anything but what was true. Shifting blame became a game. Men such as Eichmann, weren’t they primarily the ones responsible for the selection? No one wanted to admit that they ever thought reasons Jews were killed were justifiable. But truth was that atrocities would never have occurred without common consent. Karl wouldn’t admit that a language of discrimination was used by almost everyone. He found forgiving himself hard.
Eva had but a common grave. Eva had no ground to call her own. Eva never had a home, but the Hertzel’s.
It didn’t take Fritz and Eva long to stop having misgivings about their relationship. How could this be true? They thought they loved each other. Love made a difference. Fritz would sing to her. He never sang to Pauline. Eva would listen to his tender serenades, songs that he reserved for her alone. Each evening after Karl and Niki went to bed, Eva and Fritz also shared each other’s dreams and aspirations, so Fritz felt he knew Eva. And he absolutely crossed legal boundaries based on race. There was no doubt about it but undoubtedly Eva, from his perspective, didn’t act or look Jewish. Maybe he was fooling himself. Maybe. Maybe to justify his seditious and corrupting crime, he overlooked many of his prejudges. Or maybe, maybe he was just fooling himself.
The burden his relationship with Eva created was tremendous. As a clerk of the court, he was under tremendous pressure anyway and having a relationship with a Jewish woman only added to it. At one point Fritz came close to having a nervous breakdown. It unnerved him. He couldn’t afford to raise suspicions. He couldn’t afford it. So out of necessity, he convinced himself that it didn’t matter that Eva was Jewish. At the same time he was participating in the deaths of many Jews, for which later he was accused. All this continued as he swore he wasn’t a Nazis.
Pauline would scold Fritz, because she knew her husband and suspected before she had concrete evidence … concrete evidence of his affair. At one point Pauline threatened divorce and to change her religion to do it. And for the sake of the children, she asked her husband to keep his hands off of Eva.
Discouraged Fritz turned to his work. He always was a workaholic. Work, work, work, it was his salvation. Still for the longest time he lived with gloom. Mechanically he rode the tram. He rode it each morning. Each morning he caught the same tram for the same ride, and it seemed like it took him across town in the blink of an eye. He had already decided to protect Eva at all cost. He decided to risk everything and apparently directed his anger towards his wife. But Eva sadly would eventually have to be turned over to the Nazis. He knew it. If anyone knew it, he knew. Fritz knew the law better than most people … knew the law forbidding Jews from having sex with Aryans and wondered and worried about how many people knew the truth.
Judge Musil liked Fritz, but Fritz didn’t like himself. The latter spent his days feeling alone … in his office alone. He couldn’t stop thinking of Eva. What was he going to do? Even Eva’s affection couldn’t restore him. And at night he still carried weight of his daily burden. Seated in a chair, he hardly noticed his children, as seeing Eva reminded him of his predicament.
“Fritz, I hope you won’t take offence,” Judge Musil said one day. “Surely you won’t allow a woman drag you down … drag you down in the same way as Eve did Adam. Whenever an old serpent reared its head and tempted me, I tried to do the right thing. Study your Bible. Look in the Old Testament. Eve gave birth to Cain. Because of her desires, Eve also had to bear pain of childbirth. As for the serpent, men who play with snakes never come to a good end. Like everyone else I’ve had my share of temptations, but…”
Caught off guard, Fritz said, “We all have! But what’s your point?”
“Maybe it’s pointless and cruel for me to go on,” said the elderly Judge. “It makes me shudder to think of the consequences of yielding to fatal forces around us. There’s eternity to worry about. Do you ever think of eternity? There was once a young woman here in Vienna, a true vampire. She was boyish, slender, a boyish, slender beauty, a vampire who made me forget good and evil. She was terribly fond of me, and I thought I was fond of her. She would spend time with me whenever she could. We spent time together whenever we could manage it. She made a wonderful companion; but she was Jewish and in the end turned me into a fool.”
“But I got my revenge. Yes, I got my revenge. As absurd as it may seem, I engaged in a life and death struggle with this monster. Such a beautiful monster. It’s a pity. Our relationship degenerated into lovemaking, and it frightened me. I’ve sinned; but ill can I afford to talk about it, except I’m now an old man. And what does it matter? What does it matter since I’m an old man.”
“I often had a cold and lascivious beauty in my life, someone who was obsessed with me. What could I do? Do? Do! What could I do? From experience I can say that love can be resisted. We lads are easily lured to our doom. Sure enough she was wild and sucked life out of me … sucked life out of many men. Jewish women tend to be that way. I was torn and clawed to pieces. I fell into a pit. I fell into a pit with a wildcat when I was weak. She played on my weaknesses. I was helpless. I was helpless and weak. We understand helplessness, don’t we?”
“I brought her into my house. No one knew but my wife; and we tried to keep it that way. We tried to keep it a secret.”
“Well, before she died this vampire confessed that she preferred other women to men. She preferred other women to men, and you know what this meant. This made it easier. Lesbians, you understand, are unnatural. It’s unnatural. And because they’ve failed the devil handles them so roughly that they pay for it with their lives.”
“How was it that she failed?” asked Fritz. “Isn’t it always the fault of the devil?”
“Why, you’ve turned pale,” observed the judge. “The devil, for sure, who else can we blame? Most people who’ve tried to resist laws of nature have been ruined. I’ve seen it. You’ve seen it. I know you’ve seen it too. We’ve seen it too often, haven’t we? We all have a choice; but I’m of the opinion that this sickness comes from the devil.”
Fritz drew a deep breath before asking, “But didn’t you know who she was before you became involved with her?”
“Sure we did. Sure I did. So did my wife. We both knew. As a slave-girl, the vampire stood before me and bowed. That was a turning point. That was when she became my slave. Eventually … then … then I knew what I had to do. That was when I knew what I had to do and in front of my wife pushed her away. Then I knew … I knew that what I hated most mortally was standing there in front of me. That was when I threw her out and, in the process, saved my soul. Here, there, and everywhere, I’ve seen lost men. Here, there, and everywhere, there are men who have been led astray. You have to understand. My own behavior has kept me from being too critical of others. I can’t blame anyone else because I’ve been there. And during all this my wife never objected. Other women would come into my life; but I’ve only missed this vampire.”
“God protects Christians from the devil!” said the petty clerk, crossing himself.
“Did I then,” asked the judge, “make a contract with Satan?”
“Who am I to judge?” replied Fritz, “for it’s written, judge not. Judge not! judge. But when someone gives in to the devil, it’s no small matter; for what reason would someone give up his body and soul? For what reason would someone risk everything? Satan needs no prompting. He offers us pleasures. But with the help of the Lord … with the help of the Lord a sinner will reject them. We have to take care of ourselves and do what we have to do. For my part, when I sin I hope no one is watching and try to avoid being observed. The devil is a wily fellow and always has his henchmen near. He always has his henchmen near and ready … ready to serve his purposes instead the Lord’s.”
Without enthusiasm Fritz threw himself into each task. And documents he reviewed each morning contained long lists of Jews. He checked long lists each morning, long lists he didn’t think needed checking. Then recognizing himself for who he was the clerk held an old cartridge pen, a bloody reminder of his authority. And his hand shook each time he initialed each name … meticulously initialed each name. Then confused he knew how much more he had sacrificed for the Reich.
Thoroughness had long been an attribute Fritz valued, while his employer exploited his thoroughness. Fritz recognized his predicament. It was his own fault for coveting his job. Then there was the threatening aspect of his relationship with Eva.
Near the front edge of his desk were pictures of his family. Their faces signified stability. Their faces were his rock. He missed his boys: neither one anymore than the other. Earlier in his life he wouldn’t have had to explain anything to a judge. Earlier is his life his relationship with Eva wouldn’t have been anyone’s business. That changed until he felt he had to take aim and fire a shot at Eva. Immediately he knew what he did. He hadn’t meant to hurt her. He couldn’t but hurt her. It was too late. He didn’t mean to hurt her, and he wouldn’t be given a chance to rehabilitate her.
So he lived in fear. But Nazis hadn’t invented phantoms that kept him awake at night. It was more personal than this.
“Fool!” he said to himself. “Just because some Jews are more dangerous and destructive than people of other races, does it mean all of them are? And what’s so abnormal about a man being attracted to a beautiful woman?”
“We have no control over brutes that are in power. And why should we fight a futile battle? By the same token, why should we resist Nazis when making the Reich Jew free seems so noble? We must thank the Fuhrer! God works in ways we don’t understand. Who are we to trifle with the will of God? Only a fool would. I can no longer accept God, but must continue working for the Fuhrer and the Reich. Why worry about what’s right and what’s wrong? I’m a soldier and have to do what I’m told. If I someday come home and find Eva gone, so be it.”
Fritz had a position to maintain and had welcomed the Nuremberg Laws. But it still was a lonely spot to be in. Nobody could ever know how much he loved Eva, but he made sure he didn’t let his emotions show and left the dirty work to the Gestapo.
Forlorn, Fritz fortified himself with indignation over the Jewish Problem. With indignation, he did it. He did it to such an extent that he accepted the loss of Eva. Eventually he surrendered to the inevitable and wished the nanny Godspeed.
“Fritz, hold me,” Eva she. “God knows what dangers I face. I don’t know what will happen but whatever it is, know that I have the greatest respect for you. Don’t look so down. (How did she know?) Certainly war won’t last forever. I’ll be back, if you’ll have me.”
Eva offered her employer a kiss, and even when he tried to break away, was unwilling to let him go. She seemed to sense his dilemma.
“Another time,” said he, “another time. Tonight I need to be alone. I assure you I don’t want you to leave.”
With all of his might, Fritz tried to excuse himself, but Eva held on to him with such strength that her request couldn’t be resisted.
Around midnight, the former soldier fell asleep in Eva’s lap. That was where Pauline later found him when she came home. Pauline would’ve lashed out at the lovers had she not known that Eva’s days were numbered. She, therefore, pretended that she didn’t see Eva and her husband. She pretended that she didn’t see them on a sofa.
Then when he crawled into bed beside her, Pauline could sense the presence of the other woman. She rarely reached out and touched him. On this particular night, she asked, “Fritz, guess what? Guess! I was drinking, feeling no Angst, no loneliness, at our favorite Heuringer…”
Normally Fritz would’ve felt annoyed by such an admission. On this night, he mourned for Eva and viewed his wife as a troublesome intruder, as he waited for a heavy knock at the door. He could see Eva allowing them in. He could see them in their uniforms and saw himself running toward Eva. A world of differences separated them. For his own benefit he would yell something about not knowing her race. Differences that would become critical would hold Fritz in check. After it was too late, Fritz would realize that he could’ve saved Eva, just as he had arranged for Karl’s emigration.
Jewess Eva Marie Popper was marched down the street. Eva was marched down Fritz’s street. Rage of the leader didn’t escape Fritz’s attention.
“Keep up your spirits and don’t give up,” Fritz told her; “It won’t take long anymore. It won’t be long now.”
Those last words had great meaning for Eva. Those last words meant everything to her. “Don’t give up.” She saw in them an obscure reference to what she could expect to happen. It gave her hope when there was no reason for hope. Pauline told Fritz that the person that she saw at the Heuringer was none other than his boss.
“Happy is he who forgets what cannot be changed.” They had to move quickly. Germans weren’t going to wait. Germans weren’t willing to wait for useless eaters to die a natural death. Fritz knew he could’ve done more for Eva.
From morning to night Eva had bustled about the flat. All day she felt a compulsion to clean. She cleaned and cleaned and made sure nothing was out of place. She focused on pleasing Fritz and waited for him to come home. She waited for him with anticipation. Then he entered his broken home with a broken heart, and for the first time experienced enduring pain of loss. He felt pain of loss before he lost Eva. He thought of suicide. Suicide. Yes, suicide. Suicide was then so prevalent in Vienna that Fritz felt like he stood at the grave of everyone he once knew. Many members of his old circle were no longer alive. Some of them committed suicide.
“But in Vienna there’ll be wine even after we’re all gone. So let us eat, drink and be merry. The Heuriger, one-third wine and two-thirds Stimmung, this year is the best Heuriger ever. Heuriger is ready. So let’s drink it. Let’s drink. Let’s forget and drink. Everyone drink up. Drink up everyone! Fritz poured his heart, his pain, and his tears into new wine, and he found confront in it.
Walls of Cafe Central were all covered with works of Sezession painters, but only with works approved by Nazis, which meant they were conservative and not too modern. Nockerl there was delicious and well worth a visit.
“Wasn’t Herr Freud overrated?” asked Pauline. “Now that he is gone we don’t have to pay homage to him, not any more. No more Freud! Now we can be happy. Now we can be happy without having to worry about what’s wrong with us. Without Herr Freud, we can be happy. Why condemn ourselves for marrying for love?”
Pauline embraced Fritz and was deeply moved. “Pauline,” said her husband, “let’s celebrate. I have a sense that we won’t always be this happy. So let’s drink and be happy.”
“Let’s enjoy ourselves. Brothers and sisters, you’re all invited to taste a little … a lot of young wine. Let us rejoice. Our youngest has gone to Poland. Our oldest has gone to America.”
Coincidentally sounds of running feet and shrieks of SS whistles interrupted Pauline’s speech. While she spoke, police and SS officers closed off both ends of the street. They closed off the street and fanned out into houses surrounding the Cafe. Shrieks! Whistles! Quickly all Jews in the neighborhood were apprehended and were marched to a collection point. “Why in God’s name, can’t this wait,” complained Fritz, “wait until we’re home? There’s no reason why this can’t wait. There’s no reason why we have to be a part of this. Pauline, my love, is there anything worse?”
She finished her Heuriger without responding.
Everyone saw Fritz’s agitation. No one missed his wife’s smile. Was everyone really watching? For the first time in a long time blood filled Pauline’s cheeks. For the first in a long time she smiled in front Fritz. By the way Pauline acted Fritz could tell that his wife wasn’t sad about Eva’s detention, while sad images of that last night flashed through his head. To dull pain he gulped wine quicker than he normally did. It gave him a headache. It didn’t clear his head like it was suppose to. It gave him a headache, but it helped … it helped him to bury his sorrow. It took a while, but eventually he decided to live; and no longer saw a future in fighting Pauline.
It was well after ten o’clock at night, and Fritz’s mind jump ahead to the next morning. What was he going to do? Go to work? He looked ahead and looked for a pretext for not reporting to work. Even in company of friends, time crawled. Was he acting normally? How many people thought he acted peculiarly?
Eleven o’clock was now past. Without a word Fritz took the hand of his bride. He told her that it was time to leave. He coaxed her to leave. Already he was out of his chair with his hat on his head when a Jewish-looking man sitting at the next table took out a razor and slit his own throat.
“Going someplace, Fritz?” asked Pauline teasingly.”
“I don’t like Germans, and for different reasons all of the time,” was his answer. This was a nightmare. Pauline hoped no one heard him. All her anger then was directed toward him, and even a man slitting his throat couldn’t distract her.
Fritz tore himself away from her. In vain she begged him to stay. In vain she begged him. Suddenly he felt alone and consoled himself by pretending his world hadn’t ended. Fritz then lived in constant fear but put forth a good face. He saw what was happening and put forth a good face. Sometimes from depths of despair he heard a voice in great agitation call his name. He knew it was Eva’s voice. He recognized Eva’s name.
Fritz could still see Eva issuing into a room. He could still see her coming into his study. Fritz wished he could turn back the clock. He wished he could really see Eva again. He couldn’t get Eva her out of his head. He remembered telling her, “nicht aufgeben.”
“Es dauert nicht mehr.”
Knowing more of what was in store for Eva than she did, he responded “I hope not.”
“As much as you might want to try, you can’t hate me. Take the good times we’ve had together. Try to replace them with something else, but you can’t. I will always remember the good times. Sometimes we were innocent: other times we weren’t.”
“No, no,” said Fritz, shuddering: “I don’t know you. I never did.”
“So be it.” And with that she was taken away from him, followed by the recognition that the face of her captor bore a resemblance to his wife’s. This chilled him.
Eva was never given a chance to rehabilitate herself. She was a Jew and was never given a chance. And Fritz could never justify his inaction. He had too much to lose. There was justification: he had too much to lose. Besides he was assured that nothing terrible would happen to Eva. He thought nothing serious would happen to her (he was reassured) because she was too important to Germany’s economy. By then the Ostmark had come home: for the time being Hitler was Fuhrer of a new and eternal Germany.
Eva left without protesting. Hadn’t Fritz told her to keep up her spirits, don’t give up, and it wouldn’t take long?
Daylight waned, and night came on. The moon was rising; and as it grew dark, old Danube flowed quietly by. Thick clouds girded summits of distant hills and once and a while covered the moon, which by fits always reappeared. Air was cool, and it grew darker. Somber leaves of chestnut trees hid what otherwise would’ve been an appalling spectacle.
Trees, to Eva in her weakened condition, looked like apparitions. She shivered. She shivered, and it struck her as an unlikely place for a miracle. It was too dark for a miracle.
Eva held onto a rope, which was knotted at intervals for a long march. At each knot stood a naked person. Along with repeated whippings was the punitive nature of having to stand in one place for hours … having to stand there naked. She was cold and naked. Her spirit, however, couldn’t have been more buoyant as she stood on one foot and then another. She was thinking of Fritz, but her guardian angel had already forsaken her.
Once again she thought of Fritz. Already beyond exhaustion, she suddenly heard a little voice inside her yell, “Fool! Why did you trust him? Why did you think he and his Frau were basically good people?” Blinded by her love, she completely trusted Fritz.
Moon gave enough light to see everything that happened on that terrible night. She saw faces of SS-Einsatz. Moonbeams distorted them. Moonbeams distorted their faces. For her it was a shattering sight to see them beat those who collapsed. Beatings were constant. Then she heard Fritz’s voice again: “ignore beatings! Ignore, ignore, it will soon be over.” And said out loud, “This too shall pass! Don’t let these two-legged beasts have the satisfaction of seeing you flinch!” And finally “don’t risk your life by drawing attention to yourself.” Yes, her guardian angel was still with her.
The line inched forward. She inched forward. Clouds again covered the moon; and Eva heard laughter and lewd remarks from members of the special task force. Lewd remarks about their nakedness.
Eventually she stood in a killing field. She stood in a ditch. Eventually each Jew was made to lie in the ditch next to someone else. It’s important to mention that there were only women and children there then. Clouds thickened and covered the moon even more. Except for light that came from powerful flashlights, darkness reigned. Chimes of a church clock announced midnight.
Eva put a hand over her eyes and twisted her neck. Every once and while came gyrations of bats. Some swooped from high places and dove for hats of SS-Einsatz officers. With loud, high pitch squeaks, they scolded these intruders. Eva had already felt the hot muzzle of a Luger. Target practice, among those who fired bullets, was something she hadn’t expected. In a forest, in a clearing in a forest, in a ditch, she was then pelted by rain.
Minutes stretched into what seemed like hours. As time passed it became clear that cruelty of the perpetrators was calculated and incessant and spoke of their attitudes. Their mood fluctuated. Mocking and kicking was wanton, at times turning into sport. One can’t imagine the extent of brutality. To them it was a game. It was like a game. After repeated threats Eva was forced to stand up; then only to be ordered to lie down again. She almost fainted. In spite of rain, she almost fainted and raised her face. Water felt good. It was cold but it felt good. Each time she raised her face rain revived her. Each time a SS-Einsatz officer pushed her head down with great force. For the most part Eva kept her eyes to the ground. Constant terror and dread forced her to hang her head. Suddenly the clock struck again. Once more it became her time.
Eva was forced to her knees and to act like she were praying to God, something her captors ridiculed. Most the other women, along with their children, by then had been shot. Eva knelt there in blood of others and with the last stroke of two was shot in the back of the head.
Into the clearing came an old woman. A hunchback and old, she looked like a hag. An owl saluted her; and it was like a netherworld opened up.
Upon reaching the center of the clearing, the old woman dropped to her knees and pressed her fingertips to her cracked lips. By then the ditch was covered over, and soft soil cushioned her.
But around the killing field there was still evidence of the crime. SS-Einsatz officers hadn’t taken time to bury all the dead. “How many were here?” she asked in a harsh, guttural tone. “I lost count long ago.” And then she celebrated with a song lives of those who were lost.
“Sag bein Abschied
Und nicht Adieu
Tun nur weh.
Doch das kleine
Ist ein lieber, letzter Gruss
Wenn man Abschied nehmen muss.
S’ gibt jahraus, jahrein,
An neuen Wein
Und Neue Liebelei’n.
Sag bein Abschied
Denn gibts auch kein Wiederseh’n
Einmal war es doch schoen.
Then she resumed her searching. Having witnessed other massacres, she roamed forests from one gruesome scene to another. She saw what happened but was at a loss to explain it. After a pause, she searched with an angry air about her and, catching her breath, sung the song again:
“When you part, say ‘Servus,’
Not farewell and not Adieu
Words like that only hurt.
But the little word ‘Servus’
is a dear, last greeting
if you have to part from one another.
Every year, there’s a new wine
and there are new loves.
When you part, say ‘Servus,’
for even if you never see each other again
Once upon a time it was beautiful.” **
* Sag beim Abschied music by Johann Strauss, arranged by Peter Kreuder for the film Burgtheater in 1935. Lyrics by J. F. Lengsfelder, a Jew, who asked his friend Harry Hilm to say it was he who wrote the words, since the UFA wouldn’t accept lyrics written by a Jew in 1935.
Then came the roar of a motorcycle, and the machine with a sidecar was driven into the clearing.
“Halt! Heil Hitler! What is this?” cried a army officer who rode in the sidecar.
“Out of our way!”
The old woman didn’t have time to follow the order before the machine lunged at her and the aide-de-camp reached for his Luger.
“Don’t waste your bullets!” the officer laughed, as the motorcycle’s wheels just missed the old woman’s head.
“Sieg heil!” then followed and was barely heard over the motorcycle. With a cloud of dust, it vanished as quickly as it appeared.
Some time elapsed before the old woman recovered enough to move. With unsettled nerves and great effort, she then rose to her knees. In the distance familiar church bells rang. Initially this sound gave her comfort, as these bells reminded her of a happier time. But she seemed cut off from them, like she was cut off from happier times. Then the clock struck three times, then four, at which point she shuddered over the rapid flight of time. Then a cock crowed and startled her. When a cock crowed every part of her body seemed paralyzed. While her activities were illegal and fraught with dangers, to her up until then it had been child’s play.
Then with anxiety from having narrowly escaped certain death, she listened to church bells ring five times, and the knell of a parting night gave way to a brilliant dawn. She would have to hurry now. She didn’t want to be caught again. Even for someone with her experience, scavenging in daylight appeared too risky.
Then it became a race against time. She hurried as she resumed her hunt. There was profound silence, except for the old woman singing, “Happy is he who forgets what cannot be changed.”
And she sang until all at once, she found a dress and a pair of shoes she liked. She liked this one dress more than all the others. She would look some more and from what she found decided “these Jews were rich.” Enough, but enough wasn’t enough. However, by then the sun topped the trees, so without a choice she grabbed her old gunnysack and disappeared with her loot.
Once she came home after midnight, Pauline said, “My goodness, Fritz! You’re still up. What’s up with you?”
He wouldn’t answer her.
“What’s wrong. Nothing is spared me, and now I have to put up with you’re sour face.”
“Nothing, nothing’s wrong,” said Fritz, “nothing except I can’t sleep; the truth is I’m…”
“Fritz, Fritz!” cautioned Pauline. “You can’t fool me. You think I don’t know. Wives know more than husbands think.”
Fritz was struck by his wife’s directness. He had always been struck by Pauline’s directness, and replied: “Well, yes I must admit that … But give me time: wait and see how well I handle this.”
“Gladly Fritz, gladly I’ll wait for you,” said Pauline: “And be thankful that thanks to me we’ve cheated demon of ill-luck! But don’t trouble yourself. And excuse me. I’m tired and have to go to bed. You must think that I’m heartless. Forget it. ‘Night,’ I’ve heard, ‘is no friend of the guilty.’ Cheer up! We’re alive. At least, we’re alive. We have our jobs, and we’re alive … alive and can now walk on the right side of the law.”
It took all of Fritz’s strength to hold his tongue. His pain was still too raw. His pain was still too new and raw. And he felt that he had been indulgent and hearing his wife then gave him a jolt. Hurrying to their bedroom, he felt determined to not say anymore, but it was difficult.
“Goodbye, Eva, goodbye,” he said with tears. “O let me also perish. Let me die. Let me die for my offence. Save me anguish and punishment that I can’t bear! The world is dead.” Even then Fritz sensed his country’s inevitable defeat and repeated, “The world is dead.”
And with defeat he wouldn’t be able to hide his guilt. But could he turn to Pauline, could he without making a mess of things? He once loved her. Could he love her again? Could he turn to her … rely on her? Relaxed by this thought, he then enjoyed her in bed more than he thought he would … could.
Judge Musil came out of his chambers and asked Fritz to accompany him on his walk in the Volksgarten. “It’s important to follow a routine,” he said, “and between you and me the Allies can’t keep us from enjoying our great city. Wien, Wien, ah Wien! It’s beautiful. And I wouldn’t want to live any place else. They can bomb the hell out of us, but still we’d go to the Grinzing and drink wine, wine, wining wine. So jump up! Herr Herztel, let’s go!”
Fritz grew nervous. Whenever Judge Musil was in this kind of mood, Fritz felt nervous. It made him nervous. If he could’ve, he would’ve found an excuse for not going. Since the judge wouldn’t accept no, he begged at least to be allowed to get his coat. Old Judge Musil impatiently shook his head and contemptuously asked, “Fritz, since when have you needed a coat in the fall?”
Fritz drew back, but within seconds was ready to go. With his overcoat under his arm, he followed the judge out the building.
The old judge took giant steps in a vain attempt to regain something he lost. Everyday he felt he was losing. Everything day he felt like he was losing something. He was losing something. He knew he was losing something. It was equally hard to be in good spirits. Fritz also felt sad. He felt sad while he followed his boss as if he were dreaming. He remembered what the judge said that made him feel extremely uncomfortable and sad and how shortly afterwards Eva was detained. “Was it possible,” he asked himself, “that he was also exposed?” He often thought about it. Then he reminded himself of how lucky he was.
“The Ring has always been a symbol. Now Wagner has taken this symbol and made something of it. The Rings have been symbols of dignity, power and or wealth of the empire. Now there is a new empire. We are a great nation but many of our great buildings have been turn into rubble.” Hearing this added to Fritz’s distress. All around them, rubble! Take the Opera House. The only parts of the Opera House that still stood were a staircase and the foyer. As he surveyed destruction, Fritz thought, “It’s a pity.” Then he looked down because he didn’t want to see anymore.
Walking along the Inner Ring with his boss, like in a dream, towards the war office building, with its gray facade adorned with colossal ancient helmets, it was hard to pass by it without emotion. Soon Fritz realized that they weren’t heading toward the Volksgarten.
Both men knew first hand the burden of having to make life and death decisions. They knew what to meant to make those decisions, though this decision making had been taken out of their hands. This was what they claimed. Was it true?
After the war each of them would maintain their innocence by saying that they were only following orders. Was it true? If so, then orders from whom? But leniency, on their part, would’ve been a sign of weakness; and they couldn’t afford to show any weaknesses. It was clear then that the judge had Fritz where he wanted him. He had him where he wanted which was indicative by the way that the latter never showed any mercy. Fritz never hesitated; and it seemed like for him his position was not just a job but a passion. It was why he never showed any mercy.
Fritz often returned to the Grinzing, where a whore in the Heuriger wine garden never tired of his praises. After losing Eva, he frequently spent time with this whore. “With such beauty,” he said, “it seems ridiculous that she’d ever be unhappy; but in keeping with the times, we’re often obligated to be more critical than is absolutely necessary. The self cannot be salvaged, so enjoy yourself while you can. Yonder sits G. and K. with wineglasses in their hands; stare and wave, because they’re very famous.”
“O no, not that, not that, for God’s sake, Herr Herzl!” cried his whore. “O no, not that, not that,” she said over and over again while she struggled with her self-consciousness. “Don’t wave, or draw attention to us. Herr Herztl, last night I dreamed that I was a famous actress. I was a famous actress, and Hitler put a ring on my finger. Then you came along, and within a moment everything that used to be was no longer.”
With that Fritz pushed back his chair, which he had just pulled up to be near her; but she still managed to laugh.
“So what?” she said. “So I’m not a superwoman or a German. That means I’d never suit Hitler. You needn’t be jealous. I’d never suit Hitler. Courage! Or maybe you should sit over there next to G. and K.”
“No, it’s not that. It’s not that at all,” said Fritz, “but the times have made me hard and bitter.”
“Well, then,” said this whore, “if that’s all, why bitch? Be dicey! Paint the town red! It certainly needs a new paint job”
Her words amused him. “Paint the town red! Drink, drink, and be merry.”
And at about the same instant, and with great satisfaction, this whore slit her throat with a Wiener schnitzel knife.
At first thinking that she was acting (trying to be a great actress), Fritz said, “Strange girl!” But this changed when he saw a stream of blood squirt from her neck and her face plopped on the table. Fritz then watched as paleness of death came over his whore and felt a particular sort of shivering that shook him to the tip of his toes. Fritz then asked, “What did you do?” as he reached for his handkerchief. Nearby stood a waiter, laughing and mocking, “What will the whore have? Or will it be nothing as usual?”
This angered Fritz. It angered him, so he jumped the waiter and slammed his head into the table. “Damn the man-who-opens-the-coffin-lid!” cried he. “And don’t you expect a tip.” And he didn’t give this waiter a tip. Fritz didn’t think he deserved a tip.
Then with his strength sapped, Fritz sank insensibly to the floor. He sank to the floor close to a bleeding whore, while the pay-waiter and a woman who sold flowers tried in vain to save her life. “Wasn’t it too bad that they weren’t all acting?”
Pauline would bury Fritz in Paraguay, while up until his death he cried for his whore. But no one knew for sure whom he was crying for. No one was sure whether he was crying for his Eva or his whore, or whether he considered Eva a whore. Pauline soon follow her husband to the grave. That left their youngest son to die alone in the family’s flat, while their oldest son continued to live in Texas.
The tragedy of 1936 would hit my family particularly hard, though we scarcely felt any pain. I’m not quite sure … quite sure why we scarcely felt any pain. Maybe it was because it wasn’t until that year that we paid much attention to politics outside of Austria, or even to rumblings inside our country of an approaching war. I’m sure mother was more aware than the rest of us. She was always involved, more so than dad whose job depended on politics. Later it would become customary for my brother Niki and I to refer to 1936 as the last year we went together to a fancy dress ball. It was the last time we went together, and it was indeed the last time Niki appeared at such functions wearing civilian clothes.
It soon became apparent that I’d have to leave the family nest. It became apparent that one us would have to leave Austria, and I was the obvious choice. My father made it apparent that I should exchange streets of granite blocks for immense tracts of open range, or so I imagined, recalling what I’d heard about an Eden called Texas. We heard about Texas, south central Texas, from Austrian friends who moved there.) This notion (my moving to Texas) in comparison to charm of cafe life would seem insane to someone like Niki, whose idea of roughing it on the open range was sitting around forever watching the world go by. Had Niki known Texas he might’ve found a cheering substitute there for watching barn swallows waltz in the wind, something both us from Vienna appreciated.
In spite of trials and uncertainties, I felt that I could overcome any hardship, as leaving Austria became imperative. I knew why dad wanted me to go. I knew why my dad wanted me to go. I knew why someone had to go. And besides so gloomy were my prospects all year that I lost all hope of succeeding in Vienna, a place where pretension counted more than reality. Pretension, we were always good pretenders. Pretension in Vienna was as contagious as gaiety and laughter. We were good at laughing when we were sad. In the Imperial City of Vienna hardly anyone missed an opportunity to express his or her feelings in laughter and song. We were taught laughter was the best medicine. And, as the world came ever closer to collapsing, Niki, fired by desires, drifted from one thing to another. He couldn’t see the ugly, disfiguring wart growing on the end of his nose. But there were some things we couldn’t talk about. Instead of frank talks, brother to brother, we stayed on friendly topics about happier times. We pretended we were happy. And while we skirted certain things, this seemed normal and universal. We could only be genuine when we teased each other.
Niki’s slight swagger and charm won him many friends. His flirting bore fruit. Everyone liked him. It was also something I’d ridicule. I knew trying to be liked could backfire, but I humored him. I humored him and listened to him tell me the latest gossip. I listened, and pretended indifference. That’s how I ridicule him. Pretending indifference was how. I then would express my dissatisfaction with life. I’d lecture him, and express my dissatisfaction and had to impress him, which included lecturing on indebtedness. “The common man doesn’t dare show his nose out-of-doors. It cost too much. It cost money to go anywhere,” I think I said this more than once. I honestly advocated economizing: “you must economize and make ends meet.” Now I knew he wouldn’t economize. I knew he wouldn’t listen to me. I lamented being reduced to poverty the same as everyone else … reduced to poverty by devaluation of money, inflation, deflation, bank crashes, and trade barriers … deflation, inflation, trade barriers, bank crashes … bank crashes, deflation, trade barriers, inflation … I couldn’t decide whether I should tap dance or simply shuffle.
Above all the Hofburg was a stage upon which fickle-minded and silly people could still come to be seen. One could go to the huge palace and dance and listen to great waltzes in a ballroom known simply as the Redoutensaal. We went there to dance and drink. We went to the Redoutensaal to sing, dance, and drink. Both old and young went. Among them were students from the University, students like Niki. Filled with fantasy, wow! Mood there never failed to dazzle us. For a short while, we were able to forget sadness and trouble. What a delight! Beautiful women! Soaring melodies! Joy and pleasure of dancing with ladies, before it all came crashing down.
We’d laugh about how well we handled ourselves. We felt sure of ourselves. And having come straight from a dazzling ballroom, we had no way to prepare ourselves. We felt sure of ourselves, so we weren’t prepared. We were blind sighted. So in the middle of Michaelerplatz, we became objects of scorn. Purist couldn’t have comprehended and would’ve condemned lack of manners shown to us. They would’ve condemned disrespect shown us for this was Vienna. But my pink shirt and blue pants perhaps deserved mockery.
I remember thinking that there was a connection between Nazis and Satan and becoming very contemptuous, as I shouted “Progress! Progress!” And as we tried to push through bullies, they yelled, “Eine Volk, eine Reich, eine Fuhrer!” Eine Volk, eine Reich, eine Fuhrer! My heresy was that I then yelled back, “Horse shit!” Horse shit! Eine Volk! Horse shit! Eine Reich! Horse shit! Eine Fuhrer! Shit! Incidentally, a large number of them seemed divinely fair, which would’ve tickled Eine Fuhrer, as well as place them among the elite.
“Ju-da verr-rrecke! Ju-da verr-rrecke!”
My yelling “God save Austria!” didn’t help our situation.
It wasn’t the first time, nor would it be the last time that we’d become involved in situations of hate and nothing but hate, that would lead to people hurting each other.
Niki was a stout young man. He was strong, somewhat muscular, bright, though often absolutely naïve. And he had a winning personality, and if he hadn’t sometimes been vicious, he would’ve been extremely popular. Cunning and treacherous, he was sometimes down out right cruel.
But in those days, I dressed to dazzle and spent most of my time enjoying good fortune’s kiss. I was fortunate. Looking for bliss in every moment, I was fortunate and sang and tried to be as free as air that came with forgetting about tomorrow. On the other hand, Niki expressed anger, and his manner was generally agitated. And little did we know then that we were about to embark on different journeys. It was within that context that, with a full voice and sudden ecstasy, I sang phrases from Mozart’s “Non so piu cosa son, cosa faccio!”
“I’ve seen how God plans to unify the world by force. We’ve stumbled upon moral pioneers of a new age.”
“No!” I insisted. “No!”
And he said, “I see the future, and all you can do is sing silly songs?”
“Whether we like it or not, Europe is through! All they need to do is offer legitimate hope, and they’ll have the numbers. All Nazis need to do is …”
“Stop! Without our help, they can’t succeed. Should Hitler take over none of us will escape insanity. So piss on Hitler. Piss on him! The tramp deserves nothing better, nothing.”
“Europe is through,” Niki repeated.
Then I remember saying; “Then we must hurry and build a barbed wire fence all around Austria.”
We knew that there would be those who’d lick Nazi boots, but we didn’t believe Hitler stood a chance. At least, I didn’t. I’m not sure now where Niki stood. I caught him more than once wearing a black raincoat and a Tyrolean hat. Inside that raincoat he could’ve easily been hiding his feelings. And while he was still getting his ears boxed at school, I took licks for him at home. We both loved our father, fool, and our mother … Well, the truth was her highness gave us pocket money to get rid of us, and when she couldn’t do it, she handed us over to our nanny, Eva.
But we were more than brothers. Niki and I were more than brothers and were as close as could be. We shared best of times, so my leaving didn’t suit Niki. He said I didn’t really care about Austria, or else I wouldn’t leave, though he didn’t question wisdom of my leaving. I was leaving for our family. And we never questioned our father, who insisted I leave. And once I made up my mind there was no stopping me.
And then with simplicity, solemnity, and gravity Niki sang “Voi che sapete.” And I followed with a fast, dipping, and soaring “Ardor of Non so piu.”
Getting him drunk for the first time was a favor he’d always owe me. “Oh my, I had my fill,” he laughed, which for a brief spell lifted my spirits too. We both remembered the joy of drinking Pilsner beer, which prompted more singing. We loved getting drunk together.
We could’ve gone from there to Grinzing, where we always had a great time. Krugerstrasse was closer, Krugerstrasse a side street frequented by prostitutes. Niki asked, “Brother, remember going to Krugerstrasse? ‘And you, you young man, especially you being called ‘sweetie.’” A fit of laughter accompanied the word sweetie. “Hey sweetie, yes you! How about it, sweetie,” he repeated, laughing; “and the likes of you I’ve never seen.” “I say; trink mit mir, sing mit mir! Glucklick ist, wis vergisst” I sang, offering my brother a peace offering. Actually we always had in mind the same destination: Kruger-Kino and not a bed of a prostitute.
“Tonight, my dear brother, champagne is king. Mesci, Mesci, Mesci! Always remember kissing and wine and song, song and dancing, which by jiminy lady luck brought us tonight,” (thinking as I spoke of wine that made my heart feel free) “with Adele, as she expressed herself with a dazzling smile. She might be short, but how young and fair.” “And of course she was almost bare.” Hearing this I howled; but my joy just as quickly turned to sadness.
Those at the ball who took noticed noted how free they could be. They always remembered how free they felt. Marveled at their informality and how they pretended in vain to be stricken with love. I, in particular, anticipated a change of fortune. I anticipated becoming rich in Texas. I hoped that it wouldn’t be illusionary. I was looking for opportunities, which weren’t available in Vienna.
At the ball, I found someone who listened to me and gained her sympathy, and when it was least expected the last waltz ended our acquaintance. Suddenly there was only time for a kiss. And in the dim romantic light I promised to meet her later, but there wouldn’t be a chance for it. Imperfect repetition of my words betrayed me.
On the other hand Niki’s scowl set wrinkles in his forehead. What were reasons for his frowning? People who knew him would remember his troubles and sadness. To see him change was indeed sad. But at least temporarily, Niki, the serious one, still laughed and sang.
Looking me in the eye, he exclaimed, “Karl, watch it. Watch your back. Be careful what you say. Saying what you think about Hitler could be very dangerous. Saying what you think could get you killed. Sieg Heil!”
“Then I must presume that you’re not serious. I know you’re pretending,” I replied. “Let’s remember good times when we were in our element. Personally, I love James Cagney as a G-man, but nothing more sinister. Believe me, I’ll pretend I didn’t hear what you said,” and I tried to imitate James Cagney, but my voice gave way to passion. “I never thought you’d cheer and applaud Hitler. I never thought my brother would.”
“Look at it this way: Hitler may be the one person who can give us something to cheer about.” Then I’ll never forget how he shook a clinched fist, a raised fist instead of a prim salute. In response to what my brother said, I seemed to be crawling with my face down and was unable to say anything else. Any utterance would’ve gotten me deeper in trouble. I caught my brother’s slip at once. Perhaps he also saw a Double Eagle rising from the dust, or heard the word Anchluss, or “join the German Reich,” shouted feverishly. My color grayed. I was shaking. I was shaking inside, and my eyes grew moist with tears. Then furiously shaking my fist I sprung to my feet and forgot that there were other people coming out of the ball. “Piss on Hitler!” I screamed.
Then with composure, Niki grabbed my arm and directed me down steps and away from other people. At that moment he took charge. At that moment he knew what to do. At that moment one of them rushed up to us, and Niki quickly executed a summary response for a call for allegiance. In my brother’s energetic exchange of “Heil Hitler!” I again saw confirmation of my brother’s intentions.
It required Herculean strength for me to control my rage. In spite of Niki’s effort to protect me, at that moment nothing could’ve stopped me from mocking Hitler. I mocked Hitler through mimicry. So, instead of returning a proper “Sieg Heil,” I raised my right arm, cocked my hand back as far as I could, and twirled a couple of times. Luckily, I then lost my balance and slipped off a step.
Yes, I was angry with Niki but knew I couldn’t be angry for long. That proved true: in age only a year apart, the two of us had always been inseparable. That made the idea of separation all the more difficult. Both of us tried to forget that night in Michaelerplatz, but no … no, not all of it. However much of it would fill me with regret. And after all that had happened we were too keyed up to hurry home.
We decided not to take a tram and walked across town at a leisurely pace. Both of us, whether we liked it or not, would have to adjust. That evening we were able to forget our differences and ‘heil-Hitlered’ our way across Vienna. To say the least, these were dangerous times.
Whether Anchluss or the absorption of Austria was in everyone’s best interest or not, it still raised the general level of hope throughout the country and served Hitler’s purpose. Certainly patriotism and war mongering were in vogue. Certainly war mongering was once more in vogue and was used before it could be stifled. And while censorship prevented newspapers from writing anything unpleasant about it, Hitler’s Reich and all of its promise had strong appeal and appealed to those who remembered fighting along side their German blood brothers. Even I loved watching movies from Germany, movies filled with valiant German heroes defeating square-faced Slavs. I often went to movies and enjoyed them. And no one liked to see German maidens raped, even in movies. But Nazis were still noisy thugs, rough and tough. It got where all the police ever said to them was “gentlemen, gentlemen, please, you really shouldn’t do this.” This was how that mob (Nazis) could trot around Vienna liked they owned the world.
Nazis treated people like they were hill-billies. It all made me angry and nervous, particularly when I knew Niki and I would soon be going our separate ways. Thinking about this caused my insides to revolt. But I didn’t want anyone to make too much of a fuss over my leaving. I could imagine the spectacle of my family and friends engaged in a tiff at the very gates of the train station, for it was a given that Niki and I could never agree on politics. Where our parents stood didn’t concern me as much.
Our dad listened avidly to the radio and saw a need to be well informed. He appreciated a steady flow of things that never stopped. He enjoyed his favorite chair in front of a walnut console. He enjoyed Hitler’s speeches. He grew partially deaf from listening to them and that was why he leaned so close. There was here a forgotten man, but one who had not yet disappeared and was still loved. By this time I think dad had lost his perspective and thought what did it matter if Hitler came into Austria. As far as he was concerned, all was lost anyway, and why not Adolf Hitler? Wasn’t it better to have him turn up than have nothing turn up at all? Wasn’t Hitler better than nothing? A slight nod of dad’s head served to express all his feelings, which otherwise wouldn’t have been communicated. He seemed to apologize for his presence. Having lived with catastrophe for most his life, dad perhaps never saw the looming cataclysm that would so drastically affect us all. He never looked up, never had time to see, and had gotten in a habit of not looking. We also, in many instances, failed to see him. Silence suited many occasions. For a long time, dad ceased to look for answers; so he waited for commands. Words conjured action; and action was better than the lack of it. And Hitler shouted commands not only to listeners, but to himself as well. “During the war (World War I),” dad told Niki and I, “we killed a hundred thousand men; while our generals ordered us to listen to Wagner.” Lines drawn on his face spoke of sad realities. Anguish committed him to harshness. He must’ve wondered if it might not yet be possible to learn why his wife (and mother of his children) was rarely there for him. Yet he had enough foresight to send me to Texas.
Restrictions imposed by war (World War I) were still a part of the life of most people. We were still feeling affects of defeat. We were still paying. It seemed like we would always be paying. Niki and I also grew up in a strict world often limited to our playpen. And Eva was left in charge of us and strictly enforced rules. She was boss. Actually dad was boss, and Eva was the enforcer. And we loved her for it. We weren’t allowed to crawl around the flat without close supervision. Eva supervised us, and we loved her for it. She gave us freedom we wouldn’t otherwise have, and we loved her for it. We weren’t supposed to be heard. Yet while in our playpen we were often ignored. In fact except for Eva no one paid us much attention. To be seen and not heard was what was expected.
Both of our parents were then preoccupied and not a day went by without accusations or arguments. They were always fighting, but in spite of angry words life went on and with as much pretense and folly as ever.
Often our flat seemed hot. Sometimes, as a gesture of goodwill, flowers our father gave our mother transformed rooms. Without flowers it would’ve been drab. Occasionally friendliness seemed hopeful. Sometimes Papa wanted Mamma’s attention so desperately that he flirted with her.
We often threw tantrums. We threw tantrums because we quickly learned that the amount of attention we received depended on how much we fussed. We craved attention, so we fussed all the time. Even so we feared our father.
Sequestered in a home where Papa reigned, we rarely saw Mamma. She was rarely home. She was rarely home when we were awake. She disappeared during the day and generally didn’t return until after we were in bed. As a charity worker, she frequently rewarded herself with a night on the town and said her sacrifices were her Christian duty. At home, where we rarely were all together, long silences punctuated interaction. People in our home rarely talked to each other.
Both of our parents were rigid and strict, or they seemed rigid and strict to us. They focused on perfection. They were perfectionists; yet their lives were messy. They insisted on living in an immaculate home; yet their lives were mess. And our home became our prison, but particularly on sunny summer days, the rooms escaped darkness of dungeons because sunlight flooded through huge windows.
Given little attention as toddlers, we became wild. Certainly not angels, we responded to the slightest recognition. In such an atmosphere, where laughs and smiles were frowned upon, any break in tension was appreciated. It made us more in need of the stage. However the more we acted out, the more our father squashed us.
We grew up during a time of so much darkness. We knew darkness and black snow well. It snowed black snow in the city. And squalor, as well as decadence, was hard to ignore. Even as boys we were aware of public beatings, for instance the beating of a sick woman who objected to her son’s arrest. Newspapers published photographs of public hangings. There were many things such as this that broke the spell of romance.
We watched our parents cling to illusion … cling to the illusion that loss of lives had meaning. We heard them talk about the end of the Empire that they loved and equate it to the end of the world. What they were really talking about was an end of stability. We grew to accept chaos.
Still gaiety was by no means dead. Chestnut trees still bloomed throughout Vienna. Chestnut trees still bloomed along both sides of Praterstrasse. Still alive were ritual tours down Carriage Way, where aristocratic men and women rubbed shoulders with a larger populace. But there were more frequently staged frivolities, particularly during the last days of the empire … during the last days of the empire as a sense of doom spread throughout the city. Without hysteria and a sense of futility, impotence set in. Of course we were too young to understand this. We were too young to appreciate it.
And we didn’t know what was going on with mother. We never saw much of her, so we didn’t know what was going on. Mother was always a mystery. I don’t know if she liked being mystery. I suspect she didn’t. We never saw her. We didn’t know what was going on with her, and we wondered. It seemed like she considered us a cross to bear. Her work seemed more important to her, and she seemed overwhelmed. We did see how our father persecuted her. He persecuted her, as he became more of a pig. I see why she stayed away. At the same time, however, our whole family moved closer and closer towards Rome. Out of necessity, we grew closer to Rome. Going to Mass was one thing we did together; all of us except Eva went.
Papa proved himself a tyrant and with each episode lost more than he gained. I think he lost his self-respect. If on some rare occasion our parents exercised restraint and tolerated each other, it seemed like it had nothing to do with being fond of each other. On those occasions it seemed like they were aware of how much they were indebted to something mysterious. It was certainly a mystery to Niki and me.
I understand that Papa wasn’t that way before the war (World War I). I understand war changed him. I’m not surprise war changed him. From his nature and his gloominess we could only guess what he went through. I guess he had sufficient reasons for his rage and didn’t have to look for excuses.
He struggled. We know he struggled. He killed men and survived combat, so in comparison to war disasters afterwards must’ve seemed mild to him. Mama also was angry; and it appeared she didn’t get over her anger either. Even though animosity between the two led to adjustments and accommodation, I think she wished Papa had been killed.
This age was racked with tremendous upheaval, and all gloomy predictions seemed to come true. There were ruined crops in Italy, except where people planted small gardens, crop failures in England; and starvation ran rampant in Russia. People stood in long lines. They stood in long lines just to see what stores had run out of. You couldn’t find a solid potato in all Austria. While taking it in stride, people kept busy seeing how bad their situation could get. Along with other concerns rich women never knew whether to wear their fur coats or not.
We grew up on Goethe. From idiocy groomed from looking at oneself in a mirror, many rude remarks were made about Goethe. Even those who never read Goethe took part in criticism. Almost everybody took swipes at the great poet with loud indignation. But as soon as they grabbed the spotlight they claimed to be inspired, which meant that they really loved him. There was a whole generation of us influenced by Goethe.
We also grew up listening to our father talk about politics and his support of the Second Reich. We learned about the decent majority and heard debates about scare mongering. Papa talked about imposters and spies, imposters and spies as oppose to honest people, honest people who hadn’t quite made up their minds about where they belonged. At the expense of truth they were apt to accuse other people of turning national pride into xenophobia. Xenophobia, I experienced xenophobia, and it wasn’t pretty. Some of them believed cliches, such as dying a hero’s death. On the other hand, soldiers who faced mortar and machine-gun fire viewed a hero’s death as cruel destiny. This dispute went on and on. It went on and on for years until it led to fistfights.
Papa was arrested and charged with unlawful assembly and resisting arrest. This would be a distinction he wore with pride, as he became a knight hell-bent on saving the fatherland. This was before he went to war (World War I). He always claimed he fought with honor, and had we won the war no sacrifice would’ve been too great.
Since the Kaiser brought us to the brink of ruin, Papa enjoyed popularity for attacking the vulgar and conceited bastard. His switch to supporting a new republic won him that. For this reason he earned himself a desk job as Advokaturskonzipienten, in other words a harmless clerk of the court, a position he held until the fall of the Third Reich.
Our dad never brought his job home. He never talked about his job. He never talked about the nature of it, and I never understood how a clerk could be blamed for so much. I’m sure there were many people who were more reprehensible than obscure civil servants such as my father. If the times weren’t so calamitous and cataclysmic…. I’m not sure I want to go there. I’m not sure I can go there. I’m not sure.
There was a large group of people who were treated like enemies, and may have been traitors, people other than thieves, highway robbers, child molesters, and forgers. At any rate there were serious doubts about their loyalty. There were reasons to doubt their loyalty, and obscure clerks like my father weren’t given a choice. They weren’t given control over their destiny. Of course, in normal times I wouldn’t condone such behavior, but remember this was a very dark time in our history.
I’m sure my father’s job was an important one. I know my father’s job was an important one. I know he took his job seriously. And I don’t think anyone ever accused him of abusing his power. He was man of integrity, and I know he wouldn’t have abused his power. This much I do know: he went from punishing drunks by dunking them head first in the Danube to overseeing preparations for hanging convicted malingerers. And sometimes he spoke of banishing all Serbians, while other times he incarcerated suspected traitors. I understand why he hated Serbians. But he was never a Nazi, and more than anything else, of all things that need to be taken into account, remember times then were abnormal and the whole city was in a state of flux.
The ride to the hounds went on throughout a decade, a decade when huge crowds flocked to see people hanged. It wasn’t long before pictures of hangings circulated throughout the city and death of a dissident was treated as a laughing matter. You would have to have lived then to understand it. During this time trial dockets were always full and clerks of the court were overworked. And officials like Papa were applauded because of their quick work. Still leisured and official Vienna continued to parade undeterred through fashionable streets of the city, and people still went to fancy-dressed balls for nothing was gained from objecting to the brutality. But still having to face policemen with sticks or army officers with riding crops had a chilling affect.
While geniality concealed horrific wrongs nothing was heard of betrayal. Why? Everyone shared guilt and a whole generation had to come to terms with it. Because of this some people were already talking about leaving and going to the Americas. Others anticipated deportation.
A proud man my father was. He was proud, and I was proud of him. I understand he carried out his duties in a rigid, precise, and even pedantic manner. He took his duties seriously. I heard my mother talk about it. I saw how he often wore his field-gray uniform to work. He was also proud of having served in the army. After a while his physical appearance bore the mark of his occupation. Though crooks to which he owed his position thought that they had him in their pockets, had he really sold his soul to them? Yes, unfortunately. Unfortunately, he didn’t flee. Unfortunately, the whole family didn’t flee Austria like I did. And unfortunately his handlers knew they had his unimpeachable loyalty. According to my mother, however, they were dishonest especially when they wanted something from him. From what I gather my dad was a full-fledged member of the bureaucracy and gave into those pressures. And he was often called upon to demonstrate his loyalty. Knowing him he seized every opportunity to distinguish himself, and I’m sure many people around his office viewed him as a prince.
Since the war (World War II) I’ve learned that my dad was empowered to review and sign death warrants. Because of this he was stung. Because of this he was culpable. There was no excuse for it. This is hard for me to say. There was no excuse for it. But I wasn’t there, and how can I judge when I wasn’t there.
After the war, when unable to control his outrage over being accused he identified himself to authorities. Where’s your proof! He demanded proof. They had the wrong man, he claimed. Soon he realized that exposing himself in that manner was a horrible mistake. And with a stock of political homilies he searched for the right words. He searched because words such as duty and honor seemed empty. We lost the war. He stood at the mercy of the victors. They lost the war … were defeat for a second time in a century, and he said that for the first time in his life he had brutality thrown back at him … because they lost the war. He was used to being perfunctory, but never at a lost for words.
I’ve read testimony that my dad would stare at an inmate and sneer, blaming the condemned man for not saving himself. This didn’t sound like my dad. Other times he’d shout with anger. Now that’s him. I can imagine this because I’ve seen it. Imagine glares, indignation, and defiance of the condemned. Imagine glares, indignation, and defiance … No! No, no, no! My father was nothing more than a clerk. “Why, then, Herr Supervisor, lieutenant, zoo keeper, or whoever you are! Where are the peanuts? Peanuts! Peanuts! Peanuts are for the apes!” While the parade went on, we danced to Strauss.
Why didn’t they show a petty clerk more respect? He was only following orders. Why didn’t they see he was merely a clerk? Hadn’t he sent many deserters and vagabonds to prison, or even to their deaths? Yes, but! Though in reality none of them knew who he was or what he could do from his distant desk. None of them knew his signature.
No doubt mistakes were made and wrong people ended up with nooses around his or her neck. But this happened all over the world. I don’t intend here to participate in a tirade about mistakes that were made by Austrians during the last war.
My father may have wanted to resign, but he couldn’t. He knew he couldn’t. It was an imperfect system. We could easily pick apart an imperfect system and rightly proclaim it wasn’t an individual’s fault. But what if the system were insane, even though its servants were not? I understand Judge Jessner entirely sympathized with his clerks. On the other hand, when necessary Judge Jessner was also extremely ruthless. Meanwhile my father tried to forget the past, and I don’t think he saw what was coming.
My mother worked with displaced people, people who brought with them an array of social ills. She never took us down to the soup kitchen on Liniengasse where she worked, so I’m not sure how she fit in. She spent much of life there, so she must’ve liked it. A vast and growing number of people then depended on soup kitchens. Many of them slept in parks and under bridges. Even a greater number of them lived in squalor, as landlords gouged them for everything they made. Often crowded into basement flats and other box-like quarters, their lives were filled with distress and filth. And then there was the problem of a lack of coal and misery associated with freezing. All this suffering left lasting impressions and fueled stories that were passed on from one generation to the next.
As I’ve said before, never was Vienna more dedicated to pretending. After losing a war (World War I), people felt demoralized and confused; but music of Strauss gave everyone such a lift that (if only for a few minutes) they were able to close their eyes and overlook their plight. With music everything seemed brighter than it was. Music meant everything to them. While clinging to shreds of what they had people in every corner of the city looked for encouragement in music.
Eva Marie considered herself very lucky to have a job as our nanny. Eva considered herself very lucky. A peasant girl who came from good stock she achieved her enviable position by winning trust of my parents. This young lady, a devout Jew, was suppose to teach Niki and me Christian values.
Eva made her appearance when we needed her to most. Niki and I preferred going to her to going to either one of our parents. And as a substitute Eva appeared when we missed and needed our mother the most. Largely absent our mother rarely showed us affection. Often our mother was stern and strict. She earned our obedience by being stern and strict. While we were in awe of our mother, we feared our father and learned to expect chastisement from him.
Take the painstaking way with which I flaunted rules of social conduct. This came from rebellion. Take how I rebelled. My father’s tyranny made chastisement seem normal; so normal that when my time came I treated my daughter in the same way. For as long as I lived at home, I respected my father, even though he was hard to live with.
Preferring to stay home Eva Marie emerged each morning to survey the terrain of our neighborhood. She’d exchange greetings with our neighbors and showoff her rambunctious charges. Niki and I were indeed rambunctious. Running ahead of her Niki and I kept Eva on her toes.
Eva was on the verge of surviving spinsterhood. Strikingly beautiful she had an imposing figure and softness extraordinary for a woman who grew up working with her hands. No woman understood a need more for restraint, while flirting and teasing weren’t out of bounds for her. In general a mask of naivete hid from all but my father her prissy side. But I’m sure attention our father paid her served as an alarm and tested her sense of decorum.
Eva knew her place. She had to be subservient or lose her job. She knew where she stood. And she didn’t expect special treatment. I think she thought that reprimands should be cheerfully received and that actions and judgement of her employer shouldn’t be questioned.
In the wintertime our flat was never warm enough. To keep us from freezing a fire had to be kept going all the time. Eva had that job and on some nights while up would comfort Niki or me. She would hold us until we went to sleep. During the day we knew how to control the situation and would set off alarms. We ran around the room, daring Eva to catch us. While we woke her at night, neither of our parents ever stirred. Often we tried Eva’s patience.
Eva came to us highly recommended and won a place in our hearts. She unquestionably had a knack for working with children, and we loved her as much as we did our mother. She potty trained us. Dressed us, fed us, and saw to our needs. She was the one who taught us our dos and don’ts. She disciplined us in a way that pleased our parents. She did her best to instill in us Christian values and never talked about what it meant to be a Jew.
Under Eva Marie’s tutelage we learned how to play fair: surmising then that it paid to turn the other cheek. How wrong that was, particularly after the way Austria and Germany were treated. Then as the Nazi’s assault on the Jews began we learned that fairness only applied to Christians.
Neither Mama nor Papa treated our Jewish servant with as much scorn as was expected. Both of them considered it their good fortune to have Eva and indeed rewarded her in many different ways. Then what more could they have done for her? They did everything they could. How could they have treated her better? In light of what happened later these were questions that couldn’t be simply answered by expressions of appreciation. She became a member of our family. She was family. But did it give father an excuse for being overly solicitous?
Each morning we impatiently waited for our mother. We knew nothing about mother’s evening activities and settled into our morning routine after Eva fed us hot cocoa and hard rolls. Eva would then comb our hair in preparation for the little time our mother would spend with us. Sometimes our father approached us with a smile, but his smiles meant less to us than smiles from our mother.
It was from Eva that we received the most warmth. It was from a Jew that we received the most warmth. We were never allowed to forget Eva was a Jew.
Without many words Eva could communicate her philosophy of life. However because of her tight reign we rebelled and resisted rules when we could get away with it. We kicked and screamed when it came to taking a bath, but our screams were ignored. I can’t recall when bathing was simple. A large porcelain basin filled with water meant the inevitable, while one of us would try to delay it by playing hide-and-seek.
Again and again we got slapped across the face; again and again our father hit us and called it character building. His slapping was no doubt vicious and was often hard enough to leave handprints. Had dad been less calculating he could’ve really hurt us. In some respects slapping seemed an outgrowth of love and affection.
The way our father punished us wasn’t contrary to our mother’s ideas about child rearing. His methods fit mothers. His methods were handed down from generation to generation. We heard this from our parents and about how they were slapped as children (and it didn’t hurt them). Even when we saw that our mother found fault with how our father treated us she never said anything. This was during a period when we watched what we said to each other. Candor would’ve been preferable, but we couldn’t chance it. Our lives were centered on secrets, while considering our father’s temperament it was never wise to keep them. I’m sure the viciousness of the man she married disturbed our mother.
But we were always afraid that she would leave him. Yes, we were always afraid she would leave all of us. But she seemed committed to the idea of marriage, though I suspect not to the marriage itself.
Eva Marie enjoyed getting us ready for school. It was a routine that rarely varied, and we wouldn’t have been happy without a quick hug from our mother (though we knew she would’ve preferred to stay in bed). We were still very young then, and I don’t think our mother expected anything from us. So all we got were quick hugs, though we stood in awe of her and would do almost anything to get our mother’s attention. Our feelings for our mother stood in stark contrast with frustrations and conflicts we associated with our father. Then so harsh in his manner and his tone he showed no remorse for mistreating us, a pattern I suppose that affected many other people.
Some nights nightmares kept Niki awake. I would try to plug my ears. I tried to ignore Niki, but he was impossible to ignore. It was true that we always expected the worse. We expected the worse to happen, and I knew what Niki’s nightmares were about. We shared nightmares. We shared everything. And there were times when I knew he knew I betrayed him and blamed himself for trusting me. Certainly he and I were close and admired each other, but sometimes I’d do something to him that surprised me.
Betrayal wasn’t unusual. It seemed like almost everybody had their share of it, or participated in it, and trouble people were in as much as anything else had to do with who they were. And don’t think we didn’t know what was going on. Our parents couldn’t have sheltered us. We weren’t sheltered. They didn’t shelter us and wouldn’t have tried. Soon news would get worse because there already were Nazis out there capitalizing on discontent. And pleasant Viennese atmosphere was being poisoned by personal and political strife.
Wide-awake Niki wasn’t quite ready to forgive me. He cried because his dream seemed real to him. His dreams were always real to him, and he never knew whether Papa would follow through with his threats or not. Afraid that there was nowhere else for him to go, Niki couldn’t escape. All he could do was hide under his covers, a blessing he wouldn’t have in the morning.
Niki quickly lost his youth. Too quickly he lost it. There already was evidence that he was losing it, and he was lucky to have a brother like me. We were lucky to have each other. We each would’ve given our life for the other and actually shared almost all of our early experiences. Then we went our separate ways.
After apologetic muttering about regrets, we turned to our inner resources and followed our own impulses. As Niki observed, he wouldn’t have been able to keep up with me. I was the opposite of him in many ways (as our lives would show).
The world that Niki created remained a jumble. Always with a careless air, he was undoubtedly capable of doing almost anything, even the unthinkable. Nothing about his childhood offered an explanation. Nothing. No, not even father’s belt would explain it.
I dare say beatings wounded his pride more than his hide. He had a tough hide. He could take it. He was never broken. From it he discovered that he could bear any pain and wouldn’t bend.
Meanwhile he couldn’t sleep. It wasn’t his fault. It wasn’t his fault that he couldn’t sleep. It never was. Using every excuse in the book he easily ignored the truth.
In our home we hadn’t known prejudice or we didn’t recognize it. Without realizing it Niki assimilated warped attitudes. He absorbed warped attitudes around him and ideas of Papa. This wasn’t uncommon in Vienna. It wouldn’t be until we went the school that he felt he needed to defend our family’s honor. Falsely slandered by a “sick and insane moron, lacking the intelligence of a piss ant!”
One of the most perplexing dilemmas I imagine my parents ever faced was how to explain to Niki and me why they renounced Judaism and we became konfessionslos. Their decision involved accepting many contradictions. Implications were equally complex. Early on we ran into open hostility because of religion and race. Therefore we discarded our Jewish identity. What were the circumstances that led to our parents’ conversion, a decision that became more and more important as anti-Semitism in Vienna grew? In other words their going over to Rome took a great deal of foresight and initiative. And Papa’s use of patriotic and political slogans never hurt.
As a bureaucrat Papa received a great deal of praise. Whenever necessary he adjusted and showed a great amount of initiative. But the same as everyone else in his position, he was reduced to a title … a title as inscribed upon a white-enamel shield screwed fast to his office door: a title (along with being a Christian) that couldn’t be over-valued. It was very important to him … a title … and it ultimately saved our lives. As far as I knew he never reverted back and if he had any regrets no one knew about them. On the other hand he became known for having denounced the enemy.
For Mamma, however, it was much more difficult. It was much more difficult for her because she found little joy in her adopted faith. How else could her sadness be explained? She was basically a sad person. I don’t remember seeing her happy. In her case her conversion was closely connected to submission. She never really wanted to accept Jesus, while she often went to church in search of comfort. What a strange world we lived in! A more critical look at our parents revealed two people who openly professed a Christian faith while rarely calling on Christ by name.
As baptized Jews we lived with a great deal of apprehension. While on the other hand, as model citizens we enjoyed all the advantages our faith had to offer. Regardless of anything else we were the right kind of people and acted as we imagined those people would.
As mother entered the flat a whimpering child caught her attention. To her surprise she found a distraught Niki. Nothing separated them then from each other’s panic. His words were incoherent.
Evidently mother heard Niki say something about being teased. By then racial slurs weren’t uncommon; and worse still (and hopefully that was all) Niki’s record showed that he beat up a fellow classmate.
Then his rage shifted completely. He changed, as mother held him. They both complained of injustice. “Oh, my God, you must always deny it. You don’t have Jewish features. Your outlook must always be Christian and honest. My God, my God, can’t they leave us alone? Look in the mirror! You don’t have a Jewish face. You don’t have Jewish blood in you. You’re not Jewish. You’re so young and so Aryan. Have you been circumcised? Have you been circumcised? You’ve been baptized! What more could be expected from us? What more do they expect! They! They? What choice do we have? What choices? How sad! These times make us all cruel. It breaks my heart to see it. You’re so innocent.”
Then with anger Niki cried out, “Heil Austria! I say, Heil Osterreich! (By then we greeted teachers every morning with ‘Heil Hitler.’) Ju-da verr-rrecke! Ju-da verr-rrecke! ‘Per-rish Judah!’” But wasn’t he saying “I want to be a child again and be protected from a world I don’t understand?”
“Jew! Now hit him … harder, harder, harder! Rub his face in the dirt. He hit me back, my God!”
Niki refused to admit that he was born a Jew. Niki refused to admit that was a converted Jew. “Gone over to Rome, where else could we find redemption?”
Oh God his face was a bloody mess; hopefully the other boy’s face was equally bloody. I ran home to tell our father, but Niki stayed and defended our honor.
“Ju-da verr-rrecke!” Niki was denounced, threatened, and reviled.
Oh, my God! See how fast I ran? Oh, I had never seen my father so livid. There were a thousand and one reasons
In his own way Niki continued to tell the story until mother began to tremble. She herself was in such a state that she couldn’t help him. All she could see was her own close call. Then I guess it was for her sanity that she shut Niki out. I guess it was for her sanity that she shut us out.
The point was not how much Niki knew or that he shrieked and cursed. Still Mamma failed to hear him. It seemed to me remarkable that their reactions to their experiences were similar. Niki’s ravings validated it for me.
Every evening our family assembled for dinner. We ate together every evening, and by the war (World War II) Eva ate with us. I could see that this pleased my father. I knew he was rather fond of Eva, and this pleased him, as our nanny jousted for position and power. A struggle was inevitable, a struggle between Eva and my mother. Eva and my mother inevitably classed. Both of them shared my father. By then we didn’t bother to use please or thank you; nor did Eva call us junge Herr anymore. And while rivalry between the two women moved through a new phase of awkward co-existence, Eva acted like she was our mother.
Dinner was hurried (it was almost always hurried), and the Schnitzel was almost gone. It was like dinner had been accepted as a punishment, and though there was no outward expression of anger everyone sat in silence.
Suddenly Papa folded his napkin and stared at Mamma. He didn’t need to say anything. He cleared his throat. Then when he did speak we saw Mamma react without emotion. “You’re not eating.” Then after a pause, “You’ll wither away.”
Mother closed her eyes. I wondered what she was thinking.
“Don’t worry,” said Eva, “when she gets really hungry, she’ll save herself. She wants you to worry about her, but it doesn’t become her.”
“Don’t let her control you.” Saying this, Eva started clearing plates. Mother glared at her, and then a faint smile brightened her gloomy face, as the word whore came from her lips. Feeble as it was, this gesture indicated that mama knew of our father’s infidelity, and as we excused ourselves, we all knew nothing would change. We continued to share a home, while Niki and I matured expecting an eruption at any time.
“Well, everyone should be happy. Whether we like it or not, we’ll all have to go some time. But hopefully not tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow you could read in the Kronen Zeitung that something happened to Frau Hertzel.”
“Revenge, par excellence; a little revenge.”
“A guest and a fish are no longer fresh by the third day.”
“I’m out of here.”
“No, Eva no. You’re not going anywhere. The boys and I need you. The past should be forgotten.”
“I don’t think so.”
“The world goes to pieces, but nobly.”
“So my husband thinks he’s Casanova. Faugh! Let him sew his oats while he can!”
“Pauline, there’s no need for you to be jealous of me.”
“Who do you think you’re fooling? Fritz and I came to an understanding a long time ago. We proclaim ourselves liberated. Try to understand. I don’t reproach you as much as I do myself.”
These were terms of a truce. Declared again we left the table and went our separate ways: Niki and I to our room, Eva to wash dishes, papa to his study, and mamma to collect herself before taking off to the shelter for the evening. We all seemed disconcerted, while Eva seemed less so. Mama looked totally exhausted.
A leader of the posse gathered his gang of boys around us. Wearing tin hats, they looked like they came from a carnival. Jack-booted and spurred a big bully blocked the sidewalk and had a piece of asphalt in his hand.
“Ju-da verr-rrecke! Juda ver-rrecke!” shouted his followers.
“Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil!”
“Red and White and Red unto Death!” I proclaimed.
“Run!” yelled Niki but there was no place to run or no place to hide.
“We’re not Jews,” I shouted.
“Swine! D’ you hear? Swine! Greasy, oily, grisly swine!”
Beer bottles, rocks, bare knuckles flew.
“Yid, yid, yid, yid….”
“No, we’re not! We’re not Jews!”
“Yes, you are!”
“Who yelled ‘Christian, Christian, thy place is buried in a dunghill?’”
Then I faced a bully and held my own. Yes, I held my own. Yes, I stared into his eyes and this cowboy turned into putty. It empowered me. He turned into putty and it astonishment me. This gang of boys then dispersed, and frenzied threats were placed on hold for another day.
We then ran home to dinner, and everyone around the table listened to how two inexperienced boys stood up to a pack of dogs. We half expected our father to box our ears, or he might’ve felt proud of us because Nazis weren’t yet in power. We didn’t know. His moods were hard to judge.
Always in the know, Papa anticipated the Nazi Putsch and the assassination of Dollfuss. Others were caught off guard. Their complacency stemmed from believing government propaganda about Mussolini, our country’s powerful ally. Surely Il Duce would keep Hitler out. Surely Il Duce was strong enough to keep Hitler out. In those days Dollfuss’s song was always played after our national anthem. “We, the young ones stand prepared to march with Dollfuss into grand new times.”
Rumor and panic became the rule, which meant Vienna was ready for either Bolsheviks or Nazis. We had a choice: Bolsheviks or Nazis. It wasn’t hard for either side to stir up trouble or for the public to ignore a common spectacle of the strong thrashing the weak. The strong seemed so magnificent. It didn’t matter that their magnificence was displayed at the expense of the defenseless.
Fear soon overwhelmed Austria and led to strikes and revolution. A strong dictator was the only alternative to civil war. A strong dictator seemed like the only alternative. It seemed impossible to hold one extreme in check except by opposing it with another.
Parliament voted for its own dissolution, and
constitutional lawyers declared it legal. Then while anxiety grew, people looked for answers. Suddenly nothing made sense. Suddenly nothing was true, or nothing was what it seemed.
Because of his position, my father became a purveyor of news. He was in the know, so he became a purveyor. And he knew secrets that he couldn’t keep. His tips were indeed good, and friends began to rely on them. He was fond of whispering, “A friend of mine the other day told me …” Or “if such were true, it follows that such and such could be too.” With a twinkle in his eyes, he moved from rumor to rumor, while people who weren’t normally bamboozled hoped what he said was true.
“What’s wrong?” “What are they hiding?” “Who?” “What?” Distrust permeated everything. Brother couldn’t trust brother. Actually no one was safe. Complacency, however, still continued to prevail. Complacency, why not complacency? It was inevitable that most of my dad’s friends to some extent became rumormongers.
Papa talked about the Hak Warehouse bombing, but not anything about a police crackdown that followed. It all caused excitement and alarm. The Hak Warehouse bombing caught people off guard and alarmed them. And, as skillful and deliberate attacks on people’s nerves were made, more people realized the gravity of the situation. And through all this, dad’s prestige increased, and people all over began to listen to him.
At first people refused to see how bad things were. At first people wore blinders. At first they fooled themselves and denounced doomsayers for spreading panic. Papa predicted the closing of banks and how the state would react. He also predicted how the government would react to inflation by devaluing currency. Extreme inflation and unprecedented inflation and worthless money truly were a disaster. Once again faith in papa seemed justified. Once again at the center of attention, papa came alive. Papa’s advice was so good, and old-fashion ideas about currency were so laughable that his friends listened to him and grew richer. Then overnight papa’s fortune changed. It changed when the government once again stepped in to reduce chaos. It stabilized currency by regulating prices and limiting speculation. With one blow, collapse and bankruptcy!
And the Fohn, great east winds, came sweeping in from the plains. Strong winds blew through Vienna. “Hurry!” I urged Niki. We had overslept, when Eva considered sleeping in the daytime a waste of time. Now we were in a hurry to get to school. Missed a tram again, which meant we really had to run.
For lunches Eva slapped together something on bread, fix sardines, sausages, and cheese for us. We were lucky to have it. We were lucky to have something to eat. Our meals cost our parents millions.
“Today, a crime” (which Papa wouldn’t name); “tomorrow, you’ll stand before a judge.” We heard him but didn’t learn from it. But on one particular day Eva buttoned our coats, for Vienna was windy and hungry. She didn’t want us to get sick. She didn’t want us to get cold.
“Not that we would ever break the law,” I explained, hoping no one heard my reference to crime. Niki joined me in front of our building. Look! There stood a suspicious white-haired, sad-looking lady. Her arched eyebrows stopped us in our tracks.
Running again after a pause, and with a great burst of energy, we laughed and yelled, “We’re guilty, your Honor!” Still boys we knew crime paid. Our papa was a clerk of the court, so we knew crime paid. Why not brag a little? No one cared. No one cared about our bragging. No one cared about our crimes. Who would prosecute us? So what if we pilfered little things; so what when everyone around us was involved in major crime: real criminals and interlopers who systematically swindled without hesitation. Cobblers, milkmen, landlords, and tailors, all were tricked and robbed of their livelihood. And cobblers, milkmen, landlords, and tailors gouged people when they could. Many previously honest people turned to crime.
So we weren’t angels. Niki looked up to me. Copied me. Copied me, as we ran wild. We ran through our street market. We ran through our neighborhood. Often we were late and knew consequences of being tardy, for punctuality like a locomotive on schedule still signified a functioning state. So we ran.
I remember grabbing a couple of tomatoes before a vendor could yell at us. To me taking tomatoes didn’t seem the same as stealing. To me it didn’t seem like a crime. To me it was just something to do.
Slipping out of a vender’s grasp, we ran. We ran with tomatoes we stole out of a market. Then spying a Jew-boy lurking spider-like on a street corner, I said, “Niki, for once let’s be generous; let’s let the Yid have it.”
Niki smiled and said, “Why not! We got tomatoes, why not? Let’s let the yid have it!”
“Why not!” I repeated. “We’ll still have some.” Then we threw tomatoes at the Jewish boy. We let the Jewish boy have it.
Suspicion of each other ensued. For less than a minute we froze. I was horrified. What did we do? What did it mean? In retrospect some may put the whole incident down to the Fohn. Why not blame it on the Fohn? But if it were so, then why was I so horrified?
There were no witnesses. We expectation that there would’ve been witnesses. It was a busy street. Why wasn’t anyone playing attention? But I still felt that we were caught and recognized for who we were.
The grim Imperial Palace once symbolized Habsburg might. Known as the Hofburg this was where Hitler chose to address a jubilant city. Here a shouting … waving throng heard Der Fuhrer announce the “homecoming” of his homeland into the German Reich. But among the spectators there were those who felt shame and sadness. These patriots refused to salute the Nazi leader, though they were clearly in the minority. There were a few who didn’t salute. Resistance seemed futile. Then with a single stroke of a pen, and clicking of heels, we saw our country raped by Hitler and his cohorts. In fact an advanced guard of German Wehrmacht already lined both sides of Nussdorferstrasse.
Several Austrian Catholic leaders, with brand-new party badges, stood behind the Fuhrer. Behind closed doors and having met with the German dictator the previous day, Cardinal Innitzer listened, as the expatriate stepped forward and addressed the crowd. Since his early days Hitler’s delivery hadn’t changed. He sounded the same. He would always sound the same. A hoarse voice, hackneyed poses, mannerisms, flow of oratory, all were the same, except the former Austrian failure came across as a knight in princely armor.
All of Heldenplatz erupted. Officials behind Hitler clapped.
“Ein Volk, ein Reich!” came from most everyone’s mouth.
“This is the end of mankind!” exclaimed my mother. “Our Fuhrer invites treason, while he lashes out at us. God help Austria; God help us all.”
“Piss on him,” I mumbled, as my brother stood tall.
“Our Fuhrer has no sons; that much we know. None that we know of,” replied Eva, “or else he’d parade them in front of us. Our Fuhrer is impotent.”
“Treason!” I wished I had yelled it, as I felt like throwing tomatoes at him.
What were we doing? Were we going to do nothing while family and friends disappeared? Murderers!”
“Now we were paying for our mistakes.”
“People of Vienna,” spoke the true Fuhrer, “first let me thank Ambassador Franz Von Papen….”
“Let your friends and neighbors speak in favor of Anschluss.” Following this, Hitler proceeded to welcome Austria into the German Reich.
“We thank our Fuhrer for creating work for Jews. Work for Jews, at last Jews are working!”
Hitler roared on about prosperity … prosperity he’d bring to Austria. He pointed to his great success in Germany, achievements in terms of tons of production, driving home the same points over and over.
“Yes, Hitler. No, Austria!”
“What a relief,” said Papa. “This change will enable us to enter a new era filled with pride and confidence. This change is a path toward restoration of our true heritage, which unites all German people. May God long preserve the Third Reich.” With this, and to my amazement by raising his hand in the Nazi salute, papa affiliated himself with the Aryan brotherhood.
Mamma, instead, denounced Hitler as a tyrant, a usurper, and a murderer. She denounced Hitler. She was defiant and denounced Hitler and gave but slight notice to papa’s salute. Great pain distorted her face, as she denounced Hitler … something Eva saw. Both women then raised their arms halfheartedly in indignation and silently protested the rape of our country.
“Heel Osterreich,” Mama whispered. “And yet,” she said later, ” maybe we should give Anschluss a fair chance. Have a wonderful Anschluss.” She then said without joy, “Heil Hitler.”
Our family, like most families in Vienna then, looked for any sort of reassurance and chose to believe that Papa’s position protected us. What did a veteran have to fear? What did a clerk of the court have to fear? But what we saw ate away our confidence. Underneath lay, not deeply held political or religious convictions, but all of our weaknesses.
Everyone saw horrible things. Everyone experienced Reichskistalnacht. Reichskristallnacht terrified Eva. Reichskristallnacht terrified mama. Reichskristallnacht terrified me. That was when Goebbels directed vandals and hooligans to smash windows of Jewish shops. They also reacted to Grynszpan’s murder of Vom Rath by burning down synagogues. Newspapers depicted this rampage as a spontaneous outburst, while at the same time nothing was said about rounding up Jews. Spontaneous! Faugh!
Each day papa went to work with what seemed like greater resignation. I assumed that he executed his duties, as arrests of Jews kept him busier than ever. I assumed that he executed his duties as best he could. He did his best. I’m sure of it. He however said he’d sacrificed his life for his country.
Niki by then wore a swastika pin. And he suddenly announced that he wanted to become a policeman. Given the circumstances, he said he thought that it would be very prudent to become a policeman.
Mamma still hoped for the best. Mama could see unemployment drastically dropping, as a strong Germany pulled us away from the grip of poverty. With the great magician (Hitler) getting credit, we were transformed overnight. And it seemed like a miracle. Meanwhile Mamma still went each night to the Obdachlosenheim. It must’ve been hard for her to disentangle her sense of loyalty from a moral dilemma she faced. She, however, soon found new ways of helping, which I guess provided renewed satisfaction.
By working with the youth bureau, mama had to have felt part of the solution. And as long as she could see that her work wasn’t a sham, she could go on. She committed herself to the care of children, who had been removed from bad surroundings. In every way the bureau watched over these children. SS Lieutenant Adolf Eichmann was in charge. SS Lieutenant Adolf Eichmann took into consideration the bureau’s goals and touted the program’s success. My guess was that as long as Mamma felt useful she could ignore everything else.
In regards to Hermann Goering’s guns or butter austerity drive, Eva often served us warmed-over food. This was easy for her because she had known real poverty. She knew real poverty before she came to us. To get our cooperation Goering appealed to our romantic notions.
Realities of assimilation were often harsh. It was especially hard for people like Eva, who depended on an employer for protection. She didn’t have a choice. She didn’t have a choice like we did because “once a Jew, always a Jew.” And “once a Jew, always a Jew” implied staying a Jew whether you wanted to or not. So Eva’s special place in our family solidified even more after the frenzy surrounding Anschluss. But I think Papa would’ve discharged her had Mamma wanted, while I think Mamma sympathized with our former nanny’s dangerous situation.
Nothing was harder than my leaving. Separation came so suddenly that none of us had time to prepare for it. It was particularly hard for Eva. Ninety per cent of the Viennese population then sported the swastika, popularly referred to as a safety pin and that I suspect as much as anything else dashed Eva’s hope.
Around this time papa unexpectedly came into our room. He came to reassure me, while Mamma and Eva wept. It was then that Niki and I learned of papa’s plans to send me to America. A suitcase, a German passport, and other necessities had already been assembled. Along with all this twenty thousand Reichsmark was presented to me. This immense sum represented my future. Papa had already bought me a ticket on the morning train. As those final hours ticked away I talked about how once I established myself in America I’d send for them all. We were all focused on the future. Dreams of Texas awoke in me the promise of happier days.
We already knew enough about Hitler to know the risks involved in continuing to live in Vienna. Nevertheless we remained quite confident that everyone could survive until I established myself in Texas. The idea of sending the first born ahead was papa’s. Rather than everyone immediately emigrating, he postponed that risk.
There was a connection between music and the rise and fall of the Nazi world. That last evening at home we all listened to part of Richard Wagner’s Gotterdammerung. All of us … papa, mama, Eva, Niki and me … listened to part of Gotterdammerung. We then turned to the Flying Dutchman and Parsifal. Oh, the curse of the Dutchman and the fall in the Gotterdammerung. During the soft strains of the Abendmahl motif, the world around us seemed to change. While listening we forgot growing dangers around us.
Music also offered us a sense of continuity. It was something that I could hang onto. It was something I always remembered. That evening I saw on papa’s face the burdens he carried. To understand his torment one only has to read stories of survivors of the Holocaust. I think his error came from thinking that he could live with evil without compromising. He was asked to compromise. He was made to compromise. To survive he had to compromise. To survive papa became involved in mass murder, but my love for him blurred facts. Few people ever said an unkind word about him.
We tried our best to shield ourselves. We tried our best to shield ourselves from horrors around us. And say whatever: we escaped liquidation. As for me I couldn’t help them or even stay in contact.
As I remember it was the end of November 1938 and the weather was bitter, which seemed fitting, wet and cold and bitter, indeed, colder than it had been in years, without snow and gloomy. The Godesberg talks failed and prospect for peace was over. I was then on a train with a long journey ahead of me. It happened so suddenly. So quickly packed, and I hardly had time to say goodbye … say goodbye to my family and friends. Time was of the essence, and rushing made me more eager to find my fortune and get the people I loved out of Vienna. Yes, that was our plan. We planned for all of us to leave Vienna.
It seemed like everything I loved was devoured. Events made no sense. The Chancellor’s announcement, his trembling voice, all his emotion spoke the truth about what happened in Berchtesgaden. Hitler shouted and threatened, treating the Chancellor like a schoolboy. I’ve heard that their friendly chat was anything but friendly. Before we knew it our country ceased to exist. Before we knew it Germany devoured Austria.
From Sudbahnhoff, coming out of a long tunnel into hazy sunlight, my train was absolutely packed with panicking people. Young and old, timid and bold, we were all trying to get out of Vienna as fast as we could. It was a madhouse. It was a full train.
“Please don’t cry,” my father quietly said to my mother. He never liked a display of emotions; but at that moment I sensed that he felt tempted to lay aside his studied posture. Believe it or not my mother actually embraced and kissed me before I boarded the train. The interminable farewell itself offered an excuse for lingering. All the longing and sadness of the past emerged during those final moments.
I was sad but also felt glad that I was one of the lucky ones. I felt lucky to be leaving Vienna. I was sad and lucky to be escaping Austria and heading for America. In that sense I was happy. I owed papa everything. He arranged everything yet I feared for him then. I feared for my family then. I wouldn’t look into papa’s eyes.
I had an opportunity Niki never had. Niki wasn’t given the same opportunity. I was free, let me say it … free to leave and become anything I wanted. Apart from any advantage I might’ve gained from staying, I’ve every reason to believe papa would’ve granted me anything because I was his first born son. Perhaps the most befuddling part of my sudden departure was that I saw for the first time how much my mother cared for me. I saw for the first time how much my parents loved me but by then nothing could’ve stopped me. Yes, I wanted to go.
In spite of all her faults my mother was a very kind woman. She was a blessing to me. In spite of her absence she set an example perhaps as equally important as affection … as important as anything she could’ve given me; namely, a social conscience. It was that legacy that drew me into the ministry.
I am proud that I’m basically a good person. We were basically good people. I have my faults, but I’m a good person. That was also my family’s legacy. As for Niki and my father, I can’t place myself above anyone else since I’m not perfect. Perhaps I could pretend that they weren’t who they were. Perhaps I could pretend, but pretending wouldn’t help. As I’ve grown older I’ve become less sure of what I know. Where is the gratitude that I’m supposed to feel? And how deserving am I of my happiness?
By temperament I was adventurous. I hungered for change. I loved adventure. And I realized that if I didn’t go then that I might not get another chance, but I didn’t know then how quickly borders would close. In many ways I was no different from anyone else and never guessed what was going to happen until it was too late. Don’t think I liked abandoning my family. I didn’t like it. I can say it now … now that I know that they survived. This you might think was a blessing; of this I am not sure. I’m not sure. Given what happened, I’m not sure. They were who they were; other than that I better not say much. I can’t say much.
However I can list advantages they gave me. I can list all of them. Had my family been poor I might think differently. Had they suffered I might’ve pitied them more. Had they died, without a doubt, I would’ve mourned them and looked for compensation. Because of them I’ve had many opportunities, but because of the facts I won’t say much about them.
In spite of everything I’m blessed, and not merely by those things that are obvious such as all the trappings that come with prosperity and success. But my blessings are far sadder than most people can imagine. And that’s because once I left Austria I never looked back. And it was because I couldn’t get my family out of Austria. So my shame won’t go away. With shame we either move past it or we don’t. Darkness and evil have clouded my perspective; but with blessings I’ve had I shouldn’t … shouldn’t … should …
“People who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.” Isaiah 9:2. Yes, but …
I have to ask myself certain questions: if I had been in father’s shoes, what would I have done? Would I have turned my back on the afflicted or, given the circumstances, would I have been capable of good deeds? Perhaps neither. At that time I wasn’t a religious person, but yet undoubtedly seeds for my faith were sown. Seeds were sown. Providence chose me. Poise in the pulpit came naturally. Thus far I’m satisfied with whom I am. The simple truth is that there are differing opinions about who should be held accountable for the holocaust.
But upon whose shoulders does the catastrophe rest? How can I point fingers at anyone? Who continues to carry a whip? Who can hide or tear himself away? How, O how, can I keep from shrinking in weakness from … ? Is it by reliving insufferable horrors and images? Is it by condemning those who … ? That would be natural … a natural reaction and reasonable for someone like me. But why should I keep carrying this burden? Is it my cross? Why should I take responsibility for transgressions of my family? For so long I couldn’t talk about it. For so long I couldn’t talk about all the plundering, sacking, rape, killing, and tearing apart that burdened my heart. But now that I can, need I carry the weight of history and the burden of everything Niki and papa did?
My brother! Niki! Fated to fall. Niki! Who I loved! A milksop among monsters. An ordinary, spineless person, whose life was inevitably consumed by an evil cancer. If indeed he became a Nazi or someone whose good heart succumbed to a kind of insanity that defied all logic, why? If indeed he became mired in moral morass that was sweeping through Vienna when I left, why? Why again and again I insist why? So full of hurt am I, so why can’t I be honest?
Mighty Lord, why does my brother sit in darkness and I sit in light? As we approached the last days of mankind, why was he alive? And why couldn’t I find peace an innocent person deserved?
But you might say that I shared anguish with someone who had something to hide. Not so! I wanted to confess. I thought I had to confess. Confess! I asked for forgiveness and, yes, even forgave. Forgave … forgiven in so far as was humanly possible. But my anger still could bring me ruin. At times I still reject certain facts concerning the Holocaust.
Let me stop this painful diatribe. My brother was worthy of my love. He looked up to me, which seemed impossible. Once I caught him crying. He asked me not to mention it. He didn’t want mama to know. He put forth a brave face. As boys we weren’t supposed to show emotion. As boys we weren’t supposed to cry nor were we supposed to have negative feelings. We had to be perfect, matchless, and characteristically and deliberately serious (a word too often associated with intelligence). So in reality I suspect my brother too often concealed his true feelings. Hardly could one expect anything else, having grown up in a home where crying wasn’t allowed.
Bright and with features that were absolutely flawless, he seemed to have come from a perfect mold. There also was about him a shade of a dreamer, and that was the heart of the matter, and why we should’ve traded places. Imagine what he could’ve done in Texas. Imagine. What happened to him was incomprehensible. His very nature plus his attachment to Eva should’ve given him reason enough to resist Nazis. Consider this handsome creature, as dressed for a fancy-dress ball, with sudden headlong ecstasy singing phrases from Mozart’s “Non so piu cosa son, cosa faccio!” You might’ve thought that he was a swain or lovesick puppy. You might’ve thought his brain was only full of wanton ideas. Not so! He was a man, filled with ideals. Yes! Ideals!
But you’d have to take a closer look. Notice furrows in his forehead. Notice scars. Notice faults. Forget the song and dance side of him, which was as polished and admired as popular images of the Viennese. “Vienna’s tramps, Vienna sausage, Viennese girls, everything is strewn around in confusion. The growing coal shortage appears, and once again Dr. Kortschoner comes parading by with song and dance.” – Karl Kraus, Satirist.
To my younger brother, as I remembered him, I sent my love. But to remember how things were, pretension was required. It was important for me to hold onto my love of him and not images of a world constructed of evil. What Nazis did to my brother was totally inhuman. They turned him into … into … into … I still can’t say it.
Oh, what a lovely Anschluss! Gemutlichkeit and hatred, pain, and despair: how could we have avoided tears? How anguish ruined my memories. And as the mighty Danube flows bitterness shall flow forever.
On my twenty-eighth birthday I left Vienna. Right then I was only thinking of my future and hadn’t given any thought to the fact that there wasn’t any place left in world for a European Jew. As for me I had a German passport, which didn’t have a dreaded “J” neatly and carefully stamped in it. Without this precious document I would’ve ended up in Dachau. Instead, as an ordinary passenger, I crossed Hitler’s Germany without being harassed.
With the same attention to details that I’d always known, my father arranged for my passport and filled my pockets with money. Even my ticket he booked. He had it all worked out. If I had a ticket to Riga … through the Polish Corridor and East Prussia … he knew that the Lithuanians would let me go through their country. No special permit was required.
As I grew to appreciate what he did for me my empathy for him deepened. It was better to think of him in that way than as one of Hitler’s henchmen. I wish so much that I could’ve gotten my family out of Austria. I wished I could’ve gotten my family out like we planned. With respect to my brother, to this day I can’t picture him wearing a Nazi uniform. He really was just an overgrown kid.
But before I leave this chapter let me say a word or two more about my state of mind then. “Happy is he who forgets what can not be changed” is the theme song of Strauss’ Die Fledermaus. I couldn’t change Vienna. But I can’t forget Vienna.
Not in my wildest dreams had I imagined that I’d get to emigrate. My guilt was allayed somewhat by the argument that it was very important for at least one of us to get to safety. In any case we didn’t think separation would be long. No doubt upset over the German menace, nevertheless mother’s confidence in me never wavered. A son naturally feels obligated.
As the national crises worsened ability to act decreased. A spirit of distrust emerged, which seemed natural considering how friends changed over night. Many of them … many of our friends tried to win favor by wearing swastika pins. Some turned on other friends perhaps thinking that would prove something. It was this that helped Eichmann and helped me realize that I could never live in Vienna. I realize I can never go back.
It’s hard to say what awaken within me a profound need to serve God, and whether a total collapse of the world as I knew it had anything to do with my becoming a minister. In this dark world of sin the blood of Jesus offered me peace, or did it all come from my mother?
Human suffering molded my character. And I don’t think I’ll ever get over my feelings of guilt. Guilty, I still feel guilty. Terrible prejudice was at the root of anti-Semitism, but it was not always blatant, though there was an undercurrent of it all the time I was growing up. These feelings I had to hide. Once I left Vienna I had to hide them. I never wanted to share prejudice taught to me as a child. I never wanted to share this prejudice with my daughter.
Therefore it’s with pain that I relate the following incident. I’ll try to make it short. Mobs of teenage boys and girls roamed streets of Vienna threatening anyone who looked the least bit Jewish. This included many people who were wrongly identified. To show their political affiliation these close-knit Nazi groups all wore knee-length socks. Otherwise they established a reputation by bullying. Synagogues became targets, which frightened whole congregations. So frequently was this nastiness that others felt free to let loose their hatred on defenseless people. Caught in the middle of it seemed so different from the feeling of security that we’d known. We lived for so many years in comfort. So much of the time most of our arguments and conflict centered on nothing more than sharing a water closet.
On my way home after an enjoyable evening at the Cafe Zauner I found myself suddenly surrounded by Nazis shouting “Juda verrecke! It didn’t take a brain to know what they had in mind. To me by then they acted like caricatures that anyone would’ve recognized. But this time they were aiming their slurs directly at me.
Couldn’t they see that I wasn’t a Jew? Couldn’t they see it? I remember blurting out “Heil Hitler!” I had enough sense to click my heels, extend my arm in a Nazi salute, and shout, “Heil Hitler!” Thank goodness this mob responded in the same manner but much more enthusiastically. I could only guess what would’ve happened if I hadn’t been quick on my feet.
No one in my family was an observant Jew, which suggested that we either converted or weren’t Jewish at all. I don’t remember ever celebrating a single Jewish holiday. But I can’t believe that I even pretended to offer my heart and soul to Hitler.
Afterwards I shook so much that thankfully I didn’t have to go straight home. After that incident I swore that from then on I’d resist manipulation. I knew I had been manipulated. Interesting enough I meant it, and I did my best. I know Niki did his best too. I know Niki. I know he did his best.
I was impressed by how I described myself as an idealist. I liked the strident ring of the word militant, but honestly I don’t think I could’ve stood up to Nazis. It was a good thing that I left Vienna when I did.
My brother a Nazi? I refused to believe the worst. I don’t believe my brother was a Nazi. I’ll never believe it. It seemed remarkable that I turned to Jesus before I jettisoned all of my Jewishness. I had previously gone with my mother to the Stephansdom. With her usual poise she’d drop to her knees. I listened to her pray and say, “Sometimes we simply have to adjust and leave the rest to God. God has a plan, and He doesn’t see as men see. He didn’t intend for there to be a split between Christians and Jews. A portion of heaven belongs to both groups. All of His children whom He loves we must respect. I don’t think Hitler will last long. We’ll soon see a better world.”
Mama made me proud, but she had always been outspoken. Only in 1938 her words seemed curious.
If she had raised her voice what would’ve happened to her? Consequences? I stood in awe of her. If she hadn’t whispered her prayer? She loved people and had a profound concern for them, but to talk about it would’ve been insane. Mama didn’t want to see anyone hurt. She wanted all of us to survive and live in a better world. She hadn’t given up hope. She hadn’t given up hope yet.
The Latvian border guard took my German passport and verified my identity from my photograph. He said nothing when he handed it back to me. Then he gave the Nazi salute, while I tried to keep from looking bewildered. Outwardly controlled but with my heart beating rapidly, I followed his salute hastily with my own. My “Heil Hitler” still rings in my ears.
Why should I be so hard on myself and reject my frailty? In spite of my conversion and ministry I admit that I’m basically still a dirty Jew. Jews! Murdered and slaughtered! Fascists! Hooligans! Nazis!
Here I have to admit that I gave the Nazi salute over and over again. So I’m thankful that I got out of Vienna when I did.
Heinrich Himmler already had arrived in Vienna from Berchtesgaden. Austrian police files were in his hands, and there was but little time remaining. There was but little time remaining for many Jews. There was but little time remaining for some of our neighbors. Within a few hours borders would be sealed. What could we do?
I prayed and preached God’s word with a wild sense of possession. I became a minister once I reached Texas. I believed in Jesus Christ and looked for mystical experiences that would erased my doubts. But it took me a long time. Faith, you see, was rarely created in an instant.
So what do you want from me? Naturally I’ve lived with a great deal of sadness. Naturally I’m hurt … was hurt. Naturally I feel guilty. Solemnity of my parents’ fear and grief marked their demeanor and made it impossible for me to show my excitement. They all looked sad. It was the saddest day of my life. Yet I felt happy. I was leaving Vienna to start a new life. We misunderstood Hitler’s intent. If that weren’t true we would’ve all left together. But with youthful enthusiasm I willingly said goodbye. I perhaps persuaded myself that nothing tragic would happen to my family.
For my part I made no effort to ignore the fact that assaults on Jews in Austria had begun. We all knew what was going on. Well, not all of it. At first we thought Jews were simply being relocated. I had no reason to close my eyes. I had my German passport and every reason to believe that I could get a visa to the United States. My father had connections in Riga. They’d help me get out. And seventy-two hours and little sleep and I had crossed most of a riving Reich.
On that raw November morning we were all waiting together on the station platform. Tears flowed without sobs from Eva and my mother. Papa looked pale and worried, and behind a smile on Niki’s face was a coldness that I didn’t understand … a coldness that I didn’t recognized.
I’ve often tried to recall details of that final morning. On the night before I remember Eva coming into my room and asking if she could help me pack. I could tell that she wanted to be near me. I knew she wanted to be near me. I knew she loved me. She raised me and loved me, and I loved her. She couldn’t keep from crying, which drew me to her. About thirty minutes later Mamma came into the room, dressed for going out.
Remember this was my last evening in Vienna. Anyone who thought that Mamma would change her routine for me didn’t know her. I know she hated good-byes; and maybe, just maybe, she didn’t feel ready to accept that she might possibly never see me again.
A heavy, wool shawl and high-top boots seemed appropriate for a cold evening. As Hitler poisoned the atmosphere my mother with her charm and kindness looked for an antidote. I don’t believe she ever intended to neglect us. I don’t believe she ever intended to neglect Niki and me. I’ll never believe it. God knows how much I missed her; yet missing her was nothing new, missing mamma as much as I did. It was nothing new. My fondness for mama came close to blind affection, something not unlike idolatry. Having not seen much of her made her more fascinating to me. On the other hand Eva had taken on the role of our mother.
To Niki and me Eva gave herself enthusiastically. To my father she also unselfishly gave her attention and sympathy. She loved papa just as she loved us. Eva often seemed giddy to me and filled with imaginings of a schoolgirl in love. How Eva felt about us seemed obvious and because of that a collision between her and my mother seemed inevitable.
The two women couldn’t have been more different. Mamma was completely emancipated, while Eva wanted nothing more than to have a family and be tied to a man. One considered herself equal to her husband; the other didn’t mind being papa’s Jew-slave.
This differentiation defined our family. Add to that my parent’s disappointment in each other, an excuse they each used for infidelity. Infidelity? Yes, infidelity. Niki and I knew what was going on. I don’t know about Niki, but the more I learned about what was going on the angrier I became. Distance, however, helped me recognize their frailty … papa’s and mama’s frailty … and it allowed me to feel sympathy for them.
There were good reasons why I felt closer to Eva than either one of my parents. Even today Eva fills a special place in my heart. Mainly it was because of interest she took in me, while mama rarely came into Niki’s and my room. Then on the night before I left, she came into our room and said goodbye and left. She came into Niki’s and my room and left. That was it. Nothing more. Eva was so devoted to us that she rarely or never took a day off. I dare say she knew her place and felt comfortable there.
I can imagine what people thought about my leaving. They must’ve asked why I would leave when I could’ve easily capitalized on my family’s position. How could my father’s decision to send me out of the country make sense to anyone who knew us? With changes afoot there were plenty of opportunities. There was reason to be optimistic. Any personal danger seemed exaggerated, but given the mood of Vienna it was unwise to completely ignore upheaval. Besides I felt convinced that my separation from my family wouldn’t last long.
I relished the idea of having to completely rely on my own resourcefulness. I thought I could handle it. I thought I could handle anything.
Hats off to all those who admired papa for his toughness. I never knew how much influence he had. I never knew exactly what papa did, except that he worked for judges; and I’ve never suppressed my distaste for judges. I’ve angered myself over an irrational distrust of judges and have since struggled with shame over my father’s role in the holocaust. I wish I could say I overreacted. I know some people had good reason to fear him. Sometimes Niki and I did.
I’m afraid of the past, afraid of being associated with unthinkable crimes. As far as I know papa kept his old job throughout the war and never did anything outside the scope of it. If that was so how could he have been criticized? If he followed the law how could they label him a murderer? He was only doing his job. To label him a murderer was wrong. As homage to his decency I drew from my own sense of fairness and had to say he was a Christian and a Catholic.
When I was alone, I often cried. Thinking of the loss of my family made me feel very sad.
So there I was on the evening before my departure. Eva, as I’ve said, came into my room to help me pack. We conversed for a long time. She gave me a long hug, and as she left she said she felt very tired. Her last words had something to do with our having to get up early in the morning. Not long after that, if I can rely on my memory … I have to get hold of myself … Niki came home. I got the idea that he ignored the curfew. To this day in such an unreal world I don’t know why he wasn’t arrested. I don’t know why he wasn’t arrested for ignoring the curfew. I also was amazed that my mother could come and go. But then the clock hasn’t ever governed profitable notions of man. None of us knew if or when we’d all be together again.
I couldn’t stop thinking of my mother’s kiss as she said goodbye. I felt optimistic, but with each passing mile I worried more about my family, and whether it was justified or not, and though I knew it did no good to worry. An hour passed; and for thirty minutes more I sat unbelievably still. From then until Salzburg I became more and more restless. I had been to Salzburg many times, so I was familiar with Salzburg.
Perhaps restlessness doesn’t quite describe how I felt. I was anxious, very anxious, more so than I dared to admit. Too much was at stake. What time was it? Many things could’ve already occurred in Berlin or Vienna that could’ve affected my plans. They could’ve already closed borders. With a proper passport I wasn’t afraid of being mistaken for a Jew, but if not Jewish then why not an idiot? I unfortunately have a Jewish name and look the part.
I pulled my gray hat down over my eyes and tried to disappear into my seat. The train was very crowded, with each compartment filled with people uneasy about their future. Almost everyone wore swastika pins. Even I wore one and gave myself the luxury of dozing.
This was it. Doomsayers were right. Hitler had swallowed up my lovely little country, but ramifications of Anschluss, however, were still unclear. It seemed less clear now than it did before. Even so we should’ve been more alarmed over a German takeover. Why hadn’t we been more frightened? Instead German might so impressed us that we found it difficult to see them as our enemy. But unlike my brother I continued to think that I was immune to Nazism and by running away thought that I wouldn’t be tested.
I couldn’t comprehend the unthinkable, although by then the Gestapo already had snatched many prominent people. By then they had snatched many of our neighbors. Then why couldn’t it happen to my family? Thinking of my family I fought to stay in my seat and on the train. And then for the first time I felt lonely.
I tried to look ahead to a bright future. I was thankfully unaware of twists of fate that would affect it, or eventually saved me as I looked at the high mountains out of my window. Just over the mountains was Switzerland. But beautiful alpine valleys didn’t impress me. One fear disappeared only to be succeeded by another one, but I knew time had come for me to emigrate because I didn’t want to become a German.
I knew that somehow I had to come to grips with myself. I knew that if I didn’t come to grips with myself I would give myself away. I prayed that I wouldn’t give myself away. It was nearly half past one when we came to the German frontier. I dealt with the Deutshe Grenzkontolle, when I went to the space between cars for air. By then “Heil Hitler” had become an automatic response for me.
I always thought I’d be able to come and go from my country without fear of harassment. I no longer thought this, and I was afraid the expression on my face would give me away.
I noticed that people around me didn’t look at each other. I didn’t want to look at them either. I didn’t want to talk. I didn’t want to speak. I was afraid my accent might get me in trouble. I was afraid my German would get me in trouble. My fear seemed contagious. I could see it on people’s faces. Having crossed one frontier, the nightmare of my flight from the Wehrmacht was hardly over.
What else was I thinking? Jews had no friends. I was glad I was a Christian. I thought of denunciations, which came unexpectedly but were too easily justified. I am not a Jew. I was never a Jew. Awful words got stuck in my brain.
Truth hurt. Cuts stung. Feelings were there and were expressed by graffiti I saw everywhere. And we were told that there was a solution within our grasp. A solution, or solutions. A final solution! It made me think about Eva. It’s always made me think about Eva while nobody said anything. Only hiss of steam escaping from a standing train broke silence.
A sermon took shape in my brain. Yes, a sermon! I was already thinking in terms of sermons. I asked myself what would Jesus think about Jews of 1938. Would He say they’d gone astray and that they’d been given a chance? Wouldn’t He be angry? Hadn’t they rejected Him? Hadn’t Jews rejected him? Didn’t Jews crucify him? Something was awry. This was for sure, which troubled me more than ever.
I knew the argument all too well. I knew that Jews brought much of their trouble on themselves; and that if somehow they could’ve seen their error, perhaps they could’ve been saved. Shouldn’t they have accepted Jesus and not ridiculed the cross? If … if … if and there would’ve been more tolerance.
I kept my faith. With knowledge that extended far beyond the power of invention, I knew Jesus. I knew Jesus personally. I had a personal encounter with Jesus. Every attempt to confuse me or entangle me in heresy failed. It was also true that I sometimes wrestled with evil, which almost drove me mad.
Unable to focus I again thought of Eva, a woman who was paid only a nominal sum. Her real responsibilities extended way beyond what was normally expected of a servant. And that she was Jewish was not kept a secret. We all knew. We all knew she was Jewish. Then as children when did we first know? I have to say that we always knew. And yet she was the same as a mother to us.
Filled with kindness Eva was a good soul with a warm heart. She had wit and promise beyond what you normally expected of a servant. She also suffered, as much as anyone could suffer. I often saw it in her face. I know she suffered. I knew she suffered. Then came new laws and because of them she suffered more. That’s all, suffered.
Eva loved us. And her unselfishness greatly endeared her with our whole family. We loved her. If we could feel that way, and if a desk-murderer could love a Jewish woman, if we could love a Jewish woman then why did there have to be so much affliction and killing? It’s no wonder Eva lived with resignation.
Jews were officially devilish and cunning. I mean we thought then that Jews were devilish and cunning. I mean we weren’t different from most people and thought it. Jews supposedly did the rest of us great harm and that was reason enough to round them all up; we needed to get rid of them so that once again we could prosper. I mean that was the rational then for what was done to Jews. Jews were our misfortune. I grew up hearing “Jews are our misfortune.” But those of us who knew Eva and benefited from her kindness knew common held assumptions about Jews had to be false. I’m not saying that she qualified for sainthood. I’m not saying Eva qualified for sainthood for her image was tarnished by her long liaison with my father; but certainly papa was as much at fault as she was. I’m also sure mama contributed.
Eva won a place in our hearts because of how she took care of us. Her sincerity amazed us. It amazes me. It’s why I think so much about her. It was fortunate that she found a position of trust and overcame prejudice.
Not only had Eva adopted us, and expressed it in all that she did for us, she always believed in our goodness. She believed in our goodness, but she still had to have known that it was only a matter of time before she’d become another victim of injustice. She had to have known it. Others, in language of the times, thought she was evil and belonged to the devil. They simply viewed her as a Jew, a work-shirker and a threat, but not because of any specific defects that they could see.
I believed Eva looked for the good in everyone. I often thought about what was done to her and looked at myself in that regard. I’ve come to the conclusion that I did Eva a great disservice. I feel guilty. I think we could’ve done more. I’m guilty of thinking that Jews were hardly human, though without realizing it I made an exception of Eva.
Goodness that Eva showed remained incomprehensible and didn’t become less painful over time. I must add that she was also proud to be a Jew. Her face looked very Jewish (much more Jewish than mine).
I believed Eva, though she was our servant, was also attached to my mother. Mamma was equally filled with passion and capable of impassioned action. Mama was good, spirited, and worthy of trust. But She wasn’t ready to blaze her own trail. In this regard she disappointed me. She definitely loved her work and was definitely my father’s equal, but it took a while for me to realize it. I did see, however, how much Eva respected my mother. But I didn’t see the high esteem in which the two women held each other and how it made an impression on those closes to them because there was harmony where one would’ve expected discord.
I place mama in the heavens and attach to her wonders of a remote star that could never be reached. Mama always gave herself without receiving much in return, and this was undervalued. Social work was considered women’s work, women’s work practically as well as ideally. Mamma’s career became her identity. It was who she was, and for me to expect more from her would’ve been unrealistic.
After the First World War need staggered the imagination and there were few people more dedicated to filling that need than my mother. I think she gave so much that she didn’t have anything left for Niki and me. I didn’t think she had anything left for us, and when she let us down, thank goodness we had Eva. Like I said Eva was always there. To tell the truth I didn’t understand how the two got along at all. That this arrangement somehow worked amazed me. It amazes me still.
And observe that my dad rarely came directly home from work. And places he most frequented were among the most popular in Vienna. French wines he ordered were the best. I imagined he spent hours drinking. He enjoyed very old cognac and always sat at the same tables, tables that were always reserved for him. Yet from what he said I didn’t think he ever belonged and everybody knew it. And what happened to his old circle? At one time everyone belonged to a circle in Vienna. So what happened to papa’s old circle? I didn’t know if any of them outlived him, or in the depth of pathos that there were any of them that he would’ve mourned.
My heart was taken over by evil. I couldn’t escape it. I can’t escape it. Papa sat alone. Yes, all alone and never belonged. As far as I know neither he nor my brother ever joined the Nazi party. That was how they escaped. I’m sure they never belonged to the Nazi party. It broke my heart. I’m still horrified. O how profoundly! But this alone wouldn’t keep me from going back to Vienna.
In retrospect I remembered mamma and papa talking and she engaging in an illusion by telling him that he should console himself. Mama said … mama told him that everything would work out for the best. She knew what was happening and told papa that everything would work out for the best. And papa knew why some were sent here and others there. And he didn’t have to tell her. He didn’t have to tell mama. They didn’t have to tell each other. She could read him.
O much maligned much-hated people! Of your presumed holiday, perverse trip! Perverse lie! From the moment you left you neither found enough food nor enough rest.
“Our Eva!” I exclaimed after waking from a nightmare. What happened to you? Much loved you disappeared and were deceived very much. Another victim of Hitler’s madness! That was why I couldn’t forgive. Then again I had to forgive. I couldn’t sit still. I couldn’t go. Then I had to go. I blamed my parents and yes my brother. In any case it turned out to be a hard trip.
My daughter’s uncle! Not for a moment could it be imagined how much I missed him. My brother, Niki! It was nonsense to pretend that we weren’t close and equally ludicrous to insist that we didn’t spend time together. Ludicrous.
Would Niki come to the door? Would he answer his door? Or would he pretend he wasn’t home? Would he hide? Was he hiding? Would he be expecting me? Would we recognize each other? Would he be excited to see me? Would he want to avoid me?
I saw Niki had neglected himself, and before opening the door he yelled obscenities at me. I hadn’t expected him to yell obscenities at me. We were close. We were brothers. (Why do I use were here?) We were close and were brothers. I’m not so sure but that he wanted me to go away. Truthfully I didn’t want to hear what he had to say. Still I asked about Eva?
He was curious about Texas and made an effort to be friendly. I had to explain that I hadn’t made it to Texas yet. I had to explain …. I couldn’t explain.
He got too close … too close to me. We were close, and he got too close to me and I wanted him to back off. I left him the task of drawing me out. But I didn’t have much to say and said too much. There was too much for both of us to absorb in one meeting. “Talk to me, Niki,” I pleaded. “Let’s not wait until it’s too late. It seems like I’ve only been gone for a short while.” It had only been a few years. After a short while I realized our conversation wouldn’t get anywhere. It couldn’t go anywhere.
I walked down streets that I knew and noted changes. I knew that Niki tried three times to take his own life.
“Karl,” he actually said very little but what he said he said slowly, and the very little he ate, he also slowly ate. “We’d better wait because I don’t really understand what happened. Papa said Eva was detained on some charge but said he couldn’t say for what. But we all knew it was a lie, for we knew… we all knew… Papa was proud, and we were proud of him. And he kept saying, ‘O, I dare say one doesn’t want to be considered a Jew-lover. Don’t therefore go soft.’ I couldn’t go soft. I couldn’t.” But as for Eva?”
What was her crime? What was Eva’s crime? I kept asking that, and my brother couldn’t/wouldn’t say. He however told me about becoming a policeman but said it was difficult to even think about the mission of his battalion. After all they were fighting a war. He emphasized that they were fighting a war. He was stalling and didn’t want to talk. He didn’t want to give details. Niki received the Distinguished Service Cross. That much I do know.
Things turned out far differently than any of us ever intended. For his part my brother said that during the Nazi reign he didn’t believe anything was wrong with relocating a few Jews. “And besides,” he argued, “weren’t allied bombs turning Vienna into rubble and in the process killing our women and children?”
This much was then clear: Eva was murdered, something far worse than I ever anticipated. And where was I? Over and over again I asked that question. Where was I? Why wasn’t I there? Why wasn’t I there to protect her? Why hadn’t papa tried to get her to safety? Certain things were apparent. There had to have been a reason for my survival and why God allowed people such as Eva to die.
I tried to speak German German. I’m not sure how well I pulled it off. Still in tense situations I think I handled myself well. This, however, didn’t mean I didn’t suffer anxiety in Germany. By the time my train crossed the frontier my nervousness reached a disabling degree. Already the Gestapo had people by the throat, and there was so much I didn’t know. So much I learned. So much I learned from … from uncertainty.
Having a German passport didn’t eliminate all risks. Germany was a nightmare for me. At every stop someone came through the train checking papers. And in the entire world Germany was one of the few countries that I didn’t want to visit. It hadn’t always been that way. But it didn’t mean that I didn’t take in as much as I could.
Wasn’t the Third Reich on the move? Germany was on the move with everyone heading in one direction? With a unity of purpose? It was what we were told. It was Hitler’s message to Austria. Hitler presented this aim in his speech from the balustrade of the Hofburg. He stated it when he welcomed us into the German Reich. By this time I knew I couldn’t accept “fresh hope” that Nazis offered. Hopefulness still prevailed among most thinking Austrians, while the future didn’t seem bright for Jews.
After the whole mess started I saw how fear dominated our lives. I don’t think I’m speaking for everyone. I know I’m not speaking for everyone. We hadn’t been involved in any of the Bekenntniskirche problems, nor had contact with Dahlem, Niemoller, or Paulusbund. Still I became a Lutheran, while my mother remained a Catholic. She was very, very liberal. She was a very liberal Catholic and not at all hateful. In a sense we were all liberals. It had been my privilege to know people from the best social circles. Many of them were unfortunately Jews.
I hardly suffered and yet was fleeing. Obviously my happiness and safety were important to my parents. My success also was important to them. Obviously my happiness and safety were important to me. It wouldn’t have been enough for me to follow in my father’s footsteps. Papa always felt harassed by paperwork. I couldn’t have signed death warrants. To have played a role in Vienna’s kangaroo courts would’ve been repugnant but who could blame my father for clinging to security. To blame him would’ve been meaningless.
As I understood that all crimes except for misdemeanors required a defendant to go before a magistrate. Did this apply to Jews? I’m not sure. No, that’s no true. I know what I know. It was in courtrooms that brutality, hypocrisy, and criminality took place. While my father’s name always was associated with diligence and devotion his signature was more closely associated with death. I’m afraid to say … while judges made decisions, clerks like my father signed minute entries and warrants. I must stop defending my father. May he rest in peace.
As much as I hate … hated to admit it my brother also … I still can’t say. I’m still not sure. He said he was directing traffic and guarding … and wasn’t … and it was war and all out war, and Niki didn’t want to talk about it. There was no need to concoct an alibi for either one of them. Charges were plain and simple. Charges leveled against Niki and papa were plain and simple.
How do I know what happened, for wasn’t I out of the picture? I don’t. I don’t know what happened. How do I know that my brother, as a policeman, got carried away? I don’t. I don’t know for sure. Donning a uniform cap no doubt changed his personality. But results of my research have shown me that his hands were far from clean. I remember accusing my brother of having disappointed me. I’m disappointed with myself for accusing him.
At night I was haunted by images of my brother’s participation in the holocaust. What happened to the immature, snotty-nose kid I knew? It was like someone was trying to destroy … destroy my true feelings for him. My heart ached! Oh, God, I could see him in a gleeful crowd watching Jews scrub Josefstadterstrasse with toothbrushes. There he would be among idle, curious, and laughing onlookers, watching Jewish women scrub streets in their fur coats. And while they pissed on women’s heads. Perhaps he was a pisser. He was always a pisser. No, no I can’t make light of this. Whatever might have been their motives or the spirit of their actions they were all the same.
My route took me to Berlin. Prudence and common sense actually prescribed a different route. I didn’t need to go to Berlin. No doubt Italy or Switzerland would’ve offered a quicker escape, but were not necessarily safer. My father decided that going through Berlin would attract the least amount of attention. What did I have to be afraid of? Anschluss had made me a German citizen, a member of the Volk. And I knew who I was. No laws or regulations could change it.
I abhorred violence and the destruction and violence of Kristallnacht. Something terrible happened to all of us then. Something frightening. We were no longer free to fall in love with whomever we wanted. Jews were forced to wear a Star … the Star of David. These rules were supposed have been for the good of the public and were rarely relaxed. And never after Hitler came into power.
But were these rules absolute and universal? Might not, at least, a Jewish female servant, simply as a member of the household, still flirt with her employer? Absolutely not! To even argue the point could’ve gotten one into trouble.
Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor never took in consideration human feelings. As a public official of considerable rank my father had to enforce it. But it also must’ve caused him considerable pain because I know he really loved Eva. He loved Eva like we all did.
Human feelings and sympathy from a man who wasn’t suppose to show emotion never superseded laws Germans brought to Austria. These laws now codified with clarity the racial problem. For love my father then would have to pay dearly, while he couldn’t afford to do anything that would attract the attention of the Gestapo. He had to avoid giving answers and explanations and had to demonstrate his loyalty to the Third Reich. He didn’t have a choice and keep his family safe. Necessity for public officials to exhibit integrity no doubt placed papa in a bind and kept him from treating Eva as an exception.
Didn’t I see this coming? Yes, and it was … is why I feel guilty that I didn’t stay for the last act of this very personal drama.
I felt like I didn’t belong and, as a result, focused my attention on leaving. I remembered watching part of the Exodus of the Jews from our third story window, and it sent shivers up my spine. Then we knew nothing of Dachau. After turning away from the window, I didn’t see signs of disapproval from other members of my family. Even Eva didn’t show that much interest.
I never forgave my father. The one man who could’ve saved Eva accused her. That was how I’m sure it happened. But I didn’t think papa was a monster. I imagined, however, he suffered pain … pain of a man who loses all of his self-respect. Self-respect! What self-respect? When it became time for him to accept responsibility he betrayed someone he loved. I didn’t misjudge him. I know I didn’t misjudge papa. I knew my father. It was why I was in so much misery.
There we were faced with the end of civilization and potentially the end of the world. We gave culture and civilization away, much of it destroyed along with the fortunes of Jews. Libraries were burned. Books were burned. Most things of value censored out of existence. Within a few hours, sometimes in less than a day, gone forever. 80%, 90%, 100% destroyed. Wiped from the face of the earth. My family knew of this destruction. They … we … saw it.
But condemnation from the outside was yet to come. There still seemed room for accommodation. But the majority didn’t think twice about slaughter. To them it seemed justified. While most people were more or less pleased, I never was. Instead I felt certain that there would come a day of reckoning. “We call ourselves Christians,” I said to myself, “yet we wrap ourselves up in righteousness and, given the circumstances, think only of our survival.” Therefore I came to the conclusion that we could never rely on man again.
Such were my thoughts as I looked out my window at the ever-changing countryside. Yes my heart ached. I heard sobbing and intended to answer, but I was afraid to.
I don’t know why I didn’t turn back. I don’t know why I didn’t get off the train. I was confused. If Christ loved me why couldn’t I find peace? As the outside world intruded, my inner peace was shattered by Hitler’s bite. It was only a matter of time before the demon’s malice infected everyone.
“Juda verrecke!” “Juda verrecke!” louder, louder!
How many times have I gotten off the train at Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, or Dachau? How many times have I entered those gates over which was inscribed Dante’s injunction, “LASCIATE OGNI SPERANZA, VOI CH’ENTRATE!” (“Abandon all hope, you who enter!”)? How guilty was I? No less than those who knew and yet said nothing. Hush of death would’ve prevailed had there hadn’t been pictures. Hush of death would’ve prevailed had the Allies lost the war. Hush of death would’ve prevailed had we won the war.
I don’t know how I made it through my first night away from home. I mainly remembered how long it seemed. So much for romantic agony! I was really alone, once an Austrian, then a German, soon stateless. Me there! Alone on a train full of people … and my family and innocent Eva back home.
As a new day dawned I invented a friend to give me comfort. This was Muller. Muller sat next to me. Muller gave me comfort. Misery kept me from noticing what separated us. Muller saw my loneliness and began telling me his secrets. I had only one thought. I had to get away from Muller. While he might’ve cared for me, why would I care for him? And why should I listen to him? Muller told me that I needed to be optimistic for the sake of others. He then shared his black coffee, which picked me up. This warm beverage relaxed me and thawed ice that first separated us. I became susceptible to Muller’s smile, if not susceptible to his advice. I looked at him; and having no other witness I cried for the first time since I became a man. All at once Muller and I knew each other.
From his odd misuse of German I could tell that Muller was a foreigner too and this helped. I hoped he wasn’t a Jew. There was more than that that stirred my curiosity. There were two sides to Muller. “Ja! That was right, two sides. One minute he was a brutal, honest accuser and the next a mild, meek, and well-mannered defender. Muller knew where to find bandits. But both of us soon learned not to talk about it. We learned not to talk about horrors around us. We were dishonest and proclaimed our innocence. Most of all we both wanted to avoid trouble.
At first there wasn’t much my friend could do for me beyond sharing his coffee and extending his friendship. His good sense reigned and he recognized my pain. Thankfully he recognized my pain. Thankfully the majority’s hatred for Jews hadn’t affected him. Many good people, with similar intentions, placed themselves in jeopardy by showing the slightest sympathy for Jews, while we remained cautious.
I felt sorry for him. I felt sorry for Muller. He had no friends, not one friend, in life not one friend, but me. Didn’t he know that he could ruin his reputation by sitting next to me? Muller’s purpose was an honorable one but completely misguided. Muller was honorable.
I wouldn’t make the same mistake. I wouldn’t lie. Beyond that I didn’t know what to do.
A glance would confirm my race. It was obvious. I obviously wasn’t Jewish. The deposition of an accuser under the circumstances meant nothing. There would be nothing out of the ordinary about the proceedings. Such proceedings happened all the time. To have my honor, integrity, and loyalty questioned not only shocked me but it also infuriated me. I wouldn’t want to know the person or persons who plotted against me. But I knew a mistake was made, an error growing out of my appearance and confirmed, perhaps, by how I talked. It was a mistake, a question of mistaken identity. Charges became even more exaggerated, even more absurd, and, before I knew it, an overly hasty court turned me over to a lynching mob.
I wouldn’t understand this madness. Why the deposition spoke with contempt. Why my black hair and my dark eyes mattered. I wouldn’t understand it. A final ruling was placed in a plain envelope and afterwards meticulously filed. Now it was a fact, and well known too, that I was and had always been a Christian. Madness. I didn’t understand this madness.
I was miffed, and I couldn’t appreciate the position of my new friend, when he sat next to me and started up a conversation. But he knew the possible consequences. He knew where he stood. He knew what could happen to him. I knew too. But I didn’t care whether he sat next to me or not. This wasn’t true, but I feigned a casual attitude. So far I’d lost nothing that I couldn’t regain. On the other hand it should’ve been obvious that I couldn’t turn around. It should’ve been obvious I couldn’t get off the train. It should’ve been obvious I couldn’t go back to Vienna.
Besides my friend Muller I had no one else in the world. Muller seemed sanguine about this, and his mood was contagious. We talked about this, and he seemed sanguine about it. Despondency soon engulfed us both (which could be traced, I was ashamed to say, to Eva’s last long hug,) and it kept me from enjoying the trip. Secrets we shared were what kept me going, while it was certainly wise, even imperative, not to say too much. But if I were really a Jew (a Jew like Muller) I’d know that my situation was hopeless. I’d be doomed, irrevocably doomed.
I tried not to dwell on the negative. I knew my situation. I knew my situation had to improve. It had to improve. I’d persevere in spite of odds against me. I’d already bought into great expectations of going to America. I was going to Texas. But why was night and day so different? Why would they go one way, and Austria and Germany another, while we all suffered through a great depression? Yet the sun and the moon rose and set the same on both sides. It some times was a comfort to know that I made the right choice. Then too, did I have a choice?
On clear nights stars never failed to come out and shine with their entire luster even upon rubble and ashes of what had been the Third Reich. Hitler chose his own sentence. It was Hitler’s choice. By the time Hitler pulled the trigger he knew that his day had run its course, and that day, thank God, was but a few years off.
A German commentator described the scene in the Kroll Opera House, which was used instead of the burnt-out Reichstag building. About his regime’s economic successes the dog droned on and on. “Détente in Europe,” Hitler expressed his desired for détente. We hoped that he wasn’t lying and that while confounding his enemies by saying he really meant peace. “Détente!” Yes, it was true that Hitler preached détente.
My day would also come, my trial. It’d be hard, but I’d survive it too. I would survive. Thus I found strength from being a survivor, strength enough to be curious and wonder why good Christians on both sides prayed for victory rather than peace. Victory only meant war.
My nights were black and long. As morning came, I’d again go, accompanied by Muller, to the American Consulate, once there only to stand in line. It was a very long line … a very, very long line of very nervous people and for the most part they were desperate. Desperate people stood line all day long. In those days America’s emigration quota was very small and, except for limited opportunities in England, the world had closed its doors. I certainly could’ve taken my chances and emigrated without the right papers. Or I could’ve gone to Shanghai. Or I could’ve gone without a fixed destination, going on the belief that there were good people everywhere. But I wasn’t totally naive.
I was told to be patient. I was told patience pays off and not to dramatize my plight. “Stay calm,” I was told. But there were too many people. There were too many people in line. And all of us were refugees trying to escape, too many for any consulate to process. And after months, even years, of dealing with this problem consulate people seemed very hard. And perhaps they were afraid too. They saw what was happening and were afraid. And choosy! Choosy. They could be choosy. They could afford to be choosy, while many were turned away. Jews would say, “they laughed in our faces, or we don’t believe them. Too many promises were broken.” But Muller and I were hopeful; and had persistence counted there was little doubt but that we would’ve been successful.
Unfortunately as far as the United States was concerned there was little room for refugees. Unfortunately there was little tolerance for refugees. And there was no sense of urgency where there should’ve been. Besides this, each day to a greater degree, Muller began acting like a refugee. Muller talked about permanent resettlement; but we both wanted to distance ourselves from Jewish emigrants and were driven to act differently. We were proud that we weren’t Jewish or Bolsheviks but didn’t want to be considered prejudiced. But wasn’t Muller Jewish?
We, however, never suspected that for some unknown reason that we might not qualify for visas. So the first day we didn’t get too upset when we were turned away. But I should’ve been prepared for attitudes of officials that I grew to abhor.
All that day we stood in line, watching the same pigeons fight over trash. There was a crippled pigeon, and it was a wonder that he survived. We weren’t in front of the line because we hadn’t climb out of bed before dawn. We didn’t get an early start because we were afraid to brave unfamiliar streets in the dark. Kurfurstendamm was the only one I knew with certainty, though I had every reason to expect that we wouldn’t get lost. I also thought that if we couldn’t get visas we wanted in Berlin, we could in Paris. Consequently we refused to hurry, or brake in line.
Muller and I checked into the Hotel Excelsior, right across the street from the Anhalter Bahnhof, Berlin’s busiest railways station. The Excelsior, what a hotel! It was not only the biggest hotel in Berlin; but also was one of the most luxurious hotels on the European continent. “But Karl,” my friend implored, “how can you afford this?”
Muller looked at me in desperation. In light of my confidence his feelings seemed incredible to me. I thought he should feel lucky. I reassured him, as best I could, but he misread me. He got the false idea that I was rich, but I didn’t care. I trusted my own instincts; or this was what I told myself.
“Well, Karl,” Muller replied, “whether you’re rich or not is neither here nor there. But you have a rich man’s taste, that much I’ll say. And where you stay is really your business. There’s no law against it yet. To be sure it’s quite natural to want to forget one’s problems, and there’s no better place for it than the Excelsior’s famous beer-cellar with its uniformed party officials and S.S. men. You want to blend in. If you want to blend in, stay at the Excelsior. It’s where Berliners lunch, munch, and drink. Isn’t life better under Hitler?”
“How’s that?” I interrupted him. “Surely not everyone approves of Hitler?”
“This isn’t Vienna. You don’t have to worry about the color of your hair.”
So then I thought what difference did it make if we had to spend a few extra days in Berlin? There was still time for us to get out of Germany. There was still time. But what if our worse nightmare came true? What could be worse than deportation? We later learned what happened to Jews that were deported to Poland. I know that if I had been deported I wouldn’t have been spared.
An official with a kind streak saw my impatience. Involved in a system too often governed by heartless policy he never looked me in the eyes, yet he showed pity for me. He saw my impatience and showed pity for me. By then I was exposed as a foreigner and this seemed to increase his respect for me. This got his attention. He knew that I came from Vienna, yet he had more information about the crisis set in motion by Anschluss than I did. As a consequence I looked at him differently and was surprised to learn that he appreciated Mozart, but not Bach.
This official was a tall, older man, with little hair, with which he deliberately tried to cover his head. Frankly I thought that we wouldn’t have anything in common. I should’ve known that was wrong. After scrutinizing my passport he told me that he couldn’t make any promises. He wouldn’t make any promises but said he would do what he could. We both knew thousands of Jews were then being driven from their homes and were trying to flee Germany. In a strict legal sense he had to help Germans first and not … Come on! I had a German passport, but I didn’t speak German German.
Distracted by decadence in Berlin, Muller and I took setbacks in stride. We had fun. We had fun and were persisted in our vain attempt to get our passports stamped. We had fun, so we didn’t give into feelings of hopelessness. One could still enjoy dansant and watch lovely ladies waltz in the arms of professional dancers. But this wasn’t what I remember most about our stay in Berlin.
I could’ve easily gotten discouraged … could’ve easily gotten discourage over fighting crowds of frightened people, who day after day packed the courtyard, the staircase, and the waiting room of the consulate. I could’ve gotten discourage when faced with long lines. Since our new friend there hadn’t given us a definite no, we easily fooled ourselves into thinking that he would eventually give us a yes.
On occasion I drew from him news from Vienna. He knew all the secrets. Each day we talked to the same man, trying to exploit his friendliness. Remembering his name, I returned to our hotel at the end of each day a little less certain than I was the day before. As for Muller, he didn’t say much.
As the Nazi campaign against Jews intensified, daily crowds at the consulate grew. There were so many of them … too many of them … too many families with children. It made me wonder why we were standing there. There were so many that it was impossible to accommodate all of them … all that wanted asylum. And everywhere terror reigned, and gayety and laughter turned into timidity. And no one spoke without first glancing over his or her shoulder. Everyone suspected his or her friends and neighbors. A torrent was unleashed, and no one could say when it would end.
Officials, such as our friend, were overwhelmed with requests. They experienced great difficulty in deciding who should get visas. They had difficulty deciding who qualified. And no one could be sure that they weren’t being sent on a fruitless journey across the continent. Hence a great number of those who were lucky enough to acquire visas never made it out of Germany. With or without a visa risks were enormous.
All Jews, and shortly thereafter many other groups, struggled to keep their dignity. At the same time Jews were considered obstinate and evil, and that to prevent endless trouble severest measures were necessary. Severest measures … so they suffered persecution on a scale previously unimagined. It meant one thing. We all heard about killings, about SS Untersturmfuhrer Adolf Eichmann’s work in Vienna. Thinking of SS Untersturmfuhrer Adolf Eichmann I thought of mama.
As beating, robbing, and humiliating continued, tens of thousands were sent to prison or concentration camps, and crowds at the consulate continued to grow. Many of these people spent days in line. The line was long and also wound through two or three large outer courtyards, in which there were children playing, while their parents waited. Added to continuous frustration was knowledge of what failure could mean.
Muller was greatly alarmed; and standing in line I could’ve fallen into this trap too. But I didn’t think I had anything to fear. Thus I maintained hope. In limbo I think we wasted a month. I never lost hope.
I thought that probably my father’s influence extended to Berlin. Perhaps this idea wasn’t mere folly. I also believed that if he could’ve, papa would’ve intervened on behalf of Eva; and a part of me thought he probably thought he did. However because of mama I don’t think he tried hard enough.
Blamed him. Blame papa. From anger to hatred I’ve been there. But I knew that it didn’t take much to become infected by a virus that was far greater than could be reproduced from one source. I didn’t want to get infected. Throughout Austria and Germany contagion spread. In 1938 Jews by the tens of thousands left Vienna because of this disease. This virus was supposed to have been a peculiar product of Nazis but this wasn’t true. At least until 1938 the international community thought that the exodus from Austria and Germany could be kept at a manageable level. Yet it was highly probable that contagion had already spread beyond the point where it could’ve been easily managed.
We played into the hands of Nazis who were then trying to make Europe free of Jews. As much as I hated to admit it, I was also infected with this disease because I could only think of escaping. One way or another I knew I’d make it. Because of my own predicament I became angry and my hatred grew. More than a month went by. I wasn’t accustomed to closed doors, while I still didn’t know what kind of world I lived in. If I stayed home I’m sure I could’ve adjusted; but I hadn’t stayed home.
I don’t want to dredge everything up, but let me just say that my negative feelings about Jews grew when I was unfairly sent to the back of the line. I couldn’t understand it. I felt confused and angry because I didn’t deserved being sent to the back of the line. I didn’t deserve treatment I received. Being a Christian didn’t make me any less forgiving, as I swore.
My eyes were open, yet I couldn’t see beyond my anger. Aryan stock, it seemed to me like I had more than enough Aryan stock … Aryan blood in me to avoid being mistaken for a Jew. I wasn’t related to Eva. I was Austrian. No, German! As I grumbled and moaned about our predicament, Muller listened. Then he spoke to me about loyalty, which made me back away from him and ask for the time.
“Two in the morning,” he replied. “And not time to get up.”
He could’ve rung my neck. Besides not knowing the time, I had also lost track of the day and the month.
I should’ve already been out of Berlin. After over a month of delay I saw my dreams fade. Stuck in Berlin. O sickening thought! A revolting prospect! Day after day of it, it became painfully clear that I hadn’t been prepared for tyranny of the American consulate. I thought my father’s influence extended to Berlin. It convinced me that I had to help myself because no one else would. I didn’t have Eva to rely on anymore. Where was Eva? I missed her but didn’t know then that I would never see her again.
That morning, after being awake most of the night, I listened without emotion to Muller’s assessment of our situation. I was emotionally drained. “We have to get out of Germany,” he insisted, which was something we both knew was easier said than done.
Muller wanted to be deported, which also appealed to me. He didn’t want to stay and die in Germany. I understood this because his sense of urgency probably came from me. Yes, probably. I didn’t want to die in Germany. I wanted to live in America. I wanted to go to Texas. Probably I could’ve given as many reasons for leaving and living as he could. It pained me that we were mistaken for Jews.
Next Muller took it upon himself to bring into our lives a small band of German gypsies. I knew nothing about gypsies. Now that’s not true. I heard stories about gypsies, stories that might and might not be true … stories that didn’t portray gypsies in a very good way. So to link our fate to them seemed foolish to me, but everything then seemed so mixed up that it seemed expedient.
Their leader, whom I shall only call by his first name, was a dashing rustic. He was as sure of himself as anyone I’ve ever known. By leader I mean all the others listened to him. Jorn was not only a strong, handsome man, but also someone whom anyone would’ve felt proud to call a friend. Rustic … after meeting them … rustic is how I would describe gypsies.
Previously I didn’t have a good opinion of gypsies; but my thinking about this changed. People I knew generally didn’t have a good opinion of gypsies. Gypsies weren’t to be trusted. They were thieves and kidnapped children, though I saw no evidence of this. From what I saw these people worked very, very hard, yet we always accused them of being very, very lazy. They always suffered from public scorn and indignation. We thought we were superior, but I found the mind of a gypsy was freer and less cluttered than ours. I came to admire them.
Desperation was something new to me. I only hoped that enthusiasm for Hitler would soon fade. And I hoped I could hold out until then.
Without hesitating Jorn accepted Muller and me, and we tried to blend in. We didn’t want to attract attention. We wanted to disappear and, if not disappear, blend in. Taking only a few things with us we walked to the edge of Berlin with these gypsies because of a horrible premonition. But we couldn’t have taken a worse step.
These people seemed to have forgotten why they came to Berlin. To escape persecution they sold their horses and wagons and with their families fled the countryside. Jorn and his small band, though German, were in reality stateless and were doomed from the start. Doomed! They were unfortunate people and injured not because of any malice of their own. I didn’t see any signs of malice. In contrast to their persecutors their malice, if they had any, amounted to nothing.
Assessing our situation Muller and I underestimated risks. Thus far we didn’t consider it dangerous to walk around. Thus far we didn’t consider the streets of Berlin dangerous, but there were reasons for us to get out of the city in a hurry. We had a premonition. No, it was more than a premonition. We listened when our new friends said something about saving themselves. Besides I felt desperate. I thought emigration would be easy but that changed after a fourth and a fifth week of unsuccessfully trying to get a visa.
I was fed up with Berlin: not only with the city but also with Germany. The whole nation suffered from convulsions and, whether you liked the man or not, was united under Hitler. The word was out. Hitler! I had to get out. I had to get out of Germany. And I missed Eva.
I could see Eva sobbing, and her words were not intelligible. Others would find themselves in sympathy with her female frailty, but I mainly felt guilty. Not that I’m sure that I could’ve saved Eva. Yes, I felt guilty. I said it before. I felt guilty. I’m afraid, if I’d been there, that I might’ve helped put her out on the street. Imagine betraying a person who by her very nature was timid. Imagine Eva’s agony and shame and every detail of a public display that she with many others had to endure. Don’t forget her innocence and how she would’ve held her head up. In spite of these images I still couldn’t imagine what she went through.
Perhaps the best place to start was to remember that Eva must’ve thought she would’ve been safe as long as she worked for my family. It was her biggest mistake. Her biggest mistake was to trust people she loved. I should’ve taken her with me. I should’ve insisted. I should’ve insisted that she come with me. But how did Eva over night become worse than cholera, tubercles, or syphilis? As a Jew, she became a demon; or as Wagner proclaimed, “the plastic demon of the decay of humanity!”
Truth was that she never hurt anyone, but rejecting a common perception that a Jew was worse than the worse plague wouldn’t have helped her. My Eva had to accept hatred because at that time there was a problem that called for action.
Remember most nationalists opposed Anschluss, but many of them turned and helped Hitler. It didn’t matter whether they were Nazis or not: a solution to a problem had to be found … solutions to our problems had to be found. One had to avenge past injuries. One had to avenge past injuries. One had to exact from people such as Eva severe punishment. And afterwards, one thing, and an important point, was this: “They all talked but failed to accept blame, because no one wanted to be directly associated with murder.” And since the openly accused often faced execution, it then followed that anyone directly involved in massacres would want to promote an acceptable excuse, such as Austrians and Germans never disobey orders.
Let’s, however, not forget that blind obedience never occurred in other arenas, not in homes, work places, or even the army. I know my family could’ve said no. My family could’ve quietly gone about their business without drawing attention to Eva; but they evidently didn’t care enough for her. I know my family.
This was what my people were thinking, that the Devil was the father of Jews. When God created the world He invented different races: Indians, Negroes, and Chinese. And also the wicked creature called Jew. Considering that let’s look at Eva’s guilt. If she (like millions of others) weren’t guilty, how wrong were the rest of us? Was it not enough to recognize that our measures were extreme and brutal? And now that we’ve had to ask ourselves how do we look and admit before the court of public opinion that we thought Jews were less than human and weren’t worth saving, how could we go on and admit what we did or didn’t do? How we ever thought that if we didn’t succeed in repressing this evil virus, at least we could neutralized it! How did Himmler describe the virus, “the primary matter of everything negative?”
We were happy to get out of Berlin. Well and happy we traveled together with a band of gypsies: we sang; we danced and danced like there were no tomorrow. And it was a great period of my life.
Muller and I lived with these gypsies. We lived like gypsies. We became gypsies. Jorn accepted us like family. Wandering around Germany we became acquainted with brown hay cut wet with dew. This was time bought when there was little time to buy and with a gentile among gypsies, a distinction that was important then. Yes, with my German passport and identity papers I was able to survive and have a good time.
All they took with them were memories. They had little more. And in comparison to mine their memories of Berlin were sad and painful. So recollection of a better time was either always present or always just below the surface. In retrospect an exchange of their horses and wagons for a few months of freedom seemed particularly harsh.
Muller and I shared campfires and food with them. They shared these things with us. We got along with them, which to many people might’ve seemed like we were trying too hard. Why did we join a band of outcasts? Why did we join a band of gypsies? What were we looking for? What did they have to offer? All my life I had everything given to me. I had everything given to me on a silver spoon. I never starved. I never needed to work. In every way I was unlike these nomads. I’m not saying they starved. But was I a parasite? I’m not saying they were parasites. They were generous … generous to Muller and me. Muller had his hypothesis: “parasites maybe, but not Jewish ones.”
Anyone who knew Hitler knew that he wouldn’t leave gypsies alone. I should’ve known Hitler wouldn’t leave gypsies alone. After a while running and the ravages of fear left this band exhausted. And with so few choices they welcomed any form of accommodation. Up until then they had escaped confinement and had roam freely throughout Europe. For centuries they virtually ignored borders and roamed freely. Now they were being told that they shouldn’t roam, and if they cooperated nothing would happen to them. But it soon became evident that they had no place to go. They had to roam. It was in their blood. Without moorings they couldn’t hide either in the city or the countryside. They, however, weren’t helpless.
When opportunities arose they never hesitated and voluntarily presented themselves for work. They were told that they would be paid according to their output. How they volunteered showed that they weren’t afraid … afraid of work. You see it was still hard to believe that Germans were heartless.
Gypsies were needed to repair railroad tracks and other such things as working in the fields. What could they do? What could I do? They weren’t given many choices. I didn’t seem to have many choices. If they didn’t present themselves for work authorities would come after them. Authorities would round them up. If they didn’t present themselves authorities came after their families. Given that who wouldn’t go? I showed up too. What a fool I was!
I kept trying to look at things matter-of-factly and look to the future. And I tried not to think of Vienna and Eva and my family.
At first I said nothing about where I came from. I still didn’t have a visa for the United States. Later, after becoming upset over news from Vienna, I expressed my views about Kristallnacht. To my surprise others remained silent. A horrible thought then came to me. Could this gypsy band have been infiltrated? I had to answer this in the affirmative. Then I had to ask myself had I spoken too critically of Anschluss. It was highly likely then (and not confined to Anschluss) that I had said things that were ignoble and wrong. It was highly likely then that I said too much.
I looked at faces around me and wondered which one belonged to an infiltrator. More than one possibility emerged. Nothing then diminished my horror. Extreme was my panic. It was then better for me not to say anymore. I knew the more I said the more I could get into trouble. It was better to have committed some heinous crime than to speak out against Nazis.
“God forgive me, but piss on Hitler!” And even then I cursed him. Even then I cursed Hitler. Even after knowing there was an infiltrator I cursed Hitler. Had he won the war Hitler would’ve turned all Europe into a concentration camp. I sometimes wondered what would’ve happened to me had I not left home. I sometimes wondered what would’ve happened to me had Hitler won the war.
If sometimes I complained about treatment we received, Muller never did. Maybe it was only my perception. Maybe Muller complained, and I didn’t hear him. Perhaps he rehearsed his part. The only thing I needed to say was that he was a Jew: my best friend was Jewish, but I couldn’t count the times that I badmouthed Jews.
What if we had met the monster Eichmann? What if we met Eichmann on a street? Would we have recognized him? We probably would have. And this was indeed subsequently confirmed. Later his face would become well known. If I’d met him would I’ve had courage enough to address him with a demeaning du, instead of a normal, respectful sie? But in spite of our inclination we all knew we had to be careful.
Proud and patriotic we too easily assumed Eichmann was unimportant. We however were mistaken. I may also be mistaken about dates, but it seemed like that on or around the sixteenth of July, or the thirteenth, everything changed.
I frankly felt angry that Eva’s status hadn’t been reported to me. Remember how on my last night at home she came into our room to help me pack. Looking back I particularly remember her shaking. On learning what happened to her I regretted that my perception of her was wrong. She then seemed totally focused on Niki and me. And she didn’t seem like a Jew to me. Yet she always said she knew her place, which I accepted without much thought. I even spoke to her sometimes in a rough manner, and she never corrected me. To be truthful, and regardless how much it hurts, I bought into thinking that there was a hierarchy of races and that my family belonged somewhere near the top.
But had she, instead of remaining passive, insisted on having more respect, I perhaps would’ve grown up with a different set of values. Affection for me, affection for all of us came with a price tag. Perhaps it was fear of exposure that influenced Eva and came out in all she did. She asked nothing from us. Only we could never fully accept her. Rejection to which she had to reconcile herself must not only have been terrible but, as we all now know, it was also brutal.
Truth was, given who I was I couldn’t have been totally displeased over what happened to Eva. I’ve never felt as much revulsion and outrage, as I should’ve over judenrein or cleansing of Vienna of Jews. As a general rule every civilized person should’ve been against mass slaughter. Above all I first should’ve been against it and then should’ve resisted rules and prejudice that came so naturally. I, however, found it difficult to break through all of it and show much feeling.
To return to the narrative. We never suspected that our volunteer work would lead to our persecution. None of us wore a Jewish star. Only Muller was Jewish. Our nationality meant nothing to people who were determined to enslave us. A sudden change from voluntary to compulsory service took us all by surprise. We were told it was because of war. War!
We were taken first to a commissioner for registration, where our names and nationalities were recorded. Because I admitted that I came from Vienna they assumed that I was a Jewish refugee. They assumed my papers were forged, an assumption I repeatedly denied. I was accursed of forging my identity and for the first time in my life I experienced incapacitating terror. And driven by my nature I tried to shift focus from me to my friend, and I’ve often said Muller demonstrated a great deal of courage. Muller spoke up. He spoke up for me. And as he stepped forward his calmness increased. Then he admitted his Jewishness.
I must mention that the commissioner wielded a small whip. He wielded a small whip and posed with my friend for a picture. Then the commissioner did something that was even more alarming. Laughing he took out his pocketknife and hacked off Muller’s beard. To remove it thoroughly he cut off several pieces of skin. It took only a few minutes to humiliate my friend. It took only a few minutes to cut his beard. Only a few minutes after Muller took my place he was forced to his knees. I don’t remember if the commissioner ever spoke directly to us but much was made of Muller’s beard.
Words of the commissioner sounded all too familiar. It didn’t take a poet to find rhymes for sow and stink. Sow and stink … then came rhymes. At that point defamation lost its relevance. When they separated me from my best friend I knew then that my world had come to an end. When they separated me I expected to be killed. I think Muller saw the truth about Hitler’s wicked pact with the German people. Muller had more at stake than I did.
I don’t know why people would’ve expected anything less from Hitler. He was very clear. Over and over he told us what he would do. One thing though did surprise me: it was that some people didn’t believe him. Hitler used the war. It gave him an opportunity to fulfill his promises.
We all wanted out of Germany, and deportation to a place where there was plenty of work and having enough food sounded good. But we were deceived. Our eagerness foiled our hopes, as we were lured into a snare we set for ourselves. Before we knew it we were labeled inferior and were compromised. Then selected as fit to work we were transported to a camp. Fit for work … I needed to stay fit.
Consequently I could imagine how Eva was treated and how her condition quickly deteriorated. I don’t remember exactly when it became apparent to me that I’d never see her again.
Sadly I accepted partial blame for beatings that were for no reason. The alarming thing was that the slightest indiscretion could’ve led to my death.
“Because with all my heart and soul I was at the time searching for the right cause.” I remember this became my ready response to hard questions put to me about my beliefs. I had to remain calm and unemotional, remain calm and unemotional or else I would’ve drawn attention to myself. There was always a possibility that without warning I could’ve been struck in the back of the head. I could’ve been struck in the back of the head like a rabbit. It thought this because it seemed like they wanted to kill me.
As weak as she must’ve been Eva couldn’t have withstood it for long. I imagined punishment designed to terrorize and debilitate her gave her German Ubermensch reason to celebrate. What! Celebrate! To know that Eva had all her hair cut off! To see her half-naked and bare-footed … naked and ill from exposure (and beatings). As Jews they could be waked up at any hour. Beaten and tortured and attacked by dogs they were meant to suffer! I, however, and many other Austrians couldn’t believe that we were a part of this. It was Germans. Understand? Germans! We were Austrian.
How could anyone forget feeling helpless? Or forget suffering or daily torturing that took place? I remember a death roll that was taken each morning. It was even more difficult to explain why these deaths seemed morally laudable.
Fatal consequences of starvation, exhaustion and disease were in accordance with the Fuhrer’s wishes. Afterwards it became easier to allege anything but the truth. Shifting blame was normal. Records named major players. Men like Eichmann, weren’t they the ones responsible? No one liked to admit that they thought that mass killing was justifiable.
We planned to escape, but what risks were we willing to take?
Eva had no grave. She had no ground to call her own. She never had a home but ours.
We were badly treated by our keepers. Nights were cold, and before dawn, the exact hour I never knew, we were driven out of our barracks. Sometimes they made us stand for hours, while we were told we weren’t prisoners. Each morning the commandant drove home the same points. First this short, stout man promised us better food in exchange for meeting our production quotas. His greeting each morning went something like this: “What the hell do you expect from me? We must do the best we can with what we have. Work and live! Things could be worse.” Things could be worse.
Believe me we knew our situation could’ve been worse because we saw what they did to our Jewish neighbors. In comparison Germans in charge of us weren’t so bad. Still it was hard to justify brutality and our lack of freedom.
We were forced to work all day, unloading and loading flax, as wagons came in from fields and a crop had to be transferred to boxcars. We didn’t make anything. We weren’t paid, but if we refused to work what would they have done to us? We were told the harder we worked the more our situation would improve.
Jorn didn’t believe it. To him loss of freedom meant the end of the world. He didn’t trust Germans. Germans didn’t trust him. Lack of trust made life difficult. I couldn’t disagree with Jorn. We were all beaten and were treated worse than cattle. So what separated us was only a matter of degree and subjectivity.
It was easy to see why we were favored. We were valued, whereas Jewish lives to them were lives unworthy of life. They tried to tell us that we had it easy, that we were valued but work they made us do made it hard for us to accept this. So we continued to suffer and work very hard, while we always intended to ask the commandant for pay. Three marks a day would’ve been enough, which was normal wage then for laborers. Three marks a day wasn’t much. But without wages we felt betrayed. We never should’ve been detained because we weren’t saboteurs.
According to work records we worked twelve hours a day, from six in the morning until six at night, with few breaks. Eventually we all got sick; but out of necessity we pretended to be well. This we did to survive. If they knew we were sick, we might as well have been dead.
The worse part was that we worked in dust, terrible dust, which got into our lungs and our eyes. There was so much dust that we couldn’t breathe or see. Before long there were people giving up without hope of recovery; but there were always replacements. And some of these became privileged prisoners. I liked them less than those they replaced. They looked German and possessed an air of arrogance and superiority. I was surprised to see these Germans in camp and surprised again when they were given canes and whips.
Experience taught me not to trust anyone. One couldn’t contradict a privileged prisoner, or else they would hit us and hit us hard. Before long I wanted to become privileged. I could see how German’s benefited from this and wanted to become privileged. This was a form of treachery and why they operated camps in this way.
We saw terrible things, frightful things, things we’d never forget. Over the years I tried to distance myself from the atrocities by asserting … stressing that I spent the war in a labor camp.
I witnessed Germans literally work people to death, and how did I react? I’ve often wondered how I would’ve acted if I’d been given a crew and instructions to work my people to death. What would’ve stopped me from becoming brutal too?
So much depended on our handlers. So much depended on our handlers’ disposition, so much on their mood. There were a few sadists among them, a few who gained sexual gratification from seeing blood flow. So did I deserve degradation and punishment of a saboteur?
Then what if we could’ve changed places and they could’ve seen how much they enjoyed whipping people? If given a choice I would’ve preferred having a whip in my hands. A whip did something to a person. A whip gave a person status. It did something to a person, but perhaps it did more to a bystander than to participants. We weren’t prepared for this.
Often at night our guards attended concerts, movies, and plays. It wasn’t unusual for them to go to church or drink in beer halls. Of course we knew of their indulgence and often overheard their drinking parties. It seemed from their laughter, singing, and disorderly conduct like they had been given a license for it.
Neither was their society without women. Many of them brought their wives with them. In the middle of the night we frequently heard loud music and grew accustomed to it. We couldn’t sleep anyway.
Sometimes the Commandant entered the compound drunk. He became contemptuous, when he was drunk, and would show us the back of his hand. Kat would often appear with him and randomly pick someone out of our formation. Kat always seemed to be looking for someone specific. I watched Kat pick Jorn and my friend step forward. Compared to the rest of us Jorn seemed calm knowing that Kat would show him no mercy.
Among ourselves we often muttered about Kat. We knew who Kat was. We’d seen him carry out executions and were beginning to accept insanity. There were a lot of people executed, which I never accepted.
We were required to watch, not knowing who would be next. We had to stand there without moving. Afterward we all wanted to avenge murders but felt totally helpless.
So I never became completely hardened. I continued to hope that as a human being that I’d still be human afterward … still be human after the war. We knew each day that if we were alive that regardless how we felt we’d have to work all day. Uncertainty proved too much for many people, but I persevered.
I personally knew Kat. He wasn’t a German. Kat had been a prisoner, and I couldn’t imagine why he turned against us. After being one of us how could he turn against us? How could he join our captors? I’ve always wondered how he could’ve made a bargain with them. I’ve always wondered how he made a bargain with the devil.
Kat was no ordinary villain. Kat was a Jew from Poland and betrayed many people and continued until he was shot. (I didn’t know then my brother served in Poland.) If I had had a chance I would’ve shot Kat myself.
What were the odds that this man had once been a decent human being and had wanted to live the same as we all did? What were the odds? Kat spoke German and he once worn a Jewish star. I was always switching from calling Germans bad and then good and then Kat gave me an opportunity to curse a Jew.
We were told that Kat could set us free but wouldn’t do it. All we had to do was ask Kat and he could set us free, but we were afraid to ask. We were afraid to ask because we didn’t want to draw attention to ourselves. Kat acted like he deserved special treatment, special treatment that came at our expense.
Now Jorn told Kat that we wouldn’t give him any more trouble. For that he was shot.
We lived within a fence, guarded by the Wehrmacht. It was a huge place where people from all over Germany were shipped. As far as the eye could see there were barracks, barracks upon barracks, row after row. Every morning we were awake before dawn. By then I was in pitiful shape, as we stood lined up to be counted. We also lined up to hear the roll of the dead. One day we had to dig a huge mass grave, and we weren’t sure if we hadn’t dug it for ourselves.
Awe and anxiety overwhelmed us. I was particularly shocked that they killed those who were sick and couldn’t work anymore. We had to produce. That was it.
They gave us shovels, and we were determined to live after we were finally free of flax and dust and could breathe and see again. I hoped that by closing my eyes that I could escape difficulties and horrors. I was looking for an escape, any escape. But there seemed to be a conspiracy from which I couldn’t escape. On the face of it, as a devout Christian, I had Jesus on my side. Even with boils and after pain from passing gallstones this seemed true. There was only one doctor for thousands of people.
There were also children in the camp who hadn’t known anything else. I never heard those children whimper or at least nothing distinct and audible. “Suffer little children to come unto me.” It seemed like they had lost all semblance of being human.
People didn’t cry. For some reason they couldn’t. They couldn’t cry. Look into their eyes and see what we saw. Walking dead couldn’t cry even as they clung to life.
At the right moment Jorn returned and told me that there was no need to worry. Jorn told me that if I could find strength to survive each day that no difficulty would be too great. That was Jorn. He was always an optimist. Even during the worst of times, Jorn was optimistic. He said that if we’d been selected for extermination we would’ve already been dead. Jorn assured me that our destiny was decided long ago.
Yes, selection would’ve meant death. I realize it now. Even though I was a Christian. Even though I looked like a Christian. I now know that it wouldn’t have made any difference. I know that when we presented ourselves for selection there wasn’t any question about my usefulness. I was assigned to an outside detail but beyond that had no idea what would happen to me. There was plenty work to do, work on railroad tracks and work in fields. Obviously fortunate I wouldn’t die at the whim of my German Ubermensch. When it became their turns Jorn and Muller, both strong men, gave themselves to German dogs. I turned instead to God.
Still struggle wasn’t easy. Struggle was never easy. There was very little to eat; often just a piece of bread that the block trusty would leave uneaten. As a Christian I however didn’t have it as hard as Jews. But unfortunately I wasn’t valued enough to keep from being mistreated. It was only because I was determined to survive that I did.
To live it was necessary to climb over dead bodies. Muller gave his life for me. It was a sacrifice I wasn’t aware of until later. Shot. He watched his killers eat before they shot him.
It wasn’t all clear. I kept going back to Jorn’s statement about destiny. I don’t know why I lived. I could’ve easily been murdered too. That was what we didn’t see, how easy it was for them; none of us did. Why was it easy for them? One person stood back and over to the side. That person decided. This one and not that one. Why was it so easy? This one and not that one. He didn’t have to say a word. One person made the selection. One shot killed Muller; another one, at another place and time, got Jorn. Someone shot Eva. Lying in his own blood, Muller yelled, “Heil Hitler! Seig Heil!” as he died.
Afterward I saw Kat display a big smile. Before long I found myself waiting my turn, but when I prayed I wasn’t afraid of Germans. At least Muller was at peace.
Bombs started falling a little after midnight. Every night we watched bombing. Every night we watched. Through midsummer nights were unusually dark but with firestorms that changed. We saw the whole show and at first thought we’d also be bombed. If that had happened the outside world wouldn’t have seen what the Germans did to us.
Around the first of April of 1945 Americans liberated us. Americans surprised us, but Germans weren’t surprised and abandoned us before Americans came. Americans were surprised by what they saw. They were shocked. They were shocked by what they saw. They were war weary and shocked. They hadn’t anticipated seeing what they saw. They hadn’t anticipated seeing dehydration, edema, ulceration, and stomatitis. They hadn’t anticipated seeing so many corpses. There’d been no mercy. Germans showed no mercy. By the end of the war we were living skeletons. Thank goodness Americans came in time. Thank goodness Americans came when they did or else we would’ve all died
I went through an attack of typhus and slept all day. I went through an attack of typhus and almost died. A Jew in uniform watched over me like I was family. An American Jew looked over me. She spoke perfect French. My nurse was clearly an American Jew who spoke fluent French. She made me think of Eva.
I still dreamed of Eva … wonderful dreams … dreams so removed from reality that to this day they’re a part of me. Dreams were crucial to my survival. Without dreams I would’ve given up. With each beating I thought it couldn’t get worse, though I knew each time that it was only a prelude. Through it all I heard Eva singing. Over wailing, crying, and pleading, I heard her songs.
Eva’s voice descended from heaven. She sang again, and I got a second chance in a new place; but memory of Eva and her humiliation (for I know she loved us) always reminded me of home.
Ultimately I blamed myself for my mistreatment. I couldn’t strike a balance because as a Christian I couldn’t afford revenge. “’Vengeance is mine,’ said the Lord.”
By then the Nazi regime was pretty much dead. It shared its fate with a defeated and soon to be divided Germany. Many of them were dead. I shuddered to think what God thought of us.
I considered myself lucky. A Lutheran congregation in Texas gave me an affidavit … the one I needed to immigrate. But their generosity didn’t feel like charity. It instead felt like it was God’s will and because of it I accepted the call, but I remained unworthy.
The series of cataclysmic events that in 1938 brought Anschluss and Hitler to our great city was only a prelude to a massive movement or moment that quickly brought the end of the world. It was too personal to be left to historians. Moral lessons, however, deserved the full attention of future generations, not merely because of a need for insight, but also for a need for solace and to make sure it never happened again.
No other tragedy ever matched massive demonstrations that became all too normal during those years. Beatings, maiming, and killings were unparalleled. It was sickening. And who could be a better historian of this period than a participant could?
At the time I was serving as a policeman in Vienna and belonged to a battalion that was sadly drafted to mop up Polish stragglers. This was war, and war is always horrible, grisly, gory, and unspeakable. I don’t know why I’m incriminating myself and keep thinking of horseplay. Funny, no it’s not. We were assigned to Poland, and that was how I became familiar with places such as Belzec, Bilgoraj, Jozefow, and Ponitowa and how I know what happened in those towns. I was unfortunately present. I was unfortunately present and participated in activities of my battalion. As far as I know we did nothing that was abnormal for policemen and nothing that seriously bothered us at the time. There were only one or two men who had difficulty with our tasks and were granted transfers.
Back home family and friends fully supported our effect. No one I knew questioned why Jews were kill (there was killing on both sides), but I couldn’t speak for everyone. Most of us weren’t Nazis, so there was less pressure placed on us. Still nothing I could think of would’ve made us balk. It was war, and things regrettably happened during this war that I’m not proud of. Regrettable things happened during all wars. Killing is never a remedy. I was taught this as a child. Our jobs in Poland became so natural that we openly talked about it.
Our lack of horror may baffle many people. Wait! Our lack of horror … it baffled … baffles me. On a daily basis it never required specific orders. Killing never required specific orders. Killing Jews never required specific orders. It might seem surprising that there wasn’t any ideological screening, special training, or indoctrination. Still though we regularly shot babies … they shot babies and old people they were no more affected than other participants of the war did. I didn’t know anyone who suffered a nervous breakdown because of it. Instead they brought great zeal to their jobs. As a result very few Jews escaped. I regret that very few Jews escaped. We’ve paid for it. My family suffered because of it.
Congratulations were often called for. We … we … we rooted and cheered so much that our unit commander issued instructions on how everyone should behave. (I must destroy this. I must.) There were certain ways we were supposed to celebrate. We were expected to maintain certain standards, posted and measurable standards.
As policemen we were never isolated individuals. We ceased to be individuals. In the middle of a patriotic struggle that broke down inhibitions, we became part of a Final Solution. I mean we didn’t know … couldn’t have known … couldn’t have known that it was designed to be a Final Solution. Action … action and beliefs soon became synonymous, and as we hailed Hitler even the timid among us became euphoric.
Our hatred for Jews was based on what we knew first hand about them. We knew we were righteous, and they were evil … Jews were evil. No, Eva wasn’t evil. With hatred woven into our Christian beliefs, we took a moral stand. As killers of Jesus, Jews symbolized darkness. By their very existence they defiled what was sacred. They were at the center of all that was wrong with the world.
People weren’t somehow suddenly transformed into monsters. (They weren’t all monsters. Some of them were monsters.) Nor was violence due to rage. Our nature hadn’t changed. Most of us considered ourselves basically good. But those who were hard weren’t softened. Dull men remained dull. Then when it came to taking a stand public sentiment wasn’t clearer. In that regard I wasn’t different than the great majority. I sadly admit that I wasn’t different than the majority of people.
I make these statements with great confidence that I was right. With respect to killing Jews we only came under attack after we lost the war. I also had the advantage of having a father who worked for prominent judges. My father was, therefore, personally acquainted with many leaders who ran Austria. Whether Nazis or not many of these people had to flee for their lives at the end of the war.
During the summer of 1942 I received orders from SERGEANT S. assigning me to the Einsatzgruppen. In the strongest possible terms I can say that I never volunteered. I don’t know why I was recommended. I didn’t have any interest in going to Poland. I never liked being in Poland during the war. I wish I could remember exactly what we were told about the Eisnsatzgruppen. We weren’t told much.
Destruction of Kristallnacht horrified me. I hated to see so much property destroyed. By nature I’ve always been peace loving; but I felt differently about the Jewish problem than my brother did. Older than me Karl had his own views. I had mine. The fact that we didn’t always agree had nothing to do with our respect for each other. He was as sensitive as our mother was and hopelessly religious. He became heir apparent to her social conscience. While on the other hand there was a wild streak in me. Our father saw how Karl and me were different, which may account for why he suggested that I become a policeman. It was my father’s idea, just as it was his idea to send Karl to America.
Again none of us were Nazis. After the war the Allies briefly detained my father … treated him like he was a criminal. But he was only a bureaucrat, so blaming him for what happened always seemed unfair to me. Look how much my mother also suffered. None of us were untouched.
My father was a rock of integrity. The unparalleled disruption of the times, however, prevented an objective assessment of his contributions. He entered civil service as a young war hero and remained on the job as a second war engulfed us. Through it all he never wavered and was fondly remembered by many of his colleagues. I also looked back with pride. He was a loving father, who deserved our honor and respect.
Letters from Paraguay came after my parents moved there. In them Papa acknowledged his mistakes. After a while he and my mother were able to enjoy a good life there. They kept a stable of horses, and a house full of servants. On a pension they were able to invest in a cattle-breeding ranch. Yes, dad got a pension, but I don’t know who gave it to him. They had a big home in Paraguay with some dozen or so rooms.
Having an unrestricted ear of Paraguay’s dictator, they also enjoyed all the privileges of full citizenship. In return for their full support Gen. Cesar Augusto granted my parents citizenship. And my father showed his appreciation to his new country by contributing generously to Gen. Augusto, while my mother spent her time teaching Indians how to read.
Our commander addressed us, promising an extremely interesting task. He told us that we had special orders from Berlin. To tell the truth I felt anxious and wondered if I’d be up to it. I wasn’t the only one who lost sleep. For that reason we weren’t informed until the very last moment, but once we knew for sure what he was referring to, only one or two objected.
As an Austrian I was proud of my German heritage. Then came Anschluss, and as a German citizen I gained special privileges. A policeman of rank and of the elite I became even more powerful when I accepted an assignment to Poland. But at the beginning, as a member of the Einsatzgruppen, I served without distinction. For a while it was like my unit was being saved for something big.
We were mostly young and moreover inexperienced, mostly a unit of left-overs. We were green. Take me for instance: fresh from directing traffic and issuing tickets in Vienna, I nevertheless was full of confidence and had a head full of high ideals. But my leap to an executioner wasn’t hard. For someone such as me such a change should’ve required a clear evolution, but since it didn’t I have less of an excuse than most of my comrades.
Unparalleled was havoc we brought to Poland. Everyone talked about it. Everyone had his or her story to tell.
After the war a common reaction was to make excuses. We looked for any alibi. To accept responsibility seemed too dangerous. To accept any responsibility was too dangerous. Truth generally was very painful. At all cost it was to be avoided. And it always was useful to blame it on Hitler. With something of this magnitude, even the most irrational explanation found a following.
Unless someone had been directly involved, ordinary observers possessed little insight. It was impossible to explain. Those who didn’t understand what actually happened were lucky.
Thoughts about Poland, with a repetitiveness of a broken record, clogged my brain. I couldn’t get it out of my brain. I can’t forget it. I couldn’t forget images. I tried to put the past behind me but couldn’t. Memories of it kept me awake at night. Whenever I was about to open my mouth, I’d catch the eye of a neighbor. I looked respectable, but my composure was always a lie. I lived a lie. I wore a mask. Was I expected to be honest when my neighbor was as guilty as I was?
“Jew-hatred was on the wane, dying, and everything was beautiful.”
Stabbed in the back at home! It wasn’t a surprise. It wasn’t surprising that we were stabbed in the back at home. At the same time I was filled more with self-pity than with anger, to observe with sadness names that made headlines without commiseration for my sadness. This sadness remained embedded in my brain when I sought a devil to blame. We weren’t anymore immoral than a majority of people. Remember it was all out war. War was/is horrible.
Two weeks after Fraulein Nauen’s arrival and she was accepted by everyone and, as I need to say, accepted with favor and respect. Her goodness seemed sincere. Her compassion, her wholesomeness, as expressed in her manners and deportment were so evident that she deserved the greatest respect. Her beauty was so rare that we all chased after her with our hats in our hands.
You didn’t meet someone like her everyday: far from it. She was decent … decent to each and every one of us. With a cheerful disposition she seemed surprisingly relaxed in the company of men. Her adventurous life, much of it recently spent roving from outfit to outfit, spoke of her strength. Her greatest gift was her love of life. Even though she knew how to put people at ease, too often I felt awkward and embarrassed around her.
When she entered a room all conversation stopped. Not an eye but was directed at her. Those of us who were overly timid glanced at her sideways. Even the boldest man had to concede that she could be his undoing. Spectacle, in fact, of so much ogling and awing frustrated all of us. It didn’t matter rather we were players or onlookers. But certainly there was more to her than her beauty. I’ve tried in vain to describe her extraordinary attributes, but nothing set her apart more than mystery … mystery that surrounded her.
Weren’t we all, without exception, awe-struck? No! I felt that I for one was an exception. While rest the world remained spellbound I think I retained my objectivity. Judge for yourself. But I never struggled more. Never before was I faced with such temptation. How easily the pulse of a young man fluctuates. How at first glance young men often seem misunderstood. That was how I felt.
Fraulein Nauen’s reputation preceded her. By the time I laid eyes on her it seemed like I had already met her. It seemed like I knew her.
As for Alice the gruesome aspect of our work never phased her. Regardless of how we felt she always seemed cheerful. Nothing showed the falseness of our postwar denials more than how initially she seemed proud of our accomplishments. On the other hand I never bragged about what we did, not that I ever considered the possibility that we might, just might, lose the war. When it happened I found it difficult to accept.
If I had known the unhappy consequences of Alice’s arrival I would’ve avoided her. A wealthy German merchant sired her. She came from a good family but not of the elite. Early on her family won favor from Nazis and profited from the expulsion of Jews. In those days having the right friends often meant difference between life and death. Death in the business world, in former times, meant no more than the loss of a store, while in the Nazi era it meant much more.
Fraulein Nauen’s confidence came from never having to struggle. The idea that adversity forged character didn’t apply to her. Fraulein Neauen received the best education at a privatrealgymnasium. Her father wanted her to complete her education, but she had other ideas. She also received a liberal dose of proper etiquette, which she rejected whenever it suited her. She was emancipated. She was emancipated by the age of twenty-four.
Having become a camp follower she followed the advancing German army. Alice Nauen had passable writing skills, but so amiable was her nature that she would’ve gotten a job as a reporter regardless how well she wrote. As I’ve said people liked her, or should I say those people that she wanted to like her generally did. She was …. Well, very personable.
She infatuated me. I would’ve done anything for her. She knocked me off my feet. It could’ve been love. I thought I loved her. I thought I loved her with all my heart. I longed for her kisses. For the longest I felt that she was the only woman who could satisfy me.
She flirted with half the battalion, and I dreamed of having her to myself. I dreamed of having her to myself, but I knew it was impossible. Sometimes I showed my jealousy by invoking the name of a rival, cursing him, yelling at him, and plotting against him. I faced rivals. I … I don’t believed that she knew the full extent of the power she had over me … over men … over me.
I turned away from a logical course and the only chance I had. Like an insect caught in a spider’s web … like an insect caught in a spider’s I didn’t have strength to get away. I was caught and knew it. She knew she caught me. “Listen, she’s not worth it!” others said. More than anything else I anticipated catastrophe. “Lead me not into temptation!” I heard myself say. (As you possibly know I’m a Protestant.) “Lead me not into temptation” became my daily prayer.
Why did I continue to court temptation? Weren’t there enough other distractions? Weren’t there enough other distractions in Poland? To get away from temptation I volunteered for every search-and-destroy mission. Yes, I volunteered. But I didn’t know what I was doing. Perhaps I made too much of this? Shouldn’t I have been happy? Sparrows sang from rooftops; sang there of my love, but there were still too many Jews. How often did I sigh but sadly never backed away?
Then came … But I couldn’t face it! From admiration to pity, from pity to scorn … I couldn’t face it. I can’t face it today. Following this progression I fell into depression. I fled for days into the countryside, fled while on duty and did my best for Fuhrer, Volk, and Fatherland. In good faith I did my job hoping that I wouldn’t have to come back. Eventually! Yes! Eventually I had to return to familiar haunts of my shame. Each time I felt a little more desperate. Each time I felt a little less like myself. It took a friend to observe: “There goes someone ready to explode. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that something terrible happened to him.” I was surprised. I was surprised by what I did.
So that was how matters stood, as summer drew to an end and heat grew more intense and high winds and irritating pollen made life miserable. Still considering how by accident we were selected we seemed at ease with our tasks. As much as we may have hated to admit it all of us approved of our mission. As much as I hate to admit it …
Much of the killing was personalize. Women and children weren’t spared, and we often faced our targets one on one. Those of us who found it somewhat distasteful understood that we received our orders from the top. By top, I mean Hitler! Hitler! Piss on Hitler! I can say it now. Piss on Hitler. We wanted to honor our country. Piss on Hitler. Catholics among us still took communion and went to confession. Catholics and Protestants would’ve been equally put to shame if we’d failed to do our duty.
We still found time to attend dances, theater performances, concerts and movies. On the specific evening I am thinking about, all the men, officers and enlistees were assembled in a large ballroom, and all of us wanted to spend as much time as possible on the dance floor. Entertainment was splendid. Music was the finest. We were all in great spirits and were delighted with the evening’s entertainment. We felt lucky to have time off, happy to be there, and elated over the company. Everyone was cheerful until something changed everything.
How could I have not been happy with Alice Nauen standing next to me? She came to the dance, with rouge on her face and a heart filled with joy. She was a joy to look at. She was something to behold. She was a joy to be with. At the beginning of each dance some of us fought over her, which each time caused her to smile. She was enjoying herself. We all were. Music again bubbled, twining with unparalleled elegance. It was clearly representative of everyone’s mood. Once again light on our feet we moved in time with music. Once again waltzes filled the air. Again everyone seemed happy.
Already couples were forming. Some of us were already intoxicated, steadying ourselves by holding onto arms of partners. There were a few of us who were drunk. Some of us were sitting, resting from too much exertion, when…. O great! What was that? What a ruckus!
Everyone turned toward the doors. Everyone strained to see. It depended on where a person stood whether or not he or she saw anything. Fraulein Nauen and I moved with the crowd. From where we stood we could see between people and saw standing there in the center a young woman, a young woman with a baby, a young woman whose features immediately identified her as a Jew. Imagine! A Jew! We couldn’t imagine it.
Without hope of saving herself this Jewish woman had entered the ballroom with an infant in her arms. She entered the ballroom with an infant knowing the treatment she’d receive. She knew but looked for mercy for her baby. Then when she collapsed on the dance floor she seemed exhausted. Just a few moments before then we were trying to forget our work. We always tried to forget our work when we weren’t working. Then because of this woman, this Jewish woman, we had to face it again.
A few men rushed forward and pulled the intruder up by her arms. Their reaction wasn’t brutal. They were gentle. For seasoned personnel there was only one way to respond. Clearly the Jew didn’t belong there. But what was her motive? She couldn’t have expected mercy.
What happened next shocked us all. Many of the women swore. But before that someone shouted, “Look at the impudent Jew!” Someone else yelled, “Get her out!” Soon a whole chorus yelled, “Get her out!” But Miss Nauen wasn’t among them. She wasn’t one of them because she immediately pushed aside men who by then held the poor mother.
Alice’s eyes were on fire. Her rage caught everyone off guard. There was something about her eyes that surprised everyone. Poor Lieutenant Wohlauf. Poor Lieutenant Wohlauf got the brunt of Alice’s wrath. Her blows shocked him, shocked us all. We were all amazed by compassion shown by Alice. It soon became clear that the two of women were united in an effort to save this Jewish baby. Such a display, one so public, baffled the rest of us.
A great deal of soul searching then went on in places you’d least expect it. Suspicions about Alice’s origin quickly emerged, which even before then had only been gossiped about. Malicious chatter increased immediately after she took the Jewish baby out of his mother’s arms. Alice held the Jewish baby in her arms. As she held the baby in her arms, tongues began to wag, and we didn’t know what to think. And Alice didn’t try to defend herself. She cuddled the baby and didn’t try to defend herself. Her only concern was the baby and by affectionately holding him she asked for it. Then why would a German gentile betray common sense and risk reprisal by becoming a Judenfreund?
But how could anyone have remained untouched by what Alice did? I wanted to remain loyal to her. I knew how irresistible babies were. None of us enjoyed killing them. Objectively, no other alternative than the total elimination of our misery had been found. That wouldn’t change. Elimination of Jews, old or young, had unfortunately become a necessity.
Frankly speaking Jews were responsible for the aerial bombardment of our cities. They were totally responsible for deaths of many women and children who lost their lives in those attacks. In particular they were the reason Vienna burned. Why the Opera House with all of its treasures went up in flames. Why all the schoolchildren that had come on that fateful day to enjoy our beloved Wagner were killed. Though as a concept we believed in the innocence of children we still felt we had to nip the blight in the bud.
We shot old, young, and sick, all those who couldn’t easily move. This chore, as well as everything else associated with our mission, stirred in us genuine emotions. We were human. Yes, we were human, and thus recognized the gravity of our orders. But we knew God was on our side.
Though Jews were our natural enemy, I’ve personally known many of them who were good. Didn’t I love Eva? But we had our orders, so we never considered this slaughter a crime. We needed neither prompting nor permission. Killing Jews became a regular part of our lives. Without a doubt orders furnished us cover, but initiative was the order of the day.
And as to how many Jews were being killed under the mandate we had access to weekly and monthly reports from all over Europe and knew that we were part of a large-scale operation designed to change the course of history. I believed with all of my heart that history would smile on us. I knew enough to feel proud of our accomplishments. I felt we would distinguish ourselves. I felt we distinguished ourselves.
Independent of this I was a young man filled with ambition. I aspired to become somebody, but my ambitions hinged on our winning the war, the extermination of Jews, and the expansion of our influence to the ends of the earth.
Before the night was out Fraulein Nauen not only adopted a child, a Jewish child but also his Jewish mother. Of course there were other events that were just as mysterious, but watching someone I cared for go soft was extremely painful. Her motive seemed unintelligible. Apparently it was all because of her gender. With a kind heart she let her emotions take charge of her. She forgot her place and abandoned her race. She committed an act of treason. To make a case for this look how Fraulein Nauen begged us to spare mother and baby.
During all this Alice never hesitated. Then came our reaction, which overshadowed her. But what else would you have expected from us? It wasn’t me … it was … once a series of events was set in motion it made what Alice did seem less revolting.
We were still stewing three hours after Alice took mother and child into her home. Three hours. Three whole hours of stewing. Those three hours were the worst the battalion ever knew. This was how bad it got. We felt betrayed, soiled, and thrown off guard. Had there been a precedent perhaps we would’ve known what to do and would’ve surely dealt with Alice directly.
Among men who weren’t Nazi supermen Alice’s courage caused confusion. But a Judenfreund! Among us a Judenfreund! This was more than we could bear. Had this act of defiance occurred outside our circle it wouldn’t have been so bad, so devastating, but soon what Alice did seemed incidental. By then nothing mattered more than our anger.
Inside ourselves we all had the same fear: a fear of turning soft. Alice turned soft. And we each had a way of combating this fear, but from day to day we didn’t know how we would do. Understand this, we didn’t hate individual Jews. We might’ve been called many things. We might’ve been called monsters, but this didn’t indicate a lack of intelligence. We weren’t dumb.
We weren’t dumb. We weren’t machines or robots. And we were all different. True, we weren’t very charitable or selective. Yet I tried not to be any more brutal than was necessary, but remember there were no restraints, and we were at war … all out war. War is never pretty. Before the war we would’ve acted differently.
Splendid! Someone yelled, “Let’s burn the town down.” On a clear and cold night, burning a town down suited us. “Let it burn, it’ll be a nice fire.” Why not let everything burn?
As our heads cleared we became solemn but agitated. We improvised. Hurrying outside we splashed gasoline on every building. It was another Kristallnacht. Before long we heard screams. “In God’s name why didn’t we stop then?” Instead it proceeded too slowly for us. It was late morning before the sun appeared.
Even in the middle of this I found myself thinking about the warmth of Alice’s arms. I also thought of someone else equally kind: my mother who had spent her life helping people. I had only recently gained a new appreciation of her. I also thought of a third person.
One might’ve thought that there was someone who could’ve stood up to Fraulein Nauen. Why hadn’t Lieutenant Wohlauf? But what was she to him? Why had he been the same as the rest of us? I remembered seeing him in other situations, so I thought surely he could handle Alice.
Alice, mama, and Eva were beautiful, haughty, and noble. Obviously they were generous. And extremely kind. Splashing gasoline on buildings I wondered if I could ever go home again. I wondered if I would ever see Eva and mama again. Would I be able to tell mama the awful things I did? Would she listen? Would I be able to tell anyone? Would I be able to speak?
But why should I have been concerned? Mama knew her youngest son wouldn’t go soft. She knew he was no Judenfreund. I concentrated on my memory of her face. I visualized what mama would’ve done had she been in Alice’s place. Remember she gave her life to helping other people. She was a good woman. I pressed my fingers to my lips to throw them both a kiss while I smelled gasoline. I had gasoline on my fingers.
It was Lieutenant Wohlauf who first yelled, “Burn the town down.” It was Lieutenant Wohlauf who gave the order. He was the first to run up and down the streets with a torch. And we collectively ensured that no Jew would escape. Yes, we were collectively guilty.
But no other incident so keenly divided us. Some immediately took Alice’s side. Others didn’t take sides at all. Women, in many cases, had stronger opinions than we did. Yet that didn’t make a difference because there were fewer women. Still a woman was no less a woman because she carried a rawhide whip. With respect to female brutality it required more of a woman than a man. It was harder for a woman to sustain it. But by and large our women were very much into the spirit of killing. Yes, many of our women were far more brutal, if not more unrelenting, than men and were directly the opposite of their nature. With them brutality took a form of an identity statement. With many men it was no more than a task.
And how did other women view Alice’s treason? It surprised many of them, while some complained; but Alice didn’t seem to care what any of them thought.
Before this Alice had taken reasonable interest in our mission. She listened to details and never leveled criticism. But she manifested a certain amount of coolness toward women who directly participated in the operations. I also socially chose to ignore these women. It seemed to me that many of them only joined us to settle grudges. And ranks of ideological warriors weren’t made up of many idealists. To those of us who were directly involved in the wanton beatings and killings, the cleansing conflagration of burning a whole village had all but lost its meaning. In the last campaign there wasn’t much sympathy.
A few thousand more Jews killed, and one mother and child missed because of Fraulein Nauen. Who really gave a tinker’s damn?
Yet the same question confronted us. It confronted us all. Why? Then again we were talking about Jews. Though deemed as inferior, even subhuman, mother and child never deserved any more mercy than any other Jew. Our biases, again, though now unpopular, had been around for a long time. In a way this case differed memorably from others: instead of some partisan harboring a Jew (as many had done), this time it was a German citizen. It was a German woman we all knew. Strong and resolute my Alice openly defied Hitler’s order. We all witnessed it. We all saw it and did nothing to stop her. With us who suffered the ignominy of having one of our own forget her place nothing could’ve been more shocking.
With horror we remembered sympathy shown. We were shocked by sympathy. We were shocked by kindness. We couldn’t turn a blind eye, but none of us stepped forward. We all killed babies, but horror of killing just one baby was different from taking part in a massacre. We all killed babies. I never forget killing babies. Then a Jewish woman, who crashed our ball with her little baby, shouldn’t have escaped. It seemed like Alice put us all in our place.
As if mocking us Fraulein Nauen brought this baby to the marketplace on several occasions. And once, while cordoning off a section of a town, almost all the battalion saw them. I don’t like dwelling on this; but as the operation unfolded Alice had to have seen what we were doing. We were given responsibility of mopping up by forcing Jews to assemble. They were people of all ages. Most were not rich. These were poor villages. They were not rich. And they didn’t have much in common with each other, except that they would all soon die together. Alice walked by us. I saw her. She saw me, but we kept our distance.
By ten o’clock in the morning, according to procedure, we finished sorting out all able-bodied, who then were sent to a work camp near Lublin. The others were trucked to woods nearby, where we efficiently shot them.
Back in town I went to see Alice. I wanted to see her. I had to see her. I missed her. Until I told her that I missed her, she refused to let me in. Circumstances warranted a smile. Wanting to see me and satisfied that I intended her no harm, Fraulein Nauen unbolted her door. We talked, and she said: “You’ve been busy.” Then she excused herself by saying, “I have to check on something. Just make yourself at home.” Then she left the room. She went upstairs.
After a short while there was a knock at the door. It was a very dark night. It was a cold night and with lights on inside I couldn’t identify the person. With Alice upstairs I decided to open the door. This was a huge mistake.
It was Lieutenant Wohlauf. Dressed in full uniform he entered in a brusque manner. Then when he saw me he stiffened and in a gruff voice asked, “Where’s Fraulein Nauen?”
I went to a door which led to a stairway and called, “Fraulein Nauen, you have a visitor!” Fraulein Nauen heard me and came right down.
“If it isn’t Lieutenant Wohlauf! Of all people! I’m very flattered.”
“You know my name.”
“Of course I do”
Seeing this charade I felt distressed. From the way the two addressed each other I knew that they weren’t merely acquaintances. Watching them I remembered how they stared at each other when she pushed him aside, and how he barely resisted and let her have a Jewish baby. I felt perplexed. My confusion registered on my face.
Then before I could say anything the lieutenant smiled. This surprised me. Lieutenant Wohlauf smiled, and it surprised me. I don’t remember seeing Lieutenant smile before then. He smiled, and it seemed like he was capitulating, but I wasn’t about to suggest that he leave. Then as he backed to the front door he stumbled and mumbled something that I couldn’t make out. I think I heard, “I must have my head examined!” to which Alice replied, “nonsense!” With this my heart sank. And I then thought he said, “Dog! Eat your heart out!” With this he excused himself.
While I recovered I heard a baby cry and footsteps over head. Alice broke silence by saying, “He means nothing to me.” Why couldn’t I believe her?
She began to cry. Her words weren’t enough, so she cried. Her denial meant nothing. I saw how they looked at each other. I saw and knew the lieutenant was her lover. But during the whole dreadful scene I carefully restricted my emotions.
This was how Lieutenant Wohlauf became my enemy. He became an enemy while along the deadly way he and I continued to give our best for Fuhrer, Volk, and Fatherland. I knew Lieutenant Wohlauf to be a man of courage and blessed with nerves of steel. He, therefore, must’ve felt that he had nothing to fear from me.
Often Lieutenant Wohlauf and his men went hunting through the countryside for hidden Jews. It went without saying that I wanted to go with him. I always wanted him to see what I was made of. I wanted him to see what I was capable of, so I always volunteered. Whenever I had an opportunity I went into buildings and homes first and never hesitated to shoot Jews. Lieutenant Wohlauf knew it. He knew I was reliable. He knew I wouldn’t flinch. Beyond this he took for granted my willingness to follow his orders. How we personally felt about each other wasn’t to get in the way.
Lieutenant Wohlauf didn’t care whether his men were happy or not. Correctly he always maintained his distance. He thought it didn’t pay to get close to his men, but I stayed as close to him as I could. I stayed close to him. While I stayed close to him, I bid my time and waited for the right opportunity.
Killing became more or less a daily activity for us. It was war. War never stopped. Killing never stopped. After the first time, thankfully, it didn’t bother most of us much. And then came an opportunity I was waiting for.
As I remember Lieutenant Wohlauf had a new camera, which he sometimes took with him on patrol. I don’t know where he found a new camera. It must have belonged to a wealthy Jew. The rest of the patrol went ahead and sung as they went, when the lieutenant and I came upon a Jewish mother carrying a child. Aiming his new camera he wanted to photograph me aiming at this mother, and, as he snapped a picture, I pulled the trigger. He yelled, “Good!” This was true, indeed, but I wasn’t through. No one saw me, paid attention to the next shot/shots, or came to the lieutenant’s rescue when I then turned and shot him. One cry, full of meaning, was his only response. I then shot him again. A bullet struck his skull with such force that it blew his entire head away. This was war. I had his blood on my uniform. I had Lieutenant Wohlauf’s blood on my uniform. It could’ve been Jewish blood.
All I will say about what happened after this was that killing continued. And it got to point where it didn’t make any difference to me whether I lived or not. Be assured of this … there was no protection from a determined avenger.
After the war I accepted a toast in memory of the good ol’ days. I returned to Vienna after the war, expecting to be treated as a prodigal son (and not a monster), but instead I saw how block after block of the city was turned into rubble. Reasons for living were gone because of rubble. Reasons for living were gone because I saw nothing of my old life. And soon my home, which encompassed within its walls everything that I valued, became my prison.
Shortly after returning to Vienna I took up my pen and began writing an apology in the form of an open letter. I first established the scope of my disclosure. I had to rely on discretion, and there was no one to give me guidance. I have only myself to blame if it turned/turns people against me.
March 4, 1946. Accounts of the Final Solution project as portrayed in magazines, in spite of errors, were essentially correct. As was later claimed my father wasn’t closely connected with it. He did, however, maintain his position with the court throughout the war. He was proud of his record and more so as his responsibilities increased and as war placed new demands on the court. His pride seemed justified. I was proud of him. It only later became imprudent for him to allude to it.
His legacy was his extreme loyalty … first to Austria, but later to the Third Reich. By design his whole life centered on his occupation. But because he did his job he made many enemies. He was still too powerful to be seriously threatened. But if we lost the war he foresaw greater perils for all of us.
Corruption ruled many of our institutions. During the great convulsions my father saw a need to chart a predictable course for himself. He later offered this as a reason for absolving himself from crimes of the court. This embarrassment, of course, he shared with judges, while many of his friends advised him to flee Austria.
In his younger days my father served many judges. He served them with distinction. Only during the war, and for the first time, did he begin to question wisdom of the court. And he never agreed with its assault on Jews. In light of our great need for laborers during the war he couldn’t justify killing them. But after a while, due to necessity, he accepted (or rather kept his mouth shut) basic tenets of National Socialism. He was never a Nazi, but he accepted basic tenets of National Socialism. With capitulation eventually he accepted Nazis’s concept of race. This surprised me, though we were all full of surprises, for we all had guilt that we shared. Remember he loved a Jew.
My mother, whom my father married before the Great War, was born a Catholic. She was an exquisite beauty and with all her charm sought a Knight of the Military Order of Franz-Josef: rather than someone she loved she looked for someone with a title. It didn’t matter that she didn’t marry my father for love. It didn’t matter that her motives weren’t pure and noble.
Her family traced themselves, by fact and fiction, back to families of the Habsburg court. It would’ve been a disgrace for her to choose anyone less than someone with the rank of Oberleutnant for a husband. And for her this wasn’t an exercise of vanity. Her father had been happy and lucky. He was also rich and honored. My grandfather was rich and honored. When my grandfather took a seat on the Austrian diet Franz-Josef’s reign had reached its zenith.
My mother had many strengths. She had many attributes. She was a wonderful dancer. To her anything less than true love was transient lust. She often alluded to having received many licentious proposals that were beneath her dignity. She joked about it. She joked about old lovers. More than once my father had to defend her honor. He knew he couldn’t control her nor totally avenge her injuries.
Injustice common in Austrian courts elsewhere wouldn’t have been tolerated. My father made the best of a bad situation and to my knowledge never abused his power. To him fairness was a creed; and he paid for it. Yes, he served courts during crucial days of Dollfuss and Schuschnigg and afterwards. I’m also talking about after Anschluss and during days of Hitler.
Yes, he got caught in some of the same snares that we all did. First tricked into following SS Lieutenant Adolf Eichmann he soon saw how he was tricked into sacrificing many of his own friends. My father never had a choice. My father was forced into cooperating with Nazis. If he hadn’t done his job charges would’ve been brought against him. There was nothing he could do. If he hadn’t followed orders he would’ve been thrown into prison. His refusal would’ve also placed my mother in jeopardy. His refusal would’ve placed us all in jeopardy. For a proud man it was punishment enough that he was reduced to a puppet. He was never a willing executioner.
Nuremberg Laws gave courts authority to treat Jews the same as a herd of cattle. Families could be separated and sent in different directions. It was entirely legal. To assure my mother’s safety my father kept her as close to him as possible.
My parents and Eva then lived in the same flat in which Karl and I grew up. With the help of my father I got assigned to a police battalion. Eventually I’d move up to the Einsatzgruppen. But instead of marching off to Poland I would’ve preferred to stay in Vienna. Not that I wasn’t old enough. I was over twenty-one. For my age I had considerable knowledge of the world. I often went to parties and nightspots sang and enjoyed sex. I also belonged to a prominent circle.
I’ve tried to forget killing … forget killings … forget killing Jews … forget killing babies. Honestly most of our time in Poland was devoted to other activities. I’m filled with many emotions. I never considered myself an evil person, but I curse the direction my life took. I curse myself. I don’t like myself. Unfortunately I’m often reminded of awful atrocities I’ve seen. Truth is we were given a wide range of responsibilities. I can truthfully say that we didn’t spend most of our time killing people. But such was the complaint that was leveled against us.
Completely innocent, I’m not! Would that I were and had remained forever away from Poland!
There were a series of indignities that led to the termination of my career as a policeman. When we came upon bearded Jews, contrary to myth, none of us around Lomazy and Miedzyrzec whipped them. No! If anything we should been called liberators, not torturers or killers. We never forced them to wear prayer shawls or kneel or chant prayers. They could worship in their own way.
But I heard laughter. I heard others laugh at Jews. I heard others laugh at Jews and mock them, and I think mistakes were made. But it wasn’t anything new. Boasting shocked me. I never felt that we had much to boast about. We just did our job. People don’t object when swine are slaughtered. Along with swine Jews had to be purged. The point wasn’t worth debating. But I always felt sneering at someone else’s religion was reprehensible.
Now our major laughed at Jews and this in front of civilians. It was in this context that I kept thinking of Eva.
Eva, as far as I knew, was never insulted by any of us. We were kind to her. Eva was a Jew, and we were kind to her. And I was very fond of her, almost too fond of her. I’ve wondered what she was thinking when she boarded a train for the short ride to Mauthausen. I’m sure she was sent to Mauthausen. As a Jew Eva couldn’t stay in Vienna. We all knew she couldn’t stay in Vienna. As a Jew she knew she couldn’t stay in Vienna. She had to live in a camp, part of a system designed to change our society. In a camp she lived and worked with her own kind.
Having her taken must’ve killed my father. I know he loved Eva. If he knew what Nazis had in store for her he never mentioned it. To me, he never said anything. He would’ve stopped it if he knew. I’ve heard, driven to madness by the insult of having someone snatched from his home, he upbraided the responsible HSSPF leader for an invasion of privacy. To save Eva I understand he offered a huge bribe, but the officer refused it. “They wouldn’t take my money,” he told me. It didn’t matter that he worked for a court.
This was a clear example of what we had to tolerate. This was an example of what was going on. Regardless of our sentiments or ties we were expected to make sacrifices. Under Nuremberg Laws we had no options. Jews were branded and isolated the same as criminals. It was law. It was war.
My father deteriorated under pressure. My father gave in under pressure. My father compromised. I’ve suffered too. I’m lucky to have escaped judgement. Partial truths suffice. We didn’t want to know the whole truth. We never accept the truth. We couldn’t afford to accept it. And my mother … but I need to preserve continuity here and not jump ahead.
My father died far away from his beloved Vienna. He left a will and made sure his enemies didn’t benefit from his estate. As he died my mother sat by his bedside, while they both suffered the indignity of exile. After my father’s death my mother who had always been self-reliant and strong couldn’t make a decision. She wanted to come home. She wanted to come home to Vienna, but knew she couldn’t. She didn’t tell me. Others did.
I looked at my parents differently. My noble mother, how in the end she was reduced to insignificance. She willingly went into exile with my father. She willingly sacrificed her prestige at home to live with him in dishonor. Have I missed something? I didn’t miss anything. Could she have been arrested for treason or murder too? Where was evidence against her?
Meanwhile I’ve isolated myself more and more. I rarely leave my flat. I never go out in public. I have what I need here. But my sentence would drive almost anyone bonkers. I follow a very rigid routine. I’m sentenced to a rigid routine, which requires no thought. Feelings are all but gone. I live in Flat 21 Naglergasse Vienna.
It seems strange. No one else in my family lives in Vienna. Strange. This is my lot. All spent. So powerless. Barely alive. Skinny as a rail. I no longer know anyone in Vienna.
There are always those who are looking for vengeance. And what vengeance! Look at Nuremberg! Heavens! That I should have to live through such a thing! People who have suffered as much as me subjected to personal attacks! Why blame us for something over which we had no control?
None of us wanted to prolong anyone’s agony, but when faced with such numbers what choice did we have? Within a day there could be a couple thousand Jews rounded up. A thousand or so killed. It was war.
While killing went on day and night I spent most of my time drinking. But each man killed his share. Each man killed his share of Jews. We share blame. Even our wives, our sisters, and our daughters must also be held accountable.
I’ve prostrated myself in dirt. Among the guiltiest I’ve kneeled and prayed. I’ve asked to be punished. And more than once I’ve shed real tears. I don’t care if I live or die.
Then trials came, and I was considered an important witness. I saw a town burn. I saw and can’t forget it. I said I didn’t participate in it. I also said we were coerced and were told what to do. I defended myself as best I could. What choice did we have? In Poland we were given a new task, and what choice did we have? In Poland I joined a triumphant march. I shouldn’t be ashamed. It was war.
I could still see Eva, as if the war hadn’t changed a thing. See how her eyes lit up. How we whispered. How we laughed. How she cautioned me. “I love you like a son!” she told me.
I never thought of Eva as being particularly religious. Yet she behaved like a martyred saint. I think she behaved like a martyred saint. I wasn’t there, but I think she behaved that way. Mother said that she would never forget how Eva serenely stood in front of a Gestapo officer. Sometimes people rise above their natural inclination: I think it depends on personal faith. I understand that Eva’s lack of a reaction upset those who arrested her. I know my parents stood in awe. I know my parents admired Eva. The Gestapo officer asked her, “Are you a Jew?”
“Yes” was her simple reply. And she gave her captors nothing more.
We told Jews to line up. We told them to line up and be counted, separated and counted again. “You! Over here! You! Over there!” Since I was a friend of Jews it always hurt me to see how they were mistreated. I became incensed by killings. I saw too much killing and became incensed. It was a great obscenity. We were turned into bastards and murderers, and Hitler led the way. Piss on Hitler! Propaganda succeeded. Piss on Hitler! I forgot everything Eva taught me. My deeds showed my weakness.
I became a coward. As my weaknesses increased so did my revulsion. Gruesome killings were a monstrous crime. I killed the man who threatened me with public exposure. I didn’t care if we both died. I killed him and didn’t care what would happen to me.
Let me be clear. I was always reluctant to shoot anyone. I didn’t like it. I never liked it. During that time, during which so many people were butchered at Jozefow and Lomazy, I would skip out. I spent most of my time in Poland guarding buildings.
Lieutenant Wohlauf, clinging to Fraulein Nauen’s skirts, bereft of morals, took me as a threat. They deserved each other. Fraulein Nauen and Lieutenant deserved each other. Fraulein Nauen, exceptionally beautiful and noble, attracted the scoundrel’s attention when she first appeared out of nowhere. I knew what was going on. They didn’t fool me. They sunk so low that they couldn’t sink any lower. You don’t know how it was. You didn’t know Lieutenant Wohlauf. I have to admit that I also was one of the young lady’s admirers. And I have to admit that I couldn’t stand Lieutenant Wohlauf.
I imagine my brother gets homesick and often thinks of Vienna.
As war raged on I was turned into a killer, and when it ended there was little prospect that the next generation would consider me a hero. I thought I would be welcome home as a hero. In spite of everything records somewhere linked me to Judentransport. Records linked me to killings in Poland. And people weren’t willing to forgive. So I cooperated, cooperated with the Allies. Then did I relish this ruthless side of me? No. No, I hated it. Too me all life was precious.
Guten nacht sweet Alice. Guten nacht gentle Eva. For your kindness you were abused. May you both find peace in your graves? And noble mother, let outrages you’ve endured not take away your life’s work. You were an honor to your race. Guten nacht children of Israel, may you no longer be an afflicted race.
“Listen, my pet,” said Fritz to his wife, “once and for all, no! No, no! As for this notion, Pauline, forget it and never bring it up again.” When Fritz said forget it he meant forget it. And he was used to getting his way. “There’s no reason to upset Eva when we don’t know for sure what will happen. When time comes she’ll go.”
“But Fritz, dear Fritz,” replied Pauline, “why do we keep putting off what is inevitable? Wouldn’t she be happier with her own kind? Wouldn’t Eva be happier?”
“I keep thinking that it’ll end soon,” was how Fritz replied. “She’s kind-hearted and ever an optimist. Still nothing changes the fact that she’s Jewish, and sooner or later her name will end up on a list. Sooner or later Kultusgemeinde will notice her. And we’ll get in trouble. It’s inevitable. We’ll get in trouble. And she knows it. Our sons are grown now. So as things stand why do we need her? Yet I feel a sense of loyalty. Part of me asks why do we have to throw Eva to the wolves?”
“It’s not just Eva that I worry about.”
“I support the court, but for the life of me I don’t understand vandals and why they mistreat innocent people like Eva. Eva or not Eva, let them take some Jews, even most of them, but why all of them?
“And we can’t employ whom we want? Your service should mean something.”
“It isn’t fair. How’s it Pauline?”
“This hero Hitler, who is he anyway?”
“May God save Austria!”
For her own sanity Pauline didn’t want to think about the situation any longer. Fritz, a bureaucrat, however, couldn’t rest his case. He couldn’t rest his case without a lengthy debate. Having a legal mind he knew the value of honing his argument.
With a half-smile and in a starched apron, Eva then came out of her room. Entering the study she gauged Fritz’s reaction to her sudden appearance. By this time Pauline couldn’t bear to be in the same room with Eva. Maintaining decorum was a struggle for all of them. It was equally hard for Fritz and Eva not to acknowledge their love for each other.
Smiling and blushing Eva appeared agitated and asked, “Is there anything I can do? Was that a yes or was I imagining a response?”
“Eva, don’t be so cheerful!” Fritz snapped. “Pauline and I were just talking, talking about how you can count on us. You’re family. Family. You’re family, so you can count on us.”
Eva bit her lip. Yes, she loved Fritz. She also knew the situation and that a truce between her and Hausfrau only was temporary. She knew her situation was temporary. She sensed what would happen. She then had time on her hands because there weren’t many places where a Jewish woman could safely go. By then she had decided to tell her employers that she had to leave. She would explain that her decision was a hard one and that no objection could stop her. She knew Fritz knew more about what she faced than he let on. She knew Fritz was in a position to know. She knew Fritz, and she knew … believed he would do his best. She knew, wanted to believe, but knew it would do no good. So she had to leave. Then Pauline thought back to when they first hired Eva … to when they carefully searched for a nanny … the right nanny.
Fritz recovered his composure and said, “I don’t know how to say goodbye. I’ll never say goodbye. You’re family and can’t easily be dismissed. What do I care about race? When I know you as well as I do what do I care about race? What do I care?”
“Don’t!” Eva exclaimed.
“If you think Pauline really cares about us, you’re wrong. We worked it out a long time ago.”
“O must we talk about this now!” yelled Pauline. Wrinkles marred her brow, and her eyes were filled with tears. She was almost to the point of becoming hysterical.
“Eva, I’ll do what I can … get you a foreign passport.”
Eva knew Fritz would do his best. And as Eva went back to her room she couldn’t keep her anxiety under control. No matter what Fritz did her fate depended on Adolf Eichmann, Adolf Eichmann the man in charge of deportation of Jews.
“Believe me, this Eichmann is a fine fellow!” exclaimed Judge Musil, as he entered his chambers with Fritz. “See how he and the Fuhrer have found work for Jews?”
“Eichmann is fast becoming a second Himmler.”
“I think it’s good that we’re cooperating. I want to see for myself what he’s doing. So you think highly of Himmler?”
“Himmler is the man of the hour. Only a few people oppose him. As we all know he has brought law and order back to Vienna.”
“Yes. Yes, I know. Yes, he’s made our task simple. At this very hour the Reichsfuhrer SS continues his work.”
“He’s likable. I’ve taken him places. We’ve drunk, eaten, and sung together. We were once all together with Franz Hueber, the Minister of Justice, Edmund Glaise von Horstenau, our vice-chancellor, State Secretary Wilhelm Keppler and other National Socialists. We all gathered together to welcome the Fuhrer. We all welcomed the Fuhrer to Austria. That was when Himmler spoke on the radio, remember? When he talked of freeing Austria. Remember he concluded with ‘and so will it be: ein Fuhrer, ein Volk, ein Reich!’”
“It was too late by then to wring our hands. Opposition was silenced. There were mobs of people milling about shrieking our Fuhrer’s name. Of course you know this. Hasn’t the Reichsfuhrer SS ordered us to be more even-handed? We can’t show mercy. Whenever someone breaks the law they must be punished. And remember when there’s a conflict of interest we must turn those cases over to the Gestapo. As you know, Himmler has promised to reward us well for following him. But threaten him with the slightest displeasure and he’ll tear you apart. He’s determined. Himmler’s determined. No one can stop him from completing lightning persecutions. If we do our job no one will be bold enough to break our laws. The Gestapo has chosen one man to be in charge of Jewish emigration. He likes the attention but won’t accept any criticism.”
“Who should step forward and pass himself off as an expert on Jewish affairs, but Adolf Eichmann. He’s full of talk, this Eichmann. He sounds like a Zionist, this Eichman. He was the one who boasted to Berlin that he had the Gemeinde (a Palestine agency) under control. Eichman tries to impress you with Yiddish and knows Zionist history.”
“Himmler seems very please, but Himmler has never completely endorsed Eichmann. He’s waiting for our friend to stumble. Fearful that Eichmann will become too powerful he may even attempt to trip him. But Eichmann is sly. He has taken charge and wants to see Vienna free of Jews. Eichmann has already registered more than fifty thousand Jews and accomplished more in a few months than we ever thought possible. Eichmann is a good man. Eichmann means what he says. After given fourteen days notice Jews everywhere are being evicted. Still Eichmann is not satisfied. Keeping his word the Reichsfuhrer SS has given Eichmann authority he needs. They’ll both earned their just due.”
“But what about us?”
“Because of our loyalty to Hitler we’ve kept our jobs. We’ll show loyalty to Eichmann and keep our jobs. What more could we ask? There are many people who would gladly change places.”
“Each man for himself you say?”
“Each man for himself? Perhaps.”
“But what about those who may be sympathetic to the wrong people? And what are we to do? Are we to persuade them to change? Is there still time to convert them? Konfessionslos can stay. A Konfessionslos, you understand, can be married to an Aryan man. So now we have more restrictions, and from these we make our living. Every restriction is based on a law, and laws must be obeyed. However we can make it easy or difficult for people.”
“What if we offered resistance?”
“We wouldn’t be spared. Along with our families we couldn’t expect to be spared. We could expect to be put on a train. Up until now not one of Eichmann’s directives has gone unheeded. Let me tell you Herr Hertzel, if there is one man who could fill Himmler’s shoes that man is none other than our Eichmann.”
Fritz listened to Judge Musil’s rambling with great interest. He had more than one reason to be concerned for his own safety and his family’s continued well being. Raising his hand in a Nazi salute and barking “Heil, Hitler,” Fritz excused himself when his boss was through. Fritz was trying to make himself into a kind of follower that even the most skeptical jurist wouldn’t question.
Fritz had just come back from the Great War when Eva accepted a formal position in the Herstel household. Eva became their nanny just as Fritz came back from the Great War. She earned a place in their home, and her employers soon wondered how they ever got along without her. Meanwhile Pauline chose to spend more and more time working out of the home.
In a tireless manner Pauline accepted her Christian duty and forgot everything else that had once mattered to her. As she became more and more involved she neglected her family. And excluded more and more from her life Fritz often taunted Pauline with what choice did she leave him. Fritz used her absences as an excuse. The fact, however, was that from the very beginning Fritz felt attracted to Eva.
Sometimes Fritz found himself alone with his boys’ nanny. At first Fritz resisted. At first he tried to resist temptation … resist feelings … ignore Eva. Then he couldn’t help himself. Then he … well, he began looking for Eva. Other times, instead of being alone with her, he watched her while she cared for the boys. He admired how she took care of Karl and Niki. Fritz admired Eva, adored her, but did he intend to cheat on his wife? Instead of his intentions let’s focus on happenstance. Before long Fritz began to approach Eva in earnest, and Pauline became suspicious for there weren’t many things she missed.
Soon Fritz intensified his attention and effort. Soon he focused his attention on Eva, but the more he expressed his feelings the more Eva ignored his advances. At first nearly everything he tried backfired. Eva tried to ignore Fritz. Then Fritz became afraid of being found out. This was before he promised Eva a canary and a cockatoo. Thankfully he didn’t give her a canary and a cockatoo and narrowly escaped insulting her by dubbing her “The Merry Widow.”
“No, I never actually thought she had been widowed,” said Fritz one night, “But I had great hopes that she was an experienced woman.” She wasn’t an experienced woman.
“Pooh! What nonsense!” replied Pauline. “Even in her best bib and tucker she’s really quite innocent.” Pauline was right. “Tell me what you mean by experienced.”
“No my pet,” said Fritz clearing his throat, “I don’t want you to despise her.” Then Fritz said something about not wanting to give a young lady a cold shoulder and having her eat alone.
“Good,” said Pauline, “and I’m not suppose to object.”
“Pauline, why would you?” asked Fritz, somewhat embarrassed and annoyed, “There’s nothing going on between us. And we’d have to look long and hard to find someone to replace her. As for my sins I won’t boast of them. I’m no worse than anyone else is. Still I look guilty because I’m always tripping over words. I promise I won’t touch her. I promise. Do tell me what you want. There’s nothing that I won’t do for you.”
“Please Fritz, don’t!”
“Believe me Pauline,” repeated Fritz, “there’s nothing going on between Eva and me. Stay home and see for yourself. Damn it, why do you place me in a position of having to defend myself? I don’t like being pushed into a corner. I like having some control. Why do you continue to besmirch Eva?”
“What do we know about her?” asked Pauline. “Why she’s a Jewish slave, a person without dignity. And because we let her into our home we’ll have hell to pay.”
Pauline crossed herself and would hear no more. But Fritz wanted to continue the conversation. All night long he continued to wrestle with his conscience. He examined risks, conflicts, and contradictions that hiring Eva brought into his life. He felt helpless … out of control. He wanted to be in control. He had to be in control. Then at daybreak he prepared for work and challenges to come.
So Fritz forgot caution and made promises he couldn’t keep. As to mock his wife women flocked to his stable, but he kept looking for someone he considered his equal. Twice he thought he found an ideal woman. He was looking for an idea woman. A third time he fell for someone who drove him mad. Then each time cursing his fate the unhappy man always returned home. Each time Eva greeted him, and his life seemed insane.
“Good evening, sir,” said the Jew-slave. “Why so sad, why so unhappy? Is it something I’ve done or said? Are you worried or upset? Or are you a slave to your work and there’s no way for you to escape it? Come, sit and relax. Let me remove your shoes.”
Fritz let her do what she wanted with his shoes, and afterward the young woman plopped down beside him on the sofa. On the sofa … well, on the sofa … after some stumbling around the conversation turned to love and marriage. Fritz spoke of his own bad luck: this was the curse of his home. The employer continued to complain.
“What do you know about love?”
“I had a fellow once, but the gentleman couldn’t remain faithful; and more than that, let me tell you, since he couldn’t remain faithful he couldn’t expect fidelity from his wife.” Fritz heard enough; but Eva wanted to tease him more, so she said, “For a servant like me it’s not unusual. For a servant like me it’s not a matter of choice. Believe me, we’ve all been through it. Why do you think infidelity has become so much in vogue? Why do you think men must stray here, there, and everywhere? Why they always pick some pretty little thing, who’ll inevitably break their hearts? Can’t they see it coming? Can’t they help themselves? How charming they are! Here I’m a blunt and honest woman! Because I’m your employee, and this more than anything else is proof that I’ve been nothing more than someone’s lassie. Don’t feel sorry for me. I know my place. Give me a little time, and I’ll make you smile. I promise that I won’t deceive you. I now must check on the boys.”
Fritz wanted her and looked for a way to make her stay. When he gave her orders he generally gave them in the manner of a general in the field dictating his Operational Orders. “Stay!” commanded the retired soldier. “Madame, you understand me so well.”
Eva laughed, for her boss’ speech seemed so elevated that he sounded ridiculous.
“No, don’t laugh at me, or question my sincerity. Ask me anything,” he continued, as he gave it his best. “I’ll wager that you’ve never met anyone like me?”
Eva’s smile was seen rapidly enlarging, and her admirer’s mood shifted away from foreboding.
“Thank you, thank you!” said Fritz, while observing with astonishment his own boldness.
“Not worth speaking of, is it? Indeed, it’s not such a big deal to have an affair and be disappointed. Why be so upset, when you’re only talking about a broken heart? There’s always another night. But I must keep going. I’ve got a very demanding employer, and I hear a couple of restless boys,” whereupon she left him to himself.
Astonished Fritz tried to make sense out of what he heard. Astonished Fritz tried to make sense of Eva. He knew reasons for his sadness. He knew reasons for madness. Now he had a new reason for happiness.
The Hertzel household seemed tranquil. Looking in from the outside the Hertzel household seemed tranquil. Fritz seemed like he had been before the war. Fritz felt young and fiery like he felt before the war. He hadn’t felt like that since before the war. Each evening Pauline disappear; and there was plenty of evidence that her husband never objected. Fritz then seemed satisfied and achieved such bliss that it didn’t bother him when he stopped being honest. Of course he laid blame for his dalliance on his absent wife.
“Now, Gnadige Frau, who’s at fault?” asked Fritz laughing. “I can’t help thinking that the problems lay in a mind that insists on thinking too much. Just imagine what our lives would be like if we could move Heaven and Earth. I hope you’ll stay. Eva, I’m of the opinion that you’re looking for something permanent.”
“Is that what you’re offering?” asked Eva. “Something permanent?”
“I’ve seen how well you get along with the boys.”
Eva responded with a silly grin.
At the same time Fritz rubbed his finger across the bridge of her nose and laughed good-naturedly.
“God help us.”
Before long Fritz and Eva no longer looked on their relationship with misgivings. Before long they thought that they loved each other. Perhaps they did love each other. He would sing to her. She would listen to his tender serenades, tunes that he reserved for her alone. Each evening, after the boys went to bed, they shared aspirations. Each evening they shared dreams. Later they absolutely crossed legal boundaries based on race, but undoubtedly Eva, from Fritz’s perspective, didn’t act or look like a Jew. To justify his crime he overlooked many principles, or shall we say prejudges.
Burden his relationship with Eva created was tremendous. At one point Fritz came close to having a nervous breakdown. A nervous breakdown? Yes. He had to be very careful. Fritz knew he had to be careful. He couldn’t afford to raise suspicions. Out of necessity he convinced himself that it didn’t matter that Eva was Jewish. At the same time Fritz arranged deaths of many Jews, for which he was later accused. All of this continued as he vowed to distance himself from Nazis.
Pauline scolded Fritz. She scolded him because she knew her husband and suspected what was going on before she had concrete evidence. They then both still believed what they learned as children and went on viewing Jews as wicked. For Fritz, at least, his relationship with Eva proved it, or else wickedness held an attraction for him. He felt he was seduced. At one point Pauline threatened divorce. She threatened divorce and threatened to change her religion to achieve it. Pauline found herself in distress and asked her husband, for the sake of their children, asked him and asked him to keep his hands off Eva.
Discouraged Fritz turned to his work. He knew he lost Pauline and turned to his work. Now he also had to face losing Eva. Fritz didn’t want to be part of this and for the longest went around in a fog of gloom. Of course he knew the law forbidding Aryans from having sex with Jews. And he wondered how many people knew the truth. He mechanically rode a tram. He mechanically rode a tram each morning and each evening. He rode a tram to work. And it seemed like it took him across town in the blink of an eye. Sadly Eva would have to be turned over to Nazis. Fritz let that sink in, rode a tram to work … as he hurried to court. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that it was Pauline who packed Eva’s bag.
Judge Musil liked Fritz, but Fritz didn’t like himself and spent days feeling dejected. Fritz felt dejected because he didn’t know what to do. He didn’t know what to do about Eva. Eva’s affection didn’t help. Eva’s affection couldn’t restore him and didn’t help him. And he was overworked, and at night he carried the weight of his burden to bed. Seeing Eva only reminded him of it.
“Fritz I hope you won’t take offence,” Judge Musil said one day out of the blue, “but surely you won’t allow a woman to drag you down … drag you down like Eve did Adam. (Eve, Eva.) Whenever an old serpent rears its head I try to do the right thing. The Old Testament tells us that Eve gave birth to Cain and because of her desires she also suffered pain … extreme pain. As for serpents men who play with snakes always get bitten. I speak from experience, however…”
Caught off guard Fritz cried, “We’ve all sinned! Haven’t we all sinned? Show me a man who hasn’t sinned. But what’s your point?”
“Maybe it’s pointless and cruel to go on,” said the elderly Judge. “Maybe. It makes me shudder to think of the consequences of yielding to forces around us. There’s eternity to worry about. I don’t like worrying. There was once a young woman that I knew here in Vienna, a true vampire. She was boyish, slender and beautiful … a beauty who made me forget what I was taught about good and evil. She was terribly fond of me … very fond of me and spent as much time with me as possible. She made a wonderful companion. I loved her, but she was Jewish. Yes, I loved her, and she was Jewish, and she made a fool of me. Yes, I sinned, and it became a death struggle. You see, as our relationship degenerated into lovemaking I knew what it meant. I became ill, but I can ill afford to talk about it now, except now I’m an old man. So what does it matter, really?”
“I’ve often had a cold and lascivious beauty in my life and someone obsessed with sex. What could I do? Do? I know it’s not easy. It’s never easy.”
“We lads are easily lured to our doom. Sure enough she was wild and sucked life out of many men. Jewish girls tend to be that way. Jewish girls tend to be lascivious. I was torn and clawed to pieces. I fell into a pit with a wildcat when I was weak. There was nothing I could do.”
“I brought her into my house. No one knew but my wife; and we tried to keep it that way. We tried to keep it a secret.”
“Well, this vampire, before she died, confessed that she preferred other women to men. She had a predisposition of an independent thinker. Lesbians, you understand, are unnatural. Because they slipped they must pay for it with their lives. Lesbian Jews aren’t fit to live.”
“How then was it she slipped?” asked Fritz. “Was it her fault?”
“Why you’ve turned pale,” observed the judge. “This vampire, to be sure, who else can we blame? People who resist laws of nature generally fall. I’ve seen it often. But we all have choices.”
Fritz drew a deep breath before asking, “But didn’t you know who she was before you got involved with her?”
“Sure I did. But can we always help it? She only became a vampire after she seduced me. It was only then that I knew what I hated most, so I pushed her away. I threw her out. I didn’t ask her to go. I threw her out, and saved myself. Here, there, and everywhere I’ve seen men lose their way. My own behavior was reprehensible; and it has kept me from being too critical of others. I can’t blame anyone because I’ve been there.”
“God protects Christians from Jews!” said the petty clerk crossing himself. He was Lutheran. Yet he crossed himself.
“Did I then,” asked the judge, “make a pact with Satan?”
“Who am I to judge?” replied Fritz. “For it was written ‘judge not.’ But let things be how they are. It’s no small matter when some one brings down themselves … bring upon themselves the wrath of God; for how does one justify it? Satan needs no prompting. Satan knows what he is doing. He offers us pleasures. The devil is a wily fellow and always has henchmen near who are ready to serve his purpose instead the Lord’s.”
At work Fritz threw himself into each task. Documents he reviewed each morning contained long lists of Jews. Aware of himself the frightened clerk held an old cartridge pen, a bloody reminder of his authority. As he signed his name, his hands shook because he knew what he was sacrificing for the Reich.
Thoroughness had long been an attribute Fritz valued, and his employer exploited his fear of imperfection. Fritz also recognized his predicament. It was his fault. He knew it was his fault insofar as he succumbed to lust. He couldn’t help himself. He knew he couldn’t help himself, while the threatening aspect of his relationship with Eva increased his desire for her.
Near the front edge of his desk he kept pictures of his family. He missed his boys: missed both of them. He missed them both the same amount. He loved them both. Earlier in his career he wouldn’t have had to explain why he hired a Jew for his sons’ nanny. Now he felt like he had to take aim and fire a preemptive shot at her, and when he did he immediately regretted it. And his betrayal hadn’t been calculated to hurt her either. He couldn’t hurt her. He loved her. Then came guilt, which gave him another reason to hate himself. As soon as it came out of his mouth he knew he wouldn’t get to keep her. He already knew he lost her.
So he lived with guilt. But Nazis hadn’t invented murky phantoms that kept him awake at night. It was more ingrained. He couldn’t sleep. He lost sleep. “Fool!” said he to himself. “Just because Jews are more dangerous and destructive than people of other races, does it mean all of them are? And what’s so abnormal about a man’s attraction to a beautiful woman? Men can’t help themselves.”
Then later: “We had no control over brutes that were then in power. Why should we have fought a futile battle? By the same token, why should we have resisted Nazis when making the Reich free of Jews seemed noble? Why? Why! We thanked our Fuhrer! It was God’s will. God worked in ways we didn’t understand. Who were we to trifle with forces that brought the Fuhrer to us? Only a fool would’ve. I could no longer accept God but continued to work for the Fuhrer and the Reich. I was a soldier and had to do what I was told.”
Fritz had his position to maintain and had to enforce the Nuremberg Laws. But still it was a lonely spot … a lonely spot to be in. Nobody could ever know how much he loved Eva. And he made sure that he didn’t let his emotions show and left dirty work to the Gestapo.
Alone Fritz pumped himself up with indignation over the Jewish Problem. He knew Jews were a problem. He was taught Jews were a problem, so he could more readily accept losing Eva than if he hadn’t been taught. Eventually he surrendered to the inevitable and wished his servant … his Jew-slave Godspeed.
“Fritz, hold me,” said Eva taking his hand. “God knows what dangers I face. I don’t know what will happen to me, but whatever it is don’t forget that I love you. Don’t look so down. Certainly this war won’t last forever. I’ll come back, if you’ll have me.”
Eva immediately offered Fritz a kiss and, even when he tried to break away, was unwilling to let him go. Eva seemed to sense his dilemma. She knew her fate.
“Another time,” said he, “another time. Tonight I need to be alone. I need to think. But I assure you that I want you to stay.”
With all his might Fritz tried to excuse himself, but Eva held him with so much strength that her requests couldn’t be resisted. He consequently delayed his goodbye.
Around midnight the former soldier became tranquil and fell asleep in Eva’s lap. That was where Pauline found him when she came home. Pauline would’ve lashed out … she would’ve lashed at her husband and Eva … lashed out at the lovers had she not possessed information that Eva’s days were numbered. She therefore pretended not to see them. Pauline also knew how her husband frequently broke the law and that he could never be any more than a part-time husband. Even with Eva gone he could never be more than a part-time husband.
At night, when he crawled into bed beside her, Pauline sensed the presence of another woman. At night, in bed, she rarely reached out and touched her husband. On this particular night she proclaimed. “Fritz, guess who I saw? Guess! I was drinking, feeling no angst, no loneliness, at our favorite cafe.” Their favorite café.
Fritz normally would’ve felt annoyed by such an admission. But on this night he mourned for Eva. And as he ached for Eva, he viewed his wife as a troublesome intruder. On this night, Fritz shrank into a ball … a sorrowful ball and thought of killing himself. Then Fritz found himself running to Eva, though he couldn’t run to her. Now that a world of differences separated them he couldn’t run to her. For his own benefit he then yelled something about not knowing her race. Differences that had become critical then held Fritz in check. Then his mind suddenly cleared. And after it was too late Fritz realized that he could’ve saved Eva, just as he had arranged for Karl’s emigration.
“Jewess Eva Marie Popper goes down to the street.”
Rage of the leader of the SA squad didn’t escape Fritz’s notice. Fritz looked in his eyes and saw rage. Fritz attributed brutality of the SA squad to the nature of the job and helped Eva pack a small bag. Then he apologized for taking too long. “Keep up your spirits, don’t give up,” Fritz told her. “It won’t take long now.”
These last words had great meaning for Eva. She saw in them an obscure allusion to what she could expect. Fritz never learned that the person his wife saw at the cafe was none other than his boss.
Happy is he who forgets what cannot be changed. Happy was Fritz. Happy and sad was Fritz. He would miss Eva. He missed her. They had to move quickly. Germans weren’t willing to wait for useless eaters to die a natural death.
All morning Eva bustled about the flat. All morning Eva felt a compulsion to clean. She had to make sure nothing was out of place. She focused on pleasing Fritz and she waited for him to come home with anticipation.
Fritz entered his broken home with a broken heart and for the first time experienced enduring pain of loss. Yes, he thought of suicide. Yes, he thought about killing himself, himself and Pauline … murder, suicide. Suicide was now so prevalent in Vienna that Fritz felt like he stood at the grave of all that he once knew. Many members of his old circle were no longer living.
“But in Vienna there’ll be wine even after we’re all gone. Let us eat, drink and be merry. The Heuriger, one-third wine and two-thirds Stimmung, this year is the best. Let us forget. Everyone drinks it, everyone! Let us drink and forget.” Fritz poured his heart, his pain, and his tears into wine, and wine gave him comfort.
Walls of Cafe’ Central were all covered with works of Sezession painters but only with those works approved by Nazis, which meant that they were conservative and not too modern. Nockerl there was delicious and well worth a visit.
“Wasn’t Herr Freud overrated?” asked Pauline. “Now that he’s gone we don’t have to pay him homage, not any more. Now we can be happy, without worrying about what’s wrong with us. Why condemn ourselves for marrying for love? Why worry?”
Pauline embraced Fritz and was deeply moved. “Pauline,” said her husband, “let’s celebrate. I have a notion that we won’t always be this happy.”
“Let’s enjoy ourselves. Brothers and sisters, you’re all invited to taste the bite of the young wine. Let us rejoice. Our youngest has gone to Poland.”
Coincidentally rumbling of running feet and shrieks of SS whistles interrupted Pauline’s speech. While she spoke police and SS closed off both ends of the street and fanned out into houses surrounding the Cafe. Within a short while all Jews in the neighborhood were apprehended, and the trek to a collection point began. “Why, in God’s name, can’t this wait,” complained Fritz, “Why can’t it wait … wait until we’re safely home. We shouldn’t have to see this. Pauline, my love, is there anything worse?”
She finished her Heuriger without responding.
Everyone saw Fritz’s agitation, and no one missed Pauline’s cruel smile. For the first time in a long while blood filled her cheeks. By the way she acted Fritz saw that his wife wasn’t sad about Eva’s arrest, while he couldn’t get over it. He couldn’t get all the sad images out of his brain. To dull pain he gulped wine quicker than he normally did. This helped him bury his sorrow. Eventually he decided to live but no longer saw a future.
It was well after ten o’clock at night, and Fritz’s mind jump ahead to the next morning. He looked for a pretext for not going to work. He didn’t want to go to work. He hated work. Even with friends, time seemed to crawl. Time crawled at work. He worried. He worried about what people thought of him. How many people thought he acted peculiarly? Then without saying a word Fritz took the hand of his bride. It was time to leave. He was already out of his chair with his hat on and he knew it was time to leave.
“Going someplace, Fritz?” asked Pauline.”
“I don’t like Germans. I never liked Germans and for different reasons all the time,” was his answer. Pauline hoped nobody heard him. By now her anger was directed toward him. Fritz tore himself away from her. In vain she begged him to stay.
Daylight waned, and night came. The moon was rising, and as it grew darker the Danube flowed quietly by. Thick clouds girded tops of distant hills and once and a while covered the moon, which by fits, always reappeared. The air cooled as it grew later. Somber leaves of chestnut trees hid what otherwise would’ve been an appalling spectacle. Eva shivered, and it seemed an unlikely place for a miracle.
Along with a long march they had to endure standing in one place for hours. Eva’s spirit, however, wasn’t broken as she stood on one foot and then another, but her guardian angel would soon forsake her.
Once again she thought of Fritz. She still loved Fritz. She would always love Fritz. Already exhausted she heard a voice inside her say, “Fool why did you trust him? Fool! Why did you think he and his Frau were good people?” Blinded by love she trusted Fritz too much.
A moon gave enough light to see everything. She knew what was going happen. She wasn’t blind. She saw faces of SS-Einsatz. Moonbeams distorted them. Their faces were distorted. It was a shattering moment for her when she saw them beat those who collapsed. Beating was expected. Beating was constant. Then she heard a voice again say, “Don’t let the two-legged beasts see you flinch!”
The line inched forward. Clouds again covered the moon, and Eva heard laughter and lewd remarks. She eventually stood in a killing field. She stood in a killing field and knew it. She stood in a killing field where each Jew was made to lie on the ground next to someone else. It was significant that there were only women and children there. Clouds thickened and covered the moon even more. She prayed for rain. She didn’t know why she prayed for rain. If it weren’t for powerful flashlights it would’ve been totally dark. Bells of a nearby church let them know the time. It was getting late, very late. Soon it wouldn’t matter.
Ever once and while bats swooped down and dove for the hats of the SS-Einsatz. With loud, high pitch squeaks bats scolded the intruders. Eva had already felt a muzzle on the back of her head. Practice, among those who fired fatal bullets, was something she hadn’t expected. In the woods she was pelted by rain. So it did rain. Was it her miracle?
Minutes stretched into what seemed like hours. It soon became clear that cruelty of these perpetrators was calculated and incessant and spoke of their attitudes. Their mood fluctuated. Mocking and kicking was wanton and at times turned into sadistic sport. One can’t imagine the brutality. To them it was a game. It became a game. A few times Eva almost fainted. Each time she raised her face the rain revived her. Each time they pushed her head down. For the most part Eva kept her eyes to the ground.
Constant terror and dread finally wore her down. That was the plan. They intended to wear her down. Then she was forced to her knees and to act like she was praying, something her captors ridiculed her for. Most of the other women, along with their children, by then were shot. Most of them were dead. They made her lie on the ground … her face in the dirt. As Eva lay there in blood of others, her life ended.
The SS-Einsatz took time to bury everyone. “How many were there?” The common response was “we lost count.”
Fritz felt alone and consoled himself by pretending his world hadn’t ended. After that he lived in constant fear but put forth a good face. So his world didn’t end. Sometimes when he was sad, he heard a voice, with great agitation, call his name. And he knew it had to be Eva’s voice.
Fritz couldn’t get Eva out of his mind. Knowing more of what was in store for her than she did, he responded, “I hope not.”
“As much as you might want you can’t forget me. Remember times we had together. Sometimes we were innocent: other times we weren’t.”
“No, no,” said Fritz, shuddering: “I don’t know you. I never did.”
“So be it.” And with this came recognition that this wretched woman’s face bore a resemblance to his wife’s. This chilled him.
Eva was never given a chance, and Fritz never justified his actions. He had too much to lose. And he could never forgive himself. Besides the SS Untersturmfuehrer assured him that nothing terrible would happen to Eva. He was told nothing would happen to Eva because she was too valuable. By then the Fuhrer had come home and for the time being was the leader of a new and eternal Germany.
Eva left without protesting. Did she say “keep up your spirits, don’t give up, it won’t be long now?” Did she know?
“My goodness, Fritz! Do I have to put up with your sour face?” asked Pauline, when she came home after midnight.
“No, no” answered Fritz, “nothing’s wrong except I can’t sleep; the truth is I’m …”
“Fritz, you think I don’t know.”
Fritz was struck by his wife’s directness and replied, “Give me time.”
“Gladly Fritz. Thankfully we’ve cheated the demon of ill-luck! We’ve escaped this time. But excuse me. You must think I’m heartless. I’m sorry. ‘Night,’ I’ve heard said, ‘is no friend of the guilty.’ At least we’re alive. And we’ve our jobs, and now we can walk on the right side of the law.”
Fritz’s pain still was too raw for him to respond to her, but in their bedroom he bid Eva “auf Wiedersehen.”
“O let me die and not suffer anguish and punishment I deserve! My world is dead.” Fritz, worn out and dead certain of his country’s inevitable defeat, repeated, “My world is dead, so I’m a dead man.”
Judge Musil came out of his chambers and asked Fritz to accompany him on his walk in the Volksgarten. “It’s all right to follow a routine,” he said, “but between you and me, the enemy can’t keep us from enjoying our great city. Wien, Wien, they can bomb the hell out of us, but still … I’d like to be back in Grinzing again, with wine, wine, wining … So jump up! Herr Hertzel, come! Let’s go to the park!”
Fritz grew nervous, and if he could’ve would’ve found an excuse for not going. Since the judge wouldn’t have accepted no Fritz begged for time to get his coat. Old Judge Musil shook his head and in a harsh and contemptuous tone asked, “Fritz, my man, since when have you needed a coat in autumn?”
Fritz instantly drew back but within a few seconds was ready to go. Then with his overcoat under his arm he followed the judge out of the courthouse.
The old judge took giant steps in a vain attempt to regain something he lost and struggled equally in vain to be in good spirits. Fritz also felt sad and agitated. He felt really sad as he followed his boss like he was dreaming. He remembered what the judge said that made him feel extremely uncomfortable. It made him feel sad and uncomfortable … and he remembered how shortly afterward Eva was taken away. “Was it possible,” Fritz asked himself, “that he was also exposed?” He often thought of this. It was possible. He could’ve been exposed. Yes, he was lucky to be alive.
The Ring had been a symbol of dignity, power, and wealth of the empire, but by now many of the great buildings were turned to rubble. This added to Fritz’s distress. The only parts of the Opera House that still stood were the staircase and the foyer. As he surveyed this destruction, Fritz thought, “It’s a pity.” Then filled with self-pity he quickly turned his gaze to the ground. Walking along the Ring with his boss, like in a dream, toward the huge building of the war department, with its gray facade adorned with colossal ancient helmets, which was hard to pass by without emotion, Fritz realized that they weren’t heading to the Volksgarten. Both men knew firsthand the burden of having to make life and death decisions. After the war each proclaimed their innocence and claimed that they only were following orders. During war leniency, on their part, would’ve been a sign of weakness; and they couldn’t afford to be weak. It was clear that the judge had Fritz where he wanted him. It was clear to Fritz that the judge had him where he wanted. And Fritz never hesitated; and it seemed like his position was not just a job but a passion.
Fritz returned to the Grinzing, where a whore in the wine garden never got tired of his praises. He often went to the Grinzing. He often saw a whore … the same whore. “With such beauty,” said he, “it seems ridiculous that you were ever happy, but in keeping with the times we’re sometimes obligated to be more critical than is necessary. The self can’t be salvaged, so enjoy yourself while you can. Yonder sits G. and K. with wineglasses in their hands; stare and wave for they’re very famous.”
“O no, not that, not that, for God’s sake Herr Hertzel!” cried his whore. “Don’t wave or draw attention to us. Herr Hertzel, last night I dreamed that I was a famous actress and Hitler put a ring on my finger. Then you came, and in a moment everything in the dream was over.”
In response Fritz pushed back his chair, which he’d just pulled up to be near her; but she still managed to laugh.
“So what!” she declared. “So I’m not a superwoman or a German. I’m Austrian. And that means I’d never suit Hitler. Courage Herr Hertzel, courage! Or maybe you should sit over there next to G. and K. I don’t need a superman.”
“No, it’s not that. It’s not that at all,” said Fritz, “but these times have made me bitter and hard.”
“Well, then,” said this whore, “if that’s all, why bitch? Be dicey! And paint the town red!”
Her words chilled him.
At the same instant, and with great satisfaction, this whore slit her throat with a Wiener schnitzel knife.
Thinking at first that she was acting Fritz said, “Strange girl!” It was like he saw this before. But this changed when he saw a stream of blood and her face plopped onto the table. And as he watched death arrived, shivering shook him to the tip of his toes. “What did you do?” Fritz then asked, as he reached for his handkerchief.
Then a waiter standing nearby asked, “What will the lady have? Or will it be nothing as usual?”
Angrily Fritz jumped the waiter and slammed his head into a table. “Damn the man-who-opens-the-coffin-lid!” he cried. “And don’t expect a tip.”
After this Fritz had no more strength left. He had no more strength as he sank to the floor close to the bleeding waiter. Then a pay-waiter and a flower-woman tried to save this whore’s life. They tried in vain. Wasn’t it too bad that they weren’t all acting?
Pauline buried Fritz in Paraguay, while he never got over the death of his whore. Pauline soon followed her husband to the grave. That left their youngest son, Nikki, to die alone in the family’s flat, and Karl in Texas.
For more than twenty years the Karl Hertzel family lived in Fredericksburg and was generally respected for their integrity and piety. Its elder, Rev. Karl Hertzel, only once returned to his native land. He returned to Vienna only once and to his credit lived in Texas. Yes, Texas and served the Lord for most of his life. And key to his success was his allegiance to Texas. He became a Texan, a true Texan, and if he hadn’t he would never have been accepted.
Records showed that he served only one congregation. Rev. Hertzel was satisfied and served only one congregation. Indeed as many affirmed, he was a righteous man, a man of the Lord. And there were those who where there when he retired in 1978 who also remembered his first sermon. He then died of cancer, a disease that defined his later years.
But as a public figure that people loved … as a Texan people loved, Rev. Hertzel carried a secret that would’ve made him unpopular. Having come after the war from Austria or Germany, Karl Hertzel had to overcome a great deal of prejudice. At first it was thought that he was running from something. All Germans or Austrians lived with it after the war … lived with a stigma, so they lived in a community. At first, to his most critical critics, Karl was possibly a former Nazi.
In vain some people looked for clues to the Lutheran minister’s past. Some people tried to dig up his past. Some people tried to turn him into a Nazi. It was hard on him. It was a hard thing to overcome. At times curiosity of the whole town was directed at him, and many people wondered about his past. Many people were suspicious, but except for Marie, nobody discovered the truth.
Only Marie knew. Only Marie found out what her father kept secret. Only Marie discovered a door to the past. And she went through that door and made discoveries about her family just as she came home from the mission field. After that Marie lived with bouts of depression and disillusionment. At the same time her father grew more and more fretful. By then he spent his days in a rocking chair. He slept in that chair.
One evening she found his door open and his bed and rocking chair empty. Looking around she observed her father in the middle of deep thought. It wasn’t a good time for him.
She asked him, “How could they?”
And he couldn’t pretend then that he hadn’t understood her. Finally he said, “We don’t have any excuses.”
His concession never satisfied Marie. She loved her father. Yet she had a hard time accepting him after she discovered the truth. She was ashamed … lived with shame. To her, her father lived a life of deception and lived it well. He had tried to forget where he came from. He tried to forget the past.
The two of them were still kind to each other and yet felt awkward when they were together. Karl sensed it and said, “Don’t let what you learned spoil it for us. Texas represented a new life for me. You hopefully understand this. Life goes on. We have to do what we can to live. I don’t know what your uncle told you, but….”
“He didn’t have to tell me.”
“I presumed he told you.”
By then Marie was far too impatient for a sermon. She grew up listening to her father’s sermons. She now earnestly wanted to get away from him.
His eyes conveyed his feelings, feelings he couldn’t express in German. “It’s important for us to set the record straight. You’re a Texan. This is your home and not Vienna. You weren’t part of it. What happened, happened, and it didn’t happen here, or when you were alive. What happened over there should remain over there. Surely, Marie, you don’t blame me for sins of my countrymen? You’re not to blame. You’re innocent, so why blame yourself?”
“Why? Why should I concern myself with events that happened before I was born?”
“These days everyone’s focus is elsewhere. Be that as it may, I’ve made this scrapbook of sorts for my grandchildren. I’ve called it ‘A Father’s Tribute to His Daughter.’” Judging by the thickness of the book Marie suspected that her father had been saving memorabilia for years. “I hope” continued the old man, “that you still love your family. Whether you admit it or not you’re proud of your heritage. There must be some reason why you went to Vienna and then came home. There’s a reason you’re here.”
Here Karl had to stop.
“Dad, why didn’t you teach me German?”
“Now thank we all our God.”
“So I know only a little German. Like a little violet that blooms in secrecy, be pious and be good, though unseen you may be.”
“All of our good fortune comes from one source and all that He asks from us … Let me finish! I’m only a man, and my heart’s impure. Shall none there dwell but Jesus for sure? All that He asks is that while we use His gifts … it’s within our power to become equally generous. Whether you’ll forgive me? But does God keep you from it? This is something you don’t have to answer.”
She seemed visibly disturbed.
“Marie, wouldn’t it have been better had you left it alone? Wouldn’t it have been better if you skipped Vienna?”
“No. I had to go to Vienna. I had to see. I had to see for myself,” but the way she said this showed a lack of conviction.
Happiness over becoming a missionary, for Marie, was soon ruined by reality. She felt called to become a missionary, but she now wished she hadn’t gone. She wished she had stayed in Texas. She wished she had skipped Vienna.
But she had to know. She had to know. She had to face questions such as why her father hardly mentioned his family. She had to see where he grew up. She had to learn what went on, and what she wanted to know she couldn’t learn from books. But there were times when pride of Austrian/German cultural heritage overrode other things, and they sang:
“Separated by waves of the ocean from our Fatherland,
We’ve come here, drawn by many a bond of love. We crossed
Texas’ prairies on spirited steeds and shorten our way with
A song that resounded with a toast to Germany!”
But instead of Germany Karl always substituted Austria.
“Instead of singing I thought you’d sermon me.”
“What good would that do?”
“Then I’ve got one for you. Haven’t you always told me to place my trust in God? Resign yourself to Him? God works through us, yet for the most part we don’t give Him enough credit. We give His due to ourselves and make excuses for our failures. We forget that we’re His instruments.”
A verdict was rendered. Nothing helped. Nothing helped Karl avoid embarrassing questions. Nothing helped Marie. Clearly members of their family were involved in activities that they considered morally objectionable, morally reprehensible, crimes against humanity, and Karl condemned people he once loved. He cursed Niki. He cursed his brother. He cursed his father. He cursed his mother, and he blamed himself. He could’ve done more. He should’ve done more, he always said. So he rarely said anything to his daughter about it. He rarely mentioned Austria. He rarely mentioned Vienna. So he rarely said anything to his daughter about their family. No wonder Marie lived with confusion.
The overwhelming majority of her friends had always been Germans. They lived in a German community. They lived in a German community in Texas, and they knew why they were hated. Forced into their own enclave they often had to endure jeers. Intent was clear: death of Nazis will eliminate Fredricksburg’s misery. Often they had to fight. While packs of dogs howled they had to ask why they lived where Austrians and Germans were considered dirt.
This always hurt Marie, and it didn’t help that in spite of everything her father was still considered a community leader.
Celebration of the Eucharist held special meaning for Marie, but sometimes she was caught off guard. “Because of his human nature Christ suffered too” was something that she tried not to forget.
“Remember this Marie, those chosen by God don’t hold their fate in their hands. Nor can you anticipate where God will send you.”
Left with her Bible Marie found herself feeling estranged and alone. Why did she decide to become a missionary? She preferred simple answers. Allowing for differences in personalities she considered herself no different from any other missionary. All of them had the same mission. Her life was programmed for missions. From childhood through college she was preparing to go. Her parents frequently took in missionaries on furlough.
So she learned about heathenism and felt that heathenism could only be taken by an assault. Unfortunately she didn’t find this easy. In the end she only rescued a few people from the clutches of idol worship. In the end she only rescued a few people from the clutches of Buddha.
At heart she was a teacher and taught English to children of her small village. To her students Marie promised a brighter future. All it would take was for them to learn English and turn to God to have a brighter future.
Each morning children brought her animals and vegetables to name, such as a pony and pumpkins, potatoes and a hog. Then she’d have them repeat phases such as “Good morning, dear Teacher.” One of her brightest students learned to say, “I have one brother. I am the younger sister. My family loves me so much because I am the youngest in the family.”
But with war nearby all she could promise her students was an uncertain life. So she introduced them to the phrase “Life is full of surprises” and hoped that each one of them in their own way would remain loyal to his or her king.
To her father’s unrelenting questioning about her life and Asia Marie wrote, “Am I not a woman?” To this he could only reply, “Ya.” But it wasn’t that simple. Karl hoped that one day that his daughter would admit that she needed him.
There was very little personal information in her letters. All she ever wrote about was her folk. “Her people,” particularly men were small in stature. Men were also dark, while women were almost all brown. Karl wondered what was going on.
Karl never complained directly to Marie but attributed his daughter’s attitude to a reluctance of young people to accept guidance.
Meanwhile Marie’s life shifted even more away from agape. In order to adapt to a foreign land Marie occupied herself with all aspects of love. She discovered love. She discovered love for the first time, and love to her had to be more than puppy love or love for or from a parent. So soon she found herself very susceptible to a Frenchman’s advances and tried to explain it to her father. From then on Rev. Hertzel had one additional thing to worry about. And he therefore told his daughter that it was time that she seriously considered marriage.
Marie’s dilemma and zeal were not uncommon. Then to be disappointed over finding out that her students really hadn’t gotten past the fact that their teacher was a foreigner. Her students were very polite. They were very polite but their smiles were almost impossible to interpret.
There came a point when she wanted to give up. As for her frustration she was told that, as long as she was Christ-centered, it didn’t matter how well she did because the Lord was in charge. And of course, without help of the Lord, “our cake will naturally fall flat.” They told her this, and she was expected to pray herself out of her problems.
Marie also craved news from home, but frequently news she got plunged into a fracas on her doorstep. So she decided to abandon teaching and to get her hands really dirty. She went to work in a refugee camp. Working in a refugee camp was like her grandmother’s life work, and it became both a blessing and a curse. Each day Marie faced personal threats. Each day she got her hands dirty, but she continued to serve Jesus while threatened with malaria, diarrhea, scabies, and conjunctivitis. Overwhelmed she often wept. She was often overwhelmed.
Each day at the camp placed her in the company of bad people. She didn’t mind bad people. She didn’t run from bad people. To her good people were less evident than bad ones. She hadn’t heard yet the French expression “in the night all cats are gray.”
On hearing about life in the camp Rev. Hertzel wrote to his daughter and said: “I know it has been hell. But … with every act of kindness a price is paid and often that price is dear. And isn’t it with such people, those with rods and whips, that God asks us to form a connection? Perhaps you can, as you say, ‘Bring about change and force others to rethink the game’, but what if rules of the camp were dictated by, say, an eager Nazi-besotted twenty-year-old who happens to be your brother? And what if he believed in Hitler? I know God hasn’t made it easy for you. However pray, and you’ll find that it would be wrong to be too sanguine. You may feel that I’m completely apathetic, which sadly may be true. Strange, isn’t it? So what’s happened to me?”
Marie tried to control herself. Then she laid her father’s letter down and wrote him back. “Dear father, my work has brought me in contact with atrocities that you wouldn’t believe. It has brought me in contact with atrocities that you wouldn’t know anything about.” Then she went on to write: “You couldn’t possibly fathom the level of brutality and inhumanity that I see every day.” But of course he could.
Nothing helped. Then she turned to her Bible, opened it to John 15:17, and read a commandment about loving one another. “But they hate me, do you hear, daddy! They hate me! But if you were to look at what I’ve done you would know that there was no reason for their hatred.”
“History has its lessons, and the fiction is that each of our experiences are unique,” replied Rev. Hertzel. “Never is conceit more obvious than in young visionaries who strike out on personal missions to save the world. Missionaries are visionaries. But as soon as he or she stumbles into a snake pit or a dunghill, from that moment on he or she believes nothing could be worse. But how could they be so wrong? Believe me, you haven’t seen the worst. And you haven’t seen the end of it. And believe me, sorrow that is never spoken is the heaviest burden. I’d like to be able to say to my brother, ‘while the world may hate you, what do I care what the world thinks: I love you.”
By all accounts Marie’s stay in Vienna didn’t help her much, and she couldn’t blame it on how depressing the magnificent city on the Danube can be in the wintertime, or from having to adjust from being suddenly transplanted from warm Asia to a cold place. Instead Marie found herself trying to relate to her uncle Niki, who by then had settled into a routine … the routine of a recluse.
Niki already suffered from guilt. Marie could share with him her own feelings of desperation. Meanwhile all she knew about her family’s connection with the holocaust was this: her father spent much of the war in a Nazi concentration camp, which in her mind should’ve made him want to go back home, but instead he immigrated to Texas. Was he ever intending to go back? He refused to say. During all those years he rarely mentioned his brother and then only when questioned.
Her father also failed to tell her the truth about his family’s role in Austria’s persecution of Jews. His silence fueled Marie’s curiosity and made a visit to Vienna necessary. For the short span of thirty-two years both her uncle and his deeds were buried, and later she regretted that she unburied them. Curiosity still had a strong pull. Curiosity pulled her to Vienna. But Marie unfortunately wasn’t able to change anything.
Much of her time in Vienna Maria spent wandering up and down streets. She wandered up and down streets trying to unravel the alchemy of this great metropolis. This seemed easier to her than facing her uncle. It took a while for her digest why he didn’t want to see her …. why Niki wouldn’t open his door. And why after she identified herself, he still wouldn’t open it. Why they talked through the door instead of sitting down for a long chat.
There came a point when indignation became meaningless to her and Marie realized that she couldn’t distinguish herself from those who wove the rope or built the gallows. Her sense of propriety or pity for victims may have been sincere, but crimes of her family were real and made her feel ashamed. And there remained for her the fact that her uncle was still alive.
And then there were those like her grandmother who carried on their lives knowing that the level of persecution would escalate. For instance when synagogues were burned down her grandmother felt that this destruction marked the beginning of the end of mankind and yet she carried on like nothing was happening. Yet it was a time when man played God and brought about the fiery ruin of Europe. Remember they chose to believe what they were told: that Jews were being resettled while they watched detention of their neighbors from their balconies. They naturally felt sad and sympathetic, but honestly could they get away with saying “realistically we couldn’t do anything about it?”
So they stood by as Vienna, the Vienna they loved began to burn. They saw an old synagogue, somewhat oriental in appearance, owing to gilded filigree and vivid frescoes and worn Persian rugs and fake marble columns, burn throughout the night. To make matters worse no one thought to save the Torah. From one end of Vienna to the other something terrible was clearly happening. Yet they carried on pretending they couldn’t do anything about it.
Now how about places where Niki served? Back then the village of Jozefow still had wooden houses, with thatch roofs, open central fireplaces, and separate yards for livestock. In 1942 men and women of the battalion were green and ill prepared for what they were asked to do. They weren’t prepared for killing. Jozefow was pleasant enough. Not too far away there was a beech forest where Niki could find solitude. Niki could talk about finding solitude. Following little streams he could never climb past the tree line, but if he could’ve wind would’ve made him shiver. He liked sitting on leaves. He enjoyed walking through leaves. By enjoying a peaceful walk he could get away from war and killing. His job required a certain amount of acclimation. All and all Niki always said his stay in Poland was memorable. In many ways it was the most exhilarating time of his life.
For the longest time Niki couldn’t show any feelings. He didn’t show any feelings, which was similar to the reaction of many survivors. His eyes would seem fixed and glazed. Now the rest he sought lay only in a grave.
Bright or dark, quiet or stormy, regardless, Niki’s door was always locked. No fresh air got in. His flat was musty, cluttered, and dirty.
Marie wanted to see Vienna, and she wanted her uncle to show her around. This didn’t happen. It was then hard to say what she was looking for. Wasn’t she expecting too much? They still were arresting people then, and no one knew when and where it would stop. War was never sane or pretty.
To Marie Vienna seemed filled with phosphorescent glitter. It caught her eye and stimulated her, so much so that she had to tour the whole city. Since her uncle wasn’t available she was left on her own and nearly forgot her reason for coming.
Now what would Marie have done had she been told the truth? What would she have done had Niki talked to her? As it was, her defenses were knocked down. Her belief in the power of God created a sense of false security and instilled in her the belief that everyone was essentially good.
Up until then Niki hadn’t been indicted. Up until then, out of fear of where it might lead, the public was hesitant to dig very deeply. Instead people preferred to excuse themselves from culpability, as outrage from around the world increased. The rest of the world unfortunately wasn’t satisfied. Then as a tide of ire focused on the past and people began digging into things there was an undertow of fear. Of course Niki knew his time had passed and spent time waiting.
Meanwhile wind outside her hotel rattled windows. Marie’s message, if she had given one, dealt with a God who destroyed almost all human beings in a flood, and as a cure God killed people for sinning. Now this God saddened by what He’d seen closed His eyes to allow genocide, or so it seemed. When in fact Jesus wept; and with tears (for how could He have not wept), said she. Jesus offered hope that must’ve seemed farfetched to many victims of the Holocaust. As a missionary Marie said she was always conscious of this.
Each day as she stood over a huge kettle of vegetable soup, and dished out small portions, Maria said a few words of encouragement to each refugee, all of whom seemed frightened and exhausted. In this way she was like her grandmother. This description would’ve reminded Niki of his mother and how he imagined she showed favoritism to certain people by giving them bigger portions. With food in Vienna in short supply Pauline’s friends had a better chance of surviving.
Neither a Nazi nor a thug, in fact, would’ve been a description that fit many of those who feared prosecution. But courage! Niki tried to tell himself not to look back, but unfortunately emotions too often got in the way.
Truth should’ve shown how a contest between the devil and God was steadily but fervently advanced. Splattered brains and shattered pieces of bone stuck to clothing. There was always a trail to the dead. Another body, another and another. Would Niki ever be safe?
Will it take fifty years for Niki to ask for penitence? On the other hand the world witnessed trials at Nuremberg. Niki’s own defense would’ve been relatively simple. For the record he never killed for killing sake. In Poland he had orders, which he followed. He was only following orders.
National frenzy created expectations. None of them wanted to admit that they personally had anything to do with the holocaust. They received orders. What choice did they have? It never crossed their minds that they could disobey orders. “An extremely interesting task.” Unfortunately for them most of them weren’t emotionless or reluctant stooges.
Very few of them could give accounts of their activities during the war without resorting to inaccuracies. Truth was, dedicated or not, many of them craved power that marked their trade. And they couldn’t be redeemed. And they may have tried to control their emotions but were rarely shaken by blood and guts. Due to the nature of the mission Niki became hard as granite, but by the time Marie knocked on his door he was very fragile and wouldn’t likely go out in public again. But remember killing Jews was sanctioned and was never considered criminal.
Listen all you self-righteous bastards! Listen, and be thankful you didn’t live in Austria during that time! To his dying day Niki was never free. Memories were so harsh.
Niki didn’t know the meaning of mercy. Still he never considered himself a criminal. Delayed judgment to avoid the influence of half-truths. He claimed he knew nothing about death camps, particularly Auschwitz-Birkenau, though he admitted he was stationed in Poland. Systematic gassing of Jews made it impossible for Niki to get a fair trial, while the outcry was indispensable to the liberators. It was their hides they were after.
As their world disintegrated killing persisted until the very end. When it was finally over they still couldn’t face Jews. The truth was, in all likelihood, they continued to lie to themselves.
Allow the dead to speak. There seemed to be confusion over who was guilty. Nazis burned many synagogues, while many more people warmed their hands over the fires. Morally, and in the interest of justice, conventional explanations had to be questioned. A cry for vengeance pointed to a widespread belief that they were all demons, while Niki’s mother (Marie’s grandmother) personified sweet charity. She was beautiful inside. She thought Niki’s joining the police force was a good opportunity for him and never objected to his being drawn to killing operations.
Eight or ten weeks after Marie left Vienna, Karl (from Texas) graciously called his brother long distance. Karl mentioned his cancer. Before this Niki hadn’t heard from his brother in over twenty years. There was little doubt that Marie told her father about how her uncle wouldn’t open his door. Marie told him how his brother wouldn’t talk to her … wouldn’t talk to her even after she identified herself. The brothers talked for over two hours. It cost Karl a fortune. From what he said Niki could tell that he had a fascination for life and living. But details about his life in Texas failed to interest Niki. Niki felt it was time Karl heard the truth about their dad, but talking about their mother taking on Eva led to a shouting match. Some things should’ve been left unsaid. They should’ve just talked about how much the two women liked each other.
The case of Eva also then merited attention. Niki said she died in the Airport Camp, a work camp in Lublin. There were advantages there, out of which rose temptation (particularly in their father’s mind) to think she would be safe. Few details were known about life in the camp. Few people survived it.
Their father was involved. Niki said he hadn’t known it. Their mother too. She was implicated too. Their allegiance to the Third Reich made them desperate. Catastrophe swallowed up their little world. With a large German community South America certainly looked safe. Their parents were strong individuals, respected in their circles. Their father gave his life to the court, while their mother was beautiful inside.
Niki blamed their dad, who was considered dispensable, while he participated in Eichmann’s game. The truth was that out of five people in their family (Eva was considered family) one was considered inferior and by law was legislated out of existence. It was essential for them to obey the law. German laws made the stakes high.
At the end of the war their parents went separately to the train depot and met each other again after a short wait. They first acknowledged each other from a distance and then exchanged a few words acting like they were strangers. They were actually too afraid to have a normal conversation.
On the day of Eva’s departure they invited her to eat breakfast at their table where they entered into a lively debate. Then in front of everyone Fritz gave Eva a pair of Nylons. Some time after that a clock struck seven. Pauline looked rather sad and asked to be excused. So Niki took this as a cue and also excused himself. Fritz and Eva then talked. At this critical moment they assumed Karl was well on his way to America. Niki was luckily easily distracted by a radio and was left alone to enjoy music on the fm.
Sunlight poured through a window, providing warmth which otherwise wouldn’t have been in the room. In spite of a chill Eva intimated that Fritz shouldn’t worry about her. She presented him then with a small photograph of herself. Niki didn’t see his father’s reaction.
This was a dreadful trial for Pauline. No doubt Fritz’s affection for Eva always hurt her. Niki imagined Eva barely holding back tears. Maybe she cried. Eva didn’t fight.
Who could believe that Fritz loved both women? And yet Niki thought he did. Niki knew he did. Somehow Eva managed a smile. In spite of her smile she must’ve known she was losing a family. She had to have known what was going to happen to her. She needed more time. She needed to stretch time … make more of time. She needed to hold them all and needed more time for words and sentiment.
At that critical moment everything was at stake. Fritz knew that unless he let Eva go his life … they all would be disgraced and probably killed. Fritz didn’t feel he had a choice. He loved Eva. Eva must’ve been keenly aware of how much he loved her and how difficult letting her go was for him. After that they weighed their choices before summoning the Gestapo.
Niki would always say Eva perished on her feet, but he could see how she might not have died that way. He had vivid memories … vivid memories of Eva and others. He liked to think she never stopped fighting. And as for his father… drove forever by the wrath of an angry woman.