Jul 2002 Journal

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Desperately seeking solidarity (Part 1)

If there is one German word I would like to see anglicised, it is solidarisieren, best paraphrased as 'displaying solidarity with someone'. The reason for this request is that I have been looking for a focus of solidarity since the age of ten. In February 1934, the Sozialdemokratische Partei, in whose sheltering shade I had grown up, disappeared, not so much in a puff of smoke, as in a bloody artillery bombardment. This left an aching hole in my family's life: no more daily copies of Die Arbeiterzeitung, no more screenings of Dreigroschenoper at the nearby Arbeiterheim and no more May Day processions along the Ringstrasse. (At the last officially permitted march-past in May 1933, my father had hoisted me on his shoulders and I had actually glimpsed my mother's brother carrying the banner of the Bank Employees' Union.)

When I was eleven my mother's chagrin at the turn of events found expression in a bitter quip on a visit to her dressmaker. Surveying the surroundings from the balcony of the latter's council flat, she said: "It seems to me that the red dogs have done you proud." (Rote Hunde had been the favourite right-wing epithet for members of the Socialist-controlled Vienna Municipality.) Aged twelve, following in the footsteps of my late, more Jewish-oriented father, I became a Zionist. I joined the G'dud Zirim youth movement, acquiring their shirt, kerchief and toggle. I attended meetings, went to summer camp, practised hora dancing and learnt about the Dreyfus trial, the Zionist congress at Basle and the Kishinev pogrom. My old pantheon of heroes - Viktor Adler, Lassalle, Otto Bauer (all of them, incidentally, Jewish) - was superceded by the new one of Herzl, Bialik and Trumpeldor. At thirteen, we were taught the 1848 Revolution at school. When the History teacher identified the leader of the Paris uprising as one Louis Blanc, my heart swelled with pride because I was convinced that this hero of the barricades had been born Ludwig Weiss.

At fourteen, I became a Kindertransportee. In May 1939, after half a year's nomadic existence, I thought I had at last found a snug berth. This was in a servant's outhouse attached to a clap-boarded 'stockbroker's residence' in Lingfield, Surrey. My employers were nothing if not 'top drawer'. Mr Eden was a cousin of Sir Anthony's, and his wife the daughter of a bishop of London. Alas, the Edens also evinced many traits advocates of class war ascribe to the 'upper class'. The public school-educated husband projected aloofness, while 'Madam' was a termagant, given to staging forays into the kitchen lest the kindly under-age - and correspondingly underpaid - maid gave me too many second helpings. But that was only one side of the story. The other concerned my own defects, which - in contrast to theirs - were not a character trait. Having been taken on as a handyman, I turned out to be spectacularly unhandy. Although I subsequently held down long-term manual jobs - baisting hand, centre-lathe operator - without courting dismissal, the daily task of lighting the Edens' basement boiler proved quite beyond me. My maladroitness compelled Mr Eden to take cold baths on several mornings before disconsolately boarding the 8.57 to the City. Within days, Madam's habitual ill-temper escalated to near-apoplexy. She notified Bloomsbury House of my dereliction of duty and sent me back to the refugee camp post haste.

The second and final part of this article will appear in the next issue of AJR Journal.
Richard Grunberger

previous article:First-time playwright (profile)