Leo Baeck 2


Mar 2006 Journal

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Point of View

My love-hate relationship with Vienna

It was in the late forties that they put words to Johann Strauss's Emperor Waltz. There I was, in my teens, living in a market town called Banbury, when up swelled the words 'I was born in Vienna'. My wife is puzzled that the Emperor Waltz is so meaningful to me. 'How can you feel anything for a town, a country, a people, that threw you and your family out?', she asks. I haven't a clue, but I do.

My father was a doctor in Vienna. Then along came the Nazis, and they wanted to kill us. My father was due to go to Dachau. Only through the kindness of a patient who warned him that his name was on a list of Jews due for arrest did he not perish. A couple of months later we were on our way to Switzerland, and then to England. The Austrians had welcomed the Anschluss and embraced National Socialism with as much ardour as the Germans. My mother and I were in our apartment in Vienna on Kristallnacht when the Nazis destroyed it, as well as my father's surgery. My father? Together with his brother, he was caught attempting to climb into Switzerland and sent back to Vienna minus a few teeth.

So here we were in England (in Hampstead, where else?) with hardly any money, no knowledge of the language, and with my father's job prospects as a doctor almost negligible. We did have his Josef Schmidt records, brought from Vienna, to cheer us up. We also listened to all Viennese music on the 'wireless' - Strauss and Lehar (and yes, before you accuse the family of being lowbrow, Mozart too!). We followed the fortunes of Arsenal and West Ham football clubs because Hakoah of Vienna, a Jewish team, played against them in the thirties and my father was its club doctor.

Eventually, my father was allowed to work as a doctor, first in Becontree, then in Banbury. Richard Tauber was becoming popular. We listened to him avidly every Sunday, along with Albert Sandler's Grand Hotel. Ninety minutes of Viennese music. Bliss!

My mother. The Frau Doktor! She was a great cook. And what did she mostly cook? Viennese dishes, of course! Tafelspitz, Wiener Schnitzel, Rostbraten, Apfel Strudel, and Kaiserschmarren.

My first holiday to Vienna was in 1948. The city was still divided into four sectors. Wien 2 - the old Jewish area - had been allocated to the Russians. It looked as if the war was still being fought there. Nothing had been rebuilt. With trepidation, we went on to the Friedhof, near the airport, to visit the graves of my sister and grandfather. Thankfully, though overgrown, they hadn't been desecrated.

Later, we walked round the Stadtpark, pausing to listen to the music played at the Kursalon. We went to Grinzing to see if the Heurigens still existed. My father sought out the Kaffeehäuser he had frequented before the war. And we visited Baden bei Wien and Semmering. What memories these two small towns must have evoked for my parents. Then it was back to Banbury!

Visiting Vienna became a yearly pilgrimage for us. And in the eighties, after my parents died, I took my wife and four children there to show them where I had lived. The house had been destroyed. But the Prater was there in the background, with its famous Riesenrad, though there was no sign of Harry Lime! I intend taking some of my 11 grandchildren there this year.

Yes, I love Vienna - even though I was only three when I left. Sacher versus Demel: who cares? But how typically Viennese! How much greater a place Vienna would be if only the Jews hadn't been forced to flee!
Peter Phillips (born Peter Pfeffer)

previous article:Poor Bert Brecht
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