Apr 2013 Journal
Letters to the Editor
SCHOOL FOR ‘HIGH FLYERS’
Sir – In the second of his excellent articles on Viennese Jewry (February 2013), Anthony Grenville names several schools which were popular with Jewish families. However, he omits one school which was highly regarded, particularly by more traditional families, and which deserves to be mentioned: the Chajes Gymnasium. It was situated in the Leopoldstadt and named after an esteemed chief rabbi of Vienna. The school admitted only Jewish pupils. It taught all the usual subjects, like any other secondary school, but in addition there was strong emphasis on all Jewish matters. Its educational standards were exceptionally high and there was a belief in the Jewish community that it was exceedingly good at producing ‘high flyers’.
There may have been some truth in this. My own short period at the school was roughly contemporary with that of Norbert Brainin, who became the leader of the great Amadeus Quartet for its entire existence, and Walter Kohn, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1998. Professor Kohn has written warmly about the excellent teaching there, particularly in physics and mathematics, and regarded this as important for his later outstanding scientific achievements. A history of the alumni of the Chajes Gymnasium might be quite interesting.
The Chajes Gymnasium was closed by the Nazis during the war. I believe a new school with the same or similar name has now been established but I know little about it. Can anyone fill me in on this?
JEWS AT VIENNA SCHOOLS
Sir - Once again your readers must pay tribute to Dr Grenville’s learning and ability to unearth statistics on such recondite subjects as the percentage of Jewish pupils at individual grammar schools. But even Homer nods and there are two points in this learned article where the facts need correcting.
First, the picture shown on page 1 of your February issue is not that of the ‘Burgtheater on Vienna’s Ringstrasse, built 1888’ but that of the Altes Burgtheater on the Michaelerplatz, which was demolished when the Neue Burg was extended about that time. There is a memorial plaque on the site of the original Burgtheater – really inside the Hofburg, hence the name.
Second, it is not true that the Benedictine-run Schottengymnasium in ‘K.k’ times excluded Jews - the proportion was reasonably high and included such luminaries as the future Dr Victor Adler. It was only in about 1928 that the Benedictines in all Austrian and Bavarian monastic schools were ordered from on high to confine future recruitment to Catholic boys, not affecting Protestant, Jewish and other non-Catholic pupils already in the school, the last of whom finished their courses in 1936. As for the Theresianum, there was probably no specific ban on Jews, but clearly there would have been little interest from any others in a military academy-type boarding school specialising in young nobles preparing almost exclusively for a military career.
All this changed after 1918, when the Theresianum became a conventional Realgymnasium, albeit still with boarding facilities, and I know of at least one family who made sure their son in the Internat got kosher food. The family was that of the distinguished ENT surgeon H. Oppenheim, who treated the Duke of Windsor when he stayed with the Rothschilds in Lower Austria in the winter of 1936-37. This should demolish the slur that Edward VIII had Nazi sympathies, as should Dr Oppenheim’s boast that his patient had assured him that he did not like Hitler.
JEWS EXCLUDED FROM DEDICATION
Sir - The front-page photo in your February issue is, I think, the Vienna Burgtheater shortly before the 1888 reconstruction. The ‘final’ part of the Hofburg on the Inner City side already towers over the theatre to its left, ending in the archway linking the stables to the Spanish Riding School to keep the horses dry! Its building dates to a much earlier period.
I have a picture of the Burgtheater on the Ringstrasse as it appears today. The building has just been cleaned and so looks now as my grandparents would have enjoyed it. The signs forming the right-hand edge of the printed photo were replaced around the turn of the 20th century by one of Adolf Loos’s major creations – today a bank.
Just outside the photo, on the left, is St Michael’s Church. The saint stands over the portico with sword and shield. The latter, gilded, has the name of G-d inscribed in Hebrew. I recall it pre-war and the Jewish invocation of G-d survived, unaltered, the Nazi period. Inside is a chapel dedicated to the victims of Nazism, which I find utterly unsympathetic. Without judging whether it is intentional or not, I feel we are excluded. The dedication is to ‘Austrians’ who died in KZ Dachau (only!) for ‘Freedom, Right and Humanity’. Despite the reference to freedom, there is a head-and-shoulders bust of Chancellor Dr E. Dollfuss, the christo-fascist, although he was, of course, killed by the Austrian Nazis.
ECHTER WIENER ODER SCHLAWINER?
Sir - Anthony Grenville's recent erudite articles on Vienna interested me greatly. The role that city, with its vast number of Jews of varied backgrounds, used to play was indeed unique.
It used to be common, if somewhat derogatory, to enquire of a person 'Ist er ein echter Wiener oder ein Schlawiner?' - a made-up word meaning someone from one of the surrounding Slav countries which made up the Austro-Hungarian Empire, whose Jews were held to be somewhat less cultured than those born and bred in Vienna.
DAYS OF THE DORICE
Sir - Lauren Collins’s article ‘Days of the Dorice’ in your March issue brought back some quite emotional and poignant memories to me and probably to many other readers.
Before it was the Dorice, where so many of us enjoyed ‘Kaffee und Kuchen’, the restaurant was called Balsam. Here at the weekend one could dine by candlelight - and it had a small dance floor! By the Finchley Road Station side of John Barnes was a delicatessen shop named Assan, which was open all hours, including evenings and weekends, quite a rarity in those days. It was filled with delicious Continental foods, which we hadn’t seen in a long time.
John Barnes itself had a restaurant where many of our parents (I am Second Generation) were able to sit for hours, sometimes with just a single cup of tea or coffee. On the other side of Finchley Road, opposite the Cosmo Restaurant, was the Peter Herz Revue, a small theatre group staging operettas, plays and suchlike, and at Swiss Cottage in Eton Avenue was the Laterndl. Both, I believe, were of Austrian origin, often bringing some light-heartedness into our sometimes sad or lonely lives!
Thankfully, we have all moved on and at times relish our memories.
Sir - We were very interested to read Lauren Collins’s article as my husband’s aunt was named Elsa Rosenbaum and I think she must be the lodger written about in this article. Her brother, my father-in-law, was Edward Rosenbaum and my mother-in-law was Helen. They came to England from Hamburg in 1935-6. They lived in Finchley and had two children: Michael, my husband, and Gudula, my sister-in-law. I wonder if Lauren's grandparents knew Edward, Helen and the children?
Sadly, Michael died in 2004 but Gudula Rosenbaum, who is 93, is still living in Chalk Farm.
We would be very interested to hear more about Lauren's memories of Elsa.
Sir - I spent many happy hours with my parents at both the Cosmo and the Dorice, often bringing my children along for a special afternoon treat in the mid-l960s. Reading your excellent article, I felt as if I myself was being transported back to a very special era.
Maybe the Second and Third Generations can find a special place to meet and shmooze?
GOOD OLD AJR
Sir – Following the publication of my letter (‘The day I kissed Richard Tauber’) in your February issue, thank you so much for putting me in touch with Mrs Gerti Baruch. She, her mother and sister were very old family friends with whom we had lost touch. My sisters - both older and living abroad - will be equally thrilled to have news. Good old AJR does it again! What would we all do without you …?
INVITATION TO PARTICIPATE IN A VIDEO DOCUMENTARY
Sir - As a university student with a Master's degree in Peace and Conflict Studies from the European Peace University in Austria, and currently a PhD student in Political Science at the University of Vienna, I would like to share with you my film documentary project, which, I hope, will contribute towards peace and understanding in our society. It is a documentary about those who escaped or survived the Holocaust.
As one of the editors and producers of this documentary, I live in Vienna, where I was born, and from where also my great-grandmother (Mathilde Brosam) was deported and died in Theresienstadt. My great-aunt (Anna Brosam) was also murdered by the Nazis in Hartheim, a euthanasia killing facility.
I would like to interview readers who escaped/survived the Holocaust personally if you are in or near Vienna and, if you are far away, via a hired camera person. I am flexible and can accommodate you according to your time schedule. I am hoping that perhaps you can also recommend to me others who escaped or survived the Holocaust and are still able and willing to be interviewed.
EXPULSION OF ETHNIC GERMANS FROM EASTERN EUROPE
Sir - It is gratifying that my review of the book on the expulsion of the ethnic Germans from Eastern Europe (December) elicited letters from four of your readers (January and March), if only because it is good to know that my reviews are read.
However, two of those readers (Eric Bourne and Frank Bright) clearly didn’t get the message. Neither the author of the book nor I attempted to exonerate the Germans who had lived, and often behaved badly, in Poland, Czechoslovakia and other East European countries. The author of the book described and deplored the barbaric treatment meted out to these people as the War ended - measures that were akin to those used by the Nazis against Jews as well against their political opponents - and I entirely agree with him, as do the other two of your correspondents.
Sir - Frank Bright's letter (March) expressed the sentiments of most Sudetenland Jews regarding the expulsion of the Sudeten Germans by the Czechs after the war. I was born in Teplitz-Schönau and spent my early years in the town, as did my family, who had lived in and around Teplitz for over 250 years. Mr Henlein and his Nazis agitated to leave the democratic state of Czechoslovakia and join the dictatorship of Nazi Germany. Within days of the German occupation I was told to leave school, my father's business was confiscated, my gentile friends refused to play with me, and my parent's lifetime friends shunned them. Within weeks we left for Prague and our flat, and most of its contents, was occupied by our erstwhile neighbours. Eventually we finished up in England.
Many years later I took my family, children and grandchildren, back to visit Teplitz. As my family stood and looked at my grandfather's house while I was photographing them, I heard German spoken just behind me. It was two couples discussing where they had lived round the corner. They asked if I had come from the area. I said yes. Their next question was ‘And when did they throw you out?’ I answered ‘In 1938.’ They looked at me in astonishment and asked ‘Why then?’ When I replied ‘Because I am a Jew,’ the expression on their faces was something I will never forget. Yes Mr Bright, they got what they wanted and the misery they deserved.
COMPLEX LIVES, COMPLEX IDENTITIES
Sir - A sociologist or a psychiatrist could have a field day with your correspondence regarding identity. Your latest contributor, Margarete Stern (March), is a valuable addition in that she expands on this topic - even though she finds it pointless - and concludes with ‘I am just so different.’
Yes, we all are – from the chap who, feeling British, supports his local football team, to Mrs Stern, the Franconian-born Jewess who does not feel British. She left Nazi Germany in 1933 and wound up in Britain with her parents.
The 10,000 Kindertransport children came without their parents. They present 10,000 different stories. I was one of them. My guardian taught me how to dry-fly fish on the river Itchen and how to train gun dogs. He was ‘Uncle’ and his Scottish aristocratic wife ‘Auntie’. They sent me to boarding school. Other ‘Kinder’ wound up being badly treated servants. Complex lives, complex identities. And aren’t we all lucky to have survived! I, happily, as a Bavarian-Jewish Brit.
Sir – Margarete Stern’s interesting article reminds me of a train journey to my native Vienna some time in the late 1950s.
Passport control at the Austrian border carefully examined my British passport and, handing it back with a smile, said ‘So an schönen Pass hat er und is eh a Österreicher!’ (He’s got such a nice passport and he’s an Austrian for all that!). I looked at him and shook my head. ‘Not any more,’ I said, ‘Jetzt nicht mehr!’
Lord Tebbitt would be pleased: I have switched my allegiance from FC Austria to Manchester United!
Sir - If Margarete Stern thinks a discussion about whether refugees feel or don’t feel British is a pointless exercise, why does she write a long blog about it? Perhaps it is because she feels guilty that she doesn’t even ‘pretend to feel British’. I suggest to her that maybe she should return to Germany. Evidently she feels more at home there.
LETTER ABOUT ISRAEL?
Sir - I was most disappointed that the February ‘Letter from Israel’ by Dorothea Shefer-Vanson had nothing whatsoever to do with Israel. I was under the impression that the intention of the ‘Letter’ was to inform us of aspects of life in that country. Clearly this is not the case. Several previous ‘Letters from Israel’ tended to be trivial and did not deal with any of the many serious issues in Israel which I am sure most readers would like to read about.