For a dyed-in-the-wool social democrat like the journalist, translator and writer Maurus (Moritz) Mezei, the changes that quickly took hold in Austria after the country’s unimpeded annexation by Nazi Germany must have been doubly troubling. During the period known as “Red Vienna,” the first-ever period of democratic rule in the city from 1918 to 1934, the Mezei family had moved to the “Karl-Marx-Hof,” a public housing project. Starting in 1938, “non-Aryan” families, including the Mezeis, were threatened with expulsion from the compound. Tenant protections initially remained in place for Jews, but they no longer applied to public housing. On June 10, Mezei had applied for immigration to Switzerland, but the reply, written on July 14, was negative. Only if he was to procure an immigration visa from a country overseas would Swiss immigration authorities reconsider his case and possibly grant temporary asylum.
Until 1938, dozens of Jewish periodicals managed to withstand the mounting pressure of the regime. However, even since 1935, they were no longer publicly for sale, and since 1937, their freedom of reporting had been severely curtailed. After the Pogrom Night of November 9th to 10th (later known as “Kristallnacht”), a comprehensive prohibition brought the over-130-year history of the Jewish press in Germany to an abrupt halt. In order to be able nevertheless to spread official communiques through a paper aimed specifically at Jews, a Jewish newsletter, the “Jüdische Nachrichtenblatt” was established, the first issue of which was published on November 23rd in Berlin. Albeit edited by Jews, it was under total control of the Reich Ministry of Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda. On December 13th, the Vienna edition appeared for the first time.
When, in November 1938, Gertrude Fichmann gave her 12-year-old son, Harry, a diary in which to record the family’s emigration experience, she had no idea at which point they would leave and where their journey would take them. Nor could she have anticipated just how eventful a time was coming up for Austrian Jewry in general and for her family in particular. As almost every day brought new, disturbing incidents, Harry would record the latest developments regularly and articulately. Witnessing the frightening events and watching the fear of the adults in his life clearly took a toll on him: on December 11th, he describes having spent the night tortured by nightmares.
Every now and then, the diary of the Viennese boy Harry Kranner-Fiss deals with topics appropriate to a 12-year-old: doing mischief at school, excitement about new clothes, a “grown-up” haircut, playing with friends. But more often than not, Harry’s eloquent entries reflect his keen awareness of the threatened state of Jews in Austria in 1938: they deal with an uncle’s deportation to the Dachau concentration camp, his aunt being locked out of her apartment and the key being confiscated, his mother’s tears of fear and worry, with curfews, public humiliation and violence. No wonder that his stepfather was incessantly trying to find a way to leave the country. Promising reactions were slow in coming, but on December 7, 1938, just days after receiving a promise of an affidavit for immigration to the US, Harry was excited to record that from Australia too, a positive answer had arrived. According to an earlier entry, his stepfather had called on the British commission for Australia, which was visiting Vienna, in early November, but had been told to expect a waiting period of eight to nine months.
Had Austria’s history taken a normal course, Hanna Spitzer, a private teacher, would probably have stayed in Vienna and grown old there as a respected member of society. As a daughter of the late jurist and patron of the arts, Dr. Alfred Spitzer, she was co-heir to a major art collection comprising works by such greats as Kokoschka and Slevogt. Egon Schiele was represented too – among other works, with a portrait of Alfred Spitzer, who had been his sponsor and lawyer, and later his estate trustee. But the flood of anti-Semitic measures which had been unleashed by the “Anschluss” (the annexation of Austria to Nazi Germany) made it unbearable and dangerous to stay: this copy of a tax clearance certificate dated November 24, 1938 testifies to Hanna Spitzer’s efforts to gather the papers required for emigration. Already in January, she had arranged for the shipping of 11 containers of household effects and paintings to Melbourne and a delivery to the address of her sister, Edith Naumann, in Haifa.
For 19 years, Fritz Feldstein had been working at a bank in Vienna to the full satisfaction of his superiors. But, in 1938, after Nazi Germany annexed neighboring Austria, he lost his position. On July 5th, the family registered with the US consulate in Vienna, but for immigration, affidavits were needed. After months of deeply upsetting political changes, Fritz Feldstein ventured an unusual step. On Oct. 16th, he turned to a Julius Feldstein in Los Angeles who, he hoped, might be a relative, appealing to “the well-known American readiness to help.” Soon, a correspondence developed, also involving Fritz’s wife, Martha, and their daughter, Gerda. The 11-year-old was not only a skillful piano player, she obviously also had a knack for languages. On November 20th, she writes to the Feldsteins in California for the first time – in English.
Harry Kranner was a boy of 12 when the Nazis staged a wave of anti-Jewish violence unprecedented in scope and intensity – purportedly a “spontaneous outburst of popular rage” in reaction to the murder of an employee of the German embassy in Paris at the hand of a young Jew. However, Harry’s diary entries show that he was keenly aware of the events around him. In the early morning of November 10th, when the violent events of the night spilled over from Germany into Austria, two Gestapo officers had come to the family’s home in Vienna – ostensibly in search of weapons. Harry understood how extraordinarily lucky he was to have gotten away with nothing more than a scare. He had heard about Jews being locked into or out of their apartments. But one big worry remained: by November 12th, there was still no trace of his uncle Arthur, who had been arrested along with thousands of other Jews. Following a news report that all arrestees were to be deported to the Dachau and Mauthausen concentration camps from the Vienna Westbahnhof, Harry’s father and aunt rushed there, hoping to find uncle Arthur, but to no avail. Meanwhile, it was reported that the Jews were going to be charged a hefty penalty for the violence to which they themselves had fallen victim.
Days after his 12th birthday on April 15th, 1938, Harry Kranner, along with all his Jewish schoolmates, had been expelled from the Kandlgasse Realgymnasium in Vienna. By November, Harry’s mother, Gertrude, and his stepfather, Emil Fichmann, were making preparations for emigration. Harry shows great excitement about the prospect of traveling and the various pieces of equipment he’ll receive. In the November 8th entry in his new diary, given to him by his mother for the purpose of recording his emigration experience, he enthusiastically reports about his new leather gloves. But the bulk of the entry is concerned with the strong earthquake the night before.
In the meantime, Hedwig Weiler, the blossoming 18-year-old idealist whom Franz Kafka fell in love with during a vacation in Triesch (Moravia) in 1907 has turned into a PhD-holding academic and the wife of the engineer Leopold Herzka. The events of the year 1938 in Austria have caused their circle of friends to drift apart in all directions. On November 6, 1938, in a letter to her former neighbors in Vienna, the Buxspan (later Buxpan) family, she enumerates a long list of relatives and common friends, who have either emigrated already or are preparing to do so. What is especially hard for Hedwig Herzka is the prospect of her daughter, Edith, leaving for South America. It has made Hedwig a bundle of nerves.
The arrival of Gertrude Münzer’s first letter from Palestine was a cause for joy, relief and hope to her family that had remained behind in Austria. The Münzers were a well-integrated family, but after the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany, the tide turned and they had to endure increasing hardship, starting with their eviction from their home and Moses Münzer losing his job. With parental encouragement, Gertrude was the only member of her family to go to Palestine with a Zionist youth group. Inspired by her example, her older brother, Benno, had gone on hakhshara. In his reply to Gertrude, dated November 4th, her father pleads with the 15-year-old girl to recruit support for him at the kibbutz or elsewhere to enable him to follow with the rest of the family.
In the absence of closer relatives in America, the Metzger family of Vienna turned to their first cousin once removed, Leo Klauber, Esq., in Brooklyn, for help. Mr. Klauber was unable to personally procure affidavits for his Austrian relatives, but he promised to endeavor on their behalf. The extent of the relief caused by his promise is palpable in Eva Metzger-Hohenstein’s reply of November 1, 1938: after months of fear and despair, the Metzgers felt reinvigorated by the realistic hope for emigration, thanks to their cousin.
At the end of October, Adolph Markus looked back on an eventful month. Preceded by the Munich Conference, at which representatives of Germany, Great Britain, France and Italy decided that Czechoslovakia was to cede its borderlands (“Sudetenland”) to Germany in exchange for peace, German troops had occupied these areas, which had a sizeable German population totaling about 3 million. As Markus points out, with the Sudetenland, Czechoslovakia had lost its line of defense. According to his diary entry, both in Britain and in France, people’s relief that war had been averted was soon followed by deep suspicion regarding Hitler’s true intentions. On a more personal note, the author mentions a hair-styling course and English classes which he has been taking in Vienna, clearly in preparation for emigration. Meanwhile, due to the expectation that soon all Jews would be expelled from his home town, Linz, half of the contents of his apartment had been sold.
This photograph, taken in October 1938, shows Moses Münzer, a tailor in Vienna, and his wife Lisa, with their five children, Elfriede, Benno, Nelly, Gertrude and Siegfried. After the “Anschluss,” Moses Münzer, like many Jews, lost his job. Lisa Münzer started working as a cook in the soup kitchen of the Brigittenauer Tempel on Kluckygasse, sometimes assisted by her children. By October 21st, 15-year-old Gertrude was on her way to Palestine on Youth Aliyah, an organization founded by Recha Freier, the wife of an orthodox rabbi in Berlin, before the Nazi rise to power. Its goal was to help Jewish youth escape anti-Semitism in the Reich and settle in Palestine. Gertrude left on her own, but the intention was for the family to reunite in Palestine.
Amalia Carneri had seen better days. Once a celebrated opera and concert singer, she now had to cope with the death of her husband, the mine inspector Heinrich Pollak, as well as being forced to leave her family home of many years in Vienna and the distressing political situation all at once. In this letter, dated October 19th, to the elder of her two sons, Fritz, who had fled to America, she describes at great length her difficulties selling her possessions. Even with the assistance of a dubious helper, she is forced to sell below value. Not knowing what her widow’s pension will be and with only a vague hope to join Fritz in America one day, she is in a state of palpable restlessness, and her boys are her only comfort.
In Vienna, Hans Hochhauser, together with his brother, had been a successful manufacturer and exporter of leather goods. But just one day after the “Anschluss,” he had packed up his life and fled Austria with his wife, Greta, and his daughter, Ilse, on adventurous paths: turned back at the Czech border, the family traveled to Switzerland by train and from there to England on a chartered flight, from whence the family finally made it to the United States. Having arrived in New York, Hans Hochhauser had to start from scratch: his new company was called “Hochhauser Leather Co. Inc.” In this letter to the US Consulate General in Vienna dated October 14, 1938, accompanying an affidavit for his cousin, Arthur Plowitz, he pointed out that while his new company was still in its beginnings, he was able to take advantage of his old business network.
Already a few months back, the dentist Max Isidor Mahl and his wife, Etta, a textile worker, had submitted their visa application to the American consulate in Vienna. Ever since, they had been waiting. Etta was a native of Poland, Max Isidor a native of Ukraine. The American immigration quotas for both these countries were already filled. But time was of the essence: this bill shows that already in October, the Mahls had their entire household shipped to the United States in order to bring it to safety. Transportation from Vienna to Hamburg and then, on a freighter, to New York was expensive. It cost almost 800 Reichsmarks for the couple to send the 11 boxes containing their household effects out of the country.
It must have taken quite an effort for Eva Metzger-Hohenberg to write an imploring letter to her distant relative in Manhattan, Leo Klauber, a complete stranger to her. Her situation was precarious. There was no place for Jews in Germany anymore. Maria Metzger-Hohenberg appealed to Leo Klauber’s “humanity” and his “sense of a blood bond” and begged him to issue affidavits to her and her family. This letter from Vienna shows not only the desperate measures to which Jewish families had to resort, in order to make their emigration possible, but also drew a vivid picture of the situation in which many Jews found themselves in the Fall of 1938. Maria’s parents and her brother had to give up their butcher shop. Her husband’s wholesale business, which employed more than 140 staff members, was “aryanized.” In actuality, that meant it had to be sold for much less than its value. The fate of the Metzger-Hohenbergs was also that of countless other Jewish families during this time.
The lives of many Jews had become undone within the span of half a year, through occupational bans, Aryanization, dispossession, and denaturalization. After the Anschluss, many Austrian Jews again found themselves in an unstable and chaotic situation. It was all the more cynical then that many of them seemed to be confronted with a complicated, in some ways pedantic bureaucracy regarding visas. A September 27th, 1938 letter from the American Consulate General to Tony (Antonie) and Kurt Frenkl gives example of this: “Your visa application can be accepted at the earliest within months.” The quotas for Central European immigrants were filled. In order to be put on a waiting list for a visa, applicants had to fill in a pre-registration form. And, in order to “avoid delays,” an individual affidavit had to be submitted per person. So Tony and Kurt had to wait even longer, bracing themselves for the next bureaucratic hurdle.
Only one day after the “Anschluss” Fritz Löhner was arrested in Vienna and shortly thereafter deported to the concentration camp at Dachau. Löhner was born in Bohemia in 1883. As a young child, he moved with his parents to Vienna. By the 1920s, Beda, as Fritz Löhner sometimes called himself, had become one of the most renowned opera librettists in Vienna. On top of that, he wrote numerous lyrics (some still known today), not to mention satires and pieces for cabaret, always with a clear attitude: his time as an officer in World War I had turned him against the military. On the 23rd of September 1938, the Nazis transferred him from Dachau to the concentration camp at Buchenwald.
The passport of Martha Braun, a Viennese housewife, was issued on September 16, during the brief time window between the passing of the Executive Order on the Law on the Alteration of Family and Personal Names (August 17, 1938) and its entry into force (January 1939). According to this executive order, Jews were to add the middle name “Sara” or “Israel” to their given names. With the date of issue falling in September, Mrs. Braun received a passport without the stigmatizing addition – for the time being.
Arnold Schoenberg was a pioneer of modern compositional techniques. However, his music also polarized listeners. Some freneticially celebrated it, other rejected it as noise. On September 13th, the Vienna native celebrated his 62nd birthday. At this time the musician had been living in the United States for almost five years. Schoenberg, a son of Jewish parents, lost his position at the Prussian Academy of Art soon after the Nazis took power. Thereafter he fled first to Paris, then emigrated to the United States. In Los Angeles, he was able to resume his teaching at the University of California.
“Free-of-charge”: it may seem like a generous “offer,” but behind this “free-of-charge” offer was ice-cold calculation. The Nazis’ evil intent was that all Jews still remaining in Burgenland, Austria, should leave the region. In Nazi jargon, this was called cleansing. After the “Anschluss,” Burgenland was the first Austrian region in which they had begun to systematically dispossess and expel the Jewish population. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported on September 12th that out of the 3,800 Jews, who had previously lived in Burgenland, 1,900 had already been expelled, 1,600 people had fled temporarily to Vienna, and another 300 were interned in ghettos in Burgenland. According to JTA, the “offer” of the emigrant-smuggling group was financed by the Gestapo with 100,000 marks from the assets of the recently dispossessed Jews of the region.
At first glance it may seem abstruse. A certificate of good conduct from the police confirms to an employee of an insurance company, Franz Resler of Vienna, that he has not made himself suspicious, especially “not by panhandling.” At second glance, however, it is exactly the emphasis on panhandling that points to all the existential crises in which many Austrian Jews increasingly found themselves in 1938. With the “Anschluss” the Nazis had massively increased the economic pressure on Jews living in Austria. “Aryanisation” of companies and occupational bans deprived numerous people of their livelihood. As a result, Franz Resler and his wife Anna planned their emigration to Argentina, where Franz Resler’s sister Fanny had been living since the 1920s.
Dr. Max Wolf had already found his area of expertise years ago. Since 1922 Wolf practiced as a dermatologist in the Vienna Polyclinic as well as published numerous scientific essays in this field. The Vienna native had studied at the time of the First World War, and shortly thereafter he served on the Italian front as a M.A.S.H. doctor. Now, however, his career was about to end. After the “Anschluss,” the Nazis barred Jewish lawyers and judges in Austria from working. A ban for Jewish doctors was imminent. Meanwhile, Max and his wife Margarata Wolf prepared their emigration. The certificate about Wolf’s membership in the Viennese Society of Physicians makes it clear: Max Wolf did not intend to give up his profession while in exile.
The reason was short and simple: “Illegal entry” appears in the police document declaring a one-year ban on entry into Switzerland and Liechtenstein for Kurt Kelman. The 19-year-old student from Vienna would face imprisonment up to six months and a heavy fine if he violated this ban. Kurt Kelman had entered Switzerland from Austria not long ago and was imprisoned by the Zurich police afterward. Soon after the annexation of Austria, Switzerland passed visa obligations on Austrians. And recently it had tightened its already restrictive immigration policy. Border control and increased rejections at the border became commonplace. This was particularly hard on Austrian Jews such as the student Kurt Kelman. Since the annexation of Austria, the Nazis had heightened the pressure on Jews to emigrate enormously.
Even though expressions of anti-Semitism were common in Austrian vacation resorts decades before the annexation of Austria, a phenomenon that lead to the coining of the term “Summer Resort Anti-Semitism,” they remained popular with Austrian Jews. But when Liesl Teutsch’s uncle spent his vacation in Filzmoos in the Austrian province of Salzburg in August 1938, its spectacular vistas could not distract him from the unsettling circumstances. In this postcard to his niece in Vienna, he makes it very clear that it is not just the poor weather that prevented true rest and relaxation. He seems to be apprehensive of returning to Vienna, where an uncertain future awaits him.
Kurt Kleinmann of Vienna and Helen Kleinman in America had never met in person. After Kurt came up with the creative idea to contact a family with a similar name in New York, hoping that his American namesakes might be willing to help him procure an affidavit, an increasingly intense correspondence developed between the young man and the Kleinmans’ daughter. With determination, Helen took the matter into her hands. Three months after Kurt first contacted the Kleinmans, when Helen wrote this letter, not only was Kurt’s emigration underway, but Helen had also enlisted the help of an aunt to submit an affidavit for a cousin of his, with whom he had in the meantime managed to flee to Switzerland. What’s more she had enlisted yet another aunt to do the same for Kurt’s sister and brother-in-law, who were still stranded in Vienna.
Within the first few months after the annexation of Austria by the Nazis, Dr. Joachim Weichert, a Czech-born lawyer, lost most of his clients. He had no choice but to compile the documents necessary for emigration. In June, the family was notified by the Consulate General of the United States that valid affidavits and other documents had arrived for them from America. Nevertheless, due to the fact that the Czech quota was exhausted for the time being, they were put on a waiting list and told they wouldn’t receive visas for the next eight months. By August 22nd, it had been almost two weeks since Dr. Weichert was ordered by the Devisenstelle (financial administrative office in charge of supervising monetary transactions and emigration) in Vienna to submit within one week an itemized list of his assets. In this official communication from August 22nd, he is given an ultimatum of three days, after which criminal measures will be taken.
Hugo Jellinek was proud of his daughter Gisella, who had become a glowing Zionist during Hakhsharah and just months before had immigrated to Palestine as part of a group of daring youngsters. For her 18th birthday, not only did he send his first-born daughter congratulations, he also shared his thoughts about current events with her. From his new vantage point in Brno/Brünn (Czechoslovakia), where he had fled from Vienna after a warning, German maneuvers alongside the Czechoslovakian border were worrying him. But he was convinced that, unlike in the case of Austria, the Wehrmacht would face fierce opposition. He felt very bitter about the suspicion of and lack of solidarity with needy Jewish refugees among wealthier members of the Jewish community in Brno. Moreover, he was greatly worried by the eviction notices Austrian Jews were receiving, among them his relatives. Among all the worry and complaint was a silver lining, an acquaintance with a woman.
Until 1938, about 60,000 Jews lived in the Leopoldstadt district of Vienna, a fact that earned it the moniker “Isle of Matzos.” Between the end of World War I and the rise of “Austrofascism” in 1934, the Social-Democratic municipal government began to create public housing. By the time of the Anschluss in March 1938, there was a massive housing shortage in the city. The Nazis began to evict Jewish tenants from public housing. In light of the tendency of the police to ignore encroachment on Jewish property, it was easy for antisemitic private landlords to follow this example. Being a Jew was enough of a reason for eviction. When house owner Ludwig Munz filled in the eviction order form for his tenants Georg and Hermine Topra, he came up with as many as three reasons: his own purported need for the place, back rent, and consideration for the neighbors, who could not be expected to put up with having to live side-by-side with Jews.
This certificate, issued by the Rabbinate of the Vienna Israelite Community, was just one among a plethora of documents that Edmund Wachs had gathered in order to facilitate his emigration to the United States. Shortly after the Anschluss, Wachs was put in “protective custody,” a power handed to the Nazis by the “Decree of the Reich President for the Protection of People and State,” also known as the “Reichstag Fire Decree.” The Reichstag Fire of February 27th, 1933, an act of arson involving the German Parliament building in Berlin, served as cause and justification for this law. It was passed on the following day and legalized the arbitrary arrest of anyone suspected of lack of loyalty towards the regime. The law did not stipulate the exact elements of the alleged offence and was widely used against Jews and political opponents.