Saturday, November 26, 2016

Gangs of thugs in brown shirts owned the streets. They drove around in trucks, flashing their guns and their swastika armbands, hooting at the pretty girls. If they wanted to pick you up or beat you up, they did so with impunity. Anybody who resisted was beaten or killed or taken away to Dachau or Buchenwald or some other concentration camp. (You must understand that at that time, the concentration camps were prisons where opponents of the Nazi regime were detained . . . The inmates were made to work at hard labor and lived in dreadful conditions, but the words 'concentration camp' came to stand for monstrous cruelty and almost certain death. Nobody even imagined there would one day be a death camp like Auschwitz.)

Cheering crowds greet Hitler as he enters Vienna. Austria, March 1938.
Cheering crowds greet Hitler as he enters Vienna. Austria, March 1938.
Wide World Photo

How can I describe to you our confusion and terror when the Nazis took over? We had lived until yesterday in a rational world. Now everyone around us -- our schoolmates, neighbours, and teachers; our tradesmen, policemen, and bureaucrats -- had all gone mad. They had been harboring a hatred for us which we had grown accustomed to calling 'prejudice'. What a gentle word that was! What a euphemism! In fact they hated us with a hatred as old as their religion; they were born hating us, raised hating us; and now with the Anschluss, the veneer of civilization which had protected us from their hatred was stripped away.

Jews in Vienna forced to scrub Schuschnigg's slogans off the sidewalk --

On the pavements, protesters had written anti-Nazi slogans. The SS grabbed Jews and forced them at gunpoint to scrub off the graffiti while crowds of Austrians stood around jeering and laughing.

The Nazi radio blamed us for every filthy evil thing in this world. The Nazis called us subhuman and, in the next breath, superhuman; accused us of plotting to murder them, to rob them blind; declared that they had to conquer the world to prevent us from conquering the world. The radio said that we must be dispossessed of all we owned; that my father, who had dropped dead while working, had not really worked for our pleasant flat -- the leather chairs in the dining room, the earrings in my mother's ears -- that he had somehow stolen them from Christian Austria, which now had every right to take them back.

Members of the League of German Girls wave Nazi flags in support of the German annexation of Austria. Vienna, Austria, March 1938.
Members of the League of German Girls wave Nazi flags in support of the German annexation of Austria. Vienna, Austria, March 1938.   — Dokumentationsarchiv des Oesterreichischen Widerstandes

Did our friends and our neighbors really believe this? Of course they didn't believe it. They were not stupid. But they had suffered depression, inflation, and joblessness. They wanted to be well-to-do again, and the fastest way to accomplish that was to steal. Cultivating a belief in the greed of the Jews gave them an excuse to steal everything the Jews possessed.

We sat in our flats, paralyzed with fear, waiting for the madness to end. Rational, charming, witty, dancing, generous Vienna must surely rebel against such insanity We waited and we waited and it didn't end and it didn't end and still we waited and we waited.

The restrictions against Jews spread into every corner of our lives. We couldn't go to movies or concerts. We couldn't walk on certain streets. The Nazis put up signs on Jewish shop windows warning the population not to buy there. Mimi was fired from her job at the dry cleaners because it had become illegal for Christians to employ Jews. Hansi was no longer allowed to go to school.

SS men supervise the confiscation of goods belonging to Jews deported from Vienna --

Uncle Richard went to the cafe where he had been going for twenty years. It now had a Jewish side and an Aryan side, and he sat on the Jewish side. Because he had fair hair and didn't look Jewish, a waiter, who did not know him, said he had to move to the Aryan side. But on the Aryan side, a waiter who did know him said that he had to go back to the Jewish side. He finally gave up and went home.

Baron Louis de Rothschild, one of the wealthiest Jewish men in Vienna, tried to leave the city. The Nazis stopped him at the airport and put him in prison, and whatever they did to him there convinced him that he ought to sign over everything to the Nazi regime. Then they let him leave. The SS took over the Rothschild Palace on Prinz Eugenstrasse and renamed it the Center for Jewish Emigration.

Right after Grandmother died, the world held a conference at Evian-les-Bains, a luxurious spa in the French Alps near Lake Geneva, at which the fate of the Austrian Jews was up for discussion. Eichmann sent representatives of our community to plead with other countries to pay the Nazi ransom and take us in. "Don't you want to save the urbane, well-educated, fun-loving, cultured Jews of Austria?" they asked. "How about paying $400 a head to the Nazi regime? Too much? How about $200?"

They couldn't get a cent.

No country wanted to pay for our rescue, including the United States. The dictator of the Dominican Republic, Trujillo, took a few Jews, thinking they might help bring some prosperity to the tiny, impoverished country. I have heard that they did.
Transport list of Viennese Jews --

From the NAZI Officer's WIFE -- Edith Hahn Beer, c.1999

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