My closest friends, in the truest sense of the word, are all ex-refugees, none of them live in the U.S., but when we meet, usually once a year, distance and time seem to have made little difference to our relationship. My relationships with others is quite different, because when one has not shared a common experience, especially such a traumatic one, clearly one can never be as close.
My religious beliefs, which had always been humanist and not doctrinaire are now Unitarian-Universalist and I am active in that denomination.
I have always had and always will have an emotional attachment to the State of Israel, however stupidly they may act. They have in my eyes redeemed the Jewish psyche, which has suffered so badly because of the holocaust.
I have shared much of what happened with both of my children, but it probably had a greater impact on my son, who lives in Vienna and is constantly exposed to the history and the extensive remembrances and discussions which have taken place during the 50th anniversary year of the Anschluss. He visits the graves of his grandparents and is very much aware of what happened.
During my early visits to Vienna, I estimate that I have been back there about 30 times since the end of the war, I always made a point to walk by my old apartment house and to look at the places where I played and met my friends. It was really not very nostalgic, because it was all so run down and depressing. I have not looked at it for many years, but I am still quite conscious of it all every time I drive in the vicinity. The city as a whole still has a certain effect on me, I know it extremely well and find my way instinctively, despite the many changes the automobile and progress have wrought.
I have no animosity toward any of the [Austrians] I’ve mentioned, indeed I quite understand passivity, indifference and selfishness because it took incredible courage to resist the Nazi machine. In Poland it was a capital offense to help a Jew, despite that 2500 Poles were executed for doing so. A handful of people helped in Germany and Austria as well. I have tremendous feeling of animosity toward those who were guilty of crimes, it was a minority, as well as those of later generations who failed to punish the guilty.
There is no doubt that the Hitler period influenced my views, I was too young to have them altered. It, and I include the war as part of that period, were the most influential events of my life. I saw clearly for the first time what motivated people...greed, hate, selfishness and unselfishness. In the latter category, I remember men coming back from the concentration camps with news of my father, who could not speak highly enough of his behavior toward others during that time, such as sharing the last bit of food and always being helpful and supportive during heavy physical labor in the stone quarry in Buchenwald. i wish I knew more about it, so it could be recorded. Now no one will ever know.
I also learnt that there were people who cared for others, not necessarily just their family members, friends or even their tribe. People who wanted to correct a wrong, help the victims of injustice without any ulterior motives. I believe this to be a uniquely Anglo-Saxon virtue, a phenomenon which can be found among the British and Americans and among the latter it is not necessarily people with Anglo-Saxon roots, who display these qualities. It seems to me that it is the environment which creates and influences this behavior.
I most certainly have a tendency to feel anxious, distrustful of the future and anything but optimistic. I am also a compulsive planner, always assuming a worst case scenario and ultimately being pleasantly surprised when things turn out better than I thought they would. Whether that behavior is due to history and events affecting my basic sense of security or it is hereditary, based on the hard life of my father especially, I am not qualified to say.
My views of the “basic goodness of people” changed both for better and for worse. Do these positions cancel each other out? However, I am not disinclined to form new relationships, even at my age.
I was faced more with separation rather than loss of family and I probably substituted ultimately more by creating my own family than just simply by having friends. I felt very much as an outsider during my 10 years in Britain, where the natives have a way of making the foreign-born feel that way. The feeling persisted in the military, despite my exalted rank and also during my four years in Canada, where I kept my antecedents very quiet. Despite that feeling, I do not believe that my self-esteem was necessarily adversely affected, but it did provide an incentive to continue to search for a place where I would not, or to a lesser extent, have those feelings. I believe that the U.S. is that place for me at least. American Jews who emigrate to Israel obviously have other needs.
I'm Extremely Grateful
I think I would have been a very different person, but for Hitler. My life would have been much narrower in little Austria with many fewer choices, probably less formal education and above all, I would never have experienced the sense of freedom which this country offers to all.
There is no doubt that when I meet people of my own background, there is established an immediate rapport, because of the common experience, however different the details might have been. Although I have many friends with the same background I have, few if any, are geographically close.
There was fear while living under Hitler, but the real emotional impact came much later.
Probably most recently with all the anniversaries and all the horrible facts being brought to light. i was talking to a friend in London about this recently and we both allowed that even immediately after the war, when we were both in Germany, we were not aware of the enormity of the events until much later. I believe that literature bears this out.
If there are any emotional scars left, I cannot describe them.
I get emotional when I visit my parents’ grave at the Jewish cemetery in Vienna and see memorials to the victims of the horrors, especially a very prominent one for eight people who had been hidden all through the war, but were betrayed and shot on the day the Red Army took the city, one of them was just about my age.
We have a Responsibility
The 50th anniversary of the Kristallnacht certainly made me reflect on the events of that time. I have already discussed the early morning visit of the man, who “bought” the family business, accompanied by the gentleman from the SS, but I also remembered the drunken singing of the group of SA men the evening before, who mercifully did not invade and wreck the apartment. I even remembered the song they sang over and over again, “Wenn’s Judenblut vom Misser spritzt.”