William Gorge wuchs in der Hietzinger Hauptstraße auf. Er hat lebhafte Erinnerungen an die Novemberpogrome und die Synagoge in der Eitelbergergasse.
The first is that I cannot claim that our family was in any way connected with the Jewish community in Hietzing, or for that matter anywhere else, and secondly that essentially for this reason but also for reason of privacy I do not believe I have the right to record our family history in either a book or for the internet. Nevertheless, while my completely agnostic father had died already at the end of 1934 and my mother and her three children were all Christian converts well before the „Anschluss“, our family obviously felt the strong antisemitism and of course as full racial Jews our experiences and fears subsequently were shared with the rest of the Jewish population in Vienna. Inevitably only the strongest memories remain. Most us still alive were children at the time and not especially aware of the political situation in Austria – then the Ostmark – and the possible response, if any, by other countries or what future might await us.
My father had been a very well known Viennese architect and designer. He served as an officer throughout the first world war. Like my mother, he was born in Moravia. As a student in Vienna he won the prestigeous Rome Prize which enabled him to pursue his studies in Italy for a time. He died aged 51 in our then villa in Hietzing which he had designed for the family and where he had only lived for 3-4 months. Due to our emigration in 1939, all his original numerous designs, paintings, collection of architectural literature featuring some of his work as well as all our house contents – full of his designed furniture – as well as our personal property has disappeared. We know that some archival material is currently in the Universität für Angewandte Kunst in Vienna, in the hands of Dr. Erika Patka.
I probably experienced anti-Semitism for the first time at the „Evangelische Schule“ in class 1, aged 6. When then lived in Laimgrubengasse 4, a black of flats designed by my father and recently restored. Our class was moved by a teacher to another room and somehow the whole group of perhaps 30 or 40 children started chanting „Jud, Jud, Jud!“ with no attempt by the teacher (I can’t even remember if this was a man or a woman) to stop them. This was in 1933. My mother complained to the headmaster and the incident was not repeated. I can only remember one other racially Jewish child in the class, but there any may have been more. He was my friend and a grandson of the famous author and playwriter Artur Schnitzler. For class 2 and 3 I went to the school where my sister, six years my senior, also attended for a couple of years. On certainly one occasion she rescued me from a group of threatening children in the Fleschgasse who were abusive. Once a ten year old boy, in 1937, said that when Hitler came I should beware because then they would show me what they would do to us. There were other incidents, also from adults. It was something Jewish children had to take for granted but it was always frightening.
We had no contact with neighbours in Hietzing, possibly because at the time there were none immediately next to us or opposite. At the time of the „Anschluss“, I attended the tiny Rudolf Steiner School which closed down after the summer term, 1938. I remember the comment from a classmate „Es gibt auch gute Juden“ but there was no overt anti-semitism. Every lesson had to commence with „Heil Hitler“ and there was a painting of the heroic Führer in every classroom. In the music lessons we learnt the brave Nazi marching songs like „es zittern die morschen Knochen der Welt vor dem Roten Krieg“ et al and Heimatkunde was about Grossdeutschland. I expect all this was laid down by the then current government.
I remember the „Reichskristallnacht“ very clearly, or rather the day leading up to it. Despite the disturbing news which was used to instigate it, my mother insisted I attend the Jewish School in which I had to enrol that September. We had two Headmasters. One Jewish and the other „Arian“. The Arian Headmaster was never perceived as showing the slightest antisemitic behaviour through I had no direct contact with him. I believe it was he who went round the different classes and instructed us, before the end of the normal school day, to leave only in very small numbers and not all at the same time, to avoid any possible antagonism from the people outside. It was evident that there was some excitement on the streets where crowds were gathering to watch the smashing of windows of shops and businesses owned by Jews. It was rather frightening as I walked up to the Mariahilferstrasse to catch the No. 58 tram. From the Hietzinger Hauptstrasse I could see fire engines and smoke from the burning synagogue in the Eitelbergergasse and the crowds which had gathered to watch. I used to walk past it daily when I attended the Wenzgasse school.
With regard to „indignities“ one saw several groups of Jews made to scrub out pre-„Anschluss“ signs and slogans on streets and pavements and there is a well-known photo of such a group. Elderly people also had to take part in this and one walked past it quickly, hoping as always in those days not to be noticed. I regard it as an indignity to have to use a shop which had the costumary „Juden unerwünscht“ on the door. Every „Arian“ shop seemd to have this notice. I do hope Austrian children are taught that all parks, sports facilities and places of entertainment had notices forbidding Jews to enter though I do not know whether this was a state decree or the choice of relevant private establishments.
Our family left Vienna in 1939
Our family left Austria in 1939. To achieve this had taken my mother months of daily queueing for hours on end at the relevant departments and offices. My sister and I left at the end of February with a Kindertransport organised by British Quakers. The train left the Westbahnhof very late at night, I think. My mother and brother left in March. I think an organisation called the Guildemaster Aktion (?) facilated this, but am not sure. We were unable to live together as a family again and had to leave all property apart from luggage we could sent. No money could be transferred subsequently from rental money and the house in Hietzing and the one in the Laimgrubengasse were eventually appropriated by the state as well as any accured funds. Money had to be borrowed to pay the required taxes to enable Jews to emigrate.
1947 I returned to Vienna
In 1947 I returned to Vienna to take up medical studies. Our two houses had, through the neccessary legal action by an appointed intermediary been restored to us that year. He continued to be the manager for the property until we found it neccessary to sell it a few years later. I lived with the tenants then at the Laimgrubengasse villa which was owned by my mother. They were fervent Communists and I found it difficult to sympathise with their views although the man was a racial Jew, unlike his wife who had somehow enabled him to survive the war in Vienna. There was very little rental money from the Laimgrubengasse house and life was rather difficult in post-war Vienna which had suffered quite a lot of destruction. It was an exceptionally cold winter and we had to cut a tree down in the garden to heat just one room in the house. The university closed down for three months due to fuel shortage. The political situation was tense and threatened to get worse during 1948 when war with the Russians seemed likely. I decided to give up my studies and returned to England, initially to live and work in the Steiner community which had become my home during school holidays and immediately when I left school.
First contact with Austria after the war
My first contact with Austria after the war had really been with their Consulate in London, to obtain a passport to return to Vienna. They did not answer my letters and I had to travel to London to deal with this. The woman I saw there was not helpful and when I said that they could surely not refuse to give me a passport replied with „Regen sie sich nicht so auf!“ I learnt later that other Austrians in similar positions had also felt rudely treated at the Consulate.
I met no antisemitism at the university but also did not make friends there. Viennese people all seemed to claim total unawareness of the Nazi era and of their ecstatic welcome of the Germans. They felt mistreated and misunderstood by the occupying forces and frequently stressed that they had been victims and not collaborators. „Wir sind ein befreites Land!“ was the constant cry with the demand not to be treated like a conquered enemy.
I briefly visited Vienna again in 1999, having been a British subject for almost fifty years. I was the only person in a bookshop when, suffering from hayfever, I sniffed quietly and, I thought unobtrusively, a few times. The owner of the shop told me brusquely to use my handkerchief to blow my nose. His assistent looked a little shocked and surprised so I suspected that customers were not ususally spoken to in this manner. Antisemitism or just Jewish oversensitivity and paranoia?
Yes, the Austrian authorities have now started paying some compensation to their victims of Nazism. A small fraction of what people lost materially and, above all, fifty years or more after the event when most of the most tragic victims had already died, if they were not murdered by the Nazis. Better than nothing and gratefully received, but hardly a cause for congratulating themselves for their generosity.