What follows is based on Konrad Singer’s memoir, ‘What it was like and what we were like’, which was completed in January 2004 and is here supplemented by recorded interviews with him from 2004 –2008, by his son Peter N. Singer. His original written document is in roman type; this is interspersed with extracts in italics from interview transcripts, which elaborate on that content. Within the interview extracts, PS’s questions are placed in square brackets to distinguish them from KS’s responses.
In 1917 my mother lived with her parents in Jindřichův Hradec (J.H.), a small town in Bohemia. The house was attached to the knitwear factory, founded and owned by mother’s father, Sigmund Singer. He had started as a street pedlar.
He had some business making underwear, or shirts, or something like that; and that became very important during the [First World] War. You see, that’s another weapon for the anti-Semites: ‘Kriegsverdiener’ [war profiteer] – whereas in fact one of the things he made were uniforms for soldiers.
I have often been told that at my birth, before I was washed, Sigmund had rushed out, holding me aloft, shouting to the factory workers: ‘Look, folks, I have a grandson!’ I was his second; my brother Stefan had been born in 1913 in Sulawesi (Celebes), in the Malayan Archipelago, now Indonesia, then a Dutch colony.
My mother (Grete) had, as was then customary for daughters of prosperous families, been sent to a finishing school or ‘Pensionat’ in Dresden, but before completing her course she eloped with the young and presumably poor physician, Bernhard Schwarzwald, who then entered the Dutch Colonial Service, motivated perhaps by a taste for adventure, perhaps by the desire to avoid the wrath of his wife’s parents. In 1915, soon after the outbreak of the First World War, my parents and baby Stefan returned to Europe, because Bernhard felt a patriotic duty to enlist in the Austro-Hungarian army. He was captured by the Russians, but soon freed in an exchange of prisoners. The elopement was now forgiven; my parents and Stefan lived with my grandparents during the remainder of the War. Grandmother Mathilde Singer [née Adler] had given birth to ten children; two died in infancy. She fell victim to the flu epidemic which spread over Europe in 1918. In 1919 Sigmund bought a large building near Salzburg, enabling Bernhard to open a Clinic for Nervous Diseases.
Sláva Kolářová (‘Veili’) had been engaged as nanny in 1915; she was to stay with my mother until her death in 1948. The clinic or ‘sanatorium’ was situated outside Salzburg in Parsch, at the foot of the Gaisberg; it commanded a lovely panoramic view of the town and the mountains beyond. The family quarters were at the back, looking out on a sloping farm field.
So anyway it was a very impressive setting – of course as a small child one doesn’t appreciate that. We children and Veili had quarters at the back of the Sanatorium, looking up the slope of the mountain. … We met patients of course on the corridors. [Do you have any memories of the patients?]
Yes, one patient – quite a famous person, she was the mother of Friedrich Adler; Friedrich Adler was a socialist leader; and he had attempted to assassinate the Prime Minister. That was during the war – he was an anti-war man – and he was imprisoned, but he survived the war; but his mother was an inmate at the hospital, I don’t know for what reason. But I remember my mother being on quite friendly terms with what she called ‘Mutterl Adler’ … there was a very large communal dining room. [Where all the patients would eat together?] Yes, except probably some patients were too far gone … it was [a sanatorium for] nervous diseases which ranged from a nervous tick, perhaps, to … to … madness.
Bernhard’s family came from Lvov (Lemberg), a part of Poland belonging to the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. Grandfather Schwarzwald, then a widower, occasionally came to Parsch. Although a simple man who spoke Yiddish rather than German, he had managed to give his children a good education. Berhnard’s siblings, Max, Siegfried and Hermine also visited Parsch. I believe that they emigrated to the USA well before 1938.
[And was he [Bernhard’s father] in trade of some sort …]
He must have been; I don’t know how he made his money, but he managed to allow his two sons to study – and there was a daughter, Tante Hermine, who was also apparently a very well educated lady. [You mentioned somewhere that Polish Jews who spoke Yiddish or were, ghettoized were looked down on by …] Very much so.
[So they’d come from that background but managed to afford education for their children.] That was I think the good thing you can say about the Polish Jews of that time, they tried to do everything for the education of their children, because they could see without special education they were going to be paupers, so they had to be … usually they studied medicine, or they studied law … [… as a way out of the ghetto, really.] Yes.
In those days many upper-middle-class professional parents did not spend much time with their children, though they loved them. I remember Sunday mornings in my parents’ bed; a few family outings; and once being smacked by my father for having hit a wall clock with a ball – but no regular meals with my parents.
[And you spent more time as you were saying with your nanny than with your parents.] Oh yes, yes. [She was more like a parent.] I felt much closer to her than to my mother. At the age of 5, I was taught to read and write at home (by Veili) because the nearest acceptable school was in Salzburg and considered to be too far (20 minutes by tram and 10-15 minutes’ walk at both ends). in the following year I did attend the school. At the time (1923-4) the consequence of the War had led to rampant inflation, which played havoc with the incomes of salaried people, including teachers. Better-off parents would send them presents. I remember the embarrassment at having to hand them over. In 1924 Stefan and I were told that father had died of angina in Vienna. I understood that I would not see him again, but did not manage to feel grief, as I knew I ought to. More than 50 years later I learned from a distant cousin that he had committed suicide My mother confirmed this, explaining that the burden of debts and extra-marital affairs had become to much for him. He seems to have been a very gifted and intelligent man, but lacking self-control.
[Do you remember anything of his personality …?] Well, I only know indirectly: my mother always said he was really practically a polymath, he read very widely, not just medicine, but I never had sufficient contact. And I was too young to appreciate it at the time because when he committed suicide I was only seven, you see. [And later you realized that he had killed himself, possibly as a result of debts, and personal difficulties that he may have got into.] Yes. My mother never told me that, I know that – who told me? Rudi’s wife – Lisl – told me, I don’t know it from my mother, but when I asked her that, I said: ‘Lisl told me that,’ [she said]: ‘Oh, yes’ … [laughs] [This was many years later?] Oh yes. He got into debt, I don’t know why, and he had mistresses in Wien, and he killed himself while on a visit to Wien. [He went there often, did he?] Yes, I think so.. I’m sure there were congresses in Vienna and other reasons … but he also had his own additional reasons … [And again you knew that from Lisl, later, did you?] I know that from Lisl, yes, and my mother then admitted it. [It seems that you do have memories of him as a temperamental character?] Yes. Well you see it was in stark contrast … with Veili, and of course she would never raise a hand against Stefan or me. [You were probably a bit frightened of your father?] Perhaps … I suppose so. There certainly was no affection for him …. .Not that I remember much affection for my mother either, because it was Veili that looked after us. [So there was a distance.] Yes.
The most traumatic memories are – being forced to bathe naked in the presence of strangers ([an] occasion of [my father’s] unreasonableness … when we went on an excursion and came to a lake I was forced to bathe naked and to expose myself [which] at the time was quite terrible to me); and having to ascend the spiral staircase of the ‘Bavaria’ Monument in Munich (a column like the ‘Monument’ in London). (That was just a staircase and it went on and on and I think you could see down, and I just had no head for heights …) None of this was more traumatic than what happens to most middle-class children. Of the years in Parsch I have few lasting memories. Much of the time I felt a slight discomfort in the stomach – perhaps a nervous manifestation of insecurity. The unpredictability of the behaviour of grown-ups certainly left unpleasant memories; but I was far from unhappy. Visiting Parsch after many years, I realized that I had lived in a very beautiful spot, overlooking Salzburg and the mountains beyond. In 1925 my mother married Dr Moriz (‘Moniu’) Scheyer, a journalist and writer, editor of the Arts, Music and Theatre page of the Wiener Tagblatt, then one of Austria’s leading daily papers. They had met in Salzburg at the home of the well-known writer Stefan Zweig, who remained a friend until his emigration to South America in the 1930s.
Stefan Zweig, the author, had a villa on the Kapuzinerberg, a few hundred metres above Salzburg … and it is there, I’m sure, that – my parents visited there fairly frequently – my mother met my stepfather, in the Zweig villa. [Zweig would have been the magnet, and a number of people would have come to his place?] Yes. [Do you know how your parents got to know him?] I don’t know how they got to know him but I think there were not so many fairly high-ranking intellectuals in Salzburg. [And what do you remember about Stefan Zweig?] I remember him coming to visit and even once advising me, well, not to be too sensitive. ‘Man muss eine dicke Haut haben’ [‘You have to have a thick skin.’] [And he was saying that do you think in relation to being Jewish, or just in general, he found life …?] Well, I think probably being Jewish was part of it, but – I think – when you are introduced to a great man the great man thinks he has to say something significant, you know. [Do you remember anything else about him?] Well, he was living with a woman – Fritzi Zweig (Winternitz), who also tried to be an author but who was not apparently very talented, and she had two daughters which were adopted by Zweig, who were quite pleasant … [Did you meet these daughters?] Yes, they were pleasant girls, they were grown-up by then, certainly more than 16 years old, probably 18. When we visited the villa, I mean it’s the daughters, his step-daughters, would look after me and Stefan – while the grown-ups were not burdened by the presence of children.
The sanatorium was sold and the children joined my mother and stepfather in Vienna in 1926.
[But there were some months at least before you moved to Vienna but after they were married?] I think probably for us not much changed, because Veili was there looking after us and we were at that time still at the Sanatorium. [My mother] lived with him [in Vienna] straight away I think. [But you were left to come and join later …?] Yes.
The five of us (and initially also a cook) lived in a large, comfortable flat on the fifth floor of the Mariahilferstrasse – a main shopping street. A small park was round the corner. Moniu was highly-strung, sensitive and vulnerable, tending to unreasonable extremes in his judgement of others. He was unforgiving to persons who had slighted or harmed him (even if unintentionally), but very affectionate to the ones he loved. He found life difficult: his normal work – reviewing premières of plays, or books, and the feuilleton (a daily feature in quality papers of central Europe) – were never matters of routine; writing amounted to a difficult if not painful performance, accompanied by stage-fright.
The state theatres were the Burgtheater for drama, and the Opera; there was in addition the Josefstädtertheater, [which]was in many ways better than the Burgtheater – outstanding actors – and for a while the Regisseur [director, Max] Reinhardt. [Moriz Scheyer] had overall responsibility for reviewing theatres and music, and he kept the Josefstädtertheater for himself. [He sometimes sent you to review things for him?] Yes, that is quite true: if there was a small concert somewhere in a minor concert hall he might send me to review it. [What sort of age do you think you were then?] Over sixteen – sixteen to eighteen … I would write a review and of course he would correct it. [That must have been quite fun for you?] Well … I felt too much of a responsibility.
Dealing with the minutiae of daily life at home and at the office also often presented problems. He loved my mother and was genuinely, even excessively, concerned about her smallest complaints. He also loved both of us children at first; but mutual antagonism soon developed with Stefan, and sometimes degenerated to unpleasant scenes. He must also have liked Veili, but he teased her mercilessly about her girth and other matters. Stefan was a difficult person – artistically gifted, manually adroit, intelligent, good at sports; but lacking staying-power and self-control. He could be generous, but also refuse to make personal sacrifices. He did not hide his resentment of mother’s second marriage and his dislike of Moniu. His frequent failure in exams led to domestic crises: he would want to give up medicine in favour of film-making, or something else; Moniu would condemn his irresponsibility – the cost of higher education in those days was entirely borne by parents, unless means tests proved them to be poor. Stefan believed that an affluent lifestyle was his due and therefore showed no gratitude for the style he could afford, and he was not concerned about the problems resulting from his demands. He and Moniu had no understanding of, or sympathy for, each other’s points of view, and lacked the insight and self-control necessary to come to terms with one another. Mother had a hard time trying to maintain a fragile domestic peace.
In spite of his problems, Stefan eventually became a consultant brain surgeon and could probably have made a good career, but for his intolerance and rudeness towards persons he did not like. These traits were severe handicaps in his life, and probably contributed to his early death, in 1977 in California. He had gone there in 1950 in the hope of better career prospects (which did not materialize)
Mai and the children stayed in London; Mai felt that she could not risk to abandon her job in London for the uncertain support by Stefan in California.
I was a more manageable child. It is probably true that Moniu loved me ‘as if I had been his child’. His affection for me did not, of course, improve his relationship with Stefan. My mother managed the household, money matters, social obligations and domestic problems generally quite well. Her social ambience included on the one hand Moniu’s professional colleagues and literati; on the other hand members of the Singer clan, who met weekly in a café. The two circles were kept strictly apart because of Moniu’s shyness and dislike of any loud, hearty behaviour. Writers and journalists were often guests at meals, and my parents frequently went out – to theatre premières which M. had to review – and social visits.
[Do you remember any of those?] One person I remember particularly was a man called Pischov (?) at the Polish embassy, he was a very highly cultured man and he would talk quite sensibly about music and conductors and performances … There was a colleague at the Wiener Tagblatt, of my stepfather’s, a man called (2) Ludwig Karpath or Loschi as he was called, who was not held in very great esteem … but he was nevertheless tolerated at the table. Erwin Rieger – he came. [And he was a close friend?] It’s difficult to say: there were no close friends against which there was not at one time or other a strong bias – er, ‘he’s really not worth being a friend, he shouldn’t be encouraged’, you see: he was a difficult person. [He would be quite dismissive?] At times, yes. [And when he got like that about someone, would it then change …? No, I think it was … glossed over: I think probably my mother just invited them again to lunch. [Why did they fall out, or he turn against them?] It probably was small things, he was very easily offended, .or felt slighted very easily. [And this Rieger I think was a friend of Zweig …] Yes, he knew Zweig as well I think. [And did you say they used to be quite rude about Zweig’s …] … wife … Fritzi, yes, and she … had been or pretended to be a writer, and people like Rieger laughed about how inept her writings had been. Quite rude about her, yes … Rieger was a fairly frequent, a regular visitor, he was a friend of the family. He was quite friendly towards us children. [Schnitzler was known to your father, wasn’t he?] Yes, not very closely: I think they did know each other, but Schnitzler had a brother who was a surgeon and he in fact operated on my mother once … so there must have been some connection with him. [[There was an] anecdote about your stepfather meeting Mahler …?] It was on the Karlsplatz, and I think my stepfather – the story I was told – he said, ‘Wo gehen Sie denn hin in diesem schrecklichen Wetter, Herr Musikgeneraldirektor?’, [‘Where on earth you are off to in this awful weather, maestro?’], and the answer was ‘Heiraten.’ [‘To get married.’]
Veili looked after us children with devotion, was chambermaid to mother, did all the household chores, except cooking, and spoiled us all. She would lay out my clothes every morning and help me putting on socks and shoes well into my teenage! She was gentle and softhearted (except for her enmity towards the cook). A devout Catholic, she had in her teenage taken a vow of chastity. Harsh words from anyone (particularly Mother) easily reduced her to tears, and she also suffered when teased by Moniu about her Czech accent, her ample girth, or about fancying the traffic policeman visible from our window. Like most central European Jews, my parents were ‘liberal’ rather than ‘orthodox’. Being Jewish was a matter of custom and respect for the older generation rather than a spiritual commitment. ‘Religion’ amounted to no more than a vague belief in a superior power; and a superstition (‘let’s be on the safe side: you never know …’). Religious observances at home were confined to fasting on Yom Kippur and remembering the Jewish New Year holidays. Even that was perhaps motivated by solidarity in the face of anti-Semitism, rather than by genuine belief. Some Jewish cultural characteristics nevertheless persisted in the form of Yiddish slang words such as ‘chutzpah’ (cheek), ‘nebbich’ (poor sod or wretch), ‘goi’ (gentile), which were commonly used (as they are in New York today). Intermarriages were not frequent. I believe that at that time most west European Jews felt more allegiance to their country of residence, rather than to a Jewish nation. Non-assimilated Jews from Eastern Europe – particularly first-generation immigrants from Poland – were unwelcome and looked down upon.
[You learnt Hebrew at school – is that right?] Well, the main instruction was that the rabbi – the teacher was usually a rabbi – would let you learn part of a common prayer by heart, without ever attempting to translate it (there were also some who were enlightened enough to try to translate it). [But you didn’t have Hebrew lessons proper?] No. [This would be the religious instruction at school?] Yes, yes: of course we [were] separated from the main … most of them were Catholics. [It’s interesting that the Catholic school provided this separate religious instruction for Jewish boys.] I don’t remember whether we had to pay for that separately. [But … it was part of the system – once a week?] I think once a week. [So you didn’t attend Hebrew classes or any sort of religious instruction outside that, at the synagogue?] No. [But you did have a bar-mitzvah?] Oh yes. Couldn’t do that to my grandfather, you know: not having a bar-mitzvah! [So it was really for that reason – to satisfy the older generation?] I think my parents might have done it even not only to please my grandfather, just because what there were very few things of the religious faith that were kept, but the bar-mitzvah was one of them. [Where was that synagogue?] In the Schmalzhofgasse, fairly close to the Mariahlifertrasse. [You didn’t attend regularly, so presumably that was one of the few times you went to that synagogue?] Yes.
[Did one see (as one can now in London or indeed in Vienna) Hassidic Jews, who have all the traditional gear?] [We had] absolutely nothing to do with them. [But would one see them, in Vienna for example?] Oh yes, one would see them, I’m not sure whether much more frequently than now (probably, because so many were killed in the camps) … [But it was a not uncommon sight?] Not uncommon, no. [But [they were] not people with whom you had anything to do?] No, nothing to do with them. [And in Bohemia also, would there be people like that?] There would be, there would be, yes, but fewer, because of course Vienna was a very large town … [Anyway, you didn’t have a particularly positive attitude towards them.] Oh no, no … no, because in my young days as I remember there was already the fear of active anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism there had been practically always, but it was fairly passive … [So you felt the very orthodox Jews were in a way were more likely to provoke anti-Semitism.] Yes, and we resented that, because the orthodox Jews drew attention to the fact that Jews are different, you know – we didn’t feel to be different, I mean, to my parents and their friends we were just Austrians of Jewish religion, that’s all. [And your parents, for example, would say that … ?] Yes, oh yes, that’s definite. [What – that they felt that these people were giving you a bad name?] Yes, but on the other hand … [one] should not deny one’s … provenance, where one came from … one shouldn’t deny that, one shouldn’t be ashamed of it, but one should on the other hand not stress it.
Our nuclear family had a serious crisis when Moniu became more than just socially interested in an opera singer (at least, Mother thought so). I doubt that there was an ‘affair’ in the conventional sense, but my mother’s jealousy was aroused and endless rows ensued. At 14 I could, of course, not fully appreciate marital problems, but I had no doubt that two persons who persisted in making each other miserable ought not to stay together. I told them so – of course diffidently, and as gently as I could. They did not tell me to mind my own business, but my intervention had little effect. The crisis lasted a few months and ended dramatically: Mother took and overdose of sedatives and then called Moniu ‘to say goodbye’. I do not know whether she really intended to die, or rather to force the issue. In the event her stomach was pumped out in time and a scandal avoided (by asking the ambulance men not to talk to the papers). The episode had lasted a few months and neither of them came out of it very well. I nevertheless had a happy time in Vienna. At school I was taken seriously in my own right, in contrast to being a ‘sweet child’ at home. Stefan often was unreasonable and bossy; being his junior by four years I was unable to stand up to him physically until I was 17. He could also be pleasant; and our music-making – piano duets, excerpts from operas, songs – was performed with enthusiasm and daring! Once, on a long bus journey from J.H. to Vienna, I tried to convince him that his behaviour really worried and saddened others, and was therefore surely wrong. He asked: ‘Why should one be good?’ For this question, so typical of a rebellious teenager, I was (and am) grateful: it was and remained worth thinking about. I stopped saying prayers when I was about 9: God would know what I wanted and grant what I deserved, whether or not I asked for it. He also would know what I felt and thought about Him; it was therefore silly to formulate praises or entreaties in inadequate words. Not much later I discovered that, without the human attributes of love and anger, the concept of a ‘Supreme Being’ became meaningless. I very much enjoyed the increasing independence and other pleasures associated with growing up. I liked most subjects at school, as well as music, literature, philosophy and the scenery of town and country; but also ball games and physical exercise, although my prowess in sports was minimal. I was also lucky to have had all the common children’s diseases (mumps, measles, whooping-cough, scarlet fever and diphtheria) before the age of 11 (and enjoyed being fussed and worried over by Veili and parents) – and to be very healthy thereafter. My piano teacher [Frau Pisk] was a competent, if abrasive, lady; I am grateful to her for not tolerating inaccurate or sentimental ‘romantic’ playing, such as changing the tempo and free use of the sustaining pedal. She was a distant relative and lived round the corner, in the house of ‘Tante Tina’ (Ernestine, a sister of Sigmund), who had a forbidding appearance and voice, but was kindhearted and a supportive friend to my mother. She and her children had a curious, ungainly facial feature: their noses curved downward (the opposite of ‘snub’). We had a few records (SP, of course): operatic arias and Beethoven’s Pathétique Sonata. In teenage I became a keen opera- and concert-goer (standing, of course).
While at university, nine hours on one’s feet in the laboratory followed by queueing for two or more hours for an opera lasting three to five hours was a frequent event, not diminishing the enjoyment of the performances. At concerts I heard the great classical and romantic symphonies and concertos under outstanding conductors such as Walter, Furtwängler, Toscanini, Strauss, Weingartner, Krauss, were sources of delight. At the Vienna Philharmonic Concerts the same programme was played on Saturday afternoon and on Sunday morning. (I only paid for admission of Sunday: on Saturday I unobtrusively joined people returning to the hall after the interval.) The introduction to unfamiliar works was greatly helped by hearing them well performed, twice on successive days. The first encounters with some symphonies and concertos were unforgettable.
[And Toscanini you saw sometimes?] Toscanini came only after he fell out with Mussolini; I think there was some conflict at La Scala Milan and he left; and he conducted a few times opera. I think he conducted Fidelio. But the outstanding memory is when the Austrian Chancellor Dollfuss was assassinated by Nazis there was a Requiem and in fact a performance of the Requiem Mass by Verdi conducted by Toscanini at the opera. [You went to that?] Yes. For Toscanini it was to some extent a political action – anti-Nazi. [Was he not also the victim of some riot or cat-calling in opera?] I’m not sure about Toscanini, but certainly there were cat-calls … I do remember that they did explode a stink-bomb at the opera: that was a performance of, I think, Aida and of course after a while the singers could not sing any more because of the gases. [This was an anti-Semitic protest?] Yes. Probably Bruno Walter conducting. But well, he was not the only Jew at the opera. And [in] the third act there were no singers any more … just , only the orchestra. Well, I think actually it was Tristan, not Aida … Aida was also disturbed. [This was presumably quite late, towards 1937 or 1938?] Yes, yes. [Music was obviously very important to you – was it important in your family as well, or friends?] Theoretically important in the family, but … I don’t think any of my parents or brother listened to whole symphonies on the radio, even if conducted by Toscanini. [But you would meet sometimes and play piano together or sing, sing opera together?] Yes, play duets, Haydn, Beethoven, with my brother … [… and sometimes you would sing parts of an opera?] Yes, we would sing opera, yes. [So you must have got on all right with brother some of the time.] Oh yes. Oh yes yes. He was just unpredictable. He could be very unreasonable but at other times he could be quite pleasant.
[What are your strongest or most vivid memories of performances?] Concerts conducted by Furtwängler, with Beethoven’s I think 7th symphony … the 9th as well … outstanding. Bruno Walter was also very good on Mozart, Beethoven, but he also introduc[ed me], really, to Bruckner. The Fourth Brahms conducted by Walter is still an outstanding memory.
[You met [Walter]once, didn’t you, at a rehearsal?] Yes, yes: I was given by my stepfather, who had known him very well … a note to Walter saying that he would still remember him.
[A note of introduction?] Yes – which I was too embarrassed to hand over … [You really only wanted to attend the rehearsals, but he thought you wanted to play for him or something?] That’s correct. [But presumably he didn’t mind if you just wanted to attend the rehearsals?] He seemed to be quite embarrassed – he was quite relieved, I’m sure [… that you just wanted to listen …] Yes.
In the secondary school, the ‘Piaristen-Gymnasium’ (1927-35), there was some good and much bad and old-fashioned teaching. Geography was mostly confined to names of places, rivers and numbers of inhabitants. History rarely went beyond names and dates of rulers and battles.
[You mentioned that there was a traditional anti-French bias in the way history was taught.] Oh yes: well, I think it’s just any country which was at war at one time or other with Austria was not regarded in a friendly way. [But you felt you would always get the Austrian or the German side?] At school, certainly, very very strong bias, nationalist German – yes, it would always be the other side, the French, that invaded, and the Prussians that reacted to it.
I would have profited then and later had the teaching of mathematics been better. There was no corporal punishment, but teachers (called ‘professors’) were quite insensitive to the children’s feelings. Badly-performing boys were called lazy or stupid. Even the ‘Direktor’ of the school (teaching Latin) was in the habit of saying to some miserable victim: ‘You are an ass! You will never learn anything!’ Other teachers often cowed boys by shouting, or reduced them to tears by sarcastic comments. Cheating – that is, mutual feeding of answers – was accepted by us as justifiable self-defence. Some kindhearted teachers gave helpful hints concerning the questions in the next written exam. Both practices saved many from an inglorious fate. Latin and Greek were my best subjects, but I was poor in mathematics and physics. My interest in chemistry was aroused inadvertently by a teacher’s incompetence. After the first five to six lessons none of us understood what he had been trying to teach, and consequently received very bad marks. Not believing that chemistry could really be incomprehensible, I bought a second-hand textbook and was amazed and delighted by the elegance and economy of chemical formulae and equations, and by the simple logic, combined with quantitative analysis, whereby chemical formulae of compounds were obtained. Dalton’s Atomic Theory, accounting for the Laws of Simple and Multiple Proportions, and the Law of Mass Action explained a vast range of facts and phenomena resulting from the combination of a small number of almost indestructible atoms; these left a profound impression. In the last two years at school we learned a little philosophy and psychology. Passages from Plato’s dialogues encountered earlier in Greek lessons had whetted the appetite; now, I was delighted by the boldness and depth of the ancient philosophers’ questions, such as: What exists? What is matter? What do we really know? What is good and evil? Are there gods? And, perhaps above all, by the courage of following arguments wherever they lead. Equally strong was the effect of Goethe’s Faust, which describes in verses of great power and beauty the thirst for knowledge and the frustration through human inadequacy, and the tragedy caused by male inconstancy. Passages such as ‘… dass ich erkenne was die Welt / Im Innersten zusammenhält …’ (‘… that I may perceive how the innermost parts of the universe are linked …’) or ‘… wer immer strebend sich bemüht, den können wir erlösen …’ (‘… he who always endeavoured shall be delivered …’) seemed good mottos for anyone striving to understand the world and rise above petty worries. Ethics and the purpose of life according to Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Dostoevsky, Ibsen, Shaw, etc., were profound influences and sources of delight. So was, for different reasons, music.
[You had a teacher who was rather Nazi, and this manifested itself in certain slogans?] [laughing] Yes. [Do you remember what these slogans were?] Well, one sentence – he was actually I think, a shorthand teacher: things we could write in shorthand could have a content in meaning, so one of the things was: ‘Ist denn für Deutschland kein Platz unter der Sonne’ [‘Is there no place then for Germany under the sun?’ [laughs] [… which was a Hitler slogan?] Yes … [… and you would have to do that in shorthand?] Yes.
[You told me about a maths teacher who had been a First-World-War veteran and he had a slightly amusing expression about … his mental state?] Yes: ‘Ein Mensch, der nicht gezuckt hat, wenn die Granaten neben ihm eingeschlagen haben – aber jetzt bin ich ganz fertig!’[‘A man who never flinched when the shells exploded next to him – but now I’ve really had it.’] [Was this an expression of annoyance?] Exasperation: he was not good at keeping discipline, because otherwise he wouldn’t have to say these things: there were other teachers who could keep discipline without shouting. Clearly he had suffered some nervous disorder by serving in the war at the front.
My moral values were strongly affected by seeing the effects of the lack of self-control – at home, at school and in literature (e.g. Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov) – as a major dehumanizing evil. How could beings capable of rational thought and inspiration by the beauty of nature and art and able to form daring thoughts and actions sink to primitive animal-like behaviour? Having learned to distinguish between what is important and what is not, how can people get angry over trivia of daily life, or five way to destructive irrational transient impulses? But they do, as I could observe every day. These were some of my thoughts – naive, but not trivial. When the time came to choose a profession, music, chemistry and philosophy loomed large. My talent for music was insufficient: I might have become a moderately competent pianist, but not a composer, and I was not ready to abandon the dream of creative activity. Philosophy was attractive, but to speculate about the world and ultimate matters without knowing relevant facts (as the ancient Greeks had done) seemed an unsatisfactory ‘soft option’; nor did it offer any prospect of earning a living. This left chemistry. Philosophy might come later. Although we felt threatened after Hitler had come to power in Germany, and a fascist regime in Austria (1932-3), none of my family or friends were politically active. ‘Politics is a sordid business, not worthy of a decent person’s attention,’ was a widely-adopted excuse. In addition, many Jews thought it advisable to be as invisible as possible, for fear of feeding anti-Semitism. I did eventually realize the fallacy of such arguments, and joined the Young Social Democrats – but only a few months before the political parties and democracy were suppressed by the right-wing coup of Dollfuss (1933). The absence of commitment to civic responsibility among intellectuals was probably a major factor in the demise of democracy in Germany and Austria.
[Before the immediate Nazi period, to what extent was anti-Semitism a thing you were conscious of, as a boy or as a teenager?] One was always conscious of it because there wer some parties who had an anti-Semitic programme – nationalist parties … The strongest party, the Christlichsozialen, were already anti-Semitic in the sense that they tried not to get Jews, allow Jews to rise very high in the civil service, but Jews were not persecuted. [That was at the level of legislation – but the more sort of subtle or insidious sort of prejudice within society: in what way did you come across that?] Well, at school for instance, in Gymnasium, there were some boys who really were pestered in some quite cruel ways, very Jewish-looking fellow-pupils. On the other hand I myself fortunately from that point of view didn’t look very Jewish and I was fairly popular with all my fellow pupils. [So, ones that were very Jewish-looking were persecuted with traditional anti-Jewish taunts, rude words?] Yes … they might be beaten. [Were you conscious from the older generation, that they felt maybe certain walks of life they couldn’t go into or that some paths were difficult for them? I seem to remember Heinz saying something about, was it his father, couldn’t get very far in the army?] Yes – I’m sure about that, there was anti-Semitism, very widespread, but … you could become a lawyer: doctors and lawyers were the main outlet for intellectual Jews. [But in musical, cultural life there were a lot of Jewish people, weren’t there?] Mahler himself, well he was born in 1860; in order to be employed as director of the Staatsoper had to be baptised. … There was a fairly right-wing, anti-Semitic government in Austria in the early 20s [30s?] but I don’t think they introduced anti-Jewish legislation, just in practice it was very nearly impossible for Jews to enter the higher civil service. It was more sort of unofficial tradition – that’s my impression. [You felt that – I suppose it was somewhat academic to think about it – but did you feel there were difficulties in your way, if Hitler had not come to power? I mean, that it could have been difficult for you to have a career in science?] Yes, I thought it would be difficult but not impossible, because there were after all some Jewish university professors. [There were probably quite a lot at that time, weren’t there?] Yes, particularly in the medical faculty. [But in music – at some point I suppose you considered a career in music – it was perhaps more normal for Jewish people to go into a musical career?] I didn’t think in those [terms]. I was aware of the fact that one of my heroes, the conductor Bruno Walter, who was Jewish, but even so he didn’t want – probably decided his career would be doomed if he kept his name, Schlesinger. That was his name: Walter was his nom de … [He thought Schlesinger sounded too Jewish?] Most names associated with geographical locations were Jewish – Prager, Wiener, Österreicher, Deutsch.
My paternal grandfather lived in Lvov (now Poland) and visited us occasionally in Parsch. He was an insignifcant-looking, modest man, who only spoke Yiddish, but he had managed to give his children (three sons and one daughter) an excellent education. After my father’s death only his sister – Hermine Baerenfeld – occasionally visited my mother in Vienna. I believe that she and her brothers emigrated to the USA.
I spent the long summer holidays and sometimes also the shorter winter holidays at my maternal grandfather Sigmund’s home in J.H. It was (and is) an attractive small Czech town near the border with Austria. It has an impressive historic castle, an attractive main square and a small lake (the ‘Vajgar’), where one could swim or row in summer and skate in winter, and extensive pine woods nearby (much diminished by now). Grandfather’s house at Růžová ulice (Rose Street) 39, was spacious: it housed three families and old Miss Sieglitz, the former owner. A large garden, almost a small park, was at the back. The house is now used as a communal crêche where mothers leave their children during working hours. Sigmund’s part of the house could accommodate himself, four of his grown-up children, as well as the widowed housekeeper, Frau Flesch; Anna Gold, the semi-retired old cook, who had been with the family since time immemorial; and a maid. Sigmund’s and Mathilde’s eight surviving children were Leo, Else, Vilém (Willy), Grete, Egon, Arnošt (Ernst), Emmy and Olly. Two boys had died before the age of 10. In the mid-1920s Leo and his wife Ada, the proud daughter of a founding-father of the Czechoslovak Republic, lived at the other end of the town, near the factory. A second factory was a few miles away at Doubrava.
Ada was the daughter of someone who had played a role in the Czech independence movement during the Austrian [Empire]; he was a man [she] was very proud of and he occasionally appeared – Lederer.
Else was married to a physician, Edwin Kluge. She was an affectionate, placid, sad and corpulent lady. One of her two daughters died in childhood from a throat infection, and Edwin left her a few years later. The other daughter, Evi, grew up and married in the 1930s. She and her family lived in (then) Yugoslavia, and probably died during the war in a concentration camp. Willy’s family occupied the second floor of Sigmund’s house. He was married to a very pleasant but obese lady (Ine); they had a delightful boy, Ivo (born c. 1925). Emmy, Olly and Ernst lived there until they, too, married. After 1931 only Sigmund and his household lived in that part of the house, except for the summer, when some of the children with their families came. Sigmund’s sister Mathilde (Zimmer), her husband and four grown-up children lived on the ground floor. Leo, who with Willy was running the business, seemed to be weighed down by cares, particularly after the onset of the recession (1930). His marriage was childless and not happy. The jokes and rhymes, often scatological, which he taught us children, were perhaps part of an escape. His recreations were hunting, a weekend hut at a nearby lake and – so I learned later – an extramarital relationship.
Leo – he had no progeny, and his wife, Ada, presumably died during the war.
Of the four brothers Willy was the only ‘Schöngeist’, i.e. one who appreciated culture, particularly music. Thanks to the ‘Finishing Schools’, upper-middle-class girls often had a more ‘liberal’ education that men. Willy’s character was likeable, but not strong; he had had a traumatic experience as a child, and was bossed over by Leo. His wife, Ine, had after the birth of their son Ivo – a delightful boy – grown obese; whether for this or other reasons, their marriage was not happy either. Willy had a peculiar facial tick, and other quaint characteristics. Coming home from work, he would, even before the front door was open, shout: ‘Where?’ [‘Kde?’], meaning ‘Where are you, Ivo?’ The town’s Voluntary Fire Service provided some escape from his unfulfilled everyday life: once a week, he could don a shining uniform and be among his fellow firemen – undisputed, popular leader. Egon was a jester, loving escapades and ‘having a good time’; respectability and responsibility were not his strong side. This made him popular with the younger generation. On top of the bookcase in Sigmund’s study stood Egon’s bronze bust, a present to his father on his fiftieth birthday. The generous present had been followed by the sculptor’s bill a little later. Egon ‘married into’ a textile firm in Varnsdorf (northern Bohemia). I do not know whether the childless marriage with Lia was happy; on the evidence of his behaviour in 1939, probably not.
He lived in this country [UK] for quite a while. [During the war …] … yes in Earl’s Court, and for a while my brother and he lived next door to each other. … And he – you know the story: he got out of Czechoslovakia by falling in with a group of German officers, playing bridge or something else with them, so that the border control was waved away by the officers, and he could leave Czechoslovakia in that way. But his wife stayed behind … [This was a story to do with a dog …] … that she missed leaving was because of her dog, yes, that’s so: the dog was not allowed on the plane, so she wouldn’t go. [Then after that there were no planes … You mentioned Egon’s behaviour: I wondered if you felt this showed some sort of indifference on Egon’s part, that perhaps he could have exerted himself more to get his wife out?] Yes, oh yes; of course I don’t know whether the marriage was still as it were active; they had no children, I don’t know how close they were. Well, I had the impression that Egon just wasn’t the sort of person who would tie himself closely to anyone … he just … [He looked out for himself.] Yes. … I don’t know what he lived on [in London]. He may have got a little bit of money out of Czechoslovakia.
Arnošt (Ernst) was open, honest, bluff and dependable; he would never lie or deceive, nor be very considerate and tactful. He and his softly-spoken wife lived in JH, where he owned a brass foundry. They had two children.
He had no refinement, he was very honest and brusque, and … reliable sort of person, but – [But not to the point of being rude?] Not quite. And he married quite a nice woman, they had children but of course they were lost in Auschwitz or somewhere, so was he.
Emmy and Olly were very attractive young women, almost beauties; one blonde, the other dark. They excelled in aquatic sports. Emmy was intelligent, reserved, and a very good bridge player. She married Robert Basch, a Viennese manufacturer of umbrellas; they had one (very pleasant) child, Tilly. Their flat was in the same block as ours. When Bob’s business went bankrupt (1933), they moved to JH and he then worked in the Singer factory. Olly, the youngest, was affectionate and diffident – henpecked by the older sisters, in particular by Grete, until her marriage. She should have done better than marrying Jenö Kurz, a furrier and a rather coarse man (1931). They had two little girls.
Olly was a very pretty girl but she married a rather unpleasant Jewish merchant, a furrier, called Kurz – [quite indignant here] the only one of the family who survived, and one is very much tempted to think that it’s because he managed to somehow ingratiate himself with the Lagerkommandant … [Oh, I see: he survived in spite of being in a concentration camp.] Yes: the only one. Kurz had a fur business somewhere in the south of Bohemia. Early in the thirties she married; they also had got two children, they also got lost … [Do you remember them?] No, only as babies, you see.
I do not remember Sigmund as a strong personality, although he must have been one when younger. From the humble beginning as a street pedlar he had become the owner of two factories and some real estate. he was a ‘Kommerzialrat’, at title conferred on meritorious businessmen. He also was president of the Jewish community in JH. I do not know what duties and privileges this involved, except that during the Sabbath service he and the Rabbi settled which part of the Torah should be read. (The Torah contains the holy scriptures and is wound onto two scrolls; to search for a passage the paper is unwound from on of them onto the other. Disagreement could lead to the entertaining spectacle of the Rabbi and Sigmund trying to roll the scrolls in opposite directions.) The services were short, about three-quarters of an hour. Sigmund showed off his male grandchildren; and after the service he rewarded us with lemonade and sausages (!) and himself with a pint of beer at the inn.
Yes, while my grandfather was still fit enough to walk, we went every Saturday, my brother and I (when we were in Jindřichův Hradec, of course) to the synagogue and afterwards he would take us to an inn, where he would have a pint of beer and we would have [laugh] sausages – pork sausages – [He was in some way trying to bring you up in the tradition, I suppose?] Yes, but I think it was mainly to show off his grandchildren to the Jewish community. [… of which he was an elder?] Oh yes. [He was the senior elder?] Yes, it’s called I think the ‘president’ of the Jewish community. [He was the one who was up there with the rabbi. It wasn’t other people?] Yes, absolutely. [So you saw him do that often?] Oh yes. [How big a community was it and to what extent did you interact with the other ones? Well, I think Jindřichův Hradec was a town of about 10,000 inhabitants, there would be I should guess between 500 and 1000 Jews. [They would all know each other?] I think a lot of them knew each other to talk to, but without any social intercourse. [In terms of your grandfather’s or uncles’ social life, that didn’t particularly take place within the Jewish community – I mean, they were pretty much integrated in Czech society?] Yes, yes, certainly one of the best friends of my grandfather was a non-Jewish lawyer. [But socially, coming to the house …] The majority were Jews.
After his retirement the business was run by the two: Leo and Willy. Sigmund was satisfied to bask in the warmth radiated by his family, of whom he loved to have as many as possible around him. He was revered by his daughters and respected by his sons; but there was no longer any trace of the iron rule, for which hiw wife had coined the motto: ‘When Father says it rains upwards, it rains upwards!’ [‘Wenn Vater sagt, “Es regnet hinauf,” so regnet es hinauf!’] A happy mood usually prevailed during family meals. Sigmund and his offspring and their spouses enjoyed eating well and they were in this respect spoiled. Frau Flesch was a good chef and was appreciated. The place set for her was always empty at the start of the meal. She would hobble in (she had arthritis) with the words: ‘I don’t think this dish turned out very well …’ fully expecting and promptly hearing a chorus of protests. Special appreciation would be expressed in lyrical terms, such as: ‘Frau Flesch, the soup is a poem!’ (‘Die Suppe ist ein Gedicht’), or, if something was juicy: ‘With this dish one eats and drinks; tender meat would ‘melt on one’s tongue’, etc. To press loved-ones to eat more was part of the tradition; a male child or youngster could not eat too much. (A ‘classic’ imprecation, often quoted, had occurred in the house of Uncle Jean (Sigmund’s brother, Johann) and his wife Tante Rega (Mathilde’s sister), who lived in Vienna; on the famous occasion Tante Rega had said to her husband: ‘Jean, darling, by my life, you shall eat another piece! Afterwards you can take some bicarbonate!’ (‘Jeaninku, so wahr ich leb’, du wirst noch ein Stück essen! Nachher kannst du Speisesoda nehmen!’)) Sigmund suffered from diabetes; in his last years his eyesight suffered and his legs were weak and gangrenous. I remember one family Passover meal when – according to custom – he, as head of the family, read the prescribed questions and my cousin Dita the responses (in Hebrew, followed by the vernacular). After the question: ‘Why must we eat at this meal leaning back?’, the fact that nobody had done so caused general mirth rather than embarrassment; but a little later Sigmund stopped, stifling sobs because he could not read the text. He liked me to sleep in his bedroom to be at hand during the night; and to read the Prager Tagblatt to him in the morning. His death in 1936 (aged 75) saved him from witnessing the destruction of most of his life’s work, his family, and of his business. The conversation at Sigmund’s table was mostly in Czech (though all spoke German fluently) and consisted, when both sexes were present, of banter and good-natured teasing; one did not talk business or politics with women. But after lunch, the four sisters would often remain at the table, mulling over family and personal problems; adn often they ended with tears. Callous, as children are, we were quite unsympathetic and even amused by the seemingly self-indulgent behaviour. I now understand that they had reasons for being less than happy, long before foreseeing the coming political catastrophe. On fine afternoons one went to the lido of the Vajgar. The younger ones to swim, row, sunbathe, flirt; the older ladies to sunbathe and sometimes glide through the water like majestic swans. Some of us children would row about in small wooden canoes (called manas).
Playing and watching tennis was a popular pastime in the late afternoon. As autumn approached, there were mass excursions by old and young to gather mushrooms in the woods. In addition to these pleasures there are other, more personal, memories associated with JH. I was not bothered by bad weather. Sigmund’s bookcase contained the major German classics; I could also play the piano, or listen to records. In Willy’s flat on the second floor there was a gramophone and records (SP, of course) of Beethoven’s Fifth, Seventh and Eighth Symphonies and of Brahms’ First. Stefan and I had free access to the gramophone and radio. I do not think that Willy and Ine – nor I – knew how much the first encounters with these great works meant to me. Sigmund’s sister, Tante Tina, and her children, Gerhart, Robert and Dita, also were frequent guests. Dita (three to four years my senior) had a ‘boyfriend’ – which in those days did not mean what it means today. It fell to me to chaperone their evening trysts by walking a few steps ahead of them so that they could indulge their innocent evening walks (which I was too young to envy); but I enjoyed being ‘important’ and loved the images, sounds and scents of the summer nights – brilliantly starlit skies, shooting stars, glow-worms, the noise of crickets and the scents of trees and grass. I liked swimming, rowing and particularly tennis, for which I had no talent. One of the ball-boys at the club – Pepik Halada (who later became the champion of JH and represented the town at tournaments) was engaged to coach me. We were of the same age; he was intelligent and had wide interests; and we became friends. We would talk about likes and dislikes, good and evil, played chess, taught each other Czech and German. The difference in background seemed to strengthen the friendship. Visits to JH and contact with our family in Bohemia, and also unfortunately with Pepik, ceased after 1936. That Czechoslovakia would also fall victim to Hitler became probable after the annexation of Austria (March 1938), and certain after the Munich Agreement between Hitler and the British Prime Minister, Chamberlain (September 1938), greeted by the latter as bringing ‘Peace in our time’, while in fact giving Hitler a free hand in Czechoslovakia and laying the foundation of the Second World War. We, who had experienced Hitler’s National Socialist (Nazi) regime, warned the relatives in Czechoslovakia to leave the country while there was time; but the decision to abandon one’s home, career, possessions and way of life, the prospect of depending on charity in a strange land (since property had to be left behind) was something which – understandably but tragically – they and thousands like them were unwilling to face. Of the ‘Singer clan’ only my nuclear family, and Egon, Gerhart and Robert P[isk] survived the war in emigration. Jenö Kurz (but not his wife and children) was the only one to return from the concentration camps after the war in 1945. All the others (Leo and Ada; Else, her daughter Eva and her family; Willy, Ine and Ivo; Bob, Emmy and Tilly; Egon’s wife Lia; Olly and her two little girls; Arnošt, his wife and two children; Tante Tina and Dita; Tante Rega; and many more of the extended family) were deported and probably killed in gas chambers.
[The family generally I suppose thought of themselves as Czech first …] … assimilated, yes, I agree … [… and Jewish second, in a way, which would have contributed to their reluctance to leave, I suppose.] Yes. [Or their disbelief anything could happen to them.] In Wien too we felt, as far as I know most of the Jews then felt they’re Austrians who happen to be of Jewish faith – in so far as they still adhered to the Jewish faith. [Your family in Bohemia couldn’t believe they would be dispossessed, let alone taken to concentration camps?] We didn’t believe it in Austria either! [But you believed it enough that you got out in time.] Oh no, we got out only after Austria was occupied by the Nazi troops. [But presumably the Czech people could have done the same if they’d moved quickly?] They could see what happened in Austria, they could see if they were politically intelligent that Hitler would eventually swallow Czechoslovakia; they should then have … of course we tried to persuade them: look what happened to us, get out while there is time; of course it’s very difficult to get out if you are a person who’s … has … a reasonably successful businessman, and have to go out … and by that time it was already difficult or impossible to take out money.
Leo was killed in prison: he must have been politically active.
He did not end up in Auschwitz, he ended up in a prison, he was presumably shot. [Politically active?] Well – resistance against the occupation by the Nazis (1).
Egon’s wife Lia lost her life because she refused to board a plane without her lapdog. A few days later emigration was prohibited. Egon escaped in characteristic manner: he managed to fall in with a group of German officers on a train leaving the country; and as they were playing cards and having a good time – probably entertained by Egon’s jokes – the border officials did not examine his papers. I was most saddened by the loss of my cousins: Ivo, a gentle, affectionate and courteous boy, and Tilly, a lovable girl – children, when I last saw them; teenagers, when deported. The victims in our family were, like millions of others, ‘ordinary’, imperfect, basically decent people.
Having given up the idea of a career in music, I tried to convince myself that works of art were not really very important (to me). This was contradicted by experience. On hearing the great pieces of classical music, I could sometimes not help feeling that these works were in some sense as true as empirical facts. This to me was (and is) very strange. Friendships, though not very close ones, had started in the Gymnasium. Herbert N. had been the only fellow-pupil interested in music, literature and ‘matters of the mind’. Although an astonishing number of the greatest composers have made Vienna their home, it is a myth that the Austrians or Viennese are more musical than others. In my form of about 30 teenaged boys I was the only one interested in classical music. Herbert and I met at concerts or at the opera and would walk each other home. He was very idealistic, but his intolerance of dissent was an obstacle to real friendship. When we met after the War, he had become a solicitor, adopted a comfortable lifestyle, and regarded his previous idealism as part of the folly of youth. My classmate Fritz N[eumann] was very different. He did not at first like music, in particular violin sonatas, which his father occasionally played with me. This changed when he encountered Wagner operas, where the meaning of the music is expressed in words. He became an ardent convert to opera (which we also ‘performed’ at home, with more enthusiasm than skill); by degrees his taste broadened and eventually included symphonic and even chamber music (including violin sonatas!). He fell in Israel in the war of 1967.
[He emigrated to Israel, then, in 1938?] I think to Israel. [So he was presumably a Zionist of some more or less enthusiastic …?] Well, he became a Zionist probably later: when we were friends, let’s say the middle of the upper Gymnasium, this Jewish nationalism didn’t show up, it only became … after the Nazis came, as a reaction. [I’m curious whether you remember any conversations about that, or indeed with other people who had or came to have Zionist views.] I think there were few discussions because the differences were so deep, or rather the attitudes were so very different. To me and to people who thought like me being a Jew was just some accident and religion didn’t play such a big part in people’s life, so why should one make a difference between Jews and non-Jews … [But I mean – you came across Zionists in those days?] Yes, yes, in Vienna there even existed a Jewish football club – some Jews obviously felt they were a different nation. [Yes, but – did you meet any at school, for example, who had strong Zionist persuasions?] Not really, but Fritz Neumann became [Zionist]; and I suppose as the Nazis activities became known, Jews reacted to it. I don’t think I discussed it with [Fritz Neumann], because it was too deep.
Neither Hebert nor Fritz were as important to me as Pepik H[alada]. In my second year of university Lizzi R. appeared in the laboratory. She was attractive, intelligent and serious and we became friends. She had an admirably independent character and who shared the most important interests. Had it not been for Hitler, our relationship would have lasted much longer. It ended because I felt unable to commit myself to a partner before I knew where I was going (in more senses than one); but also because I was too immature and had at the time ridiculously idealistic expectations of what a worthwhile heterosexual friendship should be. Lizzi emigrated with her parents to Australia and soon married there. I am glad to have known her. Life as a student was enjoyable. The newly-gained freedom, learning what one was keen to know, working in the laboratory, going to operas and concerts and the friendship with Lizzi made the last years in Vienna – in spite of political clouds – very happy ones. I had not thought much about politics before 1934. By then Nazi storm-troopers in uniform had become a familiar sight in the streets of Vienna. Anti-Semitism had been endemic in most of central Europe since the Middle Ages (even before the demise of democracy in Austria physical attacks on Jews in medical institutes of the university were not rare). In January 1933 Hitler came to power in Germany. Democracy in Austria also ended in (March) 1933, when the chancellor, Dollfuss – a Catholic fascist (not explicitly anti-Semitic) had ordered troops to occupy the Parliament and eject its members. In the summer of 1934 Austrian Nazis attempted a putsch: they entered the Chancellery and shot Chancellor Dollfuss, but did not succeed in seizing power. After the failed coup we still hoped that Austria would remain independent. The clerical-fascist regime, now under Schuschnigg, was unpleasant, but incomparably preferable to National Socialism. It did not last. In March 1938 Hitler, having ensured Mussolini’s acquiescence, annexed Austria into the ‘Reich’. Schuschnigg tried to avoid this by calling a plebiscite to vote ‘for or against Austrian independence’. Although there were many Nazis in Austria, I believe that in a free vote a majority would have voted for independence (and Schuschnigg). Hitler could not take this risk and forestalled the plebiscite by sending in the German army on March 13th 1938. The take-over was well staged: large swastika-banners were supplied and ordered to be displayed on many public and private buildings; an enthusiastic reception for the German troops was orchestrated and taken – as intended by Hitler – as an expression of public support, by the western press.
[In the lead-up to Hitler coming in was the atmosphere becoming markedly more anti-Semitic, or …?] That is very difficult … [Was there any activity on the streets?] There were some activities on the streets and certainly some of my fellow or former fellow pupils from the Gymnasium did go along with the little swastikas in the [lapel], but by no means all of them. [But you were at university by this stage.] But I still occasionally ran into former fellow pupils. [And you noticed that some of them had the [swastika]?] Oh yes, oh yes. [Did they feel they had to justify this to you or – ?] Oh yes. Yes. I mean, they said – look, what he has done is really wonderful, not only has he unified Germany, he has got back a part of Germany which [was] ceded to France, the Rhineland: you know, the occupied Rhineland had been reoccupied by German troops; look at his successes, you see, and there’s full employment now in Germany (because of course armament industries were very active) … [Did people know it was because of the armament industries, really, or did they think it was some sort of economic miracle?] Well, they probably thought it was a bit of both, I should guess. [But were these people at all sheepish towards you in being …?] No, not necessarily, not necessarily. Some of them said, oh well the anti-Semitism, that is something he has to do in order to have the support of the masses, the ignorant masses, it will disappear once he is in power … but of course the very opposite happened. [Yes. And then, when he did come in, of course you saw him coming down the street.] Yes, the Mariahilferstrasse, yes indeed. And of course they had prepared that. Storm-troopers had called at every house asking the, well telling the janitor to put out flags, so there were German, Nazi flags all all along the Mariahilferstrasse, practically every house. [That had been organized the day before or something.] Yes. [Do you remember that day, was it a morning …?] Well, I remember … didn’t feel any different from other days because it was expected, but certainly I saw Hitler in the car of the cavalcade coming in, and I remember having thought if I had a little bit of courage I would have a gun and shoot him which from our window would have been quite possible. There were crowds lining the streets and these enormous flags you know with the swastika hanging down from the window.
[I just wanted to ask you, on that subject, what sort of impression Hitler made on you – was it one of these things where you could sort of somehow see the fascination or was he just a completely risible figure to you?] It’s the latter, I couldn’t see any fascination. [You couldn’t understand why he exerted this sort of grip over people?] No. No I think it was the staging, I think, that you’ve got these rows of SA men in front of him and of course they shouted ‘Heil Hitler’. [So they sort of worked the audience into a frenzy.] Yes, I wouldn’t say frenzy, exactly, but certainly some excitation. [The stage management side was important.] It was very well stage-managed. [But he nevertheless – obviously to some people he had this personal magnetism and I was just wondering how that worked: people would not have seen him on television, so it would have been hearing his speeches on the radio and actually physically going to see him?] Yes. Well, there were of course these newsreels they showed before the main film in cinemas. [And would they show quite extended clips of his speeches?] I shouldn’t think extended, the whole thing never lasted longer than fifteen minutes. [But did you hear some of his speeches on the radio?] Oh yes, we could hear, but … they were really so stupid and repetitive that it was not worth hearing. Sometimes you nowadays you get clips on TV. [Yes – it’s interesting, when they show the clips, because it’s usually with a voice-over or they show a little clip on a documentary … I’ve never really been given an impression of what he was like as orator – a few phrases, but what it was like to listen to his speeches over an extended period?] Well, I don’t think I ever inflicted listening to a whole speech on myself. [So you heard it on the radio and it just seemed to you ridiculous really or laughable.] Yes and the cinema, you could see him addressing these enormous meetings at Nürnberg. [This must have made you quite disillusioned about sort of your fellow human beings – because you must have been aware that a lot of people were being taken in by it.] I think I already was disillusioned about that because Austria was a dictatorship and – the radio of course was controlled by the ruling party, and you were quite inured to the nonsense they were spouting. Nationalist, you know. [Yes. But nevertheless when you were aware that it was a sort of mass movement, that a lot of people were very enthusiastic for this ideology – was that a disillusioning thing, or just something you came to accept?] Well, I think it was accepted – by me at any rate – that the masses are stupid and can be managed – I mean after all the ruling parties in Austria were also authoritarian and they had also managed mass meetings, not quite to the same extent as Hitler, but quite to some extent.
Austrians had a reputation for being easy-going – in contrast to ‘German thoroughness and efficiency’. One might have thought therefore that in Austria the suppression and persecution of dissenting elements would be milder. The opposite happened: the party dogmas – in particular anti-Semitism – were implemented more ruthlessly than they had been until then in Germany. German troops had marched into Vienna at the beginning of the university’s Easter [?] vacation. I asked Prof. Hermann Mark, who was head of the institute and also my Ph. D. supervisor, what I should do. He said: ‘Come back at the end of the vacation: things may have calmed down by then.’ By the end of the vacation, however, Mark had been dismissed on account of a Jewish grandparent, and replaced by a Nazi supporter and scientific non-entity. Many who had appeared to be ordinary and decent people now vied to show that they had ‘all along’ supported Hitler – by wearing swastika badges. Much uglier events were: the rounding-up of Jewish-looking men in the streets and making them scour pavements or floors.
This happened to Erich F. and a few other or my fellow students on the order of the laboratory demonstrator (later to become director of the institute!), who knew Erich to be a quiet, hard-working, excellent student. Such relatively harmless wanton humiliations were pointers to the much more infamous events which were to follow. Fritz N. and his father (a banker) were picked up at home and imprisoned for a few days. Fritz refused to speak about what had happened to him. A former fellow-pupil met in the street said to me: ‘Anti-Semitism is just a PR-exercise for the benefit of the masses; it is unimportant compared with Hitler’s achievements: the unification of Greater Germany, doing away with unemployment and making the country once again a power to be reckoned with. I, personally, have nothing against Jews like you.’ His view was, I believe, rather typical of the attitude of ‘educated’ Austrians. Once, sitting in a park, Lizzi and I were asked by a policeman if we were Jews, and if so, to move on (Jews were no longer entitled to sit on the benches). I do not think that we looked ‘typically Jewish’; but we did not wear swastikas in our buttonholes. This was fortunately the worst ‘direct humiliation’ I experienced.
[To begin with you weren’t sure how bad things would be?] Quite. Nobody was sure. Things in Austria … moved, well … anti-Semitism was harsher than it had been in the first years of Hitler in Germany: for instance, that head of department had a Jewish grandmother and he himself was ousted and replaced by a non-entity who was a member of the party. It was quite a surprise. [And this anti-Semitism – in what other ways did it immediately manifest itself – were there beatings and so on in the streets?] Well, I think, in the laboratories at the universities, the [scientific] demonstrators who were Nazis, wore of course a swastika, everybody who was not Jewish wore a swastika, practically. [Everyone really who wasn’t Jewish wore a swastika?] Well, I think most people who could wore a very small swastika in the lapel, just to show that they are not disloyal; but very soon as I mentioned before there were zealots who in the streets collected Jewish-looking people, or people who didn’t wear swastikas and made them scrub the ground. [Stormtroopers?] There were stormtroopers but some of them were just party enthusiasts. [You witnessed that personally, did you?] I didn’t directly witness that but a very close colleague of mine, it happened to him. [So how long did it take before you decided that you did have to get out?] Only a few weeks, certainly not more than three months, because as I mentioned at the end of March at the end of the Easter holidays it was already clear that we couldn’t go back to the lab. [You were actually not admitted?] Oh no, we would have been admitted, but the chances were that since we didn’t have swastikas we would be made to scrub the streets.
[Did you think at all that things might get better after a bit?] No. Because you see Hitler was fairly well established in Germany, he had already forbidden other parties in Germany, it was already dictatorship …
As some Jews were now taken from their home, I went to stay with Aunt Else in another part of Vienna; but it seemed that I had not aroused interest, and I returned after a few days. My good fortune lasted until I left Austria in July.
At one time there was a rumour – there was always rumours going about – that Nazis were going to, in the Mariahilferstrasse, from flat to flat, picking up Jews, and I went to live for a night or two with Tante Else in the Innere Stadt, in the Wolllzeile, she was still there. [Do you remember how rumours like that came to you?] Well, always: ‘So and so has heard’ – you know. [A family member that told you that?] Yes, and the family member may have heard it from some official, I don’t know. [What happened to her [Else]?] She, like most other Jewish people from Vienna – the female ones – went to Theresienstadt; and from Theresienstadt, where life was still to some extent bearable, they were sent to extermination camps. [And this happened to the other female relatives – your close relatives. They all didn’t get out, is that right, the ones who were living in Vienna?] Well, one of them – she was a cousin of my mother, and she was married to a dentist, and she had a child; and she went to England while it was still possible. [The husband was not Jewish and he stayed?] Yes. Ida Posch, yes; and she worked as domestic help in this country. [And her daughter …] … is in Wien now, Lotte Nagel, yes. [But the immediate family … your mother’s sisters and so on, even the ones who were in Vienna, they didn’t attempt to get out in the way that your family did?] No. You see, Tante Else, the older sister of my mother: her husband had left her long ago, and she lived alone on presumably some pension which came out of the divorce settlement. She had absolutely nowhere to go; where would she go? Where would she get the money? And most people, grown-up people … just had no chance. They would have to go somewhere to hope to live on charity but people don’t do that, do they? [Well, I suppose unless you feel you have the prospect of earning a living somewhere – as your father tried to do in France.] But he had connections, you see, he had been in Paris; but these other people did not. What does a middle-aged woman or for that matter man do …? [It’s very difficult of course; but I suppose the other question is how desperate do they perceive the situation because if they thought they were going to end up in Auschwitz then I suppose they would still have made an effort to go even if – ] Yes, yes but of course … they didn’t know … that. [No.] I mean, they … even … I think life in Theresienstadt which was the sort of staging post before they went to Auschwitz was presumably still reasonably … one could live there. [Well I suppose they thought they would be probably just perhaps persecuted and treated as second-class citizens in Vienna rather than deported and killed.] Yes, yes; and I think the Nazis themselves didn’t know that, they hadn’t decided … The famous ‘final solution’ was decided on [later] …. [But do you remember discussions among your family as to how important it was to get out or – anything like that?] Oh yes. [Do you remember some relatives saying it won’t be as bad as all that?] No, I think I only remember discussions with my stepfather and mother, and an elderly lady who came to visit once a week, a sister-in-law of my step-father. [Do you remember what form that discussion took?] Well, [pause] I think it very soon became clear that one had to get out – there was no way one could continue to live in Vienna. [In terms of making a living.] In terms not only of [making a] living, even of using one’s assets, because Jewish assets were frozen. [So if people felt they had any opportunity to work abroad or study …] Yes, quite. [But I suppose people didn’t actually think they would be killed.] Absolutely.
Emigration was expensive and difficult: to obtain an exit permit one had to renounce all claims to assets left behind and the amount of money one was allowed to take abroad was small. Entry visas to the country of exile were not easily obtained. Few if any allowed entry without visa, and visas were not issued to penniless would-be immigrants. A courageous fellow-student went to Shanghai because no visa was needed. Although extermination camps like Belsen and Auschwitz did not yet exist, emigration at all costs had become imperative; we had lost all citizens’ rights; earning a living had become practically impossible and the danger of imprisonment and suffering physical violence was very real. In 1938 – as today – refugees were almost everywhere unwanted. The fate of those who by necessity or choice stayed behind was worse. The forced separations from relatives and friends were only the start of their misery. Most mature adults did not attempt to emigrate; they felt too old to learn a new language or the skill to adapt to an unfamiliar environment and find new means of subsistence. Moniu’s elderly widowed sister-in-law lived on a small pension supplemented by him; she came to lunch every Wednesday. What would she do after our departure? Her income would be reduced, or disappear altogether; what sort of life could she look forward to? Like many others in similar situations, she committed suicide. (It was easy: town gas contained carbon monoxide, so one only had to put one’s head in the oven and turn the tap.)
[Can you sum up what your feelings were in 1938 at the time of the Anschluss?] Well – there are two aspects to it. Of course, I did find it very tragic what was happening, but on a personal scale I felt it was important to transcend this, one should not be completely subject to external forces. [You felt you should be able to rise above it really?] Oh yes – certainly to rise above it, but to what extent it should affect, well, one’s thoughts, is another matter. I still hoped that my main interest would be science and philosophy, and I should be able to do something in that direction, even if the circumstances were not favourable. [And obviously the only way you could do something in that direction was to get out of the country.] Yes, that’s quite true. [But did you feel depressed, on behalf of your country, that the culture you had known was not going to be possible in Austria, at least for the foreseeable future?] Well I certainly felt depressed about the fact that external – very irrational and, really, contemptible – forces could force decent people to do something they would not otherwise have done. Or even kill them of course – many were killed. [At a personal level did you experience many disappointments in individual people – that you thought they wouldn’t behave like that?] No, no, not really. I didn’t easily make friends. [No one that you’d regarded as a friend becme a Nazi?] No. No person I was close to became a Nazi.
There were charitable organizations which helped young persons to emigrate. A group of British Quakers had sent a team to vet applicants on behalf of members willing to accept them into their homes and to provide the personal guarantee required to permit immigration. Stefan had become attached to the English scene and customs on a holiday in Brighton. He applied to the Quakers and was lucky: a (3) Miss Marian Dunlop, a Quaker lady, made it possible for him and a little later also for me to come to this country. She accepted Stefan into her home and payed for his subsistence and training – about five years. Later she also contributed substantially to the school fees of his children. Miss Dunlop practised and taught religious meditation, but she was far from being a bigot and had a fine sense of humour. She did not attempt to proselytise either of us. [Digression: Miss Dunlop told me that, when playing patience, she could sometimes recognize the next card when it was still lying face down. I do not believe in ESP or any spiritual forces which contradict the laws of science; but I am convinced that she reported a – to her – real experience, which cannot be easily ‘explained away’.] Stefan left for England in June 1938. Moniu was a great admirer of French culture; as correspondent of the Tagblatt he had for some time spent one month every year in Paris. He now used his connections to obtain visas for himself, mother and me. After some anxious week visas arrived, but mine was – through bureaucratic muddle or corruption – not included. It was decided that my parents would go to Paris, and there continue their efforts on my behalf, while I would wait in a safe place – preferably Switzerland – where Moniu had a wealthy friend. My cousin Gerhart had heard that the Swiss Consulate in Leipzig still issued visas to German Jewish businessmen, got a visa and took a train to Switzerland. I followed his example, and thus arrived in Zurich in July 1938. I think that charity rather than judgement made the Swiss consul accept my claim to be a businessman. It was incidentally very surprising to see that many obviously Jewish fur traders were still openly trading in Leipzig while in Vienna most Jewish shops had been expropriated or closed.
[Your mother had already gone before you organized that, or … did she wait?] No, I think I was for a few days left … [ … on your own in Vienna …] … well, not on my own but with Tante Rega, I think I stayed with Tante Rega. I think when I went to Switzerland I still hoped to go to France, to Paris. [Your stepfather talks of … he himself went on ahead, and she joined him later, which implies she stayed with you until you left the country – is that not your memory?] No, I think she left before me, but whether she left to go to Paris, or first to Hradec … I certainly was left behind, in a sense.
[So there was a period when you still in Vienna when [your parents]’d gone to Paris, was there?]] Yes, that may be between two and four weeks. I took a train to Leipzig – it was part of the greater Germany now – and I think from there I did go to Switzerland, not via Vienna. [You’d packed all your bags and so on.] That was not very much, but yes. And in Switzerland, as I said, my stepfather had a rich friend who was I think the son of a banker, who paid for me at the little pension I was staying at. It was quite pleasant, near the Zürchersee [You spent the summer months there?] Yes, yes On your own? Yes. Well, there was one fellow refugee, another boy of my age, and had also gone to the Gymnasium, I met occasionally in Zurich. [You spent the time applying …?] Well, yes, I did write letters, one of which of course was fortunately successful, the one to Glasgow, which was of course mere accident. [How did you feel about it – did it seem to be a great adventure, or – it must have been a strange experience to be on your own suddenly?] It was a strange experience but I don’t remember any deep emotions about it; I had the feeling – it was [an] absolutely absurd feeling, optimistic feeling: somebody who is worth something will not go under under these conditions, you see: this really very very silly idealistic … [It may be irrational but necessary to cling onto in those circumstances.] Well, I was influenced by Nietzsche at the time: somebody who is worth something will not allow himself to go under by blows of fate or whatever … he has to overcome. Absolutely absurd, but that’s what I believed at the time.
Veili went to her family in Czechoslovakia, and later joined my parents in Paris. As a non-Jewish Czechoslovak citizen she had no trouble over the visa. Then and later my imagination was fortunately deficient; neither in Vienna under the Nazis, nor in Britain during the air raids, did I feel any fear. But the belief that a sensible person can control their destiny did not survive. In Zurich I stayed in a small Pension by the lake, spending the time reading chemistry textbooks and one or two classics. My upkeep was provided by a rich friend of Moniu’s. I continued to write to universities in the hope to be able to continue my studies. Most of them sent negative or no replies, except for one. The representative of the International Student Service (then ISS, now WUS) in Glasgow, a Dr Alec Cairncross, wrote to say that there was a place for me at the university; and that the ISS would look after my basic needs. I still needed a personal guarantor to obtain the entry visa; this was provided by Miss Dunlop, informed by Stefan about my situation. I left Zurich after two months and arrived in Glasgow after brief stopovers in Paris, to see my parents, and London, to see Stefan. [You say that when you left Switzerland, on the way to London, you were able to visit your parents in Paris – in 1938, is that possible?] Yes yes yes, that is quite possible … met them briefly in Paris I think. Not for very long, because the visa had a limited validity. I could visit them in Paris, I’m not sure whether I stayed the night. [This was when, presumably, Moniu was already finding it quite difficult to make his living in the way he hoped to, was that already becoming clear?] Yes, that had become clear … but otherwise I have no very clear memory.
I arrived in Glasgow on the 3rd September at 8 am – a wet Sunday morning. It was too early to call; so I walked around the dreary streets near the central station. The contrast between the external desolation of the empty wet streets on a Scottish ‘Sabbath’ and the internal joy about the amazing good fortune of being there can hardly be exaggerated, even though I did not yet fully realize the extent of my luck. France, where I would have been, but for the missing visa, had not yet fallen; deportations to death camps had not yet started. I did not know that Dr Cairncross and his associates in the ISS had invited me and a few other equally lucky people to Glasgow in the hope that enough money would be raised for our subsistence. Another piece of good fortune was that the head of the Chemistry department of the university, Professor Barger, allowed me to continue my chemistry course, rather than having to restart (as happened to other refugee students).
Well, I was very lucky because the head of the department was himself not a Scotsman; I think he was a Dutchman who had emigrated: he was very sympathetic to refugees like me, and although I had no formal exams to show how far I had got … he allowed me to go on, and in fact to start on the thesis immediately, the doctoral thesis, because in Wien I had started working on the thesis for the Ph.D., but the exam which allows you to do that in Wien is an informal one: there is no important document showing that it is so. [So you’d done the equivalent of a three-year degree in the English system.] Yes.
I spent the first few days in the house shared by Alec Cairncross with David and Joyce Owen and their two small children, Roger and Gilly. All were very welcoming, kind and solicitous about my welfare. The student secretary of ISS, Duncan Macaulay, took simple but adequate ‘digs’ for me with a Mrs Watson – B & B and high tea for 18s per week! I got free lunch at the Student Union (1s 6d, collected every day from the warden – it took a year before I was entrusted with the weekly sum in advance – but what did it matter in comparison with my good fortune?) Duncan and I soon became friends.
[You had interests in common? Yes, well, poor man, I tried to interest him in opera … [This was hard work, was it?] Well, not hard work, because he was very accommodating, but retrospectively I think it was a little bit much to impose Die Walküre on somebody who doesn’t – hasn’t got a great deal of musical experience. [You may have been ptiching it a bit high? Yes. [Did you have records? No, but it was on the radio. [Were concerts a big part of cultural life? Concerts, yes: the Scottish National Orchestra gave a series of concerts, they had a concert season, essentially, and at the time their conductor was George Szell, a refugee … I found out later that he was quite rude about the quality of the orchestra. [Was that something that struck you, that it was inferior – I suppose compared with what you were used to in Vienna?] No, I couldn’t really … my judgement was not sufficient.
Soon after the beginning of the war Alec Cairncross and David Owen moved to London to work related to the war effort. The Owen family moved to Jordans, a pretty commuter village in the Chiltern Hills near London. Joyce frequently invited me to visit them after I had moved to Essex. She was an unusual person: quick-witted, unpretentious, warm-hearted, with an English, self-mocking sense of humour and a very un-English frank curiosity about people’s intimate thoughts. Her treatment of the children was exemplary and a joy to watch: she always had time to talk to them; and corrections, however seriously intended, were made with a light touch and good humour. After the War David Owen was appointed to the prestigious post of one of the five Assistant Secretaries to the Secretary General of the United Nations. The marriage to Joyce did not last; David formed another attachment and Joyce returned to England and soon thereafter married Duncan. He had served as a medical officer in India and was then a successful paediatrician in Sale (near Manchester). They lived, I believe happily, from the late 50s until the onset of Joyce’s death – after much suffering – from breast cancer in 1986. Sir Alec’s brilliant career continued until his death at the age of 89 in 1998. After the war he returned to Glasgow, became head of the economics department and served as advisor to successive governments. His academic career continued in Oxford, where he was Master of St Peter’s and later of St Antony’s College. ISS Glasgow (Alec and friends) also helped a young Viennese economist, Kurt Rothschild, and his wife Vally, as well as five or six students who, because of their left-wing politics, had to flee Czechoslovakia after the occupation by German troops in 1939, to come to Britain. Life as a student in Glasgow was a new but enjoyable experience. The Owens and Alec C. and Duncan M. continued to befriend me and there were invitations from charitable Scottish people. My social activities centred on the International Student Club (ISC) and the Refugee Youth Club. I learned a great deal from both and enjoyed the company of people I met. The members of the ISC were students from the British Colonies and Scottish students and young teachers who, motivated by humanity, religion or politics, cared about the welfare of overseas students. For a refugee from central Europe, where racial prejudice and persecution were endemic, it was wonderful to witness at first hand the mutual friendliness and essential common humanity shown by people with different backgrounds and skin colour. A towering black giant from Africa was one of the gentlest persons; Indian students were rather sensitive to perceived slights; and the young Scots were welcoming towards all outsiders. A bonus for me was the club’s piano, which I could use on weekdays. The meetings of the ISC also opened my eyes to the British culture of tolerance and fair debating. This was an astonishing lesson for someone coming from a country where differences of opinion often led to hostility if not to violence. It was an honour and pleasure to attempt practising what I had learned after I became president of the club in 1939.
[Do you remember the day that war was declared?] Yes, yes, indeed. [What were your feelings?] Well … it was a good thing – everybody in my position would want to get rid of Hitler, and there was no other way of getting rid of Hitler. … It may not have been so clear to the Scottish people, but to all the refugees, obviously.
Less pleasant to observe was the hostility of many overseas students – especially Indians – towards British colonial rule. This also made some of them hypersensitive to (mostly imagined) slights. The ISC was financed by John Craig, a philanthropic steel magnate who probably intended it to be a basically Christian paternalist institution. The resident warden, Mr Aaron, and his wife, (Indian Christians) were expected to keep the anti-Empire feelings voiced by members within reasonable bounds. This was on the whole done tactfully. I remember only one occasion when Aaron and I disagreed strongly about whether some matter (I forget what) should be allowed to be voted upon, or ‘be settled behind the scenes’. I believe that the ISC had a beneficial effect on most of its members. I also took part in the formation of a ‘Refugee Youth Club’, where young immigrants from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia met. We discussed matters of common interest and gave each other moral support – much appreciated by the majority teenagers, far from home and in a strange environment. We discussed politics, sang folk songs, read poetry and took part in amateur concerts in aid of good causes and gave each other moral support. This was for me a worthwhile, enjoyable activity, complementary to the ISC. The leaders of the Refugee Club were some of the ISS-sponsored students from Czechoslovakia. They were Marxists, who followed the Stalinist Communist-Party line – apparently blindly. According to this, the War before the invasion of Russia by Germany was ‘imperialist’ and not deserving support; it became a ‘People’s War’, for which no sacrifice could be too great, only after Hitler attacked the Soviet Union in June 1941. The absence of racial or national prejudice and the fight against these was a basic feature of the Refugee Club. After the invasion of Russia, however, Stalin decided that internal and external propaganda would be better served if the war between the USSR and Nazi Germany were not ‘a struggle to defend Socialism against Fascism’, but ‘the defence of the Russian Motherland against the Teutonic hordes’. Nationalism and even national hatred were now to be regarded as useful weapons. The hitherto truly international club was consequently to be split upon national lines! This madness was narrowly averted by appeals to the good sense of members and against the Stalinist ‘party line’. But the club, whose leaders’ loyalty was now divided, did not fully recover. By 1942 it had in any case almost outlived its usefulness: most members had adapted to the ambient society and found support elsewhere. The links to their cultural past were fading. In spite of their political blinkers, the Czech students were likeable and intelligent. We often argued about politics and philosophy into the small hours. Like many others, who were disappointed by the failure of the Social Democratic parties to stem the advance of Fascism in Europe, I had become sympathetic to communist ideals. The discussions and the books and pamphlets which my Marxist friends now lent me did not, however, have the intended effect: they changed my mind against Marxism (though not against Social Democracy). I saw that Dialectical Materialism was not a rational philosophy and even less a sound basis for a political movement; and that the Stalinist version of Marxism was a dictatorship which denied not only the ideals of equality and fraternity, but also the right to free opinion. (‘Stalin was always right because he was the leading expert in the science of politics. His judgement therefore had to be accepted.’) [On reading the account of the Fifth Communist Party Congress, I was at first impressed by Stalin’s speech, which seemed very reasonable. It admitted that mistakes had been made in the last five-year period; and that some targets proposed for the next five years were unrealistic. Here at last was a politician criticising his own Party and discouraging unrealistic promises! (something very rare in Western democracies even today). What followed shattered the illusion completely: not one of the other speakers put forward any idea of his own, or disagreed with anything Stalin had said. All joined in the chorus of adulation: ‘Hail to the Leader of the Peoples!’ ‘Long Live the Father of the Nations!’, etc. Nothing could show more convincingly how little freedom there was in the USSR.] I never doubted that the Nazis had to be fought, not only because of what would happen to Jews and others in countries subjugated by Hitler’s regime, but also because of their pernicious effect on German youth. In the end (1945) it led to the death of twice as many Germans as Jews, and did great harm to those who survived. In the Refugee Club I met L.M., a beautiful and likeable girl from Berlin. Our friendship lasted until after I left Glasgow. She had admirable qualities, but there was not (from my point of view) a sufficient common ground for marriage. The relationship ended without bitterness in 1942.
Stefan had come to Glasgow to take up medicine again in 1939. Marion (Mai) Smith was a fellow student; she already had a degree in zoology. I happened to know her as demonstrator in her Medical Physics class. They were married soon after his release from internment in early 1941. Mai helped Stefan to pass his exams and start his medical career. One consequence of the fear of invasion and panic after the fall of France in June 1940 was the internment of all male refugees from Germany and Austria as ‘Enemy Aliens’. It was thought that Nazi spies might have infiltrated the genuine refugees – but, apparently, only males; female ‘enemy aliens’ remained free, as were refugees of both sexes from Czechoslovakia, where the German-speaking Sudetenland had been a hotbed of Nazi activity. The Home Secretary’s mind worked in mysterious ways. Internment could be avoided by joining the Pioneer Corps of the British Army. Stefan, Kurt Rotschild and I were interned. After the first month, when any communication with the outside world was prohibited, life in internment camps was not too unpleasant. Most internees were professional people or academics. We were moved from Edinburgh to a disused cotton mill in Lancashire and, after a month there, to a seaside resort on the Isle of Man. There, life was not unpleasant: lectures, musical and other entertainments were organized by inmates, and the food was tolerable. By late September, when the ‘Battle of Britain’ had been won in the air, the fear of invasion receded and internees were gradually released. Among the first batch were students sponsored by the principal of their university. I returned to Glasgow in September; Stefan a few months later. I completed the Ph.D. thesis and graduated in June 1941. My first post was in Mr Craig’s steel mill in Motherwell. It consisted of routine spectroscopic quality control of alloy steels. I felt that this work made little use of my qualifications. L.M. – very unselfishly – showed me an advertisement for a research chemist in a paint factory near London. I applied and was offered the post. To leave the steel mill was not a simple matter: my job was classified as ‘of national importance’ and could only be left with the consent of the employer or after a decision by a tribunal. Eventually I was allowed to leave the steel mill and start work at Sherwood’s Paints in Barking near London.
[Could you tell me your memories of what wartime life was like more generally?]
I was surprised how little it affected life of ordinary people – I think if you were keen on luxuries, on things, on the kind of food which you can only get on tickets, I think it would have been hard, but I didn’t really see any hardship arising for ordinary people with the ration cards. [Life was fairly frugal, I suppose.] Well, certain things you couldn’t get – perhaps you couldn’t get much meat. But you could get plenty. You could get plenty of eggs or egg substitute, or you could get milk, well I didn’t notice any hardship as far as food was concerned … you could still buy chocolates. [Could you?] Mmmm. [You presumably didn’t have much spending money, anyway?] No. I had in the first years – I think I mentioned that – I had one pound a week, from the Student Union, which paid for my meals, and about also one pound a week from the International Student Service which paid for my rent (and food and so on) … [Was there anything left over at the end of a week?] Not much … I really don’t remember. [You went to the occasional concert?] Yes, that’s quite true. [One would think, not having been through anything like that, that it must be a time of great anxiety, that all these terrible things are happening and you’re hearing about them, and in your case you had relatives that you didn’t know what was happening to them.] Well, I’m afraid I … didn’t feel sufficiently about the relatives. I felt really quite reasonably secure; and I really didn’t feel very anxious. [What about people in general – was there a mood of anxiety, or did people just get on with it?] I think people just gone on with it, but you see Glasgow was bombed only twice or three times, very rarely, so life was fairly normal apart from rationing and blackouts. Otherwise, life … you could still go to concerts. [You must have come across people whose relatives were at the war.] Very few – well yes, actually, I did: one of the lecturers who very occasionally invited me to their house, had a son who fell during the war during the time I visited them. They were completely composed about it, their attitude was, well, it’s a war, somebody’s children have to die … No, it was really no hardship and as I told you before, socially …there was the student international club and there was the refugee club … that was took plenty of time. [You completed your Ph.D …] Yes – 42. And afterwards, after finishing the Ph.D I went to work in the steel factory [Did you apply for a lot of jobs or was it something that came to your attention?] No, that was very fortunate because my benefactor [Craig] was in fact a steel magnate, he owned steel mills near Glasgow, southwest of Glasgow. I was very glad, he offered me a job in one of his steel mills. [Was your scientific expertise well used in that job, or was it rather straightforward stuff?] It was used in a sense, because one of the things I did for my PhD was spectroscopy, and the job was spectroscopy applied to the analysis of steels … the factory made specialist steels, that means special mixtures of elements – steel, iron mixed with chromium and nickel and so on … [Was this related to the war effort?] Oh yes, very much so because the shells had to be … [It was munitions?] It was certainly connected with tanks.
By June 1942 the air attacks on London (‘the Blitz’) over and living conditions were quite tolerable. My work was interesting, if not fulfilling. Paints are used to improve appearance, but also to protect the surface of objects ranging from walls and furniture to cars, tanks, aeroplanes and ships, etc. – making the latter more durable, more attractive, or less visible to the eye. As one of three research chemists, my job was to formulate better paint media and to produce substitutes for materials which were scarce. I was to some extent free to choose objectives and methods. I should have liked to make a more significant or direct [contribution to] the war effort; but the work seemed more useful and certainly much more enjoyable than the alternative of service in the Pioneer Corps.
There were several other firms producing similar products based on similar research as ours; and it struck me as absurd that in a country dedicated to fighting a war of survival and short of human and material resources, manufacturers, rather than sharing information, still competed with each other for contracts. Was economic planning really incompatible with personal initiative and bound to produce inefficiency and corruption (as apparently it did in the Soviet Union)? Though doing fundamental scientific work was a distant dream, I used much of my spare time learning mathematics and quantum mechanics.
From the first salary cheque I paid the first instalment on a new upright piano, costing £42.
Spare-time activities included occasional visits to the Owens in Jordans, rare visits to Stefan (who worked at a hospital in Haywards Heath) and to Miss Dunlop in Berkshire. I often attended concerts and theatres in London. Life was enjoyable and – on the whole – free of problems.
Near the end and for some months after the war, lectures were laid on in some prisoner-of-war camps for the purpose of entertainment and re-education. My application to be allowed to contribute to this programme was accepted and I gave a few talks, advocating the gospel of Reason and Science, attempting to show that in politics and in life, good intentions and faith are bad guides for individual and collective behaviour, if not controlled by reason – witness the disaster which the Nazi faith and contempt for reason had brought on its supporters in Germany and in other countries; anti-intellectual doctrines had done much harm not only to German culture, but even to the German war effort, since the Allies had better scientists (many of them refugees from the Nazi regime).
My lectures may not have impressed them, but they did not arouse hostility. Talking with the men, I was shocked to learn that some horror stories about the behaviour of Soviet troops in Germany were true (even if probably not as bad as the systematic crimes of the German army in Russia).
After the fall of France contact with my parents and Veili had been tenuously kept up through an intermediary in neutral Portugal, who forwarded letters in both directions. [There follows a brief account of his parent’s and Veili’s experiences in France, and rescue by the Rispals, which is here omitted as it is superseded by the more detailed account in Moriz Scheyer’ Asylum.] After the war they lived in a small ‘maisonette’ belonging to Hélène in Belvès – without paying rent.
Hélène, Gabriel and Jacquot Rispal were ‘ordinary’ people, but extraordinary benefactors, ‘motivated by simple humanity and quite immune to the acts of treason and deception which were rife in Vichy France’. The Rispals were atheists believing in the ideals of the French Revolution and of Communism, but no political theory could endanger their deep unquestioning natural decency.
Veili died of heart failure in 1948; Moniu a year later; his health had been damaged in a French concentration camp in 1940 and by smoking. He and later my mother were buried in the Rispals’ family grave. My mother enjoyed Hélène’s love, moral and material support until her death in 1977. Hélène died one year later. It is impossible to do justice to the generous warm and protective love, tactful kindness and support which she gave to people in need, but above all to my family.gallery.php#rispal
In 1944 I spent the holiday on a ‘war agricultural camp’, where volunteers helped with the harvest. There I met Jutta S., a medical student, also a refugee from Austria. Our attraction was mutual. I had come to believe that in a lasting partnership common values and, if possible, some active collaboration should matter more than physical love. Jutta, after qualifying in medicine, took a degree in psychology, which seemed to open a field for some joint endeavour. There remained differences in ‘Weltanschauung’, but we believed that any problems could be overcome by argument and good will. We were married in February 1947.
In the same year I became - on the basis of a dubious claim that I could teach theoretical chemistry - a lecturer in Physical Chemistry at Royal Holloway College (University of London). In the aftermath of the war competition for academic posts was, fortunately for me, not strong. A dream had become true. Most people earn their living doing things which they do not enjoy; even if there is no drudgery, there is often little scope for the use of mental faculties. An academic can spend much of his time thinking about problems of his choice and learning what he wants to know.
The following year brought the realisation of another hope: I passed the finals in B.Sc. in Mathematics. For six years I had spent much of my spare time working for this as external student of the University of London. I had expected a ‘pass’ degree at best; the Second Class Honours was an unexpected joy. Difficulties in our marriage appeared. There were no job opportunities in psychology and Jutta decided on a career in medicine. The junior medical posts left little spare time for other pursuits and it became clear that the hoped-for cooperation on some major project and the convergence of interests and ideals would not materialise. I found that I had more in common with some colleagues and students which I now met than with Jutta. By 1951 we had decided that we should separate. I bear the main responsibility of this and I am grateful to Jutta for her cooperation without recriminations, although she would have preferred the marriage to continue. I nevertheless believe that the decision was right.
Divorce at that time was a slow and undignified process because one of the partners had to be proved guilty of adultery or cruelty in a court of law. Our marriage was finally dissolved in 1954. Jutta soon remarried and brought up four children.
By that time I had formed a friendship with Jean Longstaff.
I honestly believe that the marriage to Jutta had failed before then. Jean graduated brilliantly in 1950 and obtained the Ph.D. (supervised by me) in 1953. It was a collaboration rather than supervision, for I had saddled her with a difficult project in which help was needed. Working together in the laboratory, we got to know and like each other. Jean was very intelligent. She had been brought up in the restrictive sect of the Plymouth Brethren, where entertainments and non-Christian thoughts were frowned upon. She was still shedding some intellectual and moral prejudices when we met. Part of our mutual attraction was perhaps that our discussions catalysed this development. One of the best things about a growing friendship is the searching for common values. By 1953 Jean had become a firm believer in reason and an atheist.
There were problems. On my side an exaggerated caution against another personal commitment and intolerance of lapses of self-control. Jean was suffering from my insufficient commitment and criticism. These problems delayed our marriage until 1959 and did not completely disappear thereafter. Our marriage was nevertheless a good one, based on mutual affection, trust and respect. Family life with our lovable children gave both of us deep satisfaction. It is sad that Jean did not live to see her grandchildren.
Life: work and personal relationships were good. A major problem was my intellectual inadequacy, causing work to take too much time at the expense of other matters.
I hoped to do ‘something different’ rather than work in well-established fields where publishable results could be confidently expected. Interesting areas allowing scope for modest originality were (a) stochastic processes applied to chemical processes, (b) the use of Gaussian orbitals in quantum chemistry, (c) computer simulation of many-body systems.
Given my abilities, the choices were probably sensible. Could I have done better with my mental equipment? The complacent answer is: probably not; the serious answer is: probably yes, but this is unknowable and a useless thought, except as an antidote against complacency.
The most serious (avoidable) error or deficiency was probably: too little time allocated to personal relationships (Jean, the children and social relationships in general). Apart from close relatives, there were hardly any friends we met regularly.
(1) Leo Singer seems to have become leader of the Jewish community. of JH after the death of his father; in this capacity he came into conflict with the Nazis and was arrested and executed.
(2) Ludwig Karpath (1866-1936), music critic for Neues Wiener Tagblatt, had in younger years been a champion of Mahler, and a close associate of his in his campaign to become director of the Vienna Opera (1897). His 1934 memoir, Begegnung mit dem Genius (= Encounter with Genius) ‘is one of the richest sources for Mahler’s Vienna years, as are his articles in the Neues Wiener Tagblatt’, Henry-Louis de la Grange, Gustav Mahler, vol. 2. Vienna: the years of challenge (1897-1904) (Oxford, 1995), p. 26, n. 54.
(3) Marian Dunlop (1880-1974) was a most remarkable person and inspirational figure to many who met her. She graduated from Cambridge in 1905 and taught English at prestigious girls’ schools until her forties, by which time she had become increasingly interested in – and developed her own techniques of – Christian meditation, which had both a spiritual and a healing dimension. Her main activity became that of teaching meditation, about which she also wrote a number of short books. In 1932 she founded the Fellowship of Meditation, which she continued to supervise, and which involved residential courses, until her death. Evidently she put her name forward for a scheme run by the Quakers (although she was not herself a Quaker, as my father believed) to assist Jewish refugees to come to the United Kingdom, providing the ‘sponsorship’ that was legally necessary for such immigration; but clearly the relationship – especially in Stefan’s case – went far beyond ‘charity’, and some lasting relationship continued, including with his family. There is a recent biography (Jeremy Harvey, Marian Dunlop, Teacher and Healer: Her Life Glimpsed, 2000), which, however, shows no awareness of this aspect of her activity.