Thoughts and Reflections on the Occasion of the 80th Anniversary of the Kristallnacht

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Kindertransport statue, Liverpool Station

Kindertransport statue, Liverpool Station

I had been attending a Gymnasium, in which about 15% of the students were Jewish. Within a couple of months after the Anschluß, the Jewish students were transferred to a few overcrowded Jewish schools in the second district of Vienna, the mostly-Jewish Leopoldstadt. Going to and leaving school was always dangerous; young hoodlums would try to stir up trouble, sometimes beating up Jewish students. Parents such as mine who could afford it sent their children to the few private schools allowed to accept non-Aryans, but this, too, was soon prohibited, so I was out of school at age 14.

As part of the encouragement to emigrate, the Germans wanted the Jews to learn trades t would enable them to get visas – some countries (though not the U.S.) would fairly readily issue visas to those with skills – electricians, bakers, bricklayers and so on. The Jewish Gemeinde, or community, was allowed to set up courses taught by experts on every conceivable trade so that the “unskilled” ones, the lawyers, doctors, government employees, would have no excuse to remain behind. My father, who after a career as a bank executive now owned a camera store and also was an experienced and award-winning photographer, taught several courses on processing film; a friend of ours, a portrait photographer, taught his specialty and I took a course with him. Just to become more diversified, I also enrolled in a course learning how to manufacture cosmetics – everything from soap and toothpaste to over-the-counter medications. Tens of thousands of others followed suit.

Many of our friends went to the American consulate to look up namesakes in the phone books of major cities and to ask potential or hoped for prospects to send them the necessary “affidavit of support” so they could at least apply for an American visa, even if they had expected a long waiting time.

We were luckier. We discovered a real, though long-forgotten, relative in Chicago – a great grand uncle who had once been a Hungarian consul in the United States. But he proved to be too old to issue an affidavit – the grantor of an affidavit had to prove that his income is substantial enough so that if the sponsored people came to the U.S. and could not support themselves, he would be able to fully support them. Fortunately, his son-in-law, a successful Chicago attorney – I was impressed by the statement in his affidavit that his income in 1938 had exceeded $20,000 per year – issued affidavits for my parents and me and one or two other equally remotely related families in Vienna.

Having not registered with the U.S. consulate until late 1938 due to my father’s reluctance to even consider leaving Austria, all we could hope for was to be placed on the waiting list, with a chance to get a visa about 18 months later. [Author’s note: this was relatively favorable, considering that those born in Poland, though living in Austria, had a waiting time of many years because the Polish quota had been filled up before the others.]

For months, we tried to find a means of leaving Austria for an interim stay somewhere Then we heard that one could advertise in British newspapers under certain conditions and explain our predicament. We inserted a small classified ad in the Manchester Guardian, which read “Austrian boy, age 14, with affidavit for America, needs temporary home in England.” To our surprise, after a few weeks, a very nice letter from a gentleman in Doncaster, Yorkshire, which is about two hours north of London, arrived, offering to take me into his home. He naïvely offered to pick me up in London the next weekend.

I accepted his offer, explaining it would take a few months before I could leave. I had to wait for an officially authorized children’s transport, a Kindertransport, which eventually materialized and, it almost seemed like a miracle, flawlessly transported me and many other unaccompanied children by train to Belgium, then by ferry to England. Leaving my tearful parents at home, I felt quite uneasy about having been saved.

Click here to continue to Page 4Visas, Smuggled Funds, and Kindnesses Shown

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