The Boy

There’s one photo by Roman Vishniac that is indelible in my mind. A rabbi is teaching a Yeshiva class of young boys. One of the boys has turned and has been caught by the camera before seeing it. The location is a shtetl somewhere in Eastern Europe. That black and white photo seems to glow. There’s warmth between teacher and pupils. And the beatific smile of the boy who is turning is the smile of an angel. There’s no question as to what happened to the kindly rabbi and his class of boys. They didn’t have the money or means for escape. They went the way of East European Jewry. The route they were forced to take ended in the jaws of the juggernaut. They went the way of my Aunt Helena and my Uncles Fritz and Heinrich in the Leopoldstadt. That sweet world of the shtetl and cities like Chernovitz and Lemberg and Jewish sections like the Leopoldstadt of Vienna has been captured by the canvasses of Isidor Kaufmann, the camera of Roman Vishniac and the poems of Else Keren. That world has been trampled underfoot by Nazi hordes and turned to ash by Nazi gangsters and henchmen. That world is no more and it is gone forever. The boy with the beatific smile did not grow up and his world, a world of warmth and kindness went with him, never to return again. The world that followed his is a world where cruelty and barbarity reign untrammeled. The Third Reich may have been defeated in war, but its spirit has left its mark.

Roman Vishniac


The End of Fritz

We will gag the impudent Jewish mouth.
– Josef Goebbels

I discovered Kafka, Schnitzler and Zweig in my teens in the Fifties. These great writers took their place among the American, English and French writers that I was reading. As I was relearning German, I read more and more Austrian writers. I read German writers too, but the Austrians were my favorites.

I read their work, but I also read about their lives. That meant reading about tragic circumstances.

When I returned to Austria, I could not avoid being confronted with the reality of the past. Egon Friedell jumped to his death from the balcony of a house across the street in Gentzgasse, where I live. I pass the spot every day.

Gentzgasse_1180 Vienna

Kafka and Schnitzler died before the Third Reich became a reality. Zweig lived to see it, but couldn’t bear the reality of it and ended his life due to it. Just recently I read about Fritz Grünbaum’s fate. I have seen old films of Fritz’s cabaret routines. They are a pleasure for the eyes and ears – and life affirming! Fritz was small and bald, but he had oodles of charm. He was simply a delight.

Fritz Grünbaum

What life Fritz had! He seemed to catch on immediately. He was a man everyone liked – except the National Socialists.

Fritz did not manage to emigrate. He had spoofed the Nazis, and they had him on their list. When they marched in, he tried to flee to Czechoslovakia with his wife, but they were sent back at the border. It didn’t take long for the Gestapo to get him.

Life was fine for many Jews in Austria before March of 1938. It was fine for my family too, but during that month life turned into Hell. We got out in July of 1939. And for those who did not get out, Hell only ended with death.

I have to say this. The orders came from above and were unmerciful. But those who carried them out often didn’t need orders. They killed and tormented at random. And their means were “creative.” They thought up the most barbarous and painful manner of torture and murder.

Here is what the SS did to Fritz: He was forced to lie on the floor and ordered to stick his tongue out
while all those present wiped their boots on his mouth.

This was of course symbolic. That tongue and larynx had mocked Hitler and his Gang.

Fritz was shown no mercy. He was not killed on the spot. There was more excruciating suffering in store for him before his death. The utmost cruelty reserved for those whose opposition was public

I say that the guilt of this deed can never be expunged. If there is a Hell and the monsters who committed it are in it, no Hell could ever cause more suffering than Fritz Grünbaum underwent. And he was not the only one. He was one of multitudes

If there is a Paradise, an eternity of bliss could not make up for the suffering caused by such monstrous deeds.
Nor could an Eternity of Hellfire suffice as punishment for the perpetrators.


There is nothing more to say

The Past is Not the Past
A team was sent to Turkey by the Royal Saudi Head of State
to kill Jamal Khashoggi, a dissident journalist,
and then to cut him up and dispose of the severed parts.
But that was not enough. They cut him up alive.
Members of our government do not want to hear the tape
of this event because they do not understand Arabic.

Jamal Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul

– Herbert Kuhner