Speaking German in a Dream

What Language Do You Dream in

I dream in English.
I daydream in French.
My nightmares are in German.

Of all the mishaps and misadventures
I have experienced in my literary career,
the following takes the cake.


Ptići i slavuji/ Hawks and Nightingales/
Current Burgenland Croatian Poetry
was published by Baumüller Verlag, 1983,
Editor-in-Chief was Dr. Albert F. Reiterer

I had been the first to translate Burgenland Croatian poetry into English and this collection was the first anthology of this Austrian lingual minority.

(Ditto for Carinthian Slovenian Poetry. The book was published in the following year.)

On June 28, 1983, there was a presentation of Hawks and Nightingales at the Croatian Academic Club. Dr. Reiterer composed a three-page invitation for the occasion on which the names of neither the editor nor translator were to be found. When queried about the omission, Dr. Reiterer stated that it was intentional and that it was not his policy to give such credit.

On November 10, 1983, a presentation of Hawks and Nightingales was slated to take place at the America House, for which I had acted as an intermediary. Presentations of Carinthian Slovenian Poetry and Austrian Poetry Today (Schocken Books) were to follow. And a reading tour featuring poetry from all three anthologies was planned.


On November 10, 1983, a presentation of Hawks and Nightingales was slated to take place at the America House, for which I had acted as an intermediary. Presentations of Carinthian Slovenian Poetry and Austrian Poetry Today (Schocken Books) were to follow. And a reading tour featuring poetry from all three anthologies was planned.

However, on November 9th, a day before the presentation, Cynthia Miller, the United States Cultural Attaché received a letter from Dr. Reiterer withdrawing from the presentation. Dr. Reiterer wrote: “I would like to convey to you, that due to recent events, publishing house will not be able to send a representative to the reading that you have planned.”

(The “recent events” were allegedly the invasion of Grenada.)

The buffet was delivered and set aside. The guests were sent home and all other events were cancelled. That was the end of my relationship with the American Embassy. I may not have been to blame for what had happened, but I had made the unfortunate connection with the man who had caused the cancellation.

When I called Dr. Reiterer, he in informed me that he had achieved his intentions.

After our brief phone conversation, I received a bill for complimentary copies of Hawks and Nightingales dated November 23, 1983, which I had distributed for PR and funding purposes. I quote, “Regretfully we cannot agree to having the book presented to people such as Peter Rath, who is the owner of a glass and chandelier company that has absolutely no connection with our publishing house.”

Peter Rath of Lobmeyr happened to be one of the sponsors of Austrian Poetry Today (Schocken Books, New York) and received credit for his generosity in that publication.

(The address of Lobmeyr Glass Company is Kärntner Strasse 26, next door to where my paternal grandmother lived before her deportation. She lived on the second floor of Kärntner Strasse 28)

On December 20, 1983, I received a letter from Dr. Reiterer informing me that Herbert Gassner of the Croatian Academic Club had purchased 50 copies of Hawks and Nightingales on condition that Dr. Reiterer desist from harassing me with bills for complementary copies.

I quote Reiterer: “We regret that an uninvolved third party has entered this situation.”

“This situation” must be unique in publishing history. An editor bemoans the sale of multiple copies of a book that he has published. Harassing a translator took precedence over the commercial aspects.

“Always remember, others may hate you,
but those who hate you don’t win
unless you hate them,
and then you destroy yourself.”
– Richard M. Nixon
(Wise words from a man I do not admire.)

You could cut through the emotion
with a knife!



I had been under the false impression
that scholars were my brothers and sisters.
Thank you, Herr Doktor, for cluing me in!



It could not be said that my fellow editors
twiddled their thumbs during this confrontation
since they sat on their hands.

At the time Feliks Bister and I were having lunch
at the Sandwirth Restaurant in Klagenfurt with Lojze Wieser,
a literary publisher. Bister ventured to say that Reiterer was right
to book me for the complementary copies of the Croatian book.
Apparently being in the editor’s good graces was essential to him.

At that, I should have gotten up, left the premises and said adieu.
I foolishly tried to gloss over that comment, but I failed and it struck me in the face with full force much later


Language Lost and Regained

By returning to the scene
of former proceedings in 1963,
first-hand material was handed to me
on a silver platter.

What’s the name of the game?
What sentiment was at play?

Let’s call a spade a spade!
What is the name of the game?

What is the motivation
for such behavior?

Did some take up
where others had left off?

Did the echo of “old days”
reverberate in “new days?”

I ask questions
I do not have to answer.


Was and Is

This is how it was
and this is how it is.

It did not begin here,
nor did it end here.

(You could cut through the emotion
with a knife!)



Not too long ago, I had a dream.
I was attending a symposium at a university.
As I was walking on the campus, I saw
the editor in question. I approached him
and threw a German expletive at him
before waking up.

That’s the complete dream. I cannot remember
ever having spoken German a dream
since leaving “Ostmark” in July of 1939.

After the annexation of Austria in 1938,
you didn’t have to have nightmares.

My next location was London,
where I started to learn English,
and my dreams switched to that language.
A year later I landed in New York.

Back at my original location
my subconscious-self broke through
my customary civility and decorum
to throw a word at perpetrator in a dream
in a language I lost in very young years
(but made efforts to regain in my teens).

The word I dreamt is “Drecksau!”
(Apparently, there is no English word
to match it.)


Kärntner Strasse 28

My paternal grandmother had tailoring salon on the second floor of Kärntner Strasse 28, the elegant shopping street in the first district. I remember playing on the floor with a wind-up racing car with a removable driver. My grandfather died in 1935, the year of my birth.

It was my cousin Peter who told me about the deportation. When the Gestapo came for my grandmother his father, my Uncle Fritz and a customer were in the apartment. They pushed my grandmother around and struck her since elderly Jewish women didn’t warrant any other treatment. When Uncle Fritz protested, they told him that he could come along.

Peter and my Aunt Lotte were in England at the time. Uncle Fritz had planned to follow, but he had waited in vain for a visa. His last words to Peter are contained in the following letter.


My dear, dear Peter,

When you read these lines you will no longer have a father. Don’t be too sad about that. We cannot interfere with the course of fate. I do not know how old you will be when you read these lines. Now you are nine, and I feel that I must let you know that every thought about you fills me with joy and pride. I can truly say that you are a fine son. You have a good hold on life and I fervently wish that you will continue to develop physically and spiritually in the same manner.

I cannot give you much advice on your path. You are so young, too young to understand me completely today, but there is one thing I want to say. You still have your mother, a mother who is wonderful. I am sure that there is that there is none better in the world today. She is very unhappy. Try to console her! So much grief and sadness lie ahead of her. Be a good son and prepare yourself for manhood so that you can help her.

When you left Vienna, I thought that I would be able to follow you soon and that I could begin a new life somewhere in the world: you, your mother and 1 together. But fate has taken a different turn.

Be brave, my son! You have to be tough and hardy to cope with life. Go your way without swerving and don’t let life get the better of you! Be proud of your parents! They are disconsolate, but through no fault of their own.

If you become a man your mother can be proud of, I have not lived in vain.

Good luck, my son,
Your father


The offices of the right-wing Freedom Party were located in what was once the apartment of my grandparents on Kärntner Strasse 28. Now a trend clothing store is at that address.


– Herbert Kuhner