Austrian Cultural Forum, London
Curator: Anthony Auerbach
Klub Zwei: Which places in London are important for you?
Josefine Bruegel: I like the area where I live. In January 1947 we moved to the Hampstead Garden Suburb. You know, this is a very interesting area. It was created as a social experiment. It was one of the first suburbs with very famous architects and it was a lady from the East End of London who wanted to create a society with all branches of the society living together.
Ruth Rosenfelder: My parents came to England with nothing. There are no photographs, no imagery of anything. I never felt a sense of continuity and inheritance. Because anything that my parents possessed, that we had at home had been acquired during the war or post war. So, when my parents died, I felt very uneasy about taking any of their things. I felt that I was actually stealing them, that they didn’t belong to me. And it took me about ten years to get a sense of curatorship. This lamp behind me was my parents’. And I’m pleased to have it. But it took me a while.
Anni Reich: My mother came to London just before the war. And with her came all our luggage and our furniture. And I can still hear it. We lived in a house in Hampstead at that time and when the people came and brought the cases, everything was broken inside. I still hear it! All this broken glass.
Elly Miller: The discovery of the horror does colour one’s memory of what actually happened at that time. I mean, we also had fun on the way to England. In Zürich, when we were waiting to go to the train, my brother and I were rather naughty. And my father was very cross with us and he said: ‘Kinder, mit euch flücht ich nie mehr!’1
Klub Zwei: How is that for you, listening to what your mother says?
Tamar Wang: The main difference is the way you tell it now, the way we’re talking about it. The stories I heard as a child were all bits and pieces and, to me, your story was also intermingled with bits of dreadful stories that couldn’t really be talked about. The knowledge of genocide and the concentration camps, I think, colours everything.
Ruth Sands: Every now and then my father tried to talk about something in the past in Vienna. And he used to start all the sentences with ‘Bei uns in Wien.’2 And whenever my father said ‘Bei uns in Wien’ my mother got terribly angry. And she said always the same thing, and in German, ‘Es gibt nichts zu sagen.’3 So he used to stop straight away. And my mother never, never spoke about Vienna. She left Vienna and she was, I think, 33 and it was as if her life started when she was 33.
Klub Zwei: How come your book is called The Unsung Years?
Lisbeth Fischer-Leicht Perks: I thought it was a title that would mean that those years had not been celebrated, sung in a sense of celebrated, and yet they were years that were crucial to me.
Klub Zwei: You said you wrote the book as a dedication to your children.
Lisbeth Fischer-Leicht Perks: Yes. But also as a kind of a tribute to my family who had suffered and some of whom had perished in those years. So that it was partly a tribute to those that had died and partly an attempt to make my children and also my friends understand the circumstances which perhaps from historical documents are not so easily understood and accessible.
Rosemarie Nief: Yesterday I was looking back at the scholarly works written on the Holocaust. Most of these works focus on men’s experiences. Only recently, in the last 20 years, has this started to change – that women also write about their experiences. I think that they have destroyed the pre-war image of women’s vulnerability, passivity and powerlessness. By writing about their struggle, they display qualities like flexibility, determination, intelligence. This struggle, this success and this contribution that they make to society is an inspiration to all of us women.
Klub Zwei: Have you ever been to Austria or Germany?
Nitza Spiro: The world is full of interesting things ... and I avoided going there. I don’t quite know what happened to my family. I know they were killed, but exactly who killed them and where? And I was thinking, maybe I would sit in the bus and next to me will sit somebody who actually was involved in killing my own family. You know, you’re suspicious. And I felt that they didn’t deserve either my friendship or my non-friendship.
Katherine Klinger: I met some very nice people in Vienna. But I’m not doing this work to meet some very nice people. I want to know what goes on a deeper level. And what fascinated and appalled me the most is actually this whole business of Austria as the ‘first victim’. When we were planning the conference in Vienna, this German academic sent through a title for his talk. And the title was: ’Wie spricht man über den Strick im Haus des Henkers?‘. So I was doing a translation into English of this very interesting title. And I translated it as: ’How does one speak about the rope in the house of the hangman?‘. And my Austrian colleagues wrote back to me and they said: ‘Thanks very much for your translation, but you’ve translated it a bit wrongly. Because the translation is: How does one speak about the rope in the house of the hanged?’ And what I realised was that actually, from their point of view, that was their position. And that is the Austrian ‘first victim’ position.
Klub Zwei: Where do you see the difference between the Freud Museum in London and in Vienna?
Erica Davies: Well, they represent Freud in his Viennese context. And we are a museum to an exile. But we also represent that great emigration of people to Britain. And Vienna represents an absence.
Geraldine Auerbach: We did a Festival of Austrian-Jewish Culture in London in 1996 together with the Austrian Cultural Institute. In our film season we showed Stadt ohne Juden.4 In the film, the Jews are expelled from the city. Then the authorities realise how much poorer the city is after the loss of this population and invite the Jews to come back. That film, incredibly, was made in Austria in 1924. I wonder who saw it then, and what have they learned from it. I mean both, in the terrible part of the century and today.
1 Children, I won’t flee with you anymore
2 At home in Vienna
3 There is nothing to say
4 City without Jews
’Things. Places. Years. The Knowledge of Jewish Women.‘ A documentary by Klub Zwei, GB/A 2004, Production by amour fou, Distribution & Sales: Sixpack Film Vienna; Translation: Klub Zwei, Johanna Schaffer