** war and social upheaval : World War II -- Austrian Holocaust individual children

The Holocaust in Austria: Individual Experience

Figure 1.--

The experiences of Austrian Jews are horrifying. The accounts we have found are beyond human comprehension. And unlike German Jews, they did not have several years of experience with the NAZIs to prepare. What occurred in Austria was what many in the SA wanted after the NAZIs seized control of Germany in 1933. Here we are collecting the personal experiences with the NAZI Holocaust of individual Austrian Jews and families. We would be very interested in any additional information HBC readers can provide.

Robert Borger

The NAZIs executed the Anschluss (March 1938). The whole edifice of NAZI sopression erected over 5 years in Germany, was immediately imposed on Austria Jews. NAZI SA Stormtroopers roamed Vienese streets intent on beating amd humiliating Jews. Jewish men and women were acosted on the street and dragged out of their homes and made to scrub sidewalks and clean public toilets. It was obvious to most Austrian Jews that they needed to escape, but that was diffiucult and other countries were not willing to accept many of them. And to get out of the Reich, Jews need to get a country to accept them. One way to do that was to get a job so they could prove that they would not be a public charge. So you beah to see adverts in British newspapers for Austrians seeking jobs as butlers, chaufers, cooks, housekeepers, and nannies. Other s were desperate to at least get their children out. The Guardian nespaper reprts that there were not only afverts for Austrians seekling jobs, but for parents extolling the virtues of their children in an effort to gets British to taken them in. The Guasrdian eventually created a special dection--'Refugee Advertisements'. The adverts appeated in oyher British newspapers--but the Guasrdian sas seen as the most sympthetic. Newspaper adverts became in effect a rare avenue of escape before Kristallnacht led to the Kindertransport (November 1938). One such ad was caprioned 'tuitoion' and read 'I seek a kind person who will educate my intelligent Boy, aged 11, Viennese of good family.' [August 3, 1938] The small ad, cost a shilling a line, was placed by Leo and Erna Borger. Robert was uidentified as a Jew by his classmates. At the time Jewsing children in Gerrmany had been driven out of the public schools. He was seized by an SA gang who for a time locked him inside the local synagogue. His father Leo, who owned a radio and musical instrument shop, was oredered tonreport to Gestapo headquarters to register. Like oither other Viennese Jews he has sessions sdcrubbing pavements on his hands and knees which gatthered amused and jeering crowds. He was called again and held over night. Welsh schoolteachers, Nancy and Reg Bingley, replied to the the ad and took in Ribert. They saw to his education throiugh his teen years in Caernarfon. His parents also managed to get jobs and made it out. [Borger] They were lucky. As with the Kindertransport children, most never saw theiur parents again.

Federn Family

Paul Federn (1871-1950) grew up in a highly assismalatd Vienna Jewish family. Even before the NAZIs he was conflicted about religion and his ethnic identity. He became a notable psychitist. When the NAZIs seized Austria, conversion to Christianity meant nothing. The Nuremberg Laws defined jews in biological, thnic terms. Ferdund managed with is international contacts to get most of his immediate family out after the Anschluss (1938), except his youngest son Ernst who somehow managed to survive. He was near death in Buchenwald when the Americans liberated the camp (1945). Most of the rest of his family, however, was shattered in the Holocaust.

Goldstein Boys

The Goldstein story is typical of the 25 accounts of hidden children assembeled by Howard Greenfield in his book The Hidden Children. Jack and Bobby's family had to trust strangers to take care of their sons and hide them so that they might survive the NAZI Holocaust. The righteous strangers made it possible for two boys to be delivered from out of the evil that was Hitler's New Order. The Goldstein's were Austrian Jews leading a normal, comfortable life in Vienna. After the Anchsluss managed to get to Belgium. The boys were almost picked up in a raid. After this Father Bruno arranged to hide them in a convent.

Etta Johnson

When German troops invaded Austria, my parents decided that the family must emigrate from their native country and find a new home. The destruction and terror of Nov. 10, 1938, during the anti-Jewish riots known as Kristallnacht, or the night of breaking glass, helped speed up that decision. They learned about the children's transports called "Kindertransports" and applied to have their young children sent to Great Britain from their now-hostile homeland. Stepping onto the train at Westbahnhof station in Vienna on April 26, 1939 was the most important step I had taken in my young life. With that step, I left home clutching only my little sister's hand and a small bag of belongings. I can still smell the steamy odor and hear the hissing sound of the train beginning to move. [Johnson]

Eric Kandel

Eric Kandel is a brilliant Nobel laureat in neural science at Colombia Unive5rsity. He was living with his family in Vienna when the Anchluss occurred (March 1938). The next day a friend told him that jhis father had told him not to speak with Eric anymore. For several months the other children in his class did not speak with him, except for one girl. Eventually he was expelled from his school and went to a Jewish school. On Kristalnacht his father was arrested. Two NAZI police nen showed up at their apartment. Eric had just turned 9 years old. His mother was given a few minutes to pack a few belongings and his mother with Eric and his brother then they were thrown out into the street. They were taken in by another Jewish family. His father was released after only a few days because he had served in the Austro-Hungarian army during World War I. When they returned to their aprtment, everything of value had been removed. He remembers because all of his toys were gone, looted by neighbors. This included all his birthday presents. The family managed to get out of NAZI Germany because they had relatives in America. They left in stages, his parents got out only a few months before World War II began and reached the United Statyes--Brooklyn. It was his desire to learn how such horrors occurred that led him into neuroscience.

Popper Family

Ludwig Popper (1904-84) was born in Vienna and grew up in Paris and Zurich. He received his Ph. D. from the University of Vienna as a physician (1927). Popper worked in Vienna General Hospital (until 1936). He married Friederike Bednarsky (1934). Their first child, Peter, was born (1936). In the same year Dr. Ludwig was dismissed from Vienna General Hospital because of his Jewish origin. This of course was before the NAZIs seized control of Austria. We are not sure if this was done legally under Austrian law or was a private act of bias. Thrir second son Lutz Elija was born (1938). A few days later, NAZI Germany staged the Anschluss and widespread violence against Jews began. The Popper family was able to esape by entering Switzerland. This probably saved their lives. We are not sure how this was possible. Austrian Jews were desperated and beseiged foreign embassies for visas. The Swiss did not allow many Jews into the country. And during the War turned many foreign (non-Swiss) Jews over to the NAZIs. Perhaps the Popper family already had a visa because Ludwig had previously lived in Zurich. Dr. Popper obtained a visa to enter Bolivia before the War (1939). Bolivia also did not grant many visas to Jews. Their daughter Susanne was born in Bolivia (1941). Dr. Popper worked 8 years in the Bolivian military medical service. He following the troops with his family. They spent most of these years in the Gran Chaco. Bolivia fought one of the major South American wars with Paraguay in the Chaco. The Popper family returnedcto to Vienna after the War (1947). We suspect that the fact that they spent only a shirt time under NAZI control was a factor. Lutz Elija Popper published his father's memoirs and the story of the family's survival (2006).

Rotmil Family

My parents along with my brother and sister manage to get us out of Germany to Belgium (1939). We were housed at the Marneffe refugee camp. I was the youngest, 6 years old when we arrived at Marneffe. we shared responsibilities. I remember some people cooked. My mother was in charge of the baths, thus I was in a tub half the time. I also recall wonderful communal dining. It was a peaceful place to be, a refuge more than anything. Then Germany invaded Belgium (May 1940). we had to pack our suitcases and join the throngs of people trying to escape toward France. We also assumed that the French Army would again stop the Germans as they did in World War I. We walked for 4 days. Luftwaffe aircraft strafed the long lines of refugees clogging the French roads, killing and wounding people. Finally we made it to Arras and there boarded a train that tragically crashed in Morgny La Pommeraie, killing 50 people and injuring 150. My brother and I were among the wounded. Our mother and sister were killed. After the Fall, my brother and I returned to Brussels searching for our father who we had become separated from on the road. There we lived with him. He was arrested and deported to Auschwitz where he was murdered. Father Bruno Reynders from the Abbe du Mont Cesar took ny brother and I under his wings, and hid us with other families, the Luyckx among them. He managed to hide 400 children. Not long ago I made a documentary of my journey, including a visit to Malines where Marneffe was located. [Rotmil] I would like to contact others who were at Marneffe.

Siegfried Ramler

Mac Simpson tells us that he is just finishing the design of a book called Nuremberg and Beyond - The Memoirs of Siegfried Ramler. Sig is now 84 (and still running marathons). Born in the Leopoldstadt neighborhood in Vienna in 1924, he witnessed Kristallnacht through the curtains of the family's darkened apartment as his father hid in the attic. Elsewhere in Vienna that night, his grandfather was taken away and never seen again. Sig was rescued via Kindertransport on the second train from Vienna in December 1938. Once in London, alone at 14, he volunteered to serve as a firewatcher, standing on the roof of a building as German bombers attacked the city during the Blitz. During the day Sig worked in a factory and studied English to add to his skills in German and French, Toward the end of the war. the advancing US Army was streaming into Germany and needed German/English translators to deal with both civilians and surrendering troops. Sig was given a test, passed, and sent to the continent. As the war wound down, he defied orders--there's an irony here--to return to England and instead hitchhiked from the airport where he had been dropped off, to Nuremberg. There he was instantly hired as an interpreter for the upcoming trials. Sig helped to interrogate Speer, Hess, Göring, etc. when they were brought in and stayed through their trials to work the less-publicized later ones. He met and married a Hawaiian woman, who was a Nuremberg court reporter, and ended up in the Islands as a world class teacher and program director at Punahou School (currently famous as the alma mater of Barack Obama). [Simpson}


Borger, Julian. "'I seek a kind person': the Guardian ad that saved my Jewish father from the Nazis," The Guardian (May 6, 2021).

Johnson, Etta, "Goodbye to Austria," The Washington Post (May 28, 2004), p. W11.

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Created: 9:10 PM 7/23/2010
Last updated: 10:02 PM 5/6/2021