December 28, 2020
By Alfred Traum
Several years ago I received an invitation to visit Vienna, Austria, a good will gesture organized by the Austrian Government. The purpose was to reach out to Holocaust survivors who had left their homes in Vienna during the second World War. We were a group of about 60, of which half were born in Vienna. I was the only one who had left Vienna on the Kindertransport. Josie, my wife, came along as my guest. We all stayed at the Hotel Stefanie in the second district, Leopoldstatte, once the center of Jewish life in Vienna. The hotel was comfortable, the food excellent, but smiles and cheerful conversations were not on the menu. However, the housekeeping staff greeted us in a very friendly manner; they were all Turkish immigrants.
A bus arrived to take us on a city tour with lunch arranged at a beautiful site in a suburb with a grand view of the city. Our tour guide, who was fairly young, engaged us all in good conversation. It became only too evident in the difference of attitude towards our group expressed by the older and younger generation.
The tour bus was too large to make a U turn in the street and had to go down a side street to accomplish the turn. As we turned onto the side street, I was shocked to notice that it was Tundelmarktstrasse, the street where my uncle and his family lived. I was a frequent visitor there. My uncle owned the apartment building where they lived. Three of my cousins had immigrated to Palestine, my sister and I were in England, and, as a result, my parents moved in with my uncle to make life a little easier.
As a volunteer at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, I conducted research using the International Tracing Service (ITS) archive. On one occasion, I was reviewing deportation lists. One of the lists was of deportations from Vienna. I scanned down to the “T’s” and there was my entire family: Mother, Father, uncle, aunt, and one cousin. Each name had their then current address, date, and place of birth followed by the place, Minsk, to where they were being deported. All neatly arranged. All those listed were being sent to their deaths. My boss at the Museum, who is a wealth of information, told me at an earlier time that those earmarked going to Minsk would face the firing squad and dumped into large prepared ditches.
When we got back to the hotel I took a walk over to Tandelmarktgasse, the place I once loved to visit. I knew that trucks would have come and taken all the Jews to the train station and then taken to cattle rail cars for a two-day journey to Minsk. My mind flew back to better times: whenever we went anywhere as a whole family, we took a taxi. There was a taxi station at the top of the street. I was proud to select a taxi that had a whole low step into the cab to make it easier for my father as he was crippled from his service in the Austrian army during World War I.
I shuddered to think how the current Austria treats its injured veterans. Also, I had learned that in places like Minsk large ditches were prepared, and as soon as the trucks arrived, the prisoners, no matter if they were young or old, were lined up against the ditch and the Einsatzgruppen, mobile killing troops, carried out their dastardly task of shooting all so they fell into the pits. Worse still, were those who were wounded falling into the pit in great pain from their wounds and then crushed by others falling on top of them. I made a short prayer that my parents would have died swiftly. That the murderer’s bullet made their ending swift. A strange prayer to make. With those thoughts still in my head, I returned to the hotel. Josie was in the lobby and said, “Freddie where have you been? You look gastly, as if you had seen a ghost.” I replied, “Yes, but not one, more like 40!”View All Blog Posts