After Escape from Austria

Article excerpt


The story of the racial madness that swept mid-20th century Europe and resulted in the genocidal extermination of much of European Jewry is now firmly placed in the historiography of that time and place. Not just in all those history books, either: It has been implanted in the cultural consciousness of Europe and in most of the world. It was not always so, however. The word Holocaust was not in common use, and it was decades after the terrible events of the 1940s before a combination of numbness, aversion, understandable survivors' guilt and quite unwarranted but characteristic shame that seems to accompany victimhood wore off to permit memory to take its course.

The child of two relatively fortunate Austrians who managed an early escape from their homeland and found refuge in the United States, Carol Jean Delmar grew up as an American daughter with relatively little idea of the dramatic events that brought her parents to these shores. Only after her mother's death some years ago, did she begin, with some help from her father, to piece together their story. Serenade is as much about her and that journey as it is about them. Their reticence was typical, but it had the effect of investing their tale with an air of mystery that energized her quest. This led her to retrace their footsteps from their middle European beginnings to way stations in Italy, Panama and Cuba, and in the American South on their way to California, where they lived out the rest of their lives. She conveys throughout this book her keen determination to embrace that journey and, even more, their actual experience.

Sometimes, Ms. Delmar tries a little too hard to invest her parents' odyssey with more of the Perils of Pauline type of drama than it merits. They really were much luckier and had an easier time of it than many of their contemporaries. The money they expected to be waiting for them in a Swiss bank account was indeed available to them, some to ease their peregrinations, the rest to be transferred to the United States to await what they hope will be their speedy arrival there. Although they have to spend time cooling their heels in Panama and Cuba, neither is for very long before they are safe and sound in Miami. …