Academic journal article German Quarterly

Walking with Ghosts. A Jewish Childhood in Wartime Vienna

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Walking with Ghosts. A Jewish Childhood in Wartime Vienna

Article excerpt

Trahan, Elisabeth Welt. Walking with Ghosts. A Jewish Childhood in Wartime Vienna. New York: Lang, 1998. 252 pp. $25.00.

Trahan's account of her childhood in Vienna during the war is a work of memory that recalls an amazing past both personal and general. Narrated in the meandering ways of a recollection that searches for its trajectory, it conjures up images and experiences that join together to reveal an unusual life in extraordinary circumstances.

Trahan was born in Berlin in 1924 and lived in Ostrau (Moravska Ostrava), Czechoslovakia, from 1929 to 1939. Her father-her mother had died earlier-moved her to Vienna where they managed to survive the war and Holocaust. It was not a model childhood Trahan experienced in the Bohemian countryside although she remembers her time with relatives as an Arcadian period of carefree enjoyment of the pleasures of the land, the river, and the people.

A self-centered, difficult man, her father was a Jew from the Bukowina with Romanian papers that gave him privileges in wartime Vienna that turned out to be life saving ones. Despite a very powerful drive to make the city judenrein, Vienna was quite a haven for people to become "subs," that is, to go underground. In addition, the Nazi system of classifying Jews and distinguishing mixed marriages often gave advantages to those who were not rein. Trahan recalls a complicated system that freed Jewish women married to Aryan men from wearing the yellow star, whereas Jewish spouses of Aryan women had to wear this infamous sign except when they had children who had been baptized before a given date. Besides, all members of mixed marriages, even the Aryan ones, were forced to use Jewish hospitals only. They also had to fix the yellow star on their front doors.

Trahan bases her memoirs on free recollections, on diaries, documents, and histories of the Shoah. She records that in 1938 there were approximately 185,000 Jews living in Vienna while their numbers had shrunk to a mere 3,400 by the end of 1944. Seventy died in the bombarding of the Israelitische Kultusgemeinde and eleven were deported before the war's end. Intriguingly, in April 1945, after Vienna was liberated, 219 people surfaced from the underground, 74 of them men who had the most difficulty surviving Nazi persecution. However, Trahan mentions another report that lists 5,816 Jews at war's end in Vienna, mainly so-called "Geltungsjuden," Jews of importance whom the Nazis exempted from deportation because of their much needed services as doctors. These were deprived of their titles and simply called "judische Krankenbehandler," `Jewish caregivers.' Trahan provides important insights into the highly differentiated system used to exploit Jews for economic benefits in the war effort. Hence there were many jobs manned by Jews who enjoyed a privileged situation until they too were sent to the camps.

A special case was made for foreign Jews who were often simply considered and treated as foreigners regardless of their being Jewish. Trahan gives a vivid example of her father's ultimately successful attempts to obtain his Romanian passport. For three years the Gestapo accepted a note from the Romanian Consul that merely indicated that an application for a passport had been submitted. Not until Christmas 1943 did this passport become a reality. Prior to that, Trahan's father had managed to get identification papers that were not stamped with the infamous "J" for Jew, which facilitated his access to rationed food and other life necessities. …

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