In the Autumn of 1938, just a few months after the „Anschluss“, the annexation of Austria to Nazi-Germany, anti-semitism began to escalate. On the night of the 9th/10th November Austrian Jews were subject to an orgy of violence. It’s a story of rascism and pure hate, it’s a story of the nine-year old Vera, her brother and her father.
Five children, the oldest twelve or thirteen, three girls and two boys in a group with their suitcases in hand. One of the boys has an old satchel on his back and a girl the youngest of the group, is holding a teddy bear in her arms. In front of them on the floor lie a siutcase and a violin. Their facial expressions speak for themselves, a mixture of fear and anticipation. The journey will be made without any adult companionship. We can ask why are they making this journey and what their final destination might be. Could it be that one of these chlidren is Vera Schwarz who had left Innsbruck, her hometown, days before and arrived yet in London?
No, Vera is not among this group. The children are figures cast in bronze at the main entrance of Liverpool Street Station in London. The group of children emerged from the imagination of the sculptor Frank Meisler but the context was real as was the experience of Vera. The group of figures commemorates the flight to safety of thousands of Jewish children who sought refuge from Nazis persecution in England. These were the so called „Kindertransporte“ (Refugee Children Movement) from November 1938 until September 1939.
The Vera of our narrative arrived in London from Innsbruck in Autumn 1938. Her father’s departementstore in Innsbruck had been confiscated by the Nazis during the process of the so called „Asyanisation“ and the family had to live in fear. Her father’s priotity was the safety of his daughter and his son Karl Heinz.
„July1938.For Karl Heinz I got the passport. Both children received a free place at the Alexander House School in England. Now I’m waiting for Vera’s passport, then I will submit the English visa. I am so happy that my children are provided for one year at least“*, This is, what Ernst Schwarz wrote in his diary just a few months after the „Anschluss“.
Vera Adams (married name) recollection of events has been dimmed by time and of what happened to her family. „It must have definitely been bad for me. Therefore i might not remember this time a lot“, she says, sitting in the lobby of the Innsbruck Hilton close by the Landhaus, the Federal Council Building built by the Nazis. In the same area is the monument which commemorates the November Pogrom in Innsbruck and the Freedom Monument erected by the French occupying forces after World War Two. Vera had returned to Innsbruck with her husband Kenneth Adams in 2010. She had been invited to the presentation of the book „Von Bauer & Schwarz zum Kaufhaus Tyrol“; a history of her father’s store.
„I’m living a nervous, unsatisfactory life. I’m not in Innsbruck and I’m not in England yet. The political situation is extremely tense again. There is great danger of war. I want to go through the war and collapse somwhere different, not here. I’m filled with hatred and contempt.“ Ernst Schwarz had to face the brutal grimace of anti-semitism. His family’s department store on Maria Theresien Street was taken away from him at a rediculous price; the store was „Arayanised“, he became an outcast shunned by the very people who had previously greeted him in his store.
„My father hardly talked about it“, says Vera Adams, „he was so bitter.“ The melancholy expression on Vera’s face tells it’s own story as she talks with a journalist reflecting on this time in her life. It is clear that the book launch has re-engaged Vera with a traumatic time in her life.
Vera’s husband Kenneth remarked that he, Vera’s father, was a very bitter man; Kenneth had supported Vera throughout the interview, often taking the questions himself as Vera tired. Kenneth knew Vera’s father well meeting him several times before Ernst died in 1975. Kenneth says, that „Ernst talked to me more about his experiences than to Vera“, . They discussed politics, economy and of course history, and Ernst prefering to speak in English.
„July 27 1938. I want to forget the German language entirely. … Today, brown hordes move through the city singing ‚Hängt’s die Juden, stellt’s die Schwarz an die Wand‘ [hang the Jews, put the Schwarz up against the wall] … The street disgusts me, the people who walk down there carefree and happy, disgust me. Nature and the mountains do not attract me anymore. I do not want to see them. I don’t want to have anything to do with what is going on arround me. I prefer to be in my flat in the so familiar rooms. Soon I will no longer have them.“ This was just a few months after the „Anschluss“.
Ernst Schwarz continued to be worried about the future of his family. Until August 2 1938 nothing was decided: „For days my mood was terrible. There’s no progress with Veralein’s passport. Now I’ve been waiting for five weeks and it has to be sent to Vienna. How they torment us! Maybe the children can leave at the end of August. Everything around me is strange and hateful.“
Kenneth Adams tells the journalist that „there was a lot of anti-semitism in the United Kingdom, it was not easy for Jewish immigrants from across Europe.“ Despite this difficult situation for the Schwarz family it was preferable for them to leave their homeland and flee to a foreign land.
„If I should go to England I will be a stranger, a refugee like thousands.Where people may be suspicious and relucant to welcome immigrants who they see as parasites, expelled people they do not want in their homeland, vermin. There are people in England who do not want to get along with Jews. So I get to see the fate of the Jews, as have often happened in the past in our history but I never thought that it would happen to me. My only wish is that my two children would soon be in England. There they will grow up among humans, yet they only have a free place in school for one year, what then?“
After weeks of waiting good news occured.
„11 August 1938. Hooray! Both passports with visas have returned from Vienna.“ This was the first positive thing that Ernst Schwarz had experienced for a long time.
In Vienna, at the Westbahnhof train station a young boy is sitting on his suitcase. Is he waiting for his sister? No, it’s not Karl Heinz Vera’s brother, rather a bronze statue but it could have been him.
In Innsbruck meanwhile Ernst Schwarz was arrested and inprisoned until March 1939, when he was eventually released he left the Tyrol for England and was reunited with his children on 27 March. He now also was safe.
* Ernst Schwarz‘ diary entries translated by the author.Text: David Bullock
Bild: Wikipedia, Paul Dean
Bild: Wikipedia, Paul Dean