VIENNA, 1938: A Child’s View

by Kurt Fuchel

“Times are Bad,” Mutti says. Papa doesn’t go to work any more, and he doesn’t talk much. He plays with me, but he doesn’t smile. I ask, “What is the matter? Was I bad? Did I make too much noise, did Frau Brandt come up again?” Papa tells me, “Times are Bad, but it will pass.” In the evening, when I’m in my bed, I hear them talking quietly. They telephone a lot, they have important-looking papers on the table and the telephone book and a big map.

Mutti makes flowers out of cloth and wire until after I go to bed. She says it’s to earn money because Papa doesn’t work now. She heats funny looking tools in a small fire, and bends the cloth so that it looks like petals. Her flowers are pretty, but not as nice as the real ones, but I don’t tell her that.

I’m not allowed to go to my old school with my friends any more! I have to take the tram all the way to the end and then walk through some woods. The school isn’t a real school, but a house. The class is in Herr Buxbaum’s living room. All the big people furniture is pushed up against the wall, and we sit on little stools in the middle of the room. There are only ten of us and we are all Jewish. Herr Buxbaum teaches everything, all mixed up. I enjoy the arithmetic best of all. I can add, subtract, and multiply. Frau Buxbaum is nice and makes us hot cocoa.

Today the tram conductor said a bad word. He pulled the bell on the wrong side of the tram, so that it rang in the back instead of the front. The trams used to run on the left side, now they run on the right. I talk to all the people on the tram and tell them the bad things Herr Hitler has done, like telling Papa he can’t work in the bank any more.

A shop which sells chairs, mirrors and things has a picture of our living room in its front window! A real photographer with a big camera came and took the picture. He had big lights, and a big, skinny dog which sat next to my mother I wanted to play with the dog, but the man said that he doesn’t like little children and may bite me.

I can’t go to school alone any more. People on the tram were angry that I was saying bad things, so now Papa takes me to school and back home. We don’t talk while we’re on the tram, but when we walk in the woods he tells me that people will be very angry if I say bad things about Herr Hitler. “But he is a bad man,” I say. Papa nods but doesn’t say anything.

A lady comes to our house. She says she saw the picture in the store and wants to see the house. Her name is Frau Januba. She is very elegant with long blond hair. I think she looks a little like the photographer’s dog.

Mitzi, my nursemaid, is leaving us! She and Mutti are crying. Mitzi looked after me since I was born. I ask her why she has to go, and if it’s because I pulled the table cloth and dishes off the table when I was angry. She says she doesn’t want to leave, but she has to. She hugs and kisses me, and I cry too.

Frau Januba comes and shows Mutti and Papa a piece of paper. I see that it has on it the silly twisted cross and several stamps with pictures of a big bird, an eagle, I think. Frau Januba says “This apartment is mine now.” Papa is very angry with Frau Januba. He shouts, “How dare you take all we have worked for!” Frau Januba shouts, “If you say one word more, I’ll have you sent to a concentration camp!”

I have been listening to all this and I run in and tell Frau Januba, “You are a BAD woman! You lied to us when you came last time!” Frau Januba screams, “Take the child out of here!” Papa takes his coat and says, “I’m going to the Brown House.” Mutti grabs his arm and won’t let him go. “You’ll just get into trouble – you know your temper,” she yells, “I’ll go!.” I wonder what’s so terrible about a brown house. Omama comes to stay with me. Papa goes out without saying goodbye.

Next morning when I wake up, there are suitcases on the floor. Papa tells me that we have to move and I can only take a few of my toys. “We’ll send the rest to Uncle Alfred in North Africa, and he will keep them for you.” Our new home has only one room. I have to sleep in the big bed between Papa and Mutti. I like that, but I miss my toys.

Whenever I play, Mutti or Papa says “Sshh, Kurtl, you must be very quiet. Pretend you’re a mouse.”

One day Papa tells me that we are going to move again, but not together. He and Mutti will put me on a train and some nice people will meet me in a place called England, and I will stay with them for a short time and then he and Mutti will come for me. I like trains, but I ask, “Who will look after me, who will tell me where to get off, and why can’t we all go together? Papa picks me up and puts me on his knee. He says, “This is how it must be, and you have to be a good boy and do what the ladies on the train tell you to do. You’re not a baby any more, but a big boy of seven.”