Wisdom of the Hohenems Diaspora: Stefan Zweig

A few lines from Zweig’s Manuscript – that we exhibited in our show “The First Europeans” in 2014 as a loan from the Library of Congress

We are working on a library of descendants. Preparing ourselves for the Reunion in July this year we searched our files for the books of the Hohenems descendants – and we extend our collection. While we do this we look back into waht we found already, and from to time will share this with you. Let’s start with Stefan Zweig and his memoirs The World of Yesterday. Memories of a European, written in his years of Exile, before he committed suicide with his last companion Lotte Altmann in Petropolis, Brazil, in February 1942.
He had begun with this project in 1934, but was working on it seriously in the last years of his life, when he lived in Great Britain and then in New York (using the Library of Congress in Washington as a major source) and finally in Brazil. His remarks about his Hohenems family is full of irony.

This Kind of Nobility

My mother whose maiden name was Brettauer was of a different, international descent. She had been born in Ancona, in southern Italy, and Italian was as much her childhood language as German; always when she was discussing something with my grandmother or her sister that the servants should not understand she switched to Italian. Risotto and artichokes which were still a rarity at the time as well as the other specialties of Mediterranean cooking were familiar to me from my earliest childhood, and whenever I later went to Italy, I immediately felt at home.

But my mother’s family were by no means Italian, rather they were consciously international; early on the Brettauers, who originally owned a banking business, had spread out across the world from Hohenems, a small place on the Swiss border – following the model of the great Jewish banking families, but of course on a much more modest scale. Some went to St. Gallen, others to Vienna and Paris, my grandfather to Italy, one uncle to New York, and these international contacts gave them more polish, a wider outlook, and a certain family arrogance into the bargain. (…)
As a large-scale industrialist my father was certainly respected, but my mother, though very happily married to him, would never have tolerated his relations being put on a par with hers. This pride in coming from a “good” family was ineradicable in all the Brettauers, and when in later years one of them wanted to show me special goodwill, he would say condescendingly, “But you really are a true Brettauer”, as if wanting to say in recognition: “You came down on the right side.”
This kind of nobility which many a Jewish family assumed on its own authority amused me and my brother even as children, and soon annoyed us too. Again and again we got to hear that these people were “refined” and those “unrefined”, enquiries were carried out into every friend to see if he came from a “good” family and checks were made down to the last detail about the origin both of his relations and their fortune. This constant classification which actually formed the main topic of every family and social conversation at that time struck us as extremely ridiculous and snobbish, because when it came down to it, in the case of all Jewish families, they had emerged from the same Jewish ghetto by only a matter of fifty or a hundred years earlier. (…)
It is generally assumed that becoming rich is the real and typical life ambition of a Jewish person. Nothing could be more wrong. For him becoming rich means only an intermediate stage, a means towards the true purpose and in no way the inner goal. (…) Even the wealthiest man will prefer to give his daughter to a desperately poor intellectual than to a merchant. (…) even the poorest pedlar dragging his wares through wind and bad weather will try to let at least one son study, making the most extreme sacrifices, and it is regarded as an honorific title for the whole family to have someone in their midst who is visibly highly regarded in the intellectual field, a professor, a scholar, a musician, as if he ennobled them all through his achievements.

From: Stefan Zweig, Die Welt von gestern. Bermann-Fischer Verlag, Stockholm 1944, pp. 23-25.

Postcard of Stefan Zweig to his aunt Erna Brettauer, from his new home in Salzburg, 1915

The Wanderer – in Jerusalem

The Departure of the Wanderer

„There, where you are not, lies happiness” sings the Wanderer in Schubert’s probably most famous song based on a poem by G.P. Schmidt von Lübeck. The „Wanderer“ was a major motive of the romantic period. Time and again the image of a the restless wayfarer, who remains a stranger wherever he wanders, recurs in Schubert’s œuvre. This alone could have been reason enough to give our program, planned to tour from Hohenems, a town known for hosting the international Schubertiade Festival, to Schubert’s birthplace Vienna and from there to Jerusalem, the title „Die Wanderer“. But there is a lot more to our story of „Die Wanderer“.

Schubert’s friend, the celebrated Hohenems born cantor Salomon Sulzer who was gifted with a legendary baritone voice, performed many of Schubert’s creations. According to Ludwig August Frankl, a writer of the time, Schubert asked Salomon Sulzer to sing his ‘Wanderer’ song and he must have done this so beautifully that Schubert begged him to repeat the piece several times declaring that only now he finally understood his own music and what he felt when he wrote it.
But Salomon Sulzer, the famous chief cantor of Vienna, was not only admired for his vocal performance which attracted people from all over the world to travel to Vienna only to hear him, he also happened to be a highly skilled composer himself. While he is recognized as one of the most important composers and arrangers of synagogal music, his secular compositions are nearly forgotten today. Among his many creations is his „Wandererlied“ which we decided to use as an overture to our concert program.

An Ensemble United in Diversity

Nowadays it is normal in the daily music business, that musicians from different corners of the world work together in one project. The language of music is international, and every single artist working on a professional level will soon find himself in ensembles of different nationalities, languages and cultural backgrounds. This is the world of music and for the future richness of the arts we may all hope that this openness and diversity will remain forever.

Nevertheless, even in today’s boundless music scene, you will find it hard to attend an event including Israeli and Palestinian artists. I do not want to immerse in politics, as this is not the place to discuss the reasons. But the many fears and legal obstacles sadly hinder many Israeli-Palestinian collaborations, even on artistic neutral grounds. The luckier we felt that for this project, starting in Hohenems, it was possible to bring together artists from Canada, Finland, Austria, Germany as well as from Israel and Palestine. A group of former strangers, wandering from now on together to present to its audience the works of Franz Schubert, Salomon Sulzer, Joseph and Julius Sulzer.
Joseph and Julius were sons of Salomon Sulzer, both of them accomplished composers themselves and their pieces felt like such precious, interesting and beautiful discoveries that we could not resist adding them to our program.

Our performances at the Salomon Sulzer Auditorium in Hohenems, the Hamakom Theatre in Vienna and at the Imperial Salon of the Austrian Hospice in the very heart of Jerusalem’s Old City where received by an audience full of curiosity and enthusiasm. We didn’t know how people would react to a program which was so unconventional, if not to say daring, building bridges between classic romantic Viennese and traditional Jewish and Palestinian creations presented by an ensemble reflecting this diversity, being at the same time united by a professional musical approach and the will to give birth to a sparkling musical solitaire.

The many administrative and organizational barriers were finally worth everything when hearing comments like „This was unforgettable“, „what a special evening“, „what a discovery“ and reading reactions of audience members about how moved they were, waiting for more concerts to follow.

Jerusalem

Jerusalem was in every respect the big final of our Wanderer tour. The Old City has an ambiance that is difficult to define. A friend of mine once said, this city offers you heaven and hell, more often the latter, but in the end, it is the salt and pepper of life. What would Jerusalem offer to us?

Hiba Awad, Rita Tawil and Jamila Zaatreh

Our ensemble was hosted in the gracious historical setting of the Austrian Hospice situated on the Via Dolorosa, only a few steps from the Dome of the Rock, the Western Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The Austrian Hospice of the Holy Family in Jerusalem opened its doors in 1863 during the Habsburg monarchy as the first national pilgrim’s residence in Jerusalem when pilgrimages to the Holy Land were undertaken by Catholic clergymen and orient travelers imbued with the spirit of Romanticism. We couldn’t have dreamed of a more suitable and atmospheric location for our last concert. At the same time, the Old City brings a certain unpredictability with it.

Lorne Richstone and Shira Karmon

Also we had to ask ourselves, will we be welcomed or will people dislike the fact that our ensemble consists of European, Canadian, Israeli and Palestinian artists? In Europe we are able to look at the Middle Eastern conflict with a certain distance. Our young Palestinian singers had to face a tremendous amount of bureaucratic requests during their visa process and spent hours in security checks at the airport but then, as soon as we all arrived in Hohenems, we had the luxury to focus fully on the music. Here in the center of Jerusalem, the situation is different. People here live the conflict and, especially in the Old City, they are effected by it every single day of their life.

Liina Leijala

Due to experiences with former cultural projects in the region I couldn’t help myself but worry if there might be a prostest or some other problem arising from one side or the other at the last moment. There was in fact one impediment, although not related to the project: The Russian prime minister Dmitri Medwedew visited Jerusalem on the very day of our concert thus the Israeli police decided to block basically all roads that would lead to the Old City. Several of our expected guests got stuck in traffic jams and didn’t make it to the concert. The road blocks weren’t announced, another proof of Jerusalem’s unpredictability.

Rita Tawil, Jamilah Zatreeh, Veronika Dünser and Karl Kronthaler

But once our pianists’ hands were set on the beautiful old Bösendorfer grand piano and our singers raised their voices in the venerable Imperial Salon, all worries and sorrows vanished in the melodies of Franz Schubert, Salomon Sulzer and his sons.
For us it was more than a project. More than a musical concept. And this is why we hope that our story will not end in Jerusalem. Because wherever he is, a true „Wanderer“ will never stop searching for happiness. After this project and all the unforgettable encounters we experienced together in Hohenems, Vienna and Jerusalem I wonder, don’t we all have a bit of a Wanderer in our hearts?
The Wanderer keeps traveling from land to land and – hopefully – so will the spirit of this unique project. So let us end with a quote from Sulzer’s Wanderer-song: „Beat happy my heart, be joyful and free, the world is big and wide!“

Petra Klose

Fragments from the Burgauer story

The early Burgauer mansion on Leonhardstreet 8 in St. Gallen.
The early Burgauer mansion on Leonhardstreet 8 in St. Gallen.

This week was marked by a moving evening event. Even if it wasn’t public at all. We were sitting with Pierre Burgauer and a little group of enthusiastic friends of the Jewish Museum Hohenems in the “Schlössli” in St. Gallen. Built in 1586 by Laurenz Zollikofer, a notable of St. Gallen and grandson of a leader of the Protestant reform in the city, the proud mansion today hosts a cosy restaurant. But we didn’t come for the food (even if the canapés served after our meeting were great. Thanks Pierre!).

The Schloessli in St. Gallen
The Schloessli in St. Gallen

What brought us together was the first session of a newly created foundation that shall support the museum, the initiative of Pierre and his family.

Exactly 140 years ago the Burgauers were the first Jews in St. Gallen who were granted citizenship in 1876. And while we expected serious business, coming together in the “Schlössli” with two well known lawyers and a financial expert, Pierre – with his wonderful humor – welcomed us with a protocol from 1860. On March 15, 1860 to be precise the council of the city of St. Gallen formally accepted the application of merchant Adolf Burgauer from Hohenems, his great-grandfather, to obtain the right to live in a private house and to have a stock of goods there for his trade. The positive decision was spiced with a few cautious remarks: Adolf Burgauer was informed not to host other Jews in his house and to be aware that this concession could be removed at any time and without conditions. A dry beginning of a great story. And a poignant beginning of a great evening. We hope we can report on this foundation soon. Our meeting at least was spiced with humor and heartfelt appreciation.

Adolf Burgauer (1837-1904)
Adolf Burgauer (1837-1904)

For today its time to look back into the Burgauer story. And you can find more about it in the newsletter of the American Friends of the Jewish Museum Hohenems and on the website of the Museum. But first let’s have a closer look on what has driven the Burgauer family history.

The Burgauer family first appeared in Hohenems in 1741, when Judith Burgauer, a young widow of twenty one and mother, grown up in the Burgau region near Augsburg, settled in Hohenems to marry for a second time. Jonathan Maier Uffenheimer from Innsbruck was a wealthy merchant and gave her a chance to begin a new life. And to have many more children. At least one child died young and there might have been more. A common fate at that time. But the others were better off. Their son Abraham married 15 year old Sara Brettauer from Hohenems and moved to Venice. Another daughter, Brendel, married Sara’s brother, Herz Lämle, later the patriarch of the Brettauer family and founder of the first banking business in Vorarlberg. Their daughters, Klara and Rebeka also married into successful families, the Viennese Wertheimstein and the Frankfurt Wetzlar family. Another daughter, Judith, married Nathan Elias, the head of the Hohenems community around 1800. This was a successful marriage policy and rather typical for a Jewish family at the upper end of the social hierarchy of the community. However, most of the Jewish families in that era had a hard time instead finding marriage partners and places for their children to settle and to make a living against all odds.

Of interest is what happened to Benjamin, Judith’s first son from Burgau. The sources as to when he definitely settled in Hohenems as well are scarce. Aron Tänzer mentions the year 1773, so it is possible that he grew up with relatives in the vicinity of Augsburg. In any case, sometime before 1772 already Benjamin Burgauer married Jeanette Moos, the daughter of Maier Moos, who for more then 20 years had served as head and representative of the Hohenems Jewish community. These were critical times; the family of the imperial counts of Hohenems died out and the countship fell back into the control of the Hapsburg Empire. Under difficult circumstances, new letters of protection needed to be settled. The Empress Maria-Theresa was known for her blatant anti-Jewish sentiments.

Even though Benjamin’s father–in-law successfully secured the future of the community and even though the dream of building a proudly visible synagogue took place while he was head of the kehillah, the community still had to survive restrictions and hardships. In the year of Maier Moos’ death, a great fire destroyed both half the Christian’s lane and the Jew’s lane. While the Jews were required to contribute financially to the reconstruction of the Christian quarter, support in the other direction was scarce. And the restrictions on settlement and marriage imposed on the Jewish communities, limiting the continuation of a family in Hohenems to one (and mostly the eldest) son and his offspring, continued until the middle of the 19th century. These restrictions forced the vast majority of children to emigrate, if they wanted to marry and create a family.

Two of Benjamin’s daughters, Esther and Brendel, found husbands in Lengnau in Switzerland. Brendel married Baruch Guggenheim,on e of the many Burgauer-Guggenheim connections that were to come. His son Benjamin Maier stayed in Hohenems, but three of his other children started business in St. Gallen and moved their families to the vibrant hub of textile production. Two other children emigrated in the 1840s and 1850s to the United States of America, particularly to Philadelphia, as did so many other of their fellow Hohenemsers. Family members of subsequent generations continued this migration, even from St. Gallen. And in South America, too, there is a Burgauer line today.

The Burgauer company in St. Gallen at its best.
The Burgauer company in St. Gallen at its best.

Thanks to Stefan Weis’ study „Entirely Unbeknown to His Homeland- The Burgauers. History and Migrations of a Jewish Family from the mid-18th until the mid-20th Century“, written as a diploma thesis in 2013, today we know much more about the origins, migrations, and diversity of the Burgauer family. With a generous grant from the American Friends Jewish Museum Hohenems – made possible by the efforts of the Leland Foundation, supported by Jacqueline Burgauer-Leland and Marc Leland – we were able to produce an English translation of Stefan Weis’ book. Have a look on the chapter on the Burgauers in the Americas in the Newsletter of the American Friends (http://www.jm-hohenems.at/en/about/friends/american-friends) or go for the whole book on our website (http://www.jm-hohenems.at/publikationen/downloads). Enjoy.

Tales of Two Wars. Part 2

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You read about the night on the WWI front line? The Dolomites offer more comfortable places to stay too. And stories of another war. Two days after the Biwak of Peace we found ourselves just at the other end of the same “national park”.

The “Hotel Pragser Wildsee”, a Grand Hotel at the shore of a mountain lake that couldn’t be more scenic and impressive, made history only in the last minute of the second war that turned the 20th century into a mess even more profoundly than the first one. Now even some of the brave Austrian  and German soldiers of the first war were only considered as the “other” as such, Jews… Like Robert Rosenthal from the Hohenems family who fought for Austria in the Alps not far from here in 1917 and was taken to Auschwitz to be killed in reward.

Robert Rosenthal, 1917
Robert Rosenthal, 1917

But while the fronts along the peaks of the Dolomites experienced all brutal aspects WWI had to offer, the episode at Pragser Wildsee and the neighboring village Niederdorf that took place in the last days of April 1945 bordered on satire – or melodrama. Subject matter for a film that would provoke criticism about offering an “unbelievable plot” and “trivial kitsch”. The story in short – and with some distortion – one can read on a placque at the little chapel on the shore of the lake: here the Wehrmacht liberated 133 Nazi prisoners from the cruelty of the SS. Okay that’s not the whole story. We come to that.

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That’s not the chapel but the boat house.

In the staircase of the Hotel you can sit at a desk with a history. It belonged to Henning von Tresckow, a high ranking German officer who initially supported the Nazis, later joined the resistance – while he still was involved in war crimes of the Wehrmacht in Belorus. Tresckow tried to kill Hitler in 1943 and took part in the plot of 1944, making an end to his life when the coup failed. By that he became one of the heroes of the myth of a “Wehrmacht” that remained “honorable” during the war while only the SS was taken responsible for the Nazi crimes. Its just a few years ago that Rüdiger von Tresckow, his son, handed the desk down to the Hotel. Obviously a good place for myths.

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Writing about the Wehrmacht on Henning von Tresckow’s desk

When in the last days of the war high ranks of the SS and the Party were dreaming of the “Alpenfestung”, more then 130 prominent prisoners of the Nazis were still waiting for their “fate” to be determined in Dachau. The Nazis were preparing to retreat into their “alpine fortress” as a last chance to either fight a glorious never ending battle – or to negotiate some better outcome for themselves with the US-Army. For instance offering them to join forces against “the Russians”. The prominent hostages in Dachau seemed to be a valuable stake in this last gambling. So 133 of them were put on busses and taken south, into the Dolomites. In Niederdorf, in the Pustertal, the caravan came to an end. The “Hotel Pragser Wildsee”, the intended final stop, was occupied by a Wehrmacht unit. And the SS run out of petrol, a new destination was not in sight. So the SS troupe and their hostages got stuck. Confusion among the guards increased the tension but also enabled one of the prisoners to sneak out and get to a phone. It was Bogeslaw Adolf Fürchtegott von Bonin, a Wehrmacht officer who fell in disgrace in January 1945.

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A great place for myths: the “Pragser Wildsee”

The hostages were a colorful mixture of prominence, politicians like the French president Leon Blum or the last Austrian chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg, activists of German resistance like Martin Niemöller and family members of von Stauffenberg and Goerdeler, foreign notables and German aristocrats, British intelligence agents but also former Nazis whose careers came to a dead end, like Hjalmar Schacht, the former minister of finance, or members of the Wehrmacht who at some point disagreed with Hitler or with other leading Nazis. Among them Franz Halder was probably the highest ranking officer, “Generalstabsschef des deutschen Heeres” (chief general of the German army), the mastermind behind the war against Soviet Russia and some of the criminal orders, paving the way to the war of racist and anti-Semitic destruction. A few weeks later Franz Halder would boast with reminding everybody that he belonged to a group of resistance in the Wehrmacht, that back in 1938 was opposing Hitler’s hurry to go to war, even being ready for a coup, now presentable as anti-Nazi “resistance”.

The Grand Hotel
The Grand Hotel

But in the last days of April 1945 it wasn’t time for that yet. The SS got uneasy and also more and more drunk as they had no idea where to take the prisoners – and the prisoners feared the worst. Von Bonin managed to get a line to the Wehrmacht in Bozen and asked for help. General Röttiger was not amused. He had other problems. Together with SS-Obergruppenführer Karl Wolff, the SS leader in occupied Italy since 1943, he was organizing a separate capitulation in Italy – and how to save their heads in the times coming. A Wehrmacht officer, Wichard von Alvensleben, was sent to Niederdorf to check the situation. And also Karl Wolff, the high ranking SS-leader, now was keen to “help” von Bonin and the SS-hostages. In the end the SS troups had to leave the prisoners to the Wehrmacht and hurried to Bozen. And the 133 prominent hostages enjoyed the end of the war on the lake and waited for the American troops.

A great place for waiting
A great place for waiting

Franz Halder made a good deal. He served the Americans as one of their major consultants when it came to the history of the war. He wasn’t put on trial in Nuremberg and the Americans took care that also his regular “Denazification”-trial ended with acquittal. When the West-Germans prepared themselves for building up a new army – now as American allies – his interpretations of the war became the canon of myths forming the basis of the “tragic” image of the Wehrmacht: being abused by the demonic Adolf Hitler, struck by fate, or fighting a preventive war against the Russians. In any case, having “no choice”.

Karl Wolff, once the SS chief of staff behind Himmler, also made a good a deal – with the US army, starting in March 1945 and finishing the war in Italy already six days before May 8, 1945. But also after the war, when the Americans spared him from prosecution in Nuremberg, because they now didn’t want to disclose the details of their secret negotiations with him. About the crimes of the SS, the murder of Jews and others, he claimed to have learned only in 1945.

A room with a view. Next door Kurt Schuschnigg was waiting for the Americans to come.
A room with a view. Next door Kurt Schuschnigg was waiting for the Americans to come.

He became active for the advertisement department of an illustrated paper and intended to spend the rest of his life next to another lake, in Starnberg in Bavaria. But the last word wasn’t spoken yet. In 1964 he was tried and sentenced in Munich for complicity in murder in more than 300.000 cases, when his active participation in the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto and the deportation and murder of its inhabitants in Treblinka was publicly disclosed.

In 1969 he was released “for health reasons” and enjoyed the last fifteen years of his life, making friends with journalists like Gerd Heidemann from the “Stern” magazine – and with a notorious forger, Konrad Kujau. So the last “project” Karl Wolff was involved in, was the publication of the fake diaries of Adolf Hitler. When he peacefully died, a few weeks after his conversion to Islam, the forged diaries already had become the subject of a major scandal in Germany. But Wolff missed the trial that followed.

A great place for a journey through time
A great place for a journey through time

One of the “special prisoners” of the SS in Dachau was not taken to Pragser Wildsee but killed already two weeks before: Georg Elser, the brave carpenter, who tried to kill Hitler and his entourage in 1939, when it was time still to stop the war. He wasn’t prominent enough to make a deal about with the Americans.

We enjoyed the three days at Pragser Wildsee. We learned a lot.

Tales of Two Wars. Part 1

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We already got used to run into rather gloomy chapters of history in the middle of the mountains. And into the military career of Harry Weil from Hohenems, who did not only fight on the banks of the Isonzo, but also in the Dolomites. Hundred years ago. The glorious mountains became a “theatre of war” – language can be so misleading – when Italy entered World War 1. The Austrian Empire was prepared. The conduct with their ally, and that’s what Italy was before the war, at least on paper, had become a matter of frictions and mutual slights. Italy wanted to achieve control of those parts of Austria with Italian speaking majorities, and even had some appetite for more. And Austria was treating the new nation state and neighbor in the South, dependent on the Austrians for so long in the past, with a mixture of resentment and hybris. Even the German initiatives to encourage the Austrians to seek compromise with Italy were in vain.

In 1915 the Dolomites and South Tyrol as a whole were prepared for war. And now on a sunny day in the fall we were hiking through the beauty of it, with our friends and their twins, to spend a night on the “front line”. Okay, that’s not exactly what we said to the kids. We were up for the Monte Castello and a Biwak, called “Biwak della Pace”, on 2750 meter altitude, facing the Italian lines on the other side of the valley, along the slopes of the “Tofanas”, two towering pyramides – now, in late October, already powdered white. In 1916, Harry Weil was fighting not far from here, next to the famous rocks of the “Tre Croci”. He had left his family in Hohenems to battle for emperor Franz-Joseph, who – until he died in the end of 1916, after 68 years on the throne – had somewhat convincingly played his role of a paternal protector of all of “his” peoples and minorities. Even the Jews.

We are schlepping heavy bagpacks through the national park of Fanes, the last meters are icy and slippery, but for the little girls its fun. And “adventure”. The biwak we are up to has no water, no light, no heating, no kitchen. But a view, an awesome sunset, and fragments of the old Austrian bunkers, shelters, caverns for canons and machine-guns and rifles and everything you need to prepare the hell for your enemies. The Italians on the other side had similar equipment. And both sides got stuck in their rocky, icy trenches, as in so many other places in the Alps between 1915 and 1918. Nothing really important happened here. Nothing, but the end of many lives, brought by bullets and falling rocks, shrapnels and avalanches, and the worst enemy, both sides fought against, the cold.

The only “event” though was an Italian triumph – that did not change anything with respect to the front. An Austrian outpost on a small peak between the fronts, the Italians did not want to tolerate. Instead of doing anything relevant, the Italian were digging a tunnel under the rock, half a kilometer long. The Austrians finally realized some strange noises – and that it was time to leave their outpost “for bad”, short before the Italian blew the whole peak away, with explosives deposited under the rock.

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The bunker of an Austrian cannon, once confronting the Tofana mountain – and the Italians

We comfortably succeeded to warm up the biwak from 2 to 6 grades Celsius. The night was long. The other day we examined the architecture of war. And still did not understand anything more about what kind of insanity men has invented in this “theatre”.

A New Jewish Quarter?

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The invitation of the City of Hohenems was spiced with some involuntary irony: the new shared space in the Jewish quarter of the town was announced under the heading “The new Hohenems” as the “completion of the new Jewish quarter”. But no, Hohenems did not become the home of Jewish refugees and a newly built residential area for them. Its indeed the old Jewish quarter in the heart of town we talk about.

After many a year of discussion about the future shape of the towns center and its two streets, the old Jew’s lane and the old Christian’s lane, after public debates about alternative traffic solutions, neighbors protesting against still existing cross town traffic and local shops protesting against too much traffic calming, after a planning process of two years – and after half year of road work, the new design of the streets in the Jewish quarter is ready. And hundreds of Hohenemsers came to celebrate the 133.000 new cobblestones (all laid by hand), two fountains, benches and bike stands. An open square to fill with life, a space to share. And given the history of the quarter this also might be a space to share memories (pleasant and less pleasant), a multitude of heritages from diverse sources and conflicting ideas about the future.

The square in front of the synagogue now is the “Salomon Sulzer Square”. Once all the houses around the Hohenems synagogue had been the Salomon Sulzer Alley. Named after the cantor who left Hohenems young to become the chief cantor of Vienna, and soon to be a star in the Viennese music scene, adored by Schubert and Liszt. Sulzer became the major force of reform of Jewish liturgical music in the 19th century – and a prototype of a pop star, for the first time attracting Non-Jews to listen to Jewish tradition, while 50 years later sons of Jewish cantors made the next step, and left synagogue for Broadway. But that’s another story.

Mayor Egger headed the opening of the square and unveiled the plaque. But it was in fact his predecessor Richard Amann, who fought for a decent redesign of the public space in the center of Hohenems for years and finally succeeded to get the project on track.

A beginning of a new consciousness of space an time
A beginning of a new consciousness of space an time?

This celebration of the “Sulzer Square” though was also the moment to remember the history of street names. The old Jew’s lane of Hohenems in 1909 war renamed too: one part of the street memorialized the Hohenems’ Brunner family, who funded banks and insurance companies in Trieste, and played a role in liberal politics in Vienna, the other part remembered the Steinach family, three generations of medical doctors and scientists, with Eugen Steinach, the pioneer of hormone research being the last one of the family, dying in Exile. In 1938 the “Jewish names” were erased, the streets in the old Jewish quarter were now marked as “Friedrich-Wurnigk-Straße”, the name of the infamous Nazi-terrorist, who had murdered the head of the Innsbruck police in 1934, and now was a hero. In 1945, times obviously not ripe for a truthful exploration of the past, the street became the “Schweizer Straße”. One might guess how long it still will take to give the streets their name back. Let’s watch out for the future.

Michael Köhlmeier once dreamed of the “Hohenems Ring Parabel”, reminding Lessing’s plea for respect between the religions, as something coming to his mind, when standing once infront of the former Hohenems synagogue, when its still was the home of the fire brigade (between 1955 and 2000). And he did not forget to mention: its not just unsure who has the “right” ring, but Lessing was more radical. Probably the “original ring” is lost for long anyhow and we all play around with a substitute. When it came to blessings: the local Parish priest Thomas Heilbrun and Imam Seyran Ates gave them together with Rabbi Tovia Ben-Chorin from St. Gall (a rather uncommon pluralism still in Austria). And the agnostics would have their moment as well.

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Three citizens were interviewed about their connection to this place. Pierre Burgauer though, is a citizen of St. Gall rather than Hohenems, today. He spoke how he found new connections to his roots in Hohenems through the activities of the Jewish museum in the last twenty-five years. His great-grandfather left his Hohenems mansion in the 1860s, offering the building to the Jewish community that turned it into the Jewish poorhouse. Today its one of the modest landmark buildings in the old Jewish quarter. Tudgce Celik spent part of her childhood in this house, not a poorhouse anymore but in poor condition, in the 1990s, as a child of Turkish immigrants, experiencing another form of otherness and cohabitation. The old Jewish quarter, bad in shape, was a territory of adventures for her – while today she is happy to work in the Jewish museum, when she is not studying in Innsbruck. Franz Sauer, active in the neighborhood today, politically and socially, told about his experiences with the new immigrants, and about his appreciation of their commitment to revive the old houses and to create something out of nothing.

School kids from the local primary school performed shadow plays – following stories by Monika Helfer – In front of the old Jewish school and the Villa Heimann-Rosenthal. It was a particular moving moment, when the little kids engaged in the Jewish history of the place with all their enthusiasm encouraged by the magic of light – and shadows. And this story has its shadows, they confronted as well. The city had invited cantor Shlomo Barzilai from Vienna, the late “follower” of Salomon Sulzer to accompany the ceremony. And the “Bauernfänger”, performing old songs with an ironic twist, and the “Bürgermusik” proudly presenting their folklore dress, they all led over into the party that followed, with a band named “roadwork”. In the end the Hohenemsers where dancing in the street. A day offering an outlook into another reality beyond the xenophobia and tension of today’s politics and resentments? A day of illusions?

Writing this the day America is going to vote and four weeks before Austria has to decide whether to elect a right wing populist who has no shame to support fascist views, is a challenge in itself.

 

In the middle of the Sulzer Square the art installation of Mariella Scherling is still present, though somewhat obscured, reminding everybody to the biblical quote that is more relevant than anything today: “Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt.

Everybody is enjoying the new square
Harder to find now is Mariella Scherlings installation. But the city promised to work on that.

…on the Border again

On the Swiss side of the border. Approaching One of the cabins of the border patrol.
On the Swiss side of the border. Approaching one of the cabins of the border patrol.

On a rainy October day the border between Austria and Switzerland, more precisely between Lustenau and Diepoldsau, became a hub of curious folks from both sides of the Old Rhine. The association for the protection of nature (at least that’s my guess how to translate the „Naturschutzgruppe“) from Diepoldsau in Switzerland – next to Hohenems – presents a very special kind of outdoor exhibition along the Old and New Rhine. Our friends from Frankfurt are here for the weekend. In the summer we walked along the river Main with them, from the European Central Bank to the new pubs on the banks, where Frankfurt is posh and enjoying itself. The European Central Bank might be the true heart of Europe, but the innocent banks of the river Rhine might be the stomach. So we offered our friends a tour.

Three little cabins, or shelters so to say, that once helped border police to find refuge from rain and snow, are now neatly painted in red, green and yellow – and filled with installations about three subjects that informed the life of this region for many years: smuggle, refugees, and border control. Three perspectives on the same liminal space: the one of the locals, many of them having a story of smugglers in their own family. The one of those who try to find refuge from something more serious than bad weather. And the one of the state, and the young man engaged in what was considered the essence of Swiss sovereignty: the control of its borders.

Thousand of Jewish refugees were seeking a way to freedom here in 1938, some crossed the river where it was shallow. Some sneaked over the bridge in the night. There were many ways here, and nobody knew for sure which one was working, when, and at what time. Some of these refugees had their roots in Hohenems, like Alfred Munk and his sister Gertrud from Vienna, who crossed the border here already in April 1938. But the number of stories one could tell is endless. We’ll work on it, one by one by one.

The little exhibitions inside of the huts are simple and thoughtful, not partisan but emphatic, giving all these conflicting perspective their voice. And leave it to the eye of the beholder to draw conclusions. Who knows wether we are confronting only the past, or some future?

Margit Bartl-Frank, the artist and friend of the museum, living on the Swiss side of the Rhine, made the story of the Jewish refugees already several times a subject of her installations. This time she confronted the account of the Kreutner family, who succeeded to enter Switzerland in the fall of 1938 through Hohenems with the story of the Abdolzaher family from Herat in Afghanistan. Their odyssey lead them by foot through Iran and Turkey, on a boat to Greece, through Macedonia and Italy to France, and finally to Diepoldsau in Switzerland, where they now learn German and seek a job. Faride and her little daughter Setayesh answer questions patiently and stood beside the old border post in the rain. What will be their future? Nobody knows. But many got an idea: it will not only depend on them, but also on us.

Our friends are a bit ahead of us. In Frankfurt they have two kids from Afghanistan at home, giving them shelter and a bit of support for their possible start into a new life. Not easy at all. The boys have to start from scratch, they hardly visited school in their life before. Working on construction sites in Pakistan was their education. Faride might be better off, she was a nurse in a hospital, her daughter already speaks German with a heavy Swiss accent. A little later we see her on her little bike, riding joyfully between the yellow and the green cabin. She seems to be at home in Diepoldsau. Unbelievable.

Telling stories in the rain
Refugees from Afghanistan: Telling stories in the rain

On Food, Family, Philosophy… and Borders

Our fall season at the museum began with a charming collaboration. The art festival “on site” came to Hohenems for the second time, enchanting the town with unexpectedly mind-blowing projects of young artists. Including a hip hop workshop with Aaron the dancer in the Sulzer auditorium, the former synagogue. One event took place in the museum, where Renate Burger from Vienna hosted a multiethnic dinner buffet, with various food traditions that have made their way into Hohenems and Vorarlberg during centuries of immigration: Austrian dishes, Turkish delights, Jewish recipes and memories of Syrian refugees who are arriving today. A particular pleasure for us was Burger’s interest in the recipe books the museum obtained from the Landauer-Bollag family, who once ran the inn “Happy Prospect,” which was next to the synagogue but not particularly kosher. Visitors in the museum always stumble into one of their last ads in the local newspaper, shown in the exhibition display, that invited the guests to a traditional “Schlachtpartie” with blood sausages—and a pigs head shown as the eye catcher. The Landauers weren’t orthodox, but almost nobody of the Jewish community in Hohenems was observant by their time.

The Landauer cook books are full of traditional Austrian and Swiss recipes, including many sweets and desserts. The family started their business in the 1830s as the first Jewish bakers allowed to the artisans guild. When baker Joseph Landauer married Jeanette Winkler from Frankonia, her endowment included a spoon with the inscription “chalav” (milky), made for a kosher kept household. But times were changing. Traditional Jewish recipes in the cookbooks of the beginning 20th century focussed on one traditional event of the year: Pessach and the variations of all you can do with Mazze and Mazzoballs. Turning the pages you also find all kind of recipes for “Zürcher Rahmgeschnetzeltes” (Veal in cream sauce) or, proceeding into the 1950s, Shrimp cocktails and other things, from a traditional perspective definitely regarded as “treife”…

Renate Burger, interested in the history and philosophy of food, studied the cook books carefully—and given the season far from Pessach she choose puddings and cakes and cookies, that occupied the sweet half of the Buffet for our guests on a beautiful September evening at the museum. Among the guests were Liliane and Nicole Bollag from Widnau, just across the Rhine. Two more generations of food enthusiasts from the Landauer-Bollag family, who still keep keeping recipe books, even though they no longer run an inn. Nicole lives in Melbourne, Australia, today—but visits her mother every year. At this event, she enjoyed some of her family’s recipes for the first time in her life.

The Bollags with Renate Burger.
The Bollags with Renate Burger.

Her grandmother Jenny Landauer had luckily married a Swiss Jew, Jakob Bollag, and after 1936 succesfully started a production of raincoats and ski jackets in a village five kilometers west of Hohenems. Across the Rhine they were safe from the events taking place next to them beginning in 1938. Jenny’s brother, Ivan, the last Jewish inn keeper of Hohenems who wasn’t shy to serve and enjoy blood sausages, escaped to his sister in Switzerland, but wasn’t granted asylum by the Swiss authorities, like so many other fellow refugees. After years of desperate attempts to receive a visa from any state in the world—from South America to the U.S. to Palestine to East Asia—he was taken in a Swiss internement camp and died with a heart disease in 1943.

refugee-band_children

The Hohenems refugee band
The Hohenems refugee band

Borders and refugees formed a thematic focus of the young artists’ projects presented during the Festival. It coincided with a second cultural event, “transmitter,” which has a long tradition in Hohenems as a venue of independent music and radical art, or cultural expressions of marginalized people. This time the Hohenems “refugee band” (with refugees from Syria or Irak) performed on the “Schlossplatz” at the city’s festival of diversity, playing Arab and Kurdish music and … a song in Hebrew. An artist group show in the premises of Collini, the major manufacturing company in Hohenems, included a touching series of photographic works by  a Turkish-Austrian artist, Songül Boyraz, portraying Syrian refugee kids playing “home and family” in the rubble of a poor residential quarter in Istanbul. The Collinis themselves came to Hohenems as poor Italian immigrants who specialized in knife sharpening, a traditional ambulant profession.

Artist Michail Michailov in the improvised Collini art space.
Artist Michail Michailov in the improvised Collini art space.
Photos by Songül Boyraz.
Photos by Songül Boyraz.

Today, they are one the biggest European players in the field of metal surface improvement, operating branches in many European countries including Russia. And they know that they owe a lot of their success to their skilled Turkish workers and proudly take their own responsibility for integration in society.

Walking down from the company’s Hohenems headquarters to the old Rhine—once the arena of desperate and in 1938 still very often succesful attempts of Jewish refugees to enter Switzerland—the participants were invited to enter a “banana republic” between the borders. Where the fate of refugees was once decided and where locals today enjoy swimming in the old Rhine (now a tranquille branch of the river that was straightended in the 1920s and since then flows three kilometers west of its old bed), we found bananas everywhere and a sign welcoming people who would “incite open dialogue.”

We had our own bananas in our hands (we were told to do so) and after walking along the river and crossing the border into Switzerland (illegally, but nobody cares) we were surprised by the artist, standing on the Swiss side of the waters in her improvised out door kitchen, offering us to turn our banana in to a banana pan cake. Back again on the Austrian side, her colleague welcomed us with the disarming charm of the words “Hi, I am Lucy, at least today I call me so”. Prepared with a box of books about the philosophy and sociology of borders, and a perfectly staged naiveté “Lucy” drove us into a substantial discussion of the simple question: do we need borders? And if so why and for what? We had time for this. Weren’t we waiting for our banana pancake to arrive? It did, in a basket hanging on an improvised ropeway spanned over the waters. It tasted awfully good.

Postcript:

Now in October, we were invited by Liliane Bollag for a new years dinner on Eref Rosh Hashana. Liliane still knows her recipes by heart. She does not care what the season is, so we began the evening with a hearty mazzoball soup.

Houses of life

I have an appointment on the Jewish Cemetery of Trieste. Livio Vasieri, the archivist of the Jewish community wants to help me with the graves of the Hohenemser tribes who settled here in the 19th century. The cemetery on the peaceful hill of Santa Anna borders the Greek Orthodox cemetery and the Protestant one. The British have their military cemetery around the corner. And to the south, the Catholic occupies the greatest part of the hill. Naturally.

Behind the gate Livio opens for me, a jungle is waiting, with all the glory of remembrance the dearest ones of a saturated middle class and a grand bourgeois culture could expect.

On the left, the mausoleum of the Morpurgos occupies the primary position. Next to it lies the mausoleum of the Morpurgo de Nilma, who proudly exhibit their Egyptian heritage, after a few generations spending their life along the Nile. The grandeur is striking, as is the relaxed willingness to leave all this grandeur to the pace of time and the organic energy of a forest, which is slowly taking over control of the site, season by season.

Livio is still mastering the territory, finding the small markers on the ground that indicate the different compounds of the graveyard, even if he has to use his big brush in order to clean them from dust and falling leaves. I had given him the names of the families I am looking for, the Brettauers, Bernheimers, the Menz and the Brunners, when we met the day before in the breathtaking synagogue of Trieste.

Annalisa di Fant from the Jewish Museum gave me a tour through this house of prayer, which looks like a film set for a monumental tale of pharaohs and slaves. Only this time the somewhat excessive structure in the middle of everybody’s view serves the once oppressed, celebrating their liberation—and the tora, the law. Annalisa is happy to show me around and we exchange ideas for future cooperation.

I also run into Ariel Haddad, a Lubawitscher who has taken care of the Jewish museum for years. He is keeping his good humor, even if the liberal Jews of Trieste might not be exactly his cup of tea, with their synagogue with its giant organ and the women sitting downstairs along the men, separated only by a very transparent paravent.

But the master of the cemetery is Livio, the archivist. Without him I wouldn’t have a chance. The cemetery is not only infinitely beautiful, it’s also infinite. Some 12,000 gravestones are closely scattered in the growing forest. To find the single stones is a mystery, and even Livio has to consult the lists he brought from the archives. Maybe in a few years things will be slightly easier. Our colleagues from the Jewish Museum in Eisenstadt started to work this spring on a documentation of the Trieste cemetery, publishing some images on the internet. This time I have to do my own photographs—of “our crowd” —for our genealogy projects.

Sometimes a family occupied a mini-compound for its own kind, surrounded by a now rusty fence. The Brunners did this when they settled in Trieste. They would soon become successful in textile trade, banking and insurance companies, helping to turn the port of Trieste into the hub of the Hapsburg Empire’s trade in the Mediterranean in the 19th century. The same is true for the Brettauers, the Bernheimers, and the Menz. It’s the story of all their energy and commitment, and their willingness to take risks.

The Hohenemsers were forced to take such risks. When only the eldest son of a family was granted the official permission to marry and to start a new family (or better to continue the existing family and their title of residence in the town of Hohenems) the other children had no chance but to emigrate and leave for good. Their outlook for creating some business elsewhere was uncertain.

The Brunners (and the Menz) both made their imprint on the histories of the Generali and the Riunione, with much of the Banca Commerciale Triestina and other success stories that survived the end of the empire and the Italian takeover in 1918. The Brunner’s private houses still bear their traces. Walking with Giancarlo Stavro along the glorious palaces of commerce in the “Theresian” quarter of the center—with its rectangular grid of streets and its attempt to even triumph over its Viennese originals—he points here and there. And everywhere there is a Brunner story to tell. Meeting him and Helen Brunner (his cousin around a few corners) is a particular pleasure—and a school of irony. The twisted fate of Trieste—and also of Trieste’s Jewish families, thrown in between of belongings and loyalties—is indeed an experience better to take with some irony.

The story of how the Brunners survived the Holocaust has yet to be written. Some made it to Switzerland to join relatives there, only to return after the war. Some emigrated to England. Others survived in Italy. Only Egone Brunner’s name on the huge memorial of Massimiliano Brunner’s family on the Jewish cemetery does not mark the place where he rests. He was deported and killed in 1944.

A few years before, Trieste seemed like a safe place still, a port on the way to freedom. In 1940, Filippo and Fanny Brunner received a visit from second cousins in Vienna. Three year-old Gertrude Rosenthal and her parents were escaping from Europe, and on their way to New York. Many years later Gertrude—now Susan Shimer and editor of the Newsletter of the American Friends of the Jewish Museum Hohenems—would tell about the very few memories of her six days in Trieste, waiting for the ship that would take them over the ocean. What mattered most to her: The smell and the taste of her first oranges she would never forget. When Jessica Piper started this blog a few months ago while staying in Hohenems, she also told me Susan’s story —Susan is her grandmother. Sometimes the things that connect people throughout generations are very simple and profound.

Meeting the eldest of the living Brunners, Elisabetta (Betty) Stavro, in her home for the elderly, with her 98 years fully present and awake, is an encounter with irony too, most profound and moving. When we enter the room, Elisabetta calls for her daughter, caring for her like any other mother, except her daughter has long since been a grandmother herself.

But Elisabetta—born in the year of the battles of the Isonzo and the Piave, the last battles of World War I —only needs a few minutes to turn her attention to her nephew Giancarlo and me. And learning the details about the reunion in Hohenems next year she takes my hand, and promises all sincere: “When I am still around next year I will come for sure.” We take that seriously, Elisabetta.

On the Banks of the Isonzo

We were on the way to Trieste, to meet the Brunners and other Hohenems descendants. But we made a stop over before we entered this promised land. We walked along the river, on the banks of the Isonzo, close before it ends in the Adriatic Sea. You couldn’t imagine a more peaceful site in bustling Italy. Today, a nature reserve on the Isola di Cano provides a retreat for thousands of birds, and horses from the Camargue. 100 years ago, between 1915 and 1917, the valley along the river was the scene of 12 bloody battles between Italy and the Austro-Hungarian empire. From the mountains down to the sea hundreds of thousands of soldiers—Italians, Austrians, Hungarians, French, British, Americans—fell victim to a war in which the front moved back and forth with no victors. Only in October 1918, when the Hapsburg empire fell apart, were the Italian troops able to overrun the collapsing Austrian Force—and Trieste became part of Italy after all.

Looking over the bay: Somewhere over there is Trieste.
Looking over the bay: Somewhere over there is Trieste.

Up the Isonzo a ways, Harry Weil, later the last cantor of the Hohenems community, fought his last battle in the war in 1917. As a “Tiroler Kaiserjäger” he had already participated in the battles of the Pasubio and the Cosmagon, Barolo Pass, Monte Majo and even the Three Peaks (Drei Zinnen) in the lovely Dolomites. He was fighting for his fatherland, the multiethnic empire, that appreciated and protected its Jewish subjects. At least emperor Franz Josef had said so. But in 1917 Franz Joseph was already dead. And in the upper Isonzo valley, near Flitsch (today Bovec in Slovenia), Harry Weil caught a bullet and had to leave the battlefield for good, severely injured.

A year earlier, another “Hohenemser” fell in the same war, but he was fighting on the other side. The fallen soldier’s father—Rudolf Brunner—had been loyal to the Hapsburgs, as were most Triestine elites, Jewish or not. The Brunners made their imprint on everything that was successful in Trieste, both culturally and economically. But the Brunner hero the city of Trieste is publicly celebrates—there is a street, a school and the barracks of a regiment named after him—is the fallen soldier who crossed the lines: Guido Brunner. As he was enlisting in university to study law in Bologna in 1915, he was called to arms to fight for Austria in the Carpathian Mountains, but decided to follow the Italian patriotism of his mothers side (the Jewish Segrè family). When he was caught by the Austrians and sentenced to death as a deserter, his Hapsburg loyal father Rudolf was able to convince the emperor to pardon and release him. The effort turned out to be in vain.

Commemorating the Hero: Via Guido Brunner in Trieste.
Commemorating the Hero: Via Guido Brunner in Trieste.

A few days after my own arrival in Trieste, Giancarlo Stavro told me the story of Guido with bitter humor. Taken back to the family’s Tuscan estate in Forcoli, the young man couldn’t wait to take away the car of his father and made it again to the Italian army. His time in the army would end in the battle of Monte Fior in the Veneto, north of Bassano del Grappa, in June 1916. His body was never found, only the one of his horse, Giancarlo reported with a smile.

Sitting with Giancarlo in the Café San Marco, working on the Hohenems genealogy.
Sitting with Giancarlo in the Café San Marco, working on the Hohenems genealogy.

The horse was buried in Forcoli. But the story wasn’t buried. Giancarlo recounted to me his own childhood memories of the visits in his great-grandfather’s villa in Forcoli in the 1950s, where the unmarked grave of the horse was the site of a daily routine of commemoration of the lost son of the family.