Gefällt es Ihnen hier?

“Do you like it here?”¹ It’s a question I’ve been asked a lot over the last few weeks.

The short answer is yes, I like it here. I like the museum. The work I do is interesting. The staff is wonderful. I like Hohenems. It isn’t the busiest, but I’ve had no trouble finding things to do—in town, across Vorarlberg, and when I’ve been lucky enough to travel around Austria and Germany. I like the people here. I’ve felt incredibly welcome basically everywhere I’ve gone, and I’m grateful to everyone who has tolerated my lack of German language abilities.

Something else that I’ve been asked a lot is why I don’t speak German. After all, I’m here because of my Austrian heritage, which inspires more questions: “Does your mom speak German?” “Your grandmother?” “Did she ever teach you any?”² I always tell people that I wish I spoke German—there are many aspects of my stay here that would have been much easier, and knowing multiple languages is cool.

That said, my Austrian heritage isn’t exactly an inspiration for me to learn German. My relatives didn’t leave Austria because they wanted to, and I have family members who were killed during the Holocaust, when the Austrian government was largely complicit with the goals of Nazi Germany.

Growing up in America—the proverbial nation of immigrants—I know many people who are very proud of their family origins. My father’s father, for example, used to attend Scottish festivals every year. I have friends who still speak the language of their parents or grandparents, or who recognize the holidays of another culture or nation. For me, it’s hard to be proud of Austria when I’m also aware of how my family’s time here ended; I don’t think I’ll ever be able to celebrate my national heritage in the way that some people do.³

This image, as well as the one at the top of this post, are quotes written on the outside of the Jewish Museum in Munich. Both are relevant to me as I've grappled with my stay in Austria.
This image, as well as the one at the top of this post, are quotes written on the outside of the Jewish Museum in Munich. Both are relevant to me as I’ve grappled with my stay in Austria.

That said, the Austria of my heritage isn’t the Austria of today. I wrote last week that I don’t actually spend a lot of time thinking about my family’s persecution; I likewise don’t dwell on Austria as my ancestral homeland. It’s a past that I am aware of, and that I remember. But it’s not a key part of my identity.

At the same time, my adventures in Hohenems this summer have also created an Austria that is firmly part of my present. I’ve enjoyed the last eight weeks. I don’t want to forget the people I’ve met here, the places I’ve visited, or the lessons I’ve learned. And (setting aside my lack of German abilities), nationality and religion have been completely irrelevant to my experiences. Yes, I like Austria. Not because my family is from here, but because today it’s a lovely place.

It’s a long answer to a simple question. But as I prepare to leave Hohenems later this week, I’m certain about how I feel. Es gefällt mir sehr gut—I like it very much.

¹ “Gefällt es Ihnen hier?” is German  for “Do you like it here?” Thus, the title of this post.

² Please don’t read this like I’m complaining—I like it when people ask me questions! My presence here certainly invites plenty and I enjoy talking about myself, so keep asking.

³ I’m far from the only person grappling with this issue. Since 1949, Germany has offered citizenship to German Jews and their descendants. Here is a recent article on some American Jews considering German naturalization.

2 thoughts on “Gefällt es Ihnen hier?”

  1. Jessica,

    You seem to be a most sensible and realistic person. For someone as young as you are your observations have been remarkably perspicacious, and we want to thank you for representing the best of America . We have travelled Austria by car for many years, allowing us unlimited access into all the corners of the country, and we have not ever run into any problems. We have purposely sought out and asked to be shown many Jewish sites at the tourist offices located in small towns, and have always been treated most courteously and helpfully. On our last trip we checked for a barrack in Saalfelden where Jewish Holocaust survivors were encamped after the war in 1946-7 ,prior to their journey to Palestine via the difficult trek at the Krimml waterfalls ( a la Sound of Music) .Not only is there a memorial at the barracks, but there is an annual peace walk with seven large brown markers, n German, English and Italian, with Hebrew titles above. It was a wonderful experience for us to see that. If you are interested we’ll send some pictures I took. And the huge golden menorah in Landhausplatz was a memorable sight in Innbruck, once one of the hotbeds of Nazism.
    So we feel similar to you–Das heutige Oesterreich gefaellt uns –and today’s generation has improved. Don’t we have problems somewhat analagous to the Hitler era in the USA, with Trumpism raising its ugly head ?

    At any rate, thanks again for being a good ambassador for us, and be sure to send us pictures of yourself. We regret that we cannot be at the reunion next year, but we hope you will fill us in

    Best wishes for a great future and Shalom!

    Eric and Doris

    1. Thank you! If you get a chance to send me pictures, I’m always interested—I think you have my email.

      Best wishes,

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