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Family silences. It's strange, how you manage to maintain and ignore blind spots... It's not as if I'd been historically disinterested, and especially over the last five years or so I've been reading a lot about the holocaust, the war, the history of national socialism, but it took Eva Menasse's book, specifically the story of her Czech-German grandmother and her Jewish grandfather to remind me of something my mother mentioned once, it must have been years ago. The husband of my great-aunt (who was also my godmother) was Jewish; from what documents my mother had from my great-aunt, both his parents were from Hungary, but lived in Vienna at the time of their marriage. He was born in 1890, married my great-aunt in 1930. There were no children.

He left Vienna in 1940 and moved to Sastin, where he'd been born (and still had family?). She filed for divorce a year later, in 1941. My mother says, which may be the truth, or may be the version that became canonical and accepted in family history, that he insisted on divorce to protect her. I'll never find out, unless there are any letters, everyone from that generation is dead. Was there pressure from her family? Her brother-in-law (my grandfather) was a policeman at that time, he was briefly imprisoned after the war, my mother told me, but apparently there were no serious charges (another thing I need to look into). There is a story about how he warned someone, once, but again that may or may not be family legend. Is it possible to be in the police during this time and keep your hands and conscience clean?

He tried to emigrate to the USA, there's a letter from the embassy informing him that all the European contingents were full; a number on the waiting list.

After the war she tried to find out what happened to him, but only got the information from some Slovakian official source that he'd been deported to Poland.

I found nothing in the DÖW database about Jews in Austria, but he is listed at the Yad Vashem site: according to them he was in the camps in Nitra and Zilina, from where he was deported to Auschwitz on April 24th 1942, where he [died] was killed May 11th 1942.

The source for this information given is a project from the University of Bratislava about Slovakian holocaust victims.

She kept the name, and my mother says she still blamed herself at the time of her death.

So I'm left wondering, why did I not ask further when my mother first mentioned this? Worse, why did I (at least temporarily) forget again? I can only assume I must have been very much younger and had no interest in history at the time, no comprehension of what this really meant.

Perhaps with millions murdered it shouldn't make a difference that it's someone I might have known, someone who would have been family. Somehow it still does; makes it more personal somehow.

No one in my family talked about him, or at least not to me. (Although I keep thinking maybe there was some unspoken tension I picked up, some remarks they thought a child wouldn't understand? Something my great-aunt did tell me, but I forgot? Maybe there's a subconscious reason for my interest in the history of that period - something my younger sister never had -, combined with an undefined sense of guilt... ) No one, apparently, tried to find out more about his fate.

There is little enough I can do; my mother might have a little more information, but she was a child then, apparently this wasn't talked about much. Find out if I can get any documents; get his name included in the database at the DÖW; find out if he had family, and what happened to them.


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March 2013

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