Die Presse, January 16, 2017.
German original: http://diepresse.com/home/meinung/quergeschrieben/martinengelberg/5155277/Die-aus-Wien-Vertriebenen-die-dennoch-Wiener-geblieben-sind
By Martin Engelberg
Ari Rath was one of the last witnesses of a world gone by. Only during the past decades those Old Viennese („Altwiener“) reconciled with their native city.
With Ari (Arnold) Rath another Old Viennese has passed away last week; a representative of the generation of Jews that had to flee their beloved Vienna during the Nazi era, who, regardless, remained Viennese in their own special way. Though bitter memories accompanied those people during their lifetime; whenthey were young, they experienced discrimination, hatred, and, finally, life-threatening prosecution.
The idyllic world crumbled: fathers were deported to concentration camps; synagogues, in which Bar-Mitzvahs were celebrated not too long ago, went up in flames. Or witness how one’s mother was forced to scrub the sidewalk kneeling with a toothbrush by „friendly“ neighbors. The stomach cramps every time one hears these stories.
Besides, these life stories of the protagonists in sum do share something special: those are people who made remarkable careers in their new homes. Despite the fact that they often were single children or adolescents, they made it regardless of language barriers or the absence of a family or social support network.
Martin Karplus and Eric Kandel had to flee Vienna at the ages of eight and ten, respectively. They eventually both became Nobel laureates. Eric Pleskow met a similar fate at the age of 15. In his new homeland he managed to become one of the most successful movie producers and the only one in his industry to win the Oscar for best film three times in a row.
Otto Kernberg today is regarded as the doyen of psychoanalysis. He was first to describe important disease patterns like borderline- and narcissistic personality disorder and their treatment. He was eleven years old when he escaped to Chile with his parents and later worked in the United States. Ari Rath, finally, escaped as a 13 year-old only with his younger brother to Palestine. He eventually became editor in chief of the renowned daily „The Jerusalem Post.“ Besides Ari Rath, who passed away in Vienna on January 13, the individuals mentioned above are still alive and highly active.
It has been a privilege to have conversations with these personalities. It begins with language – it is remarkable what a beautiful and pristine Viennese idiom the all speak even until today. In reality, these are the last authentic leftovers of the language of the (Jewish) Viennese bourgeoisie of the prewar time. It is the language of Stefan Zweig and his work with the fitting title „Yesterday’s World“ („Die Welt von Gestern“). No wonder Otto Kernberg, for example, prefers to read German-language literature until today. His lectures in Austria and Germany are held in German – for him as a matter of course. The brightness of their minds, the lust for intellectual thought and discourse, the curiosity for world affairs are overwhelming; all of this with unbowed mental vigor, even in light of their not-so juvenile age of around 90.
For a lifetime they have carried with them the heartfelt relationship with Vienna, its local culture and the German language, even at times when the pain from the experiences was substantial and the former fatherland did not show much interest in their fate. Fortunately, this has eventually changed, too.
Austria has been pointing the way over the past 30 years and has increasingly enabled these Old Viennese to reconcile step by step with their original home. They come to Vienna regularly; Ari Rath even lived here for the most part during the past years. They are the last witnesses of a perished world. May those who are still alive stay with us for a long time.
(Die Presse, print version, January 17, 2017.)