House Historians in Servitengasse 6

Der Standard (06/22/05)

A group of Viennese simply wanted to know what happened in their house shortly after 1938

One day a group of elderly people happened to take up conversation with an older lady, says Alix Paulus. And suddenly the world became very small. That was two years ago in Ascona. The older lady came from New York; the group of elderly people from Luxemburg. But all of them knew the Servitengasse in Vienna.

The group from Luxemburg knew the street because their son, who is the husband of Alix Paulus, lives here. The woman from New York knew the street because her late husband, New Yorker art book publisher Paul Steiner, grew up here, lived here and - also as the assistant of Egon Friedell, worked here. That was until he had to flee back then after 1938.

But that a Paul Steiner once lived in the Servitengasse is something no one in Vienna seems to remember, said Mrs. Steiner because there are those who don’t wish to remember and there are those who were never told. And because there are large memorials and plates bearing inscriptions of famous people, but there are no traces of "normal" neighbors who happened to disappear.

The lady from New York, originally from Germany, was not aware of the fact that Alix Paulus, her husband Martin Kneip, and their neighbors, Barbara Kintaert and Peter Koppe, had just finished researching this matter. While chatting with each other, the question arose at some point how the Anschluß, expulsion and extermination of all who weren’t "Aryan" played out in house number six in the Servitengasse.

The evening soon passed but questions remained. Together with the historian, Birgit Johler, the group began to research what took place. Out of the twenty-eight people living in the house, fourteen simply "disappeared," after 1938.

Twenty-six Individual Fates
Thus, the stories and fates of twenty-six expulsions and murders were meticulously recorded without any big scene, media glitz or self-adulation.

And still, we were not satisfied with research alone, explained the house historians. In March, they held a benefit evening at the Jewish Museum with the purpose of financing a memorial plaque for the house (how it was possible to get it even approved is another very long story!). Finally, explained the author Doron Rabinovici, one of the worst curses of Judaism is to wish upon someone: "Yours shall not be remembered." The plaque will be mounted in September, explains Alix Paulus, in defiance of the curse of having been forgotten.

With the ongoing search for those expelled from their own house, new questions arose as to the disappearance of those in neighboring houses who were forced to leave the Servitengasse. The search took on the objective of finding names, stories, faces and outcomes. In short, it was about human beings.

In the meantime, the community living in house number six is no longer alone, says Alix Paulus. Students from the film academy have expressed interest in contributing to the project. Official and quasi official groups are speaking about support and assistance. Also there are questions coming in daily from schools as to how one might help.

In New York, Marianne Steiner calmly and unnoticeably follows all the efforts being made in the matter. At the beginning of spring she wrote a letter to Der Standard. It sounded like the sighing of a person from whom a heavy burden was being lifted: "Nothing like this has been done in Austria, not like in Germany." But Paul Steiner, she wrote, would be one of the people whose home was once in the Servitengasse and who would be remembered.