Viennale 2009 – Frederic Morton: “Foreigners are the New Jews“

Austrian Press Agency (APA) 10/27/2009

Documentary presented in Vienna by Andrea Eckert on the successful author who emigrated – “When I was 15 I always wanted to be a film star, and at 85, I was one.

Vienna – In February of 1940 Fritz Mandelbaum was forced to flee Vienna from the Nazis. In the USA he became a celebrated author under the name of Frederic Morton.  On the occasion of his 85th birthday, which the Jewish writer celebrated three weeks ago, the documentary film, “Homebound Through the World. The Lifetime Journey of Frederic Morton,” introduced by Andrea Eckert, was presented. “It was a great shock to see myself for the first time on the big screen,” said Morton during a conversation with the Austrian Press Agency (APA). “When I was fifteen, I always wanted to be a film star and now with eighty-five I was one.”

“It is very rare to experience oneself and life story in film. What initially surprised me was how bald I was,” joked the prominent guest at the festival, “but the second impression was how clever Andrea Eckert was in weaving the individual passages together, connecting the interviews with pictures of the city.”

He also learned something about himself in that when he speaks English he is an entirely different person. “I have more authority, am more direct, which probably comes from my thinking and writing in English.” When it concerns an intellectual topic, I have to think very carefully and nuanced when speaking in German – “that is much more difficult.”

Andrea Eckert lets Morton tell his life story, accompanying him through his former native city and speaking with him in his new home of New York, illustrating his words with related pictures. “We met at a dinner party at which time she suggested to me that we do a project together. Then we began shortly thereafter filming during one of my visits in Vienna. At the beginning it was difficult speaking about all the terrible memories in front of the camera,” said Morton. Only when in New York the conversations turned to English and once he knew the crew better he appeared more relaxed.

Today when he comes to Austria he notices the strong impression “of the enormous contrast between Vienna of his childhood and Vienna today. During the 1930s Vienna was so poor that one can hardly imagine it and today it is the most desirable city in the world to live. When I walk on the street and notice how clean everything is and then come back to New York, I have the feeling that New York is a slum - and I have to tell you that I don’t live in a bad area. During those days it was just the opposite.”

Saddening, however, are the signs in the city speaking out against the foreigners. “The foreigners are the new Jews,” reflected Morton. “When one goes through Vienna’s telephone book, one comes across many names of Czech origin.

The FPÖ would say that they have assimilated into the Austrian culture. But the non-Austrians of today would also surely assimilate. I think, the more tolerant the Viennese are of the new immigrants, the more they would take part and integrate into Viennese life – just as the Czechs and Jews contribute to Austrian culture, they will do likewise.”

Morton is considered the master of the uncanny satire and has celebrated his greatest successes with such works as “The Rothschilds: A Portrait of a Dynasty” and the Vienna volumes, “A Nervous Splendor, 1888-1889,” “The Forever Street,” and “Thunder at Twilight 1913/1914.” Today when he looks back, the most important moment was when he met his wife who, unfortunately, has died. “

She united the best qualities of Europe and America,” said the eighty-five year-old who is still very ambitious and hopes that he “can continue living a few more years like he is doing now. My parents lived long, so I have a lot of hope.” His motto is and remains the same: “Principally, I am a pessimist, but it is healthy to act like an optimist.”