FROM INSIDE TO OUTSIDE
On March 11, 1938, our Austria vanished as an independent state. As the Ostmark, it was attached to and incorporated into the Third Reich, which was armed to the teeth and threatened to last for a thousand years. However, in this new state, we could not continue to live. First of all, we were famous in a negative sense, as the family of the Jewish composer Arnold Schönberg, whose “degenerate” works were on the forbidden list. No less significant was the fact that my parents had been active as communists, and as such had been communicating various and sundry political matters to certain powers-that-be via a shortwave radio long before Hitler. They had even at one time harbored some kind of communist secret agent in our home. In fact, as will be recalled from the section titled “The Soup Pot” in chapter two, a short-wave radio existed in our home until the very end, and as reported many years later by my first love Gerti, such a radio was indeed discovered concealed in one of our Kachelöfen (“tile stoves”) by the Gestapo when they broke in after our departure from Austria. Added to that, any day now they would find out that my father was the author of two recent newspaper articles vehemently attacking the Nazi idea of the KZ or concentration camp and their policy of muzzling anything that ran counter to their Weltanschauung (“world view”).
Obviously, there was only one thing to do: leave. The sooner the better; we couldn’t afford to wait. We had to get out before the Gestapo focused their attention on my father. Our parents thought that the best thing to do was to head straight for the United States. After all, Arnold Schönberg, my grandfather and mother’s papa, had been living there since 1934. So Trudi, my mother, wrote him immediately after the Anschluss, asking him to obtain visas for us.
However, it turned out that between 1934 and 1937 in Los Angeles, Schönberg had obtained visas for several people by vouching for their financial support, so now in 1938 he couldn’t provide the necessary guarantees for us as well because his income was insufficient. But not to worry, he would try to find someone else to vouch for us; we should hold on for a while.
Disappointed by his response, Felix, my father, decided to sound out Ful-ei-Han, an Egyptian colleague at Universal Edition who had lived in the United States. This man suggested that we go there as if on a visit, and very likely we would be granted political asylum. But if that did not turn out to be the case, we could always “take a dive” and resort to untertauchen (“living there illegally”) because the American government did not at that time require people to register as most European countries did. According to this Ful-ei-Han, hundreds of thousands of people lived in America in this way; it was something like riding schwarz (“for free”) on the Vienna streetcars. As can be imagined, my parents weren’t too happy with this idea, but as the German proverb goes, In der Not, frisst der Teufel Fliegen (“When in distress, the Devil will eat flies”).
My mother set things in motion by writing Schönberg and asking him to send us a letter inviting us to visit him. With such a letter, one could obtain a visitor’s visa from the American consulate in Vienna. The next step was to obtain the necessary funds for the trip. Fortunately, my great-uncle Alexander von Zemlinsky was not a poor man, and he and his wife Luise lent us fifteen hundred dollars, which was quite a substantial sum in those days.
In April 1938, as soon as my father had the money in his hands, he purchased train tickets to Antwerp and ship’s passage from there to New York, leaving on May 21st. Actually, he had to buy round-trip tickets for both the train and boat so as to make it look like we would be returning. Also, U.S. regulations required visitors to be in possession of return tickets.
Somehow, Felix obtained Austrian passports for us, or else we already had them; I don’t recall. The next step was for him to take those passports to the police—yes, the Gestapo—and to get their permission to leave the country. This meant that he had to be unbescholten (“of good character”) according to the Nazi understanding of such things and that he had to have a clean record. For in the event that a file on him existed because of his anti-Hitler activities, not only would our departure have to be cancelled but he, our sole support, could easily end up being arrested then and there and shipped off to Dachau or worse. Still, there was nothing for it; he would have to go into the lion’s den, and we all could only hope for the best. Quite understandably, Felix was extremely nervous, and the night before he was due to appear, he didn’t sleep a wink. Indeed, when he got out of bed the next morning and came to the breakfast table, we hardly recognized him. His face was a mass of bumps and his lips so swollen that his mouth seemed twisted out of shape; indeed, he looked like a caricature of his handsome self and could hardly speak. (Actually, his appearance was due to an occurrence that we were unaware of, and this, to be described in due time, I only discovered sixty years later.)
Why couldn’t he put off the visit to the Gestapo office to some other day when he wouldn’t look so bad, he argued. But Trudi would have none of it and insisted that he go there that day as planned. Those bastards were up to their eyeballs in work, she argued, and it being but a few weeks after the Anschluss, they were still rather disorganized and, more likely, not on their guard, and they would grant the permits without too much fuss. He had to go that day, he simply had to, my mother insisted. We boys didn’t understand how serious the whole business was and so felt rather sorry for him. But our mother remained firm, and in so doing, she probably saved his life, to say nothing of ours and her own. Unable to eat even a morsel of his breakfast, Papa smeared some ointment on his lips and went on his way.
He did not come home until the evening and on doing so, slumped into a chair absolutely exhausted. Still, there was a smile on his face, albeit a weak one, for in his hand were the super-precious things we needed to get out of that hell: four brand-new German passports covered inside and out with swastikas and Nazi eagles, which the Gestapo had issued to replace our Austrian ones. Yes, Papa had pulled it off!
The next day, with his appearance much improved, he went to the American consulate. What matter that he had to stand in line all day there, together with all the other people who wanted out in those days. A week later, we had what we wanted and was needed: American visitors’ visas stamped in those passports. And then, with Belgian transit visas, which could be obtained without difficulty, we were ready to be off. Still, Felix and Trudi thought it prudent to wait until May 20th to leave; one didn’t want to appear to be departing from the Reich too hastily.
Finally came that much-longed-for day of deliverance. We didn’t take much luggage with us, just what one would normally carry along for a seven- or eight- week holiday abroad. Everything else had to be abandoned, including, most regrettably for us boys, our poor cat Peter and our bicycles, and also my stamp collection, which was seven years in the making. My parents, too, had their losses: a wonderful library and two first-rate pianos, to say nothing of a fine collection of paintings, including several by Schönberg and at least one Kokoschka. But most important of all, we four lost a familiar and quite wonderful way of life that could never be recaptured or made up for. It should be understood that a trip across the ocean was a source of enormous excitement for us boys. Hermann and I had left Austria before on only one occasion —our vacation, at age four and six, respectively, to Lignano in Northern Italy as described in chapter 2, which would make it nine years before the events of 1938.
For me, there had been just one other border crossing, and that was from Austria into Czechoslovakia with my father the summer before. He had some business with a distant relative of Arnold Schönberg’s; I am not sure who it was or why we went there. It was a very brief trip by Danube steamer from Vienna to Bratislava; I believe it took under two hours. That was my first trip via steamboat, and I remember that the men’s and ladies’ rooms were marked in Czech: Pani and Dami.
Once there and past border inspection, we headed for the Ghetto—that is how my father described the Bratislava Jewish district. He even told me that once upon a time, before the reign of Emperor Joseph II, the district had been cordoned off with chains at night and that Jews couldn’t leave the Ghetto until the next morning. At any rate, we meandered through the old city’s narrow alleys till we reached the address of Schönberg’s relative. He was a man of about sixty and wore a long black gown; that’s all I remember. My father’s business with him was rather brief, and the rest of the afternoon was dedicated to exploring this foreign city. One could hear Slovak, Hungarian, and German spoken there. For me, a teen-aged boy, it was exciting to hear these languages and read signs in a writing I couldn’t understand and then guess at their meaning. On that afternoon I also saw my first black man ever—probably an American tourist. We also ate in Bratislava, nothing very exciting, just wiener schnitzel. By late afternoon we were back on the boat heading for Vienna and from there by train to Mödling.
Aside from a few vacations within Austria, usually to the Salzkammergut, we left Mödling only for an occasional trip to Vienna, which was a half hour by train; this was with my father either to the Universal Edition, where he got his notes for copying, or to visit his mother in Vienna’s Fourth District. At times we went to see some of his colleagues or friends, people like Ratz, Frischauf, Winter, or Polnauer, who are mentioned in earlier chapters of this book.
Now and then Hermann and I went to Vienna with both father and mother, once to the Prater amusement park, and several times to this or that concert. On those occasions we boys were always admonished to behave. I remember my father’s serious demeanor as he advised: “Sei brav, sei still, mach’ keine Gesichter” (“Be good, be quiet, and don’t make faces”).
My wife Nancy recently asked me what concerts we went to and if I remembered any of the conductors. I gave it considerable thought, and after a while a long-forgotten name came into my head. Yes, it was, I was quite sure that was the name of the conductor at one of those concerts in Vienna: KNAPPERTSBUSCH. Well, so much for our travel experiences before the big hop across the Atlantic in May 1938.
There is another trip, or rather escapade I should mention: Hermann and I knew our town Mödling inside out, every street, every house, every store, and many of the people. And we were bored with it—bored to tears. Mödling, we said, was the drabbest, most uninteresting city in the world. Nothing ever seemed to happen there, nothing ever changed. (This was, of course, quite incorrect: Mödling, as I now know, is a lovely city, filled with medieval houses, narrow streets and wide ones, open markets, churches, a museum or two, concerts, movies, restaurants, Heurigen, local festivals, and more.)
To us boys, Vienna, on the other hand, was a huge, exciting city, and we longed to go there whenever we could and wished we could live there. If only we were in Vienna for good, we used to fantasize, we could go to the Prater every day, play in the parks, watch the traffic, the people, and walk around in wonderful stores like Gerngross (the Macy’s of Vienna), or up and down bustling Mariahilferstrasse. Instead, we had to spend our days in boring old Mödling.
So, one day we decided to break with all the humdrum. I was eight years old at the time and my brother only six, but we had big plans. We would escape, run away from Mödling. Of course, we didn’t have enough money to pay for train tickets, and in any case, the Bahnhof clerk probably wouldn’t have sold us tickets if we weren’t going with an adult. Nor would the Schaffner (“conductor”) have let two unaccompanied minors board a train.
In short, we decided that we would walk. We had heard that our Uncle Görgi had made it to Vienna on foot in three hours, to save the train fare. I knew how to go, in fact, I could read a map and was able to mark out our route in red pencil. Just like Uncle Görgi, we would follow the Triester Strasse highway to the southern tip of the big city, cross one or two outlying districts, and wind up at Grandma Therese’s house in Wieden. That was the plan.
Reality was, of course, something else. We started out, armed with two sandwiches and boundless enthusiasm; after all, a three-hour walk was nothing insurmountable. Leaving at 9 in the morning, we told our parents that we were just going as far as Burg Liechtenstein near Mödling. Boy, would they be surprised when Grandma phoned them from Vienna:“Die Buben sind da” (“The kids are here”).
When we reached Triester Strasse, the highway leading to Vienna, we took our first break. Then we started again along Triester Strasse, and walked and walked. By noon, Hermann was exhausted. He sat down and refused to walk on. So, I took out our sandwiches from my rucksack and a canteen of water I had packed as well, and we ate and drank, lounging there in the grass by the road. After a while we got up and continued, but after another half hour, Hermann sat down again and stayed put. I let him rest for 20 minutes, then pulled him to his feet, and we continued. I don’t remember how, but we went on like that till finally we got to a sign that read “Stadt Wien,” meaning that we had actually reached the outskirts of the big city. Dragging Hermann, and dog-tired myself, we went on. I am drawing a blank about the rest of the walk, but, finally, seven hours after leaving Mödling, we were there at Grandma’s house.
The kindly old woman received us with a scream:“Ja, wo kummts denn ihr her, gonz allani?” (“Where do you two come from, all by yourselves?”) She had us take off our shoes and fall into bed. Then she rushed to the phone. An hour later our father was there in record time, having made his way by train and taxi. All we got out of that trip, in addition to sore feet and an unforgettable adventure, was a severe talking-to from our father and a night at Grandma’s place in Vienna. Father went to the UE in the morning and then whisked us back to boring old Mödling.
So much for our travels before the Anschluss. And now, in May 1938, we were to go to Belgium and from there to America, “das Land der unbegrenzten Möglichkeiten” (“the country of unlimited possibilities”), the land of Karl May and his Indians, of skyscrapers, and cowboys, and endless, wild open country.
We left Mödling by trolley, taking it directly to the Westbahnhof. (On his first visit back forty-odd years later, my brother made a point of taking the same trolley back into Mödling.) At the Westbahnhof, we boarded a train headed for the Alte Reich (“Old Reich”), as Germany proper was referred to then; at Munich, we changed to another train and continued on throughout the night. All through the trip my parents were terribly worried that we might still be stopped and sent back at the border with Belgium, and that we would thereby lose what might very likely be our last chance of getting out.
Before boarding, Felix and Trudi had instructed us boys to speak with other people as little as possible. That wasn’t easy to do, for some of the passengers were very friendly and even offered to share their sandwiches and drinks with us. On one occasion, a very nice elderly gentleman got on the train who wanted desperately to speak to my father about the extraordinary wines that his region produced—you can just imagine Felix’s feigned interest while he was internally seething with anxiety. At another point a tall, tubby German Hausfrau-type with blue eyes and blond pigtails came to sit in our compartment. Taking her for an archetypal specimen of the N.S. Frauenschaften (“Nazi women’s movement”), Trudi moved to another compartment until the “Schulz-Klinke” (after the name of the leader of this organization) got off the train.
Shortly after the town of Aachen, the German passport control people came on board, and now the tension really mounted; something could still go wrong—very wrong—at this point. These officials wore gray uniforms with lots of swastikas all over them and seemed to take everything as a matter of course. There were also some SS men from the Sicherheitsdienst, whose eyes seemed to be everywhere. Slowly, compartment by compartment, the grey ones and goons went through the train, checking documents, eyeing passengers, and asking pointed questions.
It seemed to go on forever, and as it did, we four Greissles relived the past few months at home in Mödling: the enormous number of Nazi flags, the crowds bawling out “Sieg Heil!,” the mounting pressure to join or be forced to leave school, the cruel and pointless persecutions of Jews, the panzers that had turned our streets to rubble, the goose-stepping soldiers, the blaring of the Führer’s speeches from loudspeakers....
Finally, our turn came. One of the men in grey came to stand before us, and beside him one of those severe men in black. How long would we be remaining abroad, one of them asked.
“Seven to eight weeks,” came the reply from my mother, without a blink of the eye.
“And what is the reason for your trip?”
Trudi lost no time in answering: “My father lives in Los Angeles. He’s very sick and asked us to come over and pay him a visit. I’d like to see Papa again. One never knows....”
The two of them carefully examined our passports and tickets, turning the latter over from front to back. The SS man inquired as to what kind of work my father did. Then he looked at a list of names he was holding.
“Dear God, don’t let Greissle be on it,” my parents must have silently prayed.
Just at that moment my brother opened his mouth and let out a whine: “Mama, kauf mir in Kracherl!” (“Mama, buy me a soda”).
Our mother whispered something in his ear, probably to be still.
“But Mama, I’m thirsty!” Hermann almost wailed.
The two officials paid no attention to this but rather scrutinized my father from head to toe. Finally, the man in grey opened our passports and, one by one, stamped swastikas and German eagles into them, his permission to leave that witches’ cauldron. Then returning our stuff to us, the two officials moved on.
Our parents must have breathed a sigh of relief internally.
At long last the train began to move again, and then after a while, word spread through the compartments that we had crossed the border. “We’re in Belgium!” everyone seemed to be saying at once. Outside at last!
Father was laughing, Mother was crying, and Hermann got his soda....
I remember Antwerp only vaguely. It was raining out, but that didn’t keep my father and me from taking a walk to have at look at the town, the last bit of Europe we would see, perhaps forever. We passed a newsstand, and I noted that there were many different newspapers on sale there: the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, a German communist magazine, the London Times, others in French and Dutch, and yes, there was even the Völkischer Beobachter with the obtrusive swastika on its masthead.
“How come there’s such a variety here?” I asked Felix.
His answer came straight from the shoulder: “Well, you see, that is called democracy.”
I was deeply impressed, and it became clear to me from this that we really were “out” now.
At three p.m., the four of us took a taxi to the Antwerp harbor and our ship. It wasn’t nearly as big as we had imagined it would be; compared to the giant steamer in the next dock, it looked like an oversized skiff. But sure enough, there it was: we read the name S. S. Königstein on its side, just as it said on our tickets. It was a German ship that at the time still belonged to a Jewish company, the Arnold Bernstein Line.
Small though it was, we lost no time in boarding the Königstein, and indeed, once we had, it seemed considerably larger. As we were registering, we noticed that quite a number of the other passengers were also refugees, though there were others who were not, such as businessmen, clergymen, artists, and, as we were to learn later, a confidence man. There was even an African explorer—shades of Karl May! Our cabins—my brother Hermann and I stayed in one, our parents in another—were simple but comfortable enough. The round windows with their greenish panes exuded an air of adventure; they were called Luken (“portholes”), our parents explained. There was only one class of service aboard the Königstein, Third, but we were quite content.
At 5 p.m., the engines began to pound, and excitement grew from minute to minute as a little tugboat came and pulled us away from the dock. A while later the Königstein began to move under her own steam. Behind us, the dock slowly grew smaller and then Antwerp too. At first we were in a bay, then a while later the open sea. Finally, as darkness fell, the coastline was receding on the horizon. Europe, when will I see you again, I wondered.
Our ship’s captain was, in the eyes of a fifteen-year-old, an elderly gentleman; he probably wasn’t even fifty. A typical German seafarer from Hamburg with a predictable reddish-blond beard, he hated the Nazis with a fine passion, as it soon became apparent. And he made no bones about it, though warned by us passengers on numerous occasions that he might be putting himself in serious jeopardy.
During the voyage, this individual invited various passengers to dine with him at his table, as was customary in those days, and one day we, too, were among his guests. Situated in the middle of the dining room, it was a long banquet-like table with seating for a dozen or so persons and beautifully set with white linen and china and adorned with flowers. Nearby, a small band played well-known tunes that were popular in Germany that year—like Ich tanze mit Dir in den Himmel hinein (“I’m dancing with you into heaven above”) and Ich steh’ im Regen und wart’ auf Dich (“I stand in the rain waiting for you”)—as well as melodies from musicals and operas. So there we four Greissles were once more on German soil, so to speak, and as if to underline this, there was a huge black-red-and-white swastika flag draped on one wall. The captain was quite unhappy about this, and while it was beyond his power to remove it, he ventured to suggest that we diners seat ourselves in such a way as to have the nasty reminder out of our direct line of vision, which would surely prove of benefit to our digestion. From time to time through the years, I’ve wondered what happened to that courageous man after war broke out in 1939; surely with an attitude like that he could not have survived it.
Of course, there were some Hitler Jugend (“Hitler Youth”) types among the crew, and of course, they looked on disapprovingly as their chief sat amiably chatting with his guests, many of whom were non-Aryan. On the other hand, given human nature, many an echt-German sailor struck up a friendship with an attractive but not entirely echt-German young lady, and in the course of our crossing, a fair number of rassisch unerwünscht (“racially prohibited”) rendevous must have taken place, despite National Socialist prohibitions.
The trip took ten days and was calm, except for a few days, when we Greissles came down with seasickness—that is, except for my father, who’d already been subject to it while escaping from an Italian prisoner-of-war camp by sea during World War I. It appears that most people do not become seasick again after their initial attack, or experience it only mildly. Three years later, in 1941, I was miserable again during a three-day crossing from New York to Havana, but that was the last time. On my next ocean voyage, in 1943, on my way to Algeria as an American soldier, I was fine, and as a merchant seaman in the 1940s and 1950s, I never got seasick, even in the roughest weather.
Of course, what with the immensity of the sea, the timelessness of its waves, its canopy of sky and stars at night, its occasional leaping fish, and its fresh breeze that sometimes turned into a roaring wind, that first ocean voyage was an unforgettable experience for us boys, then fifteen and thirteen, whose only contact with the sea had been through books and movies. The trip’s climax was reached, when on the morning of June 1, 1938, land came into view. At first we could only distinguish a distant streak on the horizon, the coastline. But an hour or so later we made out skyscrapers in the distance, small ones compared with today’s towers, but still taller than any we’d seen in Austria and Belgium. Then came the Statue of Liberty, that green symbol of freedom at the entrance to New York harbor, and at long last Ellis Island.
A small islet at the mouth of the Hudson River not far from Manhattan, it was still the point of arrival for all ships coming from Europe. Naturally, American citizens could move on from there without delay, but we foreigners had to endure long and involved formalities, albeit conducted in a friendly, good-natured manner. The setting was a large, sprawling building, which today is a museum depicting the woes and joys of generations of immigrants long past. First, our passports were carefully examined and their details recorded. Then we had to complete a long, complex questionnaire. Next came an interrogation by immigration officers, none of whom appeared to speak a word of German, or any other foreign language for that matter, and this was followed by a medical examination. At last we were done, and if I remember correctly, another boat took us to Manhattan—America, the real America, at last!
Waiting for us on the dock was composer Hanns Eisler, a friend of my father’s and a former Schönberg student, who took us by taxi to our first American home, an apartment in a residential hotel on West 69th Street called the Wilsonia. That apartment was a tiny place, compared with the one we had back home on Jakob Thomastrasse, and such furniture as it contained served as a sad reminder of what we had abandoned there. My parents shared a tiny bedroom, my brother and I another, and I recollect a small bathroom that included both a bathtub and a toilet, something new and surprising for us. Another room served as kitchen, dining room, and living room. In the cooking corner of this room was an old, rattling refrigerator, a two-burner gas range, and a pathetic little table that was a far cry from our massive, black-stained one back home that had been built by Schönberg and served for music-copying and card games as well as dining. However, on the plus side was something new in the building that we did not have in Mödling: a real elevator, and it was operated by a black man, also a first for us boys. As we were soon to discover, he seemed to be laughing all the time.
That evening our friend Hanns Eisler took us out to dinner at a small French restaurant near our apartment. There, over coq au vin avec petis pois, he warned us that difficult times lay ahead, and bearing this in mind, we should savor this meal to the fullest extent possible. In spite of his admonitions, we boys nevertheless enjoyed the meal. Forty-one years old at the time, Eisler was a chubby man with a shiny bald head and blue fish-like eyes behind thick, metal-framed glasses. A dyed-in-the-wool Communist, he remained so to the bitter end in the German Democratic Republic after the war, where he was at the helm of that country’s musical life. He was very nice and fatherly to us boys and—though a greenhorn himself, as I later learned—lost no time in showing us what an expert he was in life here in the New World. The meal ended with huge goblets of vanilla ice cream.
After a good night’s sleep in our new quarters, we four Greissles were standing with both feet on the ground, so to speak. We’d left far more at home in worldly possessions than we’d brought, and we had to pay off the Zemlinskys for our travel expenses, but having escaped from that Witch’s Cauldron, we felt that our poverty and the debt were mere details and things would somehow work out. One thing–a negative thing—that we brought with us from Europe was a bad conscience with respect to the many relatives and friends we’d left behind who might never be able to get away from “in there,” especially Uncle Görgi, Tante Anni, and their little Susi. Of course, what with my parents’ membership in the Communist Party and my father’s anti-Nazi activities, our situation had been more precarious, and we simply had to get out when we did.
Also left behind, besides Uncle Görgi and his family, were the Zemlinskys, who were to follow shortly; the Weberns, to whom Papa had brought our cat Peter; and possibly some of his friends at Universal Edition, like Hermann Schlee and his assistant Fräulein Rothe, and the Egyptian Ful-ei-Han, who had showed us the way out as well as Winter, Polnauer, and Jalowetz. It’s also possible that despite our parents’ warnings to tell no one about our pretended plans to visit the States and our true plans to remain, my brother, in his excitement, may have let “the cat out of the bag” to a friend or two. But happily for us, the Gestapo never got wind of it.
We remained in New York illegally for the first three years. Then in April 1941, armed with affidavits from friends of Schönberg and others and the necessary funds, we took that boat to Cuba that I mentioned before, and after registering at the American Consulate, we returned to New York all legal—with our passports amended for permanent residence!
THE NEW WORLD
As I said above, thanks to Hanns Eissler, we had a place to hang our hat on arriving—in a hotel called the Wilsonia on 69th Street, just west of Broadway. In reality, the Wilsonia was not a hotel but rather a kind of residence where one could rent a small apartment for a short stay or a more extended period of time. These apartments were more expensive than conventional ones because one could move in or out as needed without signing a lease or even entering into a rental agreement. While small and scantily furnished, ours was just right for our purposes. Our parents voiced the intention of moving to larger and better quarters as soon as possible, but as it was to turn out, we stayed at the Wilsonia for almost a year. To tell the truth, I have only pleasant memories of it, that first place of residence of ours in the New World.
If my memory serves me correctly, our apartment was on the third floor, which was reachable by the aforementioned elevator that was run by the black man. As one can imagine, this was quite a novelty to us boys from Mödling, where elevators were few and far between and where there wasn’t even a single person with swarthy skin. And so, the morning after our arrival, my brother and I began the day by taking several rides up and down, marveling at both the vehicle and its operator. The latter, whose name I can no longer remember, was a friendly, happy-go-lucky, plumpish person in his late thirties, which was old to our way of thinking. In the course of those trips of ours, we were able to discern that black people spoke, breathed, laughed, perspired, ate, and pretty much behaved like white people, except, of course, that they were black, or rather brown, all over down to the palms of their hands, which, for some reason, were more or less the same color as our own.
Venturing out into the street from the Wilsonia was still another adventure that awaited us, a challenging foray into an alien world with a foreign language, odd-looking buildings, and strange people. But, of course, we didn’t have much choice; one of us had to venture out sooner or later for the simple reason that, except for some odds and ends that our friend Hanns Eisler had stashed in the refrigerator, there was nothing to eat.
The task of shopping was assigned to me that first day, for I was the only one who was at all familiar with English. Actually, it could hardly be said that I knew the language, as I’d taken only a semester and a half of it at the Gymnasium. Worse yet, as it now turned out, my English teacher there was a nincompoop who hardly knew more English than we beginners. In fact, I suspect that he just stayed ahead of the class by two or three lessons. Also, he taught us many incorrect words and expressions or antiquated ones; for example, according to him, the plural of “brother” was “brethren,” and the German word Zuckerdose (“sugar bowl”) he translated as “sugar dose” and Tierarten (“animal species”) as “animal arts.”
Be that as it may, as soon as Hermann and I got tired of the “elevator game,” Trudi and Felix sent me off on a shopping expedition all by myself with a few dollars. Out the Wilsonia front door, Broadway would be to my left, they forewarned me, and once there, I would have to turn left, and soon a store would come into view, also on the left, that would have a plainly visible sign on it saying “Grocery.” But if in doubt, I’d be assured that I was there by the heaps of delicious things in the shop window. Trudi’s shopping list was, of course, written in German with translations under each item taken from our German-to-English dictionary. Unfortunately, I was burdened by my Gymnasium teacher’s atrocious pronunciation, though at the time I was blissfully unaware of that.
And so, there I was cheerily venturing out the front door of the Wilsonia all by my lonesome, proud that such an important task had been assigned to me, in a word, that the family’s sustenance depended entirely on me, the young and still somewhat childlike Arnold. For while the waiter in the French restaurant where we’d dined the night before spoke German, and we knew that a meal was always to be had there, we Greissles were not exactly flush. To make what little cash we had go as far as possible, it was necessary that we begin cooking in the apartment at once, and to do so, we needed cookable foodstuffs and, thus, someone able to speak the language to acquire them. So there was nothing for it: out I went into that foreign world called New York, with its strange ways.
Somehow, the food store was just where I’d been told it would be, and I must say never had I seen a shop window with such an enormous variety of things to eat in it. Indeed, to a depression-reared European boy’s eyes, it was a lavish display reminiscent of the fairy tales in The Arabian Nights and Grimm’s Schlaraffenland—from whole hams and chickens hanging from hooks, to mounds of cheeses trussed up in odd-looking bundles, to huge jars of potato and macaroni salad, cole slaw, pickles, and olives to tropical fruit, marinated fish, sausages, breads, baked meats, and God knows what else. I lost no time tearing my eyes away and ventured into the place.
Running along the left side was a white marble counter, and behind it stood three or so sales people in white aprons and white hats. When it was a customer’s turn, one of them would go and get whatever that person asked for and place it on the counter; in other words, while it was a large store, there was no self-service as in today’s supermarkets. Also, most foods did not come pre-packaged in those days. For example, butter and hard cheeses were lopped off from huge blocks, and after being weighed, the wedges were tightly wrapped in pieces of waxed paper, which somehow never came apart. Bread, on the other hand, was already packaged in America in those days, and it took a long time for us to realize that they had other kinds of bread besides white bread, for instance, that there was pumpernickel, which was something like our dark bread in Europe.
Before long, one of the clerks–a tall, blond fellow, possibly an Irishman—let me know that it was my turn. I clutched my list, took a deep breath, and let out, “Vonn lawff brrret.”
The man cocked his head, not understanding, so I tried again, and after a third attempt, he actually placed a package of bread on the counter!
Pleased as can be at this initial success and brimming with newly found confidence, I went on to the next item on Trudi’s list: “Ten ekks.”
The clerk’s blue eyes searched mine. “Ten?” he said.
“Yessss, ten,” I made it clear.
“Well—I can’t do that,” he said.
“Vy not?” I asked. For there, heaped up before my eyes in large baskets were literally hundreds of eggs, beautiful eggs, some white, some brown.
The man answered: “I can give you twelve or six, but ten, forget, that’s impossible.” And to show me what he meant, he picked up an empty carton and filled it with eggs—it held a total of twelve. Then he closed the carton and deftly broke it in two, thus producing two half-cartons, each containing six. “Twelve, six,” he repeated.
I got the point and took the twelve.
Now I was ready for some “Cheeeess.” But of course the question was what kind did I prefer. The man mentioned the names of four or five different cheeses, but I didn’t recognize any of them. Finally, he said, “Swiss”—happily something I knew.
“Hafff a kilo,” I said.
The man looked at me uncomprehendingly. “How many ounces?” he asked.
Needless to say, the ounce was a very imprecise concept for me. I knew that a pound consisted of twelve ounces—or was it sixteen? Two pounds was therefore a little less than a kilo, something like that. So I multiplied two times sixteen and got thirty-two, and then thought I’d raise it a little to be on the safe side. “Sserty-fife ounces!” I ordered.
The man took a knife and began sawing off a hunk that probably would have satisfied the requirements of a restaurant.
“No, no, not so bick!” I yelled, and showed him I wanted a piece about the size of my fist.
The chunk he cut me was still rather large, but I decided not to vex the poor guy any further and accepted it.
Happily I didn’t have any problem with the next item on my list—“Salami”—which was a universal term, requiring no translation, and I ended up with a reasonable sixteen ounces.
The last item to be reckoned with was milk. I remembered that my father had once told me that in America, milk was not sold in jugs or glass bottles as in Austria but in containers that were made of paper. So I asked the clerk for just that: “Vonn pepper bohtl milch.”
The man had been writing the prices of the various items on a large brown paper bag with a yellow pencil that had been sharpened with a pen knife. Now with this final purchase, he added it all together. “Two dollars and twenty-eight cents,” he said.
“Ssank you,” I said, after paying him, and left with the bag full of my purchases.
My mother had left the selection of a dessert to my judgment, so more confident now, I decided to walk along Broadway looking for my very own favorite: Punschkrapfen (“punch doughnuts”). Before long, I spied a store with a sign that read “Bakery,” which was clearly related to the German word “Bäckerei,” and sure enough, when I got there, the display window was full of all manner of cookies, cakes, muffins, and breads.
Inside, a lady behind the counter gave me a friendly smile.
I pulled my list from my pocket. “Six punch doughnuts, plissss,” I said.
The woman looked at me curiously and then burst out laughing. “Hier gibt es keine Punschkrapfen” (“There are no Punschkrapfen in this country”). However, immigrants from Austria and Germany often buy nut cake, and they also like apple crumb pie, she added.
I had her give me some of each, just to be on the safe side.
The avenues east and west of Broadway above 59th Street were and still are a popular residential area. Many refugees settled there in the 1930s and 1940s, first Germans and, beginning in 1938, Austrians. It wasn’t long before there were so many emigrés living in that part of the city that in certain streets one could hear more German spoken than English. I remember a joke that was making the rounds in those days that Broadway was going to be renamed Cincinnati Avenue. Why? Because when German speakers pronounce the word, it sounds like Sind Sie net die (“Are you not the...”), and walking up and down Broadway in those days, one was likely to hear again and again, “Sind Sie net die Frau Kohn aus Wien?” (“Are you not Mrs. Kohn from Vienna?”) or “Sind Sie net die Lehrerin von meiner Tochter?” (“Are you not my daughter’s teacher?”).
Yes, if a person didn’t know any English on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in those days, he truly would have had no difficulty getting by in German in almost every situation. Each store had at least one clerk who spoke it. One could tune into two German-language radio stations, and there were two newspapers in German, the New Yorker Staats-Zeitung and Aufbau, which were displayed prominently on street corners throughout New York City. The former was America’s oldest newspaper in German and appeared every day, including Sunday. But because it was not really hostile to the Nazi regime in Germany, the bulk of the refugee population, both Jewish and non-Jewish, didn’t read it very much, preferring the Aufbau, which was German-Jewish and had very high journalistic standards.
My brother Hermann and I, who were 13 and 15 years old back then in 1938, spoke only German at home with our folks and also between ourselves. After World War II, we both married, he an Irish-American girl, I an Italian, and up to his death in 1990, we spoke English with our families and German with one another, though as time went on, he often had to search for the right word.
When we started school here at Haaren High School—as did many other Austrian and German refugee children, by the way—we obviously had to learn English. Because I had a year in the new language behind me in Austria and was most eager to communicate in it, I made rapid progress. I had to learn quickly in order to keep up with subjects like history, geography, and mathematics, to say nothing of English itself. Hermann, on the other hand, was in no great hurry and continued reading only German newspapers and books, so he didn’t do very well in school at first. One time, he remarked, when criticized for his lack of progress, “If people want to talk to me, let them speak German!” A turning point came when he developed a liking for Hollywood movies and people made fun of him for mistaking the bamboo slivers that a villain was compelled to swallow for “bamboose livers.” As he was heard to say, “I know what a liver is, and cow’s liver we eat, but what’s a bamboose.” Another turning point came at age 16, when he became interested in girls, especially a pretty one from Texas. From that point on, he learned quickly and without effort, but his English always had an Austrian “twang.”
My first English teacher, as I recall, was a Miss Hammond, an elderly spinster, tall and thin, with icy-blue eyes and grey hair. One day after I’d been here in America only six or so months, she called me to the front of the room and said to the class, without any forewarning to me, to say nothing of a hint of mercy, “Mr. Greissle here comes from Europe as you all know. And today he is going to tell us a story that is known to everyone in his country, the story of one of its greatest heroes, a knight by the name of Siegfried, from The Song of the Nibelungs.”
Oh my God, I thought, how am I ever going to do that and in English no less? And since when is Siegfried a big hero of mine? And what are the key words in English like “battle,” “linden leaf,” and “heel”? But I had no time to meditate on it, for now Miss Hammond was gesturing for me to begin. It was rough, let me tell you, and more often than not I had to motion with my hands while taking stabs, some successful, others not, at half-remembered or -digested words in English. Happily, my classmates took pity on me and helped out, for example, yelling “Sword!” when I reached for my nonexistent weapon to pull it out of its nonexistent scabbard and correcting my “Drachen” with “Dragon!” The really difficult part came when the linden leaf falls on Siegfried’s heel, which, not having been covered with dragon’s blood, was his only vulnerable spot. But somehow I got through it all, and I will never forget that Miss Hammond, how she sat there at her desk smiling sadistically and drumming impatiently on the wood with her bony fingers each time I came up for air.
When I told my mother about it later that evening, she said that at a time like this, it is best to den Vorhang der Barmherzigkeit fallen lassen (“turn the other cheek,” literally “lower the curtain of mercy”). My experience that day at the hands of Miss Hammond, baptism of fire though it was, turned out to be a linguistic turning point for me. To make a long story short, after a year or so in this country, I was not only able to speak English quite well but also wrote fluently and always got excellent marks, indeed often better ones than many of my American classmates.
While we’re on the subject of “mein Ainglisch,” let me flash forward to something that happened thirty-five years later, at the beginning of 1973, when I became the manager of an airline office in New York City. I should note at the outset that whenever I mentioned my Austrian origins to friends and colleagues, I was assured again and again that I didn’t have even a trace of a foreign accent; my pronunciation was one hundred per cent American. Indeed, I heard this so many times that I could not help but feel proud of how well I had mastered English, that most difficult of languages.
One day a colleague from another airline came to pay a courtesy call at my new office. I didn’t know the person, nor he me. He had read about my recent appointment in one of the trade journals and had simply come to introduce himself, congratulate me, and chit-chat for a while about new planes, travel agents, air fares, and the like. I asked him into my conference room, and there we sat over coffee for fifteen or twenty minutes. Finally, we both got up, he put on his coat, and I walked him to the door. But then, suddenly, just as we were about to say goodbye and I to turn away, he looked me straight in the eye and now, speaking to me in German, said:“Sagen Sie, Herr Greissle, aus welchem Bezirk kommen Sie eigentlich?” (“So tell me, Mr. Greissle, which district of Vienna do you come from?”)
We arrived in New York on June 1, 1938, and while our parents struggled to establish the four of us, my brother and I took to going on day-long excursions. One of our most fascinating experiences was a walk that we took from the Wilsonia on 69th Street down along Amsterdam Avenue to 59th Street. On certain weekdays an old-fashioned street fair extended along those ten blocks, consisting of pushcarts, wooden stands, and tables and benches, where the usual wares were sold, like fruit, vegetables, meat, eggs, sausages, blocks of ice, bread and rolls, new and used clothing, school supplies, birds, and cheap musical instruments. It was a market of poor people for poor people, both colorful and cheerful, with lots of conversation, laughter, and noise. Everyone seemed to be bargaining, eating, and drinking.
A large number of the buyers and sellers were black people, many of them migrants from the Deep South. Though poorly dressed, they looked neat and clean, and showed a profound respect, even timidity, towards white people like ourselves. At one point I approached a young man to ask him for some information. Taking off his hat and seeming to tremble from head to toe, the poor fellow began to stutter an answer but was barely able to get out five words, and finally giving a self-conscious chuckle, went on his way. Ironically, it’s altogether possible that my brother and I would not have understood his reply in any case. The behavior of black people in those days, who were the children and grandchildren of the slaves freed by Abraham Lincoln in 1865, was a far cry from that of their present-day descendants, most of whom have overcome the timidity of their forebears and are anxious to assert their equality with whites.
At this market Hermann and I made the acquaintance of an ancient black woman who appeared to be quite vigorous in spite of her age. She was wearing a long dress as white as snow, and her head was wrapped in a pink silk bandana. She told us—via a passerby who could understand both her English and mine—that she had been born a slave in 1846 in the state of Georgia and that when she was a little girl, her father was sold by his owner to another person on a distant plantation. Even so, in spite of the fact that both her parents were illiterate, they managed to stay in touch through some good people willing to write letters for them, and at the end of the American Civil War, they were all three reunited after a separation of nearly ten years.
While on the subject of that war, let me mention a remarkable event that I bore witness to in New York in those early days after our arrival. On July 4th, there were huge patriotic demonstrations everywhere, as was customary at the time. For hours on end, it seemed, floats and marching bands in uniforms passed, and at times the cheering from endless masses of bystanders was such as to drown out even the blaring trumpets and booming bass drums. Most remarkable of all in the parade that we watched were three extremely old men who, so the newspapers had announced, were born between 1844 and 1848 and had served in the Union Army while in their teens, participating in some of the Civil War’s bloodiest battles. Looking so tiny and fragile with their white beards and bent backs, they nevertheless proudly marched along in their dark blue jackets and caps and light blue trousers, giving friendly waves to one and all. As I recall, one of them was shouldering a museum-piece of a rifle that reminded me of the Old Shatterhand’s “Bärentöter” (“bear killer”) in Karl May’s tales of the Old West. The gun was surely genuine, but now that I think of it, the uniforms, all clean and crisp, must have been replicas, for how could they have been in such good condition after seventy-five years?
Hermann’s and my wanderings beyond the Wilsonia that summer of 1938 were accomplished by and large by subway. The fare was only a nickel in those days, and for that pittance one could travel over any distance within the enormous metropolis. Often, we would take potluck on our destinations and in so doing discovered the most diverse quarters and neighborhoods. We heard Polish, Italian, and Chinese in Lower Manhattan; Spanish and Hungarian on the East Side; Greek and Russian in Queens; and an odd-sounding Black English in Harlem.
On the Upper East Side was a large German-speaking residential neighborhood called Yorkville, whose main thoroughfare was East 86th Street. There, one could find three German movie theatres and hundreds of stores, restaurants, newspaper stands, travel agencies, and sausage stands, all with signs in German and German-speaking employees. The people residing in Yorkville had migrated from Germany way before 1933, whereas recent arrivals were mostly Jewish and didn’t really feel at ease there because although many of those older German residents weren’t for Hitler, they weren’t really against him either. Sometimes, a group of Nazis would hold a rally there complete with swastika flags and Horst Wessel music. The American Nazis also had a Führer, Fritz Kuhn by name, and later, during the German victories at the beginning of World War II, it was rumored that Hitler had earmarked him to be the future American Gauleiter. But Yorkville was by no means all Nazi; there were also many demonstrations by German anti-Nazis, who wanted to show their loyalty to their new country. Be that as it may, we boys spent a good deal of time in Yorkville that summer, for in those three German movie theatres we could see our favorite actors: Hans Albers, Heinz Rühmann, Hans Moser, Martha Eggerth, Zarah Leander....
In those days, New York had, as it still does, a whole host of museums, zoos, aquariums, botanical gardens, and God only knows what else, and as minors, Hermann and I had free access to such places, as well as to concerts, plays, and art exhibits. We boys wanted to see it all, and this we proceeded to do, after a fashion, as I’ve already indicated.
In August, when the weather turned very hot and humid, we decided to go swimming and one morning took a subway to Coney Island in Brooklyn, which we had not been to yet. We had been told that we would find a boardwalk there—that is, a walkway made of wood that ran for several kilometers along the shoreline—and that on this boardwalk one could walk as far as one wished and then select a spot on the beach to settle down and leave one’s things so one could go for a swim.
The trip took an hour and a half, and the train rode in the open air for the most part. The Coney Island subway station was high above ground, and to reach the street, one had to go down about forty steps. As we had swum only in Austria’s fresh-water lakes and pools and only once looked upon, but never bathed in, the Adriatic while on holiday with our folks as small children, we scrambled down all those stairs, full of anticipation of this first swim in a real salt-water ocean.
On reaching the street, we saw that we were in a large amusement park with music blaring from all sides and hawkers’ voices crying out their wares above it. As we began to walk, our attention was drawn to shooting galleries and other kinds of amusement stands, merry-go-rounds and other rides, ghost and monster tunnels, the House of Love, and the House of Fear. True, we were already familiar with that kind of atmosphere from the famous Prater in Vienna, which our parents had taken us to now and then. But on that day we were on our own and could roam about as our fancy directed us. So to make a long story short, we never did get to the beach and ocean on that first day in Coney Island.
Our mother had given us a dollar as spending money, plus enough for carfare back and forth, which I had carefully wrapped in a piece of paper and stowed in a pants pocket. It should be noted, too, that part of the dollar was supposed go for lunch—at a würstel stand called Nathan’s close by the beach, which our mother had found out about. But with so much to see and do, who cared about food. And so, almost needless to say, it wasn’t long before the whole dollar was gone.
About two in the afternoon, we were heading from a gaming booth to a roller coaster full of people screaming their lungs out, when all of a sudden, as we were taking a shortcut through a restaurant full of loud-talking eaters and drinkers, Hermann came to a halt. My eyes followed his to two boys around our ages sitting on a bench, each with a giant roll full to the brim with divinely smelling sausages and onions, with the fat literally dripping from it all. On the bench beside each boy was a large glass of a cool orange-colored liquid.
Seeing the two kids ravenously biting into their rolls, Hermann looked at me expectantly and sort of moaned, “Arnold, ich hab’ Hunger” (“Arnold, I’m hungry.”) And then I realized that I too felt the same way—famished. Oh my God, I thought, we’ve got absolutely no money left, except for the two nickels needed to get home. I began feeling in my pockets for a stray coin and urged him to do the same. We could have gotten by royally on just a nickel each, for a while ago I’d seen a sign advertising a frankfurter with roll, mustard, and sauerkraut for just that, and with it a free orange drink.
“Leider, hab’ i’ nix” (“Sorry, I don’t have anything”), I finally said to Hermann, standing there looking at me imploringly with those big brown eyes of his. Almost at once they filled with tears. His appetite was particularly keen because he’d hardly had any breakfast that morning. However, in a trice he brightened up with a solution. “Schau, Arnold. Jetzt können wir mit den zehn cents etwas zum essen kaufen, und dann bleiben wir noch da und schaun bloss zu” (“Look, Arnold, why don’t we buy something now with the ten cents and then stay on a while longer just to watch.”) After all, there was no charge for looking on at a shooting gallery or when people throw rings at bottles. Then later, we could go to the subway station and when nobody was looking, sneak in. We’d never done this before, but we’d seen how other boys had gotten away with it. All that a slim, nimble chap had to do on coming to a turnstile was bend his knees and duck his head, take two steps, and, fertig, he was through. If somebody happened to notice—well, the worst that could happen would be for us to get a disapproving look or have an index finger shaken in warning. The only real danger could come from being caught in flagrante by a subway cop, but truly, how could one be concerned about that when there was so much yet to see and hear in Coney Island! As for the subway cops—well, after all, they were not the Gestapo!
Thus, it was done; at half past two we swallowed our last bit of hot dog and roll. And now we were about to move on to discover new things, when Hermann sat down on a bench and looked at me, somewhat embarrassed. “Arnold, mir tut die Füsse weh” (“Arnold, my feet hurt”), he said, and his face twisted up and he began to cry. “Rasten wir uns bitte aus!” (“Let’s rest a while!”) He was tired, no, completely worn out, and he didn’t want to see anything anymore, not even the magician on the corner over there with the black top hat and white cane. Worse yet, his feet hurt awfully.
I asked him to take off his shoes, and there indeed lag der begraben (“the dog lay buried.”) There were four large blisters on his toes, and one of them was bleeding. Also, there were bruises on his heels and ankles because his shoes, which he had worn since Austria, had grown too small for him. And what with all that walking around, they had made his life miserable to the point of becoming unbearable. As it happened, I, too, suddenly felt tired, dog-tired, so now I wearily sat down beside him and began wondering, vaguely, what we were going to do.
It wasn’t long before I became aware of someone watching us, an elderly gentleman, perhaps seventy or maybe even older, who was sitting on a bench next to ours and had apparently been eavesdropping on our conversation for some time. He was short and a bit on the corpulent side, and he was wearing thick-lensed eyeglasses, so thick that his grey-blue eyes moving back and forth behind them looked enormous. His face was covered with hundreds of tiny wrinkles, and what’s more, he needed a shave. His clothing consisted of a threadbare but clean white shirt and brown pants, also worn, which were as clean, though there wasn’t the slightest hint that they’d ever been endowed with a crease. His shoes, which were brown and shined to a mirror polish, had also seen better days, it would seem. His head, probably bald, was covered by a brown cap, apparently his newest or least old piece of attire.
After a moment or two, our aged neighbor gave us an especially friendly smile, revealing a mouthful of irregular yellow teeth, and addressed us in a gravelly baritone: “Vun wo kimmt Ihr? Seid Ihr aus Daitschland?” (“Vere do you come from? Are you from Goimany?”) His accent in German was indeed funny.
“Nein, wir sind aus Österreich,” (“No, we’re from Austria”), Hermann answered respectfully.
“Ah, Ihr seid aus Esterreich-Ungarn?” (“So you’re from Austria-Hungary?”) asked the old one.
“Ja, so hat das früher einmal geheissen.” (“Well, that was its name a long time ago”), I said. But now it was just called Austria, and lately, unfortunately, it isn’t even called that anymore but Ostmark, I added. As the conversation was getting dangerously close to politics, I decided to change the subject. “Und wieso sprechen Sie so gut deutsch?” (“And how come you speak German so well?”)
“Weil ich selber bin aus Esterreich, ich war finnef un dreissig Jahr alt wie ich bin kimmen in diesem Land,” he answered (“I came here from Austria ven I vas thoity-five years old”). Over there, he’d served Emperor Franz Josef in the Imperial Postal Service in a place that is in Poland today. His father was also in the Postal Service, and at one time he was a soldier in the Kaiser’s army. “Mir sein kimmen in Amerike in neinzehn hundert ellef,” he went on (“Ve came to America in 1911”). "Many things have changed here, too." He gestured at Hermann’s feet—“So nu, wie geht’s den Herrn Bruder?” (“So how is your young brother?”)
We told him about our experiences that day. He laughed from time to time and confided to us that when he was a boy in Cracow, something similar had happened to him. Then he offered some advice: the best thing to do now was to rest for a while and then later, on our way home, Hermann should carry his shoes in his hand. Then he gave us a long, serious look: “Also habt Ihr ausgeben eier ganzen Geld, bis zum letzten Penny. Nu’un’ wie sollt Ihr kimmen zurick nach Manhattan?”( “So you spent all your money, down to the last penny, eh. Nu, and how do you think you’ll get back to Manhattan?”).
We lied, saying that we hadn’t made any plans as of yet.
The old one looked at us even more seriously. He was no fool and must have read the truth in our faces, or else he knew of our plight from eavesdropping on our conversation. Under no circumstances, he lectured, should we believe that we could sneak into the subway.
Then he began rummaging in his pockets, and lo, his hand came out with a dime in it, which in those days was still made of silver. “I vas goink before for a valk,” he said, “and dere I see sometink glitterink on de ground. I bend down—dat isn’t easy no more ven you’re gettin to be mine age–and I pick it up. I look around, maybe I’ll see who lost it. But there vas no vun, so I put it in mine pocket, and now you fellas are here and you can use it for takink de train beck home. “So take it und go, und sei gesinnt.”
When we left Austria on May 20, 1938, my father, Felix Greissle, was already scheduled to take a job with New York music publisher G. Schirmer, which was based on a personal recommendation from Arnold Schönberg. In reality, Papa should never have been allowed to work in America, because he was in the country only as a visitor. But, thank God, such rules weren’t taken very seriously at that time. Just two days after our arrival, he presented himself at Schirmer’s and started work the very next day.
His was a simple job at the outset, but thanks to his training in Vienna as a musicologist, Felix soon rose to be editor-in-chief. In the years that followed, he supervised the publication of works by such outstanding American composers as Giancarlo Menotti, Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber, Roger Sessions, and Henry Cowell, whose names are household words in serious American music today; often it was he who published their works for the first time.
We Greissles had no cause for complaint; our father received forty dollars a week at the outset, a decent salary in those days when one considers that an average bank employee received between eighteen and twenty dollars a week and a basic laborer as little as twelve. Four or five dollars was enough to feed a family of four for a week.
The first Saturday after our arrival, the four of us went to Macy’s, whose merchandise was not exactly inexpensive but famous for its quality, and Mama outfitted us all, including herself, with everything needed to live comfortably in the new country. I vividly remember the trousers with long legs that Hermann and I got that day, for we had brought only knickers and short pants, neither of which we could wear there in America without looking ridiculous. The same held true for our Lederhosen, those typically Austrian leather short pants we wore as children, with their“Hosentürln” (“pants doors”) or flaps with buttons. Once, that week, we had gone outside in them only to be greeted by stares and even a few laughs, and two young girls had turned as red as beets. Someone, I forget who, explained that while such flaps that could be buttoned and unbuttoned were a very practical arrangement in Austria, they were a bit too much for American sensibilities in those “puritanical” days.
So we boys got “long pants” at Macy’s and jackets to go with them, along with shirts, underwear, socks, and shoes. I think the total amount for the whole family came to about two hundred dollars that day. If there hadn’t been any money, our mother would have made the pants for us or else would have bought used ones and tailored them to fit us, managing as she always did somehow. Happily, with our father going to work right away, there was enough money to enable us to start our new life in relative comfort. And, of course, there was some left over from the fifteen hundred dollars that the Zemlinskys had loaned us in Austria, which, incidentally, was repaid after they came to New York in 1940.
As I’ve said, for the first ten months after our arrival in the New World, we continued living in that small, cramped, excuse-for-an-apartment in the Wilsonia, and we boys spent that first summer riding around New York on the subways to see and sample its many cultures and other things of interest. Finally, though, that summer of exploration and adventure, like all good things, had to come to an end, and in September Hermann and I had to go to school, a particularly unpleasant prospect for both of us because it represented a totally new and unknown experience.
Because we boys were two years apart in age, they assigned us to different homerooms at Haaren High. It might as well have been to two different centuries, for it meant that each of us had to see, separately and independently, how things would go.
To my great good fortune, my homeroom teacher, Helen Berg–who was about fifty and quite an old lady, to my way of thinking—was able to speak German quite well. Or rather, she spoke Yiddish, that funny dialect that one could hear everywhere in New York in those days, the same that the old man with the dime in Coney Island had used when speaking with Hermann and me. Mrs. Berg was a very friendly, sympathetic sort of person. Whenever she spoke to me, she would first say it in English and then in that version of “German” of hers. Seating me in the front row of the classroom that first day, she asked me to listen to everything that was going on, very carefully. Then she put together a schedule for me, including classes in English, American history, geography, mathematics, and gym and gave me a note for each teacher, asking for their understanding and cooperation.
At one point between my various classes, an hour was provided for “lunch,” the midday meal. It was in the course of that hour on my very first day there at Haaren High that I met my first new friends—some of whom have remained friends to this very day.
“Lunch” was consumed in a large hall in which there were fifteen to twenty tables with room for over a hundred students. Every week each student was issued a meal ticket, and into this card, a hole was punched for every meal. There was no charge for the card, which meant that all those meals were provided for free. I was rather surprised at this because back home in Austria, I had never heard of anything like it, and it struck me as wonderful, considering that many of the students came from needy families. It should not be forgotten that in 1938, America was still in the grips of the Great Depression, which began with the Crash in 1929 and ended only with the War.
To get your food in the lunchroom, you first picked up a tray, and onto this tray a variety of plates and cups were placed as you passed along a counter. There was always soup and bread and either hot sausages or a piece of chicken or macaroni with cheese or sometimes a hot stew, as well as milk or coffee. For dessert, you would get an apple or a pudding or jello or, sometimes, a piece of cake. When your tray was full, you went to find an empty place at a table of your choice.
It was here in the lunchroom that I tried to find a new friend, someone in my own age group to replace my buddies Walter and Heinz, whom I’d left behind back home in Austria and perhaps would never see again. It should be noted that over that summer my brother and I had met quite a few people there in our apartment in the Wilsonia, but they were friends and acquaintances of our parents and were older, and never seemed to have children, or at least never came to visit with them.
To digress for a moment, the day at Haaren High began at 8 a.m. in one’s homeroom. At eight-fifteen, Mrs. Berg, my homeroom teacher, called the class to order and greeted the students. Then she directed us all to rise and led us in singing the national anthem, waving her hands up and down. Since I didn’t know a single word of it, I moved my lips as if I had it all at my fingertips and hummed along from time to time–not an easy melody. Thank God, I never had to sing it solo.
After “Oh Say Can You See,” we all had to place our right hands on our chests, put on a determined look as if we were making a solemn vow, and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Of course, I understood very little of it, except maybe the part about “to the republic for which it stands,” but so as not to make waves, I did much as I had with the anthem. Fortunately, the text wasn’t too long, and, happily, when it was over, we could sit down again. Dear Mrs. Berg must have realized that I hadn’t the foggiest idea of what had been sung and declaimed, for at the end of that first day, she gave me a booklet containing the texts of the anthem and the pledge as well as a lot of other “useful information for new Americans.”
On the heels of these patriotic opening ceremonies came Roll Call. Mrs. Berg would call out the name of each student in alphabetical order, and each girl or boy belonging to it would answer “Here” or else “Present,” just to be different, I guess. There were all sorts of names from a wide variety of nationalities: Spanish, German, French, Polish, Irish, Russian, and a whole lot of Italian ones. The only thing I didn’t hear was something English-sounding, that is, with one exception: a black boy answering to the name “Johnson.” Unfortunately, foreign languages were not one of Mrs. Berg’s strong suits, so she hardly ever pronounced a name correctly; for instance, “Ledoux” she rendered as “Lee-dowks,” “Rafael” as “Ray -feel,” and “Greissle” as “Grizzly,” like the bear. Possibly she intentionally Americanized the pronunciation of some; otherwise, how could she have come up with “Gonza-lees” for “Gonzales” and “Cye-rillo” for “Cirillo”? At any rate, the owners of those “impossible” names must have grown used to the funny pronunciation, for each of them responded without the least hesitation....
Let me now return to the lunch room. My first thought was to try to improve my English, so I chose a table where six or seven American-looking types were seated. When I came with my tray, they shifted over to make room for me but other than that, paid me no attention and simply went on with a conversation in progress. While I couldn’t understand much of it, I was able to make out, at least, that they were chit-chatting about various teachers–whether they were hard or easy markers, mean or nice, how much or how little homework they ordinarily assigned, and how busy or free that would leave them after school. I was eager to join in the conversation and made an effort to do so, using my math teacher as my subject, an old bag named Miss Matlin. But not a single individual at the table paid any attention to me; they all simply kept on talking among themselves as if I weren’t there.
Maybe it’s the subject of my conversation, I thought, and I took out my geography book, found a map of New York State in it, and asked the guy next to me to show me the second largest city after New York. This chap, who was short and blond and had blue eyes, surveyed me as if I’d pointed to the surface of the moon. Obviously, neither the book nor I held the slightest interest for him. “Look, buddy,” he said, “can’t you see I’m talking to my friends?”
Feeling plenty humiliated, I looked at my watch and got up as if I had to go somewhere, and mumbling “Bye,” went to find another table where I’d get a more accommodating reception. Locating one with two fellows from one of my classes and thinking that since we were acquaintances, so to speak, it would be easier to strike up a conversation, I sat down across from them. One of the two, a tall, thin one, eyed me for a moment and then said that he knew I came from Germany. Well, I had to set him straight: no, not Germany, I told him, but Austria—little Austria that no longer had a separate existence and perhaps never would again, I thought to myself yet once more.
But the fellow was anything but interested; instead, he grabbed me by the shoulder and pointed to a long table in the middle of the room. “Why don’t you go over there,” he said. “All the strangers are there, you know, foreigners like you.” Somewhat taken aback, I nevertheless followed his advice and, picking up my stuff, ambled over there. Then finding a place on one of the benches, I settled down and began to eat–as it happens, franks and sauerkraut.
Up and down the table, heated conversations were going on, accompanied by vivid facial expressions and copious gesticulations. All the fellows there had a certain “southern” look to them—with brown or black eyes, darkish skin, and black hair. Their language sounded like Italian, but I had a feeling it was not.
A large cup of coffee stood in front of one of them, into which he was pouring sugar. I say “pouring” because on each table there were one or two glass shakers with metal covers that had a hole on top, and each shaker was filled with granulated sugar that you poured by holding it upside down, a typical American invention; in Austria we’d used only sugar cubes. Anyway, this guy pouring sugar had the floor, and he kept talking and talking while the sugar flowed. I counted four, six, eight seconds, certainly ten or eleven teaspoons’ worth. At last the speaker stopped pouring, picked up a spoon, and began to stir. Oh my God, I thought, wait till he drinks, will he make a face! When the stirring was over, he brought the cup to his lips and took a sip, but to my surprise he simply kept on talking and took another sip and then picked up the shaker, allowed another three seconds of sugar to flow down into his cup, and then drank again, seemingly to even greater satisfaction.
My eyes must have really been popping, for now the fellow interrupted what he was saying and, leveling his gaze at me, addressed what seemed to be a question to me in his language.
Unable to understand, I guessed that he was asking me why I’d been looking at him so stupidly, and gambling on this, I answered in my English, such as it was, that I’d noticed he’d poured about fifteen spoons of sugar into his coffee and didn’t it taste too sweet.
No, he responded, in an English that was even worse than mine. In fact, in his country that amount of sugar in coffee wasn’t much at all. It turned out that he was from Cuba, where ninety per cent of the economy depended on the sugar crop. He ended by asking me if I spoke Spanish.
No, I answered, not a word. My mother tongue was German. I wanted to add that in Austria, when one couldn’t understand something, it was customary to say Das kommt mir Spanisch vor (“It’s all Spanish to me”), but decided to forego this.
“Well then, you should learn it,” he declared, then pointed at his cup and said, “Una taza. Una taza de café,” then at the sugar shaker, “Azucar. El azucar es dulce.” Next he touched a finger to his lips and turned his eyes heavenward, as if to describe something marvelous: “El azucar es muy bueno y muy rico.” Nor did the lesson end there: the table was una mesa and the bench un banco. He was a muchacho, and the pretty girl over there at the soup counter was a muchacha.
All the guys at the table were now looking on and listening, and one by one they gave me their names and called me Arnoldo. Each one told me his country of origin—Cuba, Argentina, Bolivia, and La Republica Dominicana. In the word “Argentina,” the “g” sounded like an “h,” and when I tried to pronounce “Republica,” everyone hastened to correct my “r.” The “r” in the German word “rechts” was incorrect, too far back in the throat as if you were gargling after brushing your teeth. The English “r,” as in “reason,” was not right either; it sounded as if you had a potato in your mouth. No, the Spanish “r” had to be produced between tongue and teeth, either short or long, and voiced. In fact, in the Spanish alphabet, the “r” and the “double r” are two different letters. You said “pero” for “but” and “perro” for “dog.”
Everyone began working on my Spanish pronunciation, and suddenly I realized that I hadn’t found just one friend but five or six. Eager to please, I learned the words sopa, carne, comida, dinero, escuela, profesora, and quite a few more that day, and needless to say, the foreigners’ table became my regular hangout from then on.
The upshot was that in my various classes during the day, I quickly improved my English, and at noon and after school, I picked up Spanish just as fast. Only a few months later, in the spring of 1939, I was able to speak both languages rather fluently. Let me add that I have never forgotten my Spanish and in fact speak it to this day almost like a third mother tongue. In my adult life I was privileged to work for a number of different Latin airlines in various administrative capacities. In fact, while working as a district manager for one of them, I gave a speech in Spanish at a convention in Merida that was sought after, all over the Spanish-speaking world.
Two of my Cuban schoolmates, Mario and Herman, became and remain among my best friends. Mario, whose family roots were Lebanese, came from a village near Havana, where his parents had been farmers. Somehow they had managed to raise the money to emigrate to the “land of unlimited opportunities” with their three boys and two girls, and now they were laboring by the sweat of their brows to assure a better life for them. Because the opportunities in America in those days were still more or less unlimited, his parents were able to launch all five of their children into middle-class life.
Herman (actually Hernan), whose last name was Custin, had come from Cuba with his parents and a brother. Herman joined the merchant marine during the war and stayed on to make a career of it, retiring with the rank of ship’s captain in 1992 at the age of 70. Now 86, he still swims in the ocean near his second home in Florida for an hour each day.
I should mention that back in those days, both Mario and Herman were socialists, and it soon became apparent that other members of the group were even further to the left. I was invited to innumerable meetings where we did a lot of singing and shouted slogans about the exploited workers and evil capitalists, and about the impending victory of the Proletariat. We were given booklets to read by Marx, Lenin, Engels, and especially, by that Georgian-Russian with the fatherly smile, Josef Stalin. By the way, I was convinced even then that Papa Stalin didn’t know how to write. In his “works,” one sentence reads exactly like the next. Everything was reduced to an absolute minimum of simplicity, which might have been acceptable had his writing not been utterly devoid of style and individuality. Instead, the same thought was repeated over and over, and even his train of thought was always ordinary—boring to the point of tears.
Even so, I went along to the rallies with all my new-found comrades and cheered and sang along as loudly and enthusiastically as they. It was an exciting time; we all were sure that a new age was about to dawn, in which, as Beethoven expressed it, Alle Menschen werden Brüder (“All men become brothers”). But first, of course, the Civil War in Spain would have to be successfully concluded. And then one day not long after that, Hitler and the Fascists would be destroyed, this at the hands of who else: the German and Italian people themselves and their Communist Party. But, of course, if necessary, the powerful Soviet Union could always come to the rescue to liberate them from the Brown Terror. And then, everyone would work, no one would ever again go hungry, and there would be no more rich people and therefore no more poor, and the entire world would live in peace and harmony forever and ever.
By the way, in those early years in New York, I also belonged to an Austrian leftist youth group called the Freie Österreichische Jugend (“Free Austrian Youth”), which met once a week for an evening of reading and discussion and sometimes went on picnics. Because I had a good, strong baritone voice, I was usually asked to sing solo, and I remember spiritedly rendering such “songs” as “Wir sind die Moorsoldaten” and “Madrid dich wunderbare” with texts by Bert Brecht and music by none other than Hanns Eisler, who had met us Greissles at the boat when we arrived in New York.
THE WORLD’S FAIR OF 1939
In the spring of 1939, we were told at school that a great fair was to be held that summer in Queens, a rather remote, thinly populated borough of New York City. Nations from all corners of the earth as well as many parts of the United States would be participating, each with its own pavilion. In addition, a large number of corporations would be there, with fascinating exhibits of their products, accomplishments, and inventions. And as if that were not enough, restaurants, game parlors, and theatres galore would be participating with optical spectacles and the like. In short, a truly wonderful summer of fun and games was coming our way–a ten-fold Prater!
We at Haaren High were offered student tickets for one or two dollars, and with them we could go to the Fair every day if we wished, all summer long. As if that were not enough, the tickets came with a free, unlimited use of the subway. Needless to say, Hermann and I rushed to get those tickets, and so once again we two brothers were to be together day in and day out for an extended period of time. As it was to turn out, this would be the last time in our lives that he and I could still be children. After that, came school again, and then the war and the army, and then marriage and families and all the new worries that came with it.
On opening day, we took the E train to Queens to find that, sure enough, it was an enormous fair! As we passed through the gate, we immediately felt as if we were on an excursion into the future. The buildings and vehicles, many of them futuristic, created the feeling that we had landed on another planet with a civilization far ahead of our own. In a more practical vein, we heard that at many exhibits, especially those sponsored by businesses, visitors were treated to gifts of various kinds. For instance, at the Coca Cola Pavilion, everyone was treated to a glass of the drink that would one day conquer the world. At the entrance to the Beech Nut exhibit, two girls were handing out sticks of chewing gum, and at the Argentinian Pavilion, each visitor received a tasty piece of baby beef on a toothpick.
Not surprisingly, in those final months of the Great Depression, long lines formed at the entrances to such exhibits. And so, my brother Hermann and I quickly learned where it was worthwhile for us to queue up and where it wasn’t. At one building there wasn’t much of a line, so we were able to walk through it several times for small packets containing half a dozen pieces of peppermint candy. We waited on another line a whole hour, only to end up with a minuscule Hershey chocolate bar. The upshot was that before long we learned that it was better to use our time looking at the exhibits. We certainly had enough to eat: mother gave us a large bag of sandwiches and fruit to take along each day, so not only did we not need the little handouts but we were even able to share stuff with friends from school.
Some of the international pavilions were truly fascinating. At the Spanish one, for instance, a regular street in Granada or Seville had been replicated, and people in old Spanish costumes were strolling along it while a señorita smiled down from a balcony at her amante, who was standing below playing his guitarra. At the India building, a darkish snake charmer in a purple turban was playing his flute while a live cobra was swaying and writhing before him in a basket and a darkish lady in a colorful dance costume was assuring apprehensive bystanders in her odd Indo-English accent that the snake’s poison tooth had been pulled.
There were lots of opportunities to admire the latest technical inventions: an electric adding machine that might well one day replace pad and pencil; a telegraph that could transmit messages to far-off places at the speed of light; screens showing motion pictures in technicolor; a steamless locomotive that ran on some kind of fuel other than coal; an electric typewriter on which you could type your name and then take the piece of paper away with you.
But the most incredible technical wonder of them all was housed in a small, rather unobtrusive pavilion. In front of this building was a clown with a funny, black top hat adorned with a white star and a pretty blond lady who had on an odd-looking black coat with the white silhouette of a dog on it. Before them, a man was operating a piece of equipment that looked like a large camera on a tripod, from which a sort of futuristic humming sound was emanating.
My brother and I went inside the building, to find it totally dark except for a large box with an illuminated screen standing against a wall. A crowd of spectators stood before it, laughing with delight. Approaching the thing to have a closer look, Hermann and I saw a clown with a funny black top hat that had a star on it and a pretty lady with a white dog on her coat, the very same that we’d just seen prancing around in front of the camera-like device outside.
This must be a movie about those two characters outside, I thought. They shot and developed it just today. But now a man standing next to me explained that what we were witnessing was a completely new miracle of modern science. “It’s called Tele-vision,” he said, a word from the Greek meaning “a view or a sight transported from one place to another.” I was already familiar with the idea from reading science fiction, but to be able to see something like it in reality was something else!
As I continued gazing at the screen, mesmerized, a spectator outside came on it now and then, and motioned with his hands as if waving to an unseen friend. But then suddenly there was a face on the screen that I knew—Hermann, my own brother! I rushed outside, and sure enough, there he was between the clown and the lady—all three of them standing before the man with the “camera”!
At that moment I realized that here was something with the ability truly to transform the world. I was looking at the future eye-to-eye, so to speak. Once this new invention, Tele-vision, took off, the results would be stupendous, both for good and for evil, too, just as they’d been via the radio. For where would Hitler, for instance, have gotten without the latter, and how much easier yet would it be for such a one to hypnotize the masses via a screen, a Tele-vision screen.
Needless to say, there was no Austrian exhibit, there being no Austria any longer. I vaguely recall an exhibit sponsored by the Third Reich, in which Germany’s achievements under Hitler were touted, though by and large it was without anything overtly political, like flags and uniforms. But maybe this was something I saw elsewhere, like in Yorkville; I really don’t remember anymore—for good reasons, yes?
The only exhibit from a German-speaking country that I do recall with any certainty was Switzerland’s. Going in, Hermann and I saw exactly what one would have expected there: beautiful mountain scenes, a Saint Bernard dog with a miniature keg of brandy under its chin, a sampling of expensive watches, an assortment of cheeses, a couple of pairs of lederhosen, and two cows—live ones!—complete with cow bells. We each came away chomping on a really delicious piece of Swiss chocolate.
Hermann and I continued going to the World’s Fair day after day. But then one day we’d had enough; it had all become boring and just wasn’t worth the long ride out there to Queens anymore. But not to everyone, it seems; the Fair had been so successful that in 1940, even after war had broken out in Europe, it was continued for another summer. Indeed, many of the pavilions were never removed, and some are still standing there today, dedicated to other purposes or looking like the empty ghosts of an era long gone.
THE EMPEROR’S BATTALION
The Anschluss and incorporation of Austria into Germany as the province of Ostmark was not the end of Hitler’s machinations nor of our, the Greissles’, involvement. In that same year, 1938, his Wehrmacht occupied the Sudetenland, the German-speaking part of Czechoslovakia, and at the beginning of 1939, the rest of that country. Then in September, as I was returning to Haaren High in New York, his forces marched into Poland, mistake though it was in forcing France and England to declare war on him. Even so, his victories went on and on, with the defeat and occupation of Norway, Denmark, Holland, Belgium,Yugoslavia, Greece, and North Africa, to say nothing of France itself, so that by mid 1941, the swastika and the flags of his allies were flying over nearly all of Europe. It then became only a matter of time before the mighty United States joined England and the Free French, which happened with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, when I was 18 and thus of draftable age.
And drafted indeed I was, in February 1943, just a few months shy of my 20th birthday. By then, after a long string of victories in Minsk, Pinsk, Kiev, Kharkov, and Rostov and with Moscow’s skyline visible through their binoculars, Hitler’s Wehrmacht was bogged down in the mother of all Russian winters and then, after a new offensive in southern Russia, soundly defeated at Stalingrad. It looked indeed as if the tide was finally turning against him.
My career in the American army began at Fort Dix, New Jersey, from which I would be sent to another camp somewhere in the country, where like any other rookie, I would receive basic training and then be attached to an infantry or artillery unit or a supporting one of some kind. Fort Dix is not one of my more pleasant memories. First of all, as sometimes happens in mid-winter in New Jersey, near-Arctic temperatures prevailed, there was much snow on the ground, and there I was, crammed into uncomfortable wooden barracks with thousands of other “men” my age. We were issued uniforms and dog tags showing one’s name, serial number, blood type, and religion, which we wore around our necks—just like a dog. We learned to bivouac and how to feed ourselves three times a day from cans or packs of K-rations. Except for the “nights out,” the food there at Fort Dix was excellent, and many of the fellows, whose folks were victims of the Depression, had to admit that they’d never in their lives eaten so well or so much.
Nevertheless, each of us was nothing but a number, and we had no idea what was in store for us in the future. And meanwhile there was much to do, such as kitchen duty, or KP as it was called for some reason—which stood for “kitchen police”—a form of punishment that involved peeling mounds of potatoes and washing heaps of pots and pans. Also, the barracks had to be swept clean and mopped, cigarette butts had to be gathered up from hither and yon, and there were a thousand other “details” I can’t remember anymore. I guess the point was to turn us all into good, obedient soldiers, a much more difficult task in America, because of its tradition of “rugged individualism,” than it probably was in Germany and Austria.
Aside from the above, there seemed to be a complete lack of organization at Fort Dix. Sometimes we had to work ten or twelve hours a day, on other occasions only two, and then there were days when we had nothing to do at all. Sometimes we hurried breathlessly, while the next time we would have to wait for hours for an assignment. Hurry up and wait, they called it. Fortunately, the outcome of the war didn’t depend on the administration of Fort Dix. We wouldn’t have lost it, I suppose—the Russians had already seen to that—but it would have lasted much longer.
In addition to the work, there was the endless queuing up we had to do. In the beginning, it had been for a whole range of medical exams and to receive uniforms and underwear, but after that, with tin utensils in hand and in any kind of weather, we stood every day to get breakfast, lunch, and dinner, or even if we wanted to make a simple purchase at the PX. But the worst was when we had to stand in line every morning after awaking to get some hot water. Each of us was entitled to a single helmetful, and that would have to be enough. First, we would brush our teeth, next shave, and then, when the water was already tepid, we would wash, starting with our faces and continuing on down to our feet. If a guy was careful, he would still have enough water left to wash his socks and underwear, albeit the water was not much cleaner. Socks, by the way, had to be squeezed dry, for each of us had been issued only two pairs, and if the washed ones weren’t dry by the next morning, you had no choice but to wear them damp or put the dirty ones on again.
One evening, after an especially strenuous day of work, a bunch of us rookies were gathered together in a large room and, notwithstanding our exhaustion, given a pencil and a booklet of multiple choice questions to answer. It was an intelligence test of sorts, and those of us who scored 110 points or higher would go on to officer’s training school, we were told. The idea of testing one’s mental faculties via a written test was something quite new to me, but I didn’t have much time to reflect on it. The signal given, each of us dutifully grabbed his pencil and began to scratch in answers.
I can’t say that it was a difficult test. For instance, some questions involved merely counting rows of blocks, and there were other mathematical and geometric questions that caused me little difficulty. However, quite a few others dealt with American baseball and football or else with the entertainment industry, and these were clearly beyond the ken of an immigrant who had not grown up in the States. Maybe I should have skipped those questions and concentrated on the ones I had no trouble with or taken pot luck with the difficult ones instead of puzzling over them. But that’s twenty-twenty hindsight. To make a long story short, I scored 109 instead of the requisite 110, which meant that I would be a common foot soldier for the rest of the war (indeed, as my grandfather Arnold Schönberg had been in the Kaiser’s army in World War I, and as my father Felix Greissle, an officer, had not been). Struck by the unfairness of those “common knowledge” questions, I wrote the Department of the Army in Washington—and if I must say so myself, it was a very good letter—but I never heard back from them. And that would have been that, had it not been for the strangest of happenings.
Two days later, while busy unloading a food truck for our kitchen, I was suddenly told to report to the commanding officer of my unit. This lieutenant, who was an older guy of at least 30, politely asked me to take a seat, a real wooden chair with real arm rests. Then he fixed his eyes on me for a good long while, no doubt assessing how best to convey to me whatever was on his mind. I wondered if I hadn’t perhaps committed some blunder and sat there fully expecting to receive a reprimand or perhaps even a warning of some kind. I thought about how we Greissles had been required to register as “enemy aliens” and to carry around an identification card with our picture on it as well as report to the authorities from time to time. Yes, even though we had left Austria to get away from the Nazis, in America we were considered citizens of the Third Reich. There was a huge swastika on the cover of my passport, and the inside pages and even my photo were covered with smaller swastikas and the hateful Nazi eagle—all of which might constitute “proof” that we were indeed hostile aliens.
Lying before the lieutenant on his desk were some papers, doubtless pertaining to me, as well as a recent picture—and a photostat of that passport of mine in its entirety! He took his time examining these while glancing at me from time to time as if sizing me up. I was about to ask him what in God’s name he wanted of me while making it plain to him in no uncertain terms that I was hardly what one would call an “enemy alien”—indeed, that my family and I had arrived only with visitors’ visas and had had to rely on a kindly German consular official in New York to renew our passports again and again until we were able to get to Cuba with them and reenter the United States legally.
However, before I had a chance even to begin, the lieutenant looked hard at me. “Private Greissle,” he began–pronouncing the word like “grizzly” as had my home room teacher Mrs. Berg back in Haaren High— “I’m going to ask you a number of questions, and I want you to be completely truthful in answering them. In all fairness, I must tell you that your career with us here in the United States Army will depend in large measure on your answers.” Further, that my attitude with respect to what he was about to tell me would be of utmost importance for them there at Fort Dix and also for myself and my future as a soldier in America’s war against Hitler and the Japs.
Oh my God, what’s up, I thought. Were they going to train me to be a spy and drop me behind enemy lines, or what?
The lieutenant began: where was I born? Mödling was not a concept to him, so he simply wrote down “Austria” on his form.
Next: did people speak German where I was born, or was it rather Hungarian or one of the Slavic languages?
“No,” I answered, “something like German”—thinking of our local patois. But this didn’t mean that I identified myself in any way with Germany, which had subdued Austria five years ago. On the contrary, I’d be glad to fight to free Austria from German bondage and establish it as an independent country again. But clearly I felt that I was treading on dangerous ground with this guy. To get to the heart of the matter, could I count on the superiority of his geographical acumen to that of many of my fellow GIs, who mistook Austria for Australia to the point of saying, “Oh yeah, I have a friend stationed there in Melbourne”?
It turned out that the lieutenant did at least know where Austria was—or had been—and now he had questions dealing with my arrival in the States, how I liked it here, and so on. Finally came the following: “We know that you have at least two uncles and two cousins over there and doubtless friends as well, and possibly they are soldiers in the German army. If you came face-to-face with one of them with gun in hand as a soldier in the American army, what would you do?”
Thinking of Uncle Rudi, my father’s brother, and good friends I’d left behind like Heinz Idinger, I lost no time in answering: if someone were an out-and-out Nazi, I wouldn’t hesitate to take good aim and pull the trigger. However, if I knew for a fact that he was a good person, I would try to take him prisoner—but under no circumstances would I allow myself to be taken prisoner.
This seemed to satisfy him, and now taking aim with his eyes, he came out with it: what he or rather they wanted with me. The United States Army was about to form an Austrian battalion, and a call had been issued for citizens from all countries that had been a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire before 1918, which meant not only bonafide Austrians but also Czechs, Yugoslavs, Rumanians, Hungarians, Poles, and a good deal else. We would all be constituted as the 100th Infantry Battalion and then go to Europe and fight there alongside other members of the United States Army. At the end of the war, we’d wind up in Vienna, where our commander-in-chief, an officer named Otto von Habsburg, would be installed as the emperor. Apparently I’d made the grade, for I now had the special assignment to join that outfit. He didn’t ask me whether I wanted to do this or not, what my opinion might be about monarchy as a form of government—if, perhaps, there mightn’t be some other possibilities to my way of thinking. In short, in two weeks I was to begin training with that outfit in Camp Atterbury near Columbus, Indiana.
I was absolutely dumbstruck, but as a captive audience, so to speak, what could I do?
A week later I had written orders in my pocket plus a one-way train ticket to Columbus and assurances that a car and driver would meet me at the station and convey me to the camp. Before that, I went on a three-day furlough, which I spent with my parents and brother in New York. I could confide nothing to them, as I’d been warned that this was a top-secret matter upon which my safety and that of my comrades depended. What did I tell them? Simply that I was being transferred to Indiana for basic training, after which, in five or six months, I could expect to be sent to Europe or the Pacific, probably for service in the infantry.
This was at the beginning of April 1943, at which point units of the American army had landed in North Africa and were doing battle with the Germans there. Also, the Wehrmacht in Russia, especially in the south, was in full flight, and the allied armies in England were ready to land in France. Thus the outlook for the future was very favorable indeed—“You might even be home for Christmas,” my mother told me on the morning of my departure.
With the engine puffing and steam hissing, I started on my westward journey that April morning. There were still some old-time trains around in those days, the so-called iron horses; when you sat aboard one of them, you really had the feeling you were traveling. The blasts of steam from the engine, the white and often black smoke from the chimney, the rhythmic thumping of the wheels on the iron tracks, the different odors, the ringing of the warning bell—all those sights and sounds have remained with me to this day.
It took twenty hours to get from New York to Columbus; today’s trains do it in ten or eleven. Since I was traveling third class, I had to pass the night sitting or lying on a wooden bench, so I slept very little during the trip, maybe two hours. I spent the time thinking—about the war, of course, but also about Austria and “unser Kaiser,” the emperor. In 1938, that word had still been very much alive in the Austrian psyche. “Ja, die guten alten Zeiten, wie wir noch unsern Kaiser hatten,” my Tante Olga used to say with a mixture of sadness and pride in her eyes (“Ah, those were the good old days, when we still had our kaiser”). In the foyer of her house on Schillerstrasse, there hung a portrait of Franz Josef as an old man with white sideburns. Next to it was a smaller one of him as a slim young man shortly after his accession to the throne in 1848–with the same sideburns, only brown. What especially impressed me was that he wore the same uniform in both paintings—a white jacket with a wide red-and-white bandoleer and red trousers with gold stripes down the sides—and in each he had on white gloves. His sword, with a gold handle and a thick golden tassel, also looked the same, and perhaps it was the very same.
During my childhood in the late 1920s and early 1930s, the aura of imperial Austria was everywhere. Even the songs had not yet faded away; I remember one in particular: “Ade, mein kleiner Gardeoffizier, ade” (“Adieu, my little Imperial Guard officer, adieu”) by Robert Stolz. When the head of my Gymnasium gave a speech, he would mention the empire again and again, not as history but as the recent and glorious past: the battles of the nineteenth century, World War I, great Austrians from the time of the Habsburgs, names like Rosegger, Nestroy, Radetzky, Raimund, and Strauss. Just about everyone, besides Tante Olga, had at least one likeness of Franz Josef hanging on a wall, even the superintendent of our house on Jakob Thomastrasse. “Ja, unser Kaiser. Sein Bild wird immer noch da hängen, auch wenn ich nicht mehr da bin,” she would declare with reverence (“That’s our Emperor, and it’ll still be hanging here long after I’m not around anymore”). Even so, she did have to take it down in 1938, but to her credit, the dear old lady did not put up Hitler’s portrait in its place....
So there I was, lying on a wooden bench aboard a train bound for Indiana with all those visions of the past in my head. My parents, both communists, you’ll recall, had, of course, been opposed to the “monarchy,” and I suppose I shared their views–but only half-heartedly, for I had always leaned a little toward the right, compared with them. The same dichotomy had, in fact, existed between my mother and her father, Arnold Schönberg, whom some biographer labeled a “conservative revolutionary.” For despite all of his Secessionist sympathies, Schönberg had monarchist leanings. He believed in God both as a Jew and as a Protestant, and later in life, he perhaps tended towards Catholicism. The children of his second wife were all baptized Catholics. Moreover, he was convinced that aristocrats were above the level of the “average man,” what with their traditions of culture and their ability to indulge in artistic pursuits.
So now with Washington having decreed that Austria would once again become an empire and the archduke Otto von Habsburg its leader, the United States Army was organizing a fighting unit for the purpose of making the dream a reality. And where were we likely to see action, I wondered. Perhaps, I speculated, we’d be dropped over Austria while it was still in German hands, a damn good reason for keeping everything so hush-hush. But if the truth be known, I didn’t think much of the idea. If we European Habsburg-supporters were to be taken prisoner, the Nazis would recognize our accents, realize that our unit had a special purpose, and lose no time in shooting us on the spot, or worse. But then it struck me that we would most likely be fighting alongside other American units through Italy or through France and Germany into Austria, where we would then be employed on our special mission, in other words, essentially become Otto’s imperial guards.
I finally decided that it was no use speculating about such things—it was best just to abwarten und Tee trinken (“wait and drink tea”), as the saying goes. Half asleep, I listened to the thumping of the wheels on the rails some more, and with that thumping the old song began running through my head: “Ade, mein kleiner Gardeoffizier, ade. Ade, und vergiss, und vergiss mich nicht” (“Adieu, little Guard officer, adieu, and forget me not”).
I arrived at Atterbury dead tired, but I must say I was pleasantly surprised on being led to a real room that I had to share with only three other soldiers. Though we slept in bunk beds, we had our own bathroom with a toilet, hot and cold running water, and a shower. I was given a hot meal, and despite my fatigue, I discerned that other Austrians were there, as well as Czechs and Yugoslavs. But that was all; finished with the food, I literally fell onto my bed and slept until the following morning....
“Na, endlich,” came a voice from somewhere above me (“At last”). “Wir haben schon geglaubt, du wirst überhaupt nicht mehr aufwachen” (“We were beginning to think you would never wake up”).
Roused from a dream, I was scared stiff, almost sure that I’d been taken prisoner and would be lined up against a wall and shot or beheaded. Can’t be, I assured myself, the person’s voice sounded very familiar. I rubbed my eyes and sat up, banging my head against the plank of a bunk above mine. Someone from the upper bunk opposite mine was gazing down at me. I recognized him. It was Fritz K., originally from Vienna, who belonged to the same Freie Österreichische Jugend (“Free Austrian Youth club”) as I in New York.
“Ach, du bist's Fritz!” I called out.
How he had gotten there Fritz explained to me over breakfast in the dining hall, all washed and shaved and in our regular uniforms, for it was a Sunday. Just like me, he had been picked out as an Austrian national at his recruitment camp and sent to Atterbury. Here he’d been sitting for the last two weeks, and each day had seen the arrival of more “recruits.” About half of them were originally from Austria, mostly Vienna, but there were also quite a few Czechs, Hungarians, and Yugoslavs; some were Jewish, others like ourselves, not. For a variety of reasons including ease of communication first and foremost, a number of Czech, Hungarian, and Austro-German subgroups were soon to form among us. Naturally, English was and remained our lingua franca.
So what did they intend to do with us, I asked Fritz and his friends that morning. They answered that so far nothing much had happened, but they’d all been led to believe that training, very rigorous training, would begin as soon as enough of us Austrian Empire-folks were there, so we could all learn together. By now, about eighty men had arrived, so perhaps things would get going pretty soon. In the meanwhile, there wasn’t much to do except for the routine stuff, most of which, however, was being performed by rookies from units other than our “elite” 100th Battalion. The food was nothing short of fabulous. For instance, our breakfast that morning consisted of eggs, milk, cheese, and several kinds of sausage with a choice of coffee, tea, or hot chocolate. Juice, fruit, fried potatoes, and pancakes were also available; you could even order an omelet. In short, they were providing us with an ongoing feast.
So what were the Army’s plans for us regarding Austria and the Archduke, did anyone know, I asked. Well, Otto wasn’t around at the moment, came the answer, but he had indeed been there once to welcome them all, his subordinates or subjects, if you will. He was in his mid-thirties, held the rank of major, and would soon be promoted to lieutenant colonel, it seemed.
Nothing much had been said about tactical plans for us as of yet, but there were guesses and rumors aplenty. The idea seemed to be, as I’d been told by the lieutenant who initially interviewed me, to reestablish the Habsburg Empire—that is, unless the political climate in Washington changed. Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Yugoslavia would be included in it, presumably as equal and autonomous parts. The capital as well as its economic hub would again be Vienna, and our battalion would be serving under the AMG (American Military Government) until things there were secure.
And what did the guys who’d arrived in Atterbury from hither and yon and now belonged to this most exclusive of battalions think of the Empire idea? Well, needless to say, the monarchists, who totaled about a quarter of our number, whole-heartedly approved of it; indeed, dedicated heart and soul to it and to reinstating the Habsburgs, they were brimming with confidence and optimism, and quite vocal when it came to expressing their views. A second group, numbering about half of us, would have been neither for nor against it, had anyone bothered to ask them; they just wanted to be treated with kindness and respect, and instead of hankering after Don Quixote-like adventures, they rather hoped to be called upon to help set up a new government in Austria after the war. The remainder, numbering a good twenty-five percent, were pretty much opposed to the Empire and the Habsburgs, and, in fact, had anyone bothered to ask them concerning their opinions, they would have pointed out that while there had been a movement for the return of that old, outmoded, and not-very-popular form of government in Austria in 1938, a far greater percentage of the people had been Social Democrats, Communists, Christian Republicans, and sad to say, Nazis. In any event, Washington should not go about undemocratically dictating who would and would not be at Austria’s helm once Hitler fell; that choice should be left to the Austrian people. Extremists in this latter group, who were Jews for the most part, held to the opinion that all Austrians were Nazis and wanted nothing more to do with the “old country.”
Regardless of their opinions on this subject, a large proportion of the 100th battalion hailed from middle-class families, meaning they were fairly well-educated and cultured and were not the sort of fellows from whom one could expect blind obedience. Be that as it may, the cat was already out of the bag, that is, many of them had written home about what was going on at Atterbury or mentioned it in phone conversations, and it wasn’t long before parents and siblings were writing letters of protest about the battalion and its founders to newspapers and magazines, and editorials requesting clarification from the government were regularly appearing in them. One New York paper in particular, the sort of leftish PM, went vehemently to bat in behalf of the anti-monarchist faction.
Meanwhile basic training had at long last begun at Atterbury, and now instead of sitting around eating, talking, and reading, we had to get up at sunrise every morning and work very hard at making ourselves fit and, among other things, learning how to use an M-1 rifle and stick a bayonet into an enemy’s guts. And every night now, too tired either to speculate or complain, we fell into our bunks exhausted. Once, and for that one time only, we got to meet Otto, who I must say looked pretty much as one would expect a distinguished archduke to look: slim, rather good-looking, almost dashing. That’s about it; I don’t remember more than that.
When all was said and done, the 100th looked no different from other American infantry outfits. Our uniforms and equipment were the same, and the commands we received were in English—though whenever we were with our own, we used whatever our mother tongue happened to be. We were given the same rations and provisions and were scheduled to receive the same basic training as other infantrymen. Yes, in the end, the only difference between other units and ours was that we had a very special “Austrian” mission.
But then one morning a week after basic training had begun, everything changed. We were all ordered to assemble in the yard adjacent to our barracks, and our master sergeant, an American born and bred, told us that word had come from Washington that the battalion was to be disbanded. No particular reason was given for this; these were orders from on high, that was all. (Now looking back, the reason was clear. This was the period in the war when the Big Four–England, France, Russia, and the United States—were meeting again and again to try to work out a plan for an orderly occupation of Germany and Austria once the Nazis had been defeated. It was agreed that each of those superpowers was to have control over a predetermined and carefully mapped-out zone, so a revived Austrian empire would have been absolutely out of the question.) It seems that Stalin, above all, vehemently opposed the idea.
The sergeant went on to say that before long, transfers to other units would be coming through to us. In the meantime, we should all be patient, as the powers-that-be would be checking each man’s background so as to assign him to the kind of service that best corresponded with his abilities. And I guess that’s what happened. Fritz and some of our other friends from the Freie Österreichische Jugend (“ Austrian Youth Club”) were sent to an artillery unit stationed at Atterbury, while others went on to infantry units elsewhere, and a few became medics. My documents revealed that I had once held an after-school job as an assistant to a New York dental technician, so I was assigned to assist a woman army dentist at a hospital—whose staff, as it happens, was scheduled to go overseas very shortly.
So that was the end of the “Emperor’s Battalion.” And how did we “Imperial subjects” all feel about it? Well, the monarchists were quite upset, of course, considering their last big chance and indeed only hope dashed. The leftists, on the other hand, were relieved because to their way of thinking, with so little of the population likely to be in favor of a monarchy, the whole thing was bound to be a fiasco and would lead only to God knows what kind of chaos politically.
As for me, well, I would miss speaking our brand of German with Fritz and my other Austrian buddies—it was a bit like being exiled from home a second time, I guess. But in the end, I wasn’t particularly unhappy or, for that matter, happy about it all. As I indicated earlier, as a leftist I had not approved of that American venture to revive the Monarchy. However, as with my grandfather, there was a bit of me that hankered for the old-fashioned genteel way of life that the Monarchy represented. Yes, I, the son of communists Felix and Trudi, harbored a kind of sentimental longing for the good old days.
But after all was said and done, it was just too late, and in the end one could only sing the old song: “Ade, mein kleiner Gardeoffizier, ade. Und vergiss mich nicht.”
After that short stint in the American Army’s Austrian Battalion, I went on to North Africa with the dental unit of a field hospital I was assigned to and then to Naples with same. And then, after a year, I was transferred to the Anzio beachhead to interrogate and guard German prisoners of war, which I did for the rest of the Italian campaign. In 1945, when my tour of duty was up, I returned to the United States in a boat full of wounded GIs and prisoners.
Meanwhile, in Naples, I had met and fallen in love with a beautiful young Italian woman named Antonietta—indeed as only a lonely twenty-year-old Austrian-born-and-bred American soldier could. Then, no sooner was I discharged from the army than I joined the merchant marine and began going back and forth between New York and Naples with the sole object of seeing her again and eventually marrying her. The wedding took place in Naples a year later, and while my lovely Antonietta (now “Toni”) would have preferred to remain in Italy, she joined me in New York via one of the many transports bringing war brides to the United States. We made our home with my folks in their apartment, which eventually became our own place, and we had three children: Adriana (1947), Walter (1954), and Edward (1963). All grown up now, Adriana and Edward married, and I have three grandchildren.
Thanks to the GI Bill, I was able to go to NYU and earn BA and MA degrees. My speciality was Romance languages, and I ended up certified to teach both Spanish and French. However, my real love was to travel, and so, following graduation, I applied for and was accepted for an entry-level job with Pan Am. In 1956, I became manager of the New York office of TAN Airlines of Honduras, and this was followed over the course of forty years with assignments as New York manager of the airlines of Ecuador, Peru, Panama, and finally SAHSA, another Honduran airline.
One of the “perks” of those jobs was my ability to travel just about wherever and whenever I wanted, and before the advent of the jet, I had many an adventure in the air and a few really close calls. For instance, once, on my way from Ciudad Trujillo (now Santo Domingo) to San Juan, one of the two engines conked out and we began losing altitude. Then suddenly, just as it was almost skimming the ocean’s surface and everybody on board was praying, the copilot came running out of the cockpit, yanked open a compartment on the cabin ceiling, made some quick adjustment, and brrrrrrrrrr–we were back in the land of the living again.
Meanwhile, as of the end of the war, I had begun corresponding with Uncle Görgi in Mödling. Austria, it will be recalled, was occupied by the Russians until 1954, so there was no chance of my visiting right away. For a variety of personal reasons having to do mostly with finances, I wasn’t able to make the trip until 1960, but when I did, there was a grand reunion—not only with Görgi but also his wife Anni and their daughter Susi, who was then in her early thirties. I also met her husband Hansl Supan, a former classmate of mine in the Volksschule who had served in the Wehrmacht during the war and lost part of a lung as the result of a chest wound in the Battle of the Bulge. It was then that I “discovered” Austria, realizing how truly beautiful it was, and I would have moved there with my wife and children, but Toni would not hear of it; her transference from her beloved Naples to New York, with all that it entailed including learning English, had been quite enough for one lifetime, she let me know. I went back to Austria to visit with Görgi and the family the following year and every year thereafter until his death in 1974 and beyond.
Meanwhile, through no fault of either of us, my marriage to Toni began to go sour and after some years of “batching it,” I met and married my present wife, author and college professor Nancy Bogen, who inspired me to write this book in its original German and has helped me “English” it, as well as edited the translation and put it up on this website, which is largely of her creation. Also, learning that my beloved Uncle Görgi was a fine composer in his own right, though more traditional than his father, she, as head of The Lark Ascending, a small New York-based performance group, saw to it that his few surviving works were performed and recorded. For a real treat, go, with audio on, to: http://www.thelarkascending.org. Nancy and I visit Austria every few years and of course make sure to stop in on Susi as well as other friends in Mödling; Nancy’s photos in the gallery on this website are the fruits of those visits.
Now let me tell a bit about Felix and Trudi and my brother Hermann. Trudi died in 1947 at the age of 45, without ever returning home. Felix married a young student of his named Jacqueline (Jackie”) about a year later, and they had a daughter named Lynn, who became a disk jockey in Dallas. As I mentioned in chapter five in relation to his friend Hugo, Felix made his first and only trip back to Austria in 1974, accompanied by Jackie. Thus he did not get there soon enough to see Görgi or Erwin Ratz, who had been a friend in need during the Great Depression, or Josef Polnauer, who had been stabbed in the cheek after the “great slap,” which I spoke of in chapter two. Despite his smoking, which he never gave up until the very end, Felix lived to the ripe old age of 87 and died a well-known figure on the serious American music scene, beloved by all.
During World War II, Hermann, like me, was drafted into the United States Army and served as a radio operator in the Pacific, mostly on the island of New Guinea, one of the worst hell holes of the war. He used to swear that he once saw a six-foot-tall dinosaur come out of the jungle and wander into his outfit’s mess tent, causing more consternation than if it had been a Japanese soldier. Be that as it may, on returning home, he met and married Rosemary McGrath, an American girl of Irish descent, and having decided that his metier was to be that of a painter, they went off to Mexico together so he could study. There at San Miguel de Allende, he took classes with the celebrated Orozco and Siquieros under the GI Bill, and this period of his life, with things being so cheap there, was probably one of its high points.
Back in New York two years later with their first child Barbara, Hermann tried making a living as an artist for a while, but then, with another child, Karen, on the way and two more, Peter and Trudi, to come, he had no choice but to do as our father and Uncle Görgi had done before him—copy music, which he did until his death in 1990, indeed winning a number of prizes in music engraving. In this way, he was able to continue as a serious painter in oils and also develop as a graphic artist, to the point of proudly referring to himself as the “Johann Sebastian Bach of wood cutting.” As mentioned in the last chapter, Hermann made one–and only one–trip back home to Mödling, when he was 64, together with Rosemary, and of course they visited cousin Susi and Hansl. But as with me, there were things that he just didn’t know—it was like Rip van Winkle waking up after his long sleep. On one occasion, when he made some mistake with tram tickets, the operator became exasperated and yelled, “Was ist denn los mit Ihnen, wo waren Sie in den letzen fünfzig Jahren?” (“What’s the matter with you? Where have you been for the last fifty years”)? And Hermann in his good-natured way responded, “Das würde ich Ihnen gerne sagen, aber es würde zu lang dauern.” (“ I’d like to tell you, but it would take too long.”) Hermann died a year later at age 65.
As of this year, 2008, Nancy and I divide our time between our apartment in Greenwich Village and house in the Upper Catskills, enjoying the culture of New York City and the relative tranquility of the mountains. We both share the chores, and we both in our separate ways spend each day in the advancement and enjoyment of culture. And so, together, Nancy and I are “walking into the sunset.”