Vi­enna’s street of mem­o­ries

The Jewish Chronicle - - WORLD NEWS - MICHAL LEVERTOV

THE CROWD GATH­ERED on a chilly April af­ter­noon on Serviten­gasse seemed just the right au­di­ence to par­tic­i­pate in an open­ing of an­other of this Vi­en­nese street’s trendy bars or cool shops. But the 300-strong group are here for the launch of a mon­u­ment com­mem­o­rat­ing the street’s for­mer Jewish in­hab­i­tants, in a project called Serviten­gasse 1938. This ini­tia­tive, by present-day res­i­dents, to trace the fate of their home’s orig­i­nal oc­cu­pants has de­vel­oped into an en­deav­our with the mass par­tic­i­pa­tion of aca­demic, artis­tic and even mu­nic­i­pal bod­ies.

“Four years ago, my wife searched Auschwitz lists for Jewish rel­a­tives of mine when she came up against a name of a vic­tim whose home ad­dress was 6 Serviten­gasse, Vi­enna,” says Peter Koppe, who lives at that ad­dress to­day. “This made us won­der how many Jewish peo­ple lived in the street, who they were and what was their fate.”

Five of Koppe’s neigh­bours at No 6 joined the search. When they wanted to place a me­mo­rial plaque on the build­ing’s wall, “the land­lord re­fused, so we stirred up some pub­lic at­ten- tion”. The cam­paign re­sulted in a com­pro­mise — the plaque was set just nearby the build­ing — but the story re­sulted in a joint project be­tween aca­demics and lo­cal mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties.

The find­ings were in­trigu­ing: in March 1938, just be­fore the An­schluss, 381 of Serviten­gasse’s 689 res­i­dents were of Jewish de­scent. Half of the street’s 24 houses were owned by Jews and so were 61 of the 111 shops. Of this lively com­mu­nity, 132 peo­ple were sent to ghet­tos and con­cen­tra­tion camps, 148 es­caped Aus­tria, and the fate of al­most 100 is still un­known.

Charles Kurt, from Hous­ton, Texas, who was born at No 6, had tried to visit his fam­ily’s flat 20 years ear­lier, but the peo­ple who lived there did not let him in. Serviten­gasse 1938’s ef­forts to en­able him to visit his child­hood home, he says, “changed my life”.

As a young girl, Felice Schrager and her mother es­caped Aus­tria just af­ter Kristall­nacht. In 1971 she vis­ited Vi­enna with her fam­ily and was let into her for­mer flat. The fam­ily’s books were still there, and Schrager, who now lives in New York, asked for a cou­ple of edi­tions which were es­pe­cially dear to her. “The wo­man gave me the books,” she re­calls, “and then claimed: ‘But we paid you for the apart­ment!’ which was ob­vi­ously ridicu­lous.”

Art stu­dent Ju­lia Schultz, 28, won a com­pe­ti­tion to de­sign the me­mo­rial with her plan for a glass-cov­ered re­cess in the pave­ment, filled with old keys, with the name of each of Serviten­gasse’s for­mer Jewish res­i­dents at­tached to them. “I was al­ways in­ter­ested in the his­tory of Aus­tria’s Jewry,” she says. “Ev­i­dently, our gen­er­a­tion shows more in­ter­est than that of our par­ents, who did not even dare to men­tion the sub­ject.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.