Stone of Remembrance for Elisabeth and Kálmán Klein
16, Ottakringer Straße 35
Text by Nelly Sturm
On May 7, 2008 a commemoration took place in front of the house Ottakringerstraße 35. Two ‘Stolpersteine’ (stumbling stones) where set in the pavement there, small flat gravestones. There on these stones are the names of people who lived and worked here. They were murdered, because Hitler needed scapegoats, because they didn’t agree with the ideas of racial persecution, because they were Jews.
Those people were my parents.
My mother came from a family of craftsmen. Her father was a turner, her grandfather a roofer.
She was blond and had shining blue eyes; she belied Hitler’s typology. She loved everything that was beautiful: nature, music, movies, art, literature, education, knowledge – most of all knowledge, to which she had little access due to the restricted circumstances. She was a happy person and always made many plans for the future. She believed in the good of humankind and in constant progress. She dreamed of travels in foreign countries. This last wish would become true, but it became a long journey in a livestock wagon to a certain and torturous death. Even in the Belgian intermediate camp after her arrest by the Nazi pursuers she sent short messages to me and my grandmother, in which she buoyed us up and raised our hopes of a reunion.
My father grew up in a tiny Hungarian village. Daily they had to face misery and hardship. He had just become a glazier when he was sent to the Russian front of World War I. Released from the huge detention centre in Wladiwostok in 1919, he came to Vienna and later got to know and love my mother. They married in January 1924, in December I was born. Their happiness was nearly perfect. The war lay behind them and peace reigned. In Hernals they had a ‘Zimmer-Küche-Wohnung’ (small apartment with only a kitchen and one room) and a small shop in Ottakring, which secured their modest livelihood. Alternately they sold everything that the craftsmen from Ottakring needed for their occupation: tools, ironware, screws, nails, but also everything that was desired by housewives for their kitchen equipment.
My father with his dark eyes and his soft Hungarian accent appealed to the female customers. The craftsmen however liked him because he often waited patiently until they could pay him when they cashed out after delivery. He stood from morning to night in his neat shop, was friendly to everyone and in his neighbourhood well-known and popular. He also had his preferences: Surely the family’s well-being and the happiness of his child were most important to him. Regularly every summer he visited his elderly mother in the Hungarian village Kisnana and made generous presents for his sisters and his school day friends. Whenever he wanted to treat himself he went in the evening to the music society hall or the concert hall. He adored classical music. Where he had first come in contact with it remained a complete mystery to me. He also enjoyed a good soccer match from time to time and afterwards he came home relaxed and enthusiastic. Reading the newspaper was one of his passions too.
In Spring, Autumn and Winter every Sunday he went hiking with his child, his wife and the parents in-law in the Viennese Forest. In Summer we walked along the shore of the “Donaukanal” (Danube channel) to Kuchelau, where we had ‘our spot’ for swimming. We met other people – like ourselves – became friends with them and felt equal among equals. I can’t think of an incident, a quarrel, discrimination or even exclusion.
My parents seemed to be integrated in Austria, in Vienna, especially in Ottakring. Here was their home, their ‚nest’.
Yet wasn’t that an illusion, a mirage?
Meanwhile the times had become hard: the world economic crisis had left its mark. From day to day the queues of unemployed in front of the soup kitchens became longer. The republic had been destroyed. On March 12, 1938, it came – the corporate state, the austro-fascism, and finally, ultimately the real, horrible, cruel German National socialism.
For our family like for tens of thousands of others all hell broke loose. Hysterical yelling in all streets. Human faces converted into grimaces. A lust of destruction took hold of parts of the population. All Jews had to fear for their lives. Ostracized, persecuted, displaced or arrested, sent away, starved or gassed.
Fear, destitution and abandonment drove the whole Jewish community to desperation. Flight or suicide seemed to be the only escape left.
My parents like many others sought to flee. But the Nazi-hordes followed them immediately. They chased them through Europe until they finally found and killed them. I often wonder what my parents thought of in their last hours before their death. Maybe they thought of a potential world in which all people without exception and in all their variety have the right to live, in which racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia will have given way to the conviction that all men are equal and friendship is better than hostility. The commemoration event on May 7 shall reflect that. It shall be a small contribution to the survivors’ demand: fascism – never again.