Pushing Time Away: My Grandfather and the Tragedy of Jewish Vienna

Pushing Time Away: My Grandfather and the Tragedy of Jewish Vienna

by Peter Singer



Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780732277444
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Australia
Publication date: 02/25/2004
Pages: 339
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 8.19(h) x 1.06(d)

About the Author

Peter Singer is the author of Animal Liberation, Practical Ethics, and Rethinking Life and Death, among many others. He is currently the Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University's Center for Human Values.

Read an Excerpt

Pushing Time Away
My Grandfather and the Tragedy of Jewish Vienna

In My Aunt's Flat

July 18, 1998

My intention to get to work on the pile of papers I brought back from Vienna fell victim to more urgent tasks. Now that at last I have time to read them, I recall that Doris had, in her thesis, quoted from letters that my grandfather had written to my grandmother before they were married. But these letters are not in the papers I have. Where are they? Doris, who sadly has begun showing signs of dementia, has moved into a home for elderly people. When I ask her about the letters she is vague, but happy for me to look for them. Michael, her son, gives me the keys to her flat, and one wintry Saturday morning, I go looking for my grandfather's letters to his bride-to-be.

Cold and musty though it is, the empty flat is still very much the home of European refugees. Pictures of old Vienna hang on the walls, the bookshelves have uniformly bound sets of the works of Goethe, Schiller, and other German writers. Right by the entrance door is a large Oppenheim family tree, tracing Doris's ancestors -- and mine -- back to the sixteenth century.

I walk down the passage to the small study that Doris used as a bedroom for her grandchildren when they visited. Folders are heaped on every flat surface in the room. Inside the first one are gas bills. The next contains postcards from friends on vacation. But soon I find a folder containing a small envelope with a faded pink stamp portraying Franz Josef I. On the envelope is written, in black ink in my grandfather's spidery handwriting:

An Fräulein Dr Amalie Pollak,
II Malzgasse 5

I turn the envelope over, and on the back I read: "Abs: Dr D. Oppenheim IX Pramerg. 6." The postmark is clearly legible: "Wien, 1.6.05." Both the date and the use of my grandmother's maiden name show that this is one of the letters I am looking for, written by my grandfather to my grandmother before they were married. The address shows that Amalie Pollak lived in Vienna's Second District, only a few blocks from where my grandparents were later to make their home.

In a filing cabinet, I find more of my grandfather's papers, and a few more letters, all from David to Amalie. I check the desk drawers. Just old bills and bank statements there. Across the back of the room, behind a sofa, are built-in floor-to-ceiling cupboards. The bottom section is stuffed with coats, scarves, hats, and other items of clothing. There is a separate door to the top section. I reach up to open it, and find myself in a scene from a Three Stooges movie: a book falls on my head. As I bend down to pick it up, folders of papers cascade over me. When I get them, a lamp shade follows, then a handbag, some large brown envelopes, a plastic bag containing something heavy, and more folders. I wait, my arm protecting my head, until I am confident that the avalanche is over, and then I take a look at what is now around my feet. Some of the folders contain more old bills -- how long does my aunt think she needs to keep a phone bill? -- but the large brown envelopes are made of a different kind of paper, the kind I now recognize as coming from Austria before the war. In one of these I find a passport. "Republik Österreich" it says on the front, for it was issued in 1929; but a large red "J" for Jude ("Jew") was added on October 19, 1938, showing that the passport was still used after the Republic of Austria had ceased to exist. "Dr David Ernst Oppenheim" is described as having a face that is "oval," "brown" hair, and "gray-green" eyes. A good-looking man stares out at me from his passport photo. His hair is brushed back from his forehead. He has a mustache that points out horizontally on both sides, and a short, neat beard, confined to the area of his face directly below his mouth. I flip through the pages used for stamps from border control officials. There are a few showing entry to and exit from Czechoslovakia in the summers of 1936 and 1937 -- to visit relatives, presumably. Then on the next page is a series of stamps added after the Nazi takeover of Austria. The first one says "Wien 17.IX.38," and next to it is written "Freigrenze 10km September 1938." A ten-kilometer limit on freedom to travel. Similar stamps appear for October, November, and December. The remaining pages are blank.

I put down the passport and pick up the plastic bag that fell on my head, the kind you get at supermarket checkouts. More old bills? No, it is full of the same little envelopes in which my grandfather wrote to my grandmother -- there must be at least a hundred here! I sit down and open some. Each envelope contains a letter, some only two pages, some six or eight, in the same tiny, barely legible script. The postmarks are all from 1904, 1905, and 1906. Astounded that so much has been preserved, I wonder what the letters will tell me.

A few things did not fall out of the cupboard. I reach in and take out an overfilled light brown cardboard folder, on which is scrawled in German, with a red pencil, "Materials on Knowledge of Humanity in the Old and New Testaments." Inside is a bundle of sheets with penciled notes, some in German and some in Greek. I can make out references to Luke, Mark, Matthew, and other books of the Bible, but I can't read much of it. Underneath the folder is a stack of large used envelopes. Across one envelope my grandfather has written "Ritual Nudity" and a reference to a passage in Ovid ...

Pushing Time Away
My Grandfather and the Tragedy of Jewish Vienna
. Copyright © by Peter Singer. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Table of Contents

David Oppenheim's Family Treexii
Part IPrologue
1.Vienna, Now and Then3
2.In My Aunt's Flat13
Part IIDavid and Amalie
3."A Relationship of the Heart"19
4."Let There Be Truth Between Us"27
5.The Engagement32
7.The Religious Problem44
8.The Erotic Factor52
9.That New, Troublesome Highway57
11.Venetian Reflections69
Part IIIIn Freud's Circle
12.An Invitation from Freud77
13.David's Choice: Freud or Adler?88
14."Dreams in Folklore"100
15.Psychology, Free and Individual105
Part IVThe Soldier
16.The Eastern Front111
17.The Battles of the Isonzo120
Part VThe Scholar and Teacher
18.The New Republic129
19."The Secret of the Human Soul"135
20.My Grandfather's Book139
22.The Teacher of Humanity148
23.The Secular Jew154
24.Sexual Equality158
25.Vacations and a Wedding163
Part VIOne of the Multitude
26.The End of Austria169
27.New Life and Old175
28.Enticing Hopes182
29."Best to Stay"191
30.Good Austrians196
32.In My Grandparents' Flat218
Part VIIEpilogue
36.A Good Life?241
Notes on Sources245

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