March 12, 2022
“Among the so-called neurotics of our day there are a good many who in other ages would not have been neurotic—that is divided against themselves. If they had lived in a period and in a milieu in which man was still linked by myth with the world of his ancestors, and thus with nature truly experienced and not merely seen from the outside, they would have been spared this division with themselves. I am speaking of those who cannot tolerate the loss of myth and who can neither find a way to a merely exterior world, to the world as seen by science, nor rest satisfied with an intellectual juggling with words, which has nothing whatsoever to do with wisdom.”
Carl Jung, Memories Dreams and Reflections, p. 172 (Thanks to Gerry Perlman for recommending this book.)
“My whole being was seeking for something still unknown which might confer meaning upon the banality of life.”
Carl Jung, Ibid., p. 197
Thousands of stories have been written about the Holocaust and its individual experiences. So many, perhaps, that some may feel that its evil is too endlessly repeated and no greater than many others. The present currency of the term “Nazi” finds moral equivalence between today’s evils and those of the 1930’s. To me this perspective is insulting; now I’ve made myself clear and have no need to go further. But I do not believe that my observations have more significance than others’. I am searching and writing now for me, for my personal development. I share only to express myself, and perhaps to help someone else.
I am an American, now in Vienna, and I realized yesterday that I want to be as Austrian as I am French, because in doing so, something will heal inside of me.
Living in France, as a young man, I found a freedom, through language and friends, to connect with sensibilities that were not fully developed where I had lived, a freedom to enlarge myself in ways that had not previously been available to me. Did this have something to do with my mother? I don’t really know. It will be much harder to do this now—I am 68—but that is what I would like to do in Vienna.
I do not yet understand how, but it is important to connect with the world my mother and her ancestors left. Our family turned its back completely on Germany and Austria (Nazis), and on central and eastern Europe (anti-Semites generally–which why, now, I am giving to the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, to help Ukrainian refugees, and to have Jewish organizations be seen helping them.) Unlike some other families who retained ties with German or Austrian culture, ours had no interest in keeping any of it.
From Austria, we had, occasionally, wiener schnitzel and apple strudel. Otherwise we retained only our Judaism, and then assimilated into America, into California, as quickly as we could.
Was my family ever really Austrian? My mother and her brothers were born in Vienna. And, yes, in the broader, imperial sense, their parents were German speakers, lived in Vienna, and had moved to Vienna from Galicia, an Austrian province, presently divided between Poland and the Ukraine. Yes, because our grandfather, a great-grandfather, and a great uncle served in the Austrian army in World War I. Yes, because Austria was a polyglot empire that included Germans, Czechs, Hungarians, Italians, Slavs and Jews. Yes, because Vienna, even today, has residents of and descended from these various backgrounds. Yes, because our family was assimilating, that is letting go of the habits of Jewish orthodoxy, and more broadly interacting in pre-World War II Vienna.
Although undoubtedly my grandparents viewed themselves as Viennese, or Polish, and not as German, the movement away from orthodoxy and the ghetto was not complete. It was aborted, and the benefits (and losses) of assimilation were only fully achieved in the United States.
A secularized American, I have returned to Vienna as a new Austrian citizen, and therefore quite clearly as a Jew. Many others are taking advantage of new Austrian legislation that has allowed us to claim or re-claim its citizenship. Others have moved here or are visiting. But this is a very alone and individual effort for me.
On Monday, I took a local train and a streetcar to Vienna’s Zentralfriedhof, or Central Cemetery, in order to visit the grave of our great-grandfather. The coordinates were given to us by our Vienna lawyers, during research for our citizenship applications. Gate IV, the new Jewish section, Group 021, Row 033, Grab 029. I found it; after a couple of wrong-turns, and I was looking right at it. Leib Landau, after whom I am named, was buried here in his eighties, in December 1938.
I know relatively little about Grandfather Landau. My mother told me that he was a wealthy farmer, who sold his property in Poland, moved to Vienna, lost everything in a currency crash, and never recovered. He had three daughters, my grandmother Clara and two aunts; Salka, like my grandmother and her family, escaped and settled on Manhattan’s Lower East Side; Dora was unable to get out and disappeared. (We learned in during our citizenship applications that she was deported to Minsk.) There was also an Uncle Jack in New York, who helped organize the guarantees of support, then necessary for his sisters to emigrate to the US; he was gay, my mother said and committed suicide.
Our Uncle George’s writes that Leib Landau was born in Jaslowitce, Austria (Poland); his tomb stone shows his birth as 1854. (On the internet this town is now Pomortsky, located southeast of Lviv, in the Ukraine.) He married Chana Pfeffer, with whom he had six children, three boys followed by three girls. The oldest left for the United States at the beginning of World War I. Another went to Palestine. The gay son fought in an Austrian mountain brigade. I saw a picture of him somewhere in a Tyrolean hat. The family moved to Vienna, also at the beginning of World War I. Leib and Chana eventually moved into my grandparents’ small apartment building at Freidrich-Kaiser-Gasse 21 in Vienna. Chana died in 1934.
The pictures help, but this is a pretty dry narrative; I didn’t know any of them; I hardly even remember my grandmother.
But at the cemetery, I had a strong feeling that I was the first one there, the first family member to have visited since 1938.
My mother’s family left for New York a month after the burial, in January 1939. There cannot have been a gravestone, as these are traditionally placed a year after death. ) Might the remaining daughter have visited, after the Germans were in Vienna? Might another descendant have shown up? A descendant of the New York or Palestine brothers, about whom I know nothing? Or is my intuition true?
I think it is. Until now, none of us ever thought about or wanted to come back.
There are a few more mysteries, at least for now.
- It is a relatively new gravestone with other identical new gravestones around it: of others who died at about the same time. Who put these here, the Jewish community?
- Where is our great-grandmother, Chana Landau? Why aren’t they together?
- There are many recent gravestones behind Gate IV. The Viennese Jewish community, I thought, was fairly small. Can it have filled these recent graves? Or have refugees asked to be returned to Vienna for burial?
I hope to find this out in the coming weeks or months.