My twelfth birthday was the last one I celebrated with my parents. It was 1938, and I was a Jew in Vienna.
When I look back over the years of my childhood, it is my twelfth birthday I remember most. It was to be the last birthday I would ever have with my parents, and the last one before the war entered our lives and changed them forever.
Vienna was a wonderful place to live, and I never wanted to live anywhere else. Daddy was a well-known doctor, and we lived in a beautiful apartment, full of paintings, carpets, flowers and all kinds of wonderful things. Daddy made sure he got home early on New Year’s Eve, so we could all stay up together and toast the new year, and my birthday, because they are on the same day!
Then I opened my presents (this diary and my very first fountain pen from Daddy, a beautiful silver locket from Mother, and a book of poems from my brother Max. I began this diary with such hope and such innocence. That didn’t last long. Within just a few months, Hitler had annexed Austria, and all our Gentile friends and neighbors shunned and tortured us because we were Jews.
Then came that terrible night when my family was destroyed forever. It was in March, when Nazi soldiers broke into our home, and dragged my father and brother into the street. Two of them told Mother to put on her jewels and furs before they took her away, smiling evilly.
It was hours before they returned. Daddy and Max had been forced to scrub anti-Nazi slogans off sidewalks and buildings, using what they were told was water, but which was really some kind of acid that burned their hands, raising blisters. Mother’s dress was badly torn and her furs and jewelry were gone. She never spoke about what had happened to her, but she was not the person she’d been before. Something inside her was broken, defeated.
My parents didn’t die that night, but my family did. Hitler was powerful, and although I was able to survive him by going to live with my aunt and uncle in New York City, he succeeded in destroying my parents.
What was it like to be a Jew in Hitler’s Austria? Read the diary I wrote the year I was twelve, so very long ago, and find out.