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Nicholas Goldberg: My mother fled Nazis in Vienna. Now I’m an Austrian citizen



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My mom and grandmother fled Vienna in September 1938.

I don’t know whether or not they left by automotive or by practice or whether or not it was day or evening, however in accordance with my grandmother’s fading brown passport with the swastika on entrance, they crossed out of Nazi territory into France close to Strasbourg on Sept. 14. They made their solution to Boulogne-sur-Mer, the place they embarked for Nice Britain on the seventeenth. They crossed the Channel and arrived on the seaside city of Folkestone. 5 months later they sailed for the US.

My grandmother, Margarete Beigel, was 35 on the time, and my mom was only a small little one. I don’t know in the event that they thought they’d return to Vienna ultimately, however they actually understood, or a minimum of my grandmother did, that they have been operating for his or her lives.

Opinion Columnist

Nicholas Goldberg

Nicholas Goldberg served 11 years as editor of the editorial web page and is a former editor of the Op-Ed web page and Sunday Opinion part.

Now, practically 84 years later, unusual to say, I’ve turn into a citizen of Austria myself. Under a law that went into effect in September 2020 — a tad late in the event you ask me — direct descendants of individuals persecuted by the Nazi regime might apply for citizenship.

My new passport arrived a number of weeks in the past. I used to be happy to see it not contains the swastika. In a letter, the Austrian authorities described its ongoing efforts to handle the “darkest hours of our historical past” by restoring “respectable rights” to those that have been “cruelly stripped of their id.” The letter stopped wanting an apology.

Now I do know what you’re questioning, or ought to be questioning: Why on Earth would I wish to turn into a citizen of a rustic that behaved so abominably?

Cover and photo page of Margarete Beigel passport

The passport Margarete Beigel used to journey in 1938 from Vienna to France to England to the US to flee the Nazis.

(Nicholas Goldberg / Los Angeles Instances)

By the point my mom and grandmother left, Austria had been annexed — not unwillingly — by Nazi Germany. Jewish Austrians were being fired from their jobs and attacked within the streets. Their property was being expropriated.

In November got here Kristallnacht. Jewish-owned companies have been looted and burned, their homeowners imprisoned. Jews have been conscripted into pressured labor.

My grandmother’s mom and her sisters have been ultimately transported to the Theresienstadt focus camp exterior Prague. My great-grandmother died there in 1942; her sisters have been despatched on to Auschwitz, the place they too have been killed. My grandmother’s father escaped to Argentina; she by no means noticed him once more.

There have been 200,000 Jews in Vienna in 1938. On the finish of the warfare, there have been 2,000.

So why would I need Austrian citizenship, particularly since I’ve visited the nation solely 4 occasions, don’t converse the language and don’t intend to maneuver there?

Let me begin with what didn’t encourage me: securing a spot of refuge in case Donald Trump returns to energy. Folks maintain suggesting that will need to have been a part of my purpose, however truthfully, I’ve little interest in abandoning the US, nor do I believe it might be proper to depart when occasions are unhealthy and democracy is imperiled.

As for what did encourage me, effectively, not a lot actually at first. The preliminary impetus, to be trustworthy, was merely to acquire a passport from a European Union nation for myself and particularly for my youngsters (who’ve additionally now obtained citizenship). It allows you to stay, research and work not simply in Austria however in any EU nation. That appeared helpful.

However over time, to my very own shock, I grew to become emotionally concerned.

As I gathered my relations’ delivery, loss of life, naturalization and journey paperwork, I started to know higher what had occurred to them. I discovered myself in Prague, so on a whim I took a brief day journey out to the haunted stays of the Theresienstadt camp within the Czech city of Terezin. Nobody alive, myself included, remembers my great-grandmother, however I couldn’t assist feeling as I walked via the abandoned camp that an act of apology and atonement was due for this forgotten lady.

After all providing me citizenship isn’t satisfactory recompense. I wasn’t even the one who suffered; I grew up comfortable, protected, American. However it’s one thing — an admission, a minimum of, that my relations have been persecuted, pushed from their houses, murdered throughout a darkish, shameful previous. It modifications nothing, however I’m grateful to as we speak’s Austrian authorities for it.

The method made me take into consideration African Individuals and slavery reparations, and in regards to the apology, and reparations, the U.S. made to Japanese Individuals incarcerated throughout World Conflict II. Whether or not such actions can really convey closure or reconciliation, I can’t say. However I’ve come to imagine they’re necessary, even after they’re largely symbolic.

And naturally, I believed in regards to the hundreds of thousands of people that have fled Ukraine because the warfare there started — the best refugee disaster to face Europe because the days when my mom and grandmother have been pushed out. I considered the households once more being divided, the kids who received’t see mother and father or grandparents once more, and I used to be reminded of the Austrian authorities’s reference in its letter to “the darkest hours of our historical past.” Who knew Europe would face such darkish hours once more so quickly?

Greater than 20,000 individuals worldwide have utilized for citizenship below Austria’s new legislation, together with greater than 1,300 in Los Angeles, in accordance with Michael Postl, the Austrian consul basic right here.

Once I obtained my new passport — making me formally a twin citizen of the U.S. and Austria — I felt briefly uneasy. Did it by some means dilute my attachment to my very own nation? Was I pretending to be somebody I wasn’t? Would I quickly be ready comfortably in EU-citizens-only traces on the airport? Voting in Austrian elections? Dancing via the Alps in lederhosen?

For the second I’m treating my new citizenship not as a present or as significant compensation for previous wrongs or as an exit visa from Trumpland, however as a small token of apology, a mirrored image of the problems and complexities of my household’s historical past and a reminder of the maintain the previous has on us, even because the generations go.