Alice recollects her experiences of Austria before the war. She explains why her mother had to leave there very hurriedly and left her and her brother behind. She talks about her experiences of Austrian anti-Semitism.
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INT: Alice Malcolm, in her house in Giffnock on Tuesday the 11th of March and you’re going to tell me your name, your age…
INT: 2014. You’re going to tell me your name and your age and then we are going to, basically, talk about your life story. So go for it.
AM: Very good, very good. I am, as declared, Mrs Alice Malcolm and I am eighty-nine and I hope to celebrate my ninetieth birthday in August. Ask me my question.
INT: OK. So basically I’m going to ask you to just talk through your life story and I will prompt you if you stop. So start at the beginning; tell me about…Tell me about growing up, tell me about your family, your background, where it all started?
AM: Well I was born in Vienna, my mother was Viennese, my father came from Istanbul, Turkey, and unfortunately my father died young and my beautiful mother was a very young widow. And in those days young… woman didn’t work but my mother had to work. She was extremely talented, and so she had various jobs. I went to the same school as where my mother went. In 1936 I was twelve and Hitler’s Nazi regime was reaching Germany. Everybody in Austria was worried. Well my mother at that time was working in a political office, which was Social Democratic (it would be called here now) and she was called by her boss into the office with windows and doors closed and locked.
Basically she was told that, although on the front their office was still democratic, they were already taken over by the Germans and he would have to dismiss her at once and if she did not leave Austria within the week, or yesterday if possible, both she and he would be dead meat. He declared that he would destroy all records of her having worked there because she was Jewish and he understood that she was a widow. I came home from school that day, not to home because I always went to the business which my grandmother ran, and my mother to my surprise was sitting there, telling my grandmother what I have just said. So…Mum took me, snow white in the face as she was then, by the hand to buy an international newspaper, I think it was The London Times, and from there we went [to see] an English teacher to whom she said, “Find me a job at once.
The only way I can get out of here is by going into domestic service in England. ” He did and when we left there we went to a photographer to get these passport photos. I was inwardly shaking. The only idea that I had, that I was going to be on my own, no mother and no father. But I was already living with my grandmother. My mother left very, very quickly and I continued at school[in Vienna] for two more years.
AM: Nobody knew that Hitler was coming in 1938. However, I was in a class of forty [students]; twenty of us were Jewish. We normally didn’t really mix very well with the non-Jewish girls and they didn’t mix well with us, but we were not with ‘pistols at the ready’ [so to speak].
Well, from there on I start my life that you want to know now. I just continued at school and corresponded with my mother. She obviously was not expected, or wanted, to come back, but she was a heroine. She [only] came back [once] to warn her own friends and my friends’ parents if they had any relatives to let the children go.
AM: We were not allowed to see her; she did not live at home because we didn’t know [which civilians were already part of the Nazi party]. I found out later that my grandmother’s next-door neighbour came out the day Hitler marched in, in full SS uniform.
AM: His mother was a friend of my grandmother’s; they both came from the same village. But we didn’t know until that day that her son [had joined the Nazi party]. And I wonder whether she [his mother] even was aware of it. However, that was it. 1938 came; the shock to me was so severe. My brother was not [living] with my grandmother and me at that time and when he came the following morning he said, asked me, what had happened to me. I said “Nothing. I was in the house with Grandmother”, who had earphones and turned pure white when Schuschnigg, who was the President of Austria, announced on the radio, “God Bless Austria, you are now being taken over by the Nazi regime.” And poof! I heard the bang through the earphones. They shot him because of what he said. [Dr. Kurt von Schuschnigg, the man who had defied Hitler, was arrested by the Gestapo and spent several years in a variety of Nazi concentration camps including Dachau and Sachsenhausen]. My brother said…
INT: And she turned white?
INT: Her hair? Or her…?
AM: No…she was…
INT: Her face.
AM: She turned…She had high colour but she was in bed with the earphones. Now, my brother said, “Go to the mirror and see what happened to you.” I went to the mirror and I saw…My cat-green eyes, that everybody remarked on, had changed colour. I didn’t realise the depth of the shock that I personally received. But we carried on going to school, coming home and taking the remarks we got from other pupils. Then…
INT: Remarks like what?
AM: “Don’t speak to me,” “Just don’t associate…”
AM: There was one little girl; she was very small, and she was the baker’s daughter. She was very ill, she had broken glands, mumps had broken through, and she was very sweet and she sort of whispered to me, “You can still come and buy cakes.” But, as for the rest… we knew we had to get out. The very next day I saw what nobody should see, let alone a child.
The worst…adult men with hats and coats, in particular Jewish looking men, religious people, climbing monuments with a toothbrush in their hand and they had to scrub the top of the monuments with a toothbrush and heaven help them if it wasn’t done properly. I stood only for a minute and then ran away…but what did I run into?…Across the road from where we lived with my grandmother then, was a leather shop. The man who owned the shop hung himself with his leather. And various other things… When the bad weather came along I found out that I couldn’t skate anymore. With the shock I lost my balance, not just the colour of my eyes. At school I was very wiry. I could swing off the monkey rings whether there was a safety net or not. I could run on the planks whether they were high or low. [Suddenly] I had no balance; I could do none of it anymore and it never, ever came back.
The way things were, not pleasant to say the least, I wrote a letter to my mother and I said, “If I don’t get out of here quickly I will never get out.” My brother didn’t live with us because it was obvious that men were taken away very quickly and people actually said that the Austrians went mad like the Germans never did.
AM: The Germans did things by strategy; the Austrians just let their wrath go wherever. There were some that were helpful, like my grandmother did…sold jewellery, put it into pawn, beautiful linen that she had and she traded that for food for us. You can ask me what you want to know…I can’t carry on unless you ask me.
INT: So tell me a bit about your Jewish life in Austria before all this.
AM: Oh, well I lived very near to the Reform Synagogue that was called Temple Gasse and the beadle, the Shamash of the Orthodox Synagogue, which was in the third district and we lived in the second district, the orthodox Synagogue beadle always invited me because his daughter bore the same name as me, Alice, and we were friends. So he always invited me. But Jewish life was what I made myself. School was seven days but on the Saturday we went in the mornings and to the temple in the afternoons. And the Reform temple was filled to capacity with children because many schools had you come in from eight to one.
INT: But you, did you have Hanukkahs and Shabbat candles and things like that?
AM: When we could afford it because we didn’t have much money.
AM: And we didn’t have much of anything. My grandmother traded for us to be kept alive and was as cheerful as she could be and cheered us up.