Europe's Skies Darken
At the beginning of 1938 Hitler invaded Austria; in autumn of the same year
Czechoslovakia lost its independence. Everybody was horrified by the speed
with which Hitler moved, and angered by the incapacity of the Western
powers to bring these developments to an end. But as much as we followed
every step of Hitler's craziness and listened to his lunatic speeches we never
thought of relating these 'adventures' to us! Besides, we did not believe the
'rumours' spread by emigrants from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia
who told us about concentration camps. To us these were invented stories
from distant lands - we did not realize how true they were and how near!
However, business flourished. Jews and Anti-Nazis, who were lucky to
escape from Germany and the occupied countries, went to France or the USA
and many adapted themselves very well to the new circumstances. My
father's innate sense for business helped him to adjust to the new conditions
and soon he had the best connections with the Western hemisphere; soon
Vienna was replaced by Paris, later New York.
As for me, it was the first summer after all these long school years that I was
free from duties, independent, permitted to make my own decisions. Was I?
On one side it was a good feeling, on the other a responsibility towards myself
and my future. My dream had always been to become a teacher, after
finishing my studies at the university. My parents had different plans. My
father was determined to take me into business. For a while I agreed to try.
Exhausted from my trip, weakened by my illness in Italy, with all the bad news
around us, my parents convinced me that it would be better to abandon the
project of studying and preferable to prepare for practical life. Emigrants who
often had to change their professions were the best example for young Jewish
people to learn practical trades: nursing, cosmetics, office work. Jews had
little chance of being employed by the State (schools belonged to the State);
Zionist youth went to Hachshara, a training centre for practical study of
agriculture, cattle breeding and fishery, as a preparation for Iife in Palestine.
Nothing was better suited for this purpose than my father's business.
I did my job as I was expected to. I went early with my father to the office,
stayed there as long as everybody else (about seven or eight clerks). I
practised typewriting and obtained a fundamental knowledge in bookkeeping.
The correspondence in English and French was entrusted to me, dictated, of
course, by my father or his associate. I started to learn the difference between
the various sorts of paper that were stored in enormous quantities in my
father's storehouses. Not for long. After a short while I began to be weary of
office work which seemed to me unattractive and monotonous. The majority
of my colleagues were registered at universities, and I wanted to study. I
knew it would hurt my father but I decided to tell him after his return from
one of his business trips. It was easier than I thought. Did my father ever
refuse me anything? I cannot remember. I began to work in his office in
September, by now it was November. A boy of my age tried to convince me
that medicine would be the best subject to study in these troubled days and
England the most suited country for it. When I proposed it to my father he
firmly rejected the idea with the argument that by nature I was not strong
enough for medicine, and England was too far. He did agree to send me
abroad and to select a more suitable subject; he proposed Paris and languages
to which I agreed. The date was set for the beginning of spring, 1939, when I
had to register for the spring semester at the Sorbonne. Ardently I began to
prepare myself for the coming season, taking advice from lecturers at the
University of Zagreb, while I had my father's support for all the different
formalities and financial arrangements.
Table of Contents