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 Fritz