The Jews of Laa. Searching for Traces
by Mag. Magdalena Müllner
Speech held several times in the late 90s in USA
(slightly extended content compared to article in the magazine “David” in September 1996)
Laa an der Thaya is a little town in Northern Austria, directly on the Czech border. The town has many schools. It has been an economic center once, but these times have passed. Laa has about 4500 inhabitans today. I study German and English in Vienna.
I would like to tell you about the vanished Jewish community of my hometown. It all started with an impossible coincidence on a foggy autumn afternoon in September of 1991. I had just turned 16. I was sitting in front to the TV, when they broadcasted a short time-filler with the title "Synagogues in lower-Austria" on a channel, which almost nobody watches in the afternoon. I was intrigued and watched closely. And there it was! I read on the screen "The Synagogue of Laa an der Thaya". It was almost unbelievable!
I asked my mother and my grandmother - who were born in Laa in 1955 and 1937 - but they did not know of a synagogue or a Jewish community that had once been a part of Laa. This may seem strange to you, but it’s a fact: it just had been not mentioned much since the war. No one seemed to be interested anyway. These few seconds watching TV have changed my life like nothing before and nothing since. I became curious. I started asking questions. And that is what I am still doing today.
There has never been any research about the Jewish families of Laa. I've had to rely on interviewing people who were born in Laa as part of the Jewish community and people who live in Laa and are willing to tell me what they remember.
But let us now start at the very beginning. We are going back in time to medieval Austria, a country that had been a nation for only a short time. At this time the biggest town in Austria was Vienna with twenty thousand inhabitants. The Jews of the time lived in ghettos or on designated streets.
Laa an der Thaya was located in a so called Mark, which is an area that is close to a border. I have found no record of the number of Jewish people living in Laa at that time.
In medieval times Jews were considered as servi cameralibus, which means that they were servants of the king and under his protection. For that they had to pay "Regalien", a tax, to the king. This money belonged not to the state, but to the king privately. So the king could give the right to collect to an earl or a town. In Laa, the Jewish community paid the money to the town government. The town was allowed to add this money to the tax due the king; in this way the non-Jewish inhabitants had to pay fewer taxes.
On 8th of July 1277 emperor Rudolf affirmed the decision of duke Leopold that the Jews in Laa needed not to be the sevants of the other inhabitants of the town. You could call this a first step for equal rights for the Jewish community. This also makes clear us that there was a Jewish community in Laa even before 1277.
The other events that tell of the existence of a Jewish community are the opposite of good ones: the Jews were persecuted in 1294 and 1337. The persecution of 1337 may have happened under the pretext of the destruction of a consecrated wafer. In these years this was a common reason for persecution in the area. There were further persecutions in the following years in other towns. The most well known happened one year later in Pulkau, a town quite close to Laa, under the same pretext.
For a long time I thought the year 1337 the end of the medieval Jewish community of Laa. However, it seems the people who survived the persecution came back to Laa quite quickly. I learned that in 1357 every Jewish individual had to pay 4 Pfennig per day for the permission to live in Laa, which was twice as much as the Jews of Vienna had to pay at that time.
The number of Jewish people living in Laa in medieval times, their names and other information seems not to exist and is lost forever. I do not know when and under which circumstances the medieval community was destroyed. I suspect it was the great persecution of 1421, which erased all Austrian medieval Jewish communities.
Now we have to take a big step forward to the 19th century.
It seems that at the turn of the last century, there was at least one Jewish family in Laa. It was a couple with 2 children, whose family-name was Schweinburg. They had a shop where they sold products of leather. Their son died young because of tuberculosis. Their daughter may have married and moved. Where the parents are buried is unknown, so the dates of their life can only be guessed. I do not know if other Jews also lived in Laa at this time.
Bernhard Drill was typical of the new arrivals in Laa in the middle of the last century. He was born on 14th of June 1838 in Nikolsburg. Today it is called Mikulov and is in the Czech Republic. But at that time it was a town in the middle of the Austrian Empire. He married Hanni Toch on the 8th of February 1863 in Nikolsburg. At about the same time the young couple settled in Gaubitsch, a small village close to Laa. They moved to Laa after the first of their 8 children had been born.
The number of Jewish families, which settled in Laa grew quickly. In 1900 the town of 5000 counted more than 30 Jewish families. This is about the same number of Jewish families as would live there in 1938, the year of the so called "Anschluß" when Austria became a part of Hitler-Germany. Before I say some words to the darkest period of Austrian history I want to tell you about life before the nazis came to power.
Most of the Jews from Laa were merchants. They owned little shops for clothes, fruit, grain and other things people needed for daily life. There were 2 Jewish lawyers. Karolina Broda, a Jewish woman, was a musician-teacher, well known for her skills at teaching citar and piano. There were 3 factories owned by members of the Jewish community and some of the most popular horse and cattle traders were Jewish too. Laa was an important town with high economic standard and the Jewish community's contributions furthered this development.
It was a time of modest pleasures. Hilda Drill wrote me about this period: "We had a wonderful family-life. We lived modestly. My parents were not rich, but they tried to give us as much as possible. We learned to play the piano and sometimes we were allowed to visit our relatives in Vienna. Every Friday in the evening we were at my uncle’s and aunt's house. Such a happy time!"
Naturally many people, with whom I am in contact today, were only children when they were forced to leave Laa.
Karola Österreicher told me: "I had a very happy and free childhood. I was always doing stupid things: for example I was sitting on a tree and threw chestnuts on the people who passed by. At school I knew exactly at which time to free the lady bugs that I had collected. One time I even put a nail on the teacher’s chair and he jumped up with a loud "ouch". But I also had good characteristics: I always gave my breadrolls and apples to the children who had no snack and gave pencils and erasers to those who needed it."
Just as life has its beautiful sides, it also has its tragedies. Ignaz and Dorothea Drill must have experienced that when their only son, Albert, died. The family had just moved to a new house. It had 2 floors and a central heating. Albert was a young man and still single. When he went into the cellar to control the heating, he suffocated because gases had come out of the damaged pipes. On his gravestone one can read: "Our mainstay broke, our only son, our hope lies here buried." Soon after, Albert’s mother became ill. Ignaz remained alone after she died in 1938.
The Jewish people were actively involved in social activities and clubs in Laa. One woman played the violin at concerts for charity. Others were members of the skating-club. And at least 15 were voluntarily nurses in the military hospital in Laa. Mr. Wertheim was one of those who donated a tennis-court in Laa. The strange thing, that I cannot really explain is, that in the late 20’s Jewish juveniles were not allowed to play tennis there.
Many of the Jewish men from Laa were soldiers in the first world war and a few of them were highly decorated. They were patriots, who were willing to fight and risk their lives for their homeland. Some were badly wounded.
Some men never returned from the battlefield. Jewish women also worked for their motherland. There was a military hospital for wounded soldiers in Laa. Most of the nurses worked there voluntarily and quite a few of them were Jewish.
Rabbi Kohen and later rabbi Fischhof were responsible for leading the community in spiritual matters. They were in charge of leading the service, and, on Sunday mornings, teaching the children the Jewish religion and Hebrew. In addition, they had to slaughter animals for kosher meat. In the last few years Laa had no resident rabbi. Rabbi Gelbhaus came once in a while to hold services.
Now a few words about the synagogue: It’s not totally correct to speak of a real synagogue. Rather it was a room for prayer since the whole house was not used as synagogue, but it was called synagogue by the community and so I also will call it this. The house still stands today, but it is totally neglected, nobody has lived in it for many years. It is located directly opposite the catholic church. On the first floor there was a restaurant. The synagogue was on the second floor. This part of the house was not owned by the community, but rented. The house had been used as a synagogue beginning at about the turn of the century. There had been a synagogue in Laa even before this house was built. The old synagogue had also been very close to the church, however, there never was any communication between the priest and the rabbi. Christians were allowed to visit the synagogue, but only a few people - mostly children who had Jewish friends - did that.
The only object from the synagogue that survived the Nazis is a collection-box with the writing "Matan beseter", which means "a hidden gift" on it. My sister found it under the roof of the synagogue. The owner of the house was not interested in it and so it stands today in my room. I don’t know what has happened to the rest of the fittings. Maybe they were taken to Prague, the capital of the Czech republic, where the Nazis gathered the furnishings of many synagogues in order to create a so-called Museum of an Extinct Race.
Just as a synagogue is important for a community, so is a cemetery. My interview partners knew nothing of a Jewish cemetery that might have existed in Laa. But Leopold Moses - the last scholar to visited the Austrian Jewish communities in existence, wrote in his book from 1935: "In Laa an der Thaya Hebrew gravestones were found, but they have vanished by now."
There was a field in Laa that had the name "Auf der Judenweide" which means "on the Jews' meadow". This name might come from medieval times and was a commonly used until the 1930’s. Nobody I asked was able to tell me why this place had this name. I have developed two theories. First it could have been a cemetery. The gravestones I talked about before could have been from that graveyard. But this is very wet and rain is not able to go into the earth easily. Such a place would not be suited for a graveyard. The gravestones themselves present a further problem. In medieval times gravestones were made from sandstone and no such stone would have survived in this wet place until the turn of the century. Another possibility is, that the place had something to do with the medieval persecutions.
There is a Jewish cemetery in Mistelbach. This town is 15 miles from Laa. Many Jews from Laa and the surrounding villages were buried there. But often the Jews of Laa - particulatly the ones who belonged to the first generation of immigrants - were burried in graveyards in their old hometowns or their ancestor’s hometowns in what is today the Czech Republic. The graveyard has 112 graves. The oldest grave is of the child Miriam Bauer, who was buried in 1889.
A few years ago the graveyard was still in very bad shape. Since then, however, my father has been doing the gardening. Theoretically, the woman living in the house in front of the cemetery is responsible for the upkeep, but she does nothing and the town takes no action.
The every-day language of the Jewish people from Laa was German, not Yiddish. Some of them spoke Czech too because of business. They had many customers who came from the Czech speaking area of Moravia. I only know of one couple who read Yiddish and English literature, but they were probably the most educated people in Laa.
Although the Jews from Laa were very assimilated, they did not break off the connections to the old home in today’s Czech Republic. They visited their relatives, who had remained in the birthplace of the parents, and visited the graves of their ancestors. The first generation of immigrants was also often buried in the place where they were born. Nearly all members of the Jewish community of Laa had their roots in Moravia — many in Nikolsburg.
Some families were more religious, others less. There were some people who were rather close to Judaism and others whose children got a Christmas-tree like Christian children.
Most families kept a kosher household. But the time of the first world war was a hard time economically, and many families were happy to have any meat to eat at all. That’s not to say that giving up the dietary restrictions can be seen as abandonment of Judaism and Jewish culture.
Shops owned by Jewish mercants were opened on Shabbat. The weekly market took place on Saturdays. Many people from the farms and villages came to town then. Only on the high holidays were the stores closed and Jewish students did not have to go to school.
There was no marriage broker, a fixture of many eastern-European Sthetls, in Laa, but very often the young people did not find their partner themselves. When young people were of the age for marriage, what would be in their 20’s or 30’s their relatives would think about a fitting bride or groom. Then, for example a friend from army-times of the brother or the cousin of an uncle by marriage would be introduced to a young woman. If they liked each other, they got married. Many people from Laa married people from Moravia, which was, after all, quite near and had many large Jewish communities. There were also those who married someone from a far away part of the Austrian-Hungarian empire which included at this time half of Europe.
I want to relate such a story. Karola Österreicher told me: "My father was wounded and captured in the first world war. He was held in prison in Siberia for 7 years. When he got free he visited his sister Etel who lived in Mistelbach near Laa with her husband. My father's parents lived in today’s Slokvakia next to the Hungarian border. My aunt Etel knew my mother because she came to Mistelbach sometimes to buy hats in my aunt’s shop to sell them in her own shop in Laa. My father was 40 at this time and so aunt Etel told him that it would be time for him to marry. But he refused and said, that he would need a good job again before taking a wife. So my aunt said, that she knew a woman in Laa named Hermine Blau. She cared for a shop all alone because her parents were too ill. So he should go to take a look at her. My aunt Etel was very smart. She gave my father several hats and asked him to go by train to Laa and sell some of them to my mother. But when he arrived it was my mother’s washing-day. So she was wearing only wooden shoes, a scarf and a dress. She and two other women were washing clothes. My father asked where Hermine Blau was. So she steped aside and said in a shy way "that would be me". My father could not believe his eyes. But my mother took a shower and dressed up nicely to see the hats. So they started talking and my father liked her at once. They married after 3 months in the year 1924."
Now we want ot turn to the final years of the Jewish community of Laa a.d. Thaya.
The illegal Nazi party began to gain followers in Laa in the mid 1920's. Ernst Neumann describes the situation this way: "We encountered a lot of anti-Semitism from a lot of grown up young men around the age of 25 to 25 years who roamed the streets of the town dressed partly in uniforms or with brown shirts, displaying the swastika and shouting "Heil Hitler" as early as 1930 to 1934, long before the Anschluß and even before Hitler came to power in Germany."
Some of the nazis tried to force Jewish mercants out of the business. But the nazis were in the minority and the people who went on buying in Jewish shops and went on talking to the Jewish friends and neighbours were in the majority.
I want to tell you one example of anti-Semitism in the early years. Hilda Drill wrote: "I had a school-graduation-ball in 1935. The political situation at the time was bad for us Jews. Before the ball we had small celebrations in private homes. One was in our house and an other was in the village of Frättingsdorf where one of my classmates, Gisela, lived. There was a little lake and we wanted to swim there for a while. When we were in the water some classmates called me Jew and tried to drown me. Gisela saved my life."
I want to note that also the two Jewish - Christian weddings were celebrated during this time. Both grooms were Jewish and as far as I know the Jewish grooms and Christian brides did not convert to the other religion. One of the couples had no problems from either set of parents. The other couple has a rather tragic story. The youngest son of the rabbi from Laa was sent to Vienna in order to study and become rabbi too. But instead of studying he preferred to play the violin in bars. It happened that he met a girl from Laa who was studying in Vienna too. They fell in love. During the wedding his father was sitting Schiwa. In the end the rabbi lost his mind because he was not able to accept his son's marriage.
For many people the Anschluß came unexpectedly. Most of the Jews of Laa were part of a generation born in Laa, had grown up there and were economically well off. Above all, Laa was their home town. For this reason, many of them thought that things could not become so bad. They were wrong. Nazis blocked the entrances to Jewish shops and the shops were marked with posters saying "Don’t buy at Jewish stores".
Karola Österreicher writes: "A so called Aryan, took over our shop. Everything of value - the jewellery of my mother and the money from the shop - had to be handed over to our neighbour. Another neighbour removed the supplies from our stockroom for days and days."
I’ve heard that in this time a woman from a farm outside of Laa who did not know about the new order tried to enter one of the Jewish owned shops to buy something. The Nazis put a sign around her neck and marched with her through the streets of Laa calling her names. The woman who told me about this in an interview is still too afraid to tell what was written on that sign.
It did not take long and the local newspapers to publish the rules for interaction with Jewish citizens. The following is from an article about correspondence and business dealings, which was published in "Laaer Nachrichten" from the 13th of May 1938.
"On public relations to Jews.
It has been observed that people from the farms do not know how to behave in relations with Jews of any kind. The following has to be said about this: Regarding correspondence with Jews — which might be still necessary for any reasons — one should only write the address, but no formal greeting like "honored colleague" or even "dear business partner". The factual part of the letter is to begin directly after the address and the name. At the end of there should be no formal closing like "yours sincerely" or "sieg heil" or similar formulations. One should just sign the letter without any formal greeting. One should also not write "dear Mr. Pig-Jew", as was recently recommended. Regarding business dealings, there is one rule: members of the party are not allowed to have business dealings of any kind with Jews. This means that the Jewish merchant must be pushed out of business with all our might."
Also in Laa the Jews had to clean the streets with toothbrushes. Caustic chemicals were mixed into the water so that the Jews’ hands would be injured. And it happened more than one time that Jewish people had to clean the streets. Felix J. remembers such a situation: "Shortly after the Anschluß all Jewish women were forced to clean all political anti Nazi slogans painted on roads and walls. I understand that young Nazis, the pride of the new Austria, were looking on and jeering. Just before my mother was forced to participate in this outrage (she was later somehow liberated by some of our workers) one of my good friends invited me to a bike ride, and was rather insistent that I join him. I now wonder if he tried to keep me away. It turns out, that this friend of mine became an SS-Unterstürmführer and died in Yugoslavia during the war. He may have known what was going to happen."
Of course, this was an event for picture-taking. I held 2 of them - owned by somebody else - in my own hands. The owner refused to allow me to make copies.
Social isolation made the situation for the victims of the cruel regime even harder for the Jews of Laa. Most neighbours and former closest friends treated them as if they had never known them. There were also neighbors who threw foodparcels over the garden wall when a Jewish family was not allowed to leave the house, but these are very rare examples of humanity in an inhuman time.
It took only few weeks until most of the Jewish population had to leave Laa for Vienna. Ignaz Drill — a son of Bernhard Drill, who I mentioned when I spoke about the early settlement — was the last to leave. He was able to stay longer than the other families because he gave his house — newly built and large — as a gift to the Nazis under the condition that he could stay in Laa. It was the worst deal he ever made. He was deported from Austria to Theresienstadt - today called Theresin and located in the Czech Republic- with the 8th transport and the individual number 559. On the 26 th of September 1942 he was deported with the Number 1807 with 2003 other people to another place, probably Maliy Trostinec. The place and the circumstances that caused his death vanished with him in his unknown grave — far away from his beloved hometown.
On the 23rd of September 1938 the local newspaper announced: "Laa is now 100% cleansed of Jews."
Some of the Jews from Laa tried to get a visa to a foreign country, but it was hard to get one. A few young people also tried to get out alone on their own way.
As far as I know there was only one woman from Laa who helped Jews in their escape. Martha Mader had been the nanny of Gerda, Erika and Kurt Maneles, three Jewish children at about 1934 to 1936. She liked the children very much and when I met her few months before she passed away 2 years ago she still called the children "my children". During the war Mrs. Mader was working as nanny in England when she got a despairing letter from Gerda Maneles and her mother who were on the run somewhere in Czechia. Mrs. Mader read in a later letter the money she had sent them had reached them when they had nothing left to eat at all.
Many members of the Jewish community were deported and murdered in Ausschwitz. As far as I know, of all the people from Laa who were deported to Ausschwitz only one, a little girl, survived the Nazi period. Every one of those stories is too tragic to put it into words. And most of these were extinguished in the camps along with the victims.
I want to relate one I’ve heard. Gerda Maneles, a young woman of about 20 years fell in love, while fleeing, with a Czech Jewish man. They married under the most difficult circumstances. When the Nazis caught her she was sent to the gas chamber because she was pregnant.
The year 1938 was the last year in which a Jewish community existed in Laa. But that does not mean, that it was the last year there were Jews in Laa. This seems strange at first. Why don’t I speak of a community and why don’t I say "they settled there"? Why do I use the past tense? The people I’m talking about did not come to Laa voluntarily and the way they lived there was everything but comfortable. Around the year 1943 Polish and Ukrainian Jews were brought to Laa. The priest wrote in the chronicle of the church that 110 people were accommodated in a little part of the parsonage. He himself never writes that those people were Jewish, but all people who told me about this have said that the people were Polish Jews. It’s unbelievable under which conditions these people had to live there. Knowing the location all I can say is, that living there must have been impossible for so many people. There sure was not even enough space for all of them under the roof to stretch out for sleeping. The people there were of all ages, men and women. They had to work every day in a brickyard outside Laa. One of my interview partners, who was about 5 years old at this time, remembers seeing one of the Jewish women in front of the building with a new born baby wrapped in paper.
Another woman told me: "It is true, that Jews were locked up in the parsonage in Laa. Those people were not the Jews from Laa. They were polish Jews. They had the star of David sewed on their clothes. There were men as well as women and children. They were given cooked feed beets to eat. Even our pigs got something better. They stayed here for more than a year. I think it was summer when they came.. They had to work in the brickyard and marched there and back every day. They lived there were the little community room is built today. There was a fence of wood and behind that the polish Jews were locked up. When the front lines came closer they were transported away."
The priest writes: "110 people from Poland and the Ukraine were settled in the south end of the house. The dirt and rubbish, the total lack of civilized behavior and the devastation in the house cannot be written down. A part of the old horse stables was turned into a bathroom for these people. I can hardly relate what this meant for me and the servants of the house. The 800 RM that were paid as rent are not nearly enough for the way those people have ruined the house and the garden. The priest has given all of the money to the church. I am helpless to do anything against these measures, and I must put up with all of the excesses. I got the 800 RM as compensation for the damage and in the next 3 years I will get 1400 RM tax allowance. So my great deed was rewarded by the revenue authorities."
I think it is unnecessary to comment on the egoism and inhumanity of this man who thought of himself sure as a pious and good person. I was unable to find out when these poor, tormented people were transported from Laa, the priest does not write anything about this. One woman told me "when the front line came nearer". Until this day, I don’t know where they were brought after being held in prison in Laa or if any are still alive somewhere today.
There were also two much bigger camps in the very near Laa — one in Mistelbach and the other in Siebenhirten.
Mistelbach had about 5000 inhabitants at this time. There was a camp for men and one for women, both existed for 10 months. The prisoners were Hungarian Jews. I don’t know how big these camps were. In Siebenhirten, which is a tiny village of few hundred people was a camp for men, mainly political prisoners, for 7 months. 2000 people held in prison in that little village. The prisoners worked for some companies that are very well known today. People were tortured and killed there. In April of 1945 there were 400 people left and they were forced on a death march through half of Austria to the concentration camp Mauthausen. On this trip, which lasted 17 days, between 40 and 50 of them died because of exhaustion or because they were shoot. Many of those who reached Mauthausen were killed there. the camps in Mistelbach, Siebenhirten and also in Laa are absolutley forgotten today. There are no memorials there or in any of the surrounding towns. But in most of the towns and even in most of the tiny villages there once lived at least a few Jews. It makes me very angry to see that in each and every of these villages there is a memorial for soldiers who die, but not for the Jews and other civilians. There is enough money to build memorials for soldiers who killed others. There is no money and no wish to built memorials for the victims — for the former neighbors.
After the war one Jewish family returned to Laa. They lived during the week in Laa and carried on their horse-trading there. In the 60’s they stopped trading, retired, and went permanently to Vienna. Since then, there have been no Jews living in the whole district.
It’s now about 7 years since I started my research. I remember only too well how happily I marched home after my first interview, with about 5 names of Jewish families. It took less than a full year and I was in contact with Karola Österreicher - a woman, who was born as part of the Jewish community of Laa.
Today I am in contact with 18 people from all over the whole world who grew up in Laa or are descendants of Jews that lived in Laa. Two of them live in Vienna, 1 in Belgium, 3 in Israel, 1 in Venezuela, 1 in Peru, 2 in Los Angeles, 1 in Texas, 1 in Florida, 1 in New York State, 1 in Maryland, 1 in Canada and 3 in Australia.
Every address I got has it’s own story, all of them are rather long and for all people, except myself, hard to follow. I’m proud to say that these did not just remain formal connections - I’ve won the friendship of all of them, which is the greatest gift one can receive.
Among the most moving and wonderful moments are those where I am able to connect old friends with one another. This has happened more than once during my research. Hilda Drill once said: " That’s the fate of emigrants. Nobody knows if people lived or died and where they have saved themselves." My research has brought people together who had not seen each other for over 60 years. When I started my work just 3 of the 15 people from Laa, were in touch with one another.
Perhaps you will ask whether in all these years people who were driven out of Laa have ever come back. My answer is that many of the Jewish people from Laa had come back to visit long before I started my research. How they were treated the following examples will show:
The very first woman I asked for an interview said "No, I don’t know anything about this topic. I did not know any Jews who lived here." Later it turned out that she had been the best friend of Hilda Drill for years. After the Anschluß she did not speak another word with her former best friend anymore. In 1980 Hilda Drill visited Vienna. The woman from Laa heard about this and she sent her daughter to the hotel of Hilda Drill to ask if she would meet her. The answer was yes and so they met one afternoon in a Viennese coffee-house. One of the first things the old friend said was: "Now we can finally eat the same good food as you people always did." When they were children Hilda’s parents owned a shop for fruits. When her father died, it were Hilda’s parents who supported the family with free food-parcels for years.
When Karola Österreicher came to visit Laa long before I was born she arranged a meeting with a former school friend of hers named Helga. One of the first things she heard was: "Karola, I’ve to ask you something. Why were you such a bad child toward your parents?" Karola Österreicher had been 12 years old in 1938. She behaved toward her parents the same way every kid does at this age. It was she who had to stand behind the door and watch her parents scrubbing the streets, guarded by those people the friend’s family accepted only too easily. It would have been Karola’s right to ask "Why did you let my parents be deported".
Still an other case: Edith Bloch is always interested in the changes in Laa. She loves to hear what’s going on here, but in her letters you always find the statement "I could not stand it seeing Laa again". What’s the story that stands behind this contradiction? Edith had come to Vienna more than once. Some friends of her from Laa visited her in the hotel. When she wanted to visit them in Laa they said: "No, you can’t it would be much to hard on you." The truth is that they would have been ashamed to be seen with her in Laa.
As I told you before Karola Österreicher visits us every year in the summer. My mother was told by an associate of hers that there are some old women in Laa who were upset that "we dare to bring the Jews back to Laa". Nice, wouldn’t you say?
"Motherland what great sons you have" - that’s a line of the Austrian national anthem. In Laa nobody cares about the expelled - no matter what they have made of their lives. In that point they all are treated equally.
In 1938 one did not care how close the brothers Leo and Walter Adler were related to the famous scholar Victor Adler. They were arrested and Walter was half dead when he finally was released. Then the only point of importance was, that they were Jews.
In 1999 nobody cares about the murdered or about what became of the people who survived. Some became bakers, nurses, farmers, lawyers and shop owners. Those who were less lucky had to work as cleaners or had to sell self-made cookies on the streets of South America. One became a famous engineer and another a General.
But in one place in the world all of them are treated equally.
So, what do the Jewish people from Laa say themselves about their feelings toward Laa.
Joseph Kolb is an example of a man who loves his homeland more than everything in the world. One of the first sentences he wrote to me was: "Yes, I love the old home where my cradle stood".
Those who were born shortly before the war and never knew how it was to feel at home in Laa often have never experienced the feeling of belonging, anywhere. The daughter of Karl Drill, who was born in 1934 told me the following: "I was born into the Nazi-time. As a child I was rather well-behaved and obedient. My father had been a worker in Israel during the Nazi time. After it my family decided that it was better to return. I was 12 when we came back to Austria. I was used to being different and never felt at home anywhere. I married, had children and avoided thinking about the old times."
Hilda Drill, who was in her early 20 when she had to leave Laa, writes: "Sometimes I am full of yearning and feel bitter at the same time, nearly a kind of hatred, thinking what they have done to us." Later she wrote an other statement, that tells that the best way, what most Jews from Laa think about the town in which they grew up: "We all loved our native town, but not the people who just looked on when we were victimized."
With this, I want to conclude: In the beginning I told you, that this project has changed my life completely. It has become a big part of my life, and even when my research sometimes brings moments of sadness and anger about how evil people can be, it has become my greatest joy.