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Shoah survivors' family return to Vienna

The Local · 27 Nov 2014, 16:32

Published: 27 Nov 2014 16:32 GMT+01:00

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Paula’s father was Leon Kellner, a professor of English literature at the University of Vienna and a friend and adviser of the Austro-Hungarian journalist Theodor Herzl - considered to be the father of modern Zionism.

Dan and Daphna visited Vienna at the invitation of the Jewish Welcome Service, and spoke to The Local about their experience.

What is it like for you, coming back to Vienna?

Daphna: It’s my third time here - the first time was ten years ago. I have very mixed feelings about this city, as my father always refused to come back here. My mother wanted to come back, and once they did in 1985, but after two days my father couldn’t stand it and had to leave.

Dan: He left when he was 19, in 1933 - leaving many relatives behind, some of whom were killed in Auschwitz. He felt that as anti-Semitism became stronger in Austria there were not many possibilities left open to him, but his parents wanted him to finish high school - he even did his first year of University in Vienna but then left for Palestine, as a Zionist.

Daphna: My mother felt more emotionally attached and always wanted to come back to visit the house she grew up in. She was 17 when she left Vienna in 1936 and said goodbye to her parents, which was the last time she ever saw them.  My mother always refused to speak about the past and Vienna, and it was only when she died that I found her letters from her mother and her sister, up until they were unable to write anymore. When she did come back to find the house she grew up in, in Hernals, she felt no connection, as her family were all gone. 

She wanted to protect us from the past. My mother was not in a camp, but losing her parents and her sister, and never talking about it meant that she kept it all inside and it had an affect on how she brought up her children - even if we were not aware of it.

What was especially memorable from this visit?

Daphna: We found the grave of Leon Kellner, our great-grandfather in the central cemetery, and that was a very moving experience.

Daphna (r), Dan and his wife in Zentralfriedhof. Photo: Daphna Arnold

He was, by all accounts, a very special person, a cultural figure who studied languages and discovered Zionism. He had a very international outlook and belonged to Vienna’s intellectual society rather than the Jewish community - but as the Nazis became stronger and anti-Semitism grew, he became more Zionist. He died in 1928 in Vienna.

What’s your motivation for coming back?

Story continues below…

Daphna: We want to bring the family archive back to Vienna - including Leon Kellner’s personal letters and diaries. We would like the community here, and the general public, to have access to it for research. Ideally we’d like the city to start an archive about Jewish life in Vienna.

Dan: Our children and grandchildren don’t speak German, and once we are dead no one will be interested in these old manuscripts - they will be thrown out. There are so many old German books in Israel, Jews who left Austria and Germany before the outbreak of WWII often took their whole libraries with them. The survivors of WWII typically didn’t want to talk about their experiences - so the second generation didn’t get to hear their story.

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