Kitty and Otto Suschny both grew up in Vienna, only a couple of streets away from each other, but they never met while growing up. After the Reichspogromnacht in November 1938, both fled Austria for their lives; Kitty went to England, while Otto emigrated to Palestine. After the war, they returned to Vienna, desperate to find out what had happened to their parents. That´s where they met, and they never separated again...
The 20th district, known as Brigittenau, had once been a very Jewish neighborhood. Read more about Vienna’s Jewish history. The 2nd district, known as Leopoldstadt, has also historically been home to many of the city's Jewish residents. A number of Jewish sites of interest, such as Judenplatz and the Jewish Museum, are located today in this district.
Vienna dates back to the Roman Empire, at which point it began to grow and develop into a European economic, political, and cultural capital.
The city is world-renowned as the center of the Jugendstil (Art Nouveau) movement, a style that took off at the turn of the 20th century. This article, from the Leopold Museum in Vienna explains the Art Nouveau movement.
Kitty recalls that in the early 1930s, anti-Semitism did not play a very big role. However, in 1938, as the Nazis entered Austria in what is known as the “Anschluss,” the situation changed dramatically for Austrian Jews.
Life for Austrian Jews became significantly more miserable. Many attempted to leave the country. In the first days after the Anschluss, thousands of Jews were arrested. Shortly thereafter many lost their jobs, their homes and business were looted, and they were subject to violence and humiliation.
On the 9-10 November 1938 Jewish homes, businesses, and synagogues across the German Reich - including Austria and the Sudetenland were destroyed. This violent pogrom is known as "Kristallnacht."
After this pogrom, Nazi officials began taking more serious measures to ensure the annihilation of the Austrian Jewish population. In later October 1939, Adolf Eichmann, in charge of the Center for Jewish Expulsion in Vienna, organized two deportation transports that relocated thousands of Jewish men, Otto’s father included, to Nisko, Poland. Nisko lies about 200km east of Krakow.
In 1942 Kitty’s mother and Otto’s parents were deported to Maly Trostinec in Belarus where they were murdered. Maly Trostinec was located in the “Reichskommisariat Ostland” – between 1941 and 1942 fifteen transports left Vienna for this area of the German Reich. Read more about this camp.
In 1924, the year Kitty and Otto were born, Vienna was the capital of the First Republic of Austria. The Republic, established in 1919, was created following the end of First World War and the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (1867-1918) and the Republic of German-Austria (1918-1919).
Before World War II, Jews played a significant part in Austria's social and economic development. Read more on Austrian Jewry here.
At this time the Christian Social Party dominated the Austrian Government. They supported, among other things, a strong government and protection against Marxism.
These interwar years were also marked by high inflation. Because of the economic crisis, Otto’s father found himself unemployed and left in the 1930s for the Soviet Union.
In 1933, the year Hitler came to power, Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss outlawed the Nazi Party and with it the Communist and Social Democratic Party’s.
Read more about the Social Democrats in Austria before the Second World War.
Otto recounts that, even amidst violence and turmoil, his parents believed they would be able to survive in Vienna. Kitty’s mother also figured she would be safe, as her husband had been a soldier in the First World War.
On 9 November 1939 Otto was able to travel legally to Palestine.
Kitty’s brother, Harry, fled illegally to Switzerland. Though thousands of Jews were able to find refuge there, Switzerland has been heavily criticized for its restrictive policies regarding Jewish refugees.
Read more about escaping from German occupied Europe.
Kitty signed up for the Kindertransport, which took her and her best friend Ilse safely to England. Around 10,000 children from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Poland were sent without their parents to England, where they were able to survive the war.
After Kristallnacht the British eased the immigration restrictions for certain Jewish refugees and agreed to allow an unspecified number of children to enter the country. However, after the outbreak of war 1 September 1939, the government no longer took any transports.
Kitty and Else arrived in Southport, England. From there Kitty went to Manchester.
She recalls that in 1940, the Germans heavily bombed the city. This bombing campaign, commanded by Hermann Goering as retaliation against the RAF, is known as the Battle of Britain. This BBC photo series offers images of the Manchester Blitz.
Kitty and Ilse signed up to be Air Raid Precaution (ARP) Wardens.
For the first two years Otto spent in Palestine, he lived on a Kibbutz. “Kibbutz” means “communal settlement” in Hebrew. Kibbutzim are generally rural communities that are built around the notion of cooperative living.
In 1943 Otto signed up for the Royal Army Service Corps (RASC). The RASC was a corps of the British Army primarily responsible for the transportation of non-military equipment.
In 1946, Kitty and her brother, Harry left Britain and returned to Vienna.
In 1945, Austria had declared the Second Republic, reestablishing Austria as a democratic republic.
Kitty and Harry met at a Pessach gathering organized by Jewish American soldiers at Café Beethoven in Vienna.
Otto worked for the Jewish Historical Documentation Center – also known as the Simon Wiesenthal Archive. Simon Wiesenthal, an Austrian Holocaust survivor, noticed that Allied denazification efforts were becoming increasingly inadequate. He therefore established his own documentation center in order to search for Nazi perpetrators.
For many years Austrians did not want to acknowledge their role in perpetrating the crimes of the Second World War, preferring to view themselves as the Nazi's first victims. This attitude, in part, made it very difficult for those Jews returning to the country after the Holocaust to settle in.
Read this article entitled "The Need for a Demystified Past" which addresses the need for Austrians to critically confront their role in WWII.
25 October 2005, Austria's first Holocaust memorial was unveiled at its location in Vienna's Judenplatz. The monument is entitled the "Nameless Library" and was designed by British artist, Rachel Whiteread.