In this understated debut, journalist Goldenberg explores her Jewish family history during WWII. Her grandparents, Hansi and Helga Feldner-Bustin, had survived the Nazis and immigrated in 1955 to Poughkeepsie, N.Y., to work as doctors, and a year later returned to Vienna, where they remained. Goldenberg learned that Hansi had left behind in Vienna folders of documents, and used them as a starting point to reconstruct her grandparents’ lives and understand their choices. Through family photos, school report cards, letters, and Nazi documents detailing the liquidation of Jewish businesses, Goldenberg presents a vivid picture of life in Vienna under Nazi rule. Her relatives had markedly different experiences: Helga suffered in the Theresienstadt concentration camp for years but managed to escape death before that camp was liberated in 1945. In contrast, Hansi, who was taken in by a Catholic doctor, was “constantly out and about” on the streets of Vienna, visiting lending libraries, taverns, and university classes. Goldenberg uncovered the surprising reason the Feldner-Bustins decided to return home: the “rigid, racist social conventions” the couple encountered among their non-Jewish friends in Poughkeepsie. Goldenberg’s thoughtful research and engaging style make this a valuable addition to Holocaust literature . (June)
From the Publisher
"An intimate account of a courageous family whose rich life in Vienna unravels into a struggle for survival. A suspenseful story of bravery, dignity, and the love of a city that withstands its bleakest chapter."
—Anne-Marie O'Connor, author of The Lady in Gold: The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt’s Masterpiece, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer
"Why would you return to a city that tried to murder you? Here is the story of one Jewish family that did ... Blends history, biography, and memoir ... Well-researched, intimate, evocative look at some of the 20th century’s foulest days."
"Absorbing ... What distinguishes Goldenberg’s book from much of the vast library of Holocaust literature is its distance from the campaign to exterminate European Jewry. It is the story of a young woman’s attempt to make sense of history more than it is a direct evocation of the roundups, cattle cars, and gas chambers ... Will leave Americans fascinated by the cruelty and loyalty born in the city of Sigmund Freud, Gustav Mahler, and Anna Goldenberg."
"A meticulous evocation of an unknown Austria, Anna Goldenberg’s affecting family memoir brings to life the story of Viennese Jews who decided not to flee their homes after the Anschluss. This salutary tribute forces us to reflect on what it means to try and live a 'normal life' in the throes of a political nightmare."
—George Prochnik, author of The Impossible Exile and Stranger in a Strange Land
"A must-read for a new understanding of the Holocaust in Vienna and why a Jewish family would not let itself be uprooted despite the city's dark past."
—Esther Safran Foer, author of I Want You to Know We're Still Here: A Post-Holocaust Memoir
"Goldenberg presents a vivid picture of life in Vienna under Nazi rule ... Thoughtful research and engaging style make this a valuable addition to Holocaust literature."
"The value and virtue of this book is that it personalizes and humanizes a global reign of terror into an understandable drama."
—The Arts Fuse
"Anna Goldenberg explores questions of national identity and personal trauma ... a fascinating look at how two Jewish families navigated an increasingly hostile nation."
—Words without Borders
"An important and accessible document ... providing above all a valuable lesson on belonging and the will to overcome."
—The Jerusalem Post
“Anna Goldenberg brings the memory of her grandparents to life and sweeps us away with her portrayal of bravery and endurance. This is an important and wonderful book.”
—Doron Rabinovici, author of Elsewhere and The Search for M
“Goldenberg has written a big, important, quiet and disturbing book. It is ruthless and precise, honest and inquisitive, showing the bright side of a family’s fate as well as the dark.”
“A kaleidoscopic picture of the varied perceptions of the oncoming Holocaust and how the Jewish population of Vienna responded to its events and risks.”
“Goldenberg reveals the mechanisms by which people were initially deprived of their rights, then their property, and finally their lives—the processes necessary for dehumanization.”
Why would you return to a city that tried to murder you? Here is the story of one Jewish family that did.
In her English-language debut, Goldenberg, a former culture fellow at the Forward who is now a freelance journalist in Vienna, blends history, biography, and memoir to tell the story of her extended family and some significant others. Though the Holocaust is the primary setting, the author begins and ends in Poughkeepsie, New York, where her grandparents, both doctors, went to work after World War II. They did not stay long but returned to Vienna, where their families had been hunted by the Nazis—but also where they had found remarkable assistance from others. As Goldenberg notes, they felt that they had to return to their homeland—though she still has plenty of questions regarding their motivations. “How had they found reconciliation with Austria? Weren’t they constantly reminded of the humiliations they’d been subjected to following Hitler’s 1938 annexation of their homeland?” The author’s grandmother was a prime source for research, but Goldenberg also visited relevant sites in Europe and America—sometimes in company with her grandmother, who had spent time in Theresienstadt—consulted family papers and memories, and visited assorted archives. “For my grandmother…remembering has become a sport—a race against oblivion, in which every detail that comes to mind puts her in the lead,” writes the author. With these resources, she vividly re-creates the scene in Vienna as horror arrived: the rise of the Nazis, the abuse of Jews, the roundups and transportations, and the varied fortunes of her family members, some of whom didn’t survive. Goldenberg’s principal focus is her grandparents—Hansi and Helga, who were teens at the time—and how both were able to escape the worst of it.
Well-researched, intimate, evocative look at some of the 20th century’s foulest days. (b/w photos, family tree)