(2) Nazi Austria

Extermination camp, Austria

Kandel returns again and again to the topic of the Holocaust—in particular, the complicity of Viennese intellectuals at the time and their forgetfulness afterward. Throughout his life, Kandel embodies the Jewish motto, “Never again!” In college he majored it modern German history, and then he plunged himself into psychoanalysis, by which he sought to come to grips with his past. His subsequent scientific career was propelled by a desire to confront his demons directly by penetrating the secret of memory itself. He was also inspired by a sort of Jewish solidarity and academic patriotism, seeking to redeem the memory of Jewish scientists expelled and discredited by the corrupt academic system of Austria.

“Invasion” of Austria

Jews scrubbing streets, Vienna

The day after Hitler marched into Vienna, I was shunned by all of my classmates…I was taunted, humiliated, and roughed up….On the day of Kristallnacht, as my father was rounded up, his store was taken away from him and turned over to a non-Jew…(p.28)
My last year in Vienna was a defining one. Certainly, it fostered a profound, lasting gratitude for the life I found in the United States…How is one to understand the sudden, vicious brutality of so many people? How could a highly educated society so quickly embrace policies…rooted in contempt for an entire people? (p.29)

Eduard Pernkopf, dean of University of Vienna (and anatomist, see below)

My undergraduate honors thesis at Harvard was on the attitude toward National Socialism of three German writers…I came to the depressing conclusion that many German artists and intellectuals had succumbed all too eagerly…Had intellectuals mobilized, Hitler’s aspirations might well have been prevented…(p.38)
Certainly one important reason for the actions of the Viennese in 1938 was sheer opportunism…Viennese were eager to advance themselves by replacing Jews in the professions….Another reason was the move from a cultural to a racial form of anti-Semitism….This idea derives from the Doctrine of Deicide…the popular belief that the Jews killed Christ. The Jewish perpetrators of deicide were a race so innately lacking in humanity that they must be genetically different, subhuman….Although racial anti-Semitism had not been a dominant force in Vienna before 1938, it became official public policy after March of that year…The only solution to the Jewish question was expulsion or elimination of the Jews. (p.31)

Following annexation, Austrians made up about 8 percent of the population of the greater German reich, yet they accounted for more than 30 percent of the officials working to eliminate the Jews. Austrians commanded four Polish death camps and held other leadership positions in the Reich in addition to Hitler…It is estimated that of the 6 million Jews who perished during the Holocaust, approximately half were killed by Austrian functionaries led by Eichmann. Yet despite their active participation in the Holocaust, the Austrians claimed to be victims of Hitler’s aggression…Austria never underwent the soul-searching and cleansing that Germany did after the war…In the end, few people were tried, and most of those were acquitted…

Many professors who remained in Vienna during the war were Nazis, yet they retained their academic appointments afterward…Eduard Pernkopf , dean of the faculty of medicine was a Nazi even before Hitler entered Austria…After the war, he was allowed to finish his book Atlas of Anatomy, a work thought to be based on dissection of the bodies of people who had been killed in Austrian concentration camps. (p.405-7)

Eduard Pernkopf

In 1980 Steve Kuffler and I were both invited to Vienna to be inducted as honorary members of the Austrian Physiological Society. Steve had fled Vienna in 1938. We were introduced by…a pretentious academic who had accomplished little scientifically and who acted as if nothing out of the ordinary had caused these two sons of Vienna to flee the country…His silence regarding our actual experiences in Vienna spoke volumes. Neither Steve nor I responded to his comments. (p.236)

By 1989 I had reached the limit of my silence…In a symposium for the Institute of Molecular Pathology [in Vienna]…I began my lecture with some comments about…the anger, disappointment, and pain caused by the humiliation I suffered there. I added how fortunate I was to have been able to go to the United States. After I finished my comments there was no applause, no recognition. No one said a word. (p.409)

Extermination camp, Austria

In 2004 I observed Yom Kippur in the main synagogue of Vienna…At one point in the service, the rabbi wanted to honor me and asked me to come up on the stage and open the curtains of the Ark that contains the Torah scrolls. My eyes filled with tears; I froze and could not bring myself to do it…

I heard the vigorous and well-known eighty-year-old urban geographer Elizabeth Lichtenberger present a lecture on the future of Europe…Lichtenberger leaned over to me and said, Let me explain what happene din 1938 and 1939. There was massive unemployment in Vienna until 1938. The Jews controlled everything—the banks, the newspapers. Most physicians were Jewish, and they were simply squeezing every penny out of these impoverished people. It was terrible. That’s why it all happened.” At first I thought she was joking, but as I realized she was not, I turned to her and literally screamed, “Ich glabue nicht was Si emir sagen!” “I can’t believe you are talking to me this way! You, an academic, are blindly mouthing anti-Semitic Nazi propaganda!”…

I met the newly elected president of Austria, Heinz Fischer…He is even more involved with Jewish life in Vienna than the former one. In addition, I found it uplifting to think that sizty-five years after being forced to leave Vienna, I would be invited by the president of Austria to join with him in a private and frank conversaion about Jewish life in Vienna over wine, dinner, and Sacher torte at the Hotel Sacher. I stopped at Severingasse 8 on the way to the airport…I felt amazingly at peace: so glad to have survived, and to have emerged from that building and from the Holocaust relatively unscathed. (p.413-15)

Denise later told me that were it not for my deep and continuing fascination with Vienna, whe sould have found the city boring compared with Paris. Her comment reminded me of when her imposing Aunt Sonia, a large, intellectually powerful, and slightly arrogant woman who worked for the United Nations…asked in her strong French accent, “Where do you come from?” “Vienna,” I replied. Without changing her overall condescending expression, she forced a small smile and said, “That’s nice. We used to call that little Paris”….It’s clear to me that she did not really understand Vienna—it’s lost grandeur, its enduring beauty, or its present-day complacency and latent anti-Semitism. (p.151)