A Young Child in Vienna, 1938
by Eva Maiden
Until just before my third birthday, my world was safe. I still remember the playroom I shared with my brother Helmut, five years older than me. He liked his tin soldiers best, and rolling a rubber toy between two sticks, a game called Diabolo. My favorites were my doll Emily, and our shared teddy bear called Pu der Bär, the German version of Winnie the Pooh. My mother, Mutti, would pop in now and then to see me briefly during the day, and at night she bathed me and tucked me into bed with a lullaby. Mostly, we were tended by our nanny and Aunt Valli, my mother’s sister who lived with us.
Tante Valli was so close to me that my earliest memory is of asking her: “Are you a parent?” I was trying to figure out if I had three parents, when in stories that I listened to there were only two. Valli was always available while my mother and father were busy in their medical offices. She was nervously cheerful as she bustled between supervising the household help and admitting patients at the door: children came to see my mother, adults to see my father.
On weekdays I went to Tante Pia’s nursery school, a very happy place for me. My coat had a little snail embroidered inside, and my locker had a painting of that snail, so I always knew where to hang my coat after my nanny dropped me off. Tante Pia, a tiny woman with a deformed back, exuded a warm and sensible authority. I loved her. I enjoyed standing on line with the other bundled up children on our rooftop playground, getting ready to sing in a circle and play games.
It was very confusing for me, the day Hitler came to Vienna. First, my nanny dressed me up in my best clothes. Her plump cheeks flushed with excitement, she told me that today was a grand occasion. Somebody important had arrived, and everyone was supposed to watch the parade and greet him. But when I was brought into the living room, my mother’s face was very pale and tense. In an angry voice she ordered the nanny to go home. She told me and Helmut that we would not be going outside today, and under no circumstances were we to step out on the balcony of our second story apartment. Then she pulled the red velvet drapes shut, something she usually did only at nightfall. My stomach felt as if it was squeezing itself. Mutti’s words, the fear in her voice – Papi so quiet and sad, looking into the distance – what was going on?
My brother Helmut was usually a highly active and mischievous boy, but now he seemed to play in a more subdued way. His classmate and our neighbor, Lito, had fashioned a wooden freight train of flat cars for me. Each one was painted a different color, with my nickname, Nuni, on it. We three played listlessly all day, running it around the family section of the apartment.
After that many things seemed to change. My brother was afraid of school and cried a lot, even though he was already eight. My parents worked less and less. Acquaintances and neighbors of my parents stood in the hallway and spoke in whispers using words like “affidavit”, “S.S.”, and “arrested”. After my nursery school shut down, nothing was the way it used to be any more. (Copyright © 2013 by Eva W. Maiden)