From the Centropa Biographies

Kitty Suschny

Country: Austria
City: Vienna
Date of Interview: August 2002
Name of Interviewer: Tanja Eckstein

My parents were married on 9 September 1919. I don’t know where they were married, but we lived in Vienna in the 2nd district at Gaussplatz number 3. The other buildings on Gausspaltz were in the 20th district; number 3 was part of the 2nd district. There were many Jewish families in our building.

My father was a general practitioner, gynaecologist, and paediatrician all at once. Such a thing doesn’t exist today. He did his studies in Vienna and must have completed them around the turn of the century.  He finished his doctorate in 1901 and worked in a hospital at first. By the time I was born he already had his own practice. My mother worked in his office, helping with organization. There were also two nurses, Rosa and Anna. One cleaned and the other looked after us children. My mother didn’t take up with the cooking.

My brother Harry was born in 1920. He was a bit vertically challenged and seemed to suffer terribly because of it. He was certainly well skilled, but he was always a bit jealous of me and would hit me. When I was born and they told him that he had a sister, he said that he didn’t want her, that he wanted to throw her out the window. He would hit me when no one was looking. We were called Harry and Kitty, as though my mother had already known that we would need to emigrate to England someday.

My parents weren’t very religious, but stayed home for the high holy days Rosh Hashanah [Jewish New Year] and Yom Kippur [Jewish day of reconciliation; most important Jewish holiday]. We wouldn’t go to school on those days. That’s how that children at school knew who was Jewish.

I went to the primary school on Treustrasse [20th district]. My primary school teacher was called Maria Streit. She had blonde hair and was quite pretty. But she was most notably an anti-Semite, which she let the children sense. I wasn’t six years old yet when I entered school. I lagged behind during the whole eight years I was in school; I always had difficulties.

My father died in September 1931. He was just 55 years old when he died. My mother was 37 at the time. He died of coronary thrombosis. On the death certificate is says that he died from a blockage in the heart blood vessels, at that time it was called a heart attack. My father wasn’t doing so well that evening. I had opened a window so that he could get some fresh air. He had already been having heart trouble for some months, something that he had kept hidden from my mother. My father smoked Virginia cigars and had already told the lady in the tobacco shop about his heart troubles. She wasn’t to say anything to my mother. About twenty years ago my brother also died of a heart attack at 62. He never suffered, he just had heartburn and then in the evening he was dead.

My father’s death was awful for my mother. My brother was just short of eleven years old and I wasn’t yet seven. My father made good money for those days – 400 Shillings a month, which was a fortune. But they didn’t save anything from the 400 Shillings.

At the beginning of 1938 my mother was in Switzerland by chance, where we had a friend. He was a businessman called Robert Hartmann and my mother met with him there. He told my mother that the Germans were heavily deployed on the border, and he said that they weren’t going to come to Switzerland, but rather to Austria. My mother said that he must be crazy. She believed it wasn’t true. My father was a Social Democrat, but he was already dead – maybe he would have taken the situation more seriously.

As the Germans invaded in March 1938, everything was covered in Nazi flags. They had already been hanging the day before. One can’t say that all Austrians were Nazis. I say that only in rage, since there really were a lot. There was a lot of unemployment at that time, and great poverty because of it.

The schools were closed for a week after Hitler’s invasion: they were celebrating the Führer. Everyone was at the deployments; we stayed at home of course. My mother said that it was better not to go to frequently out on the street.

After a week without lessons we were sitting in the school and looking to see which teachers were returning. The form teacher, Mrs Emma Schwiepel, didn’t come back since she was half-Jewish. The headmistress was replaced; she had worn the Kruckenkreuz [symbol of the Austrian fascist party of the 1930s]. A new headmaster arrived. I took him to be Roma or Sinti because he had black hair and a dark complexion.

There was a girl there whose father was a policeman. After the invasion he immediately became the head sergeant in a prison. She said that she didn’t want to sit next to the Jews any longer. She made the suggestion that the Jews should sit to one side and the catholic, Aryan girls should sit to the other. The teacher put us Jewish children in the window column, where it was nice and light. The last six weeks before summer holidays in 1938 we had to go to the ‘Jewish School’ on Grossen Sperlgasse.

At the end of June 1938 my brother, who was 18, fled illegally to Switzerland. He wasn’t alone. A man with the SS helped him and said: ‘Run now,’ as soon as it was safe. His flight was successful. Later it became really difficult to get to Switzerland. Grüninger helped then [Note: Grüninger, Paul (1891-1972): Swiss police chief who helped hundreds of Jews travel illegally to Switzerland before the war]. When my brother was in Switzerland my mother said to me: ‘you also need to get out of here, it doesn’t matter how.’ My mother believed that no one would do anything to her, because my father hadn’t done anything to anyone, was well liked, and besides, had been an officer in the First World War. That was, of course, a deadly mistake.

At first my best friend Ilse and I wanted to go to Palestine. We went to the Palestine Bureau on Marc Aurel Strasse [1st district], on the corner of Vorlaufstasse, where we submitted everything. Unfortunately it cost money and my mother didn’t have much anymore. The pension was becoming smaller and smaller. I also didn’t have any money. My mother whined because it cost so much money. The people at the Palestine Bureau said: outside of Tel Aviv there was a small agricultural school that one could apply to. My friend and I then went through Beserlpark to the waterfront. There Mrs Maurer and Heinzi came to us and said: ‘Go immediately back to the Jewish Community Centre, there is a Kindertransport to England there.’ That was after the 10th of November, 1938 [Kristallnacht]. I responded: ‘I don’t have any papers with me.’ But Mrs Maurer had already been to my mother’s and had my papers. My mother didn’t come because she had very poor eyesight – she had glaucoma. It couldn’t be operated on in those days. Mrs Maurer went with us to the Community Centre and signed us up for the transport to England. We needed to have a physical examination. They tried to sort people out.

We were 1,000 children; it was already the second Kindertransport to England. My mother said: ‘don’t go to England, go to Holland. Then you can come back on foot. Take a little wagon, a farmer will drive you for a bit or you walk home. You won’t be able to get back over water.’

No one was allowed to give anything to the children, so that the transport, heaven forbid, wasn’t put in danger. It was strictly forbidden. But Ilse had jewellery and some money. She had hidden it, and I only found out about it in England. Back then one received two pennies for a Mark. The Mark was worth nothing. My mother would have been able to follow, but by then it was unfortunately already two weeks too late. In the last weeks before the war the English were not allowing any more people in. She would have been able to work with a German cook for an English family in Liverpool. The English family already had contact with the Home Office, but it was already 1939, shortly before the start of the Second World War. It was too late!

At first we lived on the coast in Dovercourt in a summer camp, with bunk beds on each side. They put us there in winter. It was a cold winter. It was the first time it had snowed in 20 years.

Everyday people arrived who wanted to take children. They wanted to adopt little blond boys up to two years old. Most of the small children had older siblings, but they didn’t want to take them. But some also took along an older child.

One day Mrs Jacobs from Manchester came seeking ten girls from age 14. I said to Ilse: ‘Come, let’s go to the dog selection, maybe she’ll take us.’ At that time I already found it shocking. They all wanted smaller children or else youths already capable of work. But at 14 one isn’t yet fit for work. She wanted us as maids, but one is too young for this work at 14.

Mrs Jacobs brought us to Manchester. We were taken to a pub. Then people came and had a look at us. We had numbers, upon which our names, ages, and other information about us stood. A Mrs Burns from Southport, a doctor’s wife, suggested that she was taking me because my father was a doctor. I felt quite honoured! My friend Ilse went with Mrs Kaplan, who herself had four children. She was very nice. Unfortunately Mrs Burns didn’t have any children. She couldn’t have any and became so jealous of me that I had to go to another family. Then I was with Mrs Royce, a large, energetic woman who also had no children, but was very nice. Her husband was a furniture dealer. Then the Jewish Committee set up a house for us in Southport. We were nine girls in the house; one girl got adopted. Other girls from Germany also arrived.

We met the old Mrs Marks from ‘Marks & Spencer.’ In 1939 she was already 90 years old. She was very lovely, looked like an old Queen Mary, spoke English and a little bit of Yiddish. I said that I couldn’t speak Yiddish and that my English also wasn’t good. To that she asked me, astounded: ‘Did you not speak Yiddish at home?’ She looked after us. We were invited to her place to eat. Mrs Marks was there for the founding of the Committee. Marks & Spencer spent a lot of money on us: linens and quilts, pillows and clothes. Mrs Marks always made sure that we got new things. When something wasn’t good enough, it was exchanged.

At the home we received a Shilling for pocket money, with which we were supposed to pay for toiletries: toothpaste, toothbrush and soap – all from the single Shilling. We were four in a room and often bought a piece of soap together. We also got jobs, but were paid very poorly because, as refugees, we were not officially allowed to work. They only gave us an eighth of a Pound. That was very little.

We were in the Southport home until March 1940. Then we relocated to Manchester.

I saw my brother again in 1940. I didn’t miss him since he had fled to Switzerland. The first thing I said as I saw him again was: ‘If you hit me once more, then you needn’t ever visit me again.’ Thereupon he looked at me very strangely; he was already 18 after all. He had worked for a farmer, and after the war studied agriculture at the university in Vienna and became an agricultural engineer.

Every month for as long as I could I wrote my mother two to three letters. At first the letters went through Switzerland, and then through America until America entered the war, and from 1942 through the Red Cross. One could only write 20 words in every letter. One day a letter returned: undeliverable.

In her letters my mother begged my brother and me to make sure that she got out, otherwise she would be sent to where Josef and Walter Fischkus – they were relatives – were sent. They were deported to Nisko in Poland.

When my brother and I were still in Vienna, we had to give up an apartment in our house. Then we lived with our mother in the larger apartment. My mother had to move out of this apartment. At the end she was in the 1st district, in Lazenhof. There were four women in a room. That was her last address: Lazenhofe 2/Door 13. The Jewish Community owned these buildings. Jews were relocated there and then from there they were deported. On 22 May 1942 my mother was deported to Minsk [Malwine Pistol was deported to Maly Trostinec near Minsk on 20.5.1943 and murdered on 26.5.1942. Source: DÖW- Database].

In Manchester we lived in a Bed and Breakfast that had been rented to the Jewish Committee. The owner was Mr Ackermann, also a Jew. It was a two-storey house. Below there was an air-raid shelter with bunk beds. My friend Ilse and I signed up as air raid wardens. We had helmets and dark-blue uniforms with gold buttons. If sirens went off, we walked to the base. The Germans began bombing Manchester during Christmas on 1940 – the harbours, the churches, even the horseracing tracks in the area, where the dog races also took place. Bombs also landed on our street. There had been an open space where the children always played football. The next day there was suddenly a great hole. There were missiles that skidded along the length of the street and destroyed all the houses. People went under the stairs in their homes, since there weren’t so many air-raid shelters. Many survived there. Then the German planes stopped coming to Manchester; it was too far for them.

The collapse of France was in June 1940. That’s when the English began detaining people. They said that Austrians were also German, since after Hitler’s invasion there was no more Austria. But the majority didn’t even know that. There were also gentiles who had fled for political reasons. They were also interned. I was just 15 years old; at 16 they also detained women. My brother was interned for nine months. First in an old factory in Manchester, then he was taken to the Isle of Man. Refugees were also sent to Australia and Canada where they were interned. They wanted to get rid of them; they just weren’t needed. After nine months my brother was released from internment. Then he worked in the country and could register for the English military.

In Manchester I had begun working in an export office that exported textiles to Africa, and then I had a position in the office of a steel factory. My friend Ilse moved in with an English family and worked as an elevator girl at Henry Brothers, a small department store. After the war her parents got in touch with her. The Maurer family survived the war.

In October 1946 I went back to Austria. My brother arrived in December. I went immediately to Vienna.

I lived then with a friend of my mother’s and worked in Vienna for some time in an office for the English. Later I received a room on Maria-Theresien-Strasse in the 1st district from the Jewish Community, right behind the Community Centre. I lived there for a couple of months. I also lived there with my future husband, Otto Suschny.  

In 1984 there was a meeting in Southport for emigrants. There I spoke with Mrs Livingston, who had worked for the Jewish Committee, about my mother. I said to her that she was killed on account of a measly 50 Pounds, a price I could have later paid back ten times over. Mrs Livingston felt personally attacked, but that’s not what I had meant.

We have now been back in Vienna for over 50 years.