By: George Erdstein, Holocaust Survivor –
A Matter of Luck
My parents, Berthold and Ida Erdstein, were both born in Vienna. Drafted into the Austrian Army at the age of seventeen, my father survived the First World War, returning to an accounting position in Vienna held for him during the war. He met my mother in the mid-twenties and they married in 1931, looking forward to a long and happy life together. Everything changed on March 12, 1938, when Adolf Hitler, the Chancellor of Germany, marched into and annexed Austria. It was the Anschluss. That night, the Chancellor of Austria, Kurt von Schuschnigg, got on the radio and declared, “All is lost. God help us!” Hundreds of Viennese Jews committed suicide. My mother, pregnant with me at the time, wanted to join them. My father, always the optimist, convinced her to hang on, saying they could do that anytime. And they did hang on, while each week saw random Jews being arrested on all kinds of absurd charges.
On June 1st of that year my father turned thirty-nine. My parents were invited by friends in Hitzing, a lovely suburb of Vienna, to celebrate his birthday. The day was glorious, defying the tense atmosphere of the time. My father had always loved the outdoors, being an avid skier, hiker and tennis player. Seeing the beautiful surroundings, he asked if he could take a brief excursion in the area before they sat down for coffee and cake. After all, it was his birthday. My mother, quite pregnant by then, chose to stay back with their friends. He promised to return at a specific time. While he was gone, two SS officers came knocking on the door, looking for the men. Seeing my mother’s condition, they asked for the whereabouts of her husband. She simply said he wasn’t there. Assuming he would return, they decided to wait, keeping a close eye on the other couple.
The designated time for my father’s return arrived, yet my father was not back. He had decided to walk one more hill. After all, it was his birthday. Meanwhile, back at the house, the Nazi officers got impatient and chose not to wait any longer, taking my parent’s male friend with them. At the very moment they left through the front door, my father returned through the back door, not knowing what had transpired. To his bewilderment, the two women looked at him as if he were a ghost.
It was a lucky day for my father. Not so for their friend, who they later heard had been taken to Buchenwald, never to be seen again.
Learn more about George’s story by clicking here.