Kurt Brodmann tells the story of his family: how his father Leopold, an actor, fell in love with Franzi Goldstaub, who was sitting in the audience. Franzi came from an orthodox family and her parents would not let her marry an actor.
Because he was so much in love, Leopold gave up his acting career and went into business.
Leopold and Franzi raised two sons. During the war, one son, Harry, fled to England; Kurt emigrated to Palestine, while their parents found refuge in Shanghai. There, Franzi opened a cafe and Leopold became an actor once again. After the war, the family was reunited in Vienna.
Kurt says that his parents grew up in the days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Empire covered much of Central Europe, including today's Hungary, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Transylvania (now in Romania), and parts of Italy, former Yugoslavia and Poland. See historic maps of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
The defining character during the history of the Austro-Hungarian Empire was Francis Joseph I. (German: Franz Josef I) (1830-1916), Habsburg Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary (1848-1916), he reigned for almost 70 years over Austria and Hungary.
Following defeat in the 1866 Austro-Prussian War, Franz Joseph signed the Austro-Hungarian Compromise, creating the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary. Frustrated in his hope to unify the German States, Franz Josef turned his attention to the Balkans.
After occupying Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1878, Austria-Hungary signed treaties of alliance with Germany (1879) and Italy (1882) in order to counter Russia's growing influence in the region. Austria-Hungary eventually annexed Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1908.
Kurt’s father was an actor at the theater in Bad Hall, a small town in Upper Austria. For a brief description and recent photos of the town, take a look at this travel piece.
On June 28, 1914, the heir to the Austrian-Hungarian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo, prompting Austria-Hungary to declare war on Serbia. This action mobilized alliances across Europe and triggered World War One, in which Kurt’s father fought.
World War I is also referred to as The Great War because it was literally greater than any waged before: over 59 million troops were mobilized, over 8 million died and over 29 million were injured. To find out more, this very informative essay about WWI, provided by the University of Illinois, and check out this detailed BBC WWI timeline.
Look at WWI propaganda posters from both sides, and learn what soldiers’ lives were like by reading memoirs and diaries written by combatants of the First World War. There is also a very well known book describing the front soldiers’ horrific physical and mental stress during WWI entitled “All Quiet on the Western Front”. It was written by a German War Veteran and was turned into a movie in 1930 and directed by Lewis Milestone.
Watch the Centropa film about Jewish soldiers in the Austro-Hungarian Army.
Kurt's mother came from Lemberg, or Lvov - a town that is now situation in western Ukraine. It was once part of a region called Galicia, which was ruled by Austria-Hungary from 1772 until its incorporation into interwar Poland in 1918. Today, the region is divided between Poland and the Ukraine. No country of the Austrian monarchy had such a varied ethnic mix as Galicia: Poles, Ukrainians, Jews, Germans, Armenians, Czechs, Slovaks, Hungarians, Roma, etc.
Under Habsburg rule, Lvov was one of the cultural centers of the monarchy. Today, visitors can still trace this legacy. Click here to see a collection of photographs, drawings, and maps of old Lvov and Galicia, read more about the history of the city and its rich Habsburg heritage, and look at this New York Times travel piece about the city of Lvov.
The ruins of Lvov’s Golden Rose Synagogue were designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1998, with Lvov’s historic center following in 2008. You can view the locations of Lvov’s former Jewish sites on this interactive map.
Jews comprised at least 10% of Galicia’s population, with many concentrated in Lvov. Most Jews in Galicia were Ashkenazim. Under Austro-Hungarian rule, Jews were allowed freedom of movement throughout the empire. The Jewish History in Galicia and Bukovina project records and shares photographs and historical documents about Jewish Galicia.
Kurt's mother Franzi was an Orthodox Jew. This link provides a brief explanation of Orthodox Judaism.
Vienna dates back to the Roman Empire, at which point it began to grow and develop into a European economic, political, and cultural capital.
The city is world-renowned as the center of the Jugendstil (Art Noveau) movement, a style that took off at the turn of the 20th century. The Jugendstil architect, Otto Wagner, designed a number of beautiful buildings that can still be seen today.
Before the Holocaust Vienna had a large Jewish population - in 1938 it numbered at 185,000. Read more about Vienna's Jewish history. The city's 2nd district, known as Leopoldstadt, has also historically been home to many of the city's Jewish residents. A number of Jewish sites of interest, such as "Judenplatz" and the Jewish Museum, are located today in this district.
Kurt’s family escaped Vienna just after Adolf Hitler, chancellor of Nazi Germany, annexed Austria in March 1938. This annexation is known as the Anschluss. The History TV narrates a short documentary about the Anschluss and its effects. You can also check out the US Holocaust Memorial Museum archives of the Annexation ("Anschluss") in Austria in March 1938, and find photos of Austria during the German occupation.
Kurt's brother left Vienna for England on a Kinderstransport (German for children transport). Around 10,000 children from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Poland were sent without their parents to England, where they were able to survive the war.
In 2008, a sculpture was erected in the main train station in Vienna commemorating the Jewish Viennese Children who were able to escape via the Kindertransport.
After Kristallnacht the British eased the immigration restrictions for certain Jewish refugees and agreed to allow an unspecified number of children to enter the country. However, after the outbreak of war 1 September 1939, the government no longer took any transports.
His brother lived in Birmingham, England. Read personal stories from people who lived in Birmingham during the war.
Birmingham was heavily bombed during the war in a raid known as the Birmingham Blitz. Click on this interactive map to see images of Birmigham sites that were destroyed. This bombing campaign, commanded by Hermann Goering as retaliation against the RAF, is known as the Battle of Britain.
Shanghai accepted thousands of Jewish refugees. There they were placed in the Tilanqiao area, in a section known as the "Designated Area for Stateless Refugees." Today you can find the former site of the Ohel Mosche synagogue as well as the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum.
Shanghai was under Japanese occupation from 1937 - following the Battle of Shanghai during the second Sino-Japanese War - until Japanese surrender in 1945. In 1941, Japanese authorities, conceeding to their German allies, moved Jewish refugees to what became known as the Shanghai ghetto.
Read more about the emigration of European Jews to Shanghai before and during WWII and find out how the Chinese General Consul in Vienna, Feng-Shan Ho, issued 2000 entrance visa to Shanghai to all who requested them and, in doing so, saved the lives of many European Jews. For this reason, he was awarded the title Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem in 2000.
Read another moving story of emigration to Shanghai: "From Vienna to Shanghai to Toronto".
Kurt Brodmann escaped to Palestine (today Israel) via ship. During this time Palestine was under British mandate. Although in Zionist ideology Palestine was considered a Jewish holy land, immigration was restricted.
The term "Aliyah" describes Jewish immigration to Israel.
The Jewish Virtual Library offers a number of articles concerning historical immigration to Israel. Hundreds of thousands of Jews arrived both legally and illegally in Palestine before the end of the Second World War.