I remember my Granny and Grandad very well; as a child they both left an indelible mark in my life. My Grandad was such a kind a generous man, but very troubled due to his family history, and my Granny was a formidable force of nature, such a character who I loved dearly.
Despite my Grandad dying in the early 70’s and my Granny in the early 80’s, I remember them talking about their time in Vienna; we even visited Vienna with them when I was about 5. After Granny died, I read her diaries and the story of how she, Uncle Peter and Uncle Antony escaped from Vienna via Switzerland and my Grandad via Czechoslovakia, which was amazing considering the danger they were in and that they were effectively abandoned by the British Government.
Never would I have thought some 40 years later that their story would be part of an amazing book about a man called Thomas Kendrick and his team of diplomats & secretaries who saved them, along with over 10,000 other Austrian Jewish people despite being instructed by the British Government not to intervene or help any Austrian Jews.
“Spymaster” by Helen Fry is an amazing read, and her thorough research and storytelling are enthralling. When reading the book, I came across my Grandparents and their relationship with Thomas Kendrick and how on the day of Anschluss he provided my Grandparents with fake identities and passports and told them to leave Vienna immediately. Suddenly Granny’s diary came alive and the backstory of her and Grandad’s time in Vienna and why and how they left became real. It suddenly dawned on me that without Kendrick and his team doing the right thing, my Grandparents, Mother, Uncles, Cousins, my children, grandchildren etc would not be here. We owe our lives to Thomas Kendrick and his team as do so many others.
So, 80 years since my Grandparents were forced out of Vienna and 40 years since my Granny’s death, it was such an honour to be invited, along with my Mother, brother and cousins by the Austrian Jewish Society and the British Embassy to two ceremonies in Vienna to recognise Thomas Kendrick and the amazing people at the embassy who risked their lives to save so many.
The Eisinger, Apel and Bulpett clan came from across the globe and descended upon Vienna to attend these two momentous events. It was the first time we had got together as an extended family for a few years.
We took the time to walk around Vienna and visit so many of the places that our Grandparents would have been so familiar with. The ambience and architecture of Vienna is so beautiful, and they have retained so much from the past that you could easily imagine our Grandparents walking through the same streets.
The Austrian government has recognised their part in the Nazi regime and involvement in the persecution and elimination of Austrian Jews, and they have built an amazing memorial to the 65,000 Austrian Jews that died as a result of the Nazi regime. The monument is a wall containing the names of the people murdered, and it is so sobering and upsetting when you read the names of the families, some of whom have been totally wiped out, and our family name Eisinger and Fleishman (My Grandfather’s Mother’s maiden name) are on the wall. When I saw the name of my Grandad’s brother it brought the horrors of the holocaust so close to home. We must never forget what happened or allow it to happen again.
It was such a delight to attend an evening at the Austrian Jewish Society, where Helen Fry gave a moving and detailed insight into Thomas Kendrick and her work in compiling the book. Since publishing the book, she has become close friends with my mother. The event was packed with so many people whose families were helped by Kendrick and also the relatives of those people who helped Kendrick in preparing the false papers. After the talk we had the opportunity to meet and share our families’ stories and listen to each other and wonder at the bravery of a few people who saved so many others.
After the event as a family, we had a rather surreal dinner at a Georgian restaurant recommended by Nick, one of the cousins, who will forget the Georgian singer?…..we then all went onto a Champagne bar to celebrate our family.
The main event of the trip was the invitation to the British Embassy to attend the unveiling of a blue plaque to the British diplomats who helped so many people escape. The first part was outside the embassy, opposite the church that also helped baptise and falsify religious papers. The dignitaries that attended to recognise the British diplomats was quite amazing : The British Ambassador, Lord Pickles, President of the Austian Parliament, Chief Rabbi of Austria, Ambassadors from Israel, Poland, Hungary and Ukraine, along with so many of the families like ours and people who wanted to recognise these amazing people.
After the ceremony outside we were invited into the British Ambassador ‘s private residence for something to eat and drink. We had the opportunity to meet and talk with so many of the people in attendance and it was such a delight to spend time talking with the Chief Rabbi. At the end of the event, we were so lucky to have a private audience with the Ambassador, her team and Helen Fry, and we even met Dave, the Ambassador’s Dachshund who was such a character.
Throughout our time in Vienna my Mother’s energy and enthusiasm was amazing, she walked everywhere and wanted to take in the whole experience. We even managed to visit the Austrian archives and request all of our Granddad’s war records and history which, at the time of writing this, is being sent to us.
There are so many lasting memories of the trip: The evening with Helen Fry, the event at the British Embassy, the dinner with the family, the amazing meal at the local restaurant on the first night, but for me, the lasting memory will be the time with my Mother, my brother Justin, my cousins Dominic, Natasha, Olivia and Nick and that we could celebrate our time in Vienna, a place so special in our family’s history.
I am so pleased that I can call myself an Austrian citizen and Vienna feels so special.