Behind the Lens | 04. May 2022

Tutte le direzioni

by Sabine Apostolo
© David Bohmann
If you are currently visiting the exhibition "Without a Home. Kindertransports from Vienna" in Museum Judenplatz, you can see an almost life-size group photo of Vienna Kindertransport children and their descendants in one of the rooms. Taken at the opening of the exhibition last November, the picture shows the positive impact of the Kindertransport story: The survival of many who later started families and who, after decades of silence, wanted or were able to talk about their experiences.
The extended focus of the exhibition is also contained in this photo: You not only see faces that are linked to the reception of the children in Great Britain, but also those that tell about other countries. Gertraud Fletzberger, for instance, ended up in Sweden with her two siblings. Although she had already been raised as a Protestant, she had to flee from the National Socialists. Not to be underestimated, the cultural difference between Austria and Sweden in those years made it very difficult for her to adjust to this new world.
The photo also shows the two daughters of Paul Peter Porges (PPP), Vivette Porges and Claudia Beyer Porges. Her father came to France with a Kindertransport, where he was placed in the Children’s Republic at La Guette. Barely a year later, he and the other children housed there had to flee again: the German Wehrmacht had invaded France. PPP also managed this escape; after the war he emigrated to the USA, where he became a successful cartoonist and an enthusiastic father.
In the back row you can see the grandchildren of Herta Griffel, who was one of the few children transported directly to the USA. This was in November 1940, at a time when the intra-European Kindertransports had already ceased due to the outbreak of the Second World War. She was thus one of the last children to leave Vienna on a Kindertransport. Thanks to the support of the Jewish Welcome Service, her grandchildren were in their grandmother’s hometown for the first time when the exhibition opened. All others pictured are Kindertransport children and their descendants who came to Britain, the country that had by far taken in the most children.

Starting on May 25th there will be another exhibition at Museum Judenplatz which tells a different story: that of Arabia Espresso on Kohlmarkt, the Arabia Kaffee-Tee-Import company and the life of its founder, Alfred Weiss. The story of such a rescue will again be told on the same wall on which the group photo of the Kindertransport is currently attached. The Weiss family had fled to Brussels via Yugoslavia, from where they wanted to get to the USA. But when it became clear that this would not work, Alfred and Lucie Weiss sent their two daughters to Great Britain. There was a seven-year age difference between the girls, which meant they experienced very different things. Franziska was soon able to live independently at the age of fifteen, while Eva grew up with a Protestant priest.
© Privately owned
© Privately owned

Their parents, who survived in Rome after being interned in France, did not see them again until 1946. Franziska was already married and had a son. Eva had forgotten her mother tongue during this time, so her parents had to speak English to her. The family remigrated to Vienna after the war: Lucie, Alfred and Eva in 1947, Franziska in the early 1950s with her son. Alfred Weiss fought to get back his Aryanized company “Arabia Kaffee-Tee-Import” and made it an important brand of the Second Republic. Franziska Weiss’ son, who was born in England, is also part of the group picture in the exhibition Without a Home. His name is Andrew Demmer, known today as the founder of the Viennese tea house chain. He had completed his apprenticeship with his grandfather in the Arabia company. The history of the enterprise and the family behind it can be seen in the upcoming exhibition Espresso at last!

The story of the Kindertransport is frequently encountered in twentieth-century Jewish history. The children and their descendants now live all over the world. “Tutte le direzioni” is an Italian direction signpost that Alfred and Lucie Weiss probably saw during their time in Rome – far away from their daughters. It means that this way is the right one, no matter where you have to go. Most of the children survived thanks to the Kindertransport, but no matter which country they were sent to or how they experienced the Kindertransport, they had to sacrifice growing up in their homeland in order to stay alive.