When grandmother died in 1923, there ensued a battle over her estate, a prolonged legal battle waged between expensive lawyers who, having control, began to sell off parts of the estate to cover their own exorbitant fees. My uncle, Ludwig Jauner, who was on my mother’s side, had a friend. This friend suggested that my mother sell the valuable pearl necklace that my grandmother had left her in the interest of salvaging what remained of the estate. My mother agreed, so he took the precious pearls with him to Amsterdam and sold them, but before he boarded a steamer to South America, he sent my uncle a postcard with just one short message:
Dear Mr. Jauner,
I am sorry, but pearls just bring tears.
Your friend, XYZ
My mother had another idea. Just before the lawyers tried to sell my grandmother’s apartment house in Vienna, at Strohgasse 10, she decided she would move there to live and give birth to me. During the journey she contracted puerperal fever and it nearly killed her, however, she recovered under the tireless care of an old friend. They shared a bedroom at the Sacré Cœur nunnery in Baden near Vienna until my mother was well and had borne her child. That lady, whom I called Aunt Liesl, also took care of me and later let me stay at her apartment, rent-free, during my years of study from 1946 to 1949.
When my father sold his share in a business in Salzburg early in the 1930s in order to join his old comrades from the First World War, the family moved to Munich, then to another city in Germany before settling in Berlin. I first attended a boarding school in Bavaria, then went to a high school in Berlin, which, when the Second World War began to rage, transferred its student classes to safer places. I was billeted, along with my classmates, in Leitmeritz, Czechoslovakia, but I applied for military service in the Luftwaffe. However, I had to forego a three-month stint with the Nazi Arbeitsdienst to help build a stretch of highway in the province of Silesia instead. In the meantime, my mother relocated the household, including her two concert pianos, to a villa in Mödling, a suburb of Vienna, to escape the bombing raids.
My oldest brother, Benvenuto d’Albert, instead of following the orders of the Swiss government to relocate back to Switzerland and perform his military service there, joined the German Mountaineers troop with his friends. He went to war in Russia and later fought against the partisans in Yugoslavia. On one of his leaves he came to Vienna to stay in our mother’s villa. One night, there was an air raid, and rather than seek refuge with the family in a bomb shelter, he stayed at the house. He had not witnessed the onset of these city bombings, having been on the front lines. Curious, he went out onto the terrace to watch the bomber formations in the sky, but when he heard the tell-tale whistling of the bombs falling, he dove back into the living room and crouched between the two pianos. This decision saved his life. A bomb exploded on the roof and the second floor of the villa collapsed, burying my brother under the debris. The pianos saved his life, but only just, as a bolder from the chimney had lodged itself against his neck and shoulder. He was paralysed for several hours in the hospital and later said that he was probably safer at the front than in the city, although by the end of the war he had been wounded nine times and had earned the golden hand-to-hand combat order, a decoration which was awarded only three hundred times during the course of the whole war.
After that bombing raid, my mother could no longer bear to stay in Vienna. When I completed my service in the Arbeitsdienst, I went back to stay with her for a week, to help pack whatever belongings could be salvaged, then to drive the delivery truck to Salzburg where my sister Wilfriede was living with her two girls. My mother’s things were stored in a farmer’s barn.
I then received my orders to join the Luftwaffe and to report at a camp near Munich on August 23rd, 1943… However, that is another story, to be related some other time, as it does not pertain to my reminiscences of Vienna during my recent trip.
To be cont.