By Hannah Lengyel
They had been a happy family, a very happy family, until the beginning of 1943. He
was a doctor and she had been a social worker before she was married. They had met at
the hospital where he was working. She was waiting for her best friend who was also an
intern and was engaged to his best friend. After two years, they were married. They had
a beautiful honeymoon and returned to Vienna where they both resumed their jobs. After
a year, they had a baby girl and Mary left her job as a social worker to take care of little
Inge. They lived together like that for six years, getting slowly prosperous. They moved in
a fixed social circle consisting of doctors and a few researchers and musicians. Little Inge
went to school. Living like that, they hardly realized that they were Jewish and would
someday be deprived of all their happiness by the fanaticism of the Nazis.
Nineteen thirty four was the beginning of militant anti-Semitism in Austria. That
summer Dolfus, the unpopular dictator, was assassinated by the Nazis. That was probably
one of the very few good things they ever did. Even though his successor was more or less
liberal, the majority of the government officials were slightly unsympathetic toward
democracy and all it stands for.
That change of government policy first brought unrest into the Koch family. Mary’s
brother was trying to get into the university of Vienna but found it already difficult to
get accepted because of his religion. After he found no jobs, he looked for years until he
found one; then it didn’t do him much good because he had to leave the country.
Peter, Mary’s husband, didn’t have much trouble because he was only half Jewish.
But neighbors would often lift an eyebrow when they saw his pretty Jewish wife. That
caused a lot of hard feelings between them, and their interests drifted farther and farther
apart. In the fall of 1934, they were divorced.
When Mary and little Inge went to live with Mary’s parents, all of Peter’s and Mary’s
friends began to take sides. Some began to realize that something had to be done about
race persecution, and others decided that Mary’s friends were wrong to think that others’
religion and race should be respected.
This, realizing on which side of the fence they were, brought unhappiness to all
people all over Austria. Different people began to join different sides, and the whole country
seemed like an emotional boiling pot that was ready to boil over any minute.
Mary started to work as a social worker again. Inge went to school, but she wasn’t
as happy as she should have been. Many times even her best friends made remarks on how
they didn’t like Jews, which made her very unhappy. As the years passed, this grew worse
and Inge came home crying much more frequently. In 1938, when Hitler, after carefully
prepared sabotage, marched into Austria, all the pent-up aggressions of the anti-Semitic
Austria were turned loose. They started beating up Jews on the streets. Inge’s mother had
to scrub sidewalks while crowds of snarling, vicious people stood around and laughed at her.
Inge was just terrified when she saw how the Nazis tortured Mary. She was also worried
about her father. She hadn’t heard from him for weeks. Every time she asked her mother
what might have happened to him, Mary quickly changed the subject. After a few months,
Mary told Inge that he was in a concentration camp….
Food began to get scarce and Mary didn’t know what to do. The Nazis kept coming to
their house and taking pieces of jewelry and other valuables. They had been trying to get to
America for a long time, and after half a year, they got the visas. By that time they hadn’t
much money left, but they were so happy to get out of Hitler’s grip that they left Austria with
only their train and boat tickets to America, thankful and happy to breathe free air again
and with the constant hope that they would someday return to a free Austria.