In March 1938, Germany occupied Austria in an event known as the Anschluss (‘union’) after the Austrian government had called a plebiscite (referendum) on whether Austria should stay an independent country. The occupation was followed by immediate attacks on Austrian Jews, especially, as shown in the photograph, in Vienna. Many ordinary Austrians actively participated in these attacks. Freddie Knoller was a Jewish teenager at the time.
We decided to stock up on food, not knowing what the next few days would bring. I went with Mother to the shops. I think she wanted me, the youngest, at her side. On the staircase we encountered Herr Hagmann, now wearing a Nazi armband. This decent man greeted us with a guilty expression and a sheepish “Good morning”…
Out in the streets my mother and I saw swastika flags hanging from the windows of almost every home. Brown-shirted Nazis of the Sturmabteilung, or SA, roamed the streets. We saw them stopping conspicuously Jewish-looking men and forcing them to clean away the plebiscite slogans. Further along the street was a sight that chilled our blood. SA men continuously kicked an old bearded Jew in the backside as he tried to scrape a slogan from the pavement. All around gentile Austrians, some of them women with infants, laughed uproariously.
Severely shaken, we returned home as quickly as possible.
Freddie later fled to Belgium and then France, from where he was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Freddie survived the camp, but his parents, who were transported to Auschwitz from Vienna, did not.
Photo: Hitler Youth forcing Jews to scrub a street, Vienna, March 1938; Yad Vashem
Testimony: Freddie Knoller, Living with the Enemy: My Secret Life on the Run from the Nazis (Metro Publishing, 2005)