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On the 85th anniversary of the 'Anschluss'

Shortly after Elly Miller’s 10th birthday in March 1938, the ‘Anschluss’, the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany, took place. The Anschluss and its consequences radically changed the lives of the 192,000 Jews in Austria. For many refugee interviewees, the experience of the ‘Anschluss’ was recalled as a very traumatic memory. It marked the end of their happy childhoods in Vienna. In my interview in 2001, Elly Miller describes in great detail how her father, Béla Horovitz, founder of the renowned publishing house Phaidon Press, had prepared for the eventuality of the German annexation. She remembers the days between 11 and 15 March, when she left Vienna with her brother Joseph on a train to Italy, pretending to go on a hiking trip, yet aware that they were leaving Austria to join their parents in Belgium. From there the family emigrated to the UK. Above is the recording of her interview and you can read the excerpt from her interview below.

Anschluss Memories – In conversation with Elly Miller, September 2001

Elly Miller:

I think my father was constantly aware that there would be some kind of takeover by Germany of Austria at that time. I think, from that time on, he actually made plans that he would eventually have to move. He made contact soon after that with English and American publishers so that his work could go on and he would have the contacts to be able to move. English editions of Phaidon books began to appear from 1936 onwards, also in French and Dutch, actually. This is why, in fact, he was in London at the time of the Anschluss in 1938, by which time he was really planning to move. He had, early on, from about ‘36, ‘37, contact in England with a very prestigious publishing firm, that was Allen & Unwin, and befriended Sir Stanley Unwin, who was very much aware of what was going on in Germany. He had trained as a publisher in Leipzig, had actually worked in Leipzig and knew the whole publishing scene.

So, my father had made arrangements that, in the event of an invasion of Austria, Phaidon Press, the publishing house, would be seen to be the property of an English publishing house, which was Allen & Unwin. There were documents to that effect which were then used at the time of the Anschluss so that, in fact, my father got his entire working press out of Vienna to London. It was very cleverly arranged, perfectly legal as far as the documents were concerned, but obviously it was a prophetic vision of what was about to happen.

Dr Bea Lewkowicz:

How do you remember the Anschluss?

Elly Miller:

It was very vivid because my school was in the Johannesgasse and the RAVAG [Radio-Verkehr-AG], the Austrian state radio station, was next door. We came out of school, I think it was on Thursday already, and there were soldiers outside the radio station. So, we came out of school, and we saw these chaps standing there with a gun, which was quite frightening. I had just had my birthday the week before, just ten, it was quite frightening. I used to go home alone, and it was really rather scary to walk home, it was about a ten-minute, fifteen-minute walk. On the Friday, there was army all over the radio station, and we went home very early from school, we were told to go home. I think, in the evening, because my parents weren’t there, my brother and I went to our grandparents who were on the same floor. My grandfather wasn’t there either, I don’t think, so just my grandmother, and we listened to the Schuschnigg broadcast. I remember the Schuschnigg broadcast, abdicating actually. I’ve never forgotten the breaking voice of Schuschnigg. I really do remember that; the voices faded almost, it was a terrible thing. I wasn’t sure what it was all about, but it was explained to me that it was an abdication, so I realised what was happening. In the meantime, my father had, in fact, sent telegrams to ask us to leave immediately from London – my grandparents had these telegrams. We had a nanny who was looking after us and my baby sister in the flat. She was, it turned out, a member of the Nazi Party, but a very conscientious, loyal nurse. She did everything that was right but admitted to being a Nazi. She said, ‘Oh, marvellous,’ I remember her saying, ‘Wonderful what’s been happening.’

The Saturday, I think, there were telegrams coming from my father. I don’t remember that Saturday, but I do remember on Sunday Hitler came into Vienna. We had a view from our window onto the parade, and the nurse put out her swastika flag out of our apartment windows. We looked out of a part of the window, and there were groups of schools going, and there was a group from my school, my class, who were actually marching along with this group. It was really quite a strange sight, it was very difficult for a child to gauge what was actually happening. My brother was older, but I’ve never talked to him really to see how aware he was at the time. I’m not sure what he felt; I have never talked to him about it. That’s strange, actually. But I was really quite aware of what was going on, we didn’t know what was happening.

In the meantime, we discovered on Saturday there was no school, although usually one went to school on Saturday morning. We were then told that there would be a school holiday for the rest of the week because of Hitler, and we wouldn’t have to go to school for the next week. So, my father’s mother and my father’s sister, who had a small child, were the ones who took my brother and me out, I think it was on the Wednesday. They wanted to go to Hungary, which is where my grandmother had come from, my father’s mother, but the borders were closed, we understood. So, we decided to go to Merano in Italy, over the southern border. We went in the evening, and the nurse packed us a small suit-case. We told her we were just going away for a few days for the school holidays, so she packed a tiny suitcase, gave me white socks and a velvet dress that she thought I would wear with my grandmother on a few nice days. She packed just what we had on and two pairs of socks and two pairs of pants and this velvet dress, which actually saw me through for weeks afterwards, it had a white lace collar.

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