Wednesday, May 13, 2009
The Wittgensteins at War by Alexander Waugh
Paul turned the matter over in his mind. He knew that if he returned to Austria, where he was forbidden from performing or teaching and where the guardianship of his children had been taken away from him, he would be arrested and imprisoned. There was no point in trying to reclaim the property and fortune he had left behind. Instead he must concentrate on that part which was held outside the Reich, in Switzerland. But, as he well knew, his share of the Wistag Fund could not be disbursed without the consent of all the trust's beneficiaries and directors. These included his sisters, his brother in England, various nephews and nieces (most importantly Ji Stonborough in the U.S.), his brother-in-law Max Salzer and the family's financial factotum Anton Groller. A further and graver problem was that officials in Berlin knew about the fund and were demanding it be paid into the Reichsbank.
It would take time to secure the agreement of all parties and Paul, meanwhile, needed to find some way of paying his hotel bills and providing for his mistress Hilde and the children in Italy.
With the connivance of Dr. Heinz Fischer, a Swiss concert promoter, a German string quartet was invited to play in Zurich, bringing Paul's precious instruments from Vienna- two violins, one by Stradivari, one by Guadagnini, a viola by Amati and a Rugieri cello. Nobody would notice, as they crossed the border at Haslach, that the instruments in their cases were not theirs. Nor would they spot when the musicians returned to the Reich with cheaper models under their arms than those with which they had left. Dr. Fischer's and the musician's payment for this risky undertaking is not known, nor is the fate of the two violins (perhaps the instruments were themselves the smuggler's reward) but in October 1938 Paul took the viola and cello to the Swiss violin-maker Stubinger, who valued them at 18,000 Swiss francs each. A quick sale brought him temporary financial relief.
With or without the money, he had no intention of staying long in Switzerland and it is unlikely that the Swiss authorities would have continued renewing his visas indefinitely. In Zurich, as elsewhere in the country, the people were edgy and xenophobic. Fear of German invasion and resentment against the growing influx of refugees from the Reich had inspired the authorities to tighten border security and to insist, by October 1938, that all Jews' passports be stamped with a red letter "J". Within a year SS soldiers, acting on orders to rid the Vaterland of all lingering Jews, were physically pushing them over the borders. Swiss officials, on the other side, would irritably push them back again.
For Paul, who believed he looked more Jewish than any of his siblings, the growing anti-Semitism in Switzerland proscribed the country as a safe haven and by early August he had set his sights on America. Getting there, he knew, would not be easy. Like every foreign administration (with the exception of Santa Domingo) the American government refused to increase its quota of immigrants from Germany despite the international crisis. Paul had to pull strings and admitted in a letter to Marga Deneke when his travel plans were finally confirmed: "Although I have obtained the ticket for the ship to New York, I wouldn't have got it without special patronage".