- Mignon: Tagebücher und Briefe einer jüdischen Krankenschwester in Wien 1938–1949 ed. by Elisabeth Fraller and George Langnas
The correspondences and diary entries published in this book provide a rich resource for understanding everyday life for Vienna’s Jewish population aft er the Anschluss and, together with the historical contextualization provided by one of the editors, Elisabeth Fraller, the letters and diaries present a gripping narrative from the point of view of a Jewish woman who remained in Vienna throughout the war years. In this way, as Doron Rabinovici explains in one of the two epilogues, history becomes personalized, obtaining both a face and a name (465). The face and name is that of Mignon Langnas, the coeditor’s mother—and, through her writing, the reader is introduced to a whole network of family and friends displaced or murdered in the Shoah. The descriptions, observations, and insights that are revealed in these pages—especially those written in dialogue with Mignon’s correspondents, particularly her cousin Hala in Switzerland and her husband Leo and her sister Nelly in New York, but later also people she met working in the Jewish children’s hospital in Vienna or in the immediate postwar period in the Deggendorf Displaced [End Page 162] Persons camp in Bavaria—offer a fascinating perspective on the perceptions, emotions, and longings the participants felt during these eleven years. Reading between the lines, the reader is also able to pick up on the tensions and misunderstandings that arise between individuals separated by time and space, living in completely different contexts.
Caught between her wish to escape the Nazi system of terror by joining her husband and children in New York and her sincere desire to care for her aging parents and not leave them stranded alone in Vienna to face imminent deportation and death, Mignon Langnas uses her diaries and letters to express her personal struggle for survival in a regime geared toward the destruction and annihilation of Jewish life. The book covers a range of fascinating topics that are revealed through the experiences of Mignon Langnas and her family and friends. These include the migration of Galician Jews to Vienna in the early twentieth century; the arrests and deportation of Jewish friends and relatives after the Anschluss; the difficulties of immigration (especially given the complex history of Austria-Hungary and the vast differences between Austrian and Polish quotas); the unsuccessful attempt of the SS St. Louis to land in Cuba or other ports in North America and the fate of those on board, including Mignon’s husband Leo, who was then sent to Kitchener Camp in England; the lives of Jewish refugees who faced great difficulties in their new surroundings while simultaneously trying to secure visas for family and friends left behind; the everyday lives of those Jews still left in Vienna who, like Mignon, were working in various Jewish institutions, such as the children’s hospital; the network of non-Jewish friends who provided (or refused requests to provide) assistance; the vast destruction of the Allied bombing raids; the continuing deportations and killings of Jews even in the last moments of the Nazi regime, such as the massacre of nine individuals in Förstergasse on April 11, 1945, by fleeing members of the Waffen-SS; the rape of Austrian women by the occupying forces; the emergence of individuals returning from the camps; and life in the displaced persons camps, among many others.
Yet it is not only the rich content that makes this book so fascinating but also the personal voices of Mignon Langnas and her correspondents that provide deep layers of meaning, some of which are found in the voids or silences of the text itself. In a diary entry written on July 11, 1939, five months before her two children travel to New York with a family friend, Mignon Langnas describes an incident that occurred on the grounds of the Jewish kindergarten [End Page 163] located on the Danube Canal in the 20th district. Her son Georgerl...