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  • Doris Orgel's The Devil in Vienna:From Trope into History
  • Hamida Bosmajian (bio)

Doris Orgel was reluctant to write The Devil in Vienna, a narrative she later considered "probably the central book of my career."1 Born 1929 in Vienna, she was nine years old when Hitler's army crossed the border on March 11, 1938, and annexed Austria to the Third Reich in what was euphemistically called the Anschluss. She remembers how Hitler's official arrival licensed the public abuse of Vienna's Jews and, although this frightened her, she was not surprised because "it was not so different from the way I had imagined the world right along" (Nakamura 196). Her childhood reading had already introduced her to the notion that "being white meant being superior to other races, but that Jews, although being white, were inferior and to be despised" (196). As a child reader of the Wild West stories of Karl May, she would have been exposed to May's racism and anti-Semitism but also to the blood brotherhood ritual between Old Shatterhand and his Apache friend. In childlike imitation of such magic and with a touch of feminist revisionism, the Jewish girl Inge Dornenwald and the Hitler Youth girl Lieselotte Vessely bond themselves in blood sisterly love in The Devil in Vienna by drinking a few drops of each other's blood in cooking wine (1988, 31). Needless to say, this childish ritual, expressive of genuine affection and love, would have been an anathema to any National Socialist.

Doris Orgel's grandfather was jeered at and publicly humiliated by the Nazis who forced him and others to scrub off with toothbrushes anti-Nazi slogans on walls and sidewalks. Her father was dismissed from work because he was Jewish, and nine-year-old Doris was dismissed from her third-grade class along with seven Jewish classmates. The family managed to escape Vienna by August 1938, but only later did young Doris realize that "we got out by a hair's breadth." She does not think of her family and herself as "survivors" and feels that this word belongs to those who suffered imprisonment in concentration camps. Nevertheless, as is the case with most survivors, it took her [End Page 112] a long time to shape her memories into a story that could be told. For many years, even in the company of other refugees, "we never mentioned anything about our lives before coming to America." The taunts and insults suffered in Nazi Vienna still burdened her and others with the silent shame they felt as children (Nakamura 204). Around 1960 Ursula Nordstrom of Harper and Row, who had already edited two of her books, asked: "'When are you going to write about being a Jewish child in Vienna, and how you got out?'" (Nakamura 207). The Devil in Vienna was published eighteen years later. The diary of thirteen-year-old Inge Dornenwald, a composite of her older sister and herself, became for Orgel the mode that could contain her painful memories.

Inge's intelligence, imagination, and precociousness enable Orgel to accurately contextualize the narrative politically and historically, but the young reader will respond primarily to Inge's and Lieselotte's efforts to maintain their friendship in difficult times.2 That same reader might also become aware of how Inge grows through her sense of being Jewish, how she suffers from anti-Semitism, and how she also knows that she is not the person described by the Nazis. The reader may also empathize with Lieselotte's struggle to maintain her personal and religious values and her friendship with Inge even though she is pressured to align herself as a Hitler Youth Jungmädel in the Federation of German Girls (BDM). The politically and historically astute reader, however, realizes that history will destroy that friendship and negate the implicit authorial desire that such a human relationship could transcend the vicissitudes of history. Although Orgel relates to the reader the essential events occurring between February 10 and March 30, 1938, the nightmare of history that began for Vienna's Jews during the early days of the Anschluss remains largely an authorial subtext that is, however, unmistakably the...


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pp. 112-131
Launched on MUSE
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