Trost Und Angst: Erzählungen Über Juden Und Nazis

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Memoirs and Poems by Erich Fried, 1983

Erich Fried's tribute to his experiences before the Holocaust is touchingly and sometimes hilariously expressed in his work Trost und Angst: Erzählungen über Juden und Nazis ("Consolation and Anxiety: Stories about Jews and Nazis"). It is a collection of short memoirs and poems that expertly relate incidences and emotions leading up to 1938, when Fried was forced to leave Vienna for London as a 17-year-old. In the first story, "Die grüne Garnitur" ("The Green Upholstery") Fried describes the home of his beloved grandmother and the memories he has of her green upholstered furniture. Her house was always clean and in order, and despite the growing restrictions for Jews in 1938, Fried's grandmother was determined to make Erich's life as normal as possible. He was, however, a much more observant child than most and very clever with words, attributes that were much admired by his classmates.

His first glimpses of anti-Semitic flyers are described in "Illegales Material" ("Illegal Material"). Strangely enough, one of Fried's ardent admirers was a member of the illegal (at that time) Hitler Youth named Bertel. As the flyers are distributed, Fried reads the hateful slogans and decides to keep a copy for himself. He bargains with Bertel, allowing him to have one copy as well, while Fried will destroy the rest. Bertel agrees to this and does not beat Fried, as the Hitler Youth were often fond of doing to Jews. Fried manages to assemble a vast collection of Fascist and anti-Semitic material as a young man and expresses his confusion over the hatred against Jews. "Do I also belong to this?" he asks.

Bonds between Fried's classmates ran deep. There were students who belonged to many different parties and movements, ranging from the Hitler Youth to Communists. They may have beaten one another on the playground, but in essence, there is a deep respect that the children have for one another: " … that one would have betrayed another was never an issue." When it became too dangerous for Jews to own pro-Fascist material, Fried gave his collection to Bertel. Ironically, it was Bertel who collected money so that a Jewish member of the Hitler Youth could leave Austria and marry his Jewish girlfriend; he even gave them a farewell party at Fried's urging. Although hatred and cruelty were growing in Austria, the children seemed to be less fazed by it than the adults. Bertel never ceased to be amazed by Fried's inability to hate Germany and by Fried's level of tolerance, even after the war and the Holocaust.

Fried's poetry is much more revealing about his internal feelings as a child. In his poem "Kein Kinderspiel" ("No Child's Play"), the last strophe is especially telling:

That is no longer child's play
To go to the playground
As a foreign child,
It is a dangerous game.
And you can get taken away for it.
And also your parents.
Do you understand?
Get taken away
To who knows where?

Fried recognizes those in Austria who had to wear the swastika on their lapels in order to survive. He relates one story where a married couple approaches him while he is in line waiting to give his imprisoned mother some clothing. They apologize to him for wearing the badge and he is touched by the risk they have taken to talk to him. "Not only were my worries alleviated, but I felt like a human being again, at least as good as my neighbors in line with their silver-embossed swastikas." Fried does not place blame on individuals who are drawn into the vacuum of Hitler's movement against their will. He sees the goodness and potential for friendship in most people. He relates his disdain for a beloved teacher who reveals his anti-Semitic slant in class, but praises another Jewish teacher who sends money to a Nazi officer's family in need.

Although Fried outwardly showed a brave front against the growing hatred in Austria, it is indeed Trost und Angst that expresses his inner turmoil, his thoughts, and his deep humanism. Yes, there are good and bad people, no matter to what party one belongs. But if there is one lesson Fried teaches us, it is that it is easier to kill those whose faces are unknown to us.

—Cynthia A. Klíma