As soon as the Nazi’s arrived in Vienna there was an outbreak of vicious anti-semitism. George Clare was seventeen years old in 1938. From an affluent Jewish family, he describes how he felt when he first saw the German troops …
This was my first sight of the most powerful military machine of its time. I was impressed by this demonstration of perfect discipline and splendid equipment.
The men themselves were tall, young, handsome, smart and polished, and I realised, unbelievable though this may sound, that I admired these soldiers and was even proud of them. So conditioned was I, the 17 year old Jew, by my Austro-German upbringing, so deeply ingrained was all I had read, that I could not see these clean-limbed young men as my enemies. The Nazis, the SS, the SA, they were my enemies, but not the young and handsome soldiers of the Wehrmacht. If I had not been born a Jew, could I have been a Nazi at 17? Could I have been one of them, attracted by the power and the glory of Hitlers’ Reich? I was racially “immune” to Nazism, but to this day my judgement about those youths who succumbed to Hitler is clouded by the memory of my own sensations on that day.
Who were these men and women who surged to the streets, breaking into Jewish homes and shops, looting and stealing? What were they like, the creatures who drag Jewish men, women and children out into the streets, forced them to their knees, and ordered them to scrub away the Schuschnigg plebiscite slogans which had been painted on the pavements and the walls of houses, often by the very people who are now falling about with laughter as they watched their Jewish victims. “Work from the Jews; at last the Jews are working!” the mob howled. “We thank the Fuhrer, he’s created work for the Jews!”
In Last Waltz in Vienna Clare comments that in fact the naked anti-semitism in Austria, that was abundantly clear from the start, “saved many Jews lives” because it was so evident that they had to get out of the country. Meanwhile in Germany many Jews were lulled into a false sense of security by the gradually increasing persecutions imposed by the Nazi regime.
The Daily Telegraph has an obituary of George Clare.