Tracking Down An Address In 1939 Vienna
October 18, 2005 7:22 AM   Subscribe

How can I get my hands on a Vienna phonebook from circa 1938? I will be spending a weekend in Vienna next month, and I would love to see the apartment where my late grandfather lived before fleeing the Nazis. Unfortunately, nobody in the family knows the address, and there aren't any letters or other documents to provide it. Things are also complicated by the fact that I won't be visiting on a weekday, so any archives that might have this information will presumably be closed. Plus, I don't speak German. Am I out of luck, or is there any way to track this information down in the next few weeks?
posted by yankeefog to Human Relations (38 answers total) 121 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I just spke with a researcher here (I work at the Holocaust Museum in Washington) and I think we might be able to get the street address for you. Let me look into is a little bit...

Send me an e-mail with all the info you have (name, birthdate, occupation, etc): rcoleman (AT)
posted by arco at 7:54 AM on October 18, 2005 [3 favorites]

(To more specifically answer your question, we have the Vienna telephone books from the 30s on microfilm, but we also have several other resources that might be useful.)
posted by arco at 8:11 AM on October 18, 2005 [1 favorite]

This is why askme frikkin RULES. Hope you get the data you need, yankeefrog, and let us know how the trip pans out.
posted by cosmicbandito at 8:45 AM on October 18, 2005 [1 favorite]

That's fantastic. Keep us posted, yankeefog.
posted by falameufilho at 9:06 AM on October 18, 2005

And needless to say, if you turn up any online resources with such information, let us know!
posted by languagehat at 9:44 AM on October 18, 2005

Best answer: Note the time I posted my question and the time Arco posted his answer. It took exactly 32 minutes for AskMe to put me in touch with the exact right person to help me with this query. Awesome.

I've e-mailed with Arco, and in addition to doing research for me at the US Holocaust Museum's archives, he also had the following recommendations:
The prewar Jewish community in Vienna was pretty well documented, and a lot of records made it through the war intact. The official records from the community are now in the Central Archives at the History of the Jewish People in Jerusalem.

However, I would suggest starting with a research library closer to you, such as the Wiener Library in London, because there may be copies of the relevant documents in a more easily-accessible location. Librarians and research assistants at institutions like ours (USHMM) do this kind of research a lot, and we can act as guides through the various resources available to you.
posted by yankeefog at 11:03 AM on October 18, 2005 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Another excellent online resource I would recommend: the Yad Vashem database of Holocaust victims.
posted by yankeefog at 4:10 AM on October 19, 2005

Best answer: The Yad Vashem database is the largest and most important database of its kind in the world, but keep in mind that it is based largely on personal testimonies given at Yad Vashem in Israel rather than "official" documentation. In many cases these pages of testimony are the only record of an individual who died in the Holocaust. There are other databases based on different sources, but keep in mind that there is no comprehensive list or database (online or off) of all victims of the Holocaust.

The best place to begin genealogical research is at home, by collecting all the info you have. Once you have organized all the names, dates, locations, etc., you can find based on known family history, then you can go to a print or electronic source to fill in the gaps. The best online starting point for any Jewish genealogical research (Holocaust-related or otherwise) is JewishGen, a volunteer-run web site with a remarkable collection of online resources. Spend some time exploring all they have to offer, including the databases and message boards, before diving in, as it's very easy to get overwhelmed with data if you don't understand what you're looking at or looking for.

For researching the names of Holocaust victims, there are a few terrific online resources for victims from particular areas. For example, the Centre de Documentation Juive Contemporaine (CDJC) in Paris recently put their database of French victims' names online; this information complements the information found in the Yad Vashem database because (as I understand it) the data comes from different sources.

Victims from Austria are very well documented, at least when compared with the scant documentation of the majority of Holocaust victims. The Dokumentationsarchivs des österreichischen Widerstandes (DÖW) has compiled a database of all Austrian Jews deported during the war; here's a link to the English-language version. This database only includes those transported from Vienna to camps in the East, so yankeefog's grandparents are not included.

These are only a few examples of the kind of resources out there, but keep in mind that only a fraction of the available information for research of this type can be found online. If you are trying to research the fate of a particular person during the Holocaust and are not having luck with any of the online sources you find, don't give up. Read through our "Getting Started" page (which I really need to update), explore JewishGen, and contact us at the Museum (specifically the Survivors Registry; here's their very useful FAQ page). There are researchers here who specialize in this kind of documentation and who have access to millions of pages of documents unavailable online.

(By the way, the story of the search for the Vienna address of yankeefog's grandparents has taken a remarkable turn; I'll ask him if I can post an update about it.)
posted by arco at 7:46 AM on October 19, 2005 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I have received permission from yankeefog to post a brief follow-up, for those who may be interested:

I was able to locate an address in the 1938 Vienna phonebook, but I asked one of my colleagues here at the Museum who has far more experience with this kind of research to see if he could find anything else. He happened to have access to a recently-acquired archival collection from the Jewish Community Vienna (Israelitische Kultusgemeinde Wien, or IKG) and offered to search the collection for more information. Within only a few hours, he was able to locate fifteen pages of documents related to yankeefog's grandparents, including copies of their application for emigration from Vienna and a hand-written request from yankeefog's grandfather for financial assistance from the IKG. Copies of these documents--which, by the way, include the Vienna address yankeefog was looking for, in his grandfather's handwriting--are being sent to his family members.

* * * * * * *

In my previous response (above), I accidentally gave the wrong URL for the Survivors Registry page here at the Musuem. To learn about the Registry, go to their homepage here. In addition to working with Survivors and their relatives, the Registry also assists those who are trying to locate information about missing relatives who disappeared during the Holocaust.
posted by arco at 9:41 AM on October 19, 2005 [38 favorites]

Wow. What a great thread.
posted by Rumple at 12:44 PM on October 19, 2005

Response by poster: I just wanted to thank arco and his colleague at the USHMM for tracking down this information. In addition to finding the documents, arco's colleague has helped translate the most significant information in it into English.

Two days ago, my family had no idea this information existed. It's really meant a lot to me and my family to get this window into our history.

For me, the most affecting part of the documents is a handwritten note from a bureaucrat in the IKG, in response to my grandfather's request for financial help to buy a ticket to get him, my grandmother, and my mom out of Vienna. The anonymous bureaucrat wrote, "Only the request pertaining to the man can be approved, as it is feasible to assume that he could work his trade and send the tickets for the woman and child at a later date."

In fact, if my grandfather had left his wife and daughter behind, it seems likely that they would have been shipped off to a concentration camp before he was able to send for them. By October 1939, when my grandfather was making this request, thousands of Vienna's Jews had already been transported to the camps... Fortunately, he was somehow able to pay for all three tickets. I'm not sure if he managed to scrape together the money from another source, or if the IKG came through in the end.

My folks now live in the Washington, DC, area, by the way, and it's pretty amazing to us that all this paperwork from wartime Vienna has ended up within a few miles of where my mom now lives a free and happy life. Life is really strange and unpredictable.
posted by yankeefog at 2:40 AM on October 20, 2005 [17 favorites]

Metafilter is strange and unpredictable.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:40 AM on October 20, 2005

No kidding. I'm impressed and moved. Well done, all.
posted by languagehat at 6:23 AM on October 20, 2005 [1 favorite]

I'm crying. I just read this aloud to my partner and now she's crying too. This is strange and unpredictable and beautiful.
posted by arcticwoman at 8:07 AM on October 20, 2005

Amazing and incredible and utterly wonderful.
posted by Frisbee Girl at 8:58 AM on October 20, 2005

That's amazing. Simply incredible. Thanks to you, arco, for putting the work in and for you, yankeefog, for asking the question. I still remember when I'd channel you for a few comments here before you got an account. I'm sure the upcoming trip to Vienna will be emotional and rewarding. If you don't mind, post here if you find anything new or when you get to Vienna - we'd love to follow this story.
posted by fionab at 9:03 AM on October 20, 2005

Thank you to arco for your work on this. And thank you yankeefrog for sharing this story with us.
posted by raedyn at 9:24 AM on October 20, 2005

Yes, please do post an update, if you can. And If the apartment is still standing, I would very much-- for whatever odd and emotional reasons-- like to see a picture of it, if you see fit.

This story has made my day.
posted by jokeefe at 9:49 AM on October 20, 2005

wow. That's awesome.
posted by mwhybark at 11:08 PM on October 20, 2005

Response by poster: I will be happy to post a report when I get back from Vienna.
posted by yankeefog at 1:31 AM on October 21, 2005

Awesome, that's the applications of internet I love.
posted by elpapacito at 5:50 AM on October 21, 2005

posted by pmurray63 at 9:52 AM on October 21, 2005

Amazing. Nice work.
posted by waxpancake at 11:06 AM on October 21, 2005

This is simply amazing.

I haven't had time to read AskMe for weeks and when I do finally get the time, I find a thread like this. Makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Good luck on your trip, yankeefog. Keep us posted.
posted by aine42 at 1:04 PM on October 21, 2005

Simply beautiful yet complex on many levels. Great work arco and your team of help. Brilliant. This was like a treasured experience to share and I'm grateful to witness yankeefog's marvelous news.
posted by alteredcarbon at 4:29 PM on October 21, 2005

When you read things like this, it is impossible not to be moved beyond words.

posted by vac2003 at 2:24 AM on October 26, 2005

I, for one, would be happy to see a MetaTalk followup for this.
posted by danb at 9:34 PM on October 26, 2005

posted by Jofus at 9:20 AM on November 7, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks, everybody, for all your comments and support.

I just got back from Vienna. It was a great trip, and I'm deeply grateful to arco and his colleague at the Holocaust Museum for their help.

Here's me, standing in front of the building where my mom and my grandparents were living in 1939, when they left Vienna and moved to the US:

As you can gather from the tape across the door, the building is closed up and nobody is living there at the moment. Based on some signs on the outside, it will be undergoing renovation soon.

Here's a photo of the inside of the building, taken through a broken pane of glass on the door:

That building made it through the war, but, of course, plenty of them didn't. Here's the post-war building built on the site where my grandparents' grocery store once stood:

Or, at least, I think that's where the grocery store was. Nobody in my family was exactly sure of the address, and it wasn't spelled out in the documents that the Holocaust Museum found. But using a Vienna phonebook from 1938, Arco turned up two addresses that might have belonged to my grandparents. The photo above shows one of them, which is in a location that was in walking distance to the building where my grandparents lived, and which is also consistent with some of my mother's memories of the store. So I'm 98% sure that it's the right location.

Finally, here is the building where my great-grandfather (after whom I was named) lived for many years, until October 19, 1941, when he was transported to a concentration camp where--like virtually all of my mom's other relatives--he was murdered by the Nazis.

posted by yankeefog at 4:33 AM on November 9, 2005 [35 favorites]

Wow. Thanks for the follow up.

This is amazing.
posted by Sheppagus at 8:01 AM on November 9, 2005

Amazing indeed. Thanks.
posted by scody at 8:50 AM on November 9, 2005

What a great story.

Which district of Vienna is this? I used to live there and I'm interested to know what part of this city this is in.
posted by nyterrant at 9:04 AM on November 9, 2005

Most excellent, yankeefog!
posted by Frisbee Girl at 9:19 AM on November 9, 2005

Response by poster: Nyterrant: the first three photos are all in the XIX district. The last are in district XX.
posted by yankeefog at 10:07 AM on November 9, 2005

Ah, that part of the city is is beautiful. I hope you had a chance to check out the Vienna Woods.
posted by nyterrant at 10:32 AM on November 9, 2005

For some reason that photo taken through a broken pane of glass gives me chills. You can practically smell the history. Thanks for sharing these.
posted by languagehat at 2:53 PM on November 9, 2005 [1 favorite]

That's amazing, yankeefog, thanks.
posted by danb at 4:56 PM on November 9, 2005

Response by poster: Alas, nyterrant, we never made it to the Vienna woods. Maybe on another trip--we left feeling there was quite a bit of the city left to see.

Languagehat, I know what you mean about that photo. Rationally speaking, the decay inside is probably pretty recent--but it somehow feels as though it could have been undisturbed for decades.
posted by yankeefog at 8:16 AM on November 11, 2005

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