Asylum by Moriz Scheyer and But You Did Not Come Back by Marceline Loridan-Ivens – review

[From The Guardian]


Moriz Scheyer was the arts editor of Vienna’s prestigious Neues Wiener Tagblatt, a successful essayist and critic, and friend to Stefan ZweigBruno Walter and Gustav Mahler, when the Germans invaded Austria in 1938. He and his wife were also Jewish. For the next six months, before they escaped to France, Scheyer observed with growing disgust the speed and ease with which once sophisticated, cultured Vienna became a German city, complete with parades, slogans and Nazi brutality, and one in which Jews were regarded as pariahs. Anger and disbelief lie at the heart of Asylum, his account of survival in hiding in southern France through the years of German occupation. How, he asks again and again, could such persecution be allowed to happen in a civilised Europe?

France, loved by Scheyer since boyhood, was the natural place to seek refuge once his two stepsons had reached Britain to pursue their studies. What struck him at once, however, was the ostrich-like attitude of the French, who not only refused to recognise what was taking place just over the border, but all too soon, when the Germans arrived, proved so willing to accommodate themselves to their demands; indeed, to anticipate them. Scheyer is full of scorn for the French who chose neither to see nor to hear, but reserves his fury for the “fellow spivs and thugs of the Master Race of Criminals” who collaborated, and he refers to Pétain’s much trumpeted “révolution nationale” as “prostitution nationale”. The women, many of them from “good” society, who courted the occupiers with competitive zeal, savouring the “Nazi aphrodisiac”, come in for particular opprobrium. Paris, he wrote in the part diary, part memoir that would become his book, had “let itself go”, and the goose-stepping German soldiers treated it like a “fabled brothel of earthly treats”.

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