I Make My Début in Hinterstoder -Chapter 5
My mother was about 7 months pregnant with her first child, me. There was an apparent lull in the bombing runs from England, and she needed baby supplies. Hinterstoder, being a small village, the things she envisioned in the baby’s room were not available. A trip to Linz would be the thing to satisfy all her needs. This was the summer of 1943. There was beginning to be a lack of food in the big cities and she would do well bargaining for baby clothing, a blanket, some rattles and maybe even a new jacket for my father, by using bacon, butter, and eggs from the farm town of Hinterstoder. Bartering was strictly forbidden, everything was rationed, but the German Reichsmark was starting to lose its value and bacon would do much better getting good deals. She decided to go by train. At the train station, there was a group of SS soldiers carrying rifles and guarding a group of men in tattered clothing with an arm band and a black Star of David emblazoned on the yellow cloth. She had never seen this before. There were rumors that Jews were rounded up and taken to camps, but no one was sure and it was all very secretive. People shushed you if you brought it up in conversation. This scene was particularly disturbing to her as her husband, my father, was of Jewish descent; something that he and she kept as a deep dark secret under the circumstances.
My paternal grandfather was a portrait artist from Moravia immigrating to Jerusalem. He stopped in Bucharest where my grandmother was renting out rooms, as her husband was taken to Graz where he was inducted into the Austro-Hungarian army to help with troop movements that eventually proved to be preparations for World War I. As things happen, Vladimir was one of those war children that just happened and on December 31, 1905 came into this uncertain world. The artist moved on and the family accepted a new outsider. Many years later I made a trip to Jerusalem to find his grave. I was not even certain of his name and I never did find it, but that trip stirred many emotions in my mind.
Just as my mother was watching the group of Jewish men who were cleaning the train platform, the soldiers started to do an impromptu baggage search of the people waiting for the train. They would find the butter, bacon and eggs in my mother’s suitcase, a crime, and likely an arrest. Luckily the train came in and everybody boarded. Escaped again, she thought. Shortly after her return to Hinterstoder with all the prized items purchased with the bacon, she started having premature labor. Bedrest seemed to slow it down, but finally it seemed the inevitable would happen sooner than it was supposed to. Because of the premature birth my father thought it best she deliver in a hospital and he brought her to Linz by car. None too soon because I refused to wait.
I was scrawny, underweight, and jaundiced. After three weeks of serious concern regarding my survival in the hospital in Linz, I was brought to Hinterstoder with all the fanfare of a first born. You will note the birth certificate has the official stamp of the Third Reich (Third German Empire).
Hinterstoder agreed with me, and I rapidly gained weight, the jaundice cleared and I filled out quickly.
Even Hugin accepted me and we eventually became inseparable friends. If my parents were gone, I would drag my “blankie” from my bed and join Hugin in his doggie bed.
As we lived on the third floor of the Prieler-villa, there was a flight of stairs that I could not yet safely negotiate. My mother came up with an ingenious means to keep me off the stairs, a really dreadful animal that could attack at any moment. It was constantly moving, biding its time before lunging and inflicting horrible injuries on its victims. She found this creature in her dusting wand. It was an ostrich feather. I did eventually brave the feather and managed to go downstairs and even outside, where I encountered the farm animals of the neighborhood. One such frightening animal was a pig which I interpreted to be a lion. It took a while to get used to the wild life, but that too became an everyday event. In early 1945 the bombing runs intensified. The nearby city Steyr, with its multiple munitions factories, had become a frequent target of the B-24’s late in the war when the German Luftwaffe could not keep up with the overwhelming number of bombers that attacked day and night. Hinterstoder was on the flight path from England to Steyr, and a few of the left over bombs got dropped on Hinterstoder on the return flight. One of my earliest recollections was the sky literally darkening from all the planes overhead. Shortly thereafter they dropped their payload and despite 30 miles distance, explosions could be heard. I would be outside playing in my sandbox, my mother would run outside, scoop me up and bring me inside, as if this would provide a safer environment for me. In May of 1945 the war ended, and with that the steady supply of food my father garnished from the farmers on his house calls. For the first few months the old order was gone, and the new order was not yet functioning. I experienced real hunger. It is this excuse I now use to explain my overeating: “I starved during the war!”
We were allowed to stay on in the Prielervilla, despite the fact my father was no longer the town doctor. At the war’s end, Austria attempted to distance itself from everything German. As my father had a German medical license and German citizenship he was no longer allowed to practice medicine in the “liberated” Austria. I remember my time there with great fondness. It was an idilic spot, high on a hill surrounded by mountains that I learned every one of their names and loved.
My mother would send me down to the village to buy bread at the bakery. I would take my sister, Michaela, along. My mother admonished me not to lose her, so I did the only logical thing, I tied a leash around her neck and led her like a dog. That didn’t last too long as the baker told on me, and my mother put an end to my clever means of keeping my sister from escaping.
The hill below the Villa was my first ski run.
The road down to Hinterstoder from the Villa, where I led my sister on a leash, and in the winter skied down to school. There are few children that get to grow up in a Villa!
Later in 1949, I started first grade in this building, which was converted to the Post Office after the school moved to the new location. Now it is an apartment house. I even did a short stint as an altar boy in the church, where my job was to carry the censer, the metal bowl on three chains that held the burning incense. Although I enjoyed casting about “holy smoke”, I didn’t get to do that very long as my father thought it was a bit hypocritical for his son to now be an altar boy.
Interior of the church. Originally built in 1740.
Present day Hinterstoder just after Sunday services were over.
Below is an old photograph of both school and church in 1896. When you compare it to the more recent photograph above there is not really a lot of change in over 120 years except the Linden Tree at the side of the church has grown considerably.
That Linden Tree was planted in 1879 by the school children of Hinterstoder to commemorate Kaiser Franz Joseph’s Silver Anniversary.
In 1952, in the middle of 3rd grade we moved out of the Prielervilla. Despite looking for a new abode we could not find one in Hinterstoder and had to move to Kirchdorf, some 20 miles away. That too was a temporary place as we immigrated to the USA in 1954.