Cemetery Schlepping in Vienna: A Shaggy Deer Story

Cemetery Schlepping in Vienna: A Shaggy Deer Story

I like cemeteries, especially big sprawling ones with famous people buried in them. It’s always interesting to see different forms of remembrance and, for the most part, they are quiet, park-like places to stroll and contemplate mortality.

Or dinner.

Having visited Karl Marx and George Eliot in London’s Highgate, Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf and Jim Morrison in Pere Lachaise in Paris, I was especially looking forward to visiting Vienna’s Zentralfriedhof.

The huge Zentralfriedhof cemetery

The huge Zentralfriedhof cemetery

Not only is it one of the largest cemeteries in the world, and chock-a-block with celebrities–the musicians alone include Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Salieri, Johann Strauss II and Arnold Schoenberg; you can even rent an audio guide to the vast place–but I have relatives there to pay respects to. Family members who weren’t killed by Nazis but, rather, who experienced the natural cycle of life and death.

This would be a cemetery visit with a purpose.

First to Go AWOL: The Six (or Seven) Who Shared Their Eternal Rest

A bit of background. Zentralfriedhof has four main sections, two of them devoted to Jews. Many of the graves in Gate I, established in 1863, were destroyed by the Nazis during Kristallnacht, but many remain, including the large crypt of the Rothschild family. The second Jewish cemetery, built in 1917, is still in use today.

When I was planning my trip, I knew I wanted to visit my family’s graves, not difficult to locate online. The Jewish Welcome Service Vienna, who are helping me with the Jewish research portion of my trip, asked me to provide a list in advance so the guide could find them before I came.

The first bit of bad news: Walter, the historian who had been assigned to help me find the family, reported that the graves located in the oldest section, Gate I, were completely overgrown. He had searched for three hours and could not find any of my family’s resting places. This was not so much of a shock, given this section’s history, though I had hoped for better news.  I particularly wanted to find the group crypt, described in the post The Plot Thickens.

Guide Walter, searching for graves

Walter, searching for graves (in section IV, not I, but grant poetic license, please)

But never mind. There were several graves in the newer section that I wanted to visit, particularly the two belonging to my paternal grandparents, Ignatz and Mathilde Jarolim.

Mother Nature, Behaving Badly

It may seem odd to hear me complaining about the temperatures in Vienna, but Austria is experiencing a heat wave. It’s been in the 90s for the last three days. It is hotter here than it is in Spain and Turkey. And while it may not be hotter than it currently is in Tucson, I don’t go traipsing around in midday there. I know better.

Here, if I want to go sightseeing, I have no choice but to brave the heat. And there is no air-conditioning in museums and on buses.

This complaint is by way of providing context. By the time Walter and I met to go on our visit to Section IV of Zentralfriedhof, it was 1:30pm and we had both been schlepping around for the previous several hours, he giving another tour, I visiting museums. We were both already hot and tired, and the trip out to the suburbs in the hot container that was our bus did nothing to provide a cooling respite.

But we were on a mission, with specific sites to find and a cemetery plan to follow.

In theory.

We looked for Leni Kornmehl, though I wasn’t entirely sure who she was.

We looked for Ignatz and Mathilde Jarolim, my paternal grandparents.

The rows weren’t clearly marked. Shade? There was none where we were looking.

Cemetery 1

Graves? Do you see any headstones?

We looked for Markus Kornmehl. We looked for Max Kornmehl. We looked for Rosa Kornmehl. We found no one. There were many big, bold stones that looked neat and well kept, but so many of the other graves were overgrown and/or had all their markings rubbed off. That was probably the fate of my family’s plots.

It was hot. As we traipsed through the grass, my ankles were getting bitten by bugs — specifically, I was certain, ticks. I could feel the Lyme Disease setting in.

Seeing a deer–charming but notoriously tick carrying–didn’t help assuage my fears. There were many of them around the cemetery, Walter said. I was reminded of the bedtime story my mother used to read me by an Austrian author, Felix Salton: Bambi. Am I imagining that she read it to me in German? I know I cried when Bambi’s mother, Felice, died.

But there was no time for ruminations in this cemetery. We had one more grave to look for–and it was, theoretically, in the direction where we’d spotted the deer.

Deer, oh deer The deer skittered off as we approached. And suddenly… there it was…. a relative’s grave!

It was Siegmund Kornmehl — specifically, OSK, or the Other Siegmund Kornmehl. Not Freud’s Butcher, who has the same name, but the one who was married to Anna Kornmehl, one of my mother’s aunts. The one who owned the Cafe Victoria.

Not only a relative’s grave, but a stylish one, with the deceased’s name rendered in — presumably — his handwriting

It was too hot and we were both too tired to go on and visit any famous strangers, but the visit hadn’t been in vain.

And here’s the odd part. Not only was Siegmund Kornmehl’s the final grave on the family list to look for before we gave up, but Walter and I both agreed that the deer had been sitting at its foot. Felix Salten’s real name, as it happens, was Siegmund Salzmann. Coincidence? Perhaps. But I like to think that the deer was a spirit guide.

One, I hope, that wasn’t bearing ticks.

8 Responses to Cemetery Schlepping in Vienna: A Shaggy Deer Story

  1. Love that the deer appeared at the grave of your ancestor- a real spirit tour guide! neat photo of it too. Feel I’ve been tromping through tall bug-biting grass with you on this very fabulous – as in the best literary sense of the word – journey to the headstones.
    Diane Schmidt recently posted..Students for Justice in Palestine defeated again at University of New MexicoMy Profile

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      Thanks, Diane! Hope you’re not scratching your ankles as I am (even as I type with the other hand…)

  2. Jill Kornmehl says:

    It is fitting that you found the other Sigmund Kornmehl (OSK) as he was the real deal–a Kornmehl married to another Kornmehl and a devoted family man, not only to his children but to other relatives in the Kornmehl family including his sister. He even started a coffee shop with another relative, Reisel Kornmehl’s husband. I am glad that you had some success. The remainder of the relatives may be lost in the cemetery, but certainly not forgotten thanks to your efforts.

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      Yes, he was a double Kornmehl, as it were. And — something I didn’t mention — he had an excellent beard!

  3. Ann says:

    Very interesting – and well written, no surprise! We are headed to Germany/Austria/Hungary soon and I hope the heat wave ends before we arrive. In the meantime, I’ll keep following along on your trip.

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      Thanks, Ann. Yes, the heat wave is supposed to break on Thursday — when I will be flying home to (even hotter) Arizona. I will look forward to reading about your adventures too!

  4. Frankie Blei says:

    Oh my Edie – your adventure at Zentralfriedhof sounds amazing, if disappointing in some ways. The fact that the deer led you to your rellie’s grave is quite awesome I think (in the true sense of the word). In 2008 I went to the little, now disused Jewish cemetery in Gross Enzersdorf – an outer suburb now of Vienna but before the War was a country town. Several of my ancestors are buried there. The place was in a shocking state – tombstones had been knocked over by rampant youths and never repaired or restored, the grass was higher than my knees, etc. I kicked up a fuss, along with the extraordinary Ida-Olga Hoeffler and the stones were re-erected and her working bee cleaned the place up. I hate to think what it looks like again now tho.
    I’m loving what I’m reading about your journey. thanks for sharing it with us all. 🙂

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      And I didn’t even tell the whole story, the part where the guide thought he lost me in the tall grass and panicked, thinking maybe I fainted from the heat or feel into an open grave… Anyway, thanks for coming by and commenting. It’s very interesting for me to read your stories too — and good for you for making a fuss. That seems to be the only way to get things done.

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