I spent yesterday morning in a research haze. It often happens when I work on posts about my family. I start with one bit of information that needs clarification and follow it as my interests take me until I realize I’ve gone far from my original search and that I’d better get back to work, either on the blog post or on the writing that pays the bills.
Usually I just close all the links and think, “Well, that was fun.” And leave it at that.
Yesterday morning, however, I had one of those “Dumkopf!” moments (they used to be “Duh!” moments but now I castigate myself in two languages). I realized that the data I was about to dismiss helped establish a context for my family’s story. Instead of closing all the tabs, I decided to document my discoveries instead.
The Kornmehls, of course
The journey started with a cryptic reference in an article about a 1932 antisemitic incident at Vienna University. (The article was cited in a guest post by Jill Leibman Kornmehl, and refers to Viktor Kornmehl, one of two Viennese Kornmehls who were doctors. Jill will now understand why it takes so long to get the pieces she sends me posted on my blog.)
Several Nazis were arrested. A Jewish student delegation, including Doctors Kornmehl and Alexander Teich were received by the University authorities this afternoon to whom they submitted their complaints against the terrorization which has been going on at the University in the last fortnight been heard in the United States with the Metropolitan Opera Company, was the target of a hostile demonstration by Nazis in Graz during and following a concert.
I didn’t understand the line about the Metropolitan Opera Company and Graz. So I googled “Metropolitan Opera,” “antisemitism,” “Graz” and “1932.”
Moses, Herzl and Triskaidekaphobia
What came up first was a Wikipedia entry about an unfinished opera by Arnold Schoenberg titled Moses und Aron. This passage in particular intrigued me:
Moses und Aron has its roots in Schoenberg’s earlier agitprop play, Der biblische Weg (The Biblical Way, 1926–27), a response in dramatic form to the growing anti-Jewish movements in the German-speaking world…and a deeply personal expression of his own “Jewish identity” crisis. The latter began with a face-to-face encounter with anti-Semitic agitation at Mattsee, near Salzburg, during the summer of 1921, when he was forced to leave the resort because he was a Jew, although he had converted to Protestantism in 1898. It was a traumatic experience to which Schoenberg would frequently refer, and of which a first mention appears in a letter addressed to Kandinsky (April 1923): “I have at last learnt the lesson that has been forced upon me this year, and I shall never forget it. It is that I am not a German, not a European, indeed perhaps scarcely even a human being (at least, the Europeans prefer the worst of their race to me), but that I am a Jew.”
I was struck not only by this proof of early antisemitism in Austria but also by the fact that in Der biblische Weg, the play on which the opera is based, the “central protagonist Max Aruns (Moses-Aaron) is partially modeled on Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern political Zionism.” I’ll get back to the significance of that in a minute.
One other thing I found fascinating, even though it has nothing to do with anything:
(Note: Schoenberg’s title may have omitted an “A” in Aaron’s name because the composer was severely superstitious triskaidekaphobe.”Moses und Aaron” would have caused the title to have a total of 13 letters.)
Schoenberg and Leopoldstadt
Next I followed the link in the Wikipedia listing to Arnold Schoenberg and discovered that he “was born [in 1874] into a lower middle-class Jewish family in the Leopoldstadt district (in earlier times a Jewish ghetto) of Vienna, at Obere Donaustraße 5.”
Hmmm. Leopoldstadt. Guess who else lived there? Sigmund Freud and, for a brief time, Theodor Herzl, who had an address on Berggasse, where Freud lived and my great uncle had his butcher shop. As far as I know, all the members of the Kornmehl family lived in this district — including the doctors Jill wrote about in the guest post that started it all.
There’s far more about Leopoldstadt that I could go on about, including the irony of the fact that it is named after an emperor who expelled the Jews (that’s his family crest at the top of the post). And I was interested to learn that Schoenberg formally returned to Judaism in 1933.
But although I have to backtrack a bit on my vow to curtail my meandering — at least without documenting it, and at least where it serves the greater goal of establishing my family’s background — the promise to make my posts shorter is a good one.
I still have no clue about the Metropolitan Opera Company, the Nazis, and Graz. All theories are welcome.