Redheads, Resistors & Red Light Districts, 1: Valerie Oberndorfer-Kornmehl

Redheads, Resistors & Red Light Districts, 1: Valerie Oberndorfer-Kornmehl

Freud’s Butcher is the gift that keeps on giving. Just when I think I’m about finished with the story of my maternal grandparents’ family, another member turns up.

This time it is Andreas Oberndorfer, grandson of Valerie Oberndorfer-Kornmehl and nephew of my second cousin once removed, Bruno Oberndorfer-Kornmehl.

Relation of me to Bruno Kornmehl

My newfound Viennese relative appeared out of the blue. He would occasionally google various lost family members, he said, with few results — until he found this blog. Remarkably, like me, he is a food and travel writer. I’m only sorry I missed the chance to meet him and incorporate the story of his family into my talk at the Freud Museum in Vienna last October. 

That family story turned out to be quite a doozy–and I have full permission to share it (you’ll see why I worried about it in a minute, aside from the fact that I generally tend to worry about everything).

Andreas said two things to ease my concerns:

If I had wanted you to keep my information confidential, I would have told so. In contrast: I was aware (and would have been a real idiot not to be) that you are feeding a blog about Freud’s Butcher. So when I wrote to you, I wanted the information I could provide to be used by you to complement your site.


I am not ashamed of anything that happened long before my birth. 

This last is going to have to become one of my Rules to Live By. 

A bit of background

Emmy, George, Hans, and Lilly Kornmehl, Vienna, 1915

I wrote about the family of Martin Kornmehl, one of my grandmother’s three brothers, in The Return of Martin Kornmehl. Of the four children in the above picture, the one whose family family fate remained a bit of a mystery was Hans. 

Things I knew:

  • Like his father and uncles and his brother George, Hans went into the family butcher business. 
  • Hans married Valerie Johanna (Wally) Oberndorfer, who was born Roman-Catholic, in 1904. She converted to Judaism in 1929, and was married in the Jewish faith to Hans in 1932.
  • A son, Bruno Oberndorfer-Kornmehl, was born in 1925, four years before Hans and Valerie had a Jewish wedding.
  • Valerie converted back to Roman Catholicism in 1938, which probably saved her life, given the Anschluss that year. 
  • Hans was sent to Auschwitz in 1942. 

Things I did not know:

  • Where Valerie was born, how she met Hans–or really anything about her.
  • What happened to their son Bruno during and after the war. 

And then I heard from the aforementioned Andreas Oberndorfer, who was very excited to find the aforementioned blog post about Martin Kornmehl. He wrote: 

[Bruno] was my uncle, a very nice and funny guy with red hair and millions of freckles whom I loved very much. My mother was Valerie Kornmehl’s daughter, Emma Oberndorfer, born as a illegitimate child  in 1922, while Bruno was born in 1925. 

Who Was Valerie? 

According to Andreas (whose language I only edited in a few places for clarity):

Valerie Oberndorfer-Kornmehl, around the time she met Hans Kornmehl

Valerie Oberndorfer, ca. 1918, when she was about 14 years old.

Valerie Oberndorfer, my grandmother, grew up in Küb/Semmering, about 80 kms from Vienna, one of the places, where the Viennese aristocracy spent their “Sommerfrische” in the villas in Semmering, Reichenau etc., trying to stay near to the members of the Habsburg court, who often vacationed there in the summer.

Valerie was one of the poorer children in that village, raised by her mother in a small house. She was the illegitimate child of a shoemaker, Josef Kerschbaumer, who owned the house and the associated workshop. When she grew up, she decided to leave and moved to Vienna.

Having no relatives and no chances to work there, she became a prostitute.

Valerie seems to have been a very attractive women. My mother Emma was the result, as she told me, not really knowing, of an encounter between Valerie and two former Italian soldiers who were coming home from a Russian detention camp, crossing Vienna in 1921 (my mother was born in 1922).

A few days after her birth, Valerie brought my mother to Küb, where she grew up in her grandmother’s house.

Valerie got to know Hans Kornmehl while working, if I may say so. He obviously was very convinced of her, ehm, attractions. They married, and they made Bruno. 

Valerie Oberndorfer Kornmehl 1932

Valerie Oberndorfer-Kornmehl 1932

What I Got Wrong & What I Still Don’t Know

I thought that Valerie was born in Vienna, not Küb, and I wasn’t sure whether or not Bruno was Hans’s son; I thought he might have been from a previous marriage.  Now it seem clear that Hans and Valerie got married civilly before she gave birth to Hans.

The fact that she was not Jewish was clearly an issue with the Kornmehl family — thus the conversion to Judaism in 1929 and synagogue wedding in 1932. But, I wondered, what did the family know about her past? My research into Jewish attitudes towards prostitution in post-World War I Vienna led me to — where else? — Freud, but I decided not to go down that particular path into the male psyche. 

Instead, I turned again to Andreas:

My mother only told me that grandma was very much integrated into the Kornmehl family. I always had the impression that Valerie wanted her former identity to vanish. My mother was not welcome [at the Kornmehls’ home], and it could be that the Kornmehls did not really appreciate her upbringing and that Valerie wanted to completely forget about her past, including my mother. 

Valerie Oberndorfer and her grandson Andreas, late 1950s. The man in the picture atop the toy shelf, is Andreas’s father, Paul Kurz.

Stay tuned for a bit more about Hans and for the story of Valerie and Hans’s son, Bruno. 


9 Responses to Redheads, Resistors & Red Light Districts, 1: Valerie Oberndorfer-Kornmehl

  1. Andreas Oberndorfer says:

    The picture on the shelf shows my father, Paul Kurz. It was taken in the appartment where I spent my first five years, in Schlüsselgasse in the 4th district. I do still own the blanket that covers the bed!

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      Thank you for that information! I was hoping you would provide it. As for the bedspread, I have curtains in my office very similar to those in this room, so don’t feel embarrassed.

  2. I love the philosophy that you should not be ashamed of something that happened long before you existed. My brother and I have constant debates about whether some information should stay “en famille” rather than be part of the stories on my blog. If the person in question is no longer living, and nobody who could be damaged by the story is still living, then I say–it’s history. It adds to our understanding of who these people were.

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      Exactly! That’s why I so admired Andreas’s stance on this — even when it comes to the living. After all, we are talking about his mother and grandmother here. But it is his call, and his openness is just terrific. I hesitated, by the way, to use the term “illegitimate” — after all, there is no such thing, just children born outside of marriage — but I preserved his language (a cop out, I know)

      • Andreas Oberndorfer says:

        I used “illegitimate”, because the only synonyme I found was “bastard”, and this seemed even more rude to me. How would You call it?

        • Edie Jarolim says:

          Sorry, it’s more of a larger political discussion that I was bringing up, that I avoided as a digression, but here goes: Just as people shouldn’t be called “slaves” but rather “enslaved people” so as not to rob them of their humanity but just cite their situation, people who cross the border illegally aren’t “illegals” but “undocumented immigrants.” Unfortunately, there is no similar short phrase for “children born out of wedlock” or “outside the bonds of matrimony.” My point is just that children can’t be “illegitimate”; they’re simply children. Society gives them a pejorative label that they shouldn’t have.

  3. Elaine Schmerling says:

    Wow!!! Such history. Welcome to the family Andreas! (Although my brain can’t figure out OUR connection – Edie & I are 4th cousins!) And of course women had so few options those days. Just think of Fantine in Les Mis….and so sad that she did marry, and convert, but the family still didn’t accept her!

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      Yes, it’s all a bit confusing, but Valerie was in fact accepted by the Kornmehl family. It was her first child, Andreas’s mother, who was shunned as Valerie tried to disavow her past. And if you have and put Bruno’s name in it, you should be able to come up with a connection to him, though heaven knows how far flung!

    • Andreas Oberndorfer says:

      Thank you for your welcome, and for the noble Victor Hugo-approach. Edie already explained that Valerie was very well accepted by the Kornmehls, but my mother wasn’t. After all, I am very glad to have found access to a part of my family I was not aware to find.

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