School recognises my plight — after 70 years

Seventy years after being forced to sit at the back of her Austrian classroom, an 87-year-old woman has finally received an acknowledgement of her suffering from the school.

Katerina Fuchs of Hendon, North-West London, was 17 when the Germans marched into Austria in 1938, in what was known as the Anschluss, or annexation.

She and other Jewish pupils at the Radetskyschule in Vienna were separated from other students when the Nazis took over.

So Mrs Fuchs was surprised a few days ago when, out of the blue, a letter arrived at her home acknowledging this “dark chapter” in Austria’s history — and asking former pupils to get in touch to help the school pay tribute to persecuted students and teachers.

“I was not only surprised, but pleased to receive it,” she said this week. “I was moved to tears.

“All the Jewish students had to sit in the last two benches at the back of the classroom. That was the beginning.

“Other students stopped speaking to us, not because they were anti-Jewish but they were afraid to be seen speaking to us.

“I remember one of my schoolmates crossing the street in order not to be seen speaking to me. Some of the girls had been in the Nazi party illegally. When the Anschluss came, they identified themselves because they thought it was good for them.”

Her memories of the school are otherwise warm. “It was a perfect school. The teachers were so correct, we learned a lot. There was not a word of antisemitism.”

Later that year, her parents sent her and her sister to live with their grandmother in southern Bohemia because “they thought Hitler was not interested in Czechs, only the Germans”.

Her parents and brother, who remained in Vienna, were later deported east and died in the war.

Eventually she moved to Prague, where she met her husband Honsa, and lived there until 1941 until they were deported to Theresienstadt. In 1945, she and Honsa were split up. She spent a few days in Auschwitz, was sent to a factory in Frieberg, Saxony, and ended the war in Mauthausen camp.

In Prague, her husband, who had also survived, found out that she was alive. They were reunited when they ran into each other in the street.

But their wanderings were not over. They lived under Communist rule in Czechoslovakia until the Russian invasion of 1968, when they left for Britain to make a home with their two sons, who had been born in Prague.

The letter from the school, addressed to “Dear Former Students”, was forwarded to Mrs Fuchs by Austria’s National Fund for Victims of National
Socialism.

Headmistress Eva Tesar and project co-ordinator Renate Mercsanits wrote that the school has “repeatedly looked back into its history during the Nazi regime.

“We think that it is high time to show that we are finally trying to come to terms with this sad and dark chapter of our school in due respect and sincerity, which we owe to you who have suffered this pain and injustice of the Nazi regime.

“We want to pay tribute to the memory of our 129 students and nine teachers who were among the first victims of the Nazis’ inhumanity and were persecuted and expelled.”

A memorial plaque is to be unveiled in November and former pupils have been encouraged to send in their recollections for the yearbook.

Mrs Fuchs said: “I haven’t answered the letter yet, but I will. Some time ago I wrote 11 pages of my story and I will make a copy of that and send them. They want the stories to teach the children what happened.”

    Last updated: 10:33am, June 5 2008