Wednesday, 27 October 2021




In 1870 Luise Mühlbach (1814-1873), best known as the author of historical novels, received an invitation from the Khedive (Sultan) Ismail Pascha of Egypt to visit Cairo. She published an account of her journey in the form of letters, Reisebriefe aus Aegypten. Here is her description of the Khedive’s harem:


…We got out of the carriage. Four large, ugly eunuchs stood by the door. They grasped [Mühlbach and her daughter] our upper arms and escorted us through the courtyard to the wing of the castle which housed the apartments of the princesses.

          We stopped at a large glass door which led directly into the castle. The door was opened from the inside; the eunuchs remained outside, and we entered a salon of great length and width. The floor was covered with carpets and there were divans all around the walls. A group of some twenty girls advanced from the back, all dressed in airy gowns, some with their heads covered with turbans, others with small gold-embroidered caps, and others again wearing silver ribbons which hung down in back looping around their hair. Four of these girls walked toward us smiling, took us, like the eunuchs, by the upper arms and led us through the salon to a wide carpeted staircase. We mounted the stairs led by them, and at the top encountered yet another giant salon furnished with carpets and divans.

          There the slave girls conducted us to three ladies resting on silk-covered divans. Then a young lady approached us. To my great surprise she addressed me in German and explained that she was our translator and had been asked to mediate the conversation between myself and the princesses. She was the governess of the young princesses, a woman of Swiss descent and able to speak French and German.

          The slave girls released our arms, and led by the translator, we approach the princesses. They rose from the divan and shook hands with us. Then one of the ladies indicated that we should take our seat beside her on the divan. She moved the cushion on which her arm was resting a little closer to me and indicated that I should make myself comfortable, which meant folding under one leg, sliding onto the divan and leaning on the cushion where her beautiful arm, adorned with bangles was resting. An easy chair was offered to my daughter, and after she had sat down, one of the slaves rolled the chair up to the princesses, so that she faced them.

          As we began our conversation, I gave some attention to the beautiful women, and indeed, the princesses were worth looking at. I sat beside the mother of Prince Mohamed Wawfik. Although the heir apparent was already 18 years old, his mother was still a beautiful and youthful-looking woman. In the Orient women marry young and the ladies of the harem knew how to cultivate and preserve their charms. I don’t want to be accused of indiscretion and therefore dare not say too much of the appearance of the princesses. They are young and beautiful, their black eyes have a fiery glow, as only oriental eyes do, their purple lips are always ready to smile and reveal two rows of excellent teeth. Their figures are not svelte, but of a fullness, which is popular in the Orient. The ladies greeted me by putting their hands first on their knees, then on their hearts and then against their forehead.


Tuesday, 3 August 2021



Werner Kofler (1947-2011), who wrote collages in the style of Thomas Berhard, was a witty, sarcastic, uncompromising social critic. How best to describe his writings? They are, in his own words, “mad creations”, “acts of revenge”, “masterpieces of innuendo”, “master works of defamation.”  But not available in English. How can that be – why is a great writer like Kofler overlooked, why are English readers deprived of the prickly pleasure of reading Kofler? Because his works are hard to translate – too many local references, too many puns and wordplays lost in translation. Well, I’ll give it a shot. Here is a taste of MANKER. The setting: A radio play is being taped, and the author gives instructions to, or rather constantly interrupts, Manker’s reading of the play:
No, Manker, not like this. Not so fast, Manker, don’t say it as if you were in a hurry. More feeling, more attention to detail! It’s an inventory, Manker, an inventory of damages. Not “went in, kicked in the high double doors, flung open” – no, “went in, kicked in the high double doors, flung open the wings of the door with a loud crash,” not just the door, Manker, “the wings of the door,” it’s a door with wings, the door panels suddenly burst open – don’t drone on, Manker, “in fear and unsettled I,” what are you doing, Manker, more precision, “IN FEAR AND UNSETTLED – I…,” not so careless, “the green lamp thrust to the ground, its gentle light extinguished in a flash,” what are you doing? “Thrust to the ground, the green lamp, its gentle light extinguished in a flash,” why is it so difficult, so difficult to put emphasis on the gentle light of the green lamp, extinguished in a flash. The greener the lamp, the lamp on the table, the gentler the light, the more sudden the extinction, is that so difficult to convey, gentle light, green lamp, and suddenly – is that so difficult? Such difficulties already within the first sentences, at the beginning of the first sentence, the first bars! If we go on like that, it’s going to be a long story, a lengthy dialogue, we will entertain a one-sided talk, I like to talk, very much, and preferably at another person’s cost. But this hardly counts as entertainment, not yet; but soon: we are entertaining ourselves privately. But let’s go on, Manker – much noise, “where am I, to be murdered by him,” WHERE, WHERE – not bad, Manker, suddenly retracting WHERE, WHERE, yes, that sounds good, where, where, he, I – yes, excellent;  but now, that’s much too fast, “taken from the wall,” not enough involvement, taken from the wall, broken with a single destructive movement, more slowly, Manker, largo appassionato – “broke with a single destructive movement the heavy, cut-glass wall mirror” – more slowly and the voice a little fuller, emphasis on the heaviness of the wall mirror, the destructive movements, the heavy cut-glass mirror broken, in pieces –“THE MIRROR IN PIECES.” For God’s sake, not so loud, why are you roaring like that, control yourself, who told you to shout “the mirror in pieces,” the mirror is already in pieces, why destroy it a second time. No forte, Manker, nothing in fortissimo,  the-mirror-in-pieces, okay? Two-birds-at-swim, the-mirror-in-pieces, like that, very simple. It could have been very simple, but no, you had to shout and smash the mirror a second time! Seven years of bad luck, and that on top of it; adding insult to injury. I know, I know bad luck rarely happens only once, but a more respectful handling of the ruined mirror would have been desirable, Manker. Radio play or not. THE MIRROR IN PIECES! Have you ever heard anything like that, no one in the whole world has ever heard anything like that, such a – oh, I don’t know what to call it. I was really looking forward to the radio play and now this happens, already at the beginning, within the first sentences, at the first strike, so to speak.
To be continued…

Sunday, 11 July 2021


Part V: 1942-44


1942 – July 21 – We have been travelling now for 24 hours and we don’t know where we are headed.  We often travel on secondary tracks in order to let transports to the front go ahead.  They have given me a bucket and a cup.  I am allowed to get out of the train at every stop and am supposed to try each time to obtain water for distribution to the “travellers”.  The sliding door [of the car] is [pulled back] to leave only a narrow opening, so that nobody can escape.

            Evening.  An SA man from the troop escorting us speaks to me when the train stops, asking whether I was nurse Anna from Bottrop?  And what was I doing in this train.  I explain the situation to him, and that 26 years ago, I was nurse Anna.  I have a glimpse of his eyes tearing up before he turns away and leaves. 

            At night we stop on an open stretch.  They have placed us in an unlocked section so that I can immediately proceed to look for water.  But there is no house far or near.

            The SA man comes back and says to me: “Nurse Anna, I want to help you.  I know that you saved my life that time in Bottrop”.  I answer him, that he can only help us, my husband and me.  We will not be separated at this time of need.

            He repeats that he can suggest a plan for me.  But the disappearance of two people would endanger his own life, he says, and goes away. 

            Of course I tell Maier about this strange encounter.  He is angry with me that I did not accept [the man’s proposal]: “If we are put into a concentration camp, you can more easily do something for us and for our release from the outside”.

            At the next stop I right away look for the SA man and declare that I am prepared to follow his plan.  He should tell me what I need to do.  The next station is Theresienstadt, our destination, [he says].  Everybody would be leaving the cars, only the dead would be left behind. They would be picked up a little later by a squad and piled up here next to the track.  “First you must hide somewhere and at the right moment lie down among the dead.  The train will be taken to the camp and the bright floodlights will be turned off.  As soon as it is dark, run away!”

            It is known, he explained further, that the Czech population there by the Eger was very hostile to the Germans.  “You will somehow be able to keep alive, [whereas] in the concentration camp you will soon die of hunger.”

            I was able to carry out the plan devised by the SA man.  I lay amongst the dead probably for an hour, but when they shut off the floodlights, I ran off right away.  I watched the guards walking around the high fence with fierce dogs, but they did not notice me at all.

            Finally, I came to a river and washed up.  It was a wonderful, clear summer night.  All the stars were shining.  I was afraid of encountering people.


1942 - July 22nd.  Of course, I had pangs of remorse, thought of Maier and how I could help him.  Then from far away, the bells rang.  I could see the steeple of the church.  I went there, thinking I would thank the Eternal One for my salvation and ask him to guide me further.

            I knelt in the church, communicated in my thoughts with the good Lord himself and asked him only to show me the right way.  There were only a few faithful in the church.  I just observed the preacher, who at the end of the mass came towards me and enquired about me.

            I immediately told him the whole truth, but not that I was a Jew: “I fled from the train and my husband is there in the concentration camp.  I don’t have anything to eat nor anywhere to sleep.”  The old man had a kind face and he thought immediately of how I could be helped.  He told me right away that aiding someone to flee the concentration camp was punishable by death.  So, we had to be very careful.

            In the concentration camp there weren’t only Jews. He could get in without any difficulty to offer the poor people at least some spiritual help.  He [said he] would inquire about my husband and also, if there was a chance, bring him some food.  I could rest every night on the sofa in the sacristy.  Officially, however, he did not want to know anything.

            The church itself was dirty, the floor had not been cleaned for weeks, so I tried to offer my thanks for the preliminary rescue by thoroughly cleaning the church.  The priest looked after my food and my clothing and through him I was also in constant communication with Maier.


1943 – I have now been living underground for half a year.  Last year it looked as if Germany was really going to win the war.  People talked to me now and then, I answered only yes or no.  Nobody dares to ask questions about me.  They often bring me something to eat.  They probably suspect why I am here.

            It is winter and it is very cold.  The preacher told me that Maier has a bad cold.  He is so kind to me, and I put him in grave danger.  I have taken the decision to go soon to the camp with him.  He too thinks that that is possible.  He will get a nurse’s outfit for me.  I will have the Red Cross pin on me, so nobody will think anything of it.  But once in the camp, I will quickly have to get a camp uniform.

            We have followed the plan exactly.  We took the camp uniform from a dead person.  Maier is happy that I am again close to him.  Unfortunately, he is very weak. Rumour has it that the Germans have had lots of losses on all fronts and have to retreat everywhere.  Will we live to see our liberation?

            My dear husband died in his sleep on October 21s .  He did not suffer, it was a collapse of all his vitals.   Alone I cannot and I will not continue living in this hell. “

Translated from the German by Susi Lessing. The original text is at 

Tuesday, 6 July 2021




Part IV: 1926-42

1930 – They have given me three weeks’ holidays.  People who can afford it travel to Switzerland, [whereas] I am going to visit my siblings in the Ruhr region.

            I met Vice-principal Maier Andorn.  He is a widower, has three sons.  He made me a marriage proposal.  Now that I have thought it over carefully, I think I will accept.  He is 58 years old, but very sprightly, intelligent and jovial. He is vice-principal in the Jewish school in Dortmund.  I hope however, that we will move to Essen soon after our wedding.


1933- I get along well with my husband.  I also have a good, warm relationship with his sons.  Everything would be wonderful if Hitler had not come to power.


1937 – Hitler talks of peace every day.  People who hate should never be put into a leading position. They cannot think of brotherly love, the sole principle of peace.


1938 – My husband has been [obliged to] retire.  We have moved to Essen and have a very nice house/flat?, almost too big for the two of us, at Moorenstraße 19.  All our friends are emigrating.  Our oldest son has a position as rabbi in Holland.  Berthold and Ludwig have gone to Israel.  The children of my sister Mimi will also leave very soon for Paraguay and the USA .


1938 – November.  Why do we have to suffer this?  They set fire to all the synagogues.  All well-known Jews were imprisoned, supposedly to protect them from the fury of the people.  We have to wear the star of David on our clothing and are not allowed to take public transit or sit on park benches.

            Mimi came to us agitated on the night of November 10th. They had knocked over all the shelves in the shop and had destroyed or just taken all the goods.  Alfred fled in his night-shirt to the Philippusstift [a Catholic clinic].  The nuns put him into a section for contagious diseases.  Apparently, there are still kind people, who are not infected or inflamed with blazing hatred.

            Alfred and Mimi are going to move in with us.  They are too well known in Borbeck and are fearful.  My nephew Walter was arrested by the Gestapo.  But, since he has all the papers to enter a technical school, they released him after a short time, with the proviso that he must leave Germany within 72 hours.


1939 – August – My presentiments have not deceived me.  We are at war again; people regard us Jews as allies of the enemies.  How will this end?  We are making a serious effort to emigrate, but the world is closed to us.  We are studying English diligently.


1940 – We are going through a terrible time!  Both men are sombre and depressed, but Mimi and I laugh often and sincerely and I am happy that we have not forgotten how to laugh in these terrible times.


1941 – We had an air raid alarm.  Everyone ran to the bunker which had been prepared, but we were not allowed to do so.  Food supplies are a slight problem, but there are many good people here who slip us, who wear the star of David, a bit extra!


1941 – July – Alfred and Mimi received their immigration papers for the USA.  I will go with them to Berlin.  Surely I can help them with errands.  All our friends congratulate us. Will we too get out of this Nazi mousetrap?  Alfred and Mimi arrived safely in the United States.  Walter picked them up in an American soldier’s uniform.


1942 – April – We have been moved here to Holbeckshof and have to live as a group of 15 people in a barrack built to house five war prisoners who were supposed to work here.  Dina Peters and Milli Hüüsken came and brought us all kinds of good food and a bottle of wine.   We used it to organize a real Friday night in our barrack.  This good deed put both women at risk. Thank you so much!

            A week ago my sister Paula Levisohn and her husband, who was the prayer leader in our community, and their daughter were deported to Izbica.  We are here already three weeks, and they say we will be deported soon. 

            We were “shipped” on July 20th.  In the camp and also at present, I wear my red cross pin -- not to obtain some kind of advantage, but because I notice that my instructions to sick people are followed more readily in this way.  In Bottrop, wearing this pin, I saved the lives of a number of people.  I have stood by so many people in need.  If there is a reward [for doing good], I should come in for it.

Translated from the German by Susi Lessing. The original text is at

Monday, 21 June 2021



Part III:1916-1925

1917 – Yesterday I collapsed [and] fainted at work.  The doctor wants me to take off at least two days.  I have one day behind me already, but I know how urgently I am needed by my brave soldiers.

Mimi has given me two bedsheets.  So, now I have at least material for bandaging.  Mimi and Alfred are going to Berlin next week and will try to have me transferred to a hospital which is better organized.

1917 – They transferred me here to Berlin.  I work every day between eight and ten hours.  In this way I am recovering from the excessive strain. They employ me most often in the children’s clinic.  They know of my previous work.  If only this cruel war were at an end already!

1918 – On October 5th I received news of my brother Paul being gravely wounded. He is in the military hospital in Bayreuth.  I requested an immediate leave of absence and soon arrived there.  He did not recognize me.  They had amputated both legs in the hope of saving his life in this way.

 He died on October 19th and my work consisted mainly in transferring the body.  Paul was buried with all the honours of a brave soldier in Bocholt, in the Jewish cemetery.  12 R I R 53 Offiz. St. N.V.L.

1919 –The cruel war ended on November 11. 1918. May the people finally learn to settle their conflicts “in peace.”   Father could not bear the loss of his youngest son.  He died without suffering a lot.

1922- We have had peace for three years now, but the bellicose atmosphere persists.  People blame us, the Jews, for losing the World War.  Walter Rathenau, the man who worked energetically for the reduction of German war debts, was murdered.

1925 – I am here in Zürich, Switzerland, working as a nurse in the Jewish community. My duties are diverse, but satisfy me greatly.   Only at night do I still often think of the terrible time in Bottrop.