OPINION - My Austrian passport is for the dog; the UK gave refuge to my family
A few days ago, I became Austrian. This wasn’t a total surprise — I’d applied for citizenship soon after their government amended the law to enable the descendants of those fleeing Nazi persecution to do so. To be clear, I retain views on making my grandparents stateless but I had been looking forward to acquiring an EU pet passport for my dog, Gracie. Free movement of beagles, if you will.
If this sounds flippant, it’s by design. I don’t feel grateful, guilty or really anything at all. This is a transaction and all the parties know it. They took something from my family and I’m claiming it back, with as little emotional energy expended in the reclamation as they exerted in the expulsion.
My gratitude is focused towards Britain, which took in both of my grandparents. Otherwise, they may have been murdered somewhere in eastern Europe, two more added to the list of 65,000 Austrian Jews exterminated in the Holocaust. Though, we must be honest with ourselves, the Kindertransport is no moral indemnity for Britain, only a small crack flowing from the catastrophic failure of the Evian Conference.
The Kesslers assimilated quickly. My grandparents met at the London School of Economics and had four boys, each named after kings of England. Though I fear my embrace of Austrian culture may take longer. I’ve never visited the country. I can’t even read my own certificate of citizenship, being written in German. This makes sense if you give it some thought but, as I say, I have not.
In contrast to Germany, Austria took the scenic route when recognising its culpability in the Holocaust. After the war, there developed a consensus that it had been Hitler’s first victim following an “unwanted Anschluss”. It took until July 1991 for Chancellor Franz Vranitzky to acknowledge on behalf of the government, Austrian complicity in Nazi crimes.
And myths still persist. In 2019, the Claims Conference, which pursues compensation on behalf of survivors around the world, found that 28 per cent of Austrians believed that a “great deal” or “many” of their countrymen had acted to rescue Jewish people. For the record, 109 Austrians are recognised as having taken great risks to save Jews during the Holocaust, according to Yad Vashem’s database of the Righteous Among the Nations.
My grandma lost her home and accent but never her love of Austrian cooking: Wiener schnitzel, apple strudel and chocolate roulade were regulars at the dinner table when the grandchildren visited. So fine, this is about more than the pet passport. I don’t even think I want to take the dog on holiday — I’m fond of her but reckon we both appreciate the break.
Some 75 years ago, when my grandma received her UK citizenship, she felt a surge of relief. Until then, she once told me, “you never knew, were they suddenly going to say ‘we don’t want you any longer?’”
My reaction couldn’t be more different but I did not have stolen from me what she did. This feeling of nothingness is a privilege.
I bow to Geoff Marshall’s transport knowledge
Who is your favourite London-based transport YouTuber? What do you mean, a loaded question? Mine, and I win no prizes for originality, is video producer Geoff Marshall.
If you want to impress your friends with your expert knowledge on the new Bank station entrances, which is the capital’s least-used bus route* or why Kensington’s zone change caused havoc with the Tube map, Geoff, below, is only too happy to oblige in easily digestible 10-minute portions.
Watching his videos, you quickly understand that you are in the hands of a consummate content creator.
No camera angle goes unexplored, no station unloved and no topic too niche for an audience which I fear skews 80:20 male.
I once saw Geoff on the Elizabeth Line and was too starstruck to say hello. I still think about it at Tottenham Court Road. (*By the way, it’s the 399).