LAST WALTZ IN VIENNA: The Destruction of a Family, 1842-1942 by George Clare

LAST WALTZ IN VIENNA: The Destruction of a Family, 1842-1942

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KIRKUS REVIEW

After an engaging prologue--in which we learn how 21-year-old Georg Klaar became ""George Peter Clare"" of Britain's 1941 Royal Artillery--Clare/Klaar goes back a century to begin this ambitious, uneven chronicle: a half-absorbing blend of ironic family portraits, touching personal reminiscence, and disjointed political history. Georg's father Ernst came from a completely assimilated, highly cultured family; though great-great-grandfather Eisak was ""still caftan-clad and bearded,"" great-grandfather Hermann, army doctor, became that ""quite new species: a Jewish Austrian military gentleman."" So the Klaars, led by Georg's tough, elegant grandmother Julie, looked down a bit on the much wealthier Schapira family (still tainted with the East-European ghetto style) when young banker Ernst married Stella Schapira. And in Vienna Georg grew up ""not just Austrian, but German-Austrian"": his usually gentle father struck him when he used the word ""Tate""--Yiddish for Daddy. Not surprisingly, then, the Klaars went through that by-now-familiar scenario of the 1930s: the discounting of Hitler; the disbelief that Jews were really in danger (despite Vienna's long anti-Semitic tradition, which Clare fills in vividly); the horrified reaction to ugly street demonstrations. Only after losing his job did father Ernst finally respond--first with despair, then (energized by strong mother Stella) with a frantic series of escape plans: trips to Berlin, visas from Dublin, in and out of consulates. (Georg himself attempted to reach a girlfriend in Latvia, but, after a terrifyingly aborted journey, re-joined his parents.) But though Georg ended up in Britain, his parents opted for Paris (because of a banking job there)--and later they were among the non-French Jews rounded up in Vichy France, then sent to Auschwitz. (Clare includes his father's final Auschwitz-bound notes--and his own postwar visit to the French village where his parents last lived.) A quietly affecting story--filled out with a rich clutch of family subplots: feuds, quirks, tragedies. But Clare also attempts to give the reader a primer on Austrian politics of the Thirties--in chunks of less-well-written history which merely skim the surface. . . while distracting from the far stronger family material. Erratic, then--and not a significant addition to the Holocaust literature--but often endearing and involving in its shrewd, evocative particulars.

Pub Date: April 19th, 1982
Publisher: Holt, Rinehart & Winston