Can you tell me where you were born?
My name is Yoel Steiner. I am an only child. I was born in Vienna on July 4, 1928. We lived together with my grandparents in the 10th District. It was very beautiful.
What do you remember about your family?
My grandfather was a station master in one of the largest railroad stations in Vienna. We were a very well respected family. My grandmother was a concert pianist and my cousin was a concert violinist. A baby grand piano stood right near my bedroom and each night, six nights a week, they would practice in my house. I developed a great love for music.
My father was a traveling salesman and he was home very seldom. I was brought up mainly by my grandparents and my mother. My mother was a very kind lady and helped many people. She was very active in Zionism and sports. I had two cousins, a boy and a girl. Their father was a much respected lawyer in Vienna. We lived a very comfortable life. We had a maid to do the housework and we often went on vacations.
Where did you learn before the war?
We did not attend a Jewish school. We went to a regular public school. The rabbi of the synagogue in the 10th District of Vienna was Rabbi Weiss. He taught us a little bit about Judaism. Unfortunately we weren’t religious at the time … that came in later years.
How did life change once the Nazis invaded? Can you describe what happened?
In 1936 Hitler invaded Austria. The Austrian flag was red, white and red. The Austrian people wrote on the sidewalk in big letters, Roht, Veiss, Roht, geit biz tzum toht, “Red, white and red, go till they’re dead.” In other words, “Kill them all!”
The next day, as my cousin and I were playing at my house, we saw out the window Germans riding on two- and three-wheeled motorcycles, yelling like crazy. This was our first experience with the Germans. They were out to get every Jew that they knew in the surrounding area.
Vienna had the “Kultus Gemeinde,” where everything was written down and documented. They knew where every Jewish family lived, not only each family, but every individual person. They knew what their professions were and even the condition of their health. It didn’t take them long to find every Jew, religious or irreligious.
How was your family personally affected?
They came to my uncle’s house first. Through the Kultus Gemeinde, they knew that he was a lawyer and that he had a heart condition. They came and took him away. This is something that I will never forget. He was taken to Dachau. That was the first concentration camp.
The next day I was at my cousin’s house when a telegram came. This is what it said, “We knew that your husband had a heart condition, so we made him climb up and down a ladder until he had a heart attack and died. Then we burned his body. If you would like the ashes, we will send them to you.
Things got worse every day. One day the police in Vienna — the Gestapo — came to our house and took my father away. They made us sit down in the main dining room. The Gestapo [officers] had a big machine gun and they made me sit down right in front of it. We were warned that if we moved they would shoot.
My grandfather was well known in the city [and that] allowed us some extra protection. Sure enough another Gestapo [unit] arrived at our house and released us. My father came back home, but of course he had lost his job.
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