Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Once upon a time in Vienna

To people who have read and admired Edmund de Waal's family-history document, The Hare with Amber Eyes, my recent blog post entitled Potter's heritage [display] probably appeared lopsided, since I spoke almost exclusively of Charles Ephrussi, the prominent Parisian dilettante. Meanwhile, I said nothing about his uncle Ignace von Ephrussi in Vienna, who built the vast banking headquarters on the Ringstrasse known as the Palais Ephrussi.

Nor did I mention Ignace's son Viktor, the head of the family on Kristallnacht—November 9–10, 1938—when Nazi thugs terminated forever the power and glory of the Ephrussi dynasty in Austria.

Charles had given his netsuke collection to his cousin Viktor as a wedding gift in 1899. Edmund de Waal's book reveals the amazing way in which these precious objects survived the aftermath of Kristallnacht.

My short blog post was by no means an in-depth review of this splendid book. I merely wished to evoke in a few words the two personages who impressed me most: the Parisian Ephrussi who actually collected the netsuke, and the potter/author who is currently protecting them.

Among the other wealthy Viennese Jews who lost almost everything after Kristallnacht, I might mention the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein [see my previous post, entitled Dawkins gives Miss Anscombe a role], who happened to be a friend of the Ephrussis.

I was greatly interested by an earlier minor theme of The Hare with Amber Eyes. I'm referring to the five-year epistolary relationship that existed between the author's Viennese grandmother Elisabeth Ephrussi [1899-1991] and the Bohemian-Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke [1875-1926]. Elisabeth was almost a contemporary of another of Rilke's young Jewish female friends of a literary disposition, Claire Goll [1890-1977], whom I was privileged to meet in Paris not long before her death.

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