Alpendistel #2 (K)eine Welt von Gestern. Der herausfordernde Umgang mit Erinnerungen

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Page 42


Fake documents and names that Protter used for his work for the Haganah/ Jewish Brigade

Protter in Toronto

artists and bohemians of all kinds, with appearances by the ballet dancers Nureyev, Karen Kain and Eric Bruhn. Dad became an inventive and prolific Toronto developer. He flew us to remote lakes in his float plane for camping trips. He was an obsessively competitive tennis player (beating men half his age), and a voracious learner with an enduring commitment to alternative energy. He had a knack for the stock market and lived his life with panache, flair and passion. He spoke a number of languages but all efforts to anglicise his Austrian accent failed. He was always interested in our friends, who responded to his warmth. People loved him because of his kindness and encouragement. Tragically our mum Patricia died of cancer in 1974. We were all devastated, and Dad lost his way for many years. The mystery started to unravel From time to time, we’d ask him questions about his past. He refused, once even slamming the table, shouting, “I’ll never tell you!” In the 1990s, with his health failing and Parkinson’s disease taking hold, he met Betty, ‘the second love of his life’ and everything changed. He was convinced to return to Israel for the first time since the war and was received as a hero, but we didn’t know why. In 1996, he decided it was finally time to tell the details of his escape



from the Nazis, but not to his family! Angered by global criticism of the Swiss for their ambivalent attitude toward fleeing Jews during the war, he called the Schaffhauser Nachrichten out of the blue, telling the surprised journalist a story of gruff but decent Swiss border guards who offered a young refugee asylum, food and lodging (the first few days in the jail with the door left open!) until he could travel to Palestine. The article ended with Dad’s words of gratitude: “With their so obvious kindness the Swiss lifted a massive weight off my chest. I just didnʼt know how and to whom to write. It was almost like being held back by paralysis. Now I can say it, ‘To Switzerland and all of the Swiss: My sincerest thanks for the asylum you granted to me on August 2, 1938!’" The article amazed us. Here was our Dad revealing fears and vulnerabilities he felt as a teenager we’d never heard before.

When we asked our dad about his past, he would not tell us anything.

The next year, accompanied by his wife and four sons, Dad returned to Austria to revisit his postwar past, up close. We drove to Saalfelden, about 70km south of Salzburg, to look for what used to be a displaced persons camp (DP camp) but were not sure why. After searching all over we came upon an Austrian military base where among the warehouses, garages, trucks and fortified buildings we spied a cluster of WWII era barracks, a little island of history surrounded by modernity. “This is it,” he said quietly. He began to tell us