Start a New Life by Jaime Turnbull
- Vienna, Austria 1939
Today is the first day of Tevet, the concluding day of Hanukkah, the festival of lights and feasts. Yet, as I
scratch the 206th dash into the decaying limestone wall of the cellar, I am only reminded of the bloodshed
and hardship that occurs beyond it. I can faintly remember the days of innocence. Days spent bathing in
the crystal-clear Danube River, with the ancient synagogues silhouetted against the baby blue sky, like our
own fairy tale castle. My little sister Lottie and I would imagine we were royals draped in jewellery as
bright as Gustav Klimt’s paintings and dressed in royal red to complement our dark brown eyes. It was the
golden age, typified by the lustrous art and architecture that surrounded Vienna.
However, since the Germans extended their anti-Jewish legislation into Austria, everything has changed.
My parents were stripped of their rights and citizenship, our sacred places of worship were destroyed, our
family’s properties confiscated and we are now coerced into wearing a star badge, like a target, on our
right arm. My mother was humiliated, my father furious, however it wasn’t until family after family
disappeared, like dew on a June morning, that I realised what danger confronted us.
That’s how we got here, all four of us living in a musty cramped cellar. The ceiling hangs limp in the
stagnant air, paint curls off the mouldy limestone and a blanket of dust coats everything like dirty snow.
Oh, how I wish I could see white snow. I would give anything at all to see my breath pale against the
numbing air, to feel the intricate snowflakes kiss my cheeks, to be as free as birds soaring in heavenly
flight. Instead I’m forced by my father to stay inside and be safe. Be safe, be safe, be safe. That’s all I hear.
All the other Jewish families have escaped, nearly 117,000 of them Mr Kaiser said. Herbert Kaiser is my
father’s elderly colleague who is protecting us in the safety of his cellar. Farther says Mr Kaiser is a brave
man whose principals outweigh his fear of Nazi retribution. To my sister and I he is a source of humour in
dark times, because of his dotty demure.
Clatter, click, clunk.
The worn-out hinges creak as the wooden door bursts open. The cellar floods with light, scorching my
eyes. After adjusting to the brightness, I see my father and Mr Kaiser storm though the opening. “Schnell
schnell, quick quick, Frieda help your sister, pack only the essentials,” Father whispers to me breathlessly. I
hurry over to Lottie frantically...