Gayward, Peter Harry
I was born in Vienna in 1925. My father was Jewish and lived originally in a part of Slovakia, which was in Hungary prior to 1918. He and his family moved to vienna before the first World War when he served in the Austrain Army where afterwards he became Prokurist. My Aryan mother was born in Perchtoldsdorf, and she moved with her family to Vienna in 1912 where they lived in the 5th District. Indeed, some of their descendents still live in the same apartment. She also worked at the KDAG where she met my father before the First War, and they married in 1921.
My parents and I lived from my birth to 1938 in the 13th District in the Holzwiesengasse 40/10. I went to the Volksschule in an old building just behind the Lainzer Kirche. In the first year or so acoomodation in that building was so short that we went to school either in the morning or in the afternoon. However, when the much larger building behind the school was opened, we had full-time education there. My teacher for the whole of the four years was Herr Lehrer Werner. In 1935, having passed the entrance examination, I started at Goethe Realschule which is now a Gymnasium.
My life until March 1938 was uneventful and, in the early part of that year, the whole of the class went on a few days skiing somewhere not far from Vienna. I was not a particularly good skier and was helped on a number of occasions by Dr. Otto Rauscher. After the „Anschluss“, all schools where closed for a while and, after about three weeks, we went back to our schools. Before lessons actually started,we were assembled by the Head Boy to learn the new commands. He asked me „Bist du ein Jude“ and when I said „Nein“ this was accepted, and at no time for the rest of the time there was ever called a Jew or had any difficulties. At the first assembly at the school when it was reopened, Dr. Rauscher appeared in the uniform of the SS, to which he had apparently belonged for some time. Later he became our Klassenvorstand.
My Father was dismissed from his job
My Father was dismissed from his job within a few weeks of the „Anschluss“, but kept on until the Summer, as his work and experience was regarded as essential. He was only paid a few schillings for this work. About that time we were given 14 days notice to leave our apartment, but after my mother went to see the NSDAP office in the Speisinger Strasse, we were allowed to stay on for the time that my Father was still with KDAG.
By the summer of 1938, the two boys in my class who where Jewish, were moved to a school in the 2nd District, but the two of us who where „Mischlings Ersten Grades“ were allowed to stay. As my parents and I were clearly not able to have a holiday I had asked whether I could join a summer camp, but this was refused because I was partly Jewish.
There was no question of us obtaining another apartment, that would not have been allowed, and in any event my father was not allowed or could have found any other employment. We had a couple of rooms with friends for a few weeks, but then moved in with my (Jewish) Grandmother, who was by then a widow and lived near to the Nussdorfer Strasse. It was during that time waiting outside a nearby cinema I was asked by an older boy to seriously consider joining the Hitler Jugend. I promised to think about it, but made sure that I was never anywhere near that place again, By the early Autumn life for the Jewish population in Vienna became increasing difficult and dangerous and my parents thought I would be safer with my (Aryan) Grandmother and her family who lived in the 5th District. This was very fortunate as on „Kristallnacht“ many Jews, thought not my father, were arrested and transported to the Dachau Concentration camp. I happened to have gone to see my parents that day after School who were very anxious that I should leave them at once in case I became involved.
Flew to Vienna
I shall never know how it happened, but somehow, with the aid of the Quakers my Mother got me on list for Children to flee Vienna and even more surprisingly not on one of the Kindertransporte by train but by air. Soon after Christmas the many problems were resolved and with a few days notice my departure was arranged. I remember only a fraction of what happened during these horrific days. I recall saying good bye to my to my Grandmother, Aunt and Uncle, then sitting in the Stadtbahn, but then nothing until I sat in the aeroplane, I have no recollection of saying good bye to my parents. The flight took all day, stopping at Munich, Frankfurt where we had to change planes and where I had few scary minutes being intervied by two men from the Frontier Police. We were unable to land at Croydon which was then the airport for London, as there was an IRA bomb scare. After a long delay we finally landed at Gravesend. All the passengers were required to wait until a coach was organised to take us to London. There I was met by an Austrian man who put me up for the night, and the following morning took me to the station to catch a train to Letchworth, but again i had to change trains before reaching my destination. He did ask a man to make sure that I got out of the first train when required.
So here I was on my own at 13 years old, in a foreign country, with only a smattering of English, wondering what would happen next. I arrived at the station, where I was met by a few German boys and girls from the boarding school where I was to spend the next four years. I arrived on friday in January 1939, very glad to be somewhere safe. Again I remember very little of that weekend except breakfast on the Saturday and being in a class on Monday morning.
The Headmaster and his wife were Quakers, so I presume it was the Quakers who had arranged all this for me. But I know no details. My time at the school was happy, I learnt English very rapidly – I had to! I spent my holidays either staying with school friends part of the time but mainly at school, where I often worked in the gardens. There were often a few other children whose parents were either abroad or in areas where there was heavy bombing.
Father had a breakdown
As to my parents, my father had a complete nervous breakdown in the summer of 1939 and was admitted to Steinhof. For some reason he was transferred to an asylum somewhere in Germany where he is sad to have died in the Summer of 1940. We have no knowledge of what actually happened. My Mother had visited him in Steinhof before his transfer when he showed no sign of improvment. After some months my Mother obtained a job in a hotel in Badgastein where she stayed until her retirement in 1964.
Keeping in touch with her was not easy, but she found a correspondent in Switzerland who was prepared to send my Mother's letters to me and mine to her. We both had to be very careful what we said as the letters were subject to strict censorship by the British and German authorities. This avenue became closed sometime in 1943/44 and the only source available then were the Red Cross communications where we were restricted to 25 words each. Even that ceased in 1944.
I settled well at the Christopher School and learnt English very rapidly at the expense of my German, which happened to a number of children in similar position. I passed the School Certificate Examination in 1941 and the Higher School Examination in 1943. At the age of 16 in 1941 I became officially an enemy alien not allowed to travel without police permission, and having an official passbook, which I still have and which records for instance approval to help with the harvest in the East of England and to ride a bicycle! I decided in the Spring of 1943 to see whether I would be able to join the British Army other then the Pioneer Corps (having previously been told that if I joined the Air Force I would be unable to fly). After interview I was accepted in the Army and began training in the Royal Armoured Corps in September 1943. I was in a curious position, a enemy alien with severe restrictions one day and a member of the armed forces another I know there were others in my position, but I never met one of them, and believe I was the only Austrian in the training regements ort later. In the summer of 1944 I was accepted for officer training at the famous Sandhurst Officer Cadet Training Unit. Just prior to that I was put to me that I should change my name in case I was taken prisoner of war, and this I did. I should add that never in my Army career was I discriminated in any way.
My Mother and I survived the war
It was only in November 1945 that the Red Cross was able to confirm that both my Mother and I had survived the War, and then starting writing to each other, when she discovered that I was an officer in the British Army serving by then in Italy. We met again for the first time in 1947 in Velden after an interval of more than 7 years. We met in a number of occasions from then onwards until her death in 1978, but always away from Vienna. Like others in my position the thought of going back to Vienna was scary and very difficult to contemplate. It was only in 1978 I managed it and was impressed to see all the reconstruction and the old places again. Two of my cousins and their families (all on my Mother´s side) and their families still live in or near Vienna and we visit them frequently.
So that is my story. I was very lucky in many ways that I was able to continue my education and serve in the Army like other young men. I had a satisfactory career thereafter, but had I not escaped and stayed in Vienna I would almost certainly have been transported or become a slave labourer.