Fleming, Dr. Otto

Dr Otto Fleming grew up in Wattmanngasse. His parents were murdered in Auschwitz. He himself fled to Palestine.

I was born in Vienna on 25 August 1914, just as the newspaper boys were shouting: ‘Lviv still in our possession’. That was a big surprise, as nobody knew that the Russians had already reached Lviv.

My father was born in Dürrmaul, a village near Marienbad, where his family had lived since at least the 17th century. My father was very intelligent, but had to leave school when he was 14 years old.

He was one of eight children and my grandfather could not afford to send him to university. My father was also a very good singer; when the abbot of Tepel Abbey heard about this, he wanted to have him trained, but my grandfather did not agree to this as he suspected, probably correctly, that the abbot would have wanted to baptise the young lad. So my father was apprenticed in Gelsenkirchen and worked in Germany until his marriage in Vienna. He was a special person. He sacrificed himself for his family, was very modest, completely honest and possessed common sense. His advice was valued by many. He was very charitable; he wore an old overcoat, but at the same time was very generous to charities, as well as to people in trouble and beggars. He would often bring home a poor man he had met in the temple and let him share our lunch.

My mother was a native of Vienna; her parents also came from Bohemia. As far as I know, she was educated by nuns; she also spoke some French. Unfortunately, she was sickly; her condition gradually worsened and in the 1930s she could no longer go out. Because of her ailment, I had a number of nannies and nursemaids.


After their wedding, my parents lived in Dommayergasse, but shortly after I was born moved to Wattmanngasse 7/11, where I grew up. The house, built in 1913, has an imposing façade, but contains only 2- and 3-room flats. There is a relief of a lamb on the façade in memory of the ‘Zum Lamm’ inn that used to stand on this site! We had a 3-room flat on the first floor. My parents' dining room and bedroom faced the street, my room faced the atrium. We also had a maid's room with a window that opened onto the staircase - nowadays nobody would dare offer a maid a room like that. In summer, when all the windows were open, you could often hear the shouting from the district court in Trautmannsdorfgasse. At the beginning we only had gas light; electricity only came in the 1920s, the telephone much later. We cooked on a gas ring, but later we had a gas cooker. There was no hot water in the bathroom except for a gas heater which heated the water for the zinc bath. I found our flat very comfortable, although in winter we needed window cushions and a door curtain to keep the room warm enough. Of course, for toilet paper we only had cut newspaper.

Surprisingly, our house contained two shops, the only ones on Wattmanngasse. One was a candy shop where, on very rare occasions, I bought sour candy. The other shop was used by an upholsterer. When he plucked horsehair from mattresses or upholstery in the atrium, the dust rose up to my window like a cloud. The alley was very quiet and practically without traffic, but it was quite different at the feast of Corpus Christi. Early in the morning, the fire brigade band marched through and played a serenade in one or two places, but always in front of our house. A few hours later came the Corpus Christi procession, which we always watched from our windows.

My grandparents on my mother's side lived at Wattmanngasse 15. My grandmother suffered from asthma and had a goitre. Her room was always filled with smoke: She would heap a special powder on a plate and light it. The smouldering of it produced the smoke that was supposed to make it easier for her to breathe. She died relatively young. In his old age, my grandfather was knocked down by a man who jumped off a moving tram, fracturing my grandfather’s femoral neck, as a result of which he had to walk with two sticks or use a wheelchair for the rest of his life. I often visited my grandparents and in later years I acquired my ‘enlightenment’ from the Meyers Konversationslexikon, which I found among their books.

My father took over his father-in-law's En-Gros button shop, which was run under the name E. Goldmann at Kaiserstraße 5. The speciality was mother-of-pearl buttons. The turners who made these buttons worked in their homes. My father often advanced them money so that they could buy the shells from which the buttons were made. Then my father would buy the buttons from them and sell them to shirt manufacturers, for example. He often lost money because many of his customers went bankrupt. My father got on very well with the turners and spoke in the Viennese dialect with them. Once, when he visited a turner, he took me with him to show me how the buttons were made. Sometimes my mother also helped to sew buttons onto the pattern cards. I found an old Oliver typewriter in the shop, on which I used to teach myself to type. I recently saw an example of this machine in a museum!


My earliest childhood memory (perhaps 1917) is seeing my father in uniform. He was serving in the K.u.K (= kaiserlich und königlich, the ‘Imperial and Royal’ Common Army, part of the Austro-Hungarian Army). Artillery and came home on leave. The next memory concerns a historic moment in 1918. My nanny took me for a walk to Schönbrunn; we lived very close by. As we stood in the flower parterre, Emperor Karl and his entourage appeared on the balcony of the palace to take a last look at the park and the Gloriette, while the car waited in the courtyard to take him into exile. Many years later, I saw his catafalque in a church in Madeira, where I was on holiday. I also remember the terrible post-war period when, due to the blockade, food and other goods were very scarce. Meat was hard to find and there were rumours that criminals were catching children and selling their meat on the black market. That's why I was forbidden to leave the house alone. In those days, for example, we had bread that contained sawdust; coffee was laced with acorns and we had artificial honey, which I preferred to the natural honey that we finally got again. I also remember spills, which were made of twisted paper. (This is the origin of the pedlars' cry: ‘No paper, no straw, only guaranteed genuine goods!’). If a shoelace was torn, my mother would skilfully sew it together. She was a good seamstress. She could also put in a patch if I had worn through the back of my trousers.

You could see many former soldiers who had lost a leg or an arm. There was a lot of poverty and many people had to go begging. Even in later years, my father would put a number of coins on the counter in his shop every Friday. Throughout the day you would see a procession of beggars coming into the shop in silence, taking a coin and going out in silence and probably repeating the same thing in the next shop. They went from shop to shop – a kind of unofficial charity organisation.

Primary school in Hietzing

I attended primary school in Hietzing am Platz. That's where a lifelong friendship with Fritz Prohaska began, which I'll mention later. The lessons at primary school were good but old-fashioned. We learnt to write with slates and styluses; only much later were we allowed to use exercise books. Everyone had their own slate board with a small sponge (for wiping) tied to the wooden frame with a string. Every year at Easter time, the catechist told the Catholic boys that the Jews had murdered Christ. This always resulted in them trying to beat up their Jewish classmates, but this animosity never lasted long.

The Jewish children from our school and other primary schools in Hietzing were brought together one afternoon (I think it was Thursday) at a school in Penzing to receive their religious instruction. My mum always gave me a packed breakfast. When I started to eat it, I noticed that some of my classmates envied me. To my amazement, I learnt that they were so poor that they came to school without breakfast. Then I usually gave them my packed breakfast; of course, my mum never found out. Once we went on a school trip to the Hohe Wand. That inspired a love of mountaineering in me that I have never lost.

I read a lot in my free time; first Karl May, then James Fenimore Cooper, The Last of the Mohicans, Little Lord Fauntleroy and many other books. I also remember that I often went lead casting with a schoolmate who also lived in Wattmanngasse. We used old toothpaste tubes (which were made of lead back then) and melted them in old shoe polish lids on a gas flame and poured them into water.

In later years I often went to the Küniglberg. Wattmanngasse leads past the Chocolate House and the Schrattvilla up the hill. Back then it was still completely unspoilt, with fields of grain on both sides of the path. There was only a small chapel at the end of Lainz. Sometimes you could see a hare (canicula = hare, hence Küniglberg). But the best thing was the wonderful view: from Hetzendorf to the Lainzer Tiergarten, the Vienna Woods, Kahlenberg and Leopoldsberg. Steinhof was clearly visible and you could even see St Stephen's Cathedral. In 1934 I was up there with a friend and we saw the smoke from the Karl-Marx-Hof being shot at.

Exploring the neighbourhoods

I always loved going for walks. Old Hietzing was very familiar to me. I looked in the shop windows with great interest, like in a museum. There was a patisserie in Maxingstraße, in whose window I always admired a Baumkuchen. I also often went to Schönbrunn. Later, when I had a bicycle, I extended my excursions and explored exotic neighbourhoods such as Hütteldorf and Hernals.

I remember our first radio; it was a crystal set; you had to make contact with the crystal using a thin wire spiral in order to hear anything. Very few people had a loudspeaker. I used a long wire to connect my headphones to the set so that I could walk around my room and listen to the radio at the same time. The arrival of the telephone was a sensation. The phone was attached to the wall in the anteroom. We had a ‘party line’, i.e. we shared it with another family. When they used it, a white disc was visible, which meant that the phone was busy.

We cooked on a gas ring in the kitchen. It wasn't until later that we had a gas cooker. There was also a small ice box. Every fortnight the ice-man came with his horse-drawn cart, in which he transported long blocks of ice. He broke off a piece of ice and carried it into our flat on his shoulder, on which he placed a sack. A washerwoman came once a month. The laundry was washed in the laundry room, which was in the cellar, and then carried up to the attic where it was hung out to dry. A flat iron was used for ironing.

Pious parents

My parents were pious, but our household was not entirely kosher because we did not observe all the dietary laws. My father closed his shop on Saturdays and Jewish holidays. We fasted on Yom Kippur, of course, and I didn't go to school on Jewish holidays. When my father cut a loaf of bread, he always said a blessing; when Mitzi, our Catholic cook, cut the loaf, she always scratched a cross on its underside.

Originally there was no temple in Hietzing and my father went to the temple in Turnergasse or Schmalzhofgasse, where I also celebrated my Barmitzvah. The Jews of Hietzing rented a hall in the ‘Weisser Engel’ inn on Hietzinger Platz for the High Holidays to hold their services there. Gradually and with great difficulty, they were able to raise enough money to start building the temple in Eitelbergergasse. It was consecrated in 1929. The service in the new temple was very beautiful; on the high holidays we had a men's choir which, as far as I know, consisted of students from the music academy. At that time, many gentlemen, including my father, wore a top hat for the high holidays.

On the eve of the Passover, we celebrated the Seder. This is a religious ritual in the home where the story of the Exodus from Egypt is told. It is followed by a formal meal. During the feast, which lasts a week, no bread is eaten, only matzos. We enjoyed the special dishes that are eaten at this time. My grandfather always came to us to lead the Seder. After his death, my father took over this role.

Humanist grammar school

After primary school, I entered the humanistic grammar school in Fichtnergasse. I was very happy there, although I was only an average pupil. Coincidentally, there were 7 Jews in my class out of 34 pupils, while in the other classes there were only one or two Jewish pupils, or none at all. The teachers were very good, with two exceptions: The physics & chemistry professor we called BHZ, which means Malicious Dwarf. He was not only malicious, but also incompetent and should never have been employed. The other was our religion teacher, who was also incompetent. In all my 8 years at grammar school I never experienced anti-Semitism. Shortly before our final exams, the head teacher took me aside. He said that we had always got on well. However, he had now joined the National Socialist Party. He had nothing against me personally, but he wanted me to understand that he could no longer talk to me from now on. I think that was very decent. I saw him again in 1980 when he was suffering from Parkinsonism. I felt very sorry for him.

I read a lot in my free time. I was particularly impressed by the English philosopher Hobbes. I spent most Sundays hiking in the Vienna Woods with friends. Whenever I could, I went to the Burgtheater, in the standing-only area, of course, where the audience was mostly made up of students and military men. I became a member of the Socialist Secondary School Students and had the task of finding speakers for our meetings. I once used a postcard to invite someone. After a few weeks it came back, full of anti-Semitic and obscene remarks.

Friendship with the Prohaska family

My most important influence, however, was my friendship with the Prohaska family. I went to primary school with Fritz Prohaska and we became close friends. This friendship became even stronger when we both went to grammar school. I spent a lot of my free time in his house at Maxingstraße 18, which originally belonged to Johann Strauss II, who composed Die Fledermaus there. Fritz's grandfather, the painter Julius Schmid, bought it from him to be his family home. I knew Julius Schmid as the dignified, white-bearded gentleman who always walked with a walking stick. Schmid, a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts, married one of his students, a Jewish girl called Schlesinger, whose daughter Margarete, known everywhere as Putzi, was my friend's mother. Putzi studied art history and married the composer and music academy professor Carl Prohaska. Commemorative plaques on the house honour Strauss, Schmid, and Professor Prohaska. The large flat, which took up the entire first floor, was a magical place for me. There was their rococo furniture, the marvellous pictures, paintings, engravings, the large library with its art books and scores, the magnificent crystal chandelier, but above all, the two grand pianos among their other musical instruments. The room served as the background for Julius Schmid's famous painting Schubert in a Viennese town house.

The family and the flat were both artistic and unconventional. Within this framework, everyone was able to pursue their own talents. Fritz played the piano and cello, his older brother Felix, who later became a conductor, played the piano and viola. The youngest brother, Carl, became a flautist in the State Opera. Fritz and Felix once asked me if they should play something for me. We agreed on Beethoven's 5th Symphony, which they then played for me on the two pianos. It was an unforgettable experience for me. The head of this artistic family was Putzi, who, although she was modest and quiet, ran the household with inner strength. She ‘adopted’ me and other friends. I owe a large part of my education to this family.

My classical education at grammar school inspired in me a great interest in Italy, which I visited several times during the holidays, thanks to my frugal lifestyle. This frugality and careful planning made it possible for us – 2 Jewish and 4 Catholic schoolmates – to go on a trip to the Balkans, where we organised a meeting in Athens with our Greek professor. My youth was more or less carefree, with the exception of a few isolated incidents. For example, when I was 15 or 16 years old, I went hiking with some friends near Judenburg. Some workers from the steelworks noticed that there were some Jews in our group. They started to insult us, threw stones at us and started beating us. We had to run away as quickly as possible. The situation got much worse when the Nazi Party gained more influence in Germany.


After my final school exams, I decided to study medicine, although I knew that Jewish students were exposed to great difficulties. The anti-Semitic students, who made up the largest majority, attacked the Jewish students, beat them up and threw them over the handrail of the ramp. There were similar riots in other buildings, such as the Anatomical Institute. It was so bad that one student was beaten to death. Nevertheless, the rector refused to allow the police to enter university buildings. Only when Chancellor Dollfuss was exposed to such demonstrations did he force the rector to allow the police in.

I began my medical studies in 1933, in the first year of my studies, when the police prevented riots in the university buildings. There were two streams in the anatomical institute. One was headed by Prof Pernkopf, who was a big Nazi and became rector of the university after the Anschluss; all the Nazi students studied under him. The other students, including the Jews, studied under Prof Julius Tandler (who was absent at the time and was replaced by Prof Schmeidel). There were always two policemen on the staircase between the doors leading to the respective departments to prevent attacks by Nazi students. The zoology professor was also a Nazi who sometimes made anti-Semitic remarks; the Nazi students reacted by stamping their feet in approval.

In my first year at university, I also took the opportunity to go to non-medical lectures, e.g. Alfred Adler. I was friends with both non-Jewish and Jewish students. I experienced several incidents during these years when a group of Nazis mocked or insulted me. That only happened when they were in the majority. Only once was I insulted by a woman who was alone while I was walking with a friend. That was so unusual that I still remember it today. At that time, it was common for a few Nazis walking side by side on the pavement to meet a Jew and not let him pass, but push him into the gutter.

I remember the discussion when we asked ourselves whether we were Austrians of the Mosaic faith or Jews living in Austria. We came to the conclusion that we were Austrians until we were proven wrong. In March 1938, I was in the last semester of my studies and I began to prepare for the final exams. The Anschluss brought my studies to an end. No medical student in my year was allowed to take the final exams. 5 years of study became worthless. The whole attitude had changed: I had been very friendly with a non-Jewish student and also visited him in his flat. After 12 March, he no longer knew me! In the weeks and months that followed, Jews were often attacked in the street or even dragged off to concentration camps. That's why I only left the house when it was urgent.

It was quite clear that I had to leave my home country. It was very difficult to get an entry permit for any country and there were long queues at all the consulates. Sometimes groups of SA men marched past and dragged one of the people waiting away. I managed to get a visa for Palestine and left Austria in July 1938. I arrived in Palestine completely destitute and had to be supported by welfare organisations at the beginning. Nevertheless, I lost 18kg in the first 6 months. Being a medical student is not a profession and I only found occasional work. After a while I was able to earn my living as a masseur.

In 1942 I enlisted in the British army and served for more than 4 years, 2 of them on a hospital ship. After the war, I finished my medical studies in London (I had to start again in the middle of the course). After a series of hospital posts, I worked as a general practitioner in Yorkshire and now live in retirement in Sheffield.

In Vienna we had a cook, Mitzi Müller. We offered her to eat with us, but she preferred to eat alone. At the time of the Anschluss, she had been with us for 15 years. I left Vienna in July 1938 and I only learnt the following from Mitzi and friends.

The Nazis forbade unmarried Aryan women to live under the same roof as Jewish men, so Mitzi had to move out. But as my mother was ill, Mitzi kept coming to my parents to help my mother, even when they could no longer pay her. We also had a servant who never showed up after 13 March! After I left, a friend of my parents, Mrs Sommer, moved into our flat and lived in my former room. After a while, a Nazi claimed our flat and my parents were kicked out of the flat in which they had lived for 23 years, and moved to a house in Kupelwiesergasse 56 with a few other Jewish families, but after a short time they were moved into a large flat in Servitengasse, where every room was occupied by a Jewish family.

Mitzi still came to help my mother. When the order came to report for resettlement to Theresienstadt, Mitzi, who had married in the meantime and was now called Maria Saidler, warned them not to go to Theresienstadt and offered to hide them in her flat. As my mother was ill, my parents believed that this would not be possible and declined her offer. So my parents were transported to Theresienstadt in October 1942 and deported from there to Auschwitz in October 1944, where they were murdered in the same month. My father was 63 years old, my mother 62.

After my parents turned down Mitzi's offer, she offered the same to Mrs Sommer and hid her in her flat until the end of the war. When the Russians bombed Vienna, Mrs Sommer ran to our flat in Hietzing, said: ‘I used to live there’ and threw the Nazi out (which wasn't easy) and then lived there with her daughter, who had returned from abroad. In 1981, Mitzi (Maria Saidler) was honoured by Yad Vashem in Jerusalem for saving a Jewish life at the risk of her own life. I flew with my daughter to this ceremony in Jerusalem, where a tree was planted in the Grove of the Righteous.

Marriage to a woman from Vienna

In 1949 I married a woman from Vienna (from Margarethenstraße) who had come to England on a Kindertransport. We have two sons and a daughter and six grandchildren. I returned to Austria for the first time in 1958. We visited Putzi Prohaska in her house in Henndorf am Wallersee. Then we travelled to Vienna, where we stayed in the Prohaska house. My parents left various household items with Putzi in the hope of having a household again when they returned from Theresienstadt. I felt uncomfortable in Vienna whenever I met a man my age. I always thought: Is this the man who murdered my parents? But I also met old school friends who greeted me warmly.

In the 80s, I spent a holiday in Seefeld with my wife. As we walked past an elderly man, we heard him mutter: ‘There are too many strangers here again; they should gas and spray something’. After that, we decided never to spend another holiday in Austria. However, in 1993, we took our children to Vienna to show them where we lived and studied. I was even able to show them my old flat in Wattmanngasse, as Mrs Sommer's daughter, Resi, still lived there. We also visited Mitzi, who died the following year at the age of 94.

Hietzinger Highlights per E-Mail:
Langeweile war gestern!

Unsere No-Spam Garantie: Maximal 1x / Woche - Abmeldung jederzeit möglich!

Melde dich jetzt an und erlebe die Bezirksschlagzeilen direkt aus erster Hand!