In 1938, a local Nazi SS officer in Vienna, Austria helped the Wacs family escape Nazi persecution. His first name was Alois. His last name is unknown. Siblings Ilie Wacs and Deborah Strobin, co-authors of An Uncommon Journey, are on a mission to find out what happened to him. They note, “Since Alois saved our lives he legitimately can be classified as a Righteous Gentile.” The pair would like to honor him with that title.
Can you help them find Alois? Here are the only clues to his identity that they have:
Alois worked for their father Moritz Wachs. (Note: The family’s surname was spelled differently at the time.)
Moritz had a tailoring business called "Herrenschneider" located at no 7 Lilienbrungasse, Wien 2.
Alois was the head tailor and his name should be listed in the tailors union records for 1937, 1938 and 1939.
How old was Alois in 1938? Ilie, who was 11 years old at the time, remembers him as balding and in his twenties.
Alois was a member of the local Nazi party, high enough in rank to have knowledge of what was in store for the Jews of Nazi-annexed Austria and the influence to protect the family.
* He alerted the family in advance to the pogrom, Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass), a wave of state-sponsored anti-Jewish violence in Nazi-controlled areas on November 9th and 10th in 1938. As Ilie recalls, “I heard the boots stop at our door, and then I heard them move on. They never even knocked. We were passed over. We were shielded by Alois. We were saved.”
* He secured extensions so the family wouldn’t have to leave Austria. While he secured six month extensions, he told the family in no uncertain terms to get out of the country by August 31, 1939. A very specific date with great significance. The war broke out one day later. The family fled first by train to Italy and then on an Italian ship to Shanghai.
To get an idea of how Alois helped the family, here is Ilie’s first-hand account of Kristallnacht as a young boy.
Alois came to our house. His tone was quite grave, and he convinced Papa that something terrible was going to happen. I could tell it was dangerous for him even to be seen in our home. He told Papa, “Gather your family tonight. Tell them to come here. Keep everyone inside. You will not be touched.”
Mutti’s sister was quickly summoned. She arrived with her husband, their daughter, and son-in-law. Her two sons had already fled Vienna. There was no time to pack up their belongings. We stayed away from the windows with all the lights out and the curtains drawn. We kept very still and quiet. Then, we waited.
It didn’t take long before the silence filled with the shattering explosion of glass. The night wore on, a cacophony of sledgehammers and axes breaking down doors, women screaming, babies crying, men yelling at other men. There was the acrid smell of smoke, fires burning somewhere, not in our building, and the horrifying scuffle of people and furniture being dragged out of their homes and into the streets. We heard the chaos coming closer.
Our building did not have an elevator, only stone steps. I stood inside the door, and I heard hobnail boots coming up, click, click, click, and click. I heard men’s voices. I heard the boots stop at our door, and then I heard them move on. They never even knocked. We were passed over. We were shielded by Alois. We were saved.
At that moment, I could not feel grateful for our miraculous blessing. I could not even feel fear. All I could feel in my heart at that exact moment was a hateful, caustic, rage. I hated Vienna. I hated Austria. I hated the Germans. I hated my teacher with his stupid armband. I hated people I used to love. I hated that we were hated.
We stayed locked in our apartment for two days. We needed food and had to emerge to face the new world order that now existed outside our front door. The pogrom, Kristallnacht, had been particularly brutal. Most of the city’s synagogues were burned to shells. All the Jewish-owned businesses were vandalized and ransacked. Thousands had been deported to Dachau and Buchenwald. There was glass everywhere. The city was devastated.
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From the book An Uncommon Journey by Ilie Wacs and Deborah Strobin published by Barricade Books, Inc.