From Shanghai Far from Where
“What? So far?”
“Far from where?”
—Salcia Landmann, quoting a conversation between two emigrants
What kind of man is Tausig? You’d have to fetch him from far away, and having done so ask: Can he be transplanted? Can you imagine him transplanted? You’d have to picture some huge and heavy hand casually plucking someone out of his home, out of his city, and setting him down in another place, on another continent—mobility, flexibility, a kind of all-round agility isn’t imprinted in us humans. This huge and heavy hand (paw?) shouldn’t be pictured as the hand of God but rather as that of some grobian giant, a hand from some dark fairy tale if you no longer believe in God but still, perhaps, in the magic of fairy tales. In other words, one can’t really imagine Tausig’s relocation. Tausig was a young attorney on his way up.
The book dealer Ludwig Lazarus, never one to hesitate when it came to expressing his own opinion, said: Man tries to comprehend, to get a grasp, grasps at a straw or a spider’s leg or some spark of city light, and knows nothing, nothing. No answer. “Why” is a drop of water, it vaporizes, comes down in some other place. It gently bends green wood. Or, as Ludwig Lazarus asked: Why this human baseness, why the dismantlers, the demolishers from time immemorial? And didn’t have an answer to his own question, and Tausig didn’t either. But Tausig didn’t believe in anything and so didn’t ask the questions that Lazarus did, he was an agnostic by nature and remained so, and was an attorney by profession. He believed that justice could be administered and judicially received, he also believed that one could enforce justice or could use a lawyer to help him enforce justice. He also believed that someone back then in Berlin could have helped Ludwig Lazarus to restore his judicial rights. Lazarus’ parents, with great judicious foresight, had sold their bookstore shortly before Hitler came to power, and the proceeds were to have provided Lazarus with a kind of life annuity, but the buyers, sensing their advantage, challenged the agreement. A Berlin court promptly ruled it to be “contrary to public policy.” That would be nice, wouldn’t it, paying an ostracized Jew a lifetime sum, when Jewish property could by “aryanized” for a song, regardless of how long the “lifetime” life of such a dispossessed individual would last. But Lazarus waved this aside. Let it go, Herr Tausig. You know Austrian justice, but not rampant injustice. And to that Herr Tausig had no reply.
It wasn’t wrong for Tausig to believe that justice could be administered and judicially received, that justice could be enforced with the help of a lawyer. No belief was wrong if one held it. That he himself one day would be without rights never would have occurred to him, perhaps he didn’t have the imagination for it. Why employ the imagination so powerfully on some- thing that was unimaginable? Tausig was a Hungarian lawyer from Timișoara. Timișoara was part of Austria-Hungary, there was no doubt about that, its inhabitants spoke German and Hungarian, judgments were handed down in Austrian, which confused no one, it was a broad-minded time in which one could be an agnostic or a Jew or a Protestant in Karlsbad and Catholic or non-Catholic in Linz and Muslim or non-Muslim or agnostic in Mostar, it was Austria-Hungary, one didn’t need to pass judgment, one could invoke a judicial system that was far ranging. In Timișoara there were Rumanians and Germans and Hungarians, it didn’t matter, one went to the café, smoked, drank, motioned to the waiter, was called to the telephone. To be paged was the new big thing: Attorney Tausig, please! Attorney Tausig got up, he was a tall man, strode confidently, if a bit clumsily, through the café, took the receiver in hand, listened, listened and slowly nodded but did not speak, confidentiality with a client, or future client, it seemed—reflecting solemnly, nodding into the telephone, which was ridiculous as he himself noted, practicing discretion. I’ll be there right away, he said. But it wasn’t a client calling, it was his young wife, Franziska, who wished to speak with him, just to hear his voice! His deep, soft, remarkably civil Hungarian voice. And he laughed in the direction of the café tables, whispered into the receiver, laughed with pleasure at his wife’s desire, her desire to hear him, love him, her desire for happiness, cause and recipient of which he was simultaneously. He paid and left the café. That’s how he told it to Lazarus, and that’s how Lazarus repeated it, full of amazement at a love he himself had never been permitted to experience.
They married in 1912, a handsome man, a smart man with a bright future, Franziska Tausig later said, and everyone who knew him agreed. And she, piano, foreign languages, an excellent education in home economics, all that an affluent Viennese woman needed, that’s how it was in 1912. Her father: a wealthy timber merchant, cords-deep in oak, his pencil running down columns of figures until late in the evening, knocking on the wood of his desk. Lumber was a sure thing, lumber was needed everywhere there was a future, a future that called for buildings with enormous roof trusses, everywhere, that is, in Austria-Hungary, everywhere accessible by train, almost everywhere. Franziska Tausig said: I had one single mission in life, and it wasn’t an unduly difficult one to accomplish. I had to enter into a suitable marriage in order not merely to remain a daughter from a good home. She did that by choosing Attorney Tausig. It was a white wedding, brought off with bravura. After that, life seemed like a broad stream, Danube-like in a broad bed, a stream that carried her along, and “life” simply followed. Life turned into a confidence in life, days, weeks, years strung together like pearls, joy and harmony, touch, the peaceful feeling of being conjoined. Lace tablecloths on the meadows, the silver fish service standing at attention on the quay, and us, happy in the midst of it all, she later said to Lazarus. Timișoara became Rumanian in 1918, and this spelled bad luck for the Hungarian attorney, bad luck for his pampered wife, Austria-Hungary became a deep hole into which many things fell. Away with the Hungarian attorney, a new law was called for, Tausig believed in legal rights and was right again. A Hungarian attorney in Rumania does not enjoy a good standing. So away with the Hungarian, who just happened to be a Jew. Tausig was an agnostic and a Social Democrat, an odd combination even in Timișoara. His wife went to temple on High Holidays, which was sufficient. The father-in-law’s lumber business had room for Herr Tausig and Frau Tausig, the fish service, the porcelain service edged in gold, the piano. That’s why they moved to Vienna. Herr Tausig was no longer an attorney, which was a shame, but not litigable; his father-in-law’s firm bent green wood very gently, but the wood still put out thin shoots.
His hearing was no longer very good, he had heard enough during the war, had heard too much, thundering artillery had damaged his inner ear. An attorney avoids disputes, he has the law in the back of his mind but must hear straight ahead, hear what is being spoken. Disputes flare up, perhaps they can be contained (extinguished?), someone goes off track, the attorney tracks him down and compels him to follow the law he has very nearly strayed from. The client very nearly has stumbled hopelessly into extralegal territory, and that was to be avoided. The attorney becomes his rod and staff. Tausig no longer hears well enough, as an attorney he needs to be able to hear the grass grow, the slender blades of Hungarian grass waving in the gentle breeze, a breeze from the Steppes across which the hooves of little horses thundered. Lenau wrote poems in which the air resounded with hooves, and horses were given full rein across the flatlands; Frau Tausig knew these poems by heart. The grass was trampled down in the summer heat, torched in war. This was before Timișoara became Rumanian and he was still a young man with a beautiful and spirited wife. Eyes like cherries, sour cherry eyes and chestnut brown hair, delicately supple fingers that struck piano keys and ran along picture frames to check for dust, that kneaded dough on the breadboard until it formed bubbles. It was lovely to look at her, at how her cheeks flushed when she was baking, and then they would eat the strudel hot, right after she lifted it from the oven, and would smile at each other, first licking their lips and then their shoulders, between their toes, then their ears and the webbing that the spermatozoa paddled around in. He was an innately good person, his wife said of him. He didn’t hear well enough, Attorney Tausig, but he had watchful eyes and he loved deeply—with his eyes, nose, mouth and ears, it didn’t matter that he didn’t hear well. He regarded his lovely wife, her vivacity, her cherry mouth, delicate ears—an agnostic and Social Democrat, a fine and most uncommon combination, and to top it all off his wife, a wonderful woman, Lazarus agreed.
Tausig was an energetic man, he went along with the changes, didn’t complain, adapted, a hydraulic lift, a crane, a war, a huge, gross, anonymous hand had grabbed hold of him and moved him from Timișoara to Vienna. Franziska Tausig packed the linens, the cradle that was a family heirloom, the children’s toys, as yet unused (and which she loved to look at), the silver fish service, the crystal, the lace tablecloths, and then unpacked them again in Vienna. Herr and Frau Tausig had only a vague memory of how quickly the certainty that they were losing ground escalated. It was a new and shifting ground (precipitous), and one had to learn how to walk, to dance on it. Tausig changed professions of necessity, he became the welfare councilor for the Social Democratic Party. (Did other parties also have welfare councilors? But Vienna was Social Democratic down to its bones, which were not yet visible when he arrived.) Tausig visited the impoverished, crippled old women who hadn’t left their flats for years, flats that smelled of age and poverty, the jobless, rich with children, in their tiny flats in rickety buildings with toothless banisters and a lump of floor mat at the doors. Better no doormats than these, he said to himself. Runny-nosed urchins sat on the stairs, not the sort who were tied to their mothers’ apron strings, they stared at him, mouths open and fingers digging into their noses. The Tausigs wanted a child of their own, had long wished for a child, and then they had a child, it was like a fairy tale, a bit of happiness, like in the “The Star Thalers” fairy tale, happiness that fell into their laps, happiness that their loins had conceived and brought forth. Their son was born in Vienna, a son with dark eyes and black fuzz on his head, and little fists, little balled fists. Tausig could sit and look at his son, Otto, for hours after he came home from seeing poor people. A son who blinked his eyes and spit, sniffled, fell back asleep with a crooked expression on his mouth, and Tausig was proud of him, and again he was right. When the child was a little older and climbed stairs with enthusiasm, he took him along on his visits, and the boy would stare at the poverty and the poverty was not a lesson but a shock, objectionable, something to be afraid of. Herr Tausig saw the poor, the unemployed, the women in their faded apron dresses, with their knotty arthritic hands, he had an empathetic heart, too soft for a welfare councilor. If he passed a sausage stand he would buy sausages, as many as he could carry, and give them to those without work. That’s the kind of man Tausig was, a man to be admired and at the same time a man to be pitied, a man without funds but with an idea of suffering and how that could be changed. He led his son to the suffering and showed him that it is possible to appease it. And also: that there was more suffering than one individual was capable of appeasing. He was a man who was justly right, and that alone was worthy of pity and appalling at the same time: of demonstrable justice came nothing, nothing at all.
The father’s firm was suddenly “aryanized,” their savings devoured by the State, his father-in-law shuts himself in his office. There’s nothing left, he lets his pencil fall, nothing belongs to him anymore. The lumber business goes up in smoke over his head, dissolved. The company is now run by Herr Schmitt, a former employee in the business, who flew right by us, said Frau Tausig with contempt as she told Lazarus and also Brieger about her life. It wasn’t immediately apparent whom she was addressing. Her lovely sour cherry mouth recounted and the two men listened, with Lazarus pricking up his ears and Brieger a silent witness, listening and taking note of what he heard. And what he saw: her sour cherry mouth. Franziska Tausig spoke with bitterness and needed an audience when she talked about her father’s lumber business. She wasn’t so well-versed in Viennese Social Democracy. But she got worked up about the lumber business: Herr Schmitt, who flew by us and rose steadily in the Party, a liquidator with a condescending manner, and we, the little fish left high and dry, the wood bent. A trustee in whom we had no trust. Herr Schmitt is now the one to allocate funds to the Tausigs. Money is tight, becomes artificially tight, it evaporates in no time, in weeks, anxious months. One night they came for Herr Tausig. The Tausigs had barricaded the door and would never have opened it were anyone to knock or ring the bell, it was a good thing that Tausig was so hard-of-hearing. But that night Tausig had gone out into the hallway to get a glass of tap water, he opened the door half-asleep and literally ran right into the arms of the SA, they took him away just as he was, in his bathrobe. (At this point time stands still for him. But his wife continues to set the clock, it ticks frantically now, and Frau Tausig hears it, it clangs in her ears.) When he returns, he doesn’t say a word. Say something, say something won’t you, please, his wife pleads, cries out, screams in her distress. He was a Hungarian attorney from a time past, and also a Social Democrat in a new and blood-spattered time, she was familiar with them both, the attorney and the welfare councilor, and it was dumb to mix them up, she loved them both. He had become a different man in those weeks, now he was only sorrow; twenty years of lumber business in Vienna, scattered to the winds. The shock took root, a dry and brittle piece of kindling, no one needed a Social Democratic welfare councilor, the table was swept clean, not a crumb remained.
How did Tausig get out of the concentration camp? As Frau Tausig later related to Lazarus: A few offices had opened in Vienna, the addresses of which were passed around in whispers by the families of the incarcerated, once they had visited them in great secrecy. Those fortunate enough to have relatives or friends abroad who would provide an affidavit for America or a permit for England could book a valid passage there. But there was also the possibility of purchasing, for an excessive amount of money, a forged passage, which one could use to get family members temporarily released from a concentration camp. Frau Tausig bought such a forged passage. Her father helped out with money that wasn’t tied up in the lumber business, and so her husband came home. He became quite dejected when he discovered that the passage wasn’t legitimate. Not only was he dejected, he criticized his wife for paying so much money for it, money she could have used for something else perhaps. Frau Tausig was not a little astonished at his indignation, she didn’t understand it, what should she have used the money for, when no legitimate passage had been available? You’re free, she repeatedly said to her husband, your freedom was paid for. But the idea didn’t get through to him. Am I a slave, my freedom bought? Franziska Tausig didn’t acknowledge the question.
Two weeks later the block warden showed up, insistently ringing the doorbell and assuming a tactful expression. Franziska Tausig made an effort to control her features, no fear, no surprise, yes, a bit of politeness would help. And her husband remained in his room, she closed the door behind her, he wasn’t to hear how she spoke with the block warden, as if she had no husband, no son. A year before, her son had put on a Punch and Judy show for the warden’s and other children, complete with devil, constable, and crocodile, the whole hilariously cruel shtick that everyone loved, one knew where evil was to be found, and flogged it accordingly, in good Viennese fashion. At that point the block warden was not yet block warden, but ran a milk store with big banged-up milk cans and little packets of cheese curd and was a Nazi at a time in Austria when one couldn’t really be one, at least not officially. But she had forgotten that, wanted to forget it. Dear Frau Tausig, he begins in a neighborly tone, it’s good fortune that your husband was released, good fortune that I played a role in, isn’t that so? Is it, thinks Franziska Tausig. And thinks: Keep talking. She thinks of the money she threw out the window for the false papers and has to hold back saying, “So?” Yes, the man went on (he swallows his “So?”), don’t you know that I saved you? But you can’t know that, he interrupts himself. They wanted to come for you, and I told them that you’re a foreigner. From Hungary, right? Or is it Rumania? The time they spent standing at the door stretched on and on. What should Frau Tausig say, what should she say?
But the man just kept talking: Do you know, if one could do as one wished, how easy it would be to help people. One would do so happily. Just look, you have a typewriter. If one could write letters on it, so many people could be helped. Long story short, Frau Tausig gave him the typewriter to get rid of him. He left and returned the next day. Frau Tausig, he said, the silverware in your glass cabinet, what do you think, if it were sold one could live quite well off of it. He knew that the welfare councilor could no longer work. Frau Tausig, the block warden said, or rather demanded, give me the silverware, I know a dealer who would buy it for a good price. Should I do that for you? In no time at all the man had cleaned out the apartment, out of sheer goodwill.
Nine weeks on an overcrowded ship, packed in like barrels of herring or oil. It was a German ship that was to be scrapped in the Far East. The blue of the ocean turned a dirty yellowish brown, nine weeks, too long and then some, bundled up with a farewell and an arrival. Nine weeks full of fear: the ship would turn back or not be allowed to dock and would devour, crush, its heavy load of passengers, an amalgam of grief and hopelessness. The ship circled the Cape of Good Hope because the German Reich refused to pay the canal fees for the Suez passage. But the ship churned its way across the Pacific mile after mile. At the end of the journey but not at the end, Lazarus was familiar with that as well. The darkness, the humidity swallowed up their shame. At night on the rolling ship the humiliations of Vienna were quite near, yet they were nearing Shanghai, the coast a dark wall against which the past pounded. It was as if the bow of the ship were cleaving a mass of heavy sludge, a moist, simmering mush. During the voyage Herr Tausig almost always had worn his sunglasses. He didn’t like to remove them, behind them some fluid often dripped down into his shirt collar. Taking leave of his son had been extremely hard for him, harder than it was for his wife. Frau Tausig told herself: Our son is safe in England, that is a gift even though we can’t accept it now, the gift. Her husband saw it differently: He (the son) has been separated from us and we from him, that is a catastrophe that cannot be undone, and his wife had no answer for that. She did not cry, so that he, her husband, Otto’s father, would not cry. But she could picture her son crying, crying for his godforsaken parents on their way to Shanghai.
In the cargo hold it rumbled day and night, their destination must be quite near. The passengers threw those things away that they considered unnecessary. Much of it went overboard, assigned to the tides. Yet the tiniest scrap of paper was smoothed flat, one might need it to write a message on. It was so hard to get used to being bitterly poor. The passengers no longer kept to their cabins or to overcrowded steerage, they pushed up to the top deck, the young ones claimed the best places at the railing. The ship’s bow sawed through the lethargic mass of water, land came nearer, the waterfront was already in sight, people yelled, cheered, embraced. Finally, finally the end of the journey was near, they could see the city, could see Shanghai! The longed-for, feared, dreaded city, a foreign figure of respect. Then the ship’s motors were turned off, the huge steamer stopped in the yellow brew, tooted its horn, the passengers stood stock-still, riveted to the spot in the muggy air. Was the ship to turn back so near to landing? Had everything been in vain: wrenching oneself away, landing a ship’s passage, first a false one for a great deal of money, then a valid one for even more, the long journey, was it to end Nowhere? Herr Tausig adjusted his sunglasses, pushed them up on his nose, he didn’t want to be seen. But his wife saw him, saw his drooping shoulders, his newly pointed chin, the shadow of his beard, and she saw behind him the attorney from Timișoara he had been, with whom she had fallen in love. He (the former) nodded to her, he (the former) patted her on the shoulder, reassured her, yes, that was the man she had married, and she was overcome by a joy on their arrival in spite of all doubt about where and how they would arrive, the old blue sky was dirty gray, but it was the same sky as the one in Timișoara, as the one in Vienna. The harbor held warships, powerful old rust buckets, it was swarming with little boats the Tausigs later learned were called sampans. Large junks with elaborately darned brown sails reminded the passengers that they found themselves in Chinese waters. Commercial ships from all over the world were being loaded and unloaded.
Suddenly there was a cry from the lower deck: the pilot was coming onboard. The pilot. The crowd at the railing, crowded up next to each other, cheered, their tension dissolved. A launch neared the ship, rumbling along, making waves, a rope ladder was lowered, the pilot climbed up it and with him a doctor, an official from the magistrate’s office, an interpreter, and typists, all at an unhurried pace. They didn’t appear to know, or they ignored, that the passengers were hungry, that something finally was going to happen with them following the long journey. The commission withdrew to the smoking salon with the captain, stewards arrived with drinks, time passed, fell into a hole, and it was an unnervingly long time. The passengers would have liked to listen at the door. But then something happened that gave them hope. Sailors set up tables, they brought typewriters and bottles of ink and laid out fine brushes, stamps and stamp pads, preparing the way for the work of the immigration agency. The official sat down at one of the tables, the typists at a second, the interpreter bent down to the official’s right ear, his face showing a thin papery smile as he adjusted his cuffs, a wave from the official, courteous words from the interpreter, who suddenly had been handed the passenger list by the captain: Please step forward when called! And so the passengers stepped forward, showed their identification papers and supporting documents for their ship’s passage, some had a folder full of credentials, but the interpreter waved them away as if weary from the outset when someone pulled them out. Everything was verified and checked off, then the official asked a question and the interpreter stumbled a bit as he translated. The passports each listed a profession, but the interpreter didn’t inquire about a profession (attorney?), rather he asked each passenger: What can you do? This caused embarrassment to the passengers. One boy, just past school age, said: I can climb trees and yodel. This had to be carefully translated, at which the official’s face exhibited a razor-sharp smile, which then froze in the heat. (There was a great deal of smiling, more than the Tausigs had seen in recent months. Whether this was a good thing or merely a trick was yet to be determined.) It took a long time to reach T, as in Tausig. The hot air stood still, dramatically still, and forced sweat from their pores. Shirts turned into wet cloths, stockings stuck to heels and calves. What can an attorney do? Here stood the law, polished and sparkling, here it broke, was broken, fell into shards that no one picked up, for the pieces cut whoever bent down to them. That was how it had been in Timișoara when the Rumanians had asserted their own law, which before that had been a near universal law, from Vorarlberg to distant Hungary and the Balkans, now, here on ship’s deck, the Austrian legal system, once praised and all-pervasive, sank into the sluggish brew, it no longer existed in Shanghai. It was good to have his sunglasses on. What can an Austrian attorney do in Shanghai? The interpreter smiled, was as silently embarrassed as Herr Tausig, a smile clamped to his face that nothing could shake, what can an Austrian attorney do in Shanghai? A shrug of shoulders, he can’t do anything, actually. On to the next name on the list. What can a housewife from Vienna do? She looks quite nice, not too tall, not too fat, if somewhat rumpled and sweaty from the long voyage, a friendly, understanding face, one that doesn’t understand anything but shows understanding for the situation of being asked questions, which isn’t pleasant even for the one asking them. What can you do? she is asked. She can do all kinds of things, raise a child, she can knit, crochet, play the piano, she can cook, bake, it’s already a fairly long list. That she can do something of use is something she has not considered. She receives a bow and instinctively bows in return, she bows, judiciously, and one doesn’t see that she’s sweating, one sees her straight European part, her dark hair, chestnut brown, her smile when she stands up again after bowing, one doesn’t know what it’s good for. But it looks good. A paper-thin smile, a sweaty hand that is now being shaken. It is the interpreter’s hand, which is familiar with foreign customs, a hand that itself is warm. Why would someone in Shanghai know German, why would he work for the Chinese? Everything’s a riddle. An authorization is pressed into Franziska Tausig’s hand, with lines of India ink thin as flies’ legs, and a paper on which the typewriter has pecked C O O K, the keys struck so hard they have made holes in the paper. Where there was an O, one can see the sky. Franziska Tausig can speak only a little bit of English, but she has hope of becoming a serviceable cook, her sweating and rumpled heart turns a cartwheel that she doesn’t want her husband, in his distress, to see.
Though Herr and Frau Tausig arrived in Shanghai dejected, their cloud had a little silver lining. Once the ship had reached harbor and the pilot and officials from immigration had come and gone, a large group of Europeans and Chinese arrived on board, a well-dressed group, some of them with their own interpreters, they called out names and professions from the passenger list and once again asked people about their skills, they had jobs to fill. Serious and self-important, and certain that they had something quite desirable to offer, they presented themselves as rescuers and benefactors, and the passengers, who had been led into a large waiting room, immediately stood up straighter. Barmaids were in great demand, but Frau Tausig was no barmaid and didn’t wish to become one. Craftsmen were also needed, cobblers in particular or, even better, cobblers who did custom work, that was a fine profession and remained a fine profession in Vienna, if the one practicing it weren’t a Jew. A lawyer was dealt a bad hand, a particularly bad hand if he was no longer young and was hard-of-hearing. Lazarus never tired of saying, “Lawyers, basically, were as good as lost, for what good was German or Austrian law in China?” He knew a few who had been admitted to the Chinese courts, and one lawyer, who had been a judge in Breslau, was hired by the Jewish community in Shanghai to serve on the court of arbitration, which wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Herr Tausig had prepared himself for emigration by taking a course in machine knitting. A knitting machine with lots of clattering teeth, not just two needles but an entire set of dentures: it was all the rage. And he had brought with him a product of his newly-acquired skill, a shawl he had knitted for his wife. He twisted and turned it in his hands, but no one was interested in his product. Oh, if only he had brought a knitting machine with him from Europe! An exporter of knitting machines to the Far East, that would have been the thing, perhaps, but then he would have needed a partner in Austria, and who would have wanted to go into business with a Jew? Who would have dared do that? So at the end in Vienna he hadn’t been in the situation of buying a knitting machine. The cost of their passage had taken the last of their money. Cooking and baking was a broad field, Franziska Tausig didn’t look like a cook or a baker’s wife, but Austrian cuisine enjoyed a good reputation. A man called out her name, she stepped forward, reaching out her hand, a habit she quickly had to break herself of in Shanghai, but he only wanted to take a look at her, from top to bottom, her hair tousled by the sea air, her well-cut but rumpled marine-blue outfit with its small number of mother-of-pearl buttons between breast and hips, he looked at her hands, piano hands, and her wedding ring, his eyes swept over her skirt and stockings, which were much too warm for the sweltering heat of Shanghai, but in Vienna a lady wore stockings, his eyes slipped down to her shoes with the straps. Frau Tausig felt as sized-up as a horse, she’d never been looked at like that, but there was nothing to do but endure it. Suddenly the man had seen enough of her and asked her right to her face: Can you make apple strudel? I’ve heard you’re from Vienna. Frau Tausig answered yes to the first and then affirmed the second question, with enthusiasm. Come to my restaurant tomorrow, the man said. If you can bake apple strudel, a proper Viennese apple strudel, I’ll hire you as cook. She had made apple strudel, some had been successful, some not, that’s the way it was with apple strudel, unpredictable lads with minds of their own, which sometimes were plum full of crazy thoughts. Tucked deeply into the warm belly of an oven they feel right at home, while the baker collapses in a sweat. Everyone who bakes apple strudel knows this. Can you make apple strudel? There was nothing to be done, Frau Tausig wanted and had to say yes. And later, thinking about it, writing about it, she believed that she had answered yes happily, swallowing her doubts. That Lazarus, too, had doubts, doubts that he would ever find his footing again, was something he hinted at.
Trucks waited onshore for the new arrivals. A long-winded representative of the Relief Committee greeted the refugees, Frau Tausig, in her excitement, immediately forgot what he said, except for one sentence: Now you no longer are Germans and Austrians, now you are only Jews. Herr and Frau Tausig had never ridden in an open truck before, what did you hold onto, where did you sit? These questions answered themselves, there were so many people crowded together on the flatbed that they all had to stand, and, at a sudden lurch or slamming of brakes, all keeled over like bowling pins. The truck stopped in front of a housing complex that had been hastily constructed. Shanghai had been through a war, the city had burned and had buried its dead, whom those living in Germany and Austria had never even heard about. They were busy with their own survival. The city was spilling over with refugees from the occupied areas of China. The Japanese had also taken over parts of the city and placed them under Japanese rule. Buildings had been destroyed and were now laboriously being rebuilt, something the newcomers queuing up for food and clothing found out from those emigrants who had been in Shanghai longer, those who, it was clear at first glance, hadn’t ever quite made it back onto their feet again. The housing blocks in which the Jewish emigrants now lived were made up of destroyed buildings. The first emigrants had helped to fix them up in makeshift fashion. It was a lucrative business, using people as commodities. They were consigned to sections of the city that had been torn down and they built them up again, they had work and the property gained in value. The newcomers knew nothing about the city, or shamefully little. One had to study it. Herr Tausig, behind his sunglasses, didn’t want to take in the city, its noise, its smells. An enormous city with its assorted and diverse administrations, with tens of thousands of foreigners of all nationalities, the French Concession, the International Settlement, the Western District. The Japanese had bombed the city for the first time in 1937, badly damaging it, and after that the world forgot the great city. Japanese troops, following vehement resistance from the Chinese, had occupied the workers’ quarter, Chapei, to the northeast, and Hongkew, the section of the city that had suffered the greatest damage. Now they also controlled the part of Shanghai that remained Chinese as well as Hongkew. The city was cut off from the hinterland, farsighted enterprises were already beginning to move their headquarters to Hong Kong or Singapore. An enormous city with its grassy lawns and tennis courts, its dog races and trade giants conducting their business in every which direction, elegant Art Deco buildings for the international set, the refugees knew nothing, nothing of the immeasur- able wealth of the old families and nothing of the misery of the Chinese refugees who flooded into the city from the occupied areas, in rags, filthy, wretched and in need of help. They knew nothing of the open city, open to any kind of business, open to any kind of shame, open to anyone who wanted to rake in money and open to anyone who was destined to die of starvation. All of this was so because of the agreement imposed by the British on Imperial China in 1843, following its defeat in the first Opium War, an agreement that made Shanghai an open city. Open city, open experience, an open gate through which one enters. The fact that one could not exit again was discovered only later. An open gate that without fail closes. Whoever entered the city found a much different sort of difficulty than expected. One could take any work offered him. But is work offered? More than likely not. One must invent for oneself the work one wishes to do, a craft, an activity, a service, a scam, perhaps. The chance of finding work, Lazarus noted right away, was just as great as that of winning the lottery. The immigrant had to learn how to wait, month after month, year after year until an opportunity presented itself. All who immigrated to Shanghai, whether they found a job or not, Lazarus said, were hoping to move on. For that one required a visa, a money supply, a guarantor, and who had that, no one. No one anywhere else wanted them. No one wanted to stay, they lived on call.
The Japanese military insisted on being addressed with great deference as representatives of the Tenno, the Emperor, they openly humiliated Chinese pedestrians on the street, and the new refugees from Germany and Austria who witnessed this humiliation were devastatingly reminded of how they had been humiliated in Germany, in Austria. Lazarus had a sense of proportion: what it was they needed to learn. They knew nothing of the other refugees, nothing of China, subtle differences had to be drummed into them, foreigner, Russian, refugee. The foreigners were the British, American, Dutch, the German community with its consular employees and business representatives, shot through with National Socialists, they would eventually get to know them. They knew nothing of the Russians, with whom they now were competing for work, and at the lowest end of the scale the displaced, the newcomers lost in the huge swarm of people, they knew nothing at all, the refugees.
One hall for men, one hall for women, a few stools and hooks for clothing, piles of suitcases, piles of dirty laundry, shoes, muddy shoes, sheets and blankets soaked with sweat and stinking, that was it. Sink or swim. The residential heime, or group homes, had been set up in Shanghai’s poorest sections. They were far from the harbor, far from the wide European-looking avenues, the splendid Victorian banks and commercial buildings, far from the diplomatic missions and consulates, on the other side of the Garden Bridge, in a part of the city marked by depressing ugliness. The home in which the Tausigs lived was a barracks where White Russians once had resided, someone told them. It had been patched up laboriously with the help of the first emigrants, who then fixed up buildings for the second wave of emigrants, who made repairs for the next wave in need of shelter, and so on.
The dormitory rooms for men and for women with children, distressingly overcrowded, lay along bare corridors. In this home more than 120 beds were squeezed into one dormitory room. No thought had been given to the fact that married couples might want to be together. (Who came up with such plans and why?) Bed next to bed, no individual lockers or stools or hooks, each alone with his or her bundle of misfortune, under the bed a suitcase with mementos. Arrival at a home gnawed at one’s self-esteem, and it could be predicted that dormitory life devoured one’s self-esteem. There were tears on arrival. Herr Tausig didn’t take off his sunglasses that first evening, overwhelmed by his desire not to see. The refugees lined up three times a day to receive their meals in tin bowls. The Shanghailanders—which is what the long-established white population of Shanghai called themselves—saw people still very well-dressed in European fashions standing on line in order to receive a plate of beans or corn mush. Shame on their faces, shame in looking at them. The Shanghailanders preferred to look away.
Heart aflutter, hands trembling, Frau Tausig looked at their lodging in the Ward Road home as if through a fog, she didn’t unpack, she helped her husband store the suitcases, how was she supposed to sleep in such crowded quarters, in a huge room with 60 women, while her husband, in the room for men that was twice as big, was assigned the top berth of a bunk bed as if he were staying in a youth hostel. But the very first evening he met an astonishing man, a Berliner, who scampered up onto the berth next to him as sprightly as a squirrel. Brieger from Charlottenburg, he said, art historian. And who are you? Herr Tausig, at this formal and at the same time ironic introduction, almost fell off the berth he had just climbed up onto, the introduction was like a type of discreet bow, but the two older men, who had stood in line together with their washbasins, waiting for a spigot in preparation for the night, overlooked their nightshirts, the ridiculousness of their initial encounter, which after all they had been forced into, and saw right through to one another. Good night, good night, roommate.
In the morning, a bad awakening as if from an awful dream in the room of coughing, shuffling, perspiring men, the art historian from Berlin waved from the neighboring bunk, they met again in the long line to receive their breakfast handout, millet porridge with dried dates, what a breakfast, there were men from Breslau and Frankfurt, but scarcely anyone who hadn’t left a larger city behind. It seemed it was only big city types who had the courage to journey to Shanghai, to escape the Nazis’ provincial furor and hatred, and that too was an experience, a crushing experience. Experiencing it called for booking a long and expensive passage by ship. Then Herr Tausig located his wife, which made him happy, he drank a cup of tea, tin-cup tea, ate a piece of pastry that tasted of lard, which his wife, however, bit into with exuberance and energy, she smiled at him, not exactly as if she had passed the night in a grand hotel, but in a relatively genteel establishment at the least. (And he knew that she was lying with her whole bearing, with her whole feigned eagerness. And had he said this to her, she would have answered: Stay where you are, then, and weep. We must go on.) She didn’t say this, of course, he was afraid that she wanted to say it. For which reason he himself said nothing and nestled up against her in silence, his wife with her unnaturally cheerful expression. I’m not staying here, her husband had said as she met up with him in the food line, I’ll go mad. She had talked to him as if to a sulking child, so where do you want to go? You have to stay here. They had almost never been separated since their marriage. The last separation was in Vienna, when they had come for her husband in the middle of the night and she didn’t know if he would ever return. Now they wanted never to be separated. In other words: he trotted along after her. The restaurant owner kept his word and picked up Frau Tausig early that afternoon; the fog had barely lifted and now it all depended on her dredging up a vague memory of how to bake an apple strudel. The restaurant he took her to was a solid two-story building, he showed her the dining area and then slipped with her into the blazing hot kitchen.
If the future didn’t arrive, the present stretched itself out. The present meant: tying on a big apron, taking a dull knife in hand, a sharp one obviously wasn’t available or was being used for other purposes, bending over a basket of apples, peeling them in quick spirals, the blade sliced the apple quarters into thin sections, sliced them so quickly that the apples had no time to turn brown. Frau Tausig had baked cakes for family occasions but hadn’t brought her cookbook with her to Shanghai, what did she need a cookbook for when her whole middle-class existence had been shipwrecked and no passed-down recipe was going to help. How many eggs in how much flour and how much lukewarm water with salt and lard were to be kneaded together—this is what had slipped into the farthest reaches of her memory. Were cinnamon and raisins and unbleached flour available, Frau Tausig asked the restaurant owner. We have everything you need, was the answer. A clever answer, and yet unsatisfying. And her question a wavering, a hoping to put off the test into a future that wasn’t dependent upon her abilities, a future in which a lack of provisions would cover for her lack of qualifications. She sifted the flour into a big bowl, made a hollow in the little mound, cracked an egg into it, added a dash of salt and filled the hollow with water. She worked slowly, carefully, sensing that they were watching her hands. It embarrassed her, and at the same time she was a bit proud to have an audience. She had to make herself put her hands into the whitish sludge and turn the flour into crumbly dough, which webbed her fingers like a sticky swim fin, she needed to flour her hands, she kneaded and kneaded, she kneaded for her life. Frau Tausig formed the mixture into a dough ball and suddenly remembered that it had to rest, and so for those around her she made a smoothing motion at the same time that she pointed to the ball of dough. She had the feeling that they had understood, so the dough rested while she sweated. She sweated even more when she turned on the oven to heat. She sorted through the raisins, plucked off stems, picked out little stones she found among the fruit, remembered how she had looked on as a child as her mother did her baking, and begged for raisins (something her son had never done), and suddenly she saw the greedy little child’s hand that had been her own, thought fleetingly of her mother as if of a patron saint, left behind in Vienna as a helpless old woman, and knew that she had to work the dough, work it until it formed bubbles, over and over again she picked it up and slapped it against the side of the bowl. Flour stuck to her hands and her hair. It was hard to work a lump of dough, to pound and punch it with the balls of her hands until it was pliant, smooth to the touch, a shape that bent to her will. She removed the dough from the bowl and laid it on the dough tray. Now it was a matter of rolling the ball of dough, roughly the size of a child’s head, into a paper-thin sheet without tearing it. She first used the rolling pin, until the ball was the size of dinner plate, then she worked her fingers underneath it until she reached its center. She stretched the dough, pulling and tugging at it, seduced it into growing and at the same time into getting thinner, and she had to do this quickly so that the heat wouldn’t cause the dough to stick. She stood there in the restaurant kitchen as if she were a magician, her hands, concealed under the thin layer of dough, pulling and tugging, smoothing, the imprint of her fingers visible on the surface, which was getting thinner and thinner and larger and larger. It had to be paper-thin, so thin you could read a newspaper through it, that was what she had learned from her mother. They couldn’t really see what she was doing in the hollow she had created under the dough, she spread it, she stretched it from its middle to its outer edges to get it to expand, she enticed it into growing. Every place she put her hands on it, it could have torn, but it didn’t—to her own surprise. It grew and grew: not under her hands but in the tent the dough formed above her nimble fingers. Yes, it was a work of art she was creating. The restaurant owner looked on, a few of the Chinese cooks who had been occupied with meat and ginger root looked on, Rudi the rice cook, an emigrant from Breslau who formerly had been a factory owner (she found out only later), gave her a wink. A large stockpot simmered, steaming, as Franziska Tausig worked. The women washing the dishes stopped washing, the foreign baker carefully pulled the dough apart, stretched it, vigilantly checked for holes, but miraculously there were none. That was fortunate (or perhaps only a fluke?), one more critical check, she would have liked to have a measuring stick, but was afraid it would have a kind of measurement she wouldn’t understand: feet or hands or inches or Chinese units she would embarrass herself with, so she stretched out her bare, sweaty arm, she had a rough idea of the length between fingertips and elbow, and this length was about right for the diameter of the strudel dough, she was satisfied. She asked for butter, a small pot of it was brought to her in what looked like a lard pot, and from this she assumed that in Shanghai butter was precious and scarce, and so it was. She heated the butter to spread it, a thin layer over the dough, asking for a brush to do so. She didn’t know the English word “brush,” but with her right hand she made a brushing motion on her left palm, a kind of dry-run calligraphy. The soup cook, a man with a thin little beard that he twirled, immediately understood and brought a small brush that she cautiously sniffed, it smelled a bit strong but not unpleasant (she didn’t know at the time what soy sauce smelled and tasted like and what it could do to a mild dish), so she brushed the melted butter onto the surface of the dough, which now looked to her like a pale full moon. She asked for a dishcloth, someone handed her something that looked like a diaper, she sniffed it as well and, not detecting any particular odor, accepted it.
She placed the dough on the cloth, divvied out the sugared apple slices and the raisins, a pinch of cinnamon—that was the simplest, most satisfying way to do it—and then folded it over onto itself using the cloth, it wasn’t much different than diapering a baby, tucked the ends into the doughy parcel so that the corners didn’t stick out and the apple juice wouldn’t run, now the memory of a baby’s body was quite strong, the swaddling and diapering of her son, whom she so missed but couldn’t show, it made her think of her husband, imagine him even sadder than he already was, back in the home on Ward Road in one of the men’s dorm rooms, which were stacked to the rafters with objects, rugs, candlesticks, photo albums and silver chests, totally useless now. But her energetic wrapping and folding of the apple pastry served a blatant purpose, though one that only Rudi the rice cook might understand: I’m getting my husband out. I’m baking so that he won’t waste away in the dorm room among the other stranded men, at this moment her own stranded state didn’t occur to her. (But Brieger, whom Tausig had met again that morning, wasn’t stranded, he was merely taking a break between one activity and another. He was having a rest in the dormitory, literally. This was before he took a room, divided by a curtain, with Ludwig Lazarus.) Hands dusted in flour are a good precautionary measure against feeling stranded, she noted to her own relief, but this relief did not in turn relieve her husband, rather it burdened, distressed him.
She placed her work on the greased baking sheet, shoved it into the oven. Now all she could do was wait and pray that the heat in the oven indeed corresponded to the temperature on the dial, the strudel called for 30 to 40 minutes at 400 degrees, she looked at the clock and waited, her knees knocking. She was offered a cup of tea, which she sipped, it was bitter, she watched the cooks as they cleaned the vegetables and cooked rice in a big pot, the knife with which she peeled the apples still lay on the table, she offered to help with the cleaning of the vegetables, clack, clack, clack was the sound of the knife chopping the cabbage stalks into small pieces. The restaurant owner looked on, pleased, the woman could work and could see where work was needed, a plus for her. Frau Tausig’s nerves calmed a bit, and the Chinese cook smiled at her, showing his crooked teeth, his rose-colored tongue protruding between them. Rudi the rice cook said: It will happen. And Frau Tausig, skeptical, answered: Things don’t always happen as one would wish. But Rudi had the last word: Stranger things have happened.
Then a sweet smell enveloped the kitchen, a good sign. Frau Tausig took the strudel out of the oven, the cooks gathered round her and the strudel, the owner, who in the interim had been drinking with the guests in the restaurant, was called to the kitchen. Frau Tausig sliced the strudel and put it on plates and everyone in the kitchen ate some and looked at the baker with respect, it was a magic act. She didn’t know how it happened that her first Chinese apple strudel was a success, highly praised. Later she was to insist that it was the best apple strudel she made in her entire life. The apple strudel saved her life, was a miracle, is how she thought of it. She was immediately hired as cook, the new “Missy” was the Pidgin English expression. Franziska Tausig won the lottery, she had found a job at first go. The next strudel she baked was purchased by an association of Japanese officers, a large circle of devout pastry eaters who returned again and again and brought their friends and ate and ate, looking very happy as they did so.
[Translated from the German by Edna McCown]