Exodus from Vienna

Vienna – Prague – New York 1938

"I'm coming with you"
Zemlinsky to his wife who was resolved to escape, 1938

After the Anschluss (annexation) of Austria in March 1938 the Zemlinsky family of three soon decided to emigrate to the USA. As a first step Zemlinsky applied on 7 May for an entry visa to Prague, which he received in June, valid for four months. At the same time the girlfriend of his youth — his first wife's sister, Melanie Guttmann-Rice — who had emigrated already in 1901, tried to acquire an affidavit (capitalist visa) from the American immigration authorities for the Zemlinskys. She had to oblige herself to support the immigrants in case of an emergency. However, the application was turned down.

The family stayed therefore for the time being in the city. The official route to an escape was arduous and Zemlinsky found it extremely difficult to give up his homeland — even though the impending catastrophe had literally already reached the composer's door: one day when the Nazis knocked at the door in the Kaasgrabengasse, it was only thanks to Louise's presence of mind, who offered them a donation, that nothing worse happened. As Louise related later, at the time Zemlinsky was considering converting back to the Jewish faith.

Finally in the autumn the family decided to flee. Countless other formalities had to be settled. The hardest was the payment of a Reichsfluchtsteuer (a tax for escaping from the Reich) amounting to 27,718 Reichsmark — this more or less corresponded to the value of the house in the Kaasgrabengasse.
The Zemlinskys left Vienna on 10 September. They each had $8 "travel allowance" in their pocket and set off for Prague where initially they lived with Louise's mother. Nine weeks later they travelled via Rotterdam to Boulogne where they embarked on 14 December on the SS Statendam. They arrived in New York on 23 December. Their housemaid had arranged the transport of their belongings, including their furniture and Zemlinsky's manuscripts and these arrived in the city on 25 January 1939. One manuscript, however, was among the few pieces of luggage Zemlinsky took with him on the long journey: his new opera Der König Kandaules.



Final notification of "Escape Tax", issued for Alexander and Louise Zemlinsky on 20 August 1938 in Vienna. According to an order of April 1938 the amount of tax to be paid was a fourth of the entire capital of the émigrés.


Fiscal clearance certificate, issued for Alexander and Louise Zemlinsky on 5 September 1938 in Vienna. This certificate was only issued when the payment of the "Escape Tax" had been registered by the authorities.


Zemlinsky's last passport, issued on 7 September 1938 in Vienna. Louise Zemlinsky had taken the initiative to escape from Vienna. Later she recalled, "When Hitler came to Austria, I decided the next day to go to the American Embassy and apply for a visa. I asked Zemlinsky if he wanted to stay in Vienna. He wanted to sleep over it. The following morning he said to me, 'I'm coming with you.'"
However, it took until the autumn before the family could in fact leave Europe. The escape began on 10 September 1938 with the journey from Vienna to Prague. In the nine weeks the Zemlinskys stayed there, they experienced circumstances that were hardly different from those in Vienna. Here many formalities had to be settled too, including the application for an American entry visa "on the quota"(without proof of a living). This document arrived on 11 November; the family left Prague on 2 December. First they flew to Belgium, then took the train to Rotterdam and left there by ship first to Boulogne, from where on 14 December they set off for the New World.



Alien Registration Receipt Card with Zemlinsky's fingerprint, ca. 1940. The document was a kind of personal identity card for non-Americans, issued by the immigration authorities.