Adventures of a Bystander
by Peter Drucker
Bibliography for many of Drucker's books
Amazon link: Adventures of a Bystander
See about management
Quotes from Amazon.com book page
An amazing pageant of characters, both famous and otherwise, springs from these pages, illuminating and defining one of the most tumultuous periods in world history.
Along with bankers and courtesans, artists, aristocrats, prophets, and empire-builders, we meet members of Drucker’s own family and close circle of friends, among them such prominent figures as Sigmund Freud, Henry Luce, Alfred Sloan, John Lewis, and Buckminster Fuller.
Playing to perfection their roles as those who “reflect and refract” the customs, beliefs, and attitudes of the times, these singular personalities lend Adventures of a Bystander a striking “you-are-there” feel.
I laughed and I cried as I read Adventures of a Bystander.
I have always had enormous respect for Professor Drucker, but this book has taken my respect and awe of him to another plateau.
To learn how and what Professor Drucker thought as a child and how many momentous decisions he made by the time he was fourteen helps us understand him as a person and the environment from which all of his other works come.
My grandmother also grew up in Austria and the “Grandmother stories” brought back very precious memories.
Once again, even as a youngster, we see Professor Drucker uncannily knowing what will happen by studying (by living) the events of the times.
One cannot really understand and appreciate Professor Drucker and his other works without reading this book, and yet, reading many of his other works first, made me appreciate Adventures of a Bystander even more.
Contents of Adventures of a Bystander
Preface to the New Edition
Prologue: A Bystander Is Born
Report From Atlantis
Grandmother And The Twentieth Century
Hemme And Genia
Miss Elsa And Miss Sophy (great teachers)
Freudian Myths And Freudian Realities
Count Traun-Trauneck And The Actress Maria Mueller
Young Man In An Old World
The Man Who Invented Kissinger
The Monster And The Lamb
Noel Brailsford—The Last Of The Dissenters
Ernest Freeberg’s World
The Bankers And The Courtesan
The Indian Summer Of Innocence
Henry Luce And Time-Life-Fortune
The Prophets: Buckminster Fuller And Marshall McLuhan
The Professional: Alfred Sloan (My Years with General Motors)
The Indian Summer Of Innocence
See What do you want to be remembered for?
Preface to the New Edition
I taught religion once, many years ago, and I greatly enjoyed it.
(see The Unfashionable Kierkegaard and The Happiness Purpose)
But I never had much use for theology.
There are, I am told, some thirty-five thousand different species of flies.
But if the theologians had their way, there would be only one, the right Fly.
The Creator glories in diversity.
And no species is more diverse than those two-legged creatures, Men and Women.
(See mental patterns for an explanation of this diversity.)
Even as a small child I marvelled at their diversity.
And I have never met a single uninteresting person.
No matter how conformist, how conventional, or how dull, people become fascinating the moment they talk of the things they do, know, or are interested in.
Everyone then becomes an individual.
The most conventional person I can recall, a banker in a small New England town, who seemed to know nothing but the most hackneyed clichés, became fascinating when he suddenly started talking about buttons throughout the ages—their invention, their shapes, their materials, their functions and uses—with a fire and passion worthy of a great lyrical poet.
The subject did not interest me much; the man did.
He had become an individual.
And individuals in their diversity are portrayed in this book.
It is this belief in diversity and pluralism and in the uniqueness of each person that underlies all my writings, beginning with my first book (The End of Economic Man) more than fifty years ago.
During most of these fifty years centralization, uniformity, and conformity were dominant.
The totalitarian regimes (The End of Economic Man) in which everybody was to conform, to think the same, to write and paint the same, to be centrally controlled—the Nazis called it “switched onto the same track” (gleichgeschaltet)—were but the head of a universal current.
It swept over the democracies as well.
But every one of my books and essays, whether dealing with politics, philosophy, or history; with social order and social institutions; with management, technology, or economics, has stressed pluralism and diversity.
Where the prevailing doctrines preached control by big government or big business, I stressed decentralization, experimentation, and the need to create community.
And where the prevailing approaches saw government and big business as the only institutions and as the “countervailing powers” of a modern society, I stressed the importance and central role of the non-profit, public-service institutions, the “third sector”—as the nurseries of independence and diversity; as guardians of values; as providers of community leadership and citizenship.
sidebar → but there’s no virtue in being a non-profit
And I pointed out how much of society is organized and informed by non-business, non-governmental institutions, the universities, for instance, or the hospitals, each with very different values and a different personality.
But I was swimming against a strong current.
Now, at last, the tide has turned, and it has turned my way.
The flag-bearer of the collectivist, centralizing, uniformity-imposing parade, Communism, has proven a sham, incompetent even to provide the mere rudiments of effective government, functioning economy, citizenship, and community.
And in the West too we are now rapidly decentralizing, indeed uncentralizing.
For a generation after World War II, we believed that any sickness was best treated in a centralized hospital, the bigger the better.
We are now moving patients into “outreach” facilities as fast as we can.
During the last fifteen years America’s large corporations have been shrinking steadily.
All the phenomenal employment growth in this period—the fastest growth in jobs in peacetime history anywhere—has been in small and middle-sized enterprises.
In the decades following World War II, America built ever-bigger consolidated schools—one cause, I believe, of our educational malaise.
Now we are moving towards diverse, decentralized schools, the “magnet schools,” for instance.
(See chapter 14, “The Accountable School” in Management, Revised Edition)
“Small is beautiful” is, of course, as much stifling dogma as “big is best”—and equally stupid, as one look at the diversity of God’s creation will show.
We surely will not return to the nineteenth-century society, which knew only the smallest and weakest of governments and few institutions except the local church and school.
The knowledge society into which we are moving so fast is going to be a society of organizations.
But of organizations—plural—that will be diverse, decentralized, multiform.
See sidebar below
And within these organizations, we are moving away from the standardized, uniform structures that were generally accepted in public administration and business management, “the one right structure for the typical manufacturing company,” for instance, or the “model government agency.”
We are moving toward organic design, informed by mission, purpose, strategy, and the environment, both social and physical—the design I began to advocate forty years ago in The Practice of Management (which came out in 1954). …
Sidebars ↓ : … to pursue the preceding line of thought
The Management Revolution
How To Guarantee Non-Performance
Innovation as a normal activity
Management’s New Paradigm ↓
… the center of a modern society, economy and community is not technology.
It is not information.
It is not productivity.
The center of modern society is the managed institution.
The managed institution is society’s way of getting things done these days.
And management is the specific tool, the specific function, the specific instrument, to make institutions capable of producing results.
The institution, in short, does not simply exist within and react to society.
It exists to produce results on and in society.
… and Management, Revised Edition contains a “Management’s New Paradigm” chapter with a different “thoughtscape” a.k.a. “brainscape.”
Management Cases (Revised Edition) provides a more day-to-day, issue-to-issue, situational “landscape” view.
“From Analysis to Perception — The New World View” found in The New Realities or The Essential Drucker.
Form and Function Connections ↑: see chapters On Being the Right Size and On Being the Wrong Size in Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices and others. (calendarize this?)
main brainroad continues ↓
… But while my writings for fifty years have been stressing organic design, decentralization, and diversity, they deal with ideas, that is, with abstractions.
They draw heavily on my work with people as a teacher and as a consultant.
And I always try to bring in people to exemplify and to illustrate.
But still, these individuals are being used to exemplify and to illustrate concepts.
I myself have always been more interested in people than in concepts.
But I have known all along that as a writer I do better with concepts than with people.
Adventures of a Bystander is thus a book I wrote for myself.
It is a book about people.
Not about myself; the subtitle of the British edition describes my intention: Other Lives and My Times.
No book of mine has had a longer gestation period; for twenty years I lived with the characters in my head, ate, drank, walked, talked with them, awake and in my dreams.
But no book of mine has come into the world faster—it took less than a year to complete once I sat down at the typewriter.
It is surely not my “most important” book.
But it is the one I enjoy the most.
And so apparently do my readers.
That the book has had success—more than enough to justify reissuing it in this new edition—is, of course, gratifying in itself.
But what is even nicer are the readers who write or who tell me when I encounter them in a meeting: “I have read many of your books, have learned a great deal from them, and use them constantly in my work.
(A possible methodology)
But of all your books I enjoy most Adventures of a Bystander.”
And then they often add: “I enjoy it so much because the people in it are so diverse.”
I chose the people in this book because of their diversity and because I enjoyed their stories the most.
But as an early reviewer pointed out, they also “signify.”
They were not picked because they were “great and famous.”
Indeed, most of them were totally obscure; the telephone directory was the only “reference book” ever to list them.
What holds them together is pure chance: they crossed my path.
But still, I think, their individual tales create a tapestry.
In a subjective, eclectic way, they convey, I hope, something of the atmosphere, the ambience, of a time that is rapidly fading—even in the recollection of older people: that very peculiar half-century between pre-World War I Europe and post-World War II America.
Each story is separate.
Each was picked because it made a good story.
But together, I believe, they show that history is, after all, composed of stories.
Memorial Day, 1990 Claremont, California
Prologue: A Bystander Is Born
Bystanders have no history of their own.
They are on the stage but are not part of the action.
They are not even audience.
The fortunes of the play and of every actor in it depend on the audience whereas the reaction of the bystander has no effect except on himself.
But standing in the wings—much like the fireman in the theater—the bystander sees things neither actor nor audience notices.
Above all, he sees differently from the way actors or audience see.
Bystanders reflect—and reflection is a prism rather than a mirror; it refracts.
This book is no more a “history of our times,” or even of “my times,” than it is an autobiography.
It uses the sequence of my life mainly for the order of appearance of its dramatis personae.
It is not a “personal” book; my experiences, my life, and my work are the book’s accompaniment rather than its theme.
But it is an intensely subjective book, the way a first-rate photograph tries to be.
It deals with people and events that have struck me—and still strike me—as worth recording, worth thinking about, worth rethinking and reflecting on, people and events that I had to fit into the pattern of my own experience and into my own fragmentary vision of the world around me and the world inside me.
I was still a week shy of my fourteenth birthday when I discovered myself to be a bystander.
The day was November 11, 1923—my birthday is on the nineteenth.
November 11 in the Austria of my childhood was “Republic Day,” commemorating the day, in 1918, on which the last of the Habsburg emperors had abdicated and the Republic was proclaimed.
For most of Austria this was a day of solemnity, if not of mourning—the day of final defeat in a nightmare war, the day in which centuries of history had crumbled into dust. …
… If you decide to read the book, be sure to identify the key people and events in each chapter: “people and events that have struck me—and still strike me—as worth recording, worth thinking about, worth rethinking and reflecting on.”
Then you might consider what these ideas mean for you in each of your life roles, what action is needed …
Also see Drucker's "My Life as a Knowledge Worker" and The Management Revolution
Grandmother and the Twentieth Century
I had not been back for almost twenty years when I visited Vienna in 1955 to give one or two lectures.
And even earlier, before I last stopped over in 1937 en route from England to America, I had been in Vienna only infrequently.
I had left as soon as I finished the Gymnasium, in 1927, not quite eighteen, and returned later only to spend Christmases with my parents, rarely for more than a week at a time. ¶¶¶
In 1955 I was going to stay only long enough to give my lectures.
But as I was walking outside my hotel the morning after my arrival, I passed a food market that had been a byword for choice delicacies in my childhood.
I remembered that I had promised my wife back in America a bottle of a particular Austrian liqueur, so I went into the store to buy it.
I did not remember ever having been there—certainly I had not been a regular customer.
But as I went through the door, the ancient lady who, according to old and by then thoroughly outmoded custom, presided over the store from the cash register, recognized me at once and hailed me by name.
“Mr. Peter,” she said, “how nice of you to visit us.
We read in the papers that you were coming here to lecture and wondered whether we’d see you.
We were very sorry to hear last year that your dear mother had passed away; and of course your dear Aunt Anna has been gone a long time now.
But I hear that your esteemed father is still alive and well.
Is it true that we can expect him in Vienna next year to celebrate his eightieth birthday?
Your Aunt Greta was here only a few years ago when your Uncle Hans got the honorary doctorate.
Being suppliers to the family from the old days, we didn’t think it would be presumptuous for us to send a hamper of fruit and a note of congratulations to their hotel, and we got such a gracious letter back from your Aunt Greta.
Those were lovely ladies.
The young people here,” and she nodded toward the sales personnel in the store, “don’t know real quality any more.
But, begging your pardon, Mr. Peter, none could compare with your grandmother.
What a wonderful lady she was; there was no one like her.
We live in the world we see
And,” she began to smile, “she was so funny!
Do you remember the story of her telegram to her niece’s wedding?”
She broke into loud cackling laughter and I joined her. ¶¶¶
Of course I knew the story of Grandmother’s telegram, even though it was sent well before I was born.
Unable to attend the wedding of a niece, Grandmother had wired:
Since it is considered proper and good form to confine oneself to the utmost brevity in sending a telegram let me only wish you on this solemn day MANY HAPPY RETURNS.
Then, according to family legend, Grandmother had complained bitterly that they charged so much when she was only wiring three words. ¶¶¶
Grandmother was tiny and small-boned and had been beautiful in her youth.
When I came to know her there were hardly any traces of youth and beauty left—except for her abundant curly hair, still a warm red-brown, of which she was very proud.
Shortly after her husband died and left her a widow when barely forty, she had had a long siege of illness:
the serious infection then called rheumatic fever that left her with permanent heart damage and perennially short of breath.
She was badly crippled by arthritis, and all her bones, especially in the fingers, were swollen and painful.
As the years went by she also became increasingly deaf. ¶¶¶
Yet nothing stopped grandmother from being on the go all the time and in every weather.
She would visit all over the city, by streetcar or, more often, on foot.
She was always armed with a big black umbrella that doubled as a cane, and lugged an enormous black shopping bag that weighed as much as she did and was full of tiny mysterious packages, individually wrapped—a few ounces of herb tea for an ailing old woman, a few postage stamps for a schoolboy, half a dozen “good” metal buttons from a discarded frock as a present for a dressmaker, and so on.
Grandmother was one of six sisters, every one of whom in turn had had at least four daughters, so that there were innumerable nieces.
Most of them had been brought up by Grandmother at one time or another and were closer to her than to their own mothers.
But there were also old family servants and retainers, elderly ladies in reduced circumstances and former fellow music students, old shopkeepers and craftsmen, and even old servants of long-dead friends.
“If I don’t visit her, who will do it?”
Grandmother would say when she set out for a long trip to some outlying suburb to look up “Little Paula,” the elderly widowed niece of her cousin’s long-deceased housekeeper.
And everyone, including her daughters and her nieces, had come to call her “Grandmother.” ¶¶¶
She spoke to everybody the same way, in the same pleasant friendly voice, and with the same old-fashioned courtesy.
She always remembered what was important to everyone she met even if she had not seen them in a long time.
“Tell me, Miss Olga,” she would say to the governess of the children next door to us, whom she had not seen for months, “how is that nephew of yours coming along?
Has he passed that final engineering exam by now?
Oh, you must be so proud of him.”
Or to the old cabinetmaker whose father had made the furniture for her trousseau and whom she dropped in to see once in a while for old time’s sake:
“Have you been able to get the city to cancel the increase in the real estate tax on your shop, Mr. Kolbel?
You were upset about it the last time we met.” ¶¶¶
Grandmother spoke the same way to the prostitute who had her stand at the street corner next door to the apartment house where she lived.
Everyone else would pretend not to see the woman.
But Grandmother would always wish her a good evening and say, “It’s a cold wind tonight, Miss Lizzie.
Do you have a warm scarf and is it wrapped tight?”
And one evening when she noticed that Miss Lizzie was hoarse, Grandmother crawled up the five flights to her apartment—this was postwar Vienna and elevators rarely functioned—rummaged in her medicine cabinet for cough drops, then painfully crawled down again to give them to Miss Lizzie.
“But Grandmother,” remonstrated one of her stuffier nieces, “it’s improper for a lady to talk to a woman like her.”
“Nonsense,” Grandmother said, “to be courteous is never improper.
I am not even a man; what that’s improper could she want with a stupid old woman like me?”
“But Grandmother, to bring her cough drops!”
“You,” Grandmother said, “always worry about the horrible venereal diseases the men get from these girls.
I can’t do anything about that.
But I can at least prevent her from giving a young man a bad sore throat.” ¶¶¶
One of Grandmother’s nieces—or maybe a grandniece—had become a starlet of film and musical comedy whose love affairs were forever being reported in the more lurid Sunday papers.
“I wouldn’t mind,” said Grandmother, “if I never heard another word about what goes on in Mimi’s bedroom.”
“Oh, Grandmother, don’t be a prude,” a granddaughter said.
“I know,” said Grandmother, “she has to have these affairs and I know she has to get them in the papers.
It’s the only way she can get a decent part; she has no voice and can’t act.
But I wish she wouldn’t name those awful men in her interviews.”
“But Grandmother,” the granddaughter said, “the men love it.”
“That’s just what I object to,” snapped Grandmother; “pandering to the vanity and conceit of those dirty old lechers.
I call it prostitution.” ¶¶¶
Grandmother’s marriage had apparently been very happy.
To her dying day, she kept her husband’s portrait in her bedroom and went into seclusion on the anniversary of his death.
Yet he had been a notorious philanderer.
When I was about seventeen and walking down one of Vienna’s main streets, an ancient chauffeur-driven automobile passed me, then stopped.
A hand waved at me out of the rear window.
I went up and saw two women sitting inside, one heavily veiled, the other a maid, judging by her apron.
The maid said to me:
“My lady thinks you might be Ferdinand Bond’s grandson.”
Yes, I was.
The maid said:
“He was my lady’s last lover”—and the car drove off. ¶¶¶
I was terribly embarrassed, but apparently not embarrassed enough to keep quiet.
The story got to Grandmother, who called me in and cross-examined me about the veiled lady in the car.
Then she said, “It must have been Dagmar Siegfelden.
I can well believe that your grandfather was her last lover—poor woman, she was never very attractive.
But you can take it from me, she was not your grandfather’s last mistress.”
“But Grandmother,” I said—we were forever, it seems, saying, “But Grandmother”—“didn’t his having mistresses bother you?”
“Of course it did,” said Grandmother.
“But I would never have a husband who didn’t have mistresses.
I’d never know where he was.”
“But weren’t you afraid he might leave you?”
“Not in the least,” said Grandmother.
“He always came home to eat dinner.
I am only a stupid old woman, but I know enough to realize that the stomach is the male sex organ.” ¶¶¶
Grandmother’s husband had left her a large fortune.
But it all went in the Austrian inflation, and Grandmother had become poor as a church-mouse.
She had lived in a big two-story apartment with plenty of servants; now she lived in a corner of her former maids’ quarters and kept house all alone.
Her health grew steadily worse.
Yet the only thing she ever complained about—and that rarely—was that arthritis and deafness increasingly prevented her from playing and listening to music.
In her young days she had been a pianist, one of Clara Schumann’s pupils and asked by her several times to play for Johannes Brahms, which was Grandmother’s proudest memory.
A girl of good family could not become a public performer, of course.
But until her husband died and she fell ill, Grandmother often played at charity concerts.
One of her last performances had been under Mahler’s baton shortly after he had taken over as conductor of the Vienna Opera in 1896.
She had no use for the big romantic sensuous sound that the Viennese loved.
She called it “stockjobbers’ music,” and considered it vulgar.
Instead, Grandmother anticipated by half a century the dry, unadorned, precise “French” style that has become popular in the last twenty years.
She never used the pedals.
Altogether she disliked sentiment in music.
When she sat with us children while we practiced, she would always say, “Don’t play music, play notes.
If the composition is any good, that will make music out of it.”
She had on her own discovered the French Baroque masters—Lully, Rameau and, above all, Couperin—who were then totally out of fashion.
And she played them with a dry, even, harpsichord-like sharpness rather than with the sonority of the “grand piano” which, of course, had not been invented when the music was written.
She had a remarkable musical memory.
I once practiced a sonata.
Grandmother came in from the next room and said, “Play that bar again.”
I did so.
“That should be a D flat; you played a D.”
“But Grandmother,” I said, “the score says ‘D.’”
Then she looked at the score and found that it did say “D.”
Whereupon she called up the publisher—he was of course the husband of one of her nieces—and said, “On this or that page of your second volume of Haydn Piano Sonatas, in bar so-and-so, there is a misprint.”
And he called back two hours later to tell her that she had been right.
“How did you know this, Grandmother?” we would say.
“How could I not know it?” she came back.
“I played the piece when I was your age and in those days we were expected to know our pieces.” ¶¶¶
We all adored her.
But we all knew she was very funny indeed.
Like the lady in the delicatessen, we smiled when her name came up, then broke out laughing when we remembered this or that “Grandmother story.”
For we all knew that she, with all her wonderful qualities, was the family moron.
Every member of the family, from the oldest to the youngest, dined out on “Grandmother stories.”
They could make even the dullest and most tongue-tied of us the life of the party.
Our playmates, when we were still quite small, would clamor:
“Do you have any new Grandmother stories?” and would break out in guffaws of laughter when we told them.
As for instance: ¶¶¶
After years of being badgered by one of her sons-in-law, Grandmother finally set to work cleaning up her kitchen cabinet.
She then proudly displayed the new order.
Tacked onto the top shelf was a card on which Grandmother had written in her Victorian hand:
“Cups without Handles.”
Beneath it, on the next shelf, the card read:
“Handles without Cups.” ¶¶¶
The day came when Grandmother couldn’t keep all her stuff in the two tiny rooms to which she was finally reduced.
So she packed everything she didn’t need into enormous shopping bags and took off for the bank in the center of the city where she kept her account, by then down to a few pennies.
Her husband had started the bank and had been its chairman until he died, and she was still treated with the consideration due his widow.
But when she appeared with her shopping bags and asked to have the contents put on her account, the manager balked.
“We can’t put things on an account,” he said, “only money.”
“That’s mean and ungrateful of you,” said Grandmother; “you only do this to me because I am a stupid old woman.”
And she promptly closed her account and drew out the balance.
Then she went down the street to the nearest branch of the same bank, reopened her account there, and never said a word about her shopping bags.
“Grandmother,” we’d say, “if you thought the bank was unfriendly, why did you reopen your account at another branch?”
“It’s a good bank,” she said; “after all, my late husband founded it.”
“Then why not demand that the manager at the new branch take your stuff?”
“I never banked there before.
He didn’t owe me anything.” ¶¶¶
Grandmother’s troubles over her apartment were a never-ending source of stories.
She sublet it to a dentist who used one floor to live in and one floor for his office, with Grandmother keeping a few rooms in the back for herself.
But she and the dentist soon began to quarrel and engaged for years in a running fight-suing each other, claiming damages, and even filing criminal charges against one another.
Yet Grandmother kept on going to Dr. Stamm to have her teeth treated and her dentures made.
“How can you patronize a dentist you just had arrested for criminal trespass?” we would ask.
“I am only a stupid old woman,” Grandmother would reply, “but I know he’s a good dentist or else how could he afford those two big floors?
And he is convenient; I don’t have to go out in bad weather or climb stairs.
And my teeth are not part of the lease.” ¶¶¶
There was the story of how she threw a waitress out of her own restaurant.
She was traveling with four or five of us grandchildren—to take us to a summer camp, I believe.
When we changed trains we went into the station restaurant for lunch, and Grandmother noticed the slovenly waitress.
As the girl came close to our table, Grandmother hooked her with her umbrella handle and said quite pleasantly:
“You look like an educated, intelligent girl to me.
You wouldn’t want to work in a place where the staff doesn’t know how to behave, would you?
Go out that door,” Grandmother gave her a mighty shove with the umbrella toward the exit, “come in again and do it properly.”
The girl went meekly; and when she came in, she curtseyed.
We were terribly embarrassed and protested:
“But Grandmother, we aren’t going to be in this place ever again.”
“I hope not,” said Grandmother, “but the waitress has to be.” ¶¶¶
And there was the cryptic advice she always gave to her granddaughters:
“Girls, put on clean underwear when you go out.
One never knows what might happen.”
When one granddaughter, half amused and half offended, said to her:
“But Grandmother, I’m not that kind of a girl,” Grandmother answered:
“You never know until you are.” ¶¶¶
Grandmother held fast to “prewar.”
But her standard was not 1913; it was the time before her husband had died—especially in regard to money.
Austria had had a silver currency for most of the nineteenth century, the Gulden, which contained 100 Kreuzer.
Then in 1892, when Grandmother was a young woman of thirty-five or so, Austria switched to a gold currency, the Krone, with 100 Heller—each Gulden being exchanged into 2 Kronen.
Thirty years later inflation destroyed the Krone.
When it had depreciated to the point where it took 75,000 Kronen to buy what one had bought before the war, a new currency came in—the Schilling, each exchanged for 25,000 of the old Kronen.
Within a year or less everybody thought only in terms of the Schllhing, except for Grandmother.
She stayed with the Gulden when she went shopping.
She would laboriously translate prices from Schilling first into Kronen before the exchange, then into Kronen before World War I, and finally into Gulden and Kreuzer.
“How come the eggs cost so much?” she’d say.
“You ask thirty-five Kreuzer a dozen for them—they used to cost no more than twenty-five.”
“But, gracious lady,” the shopkeeper would reply, “it costs more these days to feed the hens.”
“Nonsense,” said Grandmother, “hens aren’t Socialists.
They don’t eat more just because we have a Republic.” ¶¶¶
My father, who was the economist in the family, tried to explain to her that prices had changed.
“Grandmother,” he said, “you have to realize that the value of money has changed because of war and inflation.”
“How can you say that, Adolph?”
“I am only a stupid old woman but I do know that you economists consider money the standard of value.
You might as well tell me that I am suddenly six feet tall because the yardstick has changed.
I’d still be well below average height.”
My father gave up in disgust.
But because he was as fond of Grandmother as we all were, he tried to help her.
At least he could relieve her of the chore of computing all those prices—multiplying by 25,000 and then by 3 and then by 2, or whatever it was Grandmother had to do to get back to what eggs had cost in 1892.
He made a conversion chart and presented it to her.
“How sweet of you, Adolph,” she said.
“But it doesn’t really help me unless it also tells me what things did cost back in those years.”
“But Grandmother,” my father said, “you know that—you always point out what eggs or lettuce or parsley used to cost in Gulden.”
“I am only a stupid old woman,” replied Grandmother, “but I have better things to do than stuff my brain with trivia like the price of parsley thirty years ago.
Besides I didn’t shop in those days; I had a housekeeper and a cook to do that.”
“But,” my father argued, “you always tell the shopkeepers that you know.”
“Of course, Adolph,” said my Grandmother; “you have to know or they’ll cheat you every time.” ¶¶¶
But Grandmother was at her best—or worst—when dealing with officialdom and politics. ¶¶¶
Before 1918 no one had a passport and no one had even heard of a visa.
Then suddenly one could not travel anywhere without both, and especially not from one part of what used to be the old Austria to another.
But also, in those first few years after the break-up of the old Austria, each of the successor states tried to make it as difficult and disagreeable as possible for the citizens of its neighbors to come in and for its own citizens to get out.
To get a passport one had to stand in line for hours—and then usually come back again because no one had the right papers, or even knew what papers were needed.
To get a visa one had again to stand in line for hours—and again, usually, come back.
And of course one had to go in person, accompanied by every member of the family who might go along on the trip.
At the new border stations everybody had to go out and stand in line in the open for hours, regardless of weather, then do the same all over again for the customs.
So when Grandmother announced in the summer of 1919 that she was going to visit her oldest daughter who, a year earlier, had married and moved to Budapest in Hungary, everybody tried to argue her out of the harebrained idea.
But no one ever changed Grandmother’s mind once it was made up. ¶¶¶
My father was then the senior civil servant at the Austrian Ministry of Economics.
So Grandmother, without telling him, went to the ministry’s messenger and had him get her the passports and the visa.
And she got passports, where everybody else had a hard enough time to get one.
Her late husband had been a British subject—that he had died twenty years earlier one did not need to tell anyone; and so she got a British passport.
She herself had lived all her life in Vienna, so she got an Austrian passport.
While her husband was alive he had an apartment in Prague, where he often went on business; of course the apartment had been sold when he died, but one doesn’t have to volunteer information to authority—and so she got a Czech passport.
Next she wrote her daughter in Budapest to get a Hungarian passport for her.
And she got the needed visas into each of these four passports the same way. ¶¶¶
When my father heard all this, he exploded.
“The ministry’s messenger is a public servant and must not be used on private business,” he shouted.
“Of course,” said Grandmother; “I know that.
But am I not a member of the public?” ¶¶¶
She had me put into the passports and visas as a minor accompanying her.
“Why should Peter come with you to Budapest?” my parents asked.
“You know very well,” said Grandmother, “that he only practices the piano when I sit with him; and he has so little talent he can’t afford to miss two weeks of practicing.” ¶¶¶
When we got to the border, the police ordered everybody out with their luggage.
But Grandmother stayed in her seat until the last person had entered the small shed at the end of the platform in which passports were inspected.
Then she hobbled to the passport office, black umbrella and shopping bag on one arm, me on the other.
The official was about ready to close up and had already taken down the sign.
“Why didn’t you come earlier?” he snarled.
“You were busy,” said Grandmother.
“You had people standing in line.”
With that she plonked the four passports on the table in front of him.
“But no one,” said the man, taken aback, “can have four passports.”
“How can you say that?” said Grandmother.
“Can’t you see I have four?”
The clerk, thoroughly beaten, said meekly, “But I can only stamp one.”
“You are a man, and educated, and an official,” said Grandmother, “and I am only a stupid old woman.
Why don’t you pick the one that will give me the best rate of exchange for Hungarian currency?” ¶¶¶
When he had stamped one passport and she had safely stowed all four of them back into her shopping bag, she said:
“You are such an intelligent young man; please get my bags and take them through customs for me.
I can’t lift them myself and,” nodding at me, “I have this boy to look after, to make sure he does his piano exercises.”
And the surly, supercilious clerk obeyed. ¶¶¶
As the twenties wore on, Austria steadily drifted toward civil war. ¶¶¶
The Socialists held the only big city, Vienna, with an unshakable majority.
The Catholic Conservatives held the rest of the country with an equally unshakable majority.
Neither side would give an inch.
Instead both built up private armies, brought in weapons from abroad, and prepared for a showdown.
By 1927 everybody knew it was imminent, and indeed everybody knew the fighting would start at a demonstration at the conclusion of some long, drawn-out legal trial.
The only question, apparently, was who would shoot first—which only depended on which side lost the lawsuit and took to the streets in protest.
When it was announced that the Supreme Court would hand down its verdict on a certain day, everybody got off the street, went home, and locked the door—everybody, that is, except Grandmother.
She sallied forth on her usual rounds.
But when she passed by the University—a block or two from her apartment house—she saw something unusual on the building’s flat roof.
As it was the middle of the summer vacation, the doors were locked.
But Grandmother knew, of course, where the back door was and how to get to the back stairs.
She climbed up all six or seven stories, umbrella and shopping bag in hand, until she came out on the roof.
And there was a battalion of soldiers in battle-dress with guns trained on the Parliament Square just below.
(The precautions were not altogether frivolous.
Riots started a few hours later.
The mob burned down the law courts and tried to set fire to the Parliament Building, and there was heavy fighting all over Vienna for another week or so.)
But Grandmother went straight up to the commanding officer and said, “Get those idiots out of here double-quick, and their guns with them.
They might hurt somebody.” ¶¶¶
The last time I saw Grandmother, already in the early 1930s, a big pimply youth with a large swastika on his lapel boarded the streetcar in which I was taking Grandmother to spend Christmas with us.
Grandmother got up from her seat, inched up to him, poked him sharply in the ribs with her umbrella, and said, “I don’t care what your politics are; I might even share some of them.
But you look like an intelligent, educated young man.
Don’t you know this thing”—and she pointed to the swastika—“might give offense to some people?
It isn’t good manners to offend anyone’s religion, just as it isn’t good manners to make fun of acne.
You wouldn’t want to be called a pimply lout, would you?”
I held my breath.
By that time, swastikas were no laughing matter; and young men who wore them on the street were trained to kick an old woman’s teeth in without compunction.
But the lout meekly took his swastika off, put it in his pocket, and when he left the streetcar a few stops later, doffed his cap to Grandmother. ¶¶¶
The whole family was aghast at the risk she had run.
Yet everybody also roared with laughter at her naïveté, her ignorance, her stupidity.
“Nazism just a form of acne, ha-ha-ha-ho-ho-ho,” roared her niece’s husband, Robert—the one who, as Undersecretary of War, had ordered the battalion onto the roof of the University and who had not been a bit amused when he heard of what he called “Grandmother’s feeble-minded interference with law and order.”
And “ha-ha-ha-ho-ho-ho” roared my father, who was then trying unsuccessfully to have the Nazi Party outlawed in Austria; “if only we could have Grandmother ride all streetcars, all the time.”
And “ha-ha-ha-ho-ho-ho” roared the (former) husband of a niece—she had died—who was suspected of having Nazi sympathies, or at least of making a very good thing out of stamping swastikas in his metalworking plant:
“Grandmother thinks politics is a finishing school!” ¶¶¶
I laughed too, just as hard as the others.
But it was then that I first began to wonder about Grandmother’s reputation as the family moron.
It wasn’t only that her stupidity worked.
She did get through the postwar boundaries without having to stand in line for days on end; she made the grocer reduce his prices; and she got the lout to take off his swastika.
Yet that, I reflected, might still be stupidity, for as an old Latin tag has it, even the gods fight in vain against stupidity.
But I had been arguing with Nazis for years and never seen the slightest results.
Facts, figures, rational argument—nothing availed.
Here was Grandmother appealing to manners, and it worked.
Of course I knew the lout had put back the swastika as soon as he was out of Grandmother’s sight.
But for a moment he might have felt a little bit ashamed or at least embarrassed. ¶¶¶
Grandmother was not “bright,” of course.
She was not an intellectual.
She was simple-minded and literal.
She read little, and her tastes ran to gothic tales rather than “serious” books.
She was shrewd in a way, not a bit clever.
Yet, as I came to suspect slowly, maybe she had wisdom rather than sophistication or cleverness or intelligence.
Of course she was funny.
But what if she were also right? ¶¶¶
To approve or disapprove of the twentieth century would never have occurred to her—that was beyond a “stupid old woman.”
Yet she intuitively understood it long before anyone else.
She understood that in an age in which papers mean more than people, one can never have too many papers.
What papers one has does indeed determine the rate of exchange when currencies are controlled.
When bureaucrats get power, “public servants” become public masters, as Grandmother knew intuitively, unless they are made to serve the real “public,” that is, the individual.
And the one compelling argument against guns is, of course, that they hurt people. ¶¶¶
We thought it very funny that Grandmother did not understand money and inflation.
But we have learned since that no one really understands them, least of all the economists perhaps.
Trying to relate everything to the one stable currency Grandmother had known, even though it was past history, is no longer quite so funny.
When the Securities and Exchange Commission prescribes “inflation accounting” for businesses, it does exactly what Grandmother tried to do in her primitive way; we “index” wages, pensions, and taxes, and express revenues and expenditures in “constant dollars.”
Grandmother had sensed a basic problem of the twentieth century:
if money is money, it must be the standard of value.
But if government can manipulate the standard at will, what then is money?
The price of eggs in 1892 Kreuzer is not the measure of all value, yet it may be better than no measure at all. ¶¶¶
To approve or disapprove of the status of women or of the relationship between the sexes would never have occurred to Grandmother—that was beyond a “stupid old woman.”
But she knew that it was a man’s world and that women needed to be prepared for it, even though all they could do was put on clean underwear before sallying forth into a world that had little pity on them.
She did not have much use for the things men took seriously.
When her husband started talking economics or politics at the dinner table, Grandmother, I was told by my mother, would say, “Stock Exchange—if you gentlemen want to discuss things like Stock Exchange at the dinner table, you’d better do it without me,” and would get up and leave.
But she accepted that men are needed and that one has to put up with them—with their having stupid affairs with every stupid woman who makes eyes at them, with their not practicing the piano unless one sits with them (and I suspect that the piano was more important to Grandmother than sex, marriage, or mistresses), and that they made the rules, which a “stupid old woman” could then manipulate without too much difficulty. ¶¶¶
What these bright nieces and grandchildren and sons-in-law and nephews of hers—and the shopkeepers as well—saw as proof of her being a moron, though a lovable one, was that Grandmother believed in and practiced basic values.
And she tried to inject them into the twentieth century, or at least into her sphere within it.
A wedding was a serious affair; one could not just shrug it off.
Maybe the marriage would turn out disastrously—Grandmother would not have been surprised.
But on that one day of the wedding, bride and groom were entitled to be feted, to be made much of, to be taken seriously.
One could not, of course, disregard the conflicting demand of a modern age “to confine oneself in a telegram to the utmost brevity,” but one must explain this before sending the perfunctory greeting. ¶¶¶
The term “bourgeois” in its contemporary, and especially its English, meaning does not fit Grandmother.
She belonged to the earlier Age of the Burgher, the age that preceded the commercial and industrial and business civilization of the “Stock Exchange” to which she would never listen.
Her ancestors had for generations been silk weavers and silk dyers and ultimately silk merchants—originally probably from Flanders or Holland, then settled in Paisley near Glasgow when it emerged as the great textile center in the seventeenth century.
Ultimately, in the 1750s, they had been recruited to come to Vienna, to the new Imperial Austrian Silk Manufactory.
Theirs was a world of skilled craftsmen, of responsible guild members; a small world but one of concern and community, workmanship and self-respect.
There were no riches in that world, but modest self-reliance.
“I am but a stupid old woman” echoed the self-limitation of the skilled craftsman who did not envy the great ones of this world and never dreamed of joining their ranks; who knew himself to be as good as they, and better at his trade.
It was a world that respected work and the worker.
The poor prostitute forced to sell her body to get enough to eat was an object of pity; but she was entitled to be treated with courtesy.
The starlet who used her body to get acting roles and publicity and a rich husband—as Mimi ultimately succeeded in doing—deserved only contempt and had no “glamour.”
The waitress who did not respect her job enough to do it well was going to be unhappy—it was for her sake, not for that of the customers, that she should be forced to learn manners.
And however laughable Grandmother’s approach to the Nazi swastika, there was wisdom in it too.
Abandoning respect for the individual, his creed, his convictions, and his feelings, is the first step on the road to the gas chamber. ¶¶¶
Above all, what that parochial, narrow-minded, comical old woman knew was that community is not distribution of income and social services and the miracles of modern medicine.
It is concern for the person.
It is remembering that the engineering nephew is the apple of Miss Olga’s eye, and rejoicing with that dried-up spinster when he passes his examination and gets his degree.
It is going out to some remote suburb to visit the whining “Little Paula” whom a long-dead family servant had raised and loved.
It is dragging arthritic joints up five flights of stairs and down five flights of stairs to bring cough drops to an old whore who has become a neighbor by soliciting men on the nearby street corner for years. ¶¶¶
This world of the burgher and his community was small and narrow, short-sighted and stifling.
It smelled of drains and drowned in its own gossip.
Ideas counted for nothing and new ones were rejected out of hand.
There was exploitation in it and greed, and women suffered.
Like Grandmother’s silly feud over the apartment, it could be petty and rancorous.
But the values it had—respect for work and workmanship, and concern by the person for the person, the values that make a community—are precisely the values the twentieth century lacks and needs.
Without them it is neither “bourgeois” nor “Socialist”; it is “lumpen proletariat,” like the young lout with the swastika. ¶¶¶
But what about those “Handles without Cups” and “Cups without Handles”?
How do they fit into the twentieth century, and what do they have to tell us?
I must admit that I could not fit them in for a long time.
Then ultimately, around 1955 or so, it dawned on me:
Grandmother had had a premonition of genius!
In her primitive and unsophisticated way, she had written the first computer program.
Indeed her kitchen cabinet, with its full classification of the unnecessary and unusable, is the only “total information system” I have seen to this day. ¶¶¶
Grandmother died as she had lived—creating a “Grandmother story.”
Running around as usual in every kind of weather, she stepped off the curb in a heavy rainstorm directly in the path of an oncoming car.
The driver managed to swerve around her but she fell.
He stopped the car and rushed to help her up.
She was unhurt but obviously badly shaken.
“May I take you to a hospital?” the driver said.
“I think a doctor should look at you.”
“Young man, you are very kind to a stupid old woman,” Grandmother said.
“But maybe you’d better call an ambulance.
It might compromise you having a strange woman in your car—you know how people talk.”
When the ambulance came, ten minutes later, Grandmother was dead of a massive coronary. ¶¶¶
Knowing how fond I had been of her, my brother phoned me to give me the news.
He began in a somber tone:
“I have something very sad to tell you:
Grandmother died earlier this morning.”
But when he began to tell me about her death, I heard a change come into his voice.
Then he started to laugh.
Only Grandmother could say that—a woman in her seventies compromising a young man by being in a car with him!”
I laughed too.
Then it occurred to me:
a living seventy-five year old woman doesn’t compromise a young man—but how would he have explained an unknown old woman dead in his car?
Hemme and Genia
I owe to Hemme and Genia that I did not become a novelist.
I knew fairly early in my life that writing was one thing I was likely to do well—perhaps the only one.
It certainly was one thing I was willing to work on.
And the novel has all along been to me the test of the writer.
I was always more interested in people than in abstractions, let alone in the categorical straitjackets of the philosopher.
People are to me not only more interesting and more varied but more meaningful precisely because they develop, unfold, change, and become.
And I knew early that Hemme and Genia—or, to give them their full names, Dr. Hermann Schwarzwald and his wife, Dr. Eugenia Schwarzwald née Nussbaum—were the most interesting people I was ever likely to meet.
If I was to write stories, they would have to be in them.
Yet I also knew early that I was unlikely to succeed in making believable, living characters out of Hemme and Genia.
Their foibles would be easy.
But their characters and personalities were far too shimmering, too ambivalent, too complex.
They attracted and fascinated me endlessly; they also disturbed, repulsed, and bothered me.
And whenever I tried to embrace them I embraced empty air.
At first glance there was nothing so very difficult or complex about Hemme or Genia, the prodigy civil servant and the prodigy woman educator.
Even their life stories differed from those of many others of their generation only by their greater, or at least earlier, worldly success.
Hemme was all bone and sharp angles.
He was completely bald, had been apparently since student days, with a pointed shiny bony knob at the top of the head, with bony ridges above deep-set eyes, bony pointed ears, and a sharp out-thrust chin.
He had long bony hands with big knuckles and big wrists protruding from coat sleeves that always appeared much too short.
He was of medium height and powerfully built, though lean as a scarecrow.
His mouth was tiny, prim, with narrow lips, usually clamped tightly shut.
His speech was a high-pitched bark and came out in short staccato bursts.
He said very little, and then usually something unpleasant.
My mother once came back from a trip to Paris with a wondrously fashionable dress, bought at high cost from one of the great couturiers.
She was very proud of it and saved it for the first big occasion—a reception at the Schwarzwalds’, perhaps the Christmas party, since children were invited too.
Hemme took one look at my mother and said:
“Go back home, Caroline, and take off that dress.
Give it to your maid—it looks as if you had borrowed it from her.”
And my mother—my strong-willed, argumentative, independent mother—went back home, took off the dress, and gave it to the maid.
Yet she was one of Hemme’s great favorites among the young women he called “Genia’s children.”
This angular, biting, bony man also was capable—though rarely—of great intuitive kindness.
Totally encapsulated in his own shell, he still sensed when to say the redeeming word, and what it had to be—and forced himself to say it.
I was in my mid-twenties and had long left Vienna when I came back to spend Christmas 1933 with my parents.
The spring before, when Hitler came to power, I had left Germany, gone to London, and found a job of sorts as “trainee” in a big insurance company for a few months.
But the job had come to an end by Christmas, I had no other and no prospect of one, and was deeply discouraged.
I knew I was not going to move back to Vienna—I had known since I was fourteen that I was not going to live there and had left at the earliest moment, when I finished high school.
I had also met in London a young woman—later to become my wife—and with every day away from her it became more apparent to me that I wanted to be with her and had to be where she was.
Still, I was being lulled into inertia by the comfort and ease of life at home, and I was besieged on all sides with arguments for staying and offers of cushy jobs—as a press officer in the Austrian Foreign Office, for instance.
I knew perfectly well that I did not want to stay, but I lingered.
Finally around early February I made up my mind to leave—eventually.
And so I began to postpone my departure by making farewell calls, among them to the Schwarzwalds.
Genia was kind and sympathetic and asked all sorts of questions about my job prospects in London (dismal), my finances (even more dismal), and the well-paid jobs and their opportunities that Vienna seemed to offer.
Suddenly Hemme came in, listened for a few seconds, and then spoke sharply—something he had never done to Genia in my hearing before:
“Lay off the lad, Genia.
Don’t act the foolish old woman!”
And turning to me, he said:
“I’ve known you since you were born.
I have always liked your willingness to go it alone and your refusal to run with the crowd, even with ours.
I was proud of you when you decided to leave Vienna and make your own career abroad as soon as you finished high school.
I was proud of you last year when you decided to quit Germany when the Nazis came in.
And you’re right not to stay in Vienna—it’s yesterday and finished.
But, Peter,” he continued, “once one decides to leave, one leaves; one doesn’t make farewell calls.
Kiss Genia goodbye, get up”—and he pulled me out of the chair—“go home and pack.
The train for London leaves tomorrow at noon and you are going to be on it.”
Roughly and with considerable force he dragged me out the door and pushed me down the stairs.
When he saw that I had reached the bottom and was making for the front door, he shouted, “Don’t worry about getting a job—there always are jobs, and better ones than you’d find here.
When you have it, drop us a postcard—and don’t altogether forget us.”
I did leave, on the noon train the next day.
I got a job within six hours after arriving in London—and an infinitely better one than any Vienna could possibly have offered—as economist to a London merchant bank and executive secretary to the partners.
And I did send Hemme the postcard he had asked for.
But I knew that I owed him more—much more—and I sensed what helping me must have cost that retiring, withdrawn man.
I did want to write him a warm letter.
But I was afraid of being laughed at for being sentimental and didn’t write it.
I have never forgiven myself.
For I never saw Hemme again, never could tell him.
I did indeed revisit Vienna every Christmas until my wife and I moved to New York, three years later.
And I did then call on Genia each time.
But Hemme could not be seen on any of these visits.
He suffered a stroke the summer of 1934, recovered fully physically but became senile mentally.
He had lucid days, many of them, apparently, but never when I chanced to be there.
I was told years later that he would often during these lucid, or half-lucid, days ask:
“Why haven’t I heard from Peter Drucker?”
Adults tended to be afraid of Hemme, resentful of his bitter, biting tongue and put off by his refusal to let anyone come close.
He was just as rough with children—indeed he treated small children exactly the way he treated everyone.
For this reason, perhaps, they adored him and were totally unafraid of him.
Even in his later years he was always surrounded by seven or eight year olds, at whom he barked and who barked right back.
Yet he had the one physical characteristic that frightens small children, for Hemme Schwarzwald was a cripple.
One leg was much shorter than the other and ended in a grossly deformed clubfoot.
The hip twisted to the outside so that the thigh stood at a sharp angle to the body.
Then, below the knee, the leg twisted sharply back in again.
Without his cane Hemme could not move at all; and with the cane he could only slither, almost crabwise.
Stairs and slopes were difficult for him, although he managed and refused all offers of help.
On level ground, however, he moved so fast that even sturdy young men had a hard time keeping up with his loping shuffle.
According to rumor, Hemme’s deformity was the result of an early childhood accident.
He had been dropped in infancy, some said; he had fallen out of a window, said others; the most popular version had young Hemme in the way of a runaway horse or thrown by one.
Hemme himself never mentioned his handicap.
But then he never mentioned anything about his childhood, his family, or his early life.
It was well known that he had been born, the youngest of several sons, around 1870 or a few years earlier in the easternmost part of Austrian Poland, just a few miles from the Russian border.
The family was dirt-poor, living at the margin of subsistence—the father was said to have been a shiftless peddler whose wife supported him by working as a midwife.
But the family had already made the big step toward assimilation into the successful bourgeoisie.
An uncle—the mother’s brother—had moved to Vienna and become one of the city’s leading lawyers and the first Jew to head the Vienna Bar Association.
The uncle had no children of his own and undertook to look after his nephews, especially young Hemme, who showed intellectual brilliance and high promise at an early age.
He put the nephews through secondary school.
Hemme’s next brother then moved to Vienna and went to the University as his uncle’s guest—he later became a respected lower court judge in Vienna.
So when Hemme, a year or two later, graduated from the local Gymnasium two years ahead of his age group, everyone including the uncle expected him to follow his brother.
Hemme cannot have been more than seventeen then.
But both his gift for doing the unexpected and inexplicable and his willpower had matured.
He refused to go to Vienna; he chose the University of Czernowitz instead.
Czernowitz was the German-speaking university of Austrian Poland (of the two others, Krakow spoke Polish and Lemberg, or Lwow, Ukrainian).
And this meant, of course, that its student body was solidly Jewish—only Jews in Austrian Poland spoke German (or Yiddish).
But even Polish Jewish boys did not go to Czernowitz unless they absolutely had to.
They scrounged and finagled to make it to a university in “the West,” such as Vienna or Prague.
For while a fully accredited state university, Czernowitz was unacceptable socially and hardly the right place to launch a career.
In some ways Czernowitz’s position in Austria-Hungary was similar to New York’s City College in American academia during the 1920s and 1930s:
renowned for the competitive ardor of its students, but shunned by anyone who had the chance to go anyplace else.
When Hemme announced his decision to go to Czernowitz, the pressures on him to change his mind were tremendous.
The uncle—or so my father, who got to know the uncle quite well, once told me—offered to rent a separate room for the young man if only he would come to Vienna.
He offered to pay for a long study trip to Germany, Switzerland, France, and England—the dream of every young Austrian.
He even threatened to withdraw his financial support.
But Hemme stood his ground and went to Czernowitz.
He graduated first in his law-school class and in record time.
Now he was ready to move to Vienna.
The uncle pulled all the strings to get him the best government job Austria could offer a young law-school graduate (especially one who was Jewish rather than a son of the landed aristocracy):
a position in the counsel’s office of the Ministry of Finance.
Yes, Hemme answered, he had decided to enter the civil service, but not in the Ministry of Finance.
He was entering the Department of Foreign Trade.
If choosing Czernowitz rather than Vienna was the whim of a boy, turning down the Ministry of Finance in favor of the Department of Foreign Trade was both folly and deliberate manifesto.
To be sure, the Department of Foreign Trade was the oldest of Austrian government agencies, having been founded in the mid-eighteenth century before any of the “modern” nineteenth-century ministries.
It still bore the quaint name the eighteenth century had given it, being known as the “Commercial Museum,” since it had been founded originally to promote Austria’s export trade through permanent and traveling trade fairs.
It was autonomous, though precariously balanced between Foreign Office and Ministry of Economics.
It ran and controlled the consular service, independently of, and often in competition with, the diplomatic service.
The Commercial Museum also operated two institutions of university status, the Oriental Academy and the Consular Academy; and soon after Hemme joined it, it started the first university-level business school in Austria, the present Vienna University of World Trade, originally called the “Export Academy.”
It was thus an interesting place and full of interesting people.
But it had no prestige and offered no opportunities.
It was a backwater.
The Ministry of Finance, by contrast—and especially its counsel’s office—practically controlled the top positions in Austria’s government and in the top rungs of Austrian business, or at least those that were open to non-aristocrats since the other three “prestige” ministries, Agriculture, Interior, and Foreign, were by and large reserved for barons and counts.
Those officials in the counsel’s office who did not get to the top in Finance moved into the senior positions in the prime minister’s office, into the top jobs in the “lesser” ministries, such as Commerce and Justice, or into the chairmanships of the major banks.
But worse than folly, choosing Foreign Trade over Finance was a political manifesto.
Finance was the official “liberal.”
Educated, tolerant, judicious, it was, so to speak, the “loyal opposition” in a heavily conservative Austrian establishment.
But the Department of Foreign Trade was “subversive.”
Austria was protectionist; Foreign Trade was avowedly free-trade.
Austria was primarily agricultural; Foreign Trade industrialized.
Trade unions were, of course, frowned upon officially if not suppressed by the police.
But Foreign Trade believed in them, encouraged the workers’ university-level courses started by the unions and furnished teachers for them.
It preached industrial safety, child labor laws, and a shorter work week.
Worst of all, from its inception as a child of Austrian Enlightenment in the eighteenth century, the Department of Foreign Trade had had close though surreptitious ties to Austrian Freemasonry—and Freemasonry in Austria was always political rather than social or philanthropic, even when the Vienna Grand Lodge was headed by an emperor as it was in the eighteenth century.
Freemasonry was anti-clerical if not anti-Catholic, opposed to big landholders and big landholdings, and above all, deeply anti-military.
Whether this subversive element was tolerated within the bosom of government because Austria was tolerant or because it was disorganized, I leave to the historians.
But it was only tolerated.
To join Foreign Trade, especially when one had the choice to go to Finance, was worse than being eccentric; it was a slap in everybody’s face—and clearly meant as such.
Hemme, it soon transpired, did not even decide for Foreign Trade over Finance out of conviction, as my father did for instance, about ten years later, and as most of the officials in Foreign Trade had done.
He went to Foreign Trade to break with his family once and for all, and in a way most calculated to hurt them.
The solicitous uncle not only got Hemme the Finance Ministry job.
He sent him a first-class railway ticket—at that time in the early 1890s only generals and bank directors traveled in such luxury.
And since the young man had never been in a big city, the uncle went down to the railroad station at an ungodly morning hour to meet him after the long trip from the Eastern provinces.
He was shocked by the young man’s deformity—he had, of course, known about it but had not realized how bad it was.
But he was pleased when the nephew asked how far it was to the uncle’s apartment and then suggested that they might walk in the early sun of a lovely spring morning.
That, thought the uncle, would give him a chance to tell all about the job he had lined up for him, the living arrangements—he had invited the young man to stay with him, but tactfully offered to put him up in a nearby hotel should he prefer to be alone—and the important and influential people to whom the brilliant nephew had already been introduced by name.
He was somewhat disconcerted that the young man did not say one word the whole way during a walk of over an hour.
But finally when they came to the quiet residential street in which the uncle and aunt had their apartment, the nephew asked to be excused for a few minutes.
“I thought to myself,” recounted the uncle:
He is going to get some flowers for an aunt he has never seen and with whom he is going to live for some time.”
An hour went by—and no nephew—then two hours, three, four.
Finally in mid-afternoon when the aunt was in hysterics and the uncle ready to call the police, a messenger arrived with a note:
“I have accepted a position with the Commercial Museum; please hand bearer of this my trunk.”
That was the last the uncle and aunt ever heard or saw of Hemme.
When, during the first years, these good people invited him—for New Year’s, for holidays, or for a weekend—their letters were returned unopened.
Nor did Hemme call on his brother or respond to his letters or calls.
This may be called eccentric; ultimately it degenerated into what can only be called contemptible.
Some ten years after Hemme had moved to Vienna, Hemme’s mother died and his father, the incompetent peddler, gave up.
Uncle thereupon brought the father to Vienna and procured a sinecure for him, the monopoly on peddling in the building of the Ministry of Finance.
Officially, of course, peddlers were strictly forbidden in government buildings.
But actually there was always one who, by purchase or influence, was allowed the free run of the building where he peddled small items from ties to razor blades, ran errands for civil servants such as getting a corsage or theater tickets when the younger ones went out on a date, or a picnic hamper when the older ones took their families out for a Saturday afternoon, went down to the store to buy stationery against a 10 percent discount and, in general, supplied the large bureaucracy with small needs and amenities.
This “in-house peddler” was by no means an Austrian specialty.
He can be found in the English government departments of Trollope’s novels of the 1850s, and in stories of Bismarck’s Germany.
He was still very much alive in the office buildings of New York in the 1930s and 1940s—each of which had a shoeshine “boy” with a secure turf of his own, a vendor of ties, shirts, notions, and so on; perhaps they still have them, for aught I know.
The inhouse peddler was considered a kind of upper servant and his social position was not very high.
But it was higher, and certainly more secure, than that of a small shopkeeper.
There was no competition and, above all, the in-house peddler did not “degrade” himself by running an “open store.”
So old man Schwarzwald was at least guaranteed a modest living and a job he could hold.
Then Hemme moved to the Ministry of Finance.
His first act was to order the old man thrown out; and when the father pleaded for an interview with his son, Hemme refused to see him.
Alfred Adler, Freud’s erstwhile disciple and later rival, who knew Hemme well, considered this story a classical example of “overcompensation” for a debilitating physical deformity.
He was convinced that Hemme blamed his parents, if only subconsciously, for being a cripple.
But the behavior toward his family was by no means Hemme’s only “eccentricity.”
He had chosen the Department of Foreign Trade over the Ministry of Finance.
Yet he had no use for the department’s basic policies and convictions.
On the contrary.
The department believed in free trade.
Hemme did not believe in trade at all, and would permit it only if completely controlled.
The department believed in industrialization, if only to find jobs for a rapidly growing population.
Hemme was an agrarian; and he would have exposed babies to prevent population growth.
The department had been created to help merchants.
Hemme despised merchants and all middlemen, considering them parasites.
Altogether his ideal was the China of the Mandarins; and the only thing he ever wrote was an encomium on Chinese bimetallism.
For Hemme also totally repudiated the gold standard and the economic theory of his day.
In retrospect it is clear that he was a Keynesian forty years before Keynes, believing in demand management where the received wisdom did not believe in political management of the economy at all, or only in management of supply; in government manipulation of currency, credit, and money where the received wisdom considered such manipulation to be both futile and self-defeating; and in creating consumer purchasing power as the cure for most economic ills.
Only neither the theoretical tools nor the data for such revolutionary theories were available in 1890—and anyhow Hemme was a prophet who talked in tongues rather than a systematic thinker.
But again in his economics there was the strange twist, the quirk that had showed in the way he treated his father.
For Hemme had a hero in economics—and his name was Eugen Dühring.
If Dühring is known to economic history at all, it is as the target of Friedrich Engels’s powerful attack on him, the Anti-Dühring which is one of the canonical books of Marxism.
One need not be convinced of Engels’s position after reading this book.
But for everyone who has ever read the book, Dühring is finished—for everyone, that is, except Hemme Schwarzwald.
Reading the book as a student in Czernowitz, he became a lifelong admirer of Dühring’s.
Until World War I he journeyed every year to Jena, the small German university where his hero is buried, to deposit a wreath on his grave.
But what attracted Hemme was not the man’s economics—Hemme had much too good a mind not to know Dühring to be thoroughly muddle-headed.
What attracted him was that Dühring alone among all known nineteenth-century economists had been ardently, indeed violently, anti-Jewish.
Of course this was long before Hitler, when being anti-Jewish was not seen as necessarily having practical consequences.
Also Hemme was by no means the only European Jew who turned anti-Jewish to resolve his own inner conflicts.
Marx held very much the same opinions.
And both Freud in Vienna and Henri Bergson in France—Hemme’s contemporaries—could only come to terms with their own Jewish heritage by turning against it, Freud in Moses and Monotheism, one of his last major works.
Hemme also—unlike Marx—had no personal feelings about Jews.
His wife was Jewish.
His only truly close friend was the one among Viennese bankers—most of them Jewish in origin—who was a practicing orthodox Jew to the point where his son, a classmate of mine, was the only one among many Jews in the school who did not read, write, or recite on Saturdays; even the rabbi’s child, who was also in our class, did so.
And Hemme, of course, never pretended that he himself was of any but pure Jewish origin.
Still, he considered the Jew the source of all evil in the modern world and the poisoner of society through his bourgeois, acquisitive, rationalist spirit.
Only, being Jewish to him was not a matter of race or religion but of attitude and spirit.
And he himself, he knew, had sloughed off the Jew long ago and was as completely un-Jewish as one could be.
Anyone less likely to succeed in the tight, cliquish, and jealous world of Austrian officialdom than Hemme Schwarzwald is hard to imagine.
Abrasive, rude, tactless, obnoxious; from Czernowitz rather than from Vienna, and the Commercial Museum rather than the counsel’s office in the Ministry of Finance; married to an equally aggressive Jewish outsider; without money or family connections but with loudly voiced opinions on all and every subject that would have been considered laughable had they not been so offensive; and with a tongue that made enemies out of most of the people he encountered—he sounds almost like the anti-hero in one of Sholem Aleichem’s or Isaac Bashevis Singer’s tragi-comic stories of Jewish failure.
Hemme also did everything in his power to trip himself up.
There is, for instance, the story of his almost destroying his chance of becoming a privy councillor or “Hofrat,” the highest title in the official hierarchy, roughly comparable to the German “Geheimrat.”
Long before Hemme got into a senior position Jews had become accepted, had indeed gradually taken over the top rungs of the Austrian civil service.
Still, in the “prestige” ministries the fiction was maintained that the top positions were filled by Christians.
In fact that meant that Jewish civil servants in these ministries, when promoted to “Hofrat,” would quietly undergo what was quaintly but accurately called a “formality of baptism,” either by being baptized as Catholics without publicity at some such hour as five in the morning by one of the Emperor’s chaplains, or by having the old pastor of Vienna’s main Lutheran church visit them quietly in their homes with the pastor’s wife and son—also a pastor—as the sole very discreet witnesses.
Hemme was to be a “Hofrat” in the Ministry of Finance, which was, of course, a “prestige ministry.”
But when it was suggested to him that he undergo the “formality of baptism,” he balked.
“I don’t mind the formality,” he said; “to a Confucian like myself it’s meaningless.
But I will not do it in order to stop being considered a Jew.
I am not a Jew and have not been one for years, ever since I cleansed myself of my Jewish spirit as a student.”
The officials, knowing Hemme’s reputation for being stubborn, gave up and withdrew the nomination.
But this piqued the curiosity of the Emperor—then already in his seventies—who asked for a report; after all he, rather than the ministers, supposedly appointed a Hofrat.
The old man sat down and wrote Hemme a personal letter—my father saw it before Hemme, deeply offended by it, burned it.
“My dear Dr. Schwarzwald,” it read, “I have never dictated the choice of religion to any of my subjects and respect all religious beliefs.
But I took a coronation oath to maintain a Christian country and, old-fashioned as this may well seem to you, this means that I prefer the gentlemen who have official access to me and work with me to profess a Christian religion.
I am a much older man than you—and you might yield, if only to old age.”
But Hemme said no.
After six months of sulking on both sides he was promoted to Hofrat and the “formality of baptism” was quietly dropped for good.
Whereupon Hemme lodged an official protest.
For now Jews were to be promoted who were Jews; and he urged that they be required to slough off their Jewish spirit before getting to the top!
And yet Hemme achieved a great career, indeed one of the greatest careers in the annals of any civil service.
“How could it happen?”
I asked my father when I first became interested in the phenomenon of Hemme Schwarzwald, at a time when both Hemme and my father had already left government service and I was about fourteen or fifteen years old.
“He was needed,” was my father’s reply.
“Whenever there was a really nasty job, one that required absolute fearlessness and so complicated that no one really understood it, it went to Hemme and he always delivered.
He had the ability to see the central point and the willingness to face up to the unpalatable.
“Do you remember,” my father continued after a few moments, “that we went to the Adriatic seashore one summer when you were a very small child, not quite five years old?”
I nodded—I did have a dim memory of a beach and sand and of my building a sand-castle with my mother in a funny bathing suit.
“But do you remember that we didn’t stay long?” asked my father—of course I didn’t.
“Well,” he continued, “that was the summer the war broke out.
Your mother and I had long planned the trip.
I had saved up vacations for years and was going to stay with you and Mother and your brother all summer.
But no sooner had we settled on the beach than the Archduke Francis Ferdinand, the heir to the Austrian throne, was assassinated in Sarajevo.
We were shocked, of course, but not too upset.
What was one more diplomatic crisis?
My boss at the office agreed and wired me to stay put.
But Hemme immediately saw that this was not just another crisis.
He realized that the Austrian military would do everything it could to push us into war—with the Archduke dead they were otherwise going to be out of power in no time.
He understood that the military’s idea of a limited, nice, riskless war against Serbia was folly and that the war would escalate.
And he summoned me and a few other senior civil servants—the known ‘liberals’ and pacifists—back to Vienna to join him in a systematic though futile effort to stop the military.
We were to lobby our ministers, buttonhole politicians, try to get to the old Emperor through the wall of equally old courtiers, reach bishops, businessmen, labor leaders, and the press—even mobilize the old generals, then retired, who had been pushed out by the Archduke’s ‘hawks.’
Of course it was futile.
Nobody believed Hemme’s warnings, not even I, or Hemme’s other colleagues.
Until the day of mobilization we thought he saw burglars under the bed.
But he was right—he usually was.
And he had the courage to throw himself into a totally hopeless cause and fight for it.”
Whatever the reason, Hemme did achieve a great career.
He got to be Hofrat earlier than any commoner in Austrian civil service history—indeed earlier than anyone but princes of the blood.
For even counts and “ordinary” princes usually had to wait until they were past forty; commoners almost never got the title before they were fifty.
Hemme had it by the time he was thirty-five when he moved over to his old enemy, the Ministry of Finance, as head of fiscal and monetary policy.
And when World War I broke out, he was almost immediately promoted to “Sektionschef”—Undersecretary—and put in charge of all monetary and financial affairs with almost dictatorial powers.
That Austria-Hungary, torn by explosive internal discontent and bitter strife between a dozen discordant “nationalities”; with almost no foreign exchange or gold reserves; with a narrow industrial base and a backward agriculture; and with totally incompetent political and military leadership—beginning with a senile Emperor—could fight effectively for four long years before collapsing, was largely Schwarzwald’s doing.
For it was he who kept Austria solvent for four years of war.
He financed the war without raising taxes, that is, by voluntary bonds; he kept the value of the Austrian currency stable both—at home and abroad during these years; and he even—a supreme joke on an enemy of the gold standard—managed to add to Austria’s gold reserves during the time.
But though Hemme was the great success, he ultimately became the great failure.
As soon as Austria was defeated, Hemme left the Ministry of Finance and took over what now would be called the Veteran’s Administration—he was especially interested in the rehabilitation of crippled veterans.
Then the currency collapsed and postwar inflation set in.
And when the Austrian currency, the Krone, had fallen to about one-thousandth of its prewar value, in the summer of 1921, Hemme was recalled and put again in charge of finance—this time with even broader powers.
He was an absolute disaster.
Maybe nothing much could have been done; politically it was then considered impossible to stop the printing press and thereby increase already catastrophic unemployment.
But Hemme’s cure was to print ever more money and to bolster “purchasing power”—he was, after all, a pre-Keynesian.
Six months later the Krone had fallen to one ten-thousandth of its prewar value and Hemme was out of a job.
His successor failed just as badly, it should be said, even though he was Austria’s—and probably Europe’s—greatest economist, Joseph Schumpeter.
Schumpeter, unlike Hemme, knew perfectly well what needed to be done.
But even though he was Minister of Finance rather than a mere civil servant, he could not do it.
Austrian politics was then still dominated by the Socialists, who refused to sanction any cut in public spending.
And so Schumpeter also left a year later.
He went first to the University of Bonn in Germany and then, in 1929, to Harvard.
By the time he left in 1922, the Krone had depreciated to the point where it took 75,000 Kronen to buy what 1 Krone had bought in 1914—and still bought, by and large, in the spring of 1918.
Schumpeter quit, convinced that stopping inflation is a matter of political will rather than of economic theory or policy, but also deeply skeptical about the ability of a free society to take the politically necessary decisions.
His pessimistic conclusion, reached in the classic Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (1946), which predicted that democracy would ultimately be destroyed by its inability to forego or to stop inflation because of the lack of political will—a prediction that alas sounds far more prophetic today than it did in 1946—was squarely based on his traumatic experience as Hemme’s successor in charge of Austrian finances in 1922.
And indeed, after Schumpeter, Austria’s inflation was stopped by a reactionary politician-priest, Monsignor Ignaz Seipel, who knew no economics but dared risk high unemployment and sharply reduced welfare expenditures.
By that time Hemme had failed once more, and for the last time.
From being Austria’s financial czar, he went to the chairmanship of one of Vienna’s largest banks, the Anglo-Austrian Bank.
The bank had been headed by Hemme’s only close friend—the orthodox Jewish banker mentioned earlier.
That man had committed suicide, some said because he had brought the bank to the brink of ruin by betting on Schwarzwald to stop Austria’s inflation.
Hemme, so the story went, felt it his duty to redeem his friend’s memory and to save his friend’s bank.
Probably no one could have done this.
Vienna, after all, was grotesquely over-banked, since it housed the headquarters of twelve or fifteen banks that had served the old Austro-Hungarian Empire with its almost 60 million people, now shrunk to a small Alpine republic of barely 6 million.
Within a few years one Viennese bank after the other folded until, by the early thirties, only two were left, and one of those only because it was taken over by the government after its collapse.
But the Anglo-Austrian Bank was the first one of the old big solid banks to go—less than a year after Hemme had moved into the chief executive’s job—and the shock was tremendous.
As the name indicates, the bank had been founded by English capital and had major London banks among its leading shareholders.
The Bank of England therefore took it over and guaranteed officers and employes, including Hemme, their retirement pensions, but moved in its own people to liquidate and salvage what could be salvaged.
Hemme, not yet sixty, was retired and disappeared altogether from public view.
He did not turn bitter; and the only comment anybody ever heard from him was that if he did not deserve all the blame for the collapse of the Krone or of the Anglo-Austrian Bank, he also did not deserve all the praise for enabling Austria to fight a war it should never have provoked.
But though outwardly serene, he was a beaten man.
He stayed home, played chess or, if alone, worked on chess problems, played pool, listened to classical records—he had a huge collection of early records which he loved, scratchy and distorted though they were—and he talked less and less.
But when he spoke his tongue was as tart, as cutting, as pungent as ever.
Where Hemme was all angles and bone, Genia was all roundness.
She was not fat, although inclined toward plumpness; she was round.
Where Hemme reminded me of an old snapping turtle, Genia always made me think of a red squirrel.
Genia was a little less than medium height.
Her figure was unfortunate—a big head set on a short neck, and a big rump on very short legs which, of course, made her look even plumper than she was.
And her features were coarse.
But neither figure nor face would have mattered had Genia not been so conscious of both.
She had extraordinarily attractive eyes, the eyes of a serious child, which registered every emotion—surprise, affection, hurt—and held the beholder like a magnet.
But she did everything to distract from them by overusing the heaviest eye makeup.
Similarly she had lovely hair, chestnut brown, with red lights in it and a soft natural wave.
But since her student days she wore it cut very short so that it accentuated the coarseness of her features rather than softening them.
She wore the most expensively wrong clothes I have ever seen—clothes designed for the long-limbed slender ballet dancer Genia so obviously wanted to be, clothes that only accentuated her bull-neck, heavy hips, and stubby legs.
It was altogether clear that Genia would have traded all her attainments and successes—and probably her intellectual brilliance—to be a conventional beauty.
And this got worse as she grew older.
Hemme was ageless.
In a photograph taken when he graduated from the University at age twenty—it stood on Genia’s dresser and was the only photograph of Hemme ever taken—he already looked exactly the way he would forty-five years later in the very evening of his life.
But Genia aged early and very badly.
She had been a tee-totaller all her life, yet her nose and cheeks began to show distended red-blue veins before she was forty.
And the skin, never very healthy, turned sallow, sagged, and wrinkled.
Genia overreacted—she always did; but the heavy application of unsubtle cosmetics to which she resorted only made her look older and even more haggard.
So did her taking lovers—a whole slew of them for a few hectic years, all men much younger than she and all rather effeminate and futile.
Every one of these petty affairs was loud, public, raucous.
Every one of them ended in a violent row, after which Genia would find a wife for the young man, usually among her rather spinsterish secretaries and administrative assistants who could at least support the ex-lover.
All told Genia had the gift of making the most of her worst points.
She had neither ear nor voice, lacked all musical taste, and could not carry the simplest tune.
But she loved to lead a community sing and always chose the songs with the tritest words and most trivial tunes.
She kept secret, however—or tried to—a genuine gift for drawing, especially children and animals.
When asked once why she hid her drawings from all but old and close friends, she said, “In what I do well I have to excel”—and that was perhaps the key to Genia’s personality.
For in what Genia did well she did indeed excel.
And her achievements were, in many ways, greater than Hemme’s, more impressive and certainly more imaginative.
Genia, like Hemme, came from the far end of Austrian Poland, close to the Russian border.
But her father, a timber merchant, had been as rich as Hemme’s father was poor.
Genia, it was said, was his illegitimate child, the offspring of a casual affair with a Polish maid whom the merchant married only on his deathbed to legitimize a daughter who was almost grown up.
What lent credence to this story was the slight Polish accent in Genia’s Viennese German—a soft lilt quite different from the harsh guttural trace of Yiddish that characterized the Polish or Russian Jew in the Vienna of my childhood; Hemme still had it, for instance, after forty years among the Viennese.
Genia surely spoke Polish as a child rather than Jewish-German or Yiddish.
And her features too had a pronounced Slavic cast, especially the high cheekbones, the generous mouth, the snub nose, and arching full eyebrows.
Whatever the truth of the story, Genia apparently was in her late teens when she found herself on her own with a substantial fortune.
She immediately left for Zurich—at the turn of the century the only German-speaking university that freely admitted women students.
A few years later—it must have been 1903 or 1904—Genia, with a doctorate in German literature, though still only in her early twenties, made straight for Vienna, determined to bring down the walls of the Austrian university system that were keeping out women.
Legally, there was no barrier to the entry of women students at any Austrian university.
Any student, male or female, who had passed the university entrance examination, the so-called Matura, had the right to attend any Austrian university of his or her choice.
In practice, women were excluded.
The first barrier was the resistance of “good families” to university attendance by their daughters.
When my mother, for instance—born a few years after Genia and therefore of college age when Genia appeared in Vienna—showed signs of wanting to prepare herself for the university entrance examination, her guardian (she was an orphan) hired the university professor of Sanskrit to give her private lessons.
This way, he argued, she could not complain that she was prevented from learning, yet she also would not learn anything of use in the entrance examination.
“You aren’t going into teaching,” said the guardian to my mother, “you don’t have to.
You are pretty and you have money.
And you’d better not frighten off every eligible young man, which a university education most assuredly would do.”
Yet this was a certified, grade-A liberal, and indeed considered such a dangerous radical that his appointment as guardian for my grandfather’s minor children was strongly opposed by the aunts and uncles.
Those young women who managed to overcome family opposition and pass the entrance examination were subjected to constant harassment.
Vienna’s leading pediatrician in the decades before the Nazis was a woman, my beloved “Aunt Trudy” (who was no relation at all but had been a close friend of my father’s since their childhood).
Aunt Trudy was the only European woman doctor of my time who became chief of staff and medical director of a major hospital.
But she was also the only chief of staff of a major hospital in Austria who did not get the coveted title of “Professor” that otherwise came automatically to the “Primarius,” or chief physician.
She was admitted to medical school—there was no way of keeping her out.
But she was told always to sit in the last row, never, never to ask a question or make a comment, and to dress during her entire years as a student and intern as a man—that is, in shirt, tie, jacket, and trousers, “so as to be less conspicuous.”
She was always addressed meticulously as “Mr. Bien” though it must have been hard to mistake the sex of the strikingly handsome Aunt Trudy.
And her doctor’s diploma was made out in the name of “Herr Doktor Gertrude Bien”!
The inventor of these rules was not an anti-feminist and pettifogging bureaucrat; he was her own uncle, the university’s distinguished professor of anatomy, who had encouraged Trudy from childhood to aim at medicine and who had himself coached her in mathematics and physics, the two subjects in the university entrance exam in which women were least prepared as a rule.
But the greatest barrier to access to university for women students was the absence of a school to prepare for the entrance examination.
There were secondary schools for women.
But they stopped two years short of the Matura, that is, at age sixteen; after that there were only private finishing schools teaching “culture” and deportment.
And the girls’ schools did not teach the subjects the university entrance examination featured.
They taught modern languages, literature, music, and art, with a little botany thrown in.
The university entrance examination required Latin, Greek, mathematics, and physics, with a little history thrown in.
As long as the school system stayed the way it was, women were effectively debarred—and both an all-wise ministry and enlightened public opinion were determined to keep it that way.
Genia proposed to open a college-preparatory girls’ school.
She charged head-on—there never was any subtlety to anything she did.
Like all successful activists, she lived the old Irish definition of a peace-lover:
a person who is willing to listen after having knocked the opponent unconscious.
She rented a big apartment in a fashionable district.
Then came teachers.
It took her a few days to find out that there were workers’ education courses, taught by earnest young liberal civil servants.
She enrolled, listened for a few sessions, then went and signed up the men who, in her opinion, did the best job teaching and did not talk down to their students.
My father was the first teacher she hired; Hemme the second.
“What in the world did Genia say to persuade you?”
I once asked my father when he told me that story.
“You know her better than to think she persuaded me,” said my father; “she told me.
I was sitting in my office one day when a ‘Dr. Nussbaum’ was announced, and in stomped a chunky young woman with a boy’s haircut and loud Scotch tweeds, who said without a word of greeting:
‘Would you rather teach Monday and Wednesday evenings or Tuesday and Thursday evenings?’
I stammered that I had an engagement most Monday evenings, and Genia said, ‘All right, Tuesday and Thursday from 6:30 to 9—dinner is included.”’ That was Genia all right.
I had seen her in action myself.
Still nobody quite believed in her plan.
Where would the students come from?
And how, given the resistance of their families, would they pay?
Genia took out the first full-page advertisement ever seen in Viennese newspapers to announce courses for the university exam, “open to both sexes.”
In small print it added:
“Don’t worry about fees.
They can be arranged.”
My mother, who saw the ad just after one of the odious Sanskrit lessons imposed upon her, took her paltry jewels, broke her piggybank, packed a few clothes, and went to the address given.
She had her first class that evening and Genia went to see my mother’s guardian.
He refused to pay—but Genia had her fortune and could advance the money to my mother against her inheritance.
And when a girl had no money coming to her, Genia could and did give her a scholarship.
There were, I was told, 300 applicants the first two weeks, including about 100 men.
The men were told where other courses could be found and sent away.
Of the 200 girls who applied, 50 or 60 were accepted.
Two years later about thirty of them passed the university entrance exam, most with honors.
And Genia celebrated by marrying Hemme.
Another two years later she got her school approved by the ministry and accredited as the first genuine full-scale woman’s Gymnasium in all Austria—several years before there was such an institution in Germany, by the way, and ten years or more before the French accepted it.
A year later a coeducational primary school was added.
By 1910 Genia had 600 students and moved into her own school—again shocking the Viennese by renting the top four floors of the city’s first tall office building rather than putting up the traditional Austrian education barracks.
It was the only school I have ever known that smelled neither of urine nor floor wax.
Genia had just turned thirty.
The Schwarzwald School continued to thrive until Hitler shut it down after taking over Austria.
But Genia gradually withdrew from it.
She did want to continue to teach—she needed to teach.
She satisfied this need in characteristic direct fashion by reserving to herself the right to substitute for any teacher absent, sick, or on leave so that she got several hours each week.
And Genia was a powerful, compelling teacher.
Of all those I have seen over many years, only Martha Graham, teaching a class of beginners in the modern dance, radiated similar power and held the students in the same iron grip.
But Martha Graham, to the best of my knowledge, never taught anything except modern dance.
Genia taught every subject and on every level, from the lowest, the first grade, to the highest, the thirteenth.
I did not of course myself attend the Schwarzwald School as a high-school student; it was for girls only.
But I spent as much time as possible there during my own high-school years, for I was for years constantly and hopelessly in love with Schwarzwald School girls—never fewer than three at a time and never the same ones for more than a few weeks, but hopelessly and constantly in love nonetheless.
Yet whenever I heard that Genia was substitute-teaching, I forgot the girls of the moment and sneaked in to listen to her.
She had the gift of holding twenty third-graders spellbound while drilling them in multiplication tables, without jokes, without telling a story, but by making demands and more demands on them.
“You can do better,” she’d say; or, “You need more work on the seven-times table”—and her commitment to perfection infected the eight year olds.
But I also heard her read Aeschylus’ The Persians with the eighteen year olds preparing for the university entrance examination.
Genia would insist on their translating verbatim, the way they were going to be examined; then, fifteen minutes before the end of the hour, she would stop the drill and start reading in a quiet but hard voice the Greek lines of the final dialogue between the beaten, broken XerxeS and the Chorus with their terrible grief and despairing compassion.
And suddenly everyone in the room would be seized by the holy awe of the Great Pan and sit transfixed.
But apart from these few hours of occasional teaching, Genia detached herself from the school that bore her name.
She incorporated it as a foundation with its own board of trustees (of which my father was chairman until Hitler).
She put in professional administrators.
And she herself resigned every office—she never had taken a salary.
She was not much interested in education as such, and most definitely not in running a school.
She had to found a school because it was the one way to open up the universities to women.
That objective achieved, the school held little further interest for her.
Instead, she first went in for all kinds of social actions to remedy or assuage specific problems.
To help the young wives with small children whose husbands were in uniform during World War I, and to get them out of their anxious loneliness, Genia started, in 1915, “family camps”—and at one time, toward the end of the war, ran eight or ten of them in the summer.
Then there were the Russian prisoners of war—hundreds of thousands of them, as Russian armies surrendered wholesale; they swamped every facility Austria had or could possibly organize.
But there were also the Austrian middle-class and upperclass women with husbands at the front, who were left feeling sorry for themselves and with time heavy on their hands.
So Genia beat down the strenuous opposition of the generals and organized a volunteer social service for Russian prisoners of war.
Then came children’s camps—the first known in Europe specially for children whose fathers had been killed in the war.
When the famine years hit, beginning in 1917, Genia organized co-op restaurants where a family, paying a modest sum, could get a simple but nourishing lunch; there were fifteen or twenty of those in Vienna at the worst famine time, in 1919.
And early in 1923, when Austria had already stabilized its currency while Germany was writhing in the worst inflationary paroxysm, Genia expanded beyond Vienna to start a massive program of co-op restaurants in Berlin.
But after she had closed the Berlin restaurants when they had done what they were founded to do, Genia increasingly switched what might be called her “public” activities toward being an unpaid and unofficial but highly effective “ombudsman,” battling red tape and bureaucratic callousness on behalf of individuals.
Those were the years in which “papers” first became important—it is hard today to realize that before World War I nobody needed or had a passport, an identity card, a work permit, a driver’s license, and often enough not even a birth certificate.
All of a sudden a person without papers was a nonperson; and all papers had to be in the right order.
Vienna was full of people without papers:
refugees from the Russian Revolution by the thousands, refugees from the Communist terror in neighboring Budapest and from the white “anti-terror” that followed it, prisoners of war who couldn’t go home, returning soldiers without proper discharges, and many many more.
The most hapless and helpless of these casualties of the onward march of twentieth-century civilization were apt to end up in Genia’s tiny, cramped office in the Schwarzwald School, in which four telephones rang incessantly.
Genia would listen, ask questions, and then have a secretary make a few phone calls to check out the supplicant’s story.
She had a good ear for phonies, frauds, and hard-luck stories.
But she also knew that she had to be absolutely sure of her ground before interceding for anyone.
“Everybody,” she said, “is waiting for me to fall for the first con artist.
That would be the end of my effectiveness.”
While the secretary checked, Genia would sit for a few minutes with her eyes closed, mapping out strategy.
But then she would be in action and on the telephone.
Of course by that time she was known, at least by name, to most of the top people—and a good many of them, in government, in the professions, and in business, were by that time either married to one of “Genia’s children” or had daughters or nieces who had been or were Schwarzwald students.
But whether she knew a person or not, Genia always went straight to the top.
She never called unless she knew exactly what action she wanted.
“Never ask a person what to do; always tell him or her,” was her motto.
“If it’s the wrong thing to do or if there is a better way, they’ll come back and tell you.
But if you don’t tell them what to do, they won’t do anything but make a study.”
Finally Genia never, never asked for help.
She was doing the person a favor by telling him (or her) how to solve what surely must be a bothersome problem for authority.
“I think I have worked out the answer to a problem that, I know, must concern you,” Genia would begin.
“You are so busy, you may not be able to recall Mrs. So-and-So, the young war widow with her three sons of high-school age who are entitled to tuition remission, remember?
Her husband was a Russian prisoner of war in one of those camps that got swept away in the Russian Revolution and the Civil War.
Some of his fellow prisoners report that he died there; but of course there are no records.
I know you’ve been put in a nasty position—if he were alive and back home the boys would be entitled to tuition refund as children of a war veteran had he signed the application; and if there were records attesting to his death, they’d be entitled to it as war orphans with the application signed by their mother.
I know, though, what we do—order the refund pending investigation—I’ll send Mrs. So-and-So over to your office with a letter for your signature.
One of my assistants (you know her, she went to school with your niece Susy) will come with her so that you don’t have to bother getting the letter to the right office.
They’ll be over in twenty minutes.
I’m so glad I could help you out on this one.”
Many years later, in the 1950s and 1960s, I found myself in a position where I could test Genia’s methods.
I was at that time professor of management at the Graduate School of New York University—and suddenly whole swarms of middle-aged ex-officers descended on me for advice and help.
These were the years when the armed services chopped off officers who had signed up during World War II and had reached the age at which, unless promoted, they had to retire.
They came to see me because they suffered from the delusion that they should get a doctor’s degree and go into teaching.
But what these middle-aged men needed was a job, and one that would quickly restore their confidence in their own ability and manhood.
Most of them had never worked for anyone but the Army, Navy, or Air Force.
Being tossed out as “unfit for further promotion” at age forty-five was a pretty rude shock.
I did exactly what Genia had done.
I found out what each man had done and could do.
I checked out every story.
At first I was embarrassed to call up former superior officers or colleagues while the men were across the desk from me, but I soon learned that it had to be done.
Then I thought through what job the man should be placed in, turned to the telephone, and called up.
And I too always started out by saying:
“I’m coming to you with something that will help you.
I understand that you’re having problems with your computer” (since everyone then had problems with the computer, this was a perfectly safe thing to say).
“I know the man who can straighten them out—and I think you can get him if you move fast.
He’s Commander So-and-So and he just finished putting in the computer for the Navy at Mare Island Navy Yard.
Yes, I think he can be in your office in an hour—I’m so glad I can be of help to you.”
This hardly ever failed; and when it did, the person I called would invariably say, “Hey, wait a minute he sounds exactly like the man my friend, the business manager at Columbia University, told me last night on the train they’d need there to straighten them out.
Can you hold while I call him on the other line?”
Genia certainly did better than I, and with more difficult cases.
But even I placed most of the men by following her method, and most of them on the first call.
I also learned how much self-discipline Genia had exercised.
The hardest thing of all, I found, was to be scrupulously honest about the applicant’s qualifications and disqualifications.
Yet it was absolutely crucial.
It is not easy to say in a man’s presence:
“All he can do is set up a computer.
Don’t use him for anything else”; or:
“He works very well if you tell him exactly what to do.
But don’t expect him to think or to use his imagination; he doesn’t have any.”
Yet one has to say it, or one immediately loses all faith and credit.
I also learned that once in a while I had to say to a man:
“Yes, you should probably spend three years sitting on your backside to get an advanced degree; at least I cannot recommend you to a prospective employer.”
But while Genia battled valiantly with the paper dragon who began to devour humanity with World War I, she also gradually moved out of the public sphere in which she had been active since she came to Vienna, as a young Ph.D., in the very early years of the century.
Since she first married Hemme, Genia had had a “salon”; but it had been a sideline.
In the 1920s it became the center of her life.
And where earlier she had held her salon one or two afternoons a week during the winter months, she now ran it five days a week all the year round.
For nine months it remained in the Schwarzwalds’ home in Vienna.
Then Genia bought an old resort hotel on a lake near Salzburg, rebuilt it to house a fair number of invited (but paying) guests, and could run her salon year-round.
Salons are virtually unknown in America.
Even in England only two spring to mind immediately:
the one Mrs. Thrale ran for the “Great Panjandrum,” Dr. Samuel Johnson, in the late eighteenth century, with Boswell acting as the first war correspondent; and the salon that figures so frequently in the novels of Henry James (especially The Awkward Age) that there must have been a real-life model to be written up.
Salons were equally rare in the northern European countries, especially the German-speaking ones.
They have only flourished in the country of their origin, France.
Genia’s was thus an exception.
And it flourished precisely because Genia knew that a salon is not private but public.
It flourished because Genia understood that a salon is performing art, just like opera and ballet, the other performing arts of the bourgeois, post-Renaissance age.
She also knew, I am convinced, that the salon is the only performing art of the bourgeois age that does not serve the male ego and male vanity and does not manipulate women for the sake of male gratification—as do both opera and ballet.
Salons are run, managed, molded by women, serve to enhance women and put them in control.
Indeed the salon, it seems to me, served the role the Mysteries served in antiquity, where in otherwise male-dominated cultures the Priestess of the Eleusinian or the Minoan Mysteries—anonymous, behind the scenes, and seemingly offstage—controlled the souls while mere men controlled bodies and minds.
Until the modern dance emerged in the opening years of this century, the salon was the only performing art that served women and that women controlled.
Genia knew what even so astute an observer as Henry James only glimpsed:
a salon means work—and the more work, the more it looks spontaneous, free-flowing, improvised.
This is something our generation has learned, of course.
We know that the “spontaneous” movie needs the most work and the best-prepared scenario, precisely because it does not have a script.
We know that an “unrehearsed” radio or television program has to be thought through and prepared twice as carefully as the scripted, staged, rehearsed one.
We have learned the hard way the difference between the “improvised” event, with its discipline behind the scenes, and the disaster of the unprepared “bull session.”
Genia’s salon was unrehearsed, spontaneous, free-form, flexible, and fast.
It must have involved an unbelievable amount of hard work to make it into such a successful public performance.
It was a performance all the way, beginning with the stage setting.
The Schwarzwalds lived in a lower-middle-class district of Vienna which, as late as 1830, had still been semi-rural although it was quite close to the Inner City.
But then, in the middle of the century, it became built up with six- to eight-story apartment buildings housing respectable but humble folk—small shopkeepers, customs inspectors, piano teachers, bank clerks, dental technicians, and the like.
One went into an undistinguished almost grimy building.
But instead of climbing up one of the four or six staircases that led from a cold, drafty, dank foyer, one went out again into a back court.
And there suddenly stood a small eighteenth-century villa, the summer house of a lesser noble or wealthy merchant built in the days of Haydn and Mozart out of the eighteenth century’s favorite yellow sandstone and still set off by a high ornamental iron fence.
When the gate was opened, the caller entered a big hall, totally empty, from which a wide staircase led upstairs.
At the foot of the stairs stood Martha, the Schwarzwalds’ cook, adopted daughter, and general-manager-downstairs.
Martha was petite and pretty, with a cheerful milkmaid face and raven-black hair.
She kissed everyone except bashful adolescent boys, who had to kiss her first before they got a kiss.
She took hats and coats, explaining who was already there and who was still expected.
Then the caller went up about ten steps to a mezzanine, where the staircase split into two curved courses that reunited at the top.
And there stood Mieze, the Schwarzwalds’ other maid, other adopted daughter, and general-manager-upstairs.
Mieze—a Schwarzwald affectation for the common Austrian “Mitzi” or little Mary—was as tall as Martha was petite, and as blond as Martha was dark.
But where Martha was pretty, Mieze was beautiful.
Both women had been with the Schwarzwalds for years—I think well before World War I.
But both, fifteen years later, still looked like picture-postcard peasant girls.
Mieze also kissed everybody, including the adolescent boys, who never resisted; for she had the widely set eyes that folklore believes indicates extreme sensuousness in a woman, and that certainly make a woman’s kisses acceptable to even the most bashful fourteen-year-old male.
Mieze always said something nice—“Caroline, you look stunning,” she would say to my mother; “you ought to wear that shawl more often.”
Or, to me, “Peter, you like Couperin, don’t you?
Helge Roswaenge, the tenor, is here today.
He’ll sing a little later and I’ve asked him to choose a few Couperin songs for you.”
Then one went up another fifteen steps to the top—and there stood Annette.
If Martha was pretty and Mieze beautiful, Annette was truly gorgeous.
Tall, willowy, with gray gold-flecked eyes, she was also the most elegant and best-dressed woman I have seen in my life.
Where Martha was friendly and Mieze come-on-ish, Annette was as cool as freshly starched lime green linen.
She didn’t kiss anyone, but shook hands in a firm, almost masculine handshake.
In a lovely, flutelike voice she would tell you whether Hemme was available playing pool, when he could and should be interrupted, or whether he was playing chess, in which case one had to wait until he stopped.
She told you what was going on and who was sitting in the “performer’s corner” close to Genia.
Then, all too soon, she took the caller in and showed him or her to a seat.
All too soon—for I certainly would have liked to linger.
Annette was not only beautiful to look at and a joy to listen to.
She was fabulously interesting.
She was the daughter of a lieutenant-field marshal, the highest rank anyone but an Imperial prince could reach in the old Austrian Army in peacetime.
Like my mother, she had answered Genia’s advertisement the first day it appeared and had been a student in Genia’s first class.
That was not so surprising—there were many daughters of high military officers among “Genia’s children,” for the military in old Austria were not “aristocracy” nor even “upper-class.”
They were very much like Army and Navy officers in the England of Jane Austen’s day (for instance, the naval captains in Persuasion) near-gentlemen and on the border of the lower middle class.
To be sure, once an officer advanced beyond major-general, he got a “von” to put in front of his name.
But this was not “aristocracy,” only what the Viennese called “triviality” or “Bagatell.”
It ranked close to the title of “Baron” which the coffeehouse waiter bestowed on any male guest in long pants who left a larger-than-average tip (for anything less one got only an honorary doctorate).
And the same “von” the lieutenant-general shared with any civil servant who managed to stay in office for ten years after getting the “Hofrat” title, and with any banker who reached retirement age without having been bankrupt more than once.
The true aristocracy had stopped serving in the Army when commoners—and especially Jews—first got commissions, around 1850; it did not suit a count or prince to have to salute a commoner or to say “At your command” to a Jew.
And altogether the Army had no money.
What they did have they spent on the careers of their sons, so that the daughters of military officers had a hard time finding husbands and were often reduced to earning their living as grammar-school teachers or piano teachers.
To most Americans the plot of Richard Strauss’s last successful opera, Arabella (written in 1930 or 1932) is just a bedroom farce.
But to an Austrian of the older generation who could remember “prewar,” the plot in which an Austrian Army officer forces his younger daughter to disguise herself as a boy so that the older one has a chance of attracting the rich husband she has to get, was harsh realism.
For the daughters of the military the Schwarzwald School, which offered to get them out of being schoolteacher-spinsters and at least into professional work, was therefore highly attractive—and to their parents as well.
So it was not too unusual that Annette should be the daughter of a lieutenant-field marshal.
But her subsequent career was highly unusual.
For when she had passed her university entrance examination, Annette did not go into medicine or literature, social work or education, as most of the Schwarzwald graduates did.
She was the first woman in Austria to go into economics.
That was the time-around 1906—when the Austrian School of Economics dominated worldwide.
The great men of the school—Wieser, Boehm-Bawerk, and Philipovich—were still alive and teaching.
And the students were brilliant; Ludwig von Mises was Annette’s classmate.
But Annette by common consent was the superstar, equally gifted in theory and in mathematical analysis.
Even Mises, who was no feminist and did not suffer from undue modesty, admitted her superiority.
Years later in the 1950s when Mises was old and very famous, he and I were colleagues at New York University.
We did not see much of each other—Mises considered me a renegade from the true economic faith (with good reason).
But one day going down in the elevator together, he turned to me and said:
“You knew Annette, didn’t you?
If she’d been a man and encouraged to go on, she would have been the greatest economist since Ricardo.”
Only she wasn’t a man and wasn’t encouraged.
She stayed on as a research assistant, but an academic appointment was unthinkable for a woman.
At least at the Commercial Museum and the monetary and financial research department of the Ministry of Finance there were research projects, and in both there were civil servants who were willing to employ women, especially if they did not cost much.
And Genia needed an administrator for her growing school—and so Annette grew to be her closest associate as well as her closest friend.
When World War I started and Hemme took over the country’s financial and monetary management, Annette moved in as his number two.
By all accounts she did a brilliant job, especially in smoothing over Hemme’s very rough edges, in making this gruff, abrasive man effective, and in carrying out his ideas.
And when Genia started her social-action programs, Annette increasingly took over their execution as well.
Then Annette and Hemme became lovers.
When the war was over, Annette was offered two very big jobs.
One was as head of research at the newly founded Austrian National Bank—the first woman ever to be offered such a job, and indeed the only woman to be offered such a position anywhere until two students of mine got similar jobs in the 1950s, in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and the Federal Reserve Bank of the Philippines respectively.
The other offer was as financial vice president in one of the major industrial groups of Central Europe, with plants mostly in Czechoslovakia but headquarters in Vienna.
And Hemme offered to divorce Genia and to marry Annette.
Annette turned down all three offers.
She turned down the jobs because she decided that her life was with Hemme.
And she turned down Hemme’s offer of marriage because she would not humiliate Genia—even though Genia had agreed to the divorce and had, indeed, brought Hemme’s offer of marriage to Annette.
She moved in with Hemme, taking a bedroom next to his in one wing of the Schwarzwalds’ top floor; but she remained Genia’s closest friend and the administrator of all Schwarzwald enterprises, from the school to the childrens’ camps and the summer resort on the lake.
That was enough to make her interesting, especially to a teenager.
But Annette was also known to be bisexual.
In addition to the bedroom next to Hemme’s, she had an apartment a few streets away which she shared with a well-known woman artist.
Small wonder that a fourteen-year-old boy would have liked to linger with so fascinating a person, and one so very good to look at.
But Annette always led the caller firmly into the salon and assigned him or her to a seat, usually at the back at first.
Historically, there have been two kinds of salon.
The original one, invented by the “Précieuses,” the bluestockings of the Paris of Louis XIV, was managed by women and had women as the actors and conversationalists.
This was still the salon in which Henry James apparently spent a good deal of time in the London of 1880 and 1890.
The other kind—invented, it seems, by Voltaire’s mistress in their retreat in Ferney, on Lake Geneva—has a woman-manager “featuring” a male star, the type of salon Mrs. Thrale ran to make Dr. Johnson roar, and that Anatole France’s mistress still ran for him in the early 1920s.
Genia’s salon was neither.
Indeed it was very puzzling and did not make sense to me until many years later, I encountered the radio or TV talk show, “Meet the Press” or “The Johnny Carson Show.”
Of course there was no TV camera in Genia’s living room.
But if Genia asked one of her guests to come and sit next to her in the corner of the settee, the guest knew that he or she was “on camera.”
Genia was the mistress of ceremonies, and the best I have ever seen.
She never humiliated a guest, always brought out the best he or she had to offer, always was kind and considerate.
But she also knew how to get rid of a guest who did not shine.
Any guest who did perform was supported by a large, admirably trained cast.
There was a “chorus” whose job it was to ask questions, to listen, and to provide light background entertainment.
Like any chorus, it consisted mostly of people who had failed to make it in “the big time.”
There was, for instance, the automotive engineer who had, around 1910, made the great automotive invention—I believe it was the self-starter.
But when he was ready to patent it, he found that some dastardly American had gotten there first.
Thereupon he became a professional frustrated genius.
Then there was the great student of Nordic languages, who was engaged in writing a book that was going to revolutionize Icelandic grammar.
Only he was so busy playing chess with Hemme and devising chess problems that he never got around to the book.
And there were the three children of an Austrian general—two boys and a very handsome girl—who had become extreme left-wingers and fancied themselves as writers, but could barely hold on to minor jobs as reporters.
There was a solid supporting cast that could always be depended upon to ask the right questions, encourage, and carry a conversation.
It consisted of old-time liberals, mostly university professors and their wives of the prewar “progressive” persuasion.
First among these were Ludwig Rademacher and his wife Lilly—Germans rather than Austrians, and Protestants, descended from generations of German professors and Protestant pastors.
Ludwig Rademacher, who held one of the two chairs of classical philology at the University of Vienna, was the essence of uprightness.
He held fast to the basic decencies of pre-Bismarck Germany, had indeed moved to Austria largely because he so deeply despised the Germany of the Kaiser.
He was already of retirement age when Hitler came to Vienna, but he resisted the Nazis vigorously and survived imprisonment and concentration camp.
In his seventies and eighties, after World War II, he rebuilt the Austrian Academy of Science and the University of Vienna.
Then there were the “stars.”
But these were rarely “celebrities.”
For Genia knew what the best TV or radio talk show producer knows:
that you are not on a talk show because you are a celebrity; you are a celebrity because you are on a talk show.
Thus Thomas Mann, whom I once encountered in Genia’s salon—I must have been around sixteen—was a flop.
He was still a few years away from the Nobel Prize but already The Great Writer.
He read out one of his stories—“Disorder and Early Sorrow.”
We had, of course, all read it, and most of us younger ones heartily disliked it as being avuncular and condescending to young people and full of what now would be called “pop psychology.”
This miffed Dr. Mann.
But worse was yet to come.
For the real “star” of the evening was seated in the performers’ corner next to Genia—a girl of twenty or so who was a graduate of the Schwarzwald School and had spent a year as an exchange student in a well-known Eastern American women’s college.
Of course we all thought that we knew a good deal about American education.
But the young woman’s report of courting and mating, Princeton House parties, organized necking, dating, pinning, and well-planned sleeping around, was news to us.
Sex in Vienna was strictly free enterprise.
When the girl had finished telling us her experiences, Genia turned to Dr. Mann and asked him for his comment.
He delivered the conventional educated European male’s speech on “American conformism.”
“Well, I don’t know,” said Genia; “after all, I’ve seen quite a few young women in their teens.
And perhaps the way the Americans do it by organizing the inevitable causes less stress and anguish at that age than our free-for-all here, in which there are no rules.”
Dr. Mann soon took his departure and did not come back.
Anybody in the room was exposed to becoming a “star” in Genia’s salon.
I myself probably sat in the “performers’ corner” for the first time when I was fourteen or fifteen, though that was rather young even to be admitted to the salon, I realize.
My turn took just a few minutes—I think I had asked a question following somebody’s comment when Genia called to me:
“I’m having a little trouble hearing you.
Why don’t you sit next to me and tell us what you think?”—and there I was.
But the occasion I remember best came a few years later when I was in my last high-school year and also my last year of residence in Vienna.
I had arrived late.
I apologized and explained that I had been detained looking up stuff in the library for the thesis one had to write for the university entrance examination in those years.
“What is this thesis about?”
She was always interested.
“I’m doing a study of the impact the Panama Canal has had on world trade.
It’s only been open ten years and no one has done any work on it yet,” I answered.
“That sounds interesting,” said Genia.
“Do sit next to me and tell us about it.”
Then she added, raising her voice, “Hemme and Annette, why don’t you come in and listen to Peter Drucker?
What he’s working on might interest you.”
When I had finished, Hemme barked out one of the most useful lessons of my life:
“In dealing with statistics, remember:
never trust them.
One either knows the man who invented them or one doesn’t—and in either case they’re suspect.
I ought to know.
I was in charge of Austria’s export statistics for twelve years.”
And Annette, in her flutelike voice, perhaps seeing the surprised look on my face, added:
“You say no one has published anything on the subject?”
“Then make sure you publish your paper—here are the names of some of the journals you might send it to.”
But in addition to the amateurs and guests among the stars, there were also always a few “fixed stars”—people around whom the salon revolved whenever they were in Vienna or at Genia’s resort on the lake.
Two stand out particularly in my memory:
Count Hellmuth Moltke-Kreisau and Dorothy Thompson.
Hellmuth Moltke, great grandson of Prussia’s greatest military hero, was to become the conscience of the German resistance to the Nazis, the center of the attempt to kill Hitler in 1944, and one of the last victims of Nazi terror.
Dorothy Thompson was to become the influential American columnist of the thirties and forties.
But these fates were well into the future when both were “fixed stars” in Genia’s salon.
Both—and this is what Genia was always looking for in her stars—combined intellectual incandescence, independence of mind, and radiant beauty.
Both were tall, well made, with big leonine heads—Moltke dark, Dorothy Thompson a glowing blonde—with the power, the charm, the magnetism of the born winner and leader.
And they embodied—as did Martha, Mieze, and Annette, and indeed everyone in the Schwarzwalds’ permanent retinue—what Hemme and Genia believed in and knew that they themselves completely lacked:
a physical radiance that goes beyond being physical.
Hemme had enemies galore, but nobody ever considered him a lightweight.
Genia, on the other hand, was constantly being underrated.
Of course she was a “busybody”—she would have been the first to admit it.
She was tactless, coarse, aggressive, and often stepped over the fine line that separates being funny from being comic.
Genia was insensitive.
In fact her insensitivity was a source of great strength, for it made her impervious to ridicule and criticism.
But it could lead her into embarrassing blunders, embarrassing, that is, to everyone but herself.
Genia was never embarrassed.
The occasion I still remember, because it shamed me so dreadfully, was Genia’s “Greisenhilfe” which means literally “Help for the Ancients”—the German word “Greis” denoting extreme infirmity of old age.
The old people in those post-World War I years of hunger and inflation were indeed badly in need of help; and they were totally neglected by all existing programs, public and private.
To organize help for them was a good idea.
But when Genia announced her program, she could not get any “Ancients” to come forward and register.
We have since learned that older people who have all their lives supported themselves shun charity; and, of course, the word “Greis,” while making for a catchy title, did not much encourage applicants either.
Whereupon Genia had the brilliant idea of mobilizing the middle-class pre-teens of Vienna to find the “Ancients” in need and to bring their names to the headquarters of the crusade.
Older high-school students, led of course by the girls from the Schwarzwald School, would then visit them in their homes, find out what help was needed, and largely provide it, in the form of simple homemaker services for example.
To get the twelve and thirteen year olds fired up, Genia started a weekly newsletter and announced prizes for whoever could bring in the most “Ancients in need.”
This was better than collecting football cards or film stars—the crazes of that time.
So we thirteen year olds rushed out to hunt down “Ancients in need.”
The only ones I could find were three sisters, the daughters of a long-dead Army officer whose wife, also dead, had been a fellow music student of my grandmother’s—which of course meant that the three ladies were my mother’s age rather than “Ancients.”
One of the three was my piano teacher, the other two taught junior high school.
I badgered them until they agreed to put their names on my sheet, when I promptly got “honorable mention” in the campaign newsletter.
But four weeks later we were all invited to the wedding of one of the three, and even an inexperienced thirteen year old could not fail to notice that the wedding took place at the last possible moment.
A healthy baby boy was born to my “Ancient” only a few days afterwards.
Since this was fairly typical of the events of the “Greisenhilfe,” the whole campaign, though started with a good and needed idea, had collapsed into ridicule and red faces all round within a few weeks.
But Genia’s reaction was simply:
“What needs to be done next?”
Her detractors criticized her above all for being “unprincipled,” which she was.
She started a school at a time of tremendous educational ferment, the time of John Dewey and Maria Montessori.
But she had no educational theories and no use for them.
She believed in good teaching and insisted on it, yet a school to her was a means to gain a little equality for women.
I doubt that she considered curriculum terribly important.
If the university entrance examination had demanded basket weaving and astrology, Genia would have taught both and taught them well.
Similarly, she had no social or political “isms,” although she must have been exposed to plenty of them as a student at Zurich, then the center of all kinds of doctrines from Marxism and anarchism to theosophy and Zionism.
She was interested in specific needs and in results.
Around 1932 or so, long after Genia had left off the recognized kind of “social action,” she was drawn into public debate and the kind of publicity she detested and usually managed to avoid.
The most powerful Central European industrialist—head of a Czech conglomerate who lived in Vienna—and the labor unions of his textile plants were on a collision course.
The industrialist saw an opportunity to destroy the unions he loathed:
there was a depression; the unions were weak; and industry had enough inventory to last out a long strike.
The unions in turn felt the need to assert their militancy, despite their weak position.
These unions of German-speaking workers in Czechoslovakia, which were led by old-time Social Democrats, were rapidly being undermined by the Nazis, whose main argument was that the largely Jewish Socialist leaders were selling out the workers to the largely Jewish bosses, so the unions needed a strike, or felt they did.
When Genia heard this, she was outraged.
To throw 30,000 men out of work for the sake of pride, vanity, and power was ultimate irresponsibility to her.
She thought through what the settlement should be, then went and “told” both sides.
And she mobilized so much support among businessmen, labor leaders, newspapermen, and politicians that the two sides had to sit down at the bargaining table and sign on Genia’s dotted line.
She got no thanks.
On the contrary, each side blamed her for forcing it to “betray our principles.”
A young newspaperman married to one of “Genia’s children” went to interview her and asked her how she felt about forcing people to abandon their principles.
“I have no use for principles,” snapped Genia, “which demand human sacrifice.”
This is surely dangerous heresy in a century of absolutes—educational, psychological, ecological, economic, political, or racial—all of which glory in human sacrifice for the sake of a utopian future or of that chimera “the good of the greatest number.”
But however damnable a heresy, Genia’s creed was hardly that of a lightweight.
Why did we all feel there was something uncanny about Hemme and Genia?
They were interesting people, perhaps larger than life, somewhat quirky, and often petty, yet not in any way mysterious.
There was nothing at all other-worldly about them; they were of the earth earthy.
Not the slightest whiff of brimstone clung to them.
Yet everyone who came close to them—even those who adored Hemme and Genia and would not listen to criticism or ridicule of them—felt a sense of discomfort, of something awry, around the two.
It wasn’t just that Hemme and Genia were a stage production.
No, there was that something that can only be called “not quite canny.”
It was this feel of a hidden and somewhat sinister dimension that told me at an early age they would have to be characters in any novel that I might write, but also that they would forever elude me.
It was not until many years later that I found the answer, and then in a dream.
As a small boy, I read over and over again a book by the Swedish writer Selma Lagerloef called Nils Holgersson.
It is a charming and gripping children’s adventure story which is also, at the same time, so good a history and geography of Sweden that to this day I feel I know the country—which I have rarely been to and never for very long—better than almost any other.
One episode in that book fascinated me in particular:
a Swedish version of the old myth of Atlantis, the sunken continent.
A shipwrecked sailor, in this tale, finds himself in a sunken city at the bottom of the sea.
The city was drowned because of the pride, arrogance, and greed of its merchant-inhabitants.
And the citizens were punished by not being allowed the rest of the dead.
Bells ring on Sundays and they go to their devotions in sumptuous churches, only to forget the Lord the remaining six days of the week, in which they feverishly cheat each other, trading nonexistent merchandise.
They wear old-fashioned rich clothes and try to outdo each other in pomp and finery.
But they and their city are dead.
The young sailor from the world of the living is greatly drawn to them.
Yet he also knows that he must not be discovered or else he will be turned into one of these living dead and never allowed to return to earth and sunshine, to love, life, and death.
For years after I had read this tale—probably around the age of ten—I dreamed I was that sailor.
I was fascinated by the strange city, but terrified lest anyone would notice me and my different clothes and raise the hue and cry.
Yet I was also desperately anxious to see what the inhabitants looked like; and when I thought no one was looking I would peer under their broad-brimmed hats and wide bonnets to see their faces.
Then some of them would turn and look hard at me—and I would wake up as from a nightmare.
As I grew older the dream became less and less frequent; finally, after I had moved to the United States, it ceased altogether.
But about ten years later it recurred once more.
Those were the months after the end of World War II when one heard of all the people who had died; but also when the survivors, here and there, crawled out of the rubble.
And that last time on which my “Atlantis dream” recurred, it ended differently.
The dream was exactly the same.
But at its end, in the interval between sleeping and waking, I suddenly knew whose faces were under the broad-brimmed hats and wide bonnets—those of Hemme and Genia.
All of Vienna, indeed all of Europe in those interwar years, was obsessed with “prewar.”
But Hemme and Genia succeeded in restoring it in their lives; their salon was Atlantis, the sunken city of days gone by, dead but unable to die.
That was their attraction; it also made them uncanny and, indeed, frightening.
Few people in the Vienna of the twenties and thirties felt much nostalgia for the old Austro-Hungarian monarchy.
Most agreed with Robert Mush, the Austrian writer whose book The Man Without Qualities—almost forgotten today, but a literary sensation in the early thirties—called prewar Austria “Kakania.”
While “Kakania” derived from the official initials of the old Austria-Hungary, “K & K” (Kaiserlich & Koeniglich, or Imperial and Royal), “kaka” is also Austrian babytalk for human feces.
“Kakania” meant “Shitland.”
Yet “prewar” in “Kakania” was the measure of all things.
The Vienna Opera, for instance, was in the early twenties led and conducted by two great musicians, Bruno Walter and Richard Strauss.
Both were forced out.
They did not conduct the way Mahler had conducted “prewar.”
Their successors were, at best, mediocre but they knew Mahler’s mannerisms if little else.
Mahler’s singers got old a few years later.
A young Danish tenor, Helge Roswaenge, a friend of the Schwarzwalds, got rave reviews whenever he appeared as a guest in Lohengrin or Die Meistersinger.
But he did not get a contract; his tempi were just a little bit different from “prewar.”
To appease the German Nationalists, on whose support in Parliament a minority Conservative government depended, it was announced that no more Jews would be appointed to full professorships at the University of Vienna.
But a weak and in fact incompetent Jewish candidate was then immediately given a full professorship.
He had never published anything and was a wretched teacher, but his father had held the chair with distinction “prewar”—and the son owned the complete set of his father’s lecture notes.
“This way, we’ll get the prewar scholarship,” said the minister—himself well known for his anti-Semitism—when he was being heckled in Parliament.
A large new delicatessen store opened up not far from where we lived.
It carried the same brands of wine, preserves, cheese, or sausage as the far more expensive stores “downtown”; and it was an hour closer.
Moreover the new store delivered free.
For their daily needs the ladies of our neighborhood patronized this store and were well satisfied with it.
But when they had “company,” the ladies went downtown.
“You are buying exactly the same brands, spend more hours doing it, and pay more,” their husbands would argue.
“But downtown you can be sure of prewar quality,” was the answer.
When my mother took me to the big “prewar” men’s store opposite St. Stephen’s Cathedral to buy my one “good” suit, the clerk would always, at the end, lean over the counter and whisper:
“I think I have a few suits of prewar quality.
I save them specially for our good prewar customers like you.”
And he would trot out the same clothes he had already shown us, but with a 50 percent higher price tag.
The obsession with “prewar” was not confined to trivia nor to Austria.
The 1920s were the years when economic and social statistics first flourished, and the reason for their popularity was that they made it possible to compare the present with the “prewar” standard—whether in respect to the potato harvest (“It’s almost back to ‘prewar”’), to the number of crimes of violence (alas, for a long time well below the prewar norm in most countries until the rise of Nazism remedied this defect), or the tons of mail carried by the railroads.
“Prewar” was like a miasmic smog pervading everything, paralyzing everybody, stifling all thought and imagination.
The obsession with “prewar” explains in large measure the attraction Nazism exerted.
I was the first, I believe, to point out—in 1939 in The End of Economic Man—that there was little resistance to the Nazis anywhere until a country had first been taken over by them.
Since then the same phenomenon has been pointed out by a good number of writers, including William Shirer in Berlin Diary (1941) and The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1960), or—most recently—by John Lukacs in his excellent book, The Last European War (1976).
Nazism was loathsome; but it was, in Charles Lindbergh’s phrase, “The Wave of the Future” when everything else was trying to be “The Wave of the Past.”
As a youngster, I knew intuitively that I had to escape “prewar.”
This was, I am convinced, the reason why I knew very early that I would leave Vienna as soon as I could.
In the rest of Europe, though, “prewar” was almost as stifling, almost as pervasive a miasmic smog.
It was not until I came to the United States in 1937 that I escaped it.
There was a “pre” syndrome here too at that time—the period “before the Depression” was norm and yardstick.
But primarily in economic events—steel production, employment or stock prices.
Otherwise, the America of the New Deal looked ahead.
Franklin D. Roosevelt’s great contribution was his ability to prevent the “pre-Depression” syndrome from capturing and paralyzing the American imagination as “prewar” had captured and paralyzed Europe’s will and vision.
This also explains, I think, why my Atlantis dream stopped as soon as I had moved across the Atlantic.
Of course, “prewar” was unobtainable by definition.
No one and nothing ever reached it—not even the potato harvest.
No one, that is, except Hemme and Genia.
What they established, and what Genia’s salon tried to live day by day, was naïve fiction.
It was the vision of the Liberal Age and of the Cultured City which must have existed in the poor, cribbed Polish-Jewish small towns in which they grew up—towns that looked to the “West” as represented by tales of Vienna, Berlin and Paris, as earthly paradise.
There were no sordid economic realities in this version of “prewar”—and indeed businessmen were conspicuous by their total absence in Genia’s salon.
There Jews and Gentiles met and lived with each other in complete friendship and harmony—as indeed they did in Genia’s salon.
There were no club feet in the “prewar” and no aging, dumpy women with sagging skins; only the radiance of intellect and body of Genia’s “fixed stars”—of an Annette, of a Helmut Moltke, of a Dorothy Thompson.
When Hitler marched into Austria in the winter of 1938 and forever shattered “prewar,” Genia was in a hospital in Copenhagen recovering from radical mastectomy.
A few weeks earlier she had detected an ominous lump in her breast.
She did not want anyone in Vienna to know about it, arranged for a lecture in Copenhagen, and then went to the hospital there for surgery.
She never returned to Vienna, but went straight to Zurich.
There she was soon joined by Hemme.
He had been retired fifteen years and was almost totally senile.
But he was on the Nazi “most wanted” list.
A former colleague and protégé whom Hemme had rescued years earlier from a serious bribery indictment—the man later became one of the worst Nazi butchers in Rumania—had denounced him as “dangerous.”
But Annette got him out on the passport of her own father, the lieutenant-field marshal who had died only a few weeks earlier.
Within the year both were dead.
From the chapter: “The Monster and the Lamb”
In the days of Hitler Germany’s collapse, a short item on an inside page of The New York Times caught my eye: It ran somewhat as follows:
Reinhold Hensch, one of the most wanted Nazi war criminals, committed suicide when captured by American troops in the cellar of a bombed-out house in Frankfurt.
Hensch, who was deputy head of the Nazi SS with the rank of Lieutenant General, commanded the infamous annihilation troops and was in charge of the extermination campaign against Jews and other “enemies of the Nazi state,” of killing off the mentally and physically defective in Germany, and of stamping out resistance movements in occupied countries.
He was so cruel, ferocious, and bloodthirsty that he was known as “The Monster” (Das Ungeheuer) even to his own men.
It was the first time since I had left Germany in the winter of 1933 that I had heard or seen Hensch’s name.
But I had thought of him often.
For I had spent my last evening in Germany in the company of “The Monster.”
… snip, snip …
The new Nazi commissar wasted no time on the amenities.
He immediately announced that Jews would be forbidden to enter university premises and would be dismissed without salary on March 15.
This was something no one had thought possible despite the Nazis’ loud anti-Semitism.
Then he launched into a tirade of abuse, filth, and four-letter words such as had rarely been heard even in the barracks and never before in academia.
It was nothing but “shit” and “fuck” and “screw yourself”—words the assembled scholars undoubtedly knew but had certainly never heard applied to themselves.
Next the new boss pointed his finger at one department chairman after another and said:
“You either do what I tell you or we’ll put you into a concentration camp.”
There was dead silence when he finished; everybody waited for the distinguished biochemist.
The great liberal got up, cleared his throat, and said:
“Very interesting, Mr. Commissar, and in some respects very illuminating.
But one point I didn’t get too clearly.
Will there be more money for research in physiology?“
The meeting broke up shortly thereafter with the commissar assuring the scholars that indeed there would be plenty of money for “racially pure science.”
A few of the professors had the courage to walk out with their Jewish colleagues; most kept a safe distance from these men who, only a few hours earlier, had been their close friends.
I went out sick unto death—and I knew that I would leave Germany within forty-eight hours.
… snip, snip …
Don’t you understand that I (Hensch) want power and money and to be somebody?
That’s why I joined the Nazis early on, four or five years ago when they first got rolling.
And now I have a party membership card with a very low number and I am going to be somebody!
The clever, well-born, well-connected people will be too fastidious, or not flexible enough, or not willing to do the dirty work.
That’s when I'll come into my own.
Mark my word, you’ll hear about me now.”
… snip, snip … Jumping from the monster to the lamb
And when after two years the Berliner Tageblatt and Schaeffer (The Lamb) had outlived their usefulness, both were liquidated and disappeared without a trace.
In her book on Eichmann, the Nazi mass murderer, the late German-American philosopher Hannah Arendt speaks of “the banality of evil.”
This is a most unfortunate phrase.
Evil is never banal.
Evil-doers often are.
Miss Arendt let herself be trapped by the romantic illusion of the “great sinner.”
But there are a great many Iagos, trivial men of great evil, and very few Lady Macbeths.
Evil works through the Hensches and the Schaeffers precisely because evil is monstrous and men are trivial.
Popular usage is more nearly right than Miss Arendt was when it calls Satan “Prince of Darkness”; the Lord’s Prayer knows how small man is and how weak, when it asks the Lord not to lead us into temptation but to deliver us from evil.
And because evil is never banal and men so often are, men must not treat with evil on any terms—for the terms are always the terms of evil and never those of man.
Man becomes the instrument of evil when, like the Hensches, he thinks to harness evil to his ambition; and he becomes the instrument of evil when, like the Schaeffers, he joins with evil to prevent worse.
I have often wondered which of these two did, in the end, more harm—the Monster or the Lamb; and which is worse, Hensch’s sin of the lust for power or Schaeffer’s hubris and sin of pride?
But maybe the greatest sin is neither of these two ancient ones; the greatest sin may be the new twentieth-century sin of indifference, the sin of the distinguished biochemist who neither kills nor lies but refuses to bear witness when, in the words of the old gospel hymn, “They crucify my Lord.”
The Indian Summer of Innocence
“So you only made eighteen hundred dollars last year,” said the Immigration Department clerk in New York as he checked my income tax return when I applied for a reentry permit into the United States before setting off on a six-week trip to Europe early in 1938.
“That’s pretty slim pickings, isn’t it?
And look at all the work you had to do for so little money.”
He pointed to a gross income figure of almost $5,000.
“You sure know how to work for other people—I bet you have a college degree at that, and know foreign languages!
You’d make fifty percent more the first month working at Immigration and Naturalization.
We pay good money here, and you wouldn’t have to work half as hard or use your brain as much.
You’d get three weeks vacation, overtime, medical benefits, and a pension after thirty years.
Wait a minute.”
When he came back he carried a sheaf of papers.
“If you fill these out now, I’ll have my supervisor sign them today.
He was my partner in the shoe store before it folded when the banks closed.
By the time you get back from Europe, we’ll have a job ready and waiting for you.”
I didn’t fill out the forms.
But the middle-aged clerk with the Irish face and the Brooklyn voice still symbolizes in my mind Franklin D. Roosevelt’s America, the New Deal America of the late thirties, the America of the Indian Summer of Innocence.
I was already making something like the $250 which, according to the brochure pressed on me by the clerk, the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service paid to a “Clerk-Interpreter First Class (Reading knowledge of two Foreign Languages) (College Degree or Equivalent).”
For what the clerk did not notice was that the $1800 I had declared was my net income for some seven or eight months only.
I had arrived in the United States in late April and had not begun work until May.
And $250 a month was indeed, as the clerk asserted, “good money” then, anything but “slim pickings.”
My secretary, who spoke and wrote two foreign languages and had a college degree from Hunter, got only $25 a week—$100 a month—and was overwhelmed to the point of tears when I raised her to $30 six months later; a stenographer-typist was lucky if paid $15 a week, without vacation or overtime.
One of the surprises when we first moved was how much cheaper New York was than London.
It was even cheaper than near-dead Vienna, with its 40 percent unemployment, where my parents still lived.
The $250 I earned paid for a two-bedroom apartment in a new apartment block, and soon thereafter for the rent on our three-bedroom house and garden in Bronxville, then one of New York’s plushest suburbs.
We had a recent-vintage car in which we drove into the country on summer and fall weekends.
For while fully prepared for the skyline, we were, like all Europeans, completely surprised by the sheer beauty and diversity of the country on all sides of New York City.
We entertained quite a bit and went frequently to theater, opera, and concerts.
I did not go first-class on that business trip to Europe; but I had a single-occupancy second-class cabin with bath on an upper deck of the new, luxurious, and fast Queen Mary.
But that the clerk wasted his pity on me is beside the point.
What made him the very embodiment of Depression America was his concern, his eagerness to help, his focus on direct action.
The Depression was a catastrophe for many of the middle-aged from which they never recovered.
It was a severe trauma, leaving permanent scars for children growing up in depression-struck homes where fathers suffered long years of fear or unemployment that stripped them alike of their economic security and their manhood.
But for people my age—young yet grown-up, independent and healthy—it was a bracing and exhilarating time.
One had to work hard, to be sure.
And Depression America was no place for anyone psychologically in need of security unless he latched onto a government job.
Like the Irish clerk at the Immigration Desk, Depression America was not tactful.
It was not refined.
It could be dreadfully smug.
But it was free from envy; anyone’s success was everyone’s success and a blow against the common enemy.
Depression America encouraged, cheered on, helped.
Whoever heard of an opening looked right away for someone who needed a job.
And whoever heard of someone who needed a job, right away looked for a vacancy.
When my brother arrived in New York with a brand-new M. D. degree from Vienna six months before I did, he came with only one name:
that of the medical director of a big New York hospital, who, thirty-five years earlier, had been a classmate of a Vienna pediatrician, our beloved “Aunt Trudy.”
The medical director no longer remembered Aunt Trudy and his hospital had no job for an intern.
But he lodged my brother in an empty interns’ room and started telephoning.
A few days later my brother had an internship in a smaller but accredited and well-known hospital in the New York area.
Concern, eagerness to help, willingness to swing into action for perfect strangers, were not confined to jobs.
When we arrived in New York that late April we put up at a small midtown hotel.
New York’s annual April heatwave struck the same day and there was then no air conditioning.
Our window opened on Sixth Avenue, where a subway was being built, mostly at night so as not to interfere with traffic.
Window open or window shut, we knew after two dreadful nights that we had to get out—but where?
Going down the subway steps I ran into a casual shipboard acquaintance, an elderly man of whom I knew only that he was a New York lawyer.
“Hot enough for you?” he asked.
When I told him that it was too hot and that we had to find a cooler, quieter place outside the city but didn’t know where or how, he said, “Let me telephone.
A nephew of mine is moving and looking, I believe, for someone to take over the lease on his Bronxville apartment.”
Forty-eight hours later we moved.
I had the kindness of a stranger to thank for my office.
Riding in an elevator in a downtown building, I heard a voice saying:
“Aren’t you Mr. Drucker from London?”
It was a New York stockbroker who, a few months earlier, had made a courtesy call on Freedberg & Co. in London.
I told him I had moved to New York to work as financial adviser for a group of British investors, and as feature writer for a group of British newspapers.
The stranger said, “You’ll need an office.
We’re vacating three rooms on our floor.”
He negotiated a lease for me which gave me a spacious office at downtown’s best address, the Equitable Building, 120 Broadway, at one-fourth of what I would have had to pay for the dingiest quarters anyplace else.
And his firm lent me furniture without charge.
“But I can’t even pay you by bringing brokerage business to you.
I won’t have any,” I said.
“I know that,” was the answer.
“Just put us on the mailing list of your market letters so we can read what you tell European investors about Wall Street.
And I’ll put you on our mailing list.”
I joined the Foreign Press Association and got a press card (which, incidentally, I never once was asked to show).
During my European trip I had written six or seven feature stories for the Washington Post, which under its new owner, Eugene Meyer, was rapidly becoming the leading paper in Washington and the “house organ” of the government bureaucracy.
But still I was completely unknown and had met hardly anyone in the government when, during a visit to Washington in June or July of 1938—shortly after my trip to Europe—I received a tearful call from an Austrian childhood friend now living in New York.
Her father, a refugee, was in Paris awaiting an American visa and was suddenly stricken with severe prostatitis demanding early surgery.
Could I get his visa speeded up so that he could have the operation in New York, where her husband was a surgeon?
When I asked whom I might see, she said, “There’s a Mr. Messersmith, who was American ambassador in Vienna a few years back, and is now, I think, Assistant Secretary of State.
He should know something about Austria.”
My hotel was across the park from the old State Department building.
I went unannounced, without introduction or appointment, to the State Department, looked up Mr. Messersmith on the board in the hall, walked into his office unchallenged by receptionist or guard (the State Department then had neither), and saw Mr. Messersmith, who was indeed Assistant Secretary of State, ten minutes later.
He asked me a few questions, then called his secretary in and dictated a cable to a vice consul in Paris, instructing him to issue an emergency visa to Mr. X should Mr. X’s papers be in order.
Then he said, “If this doesn’t work, here’s the person to see,” and gave me the name of the official I should have gone to in the first place.
“But,” he added, “I think it will work.”
And it did.
Yet Messersmith, as I later learned, had a reputation as being unfriendly, a pedant and a stickler, and a person who was strongly opposed to letting refugees come in freely.
Then there was the Saturday afternoon at the very modest home of a middle-level Department of Agriculture editor in suburban Silver Springs, outside of Washington.
I spent the day with Gove Hambidge, the editor, on an article I was writing for the Department’s annual yearbook—incidentally, the Agriculture yearbooks Hambidge put out in those years are still, I think, among the best and most thoughtful texts on ecology and environment.
Around three o’clock or so Hambidge said, “We’d better stop working and get ready for the company.”
“I never know,” he said, “but everyone in the Department is welcome to come Saturday afternoons and pitch horseshoes; and here’s Henry.”
The Secretary of Agriculture, Henry Wallace, drove up in a battered Ford, followed within the hour by some top people in the Department and in New Deal political life:
M. L. Wilson, the Undersecretary and the head of most of the farm programs;
Louis Bean, the economist, the Department’s counselor and the farm programs’ intellectual father;
and so on.
Around seven when it got dark, Mrs. Hambidge had all of us come into the kitchen and set us to making sandwiches.
Wallace chatted with me, asked what I was working on, and said, “I’d like to talk with you about this.
Can you and Louis Bean see me on Monday morning?”
Of course he was told that I was a journalist but he never even asked what papers I worked for.
I was a friend of Gove’s and had asked questions that interested Wallace.
The informality was largely manners, and sometimes coarse, if not bad, manners.
After forty years I still am not reconciled to the “informality” of calling women in an office by their first names while they say “Mr. Drucker.”
And it took a long time before my European-bred tongue was at ease saying “girls” instead of “ladies” for the women in an office.
But the friendliness and the commitment to mutual help were genuine.
So was the willingness to take a chance on a person.
I got my assignment to write for the Washington Post during my European trip in the spring of 1938 by calling cold on the foreign editor.
Somebody had mentioned that the Post, though not yet able to afford its own correspondents abroad, was eager to add to the syndicated dispatches it received from The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune, then still the only American dailies with an extensive foreign news staff of their own.
I phoned to get the name of the foreign editor—it was Barnet Nover—and walked in on him.
Two hours later I walked out with a contract and an advance.
Nover had liked my ideas, had taken me to the publisher, Eugene Meyer, who approved, had said, “We won’t commit ourselves until we see the pieces, but we do want an exclusive right of refusal.
So we owe you an advance:
let’s say the fee for two pieces,” and that was it.
Of course, he did not risk much.
But $150 was a big sum in those days and paid for most of my European expenses other than the transatlantic fare.
I similarly sold my first article to Harper’s magazine by walking in.
I had finished my book, The End of Economic Man, in the fall, had gotten it accepted by a publisher, and thought a pre-publication article would help sell the book.
I knew the name of the associate editor, Frederick Lewis Allen, because I had read his history of the twenties, Only Yesterday.
I called him up, was asked to come to the office, and then encouraged to write a piece for his consideration.
Similarly Martin Sommers, the foreign editor of the Saturday Evening Post, saw me without an appointment.
It occurred to me on the train from Washington to New York that I might call on him, so I got off the train in Philadelphia and took a streetcar to Independence Square.
“The article ideas you’re talking about sound interesting,” he said.
“How soon can I see the first one?”
He had it five days later and called up the same morning.
“I’ll have to cut a few lines, but otherwise we’ll run it as you sent it in.”
There was the same willingness to accept the stranger on his own cognizance when I worked on a story on American industry or American education and called up people in business, the universities, or government for an interview or information; or when, a little later, I began to call casual acquaintances and even strangers to find jobs for the Austrian refugees then coming in like a tidal wave.
And when there was no job for a person I was trying to place, the response would often be that of the president of one of the New York City colleges when I called on him on the slightest acquaintanceship:
“No, we don’t have a job for a mathematician right now.
But you wouldn’t know a good musician by any chance?
We could use one.”
Unlike the informality in manners and mannerisms that the Depression only accentuated, the commitment to mutual help and the willingness to take chances on a person were peculiar to Depression America.
Whenever I discussed this with the older generation—Eugene Meyer, for instance, of whom I saw quite a bit later on in Washington during the World War II days, or Christian Gauss, the long-time Princeton dean, or Fred Allen at Harper’s magazine, for I was tremendously intrigued by the phenomenon and discussed it with whoever was willing to listen—they all maintained that the America of the twenties, while far more informal, had been no friendlier than Europe, no more willing to help, no more receptive to the stranger.
The commitment to mutual help was a response to the Depression.
Indeed it was the specifically American response to the Depression.
There was nothing like it on the other side, where the Depression evoked only suspicion, surliness, fear, and envy.
The American response to the Depression was the response to a natural disaster.
[* ] A “natural disaster” is nonrecurring, an Act of God for which no person is to blame, and an interruption of normal life which then, after emergency repairs, picks up as before.
As after an earthquake, a flood, a hurricane, the community closed ranks and came to each other’s rescue.
The America of the thirties talked of the Depression the way people talk about a natural disaster, with voluble personal stories of “how I managed” or “how I suffered,” but also by saying at the end of a long story:
“You see, I recovered from this affliction and so will you.”
A few years later, during World War II, everyone marveled at the spirit in the British shelters, the good nature, the camaraderie, the friendliness and sense of community during the London Blitz with its suffering, its dangers, its extreme discomfort.
I was not surprised—I had seen the same spirit in the disaster of the American Depression.
As after every natural disaster, the “survivors” in Depression America went into gales of laughter, if only because it was so good to be alive.
Above all, they laughed at themselves—good-naturedly, mostly, though with the sharp bite to the joke that also characterizes the laughter of the day after a disaster.
In the winter of 1940-41 I spoke on the monthly Saturday afternoon program of the Foreign Policy Association that CBS carried live over its national network.
The Foreign Policy Association had just brought in a new president, a retired general.
I noticed how nervous he was during lunch, and he told me that he had never faced a microphone before.
When it was his turn to introduce the session, he froze, stumbled, and dropped all the papers he held in his hand.
We picked them up, pushed them back into his hand, and pushed the poor chap, paralyzed with fright, up to the microphone.
In a trembling voice he read the paper that was uppermost in his hand.
But instead of the introduction to the day’s program, it was the announcement for the program a month hence, with Mrs. Roosevelt as the speaker, which he should have read at the broadcast’s conclusion!
Somehow I got through my speech.
Later I was told that CBS had never had so many telephone calls about a Foreign Policy Association program, with hundreds or thousands of people indignantly calling up to find out why Mrs. Roosevelt hadn’t been allowed to talk, or concerned about Mrs. Roosevelt’s health since she did not sound at all her normal self.
I wrote a letter to Mrs. Roosevelt explaining what had happened and got a pleasant note back from her secretary.
Two months or so later I was lecturing in Reading, Pennsylvania.
It was a luncheon speech, which meant, in those days, that one had to get in from New York the night before.
At my hotel was a note from a secretary:
“Mrs. Roosevelt is lecturing here tomorrow night and will spend the day visiting a hospital, a home for blind children, and a prison.
Maybe you’d care to join her?
She saw your lecture announced when she came to town and understands you will be here tomorrow morning.”
So I spent the morning inspecting a hospital and a home for the blind as part of Mrs. Roosevelt’s retinue—and a most impressive performance her inspections were.
I apologized again for the mishap at the Foreign Policy Association.
“I owe you thanks,” she said.
“From your letter I knew what to expect and introduced myself rather than let the poor general suffer again.
Anyhow,” she went on, “Mr. Drucker, you can’t realize what a thrill it is for me to find someone who actually wanted to be taken for Eleanor Roosevelt.”
The next spring I was working for the war in Washington and had to get security clearance.
The young man whose job it was, and who was just as green as I was, had only one problem but a serious one.
There was that charge of my having “impersonated Mrs. Roosevelt.”
I explained to him what had happened.
“Why didn’t you correct the mistake right away?” he asked.
“Well, I probably hadn’t thought fast enough in the confusion.
One doesn’t contradict and correct a chairman to begin with, and no one was very likely to mistake my Austrian baritone for Eleanor Roosevelt’s high-pitched, New York finishing school accent.”
The young man was sympathetic but troubled.
“If only I could see what advantage you derived from being introduced as Mrs. Roosevelt, I could clear you.
We have to have an explanation to set aside a charge.”
Then he brightened.
“Doesn’t she draw more of a crowd than you do?” he asked.
I admitted that, indeed, she did.
“That’ll do it,” he said happily, and wrote in the margin:
to attract larger crowds and get higher lecture fees.
Charge dismissed as trivial.”
“But,” I said, “that makes me sound a perfect ass.”
“Mr. Drucker, this is an investigation of your loyalty, not your fitness, and besides it doesn’t make you out to be an ass.
It makes the law out to be an ass, and that’s hardly news.”
Few people in America during the Depression years believed in “recovery,” certainly not after 1937 when the slight economic improvement that had followed Roosevelt’s reelection spending proved a short-lived mirage.
Fewer still believed that there would ever be economic growth again.
The most honored economic prophet of those years was the Harvard Keynesian Alvin Hansen, who in 1938 predicted—with “ample mathematical proofs”—“permanent stagnation” and long-term shrinkage for decades to come in his Full Recovery or Stagnation.
No one then could possibly have imagined the near-thirty years of worldwide economic expansion and prosperity that did follow World War II, the longest and fastest period of growth in all economic history.
In fact, even the wildest optimist would not have dared assign the slightest probability of survival to the world economy in the event of a world war.
Economically the Depression was not a “disaster”; it was a “new normalcy.”
But unlike Europe, where it was felt that “the center cannot hold,” the “center” held in America.
Society and community were sound, hale, indeed triumphant.
There was plenty of violence as there has, of course, been throughout American history, and plenty of bitterness.
But the Depression was also a celebration of community, of shared values, of the joy of life, and of common hope—as a “natural disaster” tends to be for the defiant survivors.
This, I submit, was the truly remarkable, truly historic achievement of Franklin D. Roosevelt.
And then it mattered not at all that his economic policies were outrageous failures.
But paradoxically precisely because Depression America celebrated community, it greatly strengthened the local, the parochial, the tribal in American life.
It emphasized religious and ethnic and cultural diversities, and turned them into boundaries.
Depression America was more anti-Jewish, more anti-Catholic, and equally more pro-Jewish and more pro-Catholic than the America of the twenties had been.
And within Jewry the cleavage between “Germans” and “Russians” widened; as did the cleavage between “Irish,” “Italians,” and “Germans” among Catholics, or that between “Yankees” and “Southerners.”
If Marxism ever had a chance in the United States, it died with the Depression.
Marxist dogma asserted that the Depression had to make America “class-conscious,” had to create the “proletariat,” had to project a “revolutionary situation.”
It did the opposite.
There had been plenty of genuine proletarian and revolutionary tinder in earlier days—the “Wobblies” of World War I were a genuine movement of revolt and class war.
Eugene Debs, a little earlier, deserved to be taken seriously as a political contender, unlike Norman Thomas, Earl Browder, Senator McGovern, or Michael Harrington.
There was, of course, plenty of class-consciousness, plenty of hatred, plenty of class bitterness in the Depression years.
I first visited Detroit in the days of the sit-down strikes and the bitterness and hatred on both sides were enough to sicken even the most callous.
When, on the same trip, I visited Pittsburgh and wanted to go through a steel mill, I was told by the public relations man at U.S. Steel to try another steel company—Republic perhaps—since bringing a newsman in under management’s auspices might inflame an already dangerous labor situation.
That ruined Wall Street brokers jumped out of thirtieth-floor windows was surely cold comfort to an unemployed automobile worker on the breadline, or to an “Okie” dispossessed from his farm by drought and sandstorms rather than by the Depression.
Still, a “natural disaster” is one event that does not respect money.
All the rich have is more insurance than the poor.
And so in the natural disaster which America perceived the Depression to be, being of Italian or Polish origin became more important than being a contractor or a laborer, and being Jewish more important than being publisher of The New York Times or a pushcart peddler on Seventh Avenue.
To a newcomer from Europe this was utter bewilderment.
Or rather, it seemed simple at first, then became totally incomprehensible.
“Straight anti-Semitism,” I would say when learning that there were “restricted” resorts or “restricted” country clubs to which Jews were not admitted.
Of course, it was, as were the “quotas” for Jewish students at practically every university, or the invisible but very real bars to Jews at most university faculties.
And there was Chancellor Chase of New York University who, in the midst of the Depression, managed to keep his budget balanced by cutting all faculty salaries 40 percent and then calling in his Jewish faculty members and cutting their salaries 70 percent, saying, “If you don’t like it, quit.
But being Jewish, you won’t find another job.”
Twenty years later, when I joined N.Y.U. and became chairman of a major department, I still had to live with the after-effects of this “cleverness” on which Chase had greatly prided himself.
Yet Chase was considered a leading “liberal” in the educational establishment, and thought himself to be one.
He was indeed proud of N.Y.U.’s leadership in hiring Jewish teachers without any discrimination or quota restriction, despite strong opposition from members of his own board of what was officially then still a Methodist university.
Colleges and universities that had strict “quotas” for Jewish students and kept American Jews off their faculties, at the same time practically without exception opened their hearts, pocketbooks, and faculties to Jewish scholars from Germany and Austria.
The same communities in which clubs, resorts, and apartment houses were “restricted” and closed to Jews insisted on Jewish candidates for at least one powerful office—city comptroller, for instance, or Attorney General—on every political slate.
And whereas “restricted” meant “no Jews” in New York, Boston, Washington, and Los Angeles, it meant “no Catholics” in Minneapolis and Atlanta, and “no Hungarians, Slovaks, or Poles” in Pittsburgh.
In those years all of America—but particularly newcomers from Europe—became increasingly sensitive to anti-Jewish rhetoric, habits, or policies.
But the American Catholic was even more subject to both kinds of discrimination, discrimination against and discrimination for; in other words, the discrimination of a tribal society.
On my first trip as a journalist to the South—probably in early 1939—the governor or lieutenant-governor of Georgia whom I interviewed about conditions in the state launched into a sharp attack on the city’s leading department store, Rich’s.
The fact that it was Jewish was all right—department stores apparently had to be Jewish by law of nature—but Rich’s had hired as its general manager a Catholic, and an Irish Catholic from the North to boot.
In the next breath he talked about putting a local Catholic on his ticket so as to “balance” it.
When I once wondered whether the Catholic universities might perhaps insulate Catholic students from American life, the Jesuit father-president of Fordham University rebutted:
“We don’t need Catholic universities in America for the students any more.
They might as well go to the state universities.
We need them because Catholics can’t get faculty appointments except at Catholic schools.”
There were Gentile law firms in New York City and Chicago, and Jewish law firms; but there were also Protestant accounting firms and Catholic accounting firms.
General Motors, I was told with great emphasis, was the one and only major “Protestant” manufacturer who had both a Jew—Meyer Prentiss, the comptroller—and a Catholic—Marvin Coyle, the head of Chevrolet—in its top management.
Henry Wallace, Secretary of Agriculture and the New Deal’s most prominent “Liberal,” had two Jews as economic advisers:
Louis Bean and Mordecai Ezekiel.
Though this made it only too easy to attack Wallace politically, especially in the South, on the support of which Wallace’s farm program was utterly dependent, Wallace never wavered in his support of the two men.
But Catholics were totally absent in the upper reaches of the Department of Agriculture.
Yet only a few blocks away, at the Department of Justice, there were plenty of Catholics but practically no Jews.
And the FBI under Hoover was, of course, the original “Irish Mafia.”
Sears Roebuck had been built by a Jew, Julius Rosenwald, with mostly Jewish associates.
In the thirties, after Rosenwald’s death, Jews were excluded from management positions in Sears largely as a result of Rosenwald’s doing.
He laid down the rule excluding Jews from top positions in Sears after the Leopold-Loeb murder affair, the most sensational and widely publicized crime of the twenties, in which two young men in Chicago, Leopold and Loeb, murdered a young nephew just for kicks.
Both murderers were sons of high-ranking Sears executives and Rosenwald kin.
But Sears also did not let any Catholics into top management.
Charlie Kellstadt, who ultimately became Sears’ chief executive in the fifties, was, however, a Catholic who had come up the ladder during the long reign of General Robert Wood, vocally anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic, and anti-Easterner.
“How come you made it, Charlie?”
I asked him.
“I wouldn’t have,” he said, “if my name were Kennedy instead of Kellstadt, and Irish instead of German.”
“There are Jewish law firms in New York and Gentile law firms,” I once said to a Jewish friend, “How come there are two Seligman partners in Sullivan & Cromwell?”
“But they’re German Jews, and not Russian,” was the answer.
And when a friend became a partner in Lehman Brothers, I was told:
“He isn’t really a Russian Jew, his family is Hungarian.”
This cleavage persisted for the older generation into the postwar years, despite Hitler.
One of my students in Bennington was the daughter of a prominent New York surgeon who came from a well-known German-Jewish family.
She fell in love with a young physician, one of her father’s residents, and brought him to Bennington to present him as her future husband.
I thought him singularly nice.
But her father—otherwise a perfectly sane man—asked me to help him break up the match.
“Why do you want to?”
I asked in amazement.
“He is a RUSSIAN Jew,” was the answer.
(The family managed to break up the match only to have the girl marry, on the rebound, a fortune-hunting scoundrel.)
New York’s Harmonie Club had been founded because J. P. Morgan had denied Jews access to the Union League Club.
But the Harmonie, in turn, did not admit non-German, that is, “Russian,” Jews until well after World War II.
But there was also consternation among some Catholic friends when a Polish Catholic priest was appointed auxiliary bishop of a diocese other than the Polish “fief” of Buffalo.
“German Catholics,” they said, “we may have to take.
But a Polish bishop, that’s going too far.
The Pope is getting very poor advice.”
The Irish in Brooklyn and the Bronx allied themselves with Jews so as to keep the Italian Catholics from getting power and patronage jobs.
This then forced New York’s two ablest politicians of the Depression years, whose names happened to be Fiorello LaGuardia and Vito Marcantonio, to turn “anti-establishment” and “radical,” but also to become Republicans and to build their machine on an upper middle-class, white Protestant base.
All of which sounded obvious and perfectly sane within the context of Depression America until one had to explain it to non-American readers 3,000 miles away, as I was supposed to do.
When John Kennedy ran for the presidency in 1960, large numbers of Catholics were reported to be lukewarm to the point of not voting for him because he had gone to Harvard instead of Holy Cross.
But in the Depression years of the thirties, when the young Kennedys, with their eyes fixed on political careers, went to college, they had to make a deliberate decision to alienate the Irish Catholics twenty years later rather than lose for sure the non-Irish Catholic vote which a Holy Cross degree would have entailed.
I still remember the bewilderment of a German Catholic friend of mine, an anti-Nazi and a refugee, who enrolled his son in a Catholic university and was called in by the dean and advised to put the boy elsewhere.
“This is really a university for the Irish,” the dean said, “and your boy won’t be happy here.”
Among Italians a similar cleavage ran deep between “Piedmontese,” whose ancestors had come from the north, and the “Sicilians.”
“It’s sheer madness,” I reported to one of my English publishers, Brendan Bracken of the Financial News (now the Financial Times), who wanted me to write a story on religion and national origins in American life, politics, and business.
Bracken was altogether the most perceptive publisher I ever worked for, and the most extraordinary one—and not just because he drank a bottle of brandy before lunch, then acquired absolute recall which enabled him to recite from memory every page in the telephone directories of London, Manhattan, and Chicago.
He was a member of Churchill’s inner circle and became Britain’s brilliant Minister of Information during World War II.
“No,” said Bracken, “it’s not madness.
There is recovery from madness.
It’s tribalism and it paralyzes society in the end.”
Bracken was right, of course but he was also quite wrong.
Depression America was certainly tribal in its emphasis on what divides groups, on roots and origins, its stress on where a person came from.
Indeed Depression America, by all accounts, was more tribal than the twenties had been.
Whether this was “discrimination against” or “discrimination for” depended, as in all tribalism, on the specific situation.
It was severe discrimination against the Catholic or Jewish boy trying to get into medical school; but it could also be discrimination for the Jewish or Catholic lawyer or the Jewish or Catholic high-school teacher trying to get a court appointment as receiver in bankruptcy or a high-school principalship.
Tribalism reached a peak in the Depression years precisely because of their emphasis on community, on belonging.
It was vicious and could hurt.
Yet it had innocence.
And for this reason the tribalism that seemed in those Depression years to have a stranglehold on American life and the American imagination could overnight become a memory rather than reality.
In the early postwar years, the high-school teacher from Oklahoma who often came along with us on hikes in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park still raved about “Popists” and the “Roman Whore of Babylon.”
His attractive children have both married Catholics.
Now when Jewish boys are living with Italian girls without anybody’s paying any attention; when Irish accountants are taking over as chief executives of “Protestant” companies in Fundamentalist Midwestern cities; and when “discrimination” may mean appointing a Jewish male rather than a black female to a faculty position—we can with safety stress ethnic diversity, exult in “Roots,” and with impunity deny that the “melting pot” ever existed.
[* ]”There are two melting pots bubbling away in America,” Dr. Mordecai Johnson, the wise Negro sociologist of Fisk University, once said to me.
“One boils very, very slowly.
But everything that goes into it comes out three generations later as Anglo-Saxon.
The other pot boils very, very fast.
And everything that goes into it—and a good bit of it goes in white—comes out only nine months later as black and Negro.”
Of course as a young man living in England I knew all about the “Negro Problem in America.”
But when I came over, the reality hit me as nothing has before or since.
It was not “worse”; it was different.
In those years it puzzled an otherwise perceptive friend, Jack Fischer—later to become the editor of Harper’s magazine—that I held Negro slavery in the United States to have been not a mistake and not a crime, but a sin.
By now, I believe, few Americans would need an explanation.
And of course the Abolitionists would have understood all along.
But in Depression America racial discrimination was taken for granted by the great majority of blacks as well as whites.
It was seen by Marxists, but also by other heirs of nineteenth-century determinism, as a by-product of “bourgeois capitalism” and bound to disappear with it.
Or, by the liberals, especially in the industrial North, it was seen as one of the things that needed “reform.”
To me, it needed atonement and repentance.
To me, the Negro was existential fact, far more important and enduring than the Depression.
It was not until many years later that I read Thomas Jefferson’s words:
“When I remember that there is a Just God, I tremble for the future of the Union,” but after a month in New York City I felt them.
And, being a coward, I knew I could not live in the South.
The most attractive academic job that ever came my way was the deanship at Emory University in Atlanta.
It was offered to me in the late forties, when the South was still fully segregated, and I had to say no.
The New Deal saw its mission in integrating the rural South into the nation—and it is one mission in which it succeeded.
This meant making Southern farmers prosperous, competent, powerful.
And “Southern farmers” were, of course, white.
The Old South was the true power base of Franklin D. Roosevelt, but an Old South to be made over in the image of the Midwest.
When Roosevelt took office, the Old South was an underdeveloped country not too different from Brazil’s Northeast today:
underdeveloped economically, educationally, in its health, infant mortality, and life expectancies, and in being predominantly rural and single-crop.
By the time America emerged from World War II, the South had been transformed.
It was not yet the chrome-studded “Sun Belt” of today; it was still poorer, less educated, less healthy, and more rural then the rest of the nation.
But it was only “behind,” it was no longer apart.
Faulkner’s Sartorises were indeed gone.
They could never, for better or worse, have fitted into a “developed modern society.”
But Faulkner’s Snopeses were getting ready to study to be nuclear engineers.
This however demanded acceptance by the Roosevelt administration and by the nation of the “peculiar institution” of the South, that is, of white supremacy.
The Roosevelt administration was the last fully to rest on the historic, though unwritten, constitutional compact of 1876 in which the South accepted national government by Northern agriculture, industry, and labor in exchange for Northern noninterference with the South’s “peculiar institution.”
The very success of this formula under the Roosevelt administration made it obsolete, for the South ceased to be rural and “outside.”
But the Depression years, whatever their liberal rhetoric, were years of official racial discrimination far more consistent and uncompromising than earlier Northern-based Republican administrations had to be.
And anyone who then suggested that America’s internal discrimination against the Negro and its external “anti-colonialism” were incompatible would have gotten a blank stare of total incomprehension.
Yet it was the New Deal that laid the foundations for black emancipation precisely because it made the white Southern farmer affluent.
That the Negro was rural and would remain rural was an axiom in those days, for blacks as well as whites, and for Liberals and Conservatives alike.
The great Negro scholars of the day—a Mordecai Johnson, for instance—went into rural sociology.
And the pitifully little the New Deal tried to do for Negroes was inspired largely by a book by an English economist, Doreen Warriner, called Preface to Peasantry.
It preached the self-sufficient peasant commune.
The New Deal, under Mrs. Roosevelt’s prodding, actually built some communes for black sharecroppers.
They looked like concentration camps, turned into instant slums, never became self-sufficient, and were deserted wholesale the moment the black family could hitch a ride on a jalopy to the hell-fires of a Northern ghetto such as Detroit or Los Angeles.
But I too believed in Warriner’s diagnosis, if not in her prescription.
And it was therefore a shock I can still remember when I and Malcolm Bryan—a Chicagoan who had become head of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta and the South’s leading economist—suddenly realized one morning in 1940 after a few days’ work on population statistics that the American Negro was becoming both a Northerner and a city dweller, and that the “Negro problem” would, in another twenty years, have become the problem of the Northern city.
This was directly the result of successful New Deal measures aimed at making the Southern white farmer more productive, more competent, and wealthier.
The New Deal made the American farmer into a good credit risk; he became entitled to secure, predictable, steady payments for not growing stuff, for putting land into the “soil bank,” and to interest-free loans on whatever crop he did produce.
Lending to the Southern cotton farmer had always been more akin to pawn-broking and usury than to banking.
Suddenly it came to be lending to Uncle Sam, and more profitable than buying government notes.
As soon as the farmer could get credit, he could afford to farm productively—and that meant without the Negro sharecropper.
For the sharecropper, while receiving starvation wages, also represented exorbitant labor costs—always the best prescription for extreme poverty, of course.
He worked six weeks in the year; that’s all cotton requires.
But he and his wife and his children and his mule had to be fed, however poorly, fifty-two weeks a year.
A weekly income that was shamefully low translated into a labor cost per bale of cotton that not even a very high price could cover.
As soon as the farmer became a bankable risk he therefore bought machinery, which doesn’t have to be fed unless it works.
Tractors and even cotton pickers had of course been around a long time—cotton could be picked mechanically as early as 1897.
It was economics that pushed the sharecropper out—the economics of affluence.
He went willingly.
It is only now, a generation later, that any Black can afford to be nostalgic about the Old South.
Technology did play a part, yet not in the form of the tractor and the cotton picker but of the used car.
“It’s no longer a question whether the American Negro will be emancipated,” said Mordecai Johnson to me once.
“He has been emancipated.
The only question is how long it will be before the whites know it.
The American Negro,” he continued, “was free the day one of them realized that a white man is just as dead if run over by a car driven by a nigger as by one driven by a white.”
The automobile gave mobility.
But above all it gave power.
It put the Negro sharecropper emotionally and spiritually into the driver’s seat.
Technology has been a major element in the story of the Negro in America.
Whether slavery would have been abolished earlier, I do not know.
But without Eli Whitney’s cotton gin, it would almost certainly have become a minor factor and its territory a steadily shrinking one after mass immigration from Europe got going in the 1780s.
The North American soils and climates are simply not suitable for any plantation crop other than cotton.
The automobile, electricity, the tractor, the cotton picker, in the end doomed the plantation economy and with it the rural Negro.
But technology also, in the mass-production industries, created the alternative employments to which an unskilled, pre-industrial Southern Negro sharecropper could migrate, start earning money, and begin having access to schools, union membership, and the political power of the ballot box.
And yet technology, I thought, was only a small part of the truth, the less important one.
If, as I strongly felt, Negro slavery was a sin, then it could not be overcome by technology.
It could only be affected, let alone overcome, by a contrite heart.
It could not, altogether, be overcome by the Negro but only by the white freeing himself.
Indeed the great advances in the status, standing, and position of the American Black were not made by and under liberals working through economics or “reforms.”
They were made by and under white Southerners, proud of being descendants of Confederate soldiers and acting out of conversion:
by Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson.
The New Deal years were the years in which the conversion started.
They were the years in which the American Negro first produced in substantial numbers men of excellence, men of vision, men who had truly become free men.
They were extraordinary people, those Negro scholars and preachers of Depression America.
What made them so powerful was not just their intellect, their scholarship, and their uncompromising dignity.
It was their integrity.
I first met Mordecai Johnson when he talked to the students and faculty at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York (probably in the fall of 1940).
He shocked the ultra-liberal faculty by saying that the greatest problem of the American Negro was not oppression and discrimination; it was the fact that, alone of all peoples in human history, the Negroes in Africa had been willing, indeed eager, to enslave their own kind and to sell them off into slavery with Arabs and whites.
“Unless the American Negro is willing to confront the guilt and mystery of his own roots, he’ll never be truly free,” Johnson said.
Nothing less popular could have been said then or now.
I went to Dr. Johnson after the meeting and said:
“You are wrong.
The classical Greeks—especially the Athenians of the Golden Age—did exactly that.
Look at the horrible story of Athens’ enslavement of the Melians in Thucydides.”
“I know all about it,” he said, “and you are wrong.
The Greeks enslaved their own kind, but they sold them to other Greeks, not to foreigners or invaders the way only we did.”
This was the integrity out of which Martin Luther King arose, the integrity that gave the Negro leaders their inner sovereignty and moral authority, not only among their own people but also in white America.
But perhaps the black voice was even more important.
The “Negro Problem in America” requires a change of heart as much as a change of policies, and even the best rural sociology does not reach the heart.
I learned a great deal from Mordecai Johnson even though I did not see him often, for he was a busy man.
But I was shaken and moved by the voice of Howard Thurman, the chaplain at Howard, the Negro university, into whose church I sneaked whenever I spent a weekend in Washington.
Thurman’s was the last generation of the great Negro preachers’ voices—the microphone and the loudspeaker have killed them off.
The sheer power and beauty of these voices reached the inner core of one’s being.
In the Depression years the radio made us singularly voice-conscious.
And the radio got the great Negro voices, such as Thurman’s, out of the black church and into the white living room.
The true emancipation of the American white from the bondage of Negro slavery began perhaps on that Depression day when the Daughters of the American Revolution, shocking even bigots, denied the use of Washington’s Constitution Hall to Marian Anderson—thereby making a fine Negro musician into a major national figure.
It was Marian Anderson and her voice—that beautiful and totally spiritual force—that, having become a “celebrity” through bigotry, suddenly reached every American living room when she sang “Let My People Go.”
It was Marian Anderson’s voice which made White America recognize that the “Negro” problem concerns the conscience of the white far more than the rights of the black.
[* ]A few days after I had joined the Foreign Press Association (not more than six weeks after I had arrived in New York), a letter from Columbia University arrived, signed by the provost, a Mr. Fackenthal.
“President Nicholas Murray Butler,” it said, “remembers with pleasure meeting you earlier in Geneva at the League of Nations and would like to renew the acquaintance.
He hopes you can join him for tea next Tuesday at four in his office at the Low (Law) Library.”
I had heard of Dr. Butler.
I had definitely never met him, however, and could not imagine what he might want of me.
Mr. Fackenthal ushered me into an office where a very old man sat huddled in a chair looking at the floor.
“Here is Mr. Drucker, Mr. President,” said Fackenthal.
“You remember you met him earlier in Geneva and had such interesting talks with him?”
The old man in the chair did not look up and only held out a limp hand.
“I’ll leave you two alone,” said Mr. Fackenthal cheerfully.
Not a word was said until the tea came.
Then the old man poured a cup and asked, “One lump or two?”
“Thank you,” I said, “but I don’t take sugar.”
There was no response—and another five minutes of silence.
Then the old man asked again, “One lump or two?” and I, thinking that he might be hard of hearing, repeated what I had said earlier.
Again nothing happened for five minutes, then I was asked again how many lumps of sugar I might want.
This time I said, “One.”
Dr. Butler promptly put one lump into my cup and pushed it across to me, still staring at the floor.
Twenty minutes of total silence, broken only by his pouring me another cup and asking again how many lumps of sugar I would want, then Mr. Fackenthal bustled in and said cheerily, “I hate to break in when you and Mr. Drucker are having such an enjoyable chat but, Dr. Butler, your next appointment is waiting.”
When I got back to my office downtown, I found out what Fackenthal wanted, although not why he wanted me to meet the poor old man.
No sooner had I left my office to go to Columbia than a messenger had arrived with an enormous box containing Dr. Butler’s collected speeches and papers and fifty envelopes, already stamped and addressed to Mr. Fackenthal, with a note:
“Please use these envelopes to mail any dispatches in which you refer to President Butler or quote him.”
I never had occasion either to refer to President Butler or to quote him.
But I did follow up Fackenthal’s parting words:
“I hope you’ll pay some attention to American higher education in your dispatches to your British papers.
It is a most interesting subject.”
This, I soon found out, was an understatement.
Higher education in Depression America may well have been the most interesting subject.
The 1960s are today considered to have been the “golden age” of academia in America, but they were only the era of riches, numbers, and grants, and maybe, of arrogance.
The “great age” of American higher education was the 1930s.
Colleges and universities were not rich then, though they did amazingly well in the Depression as costs went down sharply while both tuition fees and charitable donations held up strongly.
But the thirties were years of thinking, of venturing, of excitement and innovation.
Nicholas Murray Butler’s senility—despite which he stayed on as titular president until 1945, with Fackenthal running the show as provost—was highly symbolic.
For the university that Butler had built and stood for had, by the early thirties, become so successful as to outlive itself.
Butler was the last of the giants who, beginning with Charles Eliot (who became president of Harvard in 1869), had created the modern American university on the ruins of the eighteenth-century “seminary.”
Butler became a college president earlier than anyone in the history of American higher education and stayed president longer.
He was only twenty-six when, in 1888, he proposed that teachers’ education should be “higher” education rather than “normal school,” and founded Teachers College and with it the concept of “education” as a subject of research and university study.
He had moved on to the Columbia presidency in 1902, merging Teachers College into Columbia in the process.
When I met him he had been a college president for forty-nine years; he hung on for another eight, until he was finally forced out, eighty-three years old and totally incapacitated.
He had been a firebrand in his youth and earned his nickname, “Nicholas Miraculous.”
But everything he had fought for:
higher education for teachers and systematic research into education;
attention to educational administration;
civil service reform and systematic university-level preparation of public servants;
systematic preparation for university teaching with the Ph.D. as a prerequisite and work as a teaching assistant as a supervised apprenticeship;
the graduate school as a distinct and separate unit—but also systematic money raising and organized publicity—
all this had become reality by World War I and commonplace by the mid-thirties.
And so had Butler’s idea of the university as itself a public service institution, which not only prepares students and fosters research but provides a focus of leadership, responsibility, and expertise in public affairs, both within the community and for government.
Butler’s ideas had become old as he was becoming senile.
The Depression then unleashed a turbulent abundance of new ideas, new experiments, new directions.
In the Depression the university was “news.”
The quickest way to break up a dinner party was to express an opinion, whether favorable or unfavorable, of Robert Hutchins’s attempt to make the University of Chicago over into the image of Plato’s Academy, or to ask for an opinion on Harvard’s equally controversial attempt to abolish any kind of educational coherence altogether and to become education’s highest-quality delicatessen store.
Husbands and wives fought over the virtues or vices of “progressive education”—whether that meant no rules for students, small classes, or the lavish use of field trips, movies, and guest lecturers from the “real world,” no one quite knew.
Every college or university, no matter how small or undistinguished, was at work on curriculum reform, developing new ideas, testing new courses.
This ferment centered on teaching and on the student’s learning.
I had long harbored the prejudice that school has to do with teaching and learning; I had after all been engaged in “teacher-watching” as a favorite pursuit since encountering Miss Elsa and Miss Sophy in fourth grade.
But teaching and learning were not particularly important in the universities of Europe, with their emphasis on preparation for professional careers, and on research and scholarship, that is, on the study and the laboratory rather than the classroom.
Higher education in Depression America was passionately concerned with teaching, engrossed in teaching, obsessed by it.
The first thing the visitor was told on any campus was who the first-rate teachers were.
When I mentioned that I was going to the University of Minnesota at Minneapolis to give a lecture, I was told at once, “You have to go and hear so-and-so, he’s their best teacher.
“What’s his field?”
“It’s statistics,” was the answer, “and he’s not particularly good at it, just average.
But he is the one first-rate statistics teacher in the country.”
And he was indeed outstanding.
I learned more statistics from him in five minutes than I ever learned before or since, including even the course I myself taught in the subject.
A little bald-headed bearded man, almost a dwarf, he ran a doctoral seminar in which he projected tables and graphs onto a screen without any legend or explanation.
“Look at the figures,” he’d say, “and tell me what they tell you.”
The students would point out this irregularity in a distribution or that periodicity, this pattern or that internal contradiction, and the little man would nod, smile, argue, and get across a great deal about numbers as a grammar without ever belaboring the point.
Then he’d flash on the screen two series of figures that obviously belonged together; they showed a close correlation, almost one to one, over long time periods.
“Clearly,” all the students said, “these two series are causally related.”
“That’s what every statistician would say,” the little man responded, “but perhaps you can tell me what the relationship could be.
This series, pointing to the table on the left, “is the annual herring catch off Newfoundland; and that one,” pointing to the right, “is the number of illegitimate children born the same year in North Dakota.”
“Publish or perish” was not, of course, entirely unknown even during the Depression years, despite their emphasis on teaching and learning.
But even at the big “research” universities—Harvard, Columbia, or Chicago—the first question was not:
“What has he published?”
“How good a teacher is he or she?”
The clinching argument for whatever educational philosophy one favored—Hutchins’s Neo-Thomism at Chicago, “progressive” education, or the “fix-your-own-educational-hero-sandwich” approach of Harvard—was always that it best fitted student needs and student abilities and enabled students to learn.
There was also great interest in the role and function of the university in society.
It was a surprising topic for someone from Europe.
It had, one assumed, been settled long ago, certainly by the time the University of Berlin was founded in 1809 as the first of the “modern” German universities, which then became the prototype.
But no, in the America of the Depression years the question was wide open, and very controversial indeed.
These were the years in which the state university and the state college attained maturity and became “national” institutions rather than parochial ones.
Of course, some state universities (North Carolina at Chapel Hill, “Mr. Jefferson’s University” in Virginia, or Michigan) had long achieved distinction, but by being “as good as the leading private schools.”
Now the tax-supported public American university emerged as a distinct type and sui generis.
There was Iowa State College at Ames, different equally from Germany’s “technical university” and the traditional land-grant “aggie” school:
a top-level, research-focused school of applied sciences, but also at the same time the very center of policy-making in agriculture.
But above all there was Monroe Deutsch—“American education’s best-kept secret,” as Christian Gauss, the dean at Princeton, once called him.
Whenever one talked about the university, its structure and its function, someone would eventually say, “The one man who has thought the most about this is Monroe Deutsch.”
never appeared in public,
never showed up at meetings or conferences,
never made a speech,
never gave an interview,
never had his picture in the papers.
If one called the University of California where Deutsch was provost, one got a secretary on the line who wanted to know what the call was all about.
If she found out that it was a newspaperman calling, she hung up.
Otherwise she said, “Please write a letter; I’ll see that it gets to the proper place.”
It took persistence to penetrate to Deutsch’s lair—his office literally was a “lair,” in the basement of an old building on the Berkeley campus and without a name on the door to help anyone find him.
Deutsch was then quite willing to talk about the university and particularly about the University of California, which was his whole life.
But he never talked about himself.
He had been born into one of San Francisco’s wealthy families and decided early to spend his life in public service.
But being pathologically shy, he was unable to endure public exposure, let alone run for office.
And so he had invented for himself the role as eminence grise of the California university system, or rather he decided that it would become a “system.”
He made himself “Provost” and went underground, literally as well as figuratively.
Then he designed the multi-campus university which California became after World War I when UCLA was first started; and he designed California’s multi-tier system of university, state colleges, and junior colleges, which would maintain the scholastic excellence and exclusivity of the university and yet enable every high-school graduate in California to attend a tuition-free state institution of higher learning.
Deutsch also largely designed the ingenious system that gave the university fiscal autonomy by guaranteeing it a fixed sum from the state for each student admitted.
He pushed for state commitment to higher education as California’s first political priority, and commitment to excellence as the university’s first educational priority.
“I didn’t know that there would be a Hitler and that we would suddenly be able to hire fifty or sixty first-rate scholars and teachers,” he said; “but I started fifteen years ago to make both the state and the university ready for manna from heaven, should it ever rain down.”
An entirely different kind of excitement was the bitter political fight within American higher education in those Depression years.
By that time the Communists had already lost their influence in, and control over, the American labor movement.
They had failed to organize the American Negro.
They then aimed their efforts at the American university.
The fight was particularly vicious in New York; and as always, the Communists and their fellow travelers concentrated on destroying Social Democrats and ousting them from any position of influence.
Their main targets were non-Communist leftists, like the New York University philosopher Sydney Hook, the economist Harry Gideonse, then president of Brooklyn College, or Lionel Trilling, the literary critic at Columbia.
But the fighting—the threats, manifestos, proclamations, denunciations, and far too many outright Communist attempts to silence, defame, and intimidate faculty, administration, and students alike—reached into colleges and universities throughout the country.
Fifteen years later American academia, cowed and silent, left the defense of freedom against McCarthy largely to outsiders—mainly old-line Liberals and especially Conservatives—and in the end to the U.S. Army.
The reason in large measure was a massive case of bad conscience; far too many professed believers in academic freedom had knuckled under and signed Communist denunciations of non-Communist colleagues, declarations of support for the purge trials, or Communist-inspired political manifestos of all kinds.
Indeed everyone except a tenured full professor who dared refuse to sign these documents might be told bluntly that he need not expect to be reappointed or promoted.
And there were far too many institutions where the Communist cell had enough power for the threat to be credible, perhaps even real.
Into all this turbulence—some joyful, some corrosive, all strident—came the refugee scholars from Germany, Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and—though many fewer—Spain and Italy.
It was, of course, the turbulence that in large measure made it possible to absorb them and put them to work in such numbers.
And it was also the turbulence in American higher education in those Depression years that gave the newcomers such impact.
Britain, after all, also took in many refugee scholars especially of the older, already well-established generation; yet they had no impact at all on the British university.
The refugees in America arrived at the very moment when the universities there were eager for new values, new ideas, new methods, new voices, and new faces.
And in turn the American universities had incredible impact on the refugee scholars—a story that would make fascinating reading although by now it is probably too late to get it together.
America made first-rate scholars and teachers out of many men and women who would probably have become at best competent mediocrities in their own countries.
They found themselves forced to move beyond narrow departmental boundaries so as to satisfy students’ needs or to teach in an “integrated” curriculum.
They had opportunities that would have been denied them forever by the rigidity of the European university.
In Italy Enrico Fermi would not, after having received the Nobel Prize, have been allowed to teach physics to liberal arts freshmen, or Leo Szilard—another physicist of Nobel Prize status—to switch to teaching biology.
All told the Europeans would not have been forced to become active members of a university; They would have stayed encapsulated in their “specialty” or, at best, remained in confinement in one “faculty.”
But in Depression America even the biggest university and the one most clearly focused on graduate school and on “research,” Harvard, for instance, was still a common venture, still a corporate body, still—despite all feuds, all backbiting, all politicking—a community, and not just an office building.
In public press and public discussion, the spotlight was on the “big name” universities (although some of them, Princeton, for example, were then still quite small by present-day standards).
But I found myself drawn more and more to the small undergraduate college.
It was a specifically American institution.
There was nothing like it in Europe, where one found either state universities (and even a small state university in Germany, France, or Italy is part of a big centralized system) or the very big cluster-universities that Oxford and Cambridge had already become.
The small American college meaning in those years anything between 150 and 700 students—also seemed to me to have unique properties and virtues.
I saw a good many of the smaller colleges in those years.
It was clear to me fairly early that my work for European newspapers and financial institutions would not survive the coming of a European war.
I therefore tried to shift my base to America as a writer and, increasingly, as a lecturer.
By the time America went to war, I was giving as many as fifty or sixty lectures a year all over the country.
At least half of them were at small colleges.
Lecturing was strenuous, if only because travel in those years meant spending nights in old Pullman cars on rough roadbeds, being shunted from one siding to another all the way from Dubuque to Fargo or from New Orleans to Jacksonville.
It meant getting snowed in in such places as Gratis, Ohio, and Beatrice, Nebraska—still my favorites among American place names.
It meant a lot of odd experiences.
There was, for instance, the lecture for the Colonial Dames of America in a charming eighteenth-century clubhouse in New York.
“Who or what are Colonial Dames?”
I asked my lecture agent.
“I don’t know myself,” she said, “but they pay the highest fees.”
The lady who greeted me said, “I’m the club secretary and the only member under seventy-five.
We’ll put all the members who can hear into the first two rows.
But you better speak up; most of them can’t hear too well.
Don’t bother about the others.
They don’t hear at all.”
After my lecture an old woman—the only person I’ve ever seen wearing a diamond stomacher—slowly made her way forward, held up on both sides by sturdy maids.
“I am sorry I didn’t hear well enough to get your talk,” she said.
“But don’t you think, Mr. Drucker, that the world is getting to where the poor will soon demand their place in the sun?”
Or there was the evening in Rochester, New York—at the University Club, I believe where, ten minutes before the start of the program, I was told to split my talk in half, “one half before the music, one half after.”
“Didn’t they tell you?
We’ll have two students from the Eastman Conservatory doing the death scene from Aïda between the first and second half of your talk.”
And when the star-crossed lovers had finally died at my feet, the chairman turned to me and said:
“Your last sentence before you stopped was …”
Lecturing was the best way to get to see and know the country.
And while I spoke in most of the larger cities in those years, I lectured more and more in the small colleges.
They were hungry for someone from the outside, receptive, hospitable, and also fascinating.
They were as diverse as the country itself.
Some prided themselves on having higher academic standards than any of the “name” universities; others still clung to the simplicities of the early-nineteenth-century “seminary.”
Some were so conservative that the lights were switched off at nine o’clock, except for a night-light in the toilets.
Others were ultra-permissive and worried about the “sexual repression” of their students.
Not all of them had the scholarship, the discipline, the high standards of Oberlin, Wesleyan, Pomona, Grinnell, or Mills, but there were enough of them to make the visitor realize how committed the country was to learning and to teaching.
And even the poorest and most benighted “cow college” tried.
Altogether it was in small schools that most of the experimentation took place, for they were still small enough to respond to a courageous administrator.
In the small town of Yellow Springs, Ohio, for instance, an engineer-educator called Arthur Morgan, the president of Antioch College, introduced “cooperative education” in which students combine work in regular full-time jobs for five months of the year with regular full-time college attendance during the remaining seven months.
And it was a small school, Bennington, started in the darkest days of 1932 as a “progressive” women’s college, which at the end of the Depression years asked me to join in developing an integrated liberal arts curriculum that would combine the intellectual rigor Robert Hutchins aimed at in Chicago with the student self-management of Harvard and with a faculty freedom to learn and teach that neither had.
In many ways the small schools were better off in those days than the big universities.
Bennington, which limited itself to an enrollment of 325 students, was economically and educationally viable.
Yet it had no endowment.
It matched the highest faculty salaries paid everywhere.
It had a particularly high faculty-student ratio, with 50 faculty members for the 325 students.
To be sure, it charged even then very high tuition; but no qualified applicant was turned away because she could not pay.
And all the money the college had to raise to pay its bills (other than capital funds for new buildings) was scholarship money; otherwise Bennington broke even.
For costs in those years were very low, and far lower in the small school than in the big university, with its heavy graduate school overhead, its expensive labs, and its old faculty in place and tenured.
The small places could often outbid the “big name” universities for talent, especially in the humanities and the arts.
There were some wonderful characters around in those small schools.
Aurelia Reinhardt, for instance, the president of Mills, the women’s college in Oakland, California, was the very picture of a spinster bluestocking.
She had been an outstanding historian at Stanford and Herbert Hoover’s first love, but had turned down marriage to pursue an academic career.
When I got to know her, in the course of a three-day stay as a lecturer, she had been the president at Mills for thirty years and had built the school into the leading women’s college in the West.
She was very tall, raw-boned and gaunt, with a voice to match her figure, but clad in yards and yards of flowered pink organdy.
At a reception for me at her house there was a lull in the conversation, and a student’s voice could suddenly be heard:
“I’ll remain a virgin until I marry.”
Miss Reinhardt turned around and said in her booming basso voice, “You are wasting your college years, my child,” then went on telling me about the Versailles Peace Conference where she had been a member of the American delegation.
But my most poignant small-college memory is of a very small and totally obscure one:
Friends University in Wichita, Kansas.
I got there in June 1941 on a team which the Foreign Policy Association was sending to a number of small colleges to run week-long foreign affairs institutes.
The president of the school, which was (and is) affiliated with the Kansas Quakers, tried to be kind to us.
“You’re only going to be here a week,” he said, “so we shan’t attempt to reform you.
I know you’re all from the godless East.
Gentlemen,” pointing to a magnificent copper beech outside the building, “under this tree you may smoke.”
Then he told us the secret password to get a drink in any drugstore on Main Street, for Kansas was still officially bone-dry.
“If you order a double mumbo-jumbo Southern ice cream soda,” he said, “you’ll get a shot of bourbon; but please don’t order it until after your day’s talk.
You are going to lecture under our proudest possession.
Carry Nation’s hatchet, with which she smashed the saloon furniture in her campaign against the Demon Rum, is mounted above the speaker’s podium and I’d rather you respect her memory.
Friends University, despite its grandiose name, was tiny.
It then had about 150 students and was losing enrollment (although now, I see, it has almost 900 students).
Nevertheless we attracted large crowds from the town and had a successful week.
But I was puzzled by the president’s obvious attempts to make us stay below the fourth floor of the five-story building.
Finally, on the last day of our stay, I asked him why he did not want anyone to go upstairs.
“We only have our museum up there,” he said in obvious embarrassment, “and you people from the big city are used to much better museums.”
I pried the story out of him.
The college did not need the two top floors; it could barely fill the three lower ones.
And so when two retired old employes—a teacher of Spanish and the college carpenter—asked for the loan of the upper floors for a museum, they had gotten them and, in addition, a grant of $50 a year from the Kansas Society of Friends.
This, they wisely decided, did not enable them to buy anything.
But it did give them enough money for postage on begging letters all over the world to the college’s alumni and friends—which yielded the contents of their “museum.”
I have rarely seen a more fascinating magpie’s nest.
There was a large and beautiful set of Plains Indians baskets, of the Kiowas, the Poncas, and the Winnebago—the finest I’ve ever seen.
Today it would be worth a king’s ransom.
There was also the world’s largest collection of Hungarian counterfeit money, and an enormous Imperial Russian double-headed eagle made entirely of mother-of-pearl buttons.
There was the first sod house built in Kansas.
You crawled in on all fours, only to find yourself up against the first Ford Model T driven in Kansas.
“We had no other place to put it,” the old carpenter explained somewhat sheepishly.
The two old men had seen in a magazine that the American Museum of Natural History in New York had built “habitat groups” with stuffed animals and artificial palm trees; as they had several stuffed African animals, a lion, a zebra, even a giraffe, they had built one too.
The lion—a most majestic beast—was standing there, aroar; but he carried in his open mouth the first typewriter used in Kansas.
Again, there was no other place for it.
I was enchanted and would have loved to linger.
But I had to catch a plane.
As I got downstairs, I found my colleagues huddled around a radio.
Hitler had invaded Russia.
[* ]”Are you working for The New York Times or the Chicago Tribune, and where in Europe are you stationed?”
William Waymack, editor of the Des Moines Register, asked when I was introduced to him as a foreign correspondent.
When I told him that I was a foreign correspondent in the United States and wrote for British newspapers, he got so excited that he called his editorial staff together.
“A foreign correspondent, as we all know, is an American newspaperman reporting on Europe.
But here’s a foreign correspondent who is reporting on the U.S. to British papers.”
And he wrote a feature story on me for next day’s front page of the Register.
Yet Waymack was no yokel but one of America’s most distinguished newsmen.
He had received Pulitzer Prizes for editorial excellence in 1936 and 1937.
He was the best source of information on the Midwest and on agricultural conditions and problems, but also deeply interested in foreign affairs and knowledgeable about both Europe and Asia.
He was the moving spirit behind the growth and upgrading of both the University of Iowa and Iowa State College at Ames.
After the war he became a member of President Truman’s first Atomic Energy Commission.
And the Des Moines Register, which he had edited since 1921, would have been included in any list of the ten best American papers; it was singularly well informed about the outside world.
Waymack knew, of course, that there were foreign newsmen in the United States.
He made it a point to look them up when he came East every two or three months.
After our first meeting in Des Moines he always, for instance, had lunch or dinner with me on these Eastern trips.
But foreign newspapermen or indeed foreign visitors did not normally get to Des Moines.
They stayed on the East Coast.
They went to Chicago when forced to by such quaint American folk rituals as a presidential nominating convention.
They went once during their tour of duty to Detroit, and wrote a piece on Ford’s River Rouge Plant which, by the thirties, had taken the place as a “must” tourist attraction that Niagara Falls had held for the visiting European in the nineteenth century.
And, of course, there was a standard piece on Hollywood—it always read as if supplied by Central Casting at a half-hour’s notice.
But the country between New York and Hollywood was wasteland “where the buffalo roam”; and why bother with it when all one needed to know had been said by Sinclair Lewis and H. L. Mencken?
So a “foreign” correspondent who appeared in Des Moines to learn about the Midwest, the corn country, Iowa University and Iowa State College, the New Deal’s farm program, and the American people, was really something to write about.
But it was not just foreign correspondents who thought Iowa “isolated.”
Iowa, like most of America, saw itself as isolated—different from, outside of, and far away from, the world of the great powers, of European national rivalries, and petty boundaries; different in values, in culture, in basic commitments.
Not “better,” necessarily.
“Europe” as a symbol of refinement, of “culture,” of the “higher things in life,” rated more highly and was venerated more piously in those years than ever before or since in American history.
These were the years, for instance, when Midwestern cities—Detroit and Toledo, Cleveland, Chicago, and Minneapolis—vied with one another to fill their newly built museums with European masters, and when a “Western Civilization” course that rigorously excluded anything American became the core of the college curriculum from Columbia University in New York City to Stanford on the Pacific.
Few Americans in those years had ever heard of Kafka—the cult began a few years later, in the mid-forties—yet their picture of their own country was not too different from the fantasy of Kafka’s Amerika:
a realm apart, free from the vices, the hatreds, the constraints, and the guilt of the Old World.
“America Was Promises” said Archibald MacLeish in a poem of 1939 that sold by the thousands, if not the hundred thousands.
What set America apart, in the minds of Americans—and of Europeans such as Kafka—was precisely that it was not a “country” but a “Constitution.”
The promises were political and social.
The “American Dream” is an ideal society; and the American genius is political.
America is a territory, to be sure, and occupies a specific area on the earth’s surface.
But this place is the spatial location of principles held to be universally valid, without which there would perhaps be an “America” but surely not a “United States.”
America was, and is, the only country that has a politician for its public saint:
There is only one genuinely native American art form:
And one becomes an American citizen by swearing allegiance to abstract principles, to a “Constitution.”
Europe was not all that far away geographically from Iowa in the Depression years, or from the Department of Agriculture in Washington, or the General Motors headquarters in Detroit.
Following World War I, in which large numbers of young Americans had been taken on a conducted “Grand Tour,” the European trip became the thing to do for anyone moderately well off.
Even in Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County the young uncle who represents civilization in all its helplessness has been to Heidelberg; and Temple Drake in Sanctuary, Faulkner’s small-town anti-heroine, is taken to Paris to forget the horrors and thrills of a Memphis whorehouse.
But spiritually the distance between Europe and America was never greater than in the Depression years.
For the New Deal was a conscious reaffirmation of the distinctiveness, the uniqueness, the Americanness of America.
Above all, it tried to reestablish the basic American commitment:
America is not a “nation” like any other, not a “country”—it is a creed.
It was the one point on which the New Deal and its enemies agreed.
The crucial debates in the New Deal years were not over whether this or that measure was right but whether it was “American” or “un-American.”
What Henry Wallace, the Secretary of Agriculture, or his bright young regional administrators of Soil Conservation Districts and Farm Security Programs throughout the country, always stressed first, was the “uniquely American character” of the farm program.
And indeed no other country could have imagined anything like the New Deal’s farm program, with its aim of creating millions of profitable agricultural businesses, each of them a high-technology, capital-intensive, and education-intensive enterprise rather than a “farm”; and yet each of them self-reliant, independent, and the home of a family.
To be sure, after World War II Japan adopted a somewhat similar program, but largely, of course, under American prodding and on the New Deal model.
New Deal America was equally conscious of the uniqueness of the American labor union:
militant but non-ideological, and a countervailing power to management rather than the “class enemy” of “capital.”
The New Deal itself saw its essence in the uniquely American concept of regulation under due legal process by quasi-judicial organs such as the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), as against the “European” alternatives of arbitrary and political, and therefore essentially unregulated, nationalization, and equally arbitrary and unregulated laissez-faire.
This consciousness of being different can lead to stupidity and blindness.
It underlies the unthinking assumption that anything that happens in the United States must be uniquely American and have distinct American causes.
In the last few years, for instance, it has become unquestioned “fact” in the United States that the “explosion” of health care costs is a uniquely American phenomenon that has its causes in peculiarly American habits, policies, or conspiracies—in the American payments mechanism for health care, for instance, which, we are told, is biased in favor of hospitalization, or in the tendency to overbuild hospitals resulting from the private and local character of the community hospital, or in a conspiracy to do unnecessary surgery.
No one in the United States seems to realize that every other developed country—Japan, Great Britain, Sweden, France, Germany—is undergoing the same “explosion” of health care costs, even though none of them has the American payments mechanism, the American community hospital, the “over-supply of unneeded hospital beds”—in Britain, for instance, “under-supply of hospital beds” is considered a main cause of the “explosion” of health care costs—or the American prevalence of surgery.
No one, in other words, is willing to realize that we are dealing with a general phenomenon that cannot possibly have peculiarly American causes.
To do so would put in question the belief in the uniqueness of America as a society and polity.
Similarly, the student unrest of the late sixties and early seventies is explained with peculiarly American causes:
the Vietnam war, or the black ghetto.
But again the phenomenon occurred in every developed country, and first in Japan and France, none of which had a Vietnamese war or a black ghetto.
The American Creed can also easily degenerate into bathos, bragging, and populist ranting, and often has.
Charles Dickens in Martin Chuzzlewit—published in 1843—wrote during the years of the Jacksonian “New Deal” what is still the funniest and most biting satire of American populist bragging.
And though Dickens himself, twenty-five years later, apologized and retracted his satire as exaggerated, one can still find the braggarts and charlatans he caricatured at every American political convention and in every American political campaign.
But the American Creed is also Lincoln’s “Last Best Hope.”
And it is the American Creed, of course, that again and again has attracted the European to this country.
Only the European so attracted soon ceases to be a European.
After I told him why I had come to Des Moines, William Waymack smiled and said, “You won’t be a foreign correspondent long.
You’ll soon be an American writer.”
A few years later, when I moved to Bennington College and had to choose which of the curriculum’s basic courses I wanted to teach, I did not pick “Western Civilization.”
I picked American history and American government.
But by the time I first met Waymack (probably in the early fall of 1938, at the time of the Munich crisis), the American Dream was already encountering the one awakening it cannot face:
The America of the American Creed must be “isolationist.”
Indeed what historically has been known in the United States as “internationalism” is as much a form of isolationism as the avowedly isolationist version.
It attempts to relieve the United States of the need for concern with international affairs and foreign politics through an automatic, self-governing, perfect mechanism that will maintain peace and order in the world without policy decisions, and indeed without anyone’s active intervention:
an International Court of Justice, a Wilsonian League of Nations, a United Nations.
For the “American Dream” to be meaningful, foreign affairs must become a “non-event.”
Thus Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., in his celebrated Age of Jackson, managed to avoid any mention of foreign affairs and of the outside world altogether, even though foreign politics were a major preoccupation of the Jacksonian period when the foundations were laid for the annexation of Texas and the War with Mexico a few years later.
To Schlesinger the “Age of Jackson” was the heroic age of American history precisely because it reaffirmed and redefined the “American Creed.”
The Age of Jackson was published in 1945 with the professed aim of recalling the American people and the American government to their mission of building the Universal City of Man on the American continent, a mission from which the international crisis and World War II had deflected them.
Arthur Schlesinger was an “internationalist” in those years and had to believe that the United Nations would make the world “safe,” thereby enabling America to return to its own business and its own mission.
But for that, foreign affairs had to become “non-affairs.”
The reality of international politics, however, always demands that foreign affairs be given primacy.
It always asserts loudly that creed, commitment, values, ideals are means rather than ends.
It always makes survival paramount over vision.
It always treats the United States as one country dependent on many other countries, rather than as the “Last Best Hope on Earth” by itself.
In 1932, when Roosevelt ran for office the first time, his platform was completely isolationist.
One of the main charges against Herbert Hoover, especially on the part of the “Liberals,” was his undue concern with the outside world, his attention to foreign—that is, alien—affairs, whether the Japanese invasion of China or the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, and his willingness to consider the impact on a world economy in turmoil when shaping American domestic policies.
And one of the very first actions of Roosevelt was the deliberate, highly publicized sabotage of the London World Economic Conference, by which the newly inducted President served notice of the New Deal’s commitment to the denial of foreign affairs, foreign responsibility, and international cooperation.
Four years later, in 1936, when Roosevelt ran for his second term, foreign affairs still did not exist, and “isolationism” was still unquestioningly accepted by him and his administration.
The “internationalists” were Wall Street bankers, or “Merchants of Death,” or “tools of British Colonialism”—and in any event all “malefactors of great wealth.”
A year after that the world was changing rapidly.
And by 1938 it had become clear that the United States faced a major foreign affairs crisis and a radical international policy decision.
The question had already become how—if at all—America could be maintained as the “Last Best Hope” while having a foreign policy.
Increasingly America moved in its politics from being Depression America to being Prewar America.
And the basic positions developed then still dominate our domestic and foreign policies, forty years later.
One of these positions was that of Herbert Agar, like Waymack a distinguished writer and journalist, and editor of an equally distinguished newspaper, the Louisville Courier.
In the early New Deal years, Agar had established himself as the preeminent historian of the American Dream, especially in The People’s Choice, a book on the American presidency that had won the Pulitzer Prize in American history when it appeared in 1933.
Its heroes were those presidents—all Democrats—who had emphasized the uniqueness of America as a political vision, and the separation of America from the vices, the nationalism, the power politics, the “colonialism” of Europe.
Yet Agar at once and without hesitation decided that the United States had to lead the crusade against Hitler.
[* ]I first met Agar in the early summer of 1939 when, following the publication of my book The End of Economic Man, he invited me to stay for a week at his home in Louisville.
Appeasement was then still riding high in London and Paris; and Washington was still convinced of, and committed to, staying out of a European war at all costs.
But Agar knew that there would be war.
And he had decided for himself that the United States had to be in it, must indeed be in it.
America’s values, its principles, demanded active participation in, if not leadership of, what to Agar was the last possible attempt to prevent the worldwide destruction for all time of everything America stood for.
Agar lived in an old rambling farmhouse in the midst of cornfields.
There we sat every evening on the porch in the long twilight of a Kentucky June.
And Agar, sipping mint juleps, talked out a blueprint for a “Pax Americana,” under which the American vision would be extended to an “Atlantic Community,” which, in turn, would wage war against anyone threatening peace and freedom.
John Foster Dulles’s aggressive defense treaties of the 1950s were direct descendants of Agar’s ideas, as was John F. Kennedy’s policy in Vietnam.
Agar himself soon became the most vocal advocate of American intervention in Europe, and, after Pearl Harbor, head of America’s Office of War Information in London and one of the key links between the Americans and Churchill.
William Waymack also had become an “interventionist” before Roosevelt’s Washington did.
Or rather he had never been an “isolationist.”
He and his paper were Republican and had been strongly opposed to Roosevelt and the New Deal.
One of Waymack’s main points of criticism was precisely Roosevelt’s disregard and neglect of foreign affairs—which, it needs to be repeated, tended to be a complaint of Republicans in those days, and especially of Republicans like Waymack who had been close to the internationalist Herbert Hoover.
But Waymack, unlike Agar, still hoped that American intervention could be limited to economic and financial support to the countries threatened by Hitler.
The political organization he helped found was called “Committee for the Defense of America by Aiding the Allies.”
Beyond this immediate policy, Waymack envisaged a return to the Wilsonian strategy of a self-policing world order of law, buttressed by American economic strength.
It was this position to which Roosevelt moved when he had to give up his original isolationist stance.
And it was this position that largely determined American foreign policy in the immediate war and postwar years.
Lend-Lease, the United Nations, but also the Marshall Plan, all were logical developments from a position that was, in the main, first developed by people like Waymack:
Midwesterners and “liberal” Republicans.
Waymack’s committee was known as the “White Committee,” after its chairman, William Allen White, perhaps Mid-America’s best-known journalist, Republican sage, editor of the Emporia, Kansas, Gazette, and friend of Teddy Roosevelt, Taft, Coolidge, and Hoover.
Where Agar was out to save Europe, Waymack and White were out to save America and to make possible again America’s uniqueness and separateness, if not its isolation.
But to me, the most ominous response to the international storm that was rapidly blowing up was that of John L. Lewis, the labor leader, head of the United Mine Workers Union, and founder of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (the CIO) and of industrial mass unionism in the United States altogether.
Herbert Agar had me stay with him as a house-guest.
Waymack took lunch or dinner with me whenever he came East.
But Lewis I saw only three or four times in all, and then at formal “interviews” in his Washington office a year apart, each no more than a few hours in length.
Agar and Waymack wanted to know my opinion.
Lewis made speeches.
And he made them on the topic that interested him.
I went to Lewis to interview him about labor relations and unionism; he orated instead on foreign policy.
Foreign policy was his obsession and personal devil, on which he blamed all evils:
his own isolation and downfall, the corruption of the labor movement, and the downfall and destruction of the Republic.
Foreign policy—any foreign policy other than the strictest isolationism, in which intercourse with the world outside would be limited to the barest minimum—was evil, incompatible with American ideals, and certain to corrupt, to distort, and to deform.
When I first met John L. Lewis in mid-1937, his name was a household word.
Few Americans, then as now, knew the names of their senators, of their state’s governor, or of any member of the President’s cabinet.
But everyone knew two names:
Franklin D. Roosevelt and John L. Lewis.
Everyone also knew what John L. Lewis looked like—his massive body with the big head, the heavy eyebrows, and the mane of gray hair were a cartoonist’s delight.
And in those days of radio, his voice was as familiar as his looks:
a big voice formed in the days before loudspeakers and public-address systems, and meant, like a bullhorn, to be heard over the roar of the wildest labor riot.
It was a distinctive voice with a Welsh lilt to it, even though Lewis himself had been born in a coal town in Iowa.
The voice was sonorous and at its best reciting Shakespeare, the Bible, Milton, or Pilgrim’s Progress, all of which Lewis knew by heart and quoted constantly at great length.
Lewis was then considered the second most powerful man in America, next to Franklin D. Roosevelt alone.
He retained this reputation for another ten years, until President Truman called his bluff and broke the coal miners’ strike of 1946 by taking over the mines.
But where press and public saw Lewis as too powerful, he himself, from 1937 on, could see nothing but impotence, rejection, and repudiation.
He perceived himself as the King Lear of American politics, driven out into the wilderness and shamed by the two ungrateful and treacherous “children” who owed their power to him but had then turned on him:
Franklin D. Roosevelt and Phil Murray, his chosen successor as head of the CIO.
Both had deserted him and betrayed him because they had signed themselves over to the devil of foreign policy and become corrupted by it.
Like Shakespeare’s King Lear, which he constantly quoted and paraphrased, Lewis had both his Cordelia and his Kent—and they were as interesting as Lewis.
His daughter, Kathryn, was Cordelia, and she served her father faithfully to the end.
John L. and Kathryn looked more like twins than father and daughter, even though Kathryn was still a young woman when I knew her.
She stood the same way, she moved the same way, she spoke the same way.
She was by all odds the most gifted, ablest person in the American labor movement of that time, and there were then giants in the land of labor!
No one knew as much about American industry and American labor, understood as much, had thought as much and as deeply.
And she was, like her father, a moving and stirring orator.
She was the one to whom I learned to go to get information about unions and labor relations.
One could also see in her the charm for which her father had been famous in his younger years, before vanity and power had eaten into him.
Yet she completely subordinated herself to her father.
She had wanted to marry more than once, according to Washington gossip, but had always broken off the engagement to stay with her father.
She was always present when he saw a newspaperman, but never spoke unless her father directed a question at her.
And when Lewis disappeared from public view, she disappeared with him.
Lewis’s “Kent,” the faithful vassal who serves his master without thanks, recognition, or reward, was another remarkable woman:
The same age as Lewis—they were both born in 1880—she had been the daughter of one of America’s richest men, the owner of one of the biggest coal companies in the West.
Lewis’s first pitched labor battle had been fought against her father’s mines when Josephine was in college.
She had become a convert to the cause of labor and a disciple of her father’s adversary.
She made a distinguished career in her own right as a social worker, but also as an industrialist, managing, most successfully, the large mining company her father left her.
But her first allegiance was always to John L. Lewis and his United Mine Workers, to whom she devoted both her life and her great fortune.
President Roosevelt made her Assistant Secretary of the Treasury.
But when Lewis broke with Roosevelt in 1937, Josephine Roche resigned.
She had been beautiful and was still a very good-looking woman when I met her in Lewis’s office.
It was evident that she worshipped him, and she never married.
Lewis—every inch a Lear in the presence of the faithful Kent—did not even notice that she was around and paid no attention to her; yet he also took it for granted that she would come running to sit in on his interviews whenever he called.
When I first met him in 1937 Lewis was only in his late fifties.
He was in perfect health and would live another thirty years, dying in 1969 at age eighty-nine.
But he fancied himself an old, broken man.
He was very much alone and complained bitterly about it.
Of course, it was his own fault:
he had driven out anyone who might conceivably have become a threat to his absolute domination of his union.
But Lewis blamed his loneliness, as he blamed any misfortune, on the one arch-villain in his world, “foreign policy” or, more precisely, “internationalism” or “interventionism.”
Lewis—with some exaggeration—claimed full credit for Roosevelt’s nomination and election.
Lewis’s defection from labor’s oldest and truest friend, Al Smith, and his switch to Roosevelt, whom labor earlier had always distrusted and disliked as a spoiled, rich “aristocrat,” had indeed clinched the nomination for Roosevelt at the 1932 convention.
And during Roosevelt’s first term Lewis had reaped the rewards.
Roosevelt’s administration had supported labor, and especially the unionization of the mass-production industries that Lewis had started through the CIO, of which he was founder, chief financial support, and chairman.
But then, in 1937, Lewis had decided to strike “Little Steel”—the four steel companies which, while very big, were still smaller than U.S. Steel—against the advice of everyone in the labor movement.
He had counted on Roosevelt’s support to give him victory.
Instead, the administration stayed on the sidelines and Lewis had to call off a strike that neither the steelworkers in the mills nor the public had supported.
This, of course, was the reason why Roosevelt had not pulled Lewis’s chestnuts out of the fire.
But Lewis felt betrayed.
And the cause of his betrayal, he was convinced, was Roosevelt’s abandoning “neutrality” in favor of an “interventionist” foreign policy.
“Whenever a President in the United States gets ready for foreign adventures,” he said to me, “he abandons the workingman and sucks up to the bosses.
He deserts the quest for social justice and embraces production and profits.
He betrays America and becomes an imperialist.”
Within the year Lewis had broken openly with Roosevelt and moved to a rigidly isolationist position.
“When we go to war—and we will—“ he said to me in 1939 when I called on him just as war was declared in Europe, “the President will ask the worker to buckle under in the name of patriotism.
I shan’t cave in.”
In 1943 Lewis made good on his threat.
American troops were fighting in North Africa and in the Pacific; yet the country was not geared for full war production and was dangerously short of supplies for the men at the front.
But rather than accepting the wage restraints of the War Labor Board, Lewis pulled the coal miners out on strike, thus threatening the collapse of the entire production effort.
President Roosevelt chastised him for putting the self-interests of the miners above national survival.
“The President of the United States,” Lewis retorted in a public speech, “is paid to look after national survival.
I am paid to look after the selfish interests of the miners”—and he kept the miners out on strike until he had won his demands.
He similarly blamed the lure of foreign adventures for Phil Murray’s “desertion.”
Murray had for many years been Lewis’s faithful lieutenant in the Mine Workers’ Union, and perhaps the only man ever close to him.
Lewis considered him his son rather than a colleague, even though Murray was only a few years younger.
When Lewis plunged into the Little Steel strike, he had boasted that he would resign from the chairmanship of the CIO should he lose the strike—and he had lost it.
As everyone in Washington knew, he confidently expected his resignation to be refused.
It was accepted.
Then he engineered Murray’s election to succeed him, confident that Murray would be his lieutenant, if not his stooge, as he had been all those years at the United Mine Workers Union.
But Murray soon proved to be very much his own man, and indeed quietly, without fanfare and without a strike, got from the Little Steel companies the very union recognition Lewis had unsuccessfully struck for.
Finally Murray, in early 1938, came out in favor of an “internationalist” foreign policy.
Lewis broke with him, publicly consigned him to outer darkness, and pulled his mine-workers out of the CIO.
“Why are you so sure that a war is the end of the labor movement?”
I once asked him.
“It seems to me that unions and union leaders have profited from every war in this century and gained standing and acceptance.”
“No,” said Lewis, “they have only been corrupted.
Labor leaders become respectable in a war.
They get offices and titles and are made much of.
But they sell out their members in the name of patriotism and national unity.”
“An internationalist foreign policy in America,” he once said, “means taking money out of the pockets and food out of the mouths of the poor and putting it into totally unproductive weapons and munitions.
It means that emphasis shifts from workers’ rights to workers’ duties.
It leads to supporting greater profits and lower wages and longer hours, and it means public support for the bosses and a heavy hand on the workers in the name of the national interest.
It means giving up the dream of building Jerusalem in America’s green and pleasant land so that generals and politicians can garner glory.”
The last time I saw him—in 1941, shortly after Hitler had invaded Russia and only a few months before Pearl Harbor—he ranted about the power-greedy politicians who were dragging us into war, predicted that Roosevelt would somehow manipulate an attack on the United States by Hitler (he paid just as little attention to the Japanese as everybody else), and declared that the entire war was a conspiracy of bankers, munitions makers, intellectuals, and of “the bosses” in general, to destroy freedom, justice, and equality in America forever.
“We already,” he said, “have taken over the French and the Dutch colonies—and when England goes, we’ll take over the British Empire in the name of defending freedom.
Then we’ll forget all about America being the Last Best Hope and applaud that tyrant Roosevelt when he proclaims that to save the world America must become the imperialist super-power.”
Lewis was clearly not entirely sane in his vanity, in his need to dominate, and in his suspicion of anti-Lewis conspiracies everywhere.
He was motivated as much by a pathological hatred of the English as by concern for America and the American Dream.
He was indeed Lear, and a Lear who never awakens to his own folly.
But he anticipated in his suspicions and fears everything that since has been put forth as “revisionist” history.
And as in the case of the “revisionists,” there was just enough truth to his delusions to make them convince himself.
A few months after my last meeting with John L. Lewis I found myself in Minneapolis in early winter, to speak on the world scene during the Sunday service at the city’s largest Lutheran church.
After my talk the elderly minister, who still had a Swedish inflection in his English, said:
“We do live indeed in horrible times.
But let us remember that the forebears of everyone in this congregation came to this country to get away from the incessant wars, the insane hatreds, and the sinful pride of Europe.
Let us remember that the forebears of everyone here hacked a farm out of the howling wilderness amid blizzards in the winter and sandstorms in the summer, so as to live as free men and women, innocent of the wickedness and folly of national honor and the tyranny of government disguised as military glory.
Let us remember that the forebears of every one of us came to build a new nation subservient to laws rather than to men.
Let us pray that this cup will pass us by and that America will remain the Last Best Hope, and not succumb to being just another entry in the long and vain list of empires.”
I was deeply moved.
No one before—or since—had summed up what the American Dream really means more succinctly, more clearly, more movingly.
And yet, as I drove to the airport, I knew that the prayer was in vain.
Goodness by itself no longer sufficed.
The fight between “internationalists” and “isolationists” was by then tearing apart the American Dream as much as any war possibly could, or more.
Even so, America seemed no closer to a decision.
Indeed the fight between the “internationalists” and the “isolationists,” each intent on saving the American Dream his way, was paralyzing the national will and was, I thought, endangering America’s very survival and cohesion.
We were half an hour out of Minneapolis when the pilot in an excited voice came in on the intercom and asked us to put on the earphones with which every seat was equipped and listen to the radio.
The Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor!
When we landed in Chicago two hours later in the early darkness of a December evening, soldiers with fixed bayonets were already guarding the hangars and patrolling the corridors.
The Age of Innocence was over.
Only a few weeks later America did indeed betray its promises and beliefs to opt for being just another “power” when Roosevelt, to appease the Californians, ordered all Americans of Japanese descent interned.
But innocence still lingered on in a few corners for a little while.
Six or eight weeks after Pearl Harbor I went to work on my first Washington wartime job.
We were housed in temporary quarters in an old apartment hotel that had been closed for years and was about to be torn down when the government took it over.
The staff was crammed into the two-or three-room apartments while the “big shots,” such as I was supposed to be, had each a private office in the apartment’s former bathrooms, with their seat on the toilet and a board over the bathtub for a desk.
We were all green—not one of us had ever been in government service or in any big organization before.
And we were still such hopeless civilians that none of us knew the insignia of rank on a uniform or could tell a corporal from a three-star general.
Great was our excitement therefore when the first staff car any of us had seen pulled up outside.
We all crowded around the window to watch.
First a man sitting in front next to the driver got out.
He opened the door in back on his side and another, younger man got out.
The young man in turn went around the car and opened the rear door on the other side, and a fat older man got out—all were in uniform, of course.
The older man gave a big bundle to the younger man, who in turn gave it to the soldier who had sat in front and got out first.
Then all three marched in.
When they reached our office, the older man introduced himself as a colonel come to bring us a super-secret report—so secret that it could only be lent to us for a few days.
After he had left, we opened with great trepidation the bundle he had brought and found a book inside:
the first intelligence study of a European country.
Then we read the opening sentence:
“The Estonians are by nature monogamous,” and collapsed in laughter, none louder than the Estonian on our staff.
One of the girls in the office who had been a commercial artist, suggested that we inscribe this magnificent sentence in proper calligraphy on a sheet of paper and hang it over a badly discolored mildewy spot on the wall of the dilapidated room.
Then we went back to our work we had more urgent things to worry about than sex on the shores of the Baltic.
A few days later the colonel came back to pick up the report.
He chuckled when he saw our poster, then asked.
“Where does this gem come from?”
“It’s the opening sentence of the report you brought us the other day,” He turned white.
“Take it down at once,” he said, “and shred it.
It’s classified top secret.”
Buckminster Fuller Visions
Peter Drucker: Conceptual Resources
The Über Mentor
A political / social ecologist
a different way of seeing and thinking about
the big picture
— lead to his top-of-the-food-chain reputation
about Management (a shock to the system)
“I am not a ‘theoretician’; through my consulting practice I am in daily touch with the concrete opportunities and problems of a fairly large number of institutions, foremost among them businesses but also hospitals, government agencies and public-service institutions such as museums and universities.
And I am working with such institutions on several continents: North America, including Canada and Mexico; Latin America; Europe; Japan and South East Asia.” — PFD
List of his books
Large combined outline of Drucker’s books — useful for topic searching.
“High tech is living in the nineteenth century,
the pre-management world.
They believe that people pay for technology.
They have a romance with technology.
But people don't pay for technology:
they pay for what they get out of technology.” —
The Frontiers of Management
TLN Keywords: tlnkwdruckerbook