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Johan Strauss 's music being played at the Kursalon
photo by Rhonda Spivak

The Kursalon
photo by Rhonda Spivak

photo by Rhonda Spivak

St Stephen's Cathedral, Vienna-To hide Strauss's lineage, the Nazis even went so far as to remove the baptism book from the cathedral in Vienna and hide it in Berlin because it proved that Strauss's great-great-grandfather was Jewish.


Editor in Vienna


by Rhonda Spivak, July 24 ,2015


In  Vienna in February 2014, I went to hear a concert of the music of  the famous "Waltz King" , Johann Strauss II (born in 1825), at the Kursalon,  a gorgeous concert venue in the heart of the city within a park.   


Strauss, whose is probably the most popular composer of all time (he composed the world's most popular waltzes, including the 'Blue Danube', the 'Acceleration Waltz' and the 'Emperor Waltz') was hailed by Hitler's Third Reich as a great 'German' composer.  As I listened to the music that night, it never even dawned on me to consider that Johann  Strauss-who at the height of his success would  skip back and forth between six orchestras he conducted in one evening-  might have Jewish roots. Although it should have dawned on me at the time, since Strauss, of course, is a Jewish surname. (The Strauss Group, for example,  which was started in northern Israel by parents, who immigrated to Israel from Germany in 1936, is Israel's second-largest food and beverage company). 


Many months later after the concert I began to look into the issue of Strauss's roots, to discover that indeed Strauss had a Jewish great grandfather, Johann Michael Strauss (1720–1800), who converted to Catholicism.


Hilter conveniently buried Strauss's Jewish roots and he was held out as a great teutonic cultural achievement, and used to popularize the Nazi cause. (Similarly the music of  Franz Lehar, composer of The Merry Widow, was also closely associated with Hitler's regime, albeitt Lehar, like Strauss, was of Jewish descent) . Strauss's Jewish  descent was  was never acknowledged by Hitler, who is believed to have said: 'I decide who is Jewish." 


Apparently, the Nazis, to hide Strauss's lineage,  even went so far as to remove the  baptism book from St Stephen's cathedral in Vienna  and hide it in Berlin because it proved that Strauss's great-great-grandfather was Jewish.


Strauss's  third wife, Adele, was also Jewish and he had a Jewish step-daughter Alice Meisner-Strauss



During the war the antisemitic Nazi newspaper  Die Sturmer vilified Strauss's Jewish stepdaughter for embracing the Strauss family name and inheritance.


In researching Strauss's roots, I came across a 1999 article in the Gaurdian about the injustices that befell Stauss's Jewish relatives after the World War II was over, perpetrated by the Austrian state, resulting in priceless family heirlooms being purchased by the state for next to nothing.


As the Gaurdian wrote, "The work of a Strauss scholar and collector, Professor Robert Dachs, has been the key to establishing the argument that much of the family estate was misappropriated in 1948 and again in 1950. Dachs, whose book on the composer will be published in Britain later this year, argues that the legacy of the Strauss family has been wronged both under the Nazi regime and since."


The article quotes Otto Brusatti, head of  Vienna's music collection, who indicated that after the war the officials in charge of Vienna's museums acted  unjustly.


'We have found through our researches that although Strauss's surviving step-daughter at the time, Alice Meisner-Strauss - who was Jewish - was given back some family possessions, she was also more or less told she must sell them back cheaply to the city museum."


As the Gaurdian piece details,  Meisner-Strauss, who was very poor  "was threatened with export laws that banned her from selling abroad at a greater profit. She was asked to hand back the original Die Fledermaus score as a gift," and in the end, " was offered a nominal fee." 


Brusatti  estimated then that the the city of Veinna's collection of Strauss memorabilia could now be valued at around £30 million.


Needless to say, I could never have gotten a whiff of this history at the Kursalon.



During the concert intermission at the Kursalon I spotted a beautiful little girl, all dressed up, and asked her mother if I could take a   photo of her. When the mother agreed, I asked her what the little girl's name was.


"Malick," she replied.


"Malick, that was my grandfather's name," I responded, referring to my father's father, Malick David Spivak


What does the name mean? I asked the little girl's mother.


She replied that she was from a Egypt and that Malick meant "king" in Arabic. When she said it I realized that was "Melech" (king) in Hebrew'


I was stunned as for the first time ever I realized that my grandfather's name Malick was the Arabic name for the Hebrew "Melech," and I began to wonder why it was that my grandfather was called Malick  instead of "Melech." (After researching this point, I have learned that while the name Malick is an Arabic name  today, the name Malick (or Malik) was originally found among pre-Arab and non-Muslim Semitic peoples such as Jews, Amorites, Nabateans and pre-Islamic Arabs.)


The little girls mother asked me where I was from and I told her  I was from Winnipeg.


She responded, that she wanted to move to Winnipeg--which also really threw me as I had not expected that answer.


When I asked her why, she explained that she was a Christian Arab who wanted to leave given the political instability there. She had witnessed the rise of Mohammed Morsi and the Moslem Brotherhood and even though they were no longer in power in Egypt, she worried they could yet takeover again.  She said  had the financial resources to get out, ("money isn't the problem")but she needed someone to sponsor her to get to Canada. She had heard Winnipeg was a city that wanted immigrants. She asked me how cold it was in Winnipeg?


I couldn't lie to her. "It's very cold," I responded.



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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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