Austria has (or had) an extraordinary hold on its Jews. My refugee parents returned there every summer from the mid-1950s, only fifteen years after having escaped with their lives; others in the family never went back, but felt a tormented hatred that was the remnant of a sort of unrequited love for the rest of their days. Why, I wonder? Was it because the Austro-Hungarian Empire, despite permanent anti-Semitism, allowed Jews to shoot up into its bourgeoisie in remarkable numbers? Or was it simply because of the landscape, which casts a spell on people, as some places do?
Jean Améry, born Hans Meier in 1912, was an extreme case of an Austria-loving Jew. In fact he was hardly a Jew at all, and was only made one by Hitler. His observant Jewish father died in 1917, long before he could pass on any Jewish culture to his son, while Améry’s mother was only half-Jewish, and had been brought up Catholic, with little or no Jewish culture to pass on.
So far, so normal for secular Austrian Jews, among whom it was common to convert (at least on paper) to one of the Christian denominations in order to advance in their professions. My Viennese grandmother invoked Jesus-Maria-und-Josef! in every domestic crisis; my Viennese mother was also registered as