An Introduction to the Letters
of Helene von Mauthner
When my mother received a big bundle of letters to Fritz Mauthner from the Leo Baeck Institute, she decided to start out by transcribing and translating letters from someone with legible handwriting. She settled on Fritz Mauthner's sister-in-law Helene von Mauthner, whose letters stretched from 1887 to 1920, years which included the death of her husband Gustav in 1902, the purchase of a castle in Moravia, and the outbreak of the First World War. In sorting out who was who in these letters, she relied on the family tree drawn up by Paul's brother Henry many years ago.
Her letters are full of gossip, family news-in 1910 there is "the best news of Anna and the little Paul - that is, the news of my fathers birth, and frequent travel-Vienna, Altaussee, renovating Castle Johrnsdorf in Mährisch Schönberg, Brioni and Abbazia, the last two now Croatian. Helene von Mauthner flourished in the brief decades in which the Austrian and German world opened up to Jews; as Fritz's sister Marie Kuh (in a letter dated Sept. 29, 1911) pointed out, their father Emanuel belonged to the first generation of Jews to be allowed to leave the ghetto. [His son Ernst (Helene's brother-in-law) had built a highly successful textile manufacturing business.] With the wisdom of hindsight, we know that world would all shatter not too long after Helene's death in 1920.
A letter from Helene from the Hotel Salegg dated 7/30/14, two days after the outbreak of the First Word War, shows her sharing in the patriotic excitement of the times: "As long as I live I will regret not to have shared the excitement in Vienna." But as the war wears on, it brings shortages of food and fuel, as well as aches and pains, and the tone becomes more sober, often dejected. Her health suffers, she is often housebound, and even, in a letter of 4/28/17, thinks she is about to die. In 1918, toward the end of the war, Helene writes I feel I am no longer the same person I was then, but a stranger to myself. When my thoughts go back to those days [when Gustav was alive], I seem to be turning the pages of another person's memoirs."
As a kind of coda, after Helene's death we find several letters which cluster around Paul, the link to the Mauthner family which has occupied so much of my mother's time and thoughts this past year. There are letters to Fritz and Hedwig Mauthner after the death of Fritz's sister Marie Kuh, one of them from Paul's mother Anna; then a letter to Paul from his uncle Georg (Helene's nephew) and finally a postcard from Paul's nephew (and Fritz Mauthners great-great-nephew) Anthony remembering him on a trip to Greece.