Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Medical Trail Blazer, Survivor

"He never talked about it, at least not until the last few years. It wasn't because of some ingrained memories of atrocities or other terrible things. He was just a very forward-looking person. He thought what was going to happen next year was more important than what happened 40 years ago."
"It wasn't really anti-Semitism [suspicion with which Austrian Jews were viewed in Britain]. It was fear of German-speaking aliens."
"A lot of the internees [in New Brunswick internment camps] were Jews and tended to be well-educated and organized. Before long they had a bakery, an orchestra, there was a library, they continued schooling [in the internment camp]. The conditions were probably better than being in the Blitz in London."
"He [his father Hans] tended to ruffle fathers. He wasn't really a team player. His patients tended to like him a lot, but I don't think he was terribly patient with his senior administrators."
Stephen Reichfeld, Canada

"For me the 'upheaval' initially had the pleasant result that there was no school for eight days [April 7, 1938, Austria]. On the first day back at school there was then a celebration for the 'aryan' students. Afterwards, the provisional director of the institute, the gym teacher Schmidt, held a marvelous speech for the Jews at the Academic High School [Vienna, Austria] in which he rambled on about Jewish world Bolshevism and explained that we were now a guest population and should behave as such."
"When they [German prisoners of war] found out that most of the internees on the other side of the wire [aboard the liner Sobieski heading from Britain to Canada, June 1940] were Jews, they went through the repertoire of anti-Semitic songs popular among followers of the Nazi regime. I laughed them off, being more intent on enjoying my first experience of the Atlantic on board an ocean liner."
Hans Reichenfeld, pioneering doctor in geriatric psychiatry
Hans Reichenfeld
Hans Reichenfeld (1923-2016) was an Austrian Jew who escaped the Nazis and became a pioneer in the field of geriatric psychiatry at the University at Ottawa. FAMILY PHOTO
During the Second World War, Britain asked Canada to take on the reception and internment of German prisoners of war, and Canada agreed, setting up internment camps in remote areas of the country far from populated urban centres. Into those camps went genuine prisoners of war, Nazi military personnel who had been captured during battles in the European theatre of war. Along with the Nazi internees, German and Austrian Jews were also interned.

The fact that they shared a language with the German fascists whose leader was determined to destroy the lives of European Jews and succeeded to an incredible degree did not serve to ensure that the Allies would recognize the differences between the two German-speaking populations; 'aryan' German fascists and German-Jewish victims of genocide. One of those internees was a 17-year-old Austrian boy who, along with his father had been caught in the round-up as an enemy alien when they sought refuge in Britain.

This was a boy who considered all experiences that occurred to him to be learning events, a boy who naturally expressed optimism for the future, a boy for whom bitterness and revenge had no part in his makeup. Born in 1923 Vienna, he was the son of a Jewish physician. His parents took their children hiking in the Austrian Alps, and saw to it that they had a well-rounded education, including formal music lessons.

When Nazi Germany arrived in Austria to "annex" the country, Jews became the primary targets, and Hans Reichenfeld wrote of his experiences and impressions in an autobiography he published in 2006, titled On the Fringe. The "guests" of whom his school's gym teacher expounded were soon expelled and Austria's Jewish population became the target of vicious dehumanization while threats to their existence became compellingly fraught. Leading his parents to send their two children to England for haven.

Once the boy and his father were freed from internment they returned to England, where Hans enlisted in the Royal Air Force but was unable to serve as a pilot as a result of being colour-blind. He was then trained as a wireless technician and posted to Iceland. With the war's end he trained as a doctor and emigrated from Britain to Canada in 1966. A later move to Ottawa saw then-doctor Reichenfeld teach at the University of Ottawa, and working at The Royal Ottawa Hospital, practising psychiatry.

He died in March of 2016.

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