Ilse Aichinger, 1948
Lilly Axster
Katherine Klinger
Long version
Short version
Reference text Aichinger
Hannah Arendt, 1950
Hannah Fröhlich
Nicola Lauré al-Samarai
Simone de Beauvoir, 1949
Dagmar Fink
Tom Holert
Billie Holiday, 1939
Jamika Ajalon
Rúbia Salgado
Adrian Piper, 1983
Belinda Kazeem
Anna Kowalska
Yvonne Rainer, 1990
Monika Bernold
Shirley Tate
Disconnected Numbers
Katherine Klinger, 2012

In today’s digital age, if I want to look up someone famous or unknown, I can source them in an instant. My smartphone contains more technology than the Apollo 11 mission had at its disposal to the moon and back. I go to bed with my i-Pad held close, and on waking google my day’s work. But there is nothing quite as precious as a particular book I have in my possession. Its information is entirely out of date and a year after its publication it would have been discarded and pulped. It is as worthless as it is precious to me: the 1938 Vienna Telephone Directory. It contains a world more infinite, more revealing and with more potential than any website I encounter.

There is an innocence in the information listed that no contemporary celebrity would permit. Each name, area location, profession, address and telephone number is impeccably noted, both as testament to status and badge of integration. It is up to the reader to search and find, to dream and to imagine.

Each time I think of a name, famous or ordinary and begin my search, I experience differing sensations: the excitement of detection; the retrieval of history; the normalcy of everyday life; the co-existence of ordinary with extraordinary; the fear of absence. Names I have read in textbooks, ideas I have heard in lectures, music I have listened to in concert halls—they all locate themselves in the individuals quietly listed on the pages of this simple phone directory. They lived in the apartments of Vienna, they walked the streets, they spoke on the phone: they existed.

The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein doesn’t own a phone, but his one-handed pianist brother Paul lives on Argentinierstraße 16, with his sister Hermine, alongside an intriguing separate entry for the “Wittgensteinische Geschwister”. Perhaps if you are from one of the wealthiest Central European families of the 20th century, you don’t go ex-directory, but show how many phone lines you rent. Likewise, even if you are a well known “Univ. Prof. f. Nervenkrankh.” living and working on Bergg. 19, Prof. Dr. Sigmund Freud, you need to give your phone number (A-18-1-70), in case of new business, even after the Anschluss (or maybe especially?).

Kokoschka’s mother Romana has a phone, as well as Josef Hoffmann and Karl Böhm. The last two keep their phone lines and most likely take over others a few months later; unlike Leopold Lipschütz the part-owner of the Neue Kronen Zeitung, or Eduard Steiner, the owner of the Prater Riesenrad. And it takes little lateral thinking to consider the fate of all those Mahlers, Herzls and Kafkas also listed. Quite a year. The Kohn’s, all 294 of them, must have been obligingly easy to find; not without irony I note it is one of the most common surnames in the entire Vienna Phone Directory of 1938. By the end of the year, every Kohn has the same first name as well. They, like 30 percent of the others listed, are unable to pay their phone bill less than three years later. It is not about money: they simply no longer exist.

And among these celebrity intellectuals, inhabiting the same pages and using the same phone lines, is the name and phone number of my grandparents. It is so simple and so stark a reality, yet it shocks me each time. It is the only proof I have of their normal, everyday existence in the whole world. Their life is made flesh by a phone number. I am not willing to give their transport number as proof. Thus directory becomes proof of life, as well as graveyard, and name and address becomes tombstone.

Dr. Berta Aichinger, Ilse Aichinger’s mother, is listed twice, although by 1938 she would have been forbidden to practice as a medical doctor. Turning the phone books’ pages, the Aichinger’s are joined to my family by the geography of circumstance: surely there is not a name on those pages in the following years that does not go through some fear and/or suffering, whatever the side, no matter the genes. The Kafkaesque world evoked by Aichinger in her only published novel is inextricably contained in the surreal masterpiece of this pre-war phone directory.

Unpicking the names from the phone book draws on the energy, emotion and mind. German Jews circumvented some of the time and thought required by helpfully publishing in 1931 a specialist, public directory, over 300 pages long (and a similar weight to the Vienna Directory) entitled: Jüdisches Adreßbuch für Groß-Berlin (second edition). Berlin-Jewry painstakingly list the names and addresses of every registered member of the Jewish community, carefully delineating important individuals, as well as business owners and ordinary citizens.

The introduction comments that recent elections have revealed that six million (!) Germans will pose a challenge to the Jewish community that is possibly without precedent. As the good Einstein, Albert, Professor, of W30, Haberlandstr. 5 and the gently spoken Dr. Baeck, Leo (telephone: Barbarossa 6664) dutifully completed their details for the second edition following the runaway success of the first, how can we not smile before we despair about the information gleaned by the Community?

As the lengthy foreword carefully explains: “Aber wie wir gute Juden sind, sind wir auch ebenso gute Deutsche […]. Wir Juden leben nicht nur in Deutschland, wir sind Deutsche, weil es unsere Vorfahren waren, sind auf deutscher Erde geboren und wurzeln mit unserer ganzen Kraft, unserem ganzen Gefühle im deutschen Volkskörper.” [1]

Sometimes I wonder what is the most shocking: the publication of a Jewish address book in Berlin in the early 1930’s, or the quiet, but equally trusting names included in the phone book of Vienna, 1938. Perhaps they each explain one another and help shed light on how what happened, could happen. Equally, they make it impossible to fathom.


Katherine Klinger is a maverick and lives in her birthplace, London.

Edited by Jo Schmeiser & Sabine Rohlf

This text was published (in German) on November 10, 2012, in the Austrian daily newspaper Der Standard.


1) “But just as we are good Jews, we are equally good Germans […]. We Jews not only live in Germany, we are Germans, because our ancestors were Germans, because we were born on German soil and are rooted with all our strength, with all our feeling, in the body of the German people.” (Quoted in German in the original. This translation by Nicholas Grindell. Editor’s note)