Excerpt from Out of Time: The Vexed Life of Georg Tintner by Tanya Buchdahl Tintner
From Chapter Two
A musical boy could have no better education than in the Vienna Boys’ Choir, but for Georg it was far from an unqualified blessing. ‘My parents converted to be Lutherans in order to save trouble for their children—they thought,’ Georg said. ‘As a matter of fact it made it much worse for me, because we were rejected from all sides.’ On his first day one of the boys accused him of being a Jew, and from that moment his life was a misery. He was the first Jewish boy ever admitted to the choir; even Lutherans would have been rare enough. Georg had not even been aware that he was Jewish—the closest he came to Judaism was a handful of Yiddish words gleaned from Therese, who used the language when she didn’t want the grandchildren to understand. ‘My greatest disadvantage was that I was the most musical and the most intelligent among these boys,’ he said, ‘and that of course was the worst thing that could have happened to me.’
For the entire four years he was in the choir Georg was persecuted, principally by Rektor Schnitt. Georg was so frightened of him that on swimming excursions to the Danube he hid from him in the gorse bushes. He became ashamed of his ‘Jewish looks’, what he thought of as his ‘African’ appearance: his thick lips, which he tried to make thinner by pressing them together, and his mass of thick, crimped hair. ‘I felt like a hunted animal,’ he said. ‘In the end they made me ashamed of my parents. It is a terrible thing, but I believed them. They destroyed the innocence of a child. He loses his spontaneity and naturalness, and that is a terrible thing.’ But he said nothing to his parents, for they would have removed him immediately, depriving him of the music. In all the surviving photographs of Georg as a choirboy he appears unsmiling and anxious....
At the end of his four years there was the ceremonial awarding of certificates. Each boy was called out in alphabetical order, but the official, probably Rektor Schnitt, passed Georg over. At the end he said: ‘And of course there is nothing for the Jew.’ Georg remembered it as one of the worst moments of his life. In an interview more than sixty years later he stated:
“Anti-Semitism is endemic [in Austria], and when you said it was civilised I had to smile to myself because it was all but. I have since my earliest childhood been subjected to this kind of persecution and I say that without any self-pity. And in a way it was probably good for me.... But when that started, then I stopped being a child.”
Of his time in the choir, Georg in later years would say only that it had afforded him a wonderful musical education. He didn’t mention his persecution except to a tiny handful of people, mostly other refugees, and he refused to go into detail. When I mentioned his difficulties to Dr Walther Tautschnig, a fellow chorister Georg had been friendly with and who later spent almost three decades as the choir’s director, he brushed my comments away saying that Georg was likely complaining about the spartan physical conditions they endured. Anti-Semitism was so much a part of life in Vienna that those who were not on the receiving end of it simply did not see it. The only time Georg is known to have broken his silence on what actually happened was an occasion not long after we were married. A colleague from my university days came to visit, a writer who had once been a trainee Jesuit priest. He was also, as I warned Georg, an unrepentant anti-Semite. He had hardly sat down when Georg came into the room and quietly poured out a long and detailed description of what Schnitt had done to him. It was an appalling tale of sadism, petty intimidation and terror. On our visitor it made no impression at all.