George Clare: Memoirist who recalled life in Nazi Vienna and postwar Berlin

It was an age of durability which was equated with stability... but nothing is so impermanent as permanence, nothing is so insecure as security." So wrote the memoirist George Clare of Franz-Josef's Austria in Last Waltz in Vienna (1980). In the book, the Jewish Klaar family's multifarious, self-made, well-fed, culturally abundant past in Vienna – reaching back in Clare's account to 1842 – tragically gives way to a city overcome by the rise of Nazism from which he escaped. If escape he did. Clare's subsequent transition from Klaar, and his transformation into a quintessential Englishman, was haunted by the discovery that his parents' French refuge had led to Auschwitz's gas showers.

He was born in Vienna in 1920, as Georg Klaar to a father, Ernst, who under parental pressure had surrendered literary hopes for banking. Clare, an only child, grew up amid Vienna's ever-shifting, self-destructing politics.

Clare knew that even those Jews who had assumed West European education and culture found that "full equality, inner equality, still eluded us". He saw the future as early as 1933. A family friend had been in Oranienburg concentration camp, one of the first Nazi showplaces of terror. "The Nazis had forced him to sign a document stating that he would say nothing about Oranienburg. The burn marks on his nose and cheeks, where the SA camp guards had stubbed out their cigarette ends, told the truth." More happily, at the age of 14, Clare met his future wife, Lisl Beck, at a summer camp ("I was attracted by her; she by my pyjamas").

By January 1938, Ernst knew that departure from Vienna was vital. It was difficult to achieve. The family, having decided to head to the Republic of Ireland, were turned back en route to Riga, where Clare was due to meet up with Lisl, also Ireland-bound. Several weeks were spent in Berlin, waiting to obtain the correct papers.

While there, news of a job in Paris took Ernst to the French capital, then thought to be safe from the clutches of the Nazis. After reaching Ireland, and then obtaining a French visa in Knightsbridge, Stella – waltzing like "a happily smiling young bride" – went to rejoin him. It turned out to be a fateful decision. After fleeing Paris in 1940 following the Blitzkrieg, Clare's parents were eventually deported and killed at Auschwitz.

Clare himself, duly married to Lisl, remained in Ireland and then moved to London, where his attempts to join the Army were long frustrated by the bureaucracy of the Pioneer Corps: he did not, in the end, see active service. In 1946, with the British Control Commission in Berlin, he worked in denazification, partly with Hugh Greene, later the BBC Director General, whose first address to his staff began, "I am here to make myself superfluous".

In the course of his work (described too episodically in his second volume of memoirs, Berlin Days, 1989), Clare had met the charming publisher Axel Springer, whose London-based news service he subsequently worked at for four decades. On one Sunday in the late 1960s, however, he began typing something different. As Last Waltz in Vienna (first published in German translation), it was praised by John le Carré, Graham Greene and others. A famous passage records that: "the city behaved like an aroused woman: vibrating, writhing, moaning and sighing lustfully for orgasm and release. It is not purple writing: it is an exact description of what Vienna was and felt like on Monday, 14 March 1938, as Hitler entered her... lined by hundreds of thousands of waving, jubilating Viennese, its church bells rang out their own obscene jubilate."

Clare does not reduce matters to black and white. Earlier, he saw some troop-carriers: "The men themselves were tall, young, handsome, smart and polished, and I realised, unbelievable though this may sound, that I admired these soldiers and was even proud of them. So conditioned was I, the 17-year-old Jew, by my Austro-German upbringing, so deeply engrained was all I had read, that I could not see these clean-limbed young men as my enemies. The Nazis, the SS, the SA, they were my enemies, but not the young and handsome soldiers of the Wehrmacht".

Christopher Hawtree

George Clare (Georg Klaar), author: born Vienna 21 December 1920; married 1939 Lisl Beck (marriage dissolved 1964, one son, two daughters), 1965 Christel Vorbringer (one daughter); died Newmarket 26 March 2009.

News
peoplePolice were acting on arrest warrant after actor fled US in 1977
News
Apple CEO Tim Cook
people
Arts and Entertainment
Ukip leader Nigel Farage has been fined £200 by the Electoral Commission
tvNot a nightmare, but the plot of a new TV mockumentary
Travel
<p><strong>15. Plas Teg Mansion, Flintshire</strong></p>
<p>Plas Teg, a Jacobean house near the the village of Pontblyddyn, Flintshire between Wrexham and Mold, is said to be one of Wales' most haunted buildings. One of its late owners was the infamous 'hanging' Judge Jeffries, who is thought to have held court in the home and had people convicted and hanged in the dining room. Reports of paranormal activity include heavy breathing in one bedroom and the spirit of a young girl appearing in the Blue Bedroom.</p>
travel
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Mock the tweet: Ukip leader Nigel Farage and comedian Frankie Boyle
peopleIt was a polite exchange of words, as you can imagine
Life and Style
fashion
Life and Style
Britons buy more than 30 million handsets each year, keeping them for an average of 18 months
tech
Arts and Entertainment
TV Presenters Ant McPartlin and Dec Donnelly. Winners of the 'Entertainment Programme' award for 'Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway'
musicAnt and Dec confirmed as hosts of next year's Brit Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Orson Welles made Citizen Kane at 25, and battled with Hollywood film studios thereafter
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SEN Teaching Assistant needed for long term assignment

£45 - £55 per day: Randstad Education Preston: We are looking for an experienc...

Primary Teachers Required in King's Lynn

Negotiable: Randstad Education Cambridge: Primary Teachers needed in King's Ly...

Primary Teachers needed in Ely

Negotiable: Randstad Education Cambridge: Primary Teacher needed in the Ely ar...

Teaching Assistant to work with Autistic students

£60 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Randstad Education Leicester ...

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes
Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs:

Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs

"I have never regarded anything I have done in "the media" as a proper job"
Lyricist Richard Thomas shares his 11-step recipe for creating a hit West End musical

11-step recipe for creating a West End hit

Richard Thomas, the lyricist behind the Jerry Springer and Anna Nicole Smith operas, explains how Bob Dylan, 'Breaking Bad' and even Noam Chomsky inspired his songbook for the new musical 'Made in Dagenham'
Tonke Dragt's The Letter for the King has finally been translated into English ... 50 years on

Buried treasure: The Letter for the King

The coming-of-age tale about a boy and his mission to save a mythical kingdom has sold a million copies since it was written by an eccentric Dutchwoman in 1962. Yet until last year, no one had read it in English
Can instilling a sense of entrepreneurship in pupils have a positive effect on their learning?

The school that means business

Richard Garner heads to Lancashire, where developing the 'dragons' of the future is also helping one community academy to achieve its educational goals
10 best tablets

The world in your pocket: 10 best tablets

They’re thin, they’re light, you can use them for work on the move or keeping entertained
Lutz Pfannenstiel: The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents

Lutz Pfannenstiel interview

The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents
Pete Jenson: Popular Jürgen Klopp can reignite Borussia Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern Munich

Pete Jenson's a Different League

Popular Klopp can reignite Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern
John Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

The use of the British hostage demonstrates once again the militants' skill and originality in conducting a propaganda war, says Patrick Cockburn
The killer instinct: The man who helps students spot potential murderers

The killer instinct

Phil Chalmers travels the US warning students how to spot possible future murderers, but can his contentious methods really stop the bloodshed?
Clothing the gap: A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd

Clothing the gap

A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd
Fall of the Berlin Wall: Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain

The Fall of the Berlin Wall

Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain