Saturday, May 28, 2011

Last surviving Austrian who hid Jews honored

VIENNA – It was 1942 in Hitler's Austria, a time when a late-night knock on the door could have resulted in deportation or death. Edeltrud Becher shuddered as she heard the rap of knuckles from unannounced visitors.

She opened the door — and gasped: Instead of the Gestapo, her Jewish fiance and his two brothers were on the doorstep, looking nervously over their shoulders.

The three had fled to Prague after the Nazi annexation of Austria in 1938. But by 1942, that city too was in the hands of Hitler's henchmen. The three were told to pack essentials for deportation to a concentration camp.

They wrote suicide notes to make authorities think they were dead, and then did what no one thought any Jew would do — they took a night train straight to Vienna, back into the heartland of the Nazi Reich.

In deciding to protect them from the Nazis that night, Becher — now Edeltrud Posiles — embarked on a dangerous game of hide-and-seek that included some truly hairy moments: on one occasion the three jumped from a balcony to escape detection, and Walter, her future husband, pretended to be a waiter as the Gestapo stormed a cafe.

Walter Posiles as well as his brother Ludwig survived. Hans, the oldest brother, beat the odds of being found by the Nazis only to be killed by a Russian bomb during the dying days of the war.

Hiding Jews was punishable by death. But the feisty 94-year old says "there was never a moment's doubt in my mind," when asked if she hesitated as she was asked by the brothers for sanctuary.

And — even though the marriage ended in divorce — "I would do it again," declares Posiles, the last one of 88 Austrians known to have saved Jews from the Holocaust who is still alive.

"Even though I'm a coward," the former librarian adds after a pause, moving gingerly from her walker to stand proudly before banner letters prominently spelling out her name on Vienna's bustling Ring Avenue along with Austria's 87 other known "Righteous Gentiles."


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