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New York Times bestselling author Isabel Allende is best known for such classic works of fiction as “The House of the Spirits,” “Eva Luna” and “A Long Petal of the Sea.” The Chilean-born author’s latest novel, “The Wind Knows My Name” (Ballantine Books), draws parallels between Jewish children sent to safety by their families during World War II and Latin American children separated from their parents while trying to cross into the United States.
Read the piece below, and don’t miss Rita Brewer’s interview with Isabel Allende “CBS News Sunday Morning” May 28!
“The Wind Knows My Name” by Isabel Allende
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Vienna, November 1938
A sense of doom hangs in the air. Since dawn, a terrific wind has blown through the streets, whistling between buildings and forcing entry through cracks under doors and windows.
“Winter is just beginning,” Rudolph Adler muttered to himself in an attempt to lighten his mood. But he couldn’t blame the weather for the tightness in his chest, which he had felt for several months now.
The stench of fear, like rust and rotting garbage, clung to his nostrils; Neither his pipe tobacco nor his citrus-scented aftershave lotion can mask it. That afternoon, the stench of dread lingered in the air, suffocating him, making him dizzy and nauseous. He decides to turn away the patients left in his waiting room and close early. Surprised, his assistant asked if he was sick. She had worked with the doctor for eleven years and had never known him to shirk his duties; He was a punctual, methodical man.
“Nothing serious, just a cold, Frau Goldberg. I’ll go home and rest,” he replied.
They tidy the office and disinfect the instruments, then say goodbye at the door as they do every evening, suspecting that they will never see each other again. Frau Goldberg headed for the streetcar stop and Rudolf Adler walked the few blocks to the pharmacy at his usual pace, hat in one hand and doctor’s bag in the other, his shoulders hunched. The pavement was damp and the sky overcast; It was drizzling and he predicted that they would soon see one of those autumn storms that always caught him unawares, without an umbrella. He had walked those streets a thousand times and knew them by memory, but he never stopped admiring his city, one of the most beautiful places in the world with baroque and art nouveau buildings harmoniously coexisting, majestic trees that were beginning to shed their leaves. , equestrian statues in the surrounding squares, bakery window displays with delicate pastry spreads, and antique shops fill the curiosities. But that afternoon he lifted his eyes from the pavement. He had the weight of the world on his shoulders.
News of the attacks in Paris that morning had sparked alarming rumours: a German diplomat had been shot five times and a Polish Jew had killed a young man. Spokesmen for the Third Reich called for retaliation.
Ever since that March, when Germany annexed Austria and the Nazi Wehrmacht paraded its military pomp and circumstance to a cheering, jubilant crowd in the heart of Vienna, Rudolf Adler had been haunted by fear. His concern began years earlier and was only consolidated by increased funding and growing stockpiles of Nazi power. Hitler used terror as a political strategy, taking advantage of discontent over the economic woes after the humiliating defeat in the Great War and the Great Depression in 1929. In 1934, Austrian Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss was assassinated in a failed coup d’état, and since then more than eight hundred. Others were killed in various attacks. The Nazis intimidated their opponents, created chaos and pushed Austria to the brink of civil war. By early 1938, internal violence was so overwhelming that Germany, from across the border, applied pressure to annex the troubled country as one of its provinces. After the Austrian government made concessions to German demands, Hitler ordered the invasion. The Nazi Party laid the groundwork for the majority of the people to face the invading forces with open arms. The Austrian government surrendered and two days later Hitler himself entered Vienna in triumph. The Nazis quickly seized complete control. The opposition party was declared illegal. German law and SS and Gestapo repression, as well as anti-Semitic policies, were immediately implemented.
Rudolph’s wife, Rachel, who had always been rational and practical, without the slightest inclination toward catastrophic thinking, was now almost paralyzed with anxiety and functioned only with the help of medication. They both tried to keep their son Samuel in the dark about what was happening, to protect his innocence, but the boy, who was about to turn six, had grown into an adult; He observed, listened and understood without asking questions. Rudolph initially prescribed his wife the tranquilizers he used to treat anxious patients, but when they seemed to have no effect, he turned to other, stronger drops, which he found in opaque unmarked bottles. He could use sedatives like his wife, but he wouldn’t risk jeopardizing his professional skills.
Pharmacist and longtime friend Peter Steiner secretly supplied her with the drops. Adler was the only doctor Steiner trusted with his own family’s health, and no government decree banning interaction between Aryans and Jews could change their respect for each other. In recent months, however, Steiner had been forced to avoid Adler in public, as he could not bear any trouble with the nearby Nazi committee. In the past, they played thousands of poker and chess games, exchanged books and newspapers, and took regular hiking and fishing trips together to escape their wives, as they joked, and in Steiner’s case, his children’s hordes. . Now Adler no longer participated in the poker games in the back room of Steiner Pharmacy. The pharmacist met Adler at the back door of his shop and dispensed the medicine for Rachel without registering it on the books.
Before the annexation, Peter Steiner never questioned Adler’s roots and considered the doctor as Austrian as he was. He knew the family was Jewish, as were 190,000 other Austrian citizens, but that meant nothing to him. He was agnostic; The Christianity he had grown up with seemed as absurd to him as all other religions, and he knew that Rudolf Adler felt the same way, even though he supported some Jewish practices out of respect for his wife. Rachel felt it was important to raise their son in a Jewish community and tradition. On Friday evenings, the Steiners were often invited to Shabbat at Adler’s home. Rachel and Leah, her sister-in-law, spared no detail: the best table linens, new candles, fish recipes handed down from Grandma, fresh bread and plenty of wine. Close was Rachel Lear, who was widowed at a young age and had no children. Leah was devoted to her brother Rudolph’s small family, and although Rachel begged the woman to move in with them, she insisted on living alone, visiting often. Leah was friendly and participated in various programs at the synagogue to help needy members of the community. Rudolf was the only brother he had left, as the youngest had moved to a kibbutz in Palestine, and Samuel was his only nephew. Rudolph presided over the Shabbat prayer, as was expected of him as the head of the household. Laying his hands on Samuel’s head, he asked God to bless and protect him, to give him grace and peace. On more than one occasion Rachel exchanged glances between her husband and Peter Steiner after prayer, but she let it slide, knowing it was not meant to be mocking but a gesture of complicity between the two unbelievers.
The Adlers belonged to the secular and educated middle class that characterized Viennese society in general and Jewish society in particular. Rudolph explained to Peter that his people had been discriminated against, oppressed, and expelled from many countries for centuries, which is why they valued education over material possessions. They could loot their belongings, as has happened time and again throughout history, but no one could take away their intellectual wealth. The title of doctor was worth more than a fortune in the bank. Rudolph came from a family of craftsmen, proud to count a physician among them. The profession gave him status and authority, although in his case it did not really translate into material wealth. Rudolf Adler was not a surgeon or a professor at the storied University of Vienna, but a family doctor, hardworking and generous, who treated more than half of his patients for free.
Excerpt from “The Wind Knows My Name” by Isabel Allende. Copyright © 2023 by Isabel Allende. All rights reserved. No part of this section may be reproduced or reprinted without the written permission of the publisher.
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