Asylum: A Survivor’s Flight from Nazi-Occupied Vienna through Wartime France

Written by Moriz Scheyer P.N. Singer (trans.)
Review by Lorraine Norwood

The story of Asylum’s path to publication is almost as compelling as the real story itself. Moriz Scheyer, an important literary journalist in Vienna, was forced to flee from the Nazis in 1938. In 1943, Scheyer began writing a memoir tracing the events of his life from the Nazi takeover of Vienna, to Paris and internment in a French concentration camp, to concealment in a convent caring for mentally disabled women. After Scheyer’s death in 1949, his stepson destroyed the manuscript, possibly because he found the anti-German stance offensive.  Recently, however, a carbon copy was found in an old suitcase in the family attic.  P.N. Singer, a step-grandson, translated the document. As Singer writes in the afterword, Scheyer’s literary accomplishments were many, but Asylum is his “most enduring testament.”

Written at the time of the events, Asylum provides a vivid personal account of the suffering and tragedy of the Jewish people and of the madness in Europe. The story itself is horrific, all the more so for its immediacy; the writing passionate and angry, yet at times beautiful. In his outrage, Scheyer asks the question that has haunted us since: “How could it all have happened? We survivors—we who went through it—we, surely have the right to keep asking that question. While at the same time bearing witness, in our name, and in that of the silenced six million.”

Asylum also contains maps and photographs, notes on people and organizations mentioned in the text, a chronology of events 1933-1945, and books for further reading. It is highly recommended to researchers and readers with an interest in the Holocaust and World War II.