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1938: The Year of Decision

Do you endorse the reunification of Austria with the

German Reich, decreed on 13 March, 1938, and do you

cast your vote for the party of our leader, Adolf Hitler?

—Austrian referendum ballot, April 10, 1938

HE PREDAWN SKY, WHEN I opened the windows,

was as gray as on every other morning. I could hear

the grape pickers calling in the distance. I lit the

stove, humming a little song, made his breakfast—a cup of

tea and a slice of dark bread—aligned the knife and fork

according to his specifications. Everything had to be

perfect. I took the liberty of drawing a horizontal figure

eight with the plum jam. Hoping he wouldn’t take

exception to it. I was exaggerating my happiness a little: it

was my wedding day, the focus of many years of yearning. I

poured myself some tea to settle my nausea. I shined his

shoes, ironed his clothes care- fully and laid them all out on

a chair, attentive to the creases. My man’s clothes were

sometimes more expressive when he was somewhere else.

I’d banished dreams of a big church wedding with Vienna’s

high society in attendance—I’d worn white once already.

But this wedding, with its few guests, performed like a

tiresome formality, had a faintly sad smell to it. Crossing

the entrance hall, I saw a tired woman in the mirror. Was

this the young bride-to-be? I took out my bobby pins and

fluffed my hair. “Come on, girl, consider yourself happy and