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2008-09, 359, Book collecting, Brian Taylor, German, Jewish, War

By their books ye may (get to) know them (2): Liesel Künzler (1)

Brian Taylor

THIS IS THE SECOND of two articles that attempt, on the basis of inscriptions, stamps, booksellers’ labels, book plates and other such additions to books, to produce a mini-biography of each of the otherwise to me unknown former owners of two German libraries brought at some time to Australia. The first was published as “By their books ye may (get to) know them (1): Edgar Ederheimer” in Biblionews, 335th and 356th Issues (September and December 2007), pp.128–141.

The philosopher and ethicist Professor Peter Singer in the “Talking Heads” program on ABC television on Monday evening, 28 May 2007, in speaking of his origins said that he was the son of Austrian Jews from Vienna who had left and come to Australia after what is called in German der Anschluss, ‘the attachment’, when on 12 March 1938 the Nazis took over Hitler’s homeland and attached it to what they called Großdeutschland, ‘Greater Germany’.

The Singers do not seem to have been the only Viennese Jews to have done so. Saul Friedländer has stated that under pressure from the Nazis “by May 1939, approximately 100,000 [Austrian Jews], or more than 50 percent, had left” (Nazi Germany and the Jews. Vol. 1. The Years of Persecution, 1933-1939 (London: Phoenix, 1998), p.245, though at first Australia was not too keen to take any (p.249, and note 41). Over the years a number of descendants have rung the German Department at Sydney University asking us to take their parents’ or grandparents’ libraries off their hands, as no one in the family wanted to or could even read these German books anymore. At first it was my late colleague, the carless John Fletcher, who would take the smaller collections, but then it was me with my Volvo station wagon who would go off to collect the larger ones. In all I collected three substantial libraries of such emigrated Viennese Jewish people.

I was struck by how they all seemed to have a core of the same books. Understandably there were the works of Jewish writers in German, such as Franz Werfel, Jakob Wassermann, Karl Kraus and especially the prodigious Stefan Zweig. It was often a thrill for me to find, using the reference book Erstausgaben deutscher Dichtung [‘First editions of German literature’] (Stuttgart: Alfred Kröner Verlag, 1967), by my old boss Professor Gero von Wilpert, that I had potentially valuable first editions, sometimes with dedications, among these books. Otherwise there were editions of the works of the great author of Germany’s classical period, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, editions of Shakespeare in German, but strangely also such things as the 1931 German translation, Das Buch von San Michele, of the Swedish doctor Axel Munthe’s The Story of San Michele , first published in London in 1929,1 and a translation of John Galsworthy’s The Forsyte Saga.

I certainly did not have space to store all these libraries, especially as they had so many volumes in common, so I gave two of them away almost completely, to the Fisher Library at the University and to colleagues here and overseas, with the not inconsiderable number of cookery books going to Professor Trude Ehlert of the University of Würzburg in Germany, who is an expert on and practitioner of medieval cookery and an author on the subject. I did keep back, however, most of the first editions of other books and those inscribed by famous writers. Details of some of those given away I kept on a small card index system.

But one library was of special interest to me because of the books it contained and especially because of the various inscriptions etc. in some of them, so this one I have kept reasonably intact. How did I come by it? Somewhat differently from the others.

One day in the early 1990s a man rang our department saying he was the solicitor of a lady who had recently passed away and who evidently had no relatives or descendants, so he was having to dispose of her effects, among them her rather large library. So off I went and collected quite a few boxes of what was the largest of these libraries and by far the most interesting, but I learnt from the solicitor nothing at all of the woman, not even her name.

Once I looked through the books, I saw they contained quite a bit of interesting information that allowed me gradually to form some sort of picture of her and her life and contacts. That is when I first conceived the idea of some day writing a paper like this one about her and her books.

Unlike the other libraries, this one contained as well as German books a very large number in English, something that will probably make it more interesting to an Australian audience than Ederheimer’s books discussed in my first article. Over the intervening years her books have also been moved around and got somewhat mixed up with my other books, but there is one feature that allows me to recognise most of them as hers, namely they contain near the front a rubber stamp with Arabic text. (Illustration 1) It was clear that this must mean that she had spent some time in the Middle East, but where and when I couldn’t be sure. I guessed it might have been Palestine in the 1940s, but it was only a guess.


In the meantime I have asked a Sydney University colleague, Emeritus Professor Rif Ebied, who is a native speaker of Arabic, to translate it for me, and it turns out to mean, at the top, ‘Publication Supervision in Alexandria’, and, at the bottom, ‘Supervisor’, and then, to the right, ‘Date’. Sometimes there is a signature after ‘Supervisor’, but unfortunately in not one book is the place for a date filled in.

At least I now knew that she had been in Egypt, and that was backed up by Cairo booksellers’ labels in two of the books and the occasional inscription. But back to the beginning: Who was she and what were her dates?

The earliest book containing a manuscript date that I can associate with her is a 1918 printing of Waldemar Bonsels’ Indienfahrt [‘Voyage to India’] (Frankfurt am Main: Rütten & Loening), published originally in 1916. On the first righthand end paper is the dated signature in browned ink: “Liesel/ 21.II.1919”, so the female name Liesel, a form of Elisabeth, and the date 21st February 1919. On the second righthand end paper is a dedicatory inscription from the author, which after a handwritten biblical quotation on God’s love attributed just to “Johannes” (in fact it is the latter half of I John 4:16), says: “Frl. Liesel Künzler / zur freundl[ichen] Erinnerung / an den 26.[?] 1920 von Waldemar Bonsels.”, meaning: ‘Miss Liesel Künzler / in friendly memory / of the 26th of [?] 1920 from Waldemar Bonsels’. Unfortunately, I cannot decipher the abbreviation for the month here. Although the 26 is followed by a full stop, which in German is one way of indicating the ordinal number, so 26th, this actually seems to be followed by “ten”, the equivalent of English “th” and thus another German way of expressing the ordinal, so it looks to me very much as if Bonsels has doubled up on expressing the ordinal and distractedly left out the name of the month. (Illustration 2)


We now know that this woman’s maiden name was Liesel Künzler. She appears to have had an interest in literature, and the fact that her owner’s inscription is from the year before Bonsels’ inscription suggests that she may have gone to a talk by him on the 1920 date and asked him to sign her book. If he did omit to put in the date, it may indicate that she was just in a queue of people waiting for their books to be signed. The book contains the Arabic stamp, so she later took it to Egypt with her.

Amongst the books that I picked up I also have Karl Rheinfurth’s 1920 study of Bonsels, Waldemar Bonsels. Eine Studie. Mit zwei Bildbeigaben und einer biograph[ischen] Skizze [‘W.B.: A study. With two accompanying pictures and a biographical sketch’] (Berlin: Schuster & Loeffler), but it contains no inscriptions and no stamp, so I cannot be sure that it belonged to her. Bonsels was born in 1881 and died in 1952

Close in time to the Bonsels book is a little duodecimo volume of poems, Friedliche Welt. Erträumtes in Versen [‘Peaceful world: Things dreamed, in verse’] by Friedl Schreyvogl with original woodcuts by Carl Schulda Junior. Although it is dated on the title page as being published in Vienna in 1920, there is a dedicatory inscription by the poet Schreyvogl himself behind the title page, all of which is written in blue ink except for the words in the middle ‘liebes Fräulein Liesl Künzler”, meaning ‘Dear Miss Liesl Künzler’, using a slight variation – without “e” before the second “l” – of the way she spelt her name herself at the time. The inscription is dated “Weihnachten 1919. Wien”, so Vienna, Christmas 1919, and thus in the year before the book was purportedly published. (Illustration 3) It also contains the Arabic stamp.


Illustration 3

Author’s 1919 dedication to Liesl Kunzler in Fiedl Schreyvogl’s Friedliche Welt

Again, it seems that she might have merely “queued up”, literally or metaphorically, for this signature. The change in ink suggests to me that Schreyvogl had prewritten the dedication in blue ink in more than one copy of his little book, which though dated 1920 was actually rushed out in time for the Christmas market of 1919, then as purchasers of it approached him for a signing he merely entered their name in the space he’d left for the purpose, only on this day he had a different inkwell in front of him.

I think these two books between them suggest that Liesel Künzler was around 1920 a teenager or quite young woman living in Vienna with an interest in books and German literature, even if not always literature of the first rank.

A book that was, because of the Arabic stamp, identifiably hers is a 1922 printing of the famous German author Gerhardt Hauptmann’s Der Ketzer von Soana [‘The heretic of Soana’], first published in 1918. After a handwritten quotation from the German poet Friedrich Hölderlin comes the dedication “In herzlichster Freundschaft / mit allen guten Wünschen / Bine.”, so ‘in most cordial friendship / with all good wishes / Bine’. But the inscription is not dated and the dedicatee is not named, so we do not know whether or not it was Liesel. Nor do we know who Bine might have been. There is a Berlin bookseller’s label inside the front cover rather than a Viennese one, which suggests that it might originally have been someone else’s book before she acquired it.

For the next phase of Liesel’s life we have to leave Austria and move to the Middle East and to the end of the 1930’s, as the next datable book containing the Arabic stamp is Raoul Auernheimer’s Wien. Bild und Schicksal [‘Vienna: Image and Destiny’](Vienna: Otto Lorenz), published in 1938. But it was not apparently bought in Vienna and brought from there, since it contains the bookseller’s label in English “REIK’s / Bookshop Ltd. / Jerusalem”.2

And now there is a spate of books containing the Arabic stamp which are locatable to the Middle East of the 1940s and many of which are in English, not just German. Some of the former are clearly critical of the Nazis. One is the cartoonist Low’s Europe since Versailles: A History in One Hundred Cartoons with a Narrative Text (Allen Lane Penguin Books: Harmondsworth, 1940), with a badly tattered front cover when I received it and now totally disbound. And there is the highly satirical Lunacy Becomes Us by Adolf Hitler and His Associates, edited by Clara Leiser (New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation, 1939) (Illustration 4), the satire in which derives almost entirely from the dozens and dozens of quotations, translated into English, from Nazis, German newspapers of the Nazi period, and other such sources that bespeak a greater or lesser, mostly greater, degree of insanity. Also an attempt at satire among her stamped books is Europe Going, Going, Gone! A sketchy book trying to give a rough explanation of Europe, its politics, and its state of mind, for the benefit mainly of Anglo-Saxons, politicians, and other folk with uncomplicated minds “Compiled most carelessly by Count Ferdinand Czernin” (London: Peter Davies, 1939). Another of her books in this general anti-Nazi vein is the 1941 second impression of Irmgard Litten’s A Mother Fights Hitler (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1940) “With a Foreword by His Grace The Archbishop of York and and Introduction by W. Arnold-Forster” and “Translated from the German Manuscript by Bernard Miall”.


There is the 1927 volume Ich bin Zeuge [‘I am a witness’] by the Viennese writer Alfred Polgar, which, while it is in German, has her surname in pencil, but in the form “Kunzler”, so without the two-dot umlaut accent over the “u” that is required over the fully German form of her name, which could indicate that she might now be anglicising it. However, we find this same pencilled name in Bruno Frank’s Ein Konzert. Novellen (‘A concert. Novellas’), also from 1927, but it contains, puzzingly, no Arabic stamp and has the price “13,-” on the front end paper with the “1” having the typical continental upstroke before the shaft along with a comma, not a stop between the two parts of the price, all suggesting it was bought in Germany or Austria. The curt form of the signature would be perhaps more typical of a German/Austrian male, so the two books, even without the umlaut, may perhaps have belonged originally to her father. The Frank book, published by the Gustav Klepenheuer publishing house in Potsdam, near Berlin, is in the series “die Liebhaberbibliothek” (‘the [book]lovers’ library’), bound in quarter-calf with marbled covers and gold stamping on the spine, is the only really bibliophilically attractive book in the whole library.3 (Illustration 5)


One book in English with the stamp, namely Negley Farson’s 1940 Behind God’s Back (London: Gollcancz) contains not her name, but on the half title the inscription “Elisabeth Kontinsky (?) / Cairo, 1940”, so Liesel must have acquired it some time later. Or had she perhaps married by then and expanded her given name to its full German form? For an inscription on the front end paper of the likewise stamped book Flotsam (London and Melbourne: Hutchison & Co., undated), by the author of All quiet on the Western Front Erich Maria Remarque and translated into English by Denver Lindley, goes: “Elizabeth Christmas 1941/ ‘May the Gods Smile’ / Rob.” So here her given name is not only expanded to its full form, but also anglicised in its spelling.

A little puzzling, too, is Paul Tabori’s 1942 Epitaph for Europe (London: Hodder & Stoughton), which on the title page has a hastily written name which may well be “AKunzler”, so possibly her surname, but with an initial that looks like ‘A’ rather than ‘L’. One might think that this too could be her father’s rather than her own signature, except that on the front right end paper is the bookseller’s label in French: “James Cotton & Co. / Libraires / Fournisseurs de / S[a] M[ajesté] LE ROI / Le Caire”, so ‘James Cotton & Co. / Booksellers / Providers to / His Majesty The King / Cairo’. If it is her signature, as it—and in retrospect also the two curt ones—very probably is, then that would speak against her being the Elisabeth Kontinsky above.

Then comes a whole spate of books with dedications, dated but not always explicitly addressed to her, even though having the Arabic stamp. For instance, there is J Ascar-Nahas’ book in French Les Réflexions d’Ebn Goha [‘The reflexions of Ebn Goha’] published undated by the Revue du Caire, the ‘Cairo Review’ publishers. It is particularly interesting in having inscriptions by three New Zealand servicemen, which go:

In grateful recognition / of many happy times / in Cairo/

Donald Robertson / Gnr N.Z. Artillery /

Gnr. Theo Spira 2nd N.Z.E.F.

Pte. [then a name in a flourishing script I cannot yet decipher] / 24 Bn HQ. / N.Z.E.F.

Then follows in French “Au Revoir Bientôt [‘Till we see each other again soon’] / 1-3-41″. (Illustration 6)


Illustration 6

New Zealand Servicemens’ dedications in J Ascar-Nahas’

Les Réflections D’Ebn Goha

While Robertson clearly wrote the opening part of the inscription, the closing French words appear to be in a different hand from the other three. But at least we have a date there: 1st March 1941

From 1942 there is the well-known Chinese travel writer Lin Yu Tang’s A Leaf in the Storm: A Novel of War-swept China (London / Toronto: William Heinemann), published that year in a war economy edition. It contains on the second front end paper the inscription: “From Rob / Exile in Iran / Christmas 1942 / Best wishes Lisl”, with her name not only re-Germanised by him, but now reduced to four letters from the six we first encountered back in 1919.

For 1943 we have the fourth edition of 1938 of F S Smythe’s Over the Tyrolese hills (London: Hodder & Stoughton), so a book about the Austrian countryside, though in English. Oddly, it contains no Arabic stamp, but on the front end paper merely the inscription “Lisl / 2/7/43”; however, the way her name is written and spelt here, which could be “Liesl”, but the dot appears to be over what would then be a rudimentary “e”, makes it certain that the inscription is written by Rob, not by her. A month later there is, likewise unstamped, a parallel volume from the same publisher, a 1941 reprint of Smythe’s 1934 book An Alpine Journey containing the very interesting inscription: “I share your love for these / beautiful mountains -I hope / you will see them again / soon – Fondest Love Lisl / Rob – Bagdad (sic) 1/8/43”. It would thus seem that both books came to her from Rob, who was well aware of her Austrian origins and evidently knew that it was her wish to return to Austria once the war was over.

Friend Rob pops up again, this time in 1944 in an inscription on the front end paper of Eve Curie’s 1943 Journey among Warriors (London / Toronto: William Heinemann), which reads: “Birthday greetings Lisl / for 20-2-44 / from Rob”. So now we know her birthday was the 20th February, but he, being a gentleman, doesn’t reveal for us how old she was, so in what year she was born.

From later in that year there is, above the Arabic stamp on the front end paper, an inscription in John Morris’s 1943 Traveller from Tokyo (London: The Cresset Press), which reads: “With love / From Max (?) / May 1944”. There is no explicit mention of Liesl here, and I am not sure at all of the first letter of the giver’s name—it certainly looks different from the first letter of the month name “May” (see Illustration 1).

Then comes the 1944 edition of The Weeping Wood by the Austrian authoress Vicki Baum (Garden City N.Y.: Doubleday, Doran & Company) with on the front end paper the inscription: “Return from Persia Sept 1944 / Greetings Lisl / Robbie / October 10th 1944”. This must, of course, be the same chap who returned from the same country, Iran/Persia, back in 1942, had inscribed a book to “Elizabeth” in 1941 and given her two books on Austria in 1943, one inscribed in Baghdad. But here he is using a rather more affectionate form of his own name. While this increasing informality in both their names might lead one to suspect some sort of relationship here, the fact that he took at least a couple of weeks after his return to make contact – though war conditions could have been the reason for the delay, of course – suggests that it is rather one of growing friendship and not necessarily a particularly intimate one.

One question that arises is: Who was this Rob or Robbie that seems to have moved around the Middle East so much at that time? Was it perhaps Gunner Donald Robertson of the New Zealand Artillery who inscribed the Goha book in 1941? A comparison of the handwriting leads one to conclude that he was not the Rob / Robbie of the other inscriptions.

Incidentally, Liesl was not only a receiver of gifts, but also a giver. At the beginning of 1944 she had written in Nigel Balchin’s 1942 novel Darkness Falls from the Air(London: Collins): “Best wishes of / good luck to Peter (?) / from Liesl / January 1944 / Cairo”. Especially interesting for me in this inscription is that, while she is now a user of the English language, it is clear that her command of it is still a bit shaky, since the phrase “wishes of good luck” is a less than successful attempt at expressing the German word Glückwünsche, which can be literally translated as ‘luck wishes’ or ‘good luck wishes’. At least she knew you couldn’t just translate it like that. I am not entirely sure of the reading of the recipient’s name here, as only the ‘P’ and ‘t’ at all are easily legible. Whether she never managed to get the book to him, or whether he or someone else gave it back to her later, it is not obvious why it remained in her library.

One book does not have either the Arabic stamp or her name in it, but may yet have been hers. Inside a first edition of Stefan Zweig’s work Kaleidoskop printed in Austria in 1936, I found the ‘duplicates’ of two tickets—numbers 16112 1nd 16113—to the RAF Shaibah Cinema, which were “Geod [sic] for Eighty (80) Fils Seat / Value of an Admission Tieket [sic]” with at the bottom of each a place for a signature and a date, but sadly neither of these had been filled in on either ticket. (Illustration 7) The other half of each ticket had been torn off, so perhaps any signatures and dates were on those. However, it is pretty clear that this was a Royal Air Force cinema in a Middle Eastern country, so quite possibly evidence of Liesl’s having gone to the pictures in Cairo with an English airman. If so, it may have been she who paid, since she ended up with the butts.


In spite of the absence of the stamp or her name in this Zweig volume, there is one other piece of evidence that it might have been her book. Between its pages I found a folded sheet of paper. It appears to have started its life as the beginning of a note, since there are clearly written in ink at the top of the sheet, before folding, the date and words “18.8.44. / Just before I wanted to post this letter” with the text then breaking off altogether. Otherwise there are on the sheet, after folding, some scribbled pencillings, in what seems a different hand that is often difficult to read, in English and German, two of which are what appear to be quotations about Gewalt, meaning ‘power, force, violence’, from German literary works, one with its English translation (“Was einer gewalttätig genommen / nimmt ihm abermals Gewalt / what one has taken forcibly will / be taken off him again by force”). But above these is written “This Salzburg” (followed by some English words: “To London work [?] for / Publishing house”), which is the title of a book that we know she owned (see note 2 below), and below that is written “Eve Curie”, the name of the author of a book in English given to her by Rob in 1944. There is also on another half of the sheet the title, slightly misspelt, of some work that at present I have not been able to identify—from German reference books or by googling—“die Geschichte des Rab[b]iners von Neapel” (‘The story of the Rabbi of Naples’), followed by some English text that I cannot readily read incorporating some German words: “- which biblical “Gleichnis”[German for ‘parable’], the brother/ broker [?] for[???] the brother[?]”. In the title we have a reference to a Jew and to Italy. In respect to the latter point, there is inside the front cover the label of a Milan bookseller (with a Swiss German surname): “ ULRICO / HOEPLI / MILANO / LIBRAIO / DELLA REAL CASA”. If this sheet is actually connected with her at all, the writing in ink from 1944 seems not to resemble her or Rob’s script, whereas the pencilled writing is clearly in a German/ Austrian hand and could well be hers. There is what seems to be a pencilled price on the inside back cover “£11E,-”; if this reading is correct—and I am not certain of the number—it may mean ‘eleven pounds Egyptian’ and so represent a connection with Egypt, e.g. a secondhand bookshop there, with the Italian bookseller’s label indicating the place of original sale. On the other hand, the book may have been bought during one of her known later visits to Italy (see below) with the 1944 sheet of paper being inserted subsequently, perhaps as a bookmark.

From 1944 we now have to jump forward to 1951. On the front end paper of Kurt Hielscher’s 1942 large format book Das unbekannte Spanien. Baukunst, Landschaft, Volksleben (‘Unfamiliar Spain: architecture, landscape, folk life’) (Leipzig: F.A. Brockhaus) we find the inscription: “Christmas 1951/ from Margot & Fritz/Liesl Künzler”. This is our only record of the donors, but although the dedication is in English, their names, the script and the correct German spelling of her name—and, of course, the language of the book—all suggest that they were German-speakers, perhaps fellow Austrians. From the title of the book one can only infer that she might have been thinking of travelling to Spain from wherever she was at the time.


Of more interest is an inscription from the following year. In Judy Fallon’s 1952 travel memoir, Pacific Pantomime (London/ New York / Melbourne / Cape Town: Andrew Melrose Limited), of a Sydney family’s sojourn in New Caledonia, we have what seems a very significant inscription behind the half title: “To Liesl / to wish her Bon Voyage / and a future full of / happiness / 6th August 1952. / Gay & Frank.” (Illustration 8) Just who this couple Gay and Frank might have been cannot be ascertained, but the inscription’s wishes for the voyage and the future, along with the beginning of the book’s story in Sydney, suggest strongly that it may be in August 1952 that Liesl left for Sydney, Australia. However, she seemingly did not leave from Egypt, since in Charles de Montet’s Evolution vers l’essentiel (‘Evolution towards the essential’) (Lausanne: Rouge, 1950) there is on the front cover in blue biro the inscription: “L. Künzler/Lausanne/ Juin 1952”. Thus in June, a couple of months before Gay and Frank bade her farewell, she was in the French-speaking part of Switzerland

Next comes an intriguing quartet of little square books for tourists, published without dates by the Hallwag publishing house in Bern, Switzerland. Each little book consists almost entirely of views of the country in question. These four books respectively deal with Switzerland, France, Italy and Mexico. In the three about European countries, there is a coloured, ye-olde-style map of the relevant country across the double opening behind the front cover, with the same map being repeated before the back cover. (Illustration 9) The book titles are in three languages—German, Frenchand English—as are the half dozen or so pages at the back of the book containing snippets of information. (Illustration 10) The Mexico book has a modern style of map with no information pages, but the picture captions are in Spanish with an English translation in brackets.


.Illustration 9

Front cover of Schweiz, Suisse Switzerland



However, it is the inscriptions in these books that are really interesting for our purposes. The France book has at the top of the title page: “To Jim– / souvenirs of 1957 / Liesl”. The Italy book has: “Jim – do you remember? / Summer 1957 / Liesl”. (Illustration 11) The Switzerland book has: “To Jim / with love / Liesl / X-mas [sic] 1957 / Vienna”. Who this Jim was is not ascertainable, but the two had clearly had some pleasant experiences together in 1957, at least in France and Italy, possibly also in Switzerland. By Christmas that year Liesl herself was back in Vienna, though not necessarily with Jim. But he is still around in 1965 and had apparently been with her in Italy the previous year, since we have in another book the inscription on the front end paper “Memories of Capri 1964 / To Jim from Liesl / 13.2.1965”, and that book is, interestingly, the third impression of the Albermarle Library edition of the original 1929 English version of Axel Munthe’s The Story of San Michele (Albermarle Street London: John Murray, 1949), whose German translation was mentioned earlier in this paper as common to these libraries.4 There is also Robert Ruark’s novel Uhuru (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1962), which while not directly a travel book is set in Africa; it contains the inscription, again with the hyphen: “Jim X-mas 1962 / With Love / Liesl”. Both the Munthe book and the Ruark book contain the bookseller’s label “ DAVID JONES / Book Shop”, so it would seem that Liesl at least was living in Sydney in these years. Jim possibly visited Mexico with Liesl at some stage too, since the Mexico book mentioned in the preceding paragraph has the inscription: “To Jim with love / Xmas 1968 / Liesl”. All these decade-long expressions of affection and the fact that the books given to Jim ended up in her possession suggest the strong possibility of their having had a very intimate relationship, perhaps involving their living together, even being married to each other.


The only Jim to turn up anywhere else in book inscriptions I have is in a 1948 Pocket Book edition of Louise Dickinson Rich’s We Took to the Woods (New York: Pocket Books). But this book contains no evidence that it ever belonged to Liesl; instead it contains on the title page the rubber stamped name and address of another Viennese woman, which is incorporated into the inscription so that it reads: “To TTOXI (?) and Jim / from / [rubber stamped] Dagmar Koráb-Mühlström/Wien, IV., Argentinierstraße 20a/ Österreich”. (Illustration 12)


Illustration 12

Dagmar Koráb-Mühlström’s dedication on the title page of

We Took to the Woods

Evidently, the rubber stamp was originally there to show Dagmar’s ownership, and she has put a cross through it at the time of passing the book on to the couple. On a handmade dust wrapper with the title in blue pencil there is a similar inscription all written in blue ink: “To TTOXI (?) and Jim / from / Dagmar”, and on the leaf preceding the title page and containing biographical information about the author there is in green ink in a quite other hand: “A quaint story of / city rebels / Christmas, 1948”. The name before Jim’s in the first two inscriptions is oddly written and hard to decipher, since the letters look more Greek than roman. But after all that, this is probably a quite different Jim, who may have nothing at all to do with our Liesl. Before leaving this mysterious name:

Could it possibly be the case that the name in the May 1944 inscription in Morris’s Traveller from Tokyo (see Illustration 1) is not “Max” but a form of this mysterious one?

What does take us forward is a French inscription from the 1960s, but before that, let us go back to the 1940s. There is, with the signature “Liesl Künzler”—having the later five-letter spelling of her given name—on its front end paper, a 1945 edition of the play Die letzten Tage der Menschheit [‘The last days of mankind’] by the Austrian Jewish author Karl Kraus. From 1966 there is the uninscribed book titled Karl Kraus by Caroline Kohn (Stuttgart: Metzler), so a study of this writer.

But there is also a thesis in German on him by Caroline Kohn, Karl Kraus als Lyriker [‘Karl Kraus as a lyric poet’], published in 1968 in Paris by the firm Marcel Didier as number 11 in the series Germanica.

From the information on the front cover we can infer that Caroline Kohn was also known as Lotte Sternbach-Gärtner, which latter—given in brackets in smaller type below the author’s name, but only on the front cover, not on the title page—with its double-barrelled surname looks as if it might have been her married name. We are told that this is a thesis for the French degree of Docteur ès lettres, so Doctor of Letters, and that the thesis was written apparently jointly for the universities of Vienna and Paris. (Illustration 13)


Of particular interest here is, however, the French inscription behind the title page: “A mes amis Liesl et Toni / COCKBURN [this surname is printed, while the rest of the text is in running writing] / avec mes sentiments très sincères / Lotte / Paris, 12 mars 1969” [‘To my friends Liesl and Toni Cockburn with my very sincere affection. Lotte. Paris, 12 March 1969’]. (Illustration 14) So from this inscription we learn that Liesl was a good friend of Lotte, who was an advanced scholar working on an Austrian Jewish writer and whose own authorial surname “Kohn” is certainly the German form of the Jewish name that comes out in English as “Cohen”, which all points to Liesl herself being Jewish.5

Very important in this inscription, however, is that it tells us that by 1969 Liesl had apparently married an Anglo-Celt, Toni—which is probably a Frenchified form of the English spelling of masculine “Tony”—Cockburn.

And with that we have exhausted all the biographical evidence in this collection of books (though not mentioned all of the volumes in it).

To sum up, what we have learned from this collection is that Liesel Künzler was a Jewish Viennese woman born possibly about the beginning or middle of the first decade of the 20th century. By the end of the second decade she had developed enough interest in reading and collecting books to go to the trouble of getting them signed by their authors, in at least a couple of cases.

By the 1940s she has left Austria to go and live in Egypt, probably to escape the Nazis after their annexation of Austria in 1938. In Egypt she befriended various allied servicemen and possibly had more or less close relationships with them, especially one named Rob or Robbie, who was in and out of Iran and in Baghdad. Her interest in books clearly continued, as she took some of those she had acquired in Austria with her, and her liking for books and her growing proficiency in English shows in the fact that her friends gave her so many books in English.

By 1952 she is in French-speaking Switzerland, where she gives evidence of being able to read and write that language. In the latter half of this year she emigrates again, this time apparently to Australia, where in the late 1950s she appears to have had a very close relationship with someone named Jim and to have spent time with him travelling in various European countries. This relationship, or merely close friendship, persists at least till late 1968. By 1969 she is married, but not to any of the previous men we know of from her book inscriptions, not Robbie or Jim, but a Tony Cockburn previously unknown to us. And with that she drops out of sight till, some time around 1990, her solicitor comes and tells us she has died, presumably at a quite advanced age, since we inferred that at the first mention we have of her, in early 1919, she was probably a teenager at least, if not already a young woman.


1 Axel Martin Fredrik Munthe (1857-1949), though he was born and died in Sweden, in 1907 married the English aristocrat Hilda Pennington-Mellor, by whom he had two sons, and published his best known works in English. In 1916 he published anonymously in London, with a new edition in 1930, the war book Red Cross and Iron Cross, which was hostile to the Germans. And there is a passage in his The Story of San Michele, much of which is set in Italy, that is critical of the Germans, so one might think that this is what attracted the Viennese Jews to him. However, a comparison of the English original with the German translation shows the critical passage to have been omitted.

2 Thus she seems to have made some effort to keep mental contact with her homeland. Also with the Arabic stamp but no bookseller’s label or inscription is Ludwig Hirschfeld’s Das Buch von Wien “Mit Originalzeichnungen von Adalbert Sipos und Leopold Gedö” (‘The book of Vienna—with original drawings by A S and L G’) (Munich: P. Piper & Co., 1927) from the series “Was nicht im <<Baedeker>> steht” (‘What isn’t in [the travel book series] “Baedeker”’). She may have brought this with her. One in English with the stamp is a 1938 reprint of Count Ferdinand Czernin’s This Salzburg: Being an Incomplete Introduction to the Beauty and Charm of a Town We Love (London: Peter Davies, 1937) with illustrations by Count Eugen Ledebur. The language it is in suggests it was bought after she left Austria.

3 Both the Austrian-born Alfred Polgar (1875–1955) and the German-born Bruno Frank (1887–1945) left their homelands around 1938 subsequent to the Nazi takeover and went via other European countries (France, England or Switzerland) to America.

4 It is worth mentioning here that the date in the Hielscher book about Spain mentioned above might just be read as 1957, in which unlikely case it too might be relevant to this year of evidently wide travel on Liesl’s part. Amongst her books with the Arabic stamp is Nina Murdoch’s She Travelled Alone in Spain (London/ Bombay/ Sydney: George G. Harrap, 1935), so there seems to have been an early interest in that country. Oddly, this book has the price “7/6”, presumably seven shillings and sixpence, on the front end paper but with the “continental” bar through the shaft of the 7, which may have been the custom then in Egypt (French influence?), whose currency was the Egyptian pound. As we have seen in the case of Zweig’s book Kaleidoskop, there may be a price in it in Egyptian currency.

5 The great difference between the name Caroline Kohn and the name Lotte Sternbach-Gärtner is puzzling. On the one hand, “Lotte” is normally an abbreviated form of the given name “Charlotte”, not of “Caroline”. On the other, a double-barrelled surname has in German-speaking countries usually been used as a married name incorporating the husband’s surname and the wife’s maiden surname, the only way, till recently at least, that a woman could retain her own surname after marriage. This does not seem to apply in this case, unless perhaps “Kohn” here is her surname from a subsequent marriage, though that still leaves the problem of the differing given names. Another possibility is that, if Caroline Kohn was Jewish, and the evidence points to the fact that she was, she may during the Nazi period have developed the “Aryan” pseudonym Lotte Sternbach-Gärtner to disguise her Jewish origins. Friedländer deals with this practice at a number of points in his book. There was, for instance, Emil Ludwig Cohn or Kohn (born 1881), who produced in 1912 a biography of the Prussian Iron Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck. An order passed by the Prussian cabinet in 1883 had made it possible for him to drop his Jewish surname and publish his psychological profile of Bismarck under the name Emil Ludwig. After the Nazi ascent to power in 1933, Otto’s anti-Semitic great-nephew and State Secretary at the Prussian Ministry of the Interior, Herbert von Bismarck, was incensed about this name change and demanded that the use of pseudonyms by Jewish authors be prohibited on the grounds that “national pride is deeply wounded by those cases in which Jews with Eastern Jewish names have adopted particularly nice German surnames […]” (Saul Friedländer, Nazi Germany and the Jews, vol. 1, pp.34f.). This Nazi obsession with name changes went on at least until after the Anschluss in 1938 (see Friedländer, pp. 135f., 254f.). All that said, that she signs herself “Lotte” in the inscription suggests that it might be her later married name, or alternatively that it is the name that Liesl knew her by in darker days. And an afterthought: Since the Scottish surname “Cockburn” is normally pronounced “Co’burn”, could it perhaps be an anglicisation of the Jewish name “Kohn” or “Cohen” ? And why printed and not in running script in the dedication? That could all send us into even wilder speculations about, for instance, a possible further connection between Caroline and Toni / Tony, but enough is enough.




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