English Original

The Fischbach Bloch Family

By Nora Fischbach Hirshbein, PhD

Part I – From Austria to Venezuela

I am first generation born in Caracas, Venezuela. My father is Paul Fischbach Boch and my mother Cesia Ziona Hirshbein Kott. They, were born in Klagenfurt and Fuerstenfeldbruck respectively, therefore I am Nora Fischbach Hirshbein. In Venezuela we use two (2) last names. The Fischbach Bloch is Austrian, my Austrian part and the Hirshbein Kott the Polish one.

Since I can remember I have been taught and lived in my own skin that the Fischbachs have been considered a very respected people, and the name Fischbach means up to date till today „it equals values as the oil to light the Temple“.  Being a Fischbach carries out a very big responsibility because it means that as a family member, you have to carry out the responsibilities of that name: honesty, hard work, what it is said has to be kept as a promise and the punctuality is an issue. Caracas is not Vienna or Zurich, but if a Fischbach says 3:23 pm, it means 3:23 pm, not 3:24 or 3:22. 

Since their arrival at Venezuelan shores they have worked and contributed not only to the flourishing Jewish Community, but to the rise of the country. Venezuela became their new adopted home, a new dawn from darker days back in Klagenfurt, Austria.

What my grandmother, known in Caracas as Frau Fischbach, Z’L, used to tell me that she was Austrian and proud of it. Indeed she never changed her nationality, and never learned to speak Spanish. She believed to speak it, but it was not a good Spanish and she spoke with a heavy accent.

Edith Fischbach while being on vacation

In Austria she used to have many friends. Life was easy going at the shores of the Danube River, where she used to go on vacation with her family. She was happy, having the best of times.

The Bloch family was, as far as I can tell, conservative on Jewish values, but very involved in Austrian daily life.

My grandfather, Max Fischbach, Z’L, never forgot his homeland. The tropics have a very different climate or weather compared to Austria. He had lost everything to the Nazis in Kristallnacht, which is the night of the Pogrom of the 9th and 10th of November, 1938, and was taken to Dachau, only to be discharged after some time. I think Venezuela was too far away from his former life. Not only that my grandfather started to develop rheumatoid arthritis, which meant a lot of pain and suffering, he also certainly was no longer a happy man after leaving Klagenfurt. In Klagenfurt he had owned a clothing store, but all glass windows were broken in Kristallnacht.

Max Fischbach – in Caracas

My grandmother used to tell me that after Dachau he was a different person, and immediately after his discharge from Dachau he started to make all the arrangements, went to ask for four passports: for himself, his wife Edith, and for his two children Paul and Evelyn.  

It is known that my grandfather, Max Fischbach, went to his parents-in-law, the Blochs, to ask if they wanted him to make the arrangements for their passports, to get out of Austria, but they refused, arguing that they were Austrians and had a very good position in Laa an der Thaya’s society, so Nazism and Hitler would not touch them.

Max Fischbach and his family of four, together with his brother Ignatz Fischbach, Z’L, his wife Mira Fischbach, Z’L, and two sons Herbert Fischbach, Z’L, and Karl Heinz Fischbach, Z’L, left Klagenfurt and embarked on a ship in Hamburg to an unknown destiny. Indeed there were two ships, the SS Koenigstein and the SS Caribia, both full of Jews. These two ships tried to enter several countries, but were refused until they reached Venezuelan shores [1].

Venezuela’s president was Eleazar López Contreras. At first he did not want to accept the Jews, but in the end he did. So my family on the Fischbach side could disembark in Puerto Cabello, a Venezuelan port not far from Caracas, the capital city. The persons on the ship were Max Fischbach, Z’L, Edith Fischbach (nee Bloch), Z’L, my father Paul Fischbach Bloch, and Evelyn Fischbach Bloch together with Ignatz Fischbach (my grandfather’s brother).

Just as a note: Venezuelans received these Jews with open arms. Since the steamboat could not enter the port and it was dark, Venezuelans lit their candles and torches to help the ship. They also brought bananas and tropical fruits to the passengers.

My family was safe in Venezuela.

This is a document given to the captain of the Koenigstein. Even though he belonged to the Nazi Party, the passengers recalled him as being nice and kind.

[1] The SS Koenigstein and the SS Caribia were a pair of German steamboats that were used to carry about 300 Jewish refugees from Europe to Venezuela between February and March 1939. The Koenigstein, with eighty-six Jews on board, left Germany in January 1939 for the British colony of Trinidad, but when it arrived, the British refused to accept the passengers because of a recent prohibition on the admission of refugees. As result, the Koenigstein sailed to Honduras, but again the passengers were denied entry. With nowhere else to go, the Koenigstein then sailed for Venezuela, and arrived on February 17, 1939. The SS Caribia, carrying 165 Jews, went through a very similar ordeal. After sailing to British Guiana, Georgetown, authorities refused to allow the passengers to land, and so the Caribia sailed to Venezuela, arriving on March 16, 1939.

At first, the Venezuelan government gave the refugees special permission to stay in the country temporarily, until new homes could be found for them in other Latin American countries, but they were banned from finding employment in any industry other than agriculture. Furthermore, the Venezuelan government made it clear that it would not accept any more refugees unless they came through the proper channels. Later, President Contreras gave the refugees permission to remain in the country permanently.