Escape Home: Rebuilding a Life after the Anschluss—A Family Memoir
by Charles Paterson and Carrie Paterson
At the end of Escape Home: Rebuilding a Life after the Anschluss—A Family Memoir, the reader will find a collection of Austrian recipes tucked away among endnotes, bibliography, and family genealogies. Among them is a recipe for Kaiserschmarren (Emperor Omelets), one of my most favorite dishes ever since I learned to love skiing as a young boy on some hillside in the Austrian Alps. So I settled down into a cozy corner of my home with a self-made, kind-of version of that kaiserliche dish, and a bottle of Grüner Veltliner (one of Austria’s best-kept secrets for fine white wine) in order to read the biography of one Austrian-Jewish family whose life was ripped apart when the National Socialist Germans—my very own ancestors, I am afraid to say—occupied their country in 1938.
The book, written by Charles Paterson, a skiing instructor and architect in Aspen, CO, and Carrie Paterson, a Los Angeles-based writer and co-author with her father, is one of the more uplifting accounts of European émigré life that I have read in a long time. At the same time, it is a deeply nostalgic book about the domestic qualities of architecture, nowadays so often lost in favor of abstract categories, such as ethnicity, race, class, economy, or politics.
Foremost, the book recalls the fate of the Schanzer family as told through the lives of Charles Paterson, who was born as Karl Schanzer in Vienna in 1929, and his father, Stefan Schanzer (1889-1979), who changed his last name to “Shanzer” when he finally arrived in safety in the U.S. in 1941. The family fled National Socialism by moving from Austria to Czechoslovakia, and when that nation was traded in for an illusionary peace, Charles and his sister Doris were sent to Australia. There, an unknown family willingly adopted the two children just get them out of Europe. Their mother had passed away already in 1938; their father embarked on a heart rendering flight from Nazism through western Europe on a bicycle. It will touch you to tears right away, regardless of how many accounts of similar fates you believe to have studied and understood.
What does all this have to do with architecture? First, the Austrian modernist Adolf Loos was a member of the extended family. Accordingly, Charles Paterson lived during his exile in Czechoslovakia in Loosian bourgeois interiors. Second, earlier on, his family owned a house in the modernist 1932 Werkbund settlement in Vienna that was designed by Jacques Groag, himself a Jewish émigré architect in Great Britain since 1940. Third, the book is essentially about making for oneself a home, even under the most adverse circumstances. What else is architecture about, if not that? Thus, reading the book, one becomes acquainted with how Charles Paterson learned about construction in Australia, bought property in Aspen in order to self-build log cabins, studied with Frank Lloyd Wright, and eventually became an architect and erected his own ski lodge in Aspen that today is in-part a protected historic structure. Apparently, by building, he not only survived but lived, and, accordingly, perhaps one can live best by building?
If you consider architecture primarily as an art form, a monetary investment, or some abstract political act, then you will miss the relevance of this book. If, however, you think and feel architecture is about making a home for man—us, humans—on earth, then you will appreciate these tours de force of father and son that both found their happy endings in Aspen. In the case of this one family at least, “Oy vey Europa” gave way to “My home is in Aspen.” What a story of private lives. What a book!
Volker M. Welter
Volker M. Welter is a Professor in the Department of the History of Art and Architecture at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and is a Life Member of SAH/SCC.