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Pushing Time Away: My Grandfather and the Tragedy of Jewish Vienna Hardcover – March 4, 2003

3.7 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From The New Yorker

David Oppenheim was a classical scholar, a member of Freud's inner circle, and a close friend of the psychoanalyst Alfred Adler. He was also a victim of the Holocaust, and until his grandson, the philosopher Peter Singer, discovered a trove of his letters and writings, his life had been almost completely forgotten. Singer reconstructs that life in fascinating detail. He illuminates the complexities of his grandparents' difficult but successful marriage, evokes the vibrant and disputatious life of early-twentieth-century Vienna, and offers a convincing picture of the intellectual and personal battles that dominated the early days of psychoanalysis. Singer's moving book, haunted from the beginning by its terrible end, constitutes a revolt against the anonymity of the Holocaust's grim statistics.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker

From Booklist

Singer, a philosopher, bioethicist, professor, and author of 16 books, is best known for the "animal liberation" movement, which deals with the ethics of our treatment of animals. He also is the grandson of David Oppenheim, a Jew and a classical scholar who lived in Vienna and died in Theresienstadt concentration camp in 1942. Oppenheim's wife, Amalie, survived the Holocaust and moved to Australia in 1946. Singer found many letters and intimate personal papers in an aunt's home in Australia and in the State Archives of Austria. They included more than 100 letters that Singer's grandparents wrote to his parents and to his mother's sister after they left for Australia in 1938. Singer describes how his grandfather became a friend of Sigmund Freud and how they discussed theories of psychology. Oppenheim later parted with Freud, following instead the first of the great heretics of psychoanalysis, Alfred Adler. Singer's book is an exceptional eulogy to his grandfather. George Cohen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco; 1 edition (March 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060501316
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060501310
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,378,159 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on April 8, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This is a compelling and frequently moving account of the author's grandparents' lives from the turn of the century in Vienna to the middle years of the twentieth century. The grandparents, David and Amalie Oppenheim, had both the good and bad fortune to live through some of the most interesting and tragic times of the last century. As young, educated, middle-class Jews living in Vienna at the beginning of the twentieth century, they experienced the last days of the Hapsburg empire, the intellectual currents of the time and place (including being part of Freud's circle), the first world war, the depression, anti-semitism, Nazism and the Holocaust, as well as the great intellectual achievements of Austro-German culture.
The book is a fascinating account of the period, as well as the curious relationship between David and Amalie, whose homosexual feelings towards others seem to lead them into marriage and children of their own. The final chapters, describing post-Anschluss Vienna, the ghetto conditions in which they were forced to live, and finally Theresienstadt concentration camp are harrowing and moving. As a memoir rather than a history, the book is written well and reads easily; though there are references to other works, it is not in any way dull or academic. The author's frequent comparisons between his grandfather's way of thinking and his own are I feel a little forced, but this is only a minor quibble, especially when the humanity of both the author and the grandparents about whom he is writing is evident. Highly recommended.
One book which Singer refers to frequently is Stefan Zweig's "The World of Yesterday", which I would also highly recommend to anyone interested in the period or subject matter.
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Format: Hardcover
Australian philosopher Peter Singer, now a professor of bioethics at Princeton University, has written a thoughtful, well-researched portrait of his grandfather, David Oppenheim, who perished in the Theresienstadt concentration camp in 1943. "We all know that six million Jews died," writes Singer in the Prologue, "but that is a mind-numbing statistic. I have a chance to portray one of them as an individual."
His grandfather was a classical scholar in Vienna, a teacher of Greek and Latin at a prestigious gymnasium (high school), and an active participant in the city's psychoanalytic circles as a collaborator, then critic of Sigmund Freud, and a friend and supporter of Alfred Adler, the first of Freud's colleagues to defect from his inner circle over basic disagreements about psychoanalytic theory.

Oppenheim's wife, Amalie (a math and physics scholar in her own right) was also sent to Theresienstadt, but she survived, the only one of Singer's four grandparents to do so. She moved to Australia in 1946, the year Singer was born, and lived with his family for nine years until her death in 1955. Singer went on to study philosophy at Oxford and teach at Monash University in Australia, but always in the background there was a cloud of sadness and silence that hung over his family's recent past. (On his mother's side he comes from a long line of rabbis stretching back to the seventeenth century.)
His aunt's master's thesis about her father inspired Singer to learn more about his grandfather and write this book. He collected his grandfather's personal papers, letters between his grandparents before their marriage that he retrieved from his aunt's attic, and letters his grandparents wrote to his parents and aunt after they emigrated to Australia in 1938.
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Format: Paperback
At the end of Peter Singers commemorative book for his grandfather there is a philosophical question: Given an atheist and naturalist worldview - am I able to do something good for a dead person by devoting my time to her thinking and by writing a book about and for her. Yes, says Singer, though a little bit restrained, we can do something for the dead by standing up for the values we share with them even if they unfortunately can't look down on us from a cloud.
That's after a bit less than 300 pages in which life, thinking and time of David Oppenheim have been resurrected in our mind's eye. The simple style of this biography almost appears a little bit clumsy at the beginning (as one can't help to compare it with the stringent and brilliant way of argumentation in Singers philosophical treatises). But it soon turns out as the right way to bring us close to the time between Belle Epoque and Nazi desaster and to the inevitability of the described personal fates. We are even enabled to understand what seems ununderstandable from a modern point of view: that the intellectuals of the time got infected by the excitement for war in great numbers at the beginning of World War I. David Oppenheim didn't have the distance of the few either. He was to well assimilated to his society to gain independence in this situation (as did for example the extraordinary Bertrand Russell). But changed into an opponent of war by the cruel mass killing on the battlefields he later teaches his students the values of humanity. When Nazism takes over Austria he finds one reason after the other not to use the window of opportunity for fleeing overseas. He learns English but isn't really able nor willing to cut his deep rootedness in german culture.
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