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Hertha Ernestine Pauli

MOST OF THE BOOKS I HAVE WRITTEN IN THIS COUNTRY deal with people, things, and ideas that are at home in America but came from abroad, as I did. I was born in Vienna, Austria, in 1909. My father was a scientist, my mother a journalist, and as soon as I could write, I became a dramatist: my plays based on children's classics from all over the world, were performed before mothers and aunts, with myself, of course, as producer, director, and star. At seventeen I ran away from college to become an actress, made my stage debut as Juliet, and later joined Max Reinhardt's famous theater in Berlin, remaining until Hitler came to power and Reinhardt left for America. Then I went home to Vienna, quit the stage, and began to write for a living.

I wanted to create characters of my own, instead of acting out parts written by others, and from the beginning I wrote about people whose lives I would have liked to live. The hero of my first novel was Ferdinand Raimund, an actor who became a leading poet and playwright in the Vienna of Beethoven and Schubert (Toni: ein frauenleben fuer Raimond. Zsolnay, Wien, 1936). Publication of a second novel, about a great Austrian woman writer and fighter for peace, Baroness Bertha von Suttner, was halted by the Nazi seizure of Austria. My book (Nur eine Fran. Zeitbild, Wien, 1938) was banned, and I had to leave my homeland on the day of Hitler's entry.

From 1938 to 1940 I lived in Paris, working on a novel about an Austrian refugee girl in France. When the German armies entered Paris, I escaped on foot-always just a step ahead of the swastika columns and frequently strafed by the swastika planes-to southern France. One of my writer friends in that mass flight was Franz Werfel. Like Werfel, I passed through Lourdes, the town of St. Bernadette, and both of us remained grateful to her for the miracle of our rescue.

Brought to the United States in 1940 on an "emergency rescue visa" with the same group of writers, I did secretarial work in New York, then spent a year at scenario writing in Hollywood. I was glad to return to New York in 1942, when my first book in English was published. It was a biography of Alfred Nobel (L. B. Fischer, 1942), the "dynamite king" and founder of the Nobel Prizes. These awards for science, literature and peace had always been a subject of intense interest in our family, long before my brother Wolfgang received the 1945 Nobel Prize in Physics.

As a boy, Wolfgang had played "Stille Nacht" on the piano for us, each Holy Eve-and it was like a greeting from home when I heard the beloved carol ring out from Rockefeller Center at my first American Christmastime. But my friends here amazed me by calling "Silent Night" an American song; they did not know about its Austrian origin, nor about its charming story. I tried to write the story for a magazine, but wherever I sent the article it was turned down. Sadly I related my discouraging experience at a Christmas party. Among the guests was a juvenile editor. "Why don't you make a children's book out of it?" she said.

I tried that, and found that I liked writing for children, because there are no frontiers in the children's world, and because they believe, as I do, in the conquest of reality and in realization of dreams. Silent Night, Holy Night: the story of a song, was published by Knopf in 1943-and then, to my joy and surprise, the Reader's Digest condensed it as an article.

As for me, I continued to write for children and about my favorite holiday. My next two juveniles told the Story of the Christmas Tree (Houghton, 1944) and of St. Nicholas Travels (id., 1946). In the publisher's office they called me "the Christmas girl." But I wanted to go on with adult books as well.

A shining symbol was always before my eyes: the Statue of Liberty, which had come here from abroad and had greeted me on my arrival like a familiar friend. Looking up its story, I found it a deeply human one, but one so intertwined with American history that I hesitated to undertake the job alone. I found a collaborator in E. B. Ashton (Ernst Basch), who had translated and edited my Nobel book. For five years we worked-together on I Lift My Lamp (Appleton, 1948), and after its publication we decided that he would remain my "better English." We were married and settled down on Long Island, in a hundred-year-old farmhouse behind a twenty-foot privet hedge that encloses a fine playground for our dogs.

Since we have no children of our own, my first readings of my stories are usually the children of our friends. And as they want to know about my grown-up books, too, I turned our Statue of Liberty story into a juvenile, The Golden Door (Knopf, 1949), and am now writing the life of Alfred Nobel once more, this time for teen-agers.

Eventually, in Lincoln's Little Correspondent, I also did a story without any foreign background-but this was no sooner published than I returned to Europe for the first time since my flight. The visit was short and exciting, and to me its most touching encounter was with a red-headed little girl. Her father was an American flyer who had secretly married a German girl just before he was sent to the Pacific. His bride had died in giving birth to a child, who was raised by a hide-bound German grandmother while she dreamed only of her lost American father. And now, with the help of an American girl friend of mine, the little red-head had her dream come true.

After my return I knew that I had to tell this story to American children-not only because it fascinated me and because I loved the child, but above all because throughout this country there are now more an~d more such children, born in ruins abroad and come here to a new life and a home they never had.

Three is a Family (Washburne, 1955), as I called my story, was just finished when I received an invitation to contribute to the Vision Book series. I welcomed this challenge to write for children about Saints and their way of communicating visions to the world; to project an inner image has always seemed to me the highest of goals. And yet I was afraid that I might find no suitable theme for a Vision Book. I could think only of St. Bernadette who had seemed almost tangibly close to us at Lourdes-but her story, I felt sure, was too well known. But I was amazed to discover that there was as yet no children's book about Bernadette, who was herself a child at the time of her visions.

In writing Bernadette and the Lady (Farrar, 1956) I had a strange experience. I had trouble with the ending; there were several ways of handling it, but none of them seemed quite right. Having done my best, and feeling not quite happy with the result, I left with a friend for a week's vacation on Cape Cod. Hot and tired from the long ride, we ha~d just stopped to rest up in a small village when my friend cried, "Our Lady of Lourdes!", pointing at the door of a tiny church in front of us. We went in-and saw little Bernadette beside the altar, kneeling before her Lady as though alive! Then and there I knew how my story had to end.

My next Vision Book, Christmas and the Saints (Farrar), took me back to the Holy Night. I was astonished to discover how many Saints are connected with the story of the Nativity: they brought the vision of the Child in the manger from Bethlehem to us, passing it from hand to hand, as it were, from land to land, from generation to generation. Our thanks for the Christmas we know is due to the Saints, men and women and children, who devoted their earthly lives to the heavenly message of peace to all men of good will.

The message of peace was also the theme of my next adult book, published in the spring of 1957. This is another novel, a new version of the one that was halted by the Anschluss in 1938, about the life of the Austrian countess, novelist, and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Bertha von Suttner. The German edition appeared in Vienna in 1956. Here it is entitled Cry of the Heart. It is a book very close to my own heart, like a handclasp between my old and my new homes.

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