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
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
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.