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Hella Pick – fearless and brilliant survivor

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(es) Vienna, April 7, 2024

Death of legendary Austrian-English correspondent

Hella Pick – “giant in a class of her own”

Leaving Vienna as child number 4672 on a Kindertransport, Hella Pick, who has died in London aged 96, was to become one of the most formidable foreign correspondents in post-war Fleet Street. Daughter of a single mother who followed her to England in 1939 and worked as a cook, Hella was afraid of nothing and no-one, as the London Guardian obituary remembered: “Her career spanned more than seven decades, during which she covered geopolitical upheavals and tectonic shifts in global power, and met numerous world leaders. Her last article, on the war in Gaza, was published in January.”

On her deathbed, scarcely able to speak, she still insisted on listening to the lunchtime news, a day of particularly bleak reports.

She worked for the Guardian for more than 30 years, inspiring and intimidating younger colleagues in equal measure. She was at her journalistic peak in the pre-Internet years, when tenacity, resilience, patience, and charm were among the essential characteristics for success.

She was also a significant figure in Vienna, where despite her exile she felt very at home, and mingled with (and wrote a book about) Simon Wiesenthal and came to know well the legendary late Chancellor Bruno Kreisky and other figures in Central Europe

In an interview with our honorary AEJ President Otmar Lahodynsky on the 85th anniversary of the Kindertransports to London, Hella Pick told him: “Official Austria is doing a lot to combat anti-Semitism”, while there was growing hostility towards Jews at British universities.

She recalled her experiences in Vienna after the Nazi takeover in 1938. Despite being taken in by a hospitable Jewish family in London, and educated for free at a good school, “the unertainty and uprootedness never leave you,” she said.

After university at the London School of Economics, she began work at West Africa magazine” before moving to the The Guardian. Responsible for Central Europe, she often reported on Austria. “I never had the feeling that Austria was anti-Jewish or anti-Semitic,” said. “But I was always afraid to admit that I was Jewish.”

It was only her acquaintance with Wiesenthal, whose biography she wrote for the publisher George Weidenfeld, that made her “engage with my Jewish identity and Jewish culture”.

 “You can’t hide”, she said. Through Wiesenthal, she  contact with then Austrian President Kurt Waldheim. “He was so obsessed with interviews that it didn’t bother him that I wrote critically about him.” But she shared Wiesenthal’s view that Waldheim was not a war criminal, only “a weak person who always did as he was told.”

 

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