Non­fic­tion

Good Liv­ing Street: Por­trait of a Patron Fam­i­ly, Vien­na 1900

Tim Bony­hady
  • Review
By – November 29, 2011
Few peo­ple have heard of the Gal­lia fam­i­ly of fin de siè­cle Vien­na, but few will for­get their extra­or­di­nary sto­ry after read­ing Good Liv­ing Street, a rich­ly detailed por­trait of a promi­nent Jew­ish fam­i­ly liv­ing in Aus­tria dur­ing a time of Jew­ish assim­i­la­tion and afflu­ence, in a con­tra­dic­to­ry world of ris­ing anti-Semi­tism. This book gives inti­mate details of the dai­ly life of a patron fam­i­ly played out against the larg­er back­drop of his­to­ry dur­ing one of the most dev­as­tat­ing peri­ods in Jew­ish his­to­ry. 

Mr. Bony­handy, the son of one of the few sur­vivors of the Gal­lia fam­i­ly, begins with the his­to­ry of his family’s patri­arch, Moriz Gal­lia, a suc­cess­ful busi­ness­man. Like oth­er Jews of Cen­tral Europe, who found eco­nom­ic oppor­tu­ni­ty in the large cities, he came to Vien­na to pur­sue his var­i­ous and grow­ing busi­ness inter­ests. His mar­riage to Her­mine Ham­burg­er pro­duced four chil­dren, and Good Liv­ing Street focus­es pri­mar­i­ly on the sto­ry of their daugh­ter Gretl and her daugh­ter, Anne, the moth­er of the author. 

The Gal­lias were like many oth­er suc­cess­ful mid­dle class Jews, who remained part of the larg­er Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty but con­vert­ed to Chris­tian­i­ty in an effort to ful­ly assim­i­late into the larg­er Euro­pean cul­ture. Some of their chil­dren did receive instruc­tion in Jew­ish life, but large­ly led a sec­u­lar Chris­t­ian life, cel­e­brat­ing Christ­mas and East­er while ignor­ing Jew­ish life and rit­u­als. Many chose athe­ism over any reli­gion. But none of this would mat­ter when the Nazis came to pow­er. The Gal­lias found that for all their efforts they were con­sid­ered racial­ly Jew­ish and had their mon­ey and pos­ses­sions tak­en from them, while they were shipped to con­cen­tra­tion camps. Gretl, her daugh­ter, and two of her sib­lings and their fam­i­lies were able to escape to Aus­tralia with many of their pos­ses­sions. 

This is also a sto­ry of the Seces­sion­ist art move­ment in the ear­ly twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry and the accu­mu­la­tion of great works of art by afflu­ent Jew­ish fam­i­lies. Much of this prop­er­ty was con­fis­cat­ed by the Nazis but the Gal­lia fam­i­ly man­aged to save much and trans­port it with them to Aus­tralia, includ­ing the famous Gus­tav Klimt por­trait of Her­mine Gal­lia that now hangs in the Nation­al Gallery in Lon­don. This book will give the read­er a per­son­al account of his­to­ry dur­ing one of its dark­est moments and the impact it had upon the sur­vival of one very inter­est­ing family.
Bar­bara Andrews holds a Mas­ters in Jew­ish Stud­ies from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go, has been an adult Jew­ish edu­ca­tion instruc­tor, and works in the cor­po­rate world as a pro­fes­sion­al adult educator.

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