Paul Kolisch was born in Vienna in 1883, which means he was a comfortable 50 years old in 1933 when he wrote this postcard. I’ve heard that Austria in 1933 was a complicated place to be, maybe not that fun, but apparently Paul was the kind of guy who tried to make it better. He was a well-known publisher of several newspapers, including the Illustrierte Wochenpost (“Illustrated Weekly Post”), and y’all, I found a comic-blogger online who described this newspaper as “redolent with murder, mystery, secrets and sex” and said “the best headlines read like the track list on a death metal album.” The Austrian national archive registers the “Illwo” an “entertainment sheet for everyone” published from 1928 to 1939, and, bless them, the entire dang thing is available online.
It was easy to find out a lot about Paul because he was fairly well-known, and apparently it wasn’t that special or amazing that I ended up with one of his postcards, because he sent lots of them. He seems to have liked to travel and there are a number of postcards he sent to fans available on eBay and the like. This one was sent to a Josef Doekal and I don’t know enough about postmarks to know where it was posted, but I know from those other eBay cards that Paul was in Bombay around this time, so I’m guessing elsewhere in India. It says, “The India-traveler of the ‘Illwo’ Illustrated Weekly Post sends you the warmest greetings! Thank you very much for the friendly interest that you bring to the ‘Illwo.'”
Unfortunately — perhaps inevitably — it is also easy to learn about Paul because he was a well-known Jew in Austria in the 1930s. He and his second wife, Stella (the editor of the Illwo), had a number of Swiss bank accounts that ended up being involved in the Volcker Commission investigation into Swiss-Nazi complicity after they were mysteriously closed while Stella and her stepdaughter were held under house-arrest for a month in 1938. Paul himself was taken to Dachau and then to Buchenwald, where he died in 1939.
I have a little coda to this story, though. Because of the Volcker Commission investigation, I was able to identify Paul’s living next of kin pretty easily too, and I contacted his granddaughter. At the time, I didn’t realize quite how prolific a writer Paul had been, and I thought perhaps she’d be interested in having this memento. She very graciously replied thusly:
Although I appreciate your offer I would like you to keep it. My mother had a large number of similarly sent post cards, which we still have. It was something Paul Kolisch did whenever he traveled to places considered exotic by the Viennese, which was often to Africa. I think they posted the pictures in the paper, perhaps in a travel feature.
I am sorry to have never had the chance to know my grandfather, but he lived on in the stories told to us by my mother. He indeed lived a very interesting, unusual life and, I am told, was loved by all who knew him. An extremely kind, generous, and loving man. I am sure he would be happy to know that his post card is still valued and on its way to America.