Published online by Cambridge University Press: 07 September 2018
My emigration began in March 1933 in Zürich. The opulence and the security of this beautiful city made me uneasy, as I began to understand what was ahead of me. The marvelously funny and intelligent entertainer from the Comedians’ Cabaret in Berlin, Paul Nikolaus, summed up his situation at one of the many exiles’ tables:
“As a political comedian in the German language, I can perform in Zürich and in Basel for fourteen days each a year. My money will last me at the most two years. Why should I wait for the time to pass?” He said goodnight, went home and slit his wrists.
I didn't stay long in Zürich but left for Czechoslovakia to meet my wife and our two small boys, accompanied by a nanny (a luxury that wasn't to last much longer). We decided that I should go on to Paris and leave the family behind temporarily, at a boarding house. During my time at the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm I had declined the offer of an exchange guest appearance with the Théâtre Pitoeff, as I'd felt that the only theater for me was in Berlin. Now I had to try to persuade myself that the Parisian theater was waiting for me.
The train stopped in the Gare du Nord, and I broke a shoelace as I was getting off. At the hotel, I found that I couldn't express to the house servant that I needed “de lacets noirs”; I could only show him the damaged lace and grin at him. He grinned back at me and disappeared. I threw the torn shoelace, in my confidence that it would be replaced, into a bin from which it couldn't be retrieved. I waited in vain for the man to come back. I began to comprehend that I was reduced to an infant, or an imbecile, in this place where I couldn't make myself understood, and I began to realize the extent of my misfortune.