Her life started out as a horror movie that grew more and more into a fairy tale. Sitting in her sunny home office, on top of a hill in the Carmel Highlands, surrounded by books and overlooking the ocean, Lotte Marcus, 94, can’t believe his luck in life.
Marcus was born in 1927 in Vienna, in the heart of a multicultural Central Europe that attempted to self-destruct in 1914, and then again in 1939 – when he was successful. Lotte was 11 when Adolf Hitler’s armies invaded Austria and his family had to flee, diamonds sewn into coat linings, in search of a country that accepts Jews.
Troubled China – at war with the Japanese and itself – was one of the few places to keep the door open, and thanks to a Chinese consul, who just decided to issue thousands of visas, the family arrived in Shanghai. There, Lotte’s father, whom she describes as her hero, died suddenly of cancer and the 14-year-old girl became “the man of the house” because her mother was a “very protected woman, bourgeois and gentle “.
Marcus taught English to Japanese officers after learning it herself. The fact that today, despite being well over 90, she blames herself – as she puts it – for not having enough common sense to study Mandarin Chinese at the same time, is telling. It is nothing if not persistent.
Her life “changed in the blink of an eye,” she says, when she arrived in the United States, originally in Mobile, Alabama, where a relative settled down as a Viennese pastry chef. . But she fell in love with LA Marcus, then 22, throwing nickels in a photo booth until she got a job at MGM. There she met her husband, writer Alan Marcus, moved to Monterey County and eventually earned a doctorate in psychology at the age of 56. Until she was 75, she saw about 1,700 patients – and she continues to see two.
Weekly: What memories do you keep of your childhood?
Marcus: I have wonderful memories. I think if I hadn’t had those 10 happy years, I wouldn’t have recovered. Each of my parents had three siblings. I remember Sunday brunches. My mom loved to cook and always surprised us, with goose or whatever. Everything fell apart, we never became a family again. They took my father’s brother to work on the road. He died six months later. My father had another brother who married a wealthy woman in Prague. They did not succeed and were gassed. It’s a trauma. There is still… [a] shadow when I think about it.
I didn’t feel any anti-Semitism around me. But when Hitler crossed the Alps, we suddenly saw thousands of swastika flags everywhere. As if they were sold to people overnight. I felt betrayed, like we didn’t know where we were.
Tell us about Alan and the family you built with him.
We were the loves of each other’s life. It is a happy coincidence. We were married 63 years. He died five years ago and I miss him terribly. We have three wonderful grown-up children: David, Arabic teacher and musician; Naomi, who is a writer and tutor; and Anina, who is a physiotherapist and who will be missed the most when I die. We live through [from each other] and, you know, she brings me apple strudel.
Speaking of apple strudel, have you had the chance to ever come back to Vienna?
I did. I wanted to show it to my husband. I wanted to show him the house where I was born. We did a European tour. I had such a panic attack when I got to this house, he had to take me. We rather spent a week in the Alps somewhere. Austria is incredibly beautiful, but I have never been back.
You and your husband met in LA. What brought you to Monterey County?
Someone sent us to spend two weeks vacation here. We didn’t know where we were, but decided we had to live by the ocean. We bought this property 60 years ago so that Alan could write and I could see my patients here. I remember having a 6 month old baby and taking her to the beach every day while Alan was writing. And then we would come home and have lunch and the baby would fall asleep. It was lovely. We were extremely happy. And then, I guess when I was really safe, I started waking up at night, my teeth breaking, hearing bombs. And Alan would be there and kept repeating, “Lotte, the war is over,” over and over again, until I fell asleep again.