From Part II: Death and Rebirth Vienna, 1802
The flustered hotel clerk shuffled the pile of papers for the third
time. "Herr Hassan," he said, his voice tinged with embarrassment. "I
still cannot find your reservation."
"It is Herr DOKTOR Hassan," Judah corrected him for the third time
within the past few minutes. "The reservation was made by Herr Doktor
Gerhard Hermann. He reserved several rooms in his name for colleagues
coming long distances."
"Yes, as you mentioned. But we are totally booked. We are hosting an
important medical conference." The clerk waved at the large placard on
the easel in the lobby welcoming doctors to the Imperial Medical
"Yes, as you mentioned before," Judah reminded him. "And, as I mentioned
before, I am presenting at that very conference. If you review the
agenda, you will find me listed. And so, there should be a room under
Herr Doktor Hermann's reservation for me."
The clerk sighed theatrically as he gave up his ineffectual search
through the reservation slips. "Let me check with my superior.
Perhaps...." He sidled down the length of the counter to confer with an
imperious-looking man dressed in the formal uniform of the Grand Hotel
of Vienna’s management. As they discussed the situation, the superior
cast a sharp glance in Judah's direction.
Judah looked into the ornate mirror facing him on the wall behind the
counter. "No wonder they are concerned about accommodating me in this
esteemed establishment," he muttered. His image reflected a man with
sun-darkened olive skin, curly dark-brown hair and a full beard. The
most striking characteristic in his face were the brilliant blue eyes,
unusual for anyone but extremely rare in darker-skinned men of
Mediterranean coastal regions.
He brushed the travel dust from the shoulders of his one suit—clearly
well-worn and out of vogue and a bit big for his now even more slender
build. "I should have remembered how unforgiving the Viennese are about
those who do not look Austrian." He grimaced. He had forgotten how it
felt to be a Jew in this part of Europe, having been away for years
studying medicine and surgery in Alexandria and then working in military
medical tents trying to save the lives of the soldiers of the Imperial
Army in the seemingly endless wars raging between the various empires.
The clerk had returned with a piece of stationery in his hand. The paper
trembled with the man's nervousness. "I regret, Herr Hassan. All our
rooms are booked, but my superior recommends any of these hotels as
places in which you will feel most comfortable. And they are just a walk
of a few minutes from here so you will be able to easily attend the
conference sessions." He smiled grimly, regretting that his superior had
refused to handle these messy details personally.
Judah stared at the man with his brilliant blue eyes, knowing the
intimidating power of his steady gaze. "Feel most comfortable? Let me
guess, mein Herr. Those hotels are along the Judenstrasse[i]? And just
why do you think I would be ‘most comfortable’ there instead of
here? Explain that to me, sir.”
"Herr Hassan, no offense was meant…we just thought...." The clerk
began when another patron approached the counter and interrupted,
begging Judah’s pardon.
"Excuse me, mein Herr. I have a reservation for a room and I am late for
a meeting. The name is Herr Doktor Müller—Wilhelm Müller."
The clerk had the good grace to flush under his staid exterior. "Herr
Doktor Müller, one moment please. I will check for you in a minute." He
turned back to Judah, "So mein Herr, do you have any other requests?"
Judah stood for a moment as if deep in thought then suddenly turned to
the gentleman to his right. "Herr Doktor Müller? The Müller who wrote
the interesting paper on the use of dilute lye solution to stop wound
infection? It was quite enlightening and very helpful to those of us
treating the Emperor’s soldiers with very limited supplies. I am Herr
"Oh yes, I am looking forward to your presentation on herbal-based
anesthetics. Are you staying here? Perhaps we can have dinner together?"
"Alas, Herr Doktor. It seems they are fully booked. They have just
informed me that there are no rooms available. Perhaps you might wish to
try the other hotels they have suggested. We can walk over together." He
raised the sheet of paper handed to him by the clerk then paused waiting
for the response from the clerk which he suspected would be coming very
"But...but...we do have the reservation of Herr Doktor Müller. I have
it right here." The clerk was fumbling through the piles of papers yet
Now Judah let his voice rise a bit, catching the attention of other men
milling around the large elegant lobby. "I must have misunderstood, mein
Herr. Did you not just tell me that there were no rooms available? That
you were fully booked? Or perhaps there are no rooms available for
doctors with darker skin and foreign-sounding names even if they are
presenting at the conference? Is that what you meant? That those of us
with strange foreign names are just not welcomed here?" He waited while
the hotel clerk stammered.
Doctor Müller was looking on in distress. "I am thinking your
suggestion that we seek another hotel is an excellent one, Herr Doktor
Hassan. That way we can discuss our researches together in comfort."
Finally the clerk's superior slid over to attend to the confusion. "That
would not be necessary, Herr Doktor Müller. My colleague here meant
merely that given the rooms already reserved, there are no open rooms
remaining that can accommodate Herr Hassan. Your reservation is right
here, Herr Doktor Müller. Can we help you with your luggage?"
Herr Doktor Muller was about to refuse but at that moment a gentleman in
a formal business suit approached them.
"Herr Doktor Hassan? Herr Doktor Judah Halevi Hassan? Yes? Greetings
from His Excellency Baron von Tedesco. I am Herr Stein, the Baron's
agent d'affaires. The Baron extends his welcome to you and asks if he
could have the pleasure of hosting you in his home while you are in the
city. He is bringing together some men to discuss his new projects and
he wanted the honor of your presence specifically because of your
well-known expertise. His coach is waiting outside for your
convenience." The man bowed formally and waited for Judah's response.
Judah looked at the hotel officer whose mouth was agape at the
distinction being offered. Perhaps a room might become available at the
Grand Hotel after all for this slender man with the strange name and
foreign looks but obviously important enough to be a guest of Baron von
Tedesco. Baron von Tedesco was famous as a special Ambassador who served
the Emperor and traveled throughout the world to further the Emperor’s
interests. Baron von Tedesco was the leader of a family whose wealth was
so vast that it was whispered in some quarters that the Emperor himself
depended on the Baron’s largesse to pay his bills.
The blue-eyed doctor hesitated, not sure if he wished to give up his
fight to force the hotel management to acknowledge their treatment of
him. However, as remote as he had been for years, even he had heard of
the Baron’s prestige. Herr Stein decided just at that moment to
sweeten the offer.
"The Baron is planning a new hospital to serve the poor communities here
and he would welcome your input on how to ensure that the most current
medical practices, including those from the Orient, are incorporated."
The man paused again.
As he suspected, the offer was now too good to resist. Herr Doktor
Hassan nodded, casting one last look of anger at the clerk who looked
down at his hands now resting on top of all those reservation slips.
Doctor Müller extended his hand to Judah. "Herr Doktor Hassan, I
apologize for the rude behavior of my fellow Austrians. Let us be sure
to dine together while you are here so we can exchange news about our
researches." They shook hands, setting a time and place for their
...The Baron's residence had been deliberately designed by his father,
the previous Baron, to impress the other aristocrats of the Empire and
it achieved that goal. While it was like those palaces on either side,
built in fine white marble and set back from the "Ringstrasse" behind
wrought iron fences cast in intricate black and gold curved designs, it
was just a bit larger and more perfect in every way.
When the Baron’s coach approached, liveried footmen, who had been
ordered to await its arrival, opened the gates at exactly the right
moment so that the coach could continue without a halt up the graveled
front drive. Judah and Herr Stein were greeted at the massive front door
by a man who introduced himself as Mr. Graves, the Baron's major
domo—a perfect English butler attracted to Vienna from a ducal London
residence by the higher salary the Baron was willing to pay. It was
immediately clear to Judah that the Mr. Graves felt that his
responsibility for the efficient operation of the Baron's home was
elevated to the level of a sacred trust.
The butler began grandly, "Welcome, herr Doktor Hassan. Welcome to the
home of the Baron von Tedesco. I will order that your luggage be taken
to your room and unpacked for you. The Baron awaits you in his study.
After that, you will have some time to bathe and relax before dinner
this evening with the family.” Then the man began to falter, “Your
luggage? Where is your luggage, herr Doktor?"
The questions were asked in perfect and elegant German—nothing less
would have been acceptable in the Baron’s household, Judah suspected.
And now the butler was trying to remain calm as he noted there were no
large travel cases being unloaded from the carriage.
Judah gestured to the small hand-luggage and wooden box at his feet and
the black leather medical bag he was carrying in his left hand. "This is
my luggage, Mr. Graves. A poor medical student such as I have been has
little need for more than a few changes of clothing and his medical
books and instruments. My work as a surgeon on battlefields requires me
to travel lightly as well so, as you see, I am well-schooled in living
Graves eyed the meager items with concern. "Hmmm—we will need to see
what we will find that is suitable for dining with the Dowager Baroness.
The Baron expects that all is done correctly…I wonder…
perhaps…since his man Mendes is skilled with quick tailoring.” He
was leading the way into the house, considering the options in a low
conversation with himself in English. "I will have Mendes unpack the
bags and see what is possible...then we will find the right
garments...all will be fine...and acceptable to the Baron and the
Dowager Baroness...yes, it must be acceptable to the Baroness. We will
manage—yes, we must manage."
Graves led the doctor and Herr Stein through the round foyer with its
elegant marble floor and stately furniture and magnificent paintings to
a set of beautifully carved double doors towards the rear of the house.
After tapping on the door, he waited for the command "Enter!" before
pushing the doors open with a flourish. "Herr Doktor Hassan, My Lord
Baron, and Herr Stein."
"Welcome, welcome!" A well-modulated baritone voice was heard before the
man himself appeared, walking around the massive desk at the far end of
the large darkly-paneled room. The Baron von Tedesco was a man in his
late twenties, perhaps about the same age as the doctor himself, but
much taller and physically imposing with broad shoulders and long limbs,
set off by his immaculately tailored clothes. His thick black hair and
golden-hued skin bespoke his Sephardic forebears while his eyes, an
unusual light brown color with golden glints, hinted at the perception
and subtlety of thought that made him a formidable diplomat representing
the Emperor throughout Europe.
Judah began to chuckle. Herr Stein was shocked. Mr. Graves was stunned.
The Baron paused with a startled look on his face. "Herr Doktor Hassan,
something about me amuses you?"
The blue-eyed man smiled, "I was thinking how I was turned away from the
Grand Hotel this afternoon because I did not fit the mold of the proper
Viennese citizen. Yet, here I am, in this very proper Viennese palace
being welcomed by a very proper Austrian nobleman, known for his power
in the Imperial Court, who shares my very improper Sephardic coloring. I
apologize but the irony of it all amused me."
The Baron smiled now as well. "I cannot explain the Austrians who insist
on their persistent petty prejudices but I will admit that wealth and
power and a title open doors here as it does in many cities of the
world. Those who must stand at their doors and welcome me in are not
always happy to do so but they are most often respectful. They can
rarely afford to be otherwise. I am honest enough to admit that their
respect is given grudgingly. They have too much at stake and frankly
many are much in my debt. Others fear my anger or that of the Emperor
whom I have the pleasure to serve. But let us move onto more pleasant
topics. First—may I offer you a drink?"
The doctor selected a whiskey. Stein poured his drink then one for the
Baron then bowed himself out of the room, closing the massive doors
quietly behind him.
As the drinks were being poured, Judah had taken the opportunity to look
around the room. The dark wood shelves were filled with fine books in
many languages as well as several curious items hinting at the exotic
travels of the diplomat. Above the fireplace was a large portrait of a
distinguished man in formal court dress wearing golden chains of high
office and a sash displaying heraldic medals draped across his chest.
In size and features, it was clear the subject of the painting was
related to the Baron. His coloring was however fairer; he had brown
hair, light brown eyes and skin that seemed cream-colored rather than
the gold of the host's complexion.
Noting the doctor's gaze, the Baron said simply, "My father, Baron Moses
von Tedesco. As you note from the chain of office, also in service to
the Emperor, focusing on keeping the outer regions of the Empire calm.
He was assassinated five years ago in Prague."
Judah was struck by the Baron's matter-of-fact tone. His curiosity was
aroused. "That must have been a terrible shock for your family. Was the
assassin discovered and the reason for the tragedy determined?"
The Baron gazed at the portrait before replying. When he did, he kept
looking at the painting. "Well, yes and no. The actual assassin was
killed at the scene by the Baron's bodyguard. His identity however
remained a mystery for a long time and the reason for the assassination
was unknown even longer. Once his name and his background were
discovered, it became evident that the man did not act alone so his
accomplices are being sought—even five years later, we continue to
probe. When all is clear, we will know why it was done and everyone who
was involved. At that time, full and complete justice will be exacted
for my father's murder."
He sipped from his own glass then turned back to the doctor. "Let us sit
and get to know each other. May I call you Judah? Yes? Then when we are
alone, you may call me Isaac."
The two men sat in leather chairs near the fireplace. Judah asked,
"Baron...Isaac, why was your man waiting for me at the Hotel? I am of
course aware of the Tedesco family and the fame of its men as merchants,
bankers and diplomats but how did you become aware of me and my presence
The Baron smiled, "I would not be a very effective diplomat or a good
steward of my family’s commercial interests if I did not have a
network of people whose purpose is to supply me with information. They
know I am always interested in talented individuals who can be of
service to me in a variety of ways.
[i] Literally, in German, the “Street of the Jews” leading to the
Judenplatz—the center of the Jewish Quarter.
Excerpted from "You Shall Know Our Names (The Judah Halevi Journals) (Volume 1)" by Ezekiel Nieto Benzion. Copyright © 2013 by Ezekiel Nieto Benzion. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.