Once the war was over, the young singer was accepted at the Zurich Conservatory. She paid her way to Europe on a British troop ship by singing to the soldiers. In Switzerland, she worked as an au pair, studied voice — and through a chance acquaintanceship suddenly found herself singing for Vienna State Opera Director Franz Salmhofer, who invited her to come to a city still closely identified with the Nazis, even if the party had been banned after the war.
‘‘I would have returned to Berlin as well, because I had only one goal; to become an opera singer,’’ she said. ‘‘At the same time, I went through unbelievable emotional turmoil, not only because of my own doubts but because of what my family and friends in Palestine said. I was bad-mouthed from top to bottom for entering this ‘nest of Nazis.'’’
Looking back, she sees that her return was more than just about singing opera.
‘‘I had to show that Jews don’t stink, that they don’t have hunched backs, long noses or anything else’’ branding them as subhuman under the Nazis, she said. ‘‘These young people aged 17, 18, who grew up under Hitler, had never seen a Jew in their lives! And then suddenly this young and good-looking woman comes onto the stage and then proceeds to sing beautifully and they ask ‘this is a Jew?'’’
‘‘Forget the old Nazis,’’ she said. ‘‘But I hope I was able at least to change the image ... for the youth.’’
The next day, she signed a contract with the Vienna opera that ended only when she stopped singing more than 20 years later. Top engagements followed at the Met in New York, London’s Covent Garden and opera houses and festivals in Rome, Paris, Munich, Salzburg, Edinburgh and elsewhere, keeping her performing 12 months of the year — and establishing her as one of her era’s top divas.
As she progressed, so did Austria — from being home to the ‘‘nest of Nazis’’ ready to destroy her career for being Jewish, to a country that is proud to call her its own.
‘‘Today? I am never attacked,’’ she says, with a laugh. ‘‘I am overwhelmed with honors.’’