Excerpts from Dr. Dorit Whiteman's Remarks on May 18, 2006 at the Scholarship Dedication Ceremony at the Jewish Museum in Vienna
I never realized that there was something special about the Pensionat Stern of which my mother, Dr. Lily Stern-Bader, was both the owner and director. The tone my mother set was the same standard at the school as at home. I took it for granted that everyone lived that way.
My mother originally had no intention of running the Pensionat. As a matter of fact, she became one of the first women to achieve the goal of earning a doctorate in chemistry at the University of Vienna. She also passed the Staats examinations in music for theory and piano. At the time, it was so rare for a woman to pursue a doctorate in chemistry, that her mother, my grandmother, called up her friend who had a daughter Lisl at the University studying physics. My grandmother asked her friend if it was all right for a young Jewish girl to attend the University. Lisl�s mother said it was fine so my mother was allowed to attend. Lisl turned out to be Lisa Meitner who worked together with Otto Kahn on nuclear fission. He was a chemist and she was a physicist and mathematician. He was awarded the Nobel Peace prize, but she was not mentioned. This demonstrates the undervaluing of women at the time, which made my mother�s academic and cultural pursuits even more remarkable.
My grandmother, Regine Stern ran the school very successfully. After a while my mother thought my grandmother was not modern enough. When my mother took over the school, she overhauled it completely. For instance, she modernized the rooms. Instead of the customary Victorian heavy hangings, the rooms were light, airy, and in pastel colors. Instead of forbidding the girls to sit on their beds, she insisted that these are their rooms and put in comfortable seating. That the girls should enjoy the food was very important to her. I still remember my mother explaining to me that the various courses should have different colors to make the food more appetizing. For instance, if the main course had tomato sauce, the desert should not consist of strawberries.
She made it a point to provide diversity in terms of each girl's needs and ambitions. Some went to college preparatory schools, others went to schools stressing the arts. I remember one girl, who was an actress, received special arrangements to provide her with opportunities for rehearsals and tutors.
My mother was ahead of her time in providing for the emotional of the girls. She watched out for their concerns, such as home sickness, scholastic problems, and plans for their future development. My mother also provided opportunities for the girls� social life. After all they were young girls. I remember that shortly before the end of 1938, a ball was planned and all the older girls talked about what they were going to wear. I remember a slim dark-haired pretty girl, who planned to wear a yellow ball gown. I remember her entrance. She looked as charming as can be. I often wondered since then what became of her and whether she survived. I also remember the tea dances the girls went to, particularly in summer.
Culturally, my mother introduced the girls to a new world. My mother possessed a great deal of knowledge in art history and took the older girls to Italy to learn about classical art as well as the Renaissance.
Music was even more important and I recall, when walking down the hall, hearing piano sounding through the doors of the practice rooms, varying from �The Happy Farmer� to Beethoven sonatas. The girls went to concerts and the opera, with my mother preparing them by playing arias or themes on the piano so they would understand the music better.
Sports were also stressed and considered as important for girls as for boys. The girls learned tennis, swimming, and skiing.
In summer, my mother moved the school to the Woerthersee (lake). This became very important because in the last years the girls who lived in Rumania and Bulgaria needed transit visas to travel through other countries to get to their homes. Since that was complicated, she made it possible for them to stay in Austria through the summer. There the school was mostly run by her sister, who was a piano prodigy in her youth and later taught outstanding piano students.
Many girls formed a great attachment to the Pensionat and to my mother. Many years later, they wrote to her and came to visit her in the United States.
How much I missed the Pensionat became apparent when I was in England after the Anschluss (Hitler�s take-over of Austria). One day, I went to a movie starring Deanna Durbin. She was a teenager playing the part of a girl in a Pensionat in Switzerland and I recall the scene when she was riding on a bicycle in a summer forest. I burst into tears because she was where I wanted to be: in school with friends. She was everything I used to be and wanted to be again. Apparently I was not the only one. When I visited the Anne Frank House, I noticed that in her room, which was practically bare of furniture, had old movie photographs. The one over her bed was one of Deanna Durbin so I knew that Anne Frank had felt just as I did.
I am very happy that the Dorotheum is decided to memorialize my mother�s school and its values and concepts, which were not only memorable, but also ahead of their time. And I hope that they will be representative of the good parts of these past years and a model for future years. I thank the Dorotheum for making this possible.