VIENNA (AP) — It was 1947 in post-war Vienna, and Hilde Zadek remembers taking a deep breath behind the curtain. A rookie on her first opera gig, she was about to sing the prestigious role of Aida for an audience full of particularly harsh critics — whistle-packing Nazis she says were determined to show "that Jew from Palestine" she was not welcome at one of the world's greatest opera houses.
But their whistles stayed silent, as Zadek celebrated her first on-stage triumph.
"At the end even they applauded and were my fans," recalls the 95-year diva with a chuckle, as she recounts a life of improbable turns from the time she fled Nazi Germany to that first performance in Vienna that launched the former shoe sales clerk's stellar opera career.
Sixty-five years later, Vienna has morphed from what she calls a post-war "nest of Nazis" replete with die-hard Hitler supporters into a city that has worked to reckon with its past. Austria's capital has compensated thousands of relatives of Holocaust victims and frequently honors their memory. After decades or denial, Vienna's municipal government now freely recognizes that the city — and the nation — were Hitler's eager accomplices.
As for Zadek, the city she once despised as part of Hitler's evil empire has long become a home she says she would never leave — and one that is proud to call her its own. She has been showered with medals, granted high honorary titles and a singer's competition named after her 13 years ago has turned into an international launching pad for future opera stars.
"I live the life," she exults, eyes twinkling behind rimless glasses as she serves coffee in her high-ceilinged apartment at Vienna's tony 19th district. "I don't feel a trace of anti-Semitism. And I have long forgiven — Vienna was a wonderful audience from the first moment on."