This is Jimmy Berg from New York:” Dreams, Expectations, and Reality

By Julia-Katharina Neier

“No more is that Vienna
Which once I called my own.
I wander, far, alone,
I have to forget.” [1]

These lyrics are from the chorus of “No More Is That Vienna,” which was written in New York in 1938 and set to music by the artist and journalist Jimmy Berg. With these words, he described the feelings of many exiled artists of Austrian origin in the United States (US) who fled from National Socialism. It was the first song Berg composed in the US.

Berg was born in 1909 in Kolomea as Symson Weinberg. He was a musician, composer, lyricist, and journalist. In 1938 he had to flee from Austria because of his Jewish origins and his work in the communism-related cabaret theatre group ABC. Thanks to an affidavit of the industrialist Otto Eisenschimmel,[2] Berg was able to enter the US via Southampton on the S.S. Manhattan on November 24, 1938.[3]

Berg contributed to making the Austrian-American relationship popular, especially on Austrian radio. Between 1947 and 1974 Berg worked for the American foreign radio station “Voice of America” (VOA) and was director of the “Austrian desk.” The German-speaking audience knew the station as “Stimme Amerikas.” Subsequently, Berg was responsible for the program design of the post-war Austrian-American radio station “Rot-Weiß-Rot” (RWR). His role as a cultural mediator for the Austrian audience was determined by interviews with, among others, Austrian politicians, e.g., Bruno Kreisky, business representatives, and artists, e.g., Oskar Kokoschka, in the US. Berg was also the first Disk Jockey of the “Voice of America for Austria.” In this capacity he was charged with the task of liberating American “light music” (Unterhaltungs Musik), for example jazz, from National Socialist prejudices in Austria and using it as “means of promoting sympathy” for the US at the same time.[4]

These efforts served the integration of Austria into the “West” at the beginning of the Cold War. By 1947 at the latest, this “war” was also conducted with the help of media propaganda between the great powers, the US and the Soviet Union (USSR). Due to its geostrategic position on the edge of the Iron Curtain, Austria played a special role in the international confrontation.

During 1945 to 1955, post-war Austria was divided into four Allied occupation zones: France, US, Great Britain, USSR. After the end of the Second World War, the Allies took advantage of the fallow Austrian media landscape to distribute propaganda for their own nations. In order to counteract the Russian propaganda program (Radio Wien), the U.S.-influenced station RWR offered “America calls Austria,” which was based on new broadcasting formats, such as Berg’s, for post-war Europe. These programs were not intended to lecture but to subtly evoke sympathy for “Western (or US/American) modernization” and the credo “land of the free”[5] in the listeners. On May 15, 1955, the Austrian State Treaty was signed by the “big four” at Belvedere Palace. This treaty was the cornerstone for the second Austrian Republic proclaimed in April 1945 and the beginning of a sovereign Austria. The event created the basis for Austria’s self-identification as a “neutral” mediator between the “fronts” of the Cold War: the “land of the free” to the west of the Iron Curtain.

But what caused Austrian identity to turn towards Western ideologies? What influences and historical recourses were formative for Austrian identity formation in the post-war period? Radio programs such as those produced by Berg were in favor of an Austrian identity formation that aligned itself with (pro-)Western ideologies. These not only brought a new cultural approach to the US, but also meant a rediscovery of the cultural movement “Viennese classicism” of the First Republic. The recourse to “old Austrian traditions” (such as the Austrian music of that time, the emphasis on Austrian landscapes, the revived Habsburg nostalgia), and the major cultural events were instrumentalized for Austria after 1945.

The references to the cultural landscape of the imperial Austrian multi-ethnic state and the representation of Austrian cultural institutions abroad, especially in the US, enabled Austria to establish a national identity independent of Germany after 1945. The US/American influence and its Western role model effect were supposed to support and promote the development or rediscovery of Austrian values. The broadcasting formats of Berg, being a Viennese and popular artist of the interwar period, were intended to support this cultural transfer. On the one hand, American popular culture was brought to Austria. On the other hand, art and culture that had fallen into oblivion as a result of National Socialism in Austria (e.g. “Degenerate Art” such as by Oskar Kokoschka) were remembered again as Austrian cultural assets. It was Berg who conducted interviews with these cultural creators, who had been pushed out of the Austrian cultural landscape during the National Socialist regime, and thus made them known again in Austria from an American perspective.

This is Jimmy Berg from New York

Berg was particularly well-suited as the Austrian voice of America in post-war Austria as he indulged in Austrian nostalgia in his lyrics. Berg’s music characterized the dislocations that Austrian migrants experienced in the US. The piece “Was fehlt dem Wiener in Amerika” (What is missing for the Viennese in America?) is illustrative of the difficulties he and his “fellow expats” experienced in the US. Despite some successes, he was unable to continue his musical career as it had been in Europe. In 1947 Berg was offered the chance to work as a journalist for the state foreign radio station VOA.

Berg began his programs, which were mainly composed of interviews with the sentence “Hier spricht Jimmy Berg aus New York” (This is Jimmy Berg from New York). He reported on events with an Austrian context in the US, especially in New York City. The broadcasting of his program in Austria served to illustrate the appreciation of Austrian culture in the US. This was to suggest that Austrian cultural and economic assets were part of the Western industrial nations and should help the Austrian population to develop a national pride. At the same time, the somewhat negative perceptions of “Americanization” was countered in a positive way by presenting American culture as a European product. The American elite and exiled European cultural figures who settled in the US during the two world wars highlighted Europe’s cultural supremacy within the US. Likewise, American patrons shaped the notion of European cultural domination of Paris, Berlin, and Vienna at the turn of the century and kept it alive as the 20th century progressed. This messaging was accomplished by emphasizing the cultural transfer that had taken place from Europe or Austria to the US in Berg’s broadcasts. For example, interviews with the conductor Karl Böhm (1894 – 1981) concerning his work at the Metropolitan Opera gave the impression that an Austrian’s opinion or judgement of the American ensemble’s ability is particularly valuable. At the same time, the Metropolitan Opera’s performances of works such as Don Giovanni (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart) and Wozzek (Alban Berg) emphasized the Austrian origin. The fact that many of Berg’s interviewees did not identify with the culture of the Second Republic played a secondary role; the interviews above all served to build a Western concept in the Austrian population.

Depending on the reason for which the artists left Europe, a transfiguration of Austrian culture abroad often set in. This happened especially among those who did not return to Austria for some time and thus still remembered the cultural diversity of the pre-war years. As can be said with Berg’s example, his expectations regarding the US were very high as long as he did not live there, but his ideas of the “American Dream” were not completely fulfilled.

As an Austrian Jew promoting the US, Berg was the conflicted “voice” of cultural transfer processes. When he returned to Austria after 1945, it was no longer the country he knew and wanted to live in, either culturally, politically, or socially. There was little love for the Austrian population on Berg’s part. Several of his song lyrics, among them in particular “Mein Wiener Hausbesorger” (My Viennese Caretaker), express his aversion to the Austrians’ ambivalent attitude towards the time of the Nazi regime.

“Erstens war er niemals nicht ein Nazi,
Zweitens ist er längst schon entnazifiziert.
Um den guten Willen zu beweisen,
Ist er jetzt gar auf den Aufbau abonniert.”

Jimmy Berg died in New York in April 1988. His contribution to the transatlantic dialogue continues to have an impact today. This is reflected in the growing interest of scholars and the general public in his musical work and his broadcast at VOA.

Author Biography

Julia-Katharina Neier is currently completing the one-year Master’s program “Comparative History” at the Central European University in Vienna with a focus on Jewish Studies. During a bachelor seminar at the University of Innsbruck she published the article “The Reception of the Jewish-Arab Dialogue in the ‘Palestine Post’ in 1938,” accessible in They trusted us – but not too much, edited by Philipp Strobl (2020). In the same year she was a student assistant in the research project “Boundary Matters: Processes of negotiation in medical experiments in space physiology and nutritional research” led by Alwin Cubasch. The “Dublin Gastronomy Symposium” (2020 – Food and Disruption) led to the publication of the paper “Negotiating Future Foods: cultural practices and nutritional knowledge in NASA’s space Food Research program.”

Image Citation

Image of Jimmy Berg courtesy of the Austrian Exile Library in the House of Literature.

Suggested Readings  

Eisterer, Klaus, Michael Gehler, and Rolf Steininger. Österreich in Den Fünfzigern. Edited by Thomas Albrich. Innsbruck: Österreichischer Studien Verlag, 1995.

Jarka, Horst. Von Der Ringstrasse Zur 72nd Street : Jimmy Bergs Chansons Aus Dem Wien Der Dreissiger Jahre Und Dem New Yorker Exil. New York: Peter Lang Verlag, 1996.

Klösch, Christian, Regina Thumser-Wöhs, Österreichische Exilbibliothek, and Literaturhaus Wien. “From Vienna” Exilkabarett in New York 1938 Bis 1950 ; [Begleitbuch Zur Gleichnamigen Ausstellung Der Österreichischen Exilbibliothek Im Literaturhaus]. Wien: Picus-Verlag, 2002.

Korbel, Susanne. “‘The White Horse Inn At Central Park’: Rediscovering The Jimmy Berg Adaptations.” Operetta Research Center, August 4, 2016.

Kupfner, Michaela. “Ein Amerikanischer Lösungsansatz Zur Verteilungsfrage Der Jüdischen Flüchtlinge Nach Den Novemberpogromen 1938.” In “They Trusted Us – but Not Too Much”: Transnationale Studien Zur Rezeption Deutschsprachiger Flüchtlinge in Englischsprachigen Medien in Den 1930er Jahren, edited by Philipp Strobl. Hildesheim: Universitätsverlag Hildesheim, 2020.

Thaler, Peter. The Ambivalence of Identity : The Austrian Experience of Nation-Building in a Modern Society. West Lafayette, Ind.: Purdue University Press, 2001.

Archival Sources 

“Jimmy Berg” Symson Weinberg on New York passenger listing. In: Geni, July 1, 2019. []. Accessed November 30, 2020.

Berg, Jimmy. “Interview with Prof. Karl Böhm about the premiere of ‘Wozzek’ at the Met in New York”. In: Österreichische Mediathek, radio broadcast, 00:05:09 min., []. New York March 16, 1959. Accessed November 30, 2020.

Berg, Jimmy. “Meeting with Austrian Foreign Minister Dr. Bruno Kreisky about his speech at the Club of American Foreign Correspondents in New York”. In: Österreichische Mediathek, radio broadcast, 00:03:52 min., []. New York October 31, 1960. Accessed November 30, 2020.

Berg, Jimmy. “Interview with Oskar Kokoschka about his exhibition in New York”. In: Österreichische Mediathek, radio broadcast, 00:04:28 min., []. New York November 23, 1966. Accessed November 30, 2020.

Waggerl, Karl Heinrich, and Eduard Widmoser. Österreich : Landschaft, Mensch Und Kultur ; Mit 104 Meisteraufnahmen. 1952. Reprint, Innsbruck: Pinguin-Verlag, 1962.

Suggested Links


[1] Betty Haworth/Jimmy Berg, No More Is That Vienna, New York 1938; Horst Jarka, Von Der Ringstrasse Zur 72nd Street : Jimmy Bergs Chansons Aus Dem Wien Der Dreissiger Jahre Und Dem New Yorker Exil (New York: Peter Lang Verlag, 1996). 83.

[2] Berg and Eisenschimmel had met in Vienna in 1935.

[3] Horst Jarka, Von Der Ringstrasse Zur 72nd Street : Jimmy Bergs Chansons Aus Dem Wien Der Dreissiger Jahre Und Dem New Yorker Exil (New York: Peter Lang Verlag, 1996). 9.; “Jimmy Berg“ Symson Weinberg on New York passenger listing. In: Geni, July 1, 2019. []. Accessed November 30, 2020.

[4] Horst Jarka, Von Der Ringstrasse Zur 72nd Street : Jimmy Bergs Chansons Aus Dem Wien Der Dreissiger Jahre Und Dem New Yorker Exil (New York: Peter Lang Verlag, 1996). 32.

[5] Francis Scott Key, The Star-Spangled Banner, n.p. 1814.

[6] “Firstly, he was never not a Nazi. Secondly, he has long since been denazified. To prove his good will, he’s now even subscribed to the ‘Aufbau.'” Jimmy Berg, Mein Wiener Hausbesorger, New York 1946; Horst Jarka, Von Der Ringstrasse Zur 72nd Street : Jimmy Bergs Chansons Aus Dem Wien Der Dreissiger Jahre Und Dem New Yorker Exil (New York: Peter Lang Verlag, 1996). 204.

Published on Tuesday, June 29, 2021.