VIENNESE IN EXILE IN BOLIVIA 1938-1948

Bolivia is still one of the poorest countries in South America and in the 1930s it was a developing country that was definitely not the desired destination of refugees from Vienna like the United States, Brazil, Argentina or Chile, where the living conditions were similar to Central Europe. But Bolivia ended up as a refuge for many who did not have any other choice and who were desperate to grab any visa available to be able to flee the Nazi terror. You sometimes had to bribe the diplomatic personnel at the embassies to get visas that later turned out to be faked, but even after a stop to immigration, Bolivia handled the issue flexibly and all those with visas, genuine or faked, were allowed into the country, most of them on agricultural visas, although they had no idea of farming. Fortunately for the refugees did Bolivia not annul faked visas, in contrast to other Latin American countries. The country that offered the refugees from Nazi terror rescue was riddled with economic crises, unrests and military coups and had lost a large part of its territory in the “Chaco War” against Paraguay. The German community that had settled in Bolivia before 1938 was under the influence of the NSDAP, led by the German ambassador. Therefore the possibilities for making a living were very limited for the Austrian and German Jewish immigrants; they were restricted by the German community, the Bolivian administration and the Bolivian professional associations. Only few joined agricultural projects, like those of the mining entrepreneur Mauricio Hochschild, most resorted to small retail trade and craftsmanship, where they competed with the local population and thereby triggered some resentment. Within three years the approximately 7,000 to 8,000 refugees to Bolivia formed the largest foreign community there, but most of them moved on to other countries, such as the United States, Chile, Argentine and Uruguay as soon as it was possible. In 1945 around 4,800 Jewish immigrants still lived in Bolivia. The tropical and sub-tropical climate and the extreme altitude were a huge challenge to the immigrants, but the country saved the lives of many refugees from persecution of the “Third Reich” – it accepted the largest numbers of Jewish refugees from Europe of all Latin American countries relative to its inhabitants and my relatives always preserved a loving memory of the beauty of the country and its colourful population mix.

Karl Elzholz, my great-uncle, husband of my great-aunts Mitzi and later Käthe, two of the three sisters of my grandmother

My great-uncle Karl Elzholz, a mechanic at the Vienna tramways, was married to the youngest sister of my grandmother, Marianne (Mitzi), who was several years younger than him. She was his much loved second wife, after his first wife had died young from a lung disease. They had no children and decided rather late that they had to flee Vienna when Hitler invaded Austria in March 1938. Karl was an enthusiastic socialist and a dedicated patriot of the young Austrian republic. As most of the possible destinations had already closed their borders, he managed to procure a visa for Bolivia as an agricultural worker. Karl was a skilled mountain hiker and they fled Austria across the Alps in the winter 1938/39. The last message that my great-grandparents and my grandparents in Vienna received from them was a postcard from Hermagor in Carinthia with the following message:

Dearest parents, Don’t worry and don’t get excited. We are very well. We eat, drink and wait. We have passed the border without problems. There is a lot of room in the train, so we will sleep well. It is half past six and we are already at the border. Many, many kisses, yours Mitzi. Greetings Karl

Postcard of Hermagor in Carinthia at the border to Italy, January 1939

“DANUBE FOOTBALL” – VIENNA’S IDENTIFICATION WITH FOOTBALL – AND THE “DANUBE MAIDENS” – VIENNA’S FEMALE SWIMMING CHAMPIONS (until 1938)

1st Professional Austrian Football Champion 1924/25, bottom row: third from the left: Norbert Katz

Norbert Katz, the husband of my great-aunt Agi, was a very talented and successful professional footballer in Vienna until he had to emigrate in 1938. As a very young player he became champion of the Austrian second league in 1919/20 with his team Hakoah Vienna and was Austrian Champion in the season 1924/25 with Hakoah Vienna. Later in England he was employed as a bank clerk, but continued to work as sports trainer and football functionary. This fact offers the chance to investigate the significance of football for the city of Vienna as a vehicle of identification with the young Austrian state. May great-aunt, Agi, was a free water Danube swimmer for the sports club Hakoah, one of the “Danube Maidens”,  before she married Norbert. Swimming, just as football, was a very popular and internationally successful sport in Vienna in the 1920s and 1930s.

At the end of the 19th century the English sport football was introduced in Graz, Prague and Vienna, but Vienna soon took the lead because football was directly introduced by Englishmen in Vienna, whereas the clubs in Graz and Prague were subsidiaries of Frankfurt clubs. At that time many English people worked and lived in the Habsburg Empire’s capital city. They introduced the ethics of sport and its benefits for health  and mind in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The gasworks in Simmering, for example, were an English subsidiary and the British company brought many English engineers, skilled workers and white collar staff to Vienna and they started to play football at the “Jesuitenwiese” in the Vienna Prater. Other important British companies that had established businesses in Vienna were Clayton & Shuttleworth, which produced agricultural machines and typewriters, Thomas Cook & Son, the travel agent, and several British sanitary firms. Gandon of the gas works, Gramlick, the owner of a British sanitary firm, Shires, a salesman of the “Underwood” typewriter, Blackey, the director of Clayton & Shuttleworth, Reverend Hechler of the Anglican Church in Vienna, Blyth of Stone & Blyth and Loew, director of the Viennese hat factory Böhm, these were the men who introduced football to Vienna. In 1892 they founded the “Vienna Cricket Club”, but cricket could not find enough players and spectators in Vienna, so the club decided to introduce football in Vienna, too, and in 1894 they changed the club’s name to “Vienna Cricket and Football club” (later “Austria Wien”). Just a few days earlier another group of Englishmen had registered the “First Vienna Football Club” with the imperial administration in 1984, which means the “Vienna” was the first Viennese football club in the city. The two clubs “First Vienna Football Club”, called “Vienna” and the “Vienna Cricket and Football Club”, called “Cricketer” (later FK Austria Wien) were based in Döbling and Heiligenstadt and their first players were the gardeners who Baron Nathaniel Rothschild had brought to Vienna to tend his gardens at the “Hohe Warte”. “Vienna” was the first Viennese football club that also accepted Austro-Hungarian players and was not exclusively managed by Englishmen. Franz Joli, son of the inspector of the Rothschild gardens was enthusiastic about football after his stay in England and he and his brother Max Joli boosted the enthusiasm for the new game among the local population. They started to play with the English gardeners in the Rothschild gardens. So, father Joli had to look for an appropriate football ground outside the gardens in order not to have the lovingly tended meadows of the Rothschild gardens devastated. The first football ground of the “Vienna” was an unused plot at the Heiligenstädterstraße, later the “Kuglerwiese”. The founding assembly took place at the inn “Zur schönen Aussicht” at the “Hohe Warte” on 22 August 1894 and the colours chosen for the club were blue and yellow, the colours of the Rothschild horses competing at the race course in Freudenau. The club was founded under the patronage of the director of the Rothschild bank in Vienna and Baron Rothschild paid for the rent of the football ground and subsidised the club. The first club pub was “Bittners Restaurant” at the Heiligenstädter Pfarrplatz. On the 15 November 1894 the first football match between the two rivalling clubs took place at the Kuglerwiese and the “Cricketer” won 4:0. This was the birth of the Viennese football sport.

“EVERY VIENNESE HAS A BOHEMIAN GRANDMOTHER“: BOHEMIAN & MORAVIAN JEWS IN THE AUSTRO-HUNGARIAN EMPIRE

The gravestones of Josef Weiss, medical doctor, and Agnes Weiss, his wife, my great-great grandparents, Eywanowitz (Ivanovice na Hane)

„Every Viennese has a Bohemian grandmother”, this popular Viennese saying is partly true for me as well, but she was a Moravian and not a Bohemian grandmother because Lola was born in Eywanowitz (today Ivanovice na Hane) in Moravia in 1902 as the second daughter of Leopoldine, née Weiss, and Ignaz Sobotka, a beer brewer. Soon after her birth the family moved to Vienna because Ignaz started to work for the brewery in Kaiser Ebersdorf. She did not speak any Czech, but told me some lines of Czech nursery rhymes she still remembered and she spent her childhood holidays at the house of relatives in Znaim (Znojmo). In 2015 I visited for the first time the little village of Eywanowitz and saw the church, the castle and the brewery. In 2017 I discovered, to my great surprise, a Jewish cemetery that was preserved between a petrol station and a sewage treatment facility on the outskirts of the village and accessible to the public. To my even greater astonishment I spotted among the graves the well-preserved gravestones of my great great-grandparents Josef Weiss, general practitioner, who died in 1901, and Agnes Weiss, his wife, who died in 1902.

Jewish cemetery in Eywanowitz

In the 16th century larger Jewish communities existed already in Moravia, contrary to the Habsburg lands, for instance in Nikolsburg (Mikulov) Trebitsch (Trebic) and Proßnitz (Prostejov). The Jews had been expelled from the imperial cities at the end of the 15th century and mostly lived on the estates of the landed nobility in smaller villages. The Bohemian capital city of Prague hosted the biggest Jewish community, next to Frankfurt, of Ashkenazi Jews. Those were Jews who had originally settled along the Rhine River in Western Germany and Northern France and continually moved eastward out of the Holy Roman Empire in the late Middle Ages in the wake of pogroms. But the majority of Jews in Bohemia and Moravia lived in small villages dispersed across the countryside. After the pogrom of Vienna of 1670 many Viennese Jews fled to Bohemia and Moravia, but also to Hungary where they could settle on the estates of the Hungarian nobility, like the Counts Palffy. The majority of Hungarian Jews lived in the part of Hungary that was still under Osman rule which can be explained by the more tolerant religious policy of the Osman Empire which guaranteed relatively better legal security for Jews than in the Habsburg lands.

THE ALPS: PAST TIME OF THE YOUNG VIENNESE IN THE 1920s & 1930s

My grandmother Lola, Semmering 1931

My grandparents’, my great-uncles and great-aunts’ favourite leisure time activities on weekends and during holidays was hiking in the Vienna Woods, the last part of the Alps in the east, and the mountains south of Vienna, such as, Rax, Schneeberg, Gippel, Göller und Semmering and for longer vacations the whole area of the Austrian Alps, Southern Tyrol, Bavaria and Switzerland. How did that overwhelming passion for mountaineering and skiing among the younger Viennese generation in the 1920s and 1930s develop? Alpinism had evolved from an elitist sport of wealthy British tourists to the bourgeois leisure activity of “Sommerfrische” (summer holidays in the Alps) and a sport of intellectual and artistic circles in the 19th century to a widespread working class past time, too, in the 1st Austrian Republic (1919-1934/38).

Many of the beautiful black and white photos of hiking tours in the Austrian Alps were taken by my great-uncle, Karl Elzholz, a mechanic at the Viennese tramways, an atheist, a committed socialist and a member of the Alpine club “Naturfreunde”. He was married to my great-aunt, Mizzi, and later to her sister, my great-aunt, Käthe, and both of them were dedicated hikers as well and formed part of the groups of friends who went hiking in the vicinity of Vienna or on longer mountaineering tours to the Alps. They were experienced hikers and planned the tours themselves.

In the 19th century workers organised educational clubs because that was sometimes the only way to legally form workers’ associations. Later workers’ gymnastic clubs were established along the lines of German nationalist gymnasts’ associations, the “Turnerbewegung”. The aim of these clubs was to improve the health and fitness of the workers with the help sports activities and especially the exposure to “air, light and sun” was seen as beneficial. As a consequence those clubs soon moved out of the stuffy rooms of gyms into nature. That’s when walking and hiking became a popular leisure time activity of the working classes, too. In 1895 the Alpine club “Naturfreunde” (Nature’s Friends) was founded. Soon afterwards also skiing was made popular among the working class. Emmerich Wenger brought skis from a trip to Norway to Vienna and they tried them out at the “Bierhäuslberg” to the amusement of all present. After the First World War all workers’ sports clubs united under the umbrella organisation ASKÖ (“Arbeiterbund für Sport und Körperkultur in Österreich”). In 1931 the 2nd Workers’ Olympic Games took place in Austria, initiated by the ASKÖ: in February in the Semmering area and in July in Vienna in the newly erected stadium in Prater. In 1934 with the takeover of the Austro-fascist regime all workers’ clubs were declared illegal and only after the end of World War II the socialist sports organisation ASKÖ could be reactivated.

THE CAREER AS A BEER BREWER IN VIENNA AROUND 1900

Oxen cart in front of the brewery in Kaiser Ebersdorf Vienna

My great-grandfather, Ignaz Sobotka, was born in Vienna, Ober Laa, in 1872 and his father Josef Sobotka, ran one of the cellars of the brewery “Hütteldorfer Brauerei” in Breitensee. Ignaz learned the trade of a beer brewer as an apprentice in Mährisch Budwitz (Moravské Budějovice, today Czech Republic) with the brewer Moritz Fried, who was probably a relative of his mother Sali Sobotka, née Fried. He completed his apprenticeship in 1890 and then gained experience as a travelling brewer staying at different breweries in the Austro-Hungarian Empire for approximately one year each. In the monarchy this working expertise of a travelling artisan was the condition for becoming a master of the trade and was called “Walz”. Original documents – appraisals of the brewers – prove that Ignaz worked as a brewer in the “Brunner Brauerei AG” (Lower Austria) from 1891-92 and from 1892-1893 already as “Kellermeister” (cellarer) and “Obermälzer” (head maltster) in the “Stadtbräuhaus Pressburg” (Bratislava, today Slovakia) of Herrmann Deutsch & sons. In 1898 he successfully attended a specialised course for maltsters in the 18th district of Vienna, Michaelerstrasse 25 at the “Österreichische Versuchs-Station und Akademie für Brauindustrie” (the academy of the brewing industry). From 1898 to 1899 he worked as a head maltster in the “Dampfbrauerei Znaim” (Znoimo, today Czech Republic) of Rudolf Wotzilka. From 1899-1902 he was a head maltster in the brewery in Eywanowitz (Ivanovice na Hane, today Czech Republic) “Brauerei & Malzerzeugung Wischauer & Posoritzer“, where he got to know his future wife, Rudolfine Weiss, and married her, the daughter of the doctor Josef Weiss and his wife Agnes, née Markus, in 1900. In 1902 he moved with his wife and the two daughters, Käthe, born in 1901 and Flora, my grandmother, born in 1902, to Kaiser Ebersdorf, near Vienna, where he was the head maltster and director of the “Export Malzfabrik Wien Kaiser Ebersorf” of Anton Iritzer (11th district of Vienna, Mailergasse 5) from 1902-1920. During the First World War his job was considered essential for the war economy as the malt production was switched to the production of foodstuff urgently needed during the war, so Ignaz was not conscripted.

Ignaz Sobotka as a young brewer, photo taken around 1900 in Moravia, Kromeriz/Kremsier

The booming sectors of the food industry in and around Vienna in the last decades of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy were beer, spirits, sugar and malt coffee, whereby the brewing industry took the lead with famous industrialists such as Dreher, Mautner-Markhof, Meichl and Kuffner. Vienna was traditionally dominated by the wine industry, but then all around the 2-million metropolis breweries cropped up in the suburbs; in Nussdorf, Hütteldorf, Ottakring, Hernals, Liesing, Simmering, Schwechat, Kaiser Ebersdorf, Brunn and so on. The owners of many breweries were rich and influential indistrialists. The tax levied on beer was four crowns per hectolitre and the cities and provinces levied further taxes on beer. Additionally a mighty cartel of the beer brewers kept prices high and in 1882 the “Österreichische Brauerbund” (Association of Austrian Brewers) was founded to represent the interests of the Austrian brewers. This cartel tried to protect the beer brewers from the on-going fierce competition in the industry. In the area of today’s Austria 1,200 breweries existed in 1841 and this number was reduced to 289 in 1913. By the end of World War I half of those remaining ones had been wiped out as well.

BRITISH WORLD WAR II INTERNMENT CAMPS FOR ENEMY ALIENS ON THE ISLE OF MAN: HUTCHINSON INTERNMENT CAMP

Agi and Norbert at their wedding in Vienna

The husband of Agi, Norbert, an excellent Austrian football player, managed a last-minute escape to England with the help of his sister-in-law, Käthe in a domestic household. Unfortunately as a fit young “enemy alien” he was considered a threat to British military security and interned on the Isle of Man after the outbreak of World War II.

Norbert Katz as a young man

What were possible escape routes out of Austria? As a reaction to the threats against Jews in Germany and Austria and the resulting refugee crisis the US President Roosevelt initiated an international conference on the refugee problem out of Germany. From 6 to 14 July 1938 the Conference of Evian took place in Evian-les-Bains in France. Representatives of 23 countries took part. To allay fears that the United States would demand great concessions, the invited nations were told that no country would be expected to receive a greater number of emigrants than was permitted by its existing legislation and all new programmes would be financed by private agencies and not public monies. The purpose of the meeting was to facilitate the emigration of political refugees from Germany and Austria, not Jews. Despite extensive media coverage the conference ended without achieving significant results. On the contrary, the participating countries stated that they would on no accounts change their existing refugee policies. Representatives of the threatened Jewish communities were deeply disappointed by the results. The governments that participated were still unwilling to solve the problem and fell back on palliatives. The more difficult the tasks became, the smaller their will to deal with them efficiently. An Intergovernmental Committee, headquartered in London, was established to improve coordination, but it was still in a preliminary stage of development when the war broke out.

MAID SERVANTS IN ENGLAND: AUSTRIAN JEWISH WOMEN IN EMIGRATION 1938/39

Käthe as a young woman in Vienna

My great-aunt Käthe, born in 1901, was a bank clerk at the Wiener Bank Verein and had lost her first husband, Poldl Kluger, soon after the wedding, victim of a lung disease, in illness that was wide-spread in Vienna at that time. When she lost her job at the bank in 1924, being tall and slim, she made ends meet by accepting occasional jobs as a fashion model. After the civil war in 1934 and the coup d’état of the Austrian fascists, Käthe, an assimilated and agnostic Jewess and a socialist, realised that sooner or later she would have to flee Austria. Being single facilitated the decision-making process. She diligently prepared for her escape from the Nazis by learning English and acquiring cooking skills. She then applied for the position of cook in a wealthy English household and landed in Dover on the 7th of November 1938. Having arrived at a safe haven in England with a domestic permit, she tied to get out of Austria as many of her family as possible. She worked in 25, Warkworth Gardens in Isleworth in Middlesex and managed to convince her generous and understanding mistress to hire her younger sister, Agi, as a maid in the same household and by that offered her a last-minute escape from deportations from Viennese collection points in the 2nd district to the concentration camps of the Nazis. So let’s look at this special rescue model, a window of opportunity for young Jewish women from Austria in 1938, which was closed in 1939.

Käthe’s employment as a bank clerk at the “Wiener Bank Verein” 1924

 

Käthe’s passport stamped with a “J” for “Jude”

Detail of the passport

Around 20,000 Jewish women, three quarters from Austria, fled in 1938/39 to England with a so-called “domestic permit”. This was a work permit for foreign domestic staff which British employers could use since the 1920s to alleviate the chronic shortage of maid servants despite otherwise very strict immigration restrictions. A considerable percentage of these women were not actually domestics by trade, but had only been able to enter the UK on permits for domestic work. They found themselves in a relationship of dependency to their mistresses, but work as a maid guaranteed a livelihood because domestic servants were the only ones who had permission to legally work in England. Yet they were officially not allowed to leave the areas of these private households. The majority of male refugees with a permission to enter the UK needed an affidavit from an influential personality or an institution.

“KINDERTRANSPORTS” FROM VIENNA TO GREAT BRITAIN 1938/1939

Agi with her twins, Susi and Josi

Agi Katz, the younger sister of my grandmother had found refuge in England as a maid in the household of her sister Käthe’s mistress, but she could not bring her two-year-old girl twins, Susi and Josi with her. Käthe had helped to organise from across the channel to have the girls transported via a “kindertransport” to England to Quaker foster families. Unfortunately the twins had to be separated not only from their mother, but also from each other, which caused serious and long-lasting emotional damage. They were reunited with their parents after the war. The family then decided to become British citizens and remain in the UK. In 1948 the Evening Standard printed a picture of the twins then aged 12, “Flowers at Victoria Station. 12-year-old twins Susan and Josephine Katz of Isleworth (Middlesex). They were waiting for their grandparents, septuagenarians Herr and Frau Ignaz Sobotka to arrive from Vienna for a holiday here.” (see below)

The twins, Susi and Josi, still in Vienna

With the permission of the British, Dutch and Swedish governments aid organisations in “Greater Germany” (Germany and the occupied territories) organised kindertransports in 1938 and 1939 on special trains to send endangered children west to safety. The children on board these trains left their parents and other family members at the railway stations of Prague, Vienna, Frankfurt, Berlin, Leipzig, the free city of Danzig and the Polish city of Zbonszyn. Descriptions and eye witness reports abound of chaos, tears and the pain of the parents. The kindertransports from Austria took the train route through Germany via Cologne, over the border to the Netherlands, up to the Hook of Holland, across the North Sea by boat to dock at Harwich. Some of them were sent to London from there, others were transported to Dovercourt Bay, a holiday camp taken over to accommodate arriving youngsters. Newspaper reports describing the violence of the November pogroms prompted public sympathy and government action in the UK. The Times reported on 14 November 1938, “The position of Austria’s Jews is becoming daily more precarious… Although the more violent demonstrations have ceased the Nazis have prohibited non-Jewish stores, restaurants and cafés from selling to Jews. As no Jewish shops have been allowed to reopen the effect has been to reduce many Jews to a position dangerously near starvation.” The plight of children struck an especially resonant chord. Stories circulated in the UK about attacks against Jewish orphanages and children roaming the countryside on the verge of starvation.

INTRODUCTION: THE SETTING

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leopoldine & Ignaz Sobotka (my great-grandparents)

 

This social and economic history blog looks at various aspects of the lives of ordinary people in Vienna; their different backgrounds, their lifestyles, their occupations and pastimes. It deliberately chooses “common people”, not artists, not industrialists, not high bourgeoisie or nobility. My family constitutes the template on which the blog is based and the different chapters are linked to the destiny of one of those “common people” that were members of my family and are representative of the lives of many of their contemporaries. The chapters analyse from a social and economic history point of view various aspects of life of indigenous Viennese, of immigrants and emigrants.

The German philosopher Walter Benjamin wrote in 1940, “It is more difficult to honour the memory of the nameless than that of the famous. The historical reconstruction is dedicated to the memory of the nameless.” And furthermore, “History is not just the history of those who triumph, who dominate and who survive, but most of all the history of the suffering of the world…..It’s what history is based on: those anonymous people without name and without memory.”

Their four daughters: Käthe, Lola (my grandmother), Agi, Mitzi