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

EASTERN JEWS

Jewish cementery, Krakov

Joseph Roth, born to a Jewish family, grew up in Brody near Lemberg/Lvov/Lviv in Eastern Galicia, the eastern part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Brody had one of the biggest Jewish populations in Europe and Jewish cultural life played an important role there. He began his studies in Lemberg and then went on to study philosophy and German literature in Vienna in 1914. In 1916 he quit university and volunteered in the Austro-Hungarian Army. The collapse of the empire had a lasting and detrimental effect on him, as on many other Jewish intellectuals. “My strongest experience was the War and the destruction of my fatherland, the only one I ever had, the dual Monarchy of Austro-Hungary.” In 1927 he wrote his famous essay “The Wandering Jews” about the minority of Eastern Jews and their plight. “The Eastern Jew does not know anything about the social injustice of the West; nothing about the reign of prejudice, that governs the paths, actions, customs and ways of life of the average Western European,….nothing of the hate which is already so strong that it is cherished like a life-giving (but life-killing) eternal fire that warms the egotism of every man and every country…. For the Eastern Jew the West means freedom, the possibility to work and to develop his talents, justice and autonomous rule of the mind. Western Europe sends engineers, automobiles, books and poems to the East. It sends propaganda soaps and hygiene, the useful and the sublime….For the Eastern Jew Germany for example is still the country of Goethe and Schiller, of the German poets, who every ambitious young Jew knows better than a swastika-loving grammar school pupil.” They started migrating from the borderlands to the Russian Empire, where “every year there is a war and every week a pogrom”. Some returned, many more continued their journey. “The Eastern Jews have nowhere a fatherland, but graves in every cemetery…. Most give to the West at least as much as the West takes from them. Some give more to the West than the West gives to them. They all have the right to live in the West who sacrifice themselves, in that they venture to the West.” …

VIENNA: MUNICIPAL REFORMS IN THE LAST DECADES OF THE EMPIRE

In 1849 governmental autonomy was granted to all municipalities in the Habsburg Empire. Although thereafter Vienna enjoyed self-government, repeatedly the emperor intervened in its affairs. From 1850 onward, Vienna underwent rapid growth, expanding in 1890 to incorporate suburbs across the Danube and along the Vienna Woods. A municipal constitution of 1850 established a city council to be elected by tax-paying citizens divided into three classes. In 1885 the minimum taxation for suffrage was lowered to 5 gulden, excluding the poor until universal suffrage came in 1907. After 1890 the unwieldy city council of 138 members was directed by 25 of its members, the Stadtrat, who together with the mayor ran the city. As mayor of Vienna from 1897 to 1910 Karl Lueger (1844-1910) so dominated public life that next to Franz Josef he was the city’s best known citizen. Although Lueger had entered the city council as a Liberal in 1875, over the next decade he broke with liberalism and denounced international capitalism as a ”Jewish monopoly”. After being briefly an ally of Schönerer, he became a friend of Vogelsang whose doctrines he incorporated into the Christian Social Party, founded in 1893.…

VIENNA, THE “CAPITAL OF CENTRAL EUROPE”: POLITICAL CLIMATE IN THE LAST DECADES OF THE EMPIRE

Vienna Woods, “Schwarzenbergpark”

The Catholic church fostered several varieties of social thought in Austria. Chief among those was the Christian Socialism disseminated by Karl Baron von Vogelsang (1818-1890). During the 1880s his writings paved the way for Karl Lueger’s founding of the Christian Socialist Party. A converted Prussian protestant, he came to Vienna to edit the Catholic daily “Vaterland”. He wanted Christian ethics to replace capitalist competition and state socialism and Marxism only added to the evils of capitalism and liberalism in his opinion. In contrast with all these systems, Vogelsang sought not to increase productivity or to expand political rights, but to restore the hierarchical structure of medieval society. Vogelsang desired every business to become an industrial “family”, in which workers and owners would share management, each firm would belong to a branch corporation and each of these to the Industrial Chamber, where workers and owners would legislate economic and social policy for each industry. Artisans would be required to join a guild, which would fix the numbers of masters and apprentices. This medieval institution would shield its members from the dangers of individualism. But this sort of Catholic socialism could not stem the rise of anti-clericalism. In the forefront of anti-clericals, Social Democrats and free-thinkers denounced the control that the church retained over marriage and primary education. Catholics who married outside their faith were faced with so many impediments that in 1914 approximately 1 mill common-law marriages existed in the empire. The church further prohibited divorce and forbade former priests to marry, all of which contributed to the popularity of the “Los-von-Rom” movement. Concerning anti-Semitism the clergy was openly divided. Parish clergy, who were recruited from the lower middle class, often scandalised the episcopacy by openly preaching anti-Semitism. In 1898 the Viennese anti-Semite Georg Ritter von Schönerer (1842-1921) initiated the “Los-von-Rom” movement protesting against the power of the state church and offering a rehearsal for an eventual union of Cisleithania(western part of the empire) and the German Empire. In Austria Christian Socialism somehow blunted the “Los-von-Rom” movement. Although it did not perceptibly weaken the church, Schönerer’s success in branding the Roman Catholic Church an enemy of Germans predisposed some Catholics to accept Hitler’s anti-clericalism.…