Leichter, Kaethe Pick
LEICHTER, KAETHE PICK
LEICHTER, KAETHE PICK (1895–1942), Austrian Social Democratic politician, labor organizer, and author. Leichter was born and raised in Vienna. She resolved at a young age to devote her life to helping the less fortunate, especially members of the working class. After the outbreak of World War i, she did volunteer work on behalf of the war effort and worked in a day nursery for workers' children. In 1914, already an ardent socialist and pacifist, Kaethe Pick began studying political economy at the University of Vienna. She transferred to the University of Heidelberg in 1917, but in December of that year she was expelled from Germany for the duration of the war; she needed special permission to complete her doctorate in 1918 in Heidelberg. In 1921, Kaethe Pick married another left-wing activist, Otto Leichter; the couple had two sons. While Otto Leichter became editor of the major Austrian socialist newspaper, Die Arbeiter-Zeitung, Kaethe Leichter served as a director of women's affairs for the Wiener Arbeiterkammer and on the Commission on Socialization. In this position, Leichter systematically gathered material on women's work in Austria, compiled statistical data, and published articles and reports. She worked on behalf of legislation to protect working women and also tried to get more professional women hired at all levels of social administration, demanding equal pay for equal work. An active teacher, writer, and broadcaster, Leichter participated actively in Social Democratic Party conferences.
Kaethe and Otto Leichter were both involved in the socialist underground in Austria after 1934. After the Anschluss in 1938, her husband and sons succeeded in escaping to Switzerland and subsequently found refuge in the United States, but Kaethe Leichter was arrested in May 1938 while paying a final visit to her mother. While in prison, she wrote memoirs of her early years, "Lebenserinnerungen," published in Herbert Steiner (ed.), Kaethe Leichter: Leben und Werk (1973), 235–386 (this volume also includes a complete bibliography of Leichter's writings, 229–31). Even in the women's concentration camp of Ravensbrueck, she continued to exercise her leadership skills. In January 1942, together with other Jewish prisoners, she was sent on a transport to an unknown destination, where she was murdered soon thereafter. In memory of Kaethe Leichter, the Austrian government established a state prize awarded annually to an outstanding Austrian woman historian. Leichter's papers are in the Documentation Archive of the Austrian Resistance in Vienna.
H.P. Freidenreich. Female, Jewish, and Educated (2002); I. Lafleur, "Five Socialist Women: Traditionalist Conflicts and Socialist Visions in Austria, 1893–1934," in: M.J. Boxer and J.H. Quataert (eds.), Socialist Women (1978), 215–48; O. Leichter, "Kaethe Leichter," in: N. Leser (ed.), Werk und Widerhall: Grosse Gestalten des österreichischen Sozialismus (1964), 234–44; G. Lerner, Why History Matters (1997), 50–55.
[Harriet Pass Freidenreich (2nd ed.)]