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Bauer, Helene (1871–1942)

Bauer, Helene (1871–1942)

Austrian journalist and educator, who was wife and collaborator of Social Democratic leader Otto Bauer. Born Helene Gumplowicz in Cracow, Russian Poland, on March 13, 1871; died in Berkeley, California, on November 20, 1942; daughter of Ludwig Gumplowicz; studied in Vienna and Zurich; received doctorate in 1905; married Max Landau, in 1895; married Otto Bauer (1881–1938), in 1914; children: (first marriage) Wanda Lanzer, Zbigniew Landau.

Active in the Polish Social Democratic movement in early years; worked as an editor and journalist in Vienna for Social Democratic Party; also taught evening courses at the Workers' University; fled Austria (1934) for Czechoslovakia; moved to Paris (1938), Stockholm (1939), and U.S. (1941).

Married to Otto Bauer, the leader of the Austrian Social Democratic Party, Helene Bauer was a significant Marxist personality in her own right, with an impressive career in both the Polish and Austrian working-class movements. She was born Helene Gumplowicz into a Jewish home in Cracow, Russian Poland, on March 13, 1871. Her father Ludwig Gumplowicz owned a bookstore, and Helene was raised in a home atmosphere filled with ideas and lively discussions. From her earliest years, she sympathized with the downtrodden workers and peasants; in her teens, she became an ardent Marxist. After her marriage to Max Landau in 1895, she quickly had two children, Wanda and Zbigniew. Determined to make her mark in the Socialist movement, she studied political science in Zurich and Vienna, receiving a doctorate in 1905. By the time of her divorce from Landau in 1911, she had established a successful life for herself in Vienna as a journalist and adult-education teacher. In 1914, she married Otto Bauer (1881–1938), one of the most impressive of the younger leaders of the Austrian Social Democratic Party (SPÖ).

In 1919, the city of Vienna came under the control of the Social Democratic Party, and almost immediately an ambitious program of municipal building and social legislation was put on track. By the mid-1920s, "Red Vienna" had come into existence, with an impressive record of social improvement based on public housing and welfare programs. In 1918, when Otto replaced Victor Adler as undisputed leader of the SPÖ, both husband and wife were at the very heart of Red Vienna. Helene's responsibilities were considerable, including the job of editor-in-chief of Der Kampf, the party's ideological journal. Although Bauer customarily functioned in her editorial role, occasionally she was motivated to write an article in the journal, as when she strongly criticized the reactionary corporate state ideals of University of Vienna professor Othmar Spann. Strongly committed to the concept of adult education, she taught a highly rated course on statistics for many years at the party's "Workers' University" (Arbeiterhochschule). Bauer, concerned about the low percentage of university students sympathetic to the ideals of Socialism, played a key role in founding an important Marxist student organization, the Socialist Working Group for Economics and Politics (Sozialistische Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Wirtschaft und Politik).

The Nazi takeover of Germany in 1933 quickly led to a creeping fascist seizure of control in Austria. At first, the erosion of Socialist power took place in a piecemeal fashion, but in February 1934 violence erupted; within a few days, an authoritarian state had been set up in Austria, and Red Vienna had become only a memory. Otto and Helene Bauer fled Vienna as refugees and spent the next four years in Brünn/Brno, Czechoslovakia. Functioning as Otto Bauer's executive assistant, she shared with him the disappointments and occasional elation of running an underground organization in an increasingly dictatorial Austria. She dealt stoically not only with the depressing political atmosphere of exile, but also with the fact that her husband was in love with Hilde Marmorek , one of the courageous party members who regularly traveled as a courier between Brünn and Vienna. By early 1938, Nazi pressure on the Czechoslovak government made the situation of the Austrian Socialist exiles in Brünn untenable, and the Bauers moved to Paris. Soon after settling in Paris, Otto Bauer died of a heart attack on July 4, 1938.

Despite her husband's death and her increasing years, Helene Bauer remained active in SPÖ affairs, continuing her editorial work and contributing ideas at countless meetings. But Bauer's commitment to socialist ideals was strongly tempered by a realistic view of the power of Nazi Germany and the dangers of being a Jewish Marxist in a France increasingly threatened by its aggressive neighbor. In the spring of 1939, Helene Bauer and her daughter Wanda moved to Stockholm, where a small but well-organized group of Social Democratic exiles had established themselves. But after the Nazi attack on Poland in September 1939, even Sweden was no longer safe. In 1941, Bauer was fortunate enough to immigrate to the United States on an emergency visa. She settled in California and continued to be actively involved in the often convoluted political debates and personal intrigues that have traditionally constituted exile politics. During the last months of her life she was a member of the Social Democratic faction led by Karl Heinz. Anticipating a return to Vienna after the defeat of Nazism, Helene Bauer died in Berkeley, California, on November 20, 1942.

sources:

Biographical file, "Biografisches Lexikon der österreichischen Frau," Institut für Wissenschaft und Kunst, Vienna.

Ellenbogen, Wilhelm. Menschen und Prinzipien: Erinnerungen, Urteile und Reflexionen eines kritischen Sozialdemokraten. Vienna: Hermann Böhlau Verlag, 1981.

Gruber, Helmut. Red Vienna: Experiment in Working-Class Culture 1919–1934. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991.

Röder, Werner and Herbert A. Strauss, eds. Biographisches Handbuch der deutschsprachigen Emigration nach 1933. 4 vols. Munich: K.G. Saur, 1980, vol. 1, pp. 38–39.

Simon, Joseph T. Augenzeuge: Erinnerungen eines österreichischen Sozialisten: Eine sehr persönliche Zeitgeschichte. Vienna: Verlag der Wiener Volksbuchhandlung, 1979.

Stimmer, Kurt. Die Arbeiter von Wien: Ein sozialdemokratischer Stadtführer. Vienna: Verlag Jugend und Volk, 1988.

Winkler, Ernst. "Otto Bauer," in Norbert Leser, ed. Werk und Widerhall: Grosse Gestalten des österreichischen Sozialismus. Vienna: Verlag der Wiener Volksbuchhandlung, 1964, pp. 59–75.

John Haag , Associate Professor, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia

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