Bruha, Antonia (1915—)
Bruha, Antonia (1915—)
Austrian activist against German Nazism who organized a resistance group in the women's concentration camp Ravensbrück. Born in Vienna, Austria, in 1915 into a Czech-speaking working-class family; married.
Active along with her husband in an anti-Nazi resistance cell; arrested (1941) and sent to Ravensbrück concentration camp; survived and was liberated (1945); remained active in anti-Fascist educational work in Vienna.
Born in Austria in 1915 into a working-class family, Antonia Bruha grew up as a member of Vienna's Czech minority. Many Viennese—perhaps one-third of the population—are of Czech origins, but only a small minority retained a distinct Czech linguistic and cultural identity into the 20th century. Politically and culturally militant, Antonia became a Communist early in life and was convinced that only the small but conspiratorially well-organized Austrian Communist Party had a chance of successfully surviving the dual challenges of domestic Fascism and German Nazism.
Soon after the Nazi annexation of Austria in March 1938, Bruha and her husband became members of a tightly knit cell of Viennese Czech Communists. For several years, Bruha's group of resistance workers were able to avoid detection, spending most of their time writing, printing and distributing anti-Nazi literature. In 1941, however, their luck ran out as a Gestapo agent in their midst brought about the destruction of their cell. Bruha had just given birth at the time. Arrested, she was taken to Vienna's infamous Gestapo headquarters at the Morzinplatz (later destroyed in an air raid and now the site of a noted monument to victims of Fascism), while her three-month-old remained with her husband. More than the tortures she endured at the hands of the Gestapo, uncertainty about her child's fate would prove the most difficult part of her next four years.
Without having revealed the names of her fellow resisters, Bruha was transferred from Vienna first to Prague and then to the Ravensbrück women's concentration camp in northern Germany. Here she witnessed scenes of indescribable brutality and suffering. Benefitting from the strong, indeed lifesaving, solidarity of many of her fellow prisoners, Bruha quickly learned to trust and rely on fellow-Austrian Rosa Jochmann . Although they maintained great ideological differences (Jochmann was a convinced Social Democrat, while Bruha remained a militant Communist), both women respected one another and were united by their common humanity and a shared hatred of the evils of Nazism. Among the countless atrocities Bruha witnessed in Ravensbrück was the beating murder of an elderly Austrian peasant woman who had been sent to the camp for giving a piece of bread to a prisoner from the Mauthausen concentration camp as she passed his column while she herself returned from church. Arrested for this action, she was found innocent by the judge, but his militantly Nazi legal superiors sentenced her to a term in Ravensbrück. Here she lasted only eight days, before being beaten to death by a particularly brutal female camp official.
The witnessing of such bureaucratized evil strengthened Bruha's resolve to resist the Nazi regime. Working as a member of the cutting room of the tailor's shop, and also as a message courier, she emerged as an important organizer of a resistance organization that maintained prisoner morale, supplied them with drugs and additional food when they were ill, and warned them of particularly dangerous situations. The solidarity practiced by Antonia Bruha saved not only her own life but the lives of many of her comrades. By the end of 1943, a well-functioning resistance organization in Ravensbrück included not only Bruha and Jochmann but other Austrian anti-Nazi women as well, including Mela Ernst and Frieda Günzburg ("Mara"), both of whom had served as nurses on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War.
Antonia Bruha was among the almost 15,000 women who remained alive at Ravensbrück when it was liberated by the Soviet Army in late April 1945. Along with other Austrian survivors, she returned to find Vienna a city in ruins; many of her prewar friends were dead or permanently missing as victims of the Holocaust and Nazism. When the emaciated Bruha returned home to her husband and child, it took many months for her to be accepted as a mother. Yet in time, her life began to regain certain aspects of normalcy. Determined not to let the world forget what had happened to her and to countless others, she became an active member of the Austrian Resistance Documentation Archive, which researches Austrian insurgency during the era of Nazism and Fascism of the 1930s and 1940s. Despite her advancing years, she often spoke at schools and political rallies, warning a younger generation of Austrians about the dangers of racism and extreme nationalism. In 1984, she published her memoirs, entitled with characteristic modesty, I Was Not a Heroine. Others would argue to the contrary.
Brauneis, Inge. "Widerstand von Frauen gegen den Nationalsozialismus 1938–1945." Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of Vienna, 1974.
Bruha, Antonia. Ich war keine Heldin. New ed. Vienna: Europa Verlag, 1995.
Dokumentationsarchiv des österreichischen Widerstandes, Vienna, file folder on resistance activities of Antonia Bruha, file #5796.
Dokumentationsarchiv des österreichischen Widerstandes, Vienna. Widerstand und Verfolgung in Wien 1934–1945: Eine Dokumentation. 2nd ed. 3 vols. Vienna: Österreichischer Bundesverlag, 1984.
Luza, Radomir V. The Resistance in Austria, 1938–1945. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984.
Sporrer, Maria, and Herbert Steiner, eds. Rosa Jochmann, Zeitzeugin. 3rd ed. Vienna: Europa Verlag, 1987.
Weinzierl, Erika. "Österreichische Frauen in nationalsozialistischen Konzentrationslagern," Dachauer Hefte. Vol. 3, no. 3. November 1987, pp. 166–204.
John Haag , Associate Professor, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia