Brüll, Ilse (1925–1942)

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Brüll, Ilse (1925–1942)

Austrian-Jewish girl who became a symbol in Austria of the millions of young girls murdered during the Holocaust. Name variations: Bruell. Born on April 28, 1925, in Innsbruck, Austria; murdered at Auschwitz in early September 1942; daughter of Rudolf Brüll and Julie Brüll; educated at primary and secondary public schools in Innsbruck.

Schooling ended (November 1938) due to Kristallnacht pogrom; went to the Netherlands (April 1939); taken to Hertogenbosch camp (August 1941); deported to occupied Poland and killed at Auschwitz (early September 1942); parents survived imprisonment and returned to Innsbruck (1945).

As was true of Holland's Anne Frank , Austria's Ilse Brüll became a symbol to her nation of the millions of young girls murdered during the Holocaust. She was born and grew up in Innsbruck, the capital of the Austrian province of Tyrol. The beauty of the charming city, which is surrounded by the breathtaking Alps, has masked episodes of human cruelty and intolerance at different points in history. Throughout the middle ages, the burghers of Innsbruck sometimes welcomed, and then persecuted and expelled, a small but often influential Jewish community. In 1674, the Jews were once again expelled, and, although a few families achieved the status of "tolerated" Jews, in 1748 the empress Maria Theresa (1717–1780) proclaimed Innsbruck a "Jew-free city." By 1867, Austrian Jews finally achieved full legal equality, and in 1869 a census of the Innsbruck Jewish community counted 27 individuals, comprising 0.4% of the city's total population.

By 1914, the small but vibrant Jewish community of Innsbruck had been successfully integrated into Austro-German culture, and its members were regarded as pillars of municipal economic, social and cultural life. Despite this, a lingering spirit of religious animosity remained, particularly among the less educated Innsbruckers who believed that only a Roman Catholic could be a loyal Austrian. Economic insecurity and the trauma of a lost war after 1918 were instrumental in unleashing a new and much more violently racist anti-Semitism among students and some professors at the University of Innsbruck, an institution long known as a hotbed of extremist Pan-German nationalism. The new radicals, some of whom were members of a growing Nazi movement, regarded the Jewish communities in Vienna, Berlin, and elsewhere as biologically subversive groups plotting to frustrate the emergence of a strong, proud and racially pure Germany.

Few of these facts troubled the young Ilse Brüll, the vivacious only child born to Julie Brüll and the prosperous furniture manufacturer Rudolf Brüll on April 28, 1925. In the 1920s, the Jews of Innsbruck numbered about 200, a community that increased to 317 in 1934 (0.5% of the total population of Innsbruck). Busy with school and friendships, Ilse Brüll lived a normal life until March 1938, when Nazi Germany annexed Austria.

Within days of the German takeover, Jewish shops and businesses were boycotted by the vast majority of the population. Soon, these enterprises were "Aryanized" as Jewish owners were pressured to sell their property at absurdly low prices, mainly to opportunistic Nazi officials. The Jewish community was systematically stripped of its assets, its archives were confiscated, and the passports of all Jews were seized. By the fall of 1938, it was clear that the life of the Innsbruck Jewish community was to be numbered in days and weeks, not years. The rabbi and others sought to emigrate as quickly as possible. On the terror-filled Kristallnacht (the night of broken glass) of November 9–10, 1938, the houses of Innsbruck's Jews were raided and demolished, the synagogue and cemetery desecrated. Three community leaders were brutally murdered and their bodies thrown into the icy Inn river. Ilse Brüll was with an aunt in Munich during these horrible events, and from there went to Vienna to stay with other relatives while her desperate parents made plans for her emigration.

Ilse was able to leave Austria in late April 1939 with a group of Jewish children accepted for resettlement by the Netherlands. After some time in Rotterdam, she settled with a group of refugee children in the town of Eersel near Eindhoven. Here they were well treated at the St. Jakobus Home, run by a Roman Catholic organization. The German invasion of May 1940 changed everything for Ilse and her friends, some of whom were converts to Catholicism; conversion was inconsequential in the eyes of the Nazi occupying forces that singled out children

for "special treatment" based on their "race," not their religion. Unlike some of her friends, Ilse had not converted and in fact now felt more Jewish than ever. Proud of her heritage, she faced the future optimistically even when she was shipped to the Hertogenbosch concentration camp. In the last documentation of her brief life, she noted in a letter of August 1942 to her cousin, "Things should also be all right in Poland. Auf Wiedersehen."

After a brief stay in the Dutch camp Westerbork, Ilse Brüll was transported on August 31, 1942, to Niederkirch, one of the outlying camps of Auschwitz. Precise documentation is lacking, but surviving evidence indicates that she was among the individuals who were killed by SS poison gas at Niederkirch on September 3, 1942. Unlike their only child, Rudolf and Julie Brüll survived the hell of Nazism. They lived through several years of privation and fear at the Theresienstadt-Terezin concentration camp near Prague. Despite all that had been done to them, the Brülls still regarded Innsbruck as their home, and so they returned to what could only have been devastatingly painful memories. Rudolf Brüll began a new life by reopening his furniture store at its old location, Anichstrasse 7. For months, the Brülls hoped to discover that Ilse too had survived the Holocaust, but in time the bitter truth of her death had to be accepted by the grieving parents. Julie and Rudolf Brüll bore their pain in silence and with great dignity. He became president of the reconstituted Jewish community of Tyrol and the neighboring province of Vorarlberg, serving in that post until his death. Ilse Brüll was never forgotten.


Gehler, Michael. "Spontaner Ausdruck des 'Volkszorns'? Neue Aspekte zum Innsbrucker Judenpogrom vom 9./10. November 1938," in Zeitgeschichte. Vol. 18, no. 1–2, 1990–91, pp. 2–21.

Plat, Wolfgang. "Ilse Brüll: vergangen wie ein Rauch," in Wolfgang Plat, ed., Voll Leben und voll Tod ist diese Erde: Bilder aus der Geschichte der Jüdischen Österreicher (1190–1945). Vienna: Verlag Herold, 1988, pp. 272–273.

Rimalt, Elimelech S. "The Jews of Tyrol," in Josef Fraenkel, ed., The Jews of Austria: Essays on their Life, History and Destruction. 2nd ed. London: Vallentine Mitchell, 1970, pp. 375–384.

Rosenkranz, Herbert. "Reichskristallnacht" 9. November 1938 in Österreich. Vienna: Europa-Verlag, 1968.

——. Verfolgung und Selbstbehauptung: Die Juden in Österreich 1938–1945. Vienna: Verlag Herold, 1978.

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

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