Brunner, Josefine (1909–1943)

views updated

Brunner, Josefine (1909–1943)

Austrian Socialist, who was a leading member of Waldemar von Knoeringen's resistance network in the anti-Nazi underground. Born Josefine Ragnes in Innsbruck, Austria, on February 26, 1909; executed with husband Alois at the Stadelheim prison, Munich, on September 9, 1943; married Alois Brunner (1907–1943).

Member of the Austrian Social Democratic Party (1932–34); the Brunners remained committed Socialists and anti-Nazis after 1933; joined von Knoeringen's underground organization (1936) and underwent special training in use of espionage techniques; worked as courier and provided important military, economic and political information to the anti-Nazi underground; arrested (1942) on charges of high treason; sentenced to death (May 28, 1943).

Josefine Brunner was one of many thousands of Austrian men and women who lost their lives fighting Fascism and Nazism during the years 1934–1945. Though Austria was in many ways the birthplace of National SocialismAdolf Hitler's spiritual home was pre-1914 Linz and Vienna—there were many Austrians who steadfastly opposed his movement. By May 1945, at least 2,700 Austrian anti-Nazis had been executed by the Third Reich, while a further 16,493 died in concentration camps. German jails cost the lives of 9,687 Austrian men and women anti-Fascists, while a further 6,420 Austrians, most of them political refugees, died in the jails of Nazi-occupied Europe. These individuals died to liberate their country from an ideology based on racism and the glorification of war. As active foes of the Hitler regime, they willingly risked, and in many instances sacrificed, their lives in the fight for human decency and freedom.

Josefine Brunner was born into a working-class family in Innsbruck on February 26, 1909. Attracted to the militantly egalitarian and democratic ideals of the Austrian Social Democratic movement, she joined the party in the depression year of 1932. Her husband Alois Brunner, who worked for the railroad, was also a committed Socialist. Despite the bloody suppression of the Social Democratic Party and the establishment of a Fascist dictatorship in Austria in February 1934, the Brunners remained strong in their belief in Socialism and democracy. Within weeks of the creation of the Austro-Fascist regime, the remnants of the Social Democrats reconstituted themselves as an illegal organization, optimistically defining themselves as Revolutionary Socialists. As dedicated members of the Tyrolian branch of the Revolutionary Socialists, Josefine and Alois Brunner became acquainted with an energetic Socialist refugee from Nazi Germany, Waldemar von Knoeringen, who, from his base in the town of Wörgl on the Austrian-German border, headed a resistance network that stretched from Czechoslovakia to Nazi Germany. Despite the great risks involved, the Brunners decided to carry on resistance work to make any contribution possible to destroy the scourge of Nazism.

The German annexation of Austria in March 1938 greatly increased the risks to those like the Brunners who were members of anti-Nazi underground cells. Using the underground name "Erika," Josefine Brunner became a key member of the von Knoeringen network. Well-trained, she was skilled at the use of secret ink and microfilms. With less of a political record than her husband and less chance of being arrested, Josefine worked as a courier. The German takeover of Austria, at first enthusiastically supported by the great majority of the population, did not deceive Josefine and her husband. As Socialists, they deplored the savage persecution of Austria's Jewish minority; as humanists and democrats, they saw the dehumanization and brutalization of society that was at the heart of the new "Greater German Reich" that came into existence as Nazism triumphed in 1938. Determined to fight Nazism in a practical fashion, the Brunners passed valuable data to Waldemar von Knoeringen that included details on the number and movements of German military forces, the construction of industrial plants and Wehrmacht barracks, and the changing morale of the civilian population.

The German military catastrophe at the gates of Leningrad and Moscow in the winter of 1941–1942 brought a new optimism to the von Knoeringen circle. Overestimating the revolutionary spirit of the German working class, they now believed the time had come to expand their cells to prepare for the final crisis of the Third Reich, which they saw as imminent. The German leader of the underground, Bebo Wager, determined that their group would take a bold step by preparing "to take over the leadership in the event of a revolutionary situation."

In place of their previously cautious conspiratorial tactics, they now took ever greater risks. Some of the Austrian members of the group, including the Brunners, were given iron filings to sabotage the railway line through the Brenner Pass, which supplied German forces in Italy and Rommel's Afrika Korps in North Africa. Veteran members were encouraged by new recruits, one of whom was a Gestapo agent. Josefine Brunner and her husband were arrested in 1942 and found guilty of "preparation for high treason" by the Nazi People's Court on May 28, 1943. They were sentenced to death and executed in Munich's Stadelheim prison on September 9, 1943.


Carsten, F.L. The German Workers and the Nazis. Aldershort, Hants., England: Scolar Press, 1995.

Dokumentationsarchiv des österreichischen Widerstandes, Vienna. Widerstand und Verfolgung in Tirol 1934–1945: Eine Dokumentation. 2 vols. Vienna: Österreichischer Bundesverlag, 1984.

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.

Mehringer, Hartmut. Waldemar von Knoeringen: Eine politische Biographie. Der Weg vom revolutionären Sozialismus zur sozialen Demokratie. Munich: K.G. Saur, 1989.

Schärf, Paul. Otto Haas: Ein revolutionärer Sozialist gegen das Dritte Reich. Vienna: Europa-Verlag, 1967.

Spiegel, Tilly. Frauen und Mädchen im österreichischen Widerstand. Vienna: Europa Verlag, 1967.

Szecsi, Maria, and Karl Stadler. Die NS-Justiz in Österreich und ihre Opfer. Vienna: Verlag Herold, 1962.

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

More From