Burger, Hildegard (1905–1943)

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Burger, Hildegard (1905–1943)

Austrian anti-Nazi activist and leading member of an underground Communist cell in Graz who was sentenced to death by the infamous People's Court. Born Hildegard Freihsl in Zeltweg, Austria, on November 6, 1905; executed in Graz on September 23, 1943; grew up in a militantly revolutionary family.

Born in Zeltweg, Austria, on November 6, 1905, Hildegard Freihsl grew up in a militantly Socialist family. Her father was a railway worker and committed trade unionist, while her mother, too, maintained distinctly radical political ideals. Hildegard's brother was also active in working-class organizations. Despite the imposition of a Fascist regime in Austria in 1934, Hildegard remained politically active by joining underground organizations. Convinced that only Communism could effectively fight domestic Fascism and German Nazism, after the German annexation of Austria in March 1938 she helped organize a tightly structured underground organization in Graz, the capital of the province of Styria. Her husband, much less politically militant, never approved of her dangerous activities.

In the fall of 1940, Hildegard Burger and Richard Zach, a young teacher, began producing and distributing an anti-Nazi newsletter, Der rote Stosstrupp (The Red Shock Troops). Her work included the perilous task of distributing this subversive literature in factories and workshops. Once the Graz office of the Gestapo had discovered copies of Der rote Stosstrupp in local industrial facilities, they were determined to destroy those responsible. Burger was arrested by the Gestapo in 1941. Because they were known to be militant anti-Nazis, her mother and brother were also arrested, and he was sent to the infamous Dachau concentration camp near Munich. Burger's husband, frightened for his own life though he had not participated in her activism, distanced himself from her, denouncing her as a traitor to the German Reich. At her trial before the infamous People's Court in Graz, Hildegard Burger was accused of high treason and of significantly contributing to "the Communist contamination of the Styrian industrial districts," and it was noted that even her volunteer work for the German Red Cross did not mitigate the destructive nature of her activities. Along with other members of her group who had been arrested, she was sentenced to death and "permanent loss of honor." Hildegard Burger was guillotined in Graz on August 23, 1943.


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

Weinzierl, Erika. Emanzipation? Österreichische Frauen im 20. Jahrhundert. Vienna and Munich: Verlag Jugend und Volk, 1975.

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