Kautsky, Luise (1864–1944)

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Kautsky, Luise (1864–1944)

Austrian Social Democratic activist and author. Born in Vienna, Austria, on August 11, 1864; arrested in the Netherlands, where she and her husband had fled in 1938 to escape the Nazis, and sent to the Auschwitz-Birkenau; died in Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in early December 1944; married Karl Kautsky (1854–1938, a noted Marxist theoretician and son of writerMinna Kautsky [1837–1912]); children: Benedikt Kautsky (1894–1960).

Married to Karl Kautsky, one of the major personalities of the heroic period of European Socialism, Luise Kautsky was a significant figure in her own right. Born into a bourgeois Jewish family in Vienna on August 11, 1864, she quickly found her way to the nascent Socialist movement, where she became an important voice for women's rights. Her journalistic skills enabled her to make a strong case for every issue she championed. Karl had spent much of his political career in Berlin, but in 1920 he and Luise settled in Vienna, where despite his advancing years he remained productive as a historian and polemicist. Luise Kautsky, too, was active in Vienna, her articles appearing in many Socialist newspapers and journals. In 1932, for example, she published a finely crafted article on "Russian Women of Yesterday and Today" to the proceedings of that year's Socialist women's organization.

With the Nazi annexation of Austria in March 1938, the physical safety of Karl and Luise Kautsky could not be guaranteed, and they fled to the Netherlands. Profoundly shaken by the events of recent months, Karl died on October 17 of that year in Amsterdam. Luise determined to live on, particularly since her son Benedikt Kautsky (1894–1960) had been arrested by the Nazis soon after the Anschluss and was being held captive in Dachau concentration camp. A Social Democratic activist, Benedikt had worked for many years at Vienna's Arbeiterkammer and was regarded by the Nazis as a dangerous Marxist intellectual. Thus he could not gain his freedom to emigrate, and his mother, being abroad, often had little reliable information on his condition or whether he was in fact still alive.

The Nazi occupation of the Netherlands put Luise Kautsky's life at risk, but bureaucratic confusions and delays kept her free until the fall of 1944, when Nazi occupation authorities deported her to the dreaded Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. Although old and feeble, she was saved from the gas chambers because Dr. Ella Lingens-Reiner , a brave, resourceful Austrian prisoner whose work as a physician saved countless lives, took note of her presence and was able to have her placed in the camp infirmary. Though this action temporarily saved Luise Kautsky's life, her condition continued to deteriorate and after six weeks she died, in early December 1944. Ironically, her son Benedikt, who was imprisoned at one of the other Auschwitz camps about three miles away, knew about his mother's presence in the area through the camp grapevine, but could do nothing to either see her in her final days or alleviate her suffering. Benedikt Kautsky survived his imprisonment, returning to Vienna where he wrote his memoirs about his camp experiences and went on to become an important leader of the postwar Austrian Social Democratic Party.


Institut für Wissenschaft und Kunst, Vienna, "Biografisches Lexikon der österreichischen Frau," n.d.

Kammer für Arbeiter und Angestellte für Wien, Handbuch der Frauenarbeit in Österreich. Vienna: Kammer für Arbeiter und Angestellte, 1930.

Sporrer, Maria, and Herbert Steiner, eds. Rosa Jochmann: Zeitzeugin. 3rd ed. Vienna: Europaverlag, 1987.


Luise Kautsky Papers, International Institute for Social History, Amsterdam.

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