Köstler, Marie (1879–1965)

views updated

Köstler, Marie (1879–1965)

Austrian Social Democrat whose 40 years in public life included a turbulent period of exile politics in London during World War II. Name variations: Marie Kostler; Marie Koestler. Born in 1879; died in 1965.

In the 1920s, Marie Köstler was one of the first women to be elected to the Austrian National Assembly. A nurse by profession, she was a committed Social Democrat, convinced that workers deserved to enjoy the fruits of their labors. As did her party, she believed in constitutional democracy and rejected both the Leninist ideal of the dictatorship of the proletariat and the Nazi concept of a racist Führer state. When Nazi Germany absorbed independent Austria in the Anschluss of March 1938, Köstler fled to London.

Although no longer young, Köstler became one of the most active and energetic members of the politically active Austrian emigres in the United Kingdom. While remaining an ardent Social Democrat, she argued that in order to win the war against fascism a broad coalition had to be forged on the Left. She was not uncritical of the Communists within the Austrian exile community, but was convinced nevertheless that their cooperation within a united-front coalition was imperative if the full energy of anti-Nazi Austrians was to be harnessed to the war effort. These ideas were not popular with the strongly anti-Communist Social Democratic leadership. Neither was Köstler's conviction that with the defeat of Nazism, Austria should resume its status as an independent republic. The Social Democratic leadership rejected the concept of Austrian sovereignty, continuing to subscribe to an older Pan-German ideal of a united German-speaking state in the heart of Central Europe. Ironically, this had in fact been achieved in 1938 not by the Social Democrats but by Adolf Hitler's Third Reich.

Marie Köstler, Annie Hatschek and a number of other Social Democratic activists in London regarded a working coalition with the Austrian Communist exiles in wartime as both possible and necessary. Köstler attended Communist meetings and rallies, and as a result she was excluded from the Socialist Democratic Party in the fall of 1941. At that point, Köstler and Hatschek became the co-founders of a new organization, the League of Austrian Socialists in Great Britain. This association quickly found support from a significant number of dissatisfied Social Democratic Austrian emigres, including Alice Graber , Greta Hauser , Grete Lichtenstein , Grete Mrak , Hedda Rattner , Elise Schwarzthal , Annie Steiner , and Paula Stieber .

By the end of 1941, the League of Austrian Socialists in Great Britain was absorbed by a much larger organization, the Free Austrian Movement (FAM). Dominated by Austrian Communists, during the war years the FAM nonetheless emphasized a united-front policy, supporting the British war effort and raising funds for Soviet war relief. Köstler returned to Austria in 1945, hoping to resume an active political life within the Social Democratic Party. The conservative leadership there, however, regarded her wartime activities in a negative light and perceived her to be a dangerous fellow traveler. Denied readmittance to the party, she thereupon joined the small but well-organized Austrian Communist Party (KPÖ). Despite the vicissitudes of the Cold War, Köstler remained loyal to her new political home and was much admired in KPÖ party circles as the Grand Old Lady of Austrian Communism until the time of her death in 1965.


Biographical files of Marie Köstler and Annie Hatschek, Arbeitsgemeinschaft "Biografisches Lexikon der österreichischen Frau," Institut für Wissenschaft und Kunst, Vienna.

Dokumentationsarchiv des österreichischen Widerstandes, Vienna, file folders 860, 3269, and 2604/1.

Maimann, Helene. Politik im Wartesaal: Österreichische Exilpolitik in Grossbrittanien 1938–1945. Vienna, Cologne and Graz: Böhlau Verlag, 1975.

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

More From encyclopedia.com