Lingens-Reiner, Ella (1908—)

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Lingens-Reiner, Ella (1908—)

Austrian anti-Nazi activist and physician. Name variations: Ella Lingens. Born in Vienna, Austria, in 1908; became involved in underground Social Democratic activities starting in 1934 and was imprisoned by the Nazis at both the Dachau and Auschwitz concentration camps.

Ella Lingens-Reiner's social conscience took a practical turn during her university days, when she decided to study medicine. Despite the poor economic climate of the 1930s and strongly discriminatory pressures against female physicians, she never regretted her decision to devote her life to the art of healing. But the 1930s were a decade of turmoil and hatred, not healing or reconciliation. When the authoritarian Austrian regime of Engelbert Dollfuss crushed the Social Democratic party and its trade unions in a bloody uprising in February 1934, she determined to resist the "Austro-Nazi" system and its repression of the Austrian working class, in particular the impressive social achievements of "Red Vienna." She joined the resistance circle that formed around Otto and Käthe Leichter , which remained in contact with the Social Democratic leadership which had fled to Czechoslovakia and France. A much harsher system of persecution was imposed on Austria in March 1938, when Hitler's Anschluss (connection) brought about the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany.

Refusing to abandon her Social Democratic comrades, many of whom were Jewish, the "pure Aryan" Ella Lingens-Reiner was arrested by the Gestapo in 1942 for her unrepentant anti-Nazi attitudes and behavior. Imprisoned at the dreaded Auschwitz-Birkenau camp as well as at the Dachau concentration camp, as a skilled and compassionate physician she quickly became an indispensable member of the camp social system. Despite the inhuman living conditions and an almost total lack of medicines, on many occasions her intervention saved lives, or at least brought a glimmer of humanity into the final hours of dying prisoners. In one such case in 1944, Lingens-Reiner was able to arrange the transfer of the aged and deathly ill Luise Kautsky to the Auschwitz hospital. After her 1945 liberation, Ella Lingens-Reiner resumed her medical practice, spending much of her leisure time informing the public, and particularly a younger generation that had not personally experienced the horrors of National Socialism, of her death camp experiences. She served for many years as president of the organization of former Auschwitz prisoners (Österreichische Lagergemeinschaft Auschwitz).


Adler, H.G., Hermann Langbein, and Ella Lingens-Reiner, eds. Auschwitz: Zeugnisse und Berichte. 5th ed. Hamburg: Europäische Verlagsanstalt, 1994.

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

Brauneis, Inge. "Widerstand von Frauen gegen den Nationalsozialismus 1938–1945." unpublished Ph.D. diss., University of Vienna, 1974.

Kubica, Helena. "The Crimes of Josef Mengele," in Yisrael Gutman and Michael Berenbaum, eds., Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp. Bloomington and Washington, DC: Indiana University Press/ U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, 1994, pp. 317–337.

Leichter, Otto. Zwischen zwei Diktaturen: Österreichs Revolutionäre Sozialisten 1934–1938. Vienna: Europa Verlag, 1968.

Lifton, Robert Jay. The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide. NY: Basic Books, 1986.

Lingens-Reiner, Ella. Prisoners of Fear. London: Victor Gollancz, 1948.

"Miseries of War," in The Times [London] Literary Supplement. July 17, 1948, p. 396.

Naythons, Matthew, and Sherwin B. Nuland. The Face of Mercy: A Photographic History of Medicine at War. NY: Random House, 1993.

Posner, Gerald L., and John Ware. Mengele: The Complete Story. NY: McGraw-Hill, 1986.

Reiter, Andrea. "Die autobiographischen Berichte ehemaliger Konzentrationslagerhäftlinge im Englischen Exil: Bruno Heilig, Ella Lingens-Reiner, Kitty Hart," in Zeitgeschichte [Vienna]. Vol. 19, no. 5–6, May–June, 1992, pp. 172–186.

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

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