Restituta, Sister (1894–1943)

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Restituta, Sister (1894–1943)

Austrian nun and nurse who was found guilty by the Nazi People's Court in Vienna on charges of "preparation for high treason." Name variations: Helene Kafka. Born Helene Kafka on May 1, 1894, in Husowitz near Brünn, Moravia (now Brno, Czech Republic); executed in Vienna, Austria, on March 30, 1943.

Born Helene Kafka on May 1, 1894, in Husowitz near Brünn, Moravia (modern-day Brno, Czech Republic), Sister Restituta was a devout Roman Catholic nun and respected nurse who held definite, if unsophisticated, political views. Strong-willed, she worked for years as an operating-room nurse at Vienna's Mödling Hospital. She was critical of the Nazi regime in Austria from its inception. Her opposition to National Socialism's idolatry of the state and glorification of war and racism took tangible form in the last months of 1941, when she refused to remove crucifixes from the patients' wards. She then wrote two pamphlets disparaging the war and Hitler's regime and placed them in the pockets of her patients, all of whom were wounded soldiers. One pamphlet, "German Catholic Youth," referred to an incident in which a unit of Hitler Youths disrupted a Catholic youth meeting in Freiburg im Breisgau; the Catholics were critical of the corruption of young people through Hitler Youth indoctrination. Much of the essay concentrated on itemizing and exposing the anti-Christian essence of the regime. The other pamphlet was a poem, "Soldiers' Song," which condemned the Nazis as an alien horde of "Prussians" who had poisoned the moral character of occupied Austria, had stripped it of its food, gold and art treasures, and whose movement had succeeded in unleashing a bloody war and "poisoned the world with their hatred, turning every other nation into an enemy." It concluded optimistically, by urging soldiers to take up only arms "to fight for a free Fatherland, against the brown slave Reich, for a happy Austria!"

Sister Restituta was denounced to the Nazi authorities by Dr. Stöhr, chief physician of the Mödling Hospital, and as a consequence was arrested on February 18, 1942. Few doubted the outcome of her trial before Vienna's People's Court. The judgment against her, read on October 29, 1942, found her guilty of "treasonous assistance to the foe" and "preparation for high treason," and the sentence was death. She was executed by decapitation in Vienna on March 30, 1943. The prison chaplain, Monsignor Köck, noted in his diary that prior to her death Sister Restituta renewed her nun's vows, that her exemplary demeanor while on death row enabled her to bring several of her fellow prisoners back to the Catholic Church, and that she faced her death with composure, devoutly accepting of the will of God.

sources:

Dokumentationsarchiv des österreichischen Widerstandes, Vienna, file 2695.

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

Luza, Radomir V. The Resistance in Austria, 1938–1945. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1984.

Rudolf, Karl. Aufbau im Widerstand: Ein Seelsorgebericht aus Österreich 1938–1945. Salzburg: Otto Müller Verlag, 1947.

Widerstand und Verfolgung in Wien 1934–1945: Eine Dokumentation. 2nd ed. 3 vols. Vienna: Österreichischer Bundesverlag, 1984.

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