Schwarzwald, Eugenie (1872–1940)

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Schwarzwald, Eugenie (1872–1940)

Austrian educational reformer, salonnière, and philanthropist whose private school for girls in Vienna encouraged intellectual independence. Name variations: Eugenia Schwarzwald; Genia Schwarzwald; "Fraudoktor" Schwarzwald. Born Eugenie Nussbaum in Polupanowka near Czernowitz, Galicia, Austria (now Chernovtsy, Ukraine), on July 4, 1872; died in exile in Zurich, Switzerland, on August 7, 1940; daughter of Leo Nussbaum and Esther Nussbaum; had three siblings; married Hermann ("Hemme") Schwarzwald; no children.

Eugenie Schwarzwald, who would initiate an educational revolution in Vienna, was born Eugenie Nussbaum in 1872, not in the capital of the multinational Habsburg Empire but in Polupanowka, a small, nondescript town in the forested region of the Austrian province of Galicia. She grew up in an assimilated Germanspeaking Jewish family who lived in relative affluence, her father being the administrator of one of the rural estates in the region. A bright student, Genia had little interest in preparing for the conventional career of a woman of the period, namely becoming a schoolteacher. Instead, she was determined to achieve a higher education, and therefore moved to Switzerland, where in 1895 she enrolled at the University of Zurich, an institution that had pioneered in women's education since 1865. After studying literature and philosophy, Genia was awarded a doctorate in 1900. That same year, as one of the first women in Austria-Hungary to earn a Ph.D., she moved to Vienna, where, in December, she married a brilliant Czernowitz-born economist named Hermann Schwarzwald, known as Hemme.

Restless and brimming over with ideas for reform, in 1901 Genia Schwarzwald purchased a girls' lyceum located on Vienna's Franziskanerplatz from educational pioneer Eleonore Jeiteles (1841–1918), who had been a school director since the early 1870s. In 1888, Jeiteles, a well-known feminist, had inaugurated a girls' lyceum that soon gained an excellent reputation among the solid Viennese middle class. It was this school, which opened on September 15, 1901, that Schwarzwald would quickly transform into a unique experiment in education. By the end of her first year, she had enrolled 181 girls.

After the second year, Schwarzwald moved the lyceum to a location on the Wallnerstrasse in Vienna's exclusive First District. Here, she modernized the curriculum and hired first-class teachers. Interested in the latest educational innovations, she was inspired by the writings of such contemporary school reformers as Italy's Maria Montessori . Much of Schwarzwald's energy went into persuading officials at the Ministry of Instruction that her school was adhering to their directives, which more often than not were infuriatingly Byzantine in their bureaucratic complexity. Because of the imperial Austrian ability to ignore rules, the Schwarzwald-Schule was able to educate many hundreds of girls for more than a decade with only a certificate of provisional authorization (provisorische Genehmigung). Not until 1912 did her school finally receive its full statute of approval as a Mädchen-Reform-Gymnasium (Modern Girls' Secondary School). From this point on, all graduates of the Schwarzwald School were fully qualified to enter any of the universities of the Habsburg Empire.

Although women had been admitted to institutions of higher education in Austria-Hungary since the late 1890s, there remained significant obstacles to full equality in the Habsburg lands. Traditional prejudices about female cerebrale Minderwertigkeit (intellectual inferiority) were deeply embedded. Austrian aristocrats looked down on intellectual pursuits, preferring instead to lead lives of leisure. Schwarzwald on the other hand embodied the ideals of Austria's middle class, many of them Jewish, who valued achievement and wanted to make their mark on the world, hopefully by improving it. Schwarzwald believed that a better world would be possible only if women were given the opportunity to live up to their full intellectual potentials, particularly if they could enter those professions that were solely accessible with higher educational credentials. Her primary goal was to prepare young women successfully for the difficult entrance examinations for Austrian universities. This she accomplished, often providing full tuition to girls whose families were poor or, after 1918, had lost their wealth as the result of war and raging inflation.

The start of World War I in the summer of 1914 shocked Schwarzwald as much as it did any other Austrian. She not only met the new challenges faced by her school, however, but in 1915 set up soup kitchens for an increasingly impoverished middle class, as well as a volunteer social service for the hundreds of thousands of Russian prisoners of war in Austrian captivity who were generally despised and neglected. As part of her program Wiener Kinder auf's Land (Viennese Kids into the Fresh Air), Schwarzwald organized camps in which the children of Austrian soldiers who had died in the war were given the opportunity to spend time in the countryside, where along with recreational activities they were provided with plentiful food.

As the war dragged on, in 1917 she organized a chain of co-op restaurants where struggling Viennese families could eat a simple, nourishing lunch for a modest sum. By 1919, when the situation in Vienna had become desperate, more than a dozen of these restaurants were flourishing. Nor were the elderly forgotten. Her program Jugend hilft Alter (Youth Helps the Aged), known popularly as "Genia's Greisenhilfe" (Assistance to the Ancients), rendered practical assistance to the very old of Vienna who had been made destitute by the war. Schwarzwald mobilized middle-class teenagers of the city, who then scoured their neighborhoods to track down the elderly who were often too proud to register for free meals, and for whom they also provided basic homemaking services.

These Viennese programs were so successful that by 1923, when Germany found itself convulsed by inflation, Schwarzwald went to Berlin to organize a mass-nourishment program called the Österreichische Freundeshilfe für Deutschland (Austrian Friends' Assistance for Germany). Given use of Berlin's former imperial palace, she quickly established a canteen designed to alleviate the misery of the student population. It soon was known simply as the Schlossküche (Palace Kitchen) by both the local population and the world press which reported extensively on its remarkable achievement. One of the poor students who ate there was the young Helmuth von Moltke, an aristocrat who would later be a key figure in the unsuccessful 1944 plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. To help finance these schemes, Schwarzwald became involved in several for-profit enterprises, including a Viennese taxi service and a commercial vegetable farm.

The growing reputation of her girls' school made it possible for Schwarzwald to preside over a brilliant salon at her home. Peter Drucker, who was close to her circle as a young man, writes that the salon became the talk of Central Europe. "It flourished because Genia understood that a salon is performing art, just like opera and ballet … [Her salon] was unrehearsed, spontaneous, free-form, flexible, and fast." Regularly appearing at the Schwarzwald salon was a staggering array of writers of the interwar decades, including Karin Michaëlis , Rainer Maria Rilke, Arno Holz, Robert Musil, Bertolt Brecht, Karl Kraus, Elias Canetti, Jakob Wassermann, Carl Zuckmayer, Gottfried Benn, and Egon Friedell. Musicians were well represented, including Arnold Schoenberg, Egon Wellesz, Adolf Busch, Rudolf Serkin, Lotte Leonard, Greta Kraus , and Max Rostal. From the United States, regular guests at the salon included Dorothy Thompson , Sinclair Lewis, and Edgar Ansel Mowrer. Architecture was represented by Adolf Loos, painting by Oskar Kokoschka. There was also the photographer Bill Brandt, the legal scholar (and author of the Austrian Republic's constitution) Hans Kelsen, and the young actress Helene Weigel . Many of those who participated in the salon came to believe that it was unique. Kokoschka would refer to it in later years as "a spiritual center in the form of an open house."

The Schwarzwald School's teachers were chosen not only for their intellectual abilities, but for their teaching skills. Although Genia had stopped teaching classes early in her school's existence, she retained a strong interest in what went on in its classrooms, and occasionally would substitute for an absent instructor. As well, Kokoschka, Schoenberg, and Wellesz intermittently taught there. On one occasion, Schwarzwald attempted to point out to the Minister of Instruction that although Oskar Kokoschka lacked the formal educational credentials needed to be an officially certified teacher, the artist had excelled at teaching classes at her school and was a creative genius. Even so, the bureaucrat replied, "geniuses are not anticipated in the curriculum."

Schwarzwald was convinced that education was more than classroom experiences and should take place on a 12-month basis. To make possible her ideal of Sommerpädagogik (summertime pedagogy), in the 1920s she purchased a dilapidated hotel, the Hotel Seeblick, on the breathtaking Grundlsee, one of western Austria's most beautiful lakes. By the 1930s, she could boast of having made possible a university education for many hundreds of young women, some of whom would leave their mark on the arts and other aspects of European life. Among her graduates, Helene Weigel went on to become one of the great actresses of the century, Hilde Spiel became a distinguished author in both Austria and the United Kingdom, and Marie Langer became a psychoanalyst who in the final years of her life was a champion of the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua. Others, such as Alice Herdan-Zuckmayer, Elisabeth Neumann , and Emmy Wellesz , not only married men who were distinguished in various fields, but were able to have significant careers of their own. At least one graduate of the Schwarzwald School, Freya Deichmann (von Moltke) , was able to pass on Schwarzwald's cosmopolitan and liberal teachings to her husband. Deichmann married Helmuth von Moltke, whose consuming hatred of Nazism brought him into the ill-fated plot to kill Hitler. By the 1930s, Schwarzwald students referred to themselves as "Genia's children" or "die Schwarzwaldkinder," or even "die Kinderschar von Fraudoktor."

In 1928, Austria's Minister of Instruction publicly declared that Schwarzwald deserved most of the credit for the educational progress that Austria had made in recent years. Her reputation remained high even though, being Jewish and identified with the liberal Weltanschauung of the pre-1914 Habsburg realm, she and her way of life were in many ways relics from the past. As late as early 1930, however, her immense prestige enabled her to virtually dictate the terms of a labor dispute that, had it not been mediated by her, would have cost tens of thousands of industrial workers their livelihoods. But Schwarzwald's world was doomed by the rise of dictatorships in Central Europe. Hitler's Third Reich was anathema to everything she stood for, and many of her students had to flee for their lives when the Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933. Schwarzwald was in Copenhagen for a lecture and scheduled cancer surgery when Hitler's troops occupied Austria in March 1938. She never returned to Vienna. Helmuth von Moltke was able to assist Hermann Schwarzwald in leaving Austria.

The Schwarzwalds went into exile in Switzerland, where they found themselves impoverished and in rapidly worsening health. The Nazis shut down Genia's school on September 15, 1938, 37 years to the day of its opening. Her beloved Hemme died in Zurich on August 17, 1939. Genia Schwarzwald died in the same city almost a year later, on August 7, 1940. On July 13, less than a month before her death, Genia had written her good friend Karin Michaëlis to inform her of her intention of "dying in as correct a fashion as I have lived."

The Schwarzwalds, and Genia's remarkable school, have been immortalized in a number of books. These include Karl Kraus' Die letzten Tage der Menschheit (The Last Days of Mankind), where they surface as the Schwarzgelbers. Genia appears as Diotima in Robert Musil's Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften (The Man Without Qualities). Characters based on her are included in many other books of the period, including Felix Dörmann's Jazz, a novel about inflation-era Vienna. Hans Deichmann, brother of Freya von Moltke and author of one of the most informative books about Eugenie Schwarzwald, once made a list of the most important insights he had gained from her. They were: to listen, to be open, to be patient, and not to become a victim of one's own prejudices.


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Schwarzwald, Eugenie. "Bernard Shaw, der Freund der Frauen," in Breslauer Zeitung. February 12, 1928.

——. "Besuch in einem Kindergefängnis," in Hannoversches Tageblatt. August 18, 1929.

——. "Das glückliche Mädchen von Morgen," in Der Querschnitt. Vol. 12, 1932, pp. 235–237.

——. "Jonas Lie, ein moderner Charakter," in Neue Freie Presse [Vienna]. November 8, 1933.

——. "Karin Michaëlis," in Basler Nachrichten. March 19–20, 1932.

——. "Der Redner Kokoschka," in Neue Freie Presse [Vienna]. January 20, 1926.

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Vienna: Picus, 1996. Voelker, Klaus. Ich verreise auf einige Zeit: Sadie Leviton-Schauspielerin, Emigrantin, Freundin von Helene Weigel und Bertolt Brecht. Berlin: Transit-Buchverlag, 1999.

related media:

"MerkMal: Die Wiener Reformpädagogin Eugenie Schwarzwald" (radio program), Deutschlandradio Berlin, December 11, 1995.

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

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Schwarzwald, Eugenie (1872–1940)

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