Zum 120. Geburtstag von Rosa Jochmann

Rosa Jochmann (1901–1994) war in Österreich, aber auch über die Landesgrenzen hinaus, eine prominente Person des öffentlichen Lebens. Bekannt als Widerstandskämpferin, KZ-Überlebende und ehemalige Nationalrätin. Insbesondere im Kampf für Frauenrechte und gegen Ungerechtigkeit wurde sie immer wieder zu einer zentralen Persönlichkeit und gilt noch heute als Symbolfigur des Antifaschismus.

Die nachstehende umfassende Rezension zum Buch „Rosa Jochmann. Politische Akteurin und Zeitzeugin“ ist Teil der Buchreihe Contemporary Austrian Studies (CAS), welche von UNO Press und Innsbruck University Press verlegt wird, und wurde auf Englisch verfasst.

Veronika Duma, Rosa Jochmann: Politische Akteurin und Zeitzeugin
{Vienna: Verlag des Österreichischen Gewerkschaftsbundes, 2019)

von Jason Dawsey

The  renewal  of  interest—political  and  scholarly—in  the  history  of the European Left in the last decade has not left the subject of Austrian Socialism untouched. Especially noteworthy are recent anthologies of the writings of the principal figures associated with “Austro-Marxism.”[1] As impressive and welcome as this new literature is, it still re-circles theorists and politicians (e.g., Otto Bauer, Max Adler, Rudolf Hilferding, Karl Renner, Friedrich Adler) long familiar to students of the Left in Austria. That cannot be said of Veronika Duma’s biography, Rosa Jochmann: Politische Akteurin und Zeitzeugin.

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While Jochmann (1901-1994) was a remarkable Socialist and feminist who participated in and witnessed many of the definitive events of twentieth-century Austrian history (e.g., World War I, the Revolution of 1918 and the founding of the First Republic, Red Vienna, the February 1934 insurrection, Austrofascism, the Anschluss, the Nazi camp system, and the Second Republic), she is largely unknown in the anglophone world. Correcting this oversight, Duma offers an enormous depth of coverage to Jochmann’s rich political life in a book roughly 440 pages in length. A strength and a weakness, the level of detail in the monograph leaves very little else to be said about its subject.

Duma acknowledges the extensive research on Jochmann done prior to her work. She distinguishes her contribution from these often celebratory pieces in two ways: her reliance on gender as a primary category of analysis and the investigation of Jochmann’s place in several successive networks of women in the Austrian and larger Central European Socialist and Communist movements. Duma draws on the scholarly literature about gender, which has burgeoned since the 1980s, including current discussions of “intersectionality.” The painstaking documentation in the book provides great insight about the salience of networks for Jochmann, existenitially and politically, and doubles as a meditation on solidarity among women on the Left.

It is so refreshing to read of the story of a working-class woman active in Socialist politics who resisted both the Austrofascist and Nazi dictatorships. Rosa Jochmann proudly described herself as a “proletarian” and remarked at her 1935 trial: “I was a socialist, I am a socialist, and I will remain one” (279, 155). The fourth of six children from a family of Czech descent living in Vienna, she started factory work at the age of fourteen. Subsequently, she became involved in union activity and later joined the SDAP (Sozialdemokratische Arbeiterpartei Österreichs). As a young Social Democrat, Jochmann  admired  Otto  Bauer, the  key figure in the party’s left wing, and regarded him as her mentor. According to Duma, Jochmann supported the Bolshevik Revolution more than many of her comrades and inquired into its impact on the condition of Soviet women.
Unlike Bauer and the Austro-Marxists, Jochmann was largely an autodidact. Much of the tutelage she received came from the group of women in the SDAP. Adelheid Popp and, especially, Käthe Leichter set such powerful examples for Jochmann as the party’s Red Vienna project took shape in the 1920s. As Duma demonstrates, Jochmann labored for decades on behalf of these two to ensure that their goal of winning a place of equality for women within Social Democracy was not in vain. With Leichter, whose friendship and comradeship carried over into the Nazi concentration camp at Ravensbrück, Jochmann felt a lifelong connection.

Duma notes that Jochmann was elected to the SDAP’s executive in October 1933 as the party’s suppression under Dollfuss loomed. “The prohibition of the party during the February struggles of 1934 marked for Rosa Jochmann—less than the National Socialist assumption of power in 1938—a caesura in the history of Social Democracy and thus in her life’s history,” Duma contends (158). Indeed, Jochmann was a figure who never tired of saying after 1945 that Austria experienced twelve years of Fascism, not seven. After the party was banned, she undertook clandestine work with the Revolutionäre Sozialisten (RS) under different pseudonyms. Trials and stints in prison did not deter her from drumming up opposition to the Christian Social government. Her experiences in the Revolutionary Socialists offer a fascinating contrast to Joseph Buttinger’s In the Twilight of Socialism.[2]

Having warned the Austrian Left for years about Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party, developments after the Anschluss surpassed Jochmann’s worst fears. The chapter on Jochmann’s five years in the Ravensbrück concentration camp (1940–45), 140 pages long, is the most powerful section of the biography. Here, Duma’s endorsement of a “paradigm shift in resistance research” is very illuminating (242). She shows how Jochmann’s authority as a “Block Elder” among the inmates sent there for political offenses meant occupying a precarious place between collaboration and resistance. Jochmann was tested to her limits in protecting Socialists, Communists, anarchists, and others from the SS. The network of women she organized and led retained its bonds of solidarity long after the Third Reich fell. Duma’s investigations also uncover the nightmare of solitary confinement Jochmann underwent, her care for children in Ravensbrück, and the importance of Cäcilie Helten, a German Communist who lived with her after the war.

Of all the degradation and death she beheld in Ravensbrück, nothing affected Jochmann as did the murder of Käthe Leichter in the winter of 1942. Duma points out that Jochmann never forgot the savagery meted out to Leichter and other Jewish inmates and that Jews were targeted more systematically and relentlessly than other groups of victims. After liberation, Jochmann “represented a voice against forgetting, repression, and relativization” (21). In several instances, she gave statements in cases where perpetrators were tried. While she spoke vividly about the hunger and disease in the camp, her statements about beatings, sexualized violence, medical experiments, and killing carry the greatest weight. The story of these five years Duma provides contributes significantly to our understanding of the dynamics of brutality and survival in Ravensbrück.
During the almost fifty years Jochmann lived after the defeat of Nazism, she remained a dedicated member of her party. She served proudly until 1966 as a functionary, doing valuable work on the Party Executive and the Central Committee for Women. In general, as Duma demonstrates, she rarely opposed the now-renamed Sozialistische Partei Österreichs (SPÖ) publicly but preferred to channel her criticisms internally. Here Duma’s stress on the agency of women, while extremely important, could have been supplemented with more thematization of the political party as the vehicle of agency for Jochmann and so many Socialists of her generation. Her fierce commitment to party is one reason why her life may seem very different to activists in the early twenty-first century far more cynical about left-wing parties.

In researching and writing about this incredible life, Duma worked through a vast array of sources. She dug deeply into materials from the Jochmann Nachlass at the Verein für Geschichte der ArbeiterInnenbewegung and the Dokumentationsarchiv des Österreichischen Widerstandes. Correspondence with family and comrades, published texts and speeches prepared by Jochmann, as well as Socialist publications, indicate the thoroughness of the research, even if they threaten at moments to overwhelm the reader with the amount of details extracted. As far as sources go, Duma also communicates an absolutely awful moment for Jochmann as she struggled to write her own autobiography: how she destroyed a text of 1,500 typed pages in a “bout of fury and despair” (51).

If the book is somewhat repetitious and takes almost 100 pages to get to the main narrative, it succeeds in conveying Jochmann’s significance as a working-class Socialist feminist. There is still so much work to do on the history of the Austrian Left. An abridged, English version of Duma’s Rosa Jochmann would be a very good addition to what we have available. With neofascist and neo-Nazi ideologies resurgent, there cannot be too much attention paid to someone like her who acted as a “witness to the time (Zeitzeugin)” and its “chronicler” as did this extraordinary Socialist (s202).

[1] Mark Blum and William Smaldone, eds., Austro-Marxism: !e Ideology of Unity, Volume1: Austro-Marxist Theory and Strategy (Leiden: Brill, 2015); Mark Blum and William Smaldone, eds., Austro-Marxism: The Ideology of Unity, Volume 2: Changing the World: The Politics of Austro-Marxism (Leiden: Brill, 2017).
[2] Joseph Buttinger, In the Twilight of Socialism: A History of the Revolutionary Socialists of Austria, trans. E.B. Ashton (New York: F.A. Praeger, 1953).

Weiterer Buchtipp zu Rosa Jochmann

„Doch die Menschen liebe ich über alles“
Rosa Jochmann. Eine Biographie in Briefen.

Der Autor hat den Nachlass der Sozialdemokratin, Widerstandskämpferin und KZ-Überlebenden Rosa Jochmann gesichtet, aber auch in vielen weiteren Archiven geforscht und viele bis dato unveröffentlichte Briefe gefunden. Das Ergebnis ist ein rares Stück Zeitgeschichte.

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