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Anti-Nazi happiness

· 'Frau Doktor' Eugenia Schwarzwald ·

“It is necessary to do good while one is in this world” was the motto that sustained the incredible activity of Eugenia Schwarzwald: at least 16 continuous hours work a day in Vienna, worn and weary after the First World War and the economic crisis.

An aura of mystery shrouds her childhood and youth but a few dates are certain: Eugenia, a Jew born into a modest family on 4 July 1872 in Galicia, in small forest village, succeeded in enrolling in the girls' school at Czernowitz since her father had found a job there as an agency employee. Because of her remarkable intellectual gifts Genia was sent to Vienna when she was only 10 years old. However, she was later obliged to enrol at the University of  Zurich, for in 1895 women were not yet accepted at the universities of the Hapsburg Empire!

“Genia” completed her philosophy studies with brilliance and in 1900 was declared a Doctor, that is, Frau Doktor. This happy conclusion, however, is only the prelude to many other battles that the young woman was to be forced to fight. The first step was the recognition of her doctorate and the second, for that time, was absolutely exceptional: in 1902 she opened and directed a secondary school for girls in Vienna itself. It was the first school at which girls could sit the leaving examinations and therefore gain access to university studies.Genia had met Dr Hermann Schwarzwald, a  friendly and cultured banker with whom she fully shared what she recognized as the commitment of her life: that is, educating, but with innovative methods: “I believe”, she declared, “people are transparent, I see what they think, I see what they feel even before they themselves have thought it and understood it”.

Her originality soon imposed itself. Genia welcomed her students with human warmth, making them aware of the new role of women in society, so that she attracted to her school even young people from abroad as well as qualified teachers and famous artists such as Kokoschka, Schoenberg, Canetti, Musil and Rilke. So it was that the circle of friends developed which Genia herself described as the “Kinder  (children) Schwarzwald” . Those who were to become great figures in the opposition to the Nazis had known the educational experience of the Kinder: Helmut James von Moltke with his wife, Freya Deichmann and her brother, Hasn, to cite just one example.

The mindset Genia passed on to her Kinder when she welcomed them to her country property,  which had been turned into a cultural cenacle was extraordinary. It was a community in which no one aspired to being different from what they were, no one spoke badly of others, no one could obtain privileges with a tip. These pedagogical linchpins were to endure, engraved in their conscience for the whole of their life, together with a precious inner attitude: “Teaching joy.... Of course, in speaking of  'education' latent influences are implied: such as the environment, parents, teachers and friends that exert an influence on the child. 'Joy' means the attainable level of liberation from suffering, of peace, merriment and liveliness, which in every day life we are in the habit of calling joy”.




St. Peter’s Square

Sept. 21, 2019