Photo Credit: Saul Jay Singer

Irene Harand (1900-1975) was an Austrian Christian human rights activist who attacked Nazism, antisemitism, and religious intolerance, and challenged Christians to live up to the teachings of their own religion with respect to the “Jewish question.” A true visionary, she personally took on the daunting task of generating support for her courageous actions to protect Jews and Judaism from the Nazis, both within her native Austria and internationally.

Because many Austrians suppressed painful details of their recent history, among other reasons, her story has only recently become known, particularly after Israel bestowed upon her the most honorable title of a “Righteous Among the Nations” (1969). In announcing the honor, one of Israel’s nominating commission members said:

Harand portrait (signature is not original)

To deliver public speeches at a time when Austria was swept by a wave of political assassinations meant exposing oneself to great risk. This woman waged a desperate and unceasing war which placed her in great peril. She sent her boys to hand out the newspaper at street corners. The children were beaten and she was beaten too. She stood her ground against vilification and threats. If this is not a struggle in which one risks one’s life, then I don’t know what risk means. She fought to save Austrian Jewry.

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Born Irene Wedl to a family proud of its Aryan heritage, her Lutheran mother agreed to raise her in her father’s Roman Catholic faith. In 1919, Irene married Frank Harand, a former captain in the Austrian army who later became a successful businessman, which enabled the childless couple to live a relatively comfortable lifestyle in pre-World War II Vienna.

Several experiences shaped Irene’s revulsion of antisemitism, notwithstanding its ubiquitous infusion into every level of Austrian society and despite her own anti-Jewish prejudice. As a schoolchild, she asked her mother to intercede with her teacher to have her seat moved because she did not want to sit near a “dirty Jewess.” As she tells the story, her mother, whose faith played a leading role in shaping Irene’s morality, slapped her face and told her that baseless hatred for anyone was not the Christian way.

Harand’s first personal exposure to antisemitism took place when she and her family were vacationing at the summer home of a beloved maternal uncle and his Jewish wife. Out for a walk with her older sister and Jewish cousins, they were suddenly encircled by a group of local peasant children who taunted them with screams of “Jude” and forced them to flee for their safety. More than half a century later, Harand recalled that she could never forget the first time that she was frightened to death and perceived the world as unsafe.

However, the genesis of her “Jewish consciousness” and anti-Nazi activism began with an encounter with Dr. Moritz Zalman (1882-1940), a respected Austrian Jewish lawyer. Harand had become interested in the welfare of an elderly Austrian gentleman who had lost his entire fortune at the hands of his family. After paying substantial fees to a succession of lawyers with no results, she consulted Zalman, who agreed to take the case pro bono.

Harand later explained that this gesture by the Jewish lawyer had completely changed her thinking. She realized that she had at least partially bought into the prevalent view in Austrian society that Jews were an immoral and dishonest people who cared only about money: “I blushed when I thought that a Jew . . . was ready to serve a non-Jew as no Christian I had met had been willing to serve . . . I determined then and there to give my life to wipe out this shame antisemitism was bringing upon Christians and Christianity.”

Already greatly disturbed by Hitler’s election in September 1930, Harand’s concerns were exacerbated when, a short time later, she witnessed a parade of Nazi youths and was particularly alarmed by the sight of one young boy who “was transformed before my eyes from a human child into a bloodthirsty beast.” She understood that what was happening in Germany would soon come to Austria and determined to take action, and she became one of the first Austrians to openly proclaim her opposition to the Nazis.

In her efforts to protect the Jews, Harand had to take on not only an antisemitic Austrian government – the Christian Social Party had officially espoused antisemitic policies and publicly condemned “Jewish perfidy” – but also her own beloved Roman Catholic Church, whose leaders were conducting an active and public campaign against the Jews. After witnessing Nazi Youth marching through Vienna and shouting “death to the Jews” to the total indifference of onlookers, she appeared at a Catholic political meeting to warn of the growing menace of Nazism, but she was scorned, taunted, and summarily dismissed.

In 1932, Harand devised a plan for collective resistance, which was rejected by both Jewish leaders in Germany and in the United States, including particularly Rabbi Stephen Wise, but she remained undeterred by her failure. The following year, she wrote So? Oder So? – a 24-page heartfelt pamphlet in which she proclaimed her opposition to Nazism and totalitarianism; identified and refuted the antisemitic prejudices that had been inculcated into her fellow countrymen from birth; assailed various antisemitic screeds including beliefs that Jews controlled the world’s finances and dominated Bolshevism; established that allegations suggesting that the Jews were cowards who had ducked military service during World War I were false; and generally took on the prevalent belief amongst her countrymen in a “vast Jewish conspiracy” dedicated to taking over the world.

She described the extraordinary achievements of various Jews who had made important contributions to society and argued that, if anything, the Jews were too humble about the scope of their important contributions to humanity. Aware that this might be misconstrued as a form of discrimination, she argued that as an antidote to antisemitism Jews should maintain and project Jewish racial pride and that, although it is odious to draw conclusions about a group based upon the character and actions of an individual, the realities of contemporary Austrian society were such that it was imperative for Jews to always conduct themselves in a manner above reproach.

Some 100,000 copies of So? Oder So? were broadly disseminated and read, which made Harand at once famous and infamous. Her renown increased when the Neue Freie Presse (the “New Free Press”), the respected official publication of Viennese liberalism, published A Woman’s Courageous Words Against Anti-Semitism, in which it publicized the pamphlet and her pro-Jewish activities.

In late summer 1933, Harand implemented two new initiatives. First, she launched the World Movement Against Racial Hatred and Human Suffering – aka “the Harand Movement” – and second, she decided to publish a weekly newspaper to respond to Der Sturmer, Julius Streicher’s virulent antisemitic weekly which was an important element of Nazi propaganda.

Beginning on September 6, 1933, and continuing through 1938, she wrote and published Gerechtigreit (“Justice”), a weekly paper written for the general public and dedicated to educating it about the threat of Nazism, with every issue captioned “I am fighting antisemitism because it defiles our Christianity.” She predicted that the Nazis would use antisemitism as a subterfuge to seize power in Austria – which, of course, they did; characterized Nazism as an anti-Christian pagan movement that could, and must, be defeated; branded antisemitism as immoral and wicked; and presented comprehensive factual analyses debunking anti-Jewish myths.

That Streicher and the Nazis regarded Gerechtigreit as a serious threat is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that Der Sturmer went so far as to file a defamation lawsuit against Harand. Although the court ruled against her, she persisted in filing appeal after appeal until the court dismissed the case because Der Sturmer had ceased publication.

On October 2, 1933, only a few weeks after the publication of the first issue of Gerechtigkeit, the Committee Against Race Hatred and Human Misery held a mass meeting in Vienna attended by over a thousand people who enthusiastically cheered Harand’s passionate call to protect Jews and her emotional appeal for Christian endorsement. Over the next few years, the Harand Movement, which was the only Austrian organization that stood against both National Socialism and antisemitism, gained some 40,000 families, about 70 percent of whom were Christian and 30 percent Jewish – an impressive number given the general tenor of public opinion. During the following years, she spoke at mass meetings across Europe; met with prime ministers, religious and political leaders urging a unified effort to discredit and destroy Nazism; and officially asked the League of Nations to intervene – all to no avail.

Harand is greeted by the Akiva chapter of the Harand Movement in Zywiec, Poland.

The Movement drew support from many sources, but particularly significant encouragement came from the chief rabbi of Vienna, Dr. David Feuchtwang (1864-1936), who publicly praised her during the first Harand Movement protest rally. Sadly, as is so often the case throughout Jewish history, Jews are often their own worst enemy and Jewish support for the Movement was far from unanimous. In particular, Austrian Zionists, who were wearing blinders with respect to everything except getting Jews out of Austria to Eretz Yisrael, were not interested in supporting Harand because the better things were for Jews in Austria, the less likely it would be that they would make aliyah.

 

 

English translation of Sein Kampf (1937).

In August 1935, Harand self-published Sein Kampf (“His Struggle),” an eloquent and witty deconstruction of Hitler’s Mein Kampf in which she placed particular emphasis on regretting the antisemitic foundations of Christian theology and deconstructing National Socialism as “a fraud, an invention of diseased and criminal minds that perpetrate a hoax to attain their spurious goals and to satisfy their inconsumable ego.” Although the book received broad coverage and positive reviews from European media and was translated into English in 1937 (see exhibit), it proved to be a disappointing failure; sales were few, and the book did little to win new supporters. Moreover, particularly given its inflammatory title, Sein Kampf was banned by the Nazis, who declared Harand a dangerous enemy of the Third Reich and awarded her a high place of honor on Himmler’s execution list.

After the failure of her book, Harand, accompanied by her friend and colleague Dr. Zalman, commenced trips to various European countries to share her work with Jewish and Christian communities not yet under the thumb of the Third Reich. She spent two months in the United States in late 1936 and, although she was well received in some quarters, she failed entirely to rouse them to action.

Harand, who showed remarkable creativity in packaging the Movement’s ideas in many different forms, found other inventive ways to support its activities. As one such example, she helped to create an anti-Nazi chorus, which included several Jewish members, whose concerts became the rage of Vienna. But perhaps the most interesting, successful, and popular of her programs was the series of perforated gummed labels she issued, for which she earned the moniker “the Stamp Lady.” The popular labels, which depicted great Jewish thinkers, artists, and scientists – including Jewish scientists Paul Ehrlich, Heinrich Hertz, and Emile Berliner; politicians Benjamin Disraeli and Walter Rathenau; and philosopher Baruch Spinoza, composer Giacomo Meyerbeer, and writer Heinrich Heine – powerfully contradicted the Nazi slander that Jews had never contributed to world culture.

In 1937, audacious Harand supporters entered the exhibition hall in Munich housing Der Ewige Jude and plastered the walls and display cases with many of these labels. Der Ewige Jude, the German term for “the Wandering Jew” in medieval folklore, was the largest pre-World War II public antisemitic exhibit produced by the Nazis. The infamous emblematic image for the exhibit, which opened in the Library of the German Museum in Munich and ran from November 8, 1937, to January 31, 1938, featured an eastern Jew in his black coat and sidelocks as he holds gold coins in his right hand and a whip in his left hand; the red letters in Hebrew-like font symbolize the blood libel; and the map of Russia with the hammer and sickle that he carries links the Jews with Communism.

Set of Harand labels.

These labels, which constituted the final straw of the Nazis “forbearance,” earned Harand seventh place on the Nazi’s “most wanted” list of Austrians to be executed. They placed a 100,000 Reichsmark bounty on her head, and she escaped death only because she and her husband happened to be lecturing in Great Britain at the time of the Anschluss. Soon after they immigrated to the United States (1938), the Nazis murdered Dr. Zalman.

Harand settled in New York, where she worked to provide visas for Jewish families to enter the United States; founded the Austrian-American League to assist Austrian refugees fleeing Nazi rule; served as director of the women’s division of the Anti-Nazi League of New York; commenced work at the Austrian Institute of New York; and continued her activities until her death.

In this November 10, 1964, correspondence on her personal letterhead (she has crossed out her printed address in Manhattan and written in her new address in Jamaica, Queens) is which she exhibits her characteristic modesty, Harand writes to Dr. Albert Friedberg, a collector of Philatelic Judaica and the first president of the Cleveland chapter of the Society of Israel Philatelists (S.I.P.).

Harand’s 1964 correspondence.

Your kind letter of October 22nd came into my hands at a time when I was not quite well. It was just one of the bothering colds.

I read and reread your letter several times, I almost felt I know you personally; your fine kindness and the honor you bestowed on me is too much.

Today is the 26th anniversary of this unbelievable inhumane day of Nov. 10th, 1938 [author’s note: the reference is to Kristallnacht], when Hitler’s hords [sic.] in Germany and Austria rounded up thousands and thousands of perfectly innocent and decent human beings to throw them into concentration camps; the only “crime” of these humans was, that they were born as Jews . . . and the whole world looked on . . . some all too mild protests were forthcoming and nothing more. There has been never a time, when a quite ordinary man or woman was honored because he or she was not a “Raubmmoerder” [someone who commits murder in the act of robbery].

I thank you and all of your friends for spending a whole evening plus a half of the night to listen to Eric Lind’s lecture about a group of people who dared to follow a call of human decency, an idea nearly as old as the human race itself. I myself was only carrying this flag – without the followers no one would have noticed.

[Author’s note: Lind was a prominent Judaica collector, including particularly Holocaust material]

I want to preserve all the remaining labels in my possession for the Scholarship-Award, but for this time only, I will make the exception and enclose for you, your friends and schools the enclosed labels.

With my warmest wishes for you all, I remain

After her death in New York, her ashes were buried in a place of honor in Vienna’s Central Cemetery; a square in the Vienna district of Wieden was named in her honor in 2008; and a Vienna municipal housing project was named in her honor in 1990.

Yehi zichrona baruch.

Harand Square, Vienna
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Saul Jay Singer serves as senior legal ethics counsel with the District of Columbia Bar and is a collector of extraordinary original Judaica documents and letters. He welcomes comments at at sauljsing@gmail.com.