Josefine »Fini« SCHNEIDER was born in Vienna on July 8, 1906. She was a daughter of the Jewish couple Emma SCHNEIDER, née Schwitzer, and David SCHNEIDER. Her father worked for a state enterprise in Vienna. Her mother died in 1927 and was buried in the Jewish section of the Vienna Central Cemetery.
»Fini« was a saleswoman and since September 1934 she was employed by the Salzburg clothing shop, Kleiderhaus L. Ornstein, at 24 Getreidegasse.1 A police report says that in 1935 she had hidden a friend who was being persecuted on political grounds in her apartment. Her friend Franz Riedler, a cabinet maker’s assistant, was one of twelve anti-fascists who organized an illegal Communist organization in Salzburg during the Austro-Fascist dictatorship of the 1930s. They circulated leaflets to raise money for the »Red Aid« organization that was helping the families of socialists, trade unionists, and Communists imprisoned by the dictatorship. When the police caught up with him Franz Riedler was sentenced to two months imprisonment. Later Franz Riedler joined the International Brigades against the Franco-Fascist forces in the Spanish Civil War where he was badly wounded and died in the Spanish town of Murcia on October 8, 1937.
His friend Josefine, who the police called »red Fini«, went into hiding for a while. She was publicly identified as »known to the police« and was ordered to stay out of Salzburg. While she was being politically persecuted by the Austrian dictatorship, Josefine SCHNEIDER worked for a while as a saleswoman in the Jewish owned S. L. Schwarz department store in Graz (Walter SCHWARZ ran the Salzburg branch of the S. L. Schwarz chain). Later she worked in the Jewish owned Bauer & Schwarz department store in Innsbruck (Dora, the daughter of Bauer & Schwarz’ owner, was the wife of Walter SCHWARZ in Salzburg).
Naturally Josefine SCHNEIDER was still persecuted on political grounds when the Nazis took over Austria. But now it wasn’t just her politics but also her ethno-religious origins that attracted the attention of the police. She was arrested in Innsbruck on May 11, 1938 in Innsbruck, and on February 24, 1939 she was deported to the Lichtenburg concentration camp for women where she was given the prisoner number 1290. On May 15, 1939 she was transferred to the Ravensbrück concentration camp for women, where she was registered as prisoner number 580. At first Josefine SCHNEIDER hoped that she would be able to get a visa for Switzerland that would enable her to leave the camp for freedom – as she wrote to her father David Schneider on March 15, 1939:
»Dear father! I’m very grateful that you have taken all the necessary steps so quickly. […] it is terrible that I have had to put such a heavy burden on you all […] Kisses Fina«
For three long years Josefine SCHNEIDER had to endure forced labor and misery in the Ravensbrück concentration camp. There is no record of her having become severely ill or unable to work, but she was among the 1,600 prisoners who were gassed to death in the spring of 1942 at the Bernburg on the Saale murder center during the course of »Special Treatment 14f13«2 – along with the famous Jewish Socialist from Vienna, Käthe Leichter. April 7, 1942 was the official death date given for the 35 year old Josefine SCHNEIDER. Her ashes were sent to Vienna and on June 26, 1942 they were buried in the Jewish section of the Vienna Central Cemetery (Tor IV/18a/20/40).
At this time her widowed father was still alive. He was living in a Vienna apartment that served as a collection place for Jews before they were to be deported. Just a few weeks later, on July 10, 1942 the 70 year old David SCHNEIDER was deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp. On September 21, 1942 he was deported further to the Treblinka death camp and murdered. Josefine’s siblings Marie, Viktor and Georg survived the terror years. Josefine’s brother Viktor Schneider helped free France in 1944 as a member of the French 2nd Armored Division and then took part in fighting in Swabia and Bavaria, ending in the occupation of Berchtesgaden and Adolf Hitler’s compound just outside the town at Obersalzberg (just a few miles from Salzburg).
We thank Gisela Hormayr (Innsbruck) and Jörg Zedler (Regensburg) for their information about Josefine SCHNEIDER and her family, and especially Josefine’s nephew Jean-Martin Schneider from Lyon for his kind words:
Dear Mr. Kerschbaumer,
Thank you for your messages and the information on how this memorial action came to being, and the persons behind it. Thank you again for all your work and dedication. As you have kindly offered for me to add a few words to Josefine’s biography, I would like to submit the following, which I hope is fitting to the general spirit of the memorial.
Fina’s brother Victor, my father, escaped from French camps and Spanish prisons to join the Free French in North Africa, and fight with them to liberate France, which has from then become our country. His wife Lisi, my mother, saved her 3 children and herself from deportation, with courage and determination in times of great peril. My father would have been proud of this memorial to his sister. To me it represents a homage to all members of my family, especially my parents, who in their own way resisted oppression, discrimination and injustice. To all who made this possible, I wish to express our gratitude.
1 This clothing shop was opened at 24 Getreidegasse by Luser N. Ornstein in 1913. In February 1934 it was the target of a terror attack by the Nazi underground in Salzburg. In 1938 the business was »Aryanized« by the Nazis and turned over to a local Nazi named Kurt Thalhammer. It was restored to its surviving former owners in exile, Ornstein & Neuwirth, in 1948. They had it reopened by a loyal employee in 1949. When their local manager retired in 1962 they sold the business. Max NEUWIRTH, a half-brother of firm founder Luser N. Ornstein, was murdered in the Dachau concentration camp.
2 »Special Treatment 14f13« – »14« = Inspector of the concentration camp, »f« = fatal, »13« = gassed in the killing centers of the »T-4« organization (named after its headquarters address at Tiergarten 4 in Berlin.
- Jewish Community Organization of Vienna
- Salzburg State archives
- Documentation of the Austrian Resistance Archive
Translation: Stan Nadel
Laid 02.07.2014 at Salzburg, Getreidegasse 24