Born into a well-to-do Viennese merchant family, Anitta Müller-Cohen was interested in social work and the women’s movement from a young age. After the outbreak of World War I, she founded the organization “Soziale Hilfsgemeinschaft Anitta Müller.” After the war ended, she was particularly committed to Jewish refugees from Galicia and Bukovina and became involved in Zionism and politics. With her second husband and her family, she moved from Vienna to Luxembourg to London and, finally, to Tel Aviv. During and after World War II, she concentrated on children and new immigrants, particularly those from Austria. She attended several Zionist Congresses, and was elected a delegate-at-large to the Greater Actions Committee at the twenty-fourth Congress in 1956.
Anitta Müller-Cohen was one of the most famous Jewish women in Vienna in the early twentieth century, earning her fame as a social worker, journalist, and Zionist politician. She began working in Vienna, later moved to London, and finally settled in Tel Aviv in 1934.
Social Work & Journalism in Austria
Born into a well-to-do Viennese merchant family on June 6, 1890, Anitta was brought up in a prosperous, assimilated home. Her parents were Samuel and Sophie (neé Schnabel) Rosenzweig. Already in her youth she became interested in social work and the women’s movement. One of her mentors was Julius Ofner (1845-1924), a member of the Austrian Parliament and social reformer. In 1909, she married the merchant Arnold Müller (1881–1969). They had a daughter, Blanca (1911–1938). Still interested in social work after the outbreak of World War I, she founded the organization “Soziale Hilfsgemeinschaft Anitta Müller,” which ran several social service institutions for homeless people, children, mothers, and refugees. For example, she opened a “tea and soup kitchen” that provided tea, coffee, and soup for a nominal price to about three thousand people a day. She was particularly committed to Jewish refugees from Galicia and Bukovina. At the same time, she became involved in Zionism and politics, joining the Jewish-National Party in Vienna and becoming one of its leading members. Henceforth, Zionism and social work became the two main focuses in her life. Besides her social and political engagement, Anitta Müller-Cohen published a vast number of articles in various Jewish and non-Jewish papers.
As a prominent social worker and journalist, at the age of 29 she was appointed to the first City Council of Vienna after World War I, in 1918–1919. In the 1920s, she continued her social, political, and Zionist activities, visiting Palestine several times, and also the United States, where she addressed the opening session of the American Jewish Congress in Chicago in 1925. Most of her activities were devoted to children’s welfare. She organized holidays in Switzerland and other European countries for undernourished children from Vienna. She was also involved in the Jewish women’s movement. She attended the first World Congress of Jewish Women in Vienna in 1923, where she presented a paper on child welfare and public health, and the second in Hamburg in 1929, where she was elected as one of the vice-presidents of the newly founded World Federation of Jewish Women.
In 1921, she divorced Arnold Müller and shortly afterwards married the wealthy Zionist merchant Samuel Cohen (1892–1969). At the same time, probably under the influence of her husband, she became religiously observant. As a modern career woman, Anitta Müller-Cohen was confronted with a double burden—family and work. She managed to continue her public involvement and at the same time raise Blanca and her second husband’s children: Eliezer, Esther, and Ruth.
Career in Palestine
As Zionists, Anitta Müller-Cohen and her family wished to immigrate to Palestine. For that reason, they moved from Vienna to Luxembourg and London and finally, in 1934, to Tel Aviv where she continued her activities under completely different circumstances but with equal commitment to her task. During and after World War II she concentrated her efforts on children and new immigrants, particularly those from Austria, establishing a special service for Austrian refugees, the Hitahdut Olei Austria (Association of Austrian Immigrants). In 1936 she founded the Women’s Social Service (Sherut Nashim Sozialit) and played a prominent role in the Zionist Mizrahi Women's Organization. In 1950 she initiated the reinternment of the body of the late Chief Rabbi of Vienna, Hirsch (Zevi) Perez Chajes (1876–1927), from Vienna to Tel Aviv. In the 1950s, she was disappointed by the politics of the Mizrahi movement. She left the Mizrahi and joined the Herut party. There she engaged in Herut’s social activities. She attended several Zionist Congresses, and at the twenty-fourth Congress in 1956 was elected a delegate-at-large to the Greater Actions Committee.
In her last years Anitta Müller-Cohen lived a very secluded life, due to serious illness. She died in Tel Aviv on June 29, 1962. In 1965 a parents’ home for elderly Austrian Jews was opened in Ramat Hen and named after her. In June 2018 a square was named after her in the second district of Vienna.
Selected Works by Anitta Müller-Cohen
Ein Jahr Flüchtlingsfürsorge der Frau Anitta Müller 1914–1915. Vienna, n.d.
Mit einem Geleitwort von Dr. Marco Brociner. Vienna, 1915.
Zweiter Tätigkeits- und Rechenschaftsbericht der Wohlfahrtsinstitutionen der Frau Anitta Müller 1915–1916. Vienna, 1917.
Dritter Tätigkeits- und Rechenschaftsbericht der Wohlfahrtsinstitutionen der Frau Anitta Müller für Flüchtlinge aus Galizien und der Bukowina. Vienna, 1918.
Jüdische Hilfe für das Jüdische Kind. Erster Tätigkeitsbericht der Zentralstelle zur Versorgung jüdischer Kinder im Auslande 1919–1920. Vienna, 1921.
Zehn Jahre Arbeit des Vereines Soziale Hilfsgemeinschaft Anitta Müller. Vienna, 1924.
Various articles in newspapers: Wiener Morgenzeitung, Neues Wiener Journal and Jüdische Rundschau.
Adunka, Evelyn. Exil in der Heimat. Über die Österreicher in Israel. Innsbruck: Studien Verlag, 2002.
Hecht, Dieter J. Zwischen Feminismus und Zionismus. Die Biographie einer Wiener Jüdin. Anitta Müller-Cohen (1890–1962). Vienna: Bohlau Verlag, 2008.
Hecht, Dieter J. „Biographien jüdischer Frauen: Anitta Müller-Cohen (1890–1962). Sozialarbeit und Zionismus zwischen Wien und Tel Aviv.“ MEDAON 14, 2014. (http://www.medaon.de/pdf/MEDAON_14_Hecht.pdf).
Wininger, Salomon, ed. Große jüdische National-Biographie. Vol. 4. Cernauti: 1936.
Tidhar, David, ed. Encyclopaedia for the Pioneers and Builders of the Yishuv. Vol. 8 (Hebrew). Tel Aviv: 1957.
Encyclopaedia Judaica. Vol. 12. Jerusalem: 1972.
Wigoder, Geoffrey, ed. New Encyclopedia of Zionism and Israel. Vol. 2. New York: Herzl Press, 1994.