Eugenie Schwarzwald, an ambitious progressive educator of small and heavy stature, dressed in a reform-dress, with a becoming short haircut and a charming shy smile, imprinted her charismatic personality on the education, social work, and literary heritage of Vienna during the first half of the twentieth century. She was born on July 4, 1872, to Leon (?–1900) and Esther (1840–1907) Nußbaum, the second daughter of four children, in the town of Polupanowka in Galicia. Leon was a landholder’s steward in Polupanowka and later managed an employment agency in Czernowitz. As a child she moved with her family to Czernowitz (Chernovsty), where she attended secondary school and a teachers’ college for women, where she did not complete her studies.
In 1895, Schwarzwald began studies at the University of Zurich, graduating with the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in 1900. She married lawyer Hermann Schwarzwald (1871–1939) on December 16, 1900, and returned with him to Vienna, where he became the deputy director of the Trade Museum. He later directed the currency department in the Austrian finance ministry and after his retirement in 1924 was appointed President of the Board of the Anglo-Austrian Bank. The Schwarzwalds had no children.
In 1901, Eugenie Schwarzwald purchased a girls’ secondary school in the center of Vienna, and founded the “Schwarzwald’sche school.” Her students came mainly from rich assimilated Jewish families. Aware of the competition with other Viennese private girls’ secondary schools, of which one-third were directed by Jewish women, Schwarzwald raised the flag for equal education for girls. The first round in her battle was to allow her students to enter the university. She initiated two additional advanced programs to the established six- year curriculum customary at secondary schools for girls: a three-year program enabling her students to enter university as auditors and a four-year program concluding with the A-level exams, which enabled them to register as university students. In 1903, she opened a coeducational primary school, later expanding it into a pre-school. In 1905, lacking a teaching diploma for secondary schools, she was forced to appoint an official director, while herself remaining the proprietor of the school. In 1911, Schwarzwald won the second and conclusive round in her battle, by opening an eight-years girls’ gymnasium at her school. Aware of the latest European reform trends, Schwarzwald adapted ideas from popular educators such as the Austrian Franz Cizek (1865–1946), Italian Maria Montessori (1870–1952) and the German Hermann Lietz (1868–1919), applying their creative individual education practices. Among the famous teachers at her school were Hans Kelsen (1881–1973) sociology and political economy, Egon Wellesz (1885–1974) music, Otto Rommel (1880–1965) literature, Adolf Loos (1870–1933) modern architecture and Oskar Kokoschka (1886–1980) drawing.
In 1909, moving into their new apartment, designed by Adolf Loos, Schwarzwald began cultivating an intellectual “open house” salon, labeled the “Outsiders’ Salon.” Among her prominent visitors were the authors Jakob Wassermann (1873–1934), Robert Musil (1880–1942) and Elias Canetti (1905–1994).
In 1913, the Schwarzwald’sche school moved to new quarters, designed by Adolf Loos. Schwarzwald further initiated advanced courses in chemistry and economics as well as an academy of law for women. In 1917, she opened a Seminar for Composition directed by Arnold Schönberg (1874–1951). In 1922, she passed on the ownership of the secondary school and the advanced programs to the Association of Schwarzwald’sche School Institutes. She remained a member of the board and continued to own the kindergarten and primary school. Among her famous graduates were the actresses Helene Weigel-Brecht (1900–1971) and Elisabeth Neumann-Viertel (1900–1994), the social psychologist Marie Jahoda, authors Maria Lazar (1895–1948) and Hilde Spiel (1911–1990) and the psychoanalysts Else Pappenheim (1911–1997) and Marie Langer (1910–1987).
During WWI Schwarzwald began a second career as a social worker, while continuing with her school. She succeeded in recruiting aristocrats, businessmen and politicians in order to realize her large-scale social projects. She organized aid programs for refugees, opened public kitchens offering cheap meals in almost every district in Vienna, and established recreation homes for children, mainly in the Semmering area in Lower Austria, allowing children to enjoy fresh air and regular meals outside the city. The latter project was organized as an association called “Viennese Children in the Countryside,” and the socialist Julius Tandler (1869–1936) was a member of the board. In one of her recreation homes she discovered the pianist Rudolf Serkin (1903–1991) and promoted him by encouraging him to perform at her charity events.
In 1920, she purchased the summer villa “Seeblick” in Grundlsee in Styria as a recreation resort, mainly hosting her growing circle of friends, a fascinating mixture of authors, musicians, actresses, monarchists, socialists and Marxists. In 1922, her many social projects, including aid for the elderly, a workshop for youngsters at an invalids’ school in a working class district, were combined into an association called “Schwarzwald’sche Welfare Centers.” In 1923, she established the association “Austrian Friends’ Help,” with the support of which she founded four Public Kitchens in Berlin. Ten years later, after Hitler’s rise to power, Schwarzwald organized help for refugees from Germany. In 1934, following the establishment of the Austro-Fascist government in Austria, Schwarzwald organized support for persecuted socialists.
Schwarzwald published feuilletons, short stories and essays in several newspapers and journals, among them the Neue Freie Presse, Wiener Allgemeine Zeitung and Frauenblatt. Her closest friends were the Danish author Karin Michaelis (1872–1950) and the American journalist Dorothy Thompson (1894–1961). Schwarzwald’s dominant character and manifold activities provoked many Viennese satirists and authors, including Egon Friedell (1878–1938), Peter Hammerschlag (1902–1942 Auschwitz), Alfred Polgar (1873–1955) and Friedrich Torberg (1908–1979). She is also presented in a critical manner in Austrian modern literature: In Karl Kraus’ The Last Days of Mankind (1919), the Schwarzwald couple is identified with the court counselors Schwarz-Gelber and in Robert Musil’s The Man without Qualities (1930–1942) she inspired the figure of the salon hostess, Diotima.
In March 1938, when Nazi Germany annexed Austria, Schwarzwald was in Denmark on a lecturing tour. Warned by friends not to return to Vienna, she settled in Zurich. Her school was aryanized and closed and most of her property was confiscated. In September 1938, her husband and her secretary, Marie Stiassny, joined her. Hermann died on August 17, 1939. Schwarzwald continued to publish and considered various job offers, including organizing public kitchens for immigrants in London. On August 7, 1940, Schwarzwald died after a long battle with cancer and was buried beside her husband in the crematorium in Zurich.
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Shapira, Elana. "Eugenie Schwarzwald." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 27 February 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on May 11, 2021) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/schwarzwald-eugenie>.