Berta Zuckerkandl was a journalist and art critic of the Wiener Allgemeine Zeitung and later of the Neue Wiener Journal. Hostess of a famous Viennese salon, she fought for the recognition of modern Austrian art, for a cultural and political dialogue between Austria and France, and for pressing humanist causes for almost fifty years, between 1890 and 1938.
Born on April 13, 1864, to Amalie (Schlesinger) (1838–1912) and the newspaper tycoon Moritz Szeps (1834–1902), the founder and publisher of the Wiener Tagblatt, Berta Zuckerkandl was the second daughter of five children. Among the experts whom her father hired to tutor his daughters at home, was the renowned art historian Albert Ilg (1847–1896), who favored Baroque art. Zuckerkandl grew up witnessing her father’s stormy career and political engagements. Moritz Szeps was a close advisor of the liberal Austrian Crown Prince Rudolf (1858–1889), and a supporter of an alliance between Austria and France through his connections with liberal French politicians such as Léon Gambetta (1838–1882) and Georges Clemenceau (1841–1929). Clemenceau’s brother, Paul, married Szeps’ eldest daughter Sophie. Berta continued her father’s political mission, opposing Austria’s annexation movement to Germany after WWI, and promoting cultural exchange with France. During her visits to Paris Berta became acquainted with famous artists such as Eugène Carrière (1849–1906) and Auguste Rodin (1840–1917). Learning about the Dreyfus affair at her sister’s salon, Zuckerkandl supported the fight to recognize his innocence.
In 1886, Berta married Emil Zuckerkandl (1849–1910), a professor of anatomy. Their only son was born in 1895. Among the guests in the early days of her renowned salon were her husband’s colleague, the neuropsychiatrist Richard Krafft-Ebing (1840–1902), the author and critic Hermann Bahr (1863–1934) and the composers Johann Strauß the younger (1825–1899) and Gustav Mahler (1860–1911). Fighting side by side with her colleagues, Bahr and Ludwig Hevesi (1843–1910), Zuckerkandl raised the flag for modern Austrian art, defending and promoting such artists as Gustav Klimt (1862–1918), Oskar Kokoschka (1886–1980), and architects Otto Wagner (1841–1918) and Josef Hoffmann (1870–1956), as well the reputation of the Vienna Sezession and the Viennese Workshops (“Wiener Werkstätte”). Furthermore, she introduced to the Austrian public new personalities such as the German artist Käthe Kollwitz (1867–1945) and the French fashion designer Paul Poiret (1879–1944). Her salon became an important artistic center. In 1905, Zuckerkandl provoked a sensation by publishing an interview with Klimt, who, in the name of the freedom of art, declared that he would buy back the panels he had designed for the Viennese university ceiling, which had been rejected by the Austrian Ministry of Education. In 1908, Zuckerkandl published a selected collection of her essays on contemporary art.
During WWI, despite growing national chauvinism, Zuckerkandl had the courage to reveal herself as a pacifist by publishing an open letter by young French authors calling for peace. At the same time she published an appeal for a humanitarian commission for the suffering Jews in Galicia and demanded tolerance from the Viennese toward the flood of immigrants, mainly Jews, from the eastern provinces. In 1917, Zuckerkandl utilized the close connections to French politicians which she had established at her sister’s salon and, together with her brother Julius Szeps (1867–1924), the editor of the liberal newspaper Fremden-Blatt, strove for a separate peace between Austria and the allies. After the war, recognized by both the Socialist and the Conservative parties as an unofficial Austrian diplomat, Zuckerkandl arranged informal contacts with French politicians. Utilizing her French connection, Zuckerkandl’s two major achievements were to enable the Hoover commission to aid ailing Austria after the war and, more than ten years later, to persuade the Austrian Chancellor to review the case of Philipp Halsmann, a Jew from Riga visiting Tyrol with his father, who was jailed after being falsely accused by a local antisemitic restaurant owner for killing his father. As a result of her intervention, Halsmann was pardoned.
During the 1920s, Zuckerkandl promoted the theater projects of Max Reinhardt (1873–1943) and Hugo von Hofmannsthal (1874–1929), especially the Salzburg Festivals. She moved to the inner city and began the second round of her salon, hosting such famous authors as Arthur Schnitzler (1862–1931), Stefan Zweig (1881–1942), Franz Werfel (1890–1945), Felix Salten (1869–1945), Richard Beer-Hofmann (1866–1945) and Hugo von Hofmannsthal, as well as leading Socialists and Conservatives such as Julius Tandler (1869–1936) and Ignaz Seipel (1876–1932). At the end of 1922 she left the Wiener Allgemeine Zeitung and began publishing in the Neue Wiener Journal and, sporadically, also in the Wiener Tag, Volkszeitung and Bühne and other journals. In 1924, Zuckerkandl published a series of interviews with politicians, including the British and the French prime ministers and finance ministers. Committed to an Austrian-French dialogue, Zuckerkandl translated into German the plays of the French dramatists Paul Géraldy (1885–1983), Henri Lenormand (1882–1951), Jean Anouilh (1910–1987), Marcel Achard (1899–1974) and Jacques Bousquet (1883–?)—work for which she was awarded the Order of the Legion of Honor.
In 1934, after the establishment of the Austro-Fascist government in Austria, Zuckerkandl gave up her political activities. Following the annexation of Austria in March 1938, she escaped to Paris, where her son Fritz had been living since 1935. In Paris she established her third salon, where her guests included the conductor Bruno Walter (1876–1962) and Alma and Franz Werfel. Together with other emigrés she worked for the liberation of Austria. Zuckerkandl’s memoirs were published in English, French and German. A film script on the ‘Tiger’, Georges Clémenceau, was published as a book in 1944. In spring 1940, she fled to Algeria, where her son was already waiting for her. After the liberation of Algeria at the end of 1942, she worked in the Austrian section of a radio station established by the Allies. In September 1945, she returned, sick, to Paris, where she died on October 16, 1945.
“Decorative Kunst und Kunstgewerbe.” In: Die Pflege der Kunst in Oesterreich 1848–1898. Vienna: 1900 (Published together with: Ludwig Hevesi [Fine Arts], Felix Salten [Theater], Robert Hirschfeld [Music]); Zeitkunst 1901–1907. Vienna: 1908; Österreich intim. Erinnerungen. (ed.) Reinhard Federmann. Frankfurt, Berlin, Vienna: 1970; Ich erlebte fünfzig Jahre Weltgeschichte. Stockholm: 1939.
Meysels, Lucian O. In meinem Salon ist Österreich, Berta Zuckerkandl und ihre Zeit. Vienna - Munich: 1984; Redl, Renate. “Berta Zuckerkandl und die Wiener Gesellschaft. Ein Beitrag zur österr. Kunst- und Gesellschaftskritik.” PhD. diss. Vienna University, 1978; Bolbecher, Siglinde and Konstantin Kaiser. Lexikon der österreichischen Exilliteratur. Vienna-Munich: 2000.
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Shapira, Elana. "Berta Zuckerkandl." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 1 March 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on February 21, 2017) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/zuckerkandl-berta>.