Elisabeth Jäger, née Morawitz

born on September 25, 1925,in Vienna -deceased on June 28, 2019, in Berlin

commercial clerc, journalist

Ravensbrück: September 1944 - 28. April 1945

Medal of Honor "Fighter against Fascism 1933 -1945" of the GDR, Order of Merit of the Region Brandenburg, 2008, FRG

Elisabeth Jäger, geb. Morawitz, 1998, Foto: Archiv Kauers
Elisabeth Jäger, geb. Morawitz, 1998, Foto: Archiv Kauers

“I was born into a miserable life in an even more miserable environment. Eight people lived in the apartment that comprised a windowless kitchen and one living room. […] My first bed was the drawer on the bottom of an old leather couch which also served as a bed for my grandmother. […] Sometimes when we came back from school we were told 'Today Punch is sitting at the table and is laughing'. And so, we understood that there would be no lunch."

This is how my mother begins to write about her life during which she got to know the injustices of this world already as a child. The mother a housekeeper, her father worked as a laborer on Vienna's Naschmarkt. During the winter work was scarce and thus the family often was left with little food. The children wore shoes only when it was cold in autumn and winter. The youngest of four, Lisl, wore her two older brothers' shoes. The lack of shoes was the reason why she was not admitted to high school.

Her sister Greli was her point of reference while growing up and helped Lisl to understand society's dynamics. Hiking, singing, debating and other activities at the "Young Falcons" and later at the “Red Falcons” added to the experience. She fondly remembered her squadron leader at the Falcons, Leopoldine Kovarik (12/05/1919-11/02/1943) who was executed on the guillotine for “having fabricated and distributed highly treasonous letters to be sent to members of the Wehrmacht”.

In the wake of the general strike of February 1934 many families were left without their fathers and thus without their main source of income. Taking part in a “Red Help” initiative the entire family Morawitz collected money for the affected families. This was yet another instance when Lisl’s family learned that it was good to unite with like-minded people and to help each other – just like when her mother succeeded in obtaining a decent apartment by virtue of her resolute efforts. This new apartment was located in the “Ahornhof” in Vienna’s 10th District which had been built – just like the famous "Karl-Marx-Hof" – as part of a social housing project by the socialist city government.

In 1938 Hitler’s Germany followed through with the annexation of Austria. 14-year-old Lisl and their brothers Karl and Bruno were part of a group of young antifascists who wrote and distributed leaflets against the annexation and later against the war. They collected area codes of the military mail to send letters to soldiers on the front lines. The idea was to convince them that this was not their war and to defect. The boys of the group also tried to make an effect on some groups of Hitler’s Youth by infiltrating them.

When their group was betrayed Lisl and her mother were arrested on July 3, 1941. The arrest warrants of August 2, 1941 states: “The investigations show that she endangers the order and the security of the People and the State by engaging in actions of High Treason for the illegal Communist Party of Austria.” The majority of the members of her resistance group paid with their lives for their actions against war and fascism, one of them was her beloved brother Bruno (06/20/1923 – 02/25/1944 executed on the guillotine). Lisl was sentenced to prison: after being imprisoned in Vienna’s „Rossauer Lände“ and after being interrogated and tortured by the Gestapo at Morzinplatz, she was in custody in the prison in Krems. Following her sentencing in November 1942 she was imprisoned in Stadelheim until June 30, 1944. During this time, she performed forced labor for company "Agfa".

At the end of her prison term she was not set free but was sent to a prison in Vienna instead only to be transported later to the concentration camp Ravensbrück. The reason mentioned in the arrest warrant of August 4, 1944, is the concern “that while in freedom she will continue to aim at damaging the interests of the Reich with all means and force. “

According to Lisl’s own words she survived the years of imprisonment and at the camp only because she experienced the help and solidarity of her fellow inmates from various countries. She had been forced to work in a labor battalion where she had to shovel sand for days wearing only a black, sleeveless evening dress and wooden slippers that had been given to her. With the help from the others it was possible to have her transferred to a position in the camp’s administrative office. Her education as commercial clerk and her beautiful handwriting came in very handy. When Lisl fell ill with typhoid and had to go to the camp’s hospital, every day the doctor – a Czech inmate herself – gave her a cup of rice mash which had been organized by other friendly inmates in the kitchen.

When my mother talked about Ravensbrück she never forgot to mention the Christmas party of December 1944 which she helped to organize together with many other imprisoned women for hundreds of children. A choir which had been founded for this purpose went from barrack to barrack; to thank for the songs the women donated some of their food as presents for the children. She also crafted some small presents for the children, small dolls and elephants made of grey waxed paper. Every time she spoke of this she was happy – and immediately very sad because nobody could save any of the children from the transport to Bergen-Belsen in February 1945.

The rooms in the Austrian Camp Community in the former cell building tell of this Christmas party for the children. During every visit at the Memorial site Lisl made sure to see the room that is dedicated to the Austrian inmates. Here, she was able to reconnect with her friends at the camp: Hermi Löwenstein with whom she had shared a bed bunk, Friedl Sedlaček who had preannounced her arrival in the camp and who had taken care of her in the beginning, Toni Bruha who had organized that Lisl’s gynecological exam did not take place, Hilde Zimmermann and her mother Anna Wundsam, whom she was friends with until their passing, and many other Austrian women.

The day of the liberation she remembers as follows: “I can never forget when we came back to the camp and on top of the camp’s gate, in front of a bright blue sky there was a red flag. It almost sounds a bit corny but this is what remains in my memory. “

My mother stayed at the camp for a couple of weeks and helped to take care of the sick. In July of 1945 she was in a convoy organized by Rosel Jochmann in Vienna to bring back home the remaining Austrians. Back in Vienna she soon started to work as a journalist for the “Österreichische Zeitung“. The years after the war were a happy and satisfying time for Lisl. After having moved back into their old apartment at Ahornhof together with her mother (who had also been arrested and sentenced to four years in prison) she experimented an activity at the Academy of the Arts and took singing lessons, piano lessons and dance lessons.

In 1950 together with her husband Lisl moved to the newly founded GDR. Her first job was at the Institute of Literature and Publishing, later she worked for the radio in Nalepastraße and a number of publishing houses. Meanwhile, she also studied journalism at the Karl-Marx-University of Leipzig. For many years Lisl worked at the Ministry of Culture and organized among other things foreign artists’ visits in the GDR and those of East German artists in foreign countries. Surely the high point of her career was the participation as a member of the GDR’s delegation in the negotiations of CSCE in Helsinki and Geneva, namely of the KORB III agreement concerning art, culture and sciences.

During the course of her life she continued to be politically active in different organizations, most importantly in the camp communities of Austria and of the GDR. After having supported the work of the GDR’s camp community from the very beginning she formed together with Anni Sindermann and Ilse Hunger its management board. Always in 1986 she was named deputy delegate to the IRC. In 1989/90 together with Gertrud Müller she saw to it that the two German camp communities quickly united. On May 25, 1991, the first annual meeting of the now unified Camp Community Ravensbrück took place in Bad Kreuznach. Gertud Müller became its head, Lisl became the deputy head. Lisl also helped to found the Dr. Hildegard Hansche Foundation Stiftung. From 2005-2007 she helped to establish the Forum of Generations at the Memorial site.

She especially enjoyed the meetings and the work with the youth she conducted over the course of many decades. Whenever she returned from one of such meetings, she often spoke happy and satisfied of the questions and reactions the students had had.

She was a strong, dynamic and passionate woman who never saw herself as victim but as a resistance fighter and antifascist in a quite literal sense: against fascism as long as she had the strength to do so.

(written down by Lisl Jäger’s daughter Dr. Brigitta Kauers, August 2020)