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  • Writer's pictureHannah Marynissen

'Die Bühne' in 1937: A Snapshot of Jewish History in Vienna

Updated: May 7, 2021

The Sisters of the Lens team recently acquired eleven issues (nos. 439-450) of Die Bühne from Bücher Ernst; an antiquarian bookshop on Gumpendorfer Straße, Vienna.[1]

Established in 1924, Die Bühne (The Stage) is Austria’s largest theatre and culture magazine. Under the direction of its first two Editors-in-Chief – Hans Liebstöckl (1872-1934) and Josef C. Wirth (1884-1959) – the magazine fostered a progressive outlook on culture by reporting extensively on the Vienna Women’s Academy and taking a bold stance against rising anti-Semitism.[2] However, following the annexation of Austria to Nazi Germany in March 1938, Josef C. Wirth was arrested and excluded from the journalistic profession. He was replaced by Raimund Haintz (a Press Officer of the National Socialist Party) and the magazine was re-named the Wiener Bühne (The Viennese Stage).[3]

The copies of Die Bühne that were recently acquired by Sisters of the Lens are therefore some of the final issues to be released before the Aryanization of the magazine. More importantly, they demonstrate the significant contribution of Jewish female photographers to the cultural landscape of Vienna prior to the Austro-German Anschluss. Persecution under the National Socialist regime forced many of these photographers into exile. We at Sisters of the Lens want to honour the female photographers that are featured within this acquisition by not only sharing their work, but also their stories.

An Abundance of Jewish Female Photographers

Women were allowed to study at universities in Vienna from 1897 onwards and this new freedom quickly attracted the interest of the liberal Jewish bourgeoisie.[4] Education was an important part of a traditional Jewish upbringing for both men and women as it was considered a means of gaining emancipation, social advancement and status.[5] In 1888, the first specialist school for photography in Vienna was established; the Graphische Lehr- und Versuchsanstalt. Women were admitted from 1908 onwards and by 1919; a total of 718 female students graduated from the university.[6]

Many alumni went on to establish their own studios and build prestigious reputations. Trude Fleischmann (1895-1990) graduated from the Graphische Lehr- und Versuchsanstalt in 1916 before opening her own studio four years later. Specialising in portraiture, she would photograph numerous notable music and theatre celebrities, such as dancers Tilly Losch (1903-1975) and Toni Birkmeyer (1897-1973) – both of whom are represented in the June 1937 edition of Die Bühne [Fig. 1, Fig. 2].

Fig. 1. A portrait of Tilly Losch by Trude Fleischmann on the cover of 'Die Bühne' (June 1937)
Fig. 2. A photograph of Toni Birkmeyer by Trude Fleischmann in 'Die Bühne' (June 1937)

Pepa Feldscharek (1899-1962) graduated from the Graphische Lehr- und Versuchsanstalt in 1918 and opened her own studio in 1920 with her fellow classmate; Melanie Heller (1899). Feldscharek, who specialised in fashion photography, had her work published in several popular publications, such as Moderne Welt, Wiener Magazin and Die Bühne [Fig. 3].[7]

Fig. 3. A fashion photograph by Pepa Feldscharek in 'Die Bühne' (June 1937)

Dora Horovitz (1897-1978) graduated from the Graphische Lehr- und Versuchanstalt as a master craftsman in 1930. During her studies (from 1925 to 1934) she managed a prestigious studio – Geiringer & Horovitz – together with Trude Geiringer (1890-1941). Horovitz’s photographs of celebrated actors – such as that of the Austrian stage and film actor Fred Liewehr (1909-1993) – would be published frequently [Fig. 4].[8]

Fig. 4. A portrait of Fred Liewehr by Dora Horovitz on the cover of 'Die Bühne' (May 1937)

Exile and Persecution

However, Jewish families in Vienna faced increasing persecution during the 1930s. Following the Anschluss of Austria to Nazi Germany in March 1938, all three of the aforementioned photographers were forced into exile. Trude Fleischmann made it to New York in April 1939; she opened a studio next to Carnegie Hall a year later and continued to photograph many notable subjects, such as Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) [Fig. 5].[9] Dora Horovitz similarly fled to the United States where she ran a successful studio – Harvey Studio – with her brother in California.[10]

Fig. 5. Eleonor Roosevelt by Trude Fleischmann, 1944, gelatin silver print, 31.2 x 26.1 cm

Unfortunately, not all photographers’ careers prospered in exile. Pepa Feldscharek, who changed her name to Josefine Schreier, also fled to New York. She lived in Narberth (Pennsylvania) in the late 1940s and finally settled in Gloucester (Massachusetts) but little else is known about her life in exile.[11] As far as it is known, she never worked as a professional photographer again after fleeing Austria.

The stories of Fleischmann, Horovitz and Feldscharek are also the fortunate outcome of successful escape. Studio Adèle – though at the time no longer managed by its founder Adèle Perlmutter-Heilperin (1845-1941) – is a tragic example of the fate many Jewish families in the 1940s.

Adèle Perlmutter moved to Vienna with her family in 1860. In 1862, she established a successful studio – Adèle Studio – with her two brothers, which was given imperial accreditation in 1868. The family also opened a second studio in Graben in 1874.[12] Even though Adèle gave up her professional license in 1908, the studio at Graben continued under the management of her brother Willhelm Perlmutter (1842-1918).[13] His son, Ernst Förster (1879-1943) became the co-owner of the Graben Atelier in 1908 and the sole owner after his father’s death [Fig. 6]. In 1938, Förster emigrated with his wife to Czechoslovakia but the couple were deported to a ghetto known as the Theresienstadt Assembly Camp in 1942. Due to horrific living conditions and lack of medical care, it was reported that Ernst Förster died on 26th July 1943 from pneumonia and blood poisoning.[14] While it is thought that Adèle herself died of old age in Vienna on 8th February 1941, none of her three children are thought to have survived the Holocaust.[15]

Fig. 6. Page of fashion photography from the Graben Atelier in 'Die Bühne' (February 1937)

A Chance at Reconciliation?

Out of the female photographers represented in the recent acquisition of Die Bühne, only one returned to Vienna in her lifetime. Elly Niebuhr (1914-2013) apprenticed as a photographer with Hella Katz (1899-1981) before becoming a successful fashion photographer [Fig. 7]. Following the annexation between Austria and Fascist Germany, Niebuhr emigrated to New York, where she found a position as a portrait photographer for Hal Halpern and later for Edith Fable at the Lorstan Studio on Times Square.[16]

Fig. 7. A fashion photograph by Elly Niebuhr in 'Die Bühne' (June 1937)

Niebuhr would return to Vienna in 1947 and set up a spacious studio in her parents’ apartment. By 1957 she had created fashion editorials for various Viennese fashion boutiques and furriers, which were published in Express, Kurier,Neues Österreich and Für Sie.[17] Much of her work was gifted to the University of Applied Arts in Vienna, who held the first solo exhibition of her work in 2010; Rediscovered Photographs by Elly Niebuhr: The 1950s in Vienna.[18]

A Complicated History

Overall, this significant acquisition of Die Bühne demonstrates the complicated and varied history of Jewish female photographers in Vienna during the first half of the twentieth century. While most were trained in similar way at the Graphische Lehr- und Versuchsanstalt in Vienna; their paths would take them to divergent places. While most made it to the United States, not all were able to replicate the success they had worked so hard to accomplish in Vienna. In the case of Elly Niebuhr, her work would only come to be appreciated when she was already ninety-six years old. These issues of Die Bühne therefore represent names that, although slightly forgotten in the mainstream, deserve to be remembered. They embody the cultural zeitgeist, which was held up by the outstanding contributions of numerous Jewish female photographers.

Edit: 03/09/20

Since first writing this blog post, Dr. Michael Pritchard, Director of Education and Public Affairs at the Royal Photographic Society, has shared with us an article published on 13th June 1986 in the British Journal of Photography. It sheds light onto Trude Fleischmann's later life, and reads: 'Not many people today remember one of the most famous portrait photographers in the early part of this century - Trude Fleischmann, the Viennese photographer who, at the age of ninety, and after more than fifty years of working, has been 'rediscovered' by Dorothy Garfein, an agent who has inventoried some 3,200 of Fleischmann's prints - and reckons that there are still another thousand or so lying around somewhere. Trude Fleischmann was born in Vienna, the daughter of a prosperous merchant. She became interested in photography at the age of nine and studied art in Paris for a short time before becoming an apprentice to photographer Hermann Schieberth in Vienna. In 1920 she opened her own studio, and success was instantaneous, her sitters including Wilhelm Furtwangler, Luise Rainer and Tilly Losch, the famous dancer. She left Austria in 1939 for New York, where she worked until her retirement in 1969, after which she settled in Lugano, in comparative obscurity until 1981 when a small exhibition of her work was staged in San Francisco. After that, in 1983, Mrs Garfein organised a larger exhibition at Sparkhill NY, and last year there were two major exhibitions in Manhattan - one being a retrospective, for which Miss Fleischmann returned to New York. Several museums in America have acquired Miss Fleischmann's work - George Eastman House, the National Portrait Gallery, MOMA and the 'Met'.'

[1] The total number of issues of Die Bühne in 1937 is twenty-three (issue nos. 439-462). [2], 20.07.20. [3], 20.07.20. [4] Ulla Fischer-Westhauser, Andrea Winklbauer eds., Vienna’s Shooting Girls: Jüdische Fotografinnen aus Wien, (Metroverlag, 2012), p. 139. [5] Fischer-Westhauser, Winklbauer eds., Vienna’s Shooting Girls, p. 8. [6] Ernestine Bennersdorfer, Ingrid Zemann eds., Die erste Generation: Gebrauchsgraphikerinnen in Österreich 1882-1918/19, (Vienna, 2002), p. 3. [7] Fischer-Westhauser, Winklbauer eds., Vienna’s Shooting Girls, p. 199. [8] Fischer-Westhauser, Winklbauer eds., Vienna’s Shooting Girls, p. 201. [9] Fischer-Westhauser, Winklbauer eds., Vienna’s Shooting Girls, p. 199. [10] Fischer-Westhauser, Winklbauer eds., Vienna’s Shooting Girls, p. 201. [11], 28.07.20; Fischer-Westhauser, Winklbauer eds., Vienna’s Shooting Girls, p. 199. [12] Fischer-Westhauser, Winklbauer eds., Vienna’s Shooting Girls, p. 205. [13], 28.07.20. [14], 28.07.20. [15], 28.07.20. [16] Fischer-Westhauser, Winklbauer eds., Vienna’s Shooting Girls, pp. 204 – 205. [17] Fischer-Westhauser, Winklbauer eds., Vienna’s Shooting Girls, pp. 204 – 205. [18], 28.07.20.

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