Adele, Bruno and Gisela Kurzweil

(Graz 1925; Josefstadt [Josefov, Bohemia] 1891; Oderburg [Bohumin, Bohemia] 1900–1942 Auschwitz-Birkenau): A family with Jewish heritage from Graz

Caught in a trap on the run: France

In Graz, Bruno Kurzweil was a well-known lawyer and Social Democrat and his political convictions therefore put him at risk during Austrofascism and under the Nazi regime. During the Nazi period, his Jewish heritage also caught up with him, his wife Gisela and their daughter Adele, despite the fact that none of them belonged to the Jewish religious community. That circumstance that was irrelevant under Nazi policy: they were classified as Jews. In October 1938, they fled via Switzerland to Paris, where Bruno Kurzweil became involved in the Austrian Social Democratic exile organisation. Following the outbreak of war in September 1939, Bruno Kurzweil, like thousands of other men from the German Reich, was interned as an “enemy alien” and not released until February 1940. Given how the war was developing, the Austrian Social Democrats decided to leave for Montauban in the South of France. From there, almost all of them managed to get to safety in time, mainly with American assistance. Bruno Kurzweil helped to prepare his family’s escape as best he could, but without success. The government of Vichy France, which was not German-occupied, collaborated with the Nazi state. Like others, the Kurzweils were arrested during a raid, interned and then sent to the Drancy assembly camp, from where they were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau on 9 September 1942 and murdered.

What makes this story extraordinary is the discovery of the family’s luggage at the police station in Auvillar, the place where the family had been arrested. It had been stored there unnoticed until 1990. While no memory, not even a picture, remained of many of those murdered, these suitcases provided an insight into the lives of a once middleclass family and their flight. It is heart-breaking to see how much hope, creativity, love, energy and despair were left behind with the objects, photographs, drawings and letters from the lives of the murdered Kurzweil family. Adele, for example, noted on a scrap of paper: “Certain pieces of music affect me in the same way as a beautiful book, they carry me to distant places or to the past.”

In a letter dated April 1940, Bruno Kurzweil wrote to his 15-year-old daughter, who was in a home for refugee children and evidently in low spirits: “One may also not compare the past with the present, as you did when you said, ‘Only now do I know what I used to have’.” He tried to reassure her that Austria would be liberated from Hitler and many tasks would then await politically untainted young people like her. “Just think about it; you will have to view the great pain, that you sometimes feel so keenly you think you can’t bear it, as small, temporary and void. Many things were wonderful in the past, but how much more glorious can your future become! And what lies in between, the present state, is only a transitional period.” How bitter that Bruno Kurzweil and his family were not allowed to experience that future.


Pascal Caïla, Bruno, Gisèle et Adèle Kurzweil. Itinéraine d'une famille autrichienne juive 1938–1942, Montauban 1996.

Christian Ehetreiber, Heimo Halbrainer, Bettina Ramp, ARGE Jugend gegen Gewalt und Rassismus, Der Koffer der Adele Kurzweil. Auf den Spuren einer Grazer jüdischen Familie in der Emigration, Graz 2001.