Dagmar Ostermann

(Vienna 1920 – Vienna 2010): The justice fanatic

The “Geltungsjüdin” (“deemed Jewish”) as a clerk in the registry office at the Auschwitz I “main camp”

Dagmar Ostermann, 1937/38. Born in Vienna, Dagmar Ostermann née Bock was arrested in August 1942 as a "Mischling 1. Grades” (“1st degree halfbreed"). She survived the concentration camps Auschwitz and Ravensbrück.
DÖW / Photo 8965

Many Austrians are familiar with Dagmar Ostermann: the survivor of the Ravensbrück and Auschwitz concentration camps visited hundreds of school classes as a contemporary eyewitness and accompanied groups on their visit to the memorial site in Oświęcim. Ostermann, who had been living in Vienna again since her return from Auschwitz in May 1945, but only decided to speak publicly about her past in the course of the so-called Waldheim Affair, is remembered by many as a knowledgeable, humorous and resolute contemporary witness. Her memoirs, compiled from many interviews by Martin Krist, are entitled Eine Lebensreise durch Konzentrationslager (“A Life Journey through Concentration Camps”) and were published as a book in 2005. She was General Secretary and eventually Honorary President of the Austrian Auschwitz Camp Community.

Dagmar Ostermann was born Dagmar Bock on 6 December 1920 in Vienna. Her father was a civil servant with the Austrian Railways, her mother a nurse from Dresden who converted to Judaism for the marriage. The marriage failed and the teenager grew up torn between her father and mother. After the “Anschluss” in March 1938, she fled from the pogroms in Vienna to relatives in Dresden disguised as a soldier.

Dagmar Bock was classified as a “1st degree half-breed” according to the Nuremberg Laws, but as a “Geltungsjüdin” (“deemed Jewish”) because of her religion. In August 1942, she received a summons to appear before the Gestapo. There she was arrested and deported to Auschwitz via Ravensbrück. She was lucky enough to be employed as a clerk at the “Stammlager”, which greatly increased her chances of survival. She managed to get in touch with her father, who had also been deported to Auschwitz, but was never allowed to see him. Before she was deported back to Ravensbrück in November 1944, she learned that her father had been gassed. In May 1945, she was liberated from Ravensbrück by soldiers of the US Army. She returned to Vienna on foot.

Dagmar Ostermann did not see her tireless work as a contemporary witness merely as a preoccupation with her own fate; on the contrary. In 1988 she even agreed to participate in the documentary film “Unheimliche Begegnung” (Uncanny Encounter) by director Bernhard Frankfurter, for which she spent three days talking to former SS doctor Hans Münch.

In an interview for her memoirs she said: “Since 1985 I have been visiting schools as a contemporary eyewitness. I put all my remaining strength into these lectures, which not only deal with my fate, but are also meant to be a warning and education to counteract the increasing xenophobia and racism in Austria. For me it went and goes without saying to speak about my experience at Auschwitz. Some days it is a relief, but at other times it hurts. Of course, there are aspects that particularly affect me, such as the murder of my father at the age of 59 in the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau. I have always been a justice fanatic, prejudices are deeply repugnant to me – I am not interested in skin colour, religion or sexual orientation, for me depends on the human being, nothing else! And that's what I try to convey to young people in schools. Some days I can process Auschwitz quite well, then there are days when I think back to that time full of melancholy, and days when I think back to that time full of horror. A camp like that was such a drastic experience in a person’s life that it is impossible to imagine life without it. It stays with you until your last breath!”

Dagmar Ostermann passed away in Vienna on 28 December 2010.

Literature

Dagmar Ostermann, Eine Lebensreise durch Konzentrationslager, edited by Martin Krist, Vienna 2005.

Österreichische Lagergemeinschaft Auschwitz, auschwitz information, 83rd edition, March 2011 (special edition for Dagmar Ostermann).

Bernhard Frankfurter, Die Begegnung. Auschwitz – Ein Opfer und ein Täter im Gespräch, Vienna 1995.