(Vienna 1911 – Vienna 1993): Block elder in the women’s infirmary
The love of a woman as an anchor in life
When the historian Gerhard Botz published his conversations with Margareta Glas-Larsson in 1981 under the title Ich will reden (“I want to talk”), the candidness with which she wrote was viewed as a provocation. On the one hand, she addressed taboo topics such as same-sex love; on the other hand, here was someone speaking from the perspective of the small group at the top of the prisoner hierarchy, for Margareta Glas-Larsson was block elder of the women’s infirmary at Birkenau. An extremely sensitive subject is the “pre-selection” carried out in the infirmary by the prisoners, who placed the weaker and sick in such a way that they were more likely to be selected by the SS to be murdered, protecting and thus saving others where possible. Glas-Larsson told it like it was, so her memoirs have remained an important source of information.
She grew up in a middleclass Jewish family in Vienna – her father fell in the First World War. She fell in love at a very young age with a factory owner’s son, Georg Glas, a baptised Jew who was a monarchist and Antisemite. After being shot, one of his legs had to be amputated. The two moved to Zwickau (Cvikov) in northern Bohemia, where the family ran a factory producing silk fabrics. The life Glas-Larsson described as frivolous and superficial came to an abrupt end following the occupation by the German Reich. The couple did not manage to escape in time. In October 1941, she was arrested on charges of racial defilement with an “Aryan” acquaintance and transferred to Theresienstadt concentration camp in 1942. From there she was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where she arrived in May 1943. Like the others, she was tattooed with a prisoner number – 44246 – and all her body hair was shaved off. She had a souvenir from her husband with her, a very small figurine of a sitting Buddha, which she could no longer hide now that she was naked. An exception was made to allow her to keep it and it accompanied her throughout the rest of her life. She caught Typhus, forcing her to be admitted to the prisoner infirmary where she managed to get a job. This was a chance for survival because the provisions were better than in the prisoners’ barracks. In the prisoner infirmary she was protected by the camp elder, Orli Reichert-Wald (1914–1962), a German Communist, who was recalled as the “Angel of Auschwitz” in the stories of the women who survived Auschwitz. Margareta Glas-Larsson spoke openly about the love she felt for the camp elder and how it imbued her with strength and kept her “alive and strong”. Once head guard Maria Mandl discovered her in the camp elder’s room. She threw insults at her, calling her a “dirty Jewess” who had no business being there, pulled her by her short hair and beat her bloody with her whip. Margareta Glas-Larsson worked in various functions, for example as a nurse, and eventually she became a block elder herself, who above all had to keep “order” in the block and to answer to the SS.
Her stories are full of fragmented memories, about her love affair, but also about managing to rescue her husband, who as an amputee had had no realistic chance of survival in Auschwitz, and about the danger of perishing through illness or denunciation.
After stays in Czechoslovakia and Sweden, where her brother had fled with his family, she returned to Vienna and ran a cosmetics shop in Lehárgasse.
Margareta Glas-Larsson, Ich will reden. Tragik und Banalität des Überlebens in Theresienstadt und Auschwitz, edited by Gerhard Botz, Vienna-Munich-Zurich-New York 1981.
Gerhard Botz, Jutta Hangler, Erinnerungen einer Wiener Auschwitz-Überlebenden: Margareta Glas-Larsson (1911–1993), Vienna-Salzburg 2002 (LBIHS-project reports, no. 8).