An elderly British duchess launched a newspaper-based crowdfunding campaign in 1938 to rescue a Viennese bookseller and his Jewish wife from Nazi persecution, helping to bring them to safety thanks to numerous small donations, The Times reported on Tuesday.
Lady Millicent Hawes, widow of the 4th Duke of Sutherland, traveled to the Austrian capital shortly after the country was annexed to Nazi Germany in the Anschluss in March 1938. Hawes, 70, was in the city to visit her granddaughter, and happened to visit the hotel bookshop which, following the Nazi occupation, was forced to stock numerous copies of Adolf Hitler’s autobiography Mein Kampf.
According to The Times report (paywall), Hawes entered into a conversation about the dire times with bookseller Karl Buchberger, in his forties, and returned to speak to him over several consecutive days. At one point, he confided in her that though he and his wife were both Catholic, she was considered Jewish under the Nazis’ Nuremberg laws. This put them both at risk, along with their teenage daughter.
Touched by the man’s plight, Hawes promised she would help his family escape the country and reach North America. She then a launched a fundraising campaign, and in a letter to The Times asked for donations to assist the family — eventually raising £400 (worth £26,700 in 2019, or just over $34,000), with which the Buchbergers were able to leave Austria and sail to Canada to start a new life.
Settling down in Toronto, Buchberger opened up a new bookshop, which he ran until his death from a heart attack in 1943. His wife, Mitzi, lived to the age of 90 and passed away in 1983. Their daughter, Herta, continued to run the bookshop for many decades. She died in 2012, aged 91.
The duchess herself lived to the age of 88 and died in 1955.
The story came to light thanks to the research of Herta’s daughter-in-law, Rose Zgodzinski.
In a letter to The Times following the success of the campaign, Lady Hawes expressed her wish to thank “those who added to my own money and enabled me with £400 to send a little group, weeping with gratitude, to Canada.”
She added: “Many who sent small sums — and they were really the small sums that made up the large one — were strangers to me. May God bless them and forgive the tears of gratitude with which we all parted at a Paris station.”
The Times of Israel covers one of the most complicated, and contentious, parts of the world. Determined to keep readers fully informed and enable them to form and flesh out their own opinions, The Times of Israel has gradually established itself as the leading source of independent and fair-minded journalism on Israel, the region and the Jewish world.
We've achieved this by investing ever-greater resources in our journalism while keeping all of the content on our site free.
Unlike many other news sites, we have not put up a paywall. But we would like to invite readers who can afford to do so, and for whom The Times of Israel has become important, to help support our journalism by joining The Times of Israel Community. Join now and for as little as $6 a month you can both help ensure our ongoing investment in quality journalism, and enjoy special status and benefits as a Times of Israel Community member.