Prison Elite: How Austrian Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg Survived Nazi Captivity
Published: June 2021© 2021
Imprint: University of Toronto Press
Page Count: 224 Pages
Dimensions: 6.00 x 8.90
224 Pages, 6.00 x 8.90 x 0.70 in
After the Anschluss (annexation) in 1938, the Nazis forced Austrian Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg to resign and kept him imprisoned for seven years, until his rescue by the Allies in 1945. Schuschnigg’s privileged position within the concentration camp system allowed him to keep a diary and to write letters which were smuggled out to family members.
Drawing on these records, Prison Elite paints a picture of a little-known aspect of concentration camp history: the life of a VIP prisoner. Schuschnigg, who was a devout Catholic, presents his memoirs as a "confession," expecting absolution for any political missteps and, more specifically, for his dictatorial regime in the 1930s. As Erika Rummel reveals in fascinating detail, his autobiographical writings are frequently unreliable.
Prison Elite describes the strategies Schuschnigg used to survive his captivity emotionally and intellectually. Religion, memory of better days, friendship, books and music, and maintaining a sense of humour allowed him to cope. A comparison with the memoirs of fellow captives reveals these tactics to be universal.
Studying Schuschnigg’s writing in the context of contemporary prison memoirs, Prison Elite provides unique insight into the life of a VIP prisoner.
1. In Isolation: Living under the Enemy’s Eye
2. The Sachsenhausen Household: Living en famille
3. The Comfort of Religion
4. The Consolation of Books
5. Music to His Ears
6. The Use of Wit
7. Cherishing Memories
8. Schuschnigg’s Political Reminiscences
"Rummel brilliantly describes and analyzes how Schuschnigg attempted to cope psychologically with his personal plight and to explain to himself why he had failed as chancellor."Evan B. Bukey, University of Arkansas, emeritus, Central European History
"A clear-sighted reading of the diaries and letters of pre-war Austria’s last Chancellor, Kurt von Schuschnigg, during his seven-year internment in Nazi prisons and camps – where, as a privileged prisoner, he was more witness than victim of Nazi atrocity. Part political memoir, part prison diary, part psychological coping mechanism, in Rummel’s astute hands these hybrid texts disclose a man in daily struggle not just with his own incarceration, but also with his political role in Austria’s downfall."Jane Caplan, Professor Emeritus of Modern European History, University of Oxford
"’Quite nice in Sachsenhausen’ – Erika Rummel’s remarkable work focuses on a little-known chapter of the National Socialist dictatorship. While the atrocities in concentration camps are well documented, the existence of VIP sections within various camps is not common knowledge. Rummel approaches the less covered theme through the eyes of a most controversial figure in Austria´s contemporary history. A new perspective worth reading!"Hannes Leidinger, Lecturer at the Institute for Contemporary History, University of Vienna and member of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Research on the Consequences of War