A Plea for Help From Nazi-Occupied Austria

The Vault
Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights
Feb. 5 2013 12:00 PM

A Plea for Help From Nazi-Occupied Austria

The Vault is Slate's new history blog. Like us on Facebook; follow us on Twitter @slatevault; find us on Tumblr. Find out more about what this space is all about here.

This 1938 letter, from a 25-year-old female Viennese physician to a Philadelphia pediatrician who was a stranger to her, poignantly illustrates the plight of one person trying to get out of Nazi Austria by any means necessary.

The Nazis took over Austria (in an action known as the Anschluss) in March 1938. Rita Smrcka, who was Jewish, was expelled from medical school on religious grounds that fall.

Advertisement

She wrote this letter, proclaiming her love for her profession, her proficiency in other areas (“baby-nursing, applied art, and English and French language”), and her deep desire to leave Austria, to Philadelphia doctor Samuel X. Radbill in December 1938.

It appears that Radbill was unable to help Smrcka emigrate, although he wrote a list of potential sponsors on a piece of notebook paper. Many Jewish people living in Austria tried to come to the United States after the Anschluss, with 125,000 applicants appealing to consulates for 27,000 available visas in late 1938.

Smrcka went to Auschwitz, where she worked as a camp doctor. This position may have helped her avoid death. She survived the camp and returned to Vienna after the war.

Librarians at the Historical Medical Library of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, which holds Radbill’s papers, found evidence that the 82-year-old Radbill was still thinking of Smrcka in 1983. A letter he received from a colleague that year responded to an inquiry he had made about her status.

SmrckaCollage

L: Samuel Radbill's list of potential sponsors. R: Rita Smrcka. The Samuel X. Radbill Collection, Historical Medical Library of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Smash and Grab

Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?

Even When They Go to College, the Poor Sometimes Stay Poor

Here’s Just How Far a Southern Woman May Have to Drive to Get an Abortion

The Most Ingenious Teaching Device Ever Invented

Marvel’s Civil War Is a Far-Right Paranoid Fantasy

It’s also a mess. Can the movies do better?

Behold

Sprawl, Decadence, and Environmental Ruin in Nevada

Space: The Next Generation

An All-Female Mission to Mars

As a NASA guinea pig, I verified that women would be cheaper to launch than men.

Watching Netflix in Bed. Hanging Bananas. Is There Anything These Hooks Can’t Solve?

The Procedural Rule That Could Prevent Gay Marriage From Reaching SCOTUS Again

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 20 2014 7:13 PM Deadly Advice When it comes to Ebola, ignore American public opinion: It’s ignorant and misinformed about the disease.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 20 2014 7:23 PM Chipotle’s Magical Burrito Empire Keeps Growing, Might Be Slowing
  Life
Outward
Oct. 20 2014 3:16 PM The Catholic Church Is Changing, and Celibate Gays Are Leading the Way
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I Am 25. I Don't Work at Facebook. My Doctors Want Me to Freeze My Eggs.
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 20 2014 6:32 PM Taylor Swift’s Pro-Gay “Welcome to New York” Takes Her Further Than Ever From Nashville 
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 20 2014 4:59 PM Canadian Town Cancels Outdoor Halloween Because Polar Bears
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Oct. 20 2014 11:46 AM Is Anybody Watching My Do-Gooding? The difference between being a hero and being an altruist.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.