Born in 1920 to politically active Jewish parents in Vienna, Irma Schwager fled to Belgium in 1938 and then to France. Detained in a camp, she escaped and joined the resistance movement. This experience led her to peace work. And the way that women are affected by wars made her an advocate for the independence of women and against structural violence. After Austria’s liberation from fascism, she returned and became involved in the International Democratic Women’s Federation. She is an advocate for the implementation of the goals of the United Nations Conference on women and for disarmament.
Irma Schwager is listening to the radio speech of the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Elfriede Jelinek. She wants to hear exactly what Elfriede has to say. That is Irma: always interested, committed, informed, and alert, following the events of the times, present as well as the past. Born in 1920 to Jewish parents, she experienced pogroms in Vienna, when Jews were picked up. When the first transports to the concentration camp Dachau took place in 1938, Irma fled the country. Her parents, who were small merchants, stayed in Vienna and died during the Holocaust, as did two of her brothers. Irma stayed in Belgium illegally joining a group of political emigrants. She learned that “you are not only a victim, you not only can resist, you have to.” With the German invasion in May 1940, the situation became dangerous for Irma. She fled to France, was detained in a camp, but escaped with the help of the French resistance movement. With this, her daily political routine in the Resistance began. Austrians made up a group of their own. In 1943, Irma gave birth to her daughter and experienced the solidarity of her French comrades: “I would have been able to clothe six children.” She continued her resistance work and transported leaflets in the baby carriage. “That was wonderfully unsuspicious,” but perilous. After Austria’s liberation from fascism, she became involved in the International Democratic Women’s Federation. She became an advocate for the equality of women, development and peace, the implementation of the goals of the United Nations Conference on Women, and worked for disarmament. As a contemporary witness, she teaches the younger generation to say “No” early enough and to resist injustice. “It looks as if you put yourself in danger when you are active. But that is not the case. You learn to meet the dangers, you experience solidarity.”