The Bonus Book of the Week is “Code Name ‘Mary’ – Memoir of an American Woman in the Austrian Underground” by Muriel Gardiner, published in 1983.
Born in 1901 in Chicago, the author inherited significant wealth from her father’s meat-packing business. However, her father died when she was twelve.
By the early 1920’s, the author, fluent in European languages, was studying in Rome. She was also active in the Socialist Defense League, an underground anti-Fascist political group. In October 1922, when the Fascists marched into the city, she and her friends didn’t take them seriously.
By the late 1920’s, she had moved to Vienna. It was a socialist city, with affordable housing, “…absence of slums, the clean streets, the well tended parks, and the beautiful Wienerwald – the Vienna Woods.” The people were pushing for national health insurance, “… something most Americans then considered absolutely immoral.”
There were then two major political parties in Austria. Each had their own militia. In July 1927, a literal battle between them resulted in a hundred deaths in protests, and the burning down of the Ministry of Justice.
The author was a social butterfly, traveling around Europe in the decades after she graduated from Wellesley College. She kept in touch with some of her fellow alumnae, and spoke with university students of different nations, such as Finland, Hungary and Bulgaria.
At a social gathering in Moscow in August 1932, they all thought Hitler was a harmless buffoon. Americans were too self-absorbed to worry about some clown an ocean away because they had their own serious financial troubles. The European students speculated that the Communists would take over Germany by 1933. Of course, compared to the author, they had grown up in an insular world, had read only Russian propaganda, and were engaging in wishful thinking.
Gardiner’s ultimate career goal was to become a teacher, but also a psychoanalyst in America. At that time, a medical degree (!) was required for the latter in the United States. The author had been psychoanalyzed by a disciple of Freud in Vienna, and become interested in the subject.
When Gardiner began medical school in the autumn of 1932, the anatomy department consisted of two separate sections: Jews and Socialists (some of whom were American), and Nazis. The latter physically attacked the former on various occasions. Because they could.
In the May 1932 election in Austria, Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss formed a Christian Socialist government. Nonetheless, having only one vote’s majority over the Nazis and Social Democrats, he still had to play nice with them.
By March 1933, power had gone to Dollfuss’s head. He declared a national emergency so that he could rule autocratically. He allied with Mussolini because France and England didn’t assist him with trying to head off the Anschluss. By the end of the year, there was only one political party in Austria.
The author’s social set, members of the underground, worked as clerks and posed as patrons at the local library so that they could convey seditious messages on slips of paper in the books they checked out.
In November 1937, many of the author’s contacts were arrested. Her boyfriend, whom she later married, escaped arrest because he happened to be out of town. The group recruited new members.
On a Friday night in March 1938, the Austrian government announced that the Anschluss was going into effect, in a live speech and via radio. “The noise of the low-flying planes together with the blaring of loudspeakers on the streets was deafening.”
The author was caught unawares and became quite agitated because she had illegal literature in her apartment. She burned some and flushed some down the toilet. Fortunately, that morning, she had withdrawn a lot of money, including American greenbacks from the local bank. She also had a large account in the Netherlands.
Gardiner served as an intermediary in helping get fake passports for members of the resistance movement to flee Austria. In mid-June 1938, Jews weren’t allowed to graduate alongside Aryans from Vienna Medical School. Their ceremony was postponed. It was a Nazi university, and the graduates had to salute Hitler with the raised arm.
Read the book to learn how Gardiner, her boyfriend and daughter fared during those turbulent years and beyond.