In August 2019, the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation named the SOS Children’s Village Hinterbrühl the HOUSE OF LIFE. In the presence of Supervisory Board Chairman Irene Szimak, Danny Rainer of the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation, Israeli Ambassador Talya Lador-Fresher, State Councillor Ulrike Königsberger-Ludwig and Peter-Michael Lingens, son of the resistance fighters Ella and Kurt Lingens and many other guests, a plaque was attached to the former Schweizerhaus on the Motesiczky family’s estate at Hinterbrühl in memory of Karl Motesiczky.
History of the SOS Children’s Village Hinterbrühl
Since 1957, children and adolescents have found a new home in the SOS Children’s Village Hinterbrühl. But long before, the site was a place of helpfulness and humanit. In the Second World War Karl Motesiczky on his property offered Jewish families shelter and saved countless lives. The property, on which the SOS Children’s Village Hinterbrühl extends today, has been owned by middle-class Jewish families for generations. In the middle of the area – on today’s football field – stood the Villa Todesco. It was a stately building with 18 rooms (some 15 and 20 meters long), two sweeping staircases fringed with geranium and foliage, and an entrance hall with fine mosaic floors and antique statues. When the venerable villa became dilapidated by underground springs and had to be demolished, the family moved in 1939 into the so-called “Schweizerhaus”. There were also stables, a tennis court, glasshouses, a rose garden, two fountains and a large and small pavilion on the heavenly country estate.
The Motesiczky family spent their summers on this spacious property, and with them lived part of the social and cultural life of the time. Since time immemorial, artists, scientists and scholars have come and gone at the estate in Hinterbrühl. Hugo von Hofmannsthal was just as much a friend of the family as Sigmund Freud , who for years treated the suffering Anna von Lieben with psychoanalysis. Anna von Lieben was Karl Motesiczky’s grandmother and served Freud with her illness as a teaching example of his theories. Under the name of Cäcilie M., she became one of the first patients in the history of medicine.
Also the painter Max Beckmann was a guest in the Hinterbrühl and inspired Karl’s sister Marie-Louise, who painted since childhood and later became his student and a well-known artist. And Robert Lieben laid the foundation stone for the amplifier tube in Hinterbrühl, with which he was to revolutionize radio technology:
“Here, as a young man, our uncle Robert Lieben made the preparations for the invention of the ‘love tube.’ He could not and did not want an ordinary school graduate and let him tinker and grant, ” recalls Marie-Louise.
Karl Motesiczky himself was a versatile intellectual and psychoanalyst. After a few years abroad he returned to Vienna in 1938 and decided to stay here even after the invasion of German troops. His mother Henriette and sister Marie-Louise left Austria on March 13, 1938, one day after Hitler had invaded. Karl did not follow them into exile, he stayed in Austria to face the developments. That this was a deliberate decision is clear from a letter from his sister Marie-Louise. He explained that he wanted to stay there, “where he can help, if something else is coming.” If all who oppose Hitler’s government are leaving the country, who will help to build something else? “
Karl Motesiczky followed these words with deeds: From the summer of 1938 his estate in Hinterbrühl became a refuge for Jews. Karl Motesiczky provided shelter to friends and acquaintances there and also provided them with food in Vienna when they could no longer use their food cards. While Motesiczky assisted relatives in preparing for flight, in parallel he endeavoured to bring his mother’s precious household items and his sister’s pictures to safety and to protect the property in Hinterbrühl from access by the National Socialists. He and a lawyer managed that for a while. In letters to his mother and sister, he describes the time as a happy life despite all the adverse circumstances.
Are you still so dissatisfied, or have you managed to make your life a little more meaningful, which is so easy when you try to be there, not just for yourself but for others as well his.”
In the fall of 1939, Karl Motesiczky founded a resistance group together with Ella and Kurt Lingens and other friends. In the summer of 1942, a former student friend Ella Lingens asked him to smuggle him and some friends from Poland to Switzerland. The couple Lingens and Karl Motesiczky wanted to help. But in the implementation of their plan, they were betrayed and arrested on 13 October 1942 by the Gestapo. On the same day, the property was seized from Karl Motesiczky by the National Socialist regime.
In February 1943, Ella Lingens and Karl Motesiczky were deported to a concentration camp in Auschwitz, where Karl Motesiczky died a few months later in the camp hospital. He paid with his life for his selfless help.
After the end of the war, the family received the land back as part of a restitution process. Marie-Louise and her mother Henriette, however, decided to stay in England permanently and, although it was not easy for them, to sell their property. For two years they tried to find a buyer until in the mid-fifties Hermann Gmeiner proposed to build an SOS Children’s Village on the property. Although mother Henriette liked the idea, at first she was suspicious of Hermann Gmeiner. The farewell to “the Brühl,” as Henriette called the family estate, was difficult for the two women, but finally they decided to do so.
Hermann Gmeiner has always been a good negotiator and knew how to get people excited about his idea. So he also managed to make Marie-Louise a supporter and agree on a price he could afford. Marie-Louise agreed that this should create a new home for children – also as a souvenir of her brother, who loved children, but never had any. Hermann Gmeiner had used up the last reserves for the purchase of land as well as the acquisition of the adjoining Schumacher Villa (which now serves as the administration building for the SOS Children’s Village). In order to finance the construction of the first houses, he turned to the people of Vienna and managed to trigger a wave of helpfulness and donations. In November 1957, the SOS Children’s Village Hinterbrühl was opened, which is still one of the largest in Europe. Since then, more than 1,500 children and adolescents have found a loving home in the SOS Children’s Village Hinterbrühl.
In May 1961 a memorial stone was erected for Karl Motesiczky in the lower part of the village and in 1978 Hermann Gmeiner wrote a letter to Marie-Louise. He told her about the “biggest and most beautiful SOS Children’s Village” and thanked her once again for the fact that she had made this possible with the sale of the property.
Karl Motesiczky was known for his unrestricted willingness to help and opened in times of need, the family estate in Hinterbrühl as a refuge for the persecuted. Thanks to the generosity of his survivors, the site is still a place of humanity today. Children and adolescents who can not grow up with their parents find a new home there and can experience a piece of happy childhood.
“All the best in the world arises only when one does more than he has to,” is one of Hermann Gmeiner’s most famous quotes.
“Maybe the whole art of being happy is in the art of not thinking about yourself,” Karl Motesiczky once wrote to his sister Marie-Louise. (May 1939)
The two men never met. But they were carved from similar wood. They worried about the well-being of others and helped unwavering where it was urgently needed. The so-called “Swiss house” is still standing today. It is located at the upper end of the SOS Children’s Village Hinterbrühl and is now called “Föhrenhaus”. There are three therapy rooms for children and adolescents as well as the workshop of the village master including a garage for tractors and large equipment sheds.