The Fiat 522 car today in the Vienna Technical Museum. The Nazis seized the car without compensation from the Jewish businesswoman Rosa Glueckselig in 1938 in Vienna. (Undated.)

By Albert Otti

When the Nazis committed the biggest car heist in Austrian history, they took fine models such as a Studebaker Director Six or Chrysler Imperial Airflow, and their victims included the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud and the banker Louis Rothschild. It has long been known that the National Socialists not only confiscated businesses and homes but also the cars of these and other Jewish citizens shortly after they took power in Austria in 1938.
But it took historians at the Vienna Technical Museum until this year to collect information on some 3,700 vehicles that were seized from their owners.
The compiled data on car models, names and occupations exudes the modernity of the era. That sophisticated world largely vanished when Austria’s Jews were forced abroad or were killed in concentration camps in the Holocaust by their Nazi fellow citizens.
Descendants of the victims and those who knew them have since come forward to add data and to seek further puzzle pieces of information, aiming to round out this chapter of their family histories. For chief researcher Christian Kloesch, one of the most surprising outcomes of his work came when the daughter of Freud’s chauffeur contacted him recently after she saw news reports about the team’s project.
She was able to tell him how the founder of psychoanalysis lost one of his cars. “No one would have expected that anyone would have a recollection of that,” he said.
When it became clear in 1938 that Freud would have to leave the country, he told his driver Josef Malina that he could either get severance pay or have Freud’s Graef & Stift, a stately Austrian luxury saloon, according to the driver’s daughter.
Malina took the car, but a high-ranking officer of the Gestapo secret police came shortly afterwards and confiscated it.
 “A Jew is not allowed to give presents,” the officer said of Freud’s transaction, according to Malina’s daughter.
Her father felt cheated, she told Kloesch.
Automobiles were mostly luxury possessions of the affluent class in the decades between the two world wars. Car magazines of the era featured “Hungarian counts, Polish noblemen, Jewish intellectuals and extravagant international bohemians,” the historian Michael John writes.
Members of Vienna’s high society took part in “beauty contests” for their cars, in which chauffeurs presented the vehicles, but the owners took the prizes, much like at horse races. Special publications featured photos of artists or entrepreneurs posing proudly beside their cars.
But car makers started reaching out to a wider range of customers with mid-range models because the very rich were too small a group to sustain the country’s car industry amid the high unemployment rates and difficult economic situation of the 1930s.
Austrian carmaker Steyr came up with its small and curvy Steyr 50 model, nicknamed the “Baby”. It was marketed especially to women, using the slogan “I want a baby from you — a Steyr Baby.”
Freud’s second car was a Steyr 50, but it was probably driven by his daughter Anna, who was also a psychoanalyst. That car was also taken away from the Freud family in 1938.
One of the owners of these new mid-range models was Ernst Spitzer, a Vienna doctor specialised in treating sexual diseases.
His son Paul Spitzer, who lives in Seattle in the United States, said he was astonished when he learned recently that there were records of his father’s car in the Technical Museum’s database.
Ernst Spitzer must have had an optimistic outlook on his future when he bought a small Steyr convertible in 1937, just one year before the Nazis took over, the son said in a telephone interview.
Paul thinks that his father and his mother Emma, who was an eye doctor, finally realised the seriousness of their situation when a policeman and a Nazi came to requisition the car.
 “Stealing the car might have been good — such lawlessness was so threatening and frightening that it may have convinced my parents to emigrate,” Paul said of his family’s journey to the United States.
The Nazis went after Jewish cars because the National Socialist party had been banned before 1938. It had not been able to build up its own transportation infrastructure until then. The seized vehicles became the cars of Nazi party and security officials.
One third of the 3,000 cars stolen in this way in Vienna were auctioned to the public, Kloesch said.
Ordinary citizens benefited from the confiscation of real estate and other Jewish property, while anti-Semitic propaganda painted a picture of Jews who had become rich at the expense of the masses. This stereotype was fuelled by the fact there were relatively many Jews among certain professions, such as doctors, lawyers or merchants.
Such professionals needed vehicles to reach their patients and clients. This helps explain why Jews owned 20% of Vienna’s private automobiles, even though only 9% of the city’s population was Jewish.
Jewish car owners included not only doctors, bankers or entrepreneurs, but also owners of smaller businesses such as Rosa Glueckselig, who operated a gourmet food store in Vienna.
Her Fiat 522 was taken away by Nazi paramilitaries in March 1938, less than a week after Adolf Hitler incorporated his native Austria into the German Reich.
After World War II, the car ended up in the Technical Museum, and Kloesch discovered its history when he was tasked to comb through the museum’s collection in search of Nazi loot.
In 2008, the car was given back to the Glueckselig’s heirs, who had emigrated to Argentina.
Two years later, Rosa Glueckselig’s great-grand daughter Florencia made the long trip to Vienna and saw the family car for the first time at the museum, where it has been allowed to remain on loan. “It was very moving to see the car, to touch it and to feel it,” she wrote of the experience.
 “I imagined my grandfather riding in it as a child together with my great-grandmother. And for a moment, I took my grandfather’s place in this car, which my great-grandfather had been able to afford with so much effort and labour.  
“He must have lived through many happy moments with my great-grandmother in this car. And the war took this family’s car, their life and their home,” she wrote. – DPA

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