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Josef Teufl 1904 - 1945 Edit

Born 23.11.1904 in Wien
Died 28.4.1945 in Mauthausen

Biography

Josef Teufl was born on 24 November 1904 in Vienna. He was the illegitimate son of a music teacher and a nurse.

After attending primary and secondary school, Teufl was apprenticed as a metal worker at the Krauss locomotive factory in Linz from 1919 to 1922. He remained working at Krauss after completing the apprenticeship. From 1926 to 1929 Teufl worked at the Steyr factory, where he started to get involved in the revolutionary workers’ movement. In particular the growing introduction of piece work and conditions in the factory heightened his political awareness. In 1929 Teufl finally became a member of the Communist Party of Austria (KPÖ). That same year Sepp Teufl moved to the Linz tobacco processing plant as a machine fitter.

This job had been procured for him by his wife, Johanna (née Leeb), whom he had married in 1927. Johanna Teufl had already been working at the tobacco factory for a long time. She brought her son Otto into the marriage and she and Sepp Teufl had two more children – Ingeborg (*1926) and Josef (*1944).

Like his father, Sepp Teufl was very musical but circumstances dictated that he could not follow that career path and instead had to learn a ‘useful’ trade, as mentioned above. But he did nurture his talent in his free time by playing the mandolin – a fashionable instrument at the time – and founding a quartet.

Teufl was involved in the union at the Linz tobacco processing plant and was soon elected to the works council. From 1932 until the unions were banned he was the representative for the tobacco workers’ union. Sepp Teufl was well-known and respected within the Linz workers’ movement – well beyond the sphere of the KPÖ. He had good contacts to left-wing, social democratic circles and sought to coordinate efforts in the struggle against the threatened suppression of the workers’ movement. In autumn 1933, for example, Teufl spoke opposite Otto Bauer at an event organised by the Social Democratic Workers’ Party of German Austria (SDAP).

After the KPÖ was banned by the Dollfuß government in May 1933, Sepp Teufl became chairman of the Upper Austrian KPÖ. He carried out illegal political work under the codename ‘Brand’ and was arrested for the first time in September 1933.

Teufl was actively involved in the fighting in Linz in February 1934. Distributing leaflets and other illegal work caused Teufl to lose his job at the tobacco factory. He also had to serve a six month custodial sentence from September 1934 to March 1935 for ‘Communist activities’ and ‘subversive actions’. During his imprisonment the 12th Party Conference of the KPÖ in Prague in September 1934 voted him on to the Central Committee. The following years brought several more arrests and convictions, with Sepp Teufl one of those sent to the Wöllersdorf internment camp in 1936. During his various spells in prison he also got to know several illegal National Socialists and argued political questions with them. Even the future Gauleiter August Eigruber was once his cellmate.

Teufl refused an offer to go into exile in Switzerland. This was a very difficult period for his family and Teufl’s wife Johanna had to provide their livelihood from her work at the tobacco factory.

During the ‘Anschluss’ (‘Annexation’) of Austria, Sepp Teufl was imprisoned in March 1938 for a short time. Now, however, the National Socialists began to court the prominent workers’ leader. He was collected in person from his cell by a functionary with the words: ‘So Sepp, you can see now that we’ve won, now you’ll see things get better! Our party is a real workers’ party! We’ll show you what we can get done, and then we hope you’ll become one of us.’ Bringing Teufl over to the National Socialists would have been a good move in propaganda terms. The Nazi regime also gave him back his job at the tobacco processing plant. Yet at the same time Teufl was placed under strict Gestapo surveillance. On 16 August 1939 they wrote to Berlin: ‘Teufl is still a fanatical Communist. He may be keeping himself in check at the moment but his activity is a serious prospect to be reckoned with.’

As shown not least by this report, all the temptations and threats of the Nazi regime were for nought – Sepp Teufl remained a harsh critic of the National Socialists and stayed true to his antifascist beliefs. He continued to carry out illegal work and was a popular contact person and source of information for those on the left. Much store was set by his advice – especially during the period when the German Reich was on the advance everywhere and National Socialism was celebrating one victory after another. Teufl set up an illegal printing press, wrote and produced his own leaflets and, from 1940, was chairman of the new leadership of the Communist Party of Upper Austria.

Political unreliability meant that Sepp Teufl was not called up for military service in the Wehrmacht and instead continued to work at the tobacco factory. After Teufl refused to accept a position in the NSDAP – a personal suggestion from Gauleiter Eigruber – he was sent to Vinnytsia in Ukraine in July 1943 in order to satisfy himself of the ‘true face of Bolsheivsm’. Back home Teufl had to give lectures at the tobacco factory reporting on his trip. This was a balancing act for him – on the one hand the threat of repressive measures hung over him, on the other the regime was trying to present him as a defector. After one or two appearances however, Teufl was asked to stop giving talks.

Finally, in 1944, a spy exposed the KPÖ’s organisation in the central region of Upper Austria (‘Wels Group’), which led to a wave of arrests. Although Sepp Teufl was advised by a comrade to flee he did not want to leave his family behind. He feared that otherwise they could expect reprisals as part of family punishment measures (Sippenhaftung).

On 9 September 1944 the Gestapo arrested Sepp Teufl near his house in Linz’s industrial district. On this day he saw his family – his son Josef was only six months old – for the last time. After a long period of uncertainty the family learned in December 1944 that Sepp Teufl was in the Mauthausen concentration camp. He had been arrested and taken there together with around 100 Upper Austrian antifascists. Many of them met their deaths in the first days after arrival through maltreatment by the SS or were murdered by its members.

Sepp Teufl was able to send a total of five letters to his family from Mauthausen concentration camp. Despite the terrible conditions in the concentration camp, the letters were full of confidence and Sepp Teufl tried to reassure his wife and children and instil courage in them. Through his deployment as a blacksmith’s assistant outside the camp he was also able to send some messages illegally. On 20 March 1945 Sepp Teufl wrote in his last secret message smuggled out of the camp: ‘When events continue to hasten as they do now then I hope that we will see each other very, very soon. All of us here are at fever pitch and each of us is already painting the future in the rosiest of colours. My calculation is now for 1 May.’

Sepp Teufl also tried to build up an organisation in the concentration camp and win people over for if the worst happened. However, an escape attempt in April 1945 failed.

When the imminent arrival of the Allies was foreseeable even for the most fanatical of National Socialists, Gauleiter Eigruber had the Upper Austrian antifascists murdered on his personal command. The Allied troops should find no ‘forces capable of reconstruction’ at their disposal.

In the early hours of 29 April 1945, 42 Upper Austrians were murdered in the gas chamber of Mauthausen – Sepp Teufl among them. Only one prisoner marked for death, Richard Dietl, survived and after liberation was able to report on the fate of the Upper Austrians arrested in September 1944. According to his statement, Sepp Teufl guessed the intentions of the SS yet, in spite his relatively good mental and physical condition, did not flee but remained with his comrades.

The operation on the night of 28-29 April 1945 was the final murder to be committed using gas at the Mauthausen concentration camp.

After his death, Sepp Teufl’s family endured a difficult period. While they were recognised as the surviving dependents of a Nazi victim and resistance fighter, their social situation was not easy. Teufl’s wife Johanna died as early as 1962 of heart failure. Like her daughter Ingeborg she had been active in the KZ-Verband Oberösterreich.[1] In 1945 a street in Linz was named after Sepp Teufl.

Harald Grünn

KZ–Verband Oberösterreich

 

Translation into English: Joanna White


[1] Translator’s note: the Upper Austrian branch of the KZ-Verband, a national survivors’ association.

 

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