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Bertha von Suttner (1843-1914)
A pioneer of Austria’s peace movement, von Suttner was the first woman ever to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, which she received in 1905. Having frequently corresponded with Alfred Nobel, who founded the awards, she is actually thought to be responsible for convincing him to include a peace prize in the first place. Born into an aristocratic family in Prague in what was then the Austro-Hungarian empire, von Suttner’s life experienced ups and downs but she eventually found her passion in journalism and peace studies. This led to her writing numerous articles about pacifism including the much acclaimed novel ‘Die Waffen nieder!’, published in 1889, and taking part in first Hague Conventions a decade later.
Viktor Frankl (1905-1997)
Everyone has heard of Freud but not quite as many will have heard of Viktor Frankl. A Viennese-born neurologist and psychiatrist, he broke away from the introspective Freudian approach and instead theorised that the most powerful force driving humans is the desire to finding meaning in life. This became known as the Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy, or logotherapy. What makes this even more remarkable is the tragedy faced by Frankl in his own life. Although he had the opportunity to escape the Nazis after receiving a visa for the US, Frankl chose to stay with his parents and pregnant wife. All of them apart from Viktor died in concentration camps. Despite this tragedy, Frankl managed to write a thesis on the importance of finding meaning in life while imprisoned, using scraps of paper he found in the camp. His book Man’s Search for Meaning is well worth a read.
Leopold Von Sacher Masoch (1836-1895)
In his time, von Sacher Masoch was a writer, historian, and a progressive women’s rights campaigner. Today, however, his name is associated with one thing: Masochism. Having started off life as a historian at Graz University, von Sacher Masoch's obsession with fetishism and female domination began to emerge in his writing, in particular his collection of short stories Legacy of Cain. His ‘Venus in Furs’ is the most famous of these today, which explores the author’s own masochistic desires – although he didn’t call them as such – as well as his weakness for women wearing furs. These desires later became a reality when he got his mistress to sign a contract stipulating she was to treat him like a slave and wear furs as often as possible. The term ‘masochism’ was first used in 1886 by the Austrian psychiatrist Richard Freiherr von Krafft-Ebing to describe the sexual desires von Sacher Masoch wrote about.
Leo (right) with his mistress. Photo: Wikimedia
Lise Meitner (1878-1968)
As a physicist who helped to discover nuclear fission, many in the scientific community today believe Vienna-born Lise Meitner was wrongly excluded from the Nobel Prize for Chemistry awarded for the discovery. It was given instead to her colleague Otto Hahn, although Meitner’s understanding of how uranium fission originates and produces energy was fundamental to the work. Like many nuclear fission scientists, she was horrified that discoveries they made in the first half of the 20th Century led to the creation of the atomic bomb and refused herself to work on projects related to weapons. She also overcame sexist barriers to female scientists in that era, becoming the first female full professor of physics in Germany, although she later lost her position at Berlin’s Kaiser Wilhelm Institute when the Nazi anti-Jewish laws were introduced.
Konrad Lorenz (1903-1989)
Often referred to as the ‘father of ethology’, Nobel Prize winner Lorenz carried out some of the most pioneering work on animal behaviour. An animal-lover since he was a child, he believed that animals processed emotions in a similar way to humans and preferred to study them in their natural habitats rather than in laboratories, which was the more popular method among scientists at the time. His most important work was arguably on imprinting and the idea that animals attach instinctively to what or whomever they see in the first moments of life (a concept seen on the big screen in the film ‘Fly Away Home’). Having joined the Nazi party, he later regretted his membership and presenting his work in the context of the party’s ideology. Today his methods and theories form the basis for many scientific studies into animal behaviour, including at the three Konrad Lorenz Institutes in Austria.
Konrad (right) with his colleague and fellow Nobel Prize winner Nikolaas Tinbergen. Photo: Max Planck Society.
Carl Szokoll (1915-2004)
Known as the ‘Saviour of Vienna’, Szokoll played a key role in the Austrian resistance movement against the Nazis. Born in Vienna in 1915, he became a soldier in German army but joined the resistance movement against the Nazis, including being involved in the assassination attempt on Hitler in 1944. After being told by resistance colleagues that Hitler had been killed, he began rounding up Nazi SS troops in Vienna but soon received a phone call telling him the plot had failed. Incredibly, he convinced the army that he had just been following orders and was not executed. He went on to help protect Vienna from being devastated by the approaching Soviets by telling them the city would welcome them. Although fellow conspirators were caught and executed, he made it to Soviet lines and went on to organise the resistance from there. After the war, he had a career in the film industry and wrote an autobiography before dying in 2004.