Karl Flanner (1920–2013)

The slave labour systems imposed by Nazi and Communist governments before, during and after the Second World War are commemorated in several museums, notably that in Berlin. Karl Flanner suffered more than five years as a slave labourer and as a prisoner in concentration camps, but, unlike many of his fellow workers and prisoners, he survived, and went on to establish a reputation as a historian and to found a museum of working class life in the town of his birth.

Karl Flanner was born in Flugfeld, a working class quarter of the industrial city of Wiener Neustadt, the son of a leather worker who was conscripted to work in an ammunition factory during the First World War. From an early age he was involved with left wing political movements, in particular taking part in demonstrations against the neo-Fascist Heimwehr organisation. He became disillusioned with socialist organisations and joined the Austrian Communist Party, at that time an illegal body. He was employed as an electrician at the celebrated locomotive works in Wiener Neustadt. He was amongst those in the city who showed disapproval of the Anschluss in 1938 when Austria was absorbed into the Third Reich, and on 22 August 1939 he was arrested by the Gestapo. He was imprisoned, then made to work under slave labour conditions as a weaver, and at one time weighed only 45 kilos. After about four years he was transferred to the concentration camp at Dachau and then to that at Buchenwald, where he was one of the prisoners who seized power from the guards as the end of the Second World War approached.

On returning to Wiener Neustadt he again joined the Communist Party, and was a member of the municipal council in 1946-55 and 1960-71. In 1982 he was one of the founding trustees of the Industrieviertel-Museum (Industrial District Museum) in the city and served as its director. The museum’s displays include one that tells the story of slave labour under the Nazi regime, and of its links with factories in Wiener Neustadt. Karl Flanner was a member of the board of trustees of DÖW, the Vienna-based documentation centre for the resistance movement against Nazism in Austria. He was also involved with Stolpersteine für Wiener Neustadt, part of a widespread movement launched in 2009 which uses Strassenzeit, small plaques inserted in pavements or roadside walls that commemorate people who were persecuted, murdered, deported or forced into suicide by the Nazi regime.