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Resistance fighter who planted seeds for new roses to bloom for free, democratic Austria

By Harsh Thakor* 

On 14 April, 2024, at the ripe old age of 98 years, Kâthe Sasso, a resistance fighter, passed away. A courageous and relentless combatant against fascism, a model of how to wage resistance, the intensification of Austro-fascism in the mid-1930s and the rule of Nazi dictatorship from 1938 propelled the course of Kathe Sasso’s life. As political opposition was turning illegal, anti-government activists were compelled to function underground and beyond the boundaries of mainstream society.
Born as a Burgenland-Croatian, Käthe Sasso eceived political baptism when she was very young, as her parents played an integral role in the communist resistance after the February Uprising 1934 and fought against Austro-fascism and Nazi fascism. Her parents Johann and Agnes Smudits were active in the resistance against the Nazi regime.
Following the death of her mother and after her father was posted into the German Wehrmacht, Käthe Sasso, at the age of just 16, treaded her parents’ footsteps, adopting work in the Gustav Adolf Neustadl resistance group.
From her inception as a young girl, Käthe Sasso fought for an independent and free Austria. Even as a young school girl Käthe was involved in the production of political leaflets for distribution, leaving them in trains, public benches along the streets or in parks.
As part of a communist resistance group, she supplied relatives of executed resistance combatants with food and distributed leaflets against Nazi fascism. As many others, she was trapped in the custody of the Gestapo, and after some time of confinement in Austria she was deported to the concentration camp in Ravensbrück.
Arrested on 21 August 1942, after two years in Austrian prisons and camps, where she was one of the youngest prisoners to experience the brutality of the Nazi penal system, she was deported to Ravensbrück concentration camp in 1944. In April 1945, she managed to escape a death march headed for Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and make her way to Vienna.
Her death defying or resilient spirit for a free, independent and anti-fascist Austria was reflected in the book The Sky is Blue. Maybe
She pulled off an escape from the so-called Death March from the concentration camp towards Bergen-Belsen with a friend. Both could secure return to Vienna thanks to the support of the Soviet Red Army. Not only the battle she waged against Austro-fascism, but also the one combating occupation of Austria by Nazi Fascism was her monumental effort.
Since the 1990s Käthe Sasso persisted with constructing a memory culture and respect for the resistance fighters who laid their lives for a free, independent and democratic Austria. It is a testimonial to Käthe Sasso efforts that the memorial Gruppe 40 was erected at the Vienna’s central cemetery.
Käthe Sasso was married to Josef Sasso, who had also been an active member of the resistance. Her death defying or resilient spirit for a free, independent and anti-fascist Austria was reflected in the book ‘The Sky is Blue. Maybe. Women in the Resistance. Austria 1938-1945’. In her memoirs she narrates how the resistance struggle shaped her life:
“They will detain me, but I won’t snitch, and if they beat me to death, I will never ever betray anyone. I did not regret, I think even if there would have been the possibility to flee or run away – I wouldn’t have done it. I was convinced, when others must stand it, then I can also stand it.”
In one of her last public appearances, Käthe Sasso shimmered the torch of liberation stating: “Bring it to the next generations, to be able to warn on Fascism, when we cannot speak anymore.”
Käthe Sasso’s life and deeds manifested or symbolised the revolutionary, anti-fascist and democrat spirit and enabled people draw the lessons of the resistance struggle and place them into concrete action. She planted seeds for new roses to bloom.
---
*Freelance journalist

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