Persecuted–engaged–married. Marriages of convenience in exile

Women persecuted during the Nazi era were able to escape into exile by means of marriages of convenience with a foreigner. These marriages were contracted pro forma for money or out of solidarity. Most of the time the spouses were found in one’s own surroundings, sometimes it was also the cousin. Through the disparate marriage and citizenship law, women had the possibility to obtain a different citizenship through marriage. Some succeeded in utilizing this in a subversive way for their flight or their stay in exile. While some women still found their fake spouses and their future lives from Vienna, others already were arranged while in emigration. In order to be able to remain and/or work in the respective country of exile or to have a secured livelihood, they entered into marriages of convenience. This, however, also carried risks such as the dependence on the formal spouse and fear of sexual exploitation, as well as extortion and denunciation. Many women concealed their sham marriages as a detail of their flight history. Yet in many cases they proved to be a successful survival strategy and therefore existential for the lives of these women and their offspring. Irene Messinger was able to investigate 120 cases through her research. The exhibition shows the selected destinies of Viennese Jewish women and documents how the women’s lives took a decisive turn. Artists, dancers, scientists, students and political activists who married to England, France and Palestine or to Switzerland, the USA or Egypt are portrayed. The exhibition wants to make women visible as active protagonists who knew how to use their social and political networks to organize marriages of convenience and attempted to survive in this manner. Stories from descendants or from the personal sphere are of particularly major importance to the research. In case you know of a story of a marriage of convenience, we would be happy if you could tell us about it. If requested, the information will naturally be handled confidentially.

Curators: Sabine Bergler, Irene Messinger

Photo (c) Exilbibliothek