Deported and Forgotten – Helene Jacobi

Jewish Women Scientists in Vienna

Helene Jacobi was a researcher at the Institute for Experimental Biology in Vienna. She was persecuted after the union of Austria and Nazi Germany. On May 26, 1942, Helene Jacobi was murdered in the extermination camp Maly Trostinec.

Deported and forgotten – Helene Jacobi studied plant growth

Helene Jacobi was born on December 7, 1878, in Vienna. She attended Teachers Training College and studied natural sciences at the University of Vienna. From 1909 until 1919 and again from 1922 onwards, Helene Jacobi worked at the Institute for Experimental Biology in Vienna. For at least a part of this time, Helene Jacobi carried out research in the Botany Department.

In her research, Helene Jacobi studied plant growth. She wanted to understand how plants respond to different conditions. In one study, she tested how to get pollen and leaves to sprout and flowers to bloom. For one experiment, Helene Jacobi injected lilac twigs with solutions containing salts in different concentrations. Twigs she injected with low concentrations of potassium flowered more quickly. Helene Jacobi found that chlorides are particularly good for getting flowers to bloom, and pollen and leaves to sprout.

Only a few days after the “Anschluss”, the union of Austria with Nazi Germany in 1938, Helene Jacobi was dismissed from her position as teacher at the  Erzherzog-Karl-Bundesrealgymnasiums in Vienna. In August 1938, Helene Jacobi wrote a letter to the Jewish Community Vienna, describing her teaching experience in elementary schools as well as high schools. Because of her experience and age – she was 60 years old at the time – Helene Jacobi only considered a senior position. However, Helene Jacobi was then a teacher for Jewish children who had to leave their original schools. At first, she taught at the Jewish elementary school on the Freyung. In December 1940, Jacobi asked for a teacher position at the elementary school in Kleine Sperlgasse – then the only remaining school for Jewish children in Vienna. In her letter, she also remarked on having to care for her 64-year-old sister and 73-year-old brother. Two other Jewish scientists who had previously worked at the Institute for Experimental Biology, Henriette Burchardt and Leonore Brecher, also taught at the school in Kleine Sperlgasse.

On May 20, 1942, Helene Jacobi was deported to the extermination camp Maly Trostinec. She was murdered on the day of her arrival, May 26, 1942.

  • postcard, showing the Vivarium
  • Plaque remembering the Institute for Experimental Biology.
  • streetsign saying "Vivariumstraße"
  • School
  • Commemorative plaque

Selected studies

  • Helene Jacobi, Wachstumsreaktion von Keimlingen, hervorgerufen durch monochromatisches Licht, I. Rot, in: Sitzungsberichte der Akademie der Wissenschaften in Wien. Mathematisch-Naturwissenschaftliche Klasse. Abt. 1, Bd. 123, Wien 1914, 617.
  • Helene Jacobi,  Beeinflussung des Wachstums morphologisch ungleichwertiger Pflanzenteile durch verschiedene Reize, in: Anzeiger der Akademie der Wissenschaften in Wien. Mathematisch-Naturwissenschaftliche Klasse, Bd. 62–63, Wien 1925–1926, 158.

Further information

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