Richter, Helene

Helene Richter

Porträt, Schwarzweiß-Foto

4 August 1861 Vienna – 8 November 1942 Ghetto Theresienstadt / Terezín

Helene Richter came from a liberal, (upper) middle-class family with a Jewish background. Her father, the physician Maximilian Richter, was head of the medical service of the imperial and royal privileged Southern Railway Company, and her mother Emilie was a housewife. Together with her younger sister Elise, Helene received lessons from private teachers and went on educational trips. Richter began attending lectures at the University of Vienna as a guest student in 1891, but unlike her younger sister Elise, she did not aspire to a university career. Nevertheless, her life plan by no means corresponded with what was typical for a woman of her time: She remained unmarried and childless, devoting her life to research. From the 1890s, Richter turned to English literature, appeared as a translator, and developed into a successful and respected publicist. In addition to her preoccupation with English Romanticism and her biographical works, her initial youthful enthusiasm for the theater eventually led to an in-depth scholarly study of the history of the k. k. Hof-Burgtheater (Imperial Royal Court Theatre) and drama. Already in her youth, Helene laid the foundation of her later extensive theater collection with autographs, photographs, lithographs, copper engravings and other objects. Together with her sister, Helene Richter lived in a villa in the Cottageviertel in Währing, where she regularly received artists, writers, scientists and activists. In the 1920s, due to financial difficulties, Helene and Elise Richter had to sell their villa in exchange for the payment of an annuity and the granting of lifelong residential rights. Despite financial hardship and physical suffering, Helene Richter published numerous essays, theater reviews and no fewer than four monographs during this period. In 1931 – on the occasion of her 70th birthday – the universities of Heidelberg and Erlangen as well as the city of Vienna honored her.

After the "Anschluss" in 1938, Helene Richter, now deaf and in need of care, who had left the Israelite religious community in 1897 and converted to the Protestant faith of the Augsburg Confession together with her sister in 1911, was exposed to Nazi persecution. As a Jew, as defined by the National Socialist Nuremberg Laws, she was banned from publishing and entering libraries in the German Reich. Deprived of any activity and marked by illness, the sisters had to sell their extensive library of Romanica and Anglistica to the Cologne University Library in 1941. Helene Richter also finally gave in to pressure to sell her autograph and theater collection to the National Library. On 10 March 1942, Helene Richter was evicted together with her sister, taken to the Jewish old people's home at Seegasse 16, in Vienna's 9th district, and finally deported to the "old people's ghetto" in Theresienstadt in October 1942, where she died on 8 November 1942. After 1945, no probate or restitution proceedings were initiated. It was not until 1972 that a real estate company obtained Helene's official declaration of death, as her house was to be sold and her right of residence, which had been guaranteed for life, was now to be cancelled. Between 2005 and 2007, decisions were made by the Vienna Restitution Commission and the Art Restitution Advisory Board to hand over the objects belonging to Helene and her sister in the collections of the City of Vienna, the Austrian National Library and the Theater Museum to their heirs.

Author Info
Publications about the person / institution

Beiratsbeschluss Elise und Helene Richter, 29.3.2006, URL: (29.9.2022).

Beiratsbeschluss Elise und Helene Richter, 28.9.2007, URL: (29.9.2022).

Thierry Elsen/Robert Tanzmeister, In Sachen Elise und Helene Richter. Die Chronologie eines "Bibliotheksverkaufs", in: Murray G. Hall/Christina Köstner/Margot Werner (Hg.), Geraubte Bücher. Die Österreichische Nationalbibliothek stellt sich ihrer NS-Vergangenheit, Wien 2004, 128–138.

Christiane Hoffrath, Die Bibliothek der Schwestern Elise und Helene Richter in der Universitäts- und Stadtbibliothek Köln, in: Regine Dehnel (Hg.), NS-Raubgut in Bibliotheken. Suche, Ergebnisse, Perspektiven. Drittes Hannoversches Symposium im Auftrag der Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Bibliothek – Niedersächsische Landesbibliothek und der Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz (= Zeitschrift für Bibliothekswesen und Bibliographie, Sonderband 94), Frankfurt am Main 2008, 127–138.

Christiane Hoffrath, Bücherspuren: das Schicksal von Elise und Helene Richter und ihrer Bibliothek im "Dritten Reich", Wien-Köln-Weimar 2009.

Monika Löscher/Markus Stumpf, "... im wesentlichen unbeschädigt erhalten geblieben ...": Provenienzforschung an der Universitätsbibliothek Wien am Beispiel der Fachbereichsbibliothek Anglistik und Amerikanistik, in: Gabriele Anderl/Christoph Bazil/Eva Blimlinger/Oliver Kühschelm/Monika Mayer/Anita Stelzl-Gallian/Leonhard Weidinger (Hg.), ... wesentlich mehr Fälle als angenommen. 10 Jahre Kommission für Provenienzforschung (= Schriftenreihe der Kommission für Provenienzforschung 1), Wien 2009, 281–297.

Franz Karl Stanzel, Erinnerungen an die Anglistin Helene Richter anlässlich der Wiederkehr ihres 150. Geburtstages 2011, in: Anglia 129 (2011), 321–332.

Theresienstädter Gedenkbuch. Österreichische Jüdinnen und Juden in Theresienstadt 1942–1945, Prag 2005.

Robert Tanzmeister, Die Wiener Romanistik im Nationalsozialismus, in: Mitchell G. Ash/Wolfram Nieß/Ramon Pils (Hg.), Geisteswissenschaften im Nationalsozialismus. Das Beispiel Wien. Göttingen 2010, 487–520.

Michaela Raggam-Blesch, A Pioneer in Academia: Elise Richter, in: Judith Szapor/Andrea Pető/Maura Hametz/Marina Calloni (Hg.), Jewish Intellectual Women in Central Europe 1860–2000. Twelve Biographical Essays, New York-Queenston-Lampeter 2012, 93–128.

Publications by the person / institution

Helene Richter, Mary Wollstonecraft. Die Verfechterin der "Rechte der Frau", Wien 1897.

Helene Richter, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Weimar 1898.

Helene Richter, Thomas Chatterton, Wien 1900.

Helene Richter, William Blake, Strassburg 1906.

Helene Richter, Geschichte der englischen Romantik, Halle an der Saale 1911–1916.

Helene Richter, Josef Lewinsky. Fünfzig Jahre Wiener Kunst und Kultur. Zum 150-jährigen Jubiläum des Burgtheaters mit Unterstützung der Stadt Wien hrsg. Wien 1926.

Helene Richter, Kainz, Wien 1931.

Helene Richter, Schauspieler-Charakteristiken. Hamburg-Leipzig 1914.


OeStA/AdR, E-uReang, VVSt, VA 27.298, Helene Richter.

ÖNB, Handschriftensammlung, Teilnachlass Elise Richter und Helene Richter.

Universitäts- und Stadtbibliothek Köln, Erwerbungsabteilung: hektographierte Listen 1933–1934, Erwerbung von Privatbibliotheken; Erwerbung Bibliothek Helene und Elise Richter, Zugang 653.

Virtuelle Bibliothek Elise und Helene Richter, URL: (29.9.2022).

Wienbibliothek im Rathaus, Druckschriftensammlung, B-88184, Helene Richter, Die drei großen Tragödinnen des Burgtheaters im 19. Jahrhundert. [Sophie Schröder, Julie Rettich, Charlotte Wolter]. Unveröffentlichtes Manuskript.
Wienbibliothek im Rathaus, Tagblattarchiv, Mappe "Helene Richter", TP-042140.
Wienbibliothek im Rathaus, Handschriftensammlung, NL Helene Richter und Elise Richter, ZPH 238.

WStLA, LG für Zivilrechtssachen, 48T 1152/72–5, Todeserklärung Helene Richter.