Liselotte Kastner was born in 1934 in Vienna as the only child of Ernst Adler and Regina Kapeller-Adler. Her father was a general practitioner and her mother was a lecturer in the department of clinical chemistry at the University of Vienna. Her paternal family was both very academic and very orthodox. Her mother was born in a part of Ukraine formerly known as Galicia (Stanislau) into a family of diverse background, comprising business people as well as rabbis. Liesl’s mother’s university career in the department of clinical chemistry was quite unusual for the time. Liesl also had very successful and academic women on her father’s side of the family. One of her father’s younger sisters was only the second woman to graduate with a doctorate in law from University of Vienna.
Liesl does not have many memories of her early childhood in Vienna, probably due to her uprooting at a young age. During her interview, however, Liesl reveals that she grew up in a very loving family that practiced orthodox Judaism. A family that was part of Vienna’s thriving academic and cultural elite and placed high value on education and sophistication. Despite Liesl’s mother’s important research (including development of the Kapeller-Adler pregnancy test), she experienced discrimination because she was both Jewish and a woman.
After the Anschluss in March 1938, the family’s situation deteriorated. The day before Kristallnacht, Liesl’s father was arrested. It was only his father’s influence with the Kultusgemeinde, in which he was an executive of the Isralitische Kultusgemeinde, that led to his release. Liesl’s father was wounded and traumatised. Several of Liesl’s relatives had emigrated in the early 1930s from Austria to Brazil, and Liesl’s parents now also sought to find a way out of Vienna.
It was Liesl’s mother’s pregnancy test that caught the attention of Professor Crew, the head of the Department of Animal Genetics at the University of Edinburgh. Liesl’s father was also chosen as one of fifty Austrian doctors who would be allowed to practice in the United Kingdom. After arriving in Britain on 27 January 1939, both of Liesl’s parents began work immediately and Liesl started school, to which she adapted very well. Later, it was her great joy to play the cello first in the school orchestra and subsequently in the National Scottish Youth Orchestra.
After the outbreak of World War II, Liesl was evacuated from Edinburgh, and both she and her parents suffered greatly from being separated. Her father was interned on the Isle of Man from May to September 1940, something he took very much to heart. Nevertheless, the fact that her parents were able to establish careers in Britain, and that the Jewish community in Edinburgh helped them to integrate. Liesl’s parents always welcomed visitors, including both refugees and friends from their former life in Vienna. After the War, Liesl’s parents only wanted to return to Vienna for short visits, as they considered Britain their home now. Tragically, the vast majority of Liesl’s extended family perished in the Holocaust. Only Liesl’s paternal grandmother (and one great-grand-uncle) survived Theresienstadt and came to live with them in Edinburgh until she passed away.
Liesl graduated from the University of Edinburgh with a degree in medicine. Through several scholarships, Liesl was also able to work with distinguished scholars at Oxford university, many of whom were Jewish scientists expelled from Germany and Austria. Shortly after she met her husband, Georg, whose family was originally from Slovakia, but had spent the war in Hungary and Turkey. Georg was a businessman, and convinced Liesl to move to Vienna and start their family there. Despite Liesl’s outstanding academic credentials, the Austrian officials incomprehensibly refused to recognise Liesl’s British medical qualification. As a result, Liesl began work as a medical editor. Liesl’s overwhelmingly positive attitude allowed her to reclaim some pride in this line of work.
Liesl and Georg raised three sons in Vienna up to their secondary school age, at which point the sons attended boarding schools in Britain, and have since settled with their families in Britain. Liesl is a proud and busy grandmother of eight, and is very active with research regarding her own family history. She also supports Paul Weindling in his research on Jewish scientists and medical refugees.
Liesl’s message to everyone living today is to be tolerant of others, to be educated, and to be informed about what is going on in the world.
Keywords: Vienna. Kappeler-Adler pregnancy test. Edinburgh. Medical Profession. Re-migration to Vienna.