Emilie Schenkl

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Subhas Chandra Bose and Wife Emilie Shenkl with German Shephard - 1937.jpg
Emilie Schenkl with Subhas Chandra Bose
Born Emilie Schenkl
(1910-12-26)26 December 1910
Died March, 1996
Spouse(s) Subhas Chandra Bose (m. 1937)

Emilie Schenkl (26 December 1910 – March 1996), was the wife,[1] or companion,[2] of Subhas Chandra Bose—a major leader of Indian nationalism—and the mother of their daughter, Anita Bose Pfaff.[1][3] Schenkl, an Austrian, and her baby daughter were, however, left without support in wartime Europe by Bose, after he moved from Germany to southeast Asia in February 1943, and subsequently died at the end of the war.[4] After the war, both were met by Bose's brother Sarat Chandra Bose and his family in Vienna in 1948, and welcomed into the Bose family in an emotional meeting.[5]

Early life[edit]

Emilie Schenkl was born in Vienna on 26 December 1910 in an Austrian Catholic family.[6] Paternal granddaughter of a shoemaker and the daughter of a veterinarian, she started primary school late—towards the end of the Great war—on account of her father's reluctance for her to have formal schooling.[6] Her father, moreover, later became unhappy with her progress in secondary school and enrolled her in a nunnery for four years.[6] However, Schenkl decided against becoming a nun, and went back to school, finishing finally when she was 20.[6] The Great Depression had begun in Europe; consequently, for a few years she was unemployed.[6] She was introduced to Bose through a mutual friend, an Indian physician in Vienna by the name of Dr. Mathur.[6] Since Schenkl could take short-hand, and both her English-language- and typing skills were good, she was hired by Bose, who was writing his book, The Indian Struggle.[6] They soon fell in love and were married in a secret Hindu ceremony in 1937,[1][2] but without a Hindu priest, witnesses, or civil record. Bose went back to India, but reappeared in Nazi Germany during the period April 1941–February 1943.

Berlin during the war[edit]

Soon, according to historian Romain Hayes, "the (German) Foreign Office procured a luxurious residence for (Bose) along with a butler, cook, gardener, and an SS-chauffeured car. Emilie Schenkl moved in openly with him. The Germans, aware of the nature of the relationship, refrained from any involvement."[3] However, most of the staff in the Special Bureau for India, which had been set up to aid Bose, did not get along with Emilie.[7] In particular Adam von Trott, Alexander Werth and Freda Kretschemer, according to historian Leonard A. Gordon,[7]

"appear to have disliked her intensely. They believed that she and Bose were not married and that she was using her liaison with Bose to live an especially comfortable life during the hard times of war. For her part, Emilie Schenkl did not like Trott whom she accused of aristocratic snobbery. Whatever the personal sensitivities involved, there also was a strong class bias at work. The Foreign Office officials were highly educated and had aristocratic and upper-middle-class backgrounds. They looked down on the less educated lower or lower-middle-class secretary from Vienna whom they saw living and eating much better than they were in the midst of the war."[7]

In November 1942, Schenkl gave birth to their daughter. In February 1943, Bose left Schenkl and their baby daughter and boarded a German submarine to travel, via transfer to a Japanese submarine, to Japanese-occupied southeast Asia, where with Japanese support he formed a Provisional Government of Free India and revamped an army, the Indian National Army, whose goal was to liberate India militarily with Japanese help. Bose's effort, however, was unsuccessful, and he, reportedly, died in a plane crash in Taipei, Taiwan, on 18 August 1945, while attempting to escape to the still Japanese-held town of Dairen (now Dalian) on the Manchurian peninsula.[8]

Later life[edit]

Schenkl and her daughter survived the war, with no support or communication from Bose.[4][9] During their nine years of marriage, they spent less than three years together, putting strains on Schenkl, which she bore without much complaint.[10] Bose never publicly acknowledged the fact of his marriage, and privately, only acknowledged it to one brother. In the post-war years, Schenkl worked shifts in the Trunk Office and was the main breadwinner of her family, which included her daughter and her mother.[10] In the 1950s and '60s as word got out of Bose's family, random Indian strangers began to turn up at Schenkl's home, causing some distress to the family.[10] Although, some family members from Bose's extended family, including his brother, Sarat Chandra Bose welcomed Schenkl and her daughter and met with her in Austria, Schenkl never visited India, though she lived until 1996. According to her daughter, Schenkl was a very private person and tight lipped about her relationship with Bose.[10]


  1. ^ a b c Hayes 2011, p. 15.
  2. ^ a b Gordon 1990, pp. 344–345: Quote: "Although we must take Emilie Schenkl at her word (about her secret marriage to Bose in 1937), there are a few nagging doubts about an actual marriage ceremony because there is no document that I have seen and no testimony by any other person. ... Other biographers have written that Bose and Miss Schenkl were married in 1942, while Krishna Bose, implying 1941, leaves the date ambiguous. The strangest and most confusing testimony comes from A. C. N. Nambiar, who was with the couple in Badgastein briefly in 1937, and was with them in Berlin during the war as second-in-command to Bose. In an answer to my question about the marriage, he wrote to me in 1978: 'I cannot state anything definite about the marriage of Bose referred to by you, since I came to know of it only a good while after the end of the last world war ... I can imagine the marriage having been a very informal one ...' ... So what are we left with? ... We know they had a close passionate relationship and that they had a child, Anita, born 29 November 1942, in Vienna. ... And we have Emilie Schenkl's testimony that they were married secretly in 1937. Whatever the precise dates, the most important thing is the relationship."
  3. ^ a b Hayes 2011, p. 67.
  4. ^ a b Bose 2005, p. 255.
  5. ^ Gordon 1990, p. 595–596.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Gordon 1990, p. 285.
  7. ^ a b c Gordon 1990, p. 446.
  8. ^ Gordon 1990, p. 543.
  9. ^ Hayes 2011, p. 144.
  10. ^ a b c d Santhanam 2001.