Life and commitment
Elsa Brändström was born in 1888 in Saint Petersburg, the daughter of the Military Attaché at the Swedish Embassy, Edvard Brändström, and his wife Anna Wilhelmina Eschelsson. In 1891, when Elsa was three years old, Edvard Brändström and his family returned to Sweden. In 1906, Brändström, now a General, became the Swedish Ambassador at the court of Tsar Nicholas II and returned to St Petersburg.
Elsa spent her childhood in Linköping in Sweden. From 1906 to 1908, she studied at the Anna Sandström Teachers Training College in Stockholm but returned to St. Petersburg in 1908. Her mother died in 1913. Elsa was in St. Petersburg at the outbreak of World War I and volunteered for a position as a nurse in the Russian army.
World War I
In 1915, Elsa Brändström went to Siberia together with her friend and helper Ethel von Heidenstam for the Swedish Red Cross, to introduce basic medical treatment for the German and Austrian POWs, who were treated barbarically by the Russians. Up to 80 percent of the POWs died of cold, hunger and diseases. As Elsa Brändström visited the first camp and witnessed the inhuman situation, she decided to dedicate her life to these soldiers. The men from Germany and Austria, so many close to death with Typhoid fever, looked upon the tall, blue-eyed, blond-haired nurse and benefactress as an angel. She was known as the "Angel of Siberia" from then on, even to the Russians.
Back in St. Petersburg, she began the establishment of a Swedish Aid organisation. Her work was severely hindered by the outbreak of the October Revolution in the year 1917. In 1918, the Russian authorities withdrew her work permit, but she did not give up. Between 1919 and 1920, she made several trips to Siberia until she was arrested in Omsk and even condemned to death for spying, later the sentence was revoked and Brändström was interned in 1920. After her release, she returned to Sweden (via Stettin with the ship MS Lisboa, where the German government gave her an official public reception) and organised fund-raising for the former POWs and their families, afterwards she emigrated to Germany.
In 1922 her book, Among POWs in Russia and Siberia 1914-1920, was published. From then onwards she looked after former POWs in a rehabilitation sanatorium for home coming German soldiers in Marienborn-Schmeckwitz. She bought a mill named "Schreibermühle" close to Lychen (Uckermark) and used it as resocialisation centre for former POWs. Schreibermühle had extensive lands including fields, forest and meadows on which potatoes and other crops could be grown. This was most useful at that time because the German Mark was an unstable currency and lost value from day to day.
In 1923, she undertook a six-month tour in the United States, giving lectures to raise money for a new home for children of deceased and traumatised German and Austrian POWs. On her trip she raised US$100,000 and traveled to 65 towns. At a stop at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota, Brändström wore clothing of the Swedish Red Cross and "spoke about her thrilling experiences in Russia and Siberia during and after the war."
In January 1924, she founded a children's home "Neusorge" in Mittweida which had room for more than 200 orphans and children in need. In Siberia she had promised many German soldiers, who were dying, that she would care for their children.
In 1929 she married her great love Heinrich Gottlob Robert Ulich, a German Professor of Pedagogy. Afterwards, she moved together with him to Dresden. In 1931, she sold the "Schreibermühle" and donated her other home, Neusorge, to the Welfare Centre in Leipzig. She founded the "Elsa-Brändström-Foundation-for Women" (the foundation awarded scholarships to children from Neusorge). On 3 January 1932, her daughter Brita was born in Dresden.
In 1933, Robert Ulich accepted a lectureship at Harvard University and in consequence the family moved to the USA. Here Elsa gave aid to newly arrived German and Austrian refugees. In 1939, she opened the "Window-Shop", a restaurant which gave work opportunities for refugees in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
World War II
At the end of World War II, she started to raise funds for starving and shelterless women and children in need in Germany, and as a result, the organisations CARE International (Co-operative for American Relief in Europe) and CRALOG (Council of Relief Agencies Licensed for Operation in Germany) were established. Massive funds were collected from Americans and especially from German Americans, who accounted for >25% of the US population. She undertook a final lecture tour in Europe on behalf of the "Save the Children Fund".
Elsa could not undertake her last planned journey to Germany because of illness. She died in 1948 of bone cancer and was buried in Sweden. Her daughter Brita stayed with her husband and children in the USA, Elsa Brändström-Ulich's husband Robert returned to Germany, where he died in 1977 in Stuttgart. Because of her commitment to POWs, Elsa Brändström became famous as a "patron saint" for soldiers. In Germany and Austria, many streets, schools and institutions are named after her.
- "The war has brought about many heroines in various nations, but in my opinion, never again someone, who is more worthy of being honoured than Elsa Brändström." – General Alfred Knox, British Military Attaché in Russia.
Honours and memory
Among countless medals, awards and honours, Brändström was awarded the Silber Badge of the German Empire (German: Silberplakette des Deutschen Reiches) and the Golden Seraphim Medal (Swedish: Serafimermedaljen). Elsa Brändström was also nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize "Heroine of Peace" five times: in 1922, twice in 1923, 1928 and 1929.
In Memory of Elsa Brändström
A ceremony in Vienna's "Arne Karlsson Park" on 16 September 1965 preceded the official opening of the XXth International Conference of the Red Cross. In the presence of Austrian civilian and military authorities, members of the Swedish colony, leaders of the Austrian Red Cross and many conference delegates, a monument to Elsa Brändström was unveiled. This monument, by the sculptor Robert Ullmann, stands as a testimony of gratitude to the famous Swedish nurse's work for German-Austrian prisoners during the First World War.
- Elsa Brändström: Bland Krigsfångar i Ryssland och Sibirien 1914–1920, Norstedt, Stockholm (1921).
- Elsa Brändström: Unter Kriegsgefangenen in Rußland und Sibirien – 1914–1920, Leipzig, Koehler & Amelang (1927)
- Hanna Lieker-Wentzlau (Hg.) und Elsa Brändström: Elsa Brändström-Dank – Das Ehrenbuch nordischer und deutscher Schwesternhilfe für die Kriegsgefangenen in Sibirien, Becker/Säeman/Heliand
- C. Mabel Rickmers: Among prisoners of war in Russia and Siberia (with a preface by Nathan Soderblom), Mutchinson and Co. Ltd. (1926), ASIN B000WQLF8I
- Panke-Kochinke & Schaidhammer-Placke: Frontschwestern und Friedensengel: Kriegskrankenpflege im Ersten und Zweiten Weltkrieg. Ein Quellen- und Fotoband, Mabuse (2002), ISBN 978-3933050915
- Norgard Kohlhagen: Elsa Brändström. Die Frau, die man Engel nannte. Eine Biographie, Quell, Stuttgart (1992), ISBN 978-3791819839
- Magdalena Padberg: Das Leben der Elsa Brändström: ein Hilfswerk in drei Erdteilen, Herder, Freiburg (1989), ISBN 978-3451086410
- Margareta Schickedanz: Deutsche Frau und deutsche Not im Weltkrieg, B.G. Teubner (1938)
- Leopold Ehrenstein: Der Fall der Festung Przemysl. Der sibirische Engel Elsa Brandström. Bearbeitet von Emil Portisch, Bratislava 1937.
- Elfriede von Plugk-Hartung: Frontschwestern Ein deutsches Ehrenbuch, Bernard & Graefe (1936)
- Charlotte von Hadeln: Deutsche Frauen - Deutsche Treue 1914-1933, Traditions-Verlag Kolk & Co. (1935)
- Elsa Björkman-Goldschmidt: Elsa Brändström, 1933 (Language: Swedish)
- Anne -Marie. Wenzel: Deutsche Kraft in Fesseln. Fünf Jahre deutscher Schwesterndienst in Sibirien (1916-1927), Ernte-Verlag (1931)
- Gräfin Anna Revertera: Als österreichische Rotekreuzschwester in Rußland: Tagebuch, Süddeutsche Monatshefte (1923)
- Magdalene von Walsleben (Freifrau von Steinaecker): Die deutsche Schwester in Sibirien: Aufzeichnungen von einer Reise durch die sibirischen Gefangenenlager vom Ural bis Wladiwostok, Furche, Berlin (1919) Digital reading
- Alexander von Schlieben: Heldinnen vom Roten Kreuz: Lazaretterzählungen, Ellersiek (1916)
- Ludwig Detter: Eine Deutsche Heldin: Erlebnisse Einer Roten Kreuz Schwester – Nach Aufzeichnungen von Hertha Immensee, P. List (1916) ISBN 978-1168579317
- Ilse Franke: Deutsche Treue: Kriegslieder einer deutschen Frau – Unsern deutschen und österreichischen Helden gewidmet Hesse & Becker, 1915 Digital reading
- Rudolf Voemel: Deutsche Frauen, deutsche Treue! Ein Wort des Trostes an unsere deutschen Frauen und Jungfrauen, Verlag des Westdeutschen Jünglingsbundes (1914) Digital reading
- Harry Graf Kessler, Tagebücher 1918 bis 1937. (actually he wrote, she was formally condemned to death twice by the Soviet authorities) Editor: Wolfgang Pfeiffer-Belli. Frankfurt am Main (1982)
- "Students Appreciate Impressive Message of Elsa Brandstrom". Gustavian Weekly. College and Lutheran Church Archives, Gustavus Adolphus College. 10 April 1923. p. 4. Archived from the original on 30 April 2014. Retrieved 13 June 2014.
- In the 1990 U.S. Census, 58 million Americans (ca. 20%) claimed to be solely or partially of German descent.
- Citation from his memoirs, With the Russian Army: 1914-1917.
- Heroine of Peace
- International Review of the Red Cross, 5th Year, No. 56, November 1965, pp. 613–614
- Schickedanz über die auf tragischste Weise verschollene (verschleppte, vergewaltigte und ermordete?) Schwester Erika von Passow: „Wenn je eine deutsche Schwester von deutschen Soldaten von ganzem Herzen geliebt und verehrt wurde, dann war es Schwester Erika von Passow. Sie war in ihrem ganzen Wesen von so wundervoller fürsorglicher Zartheit (...)"
- Elsa Björkman-Goldschmidt war eine Jugend- und Schulfreundin von Elsa Brändström, die eine lebenslange Freundschaft verband. Sie war gleichfalls in der Kriegsgefangenbetreuung aktiv. Das erste Buch sollte auf Deutsch erscheinen, was 1933 aus politischen Gründen nicht mehr möglich war.
- Magdalene Philippine Caroline Auguste Erika Wilhelmine Freifrau von Steinaecker (geborene von Walsleben; 1880–?)
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- Elsa Brändström in the German National Library catalogue
- Metapedia: Elsa Brändström
- Nachruf in Die Zeit, 11/1948
- Wonderful tribute to Elsa Brandström by Protestant theologian Paul Tillich The tribute appears in Chapter 3, "The Power of Love," of Paul Tillich's book "The New Being." Professor Tillich was a chaplain in the German army during World War I. "The New Being" was published by Charles Scribner's Sons in 1955.
- Elsa Brändström (Television movie, Germany 1971)
- Newspaper clippings about Elsa Brändström in the 20th Century Press Archives of the German National Library of Economics (ZBW)