Baroness Marie von Reitzes pawns her jewels to feed Vienna’s poor

January 5, 2017

Soldiers attending a World War I Field Mass

The action of Baroness M. Reitzes of Vienna in selling her necklace to buy bread for the afflicted and impoverished families of soldiers at the front also won favorable comment from the people and strengthened them in their confidence in their own country.

The Baroness had one of the most beautiful pearl necklaces in the Austrian capital. It had clung about the neck of this most beautiful woman of the nobility at many a royal gathering and was one of the most costly and splendid there. Many men and women had gazed with admiration on the rare pink pearls that composed it. Jewelers before the war would have given at least $90,000 for it. Then came the war.

Baroness M. Reitzes

Baroness M. Reitzes saw the suffering poor about her. There was bread to be had, but they had no money with which to purchase it. She studied for a long time and then she went out at night to a pawnbroker. “How much will you give me for It?” she demanded.

The man looked at her as if he were gazing on a thief. He pawned over the wonderful gems. Then he ran to the front door and called shrilly for the police. Men of the watch arrived and were questioning the baroness about the ownership of the jewel when their captain entered. He gazed at the baroness for a moment and then bowed in humble recognition.

“The Baroness M. Reitzes, the most beautiful woman in Vienna. My men, salute her,” he called to his guardsmen. “M. Jebelks, you are under arrest for calling the guard to arrest such a woman of high nobility who condescends to patronize your store. Your goods are confiscated in the name of the Austrian government.”

Rows of fresh baked bread.

The pawnbroker fell to his knees before the baroness and wept. “No, you shall not arrest him, Captain. I am here on a secret mission,” the baroness commenced. Taking the great pearl necklace from beneath her coat she displayed it before the astonished guard and police. “They called it the most beautiful and costliest necklace in Vienna,” she continued. “I came here to pawn it.  To get money not for myself but for our poor.  Every cent I receive from this man shall be spent in providing bread and meat for our poor.”

The captain motioned the pawnbroker to arise. The man went to his safe and withdrew his checkbook. He gave her a certificate for the amount and then accepted the necklace.

Photograph of a queue in front of a bread shop in Thaliastraße in wartime Vienna, 1914-1918.

Next day the baroness went to one of the large bakeries in Vienna. She found the polite captain of the night before and his guardsmen nearby. They obtained a cart and at her direction filled it with loaves of freshly-baked bread. Then the baroness herself mounted to the seat beside the driver and went through town giving food to the poor. No more royal greeting could have been given the king himself than that given by the poor to their fair benefactor. Those who had mumbled against a government that could not feed its poor were enthusiastic in praise of the baroness as she fed them.

The money obtained from the pawing of the necklace lasted for many days and when it was exhausted her other jewelry and then her fine clothes went to the pawnbroker and the baroness still is providing for the poor.

The Ogden Standard., June 19, 1915, 4 P.M. City Edition, MAGAZINE SECTION, Image 20

Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 558



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