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July 31: Karola Bloch and the International Union of Women Architects

July 30, 2015

Foto-KB-JT-1988_s-wKarola Bloch, a lifelong socialist feminist who was regularly trapped by anti-fascist and anti-Stalinist sensibilities, died in Germany at 89 on this date in 1994. During World War I, her Polish Jewish family fled to Russia, where she witnessed the October Revolution in Moscow. In 1921 they moved to Berlin, where she studied art and then architecture, met her future husband, philosopher Ernst Bloch, and joined the German Communist Party in 1932. With the advent of Nazism in 1933, Karola smuggled her husband’s manuscripts out of the country and then fled with him to Switzerland, then Vienna, then Paris, then New York. In 1949, they returned to East Germany, where Bloch designed kindergartens and daycare centers; her plans became the basis for thousands such facilities, yet were nevertheless criticized by Stalinist authorities, who eventually drove her out of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany, which forced the suspension of her career as an architect in Germany. The Blochs “defected” to West Germany to 1961, and she became devoted to work with prisoners, with abused women, and in Germany’s movement for women’s reproductive rights. In 1963, she became a founding member of the International Union of Women Architects, which convenes every two to three years in host cities around the world and counts members from ninety different countries.

In America, “Karola Bloch did everything to keep distractions from her husband and his work. There was no job that the highly accredited architect... would not have taken. She worked as a waitress and, unsuccessfully, as an insurance agent before she finally landed a position in her field.” —Catherine Wiley, Homemaking: Women Writers and the Politics and Poetics of Home