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German Women Writers: 1900 – 1945 – Lioness at Large

German Women Writers: 1900 – 1945

General introduction to this series of blog posts HERE.

Women writers had made great strides in the 19th century, but it still had taken them almost a millennium to really claim a place of their own in public awareness.  A fair number of the works of early 20th century German women writers exist in English language incarnations, too; particularly those dealing with the Nazi era and WWII.  The cruel undercurrent to this fact, however, is that women writers were (alas and of course) not exempted from the Nazis’ persecution of Jews, intellectuals, and otherwise undesirables: a common denominator of these women’s lives is that many of them were either murdered in a concentration camp or subjected to another one of the Nazis’ manifold ways of eradicating anyone not fitting into their notion of an “Aryan” nation — or they escaped Nazi persecution, often by the skin of their teeth, and became naturalized citizens of other countries.  (Note: Some of the writers listed below only published their books in the second half of the 20th century, but topically those belong into the context of the early decades of the century, so for purposes of consistency I’m listing them here.)

  • Elizabeth von Arnim (1866-1941): She obviously doesn’t need any introduction, and I’m not going to claim her as a bona fide German writer; but she lived in Germany (well, what was Germany then — Pomerania, now part of Poland) long enough to be able to describe its incarnation in her era faithfully and, no matter how unhappy and stressful her personal situation, with a lot of wit and charm; particularly in
  • Else Lasker-Schüler (1869-1945): A child prodigy who was able to read fluenty at age four, before she had even started school, Lasker-Schüler was one of the preeminent representatives of early 20th century Germany’s avantgarde movement in both literature and the visual arts.  She published poetry, novels and shorter prose narratives, letters, essays, and drawings, and was a friend of many of the leading intellectuals and artists of pre- and post-WWI Germany, including Gottfried Benn (whom she revered), Karl Kraus, Alfred Döblin, the composer Arnold Schönberg, and the expressionistic painters Oskar Kokoschka, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Emil Nolde, and Franz Marc, one of the founders of the Blauer Reiter (Blue Rider) group of artists.  As a Jew, Lasker-Schüler was subjected to racial harrassment and persecution after the Nazis’ seizure of power.  She first fled to Switzerland, but was unable to settle permanently there.  Having been stripped of her German citizenship, traveling and unable to return to Europe when WWII broke out, she at last found herself permanently stranded in Palestine.  Though supported financially by a Jewish organization and by the publisher Salman Schocken, as well as by a group of friends who likewise found themselves exiled to Palestine, including the philosopher Martin Buber, she spent the last years of her life increasingly isolated and unhappy.  Several of her final tragedies topicalize the Nazi rule; e.g., Arthur Aronymus und seine Väter (“Arthur Aronymus and His Fathers / Ancestors”, 1933) anticipates the Holocaust, and her final drama ichundich (“”I-and-I”, left unfinished at her death), Goethe and Faust together watch Hitler conquering the world. — A fair number of her works have been translated into English, including:
  • Else Ury (1877–1943): One of Germany’s most popular author of children’s books to this day: I used to love her books as a kid, and while it never occurred to me then, in hindsight I find it kind of cool that I used to love some of the same books as my grandma, who at approximately the same age as me when I read them would have been part of the original audience for whom Ury’s books were written, and whose own childhood home was not so terribly different from those of Else Ury’s child protagonists; particularly “Nesthäkchen” (an affectionate word for the youngest child of a family, literally implying that child to be “hooked to her nest”, i.e., clinging to, or being sheltered at home).  And even almost two decades later, when the first three Nesthäkchen books were made into a TV series, I was happily glued to the TV screen all over again.
  • Unfortunately, Ury’s own life was not nearly as happy as that of her child heroine.  A Jew whose life, like those of many in her situation, vaccillated between an educated German middle class lifestyle and her religious affiliation (which is not reflected in her books at all), after the Nazis’ rise to power Ury tried but failed to build an economical basis for emigration to the UK or US; her efforts were curtailed once and for all by the onset of WWII.  In 1943, she was deported to Auschwitz and killed on arrival.
  • Ricarda Huch (1864-1947): The woman whose picture should by rights have appeared next to the words “quintessential intellectual” in every late 19th century / first half of the 20th century dictionary.  A trained historian with a PhD from Zürich University, obtained in Switzerland as women were still barred from studying for a degree at German universities, her magnum opus is her three-volume German History (Deutsche Geschichte), which traces the history of the Holy Roman Empire from its predecessor, the empire of Charlemagne, to the abdication of the last Holy Roman Emperor, Francis II, in 1806.  The first two volumes — published in 1934 (“Middle Ages”) and 1937 (“Reformation”), respectively — took a deliberate stance against Nazi doctrine and beliefs in everything from the meaning of government and the administration of justice to the role of religion in general and the Jews in particular in German society and, ultimately, the Nazis’ insistence on the alleged superiority of the German people as such. The oeuvre’s third volume was published posthumously after the end of WWII, in 1949.
  • Huch’s great knack, which at the time revolutionized the approach to nonfiction history writing, was to make historical events, lives, and circumstances come alive by wrapping and integrating the rendition of historical facts and dates into vividly descriptive passages of social, philosophical and psychological context, and by putting ordinary people center stage alongside princes and other great historic leaders; all of which made history palpable rather than merely a matter of “great men, great deeds and great wars” to be studied as part of a school curriculum (and promptly forgotten again).  Before publishing her three-part German History, she had already published other works of great note, inter alia a two-part study of the 19th century Romantics, a history of the Thirty Years’ War, and biographies of that war’s great military leader, general Albrecht von Wallenstein, and of early 19th century Prussian minister and political reformer Freiherr vom Stein.  After WWII, she began to collect materials on a book on the resistance against the Nazis, which was ultimately edited on the basis of her research and published after her 1947 death. — Her fiction writing included everything from historical novels to literary and crime fiction; among the works of hers that are available in English translation are the courtroom drama The Deruga Case and the epistolary novella The Last Summer, which is set during the years leading up to the Russian Revolution.
  • Annette Kolb (1870-1967): The daughter of a German father and a French mother, Kolb was a lifelong francophile who worked tirelessly for the friendship and reconciliation between her two parents’ countries.  She spoke out against WWI from the beginning, which caused her books to be banned in her native Bavaria; as a result, she emigrated to Switzerland.  After the Nazis had banned her books in all of Germany, she learned how to drive (in 1932, at age 62) and moved to Paris a year later, then fled to the U.S. in 1941, when Nazi Germany occupied almost all of France, but returned to Europe after the end of WWII, making her home in both Munich and Paris.  She published featured articles, novels, short stories, and biographies.  The only work of hers translated into English that currently still seems to be available is her biography of Mozart (Mozart: His Life); if you speak French, you’ll also be able to access her sketch of the relationship between King Louis II of Bavaria and Richard Wagner (Le roi Louis II de Bavière et Richard Wagner (König Ludwig II. von Bayern und Richard Wagner), as well as those works of hers that, probably, speak most to her own personality:
    • L’Ame aux deux patries (“A Soul with Two Homelands”: a series of feature articles);
    • Lettres d’une franco-allemande (“Letters of a Franco-German”; German title: Briefe einer Deutsch-Französin); and
    • La vraie patrie, c’est la lumière! (“The True Homeland is the Light”): Kolb’s correspondence with her friend, Nobel laureate Romain Rolland.
  • Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919): The Marxist philosopher who, together with Clara Zetkin and Karl Liebknecht (the son of Social Democratic Party (SPD) co-founder Wilhelm Liebknecht), in 1914 founded the Spartacus League (Spartakusbund), which four years later became the Communist Party of Germany (KPD).  They seceded from their former party in protest against the SPD’s support of WWI; two years later, the Spartacus leader’s anti-war activism and calls for a general strike caused them to be arrested, and they remained in prison until the end of WWI.  After the end of the war and the abdication of Emperor William II, Liebknecht tried but failed to proclaim a Marxist republic; instead, it was the SPD under Friedrich Ebert (first President of the Weimar Republic-to-be) that, allied with the political representatives of the middle class and the conservatives, carried the day, and Ebert’s colleague Philipp Scheidemann (who would become Chancellor) proclaimed the formation of the republic from a balcony of the Berlin parliament building on November 9, 1918.  Liebknecht, however, believed — wrongly, as it turned out — that chances were still in their favor, and he continued to organize and agitate for a Soviet-backed revolution (the so-called Spartacus Uprising (Spartakus-Putsch)); Luxemburg was skeptical but outwardly stood by his side.  Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht were arrested and killed by ex-army “Freikorps” paramilitaries in January 1919.  The radically antisemitic leader of that paramilitary group later claimed that he had obtained covert government permission for what he termed the “execution” of the two socialists, but there is no proof for this claim.  Rather, the time and manner of Luxemburg’s and Liebknecht’s death greatly contributed to their idolization among communists and other representatives of the far left; even though in life, Luxemburg’s critical attitude towards Soviet Russia and its Leninist, increasingly totalitarian brand of socialism on the one hand, but also towards moderate, more social-democratic schools of thoughts on the other hand, had caused her to be seen with a certain amount of ambivalence among her political allies.
  • Rosa Luxemburg is known for the statement that “freedom is always the freedom of the dissenter”, which is contained in a posthumously-published essay critical of the outcome of the Russian Revolution; however, on the eve of the Spartacus Uprising, the party newspaper founded and edited by her, The Red Flag (Die rote Fahne), explicitly called for the KPD to violently occupy the editorial offices of the anti-Spartacist press and all positions of power. — Her writings on socialism, revolutions, and political economy are considered important contributions to socialist theory in Germany; one of the core driving elements of her writings is their international rather than national or parochial perspective.  Her chief book on the economical underpinnings of communism is The Accumulation of Capital (Die Akkumulation des Kapitals); other important texts on socialist doctrine are Social Reform or Revolution? (Sozialreform oder Revolution?), The Crisis of German Social Democracy (Die Krise der Sozialdemokratie, aka “The Junius Pamphlet”, for the pen name she used to smuggle this 1916 text out of prison), The Russian Revolution (Die russische Revolution), and The Mass Strike, the Political Party and the Trade Unions (Massenstreik, Partei und Gewerkschaften).
  • Clara Zetkin (1857-1933): A communist women’s rights and peace activist; initially, one of Rosa Luxemburg’s and Karl Liebknecht’s chief political allies and, after their death, one of the leading representatives of the Communist Party in the parliament of the Weimar Republic.  Unlike Rosa Luxemburg, she supported Lenin’s political course and even participated, in the role of prosecutor, in the 1922 show trial of the Russian socialist / social democratic dissidents whose faction had been ousted by Lenin; in her argument to the court, she called for the accused to be sentenced to death “as a matter of course” for their “intellectual crime” of having deviated from the Leninist interpretation of the party line.  Zetkin was, however, one of the last communists of note to overtly oppose Stalinism, even after having moved to Russia in the late 1920s.  She died near Moscow in 1933; her ashes were placed in the Kremlin Wall necropolis.  After WWII, the combination of her women’s rights and peace activism and her pro-Russia communist leanings made her an ideal poster girl for the newly-founded German Democratic Republic. — A representative selection of her writings on women’s equality, labor, peace, and socialism is available in English translation in Clara Zetkin: Selected Writings.
  • Hermynia Zur Mühlen (1883-1951): The daughter of an Austrian family of high nobility, Zur Mühlen turned her back on her aristocratic upbringing after having increasingly come to endorse leftist ideology and eventually become a member of the German Communist Party once she had moved to Berlin.  “The Red Countess,” as she came to be known, was a prolific translator of works originally published in English, Russian and French — inter alia by Upton Sinclair, John Galsworthy, Jerome K. Jerome, Harold Nicolson, Max Eastman, and Edna Ferber –, as well as an author of featured articles, essays, feuilletons, novels of both general and crime fiction (one of the latter, because of its criticism of the police, earned her a prosecution for high treason, which however was eventually dropped), self-described “revolutionary” fairy tales, as well as several narratives with an autobiographical background; the best-known being The End and the Beginning: The Book of My Life (Ende und Anfang), which looks back on the early years of her life before her conversion to communism.  When the Nazis came to power, she first fled back to Vienna, then to Bratislava, and finally, via a huge detour through various south-eastern, southern, central and south-western European countries, to England, where however she fell into obscurity and died in poverty twelve years later. — Her 1934 novel Unsere Töchter, die Nazinen (“Our Daughters, the She-Nazis”), first serialized in a periodical in the autonomous Sarre Territory and promptly banned, is a piercing satire of Nazi ideology and an examination of the reasons why that ideologies was so particularly attractive to middle class Germans.  English translations of a selection of her writings have been published as The Red Countess: Select Autobiographical and Fictional Writing of Hermynia Zur Mühlen.
  • Vicki Baum (1888-1960): An Austrian-born newspaper editor and prolific writer of general and popular fiction, often with a proto-feminist bent (or at any rate, focusing on women’s lives and women protagonists). Baum’s Jewish birth, which had caused her to be increasingly discriminated in Germany in the early 1930s, eventually decided her to seize upon the star-studded 1932 Hollywood adaptation of her 1929 novel Grand Hotel (Menschen im Hotel) — featuring a cast that included Greta Garbo, John and Lionel Barrymore, and Joan Crawford — to move to the U.S. and make a new home there, eventually becoming a U.S. citizen.  While she has over 50 works of fiction to her credit, several of which were  likewise adapted for stage and / or screen (the movie Grand Hotel was based on a stage adaptation of the novel authored by Baum herself, too), Grand Hotel remains her best-known work in all three formats.
  • Irmgard Keun (1905-1982): Trained but unsuccessful as an actress, Keun found literary success in the final years of the Weimar Republic thanks to her witty, spunky style of writing; she also secured the patronage of notable writers such as Alfred Döblin, Kurt Tucholsky (with whom she later quarrelled over a charge of plagiarism that was belately retracted by the other writer involved after Tucholsky’s death and towards the end of Keun’s life), Egon Erwin Kisch, Stefan Zweig, Heinrich Mann, and Joseph Roth (with whom she also had a two year long love affair).  Her novels’ heroines are typically young women determined to make their way in the world without being shoehorned into stereotypical gender roles; in recent years, several of them have been translated into English, including her breakthrough success Gilgi, as well as its instantly bestselling successor, The Artificial Silk Girl (Das kunstseidene Mädchen), and two of the novels that she published while in exile in the Netherlands, After Midnight (Nach Mitternacht) and Child of All Nations (Kind aller Länder), both of which portray the change of German society brought on by the Nazis’ ascent to power. — Keun, who was ostracized in Nazi Germany due to her criticism of the fascist regime and society, nevertheless secretly returned to Germany using a false passport and spent the years of WWII in hiding in her parents’ Cologne home.  After the war, she was unable to return to publishing successfully; her final novel Ferdinand, the Man with the Kind Heart (Ferdinand, der Mann mit dem freundlichen Herzen) portrays life in West Germany immediately after the war.  Having sunk into poverty and alcoholism, Keun came to spend several years practically living on the streets and was eventually committed to a Bonn psychiatric hospital, from where she was released to spend her final years in modest circumstances in Cologne.  Her books were only rediscovered towards the very end of her life; they have since been come to be assessed as important contributions to pre-WWII and feminist German literature.
  • Lili Grün (1904-1942): Largely unrecognized during her own life, Lili Grün’s scant amount of fiction was rediscovered and comprehensively republished in the 2010s.  The daughter of a Jewish family from Vienna, Grün moved to Berlin in the 1920s in search of career opportunities as an actress, which however didn’t materialize.  A cabaret venture with a number of friends (several of whom, including Ernst Busch, Hanns Eisler, and Erik Ode, would later find fame and fortune after all) failed to find a stable audience and had to close again.  Although Grün’s short prose and poetry met with a positive response, whatever money they earned her was not enough to feed her.  Suffering from tuberculosis, she returned to Vienna probably in or about 1932, but her conditions did not improve.  In 1942, she was deported to Belarus and killed in the Maly Trostenets concentration camp. — Grün’s autobiographical novel Alles ist Jazz (“All Is Jazz”; originally published as Herz über Bord (“Heart Overboard”) — poverty forced Grün to sell the rights in that title to a publisher who wanted to use the same title for an operetta) is closely modelled on her own life and circumstances in 1920s Berlin.
  • Anne Frank (1929-1945): No introduction necessary; obviously this list wouldn’t be complete without her — and without her justly world-famous diary, which speaks to Anne’s extraordinary personality as eloquently as it does to Nazi barbarism.  If you’re ever in Amsterdam or in Anne’s native Frankfurt, do make a point of visiting the Anne Frank House or the Frank Family Center at the Jewish Museum of Frankfurt.
  • Silvia Tennenbaum (1928-2016): The daughter of an art-loving Jewish upper middle class / merchant family from Frankfurt — via her maternal grandfather, she was related to Otto and Anne Frank –, Tennenbaum emigrated first to Switzerland and ultimately to the U.S. with her mother and her stepfather in the 1930s.  She became an arts critic and in her fifties published two novels, The Rabbi’s Wife and Yesterday’s Streets (with a third, uncompleted and unpublished one apparently existing in manuscript), recreating from afar the Weimar Era Frankfurt she had known as a child and its changes under Nazi rule.  In the last decades of her life, Tennenbaum frequently returned to the city of her birth and became an important figure in its cultural life.
  • Anna Seghers (1900-1983): A communist of Jewish origin and in later life, one of the most significant authors of the German Democratic Republic (also the president of its writers’ association until 1978), Seghers’s arguably most important books date from the years immediately prior to and during WWII, when she fled from her native Mainz to Paris and, via Marseille, to Mexico:
    • The Seventh Cross (Das siebte Kreuz) (1942) is an early warning about the horrors of the concentration camp system (even before the implementation of the “final solution”: the novel was begun in 1938), based on Osthofen concentration camp near Worms, not far from Seghers’s native city.  The book concerns the flight of seven prisoners from the camp, for each of whom a cross is erected inside the camp, in front of which the recaptured men have to stand until they fall, which in turn is then used as an excuse to “punish” (i.e., further torture and kill) them.  The book was made into a movie starring Spencer Tracy in 1944.
    • Transit (1944) is based on Seghers’s own experience and chronicles the experience of a number of refugees from Nazi Germany whose paths cross in Marseille, from where they hope to escape to the New World.
    • The Dead Girls’ Class Trip (Der Ausflug der toten Mädchen) is a 1943 short story recounting, from a hindsight perspective, the fates of the narrator’s high school classmates, whom she first remembers as they had been during a class trip on the Rhine and whose lives she follows from there, through two world wars, Nazi rule, persecution, love, betrayal, cruelty, and death; in the process portraying various aspects of German society in the first half of the 20th century.
  • Erika Mann (1905-1969): Thomas Mann’s formidable, outspoken eldest daughter.  Having inherited her father’s gift as a writer, the political chutzpah passed down from her maternal great-grandmother Hedwig Dohm (see page 1 of this post, 19th century writers), and the acting talents of her glamorous maternal grandmother Hedwig Pringsheim, it was probably a given that she would appear on stage for the first time before she had even graduated from high school and, within a few years, attract the attention of one of the era’s biggest stars of stage and screen, Gustav Gründgens.  Her marriage to Gründgens was short-lived, however, and he would soon become the thinly-veiled model for the protagonist of her brother Klaus’s denunciation of the Nazi assimilation of Germany’s performing arts scene, Mephisto.  A few years later, Erika Mann married W.H. Auden; and while this was a marriage of convenience intended to provide her with a British passport in the increasingly likely event of her losing her German citizenship (which did in fact happen), Mann and Auden remained friends (and formally married) throughout their entire lives. — In the 1930s, Erika Mann become the writer, producer and star turn of a political cabaret founded by herself, her brother Klaus, and a group of friends and named Die Pfeffermühle (“The Peppermill”), which, banned in Munich within a scant two weeks, relocated first to Zürich and then to New York City, where, respectively, it became a focus of German exile intellectuals.
  • Over the course of her life, in addition to her own political writings, war reports from the Spanish Civil War and the Battle of Britain (for the BBC), travel narratives, and children’s books — in part, published together with Klaus Mann, with whom she was particularly close during their entire lives –, Erika Mann was also a close confidante of her father’s and, after his 1955 death, his literary executor, as well as that of her brother Klaus, who committed suicide in 1949.  A fair number of her works are available in English (either originally written in that language or translated from German); these include:
  • Annemarie Schwarzenbach (1908-1942): Born and raised in Switzerland, Schwarzenbach met Erika and Klaus Mann in Berlin, where her androgynous appearance (encouraged from childhood by her bisexual mother) and gender stereotype-defying lifestyle well matched the bohemian culture of the late 1920s and early 1930s, but made her an instant target of discrimination upon the Nazis’ seizure of power.  A skilled photographer, Schwarzenbach acutely documented the rise of fascism in Europe — much to her pro-Nazi family’s displeasure –; but she also wrote several novels and spent much of her life traveling to various parts of Europe, as well as Persia, Russia, Afghanistan (with fellow writer Ella Maillart), the Congo, and the U.S., and publishing reports on her travels, with both the text and photos provided by herself.  She continued to stay in contact and spend time — traveling and visiting — with the Manns, who remained close friends, despite a brief initial involvement with Erika Mann that had ended unhappily for Schwarzenbach.  Klaus Mann would base characters in several of his novels on Schwarzenbach’s personality.  Carson McCullers, who had met her during her stay in the U.S., dedicated the novel Reflections in a Golden Eye to her.  To date, three of her numerous works have been translated to English:
  • Inge Scholl (1917-1998): The eldest sister of Hans and Sophie Scholl, co-founders (together with a group of friends and one of their professors) of the Munich student resistance group against the Nazi regime that came to be known as The White Rose.  Inge Scholl’s book about her siblings, their motivation and movement, and their show trial and execution — based both on her and other witnesses’ observations and on key documents –, The White Rose (Die weiße Rose), tells their story in plain, straightforward terms and has (rightly) become an international bestseller since its 1952 publication.  Inge Scholl herself was a member of the German peace movement from the 1960s until her death.
  • Lise Meitner (1878-1968): The woman who should have been awarded the Nobel Prize (in either chemistry or physics) for the discovery of nuclear fission and the coining of that term, regardless whether instead of or in addition to her friend and former colleague Otto Hahn.  The daughter of Jewish parents from Vienna, Meitner overcame every bias in the book — sexual, religious, academic, you name it — to obtain a habilitation in physics from Berlin University (the first woman in Prussia and the second woman in Germany to achieve this) and to obtain, four years later, an appointment as professor of physics, the first German woman to attain that academic position.  Together with Otto Hahn, she had been working on radioactive processes since the early 1900s; by the time she was forced — and despite significant obstacles, finally managed — to flee from Germany on account of her Jewish birth, they had made significant process.  From exile in Sweden, Meitner and her nephew, nuclear physicist Otto Frisch (who had, in turn, emigrated to the UK), remained actively involved in Hahn’s research; it was Meitner and Frisch who first described, correctly interpreted, named, and in February 1939 published a scientific paper on the process that Hahn had observed but initially not understood.  Meitner was nominated for the Nobel Prize in either chemistry or physics a total of 49 times, including by Nobel laureates such as Max Planck, Max Born, Niels Bohr, and also Otto Hahn himself.  Most later observers agree that she was deliberately sidelined out of a mixture of disciplinary bias, jealousy, political obtuseness, ignorance, and haste; not least driven by the fact that the president of the physics Nobel committee considered Meitner (who at the time was living in Sweden) a professional rival, and the chemistry Nobel committee plain missed the fact that the only reason why she was no longer in Berlin and was reduced to corresponding with Hahn from afar was that she had been forced to flee from Germany to save her life.  She was subsequently awarded virtually every physics and chemistry award under the sun and also invited to the 1962 incarnation of the annual Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting as a deliberate message on the part of the community of Nobel laureates that she had every right to be included.
  • Besides publishing a plethora of scientific papers, Meitner authored (in German) a book of memoirs of Otto Hahn (Erinnerungen an Otto Hahn); excerpts from her correspondence have been published in English translation under the title Yours, Lise.  The book considered to be her definitive biography is Ruth Lewin Sime’s Lise Meitner: A Life in Physics.
  • Judith Kerr (1923-2019): The daughter of renowned Weimar Era literature critic and essayist Alfred Kerr (nicknamed “the culture pope”), Judith Kerr was transplanted to the UK in childhood when her family had to flee from Germany because of her father’s Jewish descent.  She became a naturalized British citizen when she was in her twenties.  Although she had been dreaming of becoming a writer as a child, and although she was both the daughter and wife of writers, Kerr herself only took to the pen when she had children, creating for them the books that would make her popular when they were eventually published, such as The Tiger Who Came to Tea and the Mog series; all of which Kerr both wrote and illustrated.  Also inspired by her own children, in addition she wrote a trilogy of books fictionalizing her own refugee experience, Out of the Hitler Time; the first and IMHO most important book of which — When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit — describes what she witnessed as a child in Germany and tells the story of her family’s flight, the material and psychological deprivations it entailed, and the life lessons she learned.  Book 2 of the trilogy (Bombs on Aunt Dainty, aka The Other Way Round) describes her family’s WWII experience; book 3 (A Small Person Far Away) is set in 1956 and deals with the Hungarian Revolution and the Cold War, with the heroine temporarily returning to Berlin and experiencing life in the divided city a few years before the construction of the Berlin Wall.
  • Elisabeth Langgässer (1899-1950): An author whose reputation has undergone several metamorphoses pre- and post-WWII.  Originally a teacher, Langgässer lost her job in 1929 when she gave birth to a daughter out of wedlock.  Afterwards she first supported herself by publishing poetry and reviews; then she began to publish novels in an avantgarde style known as “natural magic”.  The daughter of a Catholic father of Jewish origin, she was a devout Catholic herself, which is reflected in her writing, the overall theme of which is the conflict between man’s satanic impulses and divine salvation.  However, her father’s origin still caused her to be qualified as a “half Jew” by the Nazis and to be excluded from the state organization of authors (Reichsschrifttumskammer), which made it impossible for her to continue publishing in Germany.  Her daughter, whose father was Jewish, was deported to Theresienstadt and then to Auschwitz in 1944; she survived and was able to join a Red Cross rescue convoy to Sweden at the end of WWII.  Langgässer herself was saved because, in the interim, she had married a man  considered “Aryan”; though she was not spared being subjected to forced labor in an ammunition factory.  After the war, Langgässer chastized those writers who, like her, had remained in Germany without speaking out against the Nazis (she deliberately included herself in that criticism); and some of the works she published at that time, like the short story Saisonbeginn (“Season’s Beginning”), depict the systematic and all-encompassing persecution of Jews in Germany under the Nazis.  Her critics, however, later pointed to correspondence of hers in the early years of the Nazi era that showed her as initially an enthusiastic supporter. — The major novel she published after the war, Das unauslöschliche Siegel (“The Inextinguishable Seal”), topicalizes the salvation of inherently guilty man by divine grace, as promised in the baptismal ceremony.  Her final novel, Märkische Argonautenfahrt, was left uncompleted but in a near-finished state that was considered good enough for publication at her 1950 death from multiple sclerosis.
  • Ruth Klüger (1931-2020): The daughter of a Jewish doctor from Vienna, Klüger was a Holocaust victim who survived the Nazi terror to make a new life for herself in the U.S.  Other members of her immediate family were not as fortunate: her half brother was deported to Riga and massacred in 1941, her father (who had tried but failed to flee abroad) was murdered in Auschwitz — and in 1942, eleven year-old Ruth herself and her mother were deported first to Theresienstadt, then to Auschwitz, and finally to Groß-Rosen.  From that camp’s death march, Klüger, her mother and her adopted sister succeeded, against all odds, to flee.  Ruth and her mother briefly returned American-occupied Bavaria after the war, but after Ruth had gained an emergency high school graduation degree, they emigrated to the U.S., where Klüger obtained a PhD in literature, and became a highly-regarded professor of German literature, first at several colleges in the Midwest and finally at the universities of Virginia, Princeton, and UC Irvine.  In later years, she was also a tenured professor at the University of Göttingen and divided her time between the U.S. and Germany.  Her memoir Still Alive: A Holocaust Girlhood Remembered recounts the Nazi barbarism she experienced first hand as a child; its sequel Unterwegs verloren (“Lost Along the Way”) — which doesn’t seem to have been published in English (yet?) — recounts her experience in the U.S.  In addition to numerous books on German literature and on literature generally, she also co-authored a book on a clandestine WWII rescue mission seeking to ferry Jews to Palestine, The Last Escape, which was later adapted into two books for young readers, The Secret Ship and Last Road to Safety.
  • Ilse Koehn (1929-1991): The daughter of Social Democratic, anti-Nazi parents, Koehn was raised as an “Aryan” and even enrolled with the Hitler Youth girls’ organization, Bund Deutscher Mädel, in order to secure her higher education (from which Jews and children of Jewish descendance were excluded) and to protect her from the persecution she would have suffered if it had become known that she had a Jewish grandmother, who, at age 80, was deported to Theresienstadt concentration camp.  Having survived, with a considerable amount of luck, WWII, bombs, hunger, deprivation, evacuation, and the postwar years, Koehn emigrated to the U.S., where she married, worked as a graphic designer and, in 1977 published her memoirs of her Berlin childhood, Mischling, Second Degree; as well as, some years later, a partly autobiographically-based novel named Tilla, describing the meeting of two teenagers in bombed-out Germany during the final months of WWII and their re-encounter in the divided and occupied city of Berlin after the war.
  • Marta Hillers (1911-2001): After having traveled widely in her youth, Hillers spent the early 1930s in Russia and in France, working as a photo journalist and studying history and art history, respectively; as a result, she also became fluent in both languages.  She then returned to Berlin, where historians believe she joined the Nazi propaganda effort in a minor role.  She came to prominence when, in the 1950s, a diary recounting a Berlin woman’s experience during the final eight weeks of WWII was published anonymously under the title A Woman in Berlin and, some time later, Hillers was suggested as its probable author.  The diary describes the mass rape of German women by marauding Russian soldiers, which caused many women to deliberately seek Russian officiers’ protection (guess how they payed for that) to be spared outright rape at the hands of their subordinates.  Although a bestseller when first published in several other countries (including the U.S.), the diary was ill-received when it was first published in Germany in 1959, and Hillers — then not yet officially revealed as its author — prohibited a republication for the rest of her lifetime.  That same year, she retired from journalism and spent the rest of her life with her husband in Switzerland.  Her diary was finally republished two years after her death, and Hillers’s identity as its author was leaked by a journalist.  It is likely that the diary’s contents was in part edited prior to publication, but historians familiar with the original document argue that the essence of that text is consistent with the published version.  The book was adapted into a movie in 2008.
  • Anna Wimschneider (1919-1993): A farmer from Bavaria who gained national prominence towards the end of her life with the publication of her autobiography, which describes how, from age eight onwards, she had to manage her family’s farming household(s), first on her father’s farm — with nine people to take care of — and then on that of her husband, who, like Anna herself opposed to the Nazis, but was drafted into the military a few days after their wedding and returned from the war severely impaired.  On her husband’s farm she was subject to severe abuse on the part of her husband’s family, especially his mother, who had hated her from the start; a treatment that only ended at her husband’s return. — Entitled Herbstmilch (“Autumn Milk”), for the name given to milk no longer salable because it had gone sour and which, therefore, had to be consumed by the farmers themselves and to them constituted a major source of nutrition, Wimschneider’s memoir was adapted into an awardwinning movie in 1989, a few years after its publication.
  • Ursula Hegi (* 1946): Born in Düsseldorf, Hegi grew up in post-WWII Germany at a time when the Holocaust was a conversational taboo; a fact that profoundly impacted Hegi’s perception of her own German nationality and of Germany’s recent past.  She emigrated to the U.S. in 1964, at age 18, and married and became a naturalized U.S. citizen a few years later.  Several of her books, including her bestseller Stones From the River, are set in or connected with a city named Burgdorf, a fictionalized version of her German birth place, and topicalize its mid-20th century history and the experience of German immigrants to the U.S.  Hegi’s “Burgdorf Cycle” comprises:
    • Stones from the River – Burgdorf in the Weimar Republic and the Nazi era through the end of WWII, as experienced by a “dwarf”, i.e., a woman suffering from dwarfism, a condition that makes her a quintessential outsider;
    • Floating in My Mother’s Palm – Burgdorf in the 1950s, finding its bearings in a world changed forever after a devastating war and American occupation;
    • The Vision of Emma Blau – Burgdorf as the origin and background of a late 19th century German emigrant to the U.S. and the subsequent generations of his family; and
    • Children and Fire – Burgdorf on a single, pivotal day in 1934; one year after the burning of the Reichstag.
  • Sabine Dramm: A late 20th / early 21st century political and theological scholar specializing in the recent history of the Protestant Church generally and in Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the great Resistance theologian of the Nazi era, in particular: in light of her scholarly focus I’m listing her works on this page of the post rather than on the next one (concerning post-WWII German women writers).  Two of her works have been translated into English, a third one was published in French (possibly also originally written in French; Dramm is German but lives in the South of France):

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