In the summer of 1934, Marta Hillers returned from Paris to her homeland, now under National Socialist rule. She went to Berlin, to live with her cousin Hans Wolfgang Hillers and his lover Trude Sand at their flat in Berliner Straße 2, Tempelhof, facing the famous airport. She had first met her cousin about eight years ago when he visited her family in Krefeld, and he had left a lasting impression on the young girl.
Women as a rule adored Hillers, as his numerous affairs testify. There was, however, a darker side to his carefree and charming personality. Confirmed are at least two rapes, one that today would be classified as a date rape, the other one of his niece. The strange thing, and probably a proof of his charisma, is that his victims never seemed to shun his presence for long afterwards. That Hillers‘ said niece would, in 1945, become the victim of rape by Red Army soldiers, makes the fact even more horrible.
Hillers was a well-known, easy-going character in Berlin’s artistic circles, a strange mixture of jovial friend, honest teacher and supporter of young writers, ladies‘ man and rapist, a communist who wrote his most successful play Die Hammelkomödie under the Nazis, despite being spied upon and arrested several times by the Gestapo; he also wrote the screenplays for two Nazi propaganda films and went on to become an editor for the UFA film company.
Trude Sand certainly deserves room in Marta’s story. Born on December 9, 1905 in Augsburg, she grew up in the Catholic town as the child of Protestant, liberal parents. Her father, the attorney Hermann Sand, had been one of the founding members of the Democratic Party of Augsburg and a declared enemy of monarchy. After leaving school, Trude’s ambition was to become a dancer and an actress; she studied at the theatre of Hanover and went to Berlin with her younger sister Eva who was likewise aiming at an acting career. In Berlin, they met Hans Wolfgang Hillers. Under his influence, the sisters became ardent communists. Considering herself not talented enough for a stage career, Trude started a children’s theatre at the Junge Volksbühne whose manager Hillers was, and finally went on to become a freelance journalist. The practically-minded, cheerful Trude was beloved by all who knew her. Her connection to Hillers, however, made her a subject of observation by the Gestapo.
Marta Hillers and Trude Sand formed a close and enduring friendship. They published a series of articles based on their adventurous tour with truck drivers across Germany, they wrote for the same publications and later became editors for the same youth magazine. In her article „Der Herr von O . . . und seine Mädchen“ („Herr von O . . . and his girls“) in the satirical paper Simplicissimus, Trude Sand depicts their living together with Hans Wolfgang Hillers as a merry ménage à trois.
Despite her acknowledged stay in the Soviet Union, Marta was far more successful than her cousin in keeping her former membership in the Communist Party a secret. In her membership application to the Nazi artists‘ union she mentioned a membership in a youth group of the National Socialists‘ women’s organisation which however, as will be seen, is doubtful. In the winter of ’34/’35 she took her own quarters, only two streets away from Hans Hillers‘ and Trude Sand’s apartment in Hohenzollernkorso 10 (renamed Manfred-von-Richthofen-Straße in 1936). After the success of his Hammelkomödie, Hans Hillers, too, moved to Richthofen-Straße, in an attic apartment at the no. 13.
While Trude Sand went on to become a successful author of three books and continued her beloved work with children, Marta wrote widely for several periodicals. A favourite topic of hers were women’s stories, even to a degree bordering on Women’s Lib (as much as it was possible under the Nazis).
In „The woman gains the victory… even if history does not speak of her“, she expressed herself cuttingly:
History has much to tell of victors. Epic tales are ringing and clashing with their deeds, and their statues, made from iron and stone, survive the centuries. But where do we find the v i c t r e s s ? Hardly in history, at best in legend and myth. As amazons and lance-throwing goddess they are allowed to fight and win after their heart’s content. In the rough reality, however, female victories – with few exceptions – were confined to the home. The „classical“ female victory happened – and happens! – in private. […]
When Socrates once made mincemeat of his colleague, the philosopher Protagoras, it was a great victory, and Plato wrote a book about it. But no book celebrates the victor in the subsequent competition Socrates – X a n t h i p p e. On the contrary – slander was her reward! For it wasn’t about great things, about country and citizens‘ duty, oh no! That was men’s business. It was „just“ about the thousand little things of women’s daily life.(1)
The strong sex was especially made a target of in her „Treatise on male vanity“.
It is said women by nature are vainer than men. Is this true? In some respect, yes, says an experienced psychologist. But a woman’s vanity is of a different kind. She grooms and adorns herself for the sake of the man. The man however cultivates his vanity for his own sake. The vanity of a beautiful woman is like the fragrance of a flower that attracts and intoxicates. The vanity of the lords of creation however… They want to rule. They want to be the first in everything. If humans are vain by nature, male vanity takes the first place. And this in matters both of material and ideational ambitions. According to psychologists. […]
Already in boyhood this heritage becomes apparent. Girls in general are far easier to guide. Early on they show sympathy for their surroundings, are much more open to the beautiful and good than the defiant, egomaniacal and self-absorbed boys who can be checked only with an effort. […]
Like the colourful feathers of the cock the teenage boy wears colourful ties. The pride in the first hairs of the beard! The satisfaction in the deepening voice! How much gentleness and stamina at hair grooming! When a young woman looks into the mirror, she looks at herself with the eyes of her beloved. Will he like me? is her question. A young man however examines himself with the eyes of a novel’s hero. „Here I come!“ That’s his motto.
By far the most devastating form of man’s vanity sets in at advancing age. At an age when the cockscomb inevitably loses its lustre, when the belly begins to curve and bald patch and receding hairline make his face – not older, perish the thought – no, more interesting. It is then that the intellectual vanity emerges, that outgrowth of a pasha-like bossiness that wives love so very much in their clever husbands. It is then that the master of the house insists upon his privileges, prints cards with his title on them and behaves even at home as though he had an entire harem at his disposal.(2)
In A Woman in Berlin she would examine the situation of women and the image of men much more in-depth, and as late as the 70s she would analyse the feministic tendencies in the works of author E. Marlitt and write about independent women in art and literature.
In May of 1936, her mother was confined to a mental hospital on grounds of beginning delusions when she shouted invectives against the Nazis from her window. Her condition worsened over the years until, on June 25, 1941, Nella Hillers died unexpectedly. The official cause of death was heart failure. Whether this was true or whether she became a victim of the Nazis‘ policy of euthanasia remains unknown.
Marta had published regime-friendly texts by this time. As writing articles didn’t earn her enough money for a living, she took on a job as a secretary in the editorial office of the journal Freude und Arbeit (Joy and Work) from February 1940 to March 1941. In April 1941 she started working as an editor for the National Socialist youth magazine Hilf mit. Again, the friends Marta and Trude seem to have worked in tandem, as Trude Sand published articles in Hilf mit and was named as an editor of it in 1942.
It is doubtful, though, that they ever became convinced Nazis. They adapted, certainly. They were no rebels. If judging by the circle of friends around Hans Wolfgang Hillers, it appears Marta Hillers and Trude Sand belonged to those who played to the powers in public and scoffed at them in private. In the eyes of their former comrades they were traitors, defectors, but they themselves never felt beholden or even belonging to the Nazis. They accepted the way things were, wrote in the style of the times and kept their thoughts to themselves.
Was I for… or against? What’s clear is that I was there, that I breathed what was in the air, and it affected all of us even if we didn’t want it to.(3)
(1) Hillers, Martha: „Die Frau erringt den Sieg… auch wenn die Weltgeschichte nicht von ihr erzählt“, in: Berliner Lokal-Anzeiger, August 9, 1936. Translation: Clarissa Schnabel
(2) „Traktat über das männliche Geltungsbedürfnis“, unknown publication. From the author’s estate. Translation: Clarissa Schnabel
(3) Anonymous, 2005, p. 197