Another publication of Minerva-Verlag was the youth magazine Ins neue Leben (Into the new life, 1945-1950). Marta wrote several articles for it – under her name as well as anonymously; one might suspect her behind the article on the Moscow Kremlin, for example.
Until issue 14/1948 (July), chief editor was the school reformer and concentration camp survivor Paul Hildebrandt; after that, M. Hillers took over. Paul Hildebrandt died in November of the year.
Ins neue Leben wasn’t simply children’s entertainment. The problems of the times were addressed frankly: Hunger, cold, lack of clothes, shoes and living space, cities in ruins, refugees, the events of the war, sickness; one article specifically listed live ammunition that young readers could still find among the rubble, and warned them to stay away and inform the police at once if they did so. (Newspapers of the time regularly reported children being killed or maimed by playing with live hand grenades.) In the year of the Olympic Games 1948, Ins neue Leben did not ignore the fact that Germany wasn’t allowed to participate, either. Nobody tried to hide the daily troubles of the post-war years, familiar to both readers and writers, behind nice stories. Instead, they encouraged, sought solutions or, at least, offered a platform for the exchange of ideas. Contemporary short stories didn’t feature intact families or intact conditions; their young heroes and heroines responsibly met the challenges before them. At the same time, the journal presented interesting facts from all over the world. Emphasis was placed on international understanding, so it isn’t surprising Ins neue Leben was allowed to be sold in all four occupation zones. It took its young readers seriously, which certainly contributed to its success.
Minerva-Verlag existed till 1950; after that, Sinodoru’s trail goes cold. Franz Cornelsen had founded his own publishing house in 1948.
Kurt Marek, after his release from an American POW camp in October of 1945, had become the first employee of Ernst Rowohlt’s re-founded publishing house and begun to write a future bestseller: Gods, Graves and Scholars. Living in Hamburg, he was desirous to learn of the fate of his friends in Berlin. One destination was Hans Hillers’ apartment.
When I returned to Berlin in 1946 in search of lost friends, I revisited the house. I was met on the staircase and showered with a flood of stories about past events. They were forced upon me – not only by men but by women and girls, too – with such a passion to confess that I very nearly reacted as did the author’s friend who returns at the close of her book. […] Six months later I met the author again in another place. Here, from some hints she dropped, I learned of this diary’s existence. When, after another six months had passed, I was permitted to read it, I found described in detail what I already knew from the accounts of others.(1)
Marta Hillers never kept her rapes nor her “prostitution” for protection a secret from her friends. “She didn’t want to suffer everyone to fall on her and preferred to be under the protection of one man“, recalled Bruni Löbel in an interview with the Focus. Matter-of-factly, almost flippantly Marta spoke about the events and about having kept a diary. After Kurt Marek had read her notes and recognised their worth as a contemporary historical document, he urged his friend to publish her diary. But Marta hesitated; “she refused to expose herself to the general public.“(2)
Her self-respect as a woman, however, hadn’t suffered; with humour and, it seems, even a kind of coquetry she told colleagues of dubious „conquests“ she made – or didn’t make: A sleazy post official; a Swiss man who turned out to be a missionary instead of an admirer.
A bureaucratic hurdle that remained for her to take was her denazification by the US occupation authorities. As before, when applying for membership in the writers’ union, she kept her political past for herself, namely her alleged membership in the National Socialists’ women’s organisation. Though this was noticed by the American authorities, a closer examination did not unearth any records, and so the decision was made very quickly in the spring of 1947: “No objection.“(3)
In the meantime, the pacifist Hermann Gross, traumatised by the events of the war, led a withdrawn life. After a third and final visit to Paris he emigrated with his wife to the USA.
Hans Wolfgang Hillers jumped right into Berlin’s cultural life again. He wrote three comedies set in post-war Berlin, was affiliated with Minerva-Verlag, planned to start his own theatre company and tried to get work at DEFA in the Soviet Zone. One of his plays, Die Töchter des Präsidenten (The President’s Daughters), published 1947 by Rowohlt, features aspects of Berlin life in the summer and autumn of ’45 that sound quite familiar to readers of A Woman in Berlin: The desolate streets nobody dares to enter, an air-raid duty resulting in a love affair and a subsequent shotgun wedding, waiting in line at the pump with a broken handle for hours, and women who talk openly about their rapes. Not surprisingly: The co-author of the play was Marta Hillers under her pseudonym Marta Moyland which she used for all her work in the film business – the screenplays of Die Kuckucks and Sündige Grenze (IIlegal Border / The Border of Sin) and her work on Toxi under the director Robert A. Stemmle – as well as for several articles.(4)
Excursion: Marta Hillers on life in post-war Berlin
On the tram
There are many rules in the trams of Berlin. One of them is that children have no claim to a seat. If there are vacant seats – very well; when new adults board the tram, the children have to clear their seat immediately.
Immediately! Yet, when the usual flood of people surges into the 3 on the corner of Potsdamer and Pallasstrasse, a little girl remains seated at the window. That is, window is exaggerated, for the window opening is covered with cardboard, and across the cardboard a poster is pasted with a benevolent dealer on it, promising us to buy our glass, china and other belongings. So: A quite dark seat, even now, in the bright afternoon.
The little girl’s head is lowered. The yellow pigtail points straight up. Her hands lie folded in her lap. All around stand, lean, squeeze the adults: women with grey skin, scrawny men, one with glasses. And this wearer of glasses now speaks: “The child has to clear her seat – immediately!“
Whereupon all around high and deep the chorus start: “Right – indeed – insolent – on our way home from work – kids nowadays – the cheek.“ You know the text. Every word is absolutely correct.
Or is it? The little girl lowers her head even more. She runs her grazed child’s hands across her blue skirt to the hem – involuntarily the scolding chorus follow these hands – to her knee.
Yes, there is just a knee. The second leg is missing, she doesn’t have a second leg anymore; for that the little one does not sit on it in the way of children prove the steel crutches in the corner that now become visible to the sharpened eyes.
Abruptly, the chorus fall silent. Trepidation is spreading. Throats are being cleared. Shyly, the adults look at each other. An old woman heaves a squeaking sigh. Suddenly, almost tangibly, there is something in the air that is missed, demanded, evoked so often: a collective feeling of guilt.(5)
(Schweizer illustrierte Zeitung, 5/1948)
She is a divorced woman and neither young nor pretty. But still she makes use of the fact that she lives opposite the “Ami cinema“ (“Amis“ = moniker for Americans). According to her employee’s record book she is a “waitress“; and she does help out every night in the scullery of a restaurant. This gets her a meal and several Marks – too little, for she smokes. So she was looking for some extra income – and thought of her room. A narrow chamber on the first floor, she pays forty Marks monthly rent to her landlady, the elderly widow of an official. This room she now lets during the day and on short term. She doesn’t take money for it, perish the thought! She does it as a favour and for a “packet“, a packet of cigarettes. The widow, who doesn’t miss out on any turning of the key, demands half of it. The other ten Camels she smokes and lives on herself, unless – it happens – the short term ladies demand some of them for themselves. She certainly doesn’t gain wealth this way. She spends most of her time washing, darning, mending in the bare kitchen of the landlady. Her large, worn worker’s hands are never at rest. But her mouth is silent. The widow, too, is silent: secretly, she despises her lodger and is determined to kick her out as soon as the conditions improve…
(Schweizer Illustrierte Zeitung, February 1948. Part of her series “Neue Berufe in Berlin“ [„New Professions in Berlin“])
When Marie Louise Fischer, Hans Hillers’ girlfriend from the Barrandov studios in Prague, managed to get to Berlin after almost two years of slave labour in Czechia, she and Hillers decided to return to their native Rhineland. It is likely that word of his propaganda work for the Nazis had got around and particularly made a job at the DEFA impossible.
Hans Wolfgang Hillers died on April 12, 1952, shortly before his 51th birthday, in Düsseldorf. In her novels, Marie Louise Fischer made many references to her relationship to Hillers and to his circle of friends. Of particular interest in the context of A Woman in Berlin is Fischer’s four-part family saga, the “Weigand-Chronik“, namely its three novels Das Mädchen Senta, Die Ehe der Senta R. and Für immer. Senta whose story spans the years 1911 to 1951. Beside the very atmospheric portrayal of Berlin in those decades, the reader finds familiar things: the Russian restaurant “Medvyed“ (bear) on Wittenbergplatz, the character Baby Marek or the musically gifted Russian major whom Margit Weigand serves as an “officer’s woman“, and his good-natured orderly. This latter episode also deals with the attitude of German husbands. When Margit’s husband learns that his wife had been raped during the war, his first reaction is disbelief: Rape, that “is not like” his wife, it is something that happened to other women, never his own. He is willing to “forgive“ her for what happened – a rash, quickly corrected statement that reveals his mindset all too clearly –, on the condition that she gives up her child from the rape because from now on little David will always remind him of the fact that another man had possessed his wife. When Margit refuses, he reproaches her the rape must have been “a damn fun“.
Many things give the impression that Fischer was influenced by Marta’s narration or her book.
Had what happened back then marked her? Every man would think so, but she knew that women were able to withstand much more pain, humiliation and happiness, death and grief, without breaking to pieces. She felt strong and flexible, a tree whose top you could thrust into the dirt but that would straighten up again to its proud height and stand as though nothing had happened.
She had always looked at her post-war experiences without sentimentality, had weathered through and remembered it that way.
But she had never forgotten it, had not even tried to, because there was nothing she had to be ashamed of.(6)
Not even the infamous rape humour is missing:
“Blimey, what a night!“ the first woman said.
“You can say that again,“ the other agreed, “my legs are still shaking.“ She turned to Margit: “How many have you had tonight?“
Margit did not know what to say.
“It was seven with me, and the last one was the worst,“ said the first, “the guy simply couldn’t come to an end. Must’ve thought I was a marshalling yard.“ […]
They continued to talk about their nightly adventures with a frankness that rattled Margit. She did not know why, but she did not dare to admit that she herself had not yet experienced anything of the kind. She got the impression that the others wouldn’t admire or envy but simply despise her.(7)
Bruni Löbel gave up residence at Richthofen-Straße 13 during the Soviets’ blockade of West-Berlin in 1948; a painter took over the studio. The blockade, however, was to be the setting of Mrs. Löbel’s first role in a US movie, The Big Lift (1950).
Marta Hillers, in the meantime, left Tempelhof and settled in Berlin-Zehlendorf.
I trudged along as if under a heavy load, the burdensome feeling that Berlin might never rise again, that we would remain rats in the rubble for the rest of our lives. For the first time I entertained the thought of leaving this city, of looking for bread and shelter elsewhere, some place where there’s air and open countryside.(8)
In 1950, the German economy began to recover but did people notice it during those grave “hunger years“? West-Berlin, thanks to its isolated location, recovered even slower.
It is not unlikely that Marta, like others, had enough of hardship and ruins and was looking for a new beginning in a friendlier country where her beloved French was spoken but where, in contrast to France, a German was not automatically met with hate and resentment.
In Basle, Marta Hillers had a good friend: Lili Dietschy-Rueff, who was married to the known goldsmith Karl Albert Dietschy. When Lili Dietschy died in 1952, her widower and her friend developed a closer relationship. Born in 1897, Karl Dietschy was about 14 years older than Marta Hillers and, like her, very interested in the cultural life.
They married in 1955, ten years after the events of Marta’s diary. Is it possible it took her that long till she felt able to enter into a steady, long-term relationship? With a much older man who promised a certain security in regard to sexual demands? It wouldn’t surprise me.
The Dietschys were and are a respected, old-established Basle family, one of the “dynasties“ that shaped science and arts in Switzerland and whose members often intermarried. Despite all Swiss cosmopolitanism an elite circle that the German journalist now entered.
This radical change might have been a welcome break with her former life. As courageous as Marta Hillers had conducted herself up to this point, the statements about her “life after“ are the same as those about Trude Sand, about probably thousands of women: “She hardly ever talked about her time in Berlin.“
(1) Anonymous, 1954, p. 7
(2) Holzer, Kerstin: „Wir wussten es alle“, in: Focus. München: Focus-Magazin-Verlag. 9/2004, p. 46-47.
(3) Bundesarchiv, BArch (ehem. BDC), VBS 243, Hillers, Marta, 26.05.1911
(4) How it came about that Maria von der Osten-Sacken was credited as Toxi’s writer remains unknown. A report of the production by Spiegel still names Marta Moyland as writer (“Die Leute rühren“, in: Der Spiegel, July 23, 1952, p. 28), as does several other press material. Marta Hillers documented the development of the film in a private collection (estate).
(5) The last sentence, of course, refers to the collective feeling of guilt Germans were supposed to display in the minds of the Allies, mostly the US occupation authorities.
(6) Fischer, Marie Louise: Für immer. Senta. Gütersloh: Verlagsgruppe Bertelsmann, s. a., p. 81. Translation: Clarissa Schnabel
(7) ibid, p. 95-96. Translation: Clarissa Schnabel
(8) Anonymous, 2005, p. 195