Margarete Buber-Neumann

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Pencil sketch of Margarete Buber-Neumann

Margarete Buber-Neumann (21 October 1901 - 6 November 1989), was a member of the Communist Party of Germany during the years of the Weimar Republic. She survived imprisonment in concentration camps during World War II in both the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. After the war, she wrote a memoir of her time in both of these camps and served as a star witness during the so-called "trial of the century" in the Kravchenko Affair in France.

Career[edit]

Early life[edit]

Margarete Buber-Neumann was born Margarete Thüring in Potsdam, and in her youth was active in socialist youth organisations. After World War I she became more radical and joined the newly founded German Communist Party (KPD). In 1922 she married Rafael Buber, communist son of the philosopher Martin Buber, who was Jewish. They had two daughters. Following her divorce in 1929 she lived in unmarried union[1] with Heinz Neumann, a leading German Communist. When the Nazis came to power in 1933, the Neumanns went into exile in the Soviet Union. During the 1930s they both worked for the Comintern, first in France and then in Spain.

In 1920, Buber-Neumann's sister, Babette Thüring, had married Fritz Gross of Vienna, who moved to Germany after World War I and became a member of the KPD. They had a son in 1923, then separated. Babette retained her married name of 'Babette Gross' for the rest of her life. (Fritz Gross moved to England in the 1930s, helped refugees during World War II, and died in 1946 with a considerable corpus of mostly unpublished work.)[2] Babette then became communist (commonlaw) wife of Willi Münzenberg, under whom Otto Katz and Arthur Koestler worked in Paris. In Münzenberg's office, Koestler met both sisters.[3] Koestler would remain a friend after both he and Buber-Neumann had left the party. (As "Babette Gross," Buber-Neuman's sister later wrote a biography of Münzenberg.[4])

Internment[edit]

In 1937, while living at Moscow's Hotel Lux, Heinz Neumann was arrested as part of Joseph Stalin's Great Purge and later executed. Buber-Neumann never learned her husband's exact fate. Instead, she found herself arrested the following year and sent to a labour camp in Karaganda[5] as a "wife of an enemy of the people." Following the Nazi-Soviet Pact of August 1939, she became one of a number of German Communists handed over in 1940 by the Soviets to the Nazis.[6]

Buber-Neumann was then imprisoned in Ravensbrück concentration camp, where she became friends with Orli Wald [7] and Milena Jesenská. She survived five years in the camp. She worked in a clerical capacity in the Siemens plant attached to the camp, and later as secretary to a camp official, SS-Oberaufseherin Johanna Langefeld. She was freed in April 1945.

Kravchenko Affair[edit]

After World War II Buber-Neumann spent some years in Sweden. In 1948, she published Als Gefangene bei Stalin und Hitler (published the following year in German, French, and English -- "Under Two Dictators: Prisoner of Stalin and Hitler"). At the urging of her friend Arthur Koestler, in this book she gave an account of her years in both Soviet prison and Nazi concentration camps.[3] The book aroused the bitter hostility of the Soviet and German communists.[8] In 1949, she testified in Paris in support of Victor Kravchenko, who was suing a magazine connected with the French Communist Party for libel after he was accused of fabricating his account of Soviet labour camps. Buber-Neumann corroborated Kravchenko's account in great detail, contributing to his victory in the case.[9]

Anti-communism[edit]

In the 1950s, Buber-Neumann returned to Germany as a staunch anti-communist. She also continued to write for the next three decades. In 1957, she published Von Potsdam nach Moskau: Stationen eines Irrweges ("From Potsdam to Moscow: Stations of an Erring Way"). In 1963, she published a biography of her Ravensbrück friend Milena Jesenská Kafkas Freundin Milena. In 1976, she published Die erloschene Flamme: Schicksale meiner Zeit ("The Extinct Flame: Fates of My Time"), in which she argued that Nazism and Communism were in practice the same. By this time, she had become a political conservative, joining the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in 1975.

In 1980, Buber-Neumann was awarded the Great Cross of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. She died in Frankfurt am Main in 1989. Her daughters by her marriage to Rafael Buber were raised at the home of their grandfather, Martin Buber, and settled in Israel.

Works[edit]

(From the Library of Congress catalog)

References[edit]

  1. ^ Arthur Koestler, The Invisible Writing. London: Hutchinson of London, 1979, p. 255
  2. ^ "Gross, Fritz: unpublished writings". Archives in London and the M25 area. Retrieved September 28, 2010. 
  3. ^ a b Scammell, Michael (2010). Koestler: The Literary and Political Odyssey of a Twentieth-Century Skeptic. New York: Random House. p. 105 (Münzenberg), 351 (Under Two Dictators). Retrieved September 28, 2010. 
  4. ^ Gross, Babette (1974). Willi Münzenberg: A Political Biography. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press. 
  5. ^ Books: One Who Survived, TIME Magazine (January 15, 1951). Retrieved November 13, 2011 (subscription required)
  6. ^ Hermann Weber, Hotel Lux - Die deutsche kommunistische Emigration in Moskau (PDF) Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung No. 443 (October 2006), p. 60. Retrieved November 12, 2011 (German)
  7. ^ Manfred Menzel, Brochure about Orli Wald (PDF) Hannover Municipal Archive. Retrieved July 14, 2011 (German)
  8. ^ Margarete Buber-Neumann (2008), Under Two Dictators. Prisoner of Stalin and Hitler, Pimlico, London ISBN 978-1-84595-102-3
  9. ^ Antony Beevor and Artemis Cooper, Paris After the Liberation 1944-1949, Hamish Hamilton 1994, 341

External links[edit]